The Last Big Ride

Six months after being diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis, Brett loaded up his motorcycle and left his home in the US to ride to Ushuaia. Here’s his story…

The Last Big Ride
By Brett Anderson

By Brett Anderson

Raising awareness and research funds for Pulmonary Fibrosis, a deadly lung disease, by riding the Americas.


  • Bike: 2022 Aprilia Tuareg 660
  • Planned time/ miles: 5 months/ 12,000 miles
  • Current time/ miles: 2 months/ 6,000 so far
  • Date left home: October 26 2022
  • Date returned home: December 20 2022
  • Planned route: USA to Ushuaia 


South America. Ushuaia. Patagonia. Those places have long been on my bucket list for the ride of a lifetime. Many riders dream of doing it but not many ever get the chance because life always gets in the way. Work and obligations take a lot of time, leaving no time for bucket lists.

But recently, life threw me an unfortunate curveball, which turned into a golden opportunity to finally take on the big trip.

In April 2022 I was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease called Pulmonary Fibrosis, my career as an airline pilot was put on hold while the FAA decided if they were going to let me keep flying and I was suddenly left with a lot of free time…

So, in an effort to make lemonade from lemons, I decided to load up my motorcycle and finally take on the big ride. I also wanted to use the trip to raise money for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, a non-profit that sponsors PF research, awareness and helps PF patients.

Hopefully, along the way, I can also inspire others who are facing difficult times ahead so that they can see their life is still theirs to live. 

The Last Big Ride


The trip would not only be a physical and mental challenge, but a logistical one as well. There are a lot of medications I have to take now, including one injection every eight weeks that has to stay refrigerated up until 14 days prior to taking it.

My insurance didn’t want to give me more than a 45-day supply of some of the pills I take, meaning I couldn’t carry it all with me (nor would I have had the room). So, the first obstacle was how to get the medicine while travelling. I don’t trust the mail with things like that. My wife could fly in and bring them to me along the way, but we wondered what customs in some of those countries would think if they found a bunch of medication in her bag and not her name on the prescription.

Ultimately, I would have to fly home at intervals to get the medication, attend doctor’s appointments and just find places to store the bike along the way.

The Last Big Ride


I had to consider my route a little more carefully than most people would too. Because of my lung disease, some of the really high elevations were out. My lungs just won’t deliver enough oxygen to my organs (especially my heart) at high altitude making it extremely risky for me.

Given that a lot of Colombia and Ecuador are above 10,000 feet, the route would be critical. Up a pass and back down within a few hours was not a problem, but sustained time at high altitudes (24 hours or more) meant that my oxygen saturation wouldn’t have a chance to recover quick enough.

A lot of the places I wanted to see were up high in areas that I would have to be over 10,000 feet for several days just to get to and from, so I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to skip them. While most ship their bikes around the Darien Gap from Panama to Colombia, I decided to skip Colombia and Ecuador altogether, because the high elevations there could not be avoided, and ship to Peru from Panama. It would cost more, but I would also save 2-3 weeks of travel and expenses. 

I bought a membership to Global Rescue, a firm which provides 24/7 emergency air-evacuation in the event of an accident or medical emergency. It was about $500 for a year, but if you need to have a private air-evacuation, that is cheap insurance. 

The bike and setup

Like many riders, I have more than one bike in the garage. I already have a trusty 2018 BMW R1200 GS that I’ve taken on quite a few adventures, but it was a little heavier than I wanted to deal with. I also have an AJP PR7, a lightweight 610cc single-cylinder adventure bike made in Portugal. But reliability and getting parts were issues with the PR7.

In the end, I decided on my new 2022 Aprilia Tuareg called Bella. She was about 130lbs lighter than the GS, and Aprilia is owned by Piaggio – the fourth largest motorcycle/scooter maker in the world, with a worldwide distribution network. Yes, the Tuareg was a largely new and untested platform, but the 660 engine it uses has been around for a few years in other models and the kinks have been worked out. The suspension on it is terrific and it’s almost as comfortable to ride on the road as the GS. 

I modified my Tuareg with a heavy-duty skid plate, crash bars, racks and Mosko Moto soft luggage, better foot pegs and handguards, and an 8-inch android tablet for navigation. I still like paper maps for planning so I brought some of those as well. 

On the advice of a friend who had done this trip, and wanting to cut down on weight, I decided to bring only tools and spares for things I would most likely need. You can’t carry tools for every possible thing that can go wrong and some things you just won’t be able to fix. A lot of stuff you can get on the road as there are motorcycle repair facilities all over the world. Thankfully the Tuareg is tubeless, but I still brought one tube for the front, figuring I can fit it into the rear if need be. A spare oil filter, two spark plugs, a rear brake lever, a shift lever, spare fuses, and a few Tuareg-specific fasteners were all the spares I took. 

The Last Big Ride

Hitting the road

Originally, I planned to leave in late September or early October and make it to Ushuaia by the end of February. Endless doctor’s appointments and a bout of illness changed that and before I knew it, the end of October was approaching. The days were ticking by and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, so I finally just decided to go for it and leave.  

Departure Day finally came, almost 6 months to the day from when I had been diagnosed. I hardly slept at all the night before as I was brimming with excitement, nerves and thoughts of what lay ahead. The anticipation gave me a kind of energy that kept tiredness at bay and I left home an hour later than I wanted to. My wife and dog were my only bon voyage committee. I waved to them as I rode up my gravel driveway in Virginia and out on to the open road southbound.

The first five days were spent getting down to Texas where I met my wife in Austin before crossing the border to Mexico. I discovered an oil leak in Louisiana, which was coming from a pinpoint hole in my oil filter. Somehow a rock managed to bypass the skid plate and hit the filter just perfectly.  Rather than use up my one spare filter, I plugged the hole with JBWeld and hobbled 300 miles to Austin. 

Once I crossed into Mexico I was in a new world. The scenery, language, and culture were so different. Riding in Central America meant getting used to watching for the ubiquitous Topes, or speed bumps, that were always in urban areas but often also appeared out of nowhere on highways, unmarked to catch the fatigued or inattentive rider and throw them off their steed if they were unlucky.

Safety is merely a suggestion in much of Central America. That meant watching out for random people and animals crossing the roads, staying alert for crazy drivers passing on blind curves, keeping an eye on people sat on unattached chairs atop a load of cargo in the back of overloaded pickup trucks and the most rickety vehicles I’ve ever seen.

The Last Big Ride

Border pains

Border crossings proved to be one of the big challenges of this trip, as they are for every overlander. The key is to bring patience to every border crossing as the process can be confusing, time-consuming and frustrating at times. For me, the heavy crowds of people make the crossings extra challenging. With my lung disease, any kind of respiratory infection or virus is really bad news and can take me down pretty hard. So, as much as I hate it, wearing a mask in the crowds is a must. The heat made it unpleasant, but I reminded myself that it would be more unpleasant to end up in hospital! 

I made my way through Mexico for the next 10 days, stopping in small towns for the night and trying to mostly travel on secondary roads when possible. I was able to visit several archaeological ruins along the way, then headed to the Guatemala border, where I found out the hard way to do my research ahead of time. The small crossing I’d chosen was closed until 9am when I got there at dawn. While waiting and reading up about the crossing online, I realized that the office I needed to visit to check out of Mexico was closed on Mondays. And it was, of course, Monday. Another night in Mexico I guess!

The Last Big Ride

Good people

Guatemala was friendly and beautiful. I made my way to the city of Flores and then to the Mayan ruins of Tikal – one of the highlights of the trip. The ruins are spread out over a large area and are incredibly beautiful and interesting. At one time a city of almost 250,000 people lived there. And they were also used by George Lucas as the rebel base in the original Star Wars movie. 

Moving further South, I was impressed by how beautiful and friendly El Salvador was. El Salvador often gets a bad rap as a dangerous place, rife with drug and gang violence, but I found that to be just hyperbole. I spent four days in this small country and went from the highlands and beautiful volcanic lakes to a coast with some of the best surfing in the Americas. The people were friendly and the scenery was truly breath-taking. 

I had to speed through Honduras and Nicaragua to meet my wife, who was flying into San Jose Costa Rica. We ditched the bike for a week and used a rental car to explore Costa Rica. We loved the emphasis on nature in Costa Rica and were lucky enough to see quite a bit of the local wildlife and sloths. 

I was soon back with the bike in San Jose where I continued my ride South. I’d like to say I saw a lot on the way to Panama City, but unfortunately, I had to stick to the Pan-American Highway to make another deadline in Panama City. As if to punish me for my haste, the skies opened up as I approached the outskirts of the city and I experienced the heaviest rain of the trip so far, with the highway flooding at some points. 

The next morning, I delivered Bella to The Overland Embassy, who would take care of shipping her to Lima, Peru. I decided to fly home again for the holidays and to let the civil unrest that was plaguing Peru, and causing roadblocks that riders were not able to get through, die down. 


Unfortunately, on my trip home I caught a respiratory flu and ended up in the hospital for the Christmas holidays. After being discharged, my oxygen levels didn’t rebound to my baseline and it appears that the flu I caught did more permanent damage to my lungs. I wanted to get back to my ride and continue to South America, but my doctors were concerned with me travelling and being in remote areas if I caught another respiratory virus or infection. Without being able to get to a hospital quickly, they were concerned that it could be fatal. 

I had also grown much physically weaker. I could tell my levels of stamina and strength were just not what they had been even a few weeks earlier. This meant that if I had a problem somewhere out by myself, whether a mechanical breakdown or just a bike drop, it might not be possible for me to self-rescue. I believe that when you are adventure riding and travelling by motorcycle, you should be self-sufficient and only call for help in extreme situations which you could not have expected. Breaking down or dropping a bike did not qualify.

With this in mind, I made the difficult decision to discontinue my ride and ship Bella home. My disease had advanced enough that my doctor was referring me to a lung transplant center, so I decided that this would not be quitting my ride, but rather pausing it so that I could be the first lung-transplant recipient to ride to Ushuaia someday. I would make it work somehow if the transplant goes well. 

The Last Big Ride

What’s next…

In the end, I rode 6,000 miles for almost two months from my home in Virginia to Panama City, Panama and raised over $11,000 so far for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. So, while it was not the finish I had in mind, I am still proud of my accomplishment. The fundraiser is ongoing and I’ll keep my blog and social media accounts up to date to chronicle my local riding as well as my journey with Pulmonary Fibrosis.

I will continue to find ways to ride with an oxygen concentrator in a backpack to keep me oxygenated and I’ll continue to keep a positive attitude and to do as much as I can within my abilities in the hopes that others will see that and realize that when life throws them curveballs they need to keep swinging and never give up. 

About the author

Brett Anderson

Brett Anderson is a lifelong rider, having started riding dirt bikes in the California desert at the age of 10. Brett has ridden throughout the USA, the Trans-Labrador Highway, Newfoundland, the Canadian Maritimes and several Backcountry Discovery Routes. He has been an airline pilot for 33 years until he was recently diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis and had to take a medical leave from his career. With lots of free time on his hands, Brett decided to fulfil a bucket-list ride of riding from his home in Virginia to Ushuaia, Argentina and to raise funds for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides awareness and research funding of the disease. 

Follow Brett’s adventures here:

Try these next…

We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below!

4 thoughts on “The Last Big Ride”

  1. Brett:

    What an inspiring journey and attempt to conquer many real unknowns. You have redefined the title Adventure Rider and I wish you speedy recovery on your transplant. Science and Technology are on your side. Godspeed!

  2. Brett:

    You are a true inspiration in so many ways! I loved reading your story and have done so several times. I hope and pray for healing from your transplant.


Leave a comment