It’s the first day of October 2016 and I’m perched on a stool in Al Jesse’s kitchen in Peoria, Phoenix. Julie Jesse has assembled an eclectic selection of ingredients for a tasty dinner and offers me another cold beer. Sam Manicom is sitting to my right – he’s just finished a presentation at GoAZ Motorcycles – and to my left, brimming with excitement, are Rachel and Paul Sumner from Whitstable in Kent. We’ve only just met, but, as so often happens with motorcycle travellers, we already feel like old friends.
Rachel is bubbly, talkative, and wears an ever-present smile. Paul is more reserved, though no less buoyant about fulfilling their dream of riding a sidecar outfit across the breadth and length of the Americas. It’s their 102nd day on the road and they’re having the time of their lives. Tomorrow they’ll be heading south to the cross the border into Mexico, and it’s a prospect that makes them a little nervous. They’re reassured by entertaining stories and practical advice from Al and Sam.
Rachel blogs about their journey at sidecartravels.co.uk and posts regular updates on Facebook. She’s keen to get photos of all of us by their bike parked on Al’s driveway, but as we get up to leave the air-conditioned comfort and salsa dips, Sam springs a surprise. “When you get somewhere special,” he says, handing Rachel a twenty dollar bill, “or maybe at the end of a really tough day, buy yourselves a drink on me.” Rachel is momentarily lost for words. Paul shakes Sam’s hand in gratitude.
Their companion is an almost stock BMW F800GS with a Ural sidecar, custom-fitted for them by Watsonian Squire, which they took on a month long tour in the spring around Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France to acclimatise to the adapted style of riding it demands. They flew out to New York on 20th June, with Moto Freight, the motorcycle shipping specialists, taking care of the transportation of the bike. Reunited with it the following day, they battled through traffic jams in the Bronx and over George Washington Bridge, before heading into New Jersey and their first stop of the trip in Vernon, Sussex County.
The couple’s onward route to Arizona took them across the northern USA as far as Montana, then up to the far north west of Canada, before turning south to ride the Pacific Coast Highway to California and hangin’ a left through Nevada and Utah. By the time Sam and I met them, Rachel and Paul had covered 15,000 miles through 22 US states, including 10 National Parks, and three Canadian provinces.
Outside in the oppressive heat, serenaded by the inescapable sound of cicadas, Rachel snaps a photo of Sam’s first time sitting in a sidecar. There’s much discussion about suspension, packing arrangements, comfort, and fuel range, but all too soon it’s time for the southbound duo to be on their way and a memorable evening, rich in company and laughter, draws to a close.
111 days later, and 26,325 miles after leaving New York, Rachel and Paul arrived at Ushuaia on 28th January 2017. They’d saved Sam’s twenty bucks for the end of the world.
This article was written at the beginning of February, when Rachel and Paul were en route home and still on a high after their journey. Rachel called it the trip of a lifetime: “We had a ball, every day was different, some the best of our lives… We came home with stacks of memories, new friends, and a broader understanding of the different ways people have to live in our vast beautiful life.”
Sadly, one beautiful life was about to be cut short. Rachel was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer at the end of May. Tragically, she died on the morning of Sunday, 25th June due to complications arising from the illness.
Rachel will be missed by all who knew her and were inspired by her story. On behalf of everyone at Overland magazine, I’d like to extend our sincere condolences to Paul.
Words by Iain Harper – from Issue 20 of Overland Magazine.