“Our bikes weigh about 450 pounds,” says Mitchell, anticipating trouble.
“That’s your problem, not mine,” Michel replies.
Edwards laughs. Doering drops his head onto the table. Eastham, who’s been to Panama a dozen times for military jungle training, listens intently. He’s the only one who truly understands what it’s like in there.
“I know how miserable it will be,” he says. “I think it will be eye-opening to everyone else.”
Turning back to the map, Michel tells the guys where to move fast to avoid conflict and where it’s safe to set up camp. Then he snaps his file closed, wishes them luck, and leaves. Suddenly the guys seem buoyed by optimism.
“A year ago this sounded impossible,” says Mitchell. “Now it might actually happen.”
THE IDEA FOR THE MISSION goes back 14 years, when Mitchell was in charge of a platoon at Camp Victory in Iraq. One afternoon he turned to Eastham, one of his squad leaders, and said: “Wouldn’t it be great if we took motorcycles all the way from Alaska to Argentina? We’d drive right through the Darien Gap!”
Eastham knew the jungle was hell on earth, full of poisonous snakes and insects, long stretches without water, and no logical passage for a convoy of fully loaded touring motorcycles.
“Fuck no,” he replied.
Still, Mitchell wouldn’t let it go. The idea was too intoxicating.
“Americans are so used to driving wherever they want to go, and as it turns out, you literally can’t drive to South America,” he says now. “That idea was fascinating to me.”
After the initial conversation, Mitchell called Eastham every six months to present a new angle on the trip. By the time Eastham was set to retire from the Army, he was on board. By 2015, the guys had begun planning in earnest. First, they recruited a couple of other veterans. Then they put together a support crew—two cameramen and a driver—who could document the journey. And finally, they pulled together sponsors to help with gear and funding. The whole trip, they figured, would cost $150,000.