Photo by Dillon Daigger
Many people talk about dreams, but few act on them.
World traveler and inspirational speaker Allan Karl acted on his dream when he embarked on a three-year adventure across the world – alone on a motorcycle.
At the Neville Center in North Platte Tuesday, Karl spoke about the challenges and rewards he encountered.
He logged more than 62,000 miles over five continents, traveling through 35 countries on his motorcycle.
Years before the journey, Karl co-founded Wirestone in 2000, one of the country’s top 50 digital marketing agencies.
After serving as the company’s director and achieving much success for several years, Karl realized he wasn’t happy with his life. In the midst of a divorce, he quit his job.
“I was jobless, my marriage had fallen apart and above all, I was alone,” Karl said. “In many ways, I felt I’d reached the end of my road.”
Karl said he wanted to harbor resentment, but knew it wouldn’t get him anywhere. He was enthusiastic about motorcycles, traveling, writing and photography all his life, but never acted on those passions.
Karl said he also wanted to visit as many World Heritage Sites as possible.
After nearly two years of preparations, he decided to sell most of his possessions to pay for a trip across the Americas. His initial goal was to travel as far north and south as possible, but the trip grew much bigger.
In 2005, Karl left his hometown in southern California to begin his journey.
“I set out to discover not only our planet, but the opportunities it holds for all of us,” he said.
Most of Karl’s friends thought he’d gone crazy and tried to discourage him. They were sure he’d either be killed, kidnapped or stripped of everything, but he didn’t listen.
Karl envisioned a world full of smiling faces, and that’s what he found.
He traveled north into Canada, clear into the Arctic Circle. With a feeling of self-revival, he returned to the U.S. and headed south. He said the trip north was more-or-less an experiment, but the real journey began when he crossed the Mexican border.
At the time, many Mexican villages and roads had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but he often saw children laughing and playing outside despite the disaster. Roads, however, were often washed out roads and forced him to find another path. Karl said he often experienced “decision fatigue,” but used his intuition to keep going.
“The things we perceive as obstacles are merely opportunities to explore other possibilities,” he said.
Karl crossed the Panama Canal and reached the Columbian border. Although the U.S. government urges Americans not to tour Columbia, Karl kept on riding.
“There’s so many stories about foreigners getting killed in the jungle, but I was so close I could smell the Columbian coffee.” Karl said. “I decided that even in the face of danger, I still had the power of choice. I chose not to take the safe route.”
In Columbia, Karl saw many primitive villages that seemed trapped in time. Several families let him stay at their homes and many people went out of their way to offer directions. When Carl reached the southern border, he was stopped by police who advised him of the dangers of the jungle and urged him not to go any further.
Nonetheless, Karl kept going south.
At one point, he stopped to take a picture of a waterfall and was greeted by two men holding machine guns. Karl said he was terrified, but ended up befriending the men. He said they led him deep into the jungle to see an even better waterfall. Karl said he only spoke broken Spanish at the time and had no reason to trust the men, but his intuition told him to follow them.
Eventually, they reached the secluded waterfall and wound up having an afternoon full of laughter. Karl said the men allowed him to hold their guns while they experimented with his camera.
“My camera probably cost more than both of those men make a year,” Karl said. “It was great to share the powerful gift of human connection.”
After Columbia, Karl watched an 82-year-old Ecuadorian woman effortlessly hauling pails of water up a steep hill. The woman said her name was Rosalgarcia, and she walks miles every day to fetch water for her family. Rosalgarcia was overwhelmed with joy when Karl gave her the instruction manual for his motorcycle helmet. She said she’d never owned a book and it was her dream to learn how to read.
“A woman in perhaps the world’s most impoverished nation still had dreams and passions,” Karl said.
Karl later went to Peru and saw Machu Pichu, as well as the remains of many ancient Incan cities.
Seven months into his journey, Karl decided his next goal was to reach the Salar de Vyuni salt flat in Bolivia.
To reach the salt flat, he had to travel 300 miles uphill on a muddy dirt road, far away from civilization. At one point, Karl lost control of his bike and took a hard fall, breaking his leg in three places.
He sat alone in the hot sun for several hours. Two Bolivian boys came and sheltered Karl with umbrellas. He said they laughed when he joked about his light skin being sensitive to the sun.
Twelve hours after the accident, a makeshift ambulance arrived and took Karl to a hospital in Potosi, the highest elevated city in Bolivia.
Karl was forced to return to California for treatment of his severely broken leg. Hardware was inserted and Karl underwent months of physical therapy, then he returned to Bolivia.
“I didn’t start my quest just to give up on it,” he said. “I was yet to achieve my goals. I realized -- this is just the start of a new adventure.”
After several more mishaps, Karl reached the salt flat. He camped there for several days to embrace the joy of his accomplishment, but the journey didn’t end.
Karl continued cycling south, eventually reaching Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost town in South America. A family took him in for a short time until arrangements were made to fly to Cape Town in South Africa. From there, he began riding his motorcycle again, heading north on a different continent.
Using the Nile River as a guide, Karl reached Cairo, Egypt.
While in Zambia, he met a 105-year-old man who said his village must be rebuilt every three years due to flooding.
After negotiating with border patrol for days, Karl was allowed to tour Syria, but couldn’t enter most middle-Eastern countries due to the wars.
Three years into his journey, Karl decided to return to his hometown, Leucadia, Calif., in 2008.
He took more than 50,000 photos throughout the adventure.
He plans to explore the middle-East more in the future, but for now he is working at clearcloud ctc, a digital marketing consultant firm in southern-California.
In an upcoming book, “From the Boardroom to Bolivia and Beyond,” about his odyssey, Karl shares the places and faces he encountered, including 43 World Heritage Sites designated by the United Nations.
Karl encourages people to think outside the box and be optimistic in their toughest times. He said people need to step outside their comfort zone to see the world’s possibilities.
“Rather than highlighting the differences of our world’s culture, we need to focus on the similarities,” Karl said. “We’re all human beings. The universal language that communicates better than anything is a smile.”