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Motivation

An schönen Abenden aber sah man Jim und Lukas immer nebereinander an der Landesgrenze sitzen. Die untergehende Sonne spiegelte sich im endlosen Ozean und baute mit ihrem Licht eine goldene, funkelnde Straße vom Horizont bis vor die Füße der beiden Lokomotivführer. Und ihre Blicke folgten dießer Straße, die in weite Ferne führte, in unbekannte Länder und Erdteile, niemand konnte sagen, wohin. [...]
Und während sie Zukunftspläne schmiedeten, schauten sie auf das Meer hinaus und die großen und kleinen Wellen rauschten dazu an den Landesgrenzen.

Extracted from Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer by Michael Ende

The text above, in german, was extracted from a children's book by author Michael Ende (Neverending Story, Momo), that tells the story of a train conductor (Lukas), his train (Emma) and his young friend (Jim),
Jim Knopf and Lukas the train operator from the TV series
Jim Knopf and Lukas, the train operator from the children's TV series.
who travel the world in their train and experience all kinds of adventures. At the end of the book, Jim and Lukas are sitting by the ocean watching the sun set over its waves, as both are contemplating leaving their island state yet again to explore the unknown in search of more adventures.

This book was adapted by the Augsburger Puppenkiste, a puppet theatre company, into a series of episodes that were aired on german television when I was living in Germany as a child. I remember those episodes vividly and how exciting it was to follow those fictional travel adventures. Sure, it was all just make believe, but wouldn't it be great to travel the world and explore what it had to offer? Thus, since early on in my life I've developed a curiosity for the world around me, and the best way to explore the world is to experience it first hand. This is what travelling is all about.

While growing up I was a sponge when it came to learning new knowledge. The most interesting topics to me were science, geography, engineering and languages. Eventually, I managed to learn four languages; german and portuguese as native languages, english in school and later french as an adult. I became a software engineer, which had the appeal of combining mathematics with languages (computer languages). Part of my childhood was spent in Germany, where I was born. Then my parents moved back to Portugal and I lived there for 17 years. During this time I managed to travel, mostly through Europe. I had worked for five years in Portugal and every year I had a whole month of vacation. I rarely would take advantage of all my vacation time. Yet, I had been to most of western Europe and had even been able to spend a few weeks in Canada and the US.

Then I decided I needed to expand my life experience and moved to Canada. But even as I arrived I was already longing to travel to far away and
Me at Niagara on the lake, Ontario in the fall of 2000
A picture of me taken at Niagara on the lake, Ontario in the fall of 2000.
exotic places. But now I had only 2 weeks of vacation each year. I had a hard time adapting to this change. Now, with most of my family in Portugal, any vacation plans were always carefully planned and I just couldn't find the time for all the travelling I wanted to do. Well, a radical way to persue my travel plans would be to quit my job and just go for as long as my budget would allow me. In a nutshell, that's basically what I did.

I would buy old National Geographic magazines and devour the stories about all the different places in the world. One time, I read the story of a teenager who circled the world in a sailboat. I wanted to do something like that, but I wasn't too keen on the idea of sailing. Then, one day I revisited an old idea of getting a motorcycle (I didn't have a license by then) and while doing some research I stumbled on web pages of people travelling the world by motorcycle. Wow! Now that is something I can do, and thus this idea was sort of born. This was back in 2000 and since then my plans have become clearer.

While at work, if I would become bored, I would browse other traveller's websites and read their stories and look at their pictures. Throughout the last two years I've met virtually a few people who
On the shore of Georgian Bay during a trip to Lake Superior, 2002
Me on the shore of Georgian Bay during a trip to Lake Superior in 2002.
have or are still riding on their motorcycles throughout the world. Thus I wanted to become such a traveller and now see the world through my eyes.

The initial plan for my trip began two years ago, but at that time I didn't have yet a clear idea about this trip. It would become an idea in the back of my head, while at the same time I was turning this plan into reality by acquiring motorcycle equipment and going through maps and travel guides. About a year ago, I decided to go for it and set a date for April 2003. At the time, this was still far away, but I began making preparations. I bought books, read webpages, learned about other people's experiences and began keeping track of the plan.

Then, in the summer of 2002 I was suddenly out of a job. Though I planned on leaving, I thought of leaving my job only a few months ahead of my scheduled departure. Well, now I had a good reason to really get a head start in all the preparation for the big trip. At the same time, I was trying to find another job, preferably as a contractor, but the market was bad and I couldn't find a job in Toronto. While my decision to make this trip wasn't made overnight, it sort of came to fruition over the course of a few weeks. Now, it seems like I made the decision in a single moment.

To do such a trip requires some planning and quite a lot of it. Besides preparing my bike and buying essential equipment, I had to get vaccinations, research medical insurance plans, flip through guide books and read other people's advice, lay out maps, etc. I fixed a budget for the preparation and another budget for the trip itself. At this point I'm not very sure if the budget for the trip will suffice, though I plan on sticking to it as much as possible.

Though it may seem possible to drive around the world in under a year, even on a motorcycle, such a trip didn't appeal to me, because of all the things I would miss out. I think it makes more sense to allocate reasonable amounts of time to the countries and regions I will be going through that would allow me to experience them deeper. Plus, a more relaxed pace is nicer.

So, what does all this have to do with astronomy? I don't know yet, but I do know that I have been and still am passionate about anything astronomy. When I was maybe 12 years old, I remember watching the popular TV series Cosmos, sitting in front of the television set on sunny Saturday afternoons, while my friends
M51 or the Whirlpool Galaxy and NGC 5195, 11 kpc away
The Whirpool Galaxy or M51, with smaller galaxy NGC 5195, about 11 kpc away.
© Copyright Tony and Daphne Hallas
were playing soccer. I was in awe by how fascinating our universe is. Since then, I have kept this fascination alive and try to keep my knowledge up to date with the most recent discoveries about the cosmos.

When I decided to travel the world, I also thought about a way that I could make this trip useful beyond myself. I came up with the idea of bringing a telescope with me and provide children in the places I will travel through an opportunity to see the universe in a different and hopefully stimulating way. I have no idea if children the world over have access to telescopes, if someone has done this before and met with limited success, or if I will actually be able to easily haul a telescope on a motorcycle, while riding some of the more difficult roads. In any case, I always liked a challenge and if I'm enthusiastic about one, like I am with this one, I think it's possible.

So, now you know what this motorcycle journey has to do with astronomy. If you're a teacher or know a group of kids who are eager to learn more about astronomy and I will be going through your community, send me an email and I'll be glad to set up an astronomical observation session. It's free! Additionally, I can also do a presentation using a computer projector or screen, showing some amazing pictures of our universe. Even though I prefer to do a presentation in english, I can also speak fluently portuguese and german, some french and I understand a bit of spanish. For more information please refer to my astronomy page.

My trip will start in Toronto, Canada, where I currently live. From there I will go to the United States through Niagara Falls. I plan on going south until I find easy temperatures and then go west towards California. You can find a detailed plan for the trip here.

Periodically, I will write stories that I'll publish in the journal section of this website with photos taken during the trip. I will also provide updates to the traveller's forum Horizons Unlimited, which publishes a monthly newsletter. And if you want to get a hold of me, try email.

Nelson Patricio Oliveira
Toronto, December 15, 2002