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BIKING THE ANDES

Prospect Heights journalist recounts triumphs and terrors of five-week-long motorcycle trek

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Reporter and thrill-seeker Matt Power grinned childishly while sitting in a small cafe in Prospect Heights. He probably had that same smile on his face while clutching the handlebars of his motorcycle and rolling 5,000 miles through the Andes, South America’s majestic mountain range.

Power recounts his astonishing adventure in "The Andes: Full Throttle," a story for "National Geographic Adventure," a quarterly magazine that offers readers tales of exhilarating escapades. On Nov. 20, Power will read excerpts from his piece, talk about the trip and even show some pictures of his adventures at The Half King Bar and Restaurant in Manhattan.

GO Brooklyn got a preview of his hair-raising tale over coffee, when the freelance writer told of the beginnings of his love affair with motorcycles.

"It’s part of that American philosophy of motorcycles representing the absolute freedom," said the Prospect Heights resident, who caught the fever in his mid-twenties. "It’s just such a great way to travel."

Originally from Vermont, 32-year-old Power moved to Brooklyn nine years ago. Working as a motorcycle courier in the city, he was able to develop his "Jedi sense of balance," which prepared him for future adventures.

But mainly it was his twin desires to write and to travel that have brought him to where he is today.

"I wanted to live my life, rather than the life that I figured the world expected of me," said Power, "and thus far it’s worked."

After a brief stint as a grad student at Columbia University, Power decided he didn’t want to be a student anymore. Working as an unpaid intern at "Harper’s Magazine," he came to hone the necessary skills and is now in his fourth year as a full-time freelance writer.

About a year ago, Power approached the editor at "National Geographic Adventure," and said, "I want to do a motorcycle trip in South America," which he had never previously visited. The editor agreed and Power began to organize his itinerary.

Finding nine companions of vastly different backgrounds - but all sharing a great passion for motorcycling - Power was ready to roll.

As he talked of deserted roads giving off a "sense of openness and emptiness," or the city of Cuzco in Peru, or even the four or five spills he took on his Kawasaki KLR650 that seem inevitable on a five-week journey, Power’s bespectacled face beamed under his beret.

"It’s amazing to go someplace that totally feels like the opposite end of the world," said Power.

The bikers faced some bad roads and other perils, he recalled. Just a few hundred yards in front of him, a member of the biking crew who was dazed by the long hours on a flat, tabletop road, failed to react in time and flipped over a flock of sheep running across the road.

"He broke his leg in several places," said Power with a grimace.

He went on to tell of the secluded places they visited.

"We were like the center of attention," said Power, describing curious locals asking a million questions that put his "mediocre Spanish" to the best possible use.

Photographer Henry von Wartenberg was part of Power’s posse, and this Argentinean rider is a key player in his travelogue.

"It was terrifying," said Powers, as he tried to re-enact von Wartenberg riding backwards on his motorcycle, steering with his legs while taking pictures of the surroundings and the other ’cyclists.

Over the course of their long journey, the writer and photographer became good friends, said Power. In the story, he recalls the duo’s extra excursions, or the time when "Henry was riding on the back of my bike, facing backwards taking pictures, and I just totally wiped us both out."

With a smile, Power added, "But we just got up laughing."

Whether climbing the Great Wall of China, dirt-biking through Africa, spending a year in India, boating down the Mississippi River, or paragliding with actor Ewan McGregor, Power wants to live life to the fullest.

But even while rocketing down treacherous Bolivian roads, Power knows he has to pay his own health insurance. Yet there is something about extreme traveling that just keeps him coming back for more.

In a "constant pursuit past the horizon to see what’s next," Power goes and somehow lives to come back and write about it.

"I just love that feeling of going sort of off the well-trodden path," he explained.

What’s next for Power? Well, an idea stemming from the Andes motorcycle trip might bring him back to South America to tackle the vast deserts on horseback, while following a group of gauchos. He’s planning on bringing von Wartenberg along.

When asked if he can ride a horse, Power replied, "I could probably figure it out OK."

 

Journalist Matt Power will read from his story, "The Andes: Full Throttle," at The Half King, 505 W. 23rd St. at 10th Avenue in Manhattan, on Nov. 20 at 7 pm. For more information, call (212) 462-4300 or visit the Web site www.thehalfking.com.

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