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Modern Explorers: Justin Coffey & Kyra Sacdalan

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Overland Journal,Winter 2017

While Overland Journal’s Living Legends section features those that have created a long-standing name for themselves in the community, Modern Explorers seeks to draw attention to luminaries in the making. To the people that are currently in the thick of it, setting tracks on the path of their own destinies, inspiring others to do the same.

Justin Coffey and Kyra Sacdalan have their eyes on the prize: living a life of travel their way, bringing family and friends into the fold whenever possible. They co-created WESTx1000, and what started out as an “excuse to ride dirt bikes in Baja,” has become a vibrant multimedia company providing inspiration for fellow adventurers and thrill seekers.

While the couple’s long list of sponsors indicates decided recognition in the moto and off-pavement worlds, they are driven by a mutual need to follow their hearts (wherever they might lead them) rather than fame and fortune. Kyra was in a dance program and Justin was filming a surf movie with friends in California when they first met. Just a few weeks later, Justin packed up and headed to Los Angeles so that they could be together. This event pretty much sums up their abiding ethos: when you know what you want, there’s no point in waiting— make it happen, any which way you can.

Baja is one of your favorite moto destinations. You are well versed in roughing it, but also seem to appreciate the high life. Boutique hotels and fine—as in delicious, not fancy—dining are more readily available in parts of Baja. As you have become more seasoned travelers, do you have a preference these days? Do you think one thing complements the other?

There are positives and negatives to every form of travel. Camping makes us feel involved. We’re immersed in our surroundings, reliant on very little, and the simplicity can be blissful. But at the same time, so is a shower. So are soft beds. Especially when you’ve spent the last several days on the ground, if not worse. We’ll eat street food like it’s going out of style or splurge on fine dining and drinks. With so many fulfilling options from either end of the spectrum and in between, it takes a little balance. Ideally, on a week-long trip for instance, we’d camp a few days in some remote, picturesque location, then find a roadside motel all the way to a five-star hotel to take a shower, relax, or do some work. We travel based on the job-at-hand, our means, schedule, or moods.

You’ve traveled abroad as well as explored a good bit of our own continent. Are there any other places that have particularly embedded themselves in your psyche?

We spent nearly 5 months living and exploring Japan. We traveled the country extensively on motorcycles, riding rindo roads, Japan’s version of forest service roads, and hunting for haikyo, the abandoned towns, villages, and buildings which are strewn about the countryside, left rotting following a massive population boom in the major metropolises during the 1980s. When people ask where we’d like to visit again, Japan is almost always the first place that comes to mind.

In the U.S., the southern and northeastern coasts have caught our attention. In a heartbeat, we’d revisit Key West, New Orleans, and Charlottesville, Virginia, to start.

Justin’s parents also ride. And Kyra’s sister as well. How often do moto excursions become a family affair?

Justin’s father returned to riding in 2014 following a nearly 40-year hiatus. He now finds himself the subject of many stories, traveling with us up the East Coast and, most recently, into the Sierra Mountains.

Kyra’s sister Gigi is a new rider, having only recently acquired her first motorcycle. She also joined us for a 2-week ride into the Sierras, and will be the subject of a story Kyra is working on about riding with her sibling, who is 18 years her senior and just discovering motorcycle travel.

The inclusion of family in our adventures is made easier by the fact they also ride. However, it’s been a priority of ours to involve them in any way we can, as we’re extraordinarily lucky to be doing what we do for a living, and owe a great deal to our parents, siblings, and friends.

Many overlanders choose to not have pets due to a lifestyle focused on the open road. Yet, you made room for Captain Coffey, a rescued doxie. Have you purchased a sidecar for him yet?

Our hasty decision to rescue that dachshund led us down a road we were not entirely ready for. Luckily, we had access to an Indian Scout with a Champion sidecar attached and were able to test a theory: Can we travel and keep Captain Coffey happy? It worked. A sidecar is definitely in our future.

Your sense of fun leads you to some pretty creative solutions, such as traveling with inflatable surf mats. Have you ever said no to a project?

The inflatable surf mat and motorcycle idea was actually something Justin’s father dreamed up. So far, we’ve been lucky enough to say yes to just about everything. Anytime a wild idea pops into our heads, there’s no hesitation to voice it. If we’re both game, then it’s time to hash out a plan to execute our—as friend and co-founder of Veterans Charity Ride, Dave Frey, has said to us—SOB, or stroke of brilliance.

The reality is managing our schedule is the hardest part. Having time to work, travel, and save time for ourselves—the latter is often most sacrificed—is not as simple a task as one might think. Saying no is something we’re trying to practice. But when you’re young and responsible only for yourselves and aspiring to do this and that, it’s difficult to turn down opportunity. Because who knows when it’ll come knocking again.

Back in 2015, the two of you traveled to Japan, the Philippines, and Italy for a 4-month sojourn. This was Kyra’s first international ride. Other than monster-sized wasps with a potentially deadly sting in Japan, what did you find were the biggest unknowns?

We’ve been to several countries together and individually, and since this trip was our first aboard motorbikes, we really didn’t know what to expect. What we found out was that driving on the left side of the road on a bike isn’t as tricky as one might think. Traffic in a third-world country like the Philippines is more of a controlled chaos than just plain ol’ chaos. We found Sardegna [Sardinia] to by far be the most remote, beautiful, and virgin land left in Italy. In Japan, you can eat amazingly well at convenience stores and truck stops. And [when exploring haikyo], if a home is left abandoned and untouched for years, it hums with a kind of energy. When you uncover what’s been dormant for years, you find the stories of its residents waiting to be rediscovered.

You’ve ridden all kinds of bikes in all kinds of destinations. Enfields in England, Indians cross-country, Ducatis in Europe. What do you currently keep in your own stable?

We own a pair of Indian Scouts purchased shortly after our cross-country ride. We treat them like mules: loaded down with camera equipment, camping gear, and enough clothing to keep us on the road indefinitely. We also have two dual-sport motorcycles, a 2003 Suzuki DR-Z400 and a 2008 Yamaha XT225, as well as a Yamaha TW200 that was supposed to be turned into a custom bike of some sort but has spent most of its life leaning against a recycling bin. Aside from that, we rotate through a variety of press bikes, both big and small, and constantly struggle to pick a favorite. Because, as our early-departed friend Jim Downs once said, “The perfect number of motorcycles is n+1, where n is the number you currently own.”

There is a myriad of destinations plotted on your calendar for the upcoming year including Thailand, Peru, and Sri Lanka. What is your method for choosing where to journey?

A great deal of our decisions are made in the middle of the night, when we’re both restless and dreaming of places we’d rather be. Destinations that push the boundaries of our comfort zone are high on the to-do list. Like all good stories, they usually start with a bit of struggle and end with a cold beer.

You’ve lived on the road both on two wheels and four. What is your favorite four-wheeled friend? Justin, are you still an Econoline man?

As of right now, the only four-wheeled vehicle we own is our tried and true 2008 Ford E-150 Econoline. It tows a small enclosed trailer which fits our dual-sports and an assortment of gear, has a bed built into the back, and an IKEA cabinet we picked up on the side of the road for clothing and accoutrements. It struck a deer last summer, has nearly 180,000 miles on the odometer and just keeps chugging along. An upgrade is in our future, likely the latest van configuration from Ford, and hopefully, one that we can stand up inside.

I read your pieces a few years back on the abhorrence to settling down. After traveling extensively, do you ever think about changing your way of life?

For two people that are in perpetual motion, we do daydream of staying in one place long enough to see the seasons change. Picking that place though has been the problem. There are far too many amazing places in this country and others, which makes the idea of settling down rather difficult. Our current plan is to take advantage of Airbnb, staying in spots we either like or would like to discover for a month or more at a time.

For as many people supporting their life of adventure with the written word or shutter-bugging, there are just as many who say it is too hard to do. You seem to make it work. Do you have any words of advice for those struggling to make a break of it to support their travels?

Making it work is subjective. What are comfortable sacrifices for us may be way off course for someone else, so it’s a bit hard to give sound advice that applies to all. That said, finding a remote job is key. If not, finding a career which allows you to work in other markets and regions is also key—for those non-desk workers. If you can secure odd jobs as you go along, this has worked for friends of ours as well. And others merely work for periods of time throughout the year, saving up for their travels. Whichever path you choose, we suggest you stay flexible. Be willing to suffer for your dreams to an extent. To expect little and appreciate a lot. And to grab opportunities with both hands. The best advice we ever received was from our friend Austin Vince, “You don’t listen to anybody who hasn’t done exactly what you want to do.”

Kyra, I love your quote on Instagram. “I have been a believer in the magic of language since, at a very early age, I discovered that some words got me into trouble and others got me out.” (Katherine Dunn) Can you give us an example of each, taken from your own lives?

Oh, that’s a damn good question! My smart mouth has gotten me into so many variations of trouble it’s hard to pinpoint. No one who speaks their mind, and says it loudly for that matter, is going to be a crowd-pleaser. But at the same time, seconds apart from each statement, the next few words which escape the lips can rebuild a conversation, a relationship, or a message.

As for Justin, he seems to be pretty good at talking his way out of tickets…we can leave it at that.

A steadfast believer in the power of words, Tena can usually be found with her eyes turned toward some source of written knowledge, be it for pleasure (seeking details on her next adventure), sustenance (recipe or menu), or just because. Recognizing the value of spoken word as well (unless it is coming from her GPS, in which case, she is perfectly capable of getting lost on her own), Tena finds there is no substitute for confabulation. Refuge from the monotony of the everyday is found by immersing herself in her surroundings, whether in an exotic locale or her own backyard. Disconnecting from technology is one of Tena’s favorite things, and seeking solace in the great outdoors is a cure well taken.