'I have traveled with a rubber duck since I first left home at 17'

'I have traveled with a rubber duck since I first left home at 17'
Fritz Jünker (photo courtesy of his travel blog at www.porkandcorn.com).

PORTLAND, Ore. - He's a grown man and he isn't ashamed to admit that his rubber ducky goes wherever he goes.

"I have traveled with a rubber duck since I first left home at 17," said local business owner Fritz Jünker, who is currently touring South America on his 2012 Triumph 800XC motorcycle. "The duck on my bike is the same duck I had in my bathtub as a kid. We were separated at birth, possibly."

Jünker, who is taking a hiatus from his design and remodeling firm in Portland, is in the final stretch of a journey that began in Valparaíso, Chile back in January. His goal? To ride his motorcycle from Chile all the way to the Colombia coast with his longtime pal, his rubber ducky, along for the ride.

"I've immortalized the duck in a tattoo on my right shoulder as well and that has been a big hit with many people around the world," Jünker said.

Jünker is currently in Peru and hopes to reach his destination - Cartegena, Colombia - in about a month and a half.

"There's a lot of distance to cover and places to see in that short amount of time," he said. "I'm going to have to make some hard decisions about where to go and not to go. This is the difficult thing about traveling with a deadline for return - you can't see everything, but you want to see everything."

The 37-year-old has always had a bit of wanderlust and he spent a year planning this latest excursion. Although he misses what he loves about Portland - like drinking cider with friends and eating at Lúc Lác and Little Big Burger - he is having the time of his life.

"I've ridden motorcycles since I was 13 and I've traveled a lot," he said. "I guess I finally figured out how to put the two things together. There's something very romantic about a man and a machine exploring the world together. In my heart of hearts, I'm a hopeless romantic."

Photo courtesy Fritz Jünker.

With cell service spotty, getting hold of Jünker by phone wasn't an option so we exchanged emails with him to find out more about his South America tour by motorcycle. Here are some of the questions he answered for us: 

What was going on in your mind the first day you set out in South America?

"I was just trying to live in the moment. My senses were very alive, absorbing the reality of what I was about to do. I purposely put thoughts of the future out of my mind. I wanted to just be a guy doing something he enjoyed."

Describe the best day you've had on the trip.

"That's a very good and difficult question - I would have to pick from several 'best days' that I have had in the last 11 months. I would say it was when I went to a Tango Milonga in Buenos Aires and a fight broke out. There was blood on the dance floor. The singer of the Tango band was crazy and had an argument with someone in the crowd. One of her band mates later defended her honor and started a fight with the guy in the audience. I know it's not very 'Rick Steves,' but watching from the back of the Milonga with a beer could not have made me happier. I'll never forget that experience and the weird energy in the building at the time."

Describe the worst day you've had on the trip.

"The worst days were after the first month of traveling. This is when I was really starting to miss my life, my friends and the things that we all take for granted in our normal lives. I remember being in Florianópolis, Brazil wondering 'what am I doing here?' 'Why have I brought myself to this place where I am always going to be a stranger, an outsider?' The funny thing is that I had lived in that city for a year 10 years ago. Something about the familiarity brought out the longing for home."

What has surprised you the most?

"This is cliche, but the friendliness of random South Americans has surprised me. I have been treated like royalty in most places that I have visited. People are very curious, very accommodating and always want to help if they can."

Photo courtesy Fritz Jünker.

Have you ever been tempted to give up and head back home?

"No, I haven't felt this. And I won't. When I get frustrated I treat the traveling like a job - I need to get to this place from this other place and I have this much time to get it done. Similarly, like a job, I make sure to have days off when I don't travel. I pamper myself with a nice hotel or a nice dinner. I'm a goal-oriented person. Making it to Cartegena is as natural as breathing for me."

Photo courtesy Fritz Jünker.

Describe the difference between how you envisioned the trip and how it actually feels to be doing it.

"I don't know because honestly, I made an effort not to think about what the trip would be like. And that was difficult to do. But the result is that I have not had to fight with prejudice, preconception and other things that can ruin a perfectly good adventure. Again, I'm really trying to live life in the moment. This is something that I have learned recently in life and this adventure is a great way to cement this philosophy into my mind."

Describe some of the people you have met along the way - the ones who have made the biggest impact on you.

"I will never forget Chaco - a short, portly, middle-aged motorcyclist from near Merlo, Argentina. I met him and his five friends when I pulled into town west of Mendoza, Argentina one afternoon. They invited me to stay with them at their guest house. While I was changing my brakes, I gave out a postcard that I made for the trip to hand out to people. I looked up from my bike and saw a tear running down his cheek - something from my postcard impacted him deeply. He is an adventurer and explorer. He may be older and past the point to act on these impulses, but he still feels the spirit of what I am doing deeply. When I saw that tear, I realized that what I was doing was much bigger than myself."

What is the most meaningful thing you've learned about yourself during this trip?

"I've learned that it's OK to be alone. Myself included, so many of us are afraid to spend quality time with ourselves, preferring distractions from the silence. But the silence is important - very important. That was my goal - to learn to appreciate the silence. And I feel like I'm getting closer to understanding who I am and what makes me tick. Traveling alone really forces you to understand who you are. It's a difficult, but beautiful process."

Photo courtesy Fritz Jünker.

What advice do you have for someone else who might want to do something like this?

"Don't let fear keep you from doing it. Fear will create all sorts of excuses why you should not follow your dreams - in travel and in life in general. Just set a date and the details will fall into place. It can be that simple."


 Blog: A Man & His Duck Explore South America | Photos: Fritz Jünker's Flickr Photostream