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Motorcyclist on long tour for charity

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This summer, he has already braved the world's driest desert, survived a mugging attempt and been threatened by Colombian guerillas. Still ahead of him are possible wild animal attacks in Alaska. And he's facing it all on his motorcycle.

But for now, Ashley Rhodes is enjoying a fairly smooth ride as he and his BMW R1150 GS all-terrain bike make their way northward through the American West, all to benefit a British epilepsy charity.

Rhodes, 40, of Wilmslow, Cheshire County, England, began his months-long trip across the world's longest continual land mass May 1 in Ushuaia, Chile, the southernmost town on Earth. He plans to arrive in Anchorage, Alaska, just in time to fly home Aug. 31. He was in Salt Lake City's Peery Hotel on Thursday, on his way to Boise.

The 18,000-mile journey is meant to increase awareness of and raise money for the David Lewis Centre for Eplipsy, a Cheshire-based charity that provides for the needs of children and adults 6 and older whose epilepsy is uncontrollable by medication. It is the largest epilepsy center in the United Kingdom, Rhodes said.

Epilepsy affects about one in every 200 people, making it the most common brain disorder after migraine, according to information from the David Lewis Centre. For some sufferers, medication controls seizures, but for others, more support is needed.

Dr. Tawnya Constantino, an epilepsy specialist at Salt Lake's University Hospital, said some epilepsy patients require brain surgery or electrical treatments to the brain.

"There's tons of research that needs to be done on epilepsy," Constantino said.

Sponsored by local companies, as well as larger ones like L'Oreal, Rhodes hopes to raise somewhere around $30,000 for the center. However, Rhodes is paying for the actual trip himself.

The slender, red-haired hairdresser said the ride is for his own pleasure as well as for charity. "It's a hell-of-a wasted opportunity if you don't do something worthwhile with the trip," he said.

Whether the primary purpose is personal enjoyment or the betterment of epilepsy sufferers, Rhodes' experiences should provide a lifetime of memories.

"I've seen a phenomenal amount," he said. This includes arctic tundra, glaciers, northern Chile's Atacama desert — the world's driest — and the ancient Incan citadel of Macchu Picchu.

He's also seen a "colossal cross-section of cultures," including many native peoples. He's stayed in the capital cities of just about every country he's been in. He's seen some amazing things and he's seen some frightening things, such as dodging local guerilla fighters in Colombia.

"The human danger is far worse than anything else," he said.

In Colombia, Rhodes had to keep up with hourly bulletins telling where local guerilla fighters were so he could keep as far away from them as possible. He has faced "endless police and army roadblocks" and driven on roads that were deserted, because locals considered them too dangerous to drive.

Also in Colombia, a man high on drugs and armed with a long shard of glass tried to mug Rhodes, who distracted the man by offering him some food. Rhodes later negotiated a lift on a private San Andrean coastal freighter to ferry himself and his bike from Colombia to Panama.

In Guatemala, rainstorms had essentially transformed a road into a "quagmire," but Rhodes said he thought he could make it. However, when he found himself sinking in mud that covered the tops of his wheels, he eventually had to be towed out by a "Guatemalan tug-of-war team."

Rhodes can manage approximately 500 miles a day when he wants to, but some days have been less productive. He faced roads so bad in Chile that some days 100 miles was an accomplishment. Rhodes said at times he arrived at the end of his day's trek mentally and physically exhausted only to find himself in some "god-forsaken place" where the only hotel was "worse than any state penitentiary."

But Rhodes looks on the bright side. And he said he is confident the worst is behind him.

"It makes the good times so much better," he said. Some mornings he would wake up in a "one-dollar-a-night job" that resembled a jail cell but would end his day in a five-star hotel somewhere like Quito, Ecuador, he said.

Rhodes, who owns a salon in Wilmslow, also dabbles a little in journalism, and he is writing a book about his travels. He said he has done more than 200 pages, which he is writing in diary form. He hopes to publish his book sometime next year.

E-MAIL: dsmeath@desnews.com