Last updated: July 4th, 2012
What is this site for?
It’s where I log what happens during my travels.
Where are you from?
I was born in the United States and moved to Canada when I was 5 where I lived until I was 19. Then I moved to Florida and lived there up until 2009 when I left on this trip.
Have you ever been on a bike tour before this trip?
The only other times I’d been on a loaded touring bike was when I went on a 3 day ride around Lake Okeechobee in Florida a couple months before leaving on this trip and on an overnighter in the Everglades. Those were my first and only “test” rides. All my past riding experience had been on mountain bikes and almost none of it on roads.
What was the first month like?
Different is the best word. Some things were very new to me like riding a loaded bike on a busy road. Physically, my ass took the worst of it. Traffic took a lot of getting used to. Touring riders get a lot of attention but it was fun having so many people interested in what you’re doing. Florida and Georgia were not the best 2 states to start out in just because there’s a higher percentage of jerks on the road. There were plenty of nice people around which helped offset that. I learned quickly that dogs suck and most people that own dogs shouldn’t.
How is your health?
The only thing that hurts that I can’t seem to do anything about is my ass. Resting for a day or two gets it back to normal. I’d say 98% of the time I’m riding in some amount of pain because of it. Just friction from the shorts/seat but it’s not really all that pleasant for 5 or 6 hours. My knees are 100% but I need to keep an eye on the seat height because if it slips too low they start hurting after a couple days. My back is 100%. I can’t keep my right foot clipped into my pedal or my Achilles starts hurting. I haven’t been sick with anything other than a cold in a couple years. The first year in Latin America resulted in several cases of very upset stomach. I’ve never taken vitamins, I don’t stretch (ever) but I do try to eat my veggies and drink lot’s of milk. I know there are many days where I don’t drink enough water. I’ve cut way down on beer and sugar since arriving in Europe.
What isn’t anything like you expected it to be?
The people. I was so completely wrong about this. Having never traveled outside Canada or the US here’s what I thought it would be like:
US/Canada: minor threat of robbery in southern states
Mexico: robbed for sure at some point
Guatemala/El Salvador/Nicaragua: strong anti-US sentiment, minor risk of robbery, bribery not uncommon
Colombia: minor threat of kidnapping and robbery
Things changed a little after I started reading other bicycle touring journals and hearing what others have experienced. The only thing I ever read was how friendly everyone was. Rare cases of theft were limited to incidents off-bike (buses/markets). On-bike incidents were unheard of except in one place, Pajain, Peru (funny story, I ended up getting robbed to the north of this town as well).
Here’s what it’s actually been like. A lot of guys in their 20′s are jerks. This is true in every country but the US is by far the worst. They are the only ones who will ever yell something stupid out, flip you off or drive/honk in an aggressive manner. It never went beyond that even if I stupidly tried to make it worse (yell back/flip them off).
The only bribe I had to pay was to a customs agent leaving Costa Rica. I didn’t have an entry stamp and he threatened not to let me leave unless I gave him $50; I talked him down to $20. The drop point for the money was the bathroom. It was all very 007-like.
I’ve never ridden through or stayed in an area where I felt unsafe. I’ve camped in the open in small towns in almost every country, I’ve ridden through and camped in very remote areas, stayed in very cheap hotels in very poor areas and traveled to many places with bad reputations. The least friendliest thing someone has done to me is not wave back (OK getting robbed in Peru but I’m saying in general). I noticed this a lot in El Salvador and Costa Rica and to some extent Colombia. The place I was treated to the most hostility was Georgia in the United States (by rednecks).
I have US and Canadian citizenship and passports for both. I used my Canadian passport while traveling through Central/South America because I assumed that people would treat me differently depending on where I was from– mostly hating me if they knew I was an American. This turned out not to be a problem because no one seemed to care even after I told them I was from the States. The place I got the biggest anti-US vibe was Argentina which was the opposite of what I expected. US foreign policy is the common theme for anything negative, in which case I usually agree with the person and then we get along great.
The friendliness can be overwhelming at times. In Latin America more than anywhere else I was honked at, waved at, given a thumbs up, had fist pumps extended out car windows, cheered on or had my hand shaken every day. In a lot of counties it was a dozen times per day or more. Staring drives me insane and to this day I still can’t stand it. I get the curiosity part but at some point break it off because it’s just plain rude after about 10 seconds.
What are other travelers like?
I love meeting other bicycle touring riders! There’s an immediate ‘click’ no matter where you are, what languages you speak or don’t speak, where you are from or what’s going on at the time. We are drawn like magnets to each other. After meeting and getting the usual, “How’s the road/traffic/food/prices/scenery ahead?” questions out of the way conversations are relaxed, cordial and I always learn a lot about where they are from.
Backpackers generally tend to be young twenty-something US/Canadian/European/Israelis away from home for the first time who carry a lot of stuff on their backs and take the bus everywhere. I only ever see them in touristy places. Notable exceptions are actual travelers who focus more on the place/culture rather than how fancy their gear looks. They are easy to spot but kind of rare. The female backpackers are nice.
I say I don’t like hippies but I can clarify that a little. I don’t like people who just float around and look like they are high all the time. If they have a dog with them it’s even worse. I especially don’t like people that sell their little homemade trinkets in areas where they are competing for tourist dollars with locals that are selling things to feed their families.
Motorcycle touring riders are pretty cool. I have a lot more in common with them and they are always my age or older. They sleep where I sleep, eat where I eat and generally suffer through the same bad weather and the same bad roads as I do. They also see more of the actual country than other travelers so we always have lot’s of good stories to share.
It’s rare to find RV/private vehicle travelers outside of developed countries with the exception of Baja and Patagonia. The ones I have met were great people and we tend to share the same interest in experiencing the actual country instead of just the tourist attractions.
Where have you ridden so far? What’s next?
From my home in Florida I left on February 21st, 2009 (my birthday) and rode to Alaska arriving there on August 3rd, 2009. Needing to get south before winter set in I took a ferry on August 24th, 2009 from Anchorage (Whittier) to Vancouver Island in BC, Canada arriving there on August 31st, 2009.
From there I rode down the coast before crossing into Mexico on November 22nd, 2009. After riding through Mexico and every country in Central America I took a plane (because there are no roads) from Panama City, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia arriving there on October 8th, 2010.
From Cartagena I rode through South America, arriving in the southern-most city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina on February 10th, 2012.
From Ushuaia I flew to Florida to visit family/friends and then caught a plane to The Netherlands on March 26th, 2012. The plan now is to tour Western Europe followed by Eastern Europe, Russia, North Africa and the Middle East.
Did you ever have to take a bus or hitchhike?
Not by choice. On the way to Alaska I had to sit in the back of a pickup truck through a road construction area for 6 miles because they wouldn’t let me ride my bike. Heading into Cusco, Peru I broke 3 spokes on my back wheel and had to hitch 40 miles into the city.
How far do you ride per day?
This depends on so many things. In general I feel pretty good if I get in 50 miles (80 km) on rolling terrain (under 2500 feet / 762 m total ascent). If the ascent for the day is under 1000 feet (304 m) I can knock out 65 to 80 miles (105 km to 129 km) without too much trouble.
I’ve maxed out at 121 miles (195 km) in a day and on the low end I’ve had many days in extremely mountainous terrain where I’d stopped after 15 miles (25 km).
Rain, loose gravel roads, strong headwinds and my mental state can drastically change how far I feel like riding on any given day.
Why are doing this?
This trip is more to me than just seeing if I can ride a bike a long way. All that’s needed for that is desire, opportunity and common sense. The desire to see/do more has always been with me. Opportunity was the biggest obstacle and I was very fortunate in that respect. Common sense comes from experience I’ve been through enough to know if I’m doing something stupid (usually).
For me this journey is about providing myself with an opportunity to learn from other people/cultures so I can contribute more. Up until now I haven’t done much of anything except consume. OK, I’ve helped a few people over the years which I’m thankful for but I need to do more.
Where do you sleep?
This depends a lot on the location.
United States (east of Mississippi river)- mostly cheap motels, a little “free” camping and camping in town parks if possible. Virtually all land was private and fenced in. State/private campgrounds were uncommon.
United States (west of Mississippi river)- mostly state/private campgrounds, cheap motels once in a while and a little “free” camping. Most areas along my route were private and fenced in. In Alaska you can camp just about anywhere you like which I did.
Canada – mostly provincial/private campgrounds, motels on occasion and some “free” camping. A lot of land is fenced in outside of the Rockies and the Yukon.
Mexico/Central America – mostly motels/hostels (private rooms; not dorms). Virtually all land is fenced in with the exception of Baja. Very few “free” camping opportunities. Campgrounds are basically non-existent.
Colombia/Ecuador – mostly motels/hostels (private rooms; not dorms). Everything is fenced in so “free” camping spots were rare.
Peru/Bolivia – mix of hostels and “free” camping. Fenced in land is rare.
Chile/Argentina – in the north and central areas a mix of “free” camping and paid accommodations. Except for very remote places everything is fenced in. In the south mostly camping in “free” areas and paid campgrounds.
The Netherlands/Belgium/United Kingdom – paid campgrounds that are almost always part of an RV Park. Occasional Bed & Breakfast accommodations and with warmshowers.org hosts in big cities. There are virtually zero undeveloped areas for wild camping in these countries.
I’ve used couchsurfing.com and warmshowers.org occasionally. It can be difficult to coordinate places to stay in remote areas (no phone/internet) and they were few and far between in Central/South America. As of late couchsurfing.com has turned into a slow, cumbersome dating site used by 20 year old guys looking to score. I’ve scratched it off my list. Warmshowers.org hosts are plentiful in Western Europe and I’ve used them in most big cities I’ve stayed in.
I only stayed at one in Tumbaco, Ecuador, but the famous Casa de Cyclistas are great places to stay if your are passing through on a bike.
Any other comments on camping/hotels in Latin America?
Paid accommodations are very cheap ($4-$15 a night) and for me it was usually easier to sleep because it rained at night a lot (noisy). I’m also riding by myself. If I start riding at 8am I’m done by around 2pm. Sometimes even earlier. Once I get cleaned up, work on my web site/bike and eat something I still have 8 or 9 hours to kill. I’d go crazy sitting around in my tent all afternoon/evening. Being in a little town/village was nice since I could have a beer, eat something better than anything I could make on my own and check out the sights.
Camping in the outdoors, away from people, was extremely difficult in every country except Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. I don’t trespass which ruled out a lot of places since 99% of all land was behind a barbwire fence. For safety reasons I preferred to camp where I wouldn’t be seen. This is virtually impossible in countries with high population densities. It wasn’t an issue at all in southern Argentina/Chile. My Spanish is also not strong enough to get me out of a jam should the need arise. Official campgrounds were exceedingly rare north of Chile/Argentina (I can recall maybe 3 or 4). I’ve been allowed to camp on someone’s property, in soccer fields and next to churches.
How much does your gear weigh? How much do you weigh?
I’m riding with 81 lbs (37 kg) of gear. This doesn’t include the weight of the 4 panniers, handlebar bag and the rack pack (12 lbs). It also doesn’t include water or food of which, on average, I carry about 5 lbs. So the grand total is 98 lbs (44.5 kg). My fat ass weighed 207 lbs (94 kg) when I left Florida in 2009. In the first year I lost 22 lbs (10 kg). I’ve lost a bit more since then. These days I’m around 180 lbs (82 kg) and my friends/family say I look too skinny. It’s hard to gain weight when you ride 50 miles a day.
Do you have a death wish (from my Aunt and others who thought going to South America/Mexico was a bad idea)?
No, but I understand there are risks. I intend to avoid obviously dangerous places/situations and listen to the locals. The only places I’ve intentionally avoided so far were East St. Louis, Illinois and Paijan, Peru.
Any dangerous encounters of the animal kind?
I rode right by bears, bison and moose quite a few times in the Rocky Mountain states, Canada and Alaska (usually by accident). Camping involved taking precautions against bears which I did (hang food, no cooking by tent, etc). Never had any problems. Dogs on the other hand… I hate them. I’ve been chased by them hundreds of times and luckily only had my panniers bitten. I’ve had to kick a few in the head to save my legs. Usually they just distract me while I’m riding in traffic or on bad roads. I fell once when two chased me on a bad road but damage was minor.
Any dangerous encounters of the people kind?
In northern Peru a motorcycle rammed into the front of my bike knocking it over. I jumped off already swinging but not before one of the guys bolted with my front pannier. Fortunately he dropped it when I started chasing him. 2 other guys in on it ran off as well. I don’t think they were expecting a fight. Should I be fighting back when 3 guys are trying to rob me? Probably not but I saw that they were unarmed so why not take the opportunity to kick the crap out of some idiots.
How long are you going to be doing this?
Don’t you miss [person]?
Terribly. I’ve traveled back to Florida 4 times since leaving to visit family/friends (3x planned; 1x unplanned). I made it up to Canada to see my sisters and nephew once (under bad circumstances but it all worked out). I also saw family on the way to up Alaska. Skype keeps me in contact.
What did you do with all your stuff?
I sold/donated virtually everything I owned. I left some irreplaceable things like my photo album with family. I was renting the house I lived in and the lease was month to month. I sold my vehicle at a nice loss with the market being what it was at the time. I own some land in Tennessee that I would have liked to have sold but I’m stuck with it since the market is dead. It’s just me and my bike now.
Why did you get rid of everything?
I wanted to be able to travel without having to watch a storage unit eat up all my savings. A lot of the material things I had just don’t seem that important anymore so I’m glad I got rid of them.
Do you have health/travel insurance?
At the moment yes. It’s a 6 month emergency medical/dental policy from worldnomads.com. The only reason I purchased it was because a couple counties in Europe claim to require it as a condition of entry. We’ll see if this is true or not.
For the first 3 years prior to coming to Europe I didn’t have coverage. It was too expensive and getting things patched up on the road was much cheaper outside the US if something should happen. The dental providers in big cities are comparable to US ones at 1/10th the price for cleanings/minor work. I would like theft insurance but I couldn’t find anything that insures for more than $500 and that wouldn’t help much.
How much has this cost you so far?
The first year in the United States and Canada cost about $13,000 US. I spend a lot less these days but the costs change a lot depending on the country and I don’t really keep track anymore. I just try to spend as little as possible by camping more, cooking more and skipping overpriced, touristy destinations. Some countries were very affordable such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru and Bolivia. I spent about $20 US per day including a hotel room (that’s $7,300 per year or $400 a month). Argentina and Chile in (2011/2012) had costs comparable to the United States for cheap lodging, food and services. The United Kingdom is horrifically expensive because you have to pay a lot even to camp every night. Everything else is very expensive. I had to quit drinking beer just to keep the costs down. The rest of Western Europe isn’t much cheaper.
Other expenses pop up like bike repairs/maintenance (maybe $500 a year), tickets back home (FML), medicine (normal travel stuff–maybe $100 a year if that), bribes ($20 negotiable) or new gear from loss/breakage ($0 unless you do stupid things like I do every once in a while).
Have you worked (to make money) since you’ve left?
How are you paying for this?
What are you going to do when you run out of savings?
The plan is to not run out of savings because then I’d be broke, homeless and probably stranded in a foreign country. I’ll figure something out when it’s time.
Is someone sponsoring you or can I/we sponsor you?
No. Some companies are very nice to me but I would never accept a full sponsorship. I’ll gladly accept offers of hospitality like any traveller would (place to stay, food, beer, etc).
Can I make a donation to your trip?
No. When I left I didn’t see my travels as anything worth contributing to so when offers did come in for donations I pointed people to places that actually do some good. I’m not riding for a “cause” or for some other noble purpose so accepting money didn’t feel right. Some good has come out of this trip that I wasn’t expecting however.
The publicity I have received does help promote something that I think is beneficial and that I didn’t consider when I left. Pulling up anywhere on a loaded touring bike elicits a natural curiosity in people that is the same regardless of what region or country you are in. Someone, and often groups of people, almost always come up to me when I’ve stopped somewhere. Sometimes I’ll just be riding along and they’ll wave me over or pull up beside me and ask that I stop so they can talk. That’s something I never expected. Then you get the opportunity to share things about were you are from and what you’ve seen in the places you’d traveled to. This helps to dispel a lot of the myths that are out there and hopefully encourages other people to travel and maintain an open mind.
If you want to spend some money go travel somewhere outside your home country and then go back and tell everyone how amazing it was.
How’s your Spanish/other foreign languages?
I know enough Spanish to get by at a very basic level. If I spend more than a few days in a country I’ll make an effort to learn at least the basics of their language.
Has this trip changed you in any way?
Yes, rather profoundly I think. I’ve come to truly detest how I lived my life and even now I’m embarrassed by some of the “western” habits I still have. I’m embarrassed because I’ve seen with my very own eyes the devastation I’ve helped cause. When I ride for weeks at a time without seeing a single wild animal I know I’m partly responsible for that. When I’m afraid to drink water from a stream I know I’m partly responsible for that. When I get to the top of a pass and look down only to see farmland I know I’m partly responsible for that. I think about this every single day.
Are you going to write a book?
I’ve posted 752 times to my blog. Most posts are over 500 words in length. There are 18 different pages covering major trip topics. There are 10,991 pictures in my gallery. I don’t know that I’d have anything left to say.
I still have questions about [whatever]…
I created something called an Ask Me Anything page in early February 2010. Lot’s of great questions were posted there if you want to take a look. I get emailed if something new is submitted. Or just email me using the Contact page. I love hearing from people that I met on the road or that just stumbled across my site because they were interested in touring.