Trek from North to South America Not Quite Over

In mid-August 2018, my dream of riding a bicycle from North to South America came to life. Based in Brooklyn, a cyclist heaven, I bought everything I thought I’d need, and off I went.

My initial plan was to ride through New York State to Canada and see if I’m even up for the massive challenge I was taking on. After about a week, I finally made it to a peaceful border and ticked my “international biking” checklist box.

I became more and more aware of the inequality between the rich and the poor.

The idea to go on such an immensely daunting adventure had been born a few months earlier. Having hitchhiked along Australia’s east coast and then walked across Israel, I realized that I loved both ways of traveling. However, hitchhiking was too fast and hiking was too slow. Since I was never a cyclist, I devoted time to doing a lot of research online. I also had the confidence of a young 23-year-old who just started discovering the world.

Reasonable decision

Where was I? Oh right, the east coast of Canada! Looking at the map, there was only one reasonable thing to do: cycle the 4,500 kilometers (about 3,000 miles) all the way to the other ocean, to Vancouver. Some of you must be arguing, who would think THAT was the reasonable thing to do? But I was determined to do it!

But oh wait, winter was coming. Canadian winter … relentlessly frigid and frozen. As I was heading west, with some detours north and south, people warned me I was pursuing a life-threatening adventure and should get off the road fast. But to make this long story short, after an endlessly long series of freezing nights and grey sunless days, I touched the Pacific and beyond! My westernmost point was Tofino on Vancouver island.

At this point, I should mention that I had worked as much as I could beforehand to save money for this journey. I have a tent, so most nights I spent under the sky. But sometimes I was invited by random strangers to enjoy a hot coffee and warm shower. I am forever grateful to the large number of people who opened their hearts and shared a piece of their heaven with me!.

Vancouver in January was cold. But before continuing south towards my continents-away destination — Patagonia, Argentina — I had to do one more crazy thing. That makes me the only person I’ve heard of who hitchhiked the Alaska Highway in the freezing winter. What an experience! The wildlife was stunning and the scenery breathtaking.

Wheels keep turning

By February 2019 I felt it was time to go back on the saddle, so I cycled across the border back into the U.S. The west coast was as gorgeous and alive as I had imagined. My good fortune continued in having wonderful encounters with people who saw me on the road and stopped to say hi, or let me camp in their yard.

In my eight months of cycling across the U.S. — from the west coast to Colorado, then Chicago, down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and finally Texas — I learned how to become more sustainable. I barely ate in restaurants and tried to collect food at the end of the day from gas stations, bakeries, and such. I became more and more aware of the inequality between the rich and the poor.

While visiting Las Vegas, I volunteered in a local food bank. Seeing the contrast between the glamorous Vegas Strip and the day-to-day battle of homeless people living under bridges was mind-blowing.

The entire time, though I was — and still am — in touch with my family, I coped alone whenever a challenge came, I had to deal with it. In California my belongings were stolen from the bike, and for a very long time after I would scoop valuable items from the side of the road. My journey across the US showed me the most beautiful parts this country has to offer, and some of the not-so-nice. Oh, and go visit Nebraska!

Ultimately, it was time for “bienvenido a Mexico.” As some of you can likely relate, my first few weeks there found me in a state of shock. Latin America is different in so many ways than what I was used to, even having been on the road cycling for more than a year already. All of a sudden, potable water was a precious product and hot water a luxury. Then there was the language difference. I learned Spanish on the way.

After I got used to the new pace and Latin culture, I was able to enjoy it a lot: from the Nevado de Toluca, through the Riviera Maya and to the grand volcanoes of Guatemala and El Salvador. People were extremely nice and I was excited to start every day not knowing what adventures would arise, what I would eat and where I would sleep.

Change of Plan in Costa Rica

As fate would have it, the Coronavirus lockdown caught me in Puerto Viejo, Limón, Costa Rica. So close to Panama, I had already planned my boat ride across the Darien Gap towards the next new continent. But as we all know by now, the world just stopped.

Cycling through Atenas, Palmares (where the bombers let me stay for the night) and San José, my plan was to cross Costa Rica pretty fast. But oh boy, I was mistaken.

Over the past two months I have been so lucky, once again, to find so many great people willing to store my bike, host me, and let me share my skills in exchange for room and board.

Sheer enjoyment

I often get asked WHY I’m doing what I’m doing. People might hope I’ll respond by describing a noble cause or a special reason. But the truth is, I simply enjoy what I’m doing. Every single day of biking, of struggling to find cheap food and a place to camp, is a day I feel more alive than the day before. The randomness and the people I meet in places that many tourists never visit are my passion.

Sure, the waterfalls, mountains, lakes and beaches are beautiful, but what fuels me are the chance encounters with the real, genuine people wherever I go, be it Kentucky, Mexico City or Honduras.

I honestly don’t know what the future will bring, when the borders are open and how things will look from now on. The world has definitely changed, at least for the foreseeable future, and I can’t wait to tackle it again. New people, new adventures … bring it on, world!

Until then, I’ll be pulling dead grass where I’m staying in Atenas and feeding Bobby and Laoca, the pit bull twins. (Learn how to adopt this lovable pair of dogs by clicking here.)

Follow me
Facebook: Yann Tourman or Instagram: yann.tourman
YouTube podcasts: Yann Tourman

Photo Credit: Yann Tourman

post a comment

+ 51 = 57