A Three Minute Read
(NOT INCLUDING THE VIDEO BELOW)
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch, Author
Looking back at old clips from my journey around the world, it transports me to a different time. It evokes a feeling of wonder inside, at all I went through to reach my final goal. Now looking back, it has all started to feel like a dream from yesterday’s past. Going through the thousands of hours of footage, one of the most important messages continues to jump out at me. It was always about what was in-between and never about the destination. I am happy that I learned this lesson very early on. Looking back on these videos of challenging, bright, tiring and beautiful days, I can honestly say it was worth it all.
Please take a look at my cycling video around the world. It was shot on my GoPro Hero 3+ and my DSLR Camera. For two years I kept the same mount and recorded it whenever I was able to do so. I have used those thousands of hours of footage and compiled it into a single video. I take you on a first person perspective journey around the world. Through 40 countries and five continents, from China back to Canada. Enjoy the wonder that this is our world. The struggle, strength and power of the human experience. A tour on two wheels.
The Video: 2 Year GoPro Bicycle Adventure Around the World
*We totally did it. The ultimate goal of $50,000 to help build five schools in five different countries around the world is complete. Now that we have met our goal for the fifth schoolhouse in El Trapiche, Nicaragua, the good people at Free the Children (WE Charity) are working on a full update. This review will include all five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua. It is a big update so it will take a bit of time. Once it is out I will be sharing it will all of my sponsors. Thank you everyone!
**You can see the completed donation page for yourself by CLICKING HERE.
***I will be condensing the video into a more succinct version for future presentations and speaking engagements, complete with all of my own music. In the meantime, you can check out videos, articles and podcasts on my ‘Media’ page HERE.
****If you are interested in learning more about my new side project, making healthy and delicious original recipe ‘Chicken Jerky’. CLICK HERE to check out my new website.
In our modern society we have been conditioned to think that the quickest way is the best. People thrive on speed and ease. We expect information to come in seconds and feel empty even when we have access to more knowledge than ever. Conversations that used to last hours are ended in moments with a quick Google search. We believe in 7 day weight loss programs, a pill for every ill and that the world generally owes us something. We live in a world of I.
The value of struggle has been lost. We want something and we want it now. Get rich quick schemes are all the rage. My junk mail box proves that. People are hoping to get ahead and not have do anything for it. With the New Year upon us, it is a booming time for gym memberships and diet programs. Typically, people will forget about these resolutions in a month, when life gets busy again. It is not that we aren’t good enough to follow through with these goals, we just approach things the wrong way. People give up because they weren’t ready and someone else told them what to do. No one likes being told what to do or how to do it. Take every child someone told do something. You need to come up with your own path to the changes you think you need to make.
We forget that any of the great feats in our world were not accomplished in a day. They instead took time, careful planning and exponential amounts of energy. The invention of the light bulb, automobile and the development of Wayne Gretzky’s hockey skill did not come overnight. All of these things took a lot of dedication.
I understand we are all busy, tired and stressed by modern day pressures. However, there are some simple things you can do to feel better about yourself in the New Year. Start small and grow gradually until those positive aspects become cornerstones of your life. Get to the point where you don’t talk about the change anymore, but just do it. It becomes part of a better and new you.
Making a regular healthy dinner is not that difficult, nor is writing a letter to an old friend. These are just examples, that involve simple planning and execution. However, the rewards far exceed the effort necessary in return. If you pour yourself into something that truly means a lot to you, you will succeed. Make 2016 something you can be proud to remember.
“May the sun set on where my love dwells.” ~ Bolivian Proverb
Crossing the Paraguayan border into Bolivia was not exactly what you would expect. I had essentially been in cycling limbo for the last three days after checking out of Paraguay some 300km beforehand. I crossed the military checkpoint and finally was able to punch into Bolivia at an ‘immigration’ post called Ibibobo some 50km from the border. The border control was basically a shack with one man giving stamps and a lady to change money.
As I was leaving another cyclist from France named Laurent rolled in. A huge surprise given our locality. We decided to have a bit of lunch together and shared stories from the road. As I was leaving Laurent tried to get his exit stamp to the sight of the border control taking off with the money exchange lady on a motorbike. I found out later he had chased the man down in the nearby village and received his exit stamp.
I rode off very tired into a new country after ten straight days of riding through the Gran Chaco of Paraguay. Though I was very excited to see a hill for the first time since Asunción some 800km back. There were parts of the road which were full of loose gravel where I had to walk my bike for short stretches. I thought very little of it at the time. I was mainly focusing on making it to the first town, Villamontes. Not far down the road was a return to civilization and a well deserved rest day. What I didn’t realize that this was a small warning for things to come. An ominous look into the misery of the Bolivian road system ahead.
Arriving in Villamontes I promptly ate two dinners and fell into a deep sweaty sleep. This part of Bolivia is known to be the warmest in the country. The temperature in my room was 38 degrees and only a small fan on the wall to cool off. After the first night I pushed my bed to the other side of the room to be closer to the fan. It didn’t help much and I avoided the oven of my room as much as possible. Instead, I stuck to drinking awesome fruit juices and eating Salteñas in the market. Though a Salteña is similar to an empanada, it is decidedly much better in my opinion. Click on Salteñas to see a delicious and savory recipe.
From Villamontes I decided to begin my ascent to the altiplano of Bolivia where the weather would be cooler and less rainy. The total climb would be upwards of 4,000 meters higher than where I currently was. The ascent started almost immediately. I was followed by hoards of little biting flies and a scorching sun as I cycled up the dusty dirt road. Stopping in a roadside village, I was invited in for lunch at a school. The kids all laughed at me and I shared a bottle of local cola with one of the teachers. Pushing on in the heat was draining and slow but the views along the canyon I was riding up were fantastic.
Near the end of my day I heard a terrible sound coming from the back of my bike. I inspected and my cassette had come loose. I tightened it back on but it didn’t last long and I was stranded with no hope of moving. I hitched a ride to the next town where a mechanic and I with the proper tools ‘fixed’ the problem. About 45km into the following day towards my next destination, Tarija, the problem returned once again. When I tried to fix the problem the cassette opened up and ball bearings went all over the road. I was upset as I had just replaced this part in Paraguay, but was sold a very cheap piece of equipment. Because of this my continuous route of cycling from Buenos Aires was broken. I felt down as I waited on the side of the road for a ride to the city over the mountain pass. When you invest yourself in something like this and things don’t work out, it is sometimes hard to swallow.
A nice man, also named Mark, picked me up not long after. Luck would have it he knew a mechanic who could help me in Tarija. We found a new cassette in the bike market and returned to the nice mechanic who promptly put the heart back into my bike. He wouldn’t take payment when I offered. I thanked him a dozen times and went off to my new friend’s pizza restaurant. His restaurant was inspired by his travels overseas and we shared a bottle of Orange Fanta while I admired the decor. I found a restful hostel called CASA BLANCA and got my mind back in order.
“It’s easy for people in an air-conditioned room to continue with policies of destruction of Mother Earth. We need instead to put ourselves in the shoes of families in Bolivia and worldwide that lack water and food and suffer misery and hunger.” ~ Evo Morales, Bolivian President
There was a very long and steep climb out of Tarija as I made my way towards Tupiza. By the time night rolled around a nasty storm was upon me and a little old lady invited me to sleep in her house. She cleared a room for me in what was most certainly one of the poorest families I had stayed with in a while. There was a knock later at my door and the lady had a nice looking soup in hand. I ate it quietly feeling humble as ever on my chair missing the back.
Talking to locals back in town, I was told that the road I had chosen was very difficult and I was decidedly crazy. If it was crazy and terrible that also meant it would be beautiful. I was certainly right about the beautiful part. But the locals were also right about it being terrible. It was one of the hardest roads I have ever traversed with rutted dirt tracks to the top of mountains and a howling wind. Once in a while tarmac would appear out of nowhere and I would coast like a giant along empty smooth roads. I have amazing memories of larger than life views with clouds crawling over the sides of mountain ridges. In a small town one night I had nowhere to sleep until a nice guy named Osman welcomed me to his house. He was still working, but let me into his place all the same. When he returned we watched a new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and I fell asleep.
In the morning Osman and I had some chicken soup together before I descended down my own ‘Road of Death.” Thousand foot drop offs with zero railings and crumbling loose gravel on the edges of the road. Every once in a while a bus would come roaring around a blind corner and shower me with dust. I usually stopped on some firm ground and waited for it to pass if I heard something coming. Though it was some white knuckle riding, it was completely worth the effort. The ride to Tupiza was stunning and the struggle for beauty was the reason I chose to come this way through Bolivia.
Arriving in the canyon town of Tupiza, I found a delicious lunch after days of cooking bland pasta. I then found a cold shower and scrubbed the dirt from my life. After exploring the markets of Tupiza I planned what can only be described as a hair brain venture down the wrong road. I was headed towards the largest Salt Flat in the world near Uyuni. Everyone I asked told me the road directly to Uyuni was the worst in Bolivia and I should take the route twice as long that was paved. I was here for adventure and I chose the exactly what you would expect. I chose struggle and misery, mixed with dashes of solitary beauty.
If ever there was a road I am happy to have left behind it was this one. It began with sandy riding through spectacular canyons. Supposedly where Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid met their end. I pictured olden days of people struggling through these passages with ox carts as I rode. Lightning struck off in the distance and set the scene for an end of days western shootout.
“Bolivians die with rotted lungs so that the world may consume cheap tin.” ~ Eduardo Galeano, Writer
Eventually, I made my way up to Atocha. It was one of the most interesting settings for a town I have ever seen. Set into the edge of mountain it lay at the side of an extinct river and a sleepy railway. As an old mining town it seemed that everything here had seen better days. There is a long history of exploitation in Bolivia and the use of their people to mine plentiful natural resources by developed countries at low cost. Nevertheless, I was welcomed by friendly curious locals into their town. I couldn’t afford the nicer hotel in town and was shown to the second cheapest room of my entire trip, at the equivalent of $2. The bed smelled like spit and the odor of the communal toilet wafted into my room through the cardboard window in my 4×4 square. I slept in my sleeping bag, with my cycling buff over my face and didn’t dare touch the stained sheets. I escaped the room as soon as possible in the morning and gagged one more time as I headed back in to grab my bags.
The following two days to Uyuni saw some spectacular but difficult riding through amazing rocky landscape. I followed a volcanically poisoned river and passed along high canyon walls. Later I bumped past as Llamas grazed on the sides of the road. I huffed up steep hills into a strong wind as the corrugated road bounced me to pieces. Sometimes the road wasn’t much more than a drift of sand and gravel. In spots roadwork was in progress, but at the rate they seem to be going it will be done in ten years. Eventually the dusty tourist jump off point of Uyuni emerged and I tumbled into reality like a space monster. Tourists laughed in the streets as they headed off on their tours with blinders on. I could see them through windows in English looking pubs eating pizza at outrageous prices while they drank cold Corona beers. It all seemed extremely odd to me after where I just came from. I ate my regular local meal of chicken with rice and hid away from it all in my room after a fruitless search for a new bungee cord for my bike.
At this point I was far more consumed by the adventure ahead. The largest salt flat waited for me in the morning. I was truly excited. It serves for most cyclists in South America as the quintessential cycling experience. As I approached the entrance to Uyuni the following day I heard a loud snap and a broken spoke. Terrible timing with Uyuni some 15km behind. I rolled into the town on the edge of the Salar and found a truck mechanic. We used his tools to take off my new cassette and my ball bearings exploded all over the sand. With his kids we picked up all of the little pieces and put the thing back together. A ten minute job turned into two hours. (I have now purchased all the tools to do this myself) When I finally entered the Salar de Uyuni, the wind was already roaring, not in my favor. I met four cyclists around one of the hotels made of salt. They were being carried by the wind without even pedaling. I’ve never been so jealous.
I pushed onwards into one of the most naturally stunning landscapes on the planet. A completely flat and a magically disorientating experience to cycle. At first the Salar was truly fun. I took lots of silly photos as I headed to an island called Incahuasi in the middle of the Salar to camp. However, after seeing the island in the far off distance for more than half the day it seemed to come no closer. I kept thinking it must just be a few more kilometers ahead. But it never materialized. The sun was getting low and I stopped in the howling madness to snap some photos. At this point the wind was stronger than ever and I was exhausted. I resorted to pushing my bike towards the outline of the looming island. My mind was playing tricks on me and I imagined nightmarish creatures following me. To be honest I whimpered a bit and felt delirious from the sun and wind. By the time I arrived it was after 9:30pm and had been dark for hours. I found the tourist centre and pitched my tent with my last ounce of energy. I ate some cookies in my tent and passed out.
I was awoken early by the arrival of hoards of tourists to the island. Less than impressed, I packed up and ate some bread as people snapped photos of me where I gave a begrudging thumbs up. The nice ticket man let me go up the island and take a photo for free and gave me a bottle full of tea. He said he saw me arrive late the night before and I think he was worried about me. I felt exhausted beyond all belief, but knew I couldn’t stay where I was. I headed for land and the volcano in the distance.
After a few kilometers of riding I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt awful and threw up a number of times from exhaustion. I positioned my bike in front of the sun and lay in the shade under my bike and had a nap. When I woke up the sun was beating down on me, but I felt much better. I got back on my bike and slowly made it to land where I found some nice tourists that shared their dinner with me.
From the volcano Tunupu, I carried along a very beautiful and sandy road towards Salinas de Garcia Mendoza feeling much better. In this part of the world water is very precious and it was many days before I was able to get a shower. As I turned to rejoin the main road towards La Paz, I met a cyclist from Mexico who told me just three kilometers down the road it turned to asphalt. I have never been so happy. From that point on the hills were less strenuous on a fully paved road all the way to La Paz. Along the road I watched deer grazing in the distance while dust tornados whipped up around them. I flew past Llamas and Alpacas as I rode with speed on the finished road.
Approaching La Paz I was on my last bit of steam and in need of a break. When I came around a bend in the road and saw La Paz in the valley below from El Alto, I was speechless. I had never seen anything quite like it. I felt insanely small as I pictured myself down in the mass of buildings that seemed like little toy pieces from above. As I weaved my way down into La Paz I felt like an airplane coming in for a landing. I landed in the famous Casa de Ciclista where I recharged my batteries and met some nice people before heading to the border of Peru and onto the next adventure.
It was a month long journey through Bolivia with extreme highs and some serious lows. Coming through on the other side I can certainly say that it was a challenge worth the time and effort. It is one of the most raw and beautiful countries I have ever been to. Biking here definitely has all of the rewards you can imagine. Getting away from the main roads is where the adventure happens and the light of the world sparks the engine for adventure inside your heart. Maybe it was the adrenaline of sheer cliffs or the pressure of thin air, but I look back with extreme fondness on my days in Bolivia. Here you can learn the true value of struggle.
*We are now at 195 donors and over 1/3 of the way to the schoolhouse in Shuid, Ecuador. Pretty awesome stuff! If you hung on and read this far, I am proud of you. I also like to honour the type of lessons I preach. Therefore, I will be sending every donor up to #200 a personal handwritten thank you letter in the mail. Your name will also appear in the next post. If you are lucky you may receive a letter from the Amazon as I head north. I know most people don’t collect stamps anymore, but I think that would be really cool location to get a letter from. But, that’s just me. Thank you for all of your support! CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**At the moment I am riding in Peru, where the views are larger than life and the mountain climbs are monstrous. I spend most of my days huffing up massive hills as I head north and will eventually find my way down to the Amazon Basin. Here the road itself ends and I begin my great Amazon adventure towards Ecuador. Thanks for reading and stay tuned.
*** Below is a nicely written message from my walking friend, David, which I received around New Year. It is hard to stay in touch with everyone I have met along the way, but this is one chap I am always happy to hear from. Walking to India at A TASTE OF ANCIENT ROUTES.
“You are doing the ultimate and every day brings you closer to your final goal. This is for you my friend, when I think about your journey:
It can be tough, it can be a breeze;
some days are filled with hardship,
others gust with ease.
The people wave,
And smile and frown,
You pass them by,
Heading out of town.
The bed is hard,
the ground is your home,
Even if you feel it,
You’re ever alone;
Thoughts move in your brain
As you leave the road behind you,
Again, and again, and again.
“Any life is made up of a single moment, the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian Poet
The idea of becoming has been on my mind lately. As we grow we change. We move forward through different parts of our lives. We become sons, daughters, teenagers, adults and the elderly. Throughout our lives we have labels. They are placed on us without our consent. This is what we are, but not who we are. Later we can choose what we want to become. To become a chef, doctor or waiter. To become an amazing spouse, parent or friend. To be an ear to listen, a voice of reason or the responsible one. The slouch, drunkard or solicitor. We can be many combinations of these things. We can become anything we want, with the cooperation of mind, body and heart.
We change at different stages of our lives and have the ability to become more than we were before, or slip into obscurity. On the contemplative days on the bike, I look back with disbelief on parts of my life. Comments made as a child or recent transgressions. It is important not to regret but learn from past experiences. To move forward and grow. To become better. We must work as individuals as as a society to reach new levels of social development. To become the people we were meant to be. Growing as a whole.
As I left Africa and headed for South America, I had a lot to reflect on. The journey down had been anything but easy. It did however give me deeper perspective on the nature of our people and a continent that is often forgotten, avoided or stereotyped. The journey from Cairo to Cape Town left me feeling like anything is possible. It prepared me for the final leg of my journey. Toughening up my inner resolve to persevere and remember my goals. To ride for the charity, challenge and change I initially set out for. Looking at the map and the intrepid route home was a bit daunting. It would be hard and trying all the same. Each day is what you make of it and I was ready for the next challenge.
“One must harden without ever losing tenderness.” ~ Che Guevara, Argentina Revolutionary
I arrived in Buenos Aires from Cape Town after a roundabout flight pattern. I elected to fly instead of searching for a boat. I am happy with this choice given my present circumstance. I did this due to costs, time, motivational time-lapse and seasonal logistics. That night in Buenos Aires I found myself putting the pieces of my bicycle together at 11pm after being dumped off downtown from 42 hours of travel. A new land, language and beautiful challenge lay ahead. I biked off in search of my bed for the night.
While procuring travel visas for Brazil and Paraguay I spent some time exploring Buenos Aires. A bustling capital city with beautiful architecture. I enjoyed walking around the many parks and sitting around looking at beautiful cathedrals. During this time there was an upcoming federal election. The Argentinians’ are quite passionate about their politics I came to see. One day I found myself watching drums, trumpets and umbrella toting flag wavers from a high balcony. Everyone was kind of stopping to watch all the noise as the street filled with flyers of the next candidate.
Soon after I was off riding north towards Uruguay. Choosing my route through South America was not easy. There were a few locations I wanted to see very much and I based it on that. The route is always changing, but built on the same basic principles. It was a clean slate and I promised to ride it without any lifts. On the bicycle you are limited in your direction and you cannot have it all. Backpackers seem to flit about on 17 hour bus rides from one sight to the next. What I see and love is what is in between. The things most people miss and the experiences I gain from it. It has never been about the main sights, but the journey itself. The sights are but waypoints on the map. Placeholders and times for a break. I set out with that same old foundation of ideas that has got me to where I am today.
Leaving Buenos Aires on a Sunday morning was a relatively pleasant experience. Traffic was extremely low and the sky was a cloudy cool grey. After a good days ride, I found myself on a country road leading to Campana. I smiled at some unexpected nature and pressed on. Spending the first night with a welcoming young guy named Facu we chatted through broken English and Google translations. I made a promise to myself to truly begin taking Spanish seriously as a personal goal for this trip. The following morning we rode out of the city together towards a massive bridge. Facu waved goodbye and I was on my own again through rolling land punctuated by little streams and lakes.
I spent the first few days in Argentina camping out in nice campsites and eating really delicious sandwiches. I was enjoying the bit of tranquil riding before the real hectic sections of South America began. On one occasion I arrived after dark into a campsite and was welcomed to a bit of Argentinian style barbecue called ‘Asado’. Argentina proved itself to be a very developed, safe and a welcoming beginning to my South America ride.
On one day I pushed too hard with a 150km day and felt a strain on my knee. When I woke up the following day I felt a feeling I hadn’t experienced in a long while. A sheering pain in my left knee kept my days fairly short. At one point I wondered if that was it. Would I need to pack it all in because of a strained knee? I wouldn’t let that happen. Crossing the bridge at Colon I passed over into Uruguay for a bit of exploration while pedaling with one leg. I took a day off, explored the cobbled hilly avenues of Paysandú and rested my knee.
“I’m not the poorest president. The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live. My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I’m the son of my history. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress.” ~ José Mujica, Former Uruguayan President
(Jose Mujica is one of the most fasincating people I have ever read about. Giving 90% of his wealth away and living on a farm down a dirt road. His country is a testament to his recent achievements and mindset. Read an article about President Mujica HERE)
Now that I am into the thick of chaos I reflect with great romanticism on my days of cycling Uruguay. The hills were rolling, low and slow. The temperature was wonderful with a gentle push from the wind. Camping was welcome mostly everywhere and people were superb. Things simply worked smoothly and there is a certain fluidity about daily life. No one seems particularly stressed out. Sometimes as I ride I feel the energy of the people run off on me. I am now becoming a combination of the many people who have accepted me at their tables and into their lives. I feel a strong sense of belonging in this world. A piece that fits almost anywhere. In every country I have been to, I try to picture myself living there in some way or another. What I might do or who I would be. I always end up being myself in the end. I’ll always feel a connection to the places I’ve rolled through and the people who welcomed me.
One day I asked a family to camp in their yard and they eagerly received me. Unfortunately, the repairs to my tent had given out and two of my poles snapped. The son was an enthusiast of fixing all things and we put together some repairs to get my tent standing. His work still holds up in the strongest winds. The following morning I joined his mother for breakfast. She was completely distraught when she burnt my toast. I told her it didn’t matter and happily ate it. I rode off on my merry way with black teeth. Beautiful stretches of farmland gave way to tiny towns with nice parks and plazas. In Uruguay things simply work. Life is pretty comfortable for the most part and life exudes a style of relative tranquility in the persona of the population. They sip stimulating hot mate on the street in social circles and laugh in cafés over litre bottles of beer. Read about the wonders of ‘Yerba Mate’ HERE.
From Salta I made my way through the sparsely populated northern region with roaming farmland and wild camping for the taking. I was cautious on my weak left knee and took my time to explore the countryside as I rolled forward. I arrived in the border town of Bella Union on a Sunday with a pesky broken spoke. In Latin America little goes on during a Sunday and most shops are closed tight. I stopped a man who was on a bike and he led me to the nearest bicycle mechanics house, who we appeared to have woken up. Clearly this was his day off as he unlocked the shop. He didn’t seem to care and got to work on my bike. When I tried to pay he wouldn’t accept it. I pedaled off from another act of kindness and devoured the biggest burger I’ve ever seen after many days of plain pasta. I will leave the story there, as I crossed the bridge to Brazil and a new land loomed in the distance.
*We are now $500 away from reaching our goal for the school in Esinoni, Kenya. Looking back at the beginning of my journey, I am amazed with all we have achieved and the impact we have had on the communities we have helped in China, India and Kenya. Updates to come soon on progresss & development. Together we can enact great change. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**At the moment I have made it to Villamontes, Bolivia after crossing the length of Paraguay through the sparsely populated, difficult and beautiful Chaco region. I look forward to sharing stories of these days in the coming weeks. I’ve cycled over 3,000km of South America so far and right now it is time for a rest. Thank you for reading and please continue to follow along!