From Canada to South America by bike

“There’s something about the seeming infinity of such an itinerary,” said Doolaard, a 38-year-old graphic designer with the shaggy blond beard and sunken eyes of a desert saint. “The destination was extremely far away and it seemed like a great adventure.” It would take him two years and 12,296 miles of driving to reach the end of the road; Doolaard’s written and photographic account of the trip, “Two Years on a Bike: Vancouver to Patagonia,” was published by Gestalten in January.

At night, he often slept at ad hoc campsites spotted using Google Earth satellite images, cooking one-pot meals on a gas-powered camping stove. In his book, Doolaard sometimes appears as a tiny speck in panoramic drone footage: he’s dwarfed by empty expanses of the Nevada desert, or winding his way up an Ecuadorian mountain pass.

The juxtaposition of a small bike with a large landscape emphasizes the scale of the undertaking, while alluding to its appeal. Every extra weight counts on a bike, rewarding riders who fulfill their needs in a state of functional minimalism. An illustrated packing list at the beginning of the book reveals that, for 816 days on the road, Doolaard ate a titanium spoon and scrubbed dishes with a dedicated toothbrush.

“The simplicity of cycling around the world gave me focus. Everything had a purpose,” he wrote of a previous cycling trip through Europe and Asia. (He documented this ride in the book “A Year on a Bike: Amsterdam to Singapore.”) Unlike the mess and complication of home life, riding a bike provided a pretty literal sense of direction.” Once I left, life was very clear to me.”

While crossing two continents by bicycle is an extreme feat by any measure, the journey linking North and South America has become a benchmark in the world of cycle tourism. The now classic southbound passage through the Western Hemisphere runs from Alaska to Argentina, first completed by Americans June and Greg Siple. Their revolutionary 18,272-mile journey, a journey they called Hemistour, began 50 years ago.

“We were very determined to use the expedition as a way to promote bicycle tourism in the United States because it really wasn’t a thing at the time,” said June Siple, who was 25 when she arrived. part of Anchorage with his compatriot Hemistour. runners in 1972. In the early 70s it was unclear that such a trip could be made. The distances were vast, and bicycle touring – especially in such remote places – was an unfamiliar concept to many in the United States, even other cyclists. Siple said disbelief was a common reaction to their plan, but their group was confident: “I think we were all ready for the task,” said Siple, who turns 75 in March and hopes to run 1,500 miles. year. “I mean, it was a huge adventure!”

In the half century since the Siples began their revolutionary ride, cycle touring has changed. This is partly due to the couple’s advocacy as co-founders of the non-profit organization now called the Adventure Cycling Association, which has published more than 50,000 miles of bike trails in the United States. Even if you live in a place where few bike tourists pass by, you can find them all over the internet. Doolaard and other social media savvy cyclists attract thousands of followers. Technology has helped transform the sport.

June and Greg Siple corresponded with sponsors, family and friends by airmail, collecting general delivery letters from post offices along the way. Doolaard, on the other hand, had a gear list that included a DJI Mavic Air drone and a mirrorless digital camera to document his adventure. He traveled with a phone and laptop, so he could do some freelance graphic design work along the way to fund the ride.

It’s one thing to spend two years eating with a fork. Leaving home without a smartphone, Doolaard explained, would have been nearly impossible. “You can’t live without this technology anymore,” he said. A phone is essential not only to stay in touch. While Siples primarily found their way using paper maps from roadside gas stations, modern bicycle tourists primarily navigate using digital mapping technology.

“Mobile mapping apps such as Ride with GPS and Gaia GPS have provided the tools to navigate routes on lesser-known tracks,” bike travel veteran Logan Watts wrote in an email. Watts website,, has become the online go-to for cyclists who, like Doolaard, sometimes seek out dirt roads and trails unlikely to appear on commercially available printed maps. (Today, the word “bikepacking” refers to a style of bicycle travel suitable for rugged locations, but it was coined by National Geographic writer Noel Grove for a 1973 article on Hemistour.) features routes created by bike travelers around the world, and they’re shared freely, so others can retrace their path. A cyclist heading to a remote part of the Bolivian mountains, for example, can now download a GPX mapping file tracking every inch of cyclist Michael Dammer’s 286-mile traverse of Andean terrain via unpaved mining roads and dirt tracks. ‘alpaca.

Such resources allow cyclists to explore increasingly remote areas, knowing that no matter how strenuous the trail, it will eventually emerge from the wilderness. Doolaard has incorporated some of these open-source trails into his trip from Canada to Argentina, including the 1,673-mile Baja Divide through Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula and the 858-mile Trans Equator mountain bike route. miles. “You’re assured that you’re going to succeed when it gets tough, because these are not easy routes,” Doolaard said. “Because people have done it, you think, ‘I’m not going to fail on this one.’ ”

This reassurance is welcome, in part because riding a bike often makes you feel exposed in every sense of the word. Bad weather finds riders with nowhere to hide. Heat, cold, headwinds, insects, hunger, fatigue and loneliness can erode a traveler’s resolve. But this exposure can reap generous dividends, including a sense of cultural and geographic immersion, as well as the hospitality encountered at every turn.

“You have a certain vulnerability and immediacy, so people are going to open up to you,” Greg Siple said, recalling the frequent offers of free campsites and strangers handing over their house keys. Doolaard noticed it too. “The more vulnerable I make myself, the more I feel like I’ve tapped into something more fundamental and rewarding,” he wrote of his time cycling.

These awards helped Doolaard through the final weeks of his trip, which found him exhausted and nostalgic, traveling the tumultuous Carretera Austral through southern Chile at the wrong time of year. “The road is an arduous undertaking in winter, guaranteed to test my mettle,” he wrote. He sometimes slept in cabins left open to travelers who needed shelter in the midst of what was known to be a harsh landscape.

The worst rainy day, he arrived at dusk, alone and cold, at a small shelter for cyclists in the small town of Villa Amengual. Pinned to the door was a note that the host, Ines, had typed in English. “Enter with confidence, as in your own house”, he said. Doolaard did. Soon Ines was heading home and starting chopping firewood to dry her soggy clothes for another day on the bike.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.

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