Working in the travel industry, I have the privilege to visit, explore, and read about some of the world's great destinations. I also have the good fortune to meet the people out there experiencing the trips and places we love. Witness 25-year-old Chip Albright, a Van Wert, Ohio, native who has been traveling the world for over four years and is currently over halfway through his quest to bike the Americas from north to south. We caught up with Chip via email in Baja, Mexico, on his way north toward the U.S. border after over a year in the saddle. You can follow Chip's progress toward his final destination, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, at www.chipalbright.org.
Away: Where are you now?
Chip Albright: I am currently on the east coast of Baja, Mexico, in the small little village of Santa Rosalía, heading north on Highway 1. I'm about 600 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana.
What's next on your adventure?
Next on the list is the United States, starting with southern California. Once I cross the border, I will head up through Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve before traversing Arizona from the west and entering southwestern Colorado through the Four Corners region. Colorado is going to be a treat, with six mountain ascents ranging from 8,000 to 10,000 feet. I will also be biking through Rocky National Park and making my way up into Wyoming, where I'll stop in Yellowstone National Park before hitting Glacier National Park in Montana.
Tell us a bit more about your journey.
The idea to bike from South America's southernmost point (in Argentina) to North America northernmost point (in Alaska) started over a handful of beers with my roommate, Chris Foster, while we were enjoying ski season in Wanaka, New Zealand. Before we knew it, it was Christmas Day 2008 and we were starting this journey up the Americas from Patagonia in southern Argentina. The idea started with two guys shooting the breeze, which then turned from a "what if?" to a "why not?" Fourteen months later, I'm still trucking along toward Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
What have been the highlights so far?
One highlight was biking the Carretera Austral in southern Chile. That's over 500 miles of gravel road, up and down the rolling foothills of the Andes Mountains. In a single day, a person will honestly see over 25 waterfalls and ten snowcapped glaciers. With crystal-clear drinking water from the many lakes and gushing rivers.
Another highlight for me has to be the entire country of Bolivia. From its central Highlands to the Pama swamplands in the northern part of the country, I experienced nothing but generosity and kindness from the locals. In the Bolivian Highlands, I crossed two "solars" (aka, salt deserts) that had no roads anywhere to be seen for over a hundred miles. Just a compass in hand and me and my bike crossing a magnificent ocean of white. The trip from there into northern Bolivia was a treat, too, with some 50 miles of nothing but downhill riding. This was by far the wildest part of my trip.
What about the low points? How do you stay motivated?
The lowest point of the trip would have to be when my mate, Chris Foster, who started out on this adventure with me, had to drop out because of a knee injury only two months into the ride. This was a massive hurdle for me to overcome as I missed him massively. Spending countless days alone has been by far the hardest part of the journey, requiring me to be mentally strong and stay focused on the road ahead. Really, biking the Americas is a challenge that is as much mental as it is physical. From rainy days to endless mountain passes, there are many hardships to endure. All that said, though, staying motivated isn't as hard as one might think. I am always getting words of encouragement from locals and other fellow travelers I meet in small cities. And I make my own excitement, whether that be shouting back at a rainstorm or screaming at the top of my lungs while speeding down a mountain road. At the end of the day, Mother Nature is what motivates me to keep heading northbound on my little push bike, which I've since named Goaso.
Are you biking solo or are you with friends?
Out of the 14 months I have been on this trip I have biked with others for three of those months: I started out with Chris Foster, my friend from New Zealand, and then spent one month biking with two French guys through the Bolivian highlands. Honestly biking with others is where it's at. Sharing those eye-opening moments is priceless, plus just having a mate to talk to while setting up camp at night means a lot. For the rest of the time I have been on the road solo, but there is much to be said about spending that much time on your own. I have gotten to know myself very well and have grown as a human being both inside and out.
What does it take to plan something like this? What kind of resources are available online, in print?
Planning a trip like this doesn't take as much as a person would think. First and foremost, it comes down to the willpower and the passion to just do it. I really didn't do that much planning before the trip. I just knew that I needed to start in the summer down in Patagonia becuase in winter there would be snow on the roads. For the most part, I have been able to get a map of each country I pass through at the border, plus I just talk to the locals to get most of my information. They always have more knowledge than any tourist book or map can tell you. I have also used the Internet as there are many different biking sites. Just google the country you are interested in, type in "bike trip," and bang. You would be surprised how many people are out seeing the world on a push bike and how many write about it in blogs on the 'net.
So you're cycling the Americas, south to north. What are road conditions like? Give us some of the road-trip stats. What about sleeping arrangements? Are you camping, hostelling?
South American roads are a toss-up. In Bolivia you are more likely to be on a mountain path than a road. Gravel roads and steep cliff faces with no guard rails, that sort of thing. I actually stood in a pothole bigger than me in northern Bolivia. Bolivia is by far the worst for road conditions. Always expect the worst and hope for the best because most of the time it's going to be a bad road with many bumps along the way. As for Central America and Mexico, the roads are mostly smooth paved roads for 90 perecnt of the time. Though for some reason, in Mexico they love speed bumps and they put them on every road! Meaning, when you are flying down one of the many mountains in Chiapas state, keep your eyes peeled for random speed bumps that will send you bouncing in the air with both feet clinging to the pedals for dear life.
For sleeping arrangements, I have been camping 90 percent of the time due to my budget and love of the outdoors. I usually try and find an open field or forest that is in the middle of nowhere. In Mexico and Central America it's a bit harder to find open spaces but I've managed most of the time. I try and find a place or field that's open and ask the farmer or family if I can spend the night with their cows. I ask for nothing but a patch of land for the night and the people are always asking questions and wondering where I came from and where I'm going. Many times they offer me a shower or food, and on more than one occasion I have been asked to sleep in their homes.
What would you say to someone who doesn't have, say, a year to spend on the road but wants to get out there and experience something similar?
If a person wants to make a three- to six-month trip any place in the world I would first gear up. Get the right clothing for the conditions you will be facing. Get a gas-burning stove as you can buy gasoline almost anywhere. You will need a quality tent that can stand up to a storm or two. Also stock up on maps for the terrain you may be covering. Plan to be mentally tough and have a passion for what you are doing. If you are not prepared to jump in with both feet, this kind of trip won't be for you. Not every day is all fun and games. While crossing the Amazon, three Andean mountain ranges in Colombia, and a drenching three-day rain stint in the Chiapas Mountains of Mexico, I was cold and miserable as could be. I was hurting physically and mentally but looking back at the times when I was put to the test and had get the job done are perhaps the best and most satisfying of all.
When you reach the end of this road, what's next?
Good question, though honestly, I don't have a clue yet as I am still trying to get to Alaska. Six more months of being on the road, plus I know the Rockies will be another huge challenge. I have actually been thinking of riding a bike across Africa from Cape Town to Cairo or doing a horse trip to Mongolia. Like they say, when one journey ends, another begins. It's a gift not knowing where the open road may lead. I have been traveling for four years now and I still have the desire to explore more of this great planet.
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