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A Journey on a Bicycle
by Matt Lloyd

Something in fading light of late summer Alaska inspired Pablo Velasco to begin planning his next adventure. He had just spent nearly three months in the North Country, hiking, mountaineering and sea kayaking on a NOLS Semester in Alaska in 1999.

The result was a grand plan: a bicycle trek across the spine of two continents, from South America to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Pablo returned home and rallied his two adventurous friends, Daniel and Felipe, to join him on his bicycle journey. The trio set off on their journey in January 2000 and pedaled across the Arctic Circle in September. Along the way, they found time to send in updates to a web site dedicated to the journey.

"This trip was not a leisure outing, it was a physical goal, but more than this it was a personal goal," remembered Pablo. "It was a goal that anyone can fulfill, it is all a matter of doing it without waiting for the perfect moment. There is no perfect moment to start, the perfect moment is the moment that you are doing it. The lessons I've learned during this experience are lessons similar to those learned during my NOLS semester. My NOLS course was a great experience. I wanted get out there again."

They covered 23,113 km (14,445 miles) in 259 days, pedaling from Ushuia, South America to the Arctic Circle. Along the way, they passed through terrain known for extremes, from Patagonia's infamous winds, to the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth. They endured high altitude (12,000 feet) in the Andes, tropical forests and jungles in Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica, and pounding rains in the south of Mexico where they experienced a tropical storm. In North America, they experienced such things as Los Angeles traffic to the quiet of towering redwood forests.

One might ask: 'why would anyone ever want to pedal a bicycle 14,445 miles through rain and snow, blistering heat and frigid cold, enduring excruciating pain and hardships and facing dangerous perils?' Perhaps an answer may lie in the journey itself, life. Like the cliché says, "life is a journey." And no matter what journeys a person takes in his or her life, everyone's life is filled with many miles of elemental experiences: joys, sorrows, pains, hardships and dangers. This is what makes life, well, life. And, perhaps, life is at its best when one is actively pursuing, and is conscious of, these undergoings.

"All the moments that we lived through, like the tropical storm, snow, head and tail winds, the everlasting hill, a sunny day, a sunset in the desert, a sunset at the beach, a 40 degree Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) noon in Baja, the cranky military, a boisterous boarder, a hurried trucker, an aggressive taxi driver, a successful businessman, a humble farmer, are all experiences that have made us grow and realize that everything and everyone are just a reflection of ourselves," wrote Pablo in his web site account.

"Every experience is unique, and no one can tell you what lies ahead, just worry about living the moment and enjoying it to the maximum," advised Pablo. "For us one of the most important things is that the three of us who started the trip have completed it. We have lived, talked, hated, laughed, pedaled, enjoyed, and learned from each other; we have reached the final goal, together."

Felipe summarizes the journey well: "In Fairbanks, originally, we had met Kelly and James who had kindly invited us to their cabin in the North Pole (a satellite town of Fairbanks). The next morning we realized that we had come out on the first page of the Fairbanks newspaper. That lifted our spirits and gave us the strength to make another try for the Arctic Circle. So, in the afternoon we started out again. The pavement ended soon and we were covered with mud in no time (Pablito was totally covered with mud from head to foot). On the third day, the only clear day on this stretch, a spectacular day, we reached the Yukon River. They had told us that to be a true Alaskan one has to pee in the Yukon, kiss a moose and sleep with a bear. We did only the first of these. That night we were lucky enough to see the awe-inspiring Northern Lights, a unique spectacle that made us ponder on the fact that it was worth coming so far. But, as all good things come to an end, the next day we had snow all day which covered the entire road, making the steep hills even more difficult and the downhills a dangerous game. Finally, that fourth day, after 6 hours and 90 km of struggle, we reached the Arctic Circle. On this last stretch we pedaled a total of 17 days covering 1784 km."

They pedaled 10,800,000 strokes each. They had once-in-a-lifetime experiences. They learned--about themselves, each other and all the parts of the world they traveled through. Check out for more information about Pablo, Daniel and Felipe's bicycle journey.

Writer's note:

One would think that after such a huge mental and physical journey the members of the expedition would be ready for some rest and reflection. Not so for Pablo. He is currently pursuing his Wilderness First Responder certification in hopes of taking a NOLS instructors course. Pablo's seemingly never-ending energy is a signal to us all that the motto, "life is a journey," should not be taken lightly. So long as there is life, there is journeying to be done. Journey well!

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