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Expedition Planet Earth

Paul Andersen

Two weeks ago I wrote about bicycle touring through Central America, where machete-slapping has become a rite of passage for globe-tripping adventurers. Now the website for these die-hards shows them on the last leg of a 42,000-kilometer, human-powered circumnavigation of Earth – currently on Day 692.The goal of this grand adventure is to demonstrate that nonmotorized transportation is not only feasible but highly gratifying. Most of all, the expedition is a means of promoting awareness about global warming.This is not just a bike tour, though it began that way from Vancouver, British Columbia, in June 2004, when Colin, Julie, and Tim left their homes and cycled 2,600 km to Whitehorse self supported and carrying 150 pounds per person.From there, Colin and Tim furthered the expedition by transferred their biking gear into canoes and taking two months to paddle 1,500 km on the Yukon River. Challenges included “navigating through rapids, stormy weather and suffocating smoke from the raging forest fires to reach Fairbanks, Alaska.”In Fairbanks, they manned a customized, ocean-going rowboat and rowed the remaining 1,600 km of the Yukon River to the north Pacific Ocean. Then they rowed 800 km to Siberia across the Bering Sea, which had never before been crossed in a rowboat.Siberia in October and November is not exactly tropical, but with new team member Yulya joining the trip, they hiked for 850 km through roadless mountains facing river crossings, blizzards, and below-zero temperatures. Skis, and later bikes, took them across Europe, where they racked up 5,500 km through Ukraine, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, and finally Portugal last summer. Here, Colin and Julie set off in an oceangoing rowboat, reaching Costa Rica after 145 days and 9,836 km. Julie became the first woman to row across the Atlantic from Europe to North America.That’s where I picked them up on their website two weeks ago enduring the rigors of jungle roads, hostile natives, and fear – not of what nature might dish out, but of what fellow man could contrive in the way of thievery and mayhem.As of late last week, the expedition’s mood had improved along with an improvement in cycling conditions. They began to average 150 km per day toward their long-anticipated return to Vancouver, where they will complete their journey with a huge celebration.But first they reported more cycling trials: “The last few days in Mexico proved to be more difficult than expected as Julie and Colin’s worn bike tires protested after cycling almost 4,000 km of rough, dirty roads. In the first 27 days, they had 40 flat tires, but the following day they had 15 more, and the next day the tubes proved to be broken beyond repair.”Unable to find replacement tubes, they patched the best they could. Then their valve stems broke from overuse, forcing them to do something they had vowed never to do: hitchhike.”It was impossible to continue,” they reported last week, “so they put Julie’s disassembled bike and gear on top of Colin’s bike and took turns riding while the other person ran. But a marathon and a half in blazing heat turned out to be impossible and they had to hitchhike into Nuevo Laredo for bike supplies. The next day, instead of entering the U.S. as originally planned, they rode the 120-km round trip to where the bike broke down.” Still holding strictly to their human-powered vow, they plan to ride north through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington, where they will no doubt encounter other challenges. But these are young, strong, deeply motivated people who have already achieved a remarkable accomplishment. North America should be a piece of cake.So, if in the next few weeks you see a strong, young couple pedaling heavily laden bikes, give them a friendly smile and an invitation for a meal or a place to stay. That could mean a lot when you’ve been on the road for nearly two years.Paul Andersen wishes them tailwinds all the way home. His column appears on Mondays.


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