By Brian Thompson —
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” – Hunter S. Thompson
Kristen has a smile that lights up any room she enters. I first noticed her and Ville one day in the gym onboard our ship heading towards Patagonia. A few days later there was an announcement of a spur-of-the moment lecture by a couple that had bicycled down the Pan-American highway. It sounded interesting so we went. The show was unscripted and very entertaining mostly because of the two people with the oversized personalities. It was then that I knew their story needed to be told.
Their journey begins in Bend, Oregon, one of my most favorite places on the planet. In 2011 they had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with no real prior experience to prepare them. “All it took is one foot in front of the other, and just like life, you get through it. And professional backpackers we soon became.” This is the attitude they took with them when they decided to bike from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Fin del Mundo outside of Usuhaia, Argentina. With some help from their friend John Frey from Hutches Bike shop in Bend, they soon assembled their Surly Disc Trucker bikes, put together a rough route of the trip, then headed up to Alaska. Kristen’s advice is simple for those that want to try an epic adventure, “Don’t think about and plan everything, just get a bike, some gear together and go. Over-planning is pointless because everything changes once you start.” This is a metaphor for life: know where you are, where you want to be, then get going.
“Why ride over 20,000 miles? Because the voice of reason flew out the window a long time ago telling us not to. And why not do it? Ever changing scenery for nearly 2 years will be mind-blowing and intense, but honestly, we really do this for the people we meet. The characters we met hiking the PCT pretty much just redeems your faith in humanity. Some of the kindest, coolest, wackiest, neatest, people that helped us just because it felt right. And for no reason other than to help someone in need.” Her words definitely apply to the bicycling community where the spirit of helpfulness abounds. This was also an opportunity to help out several organizations. One that is particularly near and dear to them is Carly’s Kids (http://www.carlyskids.org) which raises money to send disadvantaged children to outdoor school.
The trip was punctuated with random acts of kindness, everything from letting them stay in a home, providing food and water, to donating to help fund the trip. These acts added to a large group of data points that indicated that people truly are good no matter where you go in the world and that kindness begets kindness.
Their adventure covered 18,235 miles across innumerable countries and took them 20 months to complete. Along the way, they experienced encounters with a bear, and contracted dengue fever which kept them on a couch in Costa Rica for five weeks.
The bear story is best told in their own words, “It was late one evening biking south on the Cassiar Highway in British Columbia, Canada. We were just about to start our search for a good spot to camp and made our way down a steep hill with an uphill straight in front of us, when a large black bear wandered up onto the pavement right in front of us. The sides of the roads were cleared of trees for ease of visibility for cars, and allowed for lots of berry bushes to grow. This bear had been feasting on the plump berries right along the road when we had startled her and she came up on the road directly in front of us. We braked hard, and climbed off our bikes, putting the bikes between her and us. Unfortunately for us, two little black balls of fluff popped right out behind her from the bushes and we realized with a sinking feeling that this unfortunate situation was about to get a lot worse. As the mother bear pinned her ears to her head, started to grunt and snort, and then began her charge no more than 20 feet from us, we both froze realizing our bear cans were buried deep in our panniers. Very bad planning on our part for such a situation as the one we were currently in. Trying to think fast, we couldn’t remember what advice we had been given when confronting a bear. And an angry, protective mother bear at that. Stop, drop and roll? Nope. That was fire. Hide under your desk? Earthquake. Oh, make yourself big, loud, yell, wave your arms in the hopes it scares them away. And luckily for us, it worked! Mid-charge, she turned, and headed straight for the bushes with babies in tow. Phew! That was a close one. After dodging that bullet, we decided to ride at least another fifteen miles before looking for a camping spot, pulling all our food up into a tree and loudly making all bears in a few miles radius aware of our presence.”
Their faith in humanity has been renewed along with their spirits and their desire to explore the world further. Ville is working on a film of the trip, which, hopefully, will be shown at next years Wasatch Mountain Film Festival as well as several others and Kristen is looking to publish a book on their adventures within the next 6 months. I would highly recommend that you go to their website, www.welostthemap.com to get to know them better and to learn more about this and upcoming adventures.