Story So FarA quick summary of the trip
April - October 2011 - With my sister (Florida -> Utah)
The first day of cycling was back on the 11th of May 2011 May 11th 2011, the day after my sister got to Tampa and we headed out in to the unknown. We rode up the east coast, to Washington DC and Toronto, before heading west past the huge plains of the US and then the stunning nature that really ramped up around the Black Hills of South Dakota. From there it was up and over the Rockies visiting Yellowstone & Grand Teton, when our parents flew out for a couple of weeks, and Glacier before crossing the Cascades and making it to the Pacific Coast. A trip up to Vancouver, BC where we were lucky enough to have our visa extended to a year and then down the Pacific Coast through Seattle and Portland all the way to San Francisco where we cut in to cross the Sierra Nevada visiting the breathtaking Yosemite and Death Valley. After passing Las Vegas and arriving in Saint George, Utah, in October 2011, Charlotte and I parted ways as we had planned.
October 2011 - April 2012 - Riding alone (Utah - Baja California)
After saying goodbye to my sister I spent a few weeks in Salt Lake City with my friend Jamie and then headed through Zion and the Grand Canyon before dropping down to the urban sprawl of southern Arizona around Phoenix. Heading east I went through New Mexico where I spent Thanksgiving, cut through the corners of Colorado and Kansas before spending about a month in Texas. Next was Louisianna and passing Christmas in New Orleans, back into Florida for New Year and then to Orlando to complete my loop of the US. I spent the best part of a month there relaxing and helping out at an English camp before going to the Florida Keys. From the southern most point in the US, I had nowhere to go but north and went through Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky on my way to spending a month, and my birthday, in Cincinnati with my friend from university Abdul. My yearlong US visa was running out and it was still cold so I took a 40+ hour long train ride from Cincinnati to Chicago and onto LA. A week in LA getting things ready and then down the coast to San Diego to cross the border on the penultimate day of my 365 day visa.
April 2012 - Feb 2013 - Baja - Cancun
I arrived in Mexico knowing pretty minimal Spanish, anything that I’d learnt being from Michel Thomas (a great course) and Pimsleur (meh), but was excited for the change of an unknown country. I’d been warned by people all over the US about Mexico, but found a people who were more than willing to help me on my way. For a couple of weeks I rode with Mike, my Warmshowers host from Las Vegas, and we met Peter randomly on the side of the road. Peter was riding through Mexico to get to know the country his father, who had passed away a year earlier, had spent so much time in. The three of us rode together, but it only lasted as far as Culiacan where Mike decided to stay to learn Spanish and then had to go back to the US. Peter and I headed up the most beautiful road in Mexico, the Devil’s Backbone, on our way to the colonial heartland of Mexico where I got to see such beautiful cities as Zacatecas, Guajanajuato and San Miguel de Allende where I parted ways with Peter as he wanted to get to know the city his father had worked in, and find the appropriate place to spread his ashes. I made it to Mexico City where my plan of studying Spanish for 6 weeks turned into almost 6 months at UNAM. Between the 1st and 2nd course my parents came over to visit me and in my next break I took a ride to the beach. I had a fantastic time living in Mexico City, making some good friends, learning the language and actually getting to study Mexico in more detail. Anyone wanting to study, UNAM is a great place to do it. Peter was in Mexico City studying at UNAM as well during my 2nd and 3rd courses and so it was on the 12th of December, el Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, we started riding again. Our goal was to get to Cancun by the end of Feb, as Peter was flying home then, and on the way we went to see the Monarch Butterflies, climbed the youngest volcano in the world, before making our way down to the Pacific Coast passing a very unfestive Christmas in Acapulco and New Year with our girlfriends in Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca. We realised we had too much free time so made a detour to the steep mountain roads of Guatemala to visit places like Lago Atitlán, Semuc Champey and Tikal before crossing back into Mexico where we tried to see pretty much every single ruin in the Yucatan Peninsula and surrounding area, the most famous ones probably being Palenque, Uxmal, Chichén Itzá and Tulum. We got to Cancun on time to get Peter’s bike packed up and meet up with Andrea, his girlfriend, before we said our farewells and he flew back to New York.
Feb 2013 - March 2013 - Cuba
Flights from Cancun to Havana were cheap, and I had a month before I needed to go back to the UK for my grandparent’s diamond wedding anniversary so having said goodbye to Peter, it was time for my 5th country, Cuba. I had picked up the Bicycling Cuba book and used it for some route planning. I spent a few days in Havana before taking an overnight bus to get to the eastern end of the island. Having only a month, I didn’t have time to ride there and back, and the predominant winds are from the east. After a few days of riding through sugarcane fields I made it to the eastern tip and Baracoa where I bumped into Nick, my Warmshowers host from my first night in Mexico, and his friend Martin who were heading out at the same time and so we rode together.
They were great fun to ride with, Nick full of cycling experiences and Martin on his first trip but having studied in Cuba before so with a great insight into the country. While you’re supposed to stay in registered accommodation we only did in the most touristy places, with my usual option of Couchsurfing not being allowed in the country, We were welcomed into the houses of locals in the countryside and shown amazing hospitality from people who materially had very little.
My favourite ride was the coastal loop near Santiago with beautiful riding, the joy of trying to draft behind tractors and even sneaking into an all-inclusive hotel whose beach we camped on. The other most breathtaking was around the UNESCO city of Trinidad although spending 10km+ trying to ride along a road that was more crab than pavement wasn’t perfect.
I parted ways with Nick & Martin to get back to Havana in time and then flew back to the UK for a couple of weeks
April 2013 - July 2013 - Central America
In the 3 weeks back home I got a dynohub and S&S couplers installed. The dynohub lets me generate electricity to charge USB devices or a light and the S&S couplers let me split my frame in two so it fits in a box to fly without paying bicycle fees. I got back to Cancun and slowly made my way to the border with Belize, not in any type of rush to leave the country I’d grown so fond of, although finally having to do so in Chetumal.
Central America is a collection of small countries, and Belize isn’t an exception. A couple of days relaxing at Caye Caulker and drinking beers with Tim, my host from Tulum, mixed with visits to Mayan sites were the highlights as I made my way south to cross into Guatemala. Having already been to northern Guatemala with Peter, I decided to cross into the south of the country at what turned out to be an unofficial border crossing, which lead to a big headache when I tried to leave Guatemala a few days later.
After a visit to Guatemala City to get the visa issue resolved I succesfully made it into El Salvador where I stayed in Santa Ana and the capital San Salvador where I went scuba diving for my first time during my week off. Then it was north to the mountains of Honduras principally because of the existence of a city called Gracias on my way to the capital of Tegucigalpa where I made a brief stop to hang out with a friend I’d made in Cuba before continuing on to Nicaragua, home, like most of Central America, to some pretty cool volcanoes and colonial cities. The definite highlight being Ometepe, a glorious looking island with two volcanoes sticking out of the middle of Lago Nicaragua.
Costa Rica was the 6th country of Central America, and I tried my best to avoid the biggest roads on my way to the capital of San José where I met up with Jamie, a friend of mine from when I taught in Korea. We had a couple of weeks travelling like backpackers, and it was enjoyable, but made me feel so poor. It’s the home of eco-tourism and attracts so many wealthy tourists that it’s really not aimed at cyclists, it did at least mean that the fire stations were fantastic. I left along the Caribbean coast, continuing my plan of not riding the PanAmerican unless needed until I got to the final country of Central America, Panama.
The Caribbean coast of Panama was enjoyable until I crossed the continental divide and dropped down onto the PanAm, for long stretches the only option to get me to the commercial centre of Panama City, where I saw the Panama Canal before heading up some very steep roads for the cheap way to Colombia, a motorboat to bounce along the coast for 12 hours to Puerto Obaldia, the last town in Panama, and then a small boat into the first town of Colombia, Capurgana to finally enter South America – the new continent.