On my recent trip to Guatemala, I encountered Jacob Thompson, a 25-year-old bicycling nomad who, with his two friends Goat and Sean, has embarked on a three-year trip biking the Continental Divide. He'd also just gotten his swimming shorts stolen, but little did I know that that was one of the tamer moments on his journey.
When did this journey begin and how did you plan your route?
The trip began in July of 2006. The route was inspired by the Great Divide Route, a 2,500-mile series of dirt trails from Montana to Mexico along the Rocky Mountains, and was originally planned by Goat and his high school friends but never materialized into anything. After a few years stuck in college, the dream expanded into an off-road bike tour along the Continental Divide spanning the entire length of the Americas. The goal has been to stick to the mountains and dirt trails as much as possible.
How do you know Goat and Sean?
Goat and I were dorm mates freshman year in college and friends ever since. We built and lived in a tree house 100 feet up in a redwood for the remainder of our time in college through graduate school. Sean was part of our community of friends and jumped on the trip at the very last minute.
How did you fund the trip?
I worked as history teacher for a year and lived in a tree house to save money on rent. We all managed to save about $5,000 to start and planned to stretch that for two years. We will reach the end of our funds in a few months and are working on various fundraisers to keep us going. One is a bike tour in Costa Rica where people are invited to join us for a ride across the Continental Divide alongside Volcano Miravalle, and on to Arenal Volcano and lake.
What are some problems you've encountered?
Living outdoors day in and day out offers a good share of difficulties. I was chased by a wolf along the Haul Road just past the Arctic Circle a week into our trip. If it weren´t for my guardian angel in the form of a truck driver swerving to kill the wolf, it could have been a really ugly scene.
In the Copper Canyon, we camped at a river next to a drug smuggling operation gone bad, and the Mexican military arrived and soon thereafter surrounded our campsite, machine guns cocked and aimed at our heads. After they found out that somos gringos, they calmed down. But it was a tense moment.
The snow and subzero temperatures in Canada and Montana were extremely difficult to deal with. Our water was always frozen, the trails covered with black ice or thick snow, and there were constant snow-related bike failures. One night Goat suffered hypothermia and frostbite, and were it not for a cabin with firewood out in the middle of nowhere, we would have been in real bad shape.
South of the border the biggest challenge has been finding our way around. Without good maps (some are downright deceitful) and knowledge of the many local dialects, it is never easy knowing which way to go.
Some of your favorite moments? Places?
Some of my favorite moments have been the 24-hour sunshine in Alaska and the Northern Lights in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Crossing the Copper Canyon, riding down Tajumulco Volcano. But the most rewarding part is just the day-to-day grind.
What are three things you couldn't live without on this trip (besides your bike)?
Hmmm...three things we couldn´t live without. Well, it is tough to say since I don´t really carry anything up and over these huge mountain ranges unless it is absolutely essential. Our Hennessy Hammocks have proven invaluable, allowing us to camp mosquito-free in the steep jungle terrain where it would be impossible to set up a normal tent. My "third-eye," a Petzel headlamp for seeing at night. And I suppose my precious bike shorts that make all that time on the saddle a bit more comfortable.
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Photos: Riding the Spine website