My adventure by the numbers

No adventure can be reduced to a mere set of numbers. The experiences of a year in the outdoors, the endless variety of scenery and people I encountered defies a purely numerical description. That said, I kept a spread-sheet with daily information about distances, times, elevation, accommodation etc. It is fun and interesting to look at some aggregate charts and get some trends and insights from those thousands of data points.

My trip began with the flight to Mount Logan in Canada in May 2009 and ended with the climb of Chimborazo in Ecuador in June 2010 after a total of 415 days or about 14 months. There were several interim ‘vacations’ during this time to reconnect with my family. For example, I flew back home from Mexico and from Argentina for 1-2 weeks of rest, as well as from Panama at the midpoint of the journey for Christmas and New Years. I also spent a lot of time with travel by plane, bus, ferry, train or rental car. Much of this was caused by the logistics to align all the mountains on time as well as the decision to ride South-America from the bottom-up to take advantage of the Southern summer. When I was not on vacation or in transit, I spent my days either riding, climbing or resting as follows:

  • Ride: 185 days (45%)
  • Climb: 78 days (19%)
  • Rest: 46 days (11%)
  • Vacation: 66 days (16%)
  • Travel: 40 days (9%)
  • Total: 415 days (100%)
  • Here is a break-down of the 263 days spent either cycling or climbing by country:

    Number of days spent climbing or cycling by country

    Number of days spent climbing or cycling by country

    This shows the long time spent in Argentina and all the large countries of North-America. There were 4 expedition-stye mountains with 10 days or more: Huascaran (Peru, 10d), Aconcagua (Argentina, 13d), Denali (Alaska, 15d), Logan (Canada, 16d). I chose to spend much more time riding in Argentina as compared to Chile due to the rainy weather in South-Chile and the hostile Atacama desert in the Northern part of Chile. The smaller Central-American countries took less time, as expected. In Peru I started to take bus transfer to reduce the distance, and in Ecuador I only rode 1 day for the same reason. I skipped Colombia for reasons explained before on this Blog.

    How far did I ride each day? Looking at the cycling portion, the total distance is as follows:

  • North-America: 10850 km (54%)
  • Central-America: 2916 km (15%)
  • South-America: 6297 km (31%)
  • Total: 20063 km (100%)
  • Here is a break-down of the average daily distance by country:

    Average distance (in km) per day by country, grouped by continent

    Average distance (in km) per day by country, grouped by continent

    A couple of comments (Ecuador is excluded since I only rode 1 day there):

  • Average distances riding in South America were shorter than in North-America. The main factors were the rough terrain (Andes), weather (rain), and longer daylight hours in North-America.
  • Chile stands out as the toughest country. Riding in the cold rain of South Chile is no fun, and getting started again after a rest is even worse, so I often called it a day after just 3 or 4 hours. And I didn’t even attempt the more extreme routes with multiple Andes crossings and rougher gravel roads!
  • Canada saw the longest rides. The weather was excellent and the long daylight hours allowed me to ride, rest, and ride some more until very late at night. The terrain is also sparsely populated, and in order to get a great meal at a restaurant I usually tried to reach the next village – resulting in many long days of cycling.
  • How often did I sleep in my tent? Before my departure I described my approach as follows: I prefer to sleep in the tent if the weather is good and if the place is safe. I started the ride in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on July 1st. Guess how many times I slept in my tent in July? Answer: 31 times! The (Northern) summer 2009 was just great, with very little rain and lots of sunshine and sheer endless hours of daylight. Who would not want to spend time outside and stay in the tent? Besides, the inside netting kept the mosquitoes at bay, a distinct advantage over many a sticky hostel room. Here is how my nights stacked up tent vs. hostel vs. other (at a friend, in a plane or bus, a police or fire station, etc.):

    Type of accommodation (tent vs. hostel) by country

    Type of accommodation (tent vs. hostel) by country

    Again a few comments:

  • The nights in Alaska and Canada were almost entirely spent in the tent, during the expeditions on the mountains for obvious reasons, and on the road mostly due to the sunny summer weather. The only times I stayed in a hostel were in Whitehorse and Anchorage just before departing for and when returning from the mountain expeditions. This way I could leave my bike and other gear at those hostels as well.
  • Argentina and Mexico were a mixed bag; while mostly dry and sunny, there were many stays in cities without camping facilities, so pitching the tent just would not have been safe.
  • In most of the other South- and Central-American countries I was more often staying in hostels. For one, they are cheap and fairly safe, especially compared to the tent on the soccer field in town. The majority of the tent nights in places like Peru, Chile and Bolivia came from the mountain climbs.
  • About half of the countries saw 10 nights or less. Even with the time required to climb the mountains, in Central America it is a good rule of thumb to assume that you’ll be in a new country every week!
  • Frequency of accommodation (tent vs. hostel) by continent

    Frequency of accommodation (tent vs. hostel) by continent

    The same data displayed in relative terms reveals the different situations by continent. The tent-to-room ratio can be summarized as follows:

  • In North-America the tent nights outnumbered the hostels about 4 : 1.
  • In Central-America, it’s about 1 : 1. Here I was more often staying at some unusual place, for example a fire or police station, a private home invited by a friendly local or a hut in the mountains.
  • In South-America, the ratio was almost 1 : 2. Again, bad weather, cheap prices and better safety made hostel rooms win out over pitching the tent.
  • There are many more aspects and averages one can draw from this data-set. For example, my overall daily average on the bike was this:

  • Time: 6 hrs
  • Speed: 18 km/h
  • Distance: 108 km
  • In terms of elevation gain on the bike, there were big differences by country and region. The Dalton Highway in Alaska is a roller-coaster with up to 2000 m vertical per 100 km. Similarly Mexico had more mountain passes than I had expected. On the other hand, there were very flat days in the Baja California or in the pampas of Argentina with less than 50 m per 100 km. Even without big mountains, many small hills do add up as well. Overall, I had about 800 m elevation gain per 100 km, resulting in about 165,000 m vertical gain over the entire trip. That’s more than 18 times by bike from sea-level to Mount Everest! Since riding uphill is one of the least comfortable things on the recumbent bike, and carrying/towing a lot of weight makes even a slight uphill into a serious challenge, I often tried to avoid big hills when choosing between alternate routes. For example in Costa Rica, I didn’t follow the Panamerican Highway, as it leads through the capital San Jose (bad) and over at least two 3000+ m passes (very bad). Aptly, one of those is called ‘Paso de la Muerte’ and features the highest point of the Panamerican Highway at over 3400 m ASL! Instead I stayed near the Pacific Coast, as do most of the long-distance cyclists. After all, who wants to take a chance when you can avoid the pass of death!

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