Transcontinental bicyclist Adrian Marziliano shares six lessons learned cycling solo through Latin America, powerful lessons about biking, life, and the kindness of strangers.
Note from Howard: In December of 2016, I interviewed Adrian Marziliano, a young man who had just begun a Transcontinental Bike Ride for Hope. He would be biking from Chile to Canada, through two continents, thirteen countries, and covering an estimated 14,580 miles over the course of 300 days. The purpose of Adrian’s epic journey would be two-fold: to honor his mother Rosemary’s memory, and to raise awareness and funding for palliative care cancer patients.
In this follow-up article, Adrian reflects on lessons learned cycling solo 6,000 miles through South and Central America. These powerful lessons about biking, Latin America, and the kindness of strangers apply not only to adventurists planning long-haul bike tours, but also to all of us who have embarked on the epic journey of life.
Table of Contents
- 1 Lessons Learned Cycling Solo through Latin America
- 1.1 Truck drivers will be your friends and your adversaries.
- 1.2 Rough terrain is in the eye of the beholder.
- 1.3 The sooner you stop asking for a hotel, the more success you will have in finding a bed.
- 1.4 Courageous eaters will be well fed.
- 1.5 No two rides will ever be the same.
- 1.6 People are absolutely awesome.
- 2 #RideHomeForRosemary
- 3 Track My Tour!
- 4 We Would Love to Hear From You
- 5 The Original Backroad Planet Interview
- 6 Pin this Post!
- 7 Helpful Links
Lessons Learned Cycling Solo through Latin America
Guest post by Adrian Marziliano
Greetings Backroad Riders!
As I write, I am in the United States and more than halfway home! Some of you may remember, from my interview with Howard, that I am cycling solo across the Americas to support palliative care programs for cancer patients. I started this ride in Santiago, Chile, on November 9, 2016, having never been on a bicycle trip before in my life. In the last eight months, I have pedalled through eleven Latin American countries and faced some pretty rough terrain.
What made me think I could complete such a trip?
I have to believe that some of my courage has come from witnessing my mother’s battle with cancer.
I chose this challenge not only to support cancer patients in honour of my mother, but also to prove to myself that I have personally grown while dealing with her loss. I want to show that, compared to battling cancer, riding across the globe isn’t impossible at all.
I have also had hopes that this ride would inspire others, especially families battling cancer.
As with any great challenge in life, lessons tend to be learned. From my experience, these are some of the lessons learned cycling solo through Latin America . . . .
Truck drivers will be your friends and your adversaries.
You will never truly make up your mind about truck drivers. Do you hate them, or are they just misunderstood? They will blow past you on the highways, leaving you shaking with a mouthful of sand and a broken soul. Their daring attempts to pass other vehicles right in front of you will remind you every day that you are taking a heavy risk on these roads.
On the flip side, truckers will also be the ones that cheer you on with a friendly honk. A conversation with them at a rest stop will quickly remind you that what you are doing is awesome. After all, they know what it takes to conquer these roads.
When you face new challenges in life, you may be surprised with who shows up at your side. Don’t close your mind to new forms of support. Accept all you can get, and learn to use it to your advantage. Be cautious not to jump to conclusions when it comes to people, as they have a tendency to surprise you.
On one occasion, while riding along the coast in northern Chile, I arrived at a tunnel. As I had already been through a couple of these tunnels, I had my lights prepared. What I had forgotten was that I had locked my front light switch to prevent it from accidentally being turned on.
I ended up entering the tunnel without being able to see anything except the light at the end. To make matters worse, a truck was coming up from behind. I had two rear blinking lights and a reflective vest, but I had no idea how well the driver could see me. I ended up riding as fast as I could to the other end, blindly guessing where the roadway was. When I finally exited the tunnel and moved over to the shoulder, the truck slowly passed me, and the driver let me know with a friendly wave that he had seen me and had slowed down.
As it turned out, we both ended up stopping at the restaurant ahead where we had a chat. When I told him I was riding to Canada, he jokingly said, “Ah, te falta un poquito. (Ah, you have just a little bit left.)” I continued to use this line throughout the rest of my trip to get a few laughs when needed.
Rough terrain is in the eye of the beholder.
You learn very quickly that not many people have cycled great distances on Latin American roads. This makes accurate estimates on both time and terrain impossibly hard to come by. You might be told two hours when the reality is five. You might be told there is one hill and then find yourself painstakingly climbing three. Your best advice will probably come from other bikepackers, but even their opinions may differ. Sometimes the only way to know for sure is to ride on and see for yourself.
One rider’s hill can be another’s mountain. What one person sees as a challenge might be quite easy for someone else. It is all about perspective. Remember this when you are asking for advice. Be wary of this when offering insight, as well. Never underestimate your abilities, but make sure your goals are realistic. You know yourself better than anyone.
I was climbing a very large hill with multiple switchbacks at the beginning of the Atacama Desert in Chile. I had already done a few of these, including the ones I trained on in Santiago, so it was nothing new for me. Four motorcyclists passed me, cruising along on their awesome BMW touring bikes. They all gave me a wave and a honk, and I waved back.
When I got to the top, I was pleasantly surprised. They had all parked and waited for me. By the time I reached them, they were all applauding and had their phones out snapping photos and videos. They told me I was brave to travel alone and to do it with a bicycle. It was a small gesture, but it definitely reminded me that these hills are not easy and that I should feel proud.
The sooner you stop asking for a hotel, the more success you will have in finding a bed.
If you embark on a Latin American bike tour, you will undoubtedly be adventuring through some of its most remote and barren regions. In other words, you won’t exactly be running into many Hiltons or Best Westerns. Campsites may also be scarce in certain parts. You will find out right away that creativity is key if you want to sleep. To improve your success of finding a spot to rest, you will begin to drop your standards on proper accommodation. You may even need to create accommodations of your own at times. This will bring many new experiences along the way, and you will learn to love and appreciate every single one of them.
The ability to adapt is an invaluable skill. Whether you are showing up to a new town and looking for a place to stay or dealing with a new challenge in life, it helps to be able to switch strategies and even develop new ones for a better chance of success.
My lesson in lodging came within the first week of my trip. I had just slept outdoors the night before and was really looking forward to a bed. In a failed attempt to reach the larger city of La Serena, I ended up in a tiny town called Quebrada Seca just before sundown. To give some perspective on size, it is a town you could mention to a Chilean and know that their response would be, “Where is that?” Even though it was tiny, I was sure that I would find somewhere to sleep. I asked a local where I could stay for the night and was told to check at the restaurant. I figured the restaurant had a hotel attached and went over to inquire. What I understood from the response in Spanish was that there wasn’t a hotel, therefore nowhere to sleep.
I ended up setting up camp outside once again, this time under a tree at the edge of town. I realized much later in my trip that restaurants do sometimes have rooms to rent, but they are literally just that . . . a room with a bed. Since I kept using the word “hotel,” I was repeatedly informed there wasn’t one. Thus began my understanding of the “posadas,” or rest stops, that I would find throughout my trip, as well as my new tactic to ask for a place to sleep in the most general manner possible.
Courageous eaters will be well fed.
A transcontinental bicycle ride will undoubtedly involve adventure and discovery, but discovery may be limited at times when it comes to food. As with the lack of traditional accommodation mentioned above, you may come across parts of your trip with a very limited selection of food. Of course, you will have endless opportunities for Colombian arepas, Peruvian ceviche, empanadas, delicious tropical fruit, Mexican tacos and tamales, but other times will call for much more basic meals.
You may come across villages with literally one restaurant and three choices for a meal. Other times your options may be limited to whatever is sold in the tiny local convenience store. Nutrition and calorie levels will take precedent, and you will have to make do. Your willingness to give up some comfort in your daily meal habits will eventually be rewarded with new discoveries. Yes, this may even mean eating fish and rice for breakfast!
Being open and willing to try new things can sometimes be risky, but it can also be very rewarding. Whether you are traveling the world or facing a new obstacle at home, an open mind to new ideas and different methods will certainly pay off. You will at least have the chance to learn more about yourself.
I am lucky to have grown up with both a strong stomach and a love for food. This has always made eating while traveling quite simple for me, as I never concern myself too much with ingredients. This sort of culinary confidence came back to bite me in the ass. I was at a restaurant at a crossroads on my way to Arica in northern Chile. I had heard the woman describe the three options available to another table and had heard the word “picante,” or spicy. As I hadn’t been able to find much spicy food at that time, that’s all I needed to hear, and my mind was made up.
I ordered whatever dish that was, later to find out it was “guatita picante,” a traditional Chilean dish that literally translates as “spicy stomach.” Imagine a plate of steamed rice served with chopped-up cow stomach lining and potato in an spicy orange sauce. I had heard of the dish before, but definitely was not expecting that to show up on my plate. My hunger got the best of me, and I ended up eating the whole thing. I did get what I wanted after all. It was spicy indeed!
No two rides will ever be the same.
Even though it will take months to cross countries and the roads will all start to look similar, no two rides will ever be the same. Road conditions, weather, and maintenance issues will always keep you on your toes. Just when you feel like you’ve seen everything, life will surprise you. The second you underestimate how the day could unfold, it will take a turn in the opposite direction. That could come as a blessing or a unexpected disaster. Flat tires or heavy winds could turn a peaceful, sunny day into a ride from hell. A group of school children cheering you on as you pass by their town can make an uphill climb feel like you just won a race. One of the most lasting lessons you will learn on this journey is right when you think you’ve got it all figured out, life happens.
It is not about getting through life unscathed though, right? It’s about how you deal with each and every situation and what you take away from it. When you are constantly being challenged, you will be forced to find the best in yourself. You become stronger and more empowered in your life. Taking on a new challenge always offers opportunities for growth.
Flat tires have become my worst enemy on this journey. I would take a surprise downpour over tire issues any day. While in Mexico, I faced a number of flats and frustrating experiences in the blistering heat. I would patch tire tubes only to suffer another flat a short distance later. I would take my wheel apart and spend an hour fixing it, only to find another issue the second I started riding again, putting my patience to the absolute test. When I would think to myself, “What more could possible go wrong?” a spoke would break, or I would get yet another flat.
As always though, luck changes and things have a way of working themselves out. After all, I am not still on the side of the road fixing flats in Mexico!
People are absolutely awesome.
One of the greatest rewards for taking on such an adventure will undoubtedly be the people you meet. When cycling solo across continents, it won’t take very long to run into awesome people. Every cyclist you meet will inspire you to continue onward. Restaurants and hotels will make an effort to accommodate you and your bike to keep you both safe. Locals will thank you for visiting their country, keep you company with a nice chat, and have no problem giving you a hand when needed. Honks and waves of support, gifts of water and Gatorade, offers to pay for your meal, and friendly mechanics will be waiting for you when you least expect it. You will be thousands of miles away, but you will feel at home thanks to the amazing people you will meet.
Don’t ever give up your faith in humanity. In this day and age, there are a lot of reasons to be selfish and to care only for yourself. When you are at your best, it may seem that you don’t need to depend on anyone and that you can handle things just fine. There will undoubtedly come a time, however, when you are overwhelmed with life and its challenges. You will then understand why it is important to have support from and faith in those around you. And right in that time of need, people will be awesome.
I know a lot of my family and friends have had concerns about my travels and some of the countries I have been cycling through. I can proudly say I have met nothing but great people who have always been there to cheer me on, offer information, offer help, or to simply have a chat. I believe that, given the length and duration of my trip, if the world was actually full of bad people, I would have run into them by now.
If I only remember one aspect of this adventure, it will definitely be the people I have met.
That said, the people of Latin America deserve a huge thank-you for being such awesome hosts and for helping me arrive safely to the other side of the world!
“¡Muchas gracias a todos por su generosidad, su apoyo, y su hospitalidad!”
“Many thanks to everyone for your generosity, your support, and your hospitality!”
Note from Howard: The highly-acclaimed memoir To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins is one of my favorite reads of the year. Like Adrian Marziliano, the author embarked on an epic bicycle ride through North and South America. The riveting travelogue of Jedidiah’s journey is also a candid confessional of reconciliation between his sexual identity and his Christian faith.
Fighting cancer without support is like biking up a mountain with two flat tires. Palliative care teams are there to support cancer patients and their families in the everyday struggles associated with fighting their disease, regardless of the type of cancer, prognosis, or stage of treatment.
With the help of these awesome caregivers, my family and I were better able to help my mother fight her cancer. It was only with the help of others that I was eventually able to overcome depression after my mother’s death, finish university, and eventually set forth on my ride.
Support the advancement of palliative care programs today, and give cancer patients and their families a chance at a better quality of life during their fight!
Please don’t forget to follow me on the social media links listed below and support my ride as I complete the final leg of my journey through the United States!
Donations to my cause will go directly to the Palliative Care Programs Fund at the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation in honour of my mother, Rosemary. Donations over $15 CAD will receive a tax receipt, available to both Canadian and American citizens.
Track My Tour!
You can follow the remainder of my transcontinental bike ride at TrackMyTour: #RideHomeForRosemary.
We Would Love to Hear From You
At Backroad Planet, we enjoy dialogue with our readers, and Adrian will be joining us in the discussion of his epic ride by responding to your comments and questions below.
Has travel taught you any life lessons? If so, we would love to hear your stories and the lessons learned from your travels. Please share Adrian’s story on your social media channels using the floating share bar to the left of your screen on desktop, or the bottom of your screen on mobile!
The Original Backroad Planet Interview
For more on Adrian’s story, be sure to read our original interview: Adrian Marziliano’s Transcontinental Bike Ride for Hope.
If you enjoy reading about memorable journeys and the intriguing people who take them, check out Nathan Kolk’s Reflections on an Epic US Road Trip and A Solo Bike Ride Across the Southern Tier, our interview with David Hayes.
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