By Dhruv Bogra
I was cycling solo and unsupported in the midst of the wilderness of the Yukon region, a vast swathe of boreal forests filled with oak, cedar and fir sweeping across half a million square kilometers of Northwestern Canada. The deafening sound of the silence over many days and weeks endeared me to one of the last of the pristine, raw and unexplored regions of the world. When you travel on a bicycle you move slowly, absorbing each frame of life on the planet in slow motion. The cry of the peregrine falcon above my head, the sway of the beautiful purple fireweed flower bushes remain etched in my mind, as do the snowy peaks and untouched waters of countless glacial rivers and streams that gush abundantly in the remote parts of northern British Columbia and Alberta. I met many bears on the Cassiar highway enjoying the summer sun and eating blueberries along the narrow road flanked by mountains and forests. Often the rising fear of suddenly encountering them would melt away by just looking into their kind eyes. Of course this could turn into a ferocious attack any time if they felt threatened. Trysts with wildlife on the road and while camping in the wild were sometimes followed by chance meetings with the indigenous people – there are many First Nations clans that have been native to the North American plains and the arctic for thousands of years.
As I cycled out of Canada amidst beautiful Autumn colors I spent time camping on two islands – Salt Spring and Gabriola off the coast of Victoria Island. These are called the Gulf Islands and are inhabited mostly by creative people and are a treat as they are filled with art shops, delightful cafes and a way of life that is almost unreal. While the West Coast of the US is most famous and more well known for the sunshine of California and the pretty wine producing valley of Napa and Sonoma, one of the most astounding places that I bicycled into and explored are the Olympic National Park, the iconic campgrounds of northern Washington state such as Kalaloch and Lake Crescent and the interesting towns of Astoria and Cannon Beach. The Coastal Redwood forests and the ‘Avenue of the Giants’ consist of thousand year old cedar trees that are amongst the tallest in the world.
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The west coast is dotted with some of the most charming towns which really are great places to explore such as Florence, Monterrey, Cambria, San Obispo and Santa Cruz. I cycled to all of these and stayed at wonderful hostels which also allowed me to mingle with travelers from other parts of the the US and the world. My favorite hostel was at Pigeon Lighthouse.
I discovered that Mexico is one of the most culturally rich and extravagant countries I cycled in. I spent three months, cycling almost four thousand kilometers along western, central and southern Mexico. The great UNESCO world heritage cities of Mexico city, Tequila, Guadalajara, Oaxaca and San Cristobal and the ancient archaeological sites of the Maya, Aztec and Zapotec civilizations at Mont Alban, Teotenango, Mitla and Palenque symbolize much of what is classical Mexico. The beautiful and grand churches, the imposing colonial Spanish architecture and plazas straddle and co-exist with the structures of ancient civilizations.
Central America is wondrous and enchanting. Guatemala, neighbouring Mexico is a mainly mountainous country and is at the epicenter of ancient Maya glory. One of the greatest civilizations in the world took root in Tikal which was at the heart of the Maya Civilization. Tikal rises clouds above anything else I had ever witnessed in grandeur and scale. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and is only rivalled by the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Antigua the old capital of Guatemala, another UNESCO world heritage site, rests at the base of Volcan de Fuego an active volcano and is a fabulous representation of colonial Spanish architecture, pretty homes, cobbled streets and great food.
Much of Nicaragua, especially Costa Rica is a natural paradise and an unexplored haven. The volcanoes, fantastic beaches, thick rainforests vibrant wildlife and cities filled with music and a spirit of ‘Pura Vida’ characterize much of the life here. Costa Rica is host to 5% of the species in the world even though it occupies less than 3% of world mass. Its biodiversity is astonishing and the country has many national parks in the highlands and coastal areas.
I reached Peru in May 2017 at the onset of winter in the southern hemisphere. Lima, the capital city of Peru, has been the gastronomic capital of the world for many years and serves up a dazzling array of Peruvian food which has many influences. Peru is famous for Machu Picchu, the high and remote citadel of the Inca Empire which stretched from Ecuador in the North to Bolivia in the South. I cycled into the Andes from Lima for over 1,200 kms and Peru has some unforgettable destinations such as the Nazca lines, Arequipa, Cusco (the capital of the Inca Empire), the Sacred Valley consisting of picturesque, culturally rich and historically significant places like Oolantaytambo, Urubamba and Chinchero. I climbed to the famous Rainbow mountains a few hours to the South from Cusco to an altitude of 16,000 feet and witnessed heavenly sights.
(The author has cycled alone for 15,000 kilometers across ten countries on his all-steel bicycle, a Surly Troll, which he named Quest, he gained an upgrading of over 22,000 feet which is identical to climbing Mt. Everest seven times. He is the first Indian to cover this distance internationally. Grit, Gravel, and Gear is his initiatory novel. Views expressed are personal.)