(We will continue to make updates to these sections in attempt to provide the best source of information for travel on the "long road south." - Mike Logsdon Mar, 2011. However, many of our tips are now 5+ years old and things have undoubtedly changed in that time)
ROADS: The DALTON HIGHWAY, or "Haul Road", which directly parallels the pipeline, is one of the most isolated roads in the United States. Running 414 miles from the Arctic ocean to the Elliot Highway (562 miles north of Fairbanks) this rough road is mostly chip-seal, gravel and compacted dirt, with only the tiny stretches of pavement near some pump stations and the isolated truck stop of Coldfoot. Despite being dirt and gravel, the road is generally in good condition. this due to seasonal grading and surfacing.
A word of caution, always wear some kind of eye protection. Big-Rigs have a tendency to throw rocks from their wheels, which can severally injure you and in rare cases people have been killed. Though most truckers are very courteous to cyclists on the Haul Road, don't assume that they will slow down and/or give you a wide bearth. We had some close calls of our own and a fellow cyclist was badly injured after being hit. One trucker told us that in the late 90's a cyclist was killed by a flying rock. For the latest road conditions you can call (907) 456-7623 or check the ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION website.
WATER: Pack a high quality pump filter (SEE THE GEAR LIST) and/or UV water treatment device. Whatever option you decide on make sure that it destroys viruses. If your using a pump filter that may mean adding iodine or small amounts of bleach to your water. Even in the Arctic we were warned that Hepatitis can be present in some rivers and lakes. Talk with locals whenever possible as they are the best source of information regarding water, roads,weather and more.
CAMPING: By and large you are completely alone. Camp anywhere but take every precaution when it comes to bears. Bears are common, even on the north slope and are far more agressive than their southerly counterparts. We were chased one mile into our ride by a grizzly (SEE JORNAL ENTRIES) and had sevral other encounters in and around the arctic. ALWAYS REMEMBER - Pack out what you pack in.
SECURITY: Bears are your biggest threat; individuals have been killed by these animals in the arctic and beyond. Do your homework on how to avoid contact, what to do if you have contact, and what gear may keep you safe when in bear habitat. In addition to bears, a group of cyclists did have their food stolen from a tree by pranksters. While such reckless acts in the wilderness are rare they are possible. Another issue to take into account is the danger of accidentally shootings. While rare it does happen and to avoid this make sure both you and your camp are highly visible.
FOOD: Besides some minimal food in Deadhorse, and three truck stops toward the end of the Dalton (Coldfoot, The Hot Spot, and the Cafe at the edge of the Yukon River) you are on your own on the Dalton Highway. Once you reach Fairbanks you will see regular truck stops, gas stations, and small towns. It is important that you plan for your needs and that you take into account the possibility that you will move slower than expected and/or the potential for injury. As for interesting food items, we had Caribou Jerky and loved it.
BORDERS: Arriving in Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse) is not complicated. The airport is unsurprisingly small and if you have secured lodging in one of the two hotels (THE PRUDHOE BAY HOTEL and THE ARCTIC CARIBOU INN) a car will be there to transfer you there. We recommend taking the hotel option as conditions are unpredictable and if you arrive in a storm preping your bike and gear could be extremely difficult. Leaving Alaska and crossing into Canada was a breeze but new restrictions require that you have a passport so check for the latest information at the US STATE DEPARTMENT and/or the CANADIAN CONSULATE remember to send any firearms home in advance as you may not be allowed to cross with them.
MAPS & GUIDES: The absolute best source of written travel information when in Alaska was the THE MILEPOST. It gave us mile by mile coverage of our entire route.
BEARS: Bring Bear spray, keep a clean camp, and keep your food bag far away from your tent. Just prior to our arrival two hunters were killed by grizzlies along the Dalton Highway (the first 450 miles of the trip). The arctic bears are said to be different from there brothers further south, they will actively stalk humans and some reports have said that the bears will move toward the sound of gun fire hoping to get a hunters fresh kill. Get informed because you will come in close contact with these animals, we ran into more than forty bears (Grizzly and Black).
GUNS: It is our opinion that carrying firearms is bad idea for a number of reasons. We brought a .357 magnum with hollow point rounds, local hunters said we'd likely just make the bear angrier even if we got a shot off. We were told that "you would have to be an excellent marksmen to stop a charging bear with that particular weapon". This coupled with issues of weight, considering a .357 is an extremely heavy weapon, make most (if not all) firearms impractical to carry on a tour.
MOSQUITOS: It's worse than what you've heard. Bring full netting: head, body, legs, and arms, and gloves. They are vicious like you cannot comprehend. DEET will do little and I will guarantee you'll regret not heeding this bit of advice.
WHEN TO LEAVE: If you plan on departing from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska then May, June, & July will provide the warmest temperatures. Despite the fact the climate is generally mild during those three months temps can drop suddenly. On our first day (July 26th, 2005) we woke up to below freezing temperatures and light snow fall, by the afternoon it was sunny and the mercury raised to around seventy degrees. The most important rule to follow in terms of weather in the Arctic is not be caught unprepared.
LANGUAGE: English, Native Languages (18)
RELIGION: Alaska has been identified, along with Pacific Northwest states Washington and Oregon, as being the least religious in the U.S. According to statistics collected by the Association of Religion Data Archives, only about 39% of Alaska residents were members of religious congregations.
ECONOMY: The 2005 gross state product was $39.9 billion. Its per-capita GSP for 2005 was $60,079, 3rd in the nation. Alaska's economy relies heavily on petroleum extraction, with more than 80% of the state's revenues derived from this industry. Alaska's main export product (excluding oil and natural gas) is seafood, primarily salmon, cod, pollock and crab. Agriculture represents only a fraction of the Alaskan economy. Agricultural production is primarily for consumption within the state and includes nursery stock, dairy products, vegetables, and livestock. Manufacturing is limited, with most foodstuffs and general goods imported from elsewhere. Employment is primarily in government and industries such as natural resource extraction, shipping, and transportation. Military bases are a significant component of the economy in both Fairbanks and Anchorage. There is also a growing service and tourism sector. Tourists have contributed to the economy by supporting local lodging. - (statements taken from wikipedia)
ROADS: The roads were excellent and we had little to complain about. For road conditions in British Comolmbia (BC) go to the DRIVE BC webiste. For road conditions in the Yukon go to the YUKON DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION website.
WATER: We had no trouble getting tap water, however, when filling at a gas station or restaurnt it's best to buy something small in exchange for the service.
CAMPING: The great white north is filled with people who have a deep appreiation for the joys of nature and thus we had no trouble camping on public or private land. Whenever in doubt simply ask.
SECURITY: Truthfully we never felt safer than our time in Canada. People were extremely friendly and helpful, to the point that motorists were pulling over to ask if we needed help changing tubes, tures and more.
FOOD: Besides the fact that all meat must be cooked through Canada is standard fare. You'll find the good, the bad, and everything in between. I recommend Elk as a delicious alternative beef.
BORDERS: The only thing we were asked was if we were carrying any guns. I had to ask them to stamp my passport as this seemed uncommon. Always check with for current information as requirements have changed since 2005.
MAPS & GUIDES: Again the THE MILEPOST gave us mile by mile coverage. We recommend this tool to any and all cyclist touring in the north. If it's size and weight are too much simply knife out the section you won't need.
LANGUAGE: English and French
RELIGION: 77.1% of Canadians identify as being Christians; of this, Catholics make up the largest group (43.6% of Canadians). The largest Protestant denomination is the United Church of Canada. About 16.5% of Canadians declare no religious affiliation, and the remaining 6.3% are affiliated with religions other than Christianity, of which the largest is Islam numbering 1.9%, followed by Judaism at 1.1% - statements taken from wikipedia
ECONOMY: Canada is one of the world's wealthiest nations with a high per-capita income, a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Group of Eight (G8). Canada is a mixed market, ranking lower than the U.S. but higher than most western European nations on the Heritage Foundation's index of economic freedom.Since the early 1990's, the Canadian economy has been growing rapidly with low unemployment and large government surpluses on the federal level. Today Canada closely resembles the US in its market-oriented economic system, pattern of production, and high living standards. As of October 2007, Canada's national unemployment rate of 5.9% is its lowest in 33 years. Provincial unemployment rates vary from a low of 3.6% in Alberta to a high of 14.6% in Newfoundland and Labrador.
ROADS: Usually top knotch pavement with ample shoulders. Know that on many main transit arteries (i.e. interstate highways) it is not legal to cycle; contact the local police to find out where you can ride. For road and weather conditions in Washington State visit WSDOT. For road conditions in Oregon visit ODOT. For California's road conditions check CALTRANS website.
WATER: Water in the USA was never a problem for us. Not only is water in the US safe it is easy to come by. Whether you fill up at a gas station, public park, or purchase water from a grocery store you will not have an issue unless you are cycling in wilderness or back country areas.
CAMPING: Always ask first but be prepared for a surprise for the amount of kindness, generocity, and hospitality, as it has an inverse relationship to much of the negative perceptions of the United States and Americans.
SECURITY: Don't believe what you have seen on TV or in the press. Cycling in the U.S. is just as safe, if not safer, than many other countries, including Europe. Given that you use common sense mixed with some local and regional knowledge you should enjoy cycling the states without incident.
FOOD: America, land of hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and all things unhealthy. Yes it's true, you can find places that sell deep fried Twinkies, chocolate bars, pizza and more. Despite the laundry list of heart cloggers the U.S. supports an incredible diversity of delicious and healthy cuisine. If you're looking for a delicios Hamburger check out IN-N-OUT BURGER a California favorite.
BORDERS: The borders were no issue during the time this was written, however, if you are not a U.S. citizen be aware that there can be complications. It is important to know that VISAS are required and checked (Even for EU passport holders). Crossing out of the U.S. and into Mexico was no issue and we weren't required to speak to any offical, Mexian or American. You will be required to get a VISA if you intend to travel more than 50 miles south of the Mexican border. This can be obtained at the crossing for a fee.
MAPS & GUIDES: We favored a combination of ADEVTURE CYCLING and AAA maps (both purchased or printable). The Adventure Cycling maps gave us great route with minimal traffic and we were gld to have them.
LANGUAGE: English & Spanish. Although the United States has no official language at the federal level, English is the national language. In 2003, about 215 million, or 82% of the population aged five years and older, spoke only English at home. Spanish, spoken by over 10% of the population at home, is the second most common language and the most widely taught foreign language. (MORE)
RELIGION The United States government does not audit Americans' religious beliefs. In a private survey conducted in 2001, 76.5% of American adults identified themselves as Christian, down from 86.4% in 1990. Protestant denominations accounted for 52%, while Roman Catholics, at 24.5%, were the largest individual denomination. (MORE)
ECONOMY The United States has a capitalist mixed economy, which is fueled by abundant natural resources, a well-developed infrastructure, and high productivity. According to the International Monetary Fund, the United States GDP of more than $13 trillion constitutes over 19% of the gross world product. The largest national GDP in the world, it was slightly less than the combined GDP of the European Union at purchasing power parity in 2006. The country ranks eighth in the world in nominal GDP per capita and fourth in GDP per capita at purchasing power parity. The United States is the largest importer of goods and second largest exporter. Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and Germany are its top trading partners. The leading export commodity is electrical machinery, while vehicles constitute the leading import. The national debt is the world's largest; in 2005, it was 23% of the global total. As a percentage of GDP, U.S. debt ranked thirtieth out of 120 countries for which data is available. (MORE)
ROADS: The quality of the roads varied amazingly in Mexico. From perfect pavement with wide shoulders to tattered bits of concrete with no shoulder. Our worst riding was definately in the Baja so if you head this way be very careful because the drivers certainly will not.
WATER: Bottled water 100%
CAMPING: We camped from border to border and never had a single problem.
SECURITY: We had no trouble at all, however, if you are heading to Chiapas take extreme caution. The stories you may have heard are true. Every single friend of ours who cycled through this state (toward San Cristobal & Pelanque) were attacked. This is not a joke, please feel free to write us if you would like to know about our expierences and those of our friends.
FOOD: The best food of the entire ride, both in variety and quality! Find out what the state and even city specialties are and you will be glad you did.
BORDERS: Crossings are a hassel everywhere but Mexico was relatively simple. You will have to pay $20 for a visa, which will give you 90 days, it is easy to extend this visa but if you let it expire you will pay a decent fine and deal with a healthy does of frustation, so don't wait until the last minute!
MAPS & GUIDES: We used AAA maps to get us from point A to point B but suplimented that info with Fromer's and Lonely Planet guide books.
LANGUAGE: Spanish is considered to be the "common" language of the country (though there is no official recognized language of Mexico), used in all sorts of documents and spoken by the majority of the population. About 7% of the population speak an American dialect. The government officially recognizes 62 American languages. Of these, Nahuatl and Maya are each spoken by 1.5 million, while others, such as Lacandon, are spoken by fewer than 100. We were given lessons in some of these dialects by a seven year old in the mountains of Chiapas. Picking up a few words and phrases in these indigenous languages can go a long way toward generating good will and we recommend giving it a try.
RELIGION: Mexico is predominantly Roman Catholic (about 89% of the population). It is the nation with the second largest Catholic population, behind Brazil. Also, 6% of the population adheres to various Protestant/Restoration faiths (e.g. Latter-day Saints, Pentecostal), and the remaining 5% of the population adhering to other religions or professing no religion. Some of the country's Catholics (notably those of indigenous background) syncretize Catholicism with various elements of Aztec or Mayan religions (check out pictures from Oaxaca and the Feria en Agua Caliente) . The Virgin of Guadalupe has long been a symbol enshrining the major aspirations of Mexican society.
ECONOMY: Mexico ranks 13th in the world in regard to GDP and has the fourth largest per capita income in Latin America just after Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica, and it is firmly established as an upper middle-income country. Mexico has a mixed economy that recently entered the trillion dollar class. It contains a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. The number of state-owned enterprises in Mexico has fallen from more than 1,000 in 1982 to fewer than 100 in 2005. Recent administrations have expanded competition in seaports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity generation, natural gas distribution, and airports. Mexico is also the fourth largest oil producer in the world.
ROADS: The roads in Guatemala very greatly. Some were brand new with ample shoulder space, while others were falling apart without any shoulders.
WATER: The Tap water is not potable, however, large 15L & 20L jugs are easy to find.
CAMPING: We were advised under no uncertain terms that camping anywhere in Guatemala would be a dangerous gamble. Hostels and hotels are cheap and plentiful and we advise cyclists to go that route.
SECURITY: It is a problem in Guatemala, don't be fooled. We were stopped by police and provided a full military and police escort through this country. The officers and soldiers pointed out, on numerous occasions, where tourists had been attacked and killed. Don't get us wrong we think it's an incredible country and worth seeing but be on guard.
FOOD: (Coming Soon)
BORDERS: The border crossing into Guatemala was awful. Several people attempte dto lead us down the wrong road and when we reached the office we were surrounded by pushy money changers and men who simply hovered around our gear. This being said we did cross without incident but not before recieving stern warnings about our menthod of travel.
MAPS & GUIDES: We stuck to our AAA maps and listened to the advice of our police and military escort.
LANGUAGE: Although the official language is Spanish, it is not universally spoken among the indigenous population, or is often spoken as a second language. We had no trouble using espanol but it is important to note that there are; 21 distinct Mayan languages still spoken in Guatemala, especially in the more rural areas.
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism dominanted the region during the colonial era, and remains the faith of about two-thirds of the population. Protestant denominations have increased markedly in recent decades, especially under the reign of dictator and evangelical pastor General Efraín Ríos Montt. Around 1 in 3 Guatemalans are Protestant - chiefly Evangelical and Pentecostal.
ECONOMY: The agricultural sector accounts for one quarter of GDP, two-thirds of exports, and half of the labor force. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the main exports. Manufacturing and construction account for one-fifth of GDP.
ROADS: The roads were well maintained.
WATER: 100% bottled.
CAMPING: We found that there was no issue with camping when we asked locals for advice on safe locations.
SECURITY: We had heard a great deal of negative things about El Salvador's security situation. In fact a pair of Swiss riders were robbed of all their gear at gun point in the country. This being said we never felt unsafe and were told by most people that El Salvador's bad reputation revolves around it's capital San Salvador.
FOOD: (Coming Soon)
BORDERS: If you are from the United States you will have to purchase a tourist card for $10. Beyond that the border crossing was problem free and the officals were extremely helpful and friendly.
MAPS & GUIDES: We used AAA's map of central America and found no troble navigating.
RELIGION: Honduras is nominally Roman Catholic
ECONOMY: The Salvadoran economy has experienced mixed results from the ARENA government's commitment to free market initiatives and conservative fiscal management that include the privatization of the banking system, telecommunications, public pensions, electrical distribution, and some electrical generation, reduction of import duties, elimination of price controls, and an improved enforcement of intellectual property rights. The GDP variable has been growing at a steady and moderate pace since the signing of peace accords in 1992, in an environment of macroeconomic stability. A problem that the Salvadoran economy faces is the inequality in the distribution of income. In 1999, the richest fifth of the population received 45% of the country's income, while the poorest fifth received only 5.6%.
ROADS: The roads were decent despite recent damage from a hurricane (2005) Beyond small stretches near the borders we had smooth pavement all the way.
WATER: 100% bottled.
CAMPING: We attempted to camp on our first night but we warned against doing so even in rural areas. During the one night we slept in Honduras we laid our sleeping bags down in a hostel lobby.
SECURITY: Security is an issue in Honduras and we were warned often about tourists being robbed. This being said we were never robbed and/or felt unsafe in the short time we cycled there. Like all countries, including the USA, if you use common sense, local knowledge, and excersise bit of caution you should be fine.
FOOD: (Coming Soon!)
BORDERS: Borders were simple and straight forward without any complications.
RELIGION: Honduras is nominally Roman Catholic
ECONOMY: Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Americas, with GDP per capita at US$2050 per year (1999). The economy has continued to grow slowly but the distribution of wealth remains very polarized with average wages remaining very low. Economic growth is roughly 5% a year, but many people remain below the poverty line. It is estimated that there are more than 1.2 million people who are unemployed. The rate of unemployment is 28%
ROADS: While Costa Rica my by the wealthiest Central American country you certainly wouldn't think it given their roads. Costa Rica by far has the worst roads we have encountered anywhere. This ugly fact is further by a complete lack of shoulders and drivers who have little respect for cyclists.
WATER: For the fist time since we crossed the into Mexico we were able to drink from the tap. When you need water simply stop by a local store or restaurant and ask for a fill up. Obviously it is appreciated if you make a small purchase but this was not necessary.
CAMPING: The only issue with camping is finding a spot.
SECURITY: The Ticos are warm and hospitable, you shouldn't have any worries while traveling outside of cities in Costa Rica. Obviously with an economy based around tourism pick pockets are present but common sense should keep you problem free.
FOOD: Gallo Pinto with eggs is cheap as they come and delicious. Make sure to get some fried plantains with your order.
BORDERS: Simple and relaxed borders on both sides.
ECONOMY: Costa Rica is one of Latin Americas gems, and the government has worked hard to let the world know as much. Eco-tourism is big money in this country and a trip to Monteverde is worth the hellish ride up into the mountains. Costa Ricans enjoy the fruits of a thriving economy and the redirection of funds from not having a military.
ROADS: The Best of the trip hands down
WATER: We drank bottled water though in larger cities it is possible to drink from the tap (always ask a creditable source first).
CAMPING: We had no trouble camping in Panama. From backcountry spots to back of gas station spots we camped in this country with relative ease.
SECURITY: We had no issues in Panama though we warned about travel at night and travel in and around the capital.
FOOD: Until you hit Panama City you will be luck to find anything that isn't deep fried, add this to incredible heat and we are talking serious stomach issues
BORDERS: The borders were straight forward except for a five dollar municipal tax when crossing from Costa Rica. I tried to fight my way around paying this because I wasn't sure it was legit but all my attempts were thwarted when the immigration officer demanded to see my municipal tax sticker.
RELIGION: Panama has no official religion, however 80% of the population is Roman Catholic
ECONOMY: Panama has an unemployment rate of 7.2% and according to the Government of Panama the poverty rate is of 16.6% as of 2004, comparable to that of wealthier nations such as Argentina. owever, the First World infrastructure and high standards of living shows Panama's strong and thriving economic growth. -tatments taken from wikipedia
*Spinning Southward diverted over Colombia due to an uncertain political climate surrounding the then up coming Presidential elections. The team instead flew from Panama City to Quito Ecuador to continue the ride. Having talked with James Wilson of 55 Degrees team, I learned that the route from Cartegena to Quito was unsettling. Though he was able to make the distance without incident, James mentioned that two German's were kidnapped only a few miles from one of his camps. My experience as a back packer in Colombia has told me that the country and its people are absolutely amazing, however the dangers are very real and you should use great care when traveling in here.
If you can supply Spinning Southward with information about cycling in Colombia please write us at
spinningsouthward "at" gmail.com
ROADS: Get ready to do some climbing but know that the roads were, for the most part, well maintained.
WATER: Stick with the bottled unless you are certain of the purity. We often took tap water and ran it through our pump filter or added an iodine tablet to make sure. One mistake can cost you delay, as I spent more than three days in a hospital for making assumptions regarding water quality
CAMPING: The camping was incredible. The mountains afforded surreal views and the people welcomed us onto their land when we were closer to cities and towns.
SECURITY: The only trouble I had was with the Quito police, they saw me walking around at 2am with long hair and assumed I was carrying drugs. I was thrown into a wall, searched, and briefly interrogated. Beyond that incident we never worried about security issues. We did here that the coastal route was more dangerous (especially in and around Guayaquil)
FOOD: The food of Ecuador is fairly standard. We ordered the "tipico" which cost about $1.50 and usually came with soup, rice, fried potatoes and meat.
VISAS/BORDERS: American, Aussie, and European citizens only need a passport at this time, however, it is always important to check before departure. We flew into Ecuador and had no issue upon arrival in Quito International Airport. Exiting Ecuador we opted to cross at Macara (we had heard that the coastal crossing into Peru at Huaquillas was sketchy), it proved to be one of the most relaxed border towns we encountered. Macara seems to stand as a city beyond it's position at the border. The streets were safe and young and old walked without concern until far past midnight. A side note: We were given lodging with the police in Macara (the bomberos didn't have room).
LANGUAGE: Spanish & Quechua
RELIGION: Ecuador is predominantly Roman Catholic though there seems to be a great deal of synthesis of the indigenous beliefs and Catholic traditions.
ECONOMY: Two words, roses and bananas.
Capital - Quito
Money - US Dollar
Population - 12 million
Country Code - 593
Electricity - 110V, 60Hz, US style plugs
Tipping - 10%
ROADS: The roads in Peru are good from border to border with shoulders present along the entire route
WATER: For the most part water is not drinkable from the tap and it was rare to find 10L+ jugs. In this arrid country you will need to be strategic about your water needs. In terms of water safety, you would do well to take extra caution. An example of this can be found in our "Stories from the road" section. I spent 4 days in a hospital in southern Peru with dysentery. Though dysentery is awful I recovered fully, but trust me, you do not want to take the risk. We suugest that you keep 8-10L with you everyday. The mercury can climb exceptionally high and it was not uncommon to to go long stretches without seeing towns as you work your way through the endless deserts.
CAMPING: Despite being warned prior to entering Peru about camping we didn't have a single problem. Use common sense and ask locals if you're not sure. Further, we have spent a lot of nights camping on people's properties, behind their fences, which didn't seem necessary but helped us sleep a little better at night.
SECURITY: No one that we know has had any problems in Peru, however, the country has the worst security rating of any South American country (lower than Colombia) according to the FBI at the time we were traveling. Lima is like any big city, you need to be aware of your surroundings and know which neighborhoods are safe. We were told by friends to bus into town once we got close and we took that advice. We recommend that to you as well.
FOOD: The food we found along our route has decent though uninteresting. In terms of cost, food was cheap in Peru, for less than dollar (2.5 soles) you can get a plate of rice, beans, and boiled chicken. Not bad!
BORDERS: We crossed into Peru at Macara and found it to be one of the most relaxed crossing of the trip. Upon getting your passport stamped you will be given a tourist card, hold onto this or you will pay a fine upon exiting.
LANGUAGE: Spanish, Quechua, & Aymara
RELIGION: Peru is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, however, like Ecuador, indigenous beliefs and Catholic traditions mix regularly here.
ECONOMY: (no information)
Capital - Lima
Money - Soles (1USD = 3.60 soles)
Population - 28 million
Country Code - 51
Electricity - 220V, 60 cycles AC, two rounded prongs (my AC adapter, brought from the US, was ruined)
Tipping - 10%
ROADS: The roads are generally above average but some sections in the north lacked shoulders of any kind. This was especially dangerous during long lonely decent where many motorists seemed to be asleep at the wheel. Further, we had many instances where buses in Chile nearly side-swiped us for no reason.
WATER: Tap water in cities was safe but drink bottled water when traveling in smaller towns and villages.
CAMPING: We did a great deal of camping here and never had any trouble, just ask around to be sure. Chile offered incredible isolation in the northern arid regions and throughout the Atacama. A side note: Chile was the only country where we were regularly turned down by fire & police stations when asking for shelter.
SECURITY: We felt very safe throughout Chile, however, we received stern warnings about riding into certain urban areas in the Capital and other large cities. Safety seems to come down to common sense.
FOOD: Fish was the name of the game in Chile. The have a ton of it and it's damn good! Be prepared for a major price jump from you time in Peru or Bolivia.
BORDERS: The borders were straight forward and you will never have issues with Chilean officials as Chile seems to pride itself on lack of corruption amoung law enforcement agents. As for visas North Americans, Aussies, and most Europeans only need a valid passport. It is important to note that while it's free to enter and exit by land, if you enter Chile by air entrances taxes can exceed $100 USD.
LANGUAGE: Spanish. Mapudungun, Rapanui
RELIGION: 90% of Chileans are Catholic with the majority of the rest of the population following Evangelical Protestantism.
ECONOMY: There is a huge emphasis on mining in Chile and if you cycle here you will see plenty of it.
Capital - Santiago
Money - Peso (1USD = 570 pesos)
Population - 16 million
Country Code - 56
Electricity - 220V, 50 cycles, two and three rounded prongs
Tipping - 10%
ROADS: Good roads. The 3, running down the Atlantic coast is brutally windy, even in the quieter months, so be prepared for long days with small distance gains. The 40, running close to the Andes, turns into a dirt and gravl mess at parts. We were forced into a truck when bridges were washed out and the route became impassible.
WATER: We drank the water from Mendoza to Ushuaia and never had any issues.
CAMPING: Best camping we've done since Alaska
SECURITY: If you use common sense you won't run into any trouble down here
FOOD: Believe the hype, the Beef down here is the best, however, be aware that your best meals will never be in the high traffic cities. We found the best meals and the best prices in small pueblas and truck stops up and down Argentina. When you need a hot drink (and you will!) go for Mate. This earthy tea like substance is the national beverages and is a cultural icon of this country. You should definitely get a Calabash or Porongo (cup or pot) and a bombilla (the straw). Pulling these items out as a foreigner never fails to generate intrigue and conversation. If you want to really impress your Argentine hosts you need to learn the basics of the ritual. For example: Saying "Gracias" means you would not like anymore. You should always pass the cup with your right hand with the bombilla angled toward the sebador (the person who refills the hot water). A little Mate History: Yerba Mate was discovered in what is now Paraguay and Northern Argnetina, the conquistadors found that the indigenous people, who carried it in a leather sack (called a guayacas), were consuming the mix with water. The medicine men of the tribes considered it to be a magic drink and used it as a means to get in touch with the devil.
VISAS/BORDERS: North Americans and most Europeans only need a valid passport. The Borders between Argentina and Chile are simple and straight forward. We were never hassled and only once, when we crossed at an obscure station near Rio Mayo, did we have to pay to pass border control (5 pesos, about $1.66).
LANGUAGE: The only official language of Argentina is Spanish, though the Amerindian language Guaraní also holds official status in the province of Corrientes.
RELIGION: Argentina is an overwhelmingly Christian country. The majority of Argentina's population (80 percent) is at least nominally Roman Catholic. Roman Catholicism is supported by the state and endorsed in the Constitution. Evangelical churches have gained a foothold in Argentina since the 1980s, and their followers now number more than 3.5 million or 10 percent of the total population. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) number over 330,300, the seventh-largest concentration in the world]. Traditional Protestant communities are also present. The country also hosts the largest Jewish population in Latin America, about 2 percent of the population. It is also home to one of the largest mosques in Latin America, serving Argentina's small Muslim community.
ECONOMY: Argentina benefits from rich natural resources, a highly literate population, an export-oriented agricultural sector, and a diversified industrial base. The country historically had a large middle class, compared to other Latin American countries, but this segment of the population was decimated by a succession of economic crises. Today, while a significant segment of the population is still financially well-off, they stand in sharp contrast with millions who live in poverty or on the brink of it.
GENERAL ADVICE: Winds are serious issue for the second half of Argentina. Make sure to get local advice about the season in which you are passing through various sections because you can literally be stopped dead by the strength of some of these head winds. Spinning Southward and many of our friends ran into issues with wind that made riding impossible for days at a time. Having BOB trailers will make you more streamlined; however, that is a small help when it comes to headwinds of 15-30mph.
Capital - Buenos Aries (aka B.A. or Buenos)
Money - Pesos (1USD = 3 pesos)
Population - 37 million
Country Code - 54
Electricity - 220V, 50Hz, two rounded progs or three flat angled flat prongs
Tipping - 10%, leftover change in taxis
TENT SHARING: After thinking about our own time on the road and talking to a number of tour cyclists, we recommend that you carry an individual tent. After months of physical and mental strain it will become important to have a sense of space, however small. Whether you're siblings, great friends, or complete strangers following this advice will improve the group dynamic during the harder times. Fellow rider Nate Ajello used Mountain Hardware's PCT1 and loved it.
TENT CHOICE: The rule on this item is to get the best gear for teh job. You may save hundreds of dollars on a knock off tent but when it is torn apart by 70 mph winds at altitude you won't feel so smart. Trust me, extra cash spent here is money well spent. John and I used the Hammerhead II and the Trango II (we swapped tents before heading into the Andes Mountains). Our fellow photographer and videographers were destroyed by a storm in Argentina. They endured a long hard night in freezing rain and were lucky to have kept their electronic dry. Bottom line - get a highly rated tent from recognized brand like Mountain Hardware.
TIRED OF CAMPING: OPTION #1 Need a break from that tent of yours? Go to any fire station through the Americas and ask if you can stay. With the exception of certain cities in Chile & Argentina we were never been turned down; after long stretches you'll truly appreciate a shower and bed (We have also found shelter at police stations & churches)
TIRED OF CAMPING: OPTION #2 Go to the Warm Showers List (no this isn't an SF bath house). The Warm Showers List is a list of cyclists who have offered their hospitality towards touring cyclists. As the site says, "the extent of the hospitality depends on the host and may range from simply a spot to pitch a tent to meals, a warm (hot!) shower, and a bed." Check it out at www.warmshowers.org
TIRED OF CAMPING: OPTION #3 If you are looking for free lodging in strange places check out Hospitality Club. This organization is free and helps connect travelers with hosts world wide. I have used this option in French Guiana, Bermuda, and even in the United States. Check them out at www.hosptalityclub.org A word of advice, sign up well in advance as your free membership may take 2-4 weeks to process.
FIRE BUILDING: Dried animal dung makes excellent tinder for getting your camp fire going. If you are really having trouble add a few drops of fuel to the dung and it will work like a wick.
NEED TO GRILL: The Bob trailer makes an incredible BBQ. Simply remove the skids, fork, and wheel and set it up over some hot coals (see pictures of Argentina for a better idea). Though it should be noted that we are uncertain of the long term effects of this unintended use of the a BOB.
LOST A BOB TRAILER CLIP: A spare spoke can be used to replace lost lips. We employed this technique for several months before we could have some new clips mailed to us. Simply take a spoke and insert it as you would the regular clip. Once it is sufficiently in, bend it back under the clip knob (if you own a BOB you will know what I mean) until it more or less has the proper shape and tension. Finish by filing off the remaining spoke (use a file as it will take you much longer, if possible at all, to cut with the wire cutting element in a multi tool set of pliers, like a Leather Man).
FUEL BOTTLES: Make sure to properly clean and air-out used bottles before flights and/or bus rides. We recommend that you buy your fuel bottles new to save potential trouble should your bottles be confiscated. We were told that any smell of fuel in or on the bottle would be sufficient for removal.
NEED TO MAKE A CALL: If you have a spouse, kids, or significant other back home that you want to stay in touch with calling cards are not the answer. The cards can be brutally expensive and frustrating when you are suddenly cut off. We recommend going with SKYPE or a similar internet phone. This not only saved us hundreds of dollars but it also saved our relationships back home by allowing us to talk for hours for literally pennies.
NEED A PILLOW: Getting a good night sleep is key to great days of riding. Toward that end make sure to have a small draw string stuff sack. This small bit of advice may seem trivial to some but balling up your clothes is no substitute for this miniscule addition to your gear (more likely than not you will have one already on hand).
WANT TO COOK IN YOUR TENT: If possible do not cook in your tent. This is another small bit of advice that seems obvious but when over looked can ruin your trip, or at the very least your tent. This is especially important to remember when starting your stove, as flare ups can and will occur.
SLEEPING BAGS - On this trip you will encounter every possible climate and weather condition, thus making sure you have the right bag for the job is vital. Our advice is to go with a zero degree fiber fill from a highly respected company (Mountain Hardware's Lamina 0 was our choice). Fiber fill bags will preform better then down bags when you enter wet climates, and while on the road you can go days, weeks, and even months without consistent sun (depending on your location and timing).
(Updated 6-26-11: We will try and keep improving the information on SpinningSouthward.com, please help us by sending us ideas and info, and if you find our site useful consider adding a link to us)
SPONSORSHIPS - (1-4) In-kind and monetary sponsorships can be an incredible benefit for riders trying to put together project on a budget; however, sponsorships can be the hardest part in your pre-trip work. We'll attempt to give you a few pointers to help you get your project recognized and supported by local businesses and large corporations.
1) PLANNING: If you are considering corporate sponsorships, you will need to start early. Most major companies we approached (Canondale, Clif Bar, Mountain Hardware, etc) have funds and gear budgeted for sponsorships each year; however, they usually make the majority of their decisions on who(m) they will support up to year a or more in advance. If you are serious about getting support from companies you should start your work in this area as early as possible! If your trip is already in the works and you are short on time, focus your efforts on local businesses. In our experience with Spinning Southward and some of our other projects, the success rate working with local/small businesses is much higher, the hurdles much smaller and their reactivity much higher.
2) VALUE PROPOSITION: When you start looking for sponsorships you will need to understand what your value proposition is. What do we mean? While there will be some businesses that may be willing to help you just because they like what you are doing the majority of businesses want to know what you are offering in exchange for support. So what do you have to offer? For Spinning Southward we offered a great deal of media exposure to the companies for minimal investment. John and I worked with the National Brain Tumor Foundation to line up interviews with a host of magazines, newspapers, local and national TV and radio. With tentative agreements for interviews, often with media that was directed at our sponsors core demographics, we had something to bring to the table when asking for support.
3) PRESENTATION - Now that you have something to offer, it's time to professionally package your request. You'll want create some materials highlighting who you are, what you are doing, why you are doing it. In addition you should draft a letter that states what you want and what you can offer. For help with some of this work please look at the Spinning Southward "Press Packet".If you are working with a charity work with them to see what PR resources they might have available to help you.
4) NETWORKING - So now you have your value proposition and the materials to present it. Ready to submit your request? Perhaps not. John and I sent out more than 50 "cold-call" requests to companies and followed up with phone calls and in-person visits. The response we received was overwhelmingly, "we love the trip, the mission, but no thanks." Exhausted and frustrated, John and I thought sponsorships were out of the question; however, there was final piece of the puzzle we were missing - Networking. This critical issue tipped the scales in our favor and you should not underestimate its importance. So how can you network yourself into a sponsorship? Our break through came by talking with family, friends, friends-of-friends and people we knew at our local bike shop. You may be surprised when you start talking with people who may know someone someone at company you are targeting. Even if you don't find a great connection through your immediate network, you should talk with your local bike shop to see if you can connect with their various corporate reps. The key is to get someone who can take your proposal to the right individual within the company who will give you a chance to really make your case. Why is this so important? We heard from our larger sponsors that they often get several thousands of requests per month, the majority of which are immediately declined.
While the above tips will not guarantee you support, they will save you a lot of trail and error work and give you a great advantage of others who are seeking similar support.
WEBSITES: DEVELOPMENT/MAINTENANCE - (1-4) Creating an interactive and multifaceted website will be one of your greatest assets. It will allow you to document your journey, share that journey with family, friends, and complete strangers, and it can further your goals for media exposure, sponsorship plugs, and much more.
1) FIND A BUILDER - Since your website will be viewed by hundreds, thousands, and perhaps millions of visitors, it is important to take the time and get the right team for the job. While it is possible to obtain your site build, server space, and maintenance for free, especially if you are touring for a worthy cause, don't make the mistake of taking "free" over "quality". We connected with the guys at WWW.GEARNINE.COM after four mouths of disastrous work with another outfit. In that four months we lost tens of thousands of visitors from major media markets like Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland because our site was hardly functional, almost no content, and zero photos or video. We made a huge miscalculation and we hope to help you avoid the same mistake. Case and point do your research and find someone who will help bring your work to life.
2) YOUR URL - Obviously you will spend some time thinking about this one, however, keep in mind that it should be simple and easy to remember. You will undoubtedly meet a great deal of folks on whatever path you choose and making sure that they will remember your URL should be a priority when making your choice. This consideration will also prove its worth when getting your site in broadcast media. Often times your site address will only flash on the screen or be said on the airwaves for brief seconds and if it is long and unmemorable you will loose a giant percentage of your potential viewership.
3) MAINTENANCE - Save yourself and your site builder a mountain of stress by making your site remotely updated. Now I am uncertain if I am using the proper terminology but the point is to be able to login into your site, add photos, text, and video, all without having to call or write your builder every time you have something you'd like to post. Our original site with a different builder was only accessible by the builder and thus anything we needed changed or added had to go through him. Our former builder, despite his best efforts, simply did not have the time to manage our needs and everyone ended up unhappy. WWW.GEARNINE.COM setup the site so that we could keep our site current with little need to talk with the builder. Every time we hit an Internet cafe, from Alaska to Argentina, we were able to add our stories, photos, and more instantly and that made a huge difference. If you are looking for a great team to help you meet your needs, we can say without questions that the guys at GEARNINE.COM were amazing.
4) GENERAL ADVICE - While you want to maintain a high degree of interactivity there are certain features that can and will work against you. One example of this is allowing visitors to "add comments". This feature will be searched out by those wishing to advertise everything from car insurance, motor homes, to graphic pornography. If you do choose to have a section that allows comments make sure that you can easily erase all or some of the comments or you will end up spending hours dealing with this issue.
ORGANIZING - (1-4) So you want to take on the long road south? One of the best things you can do to ensure success is to be properly prepared. Clearly no matter how much you plan ahead you will encounter millions of unknowns but your work on the front end will make those hurdles far easier to overcome. Below are some tips to help you get organized.
1) TIME - We have talked with hundreds of riders and almost invariably when talking about long haul tours, such as the Alaska to Argentina run, riders wished they had begun planning earlier. This desire played into many factors, however, the most common issues revolved around obtaining sponsorships, training, courting media outlets, website development, and organizing with charities.
So what is the right amount of planning time for this kind of trip? Obviously each tour has its' different organizational particularities, however, the average prep time was just over a year (for those who cycled similar routes as Spinning Southward). So should you abandon plans if your getting started now and want to leave in a year or less? We would say no. John and I put Spinning Southward together (beyond bar side brainstorm sessions) in less than five months. It is important to know that many things were not complete at the time of our departure. What we were unable to finish in terms of sponsorships, training, media courting, web development, and advanced organization with the National Brain Tumor Foundation, we setup (as best we could) to accomplish from the road. The most important thing to do is not get overwhelmed. Further, by purchasing your flight to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska well in advance you will create a motivational deadline - this was the key for us in trying to kick our pre-trip planning into high gear.
2) Money & Budgeting - Creating a trip budget for some is a simple math, determine the number of days on the road, multiply that number by cost of eating three times a day, and add some padding for incidentals such as bike maintenance. This works well for short trips and can be effective for long hauls as well, however, if your planning on doing the Alaska to Argentina ride you will want to equip yourself better than that. Part of what makes this particular ride so alluring is not the sheer distance, although it seems to floor people on a regular basis. By taking on this challenge you will see many countries, experience hundreds of cultures, learn native tongues and gain fluency in Spanish. You will have limitless opportunity for adventure both on and off the bicycle. You will encounter a culinary diversity that is hard to imagine. In line with all these rare and wonderful opportunities we suggest you save as much as possible so that you will never be forced to say "I would love to do that but I can't afford it". Should you decide to to ride the longest road south it will likely be a one way trip. It is important to believe that each day is absolutely unique and when you ride on those things you encounter will be left behind and perhaps never revisited. So what did we spend? John spent $12,000 USD for his 14 months on the road. I was less frugal and managed to spend around $17,000 USD. Those numbers are based on our flexibility when it came eating out, willingness to stay in hostels from time to time, and a "spend now without worry" mentality when it came to unique opportunities. All that being said we have heard of thrifty souls who only cook their meals and who never spent a single dollar on lodging, doing the entire trip for about $5,000 - $8,000 USD. You should decide what you are looking for (A) Spartan Rider - $5,000 to $8000 (B) Mixed - $12,000 to $18,000 (C) Not a Regret - $20,000+
CHARITY CYCLING - (1-4) If you are planning a tour why not connect it with a charity. This is an excellent opportunity to use what you love to do to make a positive impact on one of thousands of worth while causes. The idea of working with a charity might seem overwhelming, especially if you're short on time, but if you follow a few simple steps it can be accomplished with relative ease. Further, the benefits of partnering with a charitable organization can be incredible, from adding meaning to your work, to positively impacting individuals and the cause of your choice, to increased exposure for both the charity and your ride, to sponsorship opportunities that would have otherwise been out of reach, an much more. Outline below are some guidelines for making this idea a reality. This information should not be looked at as complete nor should it be seen as setting any limitations. There are enumerable ways to expand on these ideas and we are constantly looking for ways to expand this section.
1) Decide what cause you would like to ride for. Whether it's for Brain Tumor research, AIDS, Breast Cancer, Poverty or another cause it is important only that you have a desire to make a difference. Once you have decided on the cause you should search out and make a list of the organizations that address your particular issue or issues. Once you have a list put together it is vital that you do some preliminary research on the various charities. One of the most important factors you need to look for is how the charity uses it's funds. Some charities put less than 50 cents of every dollar they collect towards there programs. An easy way to check out many charities is through one of many online charity watch-dog sites such as www.chritynavigator.org or www.give.org. These watch-dog sites can provide with such information as how much the charity takes in each year, where the money goes, what the president/director receives in compensation per year, how the organization compares with other similar outfits, how to contact the organization, and more. Another way is to simply request such information for the charity itself. Beware of any organization who is reluctant to provide those figures or those who claim not to have that available.
2) Another consideration to take into account when looking at various charities is whether or not donations are tax deductible. This small detail can have a huge impact on your fundraising goals as many people are looking to make tax deductible contribution, especially when people are considering donations in the hundreds and thousands of dollars. Organizations that fit this criteria will have a 501(c)(3) number making them Tax Exempt and contributions to them tax exempt as well. Working with a tax exempt charity can a be a great benefit but it should not steer you away from working with those that are not, it is simply another factor to consider in your choice.
3) Once you have completed the requisite research, which will hopefully focus your options, you can begin the process of contacting the charities that remain on your list. Call the organizations in question and quickly explain what you are trying to do. You should attempt, as much as possible, to get directed to the most relevant person in the organization. Some charities will actually have someone dedicated to working on these types of projects (i.e. awareness and fundraising athletic events), but many more will not. If it is geographically possible try and organize a face to face meeting with charity staff. Whether you explore your project ideas in person, by phone, or even email it is important to find out a) the interest level of the organization b) how much support the organization is willing to offer (i.e. promoting your ride through there website, newsletters, emails, etc., contacting media outlets, sponsoring an event or events, and more). The more the organization is willing to support you the greater opportunities you will have to grow a grassroots charity tour into a county, state, country, or even world wide success. To give some perspective on the possibilities, John and I started out on our project as novices and being using all the available opportunities we were able to reach more than ten million people world wide. We both feel strongly that had we known more about the process prior to our departure those numbers could have reached well beyond a hundred million.
4) Once you've found a reputable charity that is willing to work with and support your efforts, it is time to arm yourself with information about your cause. This can be intimidating as many issues such as cancer, homelessness, AIDS etc can be extremely complicated. Dont get flustered, the charity can help you navigate their materials and illuminate the key pieces of information you'll need to get the public in tune with your message. Remember that you don't have to be an expert to bring attention to cause, no matter how complex the issue or issues may be.