by Ryan Van Duzer
Riding my bike from Honduras to Colorado seemed like a great idea to me, but not to most people, especially my mom. Luckily she was thousands of miles away and couldn't stop me, ha! After two amazing years in the Peace Corps in Honduras, I packed up my stuff (gave most of it away) and headed north on my bicycle. It was the most exhilarating moment of my life. Leaving all my friends in the small Mountain town of La Esperanza was very difficult. Tears trickled down my face as I pedaled away and heard them say, "Adios amigo Brayan." They pronounced my name as Brian.
The strength I had gained after two challenging years gave me the confidence that everything would be ok. Truth is, I was a little scared. I had no idea what would lie around each corner, where I would sleep or even eat. All I knew is that I had 4,000 miles of unknown road ahead of me; this both frightened me and excited me.
People along the way were very interested in what I was doing - it's not often they see a white boy on a bike. Random people bought me lunch, took me into their homes, and were never shy to give me advice on which roads were the safest.
The first two weeks took me through the high mountains of Honduras, the banana fields of Guatemala, and the jungles and beaches of Belize. It was some of the most breathtaking scenery I've ever seen; I've never felt so alive in my life. Every morning I awoke to the charming sounds of the jungle, ate some tortillas and beans, then hit the road. I loved the simple beauty of it all. All I needed was my bike and some food and water. I had a tent and some extra clothes in a trailer, but other than that it was just the open road and me.
After getting accustomed to sore legs and a very sore backside, I felt great. The physical pain of riding a bike 60-80 miles a day was quickly erased by the amazingly friendly people I met the entire way. I felt as if everyone was cheering me on and willing me to succeed. It was not uncommon for people to drive by and wave - usually with big smiles on their faces. One day a car pulled next to me, rolled down a window, and out came a nice cold can of beer! Beer is no Gatorade, so I took the little gift and saved it for later.
I made my way through Southern Mexico with some extra motivation. My good friend Jeff would soon be joining me. We've experienced all sorts of adventures together, but this would be our biggest! In the meantime, I had to battle through the hurricane season on the Yucatan Peninsula, which drenched me relentlessly with wind and rain. I sometimes rode 100 miles a day to make sure that I would reach Jeff in time when he landed in Puerto Escondido. I couldn't wait to see an old friend and rest my body on a warm Pacific beach.
I hadn't seen Jeff in over a year and when I saw him, he ran to me and picked me up into the air shouting, "Ryan, you are one skinny boy!" We spent the next few days in a small beach town, catching up on life, swimming in huge waves, and enjoying afternoon beers.
After camping on the beaches and enjoying a some easy time, we headed inland up into the pine-clad forests of Michoacan. For a couple of Colorado boys, it was quite exciting to be surrounded once again by high mountains. But with the high altitude came cold temperatures. It was warm during the day, but the bottom dropped out at night. We spent a couple very cold, sleepless evenings under the stars. Finally, when we couldn't deal with it any longer, we went straight to the nearest market and bought ourselves warm hats and blankets. Problem solved.
On November 1st, we were treated to a very special celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This is a magical day in Mexico when everyone comes out to honor their dead by bringing offerings to gravesites. We ended up in a candle lit cemetery until 3am, taking in all the quiet solitude.
Jeff and I became eating machines. We were burning thousands of calories a day and were in a constant state of hunger. Since there is no gourmet food at gas stations, we were stuck eating junk food - and lots of it. We devoured donuts like there was no tomorrow.
We had relatively few mechanical problems, which was surprising considering all the miles we were putting on our bikes. I didn't even get a flat tire until two months into the trip! The only threatening thing that happened to me was finding out that I had fly larvae living in my right bicep. Gross yes, two little worms freeloading in my arm. They wanted a trip to America like so many others.
Because Northern Mexico is mostly desert, we spent some very boring days on the ride through that part of Mexico. No hills, just flat expanses of sand and cactus. This is where Jeff and I did some serious bonding. We rode side by side for hours, chatting about everything from ladies to our favorite Christmas memories.
On Thanksgiving Day, we treated ourselves to huge pizzas and a couple beers. We sat happily in our cheap hotel room, devouring our beautiful meal while watching mindless TV. That may have been the best Thanksgiving ever. We called our families and told them that we would soon be crossing the border into the U.S. This was exciting news for both them and us. My mom could soon rest easy, knowing that her boy would soon be back in the safe arms of America.
Unfortunately, our bolt for the border was slowed by intense windstorms. This created almost impossible riding conditions. 80mph winds don't make for easy pedaling. Only once on the entire ride did we have to give up due to weather, and that happened on one fateful Sunday. The winds were whipping us around like rag dolls and we had to call it quits. Luckily we found shelter at a chili farm and jumped into our tents to avoid the chaos around us.
We crossed the border on December 1st with smiles a mile wide. The man at the border crossing quickly stamped our passports and let out a friendly, "Welcome home boys!" It was quite a feeling to be back in America after two years in Honduras.
We spent the day in El Paso stuffing our faces at all you can eat restaurants and loading up on warm clothes at the Goodwill store. Father winter was coming and we had to be prepared.
It didn't snow on us, but it was absolutely freezing and windy as all hell. We were lucky enough to get hit by the coldest temperatures in years in New Mexico. We spent lots of time in Loaf N Jugs, warming our bodies under the hand dryers and chugging hot chocolate. One day, our water bottles froze up due to sub-zero temperatures. The desire to get home was stronger than ever.
It may have been freezing and a little less than ideal, but we were still having a great time. I'll take a freezing bike ride any day over office work. It was too cold to camp anymore, so we stayed in hotels and reconnected with friends, who happened to live on the route home.
The closer we got, the harder we rode. We crossed into Colorado on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, cruising up and over the infamous Raton Pass. That day we treated ourselves to a hotel with cable and watched a Bronco game.
The next few days in Colorado seemed like a big windy blur. All we could think about was reaching Boulder, getting our first glimpse of the majestic Flatirons, wonderful Pearl Street, and finally home to our mommies.
The final day was very emotional, I had dreamt of this moment for months and it was finally a reality. It was a stunning morning - the winter sun high in the deep blue sky illuminated the golden grass along the mountains. My brother and a favorite high school teacher met us in Golden to ride the last 20 miles. We felt like we had just completed the Tour de France, riding victoriously into town. As we crested the final hill coming into Boulder, I saw a group of people waving and cheering. My mom was at the front of the pack, smiling through a face full of tears. We had made it, 4,000 miles, three months, and a lifetime of amazing memories. I want to do it again.
Ryan Van Duzer and Jeff Giffin are Boulder
natives and graduates of the University of Colorado.