Cycle touring or bikepacking is a synonym for freedom. Cycle touring during pandemic is the exact opposite. When we posted our own story about cutting our journey short, it’s soon become one of the most popular articles on this blog. That’s why I thought you may be interested in finding out more about other cycle touring stories during pandemic. I asked our friends, cyclists we met on this journey physically or virtually, how this current situation changed their trips. You will find a selection of different stories, full of emotions, difficult decision making but what they have in common are two main outcomes. Some of them stayed, some of them went home. What made them decide as they decided?
Alee from Australia
I am in a city called Aguascalientes which is in the centre of Mexico. I was very fortunate in meeting some friends-of-friends who agreed to host me for a night or two. After about a week without internet, I joined their wifi to find dozens of messages asking what I was planning to do about the situation? What situation I thought? I then took a look at the news and it became clear the world was going into lock-down.
It happened so quick. Most countries had just a handful of COVID-19 cases when I last checked the situation, now they were in the hundreds and thousands – and it was growing exponentially. I discussed the situation with my hosts, who generously offered to have me as long as I needed in their spare bedroom. But even if this wasn’t an option, I would’ve found a way to stay in Mexico. I didn’t once think of going home. I am deep into one of my big bike journeys, and outside of a serious physical injury, I’ve never entertained the idea of being in Australia before reaching Alaska. It’s just a mental place I’ve put myself, which probably helps me to spend huge time durations away from the people I love.
I can’t imagine many people better equipped to survive self-isolation than me. I spend large portions of my life by myself. I deal with adversity almost every day. I am adaptable and able to find comfort in almost anything. I am rational and calm. I am also endlessly curious, which puts me on epic fact-finding missions on the internet about anything from bikes to history, to the natural world and to psychology.
I like to write, read, research and make videos. All of this stuff can be done wherever I have an internet connection. And with so much time I can entertain anything and everything my brain ever conceives! I go out on bike rides every day. Just short and fast ones within 10km of my house. I’ve also enjoyed strengthening my core, following a bunch of different workouts on YouTube. When you spend so much time riding, you lose strength in other areas – so it’s nice to have the time to work on this without feeling fatigued! I am waiting to see what happens in Mexico and the USA. If things are normal-ish by autumn, I’ll get my ultralight/packable equipment sent over from Australia and attempt to make it to Alaska this year.
Simone and Daniele from Italy
A couple of weeks before the lockdown in Perú we were cycling in the Cordillera Blanca. Rainy season was full on, so after several days in the rain we decided to reach the coast and have a rest in Lima, wait for the rain to pass and then head back to the mountains.
Unfortunately it never happened. On the 14th of March the President of Perú declared the total lockdown of the country. We were aware of the situation in Italy so we knew something similar was going to happen but we didn’t know when.
As you know we’ve been on the road for 5 years and 1/2, we’ve been through a lot, Daniele even had a horrible pneumonia last year and had to be hospitalized – we were in Guatemala City back then – and still we kept going without flying back home all this time.
But now with the virus things were different: at first we were worried for our families back home. Knowing that if anything happen you won’t be able to be there is scary (since all regular flights were canceled); then we realized that the world as we knew it was going to change at least for a while.
We stayed in Lima for a month and a half. We didn’t want to fly back home, we didn’t want to pause our world trip. Our embassy organized several flights and we let them go. In the meantime we were following the news of the other travellers in S.A. Many were reporting of being kicked off places, small villages were rising barricades to prevent any foreigners to get it. Fear was spreading in the already very small communities. This is a journey of connections, but the virus is cutting those connections, our journey is moving around cycling wherever possible, but the virus imposed a border closure all over the world. Basically the foundation of our trip collapsed. 2 weeks of mismatched feelings, swinging between it’s time to go back and I don’t want to go back; maybe staying isn’t wise, maybe going back isn’t the right choice.
So when the embassy wrote us that a new flight was going to be arranged and this time the flight was direct into Rome (our city) we were shocked, we knew we had no other choice but take it, we knew our trip was going to be over. Then we knew there was no right or wrong choice.
Laco and Aďa from Slovakia
For the first time we noticed corona after crossing the border from Belize to Mexico. But we didn’t understand the situation too seriously (maybe thanks to Mexican government taking it lightly). In Mexico City we got news our cruise ship trip from Miami to Portugal was cancelled, from where we wanted to cycle all the way to Slovakia. There we had to decide what to do next. Are we going to continue? Wouldn’t it be better to go home? After weighing all the pros and cons we decided, it was better for us to continue from many points of view. After we started our journey north, the government came with first very mild restrictions and they closed all the attractions and public places of gathering.
Without visiting a single attraction we got on one of the most dangerous roads in Mexico – Espinazo del Diablo where a surprise awaited altogether with realisation how serious the situation is. In the mountain village La Cuidad the local residents stopped us on entry and asked: “Are you feeling sick?” We replied that we’re feeling fine, hoping they’d let us into the village where we planned to spend the night. Finally they told us that we’re allowed to pass through but without stopping in the restaurant or to buy groceries. These people took the situation into their own hands, even though illegally.
Taking into account limited sources of food and water we had to cut out our journey through Espinazo del Diablo from 4 to 3 days. At the end we arrived in Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa where all the accommodation possibilities are closed now (including airbnb) and the restrictions are more strict in comparison with the other states of Mexico through which we passed. We’re planning to stay here until the end of April. In the beginning of May we’d like to continue north through the states of Sonora, Baja Sur and Baja California, until we arrive in Tijuana where we’re planning to wait it out until the borders with the USA open.
Nevertheless, life in Mexico is at least twice cheaper than life in Slovakia. We believe, that the situation will improve in 2 – 3 months, the borders open and we’ll be able to get all the way to Alaskan Magic Bus from the movie Into the Wild.
Pim and Nienke from the Netherlands
We kept a close eye on the news what was happening in Europe already for a while. Our initial thought was, maybe it is a good thing that we are in a remote area somewhere in South America, and so we continued our daily cycling routine. Fast forward one month, just before setting out for a few days without internet, we read the WHO declared a worldwide pandemic. Although COVID hadn’t really reached South America yet, we understood some of the implications of this message.
Three days later, 14th of march, we arrived in El Chalten, Argentina, and read up on the news. On a Whatsapp group for cyclists in South America, the discussion had already been going on about staying or leaving the continent. In the hours that followed, international news about closing borders, flights being canceled, declaring quarantine and so on kept on coming in. Slowly but surely reality started to catch up on us.
We outlined the different options we had and how they would turn out in a range of scenarios. We called our family and went over the scenarios again. At that moment it struck us. We should go home as soon as possible. It was an emotional moment, but also a relief because we now knew what to do and there was no time to lose.
The next day our journey home started. It took us 5 days, 1 taxi, 1 hitchbike, 1 bus, and 4 flights to get home. The people around us were all super helpful. We decided to leave our bikes with some lovely people who offered to store the bikes. We just didn’t know how difficult it would be to travel with the bikes, with all the stopovers and the hectic of potential cancelation of flights. But in the end, the journey home went smoothly. We were part of the first wave of tourists and travelers going home. We do kinda regret leaving our bikes. We miss them. But we make sure we get them back one day.
We are now back in the Netherlands, but not back home. Because we are renting out our apartment we are staying in a cabin in the woods for 3 months, which is actually a nice thing. Our days are filled with cycling (yes!) on our road bikes, running and walks in the forests.
Chris from Switzerland
Sitting on the river bank of Rio Simpson in central Patagonia in Chile, watching the fish jump for flies and mosquitoes in the river, not a second we were thinking about Corona virus. Of course, I have heard some news about China, Europe and that first case in Brazil, but it was all so far away. After leaving Coyhaique the whole craziness kicked in with full power. Having access to Wifi on the next campground it did not take long to be informed that Argentina was about to close all its borders. Without open borders, the road I was cycling on immediately turned into a death end road. Also Tom and Luba had turned around and we met at that campground, trying to assess our options. A nerve wrecking afternoon of uncertainty later, the Argentinian government confirmed the immediate closure of its borders. I took the last chance to cross the border to Argentina, with the idea to make it further north and stay with family in northern Argentina. The border was about to close in 2 hours.
In a hurry all my belongings were packed within 20 minutes (the fastest of the whole trip). I had less than 1.5 hours for the 25 kilometres to make it to the border. After a wild race with the most amazing tailwind, I arrived just 10 minutes before border closure. It took a while until the officers understood my situation and I started the border crossing process 5 minutes before closure.
After a night camping a few kilometres behind the border, I cycled back the next morning to refill my water bottles and use their wifi. Now also Chile planned to close its borders and suspend all inland travel. Being a bit more relaxed, I reconsidered to cross back into Chile, mostly due the uncertainty of getting stuck in the Argentinian pampa before I would reach any reasonable place to wait out the crisis and the fact that on the Chilean side other cyclists and friends would probably arrive in Coyhaique and finding solutions would be easier as a group and waiting out the crisis on the Chilean side appeared more appealing than in the Argentinian pampa.
After some time weighing the options, I saw myself handing over the passport once again, this time starting with the Argentinian police and soon after I was back in Chile and made my way towards Coyhaique once again.
Later, meeting again with Tom and Luba we tried to brainstorm, develop options and try to find a good solution for the time to come. The uncertainty and the amount of rumours make it hard to make decisions. No one could foresee how this all would develop and as foreigners equipped only with bicycles I felt quite vulnerable. We still had the option of going further north and wait it all out in the mountain cabin of a friend.
I finally made the decision to fly to Santiago as soon as possible to make it to the cabin before roads will be closed and transportation suspended. Going home was not an option for me. I was all positive to wait it out in central Chile and then continue south once it was all over. Also, going back to Europe seemed now impossible anyway, because the news and local travel agencies assured that the international airport was closed already.
In the dump of a sales store I found sufficient cardboard boxes and with help of two rolls of tape my luggage was ready to go by the evening and I could only say ‘hasta luego’ to fellow travellers, sleep a bit and make my way to the airport.
I got the confirmation that the international airport was still open and few planes leaving. Checking the flights, I found one that would bring me back to Paris and then to Zurich – if it would operate. Even if I was ready in my mind to wait out this crisis in Chile, I knew this flight would very likely be the last option to make it back to Europe for maybe a much longer time we all would have imagined. And so plans changed once again on this tour and without much more hassle I found myself two days later back in Switzerland.
For now I settled in on my sisters farm, in the countryside. Away from the dangerous virus and with the possibility to roam free outside without having close contact to others and no need to go to shops because, right, it’s a farm. So a lot of time is spent helping out with farm work, playing with my nephews and enjoying time with my family I have not seen for years. A very good place to wait out the pandemic after all.
Looking back it actually all went very smooth in the end. The biggest hassle was the unlimited spread of rumours and false information. It was nearly impossible to get reliable information about anything. This made the whole decision making process so hopeless and I am glad to be back in a country where everything is a bit more organised. Also, the south American governments implemented new measures over night with no chance to react and adapt plans.
But I was also a bit shocked when arriving back home in a country with already lots of cases. Shops were open, groups of people were close together and no masks anywhere. It almost looked like the Coronavirus had not yet arrived. In Chile even when the government did not yet announce measures, people were wearing masks to protect others and restaurants closed because it made sense and not because they were forced to.
I think most of the south American countries did a good job taking strict measures early and I still have hope for them that they will remain with less cases than currently in Europe. I also really hope they will do well, because otherwise the crisis will hit the poor much harder than people in wealthy Europe, with much more severe consequences.
Tristan from England
I am currently in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, where I have now been under full quarantine for around six weeks. Covid-19 came to South America remarkably quickly. I had been out riding a one week bikepacking loop in the wilderness; when I’d set out there had been only a handful of cases in Argentina; nothing to be concerned with compared to what was happening in Europe. But when I arrived back in town at the end of the week and connected to the internet, I was greeted by the news that South America was shutting down. Borders were already closing across the continent and most of my friends travelling in South America had either already flown home or were in the process of doing so, sometimes at enormous expense. In the week that I’d been gone, the whole world seemed to have changed.
The next few days were a whirlwind. I was late to the party and had to scramble to find as much information as I could in order to make a decision. Embassies were telling their foreign nationals to come home and travellers were desperately trying to organise tickets for the few remaining flights. I was checked into a hostel; panicked backpackers wore stricken looks and huddled together in tense groups as they crowded around phones and laptops. Everyone was trying to leave. No-one knew what would happen or how bad things could get; a lot of people were really scared.
I decided to stay in Argentina for many reasons. At the time, I felt the hysteria was overblown and so flying back to Europe felt to me like a panic move (although in hindsight, this wasn’t necessarily the case). Europe was the epicentre of the outbreak, whereas South America had relatively few cases, so going back to Europe seemed to be the last thing I should do. I have been travelling so long that I no longer really consider my birth country of England to be ´home´ – home for me is just wherever I am. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay with either of my parents as they are both into their late-60s and therefore vulnerable to the virus; bringing the virus back with me was the last thing I wanted to do. Having come to a decision I made arrangements and braced myself for the madness to come. Within two days of arriving back in civilisation I was already locked down. Argentina was under full quarantine and the country had shut down.
I was lucky to be in Bariloche and to have friends in the area. One had invited me to stay with her, so I hadn’t even had to worry about scrambling to find accommodation as most foreigners had. I moved in, and we have since been housebound, waiting for the quarantine to be released along with the rest of the world. Obviously it’s tough in quarantine; maybe even more so for bicycle travellers. But I have no complaints. Quarantine has been hard at times, but I’ve tried to make the most of it.
Staying productive is really important for me; sliding into a lazy haze of Netflix and YouTube procrastination just makes things go slower and makes me acutely aware of how much I miss my freedom. I’ve done a lot of writing, put together a short film, spent time updating my website and caught up on reading. I can’t cycle, but I can still work out – I’ve done more upper body exercises in quarantine than I had in years. Of course I miss being free. But it is what it is. Years of cycling around the world has, if nothing else, made me patient. The road will still be there when this crazy part of our lives comes to an end, and I will be ready to jump back into the saddle when it does.
Jessica from the USA
One month ago, I was cycling the final days of the Carretera Austral in southern Chile when news came of a case of CoVid in the region and the potential closure of Argentinian borders. The region I was in, Aysen, is rather remote, and the Carretera Austral ends with one gnarly border crossing that you can only get to by multiple ferries and lots of bike pushing on muddy trails. The boats were at risk of being canceled and the border was likely to close, so the only way back to civilization was to go right back the way I came, which meant 300 miles of corrugated loose gravel roads and heaps of climbing and the uncertainty of being ostracized from remote towns I crossed along the way where locals had begun to fear tourists as carriers of disease. I weighed my options–cycling, trying to hitchhike with my bicycle, taking a bus, and waiting things out in this small remote town for an indefinite time.
After thorough deliberation, I chose to take what would be one of the last buses north to the nearest city with an airport and transportation connections, Coyhaique. I met dozens of cyclists in the weeks prior from all over the world, and most were panicking and booking flights and scrambling to pack things up and fly home before an anticipated shutdown. Once I got to Coyhaique I started researching my overland transportation options, visiting the bus terminal to ask who would take a foreigner and a bicycle (many companies began refusing foreigners out of fear), writing to the ferry companies to ask the same (with borders closed the only way north requires ferry crossings), and researching flights. I wasn’t ready to abandon the area yet and had dreams of cycling again once borders reopened and life got back to normal. But as I helped multiple fellow cyclists anxiously pack up their bicycles with a hodgepodge of cardboard scraps, bubble wrap, industrial plastic film and what felt like miles of packing tape, I flip flopped more and more between staying and going. I said many farewells, I researched hostels and cabins I could stay in for 1-2 months, I reached out to the few local contacts I had about backup plans for leaving my bicycle if I decided to fly and it was too much hassle to get the bicycle to the airport.
In the grocery stores, some people wore masks but many did not. The larger stores limited the number of customers inside at any one time, but folks were a typically a bit oblivious about social distancing once inside. No one seemed to be hostile towards me as a foreigner, though cyclist friends of mine in smaller towns in the area were pressured to go see doctors and denied entry into some stores, despite their low risk factor.
Then I found an improbably cheap refundable flight back to the US to a city where one of my sisters would host me in her spacious house with her snuggly dog and promises of sunshine and heat, and on a particularly cold morning, I clicked “purchase” with my cold-numb fingers. I assumed I’d feel relief, but it was an interesting combo of nostalgia, sadness and anxiety.
Since the flight wouldn’t leave for 4 days, it meant I had time to search for packing materials for the bicycle and to deliberate more as to whether I should stay or go. If it’s not obvious already, I don’t like to make decisions. Lucky for my indecisive nature, first one and then another and another flight were canceled, which meant hours on the phone rebooking flights and more time to deliberate.
Finally, a week later, it seemed like my flights weren’t going to be canceled. I was lucky that there was still shuttle service to the airport for my flight, and $15 USD got me and my bicycle there with plenty of time and no issues. Cyclists who had left the week before were stuck waiting for police to clear burning tires and protesting locals who wanted the airport shut down to keep tourists out. Now that flights from Santiago were no longer allowing non-residents, I think the panic had subsided. The airline attendant who checked me in for my flight told me I wouldn’t be charged for my bicycle or luggage (hooray!) and I boarded a half empty plane–the first of 3! On my final flight, I was one of only 6 passengers, and as we took off I saw Trump’s name painted on the helipad of one of his golf resorts and a deep frustration and regret washed over me as it truly sunk in that I was back for an indefinite amount of time in an uncertain political and economic climate. Oh, America.
I’m passing the shutdown in Raleigh, North Carolina, a part of the US I’d not spent any time exploring before. I’ve been spending lots of time reconnecting with my sister and her husband, cooking a lot of fresh food that I missed while on the road, and helping her in her garden. I have been applying to lots of grocery store jobs (since that’s the main work available) and some remote customer service positions, but I’m extremely lucky that I have enough savings to survive a while without getting desperate. I’ve also been able to go on daily bicycle rides on the extensive network of bicycle trails here in the city and lots of dog walks around a nearby lake. North Carolina has social distancing regulations in place and has closed down many things, but outdoor exercise and movement is still permitted and there’s lots of space and a lovely climate. The bike rides and walks in the forest help enormously, but I still fantasize daily about being on the road again to anywhere!
And here comes the bonus! A couple that follows has not been only cycling but they’ve travelled different parts of the world by hiking, canoeing and finally skiing when corona caught up on them.
Zoë and Olivier from Netherlands/Belgium
Eight days of skiing—that’s all we have left of our 3000+km trip along the White Trail. We feel a little melancholy because the time has gone so fast over the last two months. It feels like we just started two weeks ago.
Before we finish the last stretch towards our goal, we’re going to spend a couple of days with our friends in their weekend cabin. To get there, we will travel 15km across the frozen bay. We will spend the weekend cruising around on snowmobiles. We will be blissfully disconnected from the internet the whole weekend.
We know the Corona virus is making its way into Canada, but we feel carefree—and are looking forward to another day on the skis.
Once we re-enter the village of San Augustine, we connect to the WiFi—and see many, many Facebook messages. Zoë checks her last post—where she thanked the people of the Lower North Shore for their hospitality and beautiful culture—and under it is 150 responses. Our smiles soon disappear.
People are mad. STAY AWAY from the Lower North Shore, they say. Go home. You shouldn’t be here. You are a danger to all of us. You will spread the virus. You are dumb and the people that host you even dumber. You are so selfish. Zoë cries while she scrolls through them all. Our host Lucie also cries. The Corona virus was far away for a long time and nobody thought it would affect this remote area, but now it has hit us square in the face.
Two days from now, the province of Quebec will go into lockdown. There are zero cases on the North Shore, but the fear has already arrived. People feel fragile in small towns like these, far away from any medical help. They’re right to feel that way.
The Facebook post is a warning of things to come. People don’t feel very comfortable hosting us, or even having us around. When the upcoming restrictions take effect, we won’t be able to leave the area. We realise our ski adventure is over. Even with eight days left, that’s eight days too many.
One day is all it takes to stop us in our tracks.
We don’t have much time to be sad—decisions have to be made. Uncertainty and doubt make us very uneasy. Quick decision-making helps a lot—and we’ve gotten very good at it on our round-the-world trip.
We also decide not to travel home but we do decide to leave the small village and find a place in Quebec to pause together, with the rest of the world. The moment we realise that we might be stuck in Canada for a couple of weeks, so many opportunities start popping up. We only need to find a place where we’ll feel comfortable and at home for a while.
The negative responses to our Facebook post were hard to see, but we’ve also received a lot of warm messages from our previous hosts. They’re all worried about us—and invite us into their homes for an indefinite amount of time.
We take one of the last small planes flying out of the area and return to the city where we started our ski trip two months ago. Our hosts realise that this situation might last for many, many weeks, but they’re so happy to help us and be our surrogate parents for as long as it takes.
We are already ten days in the house of our new surrogate parents, built an igloo in the yard and really feel at home. Olivier usually goes for a run in the morning and when he comes back our host tells Olivier ‘the situation in the world doesn’t look good. I think you should go home. We want you to leave today or tomorrow’. We are shocked, what happened? In one night they completely changed their mind and say we have to leave immediately. Quebec is in a complete lockdown, there is no transportation and the government does not allow renting houses. What can we do?
We still don’t want to leave Canada, because we have planned a freighter ship to go back to Europe in the beginning of May. But province borders are closed, with mandatory quarantine rules, so reaching Halifax, where we would leave with the boat, is almost impossible. As a traveller you are independent, but also very dependent on the kindness of people and the ability to travel. The corona virus makes this dependency the weak point right now. We want to be independent and feel comfortable, but we don’t see that option anymore in Quebec. Finally we take the decision that we have to go home.
Luckily we are able to rent a car, drive 1.000 kilometres to the airport in Montreal, passing several police checkpoints. All the roads in Canada where almost abandoned. We were almost alone on the big highway in between Quebec City and Montreal. In the airport there were four flights scheduled for the whole day. The price of our flight ticket is not too bad, but we have so much ski gear and we almost pay the same price for bringing all that. When we boarded the plane, the attendant said ‘choose whatever seat you want, plenty of place’. Two days after our decision to go back home, we land in Amsterdam where Zoë’s mother picks us up. We don’t have a house ourselves, but we can go home, to our parents. It’s a relief to be home and we feel how stressed we have been the last weeks. It’s good to be home and we feel we made the right decision.
We received a lot of messages ‘sorry to hear that your world trip ended this way’. But for us this isn’t the end of our world trip. Being at home is just part of the adventure and we will continue once the borders open again. Our next part will be a 4.000 kilometre roller ski adventure through the north of Europe. Right now we have a lot of time, and the best cycling paths to prepare our new human powered way of travelling. We also have plenty of time to catch up work on our website and youtube. Time flies!
Dear readers, we hope you enjoyed reading different stories and approaches to the cycle touring during pandemic. We hope that it also helped you to imagine how it is to suddenly change from total freedom to total lockdown.
Dear cycling friends, thank you very much for participating and fingers crossed we’ll meet out there again soon!