This teenager cycled from Alaska to Argentina

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(CNN) He had longed to go on a “crazy adventure” for years, and as Liam Garner’s graduation day drew closer, the teen was more determined than ever to escape.

An accomplished cyclist, Garner, who hails from Long Beach, California, had previously ridden from Los Angeles to San Francisco and realized he could pedal across the continent without much effort if he wanted to.

After reading a book by adventurer Jedidiah Jenkins, who cycled from Oregon to Argentina, Garner decided to go from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the northernmost point of the United States accessible by road, to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost point of South America, would cycle. .

And while many of his school friends were preparing for college, Garner began preparing for the adventure of a lifetime.

Epic adventure

Liam Garner was 17 when he set out from Alaska on his mountain bike in August 2021.

“After graduation, I spent the whole month picking up the equipment and then I left,” Garner tells CNN Travel. “It happened very quickly. It wasn’t that hard to plan in the beginning.”

Garner was 17 when he set out on a KHS Zaca mountain bike with only a tent, a sleeping bag, about a day’s worth of food and drink, some portable batteries, a medical kit, and extra parts for his bike.

He started his journey on the Pan-American Highway, a network of roads that stretches across America, on August 1, 2021.

The teen, who had already garnered a significant following from his TikTok video series after his trip to San Francisco, decided to document the journey, which saw him cycle through 14 countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

“There is an official route and there are unofficial routes,” he explains. “I actually made my own [route] as I went along. As long as I went south every day, I knew I was going in the right direction.”

Garner admits that his parents, who are divorced, weren’t particularly thrilled about the prospect of their teenage son driving all alone to South America.

He says his mother didn’t believe him at first and endured “probably eight months of terror”, only telling his father after he left because he was so sure he would be against it.

“He called me while I was in Alaska, and I told him where I was,” explains Garner, before adding that both are now his biggest supporters and are eagerly following his progress.

Cycling benefits

The teenager had reached the Carretera Austral in Chile by the end of 2022.

Although Garner initially took up cycling because he didn’t have a car, he now considers it the best way to travel and wouldn’t have wanted to make this journey any other way.

“It’s the most intimate way to travel,” he says. “You go so slow and you have to work physically to get anywhere. So you get really attached to the most random little towns and bends in the road.

“There’s something about being self-sufficient and knowing you’re on your own two feet somewhere. I sometimes feel like when you’re driving or flying, it’s like you’re just teleporting to a place. You weren’t outside. You weren’t smoking things .You didn’t touch things.’

The teenager cycled through Mexico for about four and a half months and describes the experience as one of the most important of his life.

“My whole family is from Mexico,” he explains. “I grew up going [to Mexico] but I never learned the language. So it’s one thing to visit every year, and it’s one thing to live there.

“So crossing the whole country on a bicycle and reconnecting with my culture and staying with my family and learning the language in the place where my family is from was so important to me.”

Unfortunate setbacks

Garner, seen in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, says he was robbed five times during the trip.

Garner left California with very little money and says he lives on a budget of about $430 a month.

He notes that he’s heard people say he can only do what he does “because he’s a straight white, rich man,” and wants to point out that this is simply not the case.

“I’m a first-generation Mexican immigrant. And I’m not rich,” he says. “This was self-supported. And it really doesn’t take that much money to do this.

“I don’t want people to think you have to be rich to ride a bike. I’ve met people of all economic statuses.

“People can do it and stay in hotels every night, and I’ve seen people literally have trash bags on the back of a bike.

“I’ve seen people of all ethnicities, solo and with partners, in every country I’ve been to. And I’ve met so many incredible, inspiring women. It’s truly available to everyone.”

Garner had a riding companion named Logan about eight months into the journey. However, he left when they reached Colombia, and Garner traveled alone for the rest of the journey.

Of the many countries he cycled through, he was particularly surprised by El Salvador, which he describes as ‘one of the most peaceful, most beautiful, quietest countries’.

While the journey was full of incredible highs, Garner also experienced some crushing lows along the way.

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He says he was robbed at least five times and spent a month in hospital after falling off his bicycle and landing on his head in Colombia.

“The idea that you might get hurt and something really bad could happen is in your head while you’re traveling so much,” he says, before explaining that he got about 40 stitches and had to have plastic surgery to fix his ear and attach it back together. .

“But it wasn’t really a reality until I got hurt in Colombia. I blacked out for about 15 minutes and it took me a few hours to even speak again.”

Garner decided to make a will after the incident and says sitting still for weeks took a huge toll on him.

He admits he briefly considered giving up during a particularly difficult time after being robbed in southern Mexico and struggling with extreme heat.

“For about two and a half weeks, me and my partner Logan had no connection to the outside world,” he explains.

“We didn’t have cell phones. The weather was tough. It was over 40 degrees Celsius every day. I got sick during that time.”

According to Garner, the pair were only able to cycle for a few minutes before having to pull over due to the heat and discussed taking the bus home once they reached Central America.

“There’s no point in tormenting ourselves,” he recalled at the time. “This is not funny.”

Fortunately, the weather was much cooler when they reached Guatemala about a week later, and they decided to press on.

Last push

Garner finally reached Ushuaia, Argentina on January 10, 2023.

During the last month of his journey, Garner thought of little but his “wheel crossing the last inch of the pavement” and sometimes became so emotional that he “started crying on the bike for no reason, even though it hadn’t happened”. yet.”

He finally arrived in Ushuaia on January 10, having cycled 32,000 kilometers (nearly 20,000 miles) over the course of 527 days.

However, Garner, now 19, says the moment he spent so much time fantasizing felt a bit anticlimactic.

“It [Ushuaia] was a very touristy town, and there were so many people,” he explains. “I couldn’t really get alone time. And I was a little disappointed.”

Feeling a bit down, he decided to head to a national park for a few days to spend some time reflecting on his time on the road.

“I realized I didn’t care what the last city was,” he says. “It just got there. And I know that’s very cliché, but that’s really where I came to the conclusion.”

Garner was soon joined by his partner Chloe, whom he first met on his trip to San Francisco, and with whom he had kept in touch.

He says the pair were just friends at first, but their friendship grew into something more while Garner was on the road.

“For about a year, we covered long distances on my trip,” he says.

The couple are now backpacking back to California, taking much the same route Garner took on his way there — he shipped his bike to a friend in Chile, who sends it to Long Beach for him.

“We were hoping to be home for the summer in July,” he adds. “But it is indefinite. We have about four to five months left, which is enough time to backpack home.

“It’s very nice for me to see the places one more time before I switch to normal life.”

Inspire others

Garner’s video series documenting his journey has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

As soon as he gets home, Garner plans to write a book about his journey in hopes of inspiring other young people to take a journey like this.

He says he regularly receives messages from people who have seen his story on Instagram or TikTok and felt compelled to do something similar.

“I actually got so many more messages than I ever imagined,” he says. And people really do.

“I’m following some people who have messaged me and they are now cycling from Alaska to Argentina.

“It’s a great feeling to know I’m getting more people in because there were people who were responsible for getting me in. And it makes me feel great to do the same.”

While he’s very much looking forward to catching up with his family and friends, some of whom have been busy studying while he’s been gone, Garner has absolutely no regrets about taking a different path.

“If I had stayed home and gone to community college or something, would I really have been a better person than I am now?” he asks.

“Would I really be as open-minded as I am now? I strongly think I wouldn’t be. That’s why I think this was the most competent decision I’ve ever made in my life. I’ve never been so sure of anything I have done.”






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