How to Survive Fat Bike Touring When You Cycle from Mexico to Argentina

It’s time for fat-tire cyclists Dan and Gina to share their most memorable (and scariest) experiences during their bike tour from Mexico to Argentina!

In this interview, find out their best recommendation for future cyclists, their favorite gear, and what did they do after they got robbed at gunpoint? Let’s read on and learn more about their journey!

Cyclists Dan and Gina
Photo credit: Daniel Mattison

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

We’re Dan (from Canada) and Gina (from Germany). We set off on a cycle trip from Mexico in 2014. Eighteen months and roughly 18.000km later, in 2016, we made it to the south of Argentina. After the cycle trip, Gina completed teacher training and Dan moved to B.C where he now resides on Haida Gwaii and has become involved with the local bike co-op effort.

Cyclists Dan and Gina
Photo credit: Daniel Mattison

How and why did you get into bike touring?

We met hiking in New Zealand. Dan had already done a 7000k bike tour across Australia and suggested to cycle along the Andes after being inspired by some bike packing blogs (such as Cass Gilbert). For Gina it was the first time she used a bike for something other than commuting in the city. Without prior training we landed in Cancun (Mexico) and set off for the unknown.

People assume you need to “get in shape” before starting a trip like this, however, the mental willpower is really all you need. You can start off doing shorter days but inevitably the fitness will come as you live this lifestyle day in and day out.

Why is cycling important for you?

Many people are raised in cities and are not in touch with nature. Cycle touring allows you to connect to the environment in a very special way; you’re forced to endure in all sorts of weather conditions, and learn to appreciate these moments, which would normally have you running for shelter. I think some of our most serene sleeps have been under the stars in our tent, and when touring you’re forced to take minimal gear and live quite simply. This is something which anchors itself into one’s life well after the trip is over.

Cyclists Dan and Gina
Photo credit: Daniel Mattison

What have been the best parts of your cycling trips?

When you travel by bike, you’re able to explore rural areas that backpackers hardly ever get to see. Apart from small dirt roads, we even went on several hiking trails to get off the beaten track. Seeing more of this world, meeting locals and learning about another culture, and of course being able to eat whatever and however much you want are some of the highlights of a cycle trip.

We have so many memories of beautiful encounters with locals. One interaction that stands out occurred in Colombia. We arrived in a small town in Colombia, not far south of Cartagena. We got ourselves a cheap room in a hotel and went out looking for food. We sat down in a ‘restaurant’ (more like the open living room of a family) and got served food by the very friendly family. Their son had noticed Dan’s T-shirt, which was covered with holes. He went around the entire village collecting T-shirts and gave them to Dan; at least 7 T-shirts. Very touching. We didn’t want to be rude so we took them all (he insisted). Dan took one, the others we gave to a church the next day. On top of that, the family insisted we didn’t pay for our meal. It’s beautiful and sad at the same time to see people who have so little be so generous.

Cyclists Dan and Gina
Photo credit: Daniel Mattison

What have been the most difficult parts?

Prior to the trip, we worked and saved up money. We initially didn’t ask for any sponsors but as the trip continued and our viewership increased, we approached a few shops and companies who were so kind to kit us out or gave us discounts.

The biggest hurdles were sicknesses and getting robbed. We had food poisoning, E-coli, and Dan got a bit unlucky as he also caught Chikungunya (it is a viral disease transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes) in Colombia and Guardia (a parasite) in Peru. When you’re sick cycling becomes a nightmare, you just lack the energy, and are more or less forced to hold up in a hotel (luckily they’re cheap) until you’re feeling better.

In Peru, we got robbed at gunpoint (in the middle of nowhere!) and all our money got taken, and just before the border to Bolivia someone snitched one of our backpacks. At that moment we had most of our valuables in it; iPad (with all our photos that we hadn’t backed up anywhere), brand-new expensive camera (Dan’s a photographer), GPS, good sunglasses, batteries, Dan’s passports and credit cards, etc. Due to it being gear that we needed to travel, and not just money that was ‘easy’ enough to replace, it took us about two weeks before we could get back on the road. We were down 5 grand, and after several friends wanted to send us money we set up a fundraising page and managed to raise enough to replace the most needed gear cheaply.

After a strenuous day on the bikes, we were fortunate to have each other to get stuff done; set up camp and make dinner. Once you’ve gotten some food in you, things normally start to brighten up again. A lazy evening watching a movie on the tablet, some chocolate, and a good night’s sleep can revive both body and mind.

When we had issues we tried to talk them out but sometimes you just need some time apart. Gina spent two months volunteering in Lima, Peru, whilst Dan was meant to cycle with another guy for a bit (but then fell ill with giardia so lay flat for a month basically), which was a good wee break, for example.

Cyclists Dan and Gina
Photo credit: Daniel Mattison

How do you eat and sleep?

Despite food being very cheap in Latin America (for the most part), we had our difficulties. The heat in Central America suppressed our appetite and we didn’t eat enough, consequently losing quite a bit of weight, which probably contributed to us feeling weak. We realized we had to eat more and fortunately, once we were in higher regions with more temperate climate, our appetites increased.

When you have to carry food for a number of days you’re a bit limited – you have to pack things that last and don’t take up much space. We usually ended up eating muesli for breakfast, crackers/bread/wraps with some kind of toppings (bean paste and avocados were readily available and very cheap in Central America, jam, cheese, and further south even peanut butter), and pasta with sauces for dinner. Passing through towns was always exciting as we could treat ourselves to pastries and street food.

After a good day of cycling we would be pretty knackered and go to bed shortly after dinner and wind down by watching a movie, reading something or listening to a podcast. We would normally just sleep until the sunshine woke us, except for Central America where we often got up before sunrise to get some distance covered before the sweltering heat took over.

Cyclists Dan and Gina
Photo credit: Daniel Mattison

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

Fortunately, we did not have any major injuries along our trip; mostly just an occasional fall that led to bruising and some scratches. One time, Gina was doing a four-day section solo in Peru as Dan was sick, and got bitten by a dog. Due to not cleaning out the wound properly at the time, it got a bit infected and had to get opened up again to be cleaned properly.

In Chile and Argentina, we had to put up with swarms of horseflies; one bit Gina in her lip and it swell to the extent that she had to be taken to a hospital to get a jab and tablets. Hospitals, albeit small ones, are found throughout and treatment is usually very cheap or even free, depending on the country.

How do you plan your cycling trips?

We mapped out our entire route from Colombia to Argentina when we took a half a year break after cycling through Central America (to avoid rainy season). We browsed Google Earth for dirt tracks and used other cyclists’ blogs as inspiration. Whilst we were on the road, we did change the route a lot though due to recommendations, etc. Generally speaking, if Dan wanted to go somewhere, Gina followed. I think he had more ideas of what he wanted to see, and I was happy to just go with the flow.

How do you balance normal life with your cycling trips?

When we were saving up for the trip, we tried to spend as little money as possible. About half a year before the start of the trip, we started to think about what we needed and started to buy gear and look at route options.

We didn’t have local sim cards and just used WiFi, whenever we came across it, to send messages to family and friends, and skyped now and then when we were in a hotel with WiFi.

Cyclists Dan and Gina
Photo credit: Daniel Mattison

What has been your best cycling-related purchase below $100, and what other favorite gear do you have?

Our GPS was invaluable – it was great to put our planned routes on it and to track where we eventually ended up going, which allowed us to share our routes. All of our routes can be found on our blog. It was an Oregon600; unfortunately it got stolen at the end of Peru and we had to ‘downgrade’.

Gina’s favourite piece of gear that she still has and uses to the date was the freshette. For just about 25 USD, it was used several times every day! Made peeing so much easier, especially in populated areas it meant not having to find a hidden-away spot.

A good tent is a totally worthwhile investment. There is nothing worse than riding a long day and having a poor sleep due to an unsuitable tent. We used Hilleberg tents, and they are expensive but pretty incredible. The Anjan is a great option for a pair of people looking for something relatively light. It’s highly capable in the wind, and while for certain trips I would recommend something lighter (Zpacks is great!), we were very glad to have the extra strength and durability of our Hillebergs. The customer service was excellent too, which is great when you’re travelling in remote areas.

What is your best advice people new to cycling touring?

We had a dream, so we saved up for it and did it. We didn’t once think about not being fit enough, stamina builds up. Be patient with yourself, and don’t compare yourself to others (if you’re cycling with someone else); look at how you improve compared to your own performance.

Cyclists Dan and Gina

What will the future bring?

After the trip, Dan and Gina went separate ways. Dan sold his fat bike and is now exploring Canada’s landscapes on a mid-fat when he gets time off work. Unfortunately, Gina’s fatty got stolen but for the time being, her feet, rented bikes, horses and the odd bus get her around Asia.

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One Comment

  1. Liebe Gina, ich habe das Interview mit Freude gelesen.
    Du bist mutig und klug!
    Ich freue mich und bin stolz darauf dein Vater zu sein!

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