let the journey unfold

I recently learned that Iohan Gueorguiev is dead. He died months ago–August of 2021. I had no idea.

You know how it is. There are things you wish you’d done. There are things you wish you could do. But there are also things you wish you’d wanted to do, even though you know you wouldn’t actually do them even if you had the opportunity.

I wish I would have wanted to do what Iohan did. I know, if given the chance to do what he did, I’d have turned it down. What he did was just too hard. I mean, it was absolutely wonderful and amazing and quixotic. I admire him for what he did and how he did it. But even though I’d have enjoyed doing some small parts of what Iohan did, I don’t have it in me to really want to do it.

What did Iohan Gueorguiev do?

He rode a bicycle. He rode it a lot. He rode it very far. Incredibly far, in fact. Insanely far.

Iohan was born in Bulgaria in 1988. When he was 15 years old, his parents sent him to live with an uncle in Mississauga, Ontario. At some point he bought a bicycle–a touring bike–and went for a ride. To Vancouver. About 2700 miles.

That started his weird fascination and love for long-distance bike-camping. In 2014, he decided to ride his bike from the Arctic Sea in Alaska to the town of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost town in Argentina, generally called the ‘end of the world’. He thought it might take him a year. He was wrong. Wildly wrong.

It was, to be frank, an absurd and ridiculous idea. The distance from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia is about 9500 miles as the crow flies. On a bicycle, it’s…well, who knows how far it would be? Farther than any rational person would consider riding.

Iohan’s touring bike–with its narrow road tires–was entirely inadequate for the project. Eventually he was able to acquire a fat tire bike that was significantly more suited for the trip, and over time he obtained a better camera (and a GoPro and some sort of drone), but his gear was always a secondary–or tertiary–consideration. The adventure was what mattered–the things he saw, the people he met. He maintained a blog describing the trek (which is how I learned about him) and he produced a number of YouTube videos.

“I want to see the world. Follow a map to its edges and keep going. Forgo the plans. Trust my instincts. Let curiosity be my guide. I want to change hemispheres. Sleep with unfamiliar stars. And let the journey unfold before me.”

That’s mostly what he did–let the journey unfold. Iohan rarely took the easy route. He rode anywhere he could, anywhere he wanted: ice highways, lumber roads, hiking paths, wilderness trails. Hell, sometimes he didn’t take a route at all–he just set off in the general direction. On at least one occasion he broke down his bike to cross a lake using a collapsible kayak. He refused to let common sense dictate the trip.

He encountered every obstacle you could predict: bad weather, wildlife, gear failures, terrible terrain, mechanical issues. And yet he always seemed to find something positive about his situation. Cycling in a blizzard? He didn’t have to worry about his food supply spoiling. Traveling up a hazardous mountain trail so steep he has to carry his bike and all his supplies? The air is cool, he says, and fresh and invigorating.

“Ruta de Los Seis Miles is a 1,310km, month-long, high altitude desert traverse across the Central Andean Dry Puna in Chile and Argentina. This route promises the most physically and mentally demanding high altitude touring in the Andes. Thankfully, it’s balanced with dream-like mountain scenery with salt fields, lava flows, flamingo-filled lakes, and some of the highest volcanos in the world, far away from the civilization.”

Everywhere he went, Iohan met good people. They’d offer him a safe place to sleep, a warm meal, maybe a bit of money, stories. He seemed to take as much joy from the people he met as he did from the sights he saw. He was certainly comfortable being alone–and there were times on the trip when he was terribly alone–but he clearly delighted in meeting new people in unusual circumstances.

“My motivation: the kindness of strangers and the beauty of the wild.”

Without a private fortune (which Iohan didn’t have) or some sort of corporate sponsorship (which he occasionally received), he was forced to interrupt his journey periodically and return to Canada and earn enough money to continue. Then he’d resume the adventure where he’d left off.

The trip he originally thought might take a year stretched out to more than six. Then Covid arrived; the pandemic disrupted everything. Iohan returned to Canada. He still took what he’d describe as ‘short trips’ in Canada. But the trips weren’t very rewarding; the pandemic made it impossible for him to meet new people. Depression set in; he developed insomnia, made worse by sleep apnea.

Last August, Iohan killed himself.

He still had about 1500 miles to go to reach Ushuaia.

Earlier I said I wish I would have wanted to do what Iohan did. I try to do what he did on a much much much more modest scale. I ride my bike. I talk to strangers. But if it’s too cold or too hot or too windy or too wet, I stay home. Still, there’s a part of me that wishes I had the sort of irrational will that could inspire me to actually undertake an adventure like his.

Iohan Gueorguiev went as far as he could. So much farther than common sense would carry you. He experienced so much more than the rest of us. It would be wrong to think he fell 1500 miles short of his destination. The distance Iohan Gueorguiev traveled can’t be measure in miles. He kept going until he couldn’t. Then he stopped.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You can still access Iohan Gueorguiev’s blog and his videos at BikeWanderer. It’s nice to watch the videos and think maybe he’s still on his way.

1 thought on “let the journey unfold

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