Photo Gallery: Attempting To Cross Panama On Insane Backroads
September 22nd, 2019
I got my PONCHO back! 💥This 130g/4oz sheet of plastic is THE best item of clothing for tropical areas like Panama. Ponchos don’t just keep your upper body dry, they keep the whole damn thing dry because you hook the front over the handlebars! Plus, you know how really expensive rain jackets are meant to ‘breathe’? Well, the air swoops up underneath the poncho while you cycle, making it the best ventilating rainwear for humid conditions. The obvious downfall is when cycling in the wind (or cold) where a rain jacket/pants are always best. My poncho/cape is made by a Korean brand which will be hard to get your hands on, but it’s the smallest/lightest available and has an elastic waist drawstring – I love it. The Brooks model is definitely the nicest of the lot, with a tonne of features, but it’s pretty pricey so there are two other good value models in there.
NEW VIDEO! ⚡️ If you want to learn about every detail of my super fancy KOGA WorldTraveller, you should check out my deep-dive video on YouTube. I discuss ALL the cool features, customisations and ways I like to set up my bike, including the five hand positions I use with my signature handlebars.
I found the most INSANE road!! It was 37% in sections but luckily only a few hundred metres long. I’ve spent a silly amount of time in my first gear in Panama so far, the only redeeming factor is the ultra-high-speed descents (think 100km/h), makes me feel like I’m back on a moto! 🏍
It was a surreal experience camping on the Panama Canal! I had ships that are over 360 metres long (1200ft!) passing within throwing distance of my little two-person tent. Crew members gave waves from the decks too, I guess navigating narrow canals with such a big vessel never gets old! 🚢
If there were a picture to summarise how DIFFICULT the jungle has been to traverse, well… this is it! The rocks are like ice, the clay mud has zero traction and the roots constantly throw you and your bike in separate directions. Mix in the fallen trees, giant spider webs and near 100% humidity – and you’ve got yourself a pretty rough time! ☠️ I can’t really complain though, I get to go on adventures every day of my life. 🙏🏼
In the jungle, the humidity is so high that your sweat completely soaks through your clothes so you NEVER feel dry! You get to slip over a dozen times per day, muddying your clothes, and you quickly realise that shoes are useless. It’s also a mission to use touch screens or keep your camera lenses clear! In short, I’m far from optimised for exploring the jungle, but I can see how tribespeople would thrive out here without clothes, technology, bikes or shoes. 💪🏼
Sketchiest bridge in quite some time! Half of it was held together using barbed wire, making it especially thrilling to drag a bike across. 😅
I’ve slept in abandoned quarries twice this week! They’re super easy to spot from a distance and they always have a flat and protected place to pitch a tent. I’ve just got to make sure I’m not in the pathway of falling rocks (sometimes it’s best to camp up top) and then I’m guaranteed a great night’s rest. 😴😴😴
My biggest strength is also my biggest weakness! 😳 I am fiercely independent and always have been. Ever since I could earn my own money (13 years old!) I’ve been using it to teach myself things, increase my skills, be more capable, take responsibility for my wellbeing, and chase after my crazy dreams. My desire for independence allows me to roam the world – alone – and trust that everything will work out fine. But here’s where I think being independent negatively affects my life: I feel uncomfortable asking for help, receiving gifts, delegating tasks and collaborating on things. Even something as simple as refilling water bottles, I often waste time looking for a tap when I could just knock on the first door I see. Yet I know how good it feels to help someone; I know that gift-giving isn’t a one-way street, and; I know how awesome it is working as a team. But even with all this knowledge, I’m never quite comfortable unless I’m doing things for myself. Do you think you’re TOO independent, or not independent enough? If you’re the latter, maybe we can trade skills. 🤩
More SAVAGE gradients! I wonder if a longtail fat bike with about 2psi in the rear tyre will allow me to cycle up these kinds of mountains? Unfortunately, this road only got steeper, so I turned around – even I have a steepness limit!
Why don’t I use suspension? 🤔 OK, so here’s the deal: luggage on the front of a bike absorbs HUGE amounts of shock and vibration. I couldn’t ride half the stuff I do without my bags! Perhaps I could go even harder and faster with suspension, but keep in mind that forks need to be serviced every 100 to 200 hours, which for me is once or twice a month. In addition, I don’t ever suffer any hand/arm discomfort over the rough terrain I ride, so I might as well keep it light ‘n simple on a fully rigid rig. 💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼
6AM glow! 🌄 So here’s a crazy fact for ya: in Panama, the sun rises over the Pacific Ocean and sets over the Atlantic! 🤔 This had me so confused for about a week until I realised that Panama is really oddly shaped. I’ve actually been getting closer to Argentina, rather than Alaska, while I’ve been here! 🤯
I’ve done over 800km on highways in Panama! You wouldn’t think it looking at my photos, but hey, highways are usually far from photogenic places. ✨
When I thought it couldn’t get any harder, it did! That’s the problem with using satellite maps to create routes through countries; you can’t see whether the trails are sticky (clay mud), slippery (loose surface), rocky (boulders), steep or simply on private land. I created a VERY ambitious route through Panama using just satellite imagery in RideWithGPS, as I was keen to find an alternative to the typical highway route. Unfortunately, I’ve had to turn around more times here than the rest of South America! 😲
High-speed aqua g-outs never get old! 💦 Pretty cool that my 15” Apple laptop somehow survives all this madness. I honestly thought it would fall to bits within the first year, but it’s a sturdy beast! I do seem to blow up an expensive laptop charger every year though, and I’m wondering if it’s because of all the dodgy power sockets. Anyone else chew through chargers when they travel in developing countries?! 🔌
Panama has been insane for wildlife spotting, it’s so biodiverse when you disappear into the forests! I’ve seen sloths, armadillos, snakes, various monkeys, coatis, agoutis, metallic-coloured birds, giant insects and dozens of unidentifiable mammals. I was letting some shiny wasps crawl all around my toes the other day, but I later found out the Tarantula Hawk Wasp 🦟 has the second most painful sting in the world, paralysing you for five minutes! Whoops. 😳😳🤭
After quite a few years in the game, it’s hard to picture a time when I won’t be going on adventures! It’s only just now that I understand how the most travelled person ever (Heinz Stücke) ended up on a 50-year, 609,000km, 195 country bike tour. He didn’t necessarily set off knowing this would be the result, he just did what he loved, made a tonne of sacrifices and followed the tailwinds. Who knows, maybe I’ll still be sharing my adventures with you when I’m 75 years young?? 🤗
Crossing into Costa Rica tomorrow! 🇨🇷 I wonder if my time there will be as difficult as Panama? Any places/roads I shouldn’t miss on my bike?! 🚵♂️
The film about my unique crossing of Panama will be delayed by a few weeks! After gloating about how my laptop survives so much abuse, Murphy has sent me on a detour (with my tail between my legs) to find a Mac repair shop. The film has come together really well, so I can’t wait to finally render and upload it. 🤘🏼