21 Year Old Canadian, Derek Gytenbeek, Circles North America By Bike

By Darren Alff on - Download my FREE bike tour starter guide!

When I put out my call for people to feature here on Bicycle Touring Pro, Derek Gytenbeek was one of the first individuals to contact me. Just 21 years old, Derek is currently in the midst of a year long bicycle adventure around North America. At this moment, he’s sitting just north of Acapulco, Mexico, has been on the road for about three months and has plans to be traveling for a great deal longer.

First of all Derek, where are you from and what was your life like before you left on your trip?

I was born, raised, and have lived all 21 years of my life in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.   I can’t say I have ever settled down to a normal life. Since high school, I’ve spent one year traveling around Canada and two years working two different nine to five labor jobs in the construction industry. In June of 2008, run down and worn out from the humdrum of full-time work, I joined the Otesha Project (www.otesha.ca). Otesha is a youth run charitable organization that uses bicycle touring and theater to mobilize youth and to create local and global changes through their every day consumer choices. For two months I was part of an incredible group delivering theater performances while touring Vancouver Island B.C. From this I was inspired to continue further and have been cycling ever since.

How did you first find out about bicycle touring?

Bicycle touring has always had some part in my life. I come from a family of cyclists. As a youngster I was lucky enough to be taken on many outdoor trips with family and friends, including a bicycle tour of British Columbia’s scenic Kettle Valley Railway, an old abandoned railway that stretches across southern B.C.
I do however remember the day that re-fueled my enthusiasm for bike touring. In the summer of 2006 I met a group of young people on the first day of their bicycle tour from Vancouver to Tijuana on the U.S. Mexico border. I cycled alongside this group for the entire day secretly hoping they’d take me along. But alas, we reached the U.S. border and I recognized that with no money, no passport, and no gear, my trip wouldn’t be very enjoyable. My hopes of calling into work with the message “I won’t be in for a couple of months, I’m riding my bike to Mexico”, were eradicated. But from that point on I entertained all possibilities of bike touring, understanding then how easily accessible it really was. All I had to do was pack up and pedal.

Why did you give bicycle touring a try? And why did you decide to go where you did?

I decided to give bicycle touring a try for countless reasons. After two years of mind numbing full time work I developed an colossal craving for new experiences. I had no post-secondary education but the thought of sitting in a classroom was none too inspiring, and after completing high school I’d felt as though I had done my time. So, I decided to take a vacation. With some saved money in the bank, no car, no mortgage, and no children, all I had to do was quit my job and I would be a free man. I’d been a cycling fanatic for some time and knew this would be the perfect way to travel. This was my chance to ride to Mexico!
The two summer months I spent riding with the Otesha Project didn’t fully satisfy my bicycle cravings, so I immediately began planning my solo adventure. This was a process that would take me less than two weeks, as I was already packed. Heading south was my only option with Canada’s winter swiftly approaching. The original plan was never to come this far, but to migrate the U.S. Mexico border and wait out the winter.
But my route plan has grown cheerfully out of control like an untamed garden, and has been more of a developing process than a one time decision. Shortly before leaving I received a telephone call from my brother. He was quitting his job to ride with me. This was excellent news. And with a riding partner I felt comfortable crossing the border into Mexico. Together we would ride to Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of Mexico`s Baja peninsula.
Over two months later, halfway down the Baja, I was struck with the inspiration to cycle the Yucatan Peninsula. At the time I wasn’t aware of the distance between myself and the Yucatan, but decided that if it wasn’t too far I would ride the stretch. I checked out a map and was dismayed to see that it was over 2500 miles away! But by this point I had already subconsciously made my decision, I was going to ride the entire expanse of Mexico.
And today I sit in Puerto Escondido, in the south of Mexico, my latest expectation is to ride as far as the southern end of Belize, before returning to Canada via the east coast of Mexico and U.S. The final leg of my journey will take me across Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. But of course, nothing is etched in stone.

What type of bike and gear are you using on your trip and why did you select those particular items?

I’m riding a Trek 520. I decided on this bike through Internet research. My knowledge of bicycles is very limited, but I knew what I was looking for. I needed a touring ready bike that could stand up to my abusive habits and one that would continue to roll with a minimum of daily maintenance. I’ve been very impressed by the Trek. It has survived my occasional mishandling and the only troubles I’ve experienced come form the natural wear and tear of bicycle touring, an activity that’s rough on any bike.
In addition to the Trek, I’ m riding with a set of three Axiom dry panniers (two on the front rack, one on the back) as well as a different rear right pannier from Canada’s Mountain Equipment Co-op (this is because I wore a hole through my other Axiom dry bag). With the plan to ride the Pacific coast through October and November I figured dry bags would be a marvelous idea. I purchased the Axioms because they were on sale and the only bags I could afford. At this point in my trip the stitching is slowly starting to fall apart and my rear bag tends to flop around on my rack while I ride, which can get to be a nuisance. You get what you pay for. I wouldn’t recommend economizing on gear for an extensive trip if this can be avoided, yet these bags still get the job done.

What did your family and friends think about you leaving on such an epic bike ride? Did they think you could do it? Were they nervous? Excited? Scared?

My father was really the only person I talked to about this trip, and being an adventure seeker himself, he was and still is very excited for me. And of course some people are nervous for my well being, after all, I’m cycling through unknown areas on precarious roads with dangerous drivers in shaky vehicles, but that’s half the fun.

What is the best place you have been thus far?

One place that stands out is Cabo Pulmo and its surrounding area. This paradise lies on the southern tip of the Baja, east of Cabo San Lucas. Only accessible by “graded dirt road”, this side trip was an undertaking worth every jostle and crash. Along with my brother and a friend I cycled thirty miles across washboard gravel and through broad and abysmal sand pits. Located beside a living coral reef, the area has the best snorkeling I’ve encountered thus far. We spent some time relaxing and reading under palm trees and palapas. We did some spear fishing as well, cooking our catches on nightly campfires. The few days spent there were the perfect respite from the obnoxious stink and clatter of highway riding.
Honorable mention goes to the Oregon coast for being supremely scenic and biker friendly.

What’s been the best experience of the trip thus far?

The greatest experience has been meeting many marvelous and fascinating new friends along the way. My brother and I met three people that have been circumnavigating the globe on bicycles for nearly six years! We met a few folks riding from Alaska to Patagonia, and we’ve had the pleasure of spending time and riding with different people from all over the world. Since my brother stopped in Mazatlan, I’ve been cycling with a high school teacher we met on the Baja peninsula. There’s barrels of knowledge to be gained from the people you meet, and this is an invaluable part of bike touring.  I’ve been on the road for three and a half months, and I’ll be riding alone for the first time thus far just one week from now.

What has been the biggest surprise thus far? What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned?

The biggest surprise and unequaled learning opportunity came from the flat troubles I experienced on the Baja. With five flat tires in the first two months of my trip, I was bursting with confidence, certain that I was ready for anything Mexico had to offer. I was frightened and alarmed when my flat count instantaneously jumped. For over a week I was suffering through five flats a day, and I was completely unprepared to deal with the situation.  My tires were worn, my rim tape was peeling off, and the cacti were playing games with me. I do have a word of warning for those hoping to cycle through less developed countries with touring road bikes. These bikes are an alien species in countries such as Mexico. Spare parts are nearly impossible to find, including tubes and tires for 700mm wheels. I came into Mexico completely ignorant to this and suffered through this difficult month with over sixty flats. I was in desperate need of two new touring tires, new tubes, and new rim tape. It’s been a month long struggle, but I’ve finally acquired what I need. Most of these parts have arrived via airplane with friends and family of some amazing cyclists I’ve met along the way. If you plan on cycling Mexico with a road bike, be sure to come well prepared to tackle any issue yourself.

How much is the tour costing you per day? How much money have you spent?

Coming through the U.S. I was comfortably spending about $20-$25 per day. Through Mexico I’ve been spending about $10-$15 per day. Thus far, three and a half months into the trip, I’ve spent about $2200 US. One great part about Mexico is the easily available free roadside camping.

If you had just one piece of advice for someone who was new to bicycle touring, what would you tell them?

If I had to choose just one, I would say to persevere through the hard times. Bike touring will never be without frustrations and quagmires, but the rewards are worth every trial. And the trials make for unrivaled learning opportunities.

You’ve still got a lot of your tour left. Are there any parts of the tour you are really looking forward to?

Wow, there’s so much to look forward to. I’m especially eager to see the ancient ruins of Palenque, Chichen Itza, and Tulum, as well as some of the less visited historic sites in Belize. I’m expecting to arrive in Cancun for SPRING BREAK 2009! This may or may not be a good time (large crowds are not my scene), but it will be an experience. I also have a mysterious draw to America’s deep south and the New Orleans (hopefully recovering) jazz scene.

Even though you still have much of your trip in front of you, what do you plan on doing once your tour comes to an end?

So far my plan is to gather my friends and make a beeline for the pub. From there I’ll sort things out. I suppose finding a job and a home will be my first priority. I’d be very interested in improving my knowledge of bicycle mechanics, this will better prepare myself for my next tour.

And When I asked Derek if there was anything else he’d like to add, this is what he said:

Male, 6’2″, brown hair, green eyes. Always looking for more bicycle friends. Interests include: bicycling, music, and over-consumption of baked goods. If anyone wants to join me for any upcoming stretch of my tour, company is always welcome. You just have to put up with my idiosyncrasies. I foresee a severe case of loneliness by the time I reach Texas in late March or early April.

If you have a question or comment for Derek, please leave your message for him in the comments section below. I will ask him to check back every once and awhile and answer any questions that you might have for him.

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0 Comments

  1. Bob Gillespie

    February 9, 2009 at 5:51 am

    Hi Derek,

    Good luck with your cycling. My wife and I live in St. Augustine, Florida.
    We have many Canadians spend the winter in our beautiful city. Do you have nay idea when you might be traveling through our area?

    Bob

  2. Hanlie

    February 9, 2009 at 6:17 am

    Hey Derek,
    Your trip so far sounds awesome! We’re new to bicycle touring but are planning to ride from New Orleans to lake Erie in May and June 09.

    Will you be in that area at that time? If so, we should defo do a stretch together although we will most certainly be a bit slow at first.

    We= Hanlie & Wim, South African couple.

    We’re on warmshowers.org and also couchsurfing.com, username: coetzees

  3. HUGO Padilla

    February 9, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    HEY DEREK,
    BE SAFE AND HAVE A GOOD TIME!
    I AM 67 YEARS OLD AND PLAN TO LEAVE FOR SOUTH AMERICA IN 2010
    CAN YOU SHARE YOUR ROUTE WITH ME?

  4. Napalm

    February 9, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Well Done Derek.

    How do you survive on $20 a day? What would be a typical day’s costings (breakfast etc)

  5. Derek Gytenbeek

    February 9, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Hey everyone, thanks for the encouragement!

    Bob- I have yet to consider my route plan for the east coast of the U.S. But I would expect mid to late May would be about the right time. I`ve been told many times to avoid Florida (Ha!), but I do have one travel rule. If someone tells me that I must see a certain city/town/state, I`ll ride there. As long as it`s within reasonable distance of my planned route. So, perhaps St. Augustine has now found a place in my flexible itinerary.

    Hanlie- The timing sounds about right 🙂 I`ll be setting up a warm showers account as soon as I re-enter the U.S. I`ll let you know then what my plans are. Will you be taking the Mississippi River trail?

    Hugo- Thanks! Good luck with the trip planning! As far as my route is concerned thus far, I`ve simply remained as close to the Pacific as possible at all times. This has worked well for me. From where do you plan on departing?

    Napalm- My daily costs in the U.S. work out something like this:

    Breakfast- Usually oatmeal, rather bland but cheap. A package was about $3.00, and this would feed my brother and I for at least two meals. We would have to add supplements of milk, nuts, honey jam, etc.. to make it tolerable. Maybe another couple dollars on top of the price of the oats.

    Lunch- sometimes PB&J, sometimes wraps, or leftovers. Generally about the same cost as breakfast. About $5.00

    Dinner- Almost always pasta and tomato sauce with veggies. Again, likely around $5.00 per meal per person.

    Camping on the Pacific coast is a cinch. Through Washington State in late October, all state park campgrounds were closed. We camped for free the whole way down. Through Oregon and California all the state parks have a hiker/biker price, $4.00 per night per person in Oregon, and $3.00 – $5.00 per night per person in California. And of course, you meet amazing people along the way that invite you into their homes.

    This with the occasional added luxury made for some cheap travel. Of course, here in Mexico life is a bargain. I tend to eat at restaurants for both lunch and dinner, and still I spend only $10-$15 per day. My largest expenses have come from bike troubles.

    Does that suffice?

    Cheers everyone!

  6. Mike in WI

    February 9, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    ” The perfect respite from the obnoxious stink and clatter of highway riding.”

    This is my new favorite phrase…it so aptly states the reason we avoid major roads and highways for the side roads whenever possible, no matter how many extra miles are added on.

    Thanks for the great pictures too.!!!
    Mike the bike.

  7. rudy smith

    February 9, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    If you make it to mobile alabama we’ll put you up for a night or two. Aron Coye was our last coast rider.

  8. Dad

    February 9, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Hey Derek – Congratulations!
    Interesting to see the pictures and all the comments. Proud of you. Keep the pedals turning. Tannia says woof and is missing you. Still 18 inches of snow here in Vernon, I won’t be cycling for a month yet. Bye for now.

  9. Scott Tunnicliffe

    February 10, 2009 at 1:05 am

    You are one inspiring dude. Can’t wait to see you again.. but take your time! Much love bro!!!

  10. Suzanne Stirling

    February 10, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Hey Derek
    You are an inspiration!
    Are you heading up the east coast of Mexico? If you are I can share a wealth of contacts and beautiful places with you. Also, let me know when you are thinking to pass through New Orleans, maybe its time for me to make a jazz pilgrimage…

  11. Derek Gytenbeek

    February 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Hah!

    I’m glad you like the photos Mike, credit goes to my brother as the photographer. I simply stole them off his facebook page.

    Rudy- Thanks for the offer! I’ll keep in touch and let you know if and when I pass through your area.

    I’ll talk with you soon Dad, Scotty, and Suzanne! Keep those skis waxed, you’ll survive the winter.

  12. Hanlie

    February 11, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    no fixed route yet. we were thinking of just following the adventure cycling underground rail route, but the river trial sounds quite interesting.

    I’ll check things out and will keep you posted closer to the time. it will be sweet if we could meet up.

    good luck and be safe

    hanlie

  13. Vel

    February 11, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Great article, looking forward to more.

  14. Robert Gladfelter

    February 12, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Hey Derek, I like hearing about your adventure. Let me know when you’re coming through northeastern u.s. I’ll try to ride with you for a couple of days.

  15. Derek Gytenbeek

    February 13, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Hey Robert,

    Sounds great! I have the impression that Northeastern U.S. is a titanic cluster of urban pandemonium. It will be nice to have some company. I’ll keep in touch.

  16. Leanne

    February 15, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Hey Derilick!
    I miss you so much buddy.. and am so proud of you!!! I am itching to be back on my bike, I’m back on Ontario so the snow is a deterant, as well as the non bike friendly roads and drivers, however I will make it a mission to familiarize them this summer.
    Anyways, best of luck to you, and if you travel thru Verzcruz let me know and I can set you up with a contact/place to stay with a soft bed and amazing food. She is a host for international students for the university, so she is used to having strangers in her house.
    ta ta for now.
    Paz and Bicycle grease!!
    Love Leanne

  17. Rainking

    February 16, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Derek,

    Don’t know if your trip includes traveling up the Connecticut coastline, but if it does let me know! We’ll have food a place for you to rest. Stay safe.

    -Rainking63@yahoo.com
    Old Lyme, CT

  18. Richard and Michele

    February 16, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Hey Derek – Good peddling – it is teriffic to hear about your adventures. Fantastic photos too even if you didn’t take them! Great shot of the spider! We’ll look forward to tracking your path as the weeks roll on. Good luck with the flats and saddle bags and best wishes for your continued success as you explore this great continent.
    Michele and Richard

  19. aunty Elise & Gary

    February 17, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Hi Derek – Gary & I enjoying reading your blog and everyone’s questions.
    Keep safe and in touch -luv.

  20. Derek Gytenbeek

    February 20, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Hey everyone!

    Thanks for the support, I hope you’re all doing well 🙂

    Rainking- I can’t say for sure if I’ll be riding the Connecticut coast, but I’ll definitely let you know later if I opt to pass by that way. Thanks!

    Later amigos!

  21. Ray Bee Kev Brad Carmen

    February 24, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Hey Derek
    Way to go man! great story ,great ride.
    last of the SNOW gone in burnaby Must have been your warm stories from the tropics. best of luck, love the pics ,stay safe
    Auntie B and Uncle Ray

  22. Matt Hobley

    February 25, 2009 at 6:37 am

    Wow! Fantastic trip. All the very best.

    I am riding the UK end to end in May – a mere trifle compared to your expedition – and feel it will be the start of bigger things.

  23. Robert Gladfelter

    March 3, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Hey Derek, hope all is well with your ride. Yea tne northeast has a lot of urban developement, but there are some very nice riding if you know where to look. I’ve been riding through a lot of this area for the past 10 years so keep in touch and hopefully we can meet up, if not, I can at least give you some nice areas to ride.
    buddhadrummer@hotmail.com

  24. Derek Gytenbeek

    March 5, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Hey everyone!

    Kingmas- Cheers! I’ll continue sending warm vibes in your direction 🙂 Early Spring perhaps?

    Matt- The UK will be an amazing ride, and of course this will just be the beginning, you’ll have your next ride planned before you finish your first!

    Robert- I appreciate the info, I’ll send an email your way as I approach the beast of the Northeast.

  25. Frank Gelling

    March 23, 2009 at 4:52 am

    Hi Derek:

    My equipment is exactly the same. Trek 520 and Exion bags. Have done me will
    but avoid dirt roads. Biking along the St. Lawrence and into Gaspe this summer.
    Have also enjoyed biking in Europe with this trek and another heavier one I keep in Holland. I know it’s a long way off but when you travel through the Toronto area your welcome to say at our place. That of course if I’m not on the road enjoying my tour.
    Good luck
    Frank

  26. Dad

    March 24, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    hey bud i am back in the saddle again !!! commuting to work !!! hooray!!! snow and ice has mostly melted .got to find best route now should take 1-2 weeks.it feels so good , the best 2 parts of my day .now i can bike week days and ski snowshoe weekends hooray!!!!. i have noticed it is a lot more sunny here .its all good.
    GREAT to talk to you last weekend
    take care bud
    Dad Colleen Tannia

  27. Derek Gytenbeek

    April 17, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Awesome Frank, enjoy your ride!

    I did take the Trek on a couple of off road adventures, the 28 tires didn’t fare too well and a necessary 1-2 hour tuneup followed those rides. But I suppose that’s the case for any road bike.

    I’ll let you know If I need a place to stay when I come through Toronto.

    Thanks!

    Derek

  28. Will

    April 26, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    I was wondering what types of things you bring with you in terms of clothes (especially for different weather….sweater, raincoat, casual wear, etc.?)

    Do you use a camelback, water bottles, or something else?

    What do you carry with you in terms of bike repair supplies and tools?

    I’m not sure where you are headed on the east coast, but I’m in southwest virginia (not so near the coast) — Blacksburg to be precise. Its really beautiful out here in the mountains, and if you do make it out this way you’ll definitely have a place to stay if you need, I’d love to have you!

    Enjoy the trip and just have a blast. Best of luck!

  29. Derek Gytenbeek

    May 12, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Will,

    Since I’m traveling for over a year through different countries and climates, my (wardrobe?!) has me prepared for any conditions. I rely on layering for the cold. Here’s a list of my clothing items:
    -2 t-shirts (quick dry for all-weather comfort)
    -1 long sleeve T (again, quick dry)
    -1 fleece sweater
    – Full raingear
    -1 Fleece jacket
    – 2 pairs of shorts (extra tough butt stitching for durability)
    -1 pair quick dry long pants
    -1 set of long underwear
    -a few pairs of socks and skivvies
    I’ll pick up gloves, wool socks, and a toque (I think you call that a beanie in the U.S.?) at a thrift store when I need them.

    I carry four water bottles that amount to about one gallon of water. I’m personally not a big fan of the camelback, I had one that spent more time on my rear rack than on my back (perhaps I should’ve called it a camelrack?)

    As far as tools go, I don’t think I carry all the tools I should have, but they’ve taken me this far. I have a decent multi-tool with all the allen keys, a chain tool, and a spoke wrench (all which I have used) as well as phillips/flatblade screwdrivers. I have metal tire levers, an economy sized patch kit and two spare tubes, duct tape, electrical tape, tie wraps, spare chain links, and spare spokes. I think a pair of pliers and a decent wrench would be nice, but I don’t carry those at the moment.

    Thanks for the hospitality offer, I’ve decided to take the Underground Railroad route north to Cinncinatti, before heading to the coast. Virginia is still a bit out of the way, but I’ll contact you if my plans change 🙂

    Happy travels Will,

    Derek

  30. Michael Brisson

    May 26, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Hi Derek,

    Enjoyed reading about your adventure. If you happen to come through the Rochester, NY area and need a hand or a place to crash, drop a line.

    regards,
    Michael

  31. Nour Nazef

    October 13, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Hi Derek,

    I really enjoyed yours and others postings. You have really inspired me to plan a
    tour of my own. I’ve been commuting to work for the past month now ( I use a carbon fiber Y frame Trek) and I feel great !
    What about Mr Tuffy tire liners to prevent your flats ? I would also like you to share tips on how you plan your trip and what is one of the best resources to do that ?

    I live in gainesville Florida (home of the gators). You will be welcome in my home if you ever come this way.

    Best of Luck !

    Nour

  32. Bob Smithers

    May 9, 2010 at 6:24 am

    Hello Derek,

    Bob Smithers here. I’m also from burnaby B.C. and i lived there for 18 years but i moved to poland last summer to do some schooling…yes i said Poland.
    You are probably familiar with my elementary school (st. helens) and highschool (notre dame). Those are pretty popular so i was wondering if you might have gone to one of them.
    Anyways, i am 19 years old now and i have been planning to bike across canada for quite some time and i finally got the opportunity in 2011 summer when i finally get some slack with school. so i will be preparing this summer when i get back to vancouver.. training, getting the right bike, and equipment ect.
    It would be great to get in touch with someone of your experience since this is all new to me.
    Also, if you are not busy during 2011 summer your free to come along across canada. the more people the jollier.
    i would greatly appreciate it if you contacted me through email.
    cheers for now and congrats on the trip, i can’t imagine a better trip then the one you’ve done.
    p.s. knowing you also being from burnaby, its too bad about the canuckers. blackhawk down will have to wait another year. 3rd times a charm

  33. Bob Smithers

    May 9, 2010 at 6:38 am

  34. Mike Langsdale

    February 20, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    I was just curious if how it was when you were alone in Central America. Any feelings of hostility from locals? I would be afraid that with so much (expensive) gear you might be a pretty visible target for a quick crime. Hope your travels went well!

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