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?
Why did you give bicycle touring a try? And why did you decide to go where you did?
What type of bike and gear are you using on your trip and why did you select those particular items?
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?
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.