On August 1, 2021, Liam Garner (he/they)—a (then) 17-year-old from Long Beach, California—set out from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States accessible by road, with a goal of biking to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost point of South America. And on January 10, 2023, he completed the mission. Now 19, his message for others is to get out and see the world by bike.
One of Garner’s inspirations was reading, To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret by Jedidiah Jenkins.
The book chronicles Jenkins’ journey biking from Oregon to Patagonia over the course of 16-months. Garner initially started biking as transportation, and then began tackling big rides in his free time. On a bike trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the reality of biking across the two continents solidified in his mind.
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“I made my own route as I went along.”
CNN Travel spoke with Garner about his adventure across the Pan-American Highway, a network of roads extending across the Americas. “There’s an official route, and then there’s unofficial routes,” he explains. “I basically made my own [route] as I went along. As long as I was going south every day, I knew I was going in the right direction.”
Although he didn’t fully disclose his plans to his parents until he was well on his way, they’re now his biggest supporters. And he certainly endured enough to make any parents worry. Along the way he encountered numerous setbacks, including being robbed and taking a nasty fall, which forced him to spend several weeks in the hospital in Colombia.
“The idea that you might get hurt, and something really awful might happen is in your mind traveling so much.” Garner received around 40 stitches and had to have plastic surgery to repair his ear and stitch it back together. “But it wasn’t really a reality until I got hurt in Colombia. I was blacked out for about 15 minutes and it took me a few hours to even be able to speak again.”
“...it’s important to not treat things as impossibilities...”
But much of the trip taught Garner more than he ever could have expected. He found bike travel to be very intimate — he saw, smelled, and tasted new things constantly. And he learned to trust the world, which he hopes others can do as well.
“I would say to people that it’s important to not treat things as impossibilities,” he told Bicycling. “Everyone is capable of amazing things and the hardest part is getting the confidence in yourself to attempt something. I got through the tough moments by trusting in my own abilities, but more through trusting in the world. I believe the world gives you experiences that you need and that are meant for you. It’s good to have faith in that.”
For those thinking Garner must be supported by significant wealth, not true. He’s a first generation Mexican immigrant. “I’m not rich,” he says. “This was self-supported. And it really doesn’t take that much money to do this. I don’t want people to think that you need to be rich to bike tour. I’ve met people from all economic statuses.”
In an Instagram caption following the completion of the journey, Garner said, “I remember that first day, 17 years old in the arctic circle, a year and a half commitment looming in front of me. Now I’m here, surrounded by the mountains of the end of the world, and the kid looking down that dirt road to Fairbanks, so full of ambition, feels farther away than that first pedal stroke ever could. Nothing is more important than hope. I can’t explain the way I trust and love this world. I encourage everyone who has a dream, no matter how absurd or impossible, just to take that first step.”
And for those craving more adventure, Garner and his partner Chloe will be backpacking the route back to California. He says he plans to write a book when he gets home, and then perhaps start a bit of normal life.