When Benji Pollock got back from a coast-to-coast bike trip, he longed for more.
In the summer of 2015, he rode with a team from the nonprofit Bike and Build from Florida to California. But once home, he was ready for his next adventure, and inspiration came in the form of a Wikipedia page about the Pan-American Highway.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Pollock, 23, set out on a solo bike trip down the highway, a route nearly 19,000 miles long, across North and South America. In August 2018, he started in Deadhorse, Alaska, with the goal of reaching Ushuaia, Argentina, in 18 months to three years.
A few months ago, the Lower Merion resident decided to take a break and flew home from Cancun, Mexico. The family visit was only meant to be brief — and then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now he’s waiting out the storm before returning to Mexico to finish his journey.
What did people first say when you told them of your plan to bike the length of two continents?
I had some people who were super excited about it and who were completely for it and who supported me 100%. And then there are other people who were particularly scared about it, who really didn’t want me to do it, both out of, like, care and understanding of who I am as a person, which is funny how it created such polar opposite responses.
What did you do for food and shelter when you weren’t
staying with friends, family or strangers?
Everything I have on my bike allows me to be completely self-sufficient. The longest I spent without shopping or really seeing anybody was 12 days in the north. I have literally everything I could possibly need other than, like, major bike repairs. I’ve got bike tools. I’ve got a stove and a pot so that I can cook all my meals. I have bags for food. I have a tent. I have my sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Got all my clothes I need. I have a water filter to get my water.
So as long as I have enough food on me and enough fuel in my stove and I have access to water or the ability to carry enough water, I can go anywhere.
What were the most memorable experiences of the trip?
The biggest memories are between the people and the times I was closest to getting hurt or dying. I’ve had a bunch of very close interactions with hungry grizzlies and wolves. I had face-to-face interactions with, I think, eight grizzlies, maybe four black bears, three wolves. So yeah, I was in my tent once and a bear circled around my tent and smelled my head, right next to me. I could feel the air coming out of his nostrils. I felt his paws.
I’ve been hosted by the most amazing people who welcomed me into their friend groups and families and treat me like one of their own time and again. That’s usually the highlight, the people I’ve met, and that’s also the reason why I’ve slowed down. Just learning from different people from different cultures, from people with different backgrounds with different life experiences who just welcome you.
I’ve seen amazing, amazing nature. I’ve had amazing, amazing campsites just alone on a vast beach in the middle of a forest, on the top of a mountain, under the amazing Milky Way. I mean, there’s so many highlights.
What was one of the wildest things to happen to you?
I went to Chabad in Mexico for Passover. And on my walk back, I was walking with an Israeli friend of mine, it was the second seder and it was Easter Sunday. And I got handcuffed by Mexican police. They called me the son of the devil — I think it had to do with my red hair, that they thought I was lying about stuff. Anyway, just a funny story. Miracle that they let me go.
So what’s next?
I haven’t finished, so I’m going to go back as soon as possible. I’m currently just looking for gig jobs to make some money. I have savings to continue the trip, but it would just boost my abilities to travel and get back to my bike as soon as possible.
Would you encourage anyone else to go on a trip like yours?
Everybody who has the ability to have the freedom and capital to be able to travel, experience themselves alone in the middle of nowhere and who has the ability to experience other people and other cultures so intimately … I think that the world (would) be a much better and more understanding and patient and loving place. So I encourage people to get out and travel however they can.
To learn more about Pollock’s journey, visit his blog at endtofin.com.
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