The final member of “A Trip South,” a group of Juneau-raised friends traveling from Juneau to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost road-accessible town in South America, has reached the end of the road.
Over the course of the two years it’s taken to complete the journey, which was mostly by bicycle, the friends have kayaked, cycled and sailed. They’ve traveled thousands of miles. They’ve spent time in hundreds of places, traveled with friends, and met people who impressed them with their generosity and their openness in every country along the way.
The main group started from Juneau as “The Funky Five” — Kanaan Bausler, Max Stanley, Chris Hinkley, Andrew Flansaas and Colin Flynn. They were also joined, in that initial kayak trip out of Juneau, by numerous other friends.
Flynn headed back to Juneau after Baja, Mexico, in December of 2012.
The other four continued south, through Central and South America, finishing at different times and via different methods, from November 2013 to this May.
The Juneau Empire spoke to each of the four individually about their lasting impressions, and the lessons they’ve learned. All four said the people they’ve met on their cross continental journeys have renewed, or strengthened, their faith in humanity. It’s also given them an appreciation for Southeast Alaska, where they grew up, and the people they’re close to here.
Hinkley got back to Juneau in November, right before Thanksgiving and just in time for the ski season. He headed out on a commercial seiner for the summer this week.
“It kind of seems surreal — almost like it didn’t happen,” Hinkley said of the trip. “It’s so different from normal life. There are just so many different people and places that were unbelievable.”
The desert in Baja, Mexico, stands out to him, he said.
“That’s when we really felt like we were on an adventure,” he said.
Another standout: the people of Colombia.
“I was just blown away by the hospitality and just the social nature of the Colombians. It was almost overwhelming,” he said. “You couldn’t go more than five minutes without someone wanting to meet us, greet us, buy us a beer, show us their home. It was really incredible.”
Colombia also made a lasting impression on Stanley and the other A Trip South members.
About a year ago, the four were standing in a Colombian town, looking for a place to stay. A man rolled up on a motorcycle and asked them in broken English to follow him. They followed him on a winding route through the city, getting “completely lost” and passing through run down parts of town.
Finally, they passed over a creek, on a dirt road, and ended up at the man’s relatively large house, surrounded by a farm.
They spent the night there, telling stories.
“It was an incredible night,” Stanley said. “He was an older guy, and his wife was there … he’s just a huge, huge romantic. He’s just so completely in love with his wife, and he has this entire book of poems he wrote, and they’re all love poems. He read them to us, and we translated them together, and he read them to his wife. We were laughing the whole night.”
In most countries, they camped, asking police, fire fighters, and schools if they could set up a tent on their property. Colombia didn’t have many firefighters – but every day, someone would approach them and ask them to camp at their house, or stay with them, Hinkley said.
Another “wild experience,” Hinkley said, was traveling around the Amazon in dugout canoes.
“We kind of had to step back and look at what the world looks like from the lives of people living on a remote riverbank,” he said. “Thinking about how they viewed the planet was really eye-opening.”
A woman that had an impact on Bausler ran a guesthouse in El Chalten, Argentina. It’s where he and Flansaas parted ways; Bausler wanted to stay.
They stayed at the home of a woman who has opened her and her family’s residence to passing cyclists. In order to make ends meet, she has a tip jar.
“I was blown away by the level to which she opens her life to travelers, and is just totally open to helping people out,” Bausler said. “That’s her number one mission, is helping anyone that comes through.”
The woman has always wanted to travel, he said, but never has. Bausler ended up staying toward the end of the season — and when he biked out of town, they outfitted the woman’s town cruiser mountain bike, which was “a bit of a project.”
“Traveling with four guys, we were generally pretty chilled out,” Bausler said. “This was a whole other level of chilled out. We’d spend a few hours exploring and drinking mate (a kind of tea) by the river … She’d say ‘I saw this butterfly. Do you want to stop for a while?’”
It was a good transition to a new phase of the trip for him, he said, and it was amazing to see the way this woman and her family live by giving and receiving generosity.
“It’s a pretty beautiful way of living, which was a pretty cool experience,” he said.
Another man that made an impression on Stanley was “Super Dave.”
Super Dave is in his seventies, and has spent part of each year for the last ten years biking between Seattle to Santa Barbara, pulling his dog in a kid trailer behind him. He travels north in the summer, and south in the fall.
He also doesn’t have any short-term memory.
“We met Super Dave six or seven times,” Stanley said. “It was always a new time for him.”
They biked some stretches with Super Dave, spending time with him. He came to remember Bausler, Stanley said.
Stanley said as a group of guys, they were likely less of a target — but multiple times, they’d see someone who initially looked threatening. When they said “Hello, how are you,” in Spanish, the person’s countenance “would completely change,” Stanley said.
“You could easily walk by, but if you take the first step to try and engage people in a positive manner you have a much more fulfilling time. It’s true everywhere,” he said.
Flansaas said the people in general, and how well everyone treated them, stood out to him.
“It was amazing to be accepted like that everywhere we went,” he said.
The people, Hinkley said, were what made the trip.
“I’m pretty convinced the vast majority in the world is open and loving and compassionate and pretty amazing to see,” he said.
“There are good and hospitable and generous people anywhere in the world, from Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island, all the way down to the tip of Argentina, and everywhere east and west,” said Stanley. “It’s really how you approach the situation. If you’re open to meeting people and open minded, you’ll often have good luck.”
“I’d been dreaming about going on that trip for such a long time,” Hinkley said. “I think that’s kind of the definition of adventure, is you really don’t know what you’re getting into.”
When you’re traveling by bicycle, surprises are constant, Bausler said.
“You never know quite what you’re going to find the next day.”
Advice to those who may want to do a similar trip:
“I guarantee if you’re doing a trip, any kind of trip, there’s going to be a lot of things you don’t know,” Hinkley said. “Just go, and you’ll figure it out on the way. I think so much of our culture now is this idea, this fear that we’re never prepared for everything. So we have courses and training — which are great, learn as much as possible — but at some point, if you’re going to undertake something, the best thing you can do is go. Be open to learning everything about everything. Realize that’s part of the adventure.”
“People say ‘You must have a lot of money.’ No, we didn’t have much money — but we were rich in time,” Stanley said.
If you want to do a trip, he said, “Just do it. We met so many people who were getting it done. And maybe not – probably not – definitely not in the form they might have thought of from onset, but doing it somehow and having a great time.”
Age, likewise, is not a barrier.
“We met people in their 20s to 80s,” Stanley said. “You’ve just got to do it, and be open minded while you’re doing it, and you’ll have a great time.”
“Get after it,” Flansaas said. “A lot of people say they want to do this kind of thing, but they say this thing is stopping them or that thing is stopping them. You can’t let things hold you back … You don’t have to be gone for two years.”
All four say they’d like to stay in Juneau for a while.
Hinkley said now that he’s home, he’s focusing on the people around him.
“Not to complain in any way — it was the trip of a lifetime, and I’m so happy and thankful I had the opportunity to do it — but … you meet these awesome people that are great and you love them, you think you could be great friends, but for most part the most you ever spend with them is a week,” he said. “I will definitely stick around for a little while.”
Stanley’s working and enjoying the Juneau sunshine.
Flansaas hopes, at some point, to return the generosity they received, he said.
“It was amazing to be accepted like that everywhere we went … I’m pretty excited to hopefully, at some time, be able to host travelers and share experiences,” he said.
The trip also gave him a renewed appreciation for Southeast Alaska, he said.
“I definitely have an appreciation for growing up here,” he said.
Bausler pedaled into Ushuaia about two weeks ago. He’s sold his bicycle and plans to work and spend winter (Alaska’s summer) in the town, which he says has “some serious Juneau vibes.”
“It feels like a different trip, at this point,” he said. “I can take things slower, and definitely find some parts of life that I had forgotten … I’ll finally have time to really explore one place deeply, rather than always being on the move.”
“Right now, I can’t imagine anything other than coming home after this trip and staying there for a long time,” Bausler said.
Bausler sees the next two years as dedicated largely to the documentary he’s been filming along the way. He’ll soon be beginning a Kickstarter funding project to help get the equipment he needs to do it, he said. He’ll also be looking for artist’s grants.
“I’ve collected a ton of footage,” he said. “Hours and hours … it’s quite a bit to take on. I’m looking forward to it.”
In that documentary, he aims to explore the idea of “microsolutions for macroproblems” — localized living in places throughout their journey.
“It’s something that I can stand behind, and something that is kind of the essence of the film project,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of real applications … it’s good to have experiences in the bag that support the philosophy that I built up. I don’t think this is ‘the answer’ to save the world … but I do think that this will be a good contribution to looking toward solutions.”
All four expressed gratitude toward family, friends, local businesses and Juneau residents for the support they’ve gotten on their trip.
“Knowing there’s that presence and that support behind you felt really good, and it was cool to know people were enjoying what we were doing,” Stanley said.
“It’s been incredible how much support we’ve gotten for this trip, and it’s really huge all the help from the community of Juneau,” Bausler said. “I can’t imagine trying to do something like this starting out somewhere else.”
Find out more about the journey on the friends’ website, http://atripsouth.com, or in the Juneau Empire’s archives.
• Contact Mary Catharine Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.