Cycling from the top of the world

Cycling the Pan-American Highway

Cycling the Pan-American Highway

This summer (2022) Declan Faherty (Moortown Plastering) plans to cycle from Prudhoe Bay to Guatemala City in Central America – 6570 miles. This is the first half of a famous cycling route which takes you from the top of Alaska down to Argentina, the plan is to finish the last stretch next year. The trip is entirely self-funded, and he will be travelling solo.

As I write this on Sunday 1st May Declan lands in the freezing temperatures of Fairbanks International Airport, Alaska and is then flying north to Deadhorse Airport (Prudhoe Airport).

Before you all grab your bikes and hop on a plane to Alaska for the trip of a lifetime, let me explain a little about Declan and his preparations. Declan is no stranger to adventure; he has travelled all over the world and thrives on experiencing the unknown. Previous trips have provided the know-how to cope with the physical and mental hardships which are about to come. They have also shown him some of the most breath-taking sights and highlights the world has to offer. Encouraged by the memories of these travels, the feeling of freedom, the open road and the unpredictable, he’s keen to get on his bike again.

The journey starts on at the top of the world travelling down icy roads in Alaska to the Canadian Yukon – ‘The Top of the World Highway’ proving some dramatic alpine landscapes, but also some freezing conditions. Planning to sleep outside, for most of the journey, the Arctic tundra in Alaska will be one of the most physically demanding stints of the trip. Travelling light is key to success, combined with the need for overnight warmth, especially as temperatures can drop to -20°C with little to no shelter. Travelling south into Canada there will be some relief as the climate gets warmer, but also the canopy of Canadian forests will provide a blessing overnight. Once warm enough the sturdy boots, gloves, additional sleeping bag and other redundant items will be posted home, and lighter boots and clothing purchased for the remainder of the trip.

“I’m 52 haven’t done an hour of training for the journey, in 3 weeks I will be as fit as I can possibly become.”

Declan Faherty

Travelling Light

Before Declan set off, I caught up with him at his home in Moortown so he could show me the few items he was planning on taking with him on the trip.

When I arrived, he had very kindly put on the complete outfit and was keen to show me the considerations he had made on selecting his kit. An awesome photo opportunity. He must have been quite warm in this get-up in his garden in late April.

Some of you many know Declan, he may have even expertly plastered your home following an advert in THAT LEEDS MAG.

The main piece of equipment, the bike, has its own story.

A local scrap man, a friend of Declan’s recovered the bike from a local skip. At just 2 years old this Ridgeback® Hybrid Touring Mountain Bike has been spruced up and made ready for its adventure.
What a lucky find! Both Declan and the bike will be stretched to their limits.

Simple lightweight bike helmet – Which will remain on his head during most nights
CATEYE® – Lights (chargeable and battery powered)
Waterproof lightweight saddle bag containing:
Snugpak® Special Forces Bivvi Bag
Snugpak® Sleeper Lite
The North Face® Thermal Sleeping Bag
Therm-a-Rest – Trail Pro™ Sleeping Pad

Another key piece of equiptment is this Carradice satchel. As you can see from its patched and stitched appearance it is well travelled. This hardwearing bag has visited 65 countries with Declan. I wonder if it will return with some new patches.

Declan has budgeted £20 per day for this 3 month trip. He aims to cycle a whopping 70 miles per day. The intention is to make it to Guatemala City by the end of July, leave the bike in storage and fly home. If not Guatemala City then he will fly home from wherever he is at the end of July. Picking up where he left off next year to continue to Ushuaia, Argentina.
I will be posting regular updates of Declan’s travels here

You can follow along with Declan on instagram. 

I’m excited for him, good luck Declan!

Find out more about the route here.

Part 2 - how it's going

When arriving in Fairbanks International Airport, Alaska, and looking for a flight north, this is the message I received from Declan.

“Hi Deb, I’m in Fairbanks Airport now till the morning then I have to make enquiries about small planes going up to Dead Horse Bay. My issue is that if I’m up there and the road back down here is deep snow and ice, I’d prefer to get going in the morning to start the journey. If I get enough wrong info about the road in the wilds I could be sort of up the creek, anyway I will know what I’m doing come daylight”

It wasn’t looking good for Prudhoe Bay to be the starting point, Declan was itching to get on the trail so rather than hanging around hampered by deep snow and ice he decided to get on his bike and ride south, almost as planned.

Then more bad news, I’m afraid, the long-haul flight had taken its toll and Declan had bug eyes (his words), a sore head and throat and after just 30 miles stopped at a motel. Where he is still resting (only kidding). Not fully recovered, with ragged breathing and a painful cough and planning to take the start a bit slower, he’s on the road.

11 hours cycling with a 10min break every hour to enjoy his supply of nuts, tins of tuna and chocolate in the barren surroundings.
Things do get much better for Declan and he’s now through Los Angeles and in Mexico!

Some Highlights

I’ve picked out some highlights of the journey so far for you. If you are on Instagram, you can find all Declan’s adventures, along with videos of him chatting with other travellers and locals by following @wheelsdowntheworld.

Declan was warned by locals in Alaska about bears coming out of hibernation, and rightly so, with an above average 7 attacks for far in 2022*, he says he’d rather have not known. Though by the sounds of the messages there were some low points where he would have preferred to be eaten by a bear than get up, out of his cosy sleeping bag cocoon and put his kit back on the bike with freezing hands.

Fortunately, Declan has only spotted porcupines, a moose and 2 timber wolves.

The roads have been very quiet with days passing and only a handful of cars passing by and few places to stop and take genuine shelter. I found Declan’s hunt for a green hut to be quite interesting so I will share it with you. Out in the wilderness somewhere south of Haines Alaska there is a long stretch of road with no stopping places, almost a no man’s land or in Declan’s words “the stopping point of humanity” (I think due to the almost zero internet and intermittent power supply).

Anyway, at his stop in Haines he’s told about the green hut, then a passing car stops and tells him about the green hut. It makes a person wonder what is so special about this green hut. Honestly to you and me, it’s just a hut. But to Declan after cycling miles and miles in a frozen wasteland, it’s a true luxury to be out of the wind, on a bed and under a roof. “There was food, marijuana joints and loads of firewood. I was so alive right then. I was never more made up ever.”

Out of America on the Pan American Highway (network of roads) and a brief trip through Canada, then a couple of ferry rides down the west coast and onto Seattle. One of the ferries was a 3-night jaunt and with Declan on a budget he chose to sleep out on the deck with a few other travellers rather the get a cabin.

Then back on the bike to follow the coast. Across Astoria-Megler Bridge 4 miles long no room for error on the bike (pedestrians are only allowed on it one day a year).

In Cayucos, California he was met with the sound before the sight of beaches filled with elephant seals. Plus, some truly beautiful scenery. The weather has improved, so much so that Declan has ditched his boots and trousers for lighter items. He’s very warm now, in sunny Los Angeles, and the trusty Carradice satchel has been loaded up with unneeded items and posted home to Moortown.

The landscape has changed dramatically as Declan has travelled south along with the cultures of the people – what an amazing journey. I’m really looking forward to a catch-up when he returns late July.

part 3 - how it ended

Following on from the last edition, I have met up with Declan who is back home in Leeds a little earlier than expected.

how it ended

The message above was posted on Instagram explaining the reasons for Declan’s early finish.
Here’s a slightly more detailed explanation for you.

It was too bl**dy hot!

Plus, he couldn’t get across to mainland Mexico due to visa restrictions. The cycling route took him down what’s known as Baja California (pronounced Baha). It is Mexico not California so this name is a little confusing.

Here’s a map (thanks Google):

Declans map The final stretch

Some interesting people

Declan met and interviewed a wide variety of people on his travels (interviews can be found on @wheelsdowntheworld Instagram) from meth heads with no shoes to pastors who compassionately prayed for him in a car park, plus a man who appeared to be moving house with all his worldly belongings on a bike. He is staying in contact with many of the kind people who helped him on his way via instagram and snail mail.

Thank you for taking us with you Declan Faherty
Moortown Plastering.

If you get Declan over to plaster your walls, why not ask him about his adventures?

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