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Trio Of Cyclists Makes Epic Journey From South America To Vermont

Volcan Lanin in the background as a bicycle and car travel the road below.
Cameron Russell, courtesy
Three cyclists traveling across the Americas are documenting their experience online with blog posts and photos. In this photo from their journey, captured on March 15, the stratovolcano Volcan Lanin can be seen from the road.

The Spanish phrase "Mundo Pequeño" means "small world," and it's also the name and the mission of a massive undertaking by three cyclists from our region. 

Cameron Russell, Noah McCarter and Eli Bennett are bicycling 12,000 miles across the Americas. Along the way, they are blogging and photographing their experiences from the saddles of their bikes, and forging connections with the people and landscapes they encounter.

See the planned route on the Mundo Pequeño website.

The trio spoke to Vermont Editionrecently from Valparaíso, Chile, where they're almost three months and 3,000 miles into this epic bike trip.

The transcript below features excerpts, and it has been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full interview above.

Traveling together

Bennett: "One thing we've recognized is how lucky we are to find two other people – each of us – that are willing to do this trip and the time schedules with our lives. We're definitely thankful that we're all here, because we wouldn't want to do this by ourselves."

McCarter: "Even though we do face a lot of challenges being together all the time – you know, we're eating together, we're sleeping together, we're riding all day together ... We don't get much of a break from each other's company. But even though, like, all those challenges are present, we have to work through that and have good communication. We're three months in and we're still doing great."

Language barrier

McCarter: "Our Spanish is definitely a mixed bag. Cameron speaks the most Spanish and is, I would say, conversational. My Spanish is not as good, but it's improving ... Even though there is a language barrier a lot of the time, it hasn't stood between us connecting with people."

Eli Bennett, Cameron Russell and Noah McCarter with their bikes in Ushuaia, Argentina on Jan. 17.
Credit Cameron Russell, courtesy
From left, Eli Bennett, Cameron Russell and Noah McCarter with their bikes in Ushuaia, Argentina on Jan. 17, the first day of their journey across the Americas. They are expecting their trip to last ten months.

People they've met:

An Argentine man named Andres rode with them for some time, and McCarter highlighted a few memories from that encounter.

McCarter: "His willingness to share his ideas and connect with us, and his excitement over hearing what we were doing and his desire to support us, and just his friendship dealing with 'the three crazy Americans' as he labeled us."

There was also the woman in Chile with rooms available for rent. Russell says the room price was out of their budget, and yet she gave them a break on the cost.

Russell: "She just decided before we could say anything else [to] give us the four rooms for the quarter of the price and basically was saying that seeing young people, you know, doing something like this and taking it upon themselves to have an adventure and get out there is something that she really wanted to support."

The mission of their journey

Bennett: "It's been really great for me to leave the U.S. and see firsthand that, you know, people in Argentina and Chile and all these little towns along the Carretera Austral - we have so much in common and that people are just good in general."

McCarter: "This trip for us has become a way to do something we love and raise awareness through that. To share the stories of connection, of breaking down the differences between people and seeing the similarities instead, and focusing on the humanity instead of, you know, we're facing language differences, cultural differences. Any one of these small towns we run into, you would think there would be so many things standing between us connecting with the local fisherman there or something, just in terms of our lives. But you know, with a smile and a few words, there's connection and this shared humanity."

Eli Bennett crosses a bridge on a bicycle as the group left El Chalten, Argentina.
Credit Cameron Russell, courtesy
Bennett crosses over a bridge on Feb. 11 as the group left El Chalten, Argentina to journey toward Lago del Desierto, also in Argentina.

Russell: "One of the questions that I find myself asking on a weekly basis is ... 'Can we show something impactful? Can we evidence this goodness that we're confident that we share with people regardless of their sex, race, nationality, culture, etc.?' And so the hope is that, you know, if we set it up as much as possible beforehand, and sort of had to be accountable to that, maybe when we get home and we have a bunch of videos and stories and photos that we can find a way to share this – you know, this experience and this message in a way that positively affects other folks, too."

Weather and terrain

McCarter: "We've faced some challenges for sure with the conditions. You know, the winds in Tierra del Fuego were incredible – and we were riding against them. The road conditions are often horrible. They're basically, like, four-wheeler tracks at some point or the worst back road, dirt road that you could imagine back in the states. Then we're climbing the Andes Mountains often on those roads.

"Sometimes it's really dusty because the cars are going by and it's dry and they're blowing dust every time they go by. Or it's pouring rain and they're slick and running. Those challenges are definitely present."

How to define 'fun'

Bennett: "'Type 1' fun is fun that in the moment, you're having a great time. You know, that's the day when the tailwind is pushing us along the nice paved road and it's just beautiful out. That's 'Type 1' fun.

"And on those really bad days where the roads are dirt and gravel and it's raining, that's when we get into the 'Type 2' fun – where it's not really fun in the moment, but we look back and we're like, 'Oh yeah, that was worth it' and those are the days that we really remember and I think for years to come will be thinking back about."

Noah McCarter and Eli Bennet inside a shack in Chile, sitting around a burning stove.
Credit Cameron Russell, courtesy
McCarter, right, and Bennett, stay warm in an abandoned shack located on the Carretera Austral in Chile on Feb. 18. Bennett told 'Vermont Edition' about staying here and dealing with the smoke from the stove, citing it as an example of 'type two' fun.

What's still to come

Bennett: "Maybe a few weeks from now we'll be starting up the lagoon route in Bolivia. That'll be a section where we'll probably be the most remote throughout the whole trip. And we have to carry 10 days of food and there's only water every two days."

And are they looking forward to arriving in Vermont?

Russell: "We're talking about maybe [riding] into Burlington or Montpelier together ... We'll probably have a big gathering of family and friends and we'll ride up to the Canadian border together.  And maybe get a ride back to Burlington."

Patti is an integral part of VPR's news effort and part of the team that created Vermont Edition. As executive producer, Patti supervises the team that puts Vermont Edition on the air every day, working with producers to select and research show ideas, select guests and develop the sound and tone of the program.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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