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It’s not everyday that you come across someone who truly inspires you. Andrea Molina is one of those people. When I first heard about her bikepacking adventures from Mexico to Argentina, I immediately wanted to learn more. Her stories, tips, and perspective on her journey are captivating for fellow cyclists and adventure seekers alike. After learning more about Andrea and her adventures, I immediately wanted to pack up my bike and head out on an epic quest. For now though, I’ll have to live vicariously through her words and photos. Meet Andrea!
Cajamarca, Perú (June 2022).
1. Where are you originally from and where are you residing currently?
Hi! I’m Andrea Molina, born and raised in tropical El Salvador, Central America. Washington D.C. was my second home for nearly a decade. I’m currently in Peru, on the third year of a long bikepacking journey through the Americas so… as cheesy as it sounds, my bike+tent are my new home. Sometimes, I miss having a couch or having close friends around but life on the road has been absolutely beautiful-- and challenging too.
2. When did you start biking and how did you get into the sport?
I was that friend you had in your early 20s who did not know how to ride bikes-- yup, that was me. I’m 30 years old and I started riding at age 21, during my senior year of college. Learning as an adult was scary but ohhh I’m so glad I had friends who made teaching me their goal. D.C is where I turned into a bike commuter and riding in the city was one of my favorite things. One day, my partner Jake invited me on my first overnighter and I ended up falling in love with bike camping. It was like, “You’re telling me I can ride my bike into the woods for the weekend to camp and I can carry the food and all the snacks I want? Heck yes, I’m in!” As someone who was still new to bikes, the bike camping concept just blew my mind. The autonomy my bike granted me felt so radical, healing, and inspiring. I knew I wanted more. So big shout out to those folks who got me into bikepacking/bike camping! I’m grateful for y’all.
3. How did you get into bikepacking and long-distance bike trekking?
The Mexico-Argentina bike trip started as a joke but a year later I was leaving my nearly 10-year teaching job and saying goodbye to my community in D.C. while carrying my life on my bike. I knew biking would teach me a lot about myself and doing it with someone I love, Jake, would be really special too but there was fear and doubt as well. “What if I’m not strong enough? What if two weeks in I hate it? What if this is not the right decision and I should have just kept my job?”
Not seeing a lot of people who look like me going on long bikepacking adventures made me feel a bit isolated but it also motivated me to create space for myself and those who could identify with this short brown immigrant girl who was new to bikes.
Huascarán National Park, Perú (July, 2022).
Family trip to Atitlán, Guatemala (1996).
4. What inspired you to bikepack from Mexico to Argentina and what have you learned along the way?
Healing and freedom are huge motivators. I saw the potential for biking to be such a liberating act and now I use my bike to cross borders; those same borders that have trapped, and continue to trap, me and so many other people. Biking across the continent feels like my opportunity to reclaim my freedom and the freedom that generations of women in my family never had. And what a privilege it is to choose joy over obligation and survival. I kept telling myself, “I deserve adventure, I deserve joy.” After more than a decade of living and working in the US as an immigrant woman, this trip felt like my time to finally rest and catch my breath (as odd as that sounds, because riding in the Andes is rather a test of endurance!).
I’m the first person in my family to ever go on a trip like this, but not because of a lack of adventurous spirit in my family! Before me, everyone in my family has always had to simply work in order to survive, not even thrive. So at first I had to wrestle with the guilt, pressure, and expectations that a lot of us who don't come from money face: find and keep a good-paying job, save up, send money back to the family, etc. My 28 year-old self recalls being a teenager and feeling that same weight. I was planning the trip of my life feeling guilty for feeling too happy or too excited. Therapy helped me move forward, but guilt was a real challenge and one of the reasons why I was determined to keep pedaling South.
When a person heals, a whole generation starts to heal. I believe that. My whole family now talks about this trip with pride -- they know this is their trip too. I bike knowing I carry my whole family with me; they are holding me tight when I approach every single border and they cheer for me as I cross. It’s amazing how much bikes can change our lives and allow us the space and time to heal.
5. Where are some other memorable places bicycling has taken you?
Biking in El Salvador, my home, was incredible and very emotional. I also loved riding in places that I had only seen in photos like Colombia’s and Ecuador’s paramo, a high altitude ecosystem unique to 3 countries in the world. The mountains in Peru have been a special (and demanding!) place to ride as well.
6. Can you share some of the most unforgettable experiences you’ve had on your cycling adventures?
So many! But whenever people ask about safety or unforgettable times, we tell the following story that took place in southern Mexico. Veracruz is known as one of the most dangerous states in Mexico and a lot of folks warned us not to go. This story is from a night camping in Veracruz.
After a day of riding, we rolled into a small mountain town in search of some dinner supplies. We got what we needed and pedaled away from town to find a camping spot. Unfortunately, we couldn't find many flat spots hidden from the road so we hiked up a little trail and, tired and already in the dark, decided to set our tent on the uneven terrain. “At least it is away from the road,” I thought. We set up the tent, cooked dinner, and we were soon inside the tent in the silence of the mountains. We were in a pretty remote area so we figured we were not going to have any visitors that night. I mean, who would possibly use this trail at night? Oh, how wrong we were. Around 8pm some voices in the distance broke the silence. Steps were approaching and the voices of two men were only getting closer to our tent. As a woman cyclist, in an area known for its violence, I was terrified. I was shaking in my sleeping bag, I looked at Jake and his eyes were wide open. He was frozen. There’s no way to explain how frightened we were.
Time moved fast and soon I heard the men whispering outside our tent. From inside the tent (and in his deepest possible voice) Jake yelled out “Hello!” The men remained quiet for a second. I could only think “The bikes are going to get stolen. I’m going to get raped.” Call this bias, call it trauma. From the inside we apologized for blocking the trail and the men went around the tent and left. Jake and I were silent for a moment. I couldn't speak. Soon after, we heard the sound of steps coming back and, again, I imagined the worst was going to happen. “Why are they coming back?” I thought in panic. The men approached the tent again and after a short silence, one of them said “Solo les queríamos ofrecer unos tamalitos, no sabemos si ya comieron.” I don't recall if I cried then or after but what they said was “we just wanted to offer you some tamales, in case you haven’t already eaten.” We thanked them many times and said we had already eaten. I think we were both still in shock, unable to accept their gracious offer.
Huascarán National Park, Perú (July, 2022).
Huascarán National Park, Perú (July, 2022).
7. What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced on your long-distance cycling adventures?
8. What advice do you have for others who are looking to get into long-distance bikepacking?
I can talk a great deal about gear, tire pressure, managing a budget, and other fun things but I’m a sensitive person and these types of adventures involve the full spectrum of emotions. So my advice is about feelings.
Dear new bikepackers: remember to be kind to yourself no matter where you are on your bikepacking journey. Our bodies are strong and capable and have been getting ready for these adventures for years. The riding will condition your body, but conditioning your mind may take more of an intentional effort. Whether you ride for the miles, healing, adventure or just for funsies, there will be times when things don’t go as you expected. Those moments are great learning opportunities, but they can also be frustrating and scary. Being kind to yourself when things don’t go as planned is important, so just try to take deep breaths and be aware of what’s going inside of you. Try to name what you need and, if you’re riding with other people, understand how the folks around you feel. Long-distance bikepacking under normal circumstances can be a challenge, but doing it in the rain as it’s getting dark after you’ve already been riding for 7 hours definitely requires some tools and practice! You’ll probably mess it up, especially at the beginning, but with kindness and intention, you’ll get better at it, and it will make just as big a difference as those hilly training rides you’re already doing.
Also, document your adventure! Take lots of photos and videos, keep a diary, record voice notes, etc. These are unique adventures and in the future, you will appreciate having some tangible memories of that time. I keep an Instagram account to share my trip with my family and community and it's been such a fun experience. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out. I’m always honored to share my experience and what I’ve learned through the years. Stop by and say hi, @molinandrea55 :)
Photos by Jake Dacks (@iiiiiiitsjake/@purobiking)