Bicycle Touring: Not as Dangerous as You Think

Photo: Nancy Sathre-Vogel

"Isn't it dangerous?"  We hear those words all the time as we cycle from Alaska to Argentina and, frankly, I'm always a bit confused when I hear them. Dangerous in what way? What should we be afraid of?

Yes, what we're doing is dangerous. We could be hit by a car, bitten by rattlesnakes, die of food poisoning, or slip in the bathtub and hit our head--but then, all those things could happen back in Boise, Idaho too. Is there a greater chance of them happening while bicycle touring down in South America? No, I don't think so.

I find it ironic that we traveled 9300 miles and nothing happened. No incidents at all--unless you count the time Davy slipped on an orange while playing tag in the plaza in a small town in Mexico and sprained his wrist. We spent twelve months cycling around the USA and Mexico and were perfectly fine--but within two months of arriving back home to Boise we had two potentially life-threatening incidents.

John and I were taking a class at our local university and went on a field trip to visit extinct volcanoes in the desert south of town. We had asked permission from our instructor to take the boys, so they were running around in the desert while we enjoyed the lecture from our professor. And then we heard Davy yelling, "Daddy! Daryl's trapped by rattlesnakes!"

Sure enough, Daryl was standing, frozen, on a boulder with two rattlesnakes a few inches away.  Fortunately, John was able to carefully lift Daryl up and carry him to safety, but we considered ourselves very fortunate that he wasn't bitten.

A few weeks later, I was riding my bike home from school when a car hit me. I crashed to the ground and lay sprawled out in the middle of the road. By the time the ambulance arrived, I was up and walking and knew I was OK; I had pretty serious road rash on my arm and leg, but that's about it. Nevertheless, we knew it could have been a lot worse.

So I come back to where I was before; yes, something can happen on the road, but something can happen at home too. So far we've pedaled nearly 23,000 miles as a family in over three years on the road and have experienced two dangerous events while traveling--an encounter with a rogue bear who exhibited very un-bear-like behavior, and a collision with a car in Albuquerque. Fortunately nothing serious happened either time.

Have we just been lucky? I don't think so. I think our experiences are what one could reasonably expect to happen while on a journey like ours. From talking with other cycle tourists who have traveled in all parts of the world, what we have experienced is the norm. If someone does have a serious accident or is robbed at gunpoint or kidnapped I would say they were unlucky. 

I think it is important to remember that every one of the towns we pass through is home to somebody. People live in those towns and raise their children, and they feel it is perfectly safe. Why should Tegucigalpa be safe for Claudia and not for us? Juan feels secure in Bogota; why shouldn't we? Are we really any safer in Boise, Idaho than we are in any other town?

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