On September 21, 2015, after graduating from SFU with a degree in communications and sociology, Phil d’Entremont left Vancouver to go on what turned out to be a 678-day, 26,000-kilometre bike ride all the way to the tip of South America.
“I have no clue where the idea came from,” d’Entremont laughed in an interview with The Peak a month after returning to Canada. He recalled being fourteen years old, driving around in his mom’s Windstar and being struck with the thought. “I told my mom that, one day, I was going to bike to Argentina. It was the clearest thought I’d ever had.”
For nearly a decade, d’Entremont didn’t tell anyone about this dream. “It was like I was scared of it,” he said. What pushed him to make his secret dream a reality was the stories he heard in the bartending job he held after graduation. “When you work in a bar during the day you meet a lot of old people who are living with regret. And it hit me, ‘fuck, if I don’t make this happen, I’m going to be that old guy talking about the trip I never took,’” d’Entremont recalled. “It wasn’t a brave, courageous leap into the unknown. I was just trying to avoid regret.”
So d’Entremont stuck at a job he could easily quit — bartending — while he saved up and planned his trip. The goal was to reach the tip of Argentina, a place called Tierra del Fuego, which translates to ‘land of fire.’ It was the furthest he could go without having to take a plane.
When looking back at the beginning of the journey, d’Entremont described himself as “very green.” He remembered the day he left, when his friends and family had a going away celebration for him. He’d said goodbye to everyone and took off from the garage. “And I got to the end of the driveway, and realized I didn’t actually know which way the US border was,” he laughed.
That first night, he’d made it to Washington and camped out in a small field surrounded by a forest, which he almost burned down because he didn’t know how to work his stove. “I remember looking up at the stars and thinking, ‘what the hell is it that I’ve gotten myself into,’” he said. “That’s when it dawned on me, the enormity of the thing.”
But d’Entremont found that he quickly adapted to life on a bike. He’d wake up when the sun rose and sleep when it set. After packing up his belongings and making breakfast, d’Entremont would start the day by looking at a map and locating where he would want to go that day. He aimed to make 20–25 kilometres before a snack break, and then ride again before lunch. In Mexico and Central America, when the temperatures would rise incredibly high during the day, he got into the habit of taking a siesta. His ideal situation was to find a place to stay for the night by around three in the afternoon, so he could spend the evening exploring his surroundings and preparing for nightfall.
Oftentimes, d’Entremont would spend the nights in a firefighter station, hospital, or police station, since those were free and safe. But sometimes he’d be invited to stay with locales. He commented on how approachable the locales seemed to find him while he was riding through their towns and villages. “People come up to you and try to help you, they open up their homes to you and you experience a kind of generosity that I didn’t think was possible,” d’Entremont commented.
Living out of a bike tested d’Entremont’s resourcefulness and mechanical skills. The only luggage he could carry with him for two years was what would fit in his backpack and the bags tethered to his bike. He left on the journey with the bare necessities for camping out, and kept in touch with friends and family only through Skype and Facebook.
He also left with zero mechanical knowledge, and had to quickly overcome the steep learning curve to sustain his method of transportation. “I thought it’d be more just riding and having a chance to reflect upon bigger things, like my life,” he reflected, “but I was constantly concerned with little mechanical things.”
Weather was another variable that heavily dictated how d’Entremont travelled. He recalled biking through Central America during rain season, when the rain would come down every day at around two or three in the afternoon, and how he’d seek to find a roof before it started pouring each day. The Facebook page which d’Entremont used to update his friends and family on his journey — Gringogogo — contains pictures of his tent set up on the side of a road, with everything covered in snow. It’s captioned, “Could have sworn I felt a draft last night.”
Originally, d’Entremont had budgeted for a year of travel, but the time he originally allotted himself proved to be too little. In Panama, he ran out of money, and had to gather the rest using a crowdfunding campaign.
In between the logistics of mechanics, finance, and survival, d’Entremont underwent countless adventures. He spoke about how he fell in love with the places he visited and the people he met. “I’d be hopping into the backs of trucks and partying with families,” he said. One of his most vivid memories was when he took part in one of the fist-fighting festivals traditionally held in Peru on New Year’s Day to release the previous year’s aggression and start the new year on a fresh foot.
He had asked if “gringos” were allowed to fight, and before he knew it, he had been thrust into the middle of the ring and the crowd was going wild. “I’ve never felt something like that,” he said, “standing in the middle of the ring in a foreign country, not knowing who you’re going to fight, with 3,000 people cheering you on; it was crazy.” After putting up a good fight, d’Entremont and his competition gave each other a hug and drank and danced the night away.
D’Entremont welcomed these detours: while he had an end goal in mind, he knew that it was truly the daily journey that was going to make the trip worthwhile. Nevertheless, he described an anticlimactic feeling when he did reach the ‘land of fire.’ “[The significance] definitely didn’t hit me when I was down there,” he said. “Only now . . . the entire trip [is] starting to sink in.”
It’s only been a month since d’Entremont has returned home from his incredibly long bike ride. One of the biggest things he’s been noticing as he settles back into his life is a newfound appreciation for the luxuries he has in Canada. “Basic shit like air conditioning, indoor plumbing, roofs made out of wood: I’d never noticed all these things before.”
He also returned with a greater sense of possibility. “The most important thing to do is to run to the edge of your comfort zone and expand your ability to deal with the world — that’s my model going forward.”
Finally, d’Entremont spoke of how he returned with greater appreciation for his friends, family, and Canadian culture. “When I left, I felt like all those things were pulling me back in some way and preventing me from being me,” he said. “And so you go on a trip to get away from all those [things], and you find out those things were giving you life, providing you with a sense of meaning, orienting you, and giving you strength.”
Two years and over twenty thousand kilometres later, d’Entremont is settling back into life in Canada, having ensured that he won’t grow old without taking the big adventure he’d always dreamed of. His next adventure remains unknown even to him. For now, he’s just getting used to indoor plumbing and having a cell phone again.
If you have any questions for Phil d’Entremont, you can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.