On August 18, 2021 all rides and adventures stopped for Iohan Gueorguiev. But his legend and spirit lives on in his videos and our fond memory of him.
While browsing the New York Times’ website in August of 2021 I came across a link to an article that immediately caught my attention. The link read, “Iohan Gueorguiev, ‘Bike Wanderer’ of the Wilderness, Dies at 33.” It was probably the combination of his odd name, his given title and the fact that he lived a short life that drove me to find out more.
In his short life, and in particular his last seven years, he rode over 60,000 miles, rode in 19 countries, climbed mountains, paddled rivers and experienced all sorts of discomfort, pain and pleasure along the way. Fortunately for us, he documented much of his accomplishments in a collection of over 70 YouTube videos which have had over 7 million views. His “See the World” YouTube channel was basically the travelogue of his adventures. Iohan was chasing a dream of biking from Canada’s Arctic Circle to the tip of Argentina. He almost made it.
Iohan was not unique in the adventure sport of bikepacking. But through his videos you would find that there was no one quite like him. He consistently held a positive and humble attitude as he would bravely move forward through snow, ice, wind, rain, heat, rough terrain and the highest mountains. His videos are evidence that he saw himself not as a super hero, but as a witness to a world we never see. Through him, we could vicariously conquer the harshest conditions, see the beauty on those backroads and meet the real local people (and animals) along the way.
During his last two years, Covid restrictions and logistics got in the way. But, at the end, it was the physical condition of obstructive sleep apnea which led to insomnia and then depression causing him to give up his dream and his life. His abrupt final end seemed like the ultimate paradox to a life that always found a way to overcome all obstacles.
Riding Into the Rabbit Hole
With my own experience cycling and touring on a bike, I was especially intrigued about his crazy adventures and the effect he had on others. I began pouring over one video to the next for months until I had followed his seven- year journey . From the beginning, he chose not to be the ultra-prepared, technical sportsman but to rely on on basic knowledge, a positive attitude, his intuition, friendly spirit and his ability to improvise in a McGiver-ish way. He became the “everyman adventurer” I so admired.
With no detailed plan he set out to experience the world, not to conquer it. Each trip over the years he would gain knowledge of bikes, tires, roads, weather, sponsors, photography, travel, native languages and native people. Starting with a basic GoPro camera and simple mountain bike in the Yukon he films the icy frontier and finishes his travelogue on a fat bike taking stunning drone videos of the high mountain desert of Patagonia and some of the highest peaks in the world.
The videos are not about him but about what he sees. Iohan shot and edited all the video while laying down a beautiful sound-track for each of them. They are a pleasure to watch, listen to and dream about.
The popularity of his videos and comments about his death seemed outsized for what he accomplished. Many, including me, felt like we had met him, or at least understood him. His many experiences with people and animals, especially dogs, are in those videos as evidence of a kind and caring person you could not help but admire.
The Butterfly Effect
There is a popular notion in chaos theory that some very small action can cause something great to happen called the “butterfly effect.” A story often told is that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings may eventually cause a change in the weather. I would like to think that Iohan is that butterfly for thousands of us.
His many followers vicariously lived an adventure by meeting him or experiencing his videos. I know that the hours of video I watched changed my impression of bike touring, the natural world beyond and the people we never get to meet, but wish we could – from the top of North America to bottom of South America.
I have no doubt that some of Iohan’s fans will embark on similar journeys, share friendships with others and take joy in the natural world around us because of Iohan and the work and experiences he left behind. The fluttering I hear is the sound of a bike pedal.
Lessons from another pandemic and unpredictable year. Being thankful for the good things that still happen.
A similar story was originally written a year ago as part of my Storyworth writing project. I'm updating it for our unique times in February 2022. These essays reflect personal thoughts that are written and collected to be passed on later to the family. I include this story in this blog to help remember and savor the simple and good things that we were able to enjoy and are often overlooked. As we work our way through another pandemic year in 2022, we are optimistic that the Covid Omicron variant is passing. But we still need to slowly adjust our behavior and come back to a "normal" lifestyle.
The writing challenge was to discuss, “What simple pleasures in life do you enjoy?” This question forced me to think about what I take for granted and yet value, even if they seem like small parts of my life. Unfortunately, you soon realize that many simple pleasures have had to be forgone or change over the last two years. You can find my thoughts on this same question a year ago here. Here’s to recognizing and enjoying them lately and again in the near future.
Hugging the Kiddies: Upgraded 👍
Throughout last year we made great progress, or so it seemed, until December 2021 when we had to change our behavior again! Still, there was progress – in spite of contradictory advice, vaccines, sicknesses, trial and error, minor emergencies, masks, and taking reasonable risk. No one in our family got Covid, even though there was plenty of it around us!
What that meant for me was that I gradually got to get back to a normal show of hugs and kisses to all my eight grandkids. Mary Ann and I are still cautious, often seeking news of local covid cases and at-home tests, all of which reduce stress somewhat. Probably the peak of the year was the summer season where we all got together at the Jersey shore, including our two newest members of the family: Maeve and Claire, who reached their first birthday unscathed by pandemic times. Its still not unbridled love and happiness but I’m grateful for what we have.
Live Music: It’s Still Alive 👏
While YouTube did offer some recordings and virtual streaming of performances, it was still nothing like being part of a live audience. Some concerts were held after vaccines became available and they usually required showing proof of vaccination or recent negative testing. Attendance at these concerts was often limited and sometimes attendees were spaced apart. But, it seemed that musicians and venues were ready to make up for lost time.
That summer MaryAnn and I usually played it safe and only occasionally dropped by Ruthie’s in Montclair for some live Blues played outside. There was ample room behind this juke joint and we were feeling good about the possibilities of overcoming Covid by the end of the summer. Here’s one of the very informal, fun and cool presentations of a musician we both like, Dean Shot.
On a whim, my son Ethan who lives in Lexington, MA, suggested I join him and his friend Andy at the Leader Bank Pavilion in Boston for a Wilco concert. Luckily, I was able to book cheap $29 Amtrak tickets from Metropark to South Station (one of the few benefits of this pandemic) and effortlessly traveled to Boston and back home within 24 hours! Besides getting to see him and his family, this was my first live large concert in years with about 3,000 fans in a 5,000 seat open air seasonal arena.
Maybe it was just the freedom to travel or the rarity of such an opportunity but the band and everyone there seemed to really appreciate being part of the event. The following video was a tribute to the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts who had just passed away two days before.
Over the last two years I’ve gained an appreciation of how hard it must be to be an artist, especially in a restricted world. We all need to show those that work for almost nothing these days that their efforts count. I’ve decided to actively click that pervasive “like” button or give a little to my favorite artists, like Sean Tobin, through Patreon and play a small part in helping keep music alive.
Riding a Bike: Born-to-Ride + Gravel 💪
I consider myself lucky that I chose cycling as my primary exercise sport, especially as I get older and especially in these times. Besides the obvious cardio workout, it probably is the best sport for a pandemic. Cyclist can chose to ride anywhere a road or path takes you. And, we, who are notorious for gathering in groups, can usually safely exercise together without masks because of the space and moving air between us. The Omicron wave, however, challenged even those assumptions last year. Donning a mask when we end a ride at our favorite coffee stop is not a big ask at all.
Born to Ride
I’ve organized a long distance (85 miles), end-of-season (early October) bike ride for several years called “Born to Ride” which wraps up the regular cycling season. After taking a year off because of Covid, our group managed to get the ride going again. The ride idea started about 10 years ago on a wave of Bruce Springsteen nostalgia. This year we targeted spots along the route from Ortley Beach to Sandy Hook and back that had some connection with Bruce. (BTW – We have no idea whether Bruce rides a bike. It always seemed like he should.) It was the highlight of my cycling activity for the year.
Over the last few years, a new popular trend has developed in cycling called gravel or multi-surface riding. When I had a custom designed Seven Cycles bike built a few years ago for my 1,600 mile Epic Ride, we chose a design that would allow touring and as a “cross” bike, i.e., a sturdier frameset that could ride well on-road and off-road.
Riding gravel usually means choosing a route that is primarily an unpaved dirt or gravel road. Where I live in Morristown almost all roads are paved. However, only 10 or 15 miles away I have discovered extensive areas of dirt roads, usually around farms, estates or wooded trails. Gravel riding is usually slower, bumpier and requires more attention. But the benefit is seeing and being in nature – and maybe best of all; little or no traffic. I hope riding gravel will add to my interest and options for cycling for years to come.
Walking: The Routine Exercise 🚶🏻♂️
Walking seems to be a good compliment to cycling and universally accepted. It’s low impact, anybody can do it and it adds a nice social element. Mary Ann and I have developed a daily routine of a one hour walk, usually in town, but sometimes on a trail. Walking is a great way to just get out of our rut and get back into the world. Interestingly, I notice more cyclists lately are also walking as a low intensity alternative exercise.
My history of leading the FreeWalkers, the long distance organization that I created over 1o years ago, is now a past fond memory. Although I have walked with them and will again in the future, these pandemic times have still limited my involvement which feels appropriate right now.
Sunrises and Sunsets: A Better Show 😎
There must be an explanation for it. Sunsets seemed to have been consistently outstanding this year, in particular this past fall and winter. The cloud formations and low horizon light have been stunning. It’s a welcome consolation for a trying year.
Gardening: Bumper Crop 🍅 🥕 🧑🌾
My community garden plot grew a bumper crop this past year. Most gardeners would agree that the weather conditions were near perfect. There was sufficient precipitation and seasonal temperatures. Insects seemed controllable. Lots of tomatoes and other vegetables. While cucumbers had a bad year for some reason, my grandson Jack’s sunflower seeds became the tallest plants in the whole garden with giant 18 inch heads!
Dining Out: Fun While it Lasted 🍝🦞🍔🍕
Over the past year, we gradually adventured out to restaurants where there was outdoor seating. By the summer, we had a few chosen spots near Morristown and at the shore where we felt comfortable enough to eat outside weather permitting. But by December, that seemed like a dream between the weather and the threat of Omicron, we have not eaten out in several months. We are now plotting our next meal, possibly indoors, as the threat seems to recently be reduced.
Short Hiking Getaways 🚶🏻♂️
Round Valley Camping
In the spring, son Justin, granddaughters Charlotte and Anna and granddog Arlo hiked five miles with packs for an overnight camping adventure at Round Valley Reservoir. It felt great to do an outdoor adventure again, especially with people you love and admire.
Hiking the Berkshires
In the fall, I managed to get away to Williamstown for a few days, hike Mt. Greylock (highest point in Massachusetts) and see a little bit of the Berkshires with my old friend Mike Kennedy. It was great to just get away, see something new and feel some freedom again.
Playing Handyman: Renovations 🔨🪚🔩🧰
It was well past time to renovate our master bathroom, particularly the formica double vanity. Many years ago when I was younger I enjoyed rebuilding kitchens, baths and other rooms in the house. Watching This Old House was the closest I got to a major construction project in decades. So, retirement offered an opportunity to see if I still remembered skills like plumbing, electricity, carpentry and painting.
Mary Ann found a great deal on a double vanity. After planning this out I got to demolish the current setup, install the vanity and rebuild a set of fixtures. Luckily the rest of the bathroom was fairly modern looking and only required minor improvements. It took a couple months to complete but came with great satisfaction. So much so that I recently switched the vanity in the powder room downstairs and refinished our farmhouse kitchen table. I had forgotten how much satisfaction you can get by doing a project on your own.
And a few other things…
In summary, I have a lot to be thankful for. Here’s a few more to add to the list of what I was able to enjoy this past year….
The benefits of upgrading to a new iPhone 13
The warmth and convenience of converting our wood fireplace to gas
The challenge of finishing jigsaw puzzles
Helping to build and share our ancestry roots with the family
Watching the grandkids enjoy and improve in sports
Reading other people’s life stories (shoutout to Bob, Loredana and Barb!)
Recording the family talent show “Live From Lavalette 2021” (sample below)
I recommend this book to my cycling friends and every father and son that I know. It’s a story of fathers and sons, a cycling adventure and the importance of family and community. Besides that, it’s a fun and fast read!
If life is a journey, then the best moments happen when we have the courage to take a different route. This is a story of a coming of age for three men. The author, Rob, convinces his dad, Stephen, to join him on a discovery bike trip through Italy with the goal of visiting their ancestral village, San Donato. Rob’s grandfather (“Papa”) is seriously ill and is near the end of his life. While Papa was part of a first born generation in the U.S., many of the people that settled in their Brighton neighborhood had come from the same village. Rob concocts the idea of a bike trip to understand Papa’s family background and vicariously provide a trip for Papa before it is too late.
While Rob seems to have a good relationship with dad, it’s obvious that Stephen is not your average father. He’s extremely independent, has obsessive habits and tends to love wild challenges, even at the age of 64. He also manages to commute to work on a “fixie”, which is a sure mark that he is already a badass cyclist. The image we get is of an aged-out hippie that is true to his core of beliefs who is a great father, but is not fully understood by Rob. With Papa slipping away and dad becoming a senior citizen, Rob sees the serendipity of the moment to enlist his father as his companion on a 500 mile trip from Florence to San Donato. As Rob says to Stephen, “We’ll go for Papa.”
While the experiences in the towns along the way are brief and somewhat interesting the real benefit is in overcoming the physical and mental challenges along the way. Once at San Donato, the revealing of the family history and the gracious hospitality there is an unexpected reward. Within a few days in the village, they have a change of perspective and a different appreciation for the importance of history and our ancestry. The village has a surprise story of courage and community during the days of Fascism that brings wonder and pride to both father and son.
I’ve taken a couple long distance bike rides over the past few years. Riding with others can be difficult because of the push and pull of each rider’s skills and conditioning. But, the reward is to discover more about that person, share your own personal story and to motivate each other. There can be no better pairing than father and son to benefit from this opportunity. Any son or father naturally looks back at the mystery of each other and desires at some point to know and understand more – even though that always has its limits. Each fact we discover inevitably reveals something about ourselves too.
The author has a casual style of writing which exposes a mixture of personal feelings and humor which makes for an easy and enjoyable read. The pace of the book and its subject matter is fast and complete as it goes from the start of the idea of the trip to its final conclusion and slightly beyond leaving a very satisfying ending.
An interesting article on a verrry long bike ride through rough territory.
Ah, brings back old memories of last year. I’m feeling like a poser compared to these riders.
“…most in their 50s and older, many from North America and Europe, and a third of them women.”
“It’s like when you discover something you didn’t know you could do; then it’s so funny to explore how far you can go,” she said.
“Ordinary people doing extraordinary things every day,”
“It really reduces your day to the bare necessities,” she said. “It’s a total reset.”
“I often tell my kids that cycling is very much like life,” Ms. Viviers, 56, a retired telecom consultant, said later. “If you see a hill, it always looks worse than it is. You just take it in small chunks.”