Travel Principle #7: Don’t backtrack. Push on.

A good rule of thumb is to backtrack when you feel lost. But today there are maps for pretty much every place in the world. It is virtually impossible to get lost. Focus less on finding the simplest way to arrive at a destination and more on the depth of experience of the journey.

If you happen to miss a turn, carry on to the next opportunity to find your way back. If you have a chance to go back by the same route upon which you came or to forge a new path, seek adventure.

Always look to the horizon ahead, not behind. The journey is always ahead. The best adventures are always found in new experience not in past memory. Push on. Explore. Accept that whatever time you lost in missing a turn will be gained in new adventure.

A look at the road less traveled

Two Roads Diverged

Robert Frost once wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all of the difference.”

Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Regardless of your point of view, the commonality between these two nuggets of wisdom is this: movement. Both speakers referenced a mobility in life that brought them to a point of decision.

Sometimes we reach that “fork in the road” and immediately know which road to take. Other times we reach where the two roads diverge and we seek guidance and counsel or flip a coin as to which way to proceed. Some of us are inclined to take the road less traveled by. Others are inclined to take the one more traveled by.

Regardless of which road you take, press on.

The peak of the Andes Mountains separating Chile and Argentina

The peak of the Andes Mountains separating Chile and Argentina

The Long Road Down

Once I was fortunate enough to take the long road down the Andes Mountains. I was traveling alone through the South American continent led only by my desire to explore and to keep moving. After leaving the high altitude of Peru I found myself ill and needing rest. A long bus ride later and I was settled in the town of Mendoza, on the western border of Argentina.

I made myself lie in bed and rest three days. But restlessness in me stirred in each of those days. Fortunately a slow-moving rainstorm stifled most movement throughout the town and I could rest without feeling guilty for not exploring. But on the fourth day I was out the door!

In my days of rest I came across an adventure tour company that promised unique self-guided bicycle tours. All I had to do was rent the bike from them and they’d provide the map and the contacts for the journey. It was right up my alley, so I met the owner of the company, paid for three days bicycle rental and took his hand-drawn map to explore the countryside.

From Mendoza I took a bus west toward the Chilean border. My instructions were to notify the driver to drop me off at the last mile before the crossing. From there I could turn and face the Argentinian side of the mountain range and see a long, road down through the mountains. If I didn’t stop, I could make virtually the entire trip back to the city without pedaling.

Standing at the start of the trail to the top of Aconcagua

Standing at the start of the trail to the top of Aconcagua

The Downhill Glide

So I set my course and enjoyed a rare moment where you did not have to work to earn such a view. I did pull over several times, once in passing Aconcagua, the largest mountain peak outside of Asia. But my destination for the evening was a “refugio” among a working sheep ranch in the base of the mountain.

I made good time, speeding downhill of course in less time than uphill. By the time I nearly coasted to a stop and had to begin my pedal toward the refugio I referenced the hand drawn map the shop owner had given me. It said something to the effect of, “pass through this small town and take the third left down the dirt road for four or five miles.”

Those instructions seemed simple enough while standing in the bicycle shop. But once on the road they no longer made much sense. I recalled passing several towns of sorts. None of them had a name, but seemed large enough to possibly be the one I was to notice. And almost every road, aside from the main highway, seemed to be a dirt road that went on for four or five miles in each direction.

I was lost. Or at least I felt that way. And in a time where I did not have a cell phone or any way of communicating with the tour shop owner, it compounded my frustration. I was a long way from where the bus had dropped me off hours earlier. And the thought of backtracking was harder to consider because it would have been all uphill. But the thought did cross my mind to tuck my tail between my legs, so to speak, and retreat to somewhere more inviting. I let it go at that.

Fighting The Urge to Backtrack

So I continued to pedal forward down a road that was more gravel than dirt or pavement. It was a miserable ride, where the tires seemed to slide back and forth in the thick sea of tiny stones. I felt like I was working three times harder than I should for each rotation of the tire. The sun was setting soon. I was hungry.

My frustrations piled on themselves. I grew worried that I would not reach enough civilization to even find a bus ride back to Mendoza. My only hope at this point was to pick the next town I came across to be the “one” and take the third left down the dirt road until I found the ranch.

So I pedaled. Then I passed a town and debated cutting my losses and trying to find a ride back to Mendoza. I could backtrack. Or I could push on.

So I pedaled. Eventually I became so frustrated that I began to walk the bike. The sun was now almost entirely set and I was resigning myself to sleeping in the dry desert-like surroundings.

Should I seek the shelter of a tree, or a bush? What kind of animals would bother me? How cold would I get? Did I pack anything warm in my daypack?

The refugio, home to the Argentinian gauchos who took me in

The refugio, home to the Argentinian gauchos who took me in

A Cowboy Savior

As I was near the end of pushing forward a red Chevy truck pulled up behind me. A man, clearly a gaucho riding his truck instead of horse, spoke in Spanish a phrase I could not at this time understand. I had become better in conversing in Spanish in this, my third month of traveling through South America. But I could not understand and I must have made a face of giving up.

The man smiled and got out of the truck. He took the bike from me and threw it in the bed of the truck and pointed for me to do the same. The front passenger seat was littered with too much mess to move. I was probably undeserving of a seat at this point in the day.

I climbed up into the bed of the truck and took a seat between my bicycle and a dead and recently skinned sheep. It was good company, for the course of the day. Besides I had no energy left to form words of conversation.

The man drove for what seemed to be miles down this long, straight dirt road. The sun set in the meantime casting darkness on me and my companions. Some time later we pulled up to a small house with a modest water tower built into its side. Lights were on and I could hear voices, like television voices, chattering on in Spanish.

The old man let the bed down in the truck and helped me remove the bike. He then tossed the sheep carcass over his shoulder and led me inside. The house was warm and several men, also gauchos by their rough and dirty appearance, greeted me and one handed me a beer. We might have said something to each other, if only “good night” and “thank you.”

Riding with the gauchos: An unexpected reward for choosing not to backtrack

Riding with the gauchos: An unexpected reward for choosing not to backtrack

The Right Place

I was fed a huge portion of the night’s meal – lamb chops with a side of mixed vegetables – and led to a bunk-style quarter where I was shown my bed for the night. The entire time I did not think to ask them if I was in the right place.

It did not matter – to them or to me. I was in the right place.

I saw more stars that night than I had ever seen before. And the next morning I was invited to ride through a portion of the old Inca Trail with the gauchos. I was worse on a horse than on bike, but the experience was more than I had planned when I left the day before.

I still don’t know if I ended up at the right place or not. But I took the fork, a road less traveled, and it led me to more adventure than I could have imagined if I had bothered to turn back.


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