Peddling along a Mexican roadway, bathed in mid-day sunshine, a 29-year-old German dentist on a 19,000-mile adventure along the Pan-American Highway was about to experience the worst and most wonderful in people.
Without warning, a motorcycle carrying three men – one with a pistol, another with a machete – closed in. There’s no dress rehearsal for a moment like that, thoughts of life and death banging around your skull like a pinball machine.
Soon, Nikolas Goedicke was pushing and fighting and wiggling to escape the kind of situation that lacks a script.
When another vehicle pulled up, the men scattered. Two miles later, though, they jumped out of bushes along the road. Goedicke attempted to weave through the danger with the 160 pounds worth of bicycle and belongings.
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Then, he was hit by a truck.
There’s so much more ... Goedicke, bloodied from a deep wound on the back of his head, bluffed the attackers by reaching into a bag as if he had a gun of his own. There were the 20 stitches. There were plans delayed and a fragile sense of security, bruised.
The stirring takeaway for a man who parked his working life on a shelf for a solo, 21-month adventure on the seat of a bike that included two days in Coronado, another in San Diego and a stop in Carlsbad was the tidal wave of good that came before and after.
“I’ve met so many nice people,” said Goedicke, by telephone from Anchorage, Alaska, as he waited to fly back to Germany – and all those mouths full of molars. “There was the family (in Argentina) that killed a chicken for me, when they only had 10. There was the family (in Chile) that insisted I sleep on their daughter’s mattress in their little hut.
“It was just one bad incident. You only hear about the bad these days, it seems like. But 99 percent of people are good.”
That’s the lesson delivered by Geodicke and his bike, crisscrossing the southernmost tip of the Americas with legs churning until the majestic, snow-covered glow of Denali punched through the horizon.
Grab life while it’s at its most grab-able. Why wait for tomorrow, when those aren’t guaranteed? Jump on a bike and wind through the bears and bustle, seeing what the world’s brilliant buffet decides to deliver.
“I was preparing for a trip in 2011 and I came across this group discussing the Pan-American Highway (online),” he said. “You pass through every climate zone, different cultures, a nice cross section of almost everything you can see in the world.
“The moment I read about it, I knew I had to do it.”
When a doctor at the hospital that stitched up Goedicke heard about his ordeal, he invited him to live with his family for a week as he recovered.
“I was fed very well,” he said, laughing. “I think his wife wanted me to try every Mexican dish ever made.”
Along the way, he sat by himself on a remote Costa Rican beach as sea turtles came ashore and laid eggs around him. He swam with whale sharks in Baja California, marveled at humpbacks gracefully navigating Alaska’s Inside Passage. He climbed the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.
It was the planet, at the end of his fingertips.
“But it’s going to be nice to get up in the morning and know where the coffee maker is,” he said.
Goedicke spent two days with a friend in Coronado, awed when the ferry dropped him off near the USS Midway. He skipped a visit, because a budget that started at $20,000 was ballooning to the neighborhood of $35,000.
Costs rose because of an expensive side trip to the Galapagos Islands and electronics to document that trip that included laptops, tripods and ... a drone.
“You won’t find any bikes carrying a drone on a long trip like this,” Geodicke acknowledged. “When you do a trip that’s once-in-a-lifetime, you want to document it.”
One of the most head-scratching parts of Goedicke’s journey: He didn’t train for the grueling bike ride that waited.
“I did not really have time to train, because I was working full-time, learning Spanish and doing other things to get ready,” he said. “The last trip I took was 2011 (to Norway), but no major bike trips since. I know it sounds crazy, but I just got on my bike and started cycling.
“The mindset is the biggest thing. If it rains, you have to cycle through it. If it’s windy, there might not be any shelter and you might be six days from the next town. The physical part comes long as you go.”
Sometimes in life, the molars can wait.