A Canadian Adventure Cyclist's Octogenarian Odyssey

Robert-Fletcher

Never to old for Adventure Travel

80-Year-Old Awarded the Guinness World Record for the Longest E-bike Ride from Alaska to Panama

A Canadian Adventure Cyclist's Octogenarian Odyssey - Meet Robert Fletcher, an Adventure Cyclist from Alberta. Active his whole life, Robert has traveled to over 100 countries. At 71 he cycled the length of India over 2.5 months and completed a 31-day trek of the Camino de Santiago. Then, at age 72, he was the second oldest person to climb Mount Kilimanjaro that month when he summited at dawn on Christmas Day. Robert has completed numerous international long distance cycling tours in over 20 countries. 

Where most might decide to hang up their adventure shoes at the age of 80, Robert decided to take the path less travelled and to tackle his greatest adventure yet. His quest, or should I say, his odyssey to set a new Guinness World Record for the longest e-bike ride starting in North Pole, Alaska, and riding for over 5 months and 14,000km to reach Panama City, Panama.

Meeting Mr. & Mrs. Claus at the start of the Octogenarian Odyssey in North Pole, Alaska USA. Photo credit Kim Voogsgeerd
Robert Fletcher (Centre) with his support team, Kyle Walker, Johana Pineda, Yiota Georgakopoulous, and Wayne Grover at the finish line in Casco Viejo Panama City, Panama. Photo credit Kyle Walker.

Canadian Adventure Cyclist's Octogenarian Odyssey. Is this Genetic?

What would possess someone to come up with the idea for a Canadian Adventure Cyclist's Octogenarian Odyssey? Well, it could be genetics. Scientists have found a gene (DRD4-7R) that they have dubbed the adventure gene. People with this gene love travel, discovering new places, embracing change and are often thrill-seekers. Naturally restless, these adventure seekers strive to live life to the fullest, no matter what their age may be. Apparently 20% of the population has this genetic trait. Therefore, it seems reasonable that Robert might be one of these people.  Either way, this sounds like an awesome genetic trait to have. 

Wondering if you might have the adventure seeking gene too? One way to tell is to assess your father's comfort with taking risks. With that, there is one more thing that you should know about Robert Fletcher, the Adventure Cyclist, he is my dad and apparently adventure runs in our genes.

Adding his Name to the Thrill Seeking Cyclists Board at Wolf it Down Restaurant in Nugget City Yukon. Photo Credit Kim Voogsgeerd
Living life to the fullest with Yiota teaching Robert a Traditional Greek Dance at a Rest Stop Near Whitehorse Yukon. Photo credit Kim Voogsgeerd

Who is Robert Fletcher?

To do something like this at 80, he must have been a crazy adventurer his entire life, right? He must have always been perfectly active and only ever ate salads. Probably, has never even had a nap on a couch long enough to become a couch potato. Well, the answer is both yes and no. My parents were always adventurous and even bikepacked around France in the 1970's. As is often the case, once they settled down into their careers and having a family the adventures changed too. The adventures became family ski vacations, running marathons, competing in triathlons, and traveling the world. However, for the most part he was a normal person, living a normal life. And even came home from work tired and napped on the couch. He also loves hamburgers and beer and doesn't care for salads. Once he retired, he became a Canadian Snowbird and spent winters golfing in Australia or touring Mexico. It wasn't until his 70's that he got back into long distance cycling adventures.

Evelo Bikes sponsored Robert's Octogenarian Odyssey. Photo credit Kim Voogsgeerd
Staying hydrated at a rest stop ;-) Photo credit Kim Voogsgeerd

Why Ride an E-bike?

Up until the age of 76, Robert was a loyal road bike rider. Sure, he had ridden an e-bike a few times and enjoyed the benefits of the electric assist on the uphill's, but he was a road biker for life. Or so he thought. In the fall of 2019, while riding a route he had ridden 100 times before in Costa Rica he had a bad crash coming down the hill. He smashed his helmet, knocking himself out, fractured three ribs and broke his pelvis. At the age of 76, this would have been a life-threatening injury of so many people.  Fortunately, having spent his retirement years being very active he bounced back in mere months. This is when he made the switch to an e-bike. During the height of Covid, he purchased an e-bike and spent the better part of 5 months social distancing by going on bike packing trips and exploring every corner of the province of Alberta, Canada. And he never looked back.
What is left of his helmet after the crash. #helmetsSaveLives Photo credit Robert Fletcher
3D X-Ray of his Broken Pelvis. Photo Credit: Janet Guthrie

Guinness Book of World Records Trip Inspiration

In a recent Adventure Seeker meeting our guest speaker, Wes David of The Fishing the Wild West TV Show said that we may never know who our adventures inspire. And, if we can inspire just one kid then it is all worth it. As it turns out, this is true for 80-year-olds too. Trying to think of a way to celebrate his upcoming 80th birthday, Robert knew that he wanted to do something different but wasn't quite sure what it would be. That is until he watched Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman's show, 'The Long Way Up' where the pair rode electric motorcycles from Argentina up to Los Angeles. This is when Robert, thought that he could do that too, but he would do it on an e-bike. He would complete the ultimate in birthday challenges and ride form Alaska to Panama. An idea that eventually became a Canadian Adventure Cyclist's Octogenarian Odyssey. As if an odyssey wasn't enough on its own, he banked on trying to break a world record, raise some money to buy bikes for kids in Panama and write a book while he was at it. Because, why not? Not to into believing in stereotypes, he also started a website, a blog, recruited his international adventurist support team using social media and even found companies, like Evelo an electric bike company to sponsor A Canadian Adventure Cyclists Octogenarian Odyssey.

There is no age Limit for Adventure Seeking. Photo credit: Robert Fletcher

Trip Planning

Robert previously rode from Alaska to Mexico City with TDA Global Cycling. However, this time he selected different routes, when possible, researched other people's cycling adventures, and spent months planning every detail. The most difficult part was planning the route through central Mexico because he couldn't find any information. With a van and tent trailer in tow, he also had to figure out all the border crossings and each countries requirements for bringing a vehicle in. One other challenge was figuring out how to charge an e-bike in the remote wilderness of northern Canada. That problem was solved with a generator and an inverter installed in the van, extra batteries for the bike. 

Robert's Team (Alaska to USA Border) from Left to Right; Wayne Grover, Robert Fletcher, Kim Voogsgeerd, and Yiota Georgakopoulous. Photo credit: Kim Voogsgeerd
Robert's Route Map. Photo credit: Robert Fletcher

Cycling Through Alaska, the Yukon, and British Columbia

The beginning of an adventure is always exciting and somewhat daunting. Add to it, a team that only just met a week earlier and plunk everyone into a remote, isolated, and cold part of the world with no WIFI and only wilderness camping - there are a lot of challenges to overcome. Fortunately, having experience under his belt, cycling was not one of them. 

Highlights of cycling in Canada through the Yukon and northern British Columbia were the abundant wildlife like moose, bears, foxes, and waterfowl. As well as all the unique places they saw like Jade City, BC, Nugget City, Yukon, and Messe Lake, BC. Additionally they enjoyed all the people they met along the way. Like two women cycling from Florida, and a fellow from Japan. They even met a guy who was walking from Argentina to Alaska with his dog and pushing his camping gear in a baby stroller. He had been walking for 2.5 years! That almost makes 5 months on a bike at the age of 80 seem reasonable. Almost.

Stopping to Look at a Moose. Photo credit: Kim Voogsgeerd
A Long Quiet Stretch of Road. Photo credit: Kim Voogsgeerd

80th Birthday Party in Newport Oregon USA

Our Canadian (northern family) and Costa Rican (Southern Family) along with some cycling friends from Canada and the USA all met up in Newport Oregon to cheer Robert on and to celebrate his birthday. It was our first time seeing each other in years and the first time our 'modern family' was together. Dad and his team spent a few rest days here enjoying the company of friends and family. Other than breaking the world record, the pressure was off because he no longer needed to make it to a certain place by a predetermined date. Now he was free to adjust the route and the trip as he wished.

Look who I found Cycling into Newport Oregon on his Octogenarian Odyssey. Photo Credit Janet Guthrie
A beautiful cake to celebrate an important milestone. Photo Credit: Janet Guthrie

Cycling in Central America

Cycling through Mexico and Central America gives adventure seekers a chance to slow down, to get off the beaten path and to discover the authentic culture of each place.  Venturing on the path less travelled, Robert had the trill of discovering areas of Mexico that are virtually unknown to most vacationers. All in all, cycling in Central America was beautiful, the people were hospitable, and they felt safe. Robert discovered amazing places well beyond the beach towns and all-inclusive resorts. In fact, cycling through every Central American country, he discovered the true nature of each place he visited. If you asked him now, he would say that his favourite part of his Octogenarian Odyssey was cycling through Mexico and the wonderful Mexican people. 

The People You Meet

The best part of any adventure are the people that you meet along the way. This is even more true when you are on your way to becoming famous for your Canadian Adventure Cyclist's Octogenarian Odyssey. Encounters ranged from a random person on a bikepacking trip seeing them ride by and shouting, "Hey! I follow you on Facebook!" To being pulled over by motorcyclists who recognized the Alaska-Panama sign on the back of the bike. To cyclists hosting you in their home in Alaska, that have cycling friends in Panama to connect you with. Since starting in North Pole, Alaska and ending the odyssey in Panama in December these two groups of newfound friends suggested using the trip to raise money to purchase bicycles for deserving children in Panama.

The Friendliest People

The friendliest people of the odyssey were the Mexicans. Some people saw a story about A Canadian Adventure Cyclists' Octogenarian Odyssey on their local news and came out to meet him on the road. Many Mexicans even wanted to support his odyssey by contributing whatever they had, sometimes it was giving him the money they had on hand and sometimes they gave water, fruit or even a jar of peanut butter from their bag of groceries.

With the stereotypes about Mexico that play on the news and in the movies, it is no wonder so many people never leave the all-inclusive resorts. Unfortunately, they are missing the best parts of this country, its people. Even the encounters with the police were positive. They bought them lunches, provided route advice, and even escorted them on the road so they could get safely out of town. In one town, near the Guatemalan border all the hotels were filled with refugees walking north as they waited for documentation so the Police Chief gave up his room in the precinct for a night so Robert would have somewhere to sleep. 

Russian Bikepacker

In the Yukon, Robert met a cyclist bikepacking across the Americas. He was from Russia and had been on the road for so long, he wasn't aware of the war going on between Russia and the Ukraine. They had a brief chat and wished each other the best on their adventures. Interestingly, my father is now on A Canadian Adventure Cyclist's Octogenarian Odyssey 2.0 through South America and which random cyclist did he meet with in Ecuador? None other, than the very same Russian bikepacker. They greeted each other like long lost best friends as if they had known each other for years. 

Refugees Walking North from Brazil

One of the most interesting stories was all the refugees they met walking from South America, through the Darien Gap in Panama and trying to get to the USA. Unlike what is often presented in the media, many of these migrants were from Venezuela and from Africa. The people from Africa were trying to make their way to a better life  and thought the journey walking from Brazil to the USA was better than trying to cross the Mediterranean. Regardless, they were all fleeing horrible conditions in search of a better and safer life. Many were making this perilous journey first, so could fly their families over later. Unlike their portrayals in the media, the migrants had money for the arduous trek. Because of this they often stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants. It is one thing to hear about things on the news and quite another to experience it in real life and to hear the stories from the people living it. 

Mission Accomplished - Guinness Record Holder for Longest E-Bike Ride!

It is only fitting that the journey of A Canadian Adventure Cyclists Octogenarian Odyssey be recorded. Robert decided to record his odyssey and to write a book, called Octogenarian Odyssey: Trading the Sofa for a Bicycle Seat. Hoping that his story might inspire others to follow their dreams, even in retirement. Somehow it is perfectly fitting that the same day he submitted his book to the publisher he also received notification that was the new Guinness World Records holder for the longest e-bike ride!

Mission accomplished, right? He completed his octogenarian odyssey, wrote a book, and set a new world record it must be time to hang up the helmet. Finally, the time has come to sit back and officially retire to a rocking chair on the front porch. Nope, not for A Canadian Adventure Cyclist who is only just starting his Octogenarian Odyssey. 

He is already one month into his Octogenarian Odyssey 2.0, Colombia to Argentina and if all goes well, perhaps another record for the longest e-bike in Antarctica. This year he plans on celebrating his 81st Birthday somewhere in Peru. Octogenarian Odyssey 2.0 will take place over 155 days from July 5 - Dec 15, 2023.

Guinness World Record Certificate. Photo credit: Janet Guthrie
Octogenarian Odyssey Book Cover. Photo credit: Robert Fletcher

One Final Goal

There is one thing left that is needed to make A Canadian Adventure Cyclist's Octogenarian Odyssey complete. If anyone out there knows Ewan McGregor or Charley Boorman can you let them know how they inspired an old guy from Canada to accomplish something great? And maybe ask them to send a short note to my dad please? It would make his octogenarian years, the best! Thanks in advance, eh.

A Canadian Adventure Cyclist's Octogenarian Odyssey

80-Year-Old Awarded the Guinness World Record for the Longest E-bike Ride from Alaska to Panama
Never to old for Adventure Travel

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Comments 8

Sonya Richmond on Sunday, 13 August 2023 15:24

What an inspiring and totally awesome story!! You have a totally amazing Dad! I am passing this story on to my own father, who is also turning 81, and who possibly gave me that delightful sounding adventure gene

What an inspiring and totally awesome story!! You have a totally amazing Dad! I am passing this story on to my own father, who is also turning 81, and who possibly gave me that delightful sounding adventure gene :)
Janet Guthrie on Sunday, 13 August 2023 15:56

Thank you Sonya. Your story of walking the total East/West length of the Trans Canada Trail is also inspiring. You clearly have the adventure gene too. What kind of adventures does your Dad like to do?

Thank you Sonya. Your story of walking the total East/West length of the Trans Canada Trail is also inspiring. You clearly have the adventure gene too. What kind of adventures does your Dad like to do?
EH Canada Marketing Group on Sunday, 13 August 2023 16:48

I was speechless after reading this. I am hoping that adventure gene is in our blood as well.

I was speechless after reading this. I am hoping that adventure gene is in our blood as well.
Janet Guthrie on Sunday, 13 August 2023 19:41

EH Canada Marketing Group it seems likely, that you might have the gene too.

I think it is really cool that one year later and on a different continent, that he happened to run into the same Russian bikepacker that he met a yearly earlier in the Yukon.

EH Canada Marketing Group it seems likely, that you might have the gene too. I think it is really cool that one year later and on a different continent, that he happened to run into the same Russian bikepacker that he met a yearly earlier in the Yukon.
EH Canada Marketing Group on Monday, 14 August 2023 00:24

Janet Guthrie I know right! Like what are the odds. It was meant to be.

Janet Guthrie I know right! Like what are the odds. It was meant to be.
Janet Guthrie on Monday, 14 August 2023 03:23

Serendipity. I think he was originally supposed to be making his way to San Francisco from the Yukon and then home. I guess he decided not to go home, can't really blame him.

Serendipity. I think he was originally supposed to be making his way to San Francisco from the Yukon and then home. I guess he decided not to go home, can't really blame him.
Diana Mohrsen on Tuesday, 15 August 2023 20:11

Janet, I so enjoyed this story about your father. The writing, the photos, it was a treat to read. Will you be in Peru for his next birthday?

Janet, I so enjoyed this story about your father. The writing, the photos, it was a treat to read. Will you be in Peru for his next birthday?
Janet Guthrie on Monday, 21 August 2023 12:38

Thank you Diana. Unfortunately I am not able to visit him this time.

Thank you Diana. Unfortunately I am not able to visit him this time. :(
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