The hardest part of this journey is saying goodbye

Angelica Gutierrez unzipped the door of her tent and stepped out into the frigid morning air. It was late August, only three months into her bicycle…

Angelica Gutierrez unzipped the door of her tent and stepped out into the frigid morning air.

It was late August, only three months into her bicycle trip from Anchorage back home to Colombia, and already it was beginning to get cold.

During the night, the temperature had dipped below freezing and Gutierrez was surprised to find that the tent was sparkling with a thin layer of frost.

“It was like an igloo,” Gutierrez exclaimed as she warmed her hands on a cup of hot chocolate.

Since that August morning, it’s gotten much colder in the Yukon and the snow-covered roads make biking a treacherous undertaking.

But it wasn’t the cold that caused Gutierrez and her companion Claudio Alfonso to decide to hunker down in Whitehorse for the winter.

“When we got to Whitehorse we met a Colombian named Maria and her husband Martin,” said Alfonso.

“They asked us if we’d like to stay — to learn another language and spend a winter in the Yukon.”

The cyclists accepted the generous offer and were set up with a cabin, a car and a cellphone in case of emergencies.

It wasn’t the first time that they have relied on other people’s hospitality on the road.

Gutierrez and Alfonso have been on the road since May 2004.

“I’ve always liked to travel, but it’s difficult with the Colombian peso being so weak,” said Alfonso.

“One evening, a couple friends came over to my house and we were talking about it.

“One of my friends suggested we travel by bike and within an hour we had planned a trip across South America.”

Aside from being the most economical option, biking also appealed to the group’s appetite for adventure.

“We’re all pretty adventurous,” said Alfonso, who’s done a number of eco-challenges in Colombia and even one across the mountains of Costa Rica from the Caribbean to the Pacific.

During the next few years, Alfonso and Gutierrez visited every country in South America apart from Venezuela.

Gutierrez’s trip was cut short however, when she received word that her grandmother was sick.

“I was happy to return home to Colombia and see my friends and family,” she said.

“But one month (in Bogotá) was enough, I wanted to keep going.”

Gutierrez and Alfonso both had, according to the Spanish expression, “a little worm in their heads.”

They had the travel bug.

“After a few years, travelling just becomes a way of life,” explained Alfonso.

“You become used to moving and doing something new everyday.”

So the two jumped on planes to Tampa, the headquarters for an organization known as Cardiostart International.

The cyclists had met a number of doctors volunteering for the organization in Peru — providing free heart surgery for the country’s poor.

“We wanted to help them,” said Alfonso.

“I’m a doctor myself, and I know how important the work they’re doing really is.”

So, wearing Cardiostart jerseys and with plans to visit a number of fundraising events along the way, Alfonso and Gutierrez went north to Anchorage.

The travellers are learning just as much about themselves as they are about the countries they travel through, said Alfonso.

“We’re fighting to live out our dream,” he said.

“Our dream is to travel, to meet people and to help them if we can.”

“The important this is to go out and meet people,” added Gutierrez.

“In the end that’s what you remember — the people you met not the things you saw.”

And in Whitehorse, the Colombians are meeting plenty of memorable people.

“It’s like an exchange,” said Alfonso.

“But not with work or school — it’s an exchange of friendship.”

The travellers are learning about Canadian customs — what we eat, what we wear and what sports we play.

They’ve already gone skating on the Yukon River and hope to learn to ski as soon as the hill opens up.

“We’re learning how to live in sub-arctic temperatures,” added Gutierrez.

“But it’s so beautiful, I love waking up and seeing everything covered in snow.”

Every Wednesdays at noon, the two Colombians also go to the Elijah Smith building to share their culture and to speak with Yukoners who are hoping to practise their Spanish.

The spontaneity of their decision to stay in the Yukon has meant that they’ve had to apply for a visa extension.

If they don’t get it, they’ll have to leave in February.

That’s not so bad though.

As much as the two are enjoying their time in Whitehorse, that little worm is still scratching at their heads.

“We’re happy here, but we want to keep moving — if you stay anywhere too long you start to fall into a routine,” said Claudio.

“But when you’re travelling, everyday is different; everything is new and unique.”

“But it’s hard sometimes,” said Gutierrez.

“The hardest part is having to say goodbye to all the wonderful people that you meet — maybe forever.

“For example, when are we ever going to be able to be in Whitehorse again?”

But perhaps, they won’t have to return to Whitehorse.

Surely many of their newfound friends wouldn’t mind a trip down to Colombia next winter.

“Of course,” said Alfonzo with a grin.

“We’d love it if people came to visit. Our homes are always open to friends.”