Johannes Preuß decided to make his first long-distance cycling tour a big one. Sure, he had gone on a few day-trips, shorter rides between his hometown of Meppen, Germany, and the university he attended 80 miles (140 kilometers) away. He’d even completed a three-day trek that took him to his sister’s place in Cologne. But the journey Johannes is currently on is an entirely different beast, and that beast is called the Pan-American Highway — a loose network of roads stretching from the Arctic to Argentina.

To save money for such a grand endeavor, Johannes shut himself away in a small town in the Austrian Alps, where he waited tables for a few months. Once his budget was secured, he returned home to Germany and turned his attention to more detailed preparation — countless hours of researching, acquiring, and customizing equipment, which included a new bike and specialized gear that would ready him for all possible weather conditions. Then, after all the calculating and packing was finished, he set off.

The tour generally takes about 18 months, and covers roughly 15,000 miles (24,000 kilometers) when it’s all said and done — an impressive feat to complete in a car, let alone on a bicycle. Though most of the cyclists who tackle this monster of a highway choose to start in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, Johannes decided to fly into Inuvik, a small community in Canada’s Northwest Territories, instead. To him, this choice would add extra adventure to the trip as he was forced to travel through extremely isolated territory along the famous Dempster Highway. But still, his eyes — just like any other Pan American cyclist — were on the finish line a world away in Ushuaia, a resort town on the southernmost point of Argentina.

Despite the inevitable rigors of such a notorious trek, there are those who try to speed their way through the cross-continental route with world records in mind. (For anyone curious, the current record was recently set by Dean Stott at 99 days, 12 hours, and 56 minutes.) But Johannes has never viewed it as a race. He rides 50 to 60 miles (80 to 100 kilometers) a day, and his primary goal is to simply arrive at each destination along the route safely, without letting his watch or calendar get in the way of the experience.

“Most of the time, I plan for the next few days, but not any further,” he explained. “Whenever people tell me to go to a certain place, I do it. Of course, you need to know where you can get food and water along the way, but that’s about it.”

This leaves the 25-year-old with plenty of room for spontaneous adventures, like when he made some new friends while traveling through the Yukon, another Canadian territory known for its unforgiving terrain and remote villages.

“I met a nice group of young people at a campground on the Dempster Highway,” Johannes recalled. “One woman gave me her contact information and told me that I should email her when I was around Prince George, and she would invite me to her parent’s place.”

It was over a month later when Johannes finally pedaled into Prince George, but his friend hadn’t forgotten him. He stayed with her family for two nights and left with gifts of food and even a little cash for his next campsite.

For someone traveling alone for the first time, these encounters are not easily forgotten.

“I would describe myself as a shy person, especially when I meet new people,” Johannes said. “But this has changed. Now, I approach people, talk to them — I want to hear their stories.”

Looking back, he speaks highly of his time in Canada, a country with rugged charm around every bend. Even after 70-plus days in the country, he’s still in awe of the landscapes and the general lack of people, how everything seems spread out but simultaneously close-knit and friendly. This has helped during the trip’s low points, when he’s been forced to ride through a wave a loneliness and longings for the comforts of home — for a hot shower or a bed.

But would he change anything about his experience? Not at all. Traveling by bicycle has proved to be an entirely unique way to experience a new destination. Instead of transporting himself by plane, train, or car, Johannes is immersed in his surroundings, moving through the main arteries of the country’s culture and interacting with locals along the way — there’s no hiding from it or from them.

”People react differently when they see someone on a fully packed bicycle,” he added. ”They often see me and ask what I am doing and where I am going. It is always a nice talk.” 

At the time of writing, Johannes is a little over two months into his ride and is closing in on the American border. To cross, he’ll take a ferry from Vancouver Island to Seattle, Washington, and stick close to the Pacific Coast for most of his time in the U.S., another checkpoint on his list completed.

So as he prepares to leave one country behind, he opens a door to another, and there’s plenty more to pedal through where he’s headed.

To keep up with Johannes’s journey, follow along on Instagram!