Leaving Panama City - last journal entry - Central America - CycleBlaze

February 5, 2023

Leaving Panama City - last journal entry

Okay, if you’re just here just for the video because I hyped that up so much, feel free to scroll down and click on that: I had SO much fun making and editing this video!  No doubt my best video masterpiece ever (but to set expectations, I’m still a newbie at this!).  I wanted it to be entertaining, feel like a victory, but still feel like you are riding a bike as you watch this, so, hopefully you get that whole experience.

If you’re here for words of wisdom and insight, the please read on, and feel free to leave any comments on the video or journal, as this will be my last entry of this journal. 

But first, a little about today’s journey.  I took a few pics on the way to the airport this morning, capturing the sunrise and a few areas I had not seen yet.  Because, what would one of my journal posts be without pictures?  I had a new curve ball thrown at me at the airport.  Yes, even on the last day, things happen that I don’t expect, although at an airport, that’s almost a given I suppose.  I got my bike dropped off fine and it weighed in at 61 lbs – below the 70 lb threshold.  How I shaved 16 lbs in the box from the flight down to Cancun from home, I’ll never know.  I keep thinking I forgot something somewhere, but no, I just have a heavier carry-on Pannier with me, and left a heavy ruined Schwable Marathon tire behind.  Anyway, I went through security fine, then proceeded to fill up my water bottle like I aways do for the long flight, then sat down in the seating area next to my gate.  Then, an agent came through to close off the seating area and told everyone they had to go through security again - a complete duplicate security station right at the gate.  Why a complete secondary security check?  Was the first one not valid?  Are there things in the airport you can buy that they don’t want you to bring on the plane?  Who knows.  I think some other people in front of me asked and the agent just said “TSA”.  I was one of the first ones in line so I didn’t complain much, but realized I had a filled water bottle, and I also had a little bit of my Office Depot heavy duty packing tape with the metal cutting edge that I meant to throw away before I went through the first security point, but I forgot, so I just kept it with me, as I have to grab my bike box in Houston and drop it off again and figured it might need some repair at that time.  Just like the first security line then there was an agent checking passports and boarding passes and asked me if I had any liquids and I said that I did, but that I went through the first station with an empty bottle.  She said I could not have any water.  I protested to the point of making a bit of a scene, because I didn’t want to lose my bottle for the day, nor did I want to lose my place in line, all without any notification of this secondary security line and all.  I saw others in line behind me with the same water bottle situation.  Why didn’t they just have a dumping station for those who were not aware of this (probably over 90%)?  She didn’t want to hold up the line as I was explaining my logic, so she said I could go dump it in a bathroom and come right back to my place in line.  I figured that was the best win I was going to get with an airport security agent.  I came back and passed right through the x-ray machines, metal detectors again, with my packing tape, and all the other highly questionable heavy things in my bag unabetted (such as inner tubes, spare tire, combination locks, stainless steel mesh bag locks), as well as the clips on my shoe bottoms.   So, it is impossible to bring any extra water with you on this flight apparently.  As I looked down this row of gates, I noticed lots of other x-ray machines/ duplicate security stations as well.  Seems like a lot of money and duplication.

I’m posting this from my 7 hr+ layover in Houston.  No real drama at this airport.  Although, after waiting forever at the oversized carousel until nearly everyone else left the international baggage claim, someone pointed me to a large box in another aisleway some ways away.  There was my bike box in fine shape – no rips in the handholes like normally (though I did tape them all up to mitigate ripping).  Presumably, I will have made it home with my bike fine.

Okay then, Reflections on this tour:

 This was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I’ve done some pretty tough things too – everything from tough college classes to career issues/climbing to Ironman Triathlons, but this takes the cake.  The leap and amount of growth I’ve gone through is beyond what I could have ever fathomed.  I am truly a different man now.  There are a ton of experiences and talking points that shaped my transformation, but I want to focus on two outstanding ones: Greatfulness, and Growth/Accomplishment.


We have all heard that that happiness lies in being thankful for what you have, versus always struggling to have and consume more and more.  It is one thing to know this and try it, but it is a totally different thing to live it and be it with all your senses for eight weeks.  In our Western culture, we are bombarded with media of all types all the time with messages that we are just not good enough unless we purchase the latest products, are as thin as a linguine noodle, and as rich and famous as models and sports figures in the media.  The “temples” we are beckoned to worship are malls and stores that claim they are adding value to our lives with “sales” and objects that we must have to make our lives better.  Its all just complete lies and bullshit to our true human nature.  I have witnessed kids happy playing tag in the hot sun and kicking rocks because they can’t afford soccer balls, and they are laughing together and having fun.  They aren’t angry because their app malfunctioned or felt attacked by someone on social media when maybe it was just misinterpreted.  I witnessed families riding on motorcycles, carrying food and objects in a most precarious (of not dangerous) way to get it home where they can enjoy it like everyone else, not stressing to figure out how to get their 96” OLED TV home from Costco because they don’t have a pickup truck, or even using and UberEX.  I’m not saying that way of live is easy, and I’m certainly and not discounting the luxuries that we have and the ability to enjoy those things for those who work hard for such rewards.  But our culture just sets an expectation that is in most cases unachievable, or at least creates anxiety that is hard to reconcile or tame.  Well, I have come back from trip richer in every way – including financially, than I ever imagined. 

Let me explain it this way:  Most of us struggle to get more always – it’s our culture after all, but ultimately reach some equilibrium point of satisfaction (but perhaps not happiness) somewhere midway to maybe three fourths the way in the spectrum of life experience of standard of living.  That is, everything that we have truly lived and immersed ourselves into, from hotels that we stay in, economy flights versus first class, the age and brand of cars we drive, houses and neighborhoods we live in, etc., and even knowing all of that of our close friends that experience vicariously too – that defines our yardstick of our known standard of living.  We can’t really know what it is like to live like an oil sheik or someone who lives in a tent, as we just have not experienced that firsthand at all, so those standards do not appear on our yardstick.  So, unless we perpetually dread where we are in life – and certainly there are billionaires that are unhappy they don’t have more, we must find contentment at least somewhere on this yardstick, and I assert that point is somewhere between 50-75% from the lowest we know to the highest that we think we are possibly capable of.  And generally, we feel better and happier with a greater sense of accomplishment with each iota of progress upward on this yardstick, albeit accompanied with the stress and peer-pressures within our society to get there.  Now, stay with me on this part: What I experienced – lived, became, for an impactful eight weeks, was a solid, tangible extension of my yardstick to the left.  I learned that not only was it possible to be content or happy with so much less, but I was actually being one of those people in society experiencing that.  I walked to the store with my grocery bag, a bit disappointed that they didn’t have my granola bars I liked (nor a lot of other things), but found substitutes that satisfied me.  I didn’t have to drive back to my room, I walked back, like everyone else, enjoying the sounds of nature, and seeing the handiwork of people’s efforts in the way of homes and streets.  I was a local in the communities where families came together to support each other and kids laughed and played on toys we had 30-40 years ago (coin-operated carousels, small plastic cars you had to push around, balloons, etc.).  I bought food from street vendors who were there to give you an honest meal for an honest price, and not market it as a sale and deliver some minimum less (think of the bottoms of wine bottles).  And yes, plenty of food markets with flies all over the food.  It was like being transported and immersed in a different world, but I realized – you know, I could live this way if I had to and at least be content (if not happier)!  So, realizing my yardstick is now about 2 yards long now and coming back to where I left eight weeks ago, I’m now at 80-90% to the right end of my standard of living spectrum.  I’M RICH!!!  And I didn’t have to do anything to get any farther – no stress or anxiety or struggles with the Joneses.  So, the point of all of this: If you want to be financially and culturally rich like the people you know or fight to keep up with on the far right side of your yardstick, maybe you don’t have to struggle so much to get there, but just immerse yourself in an environment that grows your left side, and then you’ll realize how close you already are to the right end of your yardstick.  A trip like this is wonderful for implanting a new sense of gratitude in you.



I feel as if there is nothing in the world I can’t overcome after something like this, in any aspect of life.  I was in some pretty sticky situations – border crossings, dealing with a place to stay (including the associated amenities like ants, shower electrocution, noise at night), etc., but I overcame and worked through it.  Maybe not the best outcome always, but it taught me reasoning and situational awareness skills that cannot be learned in any other way but firsthand experience. 

But why bother with doing anything like this though if happiness comes from within and all we have to do is just Zen out and be grateful?  Well, I’m a firm believer in the six needs from human psychology:

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure 2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli 3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed 4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something 

5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding 6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others

A trip like this checks a lot of those boxes.  Hence my recommendation at the end of this.


Other thoughts that I’m bringing back, that I’m not sure how to file or categorize:

Paperwork is minimal in Central America.  Much of the time in hotels, it was cash-only, no filling out any forms, they never even asked me my name.  There were no release forms for Volcano boarding, hiking, etc. (although there was a bit more of that in Costa Rica and Panama).

People drive crazy here, especially taxi drivers.  Lanes in the road mean nothing, nor do stop signs, but potholes sure do.  Pedestrians are crazy as well.  Crosswalks (where they exist) mean nothing.  But somehow it all works.  Panama and Cost Rica are a little more like as we know it.

Everywhere I went, eggs are sold on shelves in stores – not in the refrigerator cases.

There are always at least two - usually three or more, soccer games on cable TV at any given time. 

I wish I could have taken pics of all the people waving to me, giving me a thumbs up, or shouting “good job” or cheering me on.  The good people I ran into gave me such a better perspective on humanity.  There is such an innate desire to help each other in Central America.   

I loved the 360 view and sounds of nature as I rode in my perfect pace.  The dozens of butterflies that floated over me (especially the giant Blue Morphos), the occasional Mayan ruin (that were all over the place really), new trees and stars I had never seen before, and of course the bird songs in the evenings that I could never even dream of those sounds.

For all the problems of our governments and society in North America and Europe, don’t take for granted the luxuries of being American, Canadian, or European, struggling in our humanity as we all do (it’s our culture after all).  There’s so much to compare that we don’t even think about from transportation on nice roads and highways to anything you could possibly want to buy in nearby stores to ubiquitous internet.  Everything seems to revolve around us too – news, television and movies (there’s always something on that is in English and American – usually MTV), English language, etc.  It's certainly not impossible to be happy down here, but it is just a harder life – the only one all they know though.  Kids start selling penny-knickknacks to foreigners at restaurant tables to help their families survive, then grow up to a teenager doing some type of farming or selling stuff on the side road (that is how the best years of their life is spent), school is not the greatest, common transportation is tough (even buses), it is hard to have access to the means to be able to stand out and just make a living – much less ever move to the right on your yardstick.  It is a high UV index (that most people don’t realize), and hot all the time.  If only we had tight family and community time like they do though.

Notwithstanding all my experiences and the great feeling of accomplishment, I still recognize and admire the efforts of people like fellow touring cyclist Helmut from Austria that I met in Guatemala, who was mainly just camping.  There are no limits to the level of human spirit and physical ability.  The only limit is between your ears.  Any big leap from what you are used to is going to be profound.

Since it is a common thought or question, some may wonder what the single most incredible, memorable moment was for me on this tour.  There were so many wonderful experiences really, but the one experience that was head and shoulders above the rest for me was swimming with bioluminescence in Costa Rica.

Were there any things I didn’t enjoy?  I got tired of the diesel smoke, and smell of dead animals, but like how any food tasted when you’re starved at the end of the day, it made you appreciate the finer things more. 

My Wish for you:

There was a local tour driver in the bike shop in Jaco, CR who introduced himself to me and asked about my journey.  I told him my whole story and that this may get extended to the southern tip of Argentina in the future and he was just in awe and said that I was his hero!  He wanted a way to keep in touch and said that he would love to go with me and that his is a real big cyclist (he is probably 10 years younger than me and, you know, it sure would be nice to have a translator for such a trip!), so he gave me his Whattsapp number.  I remember a long time ago talking to similar older cyclists on the road and hearing their passion and ambitions and I felt the same way, in fact I even mentioned to some the same thing – that they were my heroes.  My advice to anyone considering any life-altering leap like this: Be the hero you want to be!  Do not let the norms of life stop you.  The couple from Berlin that I took the bioluminescence tour in CR with actually quit their jobs so they could take this month-long trip.  Do not let money hold you up.  You can always find a way to make the budget work, but time and aging is all of our biggest enemy, as we can never get that back.  At the end, it will all be about memories and experiences and the contentment of living a fulfilled life.  Stop listing all the reasons why you can’t do something like this and turn those into questions about how you CAN make it happen. 

Don't move away from pain or fear or difficulty. It is the greatest way to grow and then what a feeling it is to have that confidence to do anything and everything beyond that. Fear drives growth. And we have to grow, otherwise we die.  So don't be afraid to do the things that scare you, to push through to the other side.  Once you do, it's like a bone that has been broken and has healed - it is now the strongest part of that bone. 

If you want to do something, but feel like you can't, then you must do it.  That may not feel very safe and secure, and it is not.  If you want a safe and secure life, go to prison.  Otherwise, you have to grow. Yes, of course there are risks. There are risks to all decisions of doing anything or nothing at all. You have to decide if the reward is worth the risks with any decision.

No matter how much you plan and research a trip like this, you’ll have an experience completely different than what you expect, which is what makes something like this so exhilarating.  

Final thoughts on Happiness:

It is said that the key to immortality is to live a life worth remembering.  I like to also think in terms of how much life left in your days, not how many days you have left in life.  Use what you have now to experience this wonderful life.  Make plans every day to do something new.  Something that scares you. Something that will make you grow.  I also really liked the sign from my hotel at Montezuma Beach in Costa Rica, that I will leave as a picture at the very bottom below. 

That about covers it.

Thanks again so much for riding along with me!  I hope you experienced even a fraction of everything I took from this trip.  If you are debating a similar long journey, or think you’d like ride in my tracks and maybe are on the fence about doing and have any questions about how, or security concerns, language barriers, or whatever, please feel free to reach out to me.

May God bless you, and keep the wind at your back!

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Headed out of the hotel this morning!
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A few new scenery pics on the way to the airport that I had not seen yet
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Just me an my bike in this taxi van
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Downtown Panama City high-rises - way in the background, close to being over the mountains of Columbia.
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The Panama Canal, about midway through the 50-mile journey. You can see some big tankers in there.
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The Atlantic side of the Panama Canal
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Arrived in Houston okay! I have to give the Houston airport credit for their Shimano artwork (in the background).
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My best picture of the trip as far as words to live by!
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One last sunset pic - this time from Houston!
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Bill ShaneyfeltIt was a great trip.

Thanks for faithfully posting, and for the nature shots!
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1 year ago