On August 1, 2021, Liam Garner strapped a tent and sleeping bag to his KHS Zaca mountain bike and started pedaling south. While his peers prepared for their first semester of college, the 17-year-old from Long Beach, California, had another plan: He decided he was going to bike his way from Alaska to Argentina.
He would start at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States accessible by road. His goal was to reach the southernmost point of South America, Ushuaia, Argentina. His budget was $450 a month.
“I spent the entire month after I graduated just getting the equipment and then I left,” Garner tells CNN’s Tamara Hardingham-Gill. “It was really rapid. It wasn’t planned out very hard to begin with.”
Garner had already ridden from Los Angeles to San Francisco, a trip he documented on TikTok. Later, according to USA Today’s Eve Chen, he read To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins, which chronicles the author’s cycling journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and realized he wanted to think bigger.
“I hadn’t ridden a bike in over six months, and I didn’t even have a bike until the month I left,” Garner tells Insider’s Aditi Bharade. “It’s good to have blind confidence in yourself, sometimes.”
According to Insider, Garner’s mother worried for her son’s safety and had misgivings about the trip. The teen didn’t even let his father in on his plans until he was already in Alaska. Eventually, however, both parents became his “biggest supporters,” he says.
The trip was not without its setbacks, including multiple robberies, intense weather and one severe injury. At one point, after biking multiple days in a southern Mexican jungle with over 100 degree heat, he and a friend who joined a leg of the trip almost called it quits.
“[My friend] talked to me and said, ‘Hey, if it continues like this, and it gets any hotter in Central America, let’s just agree to take a bus because there’s no point in suffering,’” says Garner to NPR’s A. Martínez. Luckily, when the two made it to Guatemala, the weather had cooled and the pair continued on.
At another point, in Colombia, Garner hit a pothole going downhill and landed on his head without a helmet. “I just remember waking up covered in blood and I didn’t even know what happened,” he says in a series of videos compiled by BBC News. “I had to get over 40 stitches. They did plastic surgery to stitch my ear back together, and that ended up taking an entire month in and out of the hospital.”
Still, Garner has no regrets.
“When I was little, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s,” he says to USA Today. “I’ve always struggled in school and routine, and I think that was a really big part in why I’ve become so attracted to the idea of this big adventure away from civilization.”
Garner is a first generation Mexican-American immigrant, and he says the trip helped him connect with his roots. “My whole family is from Mexico,” he tells CNN. “So crossing the entire country on a bike and reconnecting with my culture and staying with my family and learning the language in the place my family is from was so deeply important to me.”
On January 10, 2023, Garner finally reached his destination, Ushuaia. He had biked nearly 20,000 miles through 14 countries over 527 days.
“I’ve biked through Mexico, Central America, Columbia, Peru, Ecuador, everything from there to here, and now I’m standing here at the end of the world,” he said in a TikTok upon arrival. “When I graduated high school I wanted to do something so absurd and incredibly unbelievable that if I managed to pull it off somehow, I would never be able to doubt myself again.”
Despite the long journey, he decided against taking a quick flight back to California. Instead, the cyclist is currently backpacking his way back home.