Bicycle Tourist Plus

Getting off an Amtrak train in Alpine recently, together with his trusty bike, was Filip Sokol (67), cyclist extraordinaire, who is unafraid of solo journeys through Mexico (or anywhere else). Sokol’s home is in Boulder, CO but he knows the Big Bend area from when he worked for Outward Bound in Redford in the 1970s. He launches his periodic Mexico trips from Big Bend, where he is close friends with Pilar Pedersen of Alpine and John Alexander in Lajitas. He could be described as a bicycle tourist but that label nowhere nearly describes the energy, passion and sense of adventure in the man.

Filip Sokol

Filip Sokol

The day after graduating in June 1964 from high school in a suburb of Chicago, he was off – hitchhiking up the Alcan Highway to Alaska, where he climbed a few small mountains. He remembers college at the University of Colorado (Boulder), where he learned rock climbing, and soon dropped out. He took odd jobs, developed an interest in Buddhism and peyote and, when he had saved enough money, headed in 1967 to the French Alps where he mingled and climbed with seasoned British climbers.

Back in Boulder, CO, he developed his woodworking skills and learned cabinet making, a livelihood which he still practices. But the call of the outdoors proved stronger, and he joined an expedition to Alaska where he acted as Sherpa to a photographer shooting Mt. McKinley. Next came a hitchhiking odyssey through Europe to the Middle East, where he remembers  the conviviality of  Arab tea houses, and on to India, for the ashram experience, and finally to Nepal and Afghanistan. He ended his round-the-world trip on the West Coast in 1970, and then hopped a freight train back to Boulder.

Next, he settled down and built a house for his father near Boulder. Then (1973), he developed an enthusiasm for white water kayaking, learned while working for Outward Bound in Redford for two years. More important than this new enthusiasm was his first experience in Mexico, hitch-hiking with a friend who insisted they speak only Spanish.

This was the first of many trips to Mexico, running rivers, hiking or biking, during which he learned to speak Spanish fluently and grow to love the country and its people.

Sokol + Bike

To earn money, he started a woodworking workshop in Boulder during the 1980s, and later took a job in computers. This phase ended when he got laid off, but he had saved enough money to move on to his next physical challenge – bicycling. He bought an air ticket to Costa Rica, then rode a bike to Panama. Happy in Central America, he joined Peace Corps in 1986 and taught in Nicaragua for a year. In 1988 he took a 90-day bike trip through Chile and Argentina, then as today, going solo.

In the 1990s a chance meeting led to a four-year job with a furniture manufacturing company in Antigua, Guatemala where his language knowledge and woodworking skills blended. It also led to his meeting in 1992 his future wife, Gerda Mix Holtmann, a Guatemalan of German antecedents. They were married in 2001. From 2001-2012 Sokol worked for a salary with the Boulder Woodworking Company while sharing a home in Boulder with Gerda. But he was not done with biking, not by a long shot.

Through the 1990s he undertook a succession of long-distance bike trips: through Europe to the Middle East (including twice across Sinai), through Australia and New Zealand, and, from earlier days, four trips through Mexico, north to south. He reckons these four trans-Mexico trips totaled 30,000 miles. He travels self-contained and minimalist, everything necessary for his trip being packed in four pannier bags, two each side of the front and back wheels, a bag just behind the saddle and a bag on the handlebars with camping stuff. When conditions permit, he sleeps on the side of a highway in a sleeping bag with bivouac cover. He talks with local people en route as often as he can.

His present, fourth, Mexican trip took him only as far as Gomez Palacio, Durango, but he faced constant cold weather and  lots of climbing through the Sierra Madre on the return route,  a total of 14 days in the saddle. On the phone from Boulder, reporting on his return home (in time to have his house warm and ready for Gerda, who was coming back from Guatemala), his main memory was not the cold or the physical effort but the brusque, impersonal treatment by US Customs compared to the warm, curious reaction of Mexican officials to this midwinter apparition on a bike. Asked about future travel plans, Sokol said: ” Health permitting, perhaps the high Andes.”







Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change

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