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Liam Garner

“This is, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I’m so proud of myself.” From northern Alaska to southern Argentina, a 17-year-old journeys 20,000 miles to find himself.

6 days ago

Latest Post Liam Garner by Matt Keyser public

Shhhhhhhh….come in for a moment and see the boy. Please be quiet, though. He doesn’t want any visitors. We won’t be long. Heck, he may not even notice we’re here. That’s him in his bed, buried under the covers that shield him from the pain he’s ignoring as he mindlessly scrolls through video after video…swipe, swipe, swipe…passing minute by minute…hour by hour…until the morning sun shines through his window. It’s about six in the morning now. The awakening birds are chirping, cars are hustling out of their driveways, a trash truck rumbles down the street. Sighhhhh…that means it’s also nearly time for school. Ah, dear boy, another wasted night; another day spent dozing at school.

Liam Garner's bike route from Alaska to Argentina.

Why are we here, you ask, in this dark room with the many murals he painted on the walls? Well, truth is, the boy isn’t feeling like himself lately. For a while, quite honestly. He’s, ah, 17 now. Long, shaggy hair. Thin as a pencil. He’s facing a transitional period in life where he’s no longer a boy, not quite a man, and unsure of where he wants to go in life and what he wants to do. If only he could see his potential as he swipes, swipes, swipes through those videos.

His grades are slipping, you know? Oh, he once was such a good student. Straight As. Obsessive, really. He couldn’t bear achieving anything less. But something happened. It’s almost as if — ah, as if he stopped caring. Why? Maybe he’s tired. Depressed. Anxious. Listless. Maybe he has so much energy he doesn’t know how or where to direct it. Maybe it’s this transition into adulthood. You understand, right? College is right around the corner, where so many of his friends will go, but he has no desire. No, as poorly as school has gone these past years, he can’t bear the thought of spending more time in a classroom. Please don’t judge him for it. He has enough confusion and anger and sadness built up inside. He doesn’t need any harsh words. Nor does he deserve it.

What could you tell him about life, about what he’s facing? That it’s all going to be okay? That one day he will look back on this moment and know that the boy pulled through? He’s thinking about running away, you know. He has an idea: a grand adventure that includes breaking away from the hustle culture of Southern California, away from the concrete jungle that surrounds his home, and immersing himself in the craziest, most impossible adventure his mind can imagine. Maybe he’ll run away to the end of the world. Trust me, it’s gonna make you say, “Are you out of your mind, Liam Garner?”

Right now, though, if you were to ask him about it while he’s hidden here in his dark room, attention glued to his phone — swipe, swipe, swipe — as the morning sun fights through the shades, he won’t tell you. Because he’s not sure what his next move is. It’s either embarking on that wild adventure, or it’s — well…let’s not go there. 

Let’s go with the boy who lived.


Liam Garner at the start of the Pan-American Highway in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, on August 1, 2021. [Courtesy photo]

PRUDHOE BAY, ALASKA

Let’s start with that grand adventure. The boy held firm that he wasn’t going to college, so he did a crazy thing and booked a flight to Fairbanks, Alaska, after graduating high school. From there, he’ll take a 15-hour van ride north through the most desolate parts of the Alaskan wilderness to the Arctic Ocean. Why here? This is where the Pan-American Highway begins: a roughly 20,000-mile stretch of roads that connect the northern tip of Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina in Ushuaia (oo-swai-uh). Equipped with a bicycle, tent, and youthful determination, he plans to bike the entire route.

Are you out of your mind, Liam Garner?

No, actually. For the first time in — ah, who can say how long — he’s thinking clearly. Sure, he’s nervous. Wouldn’t you be if you were a 17-year-old with a 20,000-mile journey ahead filled with treacherous mountains, lonely deserts, hospital stays, and the occasional burglary? But this adventure is about so much more than focusing on the hardships. It’s also about breaking away from his phone and the constant barrage of social media. It’s about breathtaking views and unexpected friendships. It’s about finding himself — his true self. It’s about accomplishing a feat so grand that he can feel proud of himself — something nobody can take that away from him.

“I think a lot of times you can’t heal or get better when you’re in the same place that made you sick,” the boy says. “And for me, I was living for the first time. I don’t think I had ever truly lived yet.”

You know, the boy has always been an adventure seeker, a real high-energy kid, and the outdoors soothes his soul. There’s something about immersing himself outside, feeling the sun on his skin, a cool breeze blowing through the trees, the sound of waves crashing into the sand, the birds singing overhead, the way it all makes him feel good, the way it makes him feel healthy.

He joined Boy Scouts around the time he turned eight, his first real foray into nature, camping, and backpacking. And all that energy he used to throw into tantrums and defy his parents — “I was a real problematic kid,” the boy says — was redirected to summer camps with the wildlife on Catalina Island or hiking through the desert trails at Joshua Tree National Park. Every trip felt like Christmas.

His affinity for the outdoors grew more profound through the years. Between hiking or camping with Scouts, he explored riverbanks or climbed rooftops of buildings near his home for a view of the Los Angeles sunsets. By high school, he had a clear view: Spending more time in nature “is my goal in life. This is what I should be pursuing.” 

Liam has been drawn to the outdoors since he was a boy. [Courtesy photo]

Though nature helped, that doesn’t mean the other parts of the boy’s life were easy. He spent nights awake — swipe, swipe, swipe — and slept in school, which led to plummeting grades. He knew there was something wrong, but couldn’t pinpoint what exactly. All he knew is he wanted to get away. So, one day the boy grabbed his bike and pedaled 50 miles from Los Angeles to San Clemente. It’s where the boy spent time with his dad once a month, a trip usually made by car. He didn’t know about all the fascinating sights he was missing sputtering through traffic on the congested 405. 

But on a bike — well, he could see it all, soak it all in. He pedaled along the blue coastal waters of Orange County, through the palm tree-lined streets of Huntington Beach, in an oh-my-gosh amazement that this was all practically in his backyard. It’s then that he knew: biking is his therapy, the outlet that allows him to ride for hours, little by little expanding his grasp of Southern California. These days, he can tell you just about every mile. 

And then came COVID, shuttering the solace he sought. At first, he thought the whole pandemic thing was a joke, and he’d be back to riding through the SoCal streets in no time. But California’s strict stay-at-home orders kept him inside playing video games and doomscrolling for months. Yes, he had school, too, but it was structured so that he only had to attend class nine hours a week. With more time to himself, the boy began thinking of an outdoor adventure.

You remember those videos he spent watching night after night — swipe, swipe, swipe. Not all of them were so bad. Years ago, the boy found one adventurer, Iohan Gueorguiev, who documented his years-long journey biking from Alaska to Argentina. There, a seed was planted in the furthest depths of his mind. But he couldn’t just run off on some grand adventure. Not yet, at least. But there was another video from TikTok of a bougie Taco Bell in Pacifica. The wooden building sits on the beach with a full patio overlooking the blue waters of the Pacific, feeling more like a five-star restaurant than a fast-food chain. What if — no, he couldn’t. But what if. What if he biked the 500 miles there?

So, he did. COVID restrictions had lessened by this point. Enough so the boy could ride his bike up and down the steep California hills, through the fog and rain, and sleep in random campgrounds or sandy beaches. You know the funny thing about this trip? He must have passed hundreds of other Taco Bells on the way to Pacifica. But those weren’t the Taco Bell. And when he arrived at the Taco Bell — ordering a double chicken chalupa meal with a couple of burritos — he called it the “happiest day of my damn life.”

“This trip meant so much to me,” the boy said back then. “I experienced so many amazing things and people along the way, and I will never forget it.”

It wasn’t until after he posted his video series to Taco Bell that he heard about a book that changed his life: To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins, a man who biked 14,000 miles from Oregon to Patagonia. That seed planted all those years ago fully blossomed. So, while it may sound unbelievable that the boy finds himself deep in the Alaskan wilderness with a near-impossible journey ahead, understand that he’s been training and mentally preparing for this moment for years. 

As he stares at the metal building of the Prudhoe Bay General Store and the left-behind stickers of the hundreds who have come before him, he takes a black marker and writes on the wall: 

 Here I go into the wild 
— Liam Garner


Liam covered in mosquitos as he bikes the desolate Dalton Highway in Alaska. [Courtesy photo]

NORTHERN ALASKA

If the boy is ever going to reach his Ushuaia, he must first topple the Dalton Highway, a mighty 414-mile stretch of Alaskan nothingness. The highway is named after James William Dalton, a native Alaskan and expert in Arctic engineering. It primarily serves as a commercial trucking highway from the shores of the Arctic Ocean all the way south near Fairbanks. The highway is largely void of cell service, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels. It’s difficult enough to traverse as an experienced trucker — nearly impossible on a bicycle.

But remember, the boy is filled with youthful determination, and is dead-freaking-set on completing this journey. So, don’t doubt him, because he’s going to pedal through the mud and rain and mountains and forests and hellish mosquitos and grizzly bears. He’s going to live off peanut butter and tortillas, fresh berries he finds along the desolate road, with an all-too-heavy bike and a broken tent. Yes, two days in and his gear is already failing him.

But he made it! Of course he made it! All the way back to Fairbanks, all the way back to civilization. He stayed with a man he met in Prudhoe Bay — proof that you can find friendship in the strangest places. He showered in the Yukon River — his first in who knows how long. Though it was a welcome reprieve from the hellscape of the Dalton Highway, there are still thousands of miles ahead. And he’s concerned about crossing into Canada when COVID is still creating havoc and halting international travel. But he has to try, right?

He must! He must finish! But more importantly, right now, he’s focused on making it home to Los Angeles to celebrate his 18th birthday with family and friends. Any delay could jeopardize that. He pleads with Canadian border patrol agents during an interrogation to let him through. He even has a negative COVID test. Everyone in Alaska told him his chances were slim, but the boy finds a sympathetic agent who agrees to issue him a special immigration permit that’s good for four days in the country. Four days to bike more than a thousand miles to the Washington state line. You didn’t think this would be easy, did you?

 The boy has an idea. Rather than bike a thousand miles, he will hitchhike 300 miles to Southeast Alaska and take a ferry to Washington. No, that wasn’t part of the original plan, but during a trip this grand — during a global pandemic, no less — adapting is a necessity. Plus, he’s doing this trip for himself and not anybody else. So what if he has to abandon a small stretch? He’s 17 years old in the Yukon, in one of “the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.” How could he be mad? Eh, not so fast. While exploring, someone stole his bear canister that held all his food and toiletries. A burglary, right here in the middle of the Yukon? People had warned him about traveling through Mexico and Colombia, but the Yukon… come on, man! He finds himself alone with his bike and the nearest town 140 miles away with only two days left on his permit. Talk about kicking the boy while he’s down.


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

You didn’t doubt the boy, did you? Never once questioned if he would make it back to Alaska and find his way into the Lower 48? Because look at him now. Liam Garner cruising down the LA roads he’s biked hundreds of times. With every passing mile, he's finding that he appreciates life in ways he never has before. Like in Oregon when he cried tears of joy for the first time. After days of relentless winds and rain, the sun had just broken through, casting a clear view of the blue waters nestled in the forested mountains.

Speaking of Oregon, he also made a close friend by sheer luck when their paths crossed on the road during their two separate adventures. Logan Rekedal, a 20-year-old from one of the most rural towns in Minnesota, was biking the border of the United States. A biker near his age — what luck! Liam caught Logan on the road and the two struck a good vibe. They camped together that night and agreed to bike to California together. The two don’t know it yet, but they’ll postpone their plans to split later — Logan to head east to Arizona, Liam south to Mexico — and continue into Mexico together.

And then there’s Chloe. It’s funny; the two spent seven years at the same schools but never met — not that uncommon when your high school has over 4,000 students. It wasn’t until Liam began his journey that Chloe Zimpelman started following his journey on social media. She watched his videos and sent him a message. She told him he had a place to stay when he made it to San Francisco. Little did either of them know that a small invite would change both of their lives. Because soon, they’ll start dating: Chloe enamored with Liam’s free and relentless spirit; Liam thankful for a partner whose kind-heartedness caught him by surprise. When he finally made it to San Fran, she surprised him with an early birthday cake; he surprised her by staying in town for two extra days.

Liam at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. [Courtesy photo]

“Since the moment I met him, he’s been so open and welcoming and inviting,” Chloe says. “Everyone that he meets he wants to be their friend. And I totally felt that he has this excitement towards other people. And I’m just so lucky that I got to know him.”

There’s no denying being home is a welcome reprieve for Liam. He showers in his own shower. Sleeps in his own bed. Spends time in his own room. Logan and Chloe later join him and he takes them to his favorite spot in town to catch a beautiful view of the city. It’s also an opportunity to fix his tattered bike with its broken gears and worn brakes. He needs to replace his moldy tent and weathered sleeping bag. And he could use another toiletry bag filled with soap, shampoo, a toothbrush, and toothpaste.

There is a sad reality to his return if he’s being honest. During his ride from Alaska to California, each day brought him closer to home. This next leg through his mother’s homeland of Mexico, the heat in Central America, and the deserts and depression in South America will carry him further from home until he reaches Ushuaia. Understand, he’s scared.

“I wasn’t scared to go to Alaska; I knew I’d be back. But this is real, you know? I can lose my life doing this. And I love life so much,” Liam says in a video at the time. “But I know this is something I have to do to experience life. I just have to hope for the best and trust the process. So little time, so many things to do. But I have faith in myself. And I’m excited to meet all the beautiful people I haven’t met yet.”

Isn’t feeling scared for the journey better than not embarking on the journey at all? After a month at home, he and Logan ride south to Mexico.


CALI, COLOMBIA

Liam is in the hospital. No, no, it’s not that bad, all things considered. There’s a large gash on his face, his left ear is partially torn, and his shoulder is badly skinned. But he’s coherent and alert. They don’t call him Liam: The Impaler for nothing. Wait, you haven’t heard that before? It’s a nickname he gave himself back in high school after Vlad the Impaler, a prince from the 1400s who impaled his enemies. Liam has never impaled anyone, but he likes the menacing name. Perhaps it’s fitting at this moment: a man so bold will be damned if a hospital stint will stop him from reaching Ushuaia. But it hasn’t made his journey any easier with thousands of miles ahead. 

It was supposed to be a quiet, relaxing night in Cali, Colombia. It’s Logan’s last with Liam before flying back to the United States. The two rode up a mountain to picnic and watch the sunset behind the mountains. They’ve spent eight months riding together now. There was the chance meeting in Oregon. Liam’s birthday in Los Angeles. Visiting the world’s biggest Taco Bell in Guatemala — a stop that brings Liam’s biking journey full circle. And let’s not forget about all the nights camping in the most random places, reminiscing about the day’s adventures while building their budding best friendship. 

As night took over, the two sped down the dark mountain road back to their hostel when Liam hit a pothole that flipped his bike and sent him head-first into the concrete, ripping his ear nearly in half, gouging his face, and burning the skin on his shoulder. It takes him five seconds?five minutes?...who can say for sure?...to come to, but when he does, he has no idea what’s going on. Maybe he should see a doctor?

Yep, he’s going to need surgery to repair his ear, sew in the gash on his face, and clean up his shoulder. All at a time that Logan is set to fly home. The two have been together for eight months and now their goodbye is relegated to an awkward hug in a hospital?

“This is me and Logan’s last time seeing each other. Not the most exciting way to end it. But, um, this is it, bro. It’s been a pleasure,” Liam says in a video before giving Logan a one-arm hug. “I don’t even know what to film. I don’t know. In a hospital. It’s so f—d. It’s so f—d…

“I’ve been with Logan for eight months. I just wanted to have a last day. And, of course, I have to f—n’ get hurt. It’s like, I don’t even get to say goodbye to him. He’s leaving for the airport tomorrow and I’m stuck here alone. And that’s that. I just had to say goodbye to him right here. It’s just not f—n’ fair. It’s just really not fair. It’s just like — I don’t know. S—t just always happens. S—t just always happens on this trip. And I just can’t control it, you know? But, like, I’m going to make it to the end, no matter what. And I know that. But it’s just so f—n’ hard sometimes. It’s just so f—n’ hard. But I’ve been trying to get to f—n’ Argentina for 10 months now. And I only have five months left. And it’s not going to stop here; it’s just — this is another one of the hard parts of the journey. Probably the hardest. So I’m going into surgery tomorrow. I don’t really know. I guess we’ll see what happens.”

For the first time in eight months, Liam is alone. Alone in a hospital in a foreign country with no family or friends with no passport and no money because they were stolen. Alone in a hostel with only his phone and his bike, falling into a familiar routine — swipe, swipe, swipe. Is it time to call it quits?

He can’t! He’s come so far and endured so much. As much of the journey is about enduring hardships, it’s also about learning to barrel through the difficulties and prove to himself that he can do it. A month after his surgery, doctors cleared him to ride. Hesitantly, he climbed back on his bike and slowly pedaled ahead. Through the endless deserts and depression in Peru. Through the salt flats in Bolivia. Through miles of nothingness. He pedals on.


After a year-and-a-half and biking 20,000 miles, Liam made it to Ushuaia, Argentina. [Courtesy photo]

USHUAIA, ARGENTINA

Remember that boy from years ago, who lay isolated in his room, buried under the covers, as he swipes, swipes, swipes until the sun’s wake? If only that boy could see himself now standing at the end of the world, where lush forests surround snowcapped mountains that disappear into the clear waters of the Pacific Ocean.

It's been 527 days since he ran away to Alaska. It’s a journey that’s carried him 20,000 miles across 14 countries. Liam Garner is no longer a boy who’s lost but a man who’s embracing life. His once-shaggy hair is now cut above his ears. He’s still thin, but stronger. His happiness radiates with every smile. He credits this journey with saving his life. 

“One of the driving things of my trip was to pick the craziest possible thing for me to set out to do,” he says. “Because if I did it — if I did something that people said was impossible — then the impossible would forever be achievable in my mind for the rest of my life.

“People told me that biking from Alaska to Argentina is impossible. And I did it. And now for the rest of my life, I’m never going to have a limit to what I can do. I’m always going to believe in myself. I’ll always know that I’m capable of amazing things. I’m always going to believe in myself. I always know that I’m capable of amazing things. Because I tried something that I thought was impossible and I did it. And for the rest of my life, I’m never going to have a limit to what I can do.

“This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and probably the hardest thing I will ever do in my life. And I’m so proud of myself.”

Two days after biking into Ushuaia, Chloe met Liam to close out his journey. They’ve been dating for the past year and a half, even though they only met for the first time back in San Francisco. They’ve talked every day since. She’s served as his crew chief in planning new routes, helping find Logan when the two separated, and providing a caring ear when he felt down. They have their own adventure planned: a backpacking trip home from Ushuaia to Los Angeles, a journey that will take six months.

But for now, night has fallen in Ushuaia. Staring out over his balcony, Liam can’t help but think, “Wow, it’s really over.” He pulls Chloe close and the two dance with the stars shining brightly over the mountains that disappear into the ocean here at the end of the world.

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Matt Keyser

Published 6 days ago