Leo, one bicycle
and the three Americas
We sat down on a videocall with Leo to know everything about
his 95 day, 16 hour and 57 minute record-breaking Crossing of the Three Americas,
surpassing the previous record by 52 hours.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of cycling through the Three Americas? What was the motivation behind this project?
A: I've always been passionate about challenges. Personal challenges. And this idea of crossing the Americas started in an attempt to show people that we can do great things, as long as we have focus, faith, discipline, determination and surround yourself with good people, who look and root for you and your goals and that's how the idea came about.
Q: And since when have you been working on this attempt?
A: I started planning the Crossing of the Three Americas in 2021. I looked at the globe, saw some challenges and discovered this Alaska (USA) to Tierra del Fuego (Argentina) route.
In June 2022, I tried to break the record but didn't make it all the way to Ushuaia. I hit pause on the first try but always had it in mind to try it again because giving up is not part of my vocabulary (laughs).
Q: Leo, tell us how old are you now and at what age did you start doing these ultramarathons?
A: Today I'm 32, but I look more like 20 (laughs).
A lot of people say I started out late. I think I started when I had to. I started when I was 27 and it was the moment God wanted me to.
I've been in the cycling world for 5 years and I've achieved a lot. A lot of people know me, brazilian companies, multinational companies. Sense & Swift help me, I have the recognition from important people in the cycling scene and for that I'm already very happy.
Q: How was the route you took planned? What was the criteria for choosing the places you would stop by?
A: On the first attempt I made some mistakes choosing the route. On the second attempt I thought "I am sure I'm still going to make mistakes, but I won't do the same".
The first time I suffered a lot in the Cordilleras with the cold, the altitude and the wind so I thought "I can't control this, so I'm going to do a longer route and go through the best country in the world, which is Brazil"(laughs).
In the end, everyone who said I was messing up went there and said "That's good, everything went well, congratulations.". To answer the question, this was the strategy I used, to try not to make the same mistakes as last year because I suffered a lot with the wind and the food. So that's how I chose the strategies and it all worked out.
Q: Did you navigate solely by GPS or did you have any other method?
A: GPS. But not in a rigid way. A bike trip like this involves a lot more things than just to pedal away. It involves country borders, sudden weather changes, hailstorms, storms and these are things that you have no control over. I can't say, for example, I'm going to stop to sleep in Santa Catarina because a guard might stop you on the way there, check everything on the bike and it might take two to three hours. That's why I don't make schedules.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced in this last trip?
A: The biggest challenge was everything off the bike. What bothered me the most was always things you have no control over such as guards, countries border controls, the bureaucracies, some tiresome protocols in some underdeveloped countries. Bribery and people unrightfully asking you for "fees" its something that upsets me a lot and these things take a toll on you. When I left home to undertake this challenge, I asked God to give me wisdom and promised myself to shun these bad things away. Now, on the bike, I would highlight Alaska as being a very tough challenge. It's a very cold and isolated place, where there's not a great amount of support. The whole beginning of the trip is complicated, but then you get used to it and it becomes sort of a routine.
Q: How many hours per day did you spend riding the bike, on average?
A: On top of the saddle, pedalling, around 11 hours and a half per day, but the elapsed time, from when I start the GPS and to when I turn it off, it. was about 14 and a half hours. Quite a lot of time.
People, Stories & Landscapes
Q: Did you have any cultural exchanges or special moment that you hold dear?
A: Yes, yes. Already within Brazil, being such a huge country, there are some cultural differences. You go South and the culture is one thing, you go North and it's another. Now imagine crossing 15 countries, which is what I did. Every country is different, a different culture, different laws, different animals, different nature, different food. Everything is different and it's a very enriching experience for those making this trip, we're able to absorb a lot of things. Culturally, I highlight the countries of North America, which are very different from Central and South America. The United States and Canada are like Europe, they are countries in which you feel safe. I slept in a tent, I didn't had to worry, I knew that if I left a 'candle' outside, the next day it would still be there. But when you get to Mexico and Brazil, it's a completely different story.
Q: Do you have any friendship stories you made along the way? Someone who perhaps has been following you or someone you met in any of your stops that you kept in touch with afterwards?
A: Yes, I've had several but I would highlight a strong interaction with the great Garate, a Mexican friend who does his fair amount of travelling as well on motorcycle. We first met in Alaska, during my first crossing attempt. Then, on the second try, our paths crossed in Costa Rica. He's a great friend I made during this trip and we still message each other to this day.
Q: Any funny or curious story? Something that made you laugh then or that, in retrospect, makes you laugh a lot now?
A: There are some funny stories (laughs).
I slept a lot in a tent for financial reasons and just for a matter of autonomy. Sleeping in a hotel in the US or Canada is expensive, possibly around 200 dollars and, converting that in (brazilian) real, its around five times more.
That being said, a memory that makes me laugh a lot today but was quite frustrating in the moment is one of my time in North America. Since it's very cold there, I had to pee and was too lazy to get out of the tent. So I decided, "I'm going to bring a bottle inside, just in case, so I don't have to get out of the tent". The first time I did this, I had a 300ml bottle, which if you have ever had a full bladder will know it's not enough. So I got going, the bottle filled up and once you are peeing, there's no way you can stop in the middle, so I wetted the tent. Telling the story now and remembering it is funny, but at the time I was angry with myself because I got everything wet, the smell in the tent was not pleasant and I had to stay inside the rest of the night, because of the cold. The next day I took precautions and got two 500ml bottles and from then on, everything was fine (laughs).
Q: Do you have memories of the beautiful landscapes you passed by? What was your favourite?
A: So. Canada is beautiful, the US is beautiful, but Brazil... Brazil just hits you different.
When I entered the Amazon (rainforest) and felt that smell, the voice of nature, that sound... Wow. It strengthened me a lot spiritually and physically. That forest has always caught my attention, it is a native and virgin forest. I've been there several times but the feeling never gets old. Every time I go I'm enchanted by that divine creation. Therefore, I highlight the Amazon rainforest. It's almost a paradox, to do so many kilometers for it be your favourite scenery but it's really the place I felt most happy, energised and very "in-touch" spiritually.
Of course, I can also highlight Canada, those beautiful roads and trees and even Alaska was a sight to behold.
What to take
Q: Now in terms of food, how did you dealt with nutrition during this trip?
A: We can't always get to eat what we want. In a challenge like this, you have little space to carry food. I ate most of everything I came across that was edible. The things I mostly carried around were cookies, fruit, hamburgers and then real food like rice, beans and pasta. Then when I saw on the map a gas station in the middle of nowhere, I stopped to resupply.
Q: Did you cook or did you always went somewhere to eat?
A: No, I couldn't cook. Space is limited on the bike and I had to prioritize other gear, such as the tent, electronics, clothing and ready-made food.
Q: So what did you take with you on the bike?
A: Camping material including a tent, mattress and a sleeping bag; bike tools such as patches, CO2 pump, inner tubes and allen keys; electronic devices such as cell phones, chargers, flashlights, headlights and the bike GPS; Then cycling and cold weather clothing, and a lot of food.
Q: You've already covered thousands and thousands of kilometers. Was this your first time major trip with the Univox?
A: The first big trip I did was right after I was given it by Henrique (Swift Bicycles CEO). I told him my plans were to go back home to Goiás on the bike, which from Belo Horizonte is a 700 kilometer route. Right then and there I realized I was on top of a Ferrari. I was used to ride an Enduravox, which is most like a Corolla (laughs). Not that there's anything wrong with the Enduravox but I just got the feeling I was well served to undertake the next challenges.
Q: What did you felt were the big differences about the bike?
A: I felt more stability, more comfort, but these are obvious things you'll feel when you go from an aluminum bike to a carbon one but it's very noticeable. You don't feel as much trepidation, it's more responsive to your riding. Also the lightness of the bike, the aerodynamics as well... It just goes farther, it responds better to the force you apply in it.
Q: What type of tyre did you use?
A: For this type of riding I do, the tire profile I like the most is one that is mostly slick in the middle, so you can pump them with some extra pressure and they will roll really well. Then on the sides, with some gravel tread, you can lower the pressure and have extra grip when you enter gravel and dirt sections.
Q: Switching from an Enduravox to a Univox, did you felt much difference in the tire clearance?
A: I said this to Pierre (Swift Bicycles product manager) since the first version of the Enduravox, I thought some changes were necessary and to be made. That first version had a straight seat tube and everytime my rear wheel came untrue or caught mud, it would rub the frame. But with the Univox I could even fit some 42mm tires, maybe bigger, which feels like an improvement.
Q: What do you take from this adventure? How do you feel now and what personal growth you take away, both from this crossing and the first attempt? What changed in the way you perceive the world?
A: My adventures go always far beyond the riding of a bike. There are always many pieces at play and I am very grateful to God for choosing me for this mission and many others to come. Every time I challenge myself in great adventures such as this, I always come away less ignorant, more edified and spiritualized, more tolerant and in sync with the Creator of the Universe. This whole experience, the crossing, the life on the bike and these experiences, brought me that peace, that patience, that resilience and wisdom.
Q: Léo, to finish this interview, we have two more questions: Where can people find you? And what message would you like to pass to someone who may read this interview and may be dreaming of doing something big for themselves?
A: People can find me on social media at “@leopedalandopelomundo”, just type it and you'll find me.
My advice to you is to do what you love. To me, above all things that could bring professional or financial returns, is personal satisfaction. In the end, it's what will make you happy because money and professional recognition are a moment in your life — it may even be a priority at a certain point — but let yourself bee carried away only by that.
Take life easier, be happy and don't focus on labels, numbers and titles because all of that lasts a day. The world best cyclist today may not be the best cyclist tomorrow. What matters is what you take away from the experiences you've had, the people you came across so take that into consideration while you live your day-to-day.