Iohan Gueorguiev, ‘Bike Wanderer’ of the Wilderness, Dies at 33
A truck barrels through a blizzard down a road made of ice. The road is so far north in Canada that at 10 p.m. the sun still illuminates the …
A truck barrels through a blizzard down a road made of ice. The road is so far north in Canada that at 10 p.m. the sun still illuminates the landscape, which is empty except for a few trees clinging to snow-covered hills.
The trucker catches up to a figure riding a bicycle. It’s a young man in a puffy coat and goggles. “Where’d you come from?” the trucker yells out the window.
“Ontario, but I’m going to Argentina,” the biker says.
“On your bike?” the trucker asks.
“Yeah!” the biker replies.
“Oh man,” says the trucker. “I love you!”
The scene began the first of 72 videos released by that biker, Iohan Gueorguiev, chronicling his six-year trek to Argentina through a frozen-over ocean, deserts, canyons and forests. He discovered the grace of strangers and the companionship of wild animals, the glory of remote, untamed landscapes and an audience of nearly 100,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Mr. Gueorguiev (generally pronounced gyor-ghee-ev) died on Aug. 19 in Cranbrook, British Columbia, where he had been using the home of friends as a base for travel during the pandemic. He was 33.
The cause was suicide, said Matthew Bardeen, a friend who was helping to oversee Mr. Gueorguiev’s affairs. His death was announced on biking websites late last month.
Mr. Gueorguiev made his name overcoming challenges hurled at his body and spirit. He was a star in the world of “bikepacking,” long-distance bike travel conducted off main roads. Calling himself the Bike Wanderer, he stood out for his Beatnik-like romanticism about the open road, in contrast to the competitiveness of many bike jocks and gear heads.
Though Mr. Gueorguiev’s exact movements could be hard to pin down, it seems clear he spent from April 2014 to March 2020 biking from the Canadian Arctic Circle to its South American antipode, the icy mountains and valleys of Patagonia. It was not a straight path. Mr. Gueorguiev occasionally flew back to Canada to earn money planting trees, he said. While biking, he would get sidetracked by serendipitous encounters and eccentric trails.
“The biggest realization so far is how many people are out here and having the time of their lives,” he said in a video compiling highlights of his second year of travel.
He shot his videos with a simple GoPro camera charged by a portable solar panel. He would sometimes position the camera at a distance, making it appear as if he traveled with a cinematographer. He earned about $3,000 a month through the funding website Patreon and received bikepacking sponsorships, enabling him to exchange the basic touring bike he started with for one with fat tires designed for riding off-road.
However much Mr. Gueorguiev tried to cast the obstacles he encountered as part of a grand adventure, his videos showed genuine hardships. Headwinds on desert plains required him to take long breaks sheltered behind rocks and make a campsite in a stray shipping container, which itself shook from powerful gusts. He would go as long as 30 days without seeing a fellow cyclist and, when biking was not feasible, could wait two days on the road to get picked up as a hitchhiker.
A spirit of generosity helped him get by. “Hey, beautiful!” he called out to a large bear staring at him. When a tanker truck passing him on the road kicked up a storm of dust, he waved cheerfully in response. When he was running out of food on a particularly arduous journey, he nevertheless fed tortilla-and-peanut-butter sandwiches to stray dogs.
Mr. Gueorguiev found wonder in the harshness of the wilderness. “There is snow here nine months of the year, and I wanted to see the North as it truly was,” he said of his winter journey through the Arctic. He called the remote Dempster Highway in Canada’s far northwest “a world of blue ice and white sky.”
“His curiosity just carried him over and over the next mountain,” said Joe Stiller, whose biking gear company, BarYak, sponsored Mr. Gueorguiev.
That outlook attracted a following.
“I’ve lived vicariously through Iohan for years,” one reader commented below an article about Mr. Gueorguiev’s death on bikepacking.com. Another wrote, “My first bicycle trip changed me and my life forever and you were an integral part of that.” Logan Watts, the website’s founder, said it received record traffic the day the article was posted.
Iohan Gueorguiev was born on Jan. 20, 1988, in Bulgaria. He moved to Canada when he was 15, he said on his website. In his 20s he studied engineering for about two years at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Karlee Winter, a friend of his from McMaster, said his parents had sent him to live with an uncle in Canada in search of better opportunities.
Little information about his background was available. Mr. Gueorguiev’s style of living in the moment included talking little about his own past, friends and colleagues said.
His former roommate at McMaster, Matt Vukovic, said Mr. Gueorguiev’s decision to leave the university was motivated in part by his receiving a sponsorship and stipend in 2015 from the biking company Blackburn.
With the onset of the pandemic, Mr. Gueorguiev found himself stuck in Canada, unable to cross borders because of travel restrictions. His videos grew shorter, and he ceased appearing onscreen as an enthusiastic narrator of his own experiences. Abiding by social distancing guidance, he avoided his habitual short stays at the homes of new friends he had met on the road. In his online journal, he described biking in the cold for days on end and spending nights without indoor heating.
“I had big expectations for the Farewell Canyon,” he wrote about a scenic area in British Columbia a few days before he died, “but it was very empty, gloomy and void of all traffic.”
Mr. Gueorguiev had in recent months discussed feeling pressure about being unable to produce exciting new videos for his patrons, Mr. Bardeen said. He was also suffering from insomnia. “I think I can get some sleep when I’m dead,” he wrote in a suicide note, according to Mr. Bardeen.
Mr. Stiller said he knew from his own experience traveling through rough terrain how much Mr. Gueorguiev had left out of his cheerful videos — nights so cold, he could not sleep, and clothes soaked from pushing his bike through snow.
“That’s why he got such a big following,” Mr. Stiller said. “He seldom, if ever, portrayed the dangerous situations he put himself in.”
Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.