If you spend much time cruising Boulder’s 300-plus miles of bikeway, you’ve probably crossed paths with Ryan Van Duzer. Even if you haven’t, you might recognize the cheery local cyclist’s chiseled movie-star mug from his YouTube channel DuzerTV, where he regularly posts two-wheeled adventures from the Front Range and beyond to more than 168,000 subscribers.
The notably upbeat outdoors enthusiast, known affectionately as “The Mr. Rogers of adventure,” has worn many hats in the decades since getting his start on Boulder public access TV: travel show host, do-gooder and motivational speaker, to name a few. Now, with last month’s publication of his debut memoir The Long Way Home, the 44-year-old filmmaker and storyteller is adding “author” to the list. His new book chronicles a formative 4,000-mile bike odyssey from Honduras to Boulder, completed after the 2003 University of Colorado grad wrapped up a two-year stint in the Peace Corps following graduation.
“It’s exactly what I wanted it to be,” Van Duzer says of the memoir whose Dec. 13 publication was celebrated with twin launch parties at Priority Bicycles in New York City and Boulder’s own Full Cycle. “It tells the story of the adventure, but also tells the story of my time in Honduras and why it meant so much to me working with those kids.”
After two years of serving as “the easygoing big brother of the neighborhood” in the mountain village of La Esperanza — where the then-25-year-old helped secure donated cameras for a youth TV show and worked on fundraising for a new school — Van Duzer formed a deep bond with the local children to whom his new book is dedicated.
“The kids were my heart and soul. They’re the reason why I was down there,” he says. “Looking at these videos [during research for the memoir] of us dancing around, and their cute little faces, just brought it all back to light. I got to essentially relive it again.”
But all that reliving shook loose some tough memories, too. Taking stock of what would arguably become the most monumental personal experience of his life, Van Duzer says the two-year writing process behind The Long Way Home — much like the limit-pushing physical feat at its heart — often traced the thin line between pain and gain.
“The day I left, all the kids were sobbing, and their mothers and fathers were crying. I was finally leaving, which was very hard for me,” Van Duzer says. “I guess that was kind of a low and a high point in the same moment. I was sad because I was leaving, but I was also equally as excited to be starting this crazy adventure.”
The ensuing 86-day thrill ride takes up much of the frame in Van Duzer’s new memoir — but like the author himself, its sense of adventure springs from somewhere distinctly human and vulnerable. To that end, readers of The Long Way Home can expect a warts-and-all account of the cross-country journey that set the Boulder native on a path to become one of the most successful adventure YouTubers in the Mountain West.
“Sometimes I got frustrated, and I kind of forgot about that, because this was the best adventure of my life,” Van Duzer says of the 4,000-mile journey at the center of his book. “I kind of pushed away the negatives. But there were struggles.”
Among those struggles were the physical demands of the undertaking, and the gnawing sense that he had bitten off more than he could chew. Riding 80-plus miles a day was grueling enough as the mountain landscape of La Esperanza gave way to the rolling beaches of Mexico’s Pacific coast, but it was the northern leg past the city of Chihuahua where relentless winds, rain and plunging temperatures really tested Van Duzer and his riding partner Jeff, who met him about 1,500 miles into the journey in the Oaxaca resort town of Zipolite.
“It’s a tricky balance, because if you power too hard, then you’re gonna get sweaty, and then the wind freezes you and it’s just miserable,” Van Duzer says. “I remember hanging out in rest stop bathrooms when we were in the United States, warming up our hands and toes in the hand dryers — just freezing. That wasn’t as fun. But it was all part of the adventure. As hard as it was, it made it all worth it. It adds up to something when you do hard things.”
Van Duzer was already an avid cyclist when he set out on what seemed to be an impossible journey from Central America to his home in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, so he knew something about doing hard things. But he says the trip taught him a more fundamental and illuminating lesson, which no everyday bike ride ever could.
“I learned that people are inherently good. People in these tiny villages would invite me into their homes, very economically poor people, and they were so generous,” he says. “It was heartwarming every single day to realize how kind strangers can be.”
The kindness of strangers might have sustained Van Duzer through the most challenging parts of the trip — recounted in The Long Way Home through accessible, page-turning prose that invites readers along for the ride — but it was the natural beauty of his Boulder home that drew his monumental accomplishment into its sharpest relief.
“I’ll never forget seeing the Flatirons lit up in the morning sun. I had made it home,” he says. “There were so many times I thought, ‘This isn’t gonna work. I’m gonna get injured or something’s gonna happen, and it’s gonna derail this adventure.’ But I really made it, and seeing those mountains made me realize I was home. I was here.”
TWO WHEELS GOOD: The Long Way Home: 4,000 Miles from Honduras to Boulder is available now via Priority Bicycles.