JUNE 7, 2018 – If you happen to run into Josh Buchsbaum in some far-flung corner of the world, grab a chair and get comfortable. He has some good stories to tell.
The Marblehead native has dodged an active volcano in Guatemala while being guided by an inebriated man carrying a machete. He’s attended a cockfight in the Philippines with a 9-year-old child who was taking bets. The following day, he swam with whale sharks. He’s attended a fire dancing party in the jungle of Ometepe, off the coast of Nicaragua. He’s partied at Carnival in Rio. He’s spent a night in a cave. He’s seen a boulder the size of a mini-fridge fall down the Canyon de Pato in Peru. He’s biked around the salt flats of Bolivia and the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
And he’s not stopping anytime soon.
Right now, Buchsbaum is somewhere in Botswana, with the same companion who’s been with him through rainstorms, volcanoes, landslides, mudslides, miles of sand and dirt, and bioluminescent algae shimmering in the water at night: his bike.
For a great deal of his post-college life, Buchsbaum, 28, a Hillel graduate, has been biking around the world.
It all began at the end of his senior year as an engineering student at Rochester Institute of Technology. “A friend mentioned in passing that he and a friend were planning on cycling Europe that summer and casually asked if that appealed to me,” said Buchsbaum. “I booked a flight that night. After that, the rest is history.”
Though he was not yet a seasoned cyclist, he quickly became one. From May to August of 2012, he and two friends cycled through Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium. He was hooked.
In September of 2013, he cycled alone down the length of the West Coast, from Seattle to Los Angeles. From October 2013 to February 2014, he sped through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines. He spent three years working as a mountain biking guide and project engineer in Colorado, saving up for an even greater excursion. In March 2017, he was ready.
He and a British friend began at a Starbucks in San Diego, with everything he owned attached to his bike. This time he was headed far south to Buenos Aires, Argentina. For 11,000 miles, he rode through the deserts of Mexico, the jungles of Central America and Colombia, the rainforests of Brazil, and the Andes mountains in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. A year later, he finally arrived in Buenos Aires, where his parents, Shelley and Larry, met him.
He barely waited a month before crossing the Atlantic and getting back on the road. In April, he began his next expedition in Cape Town. Now in Botswana, he’ll make his way to the eastern coast of Africa all the way up to Cairo, and hopes to continue over into Israel.
Buchsbaum has become a seasoned professional in the day-to-day logistics of traveling such long distances in faraway places. He lives on $25 a day or less, and tries to cut corners wherever he can, attaching up to a week’s worth of food and water to his bike and camping just about anywhere.
“Accommodation is opportunist,” he said. “I’ve camped in the bush, in people’s yards, abandoned buildings, farmer’s huts in the Andes, caves … I’ve stayed in fire stations in Latin America and police stations in Africa.”
Buchsbaum was raised in a fairly observant Jewish home in Marblehead. He attended Hillel, went to Shabbat services at Chabad, and kept kosher. His Judaism has followed him through his journeys in often unexpected ways. In Guatemala, when his beard was at its scraggliest, a Jewish man approached him and began speaking Hebrew, assuming he was Israeli. Buchsbaum replied in Hebrew that he didn’t speak Hebrew, which only encouraged the man to continue speaking in Hebrew. Despite the stubborn language divide, the man managed to communicate that he wanted Buchsbaum to attend a Shabbat dinner at the Chabad of Antigua Guatemala.
“It was quite enjoyable and authentic,” said Buchsbaum, “albeit with a few additions of tequila and guacamole.”
He hopes to meet up with the Lemba in Zimbabwe, a community that claims to be one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, and see if he can find remaining Jews in Ethiopia. Once in Israel, he hopes to take part in a “bikepacking” race: biking with luggage attached.
Buchsbaum encourages everyone to follow his lead. “Adventure is a relative term, and doesn’t need to be a multicontinental bike trip,” he said. “But I encourage anyone to step outside your comfort level even slightly, to explore, and to broaden horizons.”