The Road Less TraveledPrior to January 20, 2009 Nels Thoreson had been out of the United States on trips to Canada. Since then, Thoreson flew to Panama and began a three-month excursion that would take him through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico and back into the States, where he visited Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. Thoreson’s travels are part of an expedition called The World by Road.
By: Sarah Packingham, Living North Magazine
Prior to January 20, 2009 Nels Thoreson had been out of the United States on trips to Canada. Since then, he has been to eight other countries.
On January 20, Thoreson flew in to Panama City, Panama and began a three-month excursion that would take him through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico and back into the States, where he visited Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.
Thoreson’s travels are part of an expedition called The World by Road. “We are a group of individuals embarking on an around-the-world expedition dedicated to promoting awareness of the diversity of people and cultures of the world,” Thoreson explains. “Through adventure, education and interaction with aid organizations The World by Road challenges the traditional beliefs of our global community via the road less traveled.”
Thoreson describes the expedition as an intense, eye-opening adventure. So far, the journey has lasted over 26 months and the travelers have been to over 70 countries on six continents. They have traveled over 68,000 miles in two Toyota trucks, Thoreson says.
Although Thoreson was living in Colorado when he took off for Panama, he has strong ties to the Northland. He was born in Duluth, spent part of his elementary school days in Proctor and moved to Lake Nebagamon, Wis. when he was eight. After graduating from Northwestern High School, Thoreson attended the University of Wisconsin River Falls, but continued to keep his ties to the area close to his heart. “My roots are in the Northland,” Thoreson explains. “I’ll never forget that and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
His parents still live in Lake Nebagamon, his paternal grandmother lives in Proctor and his maternal grandmother recently moved to Lake Nebagamon.
Thoreson graduated from River Falls with a double major in political science and professional writing and then taught pre-kindergarten in Colorado.
He wasn’t entirely sure what he was getting into when he found The World by Road on Craigslist while looking for some side work. “I sent a whole bunch of information to them and got a response,” he says. “I thought it was a joke, so I researched their endeavor, found it was legit, gave a four-day notice to where I was teaching Pre-K and flew to Panama City, Panama.”
Since then, he hasn’t looked back.
The crew is currently on a break planning the upcoming leg of their journey. The next part of the trip will begin in Denver and head up north to Alaska. From Alaska they will travel across Canada and end in New York City.
“We will then finish the documentary and write a book, and then head out for a nationwide college campus speaking tour along with a film festival tour,” Thoreson says.
He also says that Thunder Bay is part of their route so plans are being made to host an event there where people, including Northlanders, can come and meet the crew and see the trucks they travel around in.
Although Thoreson has enjoyed most of his experiences on the road, he has one favorite memory he says he’ll always treasure – his time spent in the Chilamate Rainforest Eco-Retreat in Costa Rica. The retreat was started by a native man named Davis and his wife, a Canadian woman, named Megan. While with them, his crew helped Davis clear a trail into the jungle with machetes.
“I was in the lead hacking away at the thick underbrush with an old, gray-haired guide named Herardo,” Thoreson explains. “The rainforest was intense. It was a downpour, and suddenly Herardo stopped me. He sensed something, grabbed a stick, moved a huge leaf a little bit off the trail, and with a quick swipe took the head off a very poisonous snake. We became quick friends. When I left I gave him one of my shirts, and he said in broken English, ‘You’re my number one amigo, Nels.’”
Thoreson wasn’t making quick friends with just the natives he met, but also with the other members of his crew, including Craig Johnson. Johnson, 30, from Joliet, Ill., said Thoreson fit into the crew right away. “You make fast friends,” Johnson says. “And since then, we’ve become really close. He’s kind of a comedic relief. We’ve very different.” While Johnson spent three years living and traveling in Australia and New Zealand, the whole traveling outside of the United States gig was new to Thoreson.
“He brought a very open mind for the experience, but he was resistant to trying some of the new foods. He only eats peanut butter sandwiches and macaroni and cheese.” Thoreson says that the diversity of food was, indeed, the biggest struggle of his trip.
“I’m a simple man and I eat simply.”
But that doesn’t mean he didn’t try exotic foods. In fact, he did broaden his eating horizons, and one day spent around seven hours throwing it back up.
Still, his friends stood by his side. “I couldn’t imagine doing it without him,” Johnson says. “It’s the people that make the whole trip worthwhile.”
Thoreson’s favorite stop on the trip was Nexpa, Mexico.
“It’s a small, quiet beach town between Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast,” he explains. “We stayed in a rustic A-frame on the ocean, and passed the night away sitting by a campfire on the beach listening to the rumbling of the crashing waves. It was a tranquil and peaceful place that was a great break from the grind of life on the road.”
Although there is more traveling to be done, Thoreson has already realized the impact this journey had on his life.
“I just feel very fortunate for this great opportunity,” Thoreson says. “I think something like this comes once in a lifetime. I am forever grateful for all of the support, with many of those people living in the Northland.”
“I had three signs in my old classroom that read, ‘Explore,’ ‘Shoot for the Stars,’ and ‘Have Some Fun,’ and I’m doing my best to practice what I taught.”
The journey of Thoreson and the rest of the crew can be followed on www.theworldbyroad.com.