Highway One Diaries: Risk Beyond Borders
Bound_South is about the Americas in their purest form. We proudly call America, the United States, our home; yet this journey forces us to see the long American road between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego without the tinge of nationalism. This is especially true as we move to foreign soil and experience new cultures and communities. There are technicalities such as border crossings and language barriers and entry visas; yet in my mind’s eye I see the Americas and all of its roads and mountains and oceans and people, stripped of political complications. Give me a long road with empty spaces to fill our vision and kind people to fill our hearts. That’s it.
These invisible borders have consequences that cannot be ignored. The American media profiles the drug wars that rage across the US-Mexico borderlands. We’ve lately received quite a bit of media attention ourselves, culminating in a Los Angeles interview with the Agence France Presse, one of the world’s biggest news wire services along with Reuters and the Associated Press. Our story was picked up everywhere from Canada and the States to Brazil and Indonesia.
A great deal of the interview was concerned with Latin America and the perceived and real dangers that would greet us there. This mirrored the questions of countless people we had met since leaving Alaska. Our willingness to bicycle through Mexico, Central America, and the western countries of South America earns us a reputation for craziness; though riding a bicycle as far as we have is probably enough to earn the badge as well.
Riding through Camp Pendleton in southern California, we came upon a roadside memorial to a cyclist who had been struck and killed. A jersey, dozens of water bottles, and various cycling objects were affixed to a chain link fence in memory of the tragedy. I shudder when I think about the thousands of vehicles that have passed by us since we left Alaska. Any one of them could end our lives with a mistake. All cyclists are aware of this; you control the risks when you can, but ultimately it is but for the grace of God that we do not go where too many do. David and I will never forget the most hair-raising part of our riding on this trip; it was on the Alaska Highway in the middle of the Yukon. An RV rolled by us at 70mph while we hugged the right shoulder. What terrified us was that the owner had forgotten to retract his step ladder that hung out the right side of his motor home like a crude scythe.
Memories like that attune you to the constant risks that face us on the road. We are not necessarily more endangered in Mexico or safer on a rural Oregon highway. We don’t leave our brains behind at border crossings. And we recognize in the pure image of the Americas without borders, there will be danger and beauty and goodness wherever we go. Riding out of San Diego and into Tijuana, we were on edge because of all we had heard since leaving Alaska. Yet we found that truckers were more friendly than any we had seen on the trip thus far. Strangers cheered us from the side of the road. Roadside litter and a more “interpretive” approach to traffic laws marked a clear departure from the rest of North America; not worse, simply different. We have begun a long road, bound south through this splendidly different Latin America.