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Good Work

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Einstein_was_once asked about the origins of his theory of relativity.  He famously responded, “I thought of that while riding my bicycle.”  We think of a lot of things while riding our bicycles, whether they be humorous variants of 90s pop songs or probing questions of politics, philosophy, and religion.  These past days we climbed some incredibly steep, long, rocky, hot, and rainy mountain roads in Colombia.  At the time, all I could think about was how much work it was.  Strangely enough, I think that is a good thing.

The jungle road from our campsite outside Melgar.

Work gets a bad rap.  Vacations are supposedly where the fun is at.  At the beginning of this journey we all framed Bound South as some time off, a missed harvest, a gap year, at the very least a departure from traditional work.  I envisioned it as some kind of strange adventure-vacation for a good cause.  Time changes minds, however, and now I proudly regard every day of this journey as a job.  While my more industrious peers are earning hefty salaries as they design widgets, consult companies, or recklessly gamble with your retirement savings, I have an unpaid internship in bicycle adventuring.

Cows eke out a living on the steep mountainsides near Pitalito.

The job description is simple but demanding.  There is ample work and leisure, but both are ruthlessly scheduled.  Sleep ten hours every night in a tent, if you are lucky.  Rise with the sun.  Eliminate the terrifying insects that collect on your belongings.  Enjoy your oatmeal, again.  Ride your loaded bicycle at least 100 kilometers, regardless of weather, terrain, or other conditions.  Cover at least four degrees of latitude per week to hit Ushuaia on time.  Consume at least 4,000 calories a day to avoid withering away.  Meet and speak with interesting people.  Receive marriage propositions from beautiful South American women.  Decline them (for now).  Never turn down gifts of food or shelter.  Capture wonderful things with your camera.  Compress all of it into writing.

Sleepless, mosquito-infested, 80 degree humid camping is hard.

Six months in, this is a lot of work.  It is not always fun, but it is fulfilling.  This is an important distinction, similar to the distinction between happiness and joy.  Bound South abounds in the small joys of bicycle travel, but fun and happiness are far from guaranteed amenities.  Stress, homesickness, exhaustion, bitterness, and despair all creep in when these Andes rise up before you.  They sometimes cloud the clear vision of endless American landscapes or the quiet moments that we share with new families and friends.  Yet this is surely the work of Bound South, struggling against the mortal frailties of bicycle travel in order to see the human beauty of the Americas.  It is work that we strive towards against all odds, even when it isn’t fun or easy, climbing mountains with the same attitude that we used to pick rocks from North Dakotan farm fields.

A preview of the mountain roads to come.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. We travel, not just to see new landscapes, but to discover who we are. Here’s to the journey!

    February 15, 2012
  2. Ivar Fugle Nordhaug #

    Truly Inspiring!

    February 15, 2012
  3. Jim and Elizabeth Berg #

    Boys, So good to hear from you again…we hear your voices as we read here. Thank you to Doug and Sally for suggesting Psalms 34…read it tonight for devotions!

    I asked Grandpa, age 98, what his first big adventure was…he shared it was going to LBI in Minneapolis in the winters after helping on his family farm in the summer. Mom and I think of her time in Nepal…and my trip over to ask her to marry me. Your trip is similar but yet different.

    Each of us is guided by the same Conductor… We await your next post and look forward to seeing you in May.

    Mom, Dad, Marta and Grandpa O.

    February 15, 2012
  4. Shiela Rabe #

    Hi Isaiah, David and Nathan,
    Great to hear and see you are progressing on the journey. I plan on doing another piece for next week’s issue. I needed a few details from someone who is visiting family in Guatemala. Heard from them today so with your new post and photos I am good to go. Take care as you continue down the road.
    Shiela

    February 15, 2012
  5. Glad you are seeing the trip realistically. Travel is work- fulfilling work, which expands one’s viewpoints on a wide variety of life’s aspects.

    February 15, 2012
  6. Allison Stoltz #

    Hello gentlemen,

    We missed your letter this week, but enjoyed this post.

    We are wondering how you know where you are going? Do you have GPS?

    Where are you finding Wi-Fi in Columbia? and How do you keep your computer charged?

    What kind of terrifying insects have you witnessed? Can you take pictures of some of them?

    We are having another unusually warm week, but we’re not complaining. If it were the middle or end of March it would be normal not unusual.

    Hope all is well,
    Ms. Stoltz’s class

    February 16, 2012
  7. Deb Reed #

    Love reading your posts. Ya’ll are an inspiriation! Keep on keeping on…

    February 16, 2012
  8. Solveig Bentson #

    Hi Nathan, Isaiah and David:  your favorite auntie is finally writing to you.  I’m sitting here in Alli and Dean’s living room looking across at our new grandson, Benjamin, who just took his thumb out of his mouth and is gently falling asleep. Its like looking at you boys when you were his age.  What joys you brot to me.  I just finished reading your Feb 2nd post and I, too, had tears in my eyes and they keep coming.  I look at Benjamin and am reminded of a comment your dad made shortly after Ben was born “I wonder what great things he will do with those hands?”  Your dad probably had those same thots when each of you were born, never realizing those hands of yours would grip the handles of bicycles for thousans of miles and not let go of a great and marvelous dream come true.
    Yours is a journey we can only imagine.  Yours is a journey that pushes boundaries to their limits, and keeps going.  I love you with the deepest love an aunt can have (and this auntie has LOTS).  The tears are gonna start  again so will sign off for now. Love and hugs and God speed, until we meet again, Auntie Solveig

    February 17, 2012

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