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Posts by David Berg

La Roca

We_met_Daniel in Las Palomes, a desert oasis in the Baja.  While chowing down on our peanut butter and jelly tortillas, he walked up to us, bags of crab in hand, hoping to make a sale.  We declined his product, but he persisted.  He spoke some English, so it was a good opportunity for both parties to practice each other’s language.  After explaining our background, cause, and plans for the Baja, he became ecstatic.  We had been planning to rest in Santa Rosalia, and he had just the right place for us to stay: La Roca, or The Rock in English.

Volcano in the distance

Two days later, after climbing between massive volcanoes, we descended into Santa Rosalia, a vibrant city nestled alongside the Sea of Cortez.  We knew that La Roca existed and that it was a Christian center, which proved to be enough.  Directions to La Roca led us to the outskirts of town, where we found solitude in the desert, fellowship among brothers, and a rock to rest upon.

The descent from volcano to sea

La Roca is a Christian Rehabilitation Center.  It is where men of all ages seek a second chance, new direction, and a place to call home.  Admitted men spend three months at the center performing manual labor and reflections, while also reading the Bible and relevant guidebooks.  They attend church twice a week, once at the center and again in the city.  We arrived just before the church service in the city.

This metal church in Santa Rosalia was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower's architect

Before long, we were crowded into a minivan headed for the city with three twenty-something’s.  Sitting three across on both front and rear bench seats, we made introductions.  They struck us as an edgy, fun and purposeful group of guys.  Though they spoke little English, we immediately found camaraderie with them.  Language barriers ceased to exist.  It was refreshing.

Soccer match in session in Santa Rosalia

The service was unusual for us (or maybe bizarre by our Lutheran standards). Hours of contemporary Spanish songs and booming sermons filled our ears.  Plus, a majority of the service was spent standing. Add a long day of riding (and our early bedtime) and you have three exhausted gringos.  We survived, and soon returned to La Roca, where we were introduced to our sleeping quarters.

These two boys walked cheerfully up and down this hill endlessly.

Like so many summers at Park River Bible Camp, the early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the bottom bunk.  As latecomers we had the privilege to sleep in a three creaky top bunks in the bunkhouse with the men from the camp.  Snores abound with ten men in tight quarters, but that was no matter for a few weary cyclists.  We were sound asleep in no time.

Schoolchildren collected Red Cross donations at this busy intersection all day.

The next day brought forth a delicious group breakfast, chores around the center, and a trip to Santa Rosalia, where we walked the town and found a restaurant with Wi-Fi.  I discovered an ardor for street photography and spent a large part of the day talking with locals and capturing life in the city (I chanced upon Daniel again, too!). That night we had one more meal with La Roca.  Crowded around two gigantic rectangular pizzas and a tub of warm milk tea, we enjoyed laughter and conversation.  Desert serenity and strong fellowship permeated the air.  Moments like this filled our time at La Roca.

Late-night pizza at La Roca

As we prepared to leave, the pastor told us we would always be welcome.  I often reflect on experiences like this and find excitement in the thought of return.  Like so many other experiences on this adventure, we found a place like home in a strange land, and for that I am thankful.

Mailbag Monday #5

Today_we_continue our Mailbag Monday series…

Dear David,

How are you doing?  Do you like riding so far?  my name is Gavin.  I like to drive 4 wheeler.  It’s awesome!  I like to drive fast on the 4 wheeler.  Where do you live?

Sincerely,

Gavin

Pasture fences forced us to camp under this highway bridge near El Cien north of La Paz.

Dear Gavin,

I am doing very well.  After a 14 hour ferry ride across the Sea of Cortez, we are on mainland Mexico in the city of Mazatlan.  We left La Paz on a massive cargo ship.  Hundreds of people, along with their vehicles (a majority of which were loaded semi trucks) rode with us.  Accommodations were limited, so many people slept on the open deck.  Aside from the fact that we pitched our tent near the railing on the port side of the ship, it was an ordinary night for us (except when the wind and waves would rock the boat!).  Many were envious of our accommodations, which rarely happens!

I like to drive 4 wheeler, too!  Sometimes I wish my bike had a motor and throttle.  Descending hills and catching a tail wind are exhilarating.  They often fulfill my need for speed, too!  Before leaving on this trip, I lived at home where I grew up outside of Starkweather, ND.  Now, I live as a nomad on the road.  Most nights are spent in our tent off the road in pastureland or local’s yards, and some are spent in homes when we are invited.  After countless nights in a tent on a small air mattress, I will always be thankful for the comforts of a bed in the shelter of a home. Thank you for your letter, Gavin and have a wonderful Christmas!

Sincerely,

David Berg

Mailbag Monday #2

TodayOweOcontinue our Mailbag Monday series…

 

Dear David,

I hope you are having fun.  Do your legs ever hurt?  Oh and by the way my name is Taiya and my dad is a farmer and we live on a farm and I have a brother and mom.  Oh and I’m a cow girl to! We have four hourses.  Rosebud.  She is 31 years old me her want to do bearlle racing I hope to become a famous bearlle racer and a country singer.  Oh and I love pets.  Ok that’s some things about me for you to know.  Now lets talk about you.  So do you like pets.  Do you restle with your brothers?  Oh and last but not least are you having fun?  And thats it.

Sincerely,

Taiya

Dear Taiya,

I’m having a blast! My legs hurt sometimes, but they feel very strong right now. A day or rest is the best medicine for tired legs. My dad is a farmer, too! Now, I don’t really consider myself a cowgirl… Rather, I like to think of myself as a cowboy, or even a bicycle cowboy! We have two horses on our farm. That’s wonderful! Keep working hard, and I’m sure great things will come. I love pets, too! We don’t have any with us, but I’m sure Isaiah or Nathan would go for a couple puppy dogs if they had handlebar baskets! Wrestling only occurs if one’s personal space is invaded, which happens from time to time. I’m having a lot of fun! Thanks for your letter, Taiya!

Sincerely,

David

This Day

Every_day_of_Bound South is a thanksgiving. Be it a simple meal, a warm bed, or an uplifting conversation, we can’t help but to give thanks on the road. To all those who have had a hand in any of these daily blessings, thank you. You are what makes each day so special to us.

Today is Thanksgiving, a holiday that reminds us not only to be thankful but to reflect on what we are so thankful for. Although we will not be feasting on turkey, dumplings, and mashed potatoes in North Dakota with family today (how wonderful that would be), we have much to be thankful for, including our health and safety, the stretch of road that has brought us here, the road that lies ahead, and the people that greet us on the road.

So much of what we do everyday revolves around people. Their experiences and knowledge are what makes each waypoint and destination so meaningful. And they are always helpful (thanks to all who have noticed our disorientation and given us direction!).  This is my first Thanksgiving away from family in North Dakota, but I like to think that we can share this day with our Bound South family, a family of kindred character that we’ve been growing since leaving Anchorage.

Minimalism

“Minimalism” might seem like a redundant concept to three men who can already hold their entire lives inside the panniers a bicycle.  Simplicity in how we pack, purchase, ride, and live is a guiding force. What we carry will go with us through all of our days and over all of our mountain climbs.  When you must carry everything, the non-essentials weigh on you both mentally and physically.  An unused ball cap is hardly a boat anchor, but throwing it all away proves to be good for mind, body, and machine.  Minimalism is a fitting philosophy for a trio of bicycle cowboys, so we make a habit of constantly reevaluating our needs.  Last week in Bend, we did just that.

Pile of non-necessities.

Realizing that we were all carrying some excess baggage, we attempted to rearrange our necessities into three rather than five bags each, and succeeded largely because we share so many essential items, i.e. tent, camp stove, spare parts. So, after purging the expendables, we are now riding without front panniers. Now, it may not seem that exciting to some, but it was a liberating experience for the three of us.

Stripping oneself of all decadence and nonessentials and being content with basic clothing, shelter, and food are humbling, but extremely rewarding. It’s an idea that will go with me on the road ahead, especially now that I’m lighter and faster.

Home on the Range

There_is_something startlingly familiar about the Palouse in eastern Washington. It’s not the landscape (we just said goodbye to the Rockies and it’s unlike anything we have seen thus far on the road), vineyards, or wineries. Rather, it’s familiar because it reminds us of home. Everything about it – the friendliness and warmth most small towns hone, agriculture, back roads to explore, open skies fit for sunrises and sunsets, home cooked meals of meat and potatoes, and so much more – seems to remind us of North Dakota.

Between Spokane and Walla Walla, we traversed rolling stubble fields of harvested wheat on dirt and gravel roads. Rolling along, we had plenty of opportunities to pick apples from abandoned farmsteads, wave to farmers working the land, and chat with country folk after their dogs chased us down. In the small town of Diamond, WA (a town very similar in size to Starkweather), we found shelter from the rain in a family’s garage. At times, I wondered where we were and why we were climbing some of the steepest grades we have seen thus far (on a mud-tracked prairie road, too), yet I felt at home.

As we ride closer to the Oregon coast along the Columbia River in the sage brush-covered desert land of southern Washington and northern Oregon, the Palouse, a gem in the Pacific Northwest, pulls me back. It is a place I won’t soon forget.

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The Yellowhead

The Yellowhead Highway of British Columbia and Alberta almost defies categorization.  Between the world’s largest fly fishing rod and a children’s costumed bike parade, the Yellowhead brought us a puzzling array of memories.  We left snow-capped mountains at the beginning of Highway #16 in British Columbia, sped across rolling pastures and farmland, were beset by heavy logging trucks on the highway’s narrow or non-existent shoulder, mowed lawns and picked apples on our days off in Prince George, and now leave the Yellowhead amidst glacial lakes and vast mountain ranges in Jasper National Park.

Mount Robson

Picking apples in Prince George

Every day is an adventure. We start some days with a destination in mind and others with nothing more than a direction (South, perhaps?).  The concerns of time and distance dissipate throughout the day as we meet friendly tourists and locals. Setting aside the time to talk is one of the most important lessons that I have learned thus far.

One of our hosts, Johnny, puts us down in his "black book"

From mushroom pickers to Mounties, we have met some fascinating people on the road with valuable knowledge to share.  Our conversations led to an powerful phenomenon on the Yellowhead: referrals. For a period between Smithers and Prince George, we had several home stays. Church congregations and folks we met would refer us to their friends and family down the road, which led to a cycle of home stays.  After returning to the usual routine of a small camp stove and tent, I know firsthand how magical a family’s dining table and guest bedroom can be. To all who have fed, hosted, or helped us in any way, thank you.

huckleberry "bear" pancakes!

Seven-Eleven's two-for-one dollar doughnuts + peanut butter + honey + granola = joy

Enduring the rain has been a challenge for us all, but we continually attempt to improve our waterproofing methods. We have begun to tie plastic bags over our boots and wear dishwashing gloves to keep our hands and feet dry. We certainly do not look “pro” with our new accessories (you would probably laugh if you encountered us on the road), but it sure beats being wet at the end of the day. After days of rain, days like today (the forecast calls for “abundant sun”) are uplifting.

As we ride closer to the U.S. border, I reflect over all that Canada has meant to us – the kindness and generosity of those we have met, the harsh weather, and spectacular scenery – and know that it will be missed.

I wanted to share one highlight from the Yellowhead.  After a grueling 150 km day to McBride, where we camped in the city park, we were surprised to learn that the town had planned a fall fair for the next day. At the time, we were particularly interested in the costumed kids bike parade so rather than leaving that morning, we delayed our departure so that we could take part in the festivities. Although we didn’t decorate our bikes, wear costumes, and ride through the parade, we thoroughly enjoyed the day’s activities. Conversations over coffee and doughnuts, singing for the fair, cheering on the young bicyclists, and watching a horseshoe tournament made for an memorable day and capstone for our time in British Columbia.

Our new friend, Pete "the Heat"

A Time to Talk

Less than a week ago, we came to a road crossing. We could have continued down the Alaska Highway but chose to ride down the more scenic and remote Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Since that juncture, we have experienced both great difficulty and unsurpassed hospitality and generosity. These recent experiences brought Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken“, to mind.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference

Heavy rain has brought forth some obstacles on the road ahead. Currently, the highway is closed to motor vehicles and crews are working to stabilize roads and bridges affected by mudslides. Uncertainty lies ahead, and that can be disconcerting.   The interruption of our riding rhythm and daily work is stressful, yet another Robert Frost poem comes to mind:

When a friend calls to me from the road 
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit. 

“A Time to Talk” reminds us that the people and circumstances around us might distract from our work, but their “meaning walk” through our lives and their friendly visits are what make the road so rich for us.  We are glad for the road we have taken, and we won’t let mudslides distract us from the magic around us.

What We’ve Been Reading

In our travels thus far, we’ve had much time at the end of our days without the distractions of phone or internet. So, we play cards regularly, be it hearts or cribbage; we sing church hymns or ’90s pop anthems or whatever comes to mind; and we read.  We would like to recommend our current reading list to you.

On our drive up to Alaska, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. In the fantasy novel, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a child, is Earth’s last hope in defeating an alien world threat. Utilitarian ideals abound in the novel and are ultimately challenged by Ender’s experiences. That, in addition to values of love and friendship, combine to make this a gripping novel.

I am currently reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It follows Jack on his quest for meaning and identity across North America in the late 1940s and early 50s. It’s a novel full of surprising and powerful on-the-road experiences. “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

Nathan is reading Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun.  It’s the story of a Norwegian man named Isak who ventures out to find a homestead in the wild and raise his family.  So far it is a testament to the cooperation of man and earth through his hard work and available resources. “Many things he had thought of doing. But hard as he worked, unreasonably hard–what did it help against time? Time–it was the time that was too short.”

Isaiah has read Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, a convicting jeremiad of the modern university and the liberal arts.   Bloom writes that, “Education in our times must try to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion.”  As it stands now,”There is no vision…of what an educated human being is. The student gets no intimation that great mysteries might be revealed to him, that new and higher motives of action might be discovered within him, that a different and more human way of life can be harmoniously constructed by what he is going to learn.”

Isaiah is finishing Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, a convicting exploration of the sciences of human nature.  If you are interested in social and evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, and the social sciences you will find this book incredibly rewarding.  It will inform your worldview.

High One Highway

Denali_means_“the high one” in the Alaskan native Athabascan tongue. It refers to Mt. McKinley, the massive peak that tops the Alaska Range in Denali National Park. It is a very fitting name for the Denali Highway, due to its impressive views of the Alaskan wilderness.

Alaska is massive. It’s more than twice the size of Texas and compared to the lower 48, it dwarfs the entire Midwest region (here’s a picture for scale). In addition, the U.S. federal government owns and manages 65% of the state as public land. This means more than half the state is comprised of national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. Believe me, it’s enormous.

Late evening view from the Denali Highway

We are currently into our second week of riding and we have seen a lot. In relation to the state as a whole, however, we have seen very little. Over the past few days, I’ve begun to comprehend Alaska’s vastness and its seemingly boundless grandeur. Traveling along the Denali Highway, we experienced a small and magnificent part of Alaska’s beauty. We caught glimpses of glaciated mountain ranges and entirely new snowcapped peaks as the old faded from our view behind us. What baffles me still is that we’ve seen only a glimpse of all that is out there. As many Alaskans will tell you, Alaska may truly be “the last frontier” and that is what calls me back to return one day.

The scenery from the Denali Highway was spectacular. We saw wildlife including anxious caribou (hunting season started earlier this week), porcupines, and a black bear (at a distance, thankfully).  On the other hand, the ride itself along the Denali Highway wasn’t nearly as spectacular.

Washboard gravel on the Denali Highway

A majority of the “highway” is gravel. You would think three farmer’s sons from North Dakota would be well accustomed to gravel roads, right? Well, with tractors and pickups, yes. With bikes, maybe not so much. At first, the gravel was manageable. It was well kept and smooth. Later on the road became increasingly extreme alongside the challenging terrain. Large rocks, potholes, mud, and “washboard” gravel soon covered the road as we climbed up and down the mountain passes of the Denali Highway. It was exhausting, both physically and mentally. With no suspension, we feel everything. On top of that, it takes an enormous amount of focus to plot a line down the road and navigate where you think it’s smoothest. Like I said earlier, it was exhausting, so we would rest often.

Finding a spot to rest wasn’t hard. Resisting the urge to snap photos every hundred yards was (sorry bros). We had the road to ourselves, so if we needed to refuel or refill water bottles, we would stop and sit along the roadside or down by a creek (we came across them often). Between meals on the road, which normally consist of bagels with peanut butter and honey, jerky, and cookies, we would occasionally snack on candy bars and trail mix.

Our trusty travel companion, Skippy

We would also snack on blueberries, or rather gorge ourselves with them. Blueberries were so thick in spots, it was hard to stop. It’s prime blueberry season according to the locals, and we aren’t complaining.

Blueberries!

The ride so far has been challenging. Long, cold, and sometimes wet days have come and gone. We’re meeting new people every day; with towns few and far between, you would be surprised at the number of kind, generous, and encouraging people we meet each day. I’m thankful for the journey thus far and I look forward to each new day.

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Here’s a video from our last morning on the Denali Highway. Fighting the gnats, we attempt to recount our time on the highway.

Bound South – Denali Reflections from Bound South on Vimeo.