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Posts from the ‘Colombia’ Category

Mocoa-Pasto

The_beauty_of this bicycle journey is the way in which landscapes get burned into your legs.  The Americas and the Andes are no longer an abstraction.  Distance can be reformulated in terms of effort.  All of the faint guesses at the road ahead are replaced by the tactile grip of hands upon handlebars, tires upon stone and dirt, and landscapes burned into your memory.  In the remote mountains of the Colombian Cordillera Central the mountains shoot up, their lush vegetation contrasted with the jigsaw puzzles of farm fields, cliffs, waterfalls, and lakes.

Hard stones and a dirt road climb for 30 kilometers.

Riding up to where the clouds rest

There is one lonely road crossing these mountains from Mocoa to Pasto, a rugged road with few peers the world over.  Our ride into a new world began at 2,000 feet outside of Mocoa, taking shelter from tropical rains and preparing our South American Trolls for their ride on the wild side.  Since leaving Central America, we acquired some knobby Kenda tires and ditched our fenders other non-essentials to prepare for off-road adventures.  Well-prepared, and somewhat well-rested, we pushed our bicycles out into the rain and began to ride uphill with fat, knobby tires and high hopes.

Endless climbs ensued

Stream crossings abounded.

Descending through the clouds

We weren’t prepared for what we would encounter.  We climbed out of the mixed sunshine and clouds of Mocoa into the mist-covered mountains of the Cordillera Central.  Within a few kilometers, our strangely empty paved road became a narrow, single lane of winding dirt and stone.  Imagine if someone laid down a ribbon of mud, sprinkled sharp paving stones on top, and let it all dry to satisfaction.  This was our road, the lone highway across the mountains between Nariño and Putamayo of Colombia?  Absurd.  Imagine if the one bridge from Fargo to Moorhead was a narrow pedestrian rope-bridge, or if the only crossing between California and Oregon was a dirt road somewhere below Crater Lake.  As we were passed by countless death-defying trucks and combis on their five-hour, 130 kilometer sojourn through the mountains, I could hardly believe where we were.  One moment we were climbing underneath overhanging cliffs, another disappearing into the mist, and soon reappearing in time to cross a stream that became a waterfall beneath our tires.

A sweeping descent to the valley below

Storms flew across this mountain valley

We climbed up and down to 10,000 feet on far too many cold mountain passes, each a victory with little fanfare as the stones would only punish us more as our speed increased on the downhills.  Disheartened and hungry, we frequented many small roadside restaurants where a heaping plate of chicken and rice and potatoes would set us back a princely $2.  We had surmised that a very early start would get us to Pasto in a little over a day.  Three major mountain climbs and impossibly rough roads meant that we took a full two and a half days to complete the journey.  The last forty kilometers to Pasto brought us smoother dirt and even some long lost pavement, which made up slightly for how worn out our bodies were from bouncing across the stones for two days.

A restaurant and campsite for the night had no electricity but much character.

Climbing out of the valley, on pavement this time

We met this avid cyclist at a lunch stop

Reaching Pasto, finally, we struck up a conversation with some firefighters outside of the city center.  Soon we were talking to the chief of the bomberos and we had a place to camp for the night.  Camping and asking questions can take you a long ways in this world.  And now as we are days from Ecuador, already the pain in the legs is fading and the memories call us back.  This was easily the hardest ride we’ve faced since leaving Alaska.  Roads like this call us to continue and maybe, if we’re lucky, to one day return. 

The last valley held Lago de la Concha

It was hard, but resting with the bomberos allowed us to recover nicely.

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Good Work

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.

Trivia

Trivia_is_defined as insignificant or unessential matters, as well as obscure and useless knowledge. It is derived from the Latin words tri, “three,” and via, “ways.” In Roman times trivia would describe an intersection of three roads. At this point there would be kiosks and places to post information for travelers that was frequently ignored. We have made our obscure and useless knowledge into a game for you all, a chance to learn more about us and prove how well you know us. If you wish to keep score you may create your own scoring rubric and compete with other readers.

Choose the best answer to the following questions:

Me Gusta!

1. Choose the things, ordered from most important to least important, that we find most pleasing.

a) showers, tailwinds, laundry, free food

b) laundry, free food, tailwinds, showers

c) free food, showers, laundry, tailwinds

A wild ‘X’ appeared!

2. Which animal has eluded us in our travels?

a) Boa Constrictor

b) Crocodile

c) Grizzly Bear

d) Iguana

Adjusting brakes on a steep descent.

Como se llama?

3. What is the name of Isaiah’s bicycle?

a) Angus

b) Charlet

c) Hereford

d) Burly

4. What is the name of our Mariachi band?

a) Chupacabra Scramble

b) Tres Leches

c) Sangre de los Niños

d) Viva Oxxo!

Cyclist Badges

5. Identify the owner of the following tan lines:

a)

b)

c)

6. Whose calf is that!?

a)

b)

c)

You heard it hear first

7. Who is the speaker of the following quotes, and which location best suits the quote?

a) “Guys, we just dropped twenty G’s on ice cream.”

b) “I have bean juice all over me.”

Now that you are breathing hard from intense thought we hope you picked up some useless facts about us. We’ve had six months in the saddle and we are accumulating the marks of the road. Our callow skin has grown tough and tan, and our muscles are starting to match our spirits. With the Andes towering over us it couldn’t have come at a later time.

Highlight text below for answer key:

1. c
2. c
3. a
4. b
5. a) David, b) Nathan, c) Isaiah
6. a) David, b) Isaiah, c) Nathan
7. a) David, in Aipe, Colombia, b) Isaiah in Monarch Sanctuary in Mexico

Mailbag Monday #11

Today_we_continue our Mailbag Monday series…

Dear David,

Hi.  My name is Kristi.  I like that you are trying to raise money to build homes for the poor.  It is very kind to help others.  Ms. Stoltz is my teacher.  She told us about you.  I hope you have a safe trip.  Thank you for helping others.

Sincerely,

Kristi

Black and white image of Lago de Atitlán

Dear Kristi,

It’s wonderful to hear from you.  You are absolutely right about helping others.  Leading a virtuous life through service and leadership is incredibly important.  Before this trip, I learned much about myself and how to best help others during my involvement in various high school activities.  Students Today Leaders Forever and Fill the Dome were two of these, and are two great examples of how students can become engaged in servant leadership.

I encourage you to find ways to lead and serve throughout your life.  You will grow and prosper as an individual, student, and citizen. I know I have.

Thanks for your letter!

Sincerely,

David

In America

Our_leap_to_Colombia used a famous foreign destination as its stepping-stone, a strange land where we were cultural and lingual outsiders: Miami.  Though it was only a matter of months since we last had touched US soil, our brief layover in the States had a surreal character about it.  We were all casually speaking English again with complete strangers in that gregarious American way that is so dear to my heart. The cleanliness beside well-lit streets, the bright colors of the buildings, the gleam of infrastructure, the simplicity of clean water from a sink, and the cheeky consumerism of the city all swept over me.  “Your wife is hot,” pronounced the emboldened interstate billboard advertisement, continuing in the fine print, “Buy her a new A/C.”

Momentary road block due to construction meant an early lunch for us in Colombia

We enjoyed the blessings of a brief home stay, a warm bed, and a home-cooked meal.  We even sang for our supper which you should be able to find on our Facebook page.  And as quickly as we had become strangely reacquainted with a familiar world, we boarded a plane bound for the cool, stormy, high mountains of Colombia.  After assembling our bicycles in the lobby of a very patient hotel, we moved south and are now bound for a region known as Trampolin de los Muertos, literally the Trampoline of Death, a reputation earned by its spectacularly steep, twisty, and remote mountain roads.  These are the roads that keep us up at night and that we wake up for in the morning.  This reminds me that we could improve our record with regards to waking up early in the morning and climbing mountains.  We obviously have much left to learn between here and Argentina.

Goliath disassembled

Unpacking Angus

An education isn’t merely about the acquisition of knowledge, nor is it necessarily just about critical thinking.  William Deresiewicz wrote an essay once about leadership and intellectualism that I found very compelling, in part because it pointed to the profound orientation that results from a liberal education.  It is certainly important to know things and to hone your abilities to deploy one’s intelligence and acumen.  Yet it is also important to think about the right things.  And so with every kilometer of solitude, and the privileges of time to read good book and speak with local people that we meet, we see the world and ourselves a little differently with every day of riding.  Buried in the debris of our scattered thoughts comes a realization: that with every passing day as travelers, the unknown mountain roads of these strange lands have become home to roaming souls and minds.