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Posts from the ‘Mexico’ Category

Mailbag Monday #10

Today_we_continue our Mailbag Monday series…

Dear Isaiah,

How are you doing?  is it fun working with your brothers?  How long have you been doing this?  My name is Marissa im in 3rd grade my favriote color is pink.

Sincerely,

Obviously, only amateur cyclists are prohibited from this highway stretch.

Dear Marissa,

I’m doing very well, thank you!  Doing this with my brothers is quite amazing to tell you the truth; it isn’t always easy and fun, but there is nobody else I would rather have with me on this adventure.  We’re outside the border between Mexico and Guatemala right now, which is very exciting because it seems like just yesterday we entered Mexico from San Diego, California.  This journey is going by very fast, that is for sure; we left from Alaska on our bicycles on August 11th, 2011.  Five and a half months later, here we are!  We have some big plans in the works; next week we will fly to Colombia to continue our journey on the South American continent.  We will finish at the southern tip of Argentina in the city of Ushuaia at the end of May.  I may have written this before, but the Argentinian flag is blue and white, and blue happens to be my favorite color (with green a close second)!  Enjoy the rest of your 3rd grade year, Marissa!  My 3rd grade teacher was Mrs. Jamsa, and I have always thought she was pretty awesome.  I kind of miss 3rd grade, especially recess.

Sincerely,

Isaiah

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Hidden, Silver City

Get_lost_with_someone_that_you_love_when_you get the chance.  Saddle up and ride someplace unfamiliar.  This place does not have to be a world away.  A different part of town could suffice, maybe one state over.  Keep in mind that this is not some New Age quest for self-knowledge.  It is about getting to know one another better, loosed from the constraints of familiarity and the status quo.  There’s the saying about character being who you are when nobody is looking.  I’d add that brotherhood is about who you are when you are all hopelessly lost in the dirt-and-rock mountain roads of Guerrero.

Nathan getting the job done in the hot Mexico sun.

A typical conversation from our Guerrero odyssey was as follows:

“Isaiah, where are we?”
“I don’t know, heading towards the sun?”
“How do we know we’re going the right way?”
“We don’t.  I can’t even read much less pronounce the road signs.  Tequesquipan?  Huitzoltepec?  Xochihuehuetlan?  Ahuehuetitla?”
“Isaiah, go ask that guy for directions.”
*minutes later*
“He said we are a long way from Taxco, much too far to ever ride by bicycle, and he couldn’t place us on a map.  He suggested turning left?”

I wish I had one of these. A truck to tow me uphill, a cow, or both.

We’ve been through a lot together as brothers, both before and during Bound South.  Wrong turns were a surprising first for us in the Mexican state of Guerrero.  Moving south of Valle de Bravo we had finally shaken off our serious bouts of illness.  We meant business. When mountain climbs can take upwards of three or four hours to complete, these mistakes can prove very costly.  On more than one occasion we found ourselves backtracking or getting navigationally creative in order to reach Taxco.  As the Bound South maxim goes, “When in doubt, choose adventure.”  What they don’t tell you about adventure is that the real deal is awfully stressful.  You quickly learn how important it is to guard yourself against your own anxieties and frustrations and exhaustion lest they spill over and affect your comrades.  It’s easy to take family for granted, especially when they are stuck with you on bicycles for a year.  Sorry, bro, no escape.

The silver city family gave us an apprenticeship in jewelry making.

We got lost but we found a little more about ourselves and each other in the end.  We made it to Taxco, the hidden silver city of Guerrero.  The Spanish came here for the silver centuries ago, and now that the mines have long since shuttered, the city thrives on tourism and the unparalleled artisan jewelers that have plied their trade here for decades.  We managed to meet a couple in a market; the husband a contractor and the woman a jewelry dealer.  Before we knew it we were camping in the shell of their unfinished garage on a hillside overlooking the city, and staying up way past our bedtime with a giant Mexican family and singing mariachi songs over a campfire.  Get lost and some magic might find you as well.

Climb a mountain side all day and move from one small world to another.

Mailbag Monday #9

Today_we_continue our Mailbag Monday series…

Dear Nathan,

I’m Tara.  I live on a farm.   I love, love, love to ride horse.  Do you like to ride bike?  I sort of like to ride bike.  Do you live on a farm?

Sincerely,

Tara

Roadside spectators

Hey Tara,

I had the privilege of growing up on a farm and have learned and seen so many things I wouldn’t have even dreamed of growing up in a different setting. The only pain was that it was difficult to get to town to hang with the city kids, so I had to play with my brothers and sister. My family grows a wide variety of crops including wheat, barley, and sunflowers. We’ve also had beef cattle over the years, which have lead to some pretty interesting school nights. We plan on having the cattle give birth to calves starting in February so it won’t conflict with farming in the summer. The majority of the cows tend to give birth during the day, but occasionally there are a few who miss the memo and wait till well after midnight to get to work. Since it is so cold about this time, as you probably know, we have to bring the calves in to dry them off and make sure they get their first drink of milk. It’s crucial for their immune systems to be fed within hours of being born. We usually bring the calves into the barn in a sleigh that we pull by hand, although I bet we could use our horses if we really needed an extra hand, or hoof.

I enjoyed riding horse when I was back home as a kid and still ride when I get the chance. Occasionally I’ll have friends and family come out to the farm to try to tame our feisty beasts. There is a mutual satisfaction between the rider and the horse. The rider gets a ride and the horse its oats.  Riding a bike and riding a horse are two completely different thrills, and I love them both. Stick with the bike and you never know where you might end up, and it won’t need any oats either.

Sincerely,

Nathan

Friends in High Places

People_define_our time on the road.  Each day we wake with the sun, ride against its flight across the sky, and fall asleep with its departure.  Each day we manage to taste, smell, hear, and see a glimpse of local culture aside from simply getting from A to B.  People are what we remember most.  After our time in the Sierra Nevada of Mexico, I am overjoyed to say we now have friends in high places.

Our route from Guadalajara led us to Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, where we encountered some incredibly steep cobblestone roads.  From there, we traversed volcanic and agricultural highlands to the city of Pátzcuaro, where we met Bruno, a young and well-traveled architect.  Well known for its lake and Day of the Dead celebrations, he had much to show us.  We visited Tzintzuntzán, home of  the Tarasco empire’s pyramids and decorated cemeteries, had carnitas at a local hot spot, and encircled Lake Pátzcuaro.  Later that day, we sat in his home and played music together.  Over the strum of his guitar and beat of his drum, he told us about his dreams to build a ecological home for himself in the mountains and to continue to travel the world.  He told us the importance of dreams, that without them it is hard to find purpose.  We shared much with him and rode on into the new year.

Dance performers in Patzcuaro

A mini Jack-O-Lantern we found in a cemetery

Leaving Pátzcuaro, we entered the Michoacán state, where we met Highway 15, Mexico’s principal north-south artery.  Upon entering, we began to climb and didn’t stop until we crossed half the state.  Temperatures dropped as we gained elevation.  Cold nights in highlands required clothing that had not seen use since Oregon.  Despite the cold, we found warmth with a logging family along 15.  They welcomed us to their home and place of work, and gave us a much-needed flat area for our tent.  Their children had numerous questions and found interest in our dinner preparations and Melodica.  Sitting around their campfire, we shared dinner and gave a few music lessons.  Tired legs soon beckoned and with the warmth of the fire transferred to our sleeping bags, the night found us sound asleep.

Music by fire light

Frisbee in the morning

Before leaving for the school the next morning, the kids joined us for a game of frisbee.  Laughter and smiles ensued.  Saying goodbye was difficult, but a 30 kilometer descent greeted us thereafter and brought us to Ciudad Hidalgo.  By chance, a father and son we met on the ferry ride to Mazatlán spotted us in the city and sent family members to retrieve us.  An hour later, we were being fed home-made enchiladas in the family’s home in Tuxpan.

The stillness of the night at Los Azufres

It didn't take long for my soccer "touch" to come back

The family (9 adult brothers and 4 sisters, several cousins, and dozens of kids) was gathered for the holiday season; add three gringos to the mix, and commotion is guaranteed.  An unplanned excursion to the hot springs of Los Azufres proved relaxing (the cramped ride on windy, mountain roads to get there, not so much), even after an intense game of Marco Polo.  Our departure the next day was delayed for hours as we gave rides to kids on our bicycles and played keep-away games of soccer.  The kids loved it, and so did we.  Once again, we mustered the strength to say goodbye and rode off.

Joy

We felt the monarch butterflies in the area were a must-see, so we set our sights on El Capulin, a reserve outside of Zitácuaro in the Mexico state.  Each year, monarch butterflies migrate to this area of Mexico from Canada and the United States for the winter months (one commonality we share).  Between 60 million and 1 billion butterflies fly to high mountain sanctuaries in Mexico annually.  We arrived at the reserve late in the day, and a local guide showed us to a camping spot on his property where our gear would be safe while we hiked up to see the butterflies the next morning.  His sons helped us make camp and daylight provided an opportunity for more frisbee fun.  A campfire provided warmth for dinner and we were tucked away in our tent soon after in anticipation for a sunrise hike.

Making camp with some new helpers

What you can't see in this photo is the frisbee flying towards me and the camera!

Following the guide the next morning was more than challenging.  First, he was on horse and we were not.  Second, the trail was comprised of loose rock and pine needles.  And finally, the trail was extremely steep.  Stumbling behind the guide in the darkness (we began the hike before first light) we ascended 2000 feet to a foggy meadow.  The early morning light combined with the fog was spectacular. And so were my newly blistered feet!  A short trail from the meadow led us to a roped off outlook.  He pointed to the trees and all we saw were trees.  We were bewildered.  Seeing our confusion, he waved us across the rope closer to the trees.  Upon closer look, we began to see clearly.  In the cool of the morning, the butterflies were clinging to the trees. Together, they created a textured blanket on every tree, top to bottom.  It was amazing.  We stood in awe as we attempted to grasp the number of butterflies in the sanctuary.

Foggy meadow in the morning

Marisposas Monarchas

Sliding down the trail to our campsite, I reflected over the days leading up to that moment. Circumstance allowed people to touch our lives. Only when people enter our world is it possible for us to share this amazing journey.

Affirmation

We_know_why we ride.  You know how you help.  Yet it wasn’t until a few days ago that we truly understood why we share.  More specifically, I didn’t fully grasp the value in parking our bicycles in an unfamiliar city and stumbling through countless streets and Spanish conversations in search of an elusive internet connection, known in these parts as WiFi (pronounced wee-fee).  To be certain, we love the opportunity to sit in the comforts of a café or restaurant and connect with the world.  Yet from the very beginning of this journey I had a tinge of uncertainty about Bound South as it exists on the web, sharing all of the minutiae of a Pan-American bicycle expedition.

WiFi with a view in Taxco

This uncertainty was a part of my broader discomfort with social media and internet culture as it currently stands.  We live in a world that is increasingly about copying rather than innovating, and  sharing rather than doing.  I was afraid of how the act of posting our photography, writing, and experiences would color how we lived each and every day of this journey.  Would we act differently, write differently, or change the nature of our journey for our audience?  Would our connectivity isolate us from the people and places we encounter?  As I sit in a café and write this post, I see countless people streaming past the window in front of me, each offering their own story or portrait of the world they inhabit.  How much richness will I miss between Alaska and Argentina while fumbling through my memories and sensations?  The thoughts and conversations of one day spent riding with my brothers through these strange lands are enough to bury my feeble attempts to log them.  I gave up journaling before I even started (David’s religious consistency with nightly journaling continues to amaze me).

Climbing through a valley in the western highlands of Mexico

I gave Bound South a chance.  I reasoned that the social pressure to assure family of our survival and to share our experiences with the world would ensure a rigorous schedule of reflection.  I was willing to bear the costs to our “authenticity” whatever they may be.  Five months later, I know we made the right decision.  Our connections with the outside world are limited to a couple of times every week when we stumble upon an internet café.  This is simply not enough time to distract us from our experience (or to assure our family of our daily safety).  Our time spent writing in comfort has been a necessary respite from long mountain climbs, navigational uncertainty, exhaustion, and the nitty gritty of our adventure.  Our website is also our vehicle for collecting donations and advancing our cause.  A few days ago, WordPress decided to feature us as among the best of the 700,000+ posts that are shared on the web every single day.  Comments and traffic and messages have poured in, and we are overwhelmed with a sense of humility and gratitude.

In the end this isn’t about us.  This is about our journey and our cause.  Yet Bound South will always be bound up in who we are as brothers; David in his youthful boldness, Nathan in his calm mentorship, and myself in my sharp wit and incredible good looks.  What we are doing is compelling, dangerous, and uncommon.  We can’t deliver you stylized and idealized travel guides, or depictions of heavenly Latin American cuisine.  We can only promise you our world, a world that is raw, mortal, and perilous; but it is shot through with love, courage, and the laughter that only brothers can enjoy on a long road to Argentina.

Thank you for sharing that world with us.  We take so much joy in this journey and the privilege of sharing it with you.  Your donations, messages, and comments sustain us whenever we have the chance to see them.

Mailbag Monday #8

Today_we_continue our Mailbag Monday series…

Dear Isaiah,

My name is Halley I just love to ride bike.  Wat are you doing this for?  Probly for something good.  Wat is your faveret food?  Wat’s your favert coler?  Do you like to ride bike?  Do you get exhausted?  I get exhausted sumtimes when i ride bike around the block.

Your frend,

Halley

Greetings on a cobblestone road in Mexico

Dear Halley,

I am so glad to hear that you love riding your bicycle.  I hope you love bicycles for the rest of your life; I know I will!  My brothers and I are riding our bicycles to Argentina on behalf of Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity.  We want to build a home for a needy family.  I think that’s something good, and I hope you agree.

My favorite color is blue (though green is a close second) and I like riding bike a lot.  I would be crazy to do this if I didn’t.  Sometimes I get tired, but I’ve got my brothers with me so I can always push through.  When I was your age I remember riding a bicycle around a 10-mile loop at Itasca State Park in Minnesota with my family.  It is hard to imagine it now, but at the time I felt superhuman for completing that ride.  Keep pushing your limits, Halley, and you will amaze yourself someday.

Your friend,

Isaiah

Engine and Uncertainty

The_beauty_of a bicycle is also its vulnerability.  The beauty is that uncanny resemblance to flight, the nirvana of a smooth ride on an open road with the power of the human body and nothing more.  The bicycle’s humanity is its vulnerability to the frailty of the body and legs.  We are always at the mercy of winds and storms and the metal cages that whir past us every day.  Ghosts in a tired shell, our bodies need rest but sometimes even that isn’t enough.  The engine of the body breaks.  Back in Oregon I reflected that much of our mental space while riding is occupied by listening to our bodies.  Hunger, thirst, exhaustion, strength, health, and motivation all move across our minds as we ride.  We’ve been listening to the inputs since Alaska and one might think we’re experts at this point.  Hubris had me thinking I was an expert a few weeks ago.  There is no such thing, as the body is a fickle and complicated thing.  For the second time in the trip we’re battling engine failure: illness.

2000 vertical foot sunrise hike to see butterflies? Why not!

The first time was in Alaska.  Within a few days of leaving Anchorage, we were three rookies with a couple hundred miles in our legs and the Denali Highway and Alaska Range ahead of us.  Tendonitis appeared in my Achilles and in the knees of my brothers with terrific inflammation and pain during our rides.  We could have expected it considering how few miles we had on our touring bicycles before we left for Alaska.  Nathan clearly had the worst of it.  Outside of Tok, AK, the pain was so great that Nathan could barely crawl at 8mph and was unable to match our 80-mile-a-day pace.  Nathan rode in the back of a Californian’s RV to Whitehorse so that he could rest his knee and recover while David and I pressed on alone.  Without healing, Nathan could not continue, and I do not know what we would have done without him.  This was a very difficult time for us so early in our expedition.  We didn’t share our fears outside of our family.

Family pig takes a break in the pool from the afternoon sun.

After some extended rest with retired Catholic priests in Whitehorse, we pressed onwards through the Yukon.  Tendonitis disappeared.  We were tentatively thrilled with the miraculous recovery we experienced.  Nathan felt like he was riding gingerly for weeks, reveling in the pain-free riding but aware of how serious the condition would be if it returned.  We put all of that stress behind us once we reached the States and since then our bodies have felt like unstoppable, finely tuned riding machines.

We awoke before dawn to hike a mountain and see thousands of monarchs.

All it takes is a bout of illness to bring you back down to earth.  A head cold and ear infection derailed some of my more ambitious plans for the Central Highlands, costing us a few days of rest in Patzcuaro.  Now in Valle de Bravo, David and Nathan have encountered consecutive bouts of flu-like symptoms and food poisoning.  It has been an unfortunate distraction from the unforgettable memories of the Mexican Highlands.  This illness has no rhyme or reason, no apparent cause, nor any clear course of action.  All you can do it eat well and sleep and pray it is better tomorrow.  It is a powerful lesson in serenity.  Argentine winter is already beckoning to us as we hurtle towards the month of May.  We have a lot of hard miles ahead of us, especially in the high Andes.  Having lost nearly two weeks in the last month now to illness I fear for what else we may encounter between here and Ushuaia.  It is not in our hands in the end.  When we are well we will ride; this is all we can do, and it must be sufficient to cross these many small worlds leading to Argentina.