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Shut Up Legs

A_surly,_hard-as-nails German professional cyclist named Jens Voight was once asked what he tells his legs to do when he’s hurting in a race.  His response?  “Shut up legs.”  One might think that after many thousands of miles our legs would be silent killers, mashing fat-kid watts and dancing on the pedals to soar over the Andes.  Yet another cycling maxim comes to mind, Lemond’s famous quotation: “It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.”  And so it goes for us, except the “faster” part might be a little dubious.

Flying down rough mountain descents; bad pavement can be dangerous.

Most people have no idea what it is like to pedal a bicycle all day, day after day.  We certainly didn’t before August.  We had no collective touring experience before we drove up to Anchorage to begin this project.  Our early days of bicycle touring in Alaska provide constant memories and comic relief to this day.  I was a competitive cyclist before Bound South but that doesn’t make Angus any less of a big, fat, heavy monstrosity to pedal uphill.  We aren’t looking for pity, just understanding.  Every day is a pretty hard day at Bound South; not so hard that we doubt ourselves, never so easy that we take anything for granted.  Cycling is 99% physical; what you can do is what you can do.  The mental 1% is small but pivotal; if Bound South were the Death Star, it would be the uncovered thermal exhaust port.  If your head is in the right place the human body is capable of some miraculous things.  If not, you might have a date with a proton torpedo.  A good mind alone can’t get you to Argentina; that’s why “dreamt” isn’t the same as “done”.  But bad mental states can certainly keep you from it.  A good mind is necessary but insufficient.

There's a cow out at the pasture! Time to go fencing, right Dad?

The number one challenge I have encountered in protecting my “mental game” is compartmentalization.  With cycling in general, and a bicycle expedition in particular, it is almost impossible to separate your mental outlook from the environment being pedaled through.  It’s hard enough to wake up at some ungodly hour to pedal through cold rain for a few hours for training or, heaven forbid, for fun.  It’s even harder when you don’t have a choice, when “home” is an MSR tent, and when the end of your ride will guarantee no more comforts than the beginning.  A common thread in all athletics is a powerful and intoxicating self-awareness of the body; it’s strength, coordination, exhaustion, performance, and recovery.  The experience of disciplined athletic training for the first time is akin to pulling aside a dashboard curtain and seeing the gauges of your car for the first time.  Once you’ve seen it once, you’re forever aware and would never go without it again.  So it goes with us; we attend constantly to the sensations of our bodies, fueling and refueling and feeling the sensations in our legs as we move southwards.  On a bicycle expedition, however, countless other concerns compete for my mental space along with the stresses of our bodies.  Some of it is trivial, like the  countless decisions we make on the road about where we will rest, where we will eat, and where we will camp for the night.  Other things are easily taken for granted, like the water we used to get from the tap.  Acquiring 20 liters of reliable, cheap, purified water to get us through the day is just one of many small details that get lost in the noise of these concerns.  Sometimes I wish that Bound South could just be about riding our bicycles and taking pretty pictures.  That’s the fun stuff and it’s not hard to handle even on the hard days; though the stress can leave you vulnerable.  Minutiae accumulate like pebbles in a stream, and they can bring you to the brink before you recognize it.  Once you are tired, thirsty, and battling a headwind for 180 kilometers on the Peruvian cost it is more understandable when a flat tire at dusk makes you want to throw Angus into a river.

Szczerbiak has never, ever been this clean since leaving California.

These Ecuadorean climbs went on, to quote a farm kid from Eastern Washington, "basically forever."

The key is always to keep your eye on the prize.  Every kilometer done is one less between us and home.  We’re certainly not tired of this journey; it’s a privilege unlike anything I have ever experienced before.  But the end in Ushuaia is what makes every day so significant and what pushes us to ride southwards with a lot of heart.  Live like you’re dying, ride like you’re flying back from Argentina in May.  In the meantime, we’ll just tell the legs to shut up and enjoy the ride until the wheels fall off.

Mailbag Monday #14

Today_we_continue our Mailbag Monday series…

We’ve had a ton of fun chatting with our pen pals, and here is the final letter, unless we get more…

Dear Nathan,

My name is Shane.  I like video games.  What do you like to eat?

Your friend,

Shane

Rainy climbs in Ecuador

Hello Shane,

I’ve been known to play video games every once and a while. My brothers and  have been on a pretty significant drought, although I did beat the Angry Birds game on my brothers iPhone. I was thinking about hanging up video games since I hit the pinnacle of my career, but I figure I should keep my skills sharp in case something more difficult comes along.

Lately, the bakeries in South America sell pineapple pastries that are impossible to resist. If there was one type of food that I miss currently, I would have to say a good sandwich. It has been several months of tacos, rice, and now chicken. It’s going to be an adjustment to come home to a kitchen with all the fixings. The simplicity of this trip has been an eye-opening experience; I won’t soon forget the convenience of a permanent home.

Thanks for writing!

Nathan

Small Worlds

With_a_ribbon of road stretching back thousands of miles to Alaska, we have many stories to share.  Those we meet usually hope to distill the vast spaces and places into a few highlights.  It’s hard to comprehend what we are doing in any other way.  Upon meeting new people in new places, one of the first things they ask for is our “favorite part of the trip.”  They know and we know that this is almost an impossible question to answer, but we try nonetheless.  People are the highlight of Bound South without a doubt.

Waitresses in Colombia model next to David's bike, "Goliath" for a photo.

Traveling by bicycle is unlike any other kind of travel that I’ve ever done.  I’ve had my eyes opened to the endless possibilities one can grasp with a bicycle and a tent.  At this point, I do not know if I could ever go back.  We could trade country roads for train stations, tent sites for hotels and hostels, and would miss most of the amazing people that we meet along the way to Argentina.  It wouldn’t be the same.  In some ways I think our travel by bicycle harkens back to a more sentimental and perilous era of tourism.  Perhaps there were days before Lonely Planet, before the internet, before tourism was big business.  Travel was composed of much more discomfort, random searching, danger, inefficiency, and luck for better or for worse.  And perhaps the attitude towards travelers was different; they were less consumers and more students, people from a strange land who had something to learn and something to share.  This is not to idealize the past, because modern tourism has opened the world up in profound new ways.  To travel by bicycle channels the most powerful aspects of historical travel; in the modern age, it is hard to do this any other way.

Our camping spot at a local stadium near Pasto, Colombia gave us front row seats to this sword fighting rehearsal.

The pit crew at our roadside pit stop in Colombia.

We have noticed on this bicycle expedition that the most wonderful and hospitable people in the world are typically the furthest from centers of tourism.  We’re a little more extraordinary and less annoying that way, I think.  Based on the flocks of children that gather to stare at us while we eat at rural South American restaurants, we know we’re out of the ordinary.  The relative coldness of the cityscape is not a new stereotype, to be sure.  In Bogotá, we were just a few faces in a sea of people, a few cyclists scrambling to escape the freeways of the city.  We wouldn’t dream of approaching a stranger on the sidewalk and asking if we could set up our tent in his apartment.  These are simple realities of urban living the world over.  Only a few days later, when we were in the empty mountain roads outside of Mocoa, we didn’t hesitate to approach a farming family and ask for a place to camp for the night.  We are asking for help, and a safe place to tent is a gift of generosity that we never take for granted.  Deep down there is satisfaction from the knowledge of mutual benefit; we know that we have made others’ lives richer through our travels and stories.  Everything we do here on our blog is made more powerful and more poignant in the company of a few new friends.

We had much to teach these two children while we were staying with their family in Garzon, Colombia. Here they are showing off their "fist bump".

Jumping for Joy

Our journey is built upon the simple kindness of strangers, the humble and hard-working families of nine countries between Anchorage and Ushuaia.  They are of limited means but have more than their parents ever had.  They work hard and dream for the even better opportunities that their children will have.  They are farmers, shopkeepers, restaurant owners, storytellers, carpenters, mothers and fathers.  They are “authentic” as far as touristic parlance goes; but when we’re looking for a family in South America, that’s the last thing on our minds.  You realize how far you’ve come from Alaska only when you’re sitting in a family room in South America seeing kids’ eyes go wide.

One small hill separated this bus from a gradual descent to Cuenca. We (minus David; he supervised) helped them over the top.

If you would like to experience this kind of travel and learning for yourself and your family, we heavily recommend signing up for two online services: Couchsurfing and Warmshowers.  They can be an economical window to the world and a means to share your world with others.  Even if you can’t host us for a night on our journey to Ushuaia, you can help someone like us on their journey elsewhere.

Avenue of the (Hidden) Volcanoes

When_a_given stretch of highway is titled “Avenue of the _________”, we know great riding is in store (like our days on the Avenue of the Giants in Northern California months ago).  Thus, excitement was my immediate response when I heard from our host in Tumbaco that our route would lead us to the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a portion of the Pan-American Highway in Ecuador that lies between two mountain chains and their respective volcanoes.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  Leaving Tumbaco the next day, we familiarized ourselves with the cloud-shrouded Cotapaxi, the second largest volcano on the avenue at 19,347 feet, as we climbed up 6000 feet over its shoulder at 12,000 feet.  At the top of our ascent, we were treated to spectacular views of the volcanoes lining the highway ahead.  Before long, however, clouds rolled in and blanketed the peaks.

The Avenue

Nathan's rain gear: yellow rain jacket, orange dish gloves, blue rain pants, and black booties. Now that's style!

Ribbon of road in the highlands

We were treated to hot cocoa, juice, bread and hard-boiled eggs for breakfast with the Ambato family

Our time on the avenue after those brief glimpses was one of hidden volcanoes and inclement weather.  Rain, hail, and lightning fell from the sky.  Clouds enveloped us in fog on high mountain climbs and descents.  In spite of these daily trials, our time was also filled with incredible encouragement.  Honks, cheers, and waves became common, and increased in regularity with each additional rain drop. Even our favorite “two hands off the wheel thumbs up” was deployed by one very enthusiastic truck driver.  A family gave us space to sleep sheltered from the rain.  Kids showed us shelter near their favorite soccer field.  A restaurant housed and fed us.  After each rainy night, we started the next day energized and dry.  The conversations, food, and laughter we shared with the people along the avenue contrast with the challenges we faced while riding it.

Roadside panaderias (bakeries) are trending for Bound South. Fresh buns and pastries for a dime each hit the spot. Plus, Jif from Miami is still in good supply.

Approaching the clouds

So many roads to explore

The clouds created a nice backdrop for this monument in Alausi

Caution was absolutely necessary in the fog.

Mariella and her mom

One night outside of Ambato especially stands out.  A family of eight brothers gave us an unfinished home to lay our sleeping mats and sleepy heads down for the night.  Handshakes and greetings abounded while we were shown our sleeping quarters.  It wasn’t long before we were seated around their dining table enjoying coffee, bread, and conversation and joined by their sisters and daughters of similar age (it’s funny how that works).  I sat next to Mariella, one brother’s one-year old daughter.  With a growing vocabulary, her parents solidified us as her new friends.  At first, we were her “nue-ego”.  With a little practice, though, it wasn’t long before we became her “nuevos amigos”.

Our second-most favorite sign

Into the fog

Wait, someone is missing.

Found him!

This boy and his friend insisted on hanging on to our bicycles as we rode out of town. The push up out of town was appreciated, but it became a bit dangerous as we started descending. Even after Isaiah sternly told them to go home, they chased us down the main highway.

When I look back on the road from Alaska, people are what I remember most (and maybe the food, too).  Mountains, lakes, coastlines, deserts, roads, towns, and cities blend together to form a vague painting of the americas in my mind.  Only when I reflect on our new friends does that painting gain clarity and color.

Owned and operated by three sisters, this beautiful restaurant took very good care of us. La Escondida, just south of Chunchi, has delicious food (especially grilled cheese), groovin' 80s american tunes, and friendly staff. A big thanks to them for giving us shelter for a night.

Our bike alarm for the night outside the restaurant

Cold drizzle beaded on our skin, eyelashes, and hair in the fog. Here's me, being all serious.

Sunlight breaks through the clouds near Chunchi

When In Doubt

Rambling_through_the Palouse of Eastern Washington, many months ago, we came up with a maxim that has served us well to this day.  “When in doubt, choose adventure.”  Noble in its intention, “choosing adventure” is meant to ensure that we don’t shy away from the paths less traveled.  They may be more dangerous or uncertain or difficult.  Adventure is a big part of Bound South.  In practice, however, this maxim is most often leveraged ex post to justify a poor decision by yours truly.

A reminder of hard work.

Our first day in Ecuador was a rainy and cold one.

We stumbled upon this school that night, where we took shelter.

A typical lunch in Colombia and Ecuador. For $2 or less, you can get a hearty meat and vegetable soup, an enormous plate of beans, rice, chicken, and potatoes, and a cold cup of juice. We love it.

Cycling is celebrated in Colombia and Ecuador. Road signs and statues are common.

Here is an example from our past days in Ecuador: we were riding down the Pan-American highway.  The road is spectacular, smooth, and mountainous.  I hear about “the old highway from Salinas” and convince Nathan and David to explore it with me.  The result?  Epic, muddy dirt roads, stream crossings, five-way-dirt-intersections-with-no-signs, impossibly steep cobblestone climbs, and lots of getting lost in the country.  We finally wound our way back to the Pana, exhausted and dirty.  At least we traveled southwards, right?  We press on, “adventure” the word begrudgingly gritted between our teeth.

The old "highway" from Salinas.

This tarantula (or rather the sight of him) on the Salinas road nearly knocked me off my bike.

Old roads are the best roads.

Thankfully it doesn’t always work out that way.  That’s what real adventure is about after all; it is not a steady and predictable set of  wonderful experiences and surmountable challenges.  As Robin Hanson writes, “This has a big lesson for those who like to think of their real life as a grand adventure: relative to fiction, real grand adventures tend to have fewer guides, and more randomness in success. Real adventurers must accept huge throws of the dice; even if you do most everything right, most likely some other lucky punk will get most of the praise.”  They must “learn to see the glorious nobility of those who try well yet fail.”  That’s real adventure; simultaneously sobering and satisfying.

Entering one of many tunnels on El Chaquinan.

Leaving the rain, complete darkness engulfed us in most tunnels. Headlights were a necessity.

Steep and muddy single-track called for teamwork.

Mud was inescapable and a bit of fun.

Isaiah functioned as Nathan and David's rear brake for this extremely slippery downhill.

The riding was unforgettable.

Sometimes adventure works out and it makes all of the hapless searching and uncertainty worth its while.  We found an old decommissioned railroad line outside of Quito that had devolved (evolved?) into unkempt dirt singletrack, winding its way through countless canyons and dark tunnels.  Locals call it El Chaquinan and were shocked to see gringos attempting its passage by bicycle.  It wasn’t particularly difficult riding, safe for the parts where we had to scale muddy walls by pushing the bikes, or where my tires washed out on some old rails and sent me diving over the bars.  It was fun, like the first time you rode your bicycle through the rain and mud as a kid.  It was the kind of riding I will remember for the rest of my life.  The annual Carnival celebrations in Ecuador helped us clean off the mud; so many children had squirt guns to do battle with our water bottles.  In the end, we arrived in Tumbaco muddy, tired, and excited for the time to rest with our fantastic hosts.  Teachers at the British School near Quito, the Tober family hosted us and fed us and let us be a part of their family and community at the British School.  The adventure continues now south of Quito as we ride quickly into Peru.  Spending time with the Tober-Zambrano family made us all miss our own family and home.  When you think about it, family is a real adventure with great reward and few guides.  Our sights are set on that and so much more as we continue southwards on our bicycles.

Camelback's high performance jet valve bottle technology proved to be unbeatable.

We spotted this rider from the railroad line high above in the canyon.

We called this bamboo shack home for a few days while we stayed with the Tober-Zambrano family.

During our presentation at the British School, many questions were asked.

Steve lets his daughter, Carla, give Angus a try.

Like their parents, Steve and Maria's children were bicycle fanatics.

Ramone dizzies David with a few roundabout laps at center court.

Carla didn't hesitate to show off her cycling prowess either. In fact, she was very clear about how she was both stronger and faster than David on the swings and on her bicycle.

The end of a hard day's work at the British School

Mailbag Monday #13

Today_we_continue our Mailbag Monday series…

Dear David,

How is your trip?  I love to ride bike.  I take piano lessons.  I am realy good at my Chrimas songs.  How many miles do you ride every day?  I am in the 3rd grade in the Hazelton School in North Dakota.  I have a farm.  I have kittens at my farm.  They are about 6 weeks old.  What kinds of things do you like?  What is the state you are in now?

From,

Summer

Tunnel silhouettes near Quito

Dear Summer,

Our trip is going very well.  Ecuador is wonderful.  The people are very kind and the views are spectacular – we are beginning to see snow-capped peaks again!  It’s great that you enjoy riding your bike.  It is something you can enjoy for many years to come.  Piano is a wonderful instrument to learn.  I took lessons for a few years but took up other instruments as a I grew older.  On average, we ride about 120 kilometers, or 70 miles, a day.  It varies depending on the terrain and our overall health.

My family has a farm, too!  In addition to many kittens, we also have horses, cows, and dogs.  I like many things.  I have always enjoyed playing sports, namely soccer and basketball.  I also enjoy camping and exploring.  Last summer, I went backpacking in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming with three friends.  Photography, reading, music, and serving others are a few other interests I really enjoy.  Currently, we are in the Cotopaxi province of Ecuador. Its area surrounds Cotopaxi, an enormous volcano that soars close to 20,000 feet above sea level. Thanks for your letter!

Sincerely,

David

Gear: Leatherman

Leatherman._He’s our sixth man off of the bench.  He can’t guarantee success, but he sure does prevent a whole lot of failures.  We met in Anchorage; he was a well-made American tool in our loving American family who was ready to travel the world.  We first became acquainted after we forgot to purchase a can opener and were forced to crudely hack at a tin lid with our new friend to survive outside of Denali.  It was love at first opened can of chicken.  Leatherman doesn’t complain, doesn’t smell, doesn’t bend, doesn’t break, doesn’t rust, doesn’t wear out, and doesn’t pilfer my secret stashes of food, unlike just about everything else involved in Bound South.  Leatherman is the overqualified corporate leader, while we are some cheap imitation of The Office.  He possesses countless utility and skills and tools; we frantically call upon him to save our lives with just the knife and the pliers.  Perhaps we’ll finally use the corkscrew in Ushuaia.  Or cut some firewood in Patagonia.  Leatherman is the chicken, we are the egg.  Leatherman is the cart, we are the horse.  Leatherman will return from Argentina as he always is: sterling, silver, and handsome.  We will return from this trip emaciated, bilingual, and with embarrassing tan lines and some good stories.  Most of those stories won’t mention Leatherman directly.  Made-In-The-USA, Stainless Steel, Infinite-Utility, Multi-Tool-We’ll-Never-Lose-Leatherman, today is your day.

Mailbag Monday #12

Today_we_continue our Mailbag Monday series…

Dear Nathan,

How are you doing?  I’m doing great in school.  Do you ever feel like you are in danger?  How the scenery?  Are they cool awesome?  How long are you going in miles?  It will be great if you can answer the questions but if you can’t, it’s ok.

Sincerely,

Matthew

Hey Matthew,

I’m doing great! We just started the South American portion of our journey and the mountains are already kicking our butts. Each of the last four or five days we’ve had to climb a mountain, or a series of them. It has been a ton of work.  Each day we tackle several four to six hour climbs on terrain that varies between gravel and a mixture of rocks and mud. I’m glad you are having a good time in school, I have many silly memories from school. On warm days in wintertime we would try to make super-snowmen. Typically recess would end with massive snowballs that no one was capable of lifting.

To have an adventure atop a bicycle saddle comes with much danger. Some days, we travel on the shoulders of busy highways. Couple that with threats of bears and bandits, and there is plenty to make a person concerned. We do our best to be safe on the roads and use good judgement, and pray that others look out for us in the same way. It’s hard to worry about it when we find ourselves in the middle of such beauty. The Andes of South America have made my jaw drop on several occasions. The trip will end up at around sixteen thousand miles which sounds massive, but it’s amazing to think we are already over half done.

Thanks for writing Matthew!

Nathan

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.

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.