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Posts tagged ‘coast’

Away from the Andes

I_like_mountains.  Having grown up on the flat, windswept Upper Great Plains, the mountains always captivated me growing up. I’ll never forget the first year I ever saw the Rockies, when I was in 7th grade, after sitting in our family’s Suburban and driving 12 hours to reach Bozeman, MT.  Sitting in a bucket seat and looking out of the window, it seemed otherworldly to see majestic, snow-capped peaks rising out of the Earth.  To this day, the scale and grandeur of mountains has that effect on me.

One of our last high altitude views of the Andes in Ecuador

Low lying clouds and dramatic light are the cause for this other worldly scene.

Needless to say, the Andes of South America have certainly impressed us.  Yet we have left them for a time, trading long climbs through alternating cool rain and blistering heat for the consistent headwinds of the Peruvian coast.  The gateway to Peru from Ecuador in Macará brought us to a new country and people but also to a new climate and terrain.  Lush mountain vegetation turned to a lowland jungle of sorts, flat as a plate of glass aside from the ominous spine of the Andes that stretches beside us to the East.  Moving south of Tambo Grande, the soil soon turned to sand and the trees to sagebrush and chaparral.  Soon we were in Peru’s long coastal desert, fighting strong headwinds from the south and with no apparent end in sight.  It is amazing how quickly a bicycle can transport you between different natural environments.

At face value, it doesn’t seem like riding through a flat and windy desert would hold much appeal.  Why trade the cool mountain air and spectacular mountain vistas for a hot headwind?  A simple answer would be: “it’s easier”.  We fought all day, every day to maintain our pace through the mountains, climbing over consecutive mountain passes and breathing a sigh of relief if we managed to get 100k done in a day.  In the flatlands outside of Chiclayo, even with a headwind, we got a 9AM start and rode in a motivated paceline throughout the day, with the front rider rotating and breaking the wind for the others.  We had nearly 100k done by lunchtime, and 180k done by the time darkness fell and we found a cheap hostel to shower and sleep through the desert heat.

Terraced rice patties in northern Peru

The desert flatlands are conducive to a different kind of bicycle touring.  It’s about more than just how easy the miles are.  Mentally it is almost a totally different riding experience with my brothers.  In the mountains, it is as if each of us are fighting an individual battle against gravity and wind.  We are thoroughly alone with our heavy bicycles and the sound of rhythmic breathing and the feel of sweat and exhaustion.  It is as if the mountains put your mind and body in isolation, not only from the world but also from one another.  In the mountains, Bound South is an ensemble split into rooms of overworked soloists, working alone, together.

Straight, flat, quiet, and calm conditions equate to new speed records. 180 kilometers

We had to leave the mountains to regain that feeling of a choir again.  Suddenly the miles come easier, and the hum of the tires and the whistle of the wind molds three bicycles into one organic whole.  The effort of one on the front is the shield of the two behind, with each pull an individual strength that is sacrificed to move the group forward more quickly than we could ever accomplish individually.  It’s kind of cool and a luxury that most bicycle tourists cannot afford.  Yet the flatlands are about more than the speed of the riding as well.  We are afforded more time to talk by the loosened constraints of miles and time.  In Tambo Grande, we met a wonderful and gregarious woman named Gloria who soon introduced us to her accomplished nieces and nephews, all studying a variety of engineering at the local university in Piura.  We had time to sit and talk for hours and over lunch the next day.  She begged us to stay another day so that we could meet her other niece, the one with “strong, muscular legs and a thin waist who made all the men go crazy when she danced the samba (and her overprotective mother).”  Unfortunately, the time had come to go.  The experiences we have with people are made richer when we can afford to spend more time with them.

The desert around Trujillo

We won’t be here long.   A remarkable canyon road to the highest mountains of the Andes will take us soon to Huaraz from the coast.  But for the time being, we relish the togetherness and the speed that comes from bicycling through lowlands.

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Highway One Diaries: Big Sur, Big Cities

Meteorology was left out of our academic preparations for Bound South, perhaps to our detriment.  Riding our bicycle every day, the weather tends to dictate more about our experience than I care to admit.  It is hard not to smile when the sun is shining and the wind is at your back all day (which we truly experienced for the first time in southern California).  I hate to admit it, but a strong wind and a cold rain can incite frustration, tire the legs, and quickly diminish the dream that underpins every day of Bound South.  It also doesn’t help when you’ve been softened by good fortune and good weather.  I’d like to think that we wake up every day reveling in the landscape outside of our tent’s vestibules, the beautiful roads and people that we experience, and the anticipation of what comes next.  For maybe the first time in the trip, forty miles south of the gilded estates of Pebble Beach, I felt a bit tired and insignificant.

The only significant November storm to hit California swept up north of Santa Cruz and whacked us in Big Sur on the California coast.  If you’ve never seen this part of Highway One, it is spectacular.  Spectacular, with a capital S.  The features that make Highway One so famous in the minds of drivers across the United States – the tight curves of a narrow road, the ribbon of pavement sewn to the seaside cliffs and Pacific inlets – made for an unforgettable ride.

Arriving, wet and cold, outside the too-expensive River Inn Cafe, in Big Sur.

Big Sur gave us a perfect lesson that day.  Torrential rains and 30+ mph headwinds hit us along the outer edges of the cliffs of Highway One.  It’d dispiriting to be cold, wet, and unable to roll downhill without serious effort because of the wind.  At the first sight of human civilization after 40k, we ditched into the warm lobby of a restaurant that was far too expensive for us and begged to sit by the fireplace and dry out.  We had been on a high after seeing family in San Francisco, but now in the empty coastline of California we were cold and insignificant in the face of all that was before us.  We had thousands of miles, seven months, dangerous border crossings, mountains, rivers, and seas separating us from the end and our ride home to North Dakota.  We lack running water, multiple items of clothing, the comforts of constant technology and contact, beds, incomes, and a million other contrivances of the modern world.  I thought about what it would be like to leave all of the danger and the uncertainty behind, go work on an oil rig in western North Dakota, pay off my student loans and try to find some more conventional route through the New Year.

Reverent cemetery passing on Veteran's Day near Solvang.

It would be a lie of sorts not to disclose this.  We aren’t stoic or superhuman; every day is a conscious decision to press on.  The road behind us is a sunk cost.  There is of course the pressure of our natural resolve against failure.  Yet daily we pack up our bags and ride into the sun or the storm, every day another affirmation that the road ahead is worth what we’re leaving behind.  That was true in Big Sur that day, it is true here in Mexico, and every day in between.

We flew through the farm fields full of migrant laborers and big cities of southern California.  Haste and a disdain for the stresses of adverse urban miles gave us plenty of motivation.  Beyond, the vast world south of the US-Mexico border called to us.  Rested in San Diego, we packed our bikes like we always did and decided that a carreterra named Uno was worth what we were leaving behind.

Lunchtime with Lee Saville of 350South. He joined us for southern California. We miss his fellowship.

Highway One Diary: Redwood Curtain

Our_days_with_Highway One began at Crescent City, California.  Lying just across the California state border with Oregon, it is a small little town that we skirted in the Jedediah Redwoods State Park before finally setting our wheels on the smooth pavement of Highway One-oh-One.  Within about a mile we shot (or perhaps struggled?) up a 1,500-foot climb on the coastal highway.  Our sweat and toil was rewarded with our first truly spectacular view of the Pacific.  Like all great roads, it would be easy on the eyes and hard on the legs.

Most nights we slept in our tent, as we always do.  Terrible phenomena of cold and frost were finally behind us (or so we thought).  We awakened most mornings to a rancher’s pasture or a closed campground and sat comfortably over our oatmeal in the gathering light.  In the high North Country we usually woke up concerned with survival, de-icing the tent, and counting down the days to a famously warm and sunny California.

Bicycle touring through a region is always a process of mutual transformation.  We leave few physical signs of our passing, but our impressions with local people and the friendships we form have some power to them.  The places we ride through certainly don’t mark us (provided we don’t crash into them) but they linger in our hearts and legs.  A few miles of sunshine and quiet road can reveal entirely new states of mind.   I hate to admit it, but the edge of toughness can be dulled by too much comfort; and Northern California was pretty comfortable.  We saw no rain or adverse weather conditions on some of the most beautiful road in the United States.  We got a little bit soft, acclimated to a new kind of riding.  Even now it is hard to fathom how we rode through the cold rain in the Yukon and British Columbia in nothing but short-sleeve jerseys and spandex.  In some ways I think we were tougher then, simply because we had to be.  I think a lot of life is like that.

All of California was a cultural revelation for us.  I think we first realized how different North Dakota and California are when we saw that we had just missed the Love Goddess Festival of Mendocino County.  North Dakota would never have a “Love Goddess Festival” and if they did it could only be during the month of July when it is warm enough for everyone to feel love again.  Perhaps I should not describe the culture of my home state as monolithic, but in comparison to Northern California I cannot help but do so.  Every few miles had us greeting atypical variants of hippies, blue-collar loggers, farmers, travelers, vagrants, pastors, and more.  North Dakota has its own kind of wonderful diversity but you have to look a bit harder to find it.  Northern California can be weird and wonderful and many other things all at the same time.  Yet the constant of kindness remained; we’ll never forget meeting Janet on the road, a cyclist out for a late afternoon ride.  We fly pretty fast as far as touring cyclists go.  We passed her and managed to have her stumble upon us down the road while we were looking for directions in the soupy fog of Arcata’s coast.  Within minutes she had offered to take us in.  We met her husband Barry who is an avid surfer, and that evening we were sharing touring memories over pizza and beer.   Amidst big landscapes it proves to be the little things that matter.

Hallowed Highway One

“Enthusiasm” might be too soft a word to describe our anticipation of the roads ahead of us.  Excitement for the next highway is always distracting.  Just last night we talked about the Carretera Austral in Chile.  Great roads are often proxies for the landscapes that they border.  North of California, the State acquiesced to Nature and placed its roads in the hospitable margins of mountain ranges and river gorges and splintered glacial-volcanic landscapes.  Builders of highways and dirt roads worked in the safety of the low passes and river banks.  Political lines were redrawn, roads rebuilt, and names re-chosen (Mount Hood was Wy’East to the Multnomah long ago) while the ancient features remained as they were.  The roads ringed them and so each new turn bowed to the new landscape that bounded it.

Nathan ponders a camping location in the Redwood Forest.

Highway #1 was always about the ocean.  As we rode out of Oregon it was Highway #1 that distracted our imaginations, bordered as it was by the same ocean that forced us southwards and will one day stop us in Tierra del Fuego.  Since riding through the Redwood Forests of Northern California we have never been more than a day’s ride from the ocean.  Yet while Highway #1 does respect the ocean’s borders out of necessity, it has an independent spirit and longevity that sets it apart from any other road we’ve known since Alaska.

Scene of the crime: countless burritos killed at lunch stop on Hwy 1.

Contrary to popular belief, Highway #1 doesn’t end at Tijuana.  Technically.  Where the United States ends and Mexico begins, so does Mexico’s Highway One.  In Big Sur of California, Highway #1 cuts across the cliffs.  Human engineering defied natural obstacles. It is spectacular to experience it by bicycle, with every sweeping turn made more exciting by the low speed warning signs.    In Southern California we flew through the metropolitan areas of Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and San Diego with our eyes already set on Mexico and La Paz.  Now in Mexico, we have felt like our journey has truly just begun.  The vast majority of our journey takes place in the Spanish-speaking world, after all.

A different kind of American agriculture in the fields near Santa Cruz.

Highway One has a lot of stories to share from the Redwoods to the inhospitable Mexican desert.  In the coming days we’ll be publishing our Highway One Diaries, a short series of posts that will illuminate our ride down this singular ribbon of road.

Saddle Up, Cowboy

Inextricability is frequently misunderstood in life.  Contrasted with the wandering of the autonomous, inextricable lives are obviously entangled with notions of purpose, community, and continuity.  Many twenty-somethings fear the specter of commitment, perhaps not out of loathing for these principles but out of fear for frequent separations.  Yet the inextricable life is inevitable.  Life is an election that you cannot stay home from because you vote with your feet.  We carry necessary anchors with us through life and our bodies grow stronger from the movement.

Beautiful Highway 1.

Minimalism is like moving those anchors, not cutting their ropes.  Humanity drops anchor in wealth, homes, cars, relationships, and careers to name a few things.  There is an important dual lesson in all of this: the first is that we have a choice in where we anchor ourselves.  The second is that we have no choice but to choose.  I remember selling my car in Anchorage three months ago before we began riding our bicycles north to Denali.  That sudden liquidation of my trans-continental transportation left me feeling liberated and proud.  Do not underestimate how liberating minimalism can be!  But months later, the personal anchor of my beloved Honda has been wholly transferred onto the rack of my Surly Troll.  I covet and adore it with the same intensity.  Don’t fool yourself by thinking that you can live anchor-free; take it from three guys with nothing but three bags and a bicycle.  We carefully measure the inextricability of our lives by bicycle, always critically self-aware of our perceived necessities – whether they be your only comfy pullover or the heaping bowl of oatmeal we delight in every morning.  Minimalism forces you to confront and better appreciate your anchors of necessity.

Cool California coast.

Time compels us forward and bids us southward, away from these past days with family in the Bay Area.  Our cause calls us to our fundraising and other personal goals for this journey.  Inextricability is a daily rhythm that binds us once more to a road going south from San Francisco.

Reveling in the Redwoods.