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Posts tagged ‘family’

Homework

Tis_the_season for new beginnings. A year ago, we were riding the Alaskan Range.  Now, we are building a home at 1534 1st Ave South in Fargo. We volunteered and took part in the wall-raising ceremony last week.  We pounded nails, secured wall supports, and used muscles that bicycle saddles and tractor seats don’t train.

To see and feel a structure that you and so many others have invested in is really special. To know its impact is even more magical.

The build site, 1534 1st Ave S

Window and door frames.

Pounding away.

Hammer time.

Double hammer time.

Carpenter belt.

Picnic table assembly.

Basement work.

Foundations.

Keep on building.

Bro 1

Bro 2

Bro 3

Hula Girl 1 (of many. Too many to photograph, really.)

“It’s five ‘o clock somewhere.”

Thee wall Dewalt.

The crew, sitting on the newly finished picnic table.

Enter the wall-raising ceremony, complete with new Bound South shirts!

Grandma and Grandpa ventured out to see the action.

Interview time.

Fruition

Missing_the_open_roads between Alaska and Argentina is easy at this point.  Since returning home we’ve been working on our family farm in North Dakota, praying for rain and driving tractors as we fly through the growing season.  The steady rhythm of farming, the planting and growth that leads so inevitably to harvest, is a life apart from the wild unpredictability of a day by bicycle.  One is rooted, the other nomadic.  For a summer, at least after so many months on the road, rooted is a good thing.

The central idea of Bound South was that we could not only seek stories, self-transformation, adventure, and brotherhood, but also contribute to a good cause.  That idea is coming to fruition this August as we begin building a house we have co-sponsored with Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity.  That all of those many miles and faces of the Americas would lead to a physical home for a family in need is truly humbling and inspiring.  We are so proud and thankful for the good that will be done through the generosity of so many family and friends.

Within the next couple of months, this chapter of our lives will truly come to a close.  David will travel to New Hampshire for college, Nathan will leave the farm to begin his own career, and I will begin training at the United States Marine Corps Officer’s Candidate School in Virginia.  The three of us will probably never experience this kind of an opportunity again, with all of us together, in the same place, chasing the same dream.  It was a beautiful thing to share as brothers, and it will be equally beautiful to recall and recount in the years to come.  We’re going to make for some mighty fun uncles someday.

For now we content ourselves with super fast rides on our skinny-tired road bicycles, reminiscing about all of the crazy stories from our journey, and continuing our work with Habitat and our forthcoming e-book.  Thank you for following us, and in doing so, becoming part of this story that is Bound South.  It is a blessing to see these dreams come to fruition.

Dad and Isaiah showing off some teamwork while on vacation. They made the shot.

Walleye fishing on the Lake of the Woods in northeastern Minnesota and southwestern Ontario.

The day’s catch.

Family photo

Waves of grain

Canola in bloom

Lightweight steel and carbon bikes, check. Honda Big Red to get us to pavement, check. Game faces, check. – We really like our road bikes.

July project: new shingles

Job done.

Ripened waves of grain.

The harvest crew.

Event 1 of the Berg Family Farm Olympics: the 800 meter combine dash.

 

Barley, barley chaff, and more barley chaff (this stuff isn’t fun).

Nathan and his workhorse

Dad and Jamie (a friend from Fargo who is working with us) were a part of the trucking crew. 

Mom’s flowerbed

Familiar roads.

 

 

Miracle on Highway #40

When_we_aren’t riding, eating, or sleeping, chances are that we are planning.  The exercise of planning anything with my brothers will be one of the things I will miss dearly when we leave Bound South behind.  Countless times between Alaska and Argentina, I have found the three of us standing in a circle near our bicycles, bantering at lightspeed in barely intelligible English as we weigh the most efficient, adventurous, and fulfilling means to ride across Colombia, navigate a grocery store, or decide who has to do dishes and who will pack up the tent.  There is an loving contentiousness between brothers where the volume and intensity of argument can escalate to near-blows when everyone is tired and hungry and I want to stop for food before camping and Nathan wants to stop to camp before we get food.  Frequently, the best-laid plans go awry; the important thing is that everyone is heard and contributes to our course of action.

Sometimes, failure isn’t an option.  Bound South made some bold plans to ride across the Austral and Highway 40 in time to meet David’s best friend, Joe Burgum, in El Calafate.  Three would become four for the final leg to Ushuaia.  Yet stiff winds and washboards and cold conspired to put us 200k behind schedule.  After pushing our bodies to the limit, we rolled into a dead-end town on Argentina’s Highway 40 with no way to reach El Calafate on time.  We had not seen internet for a week.  We had no food. The town had neither, only a gas station with a few overpriced ham sandwiches.  And the last bus to El Calafate?  It left an hour before we arrived.  And due to the Argentine equivalent of Labor Day Weekend, no more buses would run for days.  So we were stuck, unable to ride the deficit in time to meet our friend, unable to notify him, and fearing that he would arrive to a strange town with no Spanish skills and no idea if we were dead or gone.  We stood in a circle, hungry, despairing, and had few ideas other than   dressing in all of our winter gear and waiting on the side of Highway #40 to pray for a truck to hitch with.

We ate some overpriced ham sandwiches sullenly.  The owner of the gas station explained that he had a friend who would be happy to drive us for the low, low price of $540 USD.  I politely thanked him for the offer, neglecting to tell him that this sum would pay for nearly two months of bicycle adventure.  We drifted around the parking lot aimlessly, feeling in our gut that we were in trouble but that somehow things would work out.  Three brand new Toyota pickup trucks rolled into the gas station.  Loaded to the brim with coolers of food, fishing rods, clothing, Argentine wine, and some of the most gregarious Argentine family that you could possibly imagine.  The details run long, but before we knew it we were hurtling across the empty, cold pampas in the back of a pickup truck, camping out at the ranch of an Argentine business mogul, and enjoying Argentine steak and wine and company in front of a fireplace.

The most indelible experiences of a bicycle expedition, just like the most unpleasant, can never be planned or counted upon.  We sat in a circle that night as a family, after being filled with steak dinner and a tired by a rugged moonlight hike.  Wine flowed and dessert of cheese and jam was served.  We sang for our hosts as is our brotherly tradition; a Lutheran hymn and a negro spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”  In a uniquely South American way, the men drank and smoked and held court with some of the most contentious, high-volume, and dramatic conversation that I have ever seen.  The topics of conversation were also among the most mundane and entertaining that I have ever seen; why the Argentine Patagonians don’t sing like these fine North Dakotan men, why gas prices are so high, why we don’t ride our bicycles during the night, and what handsome eyelashes David has.  The women, young and old, tended to sit to the side and laugh at the spectacle of Bruno, the patriarch of the ranch, shout “Lies!  Lies!  Lies!” during an absurd conversation about mothers’ insistence on musical lessons for their children, or fall asleep as the conversation thundered into the early morning.  North Dakota Lutherans don’t stay up this late, and perhaps we don’t always have as much fun, either.  And like a dream it was over too soon, with our bodies and bicycles dropped into the frigid air of El Calafate the next morning.

One of the family men, Jorge, refused to accept our offer to help pay for their generosity.  The women had left to use the restroom and do some quick shopping.  With the wisdom that can probably only be accrued through years and years of loving a wife and raising daughters, he said, “I don’t want you to give us anything, you have given us so much.”  With a wink, he said, “I don’t need anything, but perhaps the women might appreciate something…” and he gestured to the chocolate shop down the street.  He was a wise man, indeed.  We snuck off to the chocolate shop and purchased some of the most expensive and delicious chocolate that I have ever seen in my entire life.  We returned moments later, and as the women returned we presented our gift.  In twenty-four hours, we went from hapless gringos to pitied American bicycle vagabonds to charming, courageous adventurer-singers to golden-boys bearing gifts of fine chocolate.  The looks and kisses on the cheek good-bye said it all.  For a short time, we were a part of their family, and they were a part of our story.  The memories of our time with them and that unique, unplanned miracle on Highway #40 stays with us forever.

These delicious gifts gave us full tummies and big smiles.

Inside our shack at the ranch.

Dinner’s ready!

The shack.

“Whiskey!”

Bruno

Mt. Fitz Roy on the road to El Calafate

Lonely Road

When_we_look at a map it is natural to see the highlights.  Bigger cities get bigger names on the page.  Country borders rise up to delineate an otherwise unbroken horizon.  To see great cities by bicycle and to check another country off of our list is a tremendous thrill.  Yet often the best riding in life is unexpected, and the most exciting roads are those that have no names and no signs and few people.  Just a few days from Chile in the Peruvian city of Arequipa, we set out on some lonely roads to Lago Salinas and beyond.  It felt like a ride around another world.

Climbing away from Arequipa, Volcano Misti in the background

Looking back at our road through the clouds

Dreamscapes

We found respite from the hail and rain in this tunnel.

Lakeside exhaustion

We climbed from the moment we left Arequipa and didn’t stop till we found winter.  Starting in the hot sun at 7600 ft, we climbed a grueling dirt road for a day and a half until we arrived at Lago Salinas, a mountain-stream-fed lagoon in an eternally frigid, windy, Peruvian drizzle that can only be found above 13,500 ft.  The road was deserted and alternatively bumpy, sandy, muddy, or inundated with water at the top.  We were hungry and under-prepared.  We arrived to a small cluster of buildings on the southeast corner of the lake, a small pueblito known as Moche before nightfall.  There was a single small tienda run out of the front room of a woman’s home.  No simple restaurant or hostel existed, and the prospect of tenting in rain and sub-freezing temperatures was disheartening.  I had had one of the worst days of my life on the bike, bonking in the cold and struggling to turn the pedals over for the last few hours of the ride.  We begged for the storeowner’s help, and in short time we had a place to stay in the spare room of her friend’s home, as well as hot plates of rice, eggs, and potatoes.

Mountain sunset from Moche

Our ribbon of road over the tundra

Snow blanketed our path over this 15,000 ft. pass

Thick mud and a lake of water forced us up and around the adjacent hill in this section.

Patching a pinch flat on the descent from Lago Salinas - moss covered rocks for seating

We hardly slept due to altitude sickness.  Piercing headaches kept us up unwillingly while we craved the sleep we needed to recover and heal from the past day of riding.  We were in the middle of nowhere, and despite our tremendous blessings and good fortune, we felt very alone and somewhat daunted.  The next morning we woke to snow.  Pressing on that next day we took the old road south of the lake, determined to descend out of the high altitude Peruvian winter we had stumbled upon at Lago Salinas.  “Road” is such a strong word sometimes.  Perhaps “trail” or “pathetic vestige of mistaken vehicular activity” would have been more appropriate on this occasion.  We struggled to climb the sandy path that slowed our wheels to walking pace.  At times the road would simply disappear or become submerged under a lake or stream.  This gave us the rather fun opportunity to simply ride out into the tundra-like snow and rock fields at nearly 15,000 feet of elevation and make our own trail.  We are confident that vehicles do not pass that way for days at a time.  It’s entirely likely that if the rain and snow were to stop, our tire tracks would be there waiting for the next set of bicycle adventurers to find.

Climbing once again, from Puquina this time

Terraced fields covered the valley floors and walls near Puquina; years of incredible physical labor were visible here.

Cliffside roads became the norm.

So did sweeping descents.

And sand.

It’s tremendously humbling to struggle all day against slow, sandy roads and steep climbs and only manage a walking-pace accomplishment of fifty kilometers.  It can be disheartening to ride through empty places with no towns or tiendas to buy a simple Coke and sit in the shade to rest.  These lonely places don’t have names or even the recognition of existence on Google Maps.  This is flyover country, the space between where travelers find themselves and where they’d like to be.  We relish that solitude, the intoxicating sense that we might be one of the few people to ride a bike here, ever.  And though we might only see a handful of people, our interactions with them are that much more meaningful.  Simply seeing another face on these roads is reassuring; for the Peruvians who see gringos riding these terrible, random, Andean dirt roads…we must be terribly peculiar.  We descended goat paths out of the wintry mountains and after braving some tooth-rattling descents into the desert valleys below, began our many sandy, steep mountain passes on the road to Moquegua.  We ran out of water and discovered that in over a hundred kilometers of consecutive 4000+ meter passes, there are no towns and we were lucky to see three vehicles…and even more lucky when those vehicles donated their half-consumed bottles of Inca-Kola and bags of bread to us so we could survive.

Down to the desert canyon

Roadside donations.

Climbing out of the canyon

Looking back at our road on the canyon floor.

Late afternoon shadows.

No water or food meant a hitch with a couple guys and their fruit truck to the nearest town.

Now we leave Peru and all its goodness behind us.  As you read this, we’ll be setting our tires on Chilean soil for the first time.  The finish in Ushuaia has never seemed closer.  Yet for all of the highlights ahead and behind us, our minds still flock to the solitude of the empty, unremarkable, and yet still extraordinary worlds we are privileged to explore by bicycle.

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