Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘family’

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.

Advertisements

Merry Christmas

Guadalajara_and_North Dakota are worlds apart.  Today the distance shrinks.  In Mexico and at home, love abounds, family is primary, and somehow snow is nowhere to be found.  May you all find joy and love with your family this Christmas Day and reflect on that rare blessing that you possess in the company of your loved ones.  Merry Christmas!

Angus dressed for work in his festive Mexican Christmas attire.

A Guadalajara Christmas with the Salazar Family.

This Day

Every_day_of_Bound South is a thanksgiving. Be it a simple meal, a warm bed, or an uplifting conversation, we can’t help but to give thanks on the road. To all those who have had a hand in any of these daily blessings, thank you. You are what makes each day so special to us.

Today is Thanksgiving, a holiday that reminds us not only to be thankful but to reflect on what we are so thankful for. Although we will not be feasting on turkey, dumplings, and mashed potatoes in North Dakota with family today (how wonderful that would be), we have much to be thankful for, including our health and safety, the stretch of road that has brought us here, the road that lies ahead, and the people that greet us on the road.

So much of what we do everyday revolves around people. Their experiences and knowledge are what makes each waypoint and destination so meaningful. And they are always helpful (thanks to all who have noticed our disorientation and given us direction!).  This is my first Thanksgiving away from family in North Dakota, but I like to think that we can share this day with our Bound South family, a family of kindred character that we’ve been growing since leaving Anchorage.

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.

 

Bend and Break

Synchronization.  I was devastated when I spelled that word wrong at the Ramsey County Spelling Bee in 7th grade.  The word captures the feeling I’ve had since crossing the volcanic arc of Oregon’s northern Cascades.  Things seem to have come together for Bound South, with a shared rhythm despite the brotherly dissonance that makes a journey like this so special.  Our MSR Mutha Hubba seems to erect itself when night falls.  The innumerable varieties of Campbell’s Chunky Soup have been thoroughly vetted.  The clear winners have emerged to take their rightful place in our panniers alongside our rice and rotini.

Early morning over Mt. Hood, 107 miles to go.

We rise with the sun and ride despite the wind until the time is right to stop.  There are few explicit plans or deadlines and yet we have internalized this southward tempo like some kind of circadian rhythm.  How far today?  This has become a rhetorical question, an inspiration, and our daily adventure.

From lush timber forest to desert in just a few miles. Amazing contrast.

107 miles separated us from Bend in Oregon’s high desert, a full day of hard riding from the timber forest of Mt. Hood where we camped.  A hard day of riding was followed by some splendid days of Habitat building, photography presentations, and meeting with family and friends.  Bend has been the welcome breath between movements that we needed.  The seemingly permanent sunshine of Central Oregon belies the cold roads and high altitudes that still lie ahead.  We can’t help but soak it in while it lasts.

David shows off his Habitat build painting skills.

Every day I like to ask myself whether I believe in what I am doing that day.  It’s a simple litmus test to isolate the road ahead from the accumulated weight of the long road behind us.  Days of rest have been sweet here in Bend, but already I am itching to get back on my bike and ride south.  I love this journey as much now as I did leaving Anchorage in August.

Long and windy road to Bend with mountains to the west.

 

America

_____________”The spirit is at home, if not entirely satisfied, in America.”_____________

Thus wrote Allan Bloom in Closing of the American Mind.  I couldn’t help but commit the quotation to memory and it came to mind as we passed through the invisible veil separating Canada and the United States.  The boundary between them is an arbitrary political construction that poses no barrier to the mixed conifer forests, mountains, and cold autumnal rain that covers the landscape this time of year.  The casual bicycling observer would note that miles pass by much more slowly than kilometers, and that America got something right when it minimized taxes at the grocery store.  Yet these are trivial distinctions that lay like debris over the spectacular character of this America that we call home.

Canadians will celebrate their Thanksgiving this coming Monday.  Though our own Thanksgiving is still far away, I wish to excerpt from Vermont Royster’s “And the Fair Land” which is printed annually on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page every Thanksgiving day.  We are forever grateful for the goodness of those who have helped us since our return to the States.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure.  For that reminder is everywhere – in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators.  Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.

Brothers

The first thing that people notice on our business cards is the tagline for Bound South: Three Brother’s Expedition from Alaska to Argentina.  Immediately they gaze in awe at the three of us.  However, it is not the 30,000 kilometers separating Alaska and Argentina that shocks them.  It’s the fact that we’re doing this with one another as brothers.

Taking a rest day in Jasper, hiking 3000 ft. of vertical.

“You three must get along pretty well, huh?”  No, I like to say that we hit rock bottom somewhere in the mid ’90s.  Our parents may attest to this.  The tipping point was the winter of 1997.  Nathan and I buried David up to his head in the mountain of snow on the edge of our farmstead and convinced him that we had left him there to die in the imminent blizzard.  Good times.  Since this relationship is incapable of further deterioration, I figured that my brothers were a safe bet for a year-long bicycle expedition.  Blood is thicker than water.  On this trip we have discovered that blood is also thicker than sweat, Gatorade, Tang, and the delicious jelly filled with glass shards that I recommended to David in Alaska.  “Countercultural” might be an epithet in our home state, but I think we fit the definition pretty well.  I don’t know how many siblings would voluntarily choose this path that we’ve taken.

On some level, I think that fact is a small tragedy of modern America.  America reaps the fruits of individualism, mobility, and pluralism.  You can be who you want to be and escape the traditional confines of your family or region to find your community, whether in the real world or in cyberspace.  When relationships suffer, it is far too easy to withdraw, escape, and move to an environment with less friction.  Society can freely atomize and self-sort into stagnation.

The Heisman

Yet perhaps this is just mild self-aggrandizement.  The three of us are lucky to have brotherhood and friendship that is more than duty or obligation.  I attribute this blessing to the years we have spent working together on our family farm in Starkweather, ND.  Occasionally, we were jealous of our peers with their summers of liberty and we resented the family farm for it.  We look back now and wouldn’t trade it for anything.  When you have work together and live together, inseparable from planting to harvest, you can’t walk away from your problems and you have to learn to love one another.  We have strong family bonds to show for it.  There is a powerful, sustaining magic in kinship of which we have only begun to scratch the surface.  I hope that this magic can be made evident here at Bound South and perhaps rediscovered in the lives of our readers.