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.
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.
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.
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.