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Posts tagged ‘Melgar’

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.

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Mailbag Monday #11

Today_we_continue our Mailbag Monday series…

Dear David,

Hi.  My name is Kristi.  I like that you are trying to raise money to build homes for the poor.  It is very kind to help others.  Ms. Stoltz is my teacher.  She told us about you.  I hope you have a safe trip.  Thank you for helping others.

Sincerely,

Kristi

Black and white image of Lago de Atitlán

Dear Kristi,

It’s wonderful to hear from you.  You are absolutely right about helping others.  Leading a virtuous life through service and leadership is incredibly important.  Before this trip, I learned much about myself and how to best help others during my involvement in various high school activities.  Students Today Leaders Forever and Fill the Dome were two of these, and are two great examples of how students can become engaged in servant leadership.

I encourage you to find ways to lead and serve throughout your life.  You will grow and prosper as an individual, student, and citizen. I know I have.

Thanks for your letter!

Sincerely,

David

In America

Our_leap_to_Colombia used a famous foreign destination as its stepping-stone, a strange land where we were cultural and lingual outsiders: Miami.  Though it was only a matter of months since we last had touched US soil, our brief layover in the States had a surreal character about it.  We were all casually speaking English again with complete strangers in that gregarious American way that is so dear to my heart. The cleanliness beside well-lit streets, the bright colors of the buildings, the gleam of infrastructure, the simplicity of clean water from a sink, and the cheeky consumerism of the city all swept over me.  “Your wife is hot,” pronounced the emboldened interstate billboard advertisement, continuing in the fine print, “Buy her a new A/C.”

Momentary road block due to construction meant an early lunch for us in Colombia

We enjoyed the blessings of a brief home stay, a warm bed, and a home-cooked meal.  We even sang for our supper which you should be able to find on our Facebook page.  And as quickly as we had become strangely reacquainted with a familiar world, we boarded a plane bound for the cool, stormy, high mountains of Colombia.  After assembling our bicycles in the lobby of a very patient hotel, we moved south and are now bound for a region known as Trampolin de los Muertos, literally the Trampoline of Death, a reputation earned by its spectacularly steep, twisty, and remote mountain roads.  These are the roads that keep us up at night and that we wake up for in the morning.  This reminds me that we could improve our record with regards to waking up early in the morning and climbing mountains.  We obviously have much left to learn between here and Argentina.

Goliath disassembled

Unpacking Angus

An education isn’t merely about the acquisition of knowledge, nor is it necessarily just about critical thinking.  William Deresiewicz wrote an essay once about leadership and intellectualism that I found very compelling, in part because it pointed to the profound orientation that results from a liberal education.  It is certainly important to know things and to hone your abilities to deploy one’s intelligence and acumen.  Yet it is also important to think about the right things.  And so with every kilometer of solitude, and the privileges of time to read good book and speak with local people that we meet, we see the world and ourselves a little differently with every day of riding.  Buried in the debris of our scattered thoughts comes a realization: that with every passing day as travelers, the unknown mountain roads of these strange lands have become home to roaming souls and minds.