For some reason I am under the impression that I will find both myself and God somewhere along this road. Maybe I won’t find either, but I must look! I want to allow the light of introspection a pure and undiluted chance to examine my soul. I have found greater value in thoughts born in solitude than those that spring from the fray of ordinary life. I hope this trip will be the beginning to a life full of experience, beauty and understanding. I don’t ever want to forget the way the world felt when I was a child: magical and huge, full of possibility and hope. I won’t let go of that. I am an artist at heart, and this, I hope, will be my first great work.
Monday, March 29, 2010
dangerous to ride at night, but here I can do it. There are no
insects, no water for them to survive off of, so there are no insects.
I prefer it. And there's a full moon. It gives me a shadow, down the
embankment to the right, black spirit on moonlight sand. Weightless,
The moon is upsidedown. The poor man in its surface is standing on his
head. Upside down, the world inverted and the moon turned upside down.
That's a good sign.
In the distance is a small cloud of light, faint domed white specter,
soft mist glowing. Like an explosion a thousand miles away, or a
prison under bright white security alone in the desert.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
I am going to be strong. I am going to be strong when I have no strength. When my head begins to bow I will press my spine back straight. I will decide to ignore my weakness, I will instead choose strength. A loss of desire is not a loss of ability. Desire is fleeting, illusory and weak. Purpose is strong. Intent is strong. Weakness feeds on weakness, strength leads to strength. Despair is not fatigue, rest does not cure it. Drive is music, fire and steel. Drive is joy and joy is energy. Find it. Lie to yourself and say that it is there, and you'll find that it is. Set your jaw, narrow your eyes and be strong. It will take strength. Be strong.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
When I was in Central America, somewhere in central America, I don't recall where though I have it written down, one of the guards at a check point tried to take my Leatherman. This may sound frightening or dangerous, and I'm sure the situation could have been tweaked to make it so, but in truth it was just, well, pathetic.
The man was short, middle aged and round. I was talking to another guard when his short fat hands slowly drifted towards a pocket on my bag. With tender, timid care he unzipped the pocket and slid his fat fingers inside. I was watching all this and he knew it, and his expression and gesture was that of feigning innocent curiosity, but I knew he was going to try and take something. He rummaged around delicately for a moment in the pocket he had opened and then extracted the black leather case holding the tool. He took out the tool and opened it. I stared at him, caught his eye to be sure that he knew that I knew, and that he was examining the tool with my permission, and continued talking with the other guards.
'Give me this.' The man with the tool interrupted a second later.
He had opened the knife and was trying to figure out how to close it again. I turned back to face him. My face, beaten with sun and fatigue, behind sun glasses and smeared with diesel. My shirt open, face, arms and chest running with sweat. His face, round, timid, embarrassed.
'Why?' I asked laughing lightly.
He paused, still unable to close the blade. I reached out to show him how to do it but he pulled pulled back and wouldn't let the tool go.
'Give me this he repeated again,' mainly because he couldn't answer my question: why?
'No.' I answered him.
A list of the facts of situation might make it sound dangerous and impressive: I was in the rain-forest in some third world country surrounded by three men wearing camouflage and carrying machine guns. The man trying to steal from me was holding my knife between the two of us.
Those are the facts, but the reality is that they wore their rifles over their shoulders with the casual sling of a woman's purse, the men were short and yes a bit unsavory, but shy: normal men in boots. The man with the knife held it not like a knife but more like a new cell phone he didn't know how to use. There was no danger. There was no danger provided I could somehow establish that we were friends but that I was not going to indulge their begging.
You can fight with anyone if that is what you are looking to do. I did not want to fight and the situation passed. The knife was returned to me and I smiled at the man to let him know it was okay, as though to pretend that he had never tried anything so rude and embarrassing.
It was the same for me in every instance I encountered this type of behavior. It was never impressive. From street fights to petty theft to pimping and dealing to when four men on motorcycles tried to rob me one night in Colombia, the instances sound far different in one line descriptions than they are in reality, and the best I can do to describe the reality is to say that it is really nothing at all impressive.
Friday, March 12, 2010
It was calm. Cold. It was dark but for the moonlight and starlight and silent except for the bumping and shaking of my gear as I continued to bounce along. I occasionally switched off my headlamp and let my eyes adjust to the moonlight which dimmed or brightened as thin veils of cloud moved across the sky. With my light on I was able to see the road directly in front of me and the stars and moon. When the light was off and my eyes had adjusted I could make out the low rolling blackness of the landscape and discern the horizon line where the solid blackness of the ground met the lighter nighttime sky.
In the distance a car was approaching. It drove slowly but I could hear it many minutes before its lights reached me. I could tell by the sound that it was a small passenger car and I waited for its powerful lights to illuminate the road ahead of me as it passed. Cars heading the other direction temporarily blinded me but those moving with me illuminated in perfect detail the road ahead. I would imprint the general lay of the road in my mind and then follow it after the light had passed. I could also watch where the red taillights went into the distance. Where they disappeared in a certain way there would be a descent. I could watch them climb, turn and eventually disappear and so learn something about the road ahead.
The night around me brightened subtly. The headlights were not yet shining on me but the diffused glow of the car was close enough to cast a barely discernible change.
I looked ahead and waited for my shadow to appear. That was often the first indicator I would get of an approaching car. My shadow would begin infinitely tall and faint. As the cars neared my shadow would stay black as the ground lit up. The shadow would shrink and drift to the side until, as the car passed, it would flash out and only the diminishing red glow of the taillights and the howl of the car would remain.
The car behind me peaked a small rise and the lights shown directly on me. It was still quite distant so the lights barely skimmed the surface of the road, only catching the top edges of gravel and leaving the rest of the surface in complete darkness. I had never seen such an illusion before but looking down I could only see the tiny points of rock catching the light but could not see the road itself. I moved over a surreal blackness containing hundreds of small points of light, exactly like small stars. It was otherworldly and beautiful. The small points of light stretched out to look like lines as they whisked past my front wheel. After several moments the car shifted angles and the illusion was broken. The rough road lit up completely in the warm yellow lights of the car as my shadow became more defined and shortened and then broke. The car passed slowly leaving a dense cloud of dust in the air. Still and quiet returned again.
It was nearly midnight when I saw the sign. I knew I was close to the junction, the place where my secondary road met back with the main highway. The sign was for a Hospedaje; a place where truckers and travelers could buy a meal and a bed for the night. I had very little hope that there would be any sign of life there this late at night but I couldn't help think that I just might get to step inside and warm up over a cup of coffee.
I reached the junction and although I was dismayed to discover that it was still unpaved, still rough, I was relieved as it indicated that taking the road I had been struggling along was maybe not such a terrible mistake after all.
I bumped slowly around a curve in the road and saw in the distance the lights of a building and the lights of a semi parked next to it. That was reason to rejoice. I had long since learned that the pairing of building and truck along the highway usually meant a rest stop, and the fact that both still had their lights on was a good sign that someone there was still awake. In moments like this I always tried to prevent myself feeling too hopeful. I could arrive there expecting something good and find nothing other than an angry dog, or a power transformer or a water tank.
As I neared I realized that the building was the Hospedaje and that the lights were still on inside. I pulled up and lightly chuckled at my little victory as I climbed off the bike. My feet had become so cold that walking on them felt sharp and painful.
I pushed my way inside to find a comfortable little restaurant. There were native decorations along with old coca cola signs covering the walls. A rack of souvenirs stood just beyond the door. It was warm inside.
A man had heard me enter and appeared from the kitchen. He was strange looking; the type of man who puts too much care into his physical appearance with an unnatural looking result. He was balding but wore a heavy amount of grease in his remaining hair which was combed down close to his scalp. His hands were soft and a light sheen reflected off the oils on his face.
'Hello,' I said, 'are you open?'
'No, no the kitchen is closed. It's all closed.' He said, gesturing around. The restaurant was completely empty and mostly dark.
'I just want coffee.' I said, aware of the note of pleading urgency in my voice. I was thinking, 'Don't you see me? How could you turn me out? Don't you know how cold it is out there? I am asking for very little.' 'Coffee? With milk?' I continued.
He regarded me for a moment and then answered in his soft, high voice.
'Yes we have coffee with milk do you want the milk hot or cold?'
'Hot. Please.' I smiled, glad that I had been accepted and sat down at the bar as the man retreated to the kitchen, poured some milk into an aluminum cup, lit the propane stove and set the cup on the flame.
There was a flat panel television hung on the wall. As I waited I watched as a movie played without sound. It was the new King Kong movie. Hundreds of giant dinosaurs were charging down a ravine as crazily and aggressively as the traffic in a Central American city. In the rush they were crushing everything beneath them except for the main characters and a few others to make it more believable. 'Right, more believable.'
Twenty minutes later I was back on the road. I had bought the only food he would sell me: four sleeves of cheap, pre-packaged cookies. I had also learned some useful information: there was nothing open in San Sebastian, the pavement didn't start until the border with Argentina and the service station in Rio Grande was open 24 hours.
The border was 15 Kilometers away and I reached it a bit more than an hour later. The crossing was quiet and easy. Border crossing are commonly confusing, crowded and require a great deal of time, but at one in the morning this crossing was a matter of two stamps in roughly as many minutes and I was back on the road. What was more, the road was paved.
The road climbed over a small range and dropped down to the ocean. The temperature crept lower, hovering just above freezing. The moon disappeared behind thickening clouds and the road was empty. In the still night, on the smooth asphalt, I flew. Standing on the pedals I raced the 80 dark kilometers from the border to Rio Grande.
It was still dark at 5:30 when I reached the city. Rio Grande turned out to be a small oil town, empty and industrial, well lit by hundreds of orange street lights. As I drew deeper into the town I looked around anxiously for the service station, hoping that my information was correct. After a period the lights became less common. There were no more houses and I was worried that the city was already ending and that I had not seen any places that would possibly serve food or drink. If I didn't refuel in Rio Grande I would be in serious trouble in trying to reach Talhuin, the last small town before Ushuaia, 92 Kilometers away. I saw a man walking along the sidewalk with a heavy jacket over his sweatshirt. He had the hood pulled up over his head and walked with the stomping stride of a man trudging to work.
I pulled over next to him and called out.
'Excuse me? Hello! Hi.' The man stopped and looked curiously at me. 'Is there a service station here?'
He approached me slowly, looking with relaxed curiosity at my strange appearance. I could tell that I was in danger of falling into a long conversation, something I didn't have the time or the energy for.
'Yes yes, yes there's a service station there,' he pointed back the way I had come, 'down by the port.'
'Is it close? How far is it?' I asked. I had had identical conversations for thousands of miles.
'Ach! It's close. Not far it is here. Or, maybe closer there is another, just follow straight ahead,' he pointed down the way I was going. 'Where are you traveling from?'
'Alaska. Is it open? Do they serve food and everything there?'
'Alaska? On Bike? Peddling only? Nothing more?'
'Yeah purely on bike... but they serve food there and they are open 24 hours?'
'Yes yes, no problem. It is one... two, three, four... four blocks and then you will find the roundabout and it is there. The road on the right will go into the town and then you just go straight and the road will go and curve...' he meandered along a lengthy explanation of where the road went. I knew I merely had to follow the signs but I did not interrupt him.
'... and it's just past the roundabout and you'll see the service station on the right so just stay to the right on the roundabout and then continue directly ahead afterwards. How does Argentina appeal to you?'
'Oh I like Argentina very much. Thank you very much for the help. Thank you,' and I moved off.
The service station was exactly where he described and I pulled up nearly shaking with exhaustion and relief. I rode right up to the front door and my heart plummeted. It was dark inside and the door was locked. It was closed. 'No. Wait. Look around. Find someone. Get help.'
I noticed an attendant fueling a car across the lot. I rode over and asked when the shop opened,
'Not until 7:30.'
'7:30!' I looked around. I must have looked quite tired and anxious.
'Is there another shop here? One that is open now in that I can buy food?'
He paused and thought, I waited nervously.
'Ehh... Yes! Yes. Here, nothing more.' He said gesturing just down the street.
'Right here? What is it called?' I had long since learned to get the names of these places as finding them is rarely as easy as the helpful locals make it seem. He told me and I rode off slowly, looking for the shop.
Monday, March 8, 2010
I laid the bike down on the deck not wanting to risk that the kickstand would fail under the motion of the ship. I pulled some food from the panniers and went up to the observation deck running along the port side. I could see the island of Tierra del Fuego approaching across the water. Down in the wake several small dolphins colored white and black flashed out of the dark and occasionally jumped entirely out of the water. I wondered how many days it would take me to reach Ushuaia, never imagining that I would make it there without stopping.
We unloaded several minutes later and I set off again as quickly as I could; the conditions were still favorable. A bit more than an hour later the road split. I followed the sign to Rio Grande, the last city on my route before Ushuaia. Several hundred feet past the junction the pavement ended and the road became washboard dirt covered in large sporadic gravel.
My bicycle is a touring bike which means that it is not as stiff nor light as a normal road bike, but it is also primarily designed for the road. My tires are narrow and the frame is thick and made of steel. It does not have any suspension which means that every tiny bump jars the frame and ripples up the seat through my spine and up the fork through my wrists and arms. My speed immediately dropped as I worked harder to overcome the rough surface and swerved unsuccessfully trying to avoid the worst of the bumps.
It was rough to the point of not working. I can remember thinking, Oh; well this simply doesn't work at all. When the bike hit a bump all the bags bounced and banged so that riding along sounded like distant machine gun fire. Bang! BangBangBang! BANGBANG! Bang!
Oh well, it's not supposed to be easy right? I thought as I bounced along. I hoped that the dirt would last only several kilometers and that it would smooth out later on. I could never help hoping for things like that no matter how many times in the past such hopes had been dashed.
Twenty kilometers later the road had wound its way into the hills and had not yet gotten any smoother. The wind had also picked up. The jaunty morning breeze had turned into a vicious whipping force that came from ahead and to the right. It was impossible to ride straight and very difficult to move forward at all. Passing trucks kicked up thick clouds of dust which were quickly sucked into the distance by the wind. There were no plants other than the dry yellow grass I had had for days some the low hardy shrubs, all of which were quivering and shaking in the wind. On my map I could see that the road made a 90 degree turn to the left in what I estimated to be 20 K away.
That turn should be enough to turn this headwind into a tailwind, I thought. If I can just get there… it's maybe... two hours. Just get there and maybe that's where the pavement starts and you can just fly outta here and get to San Sebastian tonight. I was running low on water and food and was anxious about filling up. I would not be able to stop at least until I had reached a water supply.
It was ridiculous though, how slowly I was going and how difficult the going was. The wind kept ramping up and up. Clouds blew over and a few light drops of rain threatened to become worse. It had already been a full day of riding, but being so close to the end of my trip I wanted to finish strong and pull really big days to the finish line.
A small pickup with a miniature horse in the back pulled over and waved me down. An old man wearing a tweed scally cap, a wool cardigan and windbreaker leaned out the window,
'Where are you going?' He asked in Spanish.
'San Sebastian, If I can,' I answered him.
'Ach! San Sebastian. It is far, too far. Come, I have a farm just over there. You can rest and stay.'
'How far is San Sebastian?' I asked. I had to shout over the wind.
'It's far, it's...' He consulted the young man riding in the passenger seat, 'far. It's too far. Tomorrow. You go to San Sebastian tomorrow. It is already late.'
I thought about it. Thinking clearly in such a situation is difficult. I was tired and flushed with adrenaline and trying to compute too many unknown variables. No, I thought, No I can't rest. I've gotta... I should... What are you crazy? another part of my mind protested, You've already done a big day, you can't get anywhere in this wind, you need water and food, it's about to rain and you've got a place to stay and a new experience to have. Sleep tonight and do whatever craziness you want tomorrow.
'Alright, yes. Good. Thank you.' I said.
'Ah good! Good! You follow. It's close just over here. Just follow, you follow.'
The truck moved off as I turned the bike around and followed a few hundred meters back to a private dirt drive branching off from the main road. I had passed many hundreds of drives like this, most of them blocked by a gate or cattle guard and bearing some sign naming the property.
'Estancia Diego Portales'
I read as I bumped across the cattle guard.
I was always curious about where these roads led. They were roads in the middle of nowhere that I could sometimes see stretching for miles and miles into deeper and deeper nowhere. The small farm was a mile and a half down the dirt road, tucked in a small draw between two hills. I pulled up as the old man and the younger one were unloading the small horse. A moment later the Old Man walked over and introduced himself. 'Toro.' The farm consisted of several small warping, creaking wooden buildings, a large old barn and a few pens containing a small number of sheep.
A half hour later I had had a hot shower, changed into comfortable clothing and was drinking tea with rolls and jam at a small wooden table in the dark quiet kitchen. The wind was howling outside and although the house creaked and moaned and even moved in the wind, inside it was dry and warm. I was feeling immensely pleased with my decision to stop and rest and was enjoying seeing the quiet, simple life of these two men.
Toro finished eating first and excused himself outside. He lived in the adjacent house. My host, whose name as best I can spell was something close to ´Jeiur´, cleared his plate and moved to sit on an old wooden chair against the wall. I looked over and imagined him there in this house alone. There were no books; there was a television that did not function and a small radio that emitted mostly static.
What does one do when this is home? There is no stimulus, just quiet emptiness, eternal boredom. I wondered when the last time he had been on a date was or how often he had a chance to make new friends. His attitude towards me suggested that I was not often. He seemed terribly excited to have me there, but timid, as though I were something like a wild animal you can sometimes get close to but if you move too quickly will scare it off. We exchanged a bit of polite conversation which never really warmed to anything natural so I pulled out my map and tried to figure out what I wanted to do.
Let's see, I'm about... here... and that means that Ushuaia is 42 add 15 add 80 add 52 add 40 add 67 add 40... I scratched out the numbers and summed them. 336 plus a bit more to reach the junction so say 360... Divide by, oh let's say 15 K an hour and that gives us 24 hours of riding to reach Ushuaia, assuming I can hold a 15 K per hour average... But it might drop to like 8, worst case scenario, but then again it might be closer to 20, 21... But 15 seems reasonable if the wind isnt like this tomorrow. But wait, 24 hours, ant it's... I glanced at the clock on the wall, …only 7 now, that means, oh no. That means if I rode all night and all day tomorrow I could get there tomorrow evening?! No! Oh, no. It'd be rude to leave... But this is it! This would be the perfect ending! Oh God could I actually do that? I know what it's like to be tired, but this... this would push that to a whole different level. My body might begin to break down after midnight, 2 am, 4 am, not even thinking about 4 pm, 6 pm, 8 pm tomorrow. Ooo I don't know. I just don't know. The other part of my mind stood up and answered, What are you kidding? Of course you can do it. There is no question. Does it matter if it is difficult? Have you forgotten what you've already done? This works out perfectly. Go. Go now.
I stood up from the table. My host looked at me. I didn't know what to say and didn't have the skills with the language to say it well anyways.
'Look,' I said bringing him the map, 'Look here. Here we are,' I pointed, ´and from here to Ushuaia, only 360 kilometers. If I go now and if I don't sleep I can arrive tomorrow.'
'What? I don't shounoutodoando. What denonshotado.' he said, some of his Spanish too heavily accented and coming too quickly for me to understand.
'Sorry? You don't understand me?' I asked guessing the meaning of what he had said. He nodded.
I explained again, speaking more slowly and he nodded his understanding.
'So you're going now?' he asked.
'Yes, I want to do it.'
I cringed as I changed back into my filthy riding clothes and shoved my feet back into my shoes. I filled my bottles and accepted some bread in a plastic bag for the road.
Outside I found Toro on the path and explained to him what I was doing. He told me to come back for coffee when I changed my mind. I thanked them both and apologized profusely for leaving, jumped on the bike and struggled up the hill back to the highway. The day was just yielding to evening as I pulled away from the Estancia.
I had wondered several times already that day if I were indeed on the correct road, an unsettling question to have flickering in the back of your mind in a moment like this. On my map I could see the main highway and also a secondary road, both meeting in San Sebastian. I was unsure whether or not I had inadvertently gotten onto that secondary road. A few facts suddenly clicked into place.
'That sign for Cullen does not have any distance labeled on it which means I'm probably in Cullen, (Cullen was a spot on my map on the secondary road. A spot on this map was not a guarantee of there being anything there at all), I have not seen a single passenger bus go by and... Oh no, I turned left at the junction.' On my map the main highway clearly was the one to the right. 'But why would the signs have pointed me this way if it were not the main route? But if it's the main route then where are the buses? But if it's much rougher or longer than why are all the trucks going this way?'
I digested all these questions as the sun sank lower and night slowly dimmed and blanketed the landscape. I knew it was only a day or two past the full moon and I hoped it would rise soon. I had my small led headlight on which allowed me to stay on the road but didn't provide proper light for choosing the 'smoothest' path along the road.
There is a certain list of sensations which fall into the category of unquestionably, unconditionally and entirely not good. Hitting a large unexpected bump in the road on a suspensionless bike is one of them. It's an unexpected slap in the face; it is the feeling of having cold water dumped on you in your sleep and this sensation was one that consistently jolted me out of any sense of focus or relaxation.
As the night deepened and even the subtlest trace of color disappeared from the western horizon the wind diminished to a quiet barely perceptible nighttime flicker. 'So far so good,' I thought, 'Full moon on the way, almost no wind and the rain never showed up.'
The night was cold, hovering 3 or 4 degrees above freezing. First my toes were cold, and my hands. Then my entire feet began to feel frozen and sensitive. I tried to hide my hands from the wind of my forward motion by gripping the bars right behind my bar bag. My breath was as thick and white as smoke and was illuminated brightly by the light on my forehead before dispersing.
I had learned from Toro that the pavement didn't begin until San Sebastian, which was still more than 50 K away, an eternal distance on this road. I crossed my fingers that something would be open there, a place I could step into for a moment to warm up with a cup of coffee and buy some food. A few dim distant lights dotted the otherwise black hills. It was impossible to tell how far they were or whether or not the road would take me to them.
Trucks and cars rumbled by every half hour or leaving a lingering cloud of thick white dust which the light from my headlight reflected off of and made seeing beyond difficult. I simply persisted, taking distance ten K, five K, one K at a time, knowing that this eternal surreal situation would inevitably end with the rising if the sun and the return of warmth and light.