Patagonia in a nutshell..
After finishing the Carretera Austral in Chile and crossing the border into Argentina, I took two rest days in el Calafate where I visited the world renowned glacier Perito Moreno. Besides that I did not do much. What a delight, doing nothing after arduous labour! After those two necessary days I left for the road again, feeling all fresh and relaxed. The prevailing north-western winds helped me pedaling along through the pampas for 165 km to the small village of la Esperanza. I knew the next days were going to be tough, for it meant facing the same strong winds travelling west to Torres del Paine, Chilean\'s most famous national park. That week turned out to be the most intensive one of the whole trip: I cycled almost 500 km and hiked two days in the park, one day for 11 hours. Not the long days on the bike but the first day hiking resulted in a major muscle ache I felt for days to come! Near the park entrance I met Andrea and Corsin, a sympathetic Swiss couple who are traveling in a cool green Volkswagen van. Accidentally, I bumped into them again the next morning which for them was reason to invite me for breakfast, my second one that morning!
From Torres del Paine to Puerto Natales and from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas, the biggest city in southern Chile. As opposed to Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas has more historical buildings due to the presence of European settlers in the 19th century. Some where evangelistas, others gold diggers but all had one thing in common: they were not afraid of the harsh weather. This is a part of the world where the weather can change in less than an hour. As the locals tend to say: aqui pasan las cuatro estaciones en un dia! Four seasons in one day. And then there was only one week left, and one stretch to finish with the destination in Ushuaia. The city is beautifully situated on the shores of the Beagle Channel, surrounded by mountains and is generally considered the world\'s southernmost city. That is the reason many expeditions, cyclists and bikers alike use Ushuaia as their start or finish point. There is actually a city south of Ushuaia, namely Chilean\'s Puerto Williams which is located on the other side of the Beagle Channel. But somehow, in the course of time, the Chileans have lost the battle for the title \'city at the end of the world\'.
Juan Jose Arauz
I had always wanted to take a picture of a real gaucho. But I did not have the guts so far to do so. Gauchos are not to be messed with. Pride is written all over them, and there can be something terrifying in their looks. Add to that the fact that the only time stuff of mine got stolen, was probably done so by gauchos (ok, I was camping illegally on private property in Patagonia but still..). And you understand I have mostly pictures of the landscape. But how could I go home without a photo of a gaucho?? Then, in a bar in el Calafate, holiday and adventure town on the foothills of the Argentinean Andes, my luck turned. A man walked in making such an appearance that everybody turned in his direction while voices were lowered. It was clear that he had been drinking and, by the look on his face, seemed quite pleased with his acquired state of happiness. He went straight to the bar and ordered a glass of wine, meanwhile looking around for some company to talk with. Apparently he decided it was going to me, because he walked over to my table and started talking to me, to my excitement but also a bit to my fear. He presented himself as Juan Jose Arauz and told me he worked on one of the estancias outside el Calafate. Apart from the usual chores like maintenance work and taking care of the cattle his job also involved guiding tourists around the estancia. Thus he was used to tourists and liked talking to them so he could learn about different cultures. On my question if he was married he laughed and replied that he had never been married and that he was never going to be so either. He liked his freedom and independence and was not going to give any of that up for one single woman. He was straightforward and clear about it, as he probably was with most matters in his life. He insisted I had a drink with him, which he paid for, thus showing true Patagonian hospitality. And who am I to refuse such a nice offer? Anyway, that is how, after the ice was broken, I dared to ask him for a picture. Nice man, Juan Jose Arauz. And proud people, these gauchos..
There I was, sitting at a small Chilean restaurant at a crossroads in Cerro Castillo which is the gateway to Torres del Paine. The other option you have is to bypass the park and go straight to the city of Puerto Natales. I had just finished the only choice on the menu (caldo, a chicken soup which had lots of slices of chicken skin in it, yagh! and rice with peas), when three other cyclists walked in the restaurant. I had met them the day before when I was taking the afternoon off in Tapi Aike, a crossroads somewhere in the Argentinean pampa with a small gas station, a small police station and a puesto de vialidad (road maintenance). The reason I wasn\'t cycling was that I was fixing a broken spoke (my second one). Of the three cyclists there was one big guy from Switzerland who had cycled all the way down from Alaska, a skinny guy from Germany and a third guy from France. The Swiss guy enquired about the problem with my bike and I answered him that it always took me a lot of time to get my spokes adjusted properly after replacing one. After a brief chat, they left for the road again. They seemed eager to continue instead of staying at the safe and dry hideout I was going to spend the night in Tapi Aike. They were heading west, against the strong winds and with dark, imminent skies at the horizon.
'Are your Rohloff gears working again?', the Swiss guy asked me with a loud voice in Spanish. At first I didn\'t understand what he was talking about, until I realized that he had not paid any attention to what I was doing or saying the day before. I decided not to make a fuzz about it, and told him everything was working well again. Since I realized that I had only been talking to the Swiss fellow so far, I turned to the German guy and asked him if they were planning to go into the park. 'I don\'t speak Spanish', he said in English with a grin on his face. So I asked him the same question in English. To my surprise, he did not answer but stared in the direction of the Swiss guy. To my even greater surprise, the Swiss guy replied with a theatrical voice: 'I was told we would only have wind pushing us, but so far there is only headwind!' And he continued: 'I don\'t care about Torres del paine, I just want a beer!' To stress his point he slammed his fist at the table. At those words the German laughed with a wide mouth, by doing so approving what his compañero just said. Then I asked them where they had spent the night since there had been lots of wind and rain the night before. This time I was not surprised when the Swiss answered that they had no option but to stay in a roadside hotel, which was quite expensive. When I said I had stayed at the puesto de vialidad for free where I could even use the kitchen and use the shower, the German smiled wryly with a pathetic look on his face. Then it struck me: the wide grin, the horselaugh. He resembled a horse! But if the German resembled a horse the Swiss resembled a baboon. The two of them seemed to form a perfect symbiotic relationship. And although the horse had travelled by himself before meeting the baboon, he did not seem capable of making any choices himself. He rather had the baboon make all the choices for him. The fact they had met up actually made sense. The same could not be said for the French guy. So far, he had not spoken a word, but just before I was leaving he said to no one in particular that he heard of a couple who, during their cycling holidays in Patagonia in the month of November, had only experienced headwinds. The other two did not pay much attention to what he was saying, as they started feasting on the food that was being served. As for me, I wanted to leave. I wished them goodluck and said goodbye, being actually glad I could leave them behind and go my own way. Although that meant indeed facing the strongest winds I had experienced so far. As for them, I hope they enjoyed their beers, although they would miss out on one of the most beautiful nature parks in the world..
Ps I do not have a picture of them. I would say, let your imagination do the work. They actually told me their names the first day, but my mind must have swapped them for their synonyms: I do not have a clue anymore!
Compañeros en el viaje
I am not the only one who came up with the idea of cycling for some time. In the States I had met many cyclists, most of them being on the road for \'only\' a couple of weeks. Contrary to Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina where I did not meet so many other cyclists, in Patagonia there were many. And of the many international cyclists the French outnumbered the rest. But also Germans, Swiss and some Dutch. To prove I am not so crazy as some think, I will give you two examples of cyclists I met who take cycling to another level. The first one is Henrik (who called himself Enrique) who came from Denmark and had already cycled for 2 years in which he covered 33.000 km. He was halfway: his goal was to cycle 80.000 km in 4 years! No girlfriend (obviously), riding a Dutch Koga Miyata and no broken spokes as of yet..
To everything there is a beginning and an end (probably a middle section too). And for me the end of this trip has come. Am I sad? De hecho que no, ha sido suficiente. I feel grateful for all the experiences I had and people I have met. And I bring my memories and photos back home, so when I get old I can think and look back at them with a smile on my face:-).
A couple of weeks ago, somebody asked me if this trip was as I had expected. At first his question annoyed me: you don\'t ask a 3 year old toddler if the first years of his life had gone according to his expectations. Even if he (or she) understood the question he (or she) would probaby think you are mad and continue playing. He (or she) might even slap you in the face.. Nevertheless, there is definitely some legitimacy in the question. There must have been something that triggered me to do this. The difficulty is to catch into words what exactly. Isn\'t it strange that for the important things in life you don\'t always have a rational explanation? What I do know is that there was a little voice in my head that kept nagging at me. I finally listened to it, and I am glad I did! Getting on your bike in the morning gives you a feeling of exhiliration, a sensation of feeling alive. Like a happy nomad enjoying nature and people along the way. And by carrying all necessary equipment and supplies you feel independent. Of course, many times it was also difficult. Usually, after half an hour, the wind turns against you and your bum starts aching while a car tries to push you off the road. And it is quite a solitary business, cycling by yourself. Symptoms include talking to yourself out loud or (in worse cases) to a beloved one..
Looking back, I was positively surprised by the openness and hospitality of the Americans, while in Peru and Bolivia I was more on myself again. The Carretera Austral proved to be mentally tough while the landscapes in Patagonia were incredible. Physically it was always tough, leaving you tired yet satisfied at the end of the day.
So with my dream accomplished, what will I do when I get home? Basically what most people are doing: going back to work, pick up ordinary life again. But \'ordinary\' life can be quite pleasant. And at home I have Margit waiting for me. She has supported me during the last 7 months and endured her own moments of difficulty and loneliness. I know not everybody would have done so. So respect and thank you for all your support my love! Beso grande y hasta muy pronto:-)
Y gracias a todos aquellos que por suerte se cruzaron en mi camino, ofreciendome comida, alojamiento o una charla! Thanks to everybody I have met along the way, offering me information, food and sometimes even a place to stay!
In a way this journey has been like life itself. You set yourself a goal for something you really want to do. Then inevitably, te encuentras piedras en el camino. But even when the going gets tough, you know it is worth it. I loved it!
Total distance on the bike: 9000 km
Of which dirt road/ripio: 1300 km
Distance covered with bus and train in South America: 2000 - 2500 km
Longest day on the bike: 10h40min
Longest distance: 172 km
Spokes broken: 4
Rims broken: 1
The Carretera Austral in Chile is a story of beauty: after every bend (and there were lots) spectaculair landscapes are found with mountains, lakes, waterfalls and glaciers. Only few people live here and it can rain for days or even weeks without pause while hard winds are the rule rather than the exception. Due to its remoteness, harsh climate and the fact that most of the Carretera is unpaved, Chilean Patagonia has for a large part kept its traditional way of life. Gauchos are found in many parts, wearing their traditional clothing and drinking mate is a habit that is shared with their Argentinean neighbours. The Carretera Austral is 1247 km long (of which I skipped the first 200 km: I took a ferry and started in Chaiten), starting in Puerto Montt and finishing in Villa O\'Higgins (named after a famous Chilean independence leader).
One gets used to beauty (or do I mix it up with luxury?) but not easily to pain and feelings of loneliness. It had not happened to me before yet I felt homesick. The desolation provided the setting for some personal revelations, but only after feeling depressed for several days. Why was I not going home?! But I knew I wanted to finish this journey, and apparently it can not always be fun. In this way my journey has not only been a physical challenge but also a mental one.
Then, at Villa O\'Higgins the road stops. Any motorized transport cannot go beyond this point and has to return the same way and find a border crossing to Argentina to continue their journey southward on the famous Ruta 40. All, but hikers and cyclists. They have the option to take a ferry to the other side of Lago O\'Higgins and start a 22 km long traverse crossing the Chilean-Argentinean border. It is rather a path mostly suited for hikers: half of the time you have to push your bike and guide it through water streams and uneven stretches of tierra. A cool way however to cross the border! And only 37 km away from the village of el Chalten, hiker\'s heaven due to the presence of stunning Mount Fitz Roy. From el Chalten the landscape changes abruptly from green vegetation, mountains and an abundance of water to the arid, yellow pampas and the wind as your only true companion. You\'ve got to love Patagonia!
Short story this time, the pictures will speak for themselves (hopefully:-)). And with renewed high spirits I will be plunging into the last part of my journey through the Argentinean pampas, Chilean\'s Torres del Paine and finally Tierra del Fuego with the finish in Ushuaia.
PS Cycling distance so far: 7600 km.
Argentina felt like a warm welcome after Bolivia. In many towns you find cozy Italian style coffee places where people are reading their newspapers and old men are playing games of chess. Bread tastes like bread again and people once again come up to me, being interested in my journey or trying to be helpful. And of course, there are differences within the vast country of Argentina: people in the northern Jujuy province with ties to Bolivia have a different mentality than the Mapuche communities in the cordillera, the gauchos in Patagonia or the Porteños (people from Buenos Aires), which are often considered arrogant and loud by their fellow countrymen. But no illusions about the Argentinean driving skills: they are still appalling!
I had an advantage cycling from La Quiaca at the border with Bolivia at 3400 meter towards almost sea level. And although the descent is hardly ever gradual, it made cycling easier. However, on the fourth day in Argentina when leaving Tilcara for Jujuy capital, despite the descending road, I was being pulled back by a wind so fierce I could go no faster than 10 km/h. The wind from the relatively open valley was funnelled into the quebrada (gorge) de Humahuaca. In 8 days I covered 900 km with one rest day in the pleasant city of Salta. My aim was to reach Santiago del Estero, which claims to be the oldest settlement by the Spanish conquistadores and Jesuit communities from which the rest of the country was colonized (hence its nickname Madre de las Ciudades). I have to say I failed in my mission, falling short \'only\' 100 km to reach the city and in the end accepting the offer from my friend to pick me up with his car. Howard is a friend from university who managed to find himself a job for the national agricultural institute INTA after receiving his college degree. The cool thing is, we (yes, me too! and Koen, a second friend) own a piece of land just outside the city of 4 ha, on which he grows different kinds of fruits and vegetables. When I arrived at the end of November I was just in time to witness and help with the last loads of melons and sandias (water melon) being harvested, transported and sold in the city to the local fruit and veggie shops. Good fun to help a bit, but I realized most of the hard work was already done: implementation of drip irrigation, clearing of the land, putting the plastic in place against weeds competing for nutrients, planting the small plants by hand, organizing and supervising the labourers during the harvest and contacting potential buyers in town. You would think this to be a full time job by itself yet he does it next to his regular job (but with the help of Karina, his girlfriend). Chapeau Howie! And a great experience to see it all first hand. After a week I went on my way again, a part of me being happy to leave the scorching temperatures in this part of the country behind (it was not even proper summer yet, but one day during my stay the thermometer indicated a staggering 42 degrees in the shadow, reaching up to 50 degrees in the sun..and yes even the Santiagueños found this hot).
I took a bus from Santiago del Estero to Cordoba, Argentina\'s second city after Buenos Aires. As was the case in Bolivia, I could not do everything by bike, I just did not have the time for it. I did not really mind for this stretch since it was all desert-like pampa (called secano here) with hot temperatures and lots of wind. And I was still going to see lots of that crossing the same secano to Mendoza, the beautiful city located on the foothills of the Andes and known for its quality wines. Quite some suffering was involved that week on the bike, self-inflicted of course:-). I started off visiting the Che Guevara museum in Alta Gracia, where the young Ernesto spent a good portion of his childhood. Pictures are shown of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro visiting the museum. The hard part happened the following day when crossing two mountain ranges to reach the next town. And yes, there is always the option to stop and put up camp. But with the environment being very inhospitable one presses on, although the body complains. That day, I sat on the bike for 9 hours, the longest day so far and climbed from an elevation of 700 meter to the highest point of 2300 meter. It was no surprise that the next day I needed to rest. So the invitation of an older couple the day before to stay in their house in Villa Dolores, only 50 km further on the road, came at the right time. But when I called them nobody answered (which, I found out later, was a strategy often used when not recognizing a familiar number). The lady that happened to be in the kiosk at that moment offered to join her to her house next door so she could help me find the address with a city map. To make a long story short: I ended up staying in her house where she lived together with her mom and two sisters. She said it was meant to be that our paths crossed and that everything happens for a reason. Her rationale was watertight: she had gone over to the kiosk to buy an aspirin for her headache. But when she returned with me, she had all forgotten about the aspirin she wanted to buy but her headache was gone! Yes, I guess you could call it superstition, something latin countries are known for, but I rather liked this \' inevitability of things\'. So when her son David, who worked as a cameraman for a local television channel, asked me if he and a colleague of him could interview me about my cycling journey I said yes. The interview went by fast but was fun to do. The next morning when I left for the road again, David accompanied me for some 20 km with the camera on the moped. If you want to see the result, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kjdni3wPXYo&feature=youtube_gdata_player
And then many kilometers south, after passing Mendoza, a stroke of bad luck: the rim of my back wheel ruptured. I found out through my tire pushing outwards at the point of the crack, causing friction at my lock and brakes. But was it actually bad luck or was it also part of the inevitability of things? After the initial disappointment I felt, I realized I might as well consider myself lucky: if the rim broke while pedaling it could have seriously damaged my bike or even injured me. And had it happened on the Carretera Austral, with virtually nothing around let alone bike shops, it would possibly be the end. So I put my energy in finding a bike shop that had a similar shaped rim for 32 spokes: two towns and six bicicleterias later I got lucky..
Argentina: where beautiful women are found (and men for that matter), with well developed cities and an European feel. But at the same time poverty is present, maybe more than ever. Like many other countries in the world, the division line between poor and rich only gets bigger. It is a gradual process that goes unnoticed until a sudden outbreak wakes up the nation. People are quite used to the stories on the news of rape, muggings and drunk driving. But during my rest day in Bariloche, a vacation town in the Andes not far from the town of Villa la Angostura where our prince Willem and Maxima pass most of their winter holidays, pillage was taking place. Youngsters, most of them not older than 18 from the poor barrios surrounding Bariloche\'s city center, embarked on a sort of crusade to plunder supermarkets, grocery stores and small food shops. People said it was planned, and its motive political (in the sense of them being instigated). And it may very well have been, but it clearly shows the underlying principle of haves and have nots, with the latter having hardly any possibilities to come out of their social isolation. It seems that politics fail to address this problem adequately, if it all. Add to this the staggering inflation rates (around 25% according to private analysts, while the government statistics agency claims it to be only 10%) and Argentinean future with respect to social and economical stability seems unsure.
I am finishing this story in the bus from Santiago to Arica in the north of Chile, a 30 hour bus trip. It is a good opportunity for my body and mind to get some rest after many weeks of cycling. And the inhospitable Atacama desert seems to be the right place for that. Endless views of sand, rocks and mountains with no cover and no rain. But there are still people working in this unforgiven place. I was talking to a man in the bus who was on his way to work in a copper mine, a two hour ride from Antofagasta (in the same Atacama desert as the San José copper and gold mine where last year\'s accident took place) at an elevation of 3000 meter with no cover and always wind. They work eight days straight and get eight days off working twelve hour shifts. After witnessing the accident at the San José mine on television and seeing the mining conditions in Potosi first hand, I respect these men for the hard working conditions they have to deal with. The miner and his compañeros got off the bus and I am continuing my way to Arica, then Lima, Peru. Starting in Osorno in Chile it means 60 hours by bus covering more than 4000 km to see Margit again who is coming over for a three week holiday in Peru. Yes, you do crazy things for love:-). In three weeks time I will continue my journey again for the last leg: from Osorno to Ushuaia riding the Carretera Austral.
Happy New Year to everybody! That your wishes may come true!
Ps During the second leg of my cycling trip I cycled less days (35 including a couple of half days) than during the first leg but my average distance per day was higher (about 100 km). Many of my \'records\' were broken in Argentina:
Longest day on a bike: 9 hours
Fastest average daily speed: 22 km/h and largest distance: 172 km (large descent, wind in the back, flat)
Slowest average daily speed: 9 km/h (dirt road, rain, mountains)
Distance covered in South America: 3250 km
Total distance: 6250 km
What is the difference between an alcoholic and a traveller? If you think the chicha has affected my thinking, not so. I have seriously asked myself this question recently. Through traveling you see a glimpse of other people's lives, then moving on again. You are freed of day to day responsibilities, trivialities and (possibly) other people's expectations. One might even say traveling enriches your life. Or does it? When cycling the roads in Bolivia, the only people I meet are Bolivians. Tourists are hard to spot on the road and in the small villages. In tourist places like La Paz or the Salar de Uyuni on the other hand, it is buzzing with tourists. You find backpackers of all sort, young and old, some prefering to party and socialize with other backpackers, others looking for an original culture or nature experience. Some try to dress themselves as local Bolivians, other more alternative travellers are doing tricks on the street or selling some artesania in order to try earning some money. As many travellers come from developed countries, many want a personal and authentic experience. Trying to create their 'personal' journey, tour organizations enter the stage to fill the void.
In my opinion traveling has, in many cases, become a uniform, predictable routine, for some maybe even a necessity. If you have not travelled you may be frowned upon. Although traveling by bike sets me apart from the mainstream 'bus' tourist, we share something in common: we are all looking for new experiences. And I might be the worst travel addict yet. Being 'addicted' to living through new experiences motivated me to undertake this journey in the first place. And, after arriving to La Paz, pushed me in taking a tour myself: going to the pampas and viewing many wildlife species (so I was promised): capybaras, alligators, caymen, turtles, many types of birds and anacondas. The name Pampas can be confusing: here it is used for the Amazon savannas/wetlands. And I got to see it all, except for the anacondas that were hiding in the mud. That caused several Israeli travellers from another group (all the tours find themselves going up and down the same stretch of river and marshland) to complain, claiming they were lied to. That is the presumptuous side of the traveller, not getting what he wants and, as a result, acting as a toddler. As for Israeli travellers, they have a bad reputation in South America. Coming straight out of the army, many Israelis use their well earned money to travel. Traveling in groups most of the time, they are often noisy, aggressive and disrespecting local values. This was my experience 14 years ago and and it seems to be still the case. For this reason you will find various hostels in South America denying access specifically to Israelis. Why are many of them acting the way they do? There is probably no straightforward answer to the question. Events in (recent) history may have caused them to be suspicious towards anyone outside of their own country. Or maybe they are being brainwashed during their service in the army. Whatever the reason, it is a shame to see them isolate themselves from others due to their behaviour.
But back to the story: I felt exhilaration going down by bus from the sierra to the selva. Everything smells different: from plants to the air and the soil (people smell the same though). A whole new experience altogether! I have been in the rainforest before, in Iquitos, Peru and back then I got malaria. So maybe I should have known better; because out of nowhere I got sick, real sick, the initial exhilaration was completely gone. Instead, I was suffering severe diarrea. The female housekeeper at the lodge thought it was a good idea to give me a strong cup of coca tea as coca cures about everything. The next thing I know, I am vomiting my guts out, leaving me feel utterly miserable. All I wanted was to go back to the high sierra! No bugs, no humidity and no 35+ degrees temperatures. Thank god I had a plane ticket out instead of having to face the same bumpy 20 hours' bus ride over dirt roads (and passing sheer cliffs). On the positive side: Markus, a Swiss guy I met at the 'airport' (a patch of cleared rainforest) and me had an enjoyable conversation with a group of Israeli travellers. Which proved to me I have to remain open towards any prejudices I might foster.. In a local puesto de salud (health center) in La Paz, I had an examination done and the results showed traces that could indicate the presence of salmonella. In other words, not 100% sure but it could have been salmonella. I like the mysticism that surrounds such a diagnosis. Fourteen years I was trembling all over due to fevers that came exactly every 12 hours, temblando con escalofrias (feeling warm and cold at the same time), which strongly suggested malaria. But (as the nurses in Iquitos told me) after having received a treatment consisting of 11 pills at once which I was administered when encountering - by much luck - a boat dedicated to health care on one of the tributaries of the Amazon river, no certain proof can be given afterwards of my alleged malaria contraction. But is it not 'cool' to maybe have suffered malaria and salmonella? But who knows, I could have imagined it altogether! To conclude: my body is not made for the rainforest. And I prefer cycling over tours. And not all Israeli travellers are bad!
So that is that. It was time to hop on the bike again: from La Paz I took the bus to Oruro (busy road with lots of traffic) and started cycling from Oruro to Potosi. There is a (dirt) road going straight from Oruro to Uyuni and the salt flats but I wanted to see Potosi and its silver mine. But getting there meant climbing and descending many mountain slopes! It took me almost four days to get to Potosi, with the last days day being especially tough: since Potosi lies at an elevation of 4100 m it meant climbing the last 15 km, after a 100 km mountainous ride, leaving me completely tirado. Potosi is known for its silver mine, which I was not planning to see since I get claustrophobic in small confined spaces. However, when I was looking around the mine's premises, waiting for the museum to open its doors (and see a glimpse of the mine's history and life of the mineros) I accidentally bumped into a friendly German-Swiss couple who had been travelling and working in South America for the last three years. My curiosity got the better of me, and after I was given some proper boots, a jacket and a headlamp by their guide, a minero himself, we entered what was for many still a means of making a living. Women are not allowed in the mine, although for tourists an exception is made. In the mine many figures of tios (representing el diablo) are found, which must be satisfied with gifts like coca leaves, alcohol and cigarets to assure a safe and prosperous yield and return. This is clear proof of local beliefs that have survived the test of time and Spanish domination who tried to rule out local superstition. I probably would not do it again, but it was a fascinating experience, many times crawling on all fours to make it from one corridor to the next, just as the local miners who were working alongside.
One of the highlights of my trip must have been cycling the Salar the Uyuni, the second largest salt plains in the world after the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in Botswana. Once a giant lake, it dried up and was uplifted to its current elevation of about 3600 m. And indeed, it consists of salt, lots of it. Many tourists, many tours, but who would take a tour if you can explore the salar by bike:-). To enter the salar you first have to navigate a bad dirt road and then cross over to the transition zone, which consists of half-hard mud, making it almost impossible to cycle (fast or at all). So it took me a couple of hours to cover the 30 km to finally reach the beginning of the salar. There, on the edge of the salar, was a salt hotel where I ordered a coffee before taking off. It is difficult to describe the experience but I actually got tears in my eyes from the vastness and sensation of liberation that accompanied it. You find yourself pedalling in a vast, seemingly endless nothing, or wholeness for that matter. Quality time with yourself is found while crossing s salar by yourself. At some points I was taken over by 4x4's, the tourists inside taking pictures of me.
Mira, for me Bolivia had highs and lows. But the matter of fact is that Bolivianos are quite closed towards foreigners, they open up only when you are really get to know them or when you are introduced by a local. This was confirmed by two Bolivian girls (Lisette and Gladys) with whom I shared my second-day tour from the Incahuasi Island on the salar to visit some of the lagunas and flamingos towards the Chilean border. Add the mediocre food (arroz con papas, some meat and untasty, hard white bread), the feeling of being tired (the height, or rather one of the antibiotica treatments, who will tell?) and the inevitable stomach problems and you understand I was ready to enter the next country. So with some nostalgia but more relief I crossed the border to La Quiaca, Argentina, where the coffee is proper again and the bread fresh.
After covering 1600 km in South America and 4600 km in total, I find myself in the middle of my cycling trip. It has been great so far and I am expecting and hoping the remaider of my trip to be equally interesting, rewarding and satisfying! And thanks for all the comments. They are appreciated!
I had thought about it a lot, visiting Peru after so many years. Fourteen years ago I spent 8 months in the northern part of the country carrying out my internship of my studies. Eight years ago, I popped over from Argentina for a short visit to the Peruvian family I had stayed with in Cajamarca. And now I was back, not without a hassle by the way. The airline I travelled with gave me a hard time at the Los Angeles airport claiming my bike exceeded the established measurements. Browsing their website, I had anticipated this problem, so I had called them beforehand and visited their San Francisco office. Everybody told me it was fine: not to worry senor! Well, all was not fine. Meticulously they measured the bike box using a measuring tape only to tell me I had to ship it with cargo. That really got me stressed, but at the same time angry. I explained my case, raising my voice. Being able to show them the effort I had made and after talking to two supervisors my bike was allowed to go through. Yeah!! But then came the next hurdle: I did not have a return ticket out of Peru (and yes, they are very strict, they can send you back without one! the girl behind the counter told me). I ended up paying a (luckily) refundable $800 (!) ticket from Cusco back to San Salvador..Finally, I could board my flight. After many hours of no sleep on the airplane and a stop-over in San Salvador, I arrived in Lima where, at immigrations, I was given 180 days, no questions asked.. If after my story you want to avoid using this airline, they are called TACA:-). It was probably a good introduction to Peru. While cycling in the States and even more so in Peru I learned you should not go on assumptions. For example, I like asking people how far the next village is on the road. The good news is, you always receive an answer. The bad news is, it is never correct. So ones learns from that (you think!). The map I carry is trustworthy as are the road signs with the distances. Wrong! Just before passing the 4300m pass between Cusco and Puno there was a sign saying 258 km to Puno. Just 10 km further on the road, another sign read 206 km. By the way, they are not always off, it is just difficult to tell when they are (in)correct.
Peru, pais con futuro wordt wel gezegd, country with future. Since I have fond memories of my time in Peru, I would only like to see the country and the people to do well. And economically, it has been doing quite well for the last 10 years or so with the highest growth rates in the continent. However, critics say that Peruvian economy is rather vulnerable due to its huge reliance of minerals and mining (about 70%). Confronting a local taxi driver in Cusco with this, he confirmed that Peru is indeed doing better than the last time I visited. He now owned his own taxi, not being dependable on somebody else, something he could not have done these many years ago. Good news! But one look at the countryside or the outskirts of any bigger city and you know poverty is still present. Many Peruvians still do not have access to good education and proper health care. Garbage is found anywhere chucked away at the sides of the road. Often it is burned, leaving a poignant, terrible smell when cycling past. So, yes it is quite different from cycling in the States. Traffic is more dangerous but not always busier (depending on which stretches of road you are cycling). Also, I found the stretch between Cusco and La Paz easier than the States (when it comes to the topography). That might sound paradoxical but it is easily explained by the fact that the area between Cusco and La Paz is part of the altiplano.
The nice thing about travelling by bike is that you get to see things the average tourist travelling with the bus will likely miss. This includes chatting to local police officers at the side of the road, having a conversation with local farmers (when asked the question if I wanted to work with them on their fields, I replied: cycling is work too!) or helping some locals bringing their herd of alpacas safely to the farm. There are also things I would not mind missing by the way. One of those is the regular wake up call of dogs. Most of the time I do not even notice their presence until they start sprinting out of the bushes at the side of the road, barking and growling aggressively with their teeth exposed, while chasing me and my bike for some time. I just keep telling me that barking dogs do not bite. Knock on wood! Another habit of Peruvian/Bolivian culture I can not get used to, is the fact that drivers use their horn frequently as to inform you that they have seen you (or to kindly suggest you to bugger off!). Fair enough, especially if it concerns a warning of some type. But I still do not understand why they have to honk again, right at the moment of passing. It would surely be to late to make any adjustments to my position on the road..Since the horns come in a wide array of variations, the loud sounds they emit sometimes cause my heart to skip a beat.
Really, cycling in South America is fun! If you are not convinced yet, try traversing a pass over 4300m only a couple of days after your arrival in the mountains. You will be garanteed not to notice any barking dogs, burned garbage, children yelling gringo at you, etc. for you can only focus at what consumes you at that very moment: simply trying to get enough oxygen out of the air. And you will probably do a mediocre job, causing you to have a headache at the front of your head and back of your neck, while the blood at your temples are pulsating vigorously. You don't go very fast, for every 15 minutes or so you have to stop for urinating, drinking more water, chew coca leaves and maybe have some food (banana, chocolate). Apart from the fact that chewing coca leaves actually relieves altitude sickness a bit (the leaves have to be sweet though, and not bitter for it to be medicinal), it also gives you the idea of being part of the local culture, causing your tongue and mouth to turn green. All these annoyances are quickly forgotten when you reach the summit and exhilaration takes over. For me it is proof that suffering and enjoyment can not exist without one another, sufrir y gozar, ying and yang.
I have covered 750 km now, which took me 8.5 days averaging almost 90 km per day (thanks to the altiplano). The next coming weeks I will work my way through Bolivia (and the salt plains of Salar de Uyuni), making sure I will still be in time for some melon harvesting in Santiago del Estero, Argentina next month. For the people who don't know: I own a small piece of land (chacra) in Argentina with 2 friends of mine, one of them, Howard, who has actually been living in Argentina for the past 9 years.
Saludos desde La Paz!
WATCH OUT! It is a long story this time and the last one before Margit and I will see each other again on Sunday. We will be touring for two weeks from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but I won't be writing any blogs then. Just some private time with my lady:-). In three weeks time I will be on the road again, resuming my journey (and stories) in Cusco, Peru.
What is there to be said about a man and his bike? A bike is a means of getting to your destination. It has allowed me to have all the wonderful experiences I have had so far. But what happens in the mean time, when you sit on your bike for many hours a day? Often you reach a stage where you don't really realize anymore that you are pedalling. Instead, thoughts come and go, and in that way it is kind of meditative (at least for me it is sometimes). Something else that happens regularly are memories popping up in your mind and you re-experiencing these memories. A couple of days ago I suddenly found myself bursting into laughter when reliving the last night around the fire in Portland with Markus, Coleen, Dave and Randi. Dave was reciting a line of a comedian which (at least for me:-)) took some time to sink in: 'I used to be indecisive but now I am not so sure anymore..'. Funny! And then there was this story about a biker that Louap and Matt (two bike friends I ran into several times) met on top of a hill one day when it was getting dark. They were about to start the descent when they noticed this guy did not have any lights nor brakes: he was swerving from left to right to slow himself down and he used the soles of his shoes as brake pads on the asphalt..Apart from that his equipment looked like it could fall off anytime. Louap and Matt were afraid he would be ran over by some car. But, they never saw him again..
While reliving memories like these, I am often vigorously woken up by a noisy truck, or somebody horning really loudly just to irritate cyclists. Luckily, the majority of the drivers respect bikes on the road and will pass you with caution. But every once in a while you have this loonatic trying to prove something (I still did not find out what exactly). One of the more scary moments on a bike must be when entering a tunnel. Although cars are often warned for the presence of cyclists in a tunnel (some tunnels have signalling lights at the entrance of a tunnel that are triggered by pushing a button), the sound of car engines in a tunnel leaves you completely disoriented. The problem is you can not really make out if the noise bouncing back from the tunnel walls is coming from the traffic approaching you or from that behind you. When I was passing through one of those tunnels the other day (I always start pedalling faster in order to be out of there as quickly as possible), somebody found it necessary to start horning the entire length of the tunnel. I almost panicked, thinking an accident was about to happen. Not having a clue as to where the car was coming from, I stopped in the middle of the tunnel, frozen. Eventually, I could make out some youngsters in a car at the approaching lane. They must have thought it was funny, for me it was terrifying. Boy, was I glad to be out of that tunnel! Now, a bike can also be some sort of defense. Last week, on my second night in California, I managed to find a camping just before sunset and while pitching my tent, I hang my food together with my toiletries in a tree (clearly not far enough from my tent). That night, at 1.30 (I looked at my bike's clock), I was woken up by a dog barking loudly. My tent, being the only one at a camping full of trailers, was tucked away at the far corner of the camping premises next to the forest trees, as appointed by the camping host. A clear snapping of branches could be heard coming from the forest. Well, I can tell you I was scared then and there and I hoped for the animal to take off. But it didn't. Then the dog left, leaving me alone with what could only be a bear. My breath was caught in my throat and I could feel my heart pounding. I had my knife and mace close at hand and decided to make a loud noise by banging my pans. However, that did not scare the bear away. I did not see any other option than to leave my tent right away! I had already put on some clothes, unlocked my bike and retreated to the camping facilities, while holding my bike as a defense barrier between me and the bear in the forest (at least that gave me some sense of security). This time I was happy I chose to stay in an official camp site as opposed to sleeping out in the bush. Although I reached safety (I stayed in the laundry room) I did not close an eye anymore that night. The caretaker found me there around 3 o'clock in the early moning, stretched on a hard wooden ironing table. Apparently, he always got up early to clean. He said two bears were spotted two days ago in the early morning not too far from where I was camping. Around 4 o'clock he thought it should be safe again to go back to my tent, as bears do not tend to linger too long at one spot. He accompanied me to be sure I was safe. As I checked the tree where I had hung the bag of food and toiletries I found out it was gone! At the 'crime scene' we found bear poo too. 'Well, that bear sure got what he was looking for!' the caretaker said and told me I was safe now and should get some (remaining) hours of sleep. Being all fired up, the last thing I was able of doing was sleeping. So I started writing my blog:-). Looking back, it was unlikely the bear would actually have come up to the tent since I had put all odour containing items in the tree. Then again, he could have: black bears sometimes come up to a tent just to sniff it. Well, that kind of curiosity is just too much for me!! The next morning I went back into the forest trying to retrieve what was left of my toiletries. I must have looked like a rather bad imitation of Indiana Jones with a wooden stick in one hand, pepper spray in the other hand and a whistle around my neck. But no such luck. After finding out my ordeal, people in the campground were very nice: I was invited over for breakfast with some members of a local club (which I forgot the name of) who had reserved the communal room for the day. They resupplied me on a couple of toiletry items I had lost and prepared lunch for the road.
Now that incident with the bear happened just after passing the town of Klamath (northern California), where the locals (First Nation and others alike) were playing slots in the local gas station. I cannot remember seeing something like that before. It looked more like a worn down casino than a proper gas station. Many of the people inside were covered in tattoos, making me feel like a complete stranger (which naturally I was). Klamath was one of the first towns in California I passed coming from Crater Lake. It was not my initial plan to visit the lake but people had been telling me great stories about it so I figured to fit it in. So I ended up cycling back inland, going up higher mountains again and into the heat (over 40 degrees in the sun) towards Grants Pass. There I could stay with Bert and her family. I had met her and a friend in Cannon Beach in northern Oregon where I stopped for a cup of coffee. Bert and her husband Dennis had adopted four boys (!). I got to meet two of them, Tom and Andrew (who was quite the piano player). After nine days of cycling I was longing for a day of relaxing and not cycling. So I agreed to join Bert on her creative workshop for older people in a care home. I was introduced as Bert's assistent but they soon found out I was a novice in the field of art-design. That afternoon taught me two things: 1. my creative skills are not as bad as I always thought; 2. old ladies are the worst gossippers..
For two nights I ate as a king at their house. But I still wanted to go to Crater Lake, so I decided to stretch my luck by going hitchhiking. I soon found out that was easier said than done. People passing didn't even seem to notice me. I started picking at myself for not having rented a car when this big truck pulled over. The man inside told me I could ride with him and his wife to his home town about 20 km up the road. We talked a bit and I explained them the details of my trip and that this was the fullfillment of my childhood's dream. After they dropped me at a good spot in town, they wished me good luck, only to be back again after a couple of minutes. He (his name was Jason) offered to take me all the way to Crater Lake! He said that I had traveled too far and had come too close not to see it. That was just a huge favor, since it was still another 60 miles to the lake and he had planned other stuff to do. He called in his nephew who joined us. So I got to Crater Lake which was awesome. The lake (in the vulcano crater/caldera) is merely fed by rainwater, snow and ice giving the water a distinct deep blue color, as if looking right into the blue sky. Apart from the vistas we told each other stories and shared experiences. He had been playing professional baseball for the San Francisco Giants for 5 years but was a really down to earth guy. Apparently just after dropping me he had called his neighbour who has a helicopter. Jason told me he would have taken me over Crater Lake flying no problem! However, he was working that day so he couldn't take me up. I was awestruck.. Just half an hour ago I was standing at the road feeling sorry for myself, now somebody that didn't even really know me was trying to arrange a helicopter flight. No, I would not have declined! One of the things Jason told me was that he was a bit anxious to travel to Europe with his family for holidays, as he thought that many Europeans would not treat them nicely, for the mere fact of being Americans. I told him that as far as I knew, most people (fortunately) can and do distinguish between American foreign policy with which many disagree (as do many Americans) and individual Americans. He seemed to be somewhat relieved by that. All in all, Crater Lake turned out to be a great day!
That brings me to the last couple of days, many of which I spent (mainly) cycling. I had to cover some ground and distance as I rode my bike through different Redwood forests. They are majestic forests with the oldest trees being over 2000 years old. The coastal Redwoods can grow very tall - over 100 meters - due to the favorable weather conditions (temperate climate with sufficient water through rainfall and fog); the biggest stems have diameters up to 8 meters. It was a special place to be at and it smelled great (fresh and healthy!). Just after the Humboldt Redwoods I passed a town called Garberville that is home to a large number of hippies. And with hippies I mean hippies! You know, how I pictured them in the 1960's and 1970's. There was little contemporary about them (and with that I mean cleanly washed and shaved but with a fresh, hippie-like spirit). I couldn't help thinking back of Nick's story and his tree saving hippies.. I saw them on either side of the town trying to get a ride and in the town itself smoking marijuana and cigarettes. That is exactly the reason why they are drawn to Garberville: a lot of cannabis is grown in the area. Some of them find a temporary job in the area cutting marijuana plants. Officially, marijuana can only be used for medical purposes (in the state of California that is). But logically its use goes beyond that. There is this episode of Southpark where people cripple themselves on purpose just to get a doctor's prescription.. Of the many people you see living on the streets, some are actually homeless, others are panhandling (asking for money) even to sometimes pay for their mortgage. To fight some of these 'fakers' some cities like Reno (Nevada) require people to have a special permit for panhandling. From the Redwoods and the hippies I went back to the coast again, following highway 1. Beautiful scenery again but also foggy each morning, sometimes lasting an entire day. And I had to pay close attention to the traffic as the shoulder (vluchtstrook) was often absent.
Well, I am in Sausalito now, only a stone's throw away from San Francisco. That means I made it through the first leg of my journey! And I am quite proud of that:-). Out of the last 7 weeks I cycled for 38 days covering 3000 km and had 10 rest days in between. My average daily distance has gone up from 65 km to almost 80 km per day. That means my knee has kept up well, giving me confidence for the rest of my trip. The longest day so far has been over 7 (effective) hours sitting on my bike, whereas the largest distance I have covered was 125 km (or clicks as they say in Canada:-)).
Big hugs from San Francisco!
After a last evening together in Portland with my hiking friends from Mount Saint Helens I left the next morning for the Oregon Coast. So far, I had been intermittently been camping out or staying with people along the way. That was about to change. The Oregan coast is almost littered with fellow cyclists. One might think that to be nice, sharing like experiences with like-minded people. On the other hand, now I am just one of the bunch following the coastline down south.. I went from seeing 1 biker a week to more than 10 every day. Along with the many bikers came a change in accommodation. State Parks are my new way to go by now. For $5 you can stay at their campgrounds, and more importantly, have a hot shower. I figured that the cheap camp spots make up for food items, since most of them are a lot more expensive than back home: a small jar of peanut butter for example costs 4 to 5 bucks and a loaf of bread the same! The currency conversion does not make up for that..
Many bikers on the road travel in groups or in pairs. One of the bikers that traveled by herself was Wren, a 25 year old girl who was carrying a lot less gear, compared to me that is:-). I have noticed that I am carrying the heaviest load of all the bikers I have met so far. Of course, I am continuing my journey in South America and for that I will need some additional stuff. But I also carry a bit too much. This will be very hard to believe for Margit, but I actually brought a little bit too much clothes with me..I guess I still have to figure out less is more with respect to gear.. Anyway, she was looking for a community that is self-sustainable with anything from growing their own veggies to for example having their own water supply. Apart from being self supporting she, as she put it herself, "wanted to be part of a tribe" and hoped she could find it in a community like that. Of the people that travel together, I kept bumping into two guys biking together: Nick and Daniel, two friends who live far apart now (Oregon and Tennessee) but used to live both in Bend, Oregon. I found them somewhat peculiar at first, but even if I wanted to, it was difficult to shake them off:-). All of us are heading down the coast southward and the distance we are covering each day turns out to be the same. It is through these encounters that I got to know them a bit. Daniel, being the older of the two is definitely an extravagant guy. Aged 58 he gives a whole new meaning to the word womanizer. Having cycled in many countries around the world, his bike got stolen 3 times in different countries. The loss of each of these three bikes could be attributed to the faith he put in women he had never met before but thought he could trust..subsequently, some guy who obviously had ties to this particular woman, took off with his bike, panniers or valuables..Although he certainly can be blamed for some degree of naivity when it comes to women (and bikes) it sure did not influence his mood in a negative way (from what I could tell). A very optimistic fellow indeed. And knowledgeable on many topics. History and geography had his specific interest, providing some good stories for around the campfire.
Now Nick was a different type of guy altogether. Aged 30, he works as an arborist (pruning trees) in Tennessee. For his work he has to climb up trees 40 meters high. Born and bred in Tennessee, but having lived in the state of Oregon for 8 years, he is quite critical on his home state. First of all, he claims that Tennessee is home to the fattest people in America. To prove his point he showed me a picture on his phone of a rocking chair, especially designed for fat people. Apparently, you have furniture stores that specifically cater for large people. Although it did sound funny to me, in fact it is rather sad. Yesterday, as we were sitting around the campfire in one of these State Parks we noticed the pine trees over our heads to have many dead branches. Now Nick had made comments before on hillbillies and rednecks (on which I will elaborate shortly), but hippies were the focus of this story on forests and logging. And this is how I learned a bit about the biology of trees. He said that instead of saving forests, hippies should rather be blaimed for their demise. This was his rationale: trees that are standing too close together (such as the ones in the State Park) are competing for light, and by doing so, will not develop much foliage. Now when the pine beetle enters such a forest, the individual trees will not have sufficient pitch (sap) to push the beetle out again (apparently strong trees can). As a consequence forests become infested with these pine beetles, and in summer, when forest fires are common, these weakened forests are susceptible to burn down completely. Healthy forests can withstand these fires often since mostly only the lower strata are affected (the brush). Hence, by protecting all trees (as many hippies do), the quality of the forests goes down. They need to be either left alone in the first place, or, whenever people have moved in (which is often the case), they need to be managed properly: cut certain trees so enough space and light is left for the remaining trees. He concluded his story by saying: "I have saved more trees than all those goddamn hippies will ever save!" Now Nick might not be the most subtle arguer, he certainly had a point. And it was very interesting to hear his stories and experiences. Fortunately it is only a small step from forests and hippies to hillbillies and rednecks. I have to admit, I did not know that there was a difference in the first place. But there is. Apparently, hillbillies are people up in the mountains in Tennessee, many of which are of Irish descent, and they just want to be left the f* alone. Rednecks, on the other hand, are just plain ignorant. They never leave their home town and can't hink for themselves. In other words, they are "deutchbags" (which is not a very nice word translated literally). To finalize my inquiry on the state of Tennessee, some words on biking in Tennessee. Nick told me that, whenever he goes out cycling, he brings out a semi-automatic pistol tied to his chest (?). Not to defend himself against bears or pumas or whatever wildlife one might encounter on the road. No, apparently it is common for people in Tennessee to throw bottles to passing cyclists, so you are better off having some sort of defense just in case.. Well, all these stories on Tenessee have certainly aroused my curiosity (in a freaky way maybe) to visit that state one day!
So far, I have camped out at least half of the time, either in the wild or on a camping. In Washington State I found it often difficult to find a suitable camp spot, since much land is privately owned. And when you are faced with signs like the one in the pic section, you think twice before pitching a tent.. When I camp out in the wild, a typical day looks like this: I wake up between 6 and 6.30 and start packing my stuff in the tent already (step 1: put my contact lenses in!). Depending on the weather I either have breakfast at my camp or, in case it is too cold, I jump on my bike until I find a sunny spot. Breakfast consists of powdered milk and oats/mixed cereals and usually some instant coffee. Between 10 and 11 I usually stop for coffee with a muffin or nuts and fruit. Lunch entails wholemeal multiple grain bread (quite difficult to find at times) with avocado and peanut butter. In the afternoon mixed nuts/cereal bar and some fruit. And at night, I swap between easy-to-warm-up baked beans or a bit more elaborate and healthier dinner like pasta or couscous with veggies and olives. Mm..jammie!
To conclude my story on the Oregon coast, I will say something about the landscape. Many people visit this stretch of coastline for its scenery, and they are not disappointed. Despite the fact that for quite some distance the road does not follow the actual coastline, where it does, the many different rock formations and long stretches of sand dunes together with marsh lands, rivers and creeks easily make up for it. Granted, the weather has been fabulous so far: in the past 5 weeks I have only had one day of (some) rainfall. Good karma seems to continue for me..
I enjoy writing these stories and I love reading all your replies/comments!
Beso y hasta la proxima.
Total distance so far: 1850 km
Average distance: 70 km/day
What would you do if you celebrate your wedding with your loved ones and closest family, and a complete stranger comes up to you asking you if he can spend the night on your yard? Right, you welcome him and push a beer in his hands! That's what happened to me the previous weekend in Shelton, a logging town just after passing the Hood Canal. So I met Katie and Eddy, the bride and groom that were previously married in Las Vegas, but invited only their closest family members to that ceremony. That is the reason they threw this party for all their friends, lasting the entire weekend..Now I know my limits when it comes to multiple day parties, so I wasn't in for the whole nine yards. Yet I met many interesting people that evening, of which the groom's parents (being veterinarians), Bob, the bride's dad who I ran into again by accident a couple of days later in Mt. Rainier NP and Phil, a rugby coach that had worked in Harare, Zimbabwe for some time. And there was Justin, a lively guy who seemed to be even more excited about my cycling trip than myself. He was talking in superlatives that biking around the way I was doing 'is the shit!'. Well, I couldn't agree with him more!
Next was Mt. Rainier, the highest mountain in the state of Washington with 4.392 m. Just after entering Mt. Rainier NP I had to climb for 30 km to a height of 1.646 m: tough cycling! But the reward after reaching the summit was sweet. After hiking up one of the trails at Mt. Rainier I had astounding views over the Cascade Range with Mt. Saint Helens at the horizon. Many of the towns I ride my bike through in this part of Washington have a history in logging. Logging is still in place but its importance has declined due to competition from other countries. That is the reason youngsters are moving out these once thriving cities, leaving behind a declining and ageing population and a relatively large number of people on welfare. By the way, passing a cedar mill smells really nice, giving out a distinct, aloe vera like scent..
Now that is all very interesting, about the mills and all, but my real interest went out to Mt. Saint Helens, indeed the 'mother of vulcanic outbursts'. Being lucky again, I was taken along with Jay, a teacher himself from Morton, to visit the mountain from the western side. He had visited the mountain muliple times from the eastern and southern side, but never from this side. Along came Hansa, an exchange student from Czech. Observing the extent of the devastation that the volcanic outburst caused on that day in May 1980 was incredible. Vegetation and wildlife is slowly returning to the mountain slope but you can still distinguish a very clear line between the untouched forest and the trees that were toppled by the force of the blast. Another distinctive remnant of the 1980 event are the trees floating at the surface of Spirit Lake, just next to the mountain. The blast was so powerful (with velocities traveling up to 1000 km/hour), it blew down giant trees like matchsticks. Many of them ended up at the lake, that itself was uplifted nearly 100 meters through the debris avalanche caused by the landslide. The landslide and following outburst lowered the summit of the mountain by 400 meters. The tourist center displays various impressive stories of people that were in the area at that time, some of them being able to get out in time. Others were less fortunate, finding themselves in the blast zone, being killed by the debris avalanche or by suffocation. In total, 57 people were killed. Now, the mountain is relatively quiet yet still active. That can be clearly seen from the crater rim where gasses escape the gradually expanding dome.
I got really lucky, managing to get a permit to climb the mountain a couple of days later from the south side: ascending 1500 meters up (and the same way down!) through lose scree and boulders. I joined a group of friends who happened to have a spare permit up the mountain: Markus, Coleen, Dave, Brett and Charlene. Charlene's husband, Ernie, took my bike in his truck back to Portland. That is how my bike and myself ended up in Portland! I would love to tell you that everything went well on the hike, and it did actually, but I am suffering a major muscle ache now:-). Let's see how it goes when l mount my bike again today! Summiting the mountain symbolized the halfway point of my trip through Canada and the States. From here I will head for the coast, leaving the beautiful Cascade Range behind me, down to San Francisco. The plan to reach Los Angeles by bike, I already gave up on one of the first days of the trip. Since I am meeting Margit on September 30 in San Francisco and we are both flying from Los Angeles, it made more sense to me to pack up the bike and chuck it in the back of the rental car. Indeed, less is more!
So far, I have not written much about my cycling statistics, partly because I appreciate the journey more than fitting as many kilometres in a day as possible. Then again, many people along the way ask me how many miles I ride each day. So, for all the statistics aficionados:
Cycling days so far: 18
Rest days: 7
Hiking days: 1,5
Average distance per day: 65 km
Kilometrage so far: 1200 km
Distance as a measure of exertion is somewhat deceptive since it is first and foremost the topography that determines your destination that day. A couple of days ago, I had to take a detour since bicycles were not allowed on the interstate. The detour took me over a mountain that proved to be the most difficult road so far: the road was so steep for several miles, I had to push my bike for an hour (but I got there finally!). Consequently, my average speed is ranging anywhere between 13 and 18 km/hour. My lowest gear allows me to ride at 6 or 7 km per hour, which is still faster than pushing your bike uphill at 3,5 km/hour. And to keep my body from deteriorating, I stretch twice a day. And that works for me!
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A warm goodbye from Portland, Oregon!
@Corianne and Erin in Packwood and Gretchen in Seattle: thanks for staying at your place!