The best traveller has no plan and is not intent on arrival.
3 days in Ushuaia. When I set up reservation for this trip I knew next to nothing about Ushuaia, but figured I will not be here very often so scheduled three days to explore. Turns out there is a lot to do, boat excursions, beagle channel, penguins, Cape Horn, hiking, museums, national parks, the list goes on. And I had energy for almost nothing. I did ride to the end of highway 3 but that is the extent of my explorations and the maritime and prison museum.
Talking with others they felt the same energy is gone. It is like we were “on” for 4 months and suddenly it is done. As Michelle said it was about the journey and not the destination. And a bit anticlimactic; we had a farewell end of trip dinner the night of arrival and then slowly people began to drift away. If one was around, one said goodbye, otherwise they were gone. Most will not be seen again. Weird feeling to live with people, eating, sleeping, biking, encouraging, cajoling, and surviving for four months and then suddenly it is done and we go back to regular lives. Seems everyone was gone yesterday morning except Rob (the boss) who is driving trucks to Uruguay for storage until the next trip in two years, and then taking a month to cycle around Uruguay exploring that country which he has never been to. The three girls Carmen, Vivien, and Michelle who are awaiting boats to explore Antarctica. Julia was last to leave for her 34 hours of flying to Australia. I had dinner last evening with Michelle and it was a good conversation and goodbye. She returns home 3 January and back to work at university 9 January. I recommend her blog michelle’s blog In my quest to find out why we do this her answer was similar to Gunter, Hardy, and Alfred. It is in our genes. As she said we are people who want to feel what a place is like. To be knocked down by the wind and attempt to crawl into a ditch to protect oneself from the flying gravel is very different than watching it on the travel or nature channel on TV. We want to see what is over that hill, mountain, valley whatever. And we agreed the worst you can do is fail to try. Failing at something is one thing but not even trying is total failure. So what have I seen: it would be shorter to just reread this blog and that does not begin to cover the things I have seen. At the current moment I am thinking of the remote Bolivian village we came across on a rough dirt road, where a hundred kids encompassed us with curiosity, fear, wonderment at these strange gringos on bicycles. I suspect they had never seen such a sight. Or the rise over the hill and seeing the Torres de Paine towers rising 2 kilometers over us. The grueling climb to Tocota in the heat. A multitude of experiences and sights. And a bicycle is a great way to see and feel it. As Earnest Hemingway said; It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of the country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. But you remember them as they actually are, while in a motorcar only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.
And what have I learned. That too is a question of imponderables. But it I will try, without being too trite.
to get anywhere you have to move. Seems simple but as Barry and I stood there enroute to Tocota in blazing heat he said “well we can’t get there by standing here”. Even though both of us just wanted to lie down and await whatever. And the windy day out of Torres del Paine was similar. I wanted to lie in the ditch and await rescue, but that seemed to easy, and a long wait. Again this seems to fall into the category of you cannot succeed if you do not try.
And I learned I can do it with a good mindset. As Thomas the tank engine says “I think I can”. And my track coach in high school told me anything physical is 90% mental and the more I do the more I find that true. One must believe.
One of my first blogs was entitled”facing one’s fears” where I expressed my fears at joining an elite group of hardened cyclists. I knew they had cycled all over the world and were also looking for additional challenges and places to explore. I had expected them to arrive after 6 weeks of hard cycling high in the mountains not only acclimated to the altitude but capable of superhuman feats. They dribbled into Cusco more like old wet, dirty dish towels than the super humans I expected. My friend Buck, who is incredibly tough, I thought was going to collapse on my hotel doorstep when he arrived.
Nearly every day I rode I had the thought “I can’t do this I am not strong enough”. When I arrived in camp often last I would sometimes relay this to others. They would look at me like “you are crazy, all of us feel that way” and I would look around and realize it was true. They would look as exhausted as I felt. On the great divide after three weeks Joe and I were ready to quit. We weren’t strong enough for the ride we felt. That day we changed from doing the great divide to just ride the next day. It changed our perspective and became wonderful.
And I was bothered by how slow I was, finally near the end I realized I could ride maybe not as fast as the fasted racers, but I could hold my own. There were many times I took my turn leading the pelaton or pace line. I realized slowly often the difference was I stopped, took pictures, ate, peed or just took a break. Some in the group would not drink coffee in the morning as they would have to stop to pee. Rob mentioned to me once this group was different as they did not stop to photograph or enjoy the view, they were intent on getting to camp. That is certainly ok but was not my ride. I rode my ride in my way. After San Martin when a large pelaton made riding easier against the wind I did not do pelatons as much because of the scenery I missed. Everyone to their own.
Hence the learning, I can do it if I want to. Negative thinking results in negative results. Ok, trite.
And I learned the world is an amazing place. So many different ways of doing and looking at things. And money has nothing to do with it. Sometimes the poorest people are the happiest. We all crave things but sometimes it is the feeling which is more important. And just because someone does something in a different way does not make it better or worse.
In South America one does not put paper in the toilet but in the garbage can next to toilet. Most from western countries find this weird. But paper is carbon and tends to overload septic and sewage systems, not allowing proper bacterial action to decompose the waste. Or perhaps their septic and sewers just can’t handle that waste. Whatever the reason it is the way it is done here.
Buck told me once, when I was complaining about the seemingly feral dogs all over rural Peru and Bolivia, it is their culture we cannot always understand it. (Two people on our trip were bitten and had rabies treatment.). Quite true, one cannot always understand a culture and before one tries to change it try and understand why it is that way.
And I learned traffic can be ok with a bike. Joost told me he actually enjoys riding in traffic at home as it is an additional challenge. Perhaps though it is because cars may respect bikes. There is always an outsider but I felt ok with the cars. They treated me as a vehicle which is the way it should be and not as an intrusion on their personal space. The times cars lined up behind us waiting for a safe time to pass continually amazed me. People can be respectful of others. Of course we did prove that one outside car can do some damage. When a car and a bike fight it is extremely difficult for the bike to win.
Now I sit in Lima back where I began my trip in South America. My story is told, and I am trying to understand the past 4 months because there is so much to understand, but I feel like a person who now has no story, which is the opposite of what I have always said. Everyone has a story; perhaps they do not know it or do not know how to tell it. Perhaps it will come to me. Tomorrow is another day.