no longer the silver kona sutra, but now a green kona explosif. incredibly kind kona sent me not only a new frame, but also a front suspension fork with on-off capabilities. the kona sutra, which i loved and love and miss like one can only miss something that has been between his legs for over a year, was not specifically designed for rugged off-road use. and this is how i am mostly riding these days. so i´m now on a new frame, and indeed my horizons have broadened and i can go anywhere. a wahoo and a thunderous thank you are in order.
the dirt roads, i love them and hate them. the necessity of contrasts. oh how miserable it would be to be happy all the time. the dirt roads. yes. i love them because of their loneliness. how sad those roads are before i ride on them and bring them joy! anywhere you want to camp, you camp. you just stop your bike and put up your tent and hope the wind doesn´t knock it down. and the sky gets orange and then black and you read books that pollute your mind with all sorts of fabulous ideas until your eyes shut on their own accord. and then you engage in the biggest waste of time: you sleep. and then the sky gets a little orange and you´re unzipping everything and packing it all up again for another day and you´re off. and the fireball is on your left and a shadow of enormous length is on your right and you wave at it and hoot and holler like a fool and you ride and you love it and you don´t know why and you´re not bothered to care about this unanswered question. you just ride and everything is new and what else would you do with yourself anyway? you just can´t imagine. and so, for the first time in a long time, you just don´t imagine. you just let it all happen and it feels great. not much traffic to speak of, and the traffic there is is nice and slow and they wave and you wave and they give you an orange and you give them a smile and somehow it´s an even trade. more scenery too, but this is the least of my concerns. it´s nice, yes, but it´s not necessary.
the only thing that is necessary is an open road
but the thing that gets me, that rattles me on these dirt and sandy roads is feeling like a rodeo jockey on a raging mad bucking bronco. unavoidable rocks and holes and divots and bumps, sometimes like you wouldn’t believe. it´s pounding. it´s exhausting. so after some days of this constant beating, i can´t say i was disappointed to once again reach some smooth asphalt where i could just go go go and fly by everything and blur it all. when on asphalt, you hear things you don´t hear while on dirt. you listen to your bike, your best and oh so dependable friend. you want to make sure everything is ok. so when i heard an awful sound, something like two pieces of sand paper being rubbed together, i had a look down between my legs and immediately diagnosed the malady. my chain, my cranks, my gears, all of it, covered in grit and grime. need to clean that, but with what?, i thought. a toothbrush might do the job, in fact, it would be perfect, i answered myself. but i only got one of them and it´s for my teeth. well, i guess i´ll keep my eyes open on the side of the road for one. now you´ll of course think i´m making this up, but i tell you that at that ··very·· moment, i looked down to my right and there was a toothbrush, a beautiful one, only slightly used! this delighted me to no end. i yelled and screamed and whooped. sure, just a lousy toothbrush to someone else, maybe to you, but it was one of those moments that vaporized all my sadness. i started riding again, faster of course because of all the excitement, and decided to push my luck. i said to myself, boy oh boy, my atm receipts are getting more and more depressing, sure do wish i´d stumble across some money. but there was nothing to my right. so arm your guards well, mr. bankman. cause i´m a comin´!
the pink background simply does wonders for my beard.
now sometimes i do get a bit desperate. what i mean to say is, people ask me all the time what the hardest part of my trip is. and the answer comes without a pause of pensiveness. the undoubtedly most frustrating and difficult part of my trip is this: finding a gawd-blessed place to sleep, to lay my head. you think it would be easy. it ··should·· be easy. it´s not. i mean, sure, sometimes it´s a breeze. but sometimes, as i was saying, i get a bit desperate. like just the other night. darkness falling and i was on this road with fields filled with boulders and cacti on either side of me. no place for nothing, much less me and my tent. so i did what i had to do which was to keep on riding and looking. darker, darker; riding, riding; nothing, nothing. then something. a little church with a house next to it. so i stopped, explained my dilemma, and was granted permission to camp. they insisted i pitch my tent on the dirt floor of their garage, and, although there were other places far more ideal, i obliged. now there was this dog of theirs, a friendly one, but intensely curious. back and forth with his nose to my trailer and to my feet with a keen interest. then a leg was lifted, right over my trailer, with him wanting to add his additional scent to the conglomeration, but i put my foot down and gave him a yell and a wave and he went running off.
just like i went running off when this thing basically leaped on my face and began digesting it
i got my tent up, got inside, had my dinner and a read, and fell asleep, dead to the world. middle of the night, and all the water i´d drunk caught up with me. i woke up and felt all the signals that i needed to add my scent somewhere, so, unzip the nice warm sleeping bag and unzip the tent and out into the cold, these zippers, they´re all over me. now i´ve been riding in sandals since canada. only problem was, at this moment, as i slid my feet out of my tent, i only had one sandal, and me being with two feet, this posed a problem. i sort of mildly panicked, as i have a not proud of tendency to do when faced with the immediacy of such things. but i regained my composure, what little there is left of it these days, and told myself that, 3am notwithstanding, it was time for a hunt. so with one naked foot, i began. if i haven´t mentioned that the surrounding area in which i was camping was a tree farm surrounded my non-regular intervaled irrigation ditches, let this serve as the necessary prelude to the fact that, about twenty steps into my search, i managed to plunge my, but of course, naked foot into one of these irrigation ditches, approximately one foot deep, 9 inches of that being dirty water and 3 inches being glucky sludge. after a horrible suction noise, i regained possession of my foot, and, after a few choice words (only thought, not said, but, really, which is worse?), resumed my quest. several irrigation ditch plunges later, and with nothing to show for it but slime covered feet, i almost gave up figuring that tomorrow would surely be an interesting ride. but then, as if an epiphany, a message from the big man himself, i decided to, well, to go to church. so i walked all the way around this compound, back to the main road, and towards the house of worship. and there, at the entrance, was my other sandal, in a single solitary shaft of moonlight no less. quite pleased, i picked it up, and immediately noticed it was a bit worse for the wear. my sandal had been a chew toy. with two sandals, i went back to my tent, entered, zipped all the zippers this time with my sandals ··inside·· the tent, and laid down. and immediately realized that after the whole hugabaloo, i´d forgotten to pee. anyhow, all this reminds me of another dog story, will you allow me a parenthetical?
what a road! i didn´t ride it...it rode me!
( i was on my way back to peace corps service in vanuatu, getting ready to land for what would be a four day layover in new zealand. on the plane ride from los angeles, i was sort of, not surprisingly, hitting it off with this really great girl whom i had the good fortune to be seated next to. i was filling her up with all sorts of stories, most involving me as the hero. as we deboarded, we talked of meeting up later that night, as she too was traveling alone. i was burning with excitement at the prospect. so much can happen in four days, i thought. we continued to chat as we waited in line for customs clearance, for which new zealand is notoriously strict. and then the hounds were released upon us. actually beagles, but what i´m saying is that all the sudden about a dozen dogs appeared. unleashed, but with supervision, they sniffed all of us waiting in the ¨nothing to declare¨ customs line. it seemed to be standard procedure, so i gave it no heed, until, to my surprise, a beagle was, quite curiously and, to me, alarmingly, on its hind legs pawing precariously proximal to my groinal region. the girl, still standing next to me, looked at me with new eyes. in a very concerned and hushed voice, she asked me if i had drugs or something. i assured her i didn´t, but her eyes indicated that she didn´t seem to believe me. unfortunately, right at that very moment, one of the paws made a direct hit and i doubled over like the number 7. having slightly recovered from that pain that only a man will know, i tired to make a joke. i said to her, ¨jeez, are these things beagles or boxers?¨ i thought this was extremely witty. but she didn´t really laugh, in fact, she just turned and started walking away. i felt this girl slipping from me, which is such a common feeling, and i wanted to prevent it this time. it seemed like, and it was, just moments ago we were sipping water over two small bags of pretzels that we shared over our tray tables. and i knew i needed to full blast my charm if i was going to get that date. but as i went to follow her and do god knows what i was immediately accosted by two customs agents, and, indeed to my chagrin, another two beagles both of which, in addition to helping their friend paw me, decided to, as if enough of a scene weren´t already created, bark. by now, all the other passengers had formed an appropriately distanced circle around me, enjoying, at my expense, the drama, and anxiously awaiting what was to come next. and the girl, well, she was nowhere to be seen, and, believe me, i was looking.
one stop shopping i tell you...cocoa leaves, dynamite, detonators...
sir, do you have any food or perhaps ··drugs·· in your handbag?
no, and could you please get these dogs off me and did you see where that girl went?
the beagles are just doing their job sir. so you have nothing?
well, the beagles smell something sir. may we remind you that there are very stiff penalties here in new zealand for ··smuggling··, or trying to, anything into our country. are you ··sure·· you don´t have any items in your bag you would like to tell us about now so that we can confiscate them here, and, depending on what they are, we won´t impose a penalty?
(all the while, the painful pawing, the barking, and me, on tiptoes, looking for the girl)
does a pack of gum constitute a food item?
then i don´t have any food. did you see a girl walk off, i think she may have gone that way, i need to...
(an additional beagle arrived on the scene)
sir, we have no choice, as a result of the canine conniptions, but to ask to see the contents of your handbag.
and then, like an icy cold toilet seat in the morning, it hit me.
oh, yes, well, actually, i ··do have·· half of a pizza in my bag...isn´t that funny, i seemed to have forgotten all about it, i´m sure this sort of thing happens all the time - ha ha - and...
(there was no laughter other than mine which was forced, faked, and foolish)
(i extracted the remains of the pizza, which, honestly, i ··had·· forgotten about. the beagles went berserk. the circumferencing crowd, though i was hoping for one, maybe a cheer, gave no reaction.)
we´ll be taking that.
uh, yes, of course, but one moment please....is there, uh, could i possibly eat that right now? i´m a bit hungry and i promise to be speedy and...
later, at the luggage carousels, i caught up to the girl, who, upon seeing me, began upon a remarkable pace. i couldn´t figure it out. i never can. but i caught up to her as she was waving down a taxi.
so, are we on for tonight or...
um, maybe, we´ll see...
but how will i find you, i´m still waiting on one piece of my luggage, if you´ll wait just a moment i...
the taxi took off.
pizza-less, girl-less, and with a sore crotch, i never saw her again. )
yep folks, that´s right. over a year now. hard to believe it´s been that short and that long and if it weren´t for calendars... when i look back at the pictures of that guy, that foolish little rookie, leaving canada, i can´t help but think, ¨your hair´s too short and your beard too trim.¨ but that´s all been taken care of. for how much longer, who´s to say? what i can tell you right now is this: i want to ride.
and so, i ride
over 23,000 kilometers behind me (not including vanuatu, new caledonia, and new zealand) and about 4,000 more to go. in a matter of weeks, i will be in patagonia, the most constantly windy place in the world. and if there´s one thing that eats away, quite ravenously, at my soul, it´s the wind. but i´ve experienced the ¨roaring 40´s (latitiude)¨ before in new zealand. some days, you just don´t - because you can´t - ride.
the red is where i have ridden. the green is flying. what fills my veins with foreign blood is all that space in the middle!
oh, i could tell you about my intestinal history. and that one time that....but let´s keep this a family affair, shan´t we?....
this hotel was made of salt. it was closed. the guy who guards the place let me eat inside. i scraped the couch to add taste to my bland food. he got upset and gave me the boot.
and, as is the case when anybody tries to do anything, i am often probed, with doubtful downward slanted eyebrows, by people trying to chisel away at me and find my achilles heel. and the question is, ¨you´ve ridden your bicycle, completely, ALL the way from canada? no exceptions? no cheating?¨ ah yes, people. and the answer is an undeniable ¨no.¨ i flew from panama city to cartegena, colombia to avoid a road-less and dangerous swampy jungle notorious for drug trade. just like looking at my buddies test to see what the answer to number 27 is. and, now when i think back to it, one time while getting water from a family in nicaragua, the father moved my bike about ten feet towards south america so he could access his wheelbarrow. but minus the plane ride and the ten feet, yes, i have ridden my bike the whole way. but tomorrow, i just may toss niAgA oLoS into the back of a truck, swear the driver to secrecy, and be done with all this silliness.
oh yes desert, how i love you
what do i do all day? well, many things really. in addition to the obvious, i also have a habit of thinking of a particular family member or friend and dwelling on my experiences with them. sometimes i even talk to them. i also constantly analyze and re-analyze my life and find ways, and there are many, to try to improve my general disposition and future direction. many times, i sing. i wonder why my pointer finger toe is longer than my thumb toe. i often search the side of the road for anything salvageable (the states, owing to its opulence and too often non-pedestrian lifestyle, was a venerable treasure chest - money, food, license plates, more food...). i eat. i read. i stop to scribble down ideas. i pee. i apply sunscreen. i, depending, remove or add layers of clothing. i chat with curious drivers. i repair flat tires or change out broken spokes. i listen to music. i take pictures. i write letters. i make to do lists (an unshakeable habit). i choose career paths and then quit. i re-live days of my youth, both the good and bad. i explain things to people that aren´t there and they finally understand. i think of things i should have said but didn´t. i, depending, laugh, cry, or am neutral in regards to certain memories. i try to remember where i slept seventeen nights ago. i look at the picture of my family that i have in a clear piece of plastic on top of my handlebar bag and am thankful. i look at maps and decide. i exchange fleeting pleasantries with people. i think about the future. i dwell on the past. i am surprised at the present. i remember things i´ve forgotten to do and add them to those to do lists. i grow my beard. i miss people. and, i watch the amazing scenery unfold. all in all, it makes for quite a full day.
now just the other day i was looking at my hands and i realized it´s about time to cut my nails. the thing is, i actually got excited about this, to cut my nails. not christmas morning excited, god how i miss those christmas mornings, but more along the lines of new toothpaste excited. that is, new taste, new consistency, how will it rinse, will it remove that bothersome fur that seems to be growing on my teeth. and as the day went on and the kilometers slid under my tires, i´d think, ¨but don´t forget, soon you get to cut your nails.¨ and as a matter of both fact and coincidence, i´m running quite low on toothpaste at this very moment, which means i´ll have that excitement too. essentially, i´m beside myself at the prospects for my immediate and looming future. i might just by myself some q-tips and engage in some hygenic hedonism.
as they say, cleanliness is next to the animal bowel movements that you are sitting in while eating. but they were all dried up and shriveled, so i figured it was safe.
i do consider myself a man of culture. and here i am in argentina. now i can honestly say nowhere else has there been such interest in my trip. people are questioning, albeit interrogating, me in regards to all sorts of aspects of my ride. people get excited. they waste their film or megabytes on me. they say they wish they could do something like it. i tell them they can. they say it´s impossible. i tell them that´s silly. where do i sleep? don´t i get cold? do i shower? don´t i get lonely? wherever i can find, sometimes, not too much, and never are my respective answers with the last one of course being a boldfaced lie. and yes, i admit, i do love it, especially so when it involves food donations. but i ··really and especially·· love it when the interrogator happens to be a female and the interrogation has concluded. because, here in argentina, it is a cultural necessity, dare i say requirement, to exchange a kiss before parting ways with a lady. and so, i pull them in, and not only perform my cultural duties, but also, when i can, sneak in a little nuzzle with my beard, you know, just to let them know what they´ve been missing. i consider that nuzzle my cultural contribution. it drives the ladies wild. i´m telling you, it does.
these ladies were mad for me. they tried to blockade me. they started chanting, ¨beard, beard.¨ it was quite frightening.
it´s all about the backroads without much traffic; oh how those cars and trucks scare me and interrupt what may have possibly been a significant thought. so when the police tell me a rode is very dangerous because there is nothing on it and no one uses it and they highly recommend against it, i know exactly where i´m going. my nightly ritual in my little tent is to spread a map out over my sleeping bag embraced legs and consider all the possible paths. and i´m happy to say that i´ve got plenty of time. and so, if i have to go north to go south or west to go east, so be it. my most recent masterly planned route was seemingly perfect. a dip over east into the desert (no place better), a traverse west, and then a monster climb up into the snowy mountains (only place better being the desert) ultimately leading me to a town called mendoza, where, after what would be many days on the road, a possible bath would be in order. the desert was hot and flat and arid and sandy and thorny and windy like no other, but where else on earth can one feel more alive? i rode the dead smack straight roads and watched them slowly reappear from their vanishing points as the sun arced over me in a cloudless sky. god, how i´m falling in love with these open, desolate, and lonely argentinean thoroughfares. me and the open road and the endless possibilities and dreams it inspires. i saw thorns the length of my finger. i saw terrified jackrabbits leap into holes. i saw poor dead dogs on the side of the road with a sadness in their eyes, and those flies and buzzards eating them away with unbridled ecstasy. the synchronicity of death and life. and who, friend, is the lucky one? i saw sand and sand and sand and man was there sand. it was everywhere, in my teeth and ears, under my fingernails and in and all sorts of little bodily crevices.
i think it´s fair to say, sometimes, we all need a mask
i saw the occasional fellow humans, hermetically sealed in tin cars, air conditioners blasting, with everyone, other than the driver (hopefully), sound asleep. sometimes i´d scream a revelation, feeling better that there was no one near to hear, just dissipating sound waves to vibrate the backs of beetles and make them change direction. the wind pushed me back; the wind propelled me, oh how that wind blew until it was all you could hear and drove you mad. how joyously miserable that was! that constant wind without the fluctuation of a gust. and i just stood up on the pedals and screamed into it and it didn´t care and i loved that and so i kept on going. the moon, waning away to nothing, rose exactly as the sun set, as if the world were flat and i was its fulcrum. and then, the desert gradually faded, giving way to vegetation and a river, a river whose eventual canyon i was to follow up into those snow covered peaks. if there is one thing necessary in life, it´s the need for a stark contrast every now and then and better if more often than that. and so, after sweaty days in shorts and sandals, i was off to where i knew i would wake up and ride with that burning numbness of full-on cold. and that wind, god this argentinean wind, it would knock off my nose and peel the skin on my face away and slowly erase the existence of my toes and then feet and everything below mid-calf. i couldn´t wait. with all my provisions purchased, i proceeded, preparing myself for the possibility of precipitation, something i haven´t seen since the mountains of northern peru. at the last place to get it, a police post, i stopped for water. and a conversation.
it´s my road. it´s the open road. it´s a path. it´s my life.
where are you heading?
up into them thar hills! wahoo!
you do realize the road is closed?
this road you are on, it is impassable in 10 km.
no it´s not. see? here it is on my map, right here.
yes, i see. and that is the road that is closed and impassable.
(impassable? he didn´t realize nothing stops me.) yes, yes, of course it is, but i imagine i´ll manage...
no. you won´t. it´s impossible. there is an armed guard where the road is closed. no one passes. and even if someone does, he´ll soon come back.
an armed guard? jeez.
why is the road closed?
they are in the process of building two dams. there is no longer any road. it is under a lake. there are no bridges yet.
surely there must be ·some· way across the water? i can disassemble my bike and carry it piece by piece, or....
in one year, maybe, now, no. there is nothing.
well how deep is the water, i´m pretty tall and maybe i could....
unless you are 20 feet tall, you will have to swim.
well, that´s it! i´ll swim! i´ll just be on my way here in a jiffy...
and your bike? your trailer?
well, yes, of course, i mean...
i´m sorry, you have to turn back. you can ride another 10 km and be told the exact same thing by the man with the gun. or you can save yourself the trouble and turn around here. either way, it´s your choice. and to let you know, you´re not the first person who has wanted to enter this road...
but maybe the guard will let ··me·· pass.
yes, maybe he will, if he wants to lose his job. and even if he does, you will be on a dirt road for about 5 km at which point you will encounter what will soon be a lake that is surrounded by sheer mountains and a dam that is not yet complete.
uh, nothing i guess...
will you ride the 10 km? i can ring our guard and tell him to be expecting you. and before you ask, yes, the guard is there 24 hours a day...
well, i would ··never·· imagine trying to...(he´d read my mind). well, it looks like i have no choice.
i´m sorry, but yes, you are right.
the problem is the bike...but with some pulleys...
and so i turned around, and started back, on exactly the same road, just going the other way this time. it was almost dark. i was frustrated. i saw a store. i decided to see what they had. i stopped. there were two very nice women who worked there. they had some tomatoes and apples so i bought them. and i told them my story, how i was down on my luck, dejected, the world was against me. i needed to tell someone these things...
you can only have this if you finish your dinner...
yes, bad luck. now i have to ride all the way back on the same road, back the exact same way i came in. and then i have to figure out where to go next.
yes, it is too bad the road is closed, but i don´t see how you have bad luck. you are able to ride your bike from canada to here. i have never done this and never will be able to. you are one of the luckiest people i know.
argentina. wide. open.
sometimes i need smacked in the face like that to realize what i already know. i smiled and thanked her.
argentina. and a fool on the hill. but i´m living here still.
just then a peculiar even occurred. i never get plastic bags anymore because i´m sick of seeing them litter this planet, so i was cradling the fruits and vegetables in my arms. while loading them into my trailer, i dropped an apple. it rolled approximately three feet from me. i left it there for the time being as my hands were full. at this very moment, the moment my apple strayed that is, a car pulled up in front of the store, and a man got out and, strangely, ran towards the store. unfortunately, while engaging in this action, he unknowingly placed one of his feet, during the sprint, directly on top of the aforementioned apple. it split into an inedible muddy and stony and appley mess. he apologized profusely. i told him not to worry. but then the lady, the lady from the store, came out with an apple in her hand. she gave it to me. i got out my money to pay for it and she refused. she said it was a gift. she said it was to prove that i don´t have bad luck, and gave me a smile as if she were my mom and had suddenly implanted some sort of symbolic life lesson in me. i was glad to have another apple, was more careful with it, and also was on my way back to my life of movement. moving, moving. keeping things temporary. and in the end, i returned east....
oh poor little gIrgIb, i will ride you again one day...and until that day, know this oh friend, oh friend of mine, that i love and miss you like no other.
may we all say a little prayer; perhaps light a candle