I've done it. I made it. It's finished. It's over.
You have no idea how many times I thought about the day I would say those words. IF I would ever be able to say those words. However, now, I can say that I completed the challenge I set out to do: pedal my bicycle from Seward, Alaska to Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.
July 6, 2011 will be a date that I will never forget. It's the day that I left San Diego and flew to Anchorage, Alaska to start an adventure of a lifetime. I gave up the "american dream", sold everything I had, quit my job, and lived for more than two years with everything that I could carry, on my bicycle.
I started this post while I was in Colombia. I wanted to make sure that this post would be the most thorough and complete. There have been times after finishing a post, that I was riding and thinking of something I forgot to include or some thing else I wanted to change. I've thought about this entry for a long time. I hope I'm not leaving anything out. This will be the last.
After two years, two continents, 29, 635.3 kilometers (not including days off riding around), 17 countries, over 20 flat tires, countless chains, gears, tires, other worn out components... my journey comes to a close. Good friends I've made along the way, the experiences, bad and good. So much to look back on. So many memories. There will inevitably be things I will miss. After all, that's why I started the trip in the first place, along with a thirsty curiosity to travel and see places I had always only heard about.
How can I sum up my thoughts after two incredibly pivotal years of my life? All the ups and downs I've been through. All the beautiful places I've been. All the people I've met, the friends I've made. The hardships endured.
Before starting this trip, it was hard to grasp just how far I would be traveling. I just knew that it was something I wanted to do, something that I had to do. Sure there were reasons for going on this trip, but honestly I think there was something deeper that compelled me forward on this trip. After a long while, somewhere far South in Latin America, I would get asked "why?" (as always). It seemed like a new question, like I had never been asked before. I actually had forgotten for a while, the reasons I had for doing the trip. Besides the obvious reasons for doing a trip like this, a big part was the challenge in completing a tremendous task like this.
I didn't fully understand just how difficult
the trip would get. I only knew that I've always wanted to see Latin
America, enjoyed adventure, and figured "what else am I going to do?". I
try to think back to things like when I broke my C7 and T1 vertebrae in
my neck, and very nearly became a quadriplegic. I would have
been paralyzed from the shoulders down, and this trip would have never
came to fruition.
There were so many times I could have quit on this trip. Countless times I thought about quitting. Just thinking about somewhere else I could have been, somewhere more pleasant than that moment. A comfy chair drinking a cold beer (in hot weather) or hot coffee (in snow or rain). Having a comfortable bed with clean sheets and a pillow. A roof. Only one time, on the entire trip, did I actually decide to quit. I've since thought lots about that day back in the hot hills of Colombia. I remember it vividly.
It was after three months recuperating in Popayan, Colombia when the van had hit me, breaking my collar bone and giving me deep cuts and road rash all the left side of my body. I had been deathly ill a week before leaving to get back on the bike. It was a few days since leaving Popayan, in the hot, endless hills before getting to Pasto. I had lost the motivation, the drive, the will to continue. Pulling my bike over to the side of the road, I stopped and just kept thinking about how unpleasant my situation was. I was not enjoying the riding at all and just couldn't understand why I was still doing the trip. I decided right then and there, that there is no point continuing the agony, and that when I arrive in Pasto, I was going to take a bus back and quit the trip. Well I was still a couple days from Pasto, and with a REAL long hill to get up. When I did finally make it to Pasto, I felt a lot better, and I continued.
I can think of so many nasty things that happened that I think if someone was there with me in those moments, they would just look at me and ask, "why don't you just call it? Look how far you've gone. Why do you continue if you aren't enjoying it? Not many people can say they've done what you've already accomplished." I remember countless days reaching the breaking point of frustration, wanting to scream out load at the world around me and give up. So many days riding on rough roads, creeping along, bouncing over rocks, dirt, avoiding potholes... that it seemed like I might never see smooth black pavement again. So many days riding through torrential downpours, with roads flooding and cars splashing water on me. So many searing hot days, drenched in sweat, struggling to breathe going up hills and feeling as though I'm going to die while noisy buses and trucks pass, nearly killing me and meanwhile spew massive black clouds of horrible diesel exhaust in my face making me cough. So many cold wet days that my hands and feet would go numb, I couldn't ride hard or fast enough to stay warm. Waking up to a blizzard in Utah with nearly a half a foot of snow on the ground, and having to ride through it for almost 20km. Parasites that ate away at my energy and gave me severe fatigue and aches in my body, that I had to ride with for a couple months through Central America. Waking up sick several times in my tent, not close to a town or anything, and having to stay there, too sick to travel. Falling in tar in Panama and having to use a gallon of gas and hours scrubbing my body to remove it, ruining all the clothes I was wearing (including my rain jacket). Adventures are never easy, this of course, is one of a few reasons why not everyone does them. For me though, it's always seemed incredible at the apparent greater amount of terrible things that have occurred on my trip. It just seems like lots more compared to others doing similar trips.
Early on in the trip, I realized that with each nasty circumstance that happened, that things always moved on. That it will change. That although sometimes things got bad, so bad, for so long (months of heat and humidity through Mexico, Central America, Colombia), or two weeks straight of cold rain and a headwind in Canada. Mountains to cross through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Fierce headwinds through Chile, and along the last stretch in Brasil. That eventually, it will pass. Things change.
Change is the common denominator in life. I can always count on change to happen, for better or for worse. Like the good, the bad as well will always change. Although it may sound pessimistic, when Robert Frost said, "Nothing gold can stay", he was absolutely correct. Life is in a constant dynamic equilibrium. Like describing nature with chemistry, entropy is always increasing. No matter how much we try to be in control, really we are not, all we can do is just hold on and try to enjoy the ride, while we can.
There were so many times I'm glad I didn't quit on this trip. Passing by a placid lake in Alaska in the late afternoon with not a single sound from animals, cars or people. Stopping my bike to enjoy the silence and feel how far away I was from everything. All the sunsets I've seen, lots while riding, watching the sun dip below a completely different horizon, time and again. All the people I've met throughout the trip, all the faces with warm smiles and kind generosity they've offered. The feeling after climbing up what seemed like the most difficult hill I had ever done (thinking it many times), braving through cold or heat, gritting my teeth through consecutive days of headwinds... getting to that other side, the feeling of fulfillment, overwhelming, priceless.
I always hated when people said I'm "lucky" to be doing what I...
well, what I WAS doing. (This post is a strange one because I have to
get use to changing the tense when describing this trip). It is now
over, and I need to start talking about it in the past. Sure I
understand when Latins say I was lucky, that I have the opportunity, more importantly, the
choice to do this trip. However, people need to understand that with
the money I had, I could have gone and lived on some coastal beach town
in Mexico or Central America, for almost the same amount of time,
drinking beer and surfing every day (or any number of different options, this just would have been my second choice).
I think often people don't think, or forget, of the sacrifices I made to go on this trip. Apart from selling various material possessions, I sold my diesel truck, that I personally toiled for more than a month, converting it use waste vegetable oil, and happily used for about 6 years (apart from continually revising and critiquing the machine to make it better). I gave up the chance for a "career", I suppose, by committing to go on this trip. Although I would never want to work for a company that would look down on something like what I did, anyway. Doing something like this takes a whole different level of commitment and determination, than whatever Joe Schmoe off the street is going to have on his/her resume.
Approaching Mendoza, the nostalgia had begun to set in. I was thinking about how it was the last few days that I was going to be heading South on the trip. By far, the majority of the time on the trip, I was heading South. After Mendoza, it was slowly to change from an Easterly heading, then to Northeasterly through Uruguay and Brasil.
However, after losing my wallet and passport the very night I arrived in Santiago by bus to visit my step brother, what little nostalgia I started to feel, vanished immediately. Losing my passport and wallet was the last straw. I was then completely ready to finish the trip, with an eager bitterness.
I tried to make the most of my time in Santiago. I made/met several new friends, including staying at several different homes of fellow cyclists who were all quite friendly and welcoming. I had a nice time relaxing, seeing Santiago, seeing my step brother again. After getting my new passport, I decided to apply for my visa for Brasil (I had to do it either way, and had planned on doing it when I arrived in Buenos Aires) and after another week, had my fresh passport with an expensive paper visa in my passport and the ability to travel again.
To apply for the visa for Brasil, there was a list of things I had to do, papers to provide, etc. One of these, was to show proof and a date of departure from Brasil. This meant I had to buy my plane ticket. So I sat down and crunched some rough numbers of what I thought it would take me to get to Rio. I figured I should always be able to do at least 80km / day. I planned on a couple days in each major city, and gave myself nearly a week to enjoy Rio, and a few extra "emergency" days.
The hill profile of the route ahead didn't look too bad (nothing compared to what I did in Colombia, Ecuador, or Peru). It looked real flat across the "pampa" in Argentina, lots of small hills in Uruguay, a couple of bigger 1,000m ascents in Brasil. I knew from my experience that the kicker would be road conditions, but more worriedly I thought of the wind (as you remember I've had so much trouble with the wind in South America, that started along the coast of Peru). Taking the bus back to Mendoza, back to Romina and Javier's home, where I left my bike and gear, I was now on a timeline. I now had to arrive in Rio before this date.
The race to the finish had now begun.
I had a couple of nice days back in Mendoza with my friends. I found a mechanic (that turned out to be the best bike mechanic I have ever met) that not only changed the grease in my hubs, but did a quick overhaul on my bike and cleaned her up for me. All at no charge. Just a big smile, a hand shake, and "suerte".
As I mentioned previously, the ride between Mendoza and Buenos Aires, was one of the most boring stretches of the entire trip. I knew it would be, and only hoped that I could take advantage of the flat, boring terrain, and make up some extra distance. In order to give myself some extra time to enjoy Brasil. The first day out, I had a nice NW wind that helped kick me along and I did 130km without too much hassle. After getting over the only size-able hill of ~1,000m, it was flat farm land, with the occasional treeline. Lots of grass, fences, cows.
Every day or two, the wind would shift. It was almost always either from the South, or from the North. I just tried to remind myself, while battling the stiff crosswind at times, that it was better to have that, then a direct headwind, that would nearly completely hinder my progress. I can't stress enough, how terrible it is having wind. It is by far, the most infuriating, frustrating thing to do deal with on the bike. Dumb animal drivers come and go, hills always have summits, but wind... creeping along at 10km/h on flat ground, has a whole different level of madness. I had no idea what still lied ahead before the finish.
A few highlights of my time on the pampa, were several times encountering really friendly, welcoming people, for a few consecutive days. Always such a pleasure and higlight of my trip. One time even included a stay with some firefighters, the first and only time on the trip. Each time though, was filled with great people, great conversation, and great food. With the continued cold in Argentina, often seeing temps of around 5*c during the day, I continued to look forward to an evening fire and hot mate at camp. Although I looked forward to this and instead ended up staying up much later into the night, it was a very pleasant change getting to know the lives of lots of kind Argentinians and the great company. As always on the trip, I had to remain flexible and savor these spontaneous moments, rare they are.
The last couple days before Buenos Aires, the traffic intensified, and rush hour in the evening on the main highway was of course, very unpleasant. (they need to expand the road, it's a meager two lane road that cannot handle the amount of traffic). I arrived in Buenos Aires, after about 10 days from Mendoza, now with a few extra days in my pocket to use later on. I spent a couple days in the massive city, probably the biggest city I've ever seen, and certainly ridden through. It included one day, having a marvelous day riding around with my friend Darwin, from couchsurfing. We saw all the major landmarks in town and had a fun time at his apartment. I changed my front tire, that was finally giving out, and the rubber was seperating from the kevlar. I can't blame it though, it lasted me from San Salvador, all the way until Buenos Aires. After all the hills, and rocky dirt roads in Peru, and countless pieces of glass or metal shards on the road. My hats off to that tire.
I always remember, a long time ago, when I looked at the map ahead of where I was planning on going, I saw the bay in between Buenos Aires and Uruguay, and figured there must be a ferry running between. I'm definitely a "every km" kind of guy, but I decided way back when, that if I made it that far after everything, that I would justify taking the ferry across instead of the long detour North just to stay on roads to get to Uruguay.
Sure enough, after checking a bit online, found several different ferry companies, and one that went to Colonia for a very reasonable price. Getting my bike and gear aboard, stowing everything topside quickly, I was off again on one of a few boat rides on the trip. The ride was real fast, and after only about an hour, I arrived in Colonia.
I was real excited to be in Uruguay. The weather was warmer that day, and ride out of town was pleasant and quiet, with palm trees lining the road. The pampa was definitely gone, and one hill rose after the next, in a rhythmical pattern of up and down. Still, I was happy not to have any wind, little traffic, and to be in another country. Cruising into Montevideo, was another unusually warm day, with a tailwind at my back I arrived with little trouble.
After getting directions, I rolled down the street and stopped at my host Alejandro's apartment from warmshowers. He was waiting outside to make sure I found the place, and had a class to get to. He greeted me with a strong hug and invited me into his humble home. I always liked how he said (and was certainly true) "el apartemento es pequeño, pero el corazon es grande". He gave up his own bed for me to sleep on, and took a smaller mattress out for himself to sleep on the floor.
Montevideo is definitely one of those cities you have to get to know before judging it. At first glance, it seems a bit dirty, shady, and just doesn't have an overall warm feeling to it. It wasn't until I started meeting people there, that the city started to grow on me. Like in all the latin countries, I had become use to the custom of the men greeting women with a kiss on the cheek. This time however, now men were greeting other men with a kiss on the cheek. Needless to say, I was taken back a bit when other men were greeting me the same way. Instead of just saying, "ah man, those men in Montevideo are a bunch of gays!" (like lots might think) I instead realized that they are just some of the warmest of the other Latin countries, and like always made me look back on my own culture and think about how in comparison, how cold we are in social interactions.
I stayed a few days in Montevideo, one more than planned (like so many times on the trip). I had a great time with Alejandro, relaxing at his apartment, exploring the city, and really trying to learn as much as I could about Uruguay since it is such a small country and the last stop before I hit Brasil (also why I took another day in town).
He was the first, of several other young cyclists I would meet (the others in Brasil), that were so excited about cycle traveling. It was refreshing to see the enthusiasm in them, to remember what I felt before starting the trip. Now, after having done it for so long, and dealt with so much, I knew I had lost a lot of the drive and desire to do this. I felt a bit inspired to hear all of them talk about their coming trips, with eagerness.
The unusual warm weather I had seen first entering Uruguay, had passed (I thought the weather had changed for good, but Alejandro informed me it was unusual), and was back to 5-10*c day time temps (seeing my breath - kind of cold).
I left Montevideo with the usual kind of unmotivated slow progress. I was soon out of the city, and with less traffic and now some stunning pine forests, I enjoyed the ride a bit more (although still bitter cold). I happened upon a gas station, and like so many on the pampa, had a nice seating area complete with an espresso machine. Just like many days on the pampa, I stopped and had a tasty cup of coffee, and a chance to warm up in a building - what a simple pleasure that does wonders for me.
Outside, an unusually larger amount of people were all focused on me and my bike. (since Uruguay, and all through Brasil, I really got the feeling just based on how much more attention I received, that these countries are not very frequented by cycle travelers. Here, now far away from the pan-american, and the countless cyclists heading for Ushuaia, people definitely seemed much more unacquainted to seeing a loading bike). A group of three approached me, and one of them started speaking english. They were going to Punta del Este to party for the night, and invited me to go along. I unhappily declined, but thanked them just the same. I would have loved to see that part of Uruguay, but would mean quite a detour, ~60km more. Not to mention, at that time in the day, I would have had ~40-50km more to do, and would arrived at 8-9pm at night (I had already done 80-90km and was feeling tired). I knew I wouldn't get there in reasonable time, and would be so tired anyway that I wouldn't enjoy it as much. They had a truck and could have put my gear in the back (I think that's what they were offering too), but like several times, I've had to make sacrifices to pedal each stretch I can. Not to mention staying up drinking all night isn't exactly the kind of behavior that helps me on riding days.
In general, Uruguay is hilly, but fortunately the hills aren't too big, some spots were worse than others, and still had some flat areas. I took a small detour to get a little more scenic, and passed by the famous Cabo Polonio that has a protected coastal dune area, and a very primitive town with no electricity or running water. The detour was nice, with virtually no traffic at all. Taking a roadside mate and snack break was one of the most pleasant ever. No sound of cars. Just the sound of a light breeze in the trees and the occasional bird or two flying by.
Like on the pampa, in Uruguay, was a bit tougher finding camp spots, with every side gate and fence locked, with lots of fences. My last night in Uruguay, I camped on a field near some eucalyptus trees with a nearby small school. I couldn't find anyone around to ask, and as sunset fell over the grassy hills, I decided to camp there. In the morning, with the common cold stiff wind rustling in the trees, I had GI Joe come by and give me some lip about how I can't camp there. It was probably the only time, I camped somewhere like that, and didn't get approval, but seeing as it was such a rural area, with no one around, and I was going to be gone early in the morning, didn't think it such a big deal.
I arrived excitedly to the town of Chuy, and the border of Brasil. Although still plaguing my mind, like lots of times since Santiago, about losing my passport and of course being reminded going through customs and immigration for both countries, I tried to focus on the more important point. This was my last border crossing of my trip. This was Brasil, I was now entering my destination country that I had thought of for years.
Chuy is a real interesting border town. Instead of having a border, with two mirror towns on opposite sides of the border (like most of the other countries). Here, Chuy is cut right down the middle by "Avendia Brasil", and the border itself. One side of the street is officially Uruguay, and the other, Brasil. Going through the immigration was a breeze, in comparison to obtaining the visa, and soon I was ecstatically grinning, pedaling away in Brasil.
I was always a bit curious how things would turn out in Brasil, referring to them speaking Portugues, and my nonexistent comprehension of the language. Before arriving in Mexico, I at least did speak a bit of spanish (like most in southern California having such close proximity to Mexico and the numerous classes through the years).
The first thing I started noticing in Brasil, was how much standing water there was. Apart from lakes, there were lots of ponds and just areas of grass covered in water. It soon struck me at how lucky I was. Here I was with this wonderful sunshine, at times partly cloudy. All this water came from somewhere. It must have rained copiously just before I arrived. The next thing I noticed, was how unfriendly people were when I was trying to find camp spots.
I always knew that my main concern would either be asking for directions, and/or trying to get campsites. It turns out the latter was MUCH more difficult than I thought. For whatever reason, Brasil was by FAR the most difficult country trying to find camp spots. There were probably only 2-3 times where people were actually courteous and let me camp somewhere. Other times, they were even a bit rude when all I was asking for was some grass or dirt for the night, nothing more. My first night in Brasil, I camped out on this grass spit that went out onto a marshy farm, behind some trees and only a few homes nearby. Off the road I stopped next to a couple of the houses, on the way to the spit, looking to ask anyone. Seeing no one, I continued on, and didn't have any trouble. After a while, I knew I had to do my best to get back to the "stealth camp" approach to it all, otherwise I would simply be wasting my time and energy trying to ask unwelcoming people.
Right away I remember this one evening, as night was falling faster than I would have liked, pulling off the freeway onto a side road with little more than 2-3 houses spaced apart. Ample room between, around, and behind the houses... it obviously was not a dangerous/populated area. After getting turned down by a person out front of their house, I proceeded to go to the next, and the next... until finally I was in the dirt driveway of one of the houses, exhausted from a day of riding and dealing with the dumb animals, pissed off from frustration, and frankly completely unsure of what I should do. I finally saw a man walk out from his house, and in the best, slow, spanish I could (like always) explained how all I wanted was some ground to sleep on! Putting a bit more frustration into it, unintentionally, at just how silly it is that nobody will let me camp for the night anywhere. "I'm not going to rob anyone, I just want to eat and sleep!" He hesitated but finally obliged me and let me camp among some young saplings and palms.
I had heard from several different people (latins), that the drivers in Brasil are worse than other latin countries. To me, this was always hard to believe, and frankly didn't seem important. When you have two dumb animals, and are trying to decide which one is dumber, does it really matter if they're both incompetent?
At first, it didn't seem all too different. I think a part of me didn't want to accept that it was in fact more dangerous on the roads in Brasil. That maybe if I started thinking that way, I wouldn't be able to ride as calmly or collected. After a while though, I knew that people like my Chilean trucker friends back in San Pedro de Atacama were right. The drivers are definitely worse in Brasil in general. Now that's it all said and done, I can say with some certainty, if I were was ever going to get killed on the road, my probability was much higher in Brasil.
Apart from the usual incompetent latin driver nearly hitting me to pass me, or oncoming traffic passing other cars and nearly hitting me, Brasilians seemed even more inpatient. I mean there were absolutely ridiculous times where I would be going fast down a hill. Say 50km/h or above, water and or raining on the road, and I'm riding in ONE of the TWO lanes, because it is absolutely beyond dangerous to continue on the shoulder at these speeds with debris, possibility of slipping, and the simple fact that my brakes almost cease to function when saturated in water... I would be bombing down a hill, water in face squinting trying to see, and asshole drivers would be honking behind me, and still nearly hitting me. Crazy.
It was very strange riding in Brasil. At the same time as much as I hate the drivers in any part of latin america, and also in Brasil, there was a small offset. I never had so many people pull their cars over to talk to me, as I did in Brasil. I almost remember it being non-existent, that anyone pulled over, for most of the trip. Then in Brasil it happened 5 or 6 times. I even had one guy pull over with his family in the car, and invite me to stay with them for the night. I never had that happen the entire trip.
I noticed that there is a lot more truck traffic in Brasil, the whole way, from Chuy to Rio (obviously much more further north). There are a lot less buses than other parts (like Peru for instance, has so many buses on the roads). Basically somewhere around Porto Alegre, I started using my ear plugs (that I normally use to sleep with) daily just to dry and drown out a bit of the road noise, all the way to the end.
From Chuy until just at the junction and turn off for Rio Grande, the shoulder was in a miserable state and at times I had to get on to the road, otherwise I simply wouldn't make any progress. The truckers (unlike at least some of the other latin countries) would blast past, without even a care that I was on the road. Acting as if they didn't even see me. I felt so close to dieing so many times riding in Brasil, that I actually wrote down a sort of will or something for people to read in case of my death. Simply hoping that in my death, that something good would come from it, like heavy fines and laws against driving recklessly and endangering cyclists, or some sort of higher level of safety for cyclists in general.
After passing Pelotas, the cold had completely disappeared, and I was now back in the humid heat, albeit less than when I was in Mexico and Central America. I past a few areas of dangerous road construction, and other things like some hills, a burning motorcycle, smashed trucks... I made it to Porto Alegre.
There I stayed with another young aspiring cyclist, Atila. It had been a long stretch since Montevideo, and the last time I had a shower or laundry. Like the pampa, it was another ~10 days, but unlike the pampa, I didn't get a shower in between at all. After we hauled my bike and gear down a few floors to his apartment, I learned of the exquisite taste of the cold Guarana soft drink that Atila handed me, with the words "this is usually the first thing people miss when they leave Brasil".
Atila, like several others I met towards the end, is getting ready to do a long distance bike trip around south america. I offered what little advice I could and tried to answer any questions he had. I had a couple of necessary days off, building back up the glycogen, i.e. fat in my body, and getting to see a bit of the city with him.
Starting with Atila, and until the rest of the trip, I was really surprised how many people speak English in Brasil. Which is good, because I don't speak any Portugues! Every major city I passed through, there were always lots of people that spoke English, that I stayed with or otherwise. I found out that this is due to the fact that lots of people are required to take english classes starting at a young age.
Atila is from a small town called Tramandaí, and since he still knows lots of people, mentioned that he has a friend who was willing to have me stay over. I hadn't really planned on riding the coast route, but knew right away it would be a pleasant alternative to riding the freeway with all the trucks.
The ride from Porto Alegre to Tramandai was great. Cool and cloudy, really nice smooth black top freeway with a massive shoulder (as big as a lane). After getting onto the freeway and passing the first toll booth (where lots of cyclists are sometimes turned away because cyclists aren't allowed on the freeways) I started picking up a tailwind, and was flying along at ~22km/h. I passed the Laguna Dos Barros, and a beautiful wind farm. Speeding next to the lake on the smooth highway, I had the wind at my back and watching the wind swell crash on the beach. Turning down the last stretch towards town, I watched the sun glow an ember red as it set behind small ponds and wind mills. I had one of those wonderful unique fulfilling moments that are so rare on the trip. I think it was the last of the trip while on the bike (apart from the finish maybe).
Atila's friend Mallman was very welcoming. I turned out to be incredibly lucky and turned out the exact street he lives on, without knowing it (I didn't really have directions ahead of time). After parking my bike in the garage of the tall apartment building, we arrived to his beautiful cozy apartment where he was already cooking steak and sausages, and offered me a cold beer (what a great day). After a therapeutic shower, I had that all time, irremovable grin of satisfaction on my face. He had a few of his friends over to coincidentally watch the "gremio" futbol game that night (the team that almost everyone loves in Rio Grande do Sul). We ended up going to a local convenience store, because the only pub in town was closed. I thought it was great and quite comical. Here we were, having a great time at this table inside the convenience store, drinking beer, singing, playing guitar, and nobody batted an eye. So many times I'm blown away at how different things are than in the U.S.
I had been making good progress, and decided to take another day off at Mallman's apartment, for the simple fact that I just wanted to (and he mentioned they were going to play some futbol in the evening). I had a marvelous day being lazy at his beautiful apartment, with a view of the ocean. Later on, we went to play some futbol, and even though I stretched a bit before hand, I started feeling the slightest pain in one of my knees and knew I should quit. There have been several times where I've had to be real careful about it. My legs are my motors, I need to take care of them instead of going wild on the court. I can always play games later, but I can't always finish bicycling across continents. So I sat and watched the rest.
The next day after packing up, I got on the road with a very unpleasant surprise. A strong North wind. Not even a gusting wind. It was a strong, constant 25-30km/h wind. What was supposed to be a pleasant flat stretch, on black smooth pavement, with little traffic, turned into an agonizing crawl, all day. What I didn't realize, is that this wind, would continue. Every day. All day. Until just past Itajaí, some 450km away. Not only that, was so bad in some parts, I almost considered getting off and walking in some parts. The whole time with wind like this, it just blew me away at the force of cars and trucks have. They can just power through the wind no problem. Hills will make you appreciate the power of a motor vehicle, but I can tell you... Once you have spent day after day, HOURS daily bucking the wind on a bicycle, you will truly appreciate with a strange fascination, what horse power really means.
After Tramandaí, I had day after agonizing day, toiling with a hot headwind. I just kept reminding myself of the cyclist "Boots" (as I call him, because he was cycling with steel toe boots when I met him). I met him back in Canada, along with my two other German cycling friends Karl and Felix.
I had met Karl and Felix the day I left Whitehorse, in the Yukon, and we rode together for a week. We met boots on this particular cold rainy day, when we were trying to get to Dease lake, the last day I rode with Karl and Felix. It was an unusually difficult day, with so many hills, one right after the next, and we were all working hard. The three of us were a bit younger and a bit fitter, and had a faster pace than boots. However, we would get tired and have to stop occasionally to rest after so many hills. After not too long, Boots would slowly pass us by and keep going. I kept trying to ride harder, and faster, thinking I would get far enough ahead that Boots wouldn't catch us, but each time, he'd roll by after a few minutes, with those steel toe boots and massive parka jacket. It was a long time after this, that I started to think of the turtle and the hare, and began reminding myself of Boots, in the massive mountains of South America.
Just like on 50km + hills, I just kept remembering and trying to remind myself in the feverish wind, that it's not a race. For a long time, I started reminding myself, "you just have to ride like Boots. Consistent. It doesn't matter how fast you go, as long as you're moving, you're going somewhere."
There was just an unbelievably horrible stretch just past Tubarao, crossing the bridge at Volta de Lagoa, that I could see and feel the wind howling from the Northwest. Ferocious wind. The kind of wind that makes me abandon all hope. I knew immediately that the road was going to be turning that direction just past the bridge, and that it did. Dropping down onto the flat straight section between the trees, I stopped my bike next to the road, and watched the trees as they were nearly bent in half, pointing in the direction behind me. I just could not believe the wind was this bad, and had been bad for so long. My worst fears had come true. Trying always to keep calm, I took a deep breath, thought of Boots, and kept on. However on this day, I had simply had enough of the wind. I wanted to get to Florianapolis that day (was still REAL far away at that point), the road was relatively flat. The only thing stopping me was the wind.
I started gritting my teeth, and like the wind always does, makes me furiously frustratingly angry. I started feverishly standing powering through the wind. Even with only a couple hours of sunlight left, I still hadn't accepted the fact that I wasn't going to reach Florianapolis (or "Floripa" as the locals call it) that day. It wasn't until a white small SUV pulled over in front of me, that I gave up the idea. A chubby, grinning middle aged man got out and walked behind it, waiting for me to catch up, and as I got close, flagged me down. A beer in his hand, started talking to me in Portugues, loudly. From what I could deduce, it sounded like he was offering me to come stay the night at his place and rest. I could see inside the car and what looked like his wife and two kids. Without much hesitation, I happily accepted, knowing that there was no way I should pass this up, having never happened in the two years of my trip, and what an exquisite opportunity to get out of the wind.
I'm sure it's times like these that people will often ask, "how does he trust people like that?" To which I respond... simple. I don't think it takes much to see the intentions of people, or rather if I'm going to be safe with them or not. The thing to remember is, I'm sure (I HOPE) that if you've been following my journey for a while now, you can see that the vast majority of people I've encountered on this trip, have all had good intentions. That to me, now, that's a simple fact, that the majority of people out there, are good intentioned people. It's the rotten few that make everyone so paranoid and scared (along with bullshit media).
So anyway, they drove their car slowly off the freeway, and I followed as fast as I could, for the next couple km's, to their pretty lake front home near Imbituba. Fernando, the kind gentleman that invited me to their home, doesn't speak English nor Spanish, so it was rather interesting speaking to his son who speaks a good amount of Spanish, and was our interpreter at times. His wife made some tasty lasagna from scratch, and after dinner, I was more than ready to enjoy the comfort of the bed they had offered me. I slept great and the next day had a early start, trying to get a head start on the wind. I made a good 40km before it kicked up to it's usual gale force.
After a few bigger hills, Florianopolis and the island with beautiful beaches came into view. Now it felt like I had reached that kind of tropical paradise again. I navigated through the large urban area, and across the dangerous bridge, and into Floripa. I stayed with a couchsurfer, Richard, at his apartment on campus at the big university on the island. It had been a while since I've seen a university, and immediately made me feel my age looking at how young everyone looked.
I took a day off there, and although so hot and humid, I reluctantly got back on my bike on my "day off" and rode over the big hill to go see Lagoa and the beaches. I knew it was worthwhile to do, and standing there at the mirador at the top of the hill, looking out over the vast expanse of Lagoa and the island, was happy that I went. The geography in some parts of Brasil, is stunning to say the least. The sheer beauty, and rarity of some of these natural features is so unique. Sitting at the beach sipping a cold beer on a bench in the shade, I was content simply watching surfers get waves (the waves weren't good enough to make me miss surfing TOO much)
As I worked my way up Brasil, so did the prices. In the beginning I was a bit surprised because I had always heard that Brasil was supposed to be one of the most expensive countries in Latin America, which just isn't true in the South (however places like Rio of course are real expensive. I still think that probably Antofagasta, Chile was the most expensive place I saw on the trip, paying $3 - 4USD for a cup of soda for example)
If there is anything good about having so much traffic, and most of it being trucks (trust me, I'd rather not have any cars at all) is that they at times can help diminish a bit of the wind, and help provide a good draft to kick me along on some of the flatter parts.
After Itajaí the road turned inland as I made my way to Curitiba. The wind had died down a bit, although the heat may have increased a bit away from the coast, I was happy to sweating more, than toiling with the wind. I was very nearly killed at an onramp to the freeway, after checking multiple times that no cars were coming, and began crossing. Just another crazed lunatic Brasilian almost uncontrollably whipped around the corner onto the freeway. I barely had enough time to look out of the corner of my eye and see him pass in front of me, weaving and snapping the wheel to avoid me. Instead of braking and trying to go around me (like so many countless times in Latin america) the dumb ass accelerated and nearly took me out. It most certainly would have resulted in my death had he hit me at that speed. It got so close to hitting me, that he even pulled over ahead and waited for me to catch up. Right away he was trying to tell me something in Portugues about how I should be careful, etc. I didn't let him get a word in. I mean I've got an F'ing reflective vest on! Why is he driving so recklessly!? They just don't understand at all. I've had countless number of close calls, and apart from already being hit, this was probably the next closest to death.
I had a wonderful evening camping next to a river. In the morning, I made swift work of the ~17km hill, that was actually quite gradual (although I was drenched in sweat even in the early morning). With quite a few up and downs, later in the day, I arrived in Curitiba. I found out later from my friends there, that Curitiba is notorious for having some of the most impolite people in Brasil. To me it just seemed like the usual affair in Brasil, when I ask for directions and LOTS of times people just keep walking by, looking at me, and don't even stop to let me try to get a word in, maybe because I'm speaking Spanish or the way I look... don't know.
Pedro, another couchsurfer, invited me to stay at his and friends' apartment. In no time I was there and the other roommate Igor (again with so many apartments recently) helped me get my bike and gear up the elevator to their apartment. It was probably one of the nicest apartments I've seen. It was unique, in that on one side it had windows, and turning 180 degrees, can walk to the other side and windows. Having an arrangement like this, opening windows on both sides, the most wonderful breeze blows in freely across the place during the day.
I had a really nice time staying with Pedro and all the flatmates. They were a wonderful group of real welcoming, friendly, laid back people. We went to a great vegetarian buffet place, and one day Pedro and I took our bikes on the ciclovia to go see the local lake. Like lots of times on the trip, after staying for a period of time in a place and making friends... when departure looms on the horizon, I decided to stay an extra day.
Leaving Curitiba, I had rain the moment I got on the road. The rain continued, everyday, almost entirely all day, until I got to Sau Paulo. It was much more hilly in between but now I could start to feel that I was closing in on Rio de Janeiro and the end of the trip. I was motivated.
Just before getting to Sau Paulo, I had probably the worst hill of my life. Not because it was hot (it was rainy and quite cool). Not because it was a long hill (yes it was pretty long, but not compared to so many others). The problem, were the drivers. With two lanes going up, and no shoulder, I had no option but to take over the right lane. I have this saying that rings in my head, since entering latin america, "give them a cm, and they take a meter" (referring to the drivers). In this instance, it couldn't have been more apparent.
The hill was real steep in the beginning, to the point that I was standing while pedaling almost entirely for the first quarter, to half of it. Trying to do my best to stay to the right as much as I could while keeping my balance, the dumb animals would thread the needle and nearly run me over. Time and again I would get pissed off, then take over the right lane again, making them pass in the empty lane next to me (there was still another different lane for the downhill traffic). Time and time again, the scumbags would honk right behind me with their air horns, yelling out garbage in Portugues. They would pass me, then snap back into my lane, trying to knock me off my bike, or force me off the road. I wasn't trying to block traffic, and was doing my best to stay to the right when I could, but to me its more than just insulting passing so close and doing other dangerous maneuvers. It pisses me off so much more, because they are endangering my life. Even on the straight stretches of the hill, there I am with a reflective vest on my bike, and they would not provide me with a safe margin. With plenty of time for them to maneuver to the other lane, they would wait, honk at me, and expect me to... I don't know what they expect, there's no shoulder, maybe they think I'm going to just jump off my bike to the side? It's beyond disrespectful, they are threatening my life. After a while, the worst was over, and although the hill continued, it widened to 3 - 4 lanes, and the traffic subsided.
When I was in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, camping on the bluff above before reaching town, with a wonderful view of the Salar de Atacama, I met a Brazilian. He spoke only German and Portugues. So, with my limited Spanish, we tried to converse. The only thing I understood him tell me, was that the population of the city of Sau Paulo, Brasil, is more than the entire population of all of Chile. I thought about that since he told me. Looking at a map, it's easy to notice that it's a massive city. I knew it was going to be the biggest city I had ever seen, ever rode across, and for the whole trip. The approach to this city was going to be different.
Fortunately, I knew ahead of time where I was going and had talked to a warmshowers host, Bruno, who said I could stay with him. Normally, with so many of the other cities, I would just ride to the centre part of the city, and figure out where I was going, because from there it would usually only be a short ride to the place I was going to stay. This time I was prepared, I had the address and a place to go direct to.
After several consecutive soggy evenings, camping and cooking in the rain (not to mention several days, riding ALL day in the rain, trucks kicking up clouds of dirty water that drench me, and spray me in the face) I was enthusiastic about finally getting somewhere dry. I knew I had been lucky up until these days leaving Curitiba. When I saw all the standing water in the Southern part of Brasil, I knew it must get hammered by rain. I was fortunate in a way, that I didn't get a drop of rain in Brasil, until leaving Curitiba.
One thing I noticed entering Sau Paulo (more so leaving) was all the dumb motorcyclists racing between cars in the heavy traffic. Just like there dumb motorized cousin cars, they wouldn't wait at all and almost hit me so many times. It was the same as I entered Rio (most people say that the traffic in general is worse/more dangerous in Rio. Just another thing that made the end more sweet)
The approach to Sau Paulo, wasn't as bad I was thinking (nothing compared to when I left the city). I was confused at one point as far as which way to take a poorly marked junction at the freeway, but my gut turned out to be correct (another great example it's good I didn't listen to a driver that was stopped, and told me I should take the other highway. So many times, Latin men almost never admit "I don't know" and instead lie acting like they know which way to go) and soon the freeway ended into a avenue. Getting my first flat in months, I was lucky that it happened right next to a plaza with the shade of trees and benches.
I fixed it and in a short while, made it to "Las Magrelas" in Villa Madalena. Bruno had told me ahead of time that it's the place where his girlfriend works at. A bar, bike shop, urban commuting center, all under one roof. It sounded like a cool place to check out, and a great place to arrive at when I first got to the city.
Another flat in my trailer tire, happened as I got close, so I walked the last few blocks. I arrived at the shop and got introduced to everyone and a quick tour. I got to work right away in the shop, fixing my trailer tire, this time it was from a chunk of glass. Because I didn't remove the glass, and kept rolling the tire, it ended up chewing up my brand new tube that I just put in.
I got settled in at Bruno and Laura's apartment, and was back at Magrelas the next day. Talita, one of the two bike mechanics, was kind of enough to invite me to let me work on my bike in the shop. I spent the whole day thoroughly cleaning the drive train, and she helped me adjust a few things on the bike. I was having a bit of shifting problems, but after had vanished, and the ride was as smooth as butter.
I stayed a few days in Sau Paulo, and of course as usual, one more than planned. At least this time I had a good reason: the South American bike polo tournament was happening at the Ibapuera park. I had never seen, nor heard, about bike polo, and watching a few of the games, was instantly hooked and eager to try (still need to). It was at the bike polo that Talita introduced me to her friend Beatriz.
I had looked online on both warmshowers and couchsurfing, for a place to stay in Rio. I'm not trying to sound like an arrogant prick, but I had always thought that people would be kind of stoked to host me, since Rio was my destination city after two continents, two years, of pedaling. I just always thought of it on the flips side. If I was there, and somebody in my position riding from Alaska asked me to stay... I would feel honored to host somebody completing their trip. I wrongfully assumed that it was going to be easy to find a place to stay. I didn't find anything.
Not only would it have been nice to stay with someone in Rio and celebrate my finish, (and of course is always helpful hearing of the good things to see and do) I had quite a bit to do since the trip was over. I was going to need tools to pack up my bike into a bike box (had to find the bike box too), get bags for all my gear to put on the airplane.
Beatriz lives in Rio, with a few other people, and we talked a bit about my situation. She mentioned a cheap hostel in town, and I explained that I had heard from someone... we both kind of agreed just to see what's up when I get to town.
I barely saw much of Bruno and Laura while staying at their apartment. Even though they knew they were going to have a busy weekend and crazy schedule, they still invited me to stay at their home, and were very welcoming. Fellow cyclists understand better than anyone.
I had a good early start getting out of Sau Paulo, and thought heavily about how it was the last time leaving a city on the bike. This was it, the last leg of the trip. Since arriving in Sau Paulo, every jet I saw pass overhead I thought, "soon, I'll be on one of those".
Navigating through the streets of Sau Paulo was tricky and of course quite dangerous. Loads of cars on the roads, reckless motorcyclists fiercely weaving through the cars. Leaving Sau Paulo was so much more complicated than entering.
I finally found my way to Av Marginal Tiete, which is basically just a massive freeway paralleling the river (I don't know why they call it an avenue). For the next 10km or so, had a panicked scurry on the dangerous freeway. Constant on and off ramps, buses, trucks, cars, all zooming past. I was experienced though, and knew how to maneuver safely across them. Only at one point, did I have to stop, and time a crossing of 2-3 lanes to get to the other side of a junction in the freeway, with a constant flow of traffic.
The "Dutra" as it's called (main freeway), finally split and went further North, taking with it most of the trucks. Slowly the traffic started to diminish, as well as the number of buildings within view of the highway. Finally after around 40-50km, I knew I had successfully navigated one of the biggest cities in the world, and like always after successfully leaving any big city on the trip, a feeling of relief washed over me.
The day before leaving Sau Paulo, I woke with a slight sore throat. Any sign of sickness or any symptom, always makes me so paranoid since being sick so many times on the trip. I realized after a few days of being on the road, it sure resembled the feeling of having parasites. Fortunately it didn't worsen, and I was able to travel fine.
I couldn't have asked for better weather from Sau Paulo. It seemed like I had finally passed through the worst of it in Brasil. It was cool and cloudy, with even a slight tailwind once out of the metropolis area of Sau Paulo. The highway was a bit more quiet, with significantly less truck traffic... at least for the first day.
Hooking back up with the Dutra the following day just before Taubate, it was quite apparent how much more unpleasant is to have so much traffic next to me on the road. Everyday for the rest of the trip was clogged with traffic.
Those last few days after Sau Paulo, before getting to Rio, I thought lots about the whole trip. I started reflecting and trying to remember everywhere I'd seen and been. The memories flowed through my mind, all the places I'd pedaled, camped, and experienced. I started to think lots about the end, about now finally arriving in Rio.
There wasn't much special about the stretch between Sau Paulo and Rio. Just a highway choked with traffic. A few very hilly areas, and a few scenic parts next to a river. I found camp where I could and didn't even bother asking anyone because I already knew what their answer was going to be.
One night, a km or so off the freeway on a side road, I found an unlocked cattle fence with an open grassy field, and lots of trees that would afford good blockage of anyone that could see me. I debated about going on, but not seeing anyone, I passed through the fence and found a nice grassy spot to make camp. Sure enough, about a half hour later, a car drives by on the side road up to the fence, and stops when they notice me. I immediately walk over to make sure it's ok I camp, and explain why I'm there. Right away, without barely hearing me, the lady starts talking about how the fence is electrified (was obviously NOT an electrified fence). She just starts making up stuff, about reasons why I can't camp there. It's times like these that both really piss me off, and frustrate me. I mean, why do people have such a problem with this in Brasil, I'm sleeping in my tent on grass for the night, on a field, far away from anyone! Another fellow pulls up in his car, and after explaining that I literally just want to eat, sleep, and will be gone early in the morning, obliges my request (big relief, I had already pitched my tent and everything).
Settling in, as night fell, I cooked up a hearty meal, had some mate, and felt the day's exhaustion set in as I looked up at the passing clouds beneath the stars. I decided to do a movie night (watch a movie on my computer in my tent, something I started doing since Peru, as a treat for one night in between cities), since it looked like a safe area, and only had a couple more days before getting to Rio. While watching the movie, I noticed the familiar feel of an ant or two on my body. I felt one or two on my head, and flashed back to the horrible memories back in Central America of ants getting into my tent at night while I was trying to sleep, and crawling all over my body. After the movie had finished, I turned on my headlamp, and looked above in horror at the ceiling of my tent, to see dozens of massive red ants, laboriously chewing holes in the screen. The ants I had felt, had fallen through the holes.
I scrambled out of the tent, and immediately took off the rain fly, and flicked all the ants off the top of the tent. It had only been about an hour and a half, but the ants had also virtually covered anything extra I had outside; all my dishes, bottles of oil and water, stove. I started boiling water with my stove, and paced back and forth, plotting what I was going to do. Then I saw a spider on the grass, almost the size of my palm. I started laughing just at how crazy all the insects were, I can't imagine what it must be like in the Amazon. I was just on a plot of some grass. I realized that I had foolishly placed my tent next to an ant hole, and they had probably emerged to defensively attack my tent because it was too close.
The water had finished boiling and I poured some into each ant hole I saw nearby. Feeling almost a bit dizzy because of the extreme amount of exhaustion now setting in, I worked quickly. I dragged my tent a good 10m away, but meticulously inspected the ground before hand, making sure there weren't any ants. My mind was already playing out how the night could go - virtually no sleep (like other nights I had from ants) defending myself against marauding ants invading my dwelling.
After getting my tent, and everything in it, moved it it's new location, I nervously settled in bed for the night, gazing around the interior of the tent for any left over ants. I was asleep in a matter of seconds and quite happily awoke in the morning when I realized they had left me in peace finally.
The very last night of my trip found me camping out on top of a grassy hill near a radio antennae, my view obscured my tall shrubs and grass from a house about 100 meters away. The fading light had got the best of me, like most times, and with lots of hills, I had to take advantage of a lightly used dirt road to find a camp spot where I could before it became dark. I struggled, and while slipping on the loose dirt, managed to push my bike up the hill and over a side grassy berm.
As I went about the usual routine of taking everything off from my bike, pitching the tent, and putting everything in it's usual spot, I kept thinking about each task I was doing, was the last. After a hearty lentil stew with veggies (one of my favorite healthy meals to make), I stood gazing up at the stars, and looking East over the hills to the faintly orange lit sky where Rio de Janeiro is. My mind wandered... I thought about the whole trip, it ending, where I was going and what I was going to do after the trip. I kept trying to think about how this was it, the end of the trip had arrived. In the morning I would ride to Rio, and the trip would be over. I didn't have a particularly profound sense of though, probably because I had already thought about all of this so many times.
In the morning I cooked up my favorite breakfast, that I learned how to make from a family that I camped by way back in Alaska and shared some: sauteed potato with onion and eggs. The family of the house near the antennae walked by on the road. Curiously but with strange looks, they peered between the stalks of grass and shrubs when they noticed where I was, and walked down the hill in silence.
After packing up and getting on the road in the morning, the 1,000th time doing so, I was excited. I had one last 10km down hill, with lots of cars and trucks. At the bottom I still had about 60km to go until the edge of the city, but the excitement was almost overwhelming. I had to calm myself and concentrate. Just like always, long up hills or days full of head wind, it wouldn't be over quickly. After a short hilly section, the road dropped out onto the flats, and the kms ticked away.
The land became more and more populated, and in no time I was on a busy freeway in the urbanized area surrounding Rio. The arrival into Rio was very anticlimactic. The approach into the city was by far the most complicated of all of the cities I had passed through. Fitting in a way, that the most difficult should be the last.
I had a long stretch to go through from the outskirts of the city around Nova Iguacu, until the heart of Rio. The busy highway slowed to a crawl at a few points as I got closer, clogged with traffic. In the distance on one of the mountains, El Cristo came into view, illustrating just how close I was. I had heard from one couchsurfer, last minute before leaving Sau Paulo, that he could host me in Leblon. I considered trying to go the centre of Rio on my way, but soon knew that I should focus on getting through the city because I was losing time quickly.
I started just following the signs for Copacabana, thinking it would be faster and more direct just to get to the beach, instead of trying to pass through the city centre. I somehow ended up getting onto the now very busy freeway, more than once, just from following the signs. At one entrance, there was a police post building (I assume there to keep an eye out for accidents and people accidentally entering the freeway like I was). As I past, I heard a few of the cops next to their cars yelling and waving at me. I stopped just ahead, and turned back to look, seeing them motioning for me to come back. With 3, very busy lanes of traffic between us, one car after the next, there was NO way I was going to endanger my life trying to cross the freeway. They had 3 cars there, and I figured they could get in one of them to come talk to me.
I waited to see what they were going to do, and how I was going to get out of this pickle. They somehow ended up stopping all the traffic of the 3 lanes on the on ramp, and I hurriedly crossed and rode to where they were at. I was surprised at how calm they appeared, and respectfully told me the obvious: that it's illegal to ride on the freeway and very dangerous (what a comparison to the cops in the US, they would have surely given me a ticket and not to mention yelling at me). They helped me get to the other side, where there was an off ramp to the streets below, I waved good bye as I disappeared below the freeway.
Again just following the street signs, I ended up at a busy tunnel and was told I couldn't pass through on my bike. I was told I could pass through the other tunnel, "santa barbara", however arriving there, again, hearing I could not pass. At this point, the frustration started to over come me. It was getting close to 5pm, and I only had about an hour left of daylight. I apologized to the security post guy, initially venting a bit of my frustration. He kindly directed me to the other tunnel, that was "sure" to let cyclists and pedestrians through. Turning back North, again, I rode away from the tunnel.
I got to a busy intersection at a corner and started asking a couple workers that had yellow vests that said "Rio" on them. They either didn't understand me, or didn't want to help, so I just sat there on my bike a moment, trying to figure out where to go. It had been a long day, the exhaustion was creeping in, and I was ready to be done.
Just then another cyclist approached me and started talking to me. A real friendly guy with a head full of dread locks. In Portugues, I think he told me he was going by where the tunnel is, and could show me how to get there. I followed him and after several turns and a few blocks, we arrived at the entrance to the other tunnel. I thanked Carlos warmly, gave him one of my cards, and took off into the dark tunnel filled a constant flow of cars.
On the other side I popped out into the Lapa area of Rio, and in just a few minutes the stress of the day had melted away and I was enjoying the sights while riding. Now at least I knew I was in the city, and close. Although with dumb animals abound, both cars and on motorcycles, I was done with the freeways and enjoying the riding so much more. I passed into Flamengo, and the street got closer to the beach. With the cool ocean breeze, I could smell that faint lovely smell of the ocean. Eventually, I popped out next to the bay and was suddenly struck with such beauty. To one side I could see Pao de Azucar, and the opposite across a gorgeous bay filled with sailboats, a clear view of the mountain with El Cristo at the top. I got on the ciclovia that skirted the bay, and kept glancing at both El Cristo and Pao de Azucar. This was the moment that it had hit me.
I reached Rio de Janeiro.
After a long trip, and an incredibly long day... I was gitty. I had already thought, countless times about what it would be like to arrive in Rio. Here I was, living it. I couldn't stop smiling and giggling that I had made it. A few tears of excitement and emotion streamed down my face. I couldn't believe that I had finally arrived. I didn't care one bit with the people walking and riding on the ciclovia that they could see me. They had no idea what I had been through and done to get to that moment. The excitement was short but sweet, going through another tunnel (this time at least with a ciclovia) I popped out at Copacabana, just as the daylight started to fade.
My smile had started to wear off, and at this point I was a bit glad - my cheeks were beginning to hurt. A pleasant ride along the beach on a ciclovia, watching the waves thunder onto the shore and beautiful women exercising on the ciclovia, a short while later I was in the streets of Ipanema looking for a restaurant with wifi. Like the whole day, it was complicated just to find any place that had wifi, but I finally did.
The guy I had heard from that invited me to stay with in Leblon, had sent me a message saying he couldn't host me anymore. It was now 8pm at night, and I had nowhere lined up to stay. This was the first time of the entire trip, that somebody had canceled on me, before I arrived (I confirmed with him several times before leaving Sau Paulo, reminding him that I would probably not find wifi on the way, nor be able to check my emails). My mind was already playing out how the rest of the time would go out - in some hostel with the usual shuffle of people. Not really a special way to be ending the trip. I remembered the girl Beatriz I had met in Sau Paulo and that she had mentioned there's a cheap hostel with discounts for cycle travelers.
I emailed her and she replied almost immediately saying "you can stay with us!". I was relieved. She's a cyclist and really easy to get along with. I knew I would enjoy my time with her. So I packed up and found my way to her apartment in Botafogo. Her roomate Fox was there and let me inside. I got settled in, and went out for a beer with Fox to celebrate.
Rio de Janeiro is a great place. I remember riding next to the bay seeing Pao de Azucar and El Cristo thinking, "I'm glad I'm ending my trip here". It's such a unique place, even compared to the rest of Brasil. I had a few wonderful days around town, seeing what I could with the limited time. Unfortunately I didn't make the most of the one day of good weather and sunshine (my first in the city), and didn't get a lot of good photos like I was really hoping for. The rest of the time it was cloudy and rainy, even when I went up El Cristo.
I took care of all the necessary stuff. I found some cheap bags for my gear at the outdoor market, and a bike box at a local bike shop. I packed everything up and by Monday I was ready to fly. (what a difference compared to starting the trip, I packed everything at about 2 in the morning, got about 2 hours sleep before heading to the airport). I said bye to everyone at the apartment ahead of time, and Fox helped me get a taxi to the airport, with plenty of time to spare.
Some Thoughts While Riding:
Several times on my trip, several different people have gone from supportive, to critical of what I'm doing (was doing). They insinuate what I'm doing is... easy or something. Honestly, I don't exactly know what they are trying to imply, only that they're giving off some serious negative comments and vibes. I don't understand why they change and become critical. They make it seem sometimes, that it's easy or something. I would only ask them to try out a week... hell, a day, at this. See at the end if it's something they would call easy. They imply that what I'm doing isn't hard work, like I haven't sacrificed to continue this trip, as well as finish it...
I know I've mentioned it before, and it had probably just been a long time since happening, but I really had a problem with people staring at me in Brasil. Like I've explained before, it's not like people are just watching (yes they do that), but it's more like lots of times people are glaring. It wouldn't bother me so much if people were staring, but at the same time gave me a wave or a thumbs up, and a smile... but they don't.
I'm sick of staying at places and feeling like I'm putting the people out by staying there. It doesn't happen very often, fortunately, but every once in a while it does. Barely walking in the door, and getting looks and comments that are hardly welcoming. Sometimes I strike gold and make friends for life. Other times they make me feel... rotten inside. I'm happy to find another place to stay, and a few times left places earlier than planned because of it. If people aren't situated mentally, or otherwise, to host people, then they shouldn't. It's such a horrible feeling to not feel welcome. That terrible feeling of guilt, like I did something wrong. When I host people again, I will always remember that feeling, and the difference of what it feels like to feel like I'm at home.
It was fascinating talking to people about what they thought about the coming World Cup. Everyone I spoke to about it, does not support it. Brasil is spending the equivalent to $4,000,000,000 USD that includes building 10 new stadiums, roads, buildings and general infrastructure. For a damn futbol game! There are lots of protests and nobody I met, approves of it all.
Having seen such huge cities on the trip, and most notably as of late, it made me think of what I always thought big cities were. I remember that I always use to think, for example, that downtown (el centro) was always where all the tall buildings are. It's very different in Latin America.
I didn't get much news on the trip, just the occasional tidbit. I was appalled to hear the US was going into Syria. After bankrupting the country and putting the economy into more of an excessive debt with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, how could anyone justify going into another war? Aren't there enough things to fix at home? It's amazing that with all these wars, if they spent just a fraction of what they did on the military, they could provide socialized medicine, be able to feed everyone... things that I would consider a human right.
I have a new appreciation for the movie Cast Away, after this trip. Most notably the part where he loses "Wilson". I don't know what it is, but spending so much more time alone, without meaningful loving relationships, I became more attached to the material things around me. The only things I could depend on, everyday, to provide me comfort. Things like my tent, sleeping bag, air mattress. But then there are even dumb things like that special pen I have that's so nice to write in my journal with, my nice bombilla to drink mate, my headlamp... that when I lost each of these, at different times (apart from the other obvious things I lost) I felt a bit like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, losing a little Wilson each time. Digging through my stuff trying to find them but knowing deep down that when they weren't in their usual place, they were already gone. I considered at times this to be tragic
loss, I saw in another film that helped me wrap my mind around it.
the time you spend trying to get back what's been took from ya, more is
going out the door. After a while, you just have to try to get a
tourniquet on it."
Doing this alone I know was more difficult than it would have been with other people. To feel far away from home at times (rare they were, but still happened a few times), a twinge of homesickness and not have that familiar base of people to rely on is hard. Sense of security is a profound feeling. Knowing deep down that if something happened, there's no one there to help if needed.
I'm aware that things might be a bit different for me after this trip. Perhaps never the same again. I hope I remember this after having spent such a great deal of time, living a certain way, there will be things etched into my bones. I remember seeing a movie, somebody said along the lines of, "something happened to me, I'm not sure what. It's something I'll have to think about for a long time..." It really doesn't feel like much has changed about me since being on the trip. I don't feel like a different person, my beliefs and opinions haven't changed a whole lot. I've obviously seen lots of places, experienced lots, met lots of people. However, since buying my plane ticket, and the reality of the trip ending, setting in, I started to think what this person was saying in the film. I've thought a lot about everything I've seen and experienced. I'm not sure what to make of it all. I've started to feel that deep down, something maybe does feel a bit different. I'm not exactly sure what.
This journey was by far more difficult, than anything I have ever done previously. There's no point in even trying to compare it to anything in my life because there's nothing even close. I cannot even begin to describe the feeling I have, remembering everything I suffered, and knowing that I completed my goal. That after more than two years thinking about pedaling into Rio de Janeiro, I can say that I've done it.
Instead of naming some people, and forgetting others, not to mention how many there have been... I would like to thank in general, each person that has contributed to my expedition, in whatever way you did. Ranging from the people that invited me into their homes, gave me a bed, a shower, a meal, or even to the kind person that lent me a smile and some kind conversation when I was needing it. It's because of you that I made it. Thank you so much. You have no idea how much it helped.
Before arriving in Mexico, I heard from an insane amount of people, how dangerous it is in Mexico and Latin America (most of whom after telling me, I asked if they had ever traveled to Latin America, and most said they hadn't. They were just telling me what they heard on the news). I know lots of people, we're probably thinking I had a death wish - riding my bicycle through all of Latin America. I had heard from other cyclists, and always thought, that it can't be as bad as they say. I had traveled to Baja California lots of times, and always encountered such good people. I hope, in general that I've illustrated this overall on my site. That, when they aren't driving, by far the majority of Latins are genuine, friendly, and generous. It's what I'm trying to remember walking away from this
Now it's time to go back to the easy life for a while. Resting, saving, planning... because for me, there's always another adventure, just around the corner. I hope you've enjoyed following my trip. I hope you realize from seeing all of this, is that life's too short not to do, what YOU want to do. Get out there and chase your dreams and aspirations. I can't guarantee you will enjoy it all, but I think I can guarantee you, that you won't regret it. I certainly don't.
Total kilometers ridden along the route from Seward, Alaska to Rio de Janeiro, Brasil: 29, 635.3
Monday, October 21, 2013
|Nate and Caro|
|Hanging with Rodrigo|
|The Salvatierra brothers|
|Great time with their family|
|Back in Mendoza|
|Asada with friends|
|This nice guy gave me a lift to another bike shop, saving me about an hour of riding. Gracias!|
|David. The best bike mechanic I've ever seen, and a very crazy striking resemblance to one of my best friends back home.|
|Few of necessary things my Mom sent in a package. Thank you!|
|Saying bye to Javi and Romi|
|Out on the Pampa, and the first Rio sign I saw.|
|Still lots of cold days across the Pampa|
|With lots of days daydreaming about a wonderful fire and hot mate in the evening|
|Real lucky one night, found an empty campground. Even found pile of firewood.|
|New friends in Vacuña Mackenna, met at a gas station and invited me for asada they were having. Gracias!|
|Sure beats a pot of pasta...|
|Long, straight, and flat, for so long|
|New friends in Laboulaye, two days in a row|
|One really terrible section of wind. Barely making 10km/h on flat ground. Only a preview of what was to come in Brasil.|
|Gauchos heading out to work in the early morning.|
|They needed some extra help. They said the first thing was that the beard would have to go, fire hazard.|
|First and only time on the entire trip staying with firefighters. Real friendly and welcoming. The guy on the left even offered to accompany me to the grocery store, I think he was worried I might get lost.|
|and ping pong? What a great time.|
|Bucking the wind, or bouncing along|
|Real cold night. Frost melting in the morning, and enjoying the the sun|
|Real nice family let me camp behind their house (photo above), and even gave me a slice of homemade cake and coffee in the morning.|
|Lots of gas stations in between Mendoza and Buenos Aires are more like cafes inside, complete with a proper espresso machine and wifi.|
|Rough detour and shortcut, but worth having a break from the traffic|
|On the freeway getting into Buenos Aires|
|It was looking rough back in Mendoza, but held up all the way to BA. Ran this tire since San Salvador.|
|Darwin and friends. They made delicious chori-pan|
|Fixing another broken spoke. Third broken, and always on the the front wheel (cheap spokes)|
|Heading out with Darwin for a fun day touring on bikes|
|Buenos Aires, Argentina|
|Ferry heading to Uruguay|
|In Argentina, the parks are always filled with people|
|Like in Argentina, lots of parks in Uruguay|
|Relaxing at Alejandro's|
|Everyday, we went upstairs and had lunch with his grandma|
|Another great day touring the city|
|Showing me how to "properly" prepare a mate (20 minutes later and it's ready haha. Like in Uruguay, Brasilians are also very particular how to prepare and drink mate)|
|Alejandro works at a radio station, and got me on the air for a brief interview about my trip|
|Alejandro's music group, they get together and sing weekly|
|New chaiin and drivetrain cleaned up immaculate = next to godliness|
|Battling more tough winds|
|With winds that strong and temps like this, makes for some real cold days. Barely time to stop before getting cold fast.|
|Airplane wreckage next to the road. Amazing how still towards the end of the trip, there are still first times for things.|
|For the most part Uruguay was pretty hilly|
|Curious neighbors as I eat my lunch|
|Sunrise during breakfast|
|Enjoying the last peaceful section of the rest of the trip|
|Again another first, emergency air strip along the road for airplanes|
|Such a great tailwind|
|Avenida Brasil, to the left is Uruguay, to the right is Brasil|
|The last border crossing of the trip|
|The only other cycle traveler I saw in Brasil|
|First night camping in Brasil. After asking a couple times at some houses, and not understanding much, found this side road near a marsh|
|Capybara, the world's largest rodent. This was a surprise one day seeing lots of these next to the road.|
|Blades for wind turbines|
|Motorcross track, wish I had a dirtbike|
|Just another dumb animal surely doing something incompetent|
|Friendly cyclists, they caught up with me when I stopped to pull a piece of metal out of one of my tires. They're training to do a bike trip to Patagonia.|
|From there on, the cold was officially gone. Now back to pouring sweat all day.|
|From Pelotas to Porto Alegre, they're in the process of putting in another road next to it. Definitely needed, the current one is choked with traffic.|
|Friendly couple that pulled over to chat with me.|
|For some reason, I've always had good luck finding places to camp at brick manufacturers. Here, they even gave me a room with a small cot. Obrigado!|
|Enjoying some of that fresh black top.|
|Porto Alegre, Brasil|
|Such a treat and reward after about 10 days on the road since Montevideo.|
|Guarana. Tasty soda unique to Brasil. Atila told me it's the first thing he misses leaving Brasil.|
|In the other countries, the driver handles the money and drives. In Brasil, there's another person who handles the money.|
|Seeing the town with Atila|
|Definitely back in the humid tropics, the trees and everything are covered in green. Feels much more humid too.|
|Getting a coffee inside an old vault of a bank.|
|Lots of shady places, grass and mold grows from the damp air|
|The last really pleasant day of riding for a long time|
|Arriving at Mallman's, bbq and beer, Tramandai, Brasil|
|The local pub was closed, so we went to a local convenience store and drank beer and played music|
|Enjoying some mate with Mallman.|
|They obviously don't get many cycle travelers in Brasil. Apart from people staring, so many people like this pulling over, curious where I'm going and coming from|
|Really nice camp spot far from the road.|
|New favorite snack of Brasil, ground and pressed peanuts with sugar. Perfect in the morning with some coffee|
|Friendly farmer with his family that let me camp on his property (above). One of only a few people that was friendly and let me camp.|
|More people pulling over, this kind trucker pulled over, wanting to give me a reflective vest to put on. I got the hint and put mine on.|
|Massive area of large scale brick manufacturing. Brasil has the largest industry out of all of the Latin countries by far.|
|Even fell to the road below|
|Crossing the bridge to Cabecudas, and turning into more terrible headwinds|
|So strong, I stopped and considered walking, maybe one of the strongest I've ever encountered|
|Getting the idea how bad the winds were?|
|White caps on the ocean from the ridiculous headwind|
|Fernando saved my sanity, pulling over on the highway and inviting me to stay with him and his family for the night.|
|View next to their lakeside house|
|Enjoying homemade lasagna|
|More unusual things encountering on the road|
|Bit dangerous indeed (yes I know, but I had to get one photo crossing at least)|
|Biked with Richard to see a gay parade.|
|Turned out to be just a massive party on the street.|
|Peculiar sight, never saw a star/planet oriented with the moon like that.|
|View from the mirador, riding over the hill to go see lagoa and the beaches of the island.|
|More ridiculous north winds. Leaving Florianaoplis.|
|Several times in Brasil, seeing special lane for cyclists and pedestrians. Normally in the other countries, there's nothing of the sort.|
|Finding camp where I can, realized quite early that Brasilians are not friendly to me looking to camp somewhere.|
|You just never know what you'll see on the road...|
|Real lucky the night before getting to Curitiba, found a nice creek to camp next to.|
|Nothing like dipping tired smelly feet into some clear running water after a hard day on the bike.|
|Heading up to Curitiba, much more pleasant up hill than the one getting to Sau Paulo|
|Although there's always this passing|
|Remains of a tire that exploded on a truck next to me. Fortunately happened just ahead, and this chunk of metal and rubber landed just ahead of me.|
|Getting close to Curitiba, I stopped at a Macdonalds to use the wifi and check my map. Siting on my bike outside, employees were having a meeting at a table. Upon noticing me, they all came outside, shocked and curious.|
|Delightful recovery food. Bowl of mixed fruit with Acai|
|Much prettier in the wild|
|Getting lunch with everybody from the apartment|
|Apparently this guy's been strutting for years now. Pretty normal sight for a lot of people|
|Riding with Pedro on the ciclovia to a local park|
|They even have pedestrian only areas|
|In Brasil, it's not illegal to have alcohol outside. At lots of pubs, there's often more people outside and out front of the place, than inside.|
|Goodtimes at the flat|
|Comfortable and dry|
|To rainy and uncomfortable|
|A great example of a dumb incompetent animal. Obviously going to fast for the turn, loses control and flips the truck|
|Just glad I wasn't on the shoulder when it flipped|
|Later on just down the road, dozens of massive steel pipes fell of this truck. Glad I wasn't on the shoulder... again.|
|Happy that at least for about a half hour, the highway was mine|
|Wet day after wet day|
|Just happened to check the odo, to see it click over. 12,000 kilometers since changing the batteries in Medellin, Colombia|
|Sometimes little things like these endless cracks in the road drive me mad|
|Riding the main pistas, every once in a while these building have a nice lounge area with a couch, with coffee and water. Nice break getting out of the rain|
|Taking a moment to gather myself on the worst hill of my life. Dumb animals passing|
|Another wet camp, finding a nook in the jungle, and excited to dry off in Sau Paulo|
|The trail going back to the highway|
|Sometimes there's just strange things I see and find. Like this fenced and covered pit. No idea what it's there for. A well, sewer, pit for dead people?|
|Entering Sau Paulo, happily passing the km's of cars and trucks at a stand still|
|Flat on the trailer|
|Arriving in the city|
|This kind gentleman wanted to take some photos of me, then bought me lunch.|
|Pingado (coffee with milk) and Foyado (empanada type sandwich with chicken). My favorite meal in Brasil|
|Arriving at Las Magrelas.|
|Talita and crew working at Las Magrelas|
|Getting dinner with Felipe. Heading out a long bike trip himself.|
|Key to success, bike maintenance. One last big clean for the big push to Rio and the end|
|Sau Paulo, Brasil|
|Annual South American bike polo tournament|
|Trying to keep the batteries charged for the music. Isn't this supposed to be a day off from pedaling?|
|A little rain and a quick break to shuffle off the water|
|Heading out of the city, much more difficult, dangerous, and longer than entering|
|Happy to be out of the city. Next stop, Rio de Janeiro and the end of the trip|
|Hidden spot camped below the highway out of view|
|Just another day in the life. Pitching the tent in the rain and with slippery stakes punching holes in my hand|
|Brasilian country side|
|This guy pulled over to give me a bible|
|Destruction and damage from tent - eating ants|
|At first glance, looks like a great spot to camp|
|Until you see these (Note: the size of the smaller ants you see are what I would consider "normal" size, use them for scale to get an idea of how large the bigger ones are)|
|Was unaware that Brasil has nuclear energy/fuel (not only that but was later surprised to read that they even have nuclear submarines)|
|Over those hills ahead lies the end|
|Finally getting some wind in my favor|
|With a lot of extra fuel to burn, the first and only time I pulled out my stove for lunch|
|Last camp of the trip. Eager to get on the road for the home stretch|
|Few last hills to get over|
|First glimpse of the start of the urban area that makes up the surrounding area of Rio de Janeiro|
|Long stretch riding the freeway|
|Somehow ending up on the freeway unintentionally several times|
|Good thing I started real early. The first of two tunnels not allowed to pass. Ended up being an 8 hour day and did 146km|
|Tunnel #2 can't enter|
|Carlos was a huge help, hearing me ask for directions, helped me find the other tunnel I could get through. Obrigado!|
|Rio de Janeiro, Brasil|
|Group of friendly guys that helped me call Beatriz|
|Pao de Azucar|
|Even got to do a critical mass before packing up the steed|
|Good friends and good company|
|People always talk about El Cristo, what I never heard about was the view. The view was much more impressive to me, even though most of it was cloudy when I went.|
|Wandering through the market at Uruguaiana looking for few last minute things|
|Packing her up|
|Lunch with Beatriz before catching my flight|
|Friendly taxi driver|
|Pulled over and took last minute photo for me|
|All packed at the airport, heading home|
|Little humor I leave you with, I found this photo online and thought it was quite comical|