One of the recurring questions that I have paused to give thought to since I decided to embark on this venture is the obvious – why? The question may seem obvious but the answer is not. Especially as I talk with other cyclists here. I had a nice discussion with Hardy about this very thing a couple of days ago. The common denominator in this group is the pure joy of cycling. That is exactly how we felt when we were very young and got on that red tricycle or the shiny new blue bike. A great feeling of independence and freedom to move beyond what our little legs could imagine. The air moving past our hair and faces as we wobbled down the driveway. No thought yet of how to stop. No thought of stopping at all. For most of the people on this trip that first journey has led to a lifetime on the bike. For me it is something I’ve only lately rediscovered. For my friends Terry and Barry, they have lived that life – competitive cycling as well and it’s definitely in their blood. Terry sees the trip as an accomplishment – a goal of biking the length of South America, seeing what he can see and enjoying the cultures we encounter but mostly it is the cycling that drives him daily. For Joost and Patrick it is a break in their productive lives – to refresh their perspective by doing something that relaxes them and gets them away from a somewhat stressful focused lifestyle. Patrick loves to take photographs. He, like many of these cyclists is sponsored and needs to show their sponsors logos off as well. Toos and her husband Theo don’t appear to be competitive cyclists yet are very accomplished, they seem to me to just love to travel as most Dutch do – on their bikes. It’s a true vacation to them. They too will go back to their productive lives with a new zeal. My roommate James is here to race. He loves to push himself physically and mentally. South America is just where this race happens to be. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t enjoy his surroundings – but there is no question that the race is the goal. I believe he is alone in that complete focus. Dedrick , a relatively young member of our group from Holland, is also focused and definitely racing but seems to have undergone a metamorphosis after making a wrong turn leaving Alausi and cycling all the way back to Riobamba before realizing his mistake. That effort must have caused him pause. He is still competitive in his approach but yet softened into our group as a true team member. There are other people for whom the answer is less easy to perceive. Alex, an accountant from Australia, has done bike trips previously but the biking seems very secondary to him. He has a voice and laugh that fill the room. Happy, very social and loves a beer, he didn’t appear to worry too much about training for this adventure, yet will put a full hard day in. If he’s tired he’ll ride the truck just as happily as pedaling the bike. He’s fun and refreshing to have along. Carmen was born in BC, Canada but has lived most of her life in Italy. She is biking the whole trip then taking a boat trip to Antarctica following that with a flight back to Quito and time on the Galopagos Islands. She is a very interesting young woman. Doesn’t suffer any fools, always ready with a retort and very independent. She probably struggles the most with the cycling. Why is she doing this? I’m not sure. I hope to spend some time with her to hear what her answers will be. I’m not sure that everybody here has delved very deeply into themselves before signing up. Perhaps they don’t have to. Just look at it as an adventure. Maybe the answer to them is more “why not.”
Why am I here? I didn’t really cycle other than as every child until two years ago when I saw it as a good addition to running, kayaking and other sports that I’ve enjoyed during my life. At 60, I thought that climbing was something to put behind me. It is too all consuming in training, the climbing time, and then, for me, the lengthy recovery. Running was starting to take a toll on my body after a skiing fall which wrenched my back. I love cross country skiing and have found I love it even more since I quit racing. No more worrying about how many K’s I have in or how I’m doing on the hills. Just go out and ski. I wanted to keep biking as a non-competitive sport as well.
The reason for me to be on this trip goes beyond cycling. It goes beyond mountaineering, It goes beyond sport. Sport is just the vehicle. It is simplifying my life through these types of activities. Getting beyond the buzz of my daily existence into a place where I can truly live in the moment. Some people use yoga and meditation, others get into a Zen type of zone through simple crafts, maybe even just knitting as a way to relax. For me it’s getting into a canoe, a kayak, and going someplace outside of everyday life. Simplifying my daily existence into a more natural rhythm. Finding my being relaxed to a point where it is no longer a question. It just is.
Sure, I am very interested in South America. Seeing the cultures, meeting the people, feeling the landscape around me and beneath my pedals. It’s all a very important part of this trip. It really is not a goal for me to go the length of the continent but it is a nice result of this experience. I don’t need to try to prove anything physically or mentally by pushing myself too far. I will happily get on the truck if I get too tired. Or too sick. I have a very active and social community at home – I’m not here to find that although again it is a great result of this trip.
There is another aspect for me that may be mine alone among this group. I’m 62 now and looking at moving into another chapter in my life. This trip is a sort of transition from my 38 years of my productive life. For me my career has been more of a lifestyle than an occupation. It is a big part of my social life, my family, my friends, and of course, my security. Transition to what? It’s a big question for all of us as we approach the last third of our lives. This four and a half months may not give me an answer but it will move me beyond where I was before I embarked.
I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it.