10 October 2002

California to Belize final thoughts

Four weeks after flying back to the states is not the best time to write this, but I kept putting it off because I did not want summer to end. Sitting at a computer at my house, where school and work have already consumed me, I look back on our trip with such amazement. Did we really camp 40 feet from the highway numerous times? Ride in the rain for hours on end? Eat over 600 tortillas? I almost cannot believe it myself. When I talk to people about it, they think about it, ask a couple questions and then its back to the usual conversations. How can I explain something so fascinating in such a short period of time? I no longer think it is possible for someone to relate to this type of trip. It is so different from backpacking, yet so different from just riding a bike.

I miss the Mexican way of life. Much more laid back, lots of people were always chillin late into the night...everyone always said hello. Simplicity satisfies such a large percentage of the world's population, but not in the USA. Especially not in California. I see people working so hard at so many things and I always ask why. Why work so hard? What are the end benefits of stressing so often? It is one thing to work hard towards something you have thought long about, but unfortunately I think most people work hard because they think they are suppose to. That success is dependent on it. I have to disagree. I have stated in my journal over and over that this trip was about the process, not the end goal. It is a metaphor for life. And I now look at everything I do from this prospective.

Off of my soapbox. I have to give props to all the people who have made this trip more enjoyable. I am not going to try to name everyone, because too many people have sent me encouraging emails, gave me advice, gave me a place to stay, drove me around before and after the trip and put up with me in general. Though, I do have to especially thank Justin for making this trip such a great experience. It probably would not of been possible without him.

For everyone else reading this I hope this glimpse into my trip has motivated you in someway. Maybe not to go on a bike trip, but to change your world for the better in some way. Quit your job. Sell your car. Explore your environment. Talk to people you usually wouldn’t. Spend hours sitting in the travel section of a bookstore. You know that thing you have wanted to do since you were a kid? Why not start now?

13 September 2002

Tikal, Guatemala to Belize City, Belize

The English started in Tikal actually. We held a conversation with a Belizean who was currently working in Guatemala. You never want to admit that you miss speaking English, but after almost 7 weeks you understand, and appreciate, the importance of vocal communication. The road was supposed to be paved all the way to the Belizean border. You know how that goes. So after waking up at 430am, pedaling 75 miles, some on unpaved roads, and crossing another international border we ended up San Ignacio, Belize.

For me, this was it. This was the city I pictured myself riding into and 'being there'. It was it. Despite our hunger, I had to take a minute and pause at one particular intersection that held some personal importance. It was the defining moment of the trip. That point of emotion right in between laughing and crying. I rode on towards the city center and I looked down at my gloved hands on my handlebars, as I had been doing for the last 7 weeks, and it felt so dramatic. All I had done was ride my bike, but it was two worlds coming together for me. I had spent a couple of months in Belize almost two years ago, and it was then that I dreamed up this trip. This was a time for recollection. I had learned an immense amount about myself and about life in the last two years. Here I was looking at the same place, but through different eyes. I wasn’t expecting this, but I felt as though something that had been nagging me was now gone. Long-term goals are not a regular part of my life so the excitement of completing one was unexpected.

The night in San Ignacio was full of emotions. Justin was ecstatic to eat a curry dish. Both of us enjoyed the English dialogue and the props we were given by all the Belizeans hanging out. We spent hours just chillin in front of a restaurant on the main street talking with all sorts of people about all sorts of things...but not all of the emotions that Belize brought back were positive, enough so that I ended up not eating dinner.....anyway we ended up not camping at the SDA hospital like we had planned, partly cause of the weather and partly cause of the US$7 room we scored. We had to fight off people trying to get us to smoke pot, but it was worth it.

The end of the trip wouldn’t be without its complications; none of the ATMs in town would take our bankcards. We spent the last of our money on peanut butter and white bread (actually bread! not tortillas!) and headed towards the capital city of Belmopan where rumor had it a bank existed that could give us money. Along the way we stopped to soak our heads from a faucet of a local farmer who had a business proposition for us: Apparently it is lucrative to buy pick-up trucks in the USA and drive them to Belize and sell them for much more. A possible new source of income? Email me if you want in.

We spent the night 33 miles outside of Belize City at the Monkey Bay environmental reserve. In the morning we talked with a young Brit who was full of stories of her travels in Cuba, Turkey, and the Middle East. The wheels are spinning for another trip before this one is even complete. The last 30 miles went by fast as could be. We got a fist and a 'welcome to Belize' from a government worker just outside of the city that brought it into perspective. 'Welcome to Belize'. The end is here. Pictures in front of the Atlantic Ocean confirm it. The details of our last day in Belize are trivial. I went to visit some old friends, we packed our bikes up, shopped around a bit, and just plain ole chilled.

The next day, September 12th, we hitchhiked to the airport with our bikes and then skirted the $80 fee for bikes by telling them it was camping equipment. We bought our last cokes and fried plantains and boarded the plane. This time when I left Belize there was no one to wave good-bye to, which made the finality of my trip all the more extreme. We kicked back our seats, put on our headphones, and took the easy way back to the states.

10 September 2002

Tuxtla Guiterrez, Mexico to Tikal, Guatemala

Riding my bike through Chiapas has been on my mind for almost two years. Since I first visited this part of the world I imagined riding my bike through here. Truly fascinating.

After Justin recovered (mostly) from his Montezuma's revenge we left Tuxtla for 'the climb', 4500 ft elevation gain over 50 miles. 30 of them being uphill. Imagine it this way: That is higher than 3 sears towers stacked on top of each other. Now picture a 30-mile road circling its way around to the top of the third building. That was our climb to San Cristobal de Las Casas. My props go to Justin for doing two days after shitting 13 times in 8 hours (I wonder if he wanted me to divulge that information?). In San Cristobal we were chillin in the zocalo eating churros when a kid came up to us and talked bikes. He ended up taking us to a 'hotel' that was more of a chill spot for hippies that a real hotel. There wasn’t even a sign! It was perfect for this city, its got such a cool vibe with the mix of old buildings, locals, hippie travelers, zapatoristas, and indigenous people from the surrounding villages. We had to cancel the day off here but spent most of the next morning chillin around. I got my beard shaved off for a dollar. Justin shopped around for some Zapatista dolls. Drank tamarindo juice and hung out with some other travelers. You know, the usual.

Out of San Cristobal we had some climbs and it rained for the entire day. Such stunning views. We finished the day in Ocosingo because it got to dark to make it to the Tonina ruins just outside of the city. Ocosingo was one of the cities the Zapatistas took over in their uprising on January 1st, 1994. The notoriously brutal governor was sentenced in a Zapatista trial to serve 25 years peasant labor. Of course the uprising was smashed and there is nothing there to show it ever happened; but just knowing something like that gave the town some energy.

Palenque is a ruin site in the eastern part of the state of Chiapas. It is best known for its jungle setting and close proximity of tall structures. After a long day of up and down hills Justin's bike exploded. I wont go into details, but we needed a bike shop quick. Roll into the city and they are all closed. We head to the ruins and its dark by the time we get close to the restaurant/hotel we are looking for outside the entrance to the ruins. Its late, JC's bummed on his broken bike, and then the vegetarian restaurant is closed. Both of us are bummed and grumpy sitting in the dark. Then these German girls roll up looking for the previously mentioned eatery. Justin is instantly cheered up by the female presence. I decide to apply some Mexican learned knowledge and not trust the 'closed' sign. I search back through and find the restaurant; sure enough open and filled with hippies. Perfect! We eat some curry, which is mediocre, yet amazing. We hadn’t eaten curry in almost two months so the taste was new again. yum yum. We barter for a place to stay and decide to sleep in the covered hammock section and save the $2 by sleeping on the floor. Bugs in the jungle? I guess there were some but we still slept in shorts and no shirt. In the morning we got our culture on, fixed JC's bike at a shop, bought our plane tickets, and headed south towards the Lacandon jungle.

"Whoa look an Adventist church!" It was a small village on a hillside that was fighting back the encroaching jungle. I enquired about sleeping there and they told me it was occupied and to check with the teacher of the school. We worked it out to sleep on the floor of the one room school building. This village, called Nuevo Canan, had so many kids! What was different here was that almost no adults came over to hang out with us. Just JC, me, and 15 or so kids aged 6-16. It was one of those moments on this trip that I look back on and smile. I can't even think of what to type about it that would hold your interest, but to me those memories remind me of why I took a trip like this.

In the morning we pedaled our final miles in Mexico. It was sad to leave the country we had spent so much time. We had seen more of the country than most Mexicans probably see in their entire life. Even though a border is an imaginary line we were nervous about crossing it. What would Guatemala be like? We bargained the boat-crossing fee, got our exit stamp in our passports and headed to Guatemala. Instantly different. We were merely across a river, but to us it was all new. We hung out at the bus station/immigration/store building with some guys and decided to stay the night. We found a 'hotel' that consisted of some wooden shacks behind a house and called it home for the night.

Lesson learned from Guatemala: roads that are shown on the map as 'seasonal paths' are not a good choice for bike touring. It would of been difficult on an empty mountain bike. On a fully loaded touring bike it was hell. Big ass rocks kept our speed around 4 miles per hour. We did 30 miles in 8 hours. Justin and me wanted to kill each other. 4 flats. About 2 hours of daylight left. So when the truck pulled over and offered a ride we got in. 12 miles later we got dropped off in the 'big' town and got supplies. 10 more patience-building miles and we hit pavement. It was almost dark but we had to crush to La Libertad, the next biggest town. Pavement was so fast, we hammered out the 15 miles in no time. Ate some Salvadorian food that I wont even attempt to spell, and drank some new types of juice. Guatemala is going great so far.

Tikal is the most well known ruins in Central America and right fully so. On the other hand they are expensive and filled with tourists. We paid $8 to get in and $6 to sleep in a hammock. We talked with some Swiss girls and the plan was set to wake up at 430am. Yeah, apparently the thing to do is walk to the structure on the far side of the park, climb up it above the canopy of the jungle, and watch the sunrise. So after a restless night filled with a blackout, screaming Frenchies, frantic guards, animals trying to get to our food, and the loudest thunderstorm ever we walked in the dark towards tower IV. Sitting on a 1200-year-old building, watching the sunrise from the mist over the jungle was a great location for taking this whole trip in perspective. "I rode my bike here.....I bet there are some other pretty cool places to ride my bike to...."

31 August 2002

Mexico City to Tuxtla Guiterrez, Chiapas

The 10 days to Chiapas from D.F. have been filled with such diversity. This is the Mexico that I have been so excited to ride through. The autopista (the toll way) ended in Oaxaca city, so since that point we have been riding through the only main road in these parts. Its great because it goes right through the small towns and villages, but a lot of times there is no shoulder and it seems to go over every mountain possible.

The night before we reached Oaxaca city we camped off of the side of the autopista. It had been raining for a couple of hours, but this was the first time it was raining as it was getting dark. We found a nice place to camp and set up my tent in the rain. Then we unpacked our bikes in the rain. Then we cooked and ate dinner in the rain. Then we brushed our teeth in the rain and then got in the tent and slept through the night while it rained. You know that you have gotten use to your environment when you no longer notice the negative aspects. I mean, there we were, on the side of the road, cooking our dinner in the rain and it seemed perfectly normal. Good thing for quality rain gear.

Oaxaca city is beautiful, despite how touristy it is. This was my second time there, so I knew where to head. JC headed out to visit the Monte Albun Ruins, which are definitely worth a visit, and I explored the Ricardo Flores Magon Cultural center. They had a small exhibit from a local artist, which wasn’t as good as the exhibit on punk last time I was there, but good nonetheless. Later I stumbled into a free indy cinema that was showing free short films from all over Latin America. One was about a guy in prison in Mexico and another was about this crazy healing 'doctor' in Cuba who heals people by pulling on them and slapping them around. Some of the other films I have no idea what they were about. JC and me met up later on, comparing stories mostly about all the food we had consumed throughout the day. I am a street vendors dream. I ask what it is, what’s in it, then more often than not, I buy it. yum.

After Oaxaca city you are in a whole different Mexico. The Spanish is different. The food is different. The site of two gringos on bikes is much more of a scene. The first day out of the city we had a large climb, then an 11-mile downhill complete with switchbacks and banked curves. About half way down I got a flat, to the delight of an entire construction crew. I pulled over to fix it, and next thing I know there are 18 people gathered around me! First it was strange when I realized that they were about 15 on average, than even stranger when not one of them said a word to me. All just quietly and patiently watched me change a tube. I initiated conversation a bit, but only the foreman, the only one over 20, spoke with me. I finished, said adios, and they all said 'adios' in unison. A mile later I caught up with JC, we rolled through a military checkpoint, and into one the restaurant/store/house deals that we so often see. There's where our next adventure began.

They ask the usual questions, then ask where we are going ahorita (right now), we say we don’t know, they laugh, then invite us to sleep there. The local drunk guy was in perfect form. Saying all sorts of crazy things. 'Whose better George Bush or Osama Bin Laden?', 'Eating chilies will make you ride faster', 'You need to have a girl for the mountains cause its cold there'. He also insisted on asking us if we were gay about 1000 times. Anyway, we cooked dinner amidst 20 questions about food and my stove, then hung out with the family and some of the 15 yr old construction workers. Around 1030 we decide to go to sleep. Well, that plan didn’t work out to well. Apparently people in Mexico don’t sleep. The construction kids were up till well past 130am firing down beers and the women of the house were outside mopping before 530am. Amazing. We said our goodbyes after buying some fruit and water and rolled off into another strange day.

We spent the next night in a community center in a village that isn’t even on my map. We enquired about a place to sleep and everyone directed us to El Centro de municipal like it was perfectly normal for two gringos to roll in on bikes and sleep there. One of the workers, showed us to a storage room, opened the windows, and showed us where the bathroom was. It was so odd for it to seem so routine to house touring cyclists. The center was a beehive. The women had a volleyball game going, kids on bikes we were everywhere, tons of the men hanging out, teenagers playing basketball. We cooked dinner in the mix of it all, where we were the ridicule of the men near us. 'That looks like dog food', 'Soybeans make your penis go limp', and ‘you look like a rooster with that haircut'. Its good to know that even in Mexico I am made fun of for what I eat and look like! Most people were cool, and we ended up playing basketball and hanging out pretty late.

So there we are, pedaling along through the isthmus of tehuantepec, when things got weird. First we lost the shoulder when our highway split from the 185 highway. Then the trucks and the people we passed weren’t so friendly. The sky became overcast. Next thing we see is a man on the side of the road waving for us to stop. We evaluate the situation, he is with a women, has a nicer truck with a license plate, and is dressed casually. We pull over. He asks about our Spanish, we respond, 'Si, hablamos un poco', and he starts ranting and raving ultra fast about how dangerous it is where we are. We got him to slow down, and he tells us where we are is very poor and that there has been a string of assaults recently. Some bandits held up a gas truck not too long ago. We ask about camping and he says absolutely not. He is from San Cristobal, Chiapas and offers to drive us there. We politely decline. He says good-bye and we get back to riding.

Now it is getting darker and looks like it will rain. Tension increases and we start look at everyone with a little fear. This feeling had not been a part of this trip at all. We decide to hurry onto the next village. When we roll in we get some odd looks instead of the usual smile and friendly greetings. In the store the woman says she knows of no such place to sleep. Little kids ride bye without laughing or saying hello. What the hell is going on? Then the woman comes out and suggests the centro de salud, or the health center. Perfect. We gun it to there. Inside a very friendly woman in her 20's sees our bikes and understands our questions in broken Spanish. She takes us to see the 'Commadante' of the village. He happens to be across the street with a bunch of people. I told her that I study nutrition and she misunderstood and introduces me as a student of medicine. Oops. We clarify and the Commadante and the local doctor are very helpful. They tell us there is a Dengue Fever epidemic and that we have to sleep inside.

Next think I know, we are in the back of a pick-up truck with our bikes and about 6 men with rifles. They take us to an empty house, unlock it, show us around, and then leave. They also told us they would guard the house throughout the night. Suddenly we have an entire house to ourselves! Unbelievable. Sometimes I can’t even believe the situations I end up in. So we spend the night on the floor of this house, hoping to not catch dengue fever. In the morning we took pictures of the various animals who made their home on this property and went back to el centro de salud to thank them and because I wanted their address. The Doctora who helped us the night before was again very friendly and happy to give me the address. Then she gave me her personal email. Nice. We left happy and pedaled off through the danger zone into Chiapas.

We had a 12-mile climb into the state of Chiapas and it was one of the most memorable experiences of this entire trip. It started ultra hot and humid. Within a couple of miles it started getting dark and raining. It felt so nice. So nice that we didn’t bother with rain gear. Then it started down pouring! oops. We at least got our jackets on and kept going up. Huge streams of water were rushing down the road. Then we turned a corner and there was a flash flood! It was coming off the mountain to our left, running across the road, and into the valley on the right. At first we road, then it got to deep and the current too strong. We had to carry our bikes through the rushing water while trying to avoid rocks tumbling down the mountain through the water. We took our time because there was no guardrail, there was nothing, to our right to prevent us from falling off the road into the valley if we would of slipped. Amazing. We eventually got to the top where the state of Chiapas welcomed us. It was a very important moment for me because riding to Chiapas has been on my mind for so long. And now here I am. Successfully have ridden my bike here. We asked in the first village about sleeping and they directed us to a hotel 8 kilometers further on. We got charged a gringo fee, but it was worth to be able to dry our stuff and cook out of the rain. Also gave us a chance to empty the 5-inch puddles from our panniers.

After some more climbs and a beautiful descent into the valley we are in the capital city of Tuxtla Guiterrez. We've done the usual, eat at the vegetarian restaurant, hang out in the zocolo, listen to our favorite song by the band ketchup, and eat lots of street food. Unfortunately, JC has come down with what every gringo fears when traveling: The runs. Long morning in the bathroom for JC means today is a day off. We got him some medicine (no prescription needed and it cost less than $4!! The USA could learn a lot from Mexico when it comes to health care...) and ahorita he is sleeping in the hotel room. Tomorrow we hope to embark on the 30-mile uphill climb to San Cristobal de Las Casas. After that we have an eventful week seeing giant ruins, two more countries, and the tropical rain forest. Wow, this trip is actually winding down. Just hope that JC feels better soon. More updates soon!

20 August 2002

Mazatlan to Mexico City

After the craziness of riding into Guadalajara at night and in the rain, we decided it was safest to not ride into this city of 20 million people. It is not the riding in the city that is scary, both Justin and me are avid city riders; it is the interchanges outside of the city. Imagine riding your bike on 76 or 676 outside of Philly! It is like that, but with less light and way worse roads.

We are staying with some good friends of mine, Nallely and Edgar, that I met a year and a half ago at a WEF protest in Cancun. They helped me get out of jail and we have been close since.

The first day we were here we went to a market that only has metal-punk-artsy-hippie sorts of things. It was amazing. Veggie burgers for 50 cents! The anarcho-punks were in full force and there were plenty of zines, music, and info to gather up. The whole ambience of the place was amazing, very few cops or authorities and 100s and 100s of kids (you know, anyone under 30 or who still acts as such) who are not into the lifestyle being sold to them MTV or coca-cola. We mingled around for a while and then went to explore the rest of the city.

Hanging out with our 'girlfriends' from the boat hasn’t been as successful as we had hoped. I guess the whole energy of meeting on a boat and spending a night on a boat was lost. Maybe she thought that I would of changed my clothes or trimmed my beard since last time I saw her. ha. I ended up spending some time with her at the Zocolo where we saw a jazz concert, an art exhibit with all sorts of anti-Bush cartoons and anti-plan Colombia posters, bought some photographs from a vendor, ate some coconut treats, and took a ride on a bike taxi. Then we went to the Anthropology museum and to a section of the city called Coyocan. I had been there before but could not remember the dope restaurant I had eaten at. We got some expensive pasta at a chic hangout near the square.

We have spent a lot of time just wondering around the city, which is one of my favorite things to do. There is a market outside of Nallely and Edgar's house, which isn’t in the best neighborhood, to buy all sorts of neat things. One morning we bought Nopales, a type of cacti, mixed with onions and peppers, some tortillas, and some salsa, for less than $2.50 for the 3 of us to eat. Lovely. Nallely needed a part for her blender, and there is a guy in the market who only sells parts for a blender. Amazing. In the USA you would probably have to buy a whole new one.

Our new addiction, which is much healthier and a little cheaper, is juice in a bag. For about 60 cents they fill a giant bag with the juice of your choice and give you a straw to drink it. Watermelon, Orange and Fresh Lemon have been the 3 most popular.

We have spent four days here, great to be off the bike. Our next stop will be in Oaxaca, where we want to see the Monte Albun ruins and eat lots of vegan chocolate and enfrijoladas. There is also a community center there named after the Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon.

We have some big climbs ahead and will return to the heat soon. But, we have a lot to see in the last 1600 kilometers of our journey. We are entering the jungle and new indigenous cultures. 2 more countries and places I have been to and already love....

Thanks to everyone who sends emails, I appreciate it so much!

But what do you do about......?

Hello from Mexico City! I am going to answer some questions I have been getting.

Our Route
I guess I forgot that not everyone is familiar with the geography of Mexico.
We headed directly south from Los Angeles, about 1100 miles down the Baja Peninsula. From the city of La Paz we took a ferry to the city of Mazatlan. From there we headed southeast through Tepic and Guadalajara into Mexico City. From here we will head directly south through the city of Oaxaco and then into the state of Chiapas. From there we will head east through Guatemala, past the ruins of Tikal and then into Belize. We will only be in Belize for a couple of days before we fly out of the Belize airport on the east coast of Central America. I hope that clarifies a bit!

Bicycle Touring
Not all my friends and family are avid cyclists, eh? Bicycle touring is a way of traveling by bicycle where you carry with you everything you need. For example, we have a tent, two stoves (with fuel), sleeping bags, rain gear, clothes, dried food, water containers, tools, maps; everything we will need for the two month journey. Well, of course, we have to buy food and water everyday. The idea is to enjoy the process more than the goal. An American asked us why we ride so much and don’t spend more time sight seeing; I told him that we are sight seeing constantly. When you are in a car the environment is merely in the way of your destination, but when you are on a bike you become a part of that environment and appreciate all aspects of it. The other day we were climbing this mountain for about 2 hrs and then we entered a pine forest. You feel the air get colder, you are overwhelmed by the smell, the forest absorbs you, and you appreciate arriving there by bicycle.

We are yet to camp at a campsite. We just find a place hidden from the road and set up camp. It’s great, that little area of the world becomes our home for the next 10 hours. We set up the tent, unload what we need for the night and prepare dinner. Then we sit and relax, and maybe look at the stars or write in our journal. A lot of times our exhaustion decides that we should just go right to sleep! Camping has become more difficult in the mainland and will be even harder when we are in the humid jungles of the south.

So how does a respectable vegan survive below the border? Lots of beans and tortillas. ha. When you spend months outside of the USA you realize how strict veganism is such a privilege, one that is only possible for the richest people in the world. No, I don’t have to eat quesadillas and scrambled eggs to survive, but sometimes you don’t have a choice about the ingredients in the only bread that is available or the type of cooking oil used. Veganism is completely unheard of down here; many vegetarian restaurants do not have vegan options. Despite all of this I am surviving well and trying all sorts of new vegan foods. There are these fried sweet breadstick things called Churros and these unnamed coconut candies that are unbelievable. Mushroom Quesadillas are very popular, and here the cheese goes on top, not on the inside, so it is very easy to order them sin queso. Panaderia, or bread shops, are an every day stop. We crush about 4-5 big pieces of sweet bread every morning. Most of the options for me aren’t as nice as those apple filled whole wheat pastries I had at a health food bakery in Mazatlan, but good nonetheless.

It is a misnomer that you need to eat all the local food to understand the culture. I am always walking extremely slow (to Justin and Nallely´s dismay) through markets so I can see what kinds of foods are available and their preparation method. Seeing the local ingredients and how they differ from a state 200 miles away interests me enough, I do not need to eat beef tripe to understand it any further. There is always something local and vegan for me to taste, and as my Spanish improves the amount of foods I can eat increases!

Bike Problems
So when you leave for a 3000-mile bike trip you want to have all the best parts, right? I am finding it doesn’t matter. My top of the line topeak road bike pump ($47) broke in the rain 500 miles ago. Two days later the one I bought in Mexico broke. My $1200 bike has probably had more problems than Justin's $300 bike from EBay. But my $35 tires are about 10x better than the $15 crap tires Justin left with. You really just never know. I understand that if you buy something from walmart it is going to break sooner than later, but we are buying components from companies owned by the people who do these things. Why do they sell such crap? Is it all designed for yuppies that only use it during their two-week vacations? There has to be some companies out there that make stuff that can hold up to what we put it through. Here is a list of broken parts. (M) Means I broke it, (J) means Justin did.

7 broken spokes (M)

2 stripped stem bolt holes (M)

1 broken star washer (M)

1 broken topeak frame pump (M)

1 broken giant pump (M)

1 broken derailleur (J)

2 ripped tires (J)

1 leaking stove (J)

I also bought some tubes from a mountain bike distributor and they are the crappiest tubes ever. The valve ripped on 3 of them. I have had 5 flats, and Justin around 15. Not just the run over something type, but ones from the valve breaking, pinch flats from not being able to get enough air in our tires (cause my pump broke and Justin's sucks), and ones from patches leaking (it is hard to patch a tube in the rain).

Despite all this I do have equipment I am proud of. My Sierra Designs tent has kept us dry (if we set it up right before we go to sleep!) during torrential downpours and my mountain hardwear jacket has kept me dry and cool during those long hours of pedaling through the rain. I hope to do a whole product review when we get a touring website going.

I hope I have made what we are doing and what we go through a little more clear. My next couple entries will include more specific stories and more about what our day-to-day lives are like.

peace, Matt!

13 August 2002

Mazatlan to Guadalajara

1450 miles pedaled, over half way to Belize. Internet places have been few and far between because we are taking the toll way. Its much more direct and has a huge, clean shoulder. I don’t have time to write much, but I will say that we have had gigantic climbs, rain every single day, and tons of bike problems. It’s been a great adventure.

We hope to be in Mexico City by the weekend and I will do more updates then. Back to riding in the rain!

08 August 2002

Guerrero Negro, Baja Sur to Mazatlan, Sinolia

Things have been so crazy; I don’t even know what to write about. So many little things happen every day, I can't even remember them, let alone type them into an online journal. While we ride we laugh about so many things that have happened, its unbelievable. Most recently we met a Japanese kid on his way to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina from Los Angeles, California. He speaks very very little English and zero Spanish. It has been an adventure in itself just trying to communicate with him over the last couple of days. I am short on time, as always when I am on the computer, so I am going to type up some entries from my written journal verbatim.

Day 11, 71 miles

Today we got up relatively early and hammered out 33 miles to San Ignacio, where we spent the hot part of the day. In the desert it reaches about 110 between 12 and 4, the sun melts your skin if you’re not in the shade. There was a festival around the center square where we spent 5 hours in the shade people watching. We looked like vagrants, doing our dishes with the faucet in the park and eating peanut butter on tortillas, but most people stared at the drunken guy passed out on the ground next to us.

We left town around 430, but Justin hit another pothole on the way out of town and we had to fix his flat. We pushed on slowly, until the weather cooled. We had an amazing view of a 6,000 ft peak that towered above all the other mountains in the range. We climbed the small pass and hammered on for a while at a good speed. Just as it was getting dark we came upon a 'downhill ahead' sign and decided we would camp after it. Next thing we now we are flying down switchbacks at 35 mph + into a canyon. It was beautiful. We were able to look back and see the sun setting behind the giant peak that towered over the canyon. We had a short climb out of it and then we decided to camp across the street from a gas company. Dinner was delayed because some men showed up at the gas place and we had to hide from them for a while.

Day 17, La Paz to Mazatlan on the ferry

After our first night in a hotel, we got up early and crushed a giant breakfast at the local vegetarian restaurant. Post office, supermercado, and then a 10-mile ride to the ferry. I am stressing cause our ferry tickets cost 3x what lonely planet had them listed for. I paid $48US with student discount, but JC had to pay the full $60. Someone told us that bikes cost the same as motorcycles to put under the ferry, an additional $50 each. So basically when we bought the tickets we didn’t mention the bikes. Anyway, we get to the ferry terminal and look around to develop a plan to scam our bikes on. The first idea was to talk a truck driver into letting us put our bikes in the back. That didn’t work. The next idea was to carry them up where everyone else brings their luggage and simply ignore the fact that they are bikes with 50+ pounds of shit strapped to them. The security guy wasn’t having that. He told us to bring them to where the cars are. Damn. We walked down there like we knew what we were doing and were told to wait. We sat and sat, dreading being caught and having to pay an additional $50. It started to get late; people were beginning to board El Barco. Finally, a guy waived for the motorcyclists to drive in and for us to follow. We rode our bikes into the ferry and locked them where he pointed. We grabbed our plastic bag of stuff for the 18-hour journey and headed to the cabin. Success!

The boat was an adventure in itself. Within 3 to 4 hours people were drunk and sprawled out everywhere. It was like the beach! So much fun. We searched the boat for the two cute girls we were scoping earlier and we found them in the outside bar area on the second deck. So that’s where we chilled for the next couple of hours. We read, looked at the maps, and ate some tortillas with canned refried beans to the amusement of two drunken men behind us. They started asking us about the maps, we told them about our trip, and it just got nuts from there. I wish I had taken a class on understanding drunken Spanish cause most of the time I was clueless to what they were saying. So much fun. Ended with pictures being taken with the whole family. We were the coolest guys in the bar.

Back to the girls. Our pics were right near them, so they asked me to take a pic of them in front of the sunset. I take the pic, ask them where they are from...'Mexico City? Vamos a la ciudad de Mexico!' Next thing we know we are hanging out with two 23 year old engineering students alone on the top deck of the ship. Nice. They can speak English, we try to use our Spanish to their amusement, and it was great. We talked about school, about life, about traveling, and about Mexico. I dropped some knowledge about Chiapas, it goes well.

Next they inform us that they are sleeping up there; it is too hot and crazy to sleep in the seat area inside. They ask us where our sleeping bags are, and we point to our plastic bag of items. They invite us to share their blanket. Score. They started to set it up and I went to rescue Masoyuki from the smelly sitting area, where he had returned to hours earlier after a lone beer did him in. We went back up to the top deck and Justin had secured a place next to the girl he was digging. Damn, I am stuck between Justin and Masoyuki. Needless to say I got a lot more sleep than Justin did. In the morning we all sat and talked, we got numbers and invites for Mexico City and all took pics in front of the boat. Goodbye kisses were exchanged in lovely Latin American style, we got our bikes, and road off into Mazatlan....First stop: vegan sweet bread from the whole grain bakery downtown....

26 July 2002

San Diego, California, USA to Guerrero Negro, Baja Sur

Even though Justin lost the entire print out for Baja California that we copied from Bicycling Mexico and woke me up the first night screaming (in Spanish and in English) at a person messing with our bikes while we were sleeping (it turned out to be the tarp blowing in the wind); he still has a lot of funny things to say.

630 miles down, we are pushing along pretty good. Climbing mountains under the blazing sun isn’t exactly the most fun thing ever, but everything else more than makes up for it. I am not all that excited about the Baja; I wish I had prepared more for it mentally. All I can think about is riding through Chiapas and Guatemala, but I guess we'll be there soon enough. The most fun parts have been chillin out during lunch with the locals and our sketchy camping situations. It’s always an adventure looking for a flat place to camp off of the side of the road that is hidden out of sight. Then we get out our headlamps, set up camp and cook our gourmet meals.

No matter what we are doing it is better than sitting in some cubicle or in a stuffy classroom. How many more years can I get away with not working in the summer? Maybe I have to get my PHD so that I can be a college professor and do this every summer....
We ended day 6 with style, we camped right on the beach, not a person, house, or coca-cola sign in sight. It was beautiful; I have never slept on the beach before. Going for a walk along the beach first thing in the morning made me appreciate it more than I ever have in the past. Now I know why some people are so gung-ho about it. That's what I love about bicycle touring; we are happy if we find some where to sleep where no one will mess with us, but sometimes you find yourself on a completely uninhabited beach. Even if you could plan something like that it wouldn’t be as fun. I did crash on the dirt/sand road we took back there (my shoes didn’t unclip out of my SPD pedals when I started to slide out) but I got over that quickly.

For the next couple of days we crossed the ultra hot disierto central, we had to each carry a gallon of water and we couldn’t ride between about 11am and 5pm cause the sun was so hot. We would scramble in these small towns to find shaded where we would sit and read or write. The environment is astounding, from huge rock formations to dizzying switch backs down huge mountains (top speed-- 46 mph!). My appreciation of the desert continues. We did find a pool about a mile down a dirt road off the highway that was definitely worth the 15 pesos each.

We keep hearing rumors about two Swiss on bikes heading the same direction as us; two swiss backpackers tried to speak swiss-German to us cause they thought we were them. No luck finding them yet. Our friends from 'World Bike Tour' left San Diego on Saturday, so we are still days ahead of them. The other day we were sitting in front of a small tienda (like we do often) when a woman asked us in English where we were going. After a couple questions she asked, "Are you all with the special olympics?” We are still laughing about that one. Justin and I have found a way to pass the time that seems to never get old; passing stories about our mischief as young kids (and not so young kids). We might actually never run out of stories.

Overall, the biking is going well. We are hammering out about 75 miles a day and slowing disposing of the 25+ pounds of food that Justin brought with him. For lunch day we finally got some excellent bean tacos, I fired down 6 for a $1.50. Yum. We are still getting along wonderfully and excited about how the trip is materializing. There is so much more I want to write about, but it's no fun typing it into a computer. I'll save some stories for in person.

23 July 2002

San Diego

160 miles down, its been hectic. Justin cant find anything in his panniers, I keep having to work on my bike. Head winds all the way to the beach, I am sun burnt......

But is has been so exciting to be rolling on to a new adventure, I cant stop smiling. Am I really doing this again already? The coast was beautiful, we were on bike lanes/paths almost the whole time and the weather has been amazing. I am stoked that we are staying with friends our last night in the USA. I also had to go the grocery store and pick up some tofutti treats since I won’t be able to for the next two months....

22 July 2002

Belize trip start: San Bernardino, California

First off, I have to give a huge thanks to Ralph, Zephon, and Tim, my boys in Cali. Without them driving me around, picking things up for me, and doing other things I hate to ask of people Justin and me would still be trying to get out San Bernardino. Its great to know that I have made good friends in the short time I have lived in Cali.

We left two days late, on July 21st heading down the California coast towards Belize City, Belize. I was waiting for Bianchi to send my warranty forks and a friend of a friend (props to mike miller!) was doing all the work for me. I ended up having to call them and have them overnighted plus Saturday delivery (32.50!!). On top of that the local Bianchi dealer (acme bikes) decided they wanted to charge me $25 just to have the forks sent there. Nothing like that hometown inland empire feeling. Needless to say, I was bummed on the situation. I had to take the forks home, cut the top off with a hacksaw so they fit and rig my rack on (that fit my old forks) with some clamps from the hardware store. Its been hectic, but we rolled out successfully at 930am. It feels so awesome to be back on my bike and finally be on a trip like this again.

18 July 2002

Ways to be prepared for a 3000-mile bike trip

Know the route for the first two days.

Have a functioning bike, especially one that has forks.

Don't expect Bianchi to warranty your bent forks within a month of needing them.

Don't have a cold.

Have read all the guidebooks and bike books that you plan to photocopy.

Leave enough time so that your laundry actually dries before you pack it.

Don't have 75% of your summer class assignments still due.

Don't wait until the day before you leave to request an extension for the assignments.

Don’t make plans to go to a vegan restaurant, no matter how good it is, the night before you leave (cause you probably haven’t even started packing).

Know someone with a car who can take you to the 100 places you need to go to the day before you leave.

Don't get a flat on the bike you borrowed and be stuck.

Don't forget where you hid the key for your bike lock and end up having to cut the lock with bolt cutters.

Try to make it to the bike shop before it closes so you can actually buy the parts you need before you leave.

It’s unfortunate that we did everyone of these wrong. But really, how else would we do it?

17 July 2002

Ecuador- nutrition, buses, groups

I have two major problems with writing: The first is an inability to correctly convey the emotions I am (or were) feeling during the event I am attempting to describe. I think that is pretty common. My second problem is more unique; I have difficulty recalling events when I am just sitting in from of a computer. If I am not excited about it right now, how can I write about it? Maybe I will learn from 2 months of updating my journal.

Nutrition Work

Our group of 12 ended up being highly effective in Ecuador. In Santo Domingo we measured about 60 students, did 6+ general nutrition lectures, and helped with nearly as many parasite eradication campaigns (which included distribution of pills and education for further prevention). We also did some group counseling of the teachers at the school. I am still waiting for an email from a really cute teacher at a school outside of Santo Domingo, whom I inquired about and shameless flirted with in front of her students.

In Quito we worked with a Seventh Day Adventist school doing more measurements in the day and helping with a series of lectures on health at night. The crowd of 70 or so was a bit on the well off side, so I think my tofu scrambler cooking demo went over well.

Overall we learned as much as we taught. There are so many fantastic people doing excellent work in Ecuador, we were lucky to be a part of their team for a short while. My main concern was the promotion of vegetarianism. If most of the population cannot afford the adequate foods is it ethical to suggest this diet? I have recognized the privilege that veganism is. My compromise right now is to further knowledge on what types of foods can be grown locally and their nutritional benefits; and from there suggest a more vegetarian diet. We'll see.

Group Theory

Working and traveling in groups was an adventure in itself. I realize how difficult it is to be always thinking of how actions affect the group. Also, how most people do not have a lot of experience in group dynamics. Considering our diversity in ethnicity, age, religion, and other categories we all worked really well together. I have been working and traveling in groups most of life and we did as well as any. The only pitfall was religion. I had more than my fair share of it over the last two weeks. The pastor of the school we worked with asked us all our denomination and where we went to church. I told him, in rough Spanish, that I was brought up catholic, but no longer went to church. He asked me if I don’t believe in god! I was dumbfounded, but told him, hay una pregunta muy dificil....that is a very difficult question. I thought the more respectful thing to do was to avoid giving him my real answer.

Ecuador Traveling

Ecuador is amazing. 18,000 ft mountains, tropical coasts, bustling markets, a large indigenous population... On our 3 days off we took the bus trip around the Chimborazo volcano via Ambato-El Arenal-Riobamba. The volcano is 20,700 ft tall and the road goes with 10 km of it at 13,000+ ft. the peak is the farthest point from the center of the earth due to the equator bulge and is a popular mountain to summit. Plans are in the works for a summit in the next two years! We then spent a day and a half in Banos, a small town at the foot of another large volcano (that erupted 3 years ago). We rented mountain bike and headed down the mountain towards the Amazon, stopping at waterfalls and to watch some drunk Ecuadorians do this crazy bungee-swing type thing off of a bridge. It was great to be on a bike and its still the best way to travel.

The most dangerous thing I have ever done is ride on a bus in Latin America. Hands down the bus drivers are the craziest people in the world. They treat the Pan-American Highway like it was 3 lanes and one way. Passing on blind curves, up hills, when other cars are coming; it’s all done without a flinch. The buses are always packed as well, on one trip there was even a small child sleeping on the dashboard. Sometimes you hope that the driver is drunk, cause then at least he drives slow.

Our trip was a complete success. No one sick from the food, lots of work done, adventures galore (including a kick ass game of sardines), and I got to know some of my friends a lot better. It was worth dealing with the religion and postponing my bike trip.......my bike trip I now have a day and a half to prepare for.

13 July 2002

Ecuador entry 1

Yo! Arrived in Quito after an over night flight, then the 11 of us took a bus down from the Andes (Quito is at 9000 plus ft) into Santo Domingo de las Colorados, a small city in the coastal region (at about 1800 ft).

We spent July 4th through today doing anthropometric measurements of school children to help establish baseline data for Ecuador-accurate growth charts. There is a community-based hospital here that we visited who will use the data in the future for focused nutrition programs. In the evening we have been doing group (from 5-65) nutrition education sessions. It rules because we are merely helping out within a structure that already exists-not just coming in and leaving. We are staying with some doctors and everyone has been so hospitable, even though they make us work so much.

Ecuador is amazing, as most places down here there is such a diversity of things to see and do. I am struggling to put something together for my one weekend off. Mountains and snow? Tropical rain forests? The beach? Some more dancing (some Ecuadorian women helped me with my Marange and Salsa last night) Indigenous markets? Arts, crafts, and museums? Or I will probably just hang out and eat. The food (we have had 2 women cook for us since we have been here, it is as great as it is ridiculous) is outstanding, even though hot sauce is hard to come by. Lots of plantains, potatoes, quinoa, and tropical juices. yum yum.

I just received a bunch of emails from friends, and I appreciate it more now than ever. When you are in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people (and planning to do the same for two more months) you cant explain how important kind words from someone you care about are. You know I am thinking about all of you as well.

I will write more soon, but I am on a $3 a day budget and I just spent most of it on the internet. peace.

01 July 2002

pre-trip hysteria

It's 101 degrees in Loma Linda today. I have to pack for my Ecuador trip that leaves tomorrow, pack all of my stuff and move out of my room, and be prepared to leave for my bike trip when I return. I wish I at least had forks for my bike (I bent the pair that was on there), but I don’t think I will have my bike running before I leave. I also realized that my shifters might not be compatible with putting on a third chainring. Who designs this stuff? Some of these 8,000 ft passes may be difficult with only two front gears. I am not too concerned, because we don’t actually know if there are any 8,000 ft passes cause neither of us have elevation maps. I think we have enough regular maps, I guess we'll see when Justin gets to California.

Now I just need to avoid getting sick in Ecuador. I guess that means no corn on the cob from street vendors or tamarindo Juice in a bag. Darn.

28 June 2002

regression to the mean

Living in California (especially in the inland empire) will drive you to do crazy things. How did all this start?

To avoid getting a real job I applied to graduate school on the last possible day (august 2001). I even had to overnight FED-EX my application. Much thanks to Blanca, the nutrition secretary who managed to talk the applicant committee into reviewing mine and to Sarah who let me type my essay up that day and drove 90 mph to get me to FED-EX 5 minutes before they closed.

Next thing I know (spetember 2001) I am 3000 miles from all my friends living in a borderline desert 60 miles east of Los Angeles. I go to Loma Linda, the largest health science University in the country. Our nutrition department is on the forefront of vegetarian nutrition, all the cafeterias on campus and in the hospital are vegetarian.

But I am restless. Christmas time rolls around and I am officially without a girlfriend. I am tired of sitting in classes. There is no one to ride BMX with. I send out an email regarding something that has been on my mind for over one year: I want to ride my bike to Belize, through Chiapas, Mexico.

I got a bunch of replies, but the most stoked was Justin Cummings (of PUSH fame), my long time BMX friend from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We have been tight forever and both of us have a new found interest in bicycle touring. What do ya know, he is graduating in December of 2001 and his girlfriend has just dumped him. Perfect! We set the date for early July.

So we plan the best that two lazy bmx kids can. We email about it. We chat online. But basically we save everything for the last minute. Justin plans to go on a US tour with his band, Crucial Unit in June. I decide to go to Ecuador in early July for a nutrition project through the University, putting off our departure date by two weeks.

How crazy could this be? We have to plan for not only an 8 week bike trip, but for spending two months in Central America. We search for resources, but they are limited. One website recommends $50 a day. We have budgeted for $12. Another site suggests training for two months ahead of time, we ride to the health food store to buy tofutti ice cream sandwiches. So the summer is a bad time to do this trip because it is over 100 degrees in the desert and it rains everyday in the jungle? Oops, my bad. No doubt an adventure awaits.

24 June 2002

2001 Cross Country Summary. First bike trip.

In the spring of 2001 I started a 3100 mile cross country bike trip in Huntington Beach, California that lasted two months and landed me in Easton, Pennsylvania.

It was an adventure before it began. I graduated college (PSU) in December 2000 and within two weeks I was heading to Austin, TX with Dave Vmaas for his new job as Art Director at Terrible One bikes. In Austin I was lucky enough to share a two bedroom apartment with 10 other BMXer's, most of them from the FBM road trip that was put on hold thanks to the death of their shitty mini-van. Corrigan, Rob Doleki, Stew Johnson, Vmass, and I made use of our similar obsession with vegan food and stuffed our selves silly for the days preceding my flight to central america.

Two months in Belize with my girlfriend (at the time) was a mind boggling experience. That poor girl had to share a room with me for 8 weeks! We went camping at a jaguar reserve in the tropical rain forest, swam in rivers, traveled to Chiapas, Mexico (where we were nearly killed by an exploding restaurant), and survived the mess that is called Belize City. I even did a 125 mile bike trip and met a bunch of cyclists. They invited me to follow an illegal bike race that shut down the only paved highway in the country. Towards the end of my stay I went a World Economic Forum protest in Cancun, where the Federales were brought in and I ended up spending the night in jail. They stole my bag with all my belongings (and a bunch of other people's!), but at least I wasn’t deported.

On that I returned to Austin where Vmass picked me up at the airport and couldn’t remember where he parked. Then he took me to IKEA to complete my culture shock. The next couple of weeks I spent hanging out in Texas and then in Tucson, Arizona with my boy Boaz Ramos. I worked day labor at a construction site for a ridiculous $5.15 an hour. I was told to "Get the f**k off the road" by a bunch of roadies when I would ride out to Gate's pass. I learned quickly that roadies here are nothing like the friendly ones I met in Central America.

I went to look at a graduate school in Cali and then couldn’t find a place to stay on the coast. I ended up staying with some friends of friends, to their dismay as well as mine. We had some things in common (sxe), but they thought I was completely nuts. That was my situation BEFORE I left for my cross country journey. I had already been on the road for 3.5 months, I was exhausted and away from my friends and from usual comforts.

On April 12th I took a picture of my bike at the beach and started pedaling east towards Pennsylvania. Within 10 days I had climbed a 5000 ft pass, road through a 100 mile stretch of desert with no services in 100 degrees heat, crossed one state border, met another touring cyclist, road through a snow storm, and got hit head-on by a car going 55 miles per hour. It was a rough start.

Getting hit totaled my bike and put me in the hospital with a broken wrist. Luckily it was his fault and insurance would cover my bike and then some. I stayed with the brother of someone who stopped at the accident. He smoked a lot of pot, but he had numerous tapes of Simpson episodes which we watched in marathon lengths. I made the difficult calls to friends and family to tell them what happened and that I was continuing on nonetheless. After 10 days I left his house with a brand new Bianchi Axis and a broken wrist.

The rest of the journey is hard to convey; numerous days in a row without talking to anyone and then days where I met some extraordinary people. In Columbia, Missouri I finally came across some normal kids (not married with babies by 22) and we went to an indy film theatre, cooked up mad vegan food, and just chilled. We could all relate even though we didn’t know each other. Maybe there are some benefits to punk. Those kids will never know how stoked I was to see them.

Christian Kurpiel met me in Missouri, and we continued east. We did a 137 mile day into Indianapolis where Chris from Goshen let us into his Papa John's at midnight to cook up some XL pies with veggie sausage (and then I ate the entire thing). We took a closed highway into pittsburgh and stayed at the peach pit with Justin Cummings. It was an appropriate place to receive an email from my girlfriend (now ex) telling me that she didn’t think I was right for her. Who could blame her? Add her to the list of bicycle related dumpings. The cycling didn’t get any easier when I got closer to my destination. Pennsylvania is one giant mountain. No, wait, it is 1000 giant mountains. After stopping off in the old stomping ground of state college and having reunions with close friends, I pedaled the final two days to Easton, Pennsylvania.

Despite some hardships, I knew this bike touring stuff was right for me.