Our Current Trip

CLICK HERE for Travel Journals and Information on our current trip cycling from Alaska to Argentina, June 2010 - ?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cycle-touring with Podcasts

We were introduced to podcasts in Baja California by our cycling companions Aiden, Lorely and Russ. My technical ignorance was so that when we reached internet and they would say “I'm just going to download my podcasts” I would just smile and nod and have some vision of a small man with beans and a fishing rod beaming down onto their Ipods. When I finally asked them what a podcast actually was, and when they explained just how easy it was.. it opened up a whole new world for me. In fact you could say I got a little addicted.
I don't always listen to them while I am riding, but when the day starts getting a bit long, the scenery a little monotonous and I need a little distraction they are the perfect antidote. I also love to listen to them when going sleep in the tent at night, or when I wake up and hear strange “outside the tent night noises” and I need to be lulled off to sleep again.
My podcasts can sometimes make me look a little crazy tho', a funny one may make me laugh raucously while riding along or I get all excited at an interesting point and wave my arms around (not clever while riding). I once even cried during a podcast – but to be fair it was about climate change and the penguins, i think anyone would cry over that!
We are subscribed to a number of podcasts, so when we find internet along the way we can download the podcasts and be ready to be entertained. Our favourite podcasts to entertain us while riding are:
  • Coffeebreak Spanish and Showtime Spanish: These Spanish lesson podcasts are great (besides the annoying themesong that makes me want to ride off a cliff)
  • Dr Karl on Triple J: weekly talkback of science and answer questions
  • On the Couch: A discussion of the weekends games of the AFL (Australian Rules Football – the best game in the world), particularly handy at this time because out team appears to be making a comeback. Go Eagles
  • Environment ABC Radio National – automatically downloads any environment related podcasts great for nerds like me... as well as The Science Show with Robin Williams (ABC Radio)
  • Radiolab it's science, it's stories, it's music, it's great
  • A History of the World in 100 Objects A BBC history podcast- this is our falling asleep podcast, the English presenter of this history podcast has the most soothing voice – I am always asleep almost instantly (so I have no idea if the podcast is any good!)
  • Joe Strummer Jules favourite – a rebroadcast of Joe Strummer's London Calling radio show, music from all over.
Unfortunately, our addiction has got a little out of hand lately – Jules is downloading anything that she finds (I have just found 10 new episodes of Sesame St on the computer!) and our computer memory has just become full. No more downloadng is possible. I'm not sure that we can continue riding......

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Walking for Peace

We ran into Guillermo Vega Cortez at a little roadside restaurant while we were cycling in the mountains of Colombia, south of Cali. We just stopped to get out of the rain for a minute and we saw this man, totally dressed in white, with a large and well-used backpack, a Colombian flag, a hat that read “Paz” ('peace' in Spanish) and a big banner with a map of South America on it. Intrigued we got to chatting to him and found out that he had been on the road for four years. He started at his home in Medellin and had walked south, through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, across to Brazil and then down to Argentina to Chile. From Santiago he headed north again, back to Colombia. He was walking for peace, for “peace without borders”.
Jules and I had just been thinking what a big trip we were on, nearing the one year mark of our cycling trip and having done just over 16000 kms. However, cycling is easy, compared to walking with a backpack, and we felt quite humbled to have met Guillermo. In his four years of walking through South America he has travelled almost 19000 kms, through nine countries and he is up to his 25th pair of shoes!
It makes Jules and I, on our cycling adventure, feel a little less alone and a little less crazy. We are travelling slowly in a world filled with people rushing past in cars and buses. We have quit our jobs and thrown everything in to go off moseying through the Americas. It's always good to know that there are other people out there that have stopped what they were doing and gone off a-wandering. There are many different reasons for people to head off into the world, for adventure, as an escape or for a good cause, such as raising awareness on the need for peace.
The human quest for adventure, or for escape, hasn't changed that much over the years. We may now live in much more complicated societies of large cities, and internet technology and globalisation but really there is still the urge deep down to go and live in a cave, grow our hair long and eat berries naked.
Years ago when I was cycling through northern Australia I would often chat to the 'grey nomads', the retired caravaners. They always had stories of other people that they had met that were cycling, walking, crawling their way through the outback. There was the Japanese man that was pushing a cart and playing a didgeridoo across central Australia, the cross-dressing cyclist who had a small dog and a road-train of three trailers and of course lots of other people whose stories were retold and embellished around a cup-of-tea on the side of the road.
Jules and I are now on our little adventure, cycling Alaska to Argentina, but pretty soon we will be back home sitting in an office with only our memories of our wanderings. We'll be thinking of all those people out there grabbing the world in one hand and following the urges that only they can feel. Guillermo is almost home, his walk for peace almost at an end. He believes only two more months of walking, maybe one more pair of shoes and his four-year quest will be over. What an accomplishment. Here's to peace without borders, here's to all those people out there off on adventures big and small.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Eating (and a bit of and cycling) our way from Alaska to Argentina

  I was eating a chocolate bar the other day, around about 8am, and came to the shocking realisation that when I get home to the 'real world' that indulging in my favourite cocoa-based sweet before 9am might be frowned upon. This got me thinking as we peddled on again, now powered by chocolate, about returning home and what time would it be acceptable to start eating chocolate in the real world. I had a panic that it was in fact later than 9am. I had almost managed to reconcile myself to the fact that when I got home I wouldn't be snacking on a chocolate bar at 7am on my way into work on the bus, but what if people looked at me strangely while I sat at my desk stuffing down multiple Snickers bars while everyone else was on their morning coffee?
See that's one of the joys of cycle touring, the idea that you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want and as much of it as you possibly can! In fact if I'm honest with myself that's probably one of the reasons I love it so much. We burn up so much energy during the day that we must continually feed our body, and since eating is one of my favourite activities it is the perfect sport for me!
Early in our trip, in Alaska, we met a wonderful lady, Kris, who also happened to be a nutritionist. We were absorbed and pelted her with questions about our nutrition while cycle-touring: “What food should we be eating while touring?”, “How much?” etcetc . She replied with the satisfying answer that really we should eat as much as we can. She also said that while doing extreme exercise most women put in the effort to stock up on carbs; however, it is often the proteins that they end up lacking in their diet. In my cheese and chocolate-obsessed brain I equated proteins with “cheddar” and “Snickers” and used it as my excuse to add the above to everything that I ate. “More cheese with my macaroni cheese?”, “Yes please!”. Chocolate for breakfast – totally allowed.
Kris and friends were also the first to introduce us to that American favourite 'peanut butter and jelly' which we had never tried before but which quickly became one of our cycling staples. In Australia we eat peanut butter, and we eat jam, but we never eat them together. I'm not sure why we don't though because it is an inspired taste sensation, and of course a great energy source.
In Alaska, we also discovered the other great American institution – the cinnamon bun. Even at random roadhouses deep in the Alaskan spruce you can be sure to find a warm, syrupy bun of deliciousness. We spent our time through the US and Canada searching out cinnamon buns whenever we could. These were not so prevalent in Latin America but thankfully we found the delights that the Panaderias (bakeries) had to offer. Panaderias are spread throughout Latin America, and while they vary in quality and variety from country to country (Colombia has been one of our favourites so far!) they always provide the fatty goodness we need. In Latin America they also love to fry things. Empenadas, balls of cheese, balls of potato and meats you name it they can fry it... and we can eat it.
People often ask us what we eat and ,while we try to explain our general diet, really the correct answer should be 'whatever we can get our hands on'. However, here is a general breakdown: our first breakfast of the day is always oatmeal with either banana and honey, brown sugar and cinnamon or sultanas, plus a cup of tea. We usually only get about an hour and a half of cycling done before we need second breakfast – usually some sort of baked good plus coffee. Lunch is usually a picnic of sandwiches (with some sort of protein, such as cheese, boiled eggs, tuna), fruit, chips, etc. Dinner is usually either a pasta or a rice dish. Of course, interspersed throughout these meals we also eat chocolate and other snacks.
What we can eat also depends on what we can carry in our bags, or find in shops. Sometimes in remote areas our nutrition is fairly lacking as we eat mainly dried food. However, we try and make up for this when we reach big cities and towns by stuffing ourselves with fruit and vegetables. This is something that you definitely have to watch as a long-distance cyclist. While you also need energy-rich foods to sustain the cycling, it is also important to make sure you are getting the vitamins and minerals required. As fruit and vegetables are not always available we often have to stock up when we can – and we certainly did this in Central America and Colombia where the selection of delicious and unusual fruits is outstanding!
The problem with all this eating, of course, is that once we stop cycling our body is still going to be craving our family-sized portions but is not going to be able to use all that energy. I dread the day when I have to go back to eating normally and to training my body out of its constant demand for food.. but that's a long way away so for now I am off to the local Panaderia to eat as many fried balls and custard filled donuts that I can find!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why Bike?

Our friends' responses when they first heard we were planning on cycling the Americas were mostly along the lines of “You know they have buses that go there right?”. To most people the idea of cycling across countries is completely foreign. A bicycle is something that you ride around town, or on a Sunday ride along the river. Packing everything up onto a bike and peddling thousands of kilometres is not something that most people would consider when planning a holiday.
I was once one of the non-believers. I had never heard of the concept of cycle-touring, until I met Sonja, a Aussie chick with the spirit of adventure, in Kathmandu. We hiked together for a month and over this time she slowly managed to wheedle the idea of travelling by two wheels into my brain. We ended up in Bangkok where I bought my bike and where my first experience of cycling touring almost killed us both. Sonja was sitting on the back of my bike and I was trying to dinky her through the traffic of Bangkok - straight into the line of an oncoming bus. However, we managed to survive this ordeal, and many others where I wobbled around the roads of South-east Asia (co-ordination not being my strongest asset), and this was enough to sell me on the joy of travelling by bike. I was hooked and instead of spending money on a plane ticket home to Perth, Australia, I flew to Darwin and proceeded to head home on the treadly. Now here I am, about eight years later half way through cycling from Alaska to Argentina.
But why is cycle touring so appealing? You spend most of the day puffing, panting and sweating and at the end of the day you aren't really that far from where you started. But when you do manage to slow down your breathing, wipe the sweat out of your eyes and actually look around you, you realise why you are doing it. I believe that when cycle-touring you are travelling at the ideal pace. Unlike zooming by in a car or bus you actually have enough time to look around and appreciate what you are seeing. It also makes it very easy to stop if you want to check something out, or just to have 'a moment'. While I still love to hike, travelling by foot is certainly a lot slower and, unlike hiking, your bike carries the weight for you which is a real bonus for the back!
There is also that feeling you get when you are actually in the landscape, as opposed to separated from it by the windows of a car or bus. When I try to explain this I end up sounding a bit like my old hippy mother when she starts raving on about mother-earth and the cosmic forces. But really there is no other non-hippy way to explain it... you start to feel as one with the landscape.
Another joy of cycle-touring is the places that you get too. Most people when travelling end up in the same places, some may get off the beaten track occasionally but most of the time you follow the general trail of other tourists, or where public transport takes you. When cycle touring you will inevitably end up in some small town where tourists are rarely seen and where you otherwise would not probably stop. Travelling through smaller places inevitably brings with it an interest from the locals in yourself and your gear. I love the children's response the most as it is usually with abandon and without thought. We have had kids run away from us, run alongside us, line up to high-5 us and of course my personal favourite- roll around laughing at our appearance. Once you get over the neuroses--forming idea that you the funniest thing that these kids have ever seen it is refreshing to see yourself through their eyes.
And this brings me to what I consider the most important reason to cycle-tour... The people you meet. From American city dwellers to Costa Rican campesinos, to Mexican police officers and Colombian extended families - we have met so many amazing, interesting, kind and generous people in our travels. People that stop for a chat, that invite us to stay in their house, or that just give us a beep or a thumbs-up from a car that passes. Cycle-touring is enough to rekindle your hope in the human spirit and the kindness of strangers... but that's another whole blogs worth of stories!