Well, another trip is over. Eight months and 11,600km cycled, 725km sailed and 250km packrafted on the North American continent.
But for now, here are some highlights from the last eight months…
To cycle across the Chilcotin Plateau…
Cycling the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff in beautiful British Columbia…
Over the Elk Pass and into Montana…
Over the Lolo and Whitebird Passes through Idaho…
Biking the backroads of Nevada…
And facing snow in Utah…
Seeing some of the most stunning landscapes in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks…
Crossing the Mohave desert and Joshua Tree…
Through Southern California and into Baja, Mexico with it’s abundance of cacti…
Sailing the Sea of Cortez with Kevin on board Alex II and sighting whales, dolphins, turtles and a shark…
Cycling Mexico’s coast…
And inland and over hill to Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas…
Visiting the Mayan ruins of Palenque and Tikal…
Cycling through Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras…
Packrafting the Rio Bocay and Rio Coco in the Moskitia border region of Nicaragua…
And finishing it all off with some back-road biking through Belize…
I’ve just returned from a great trip, packrafting down about 250km of remote rivers in Nicaragua.
Packrafting is relatively new to me, but so far I love it. Because the raft is so compact, I could carry it in my backpack together with food and gear for 10 days out.
The rafting trip had fun, adventure, challenge, white-water, wild-camping and a chance to see how the local indigenous Mayangna and Miskito people live.
I have only one other water trip I can compare it with, and that is paddling down the Niger River in West Africa. For that trip, we had a local fisherman build us a pirogue, just like those the locals use. If I had had a packraft with me, I probably would have used that. But I’m glad I didn’t.
Paddling a pirogue was physically much more challenging and we encountered difficulties navigating downstream which wouldn’t have been a problem in a packraft.
But the pirogue let us experience the river as the locals do. And it brought us closer to those we met.
In Nicaragua, I felt we were viewed as a passing novelty; rich tourists with hi-tech products. On the Niger river, we were just two more people heading downstream.
Both ways of river travel were great. And I’m pretty sure i’ll be doing more trips in both styles…
Since i’ll be back in the UK for the rest of the year, the packraft will be seeing plenty of action in the coming months. Pirogues aren’t so common on British waterways…. Narrowboat barges though, now there’s an idea!
Time for a quick update on how the Take On The Americas trip is going, now that the journey has passed the 10,000km mark. I suppose the best way to do it is with a few numbers…
Distance cycled: 9222km
Distance sailed: 725km
Distance travelled on bus: 425km
Total nights: 165
Nights camping: 118
Nights in paid accommodation: 34
No. of cycling days: 122
Countries cycled: 3 (Canada, US, Mexico
US states: 6 (Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California)
Mexico states: 7
Lowest/Highest altitude: -226ft / 9600ft (-69m/2926m)
Most km in one day: 136km
Coldest night/hottest day: -11C/+30C* (12F/86F)
Bridges/roads slept under: 5
Firestations slept at: 1
No. of times disturbed by men with machetes/men with guns/mountain lions: 3
No. of times cautioned/warned by warden/police: 2
Brake cables replaced: 1
Bottom brackets replaced: 1
Tyres used: 5
Bears/coyotes seen: 6 / 3
Sealions/sharks seen: 1 / 1
Whales seen: 31*
Tarantulas seen: 3
No of times fallen off bike: 0(me), 1(Lars)
No of burgers eaten by Lars: lost count
No. of Thai red curries eaten: 6
No. of tortillas eaten: 173*
No. of lucid dreams: 5
No. of beers: 182
No. of glasses of wine: 31
Average distance cycled: 75.5km/day (not including rest days)
Average distance cycled inc. rest days: 55.9km
Average km/beer: 50.7km/beer (compared to Take On Africa trip of 24.5km/beer!)
If you want to read more about the trip, best go to my blog.
(Photo courtesy of Lars Bengtsson)
So what do you do when you are seen wild camping in a not-so-stealthy spot? Where three teenagers, a cocky lad and two girls, walk past with a bottle of rum to be drunk down by the river, just 30km outside San Salvador near the main road?
Well, we said hello as they went by and stayed where we were.
But half an hour later the three return, inebriated.
The lad was staggering and slurring his words. Barely understandable. But he is asking for a phone. We don’t have one (so we say), but soon he gets aggressive and starts demanding our phone. And the girls are peering through the tents looking to see what they can take. Time to get serious. Take a stand. Make clear there’ll be no messing with us. How exactly they thought they could steal from us in their intoxicated state I don’t know. I suppose they weren’t really thinking at all!
But as they leave, we immediately start packing up. Time to find another place. We don’t know if they will come back, or bring others, or if someone else will see us.
And that’s how, at 8pm, in darkness, we push our bikes back to the main road and hesitantly cycle on. But being on the road after dark in these areas is not safe either. So we ask if we can camp in the yard of the first home we see.
Although it is difficult to understand all that the father is saying, he eventually tells us go follow him across the road to another house.
The gate is locked, but it’s only wood and barbed wire, so it is bent and we carry our bikes over. And up to the front door of this simple single room, corrugated roof house. The door is locked, the curtains drawn. The father and son knock on the door. No reply.
The son raises up one of the glass slats on the window, pulls back the curtain and calls inside. No reply.
I peer through too. The TV is on and a man is sat in an armchair with his back to us, watching it. The son calls again. No reply.
Maybe he is sleeping.
I feel guilty for not only disturbing one family, but now waking up another stranger having broken through his gate and pulled apart his window.
I say that perhaps it is better if we carry on and look for somewhere else to camp. But the father will have none of it.
I think the man must be drunkenly unconscious not to hear our racket outside. But his left hand is up in the air.
Now the father has a 3metre long stick from the garden and is starting to poke it through the window. I hope the man inside isn’t startled and have a shotgun close to hand. Seriously, how can he not have heard us? We have been here a good fifteen minutes trying to raise the dead…
Actually, it turns out we’ve been trying to raise the deaf.
So there we are, calling to a deaf man in the darkness and waving a long pole through the window to get his attention.
Finally he sees us.
He opens the door, wide lop-sided grin on his face, pleased to see his neighbour, even if it is nighttime and there are two strange gringos with bikes there too.
Now we know we are in a safe place. He wants us to stay in his home, but we insist on camping in the garden. We have intruded enough already.
The father and son leave us to put up our tents. The happy deaf man offers us fruit and gives us a bottle of ice cold water. With a few hand gestures he shows us the toilet and explains what time he must go to work in the morning. Not only is he deaf, but he doesn’t speak either. Surprisingly though, it is easier to communicate with him than with some locals who speak Spanish very fast and no English at all.
What a night and we haven’t even cooked dinner yet! But at least we are safe it. And so I sleep well… until the roosters start calling at 5.30am, which apparently is enough to raise even the deaf, because our man is already sweeping the yard when I emerge from the tent.
So often I find myself wishing I was somewhere else. Or at least, that the someplace here (wherever that may be at that time) was just some little bit different….
When I was in rainy Montana, I longed for the dry desert. After a month in the forests of British Columbia and I dreamed of barren lands. The cold, snowy passes of Utah and freezing nights in the high valleys of Nevada and I was looking forward to speeding south to warmer climes.
While rushing along the busy interstate to Las Vegas, I pictured empty dirt tracks down the Baja peninsula, but when I got there, the corrugated paths and loose sand were not so fun afterall.
And now I’ve come south to a low land of sun, the sweltering heat and endless sweating find me once again looking forward to the interior highlands. Although I know that whem I get there I’ll be cursing the hills!
Of course, all these places are great for a while. But familiarity breeds contempt and the road ahead always looks better. Perhaps that is what keeps me moving…
I just occasionally have to remind myself to enjoy the here and now too, while it lasts. Because the here and now can only be had once and it’s a pretty darn good place to be, all things considered.
Some people may say that I am not really living a conventional life. Well, it’s true that I’m not married, don’t have a mortgage (or a house) and don’t lead a regular 9-to-5 life.
I decided I didn’t want all that a while ago.
But some conventions are harder to change…
It has taken me to the age of 30 to realise I’ve been missing out on one of life’s great pleasures.
I’m talking about chocolate for breakfast.
For 30 years I’ve eaten toast with tea or maybe cereals and coffee. That’s what everyone does. That’s what breakfast is. Or sometimes I don’t eat at all. And I’ve never considered the need for something different.
But recently I happened to eat a chocolate brownie with my morning coffee. It was there, so I ate it.
And it was delicious. The best breakfast ever!
So since that revelationary day, I’ve had more brownie-coffee combo breakfasts.
Sure, I know it’s not healthy. But when you’re cycling several hours a day, calories are to be consumed, not rationed.
And one of the best things about being an adult is you are responsible for your own actions. No longer is mum saying what you should or shouldn’t do.
Of course, if I get fat from breakfast-brownie overload, it’ll be my own fault.
But with this discovery of one of life’s little pleasures, made in my third decade of life, I am confident I will find many more over the years to come.
Getting older has it’s advantages!