seen me travel from the glorious walled city of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast to its antithesis, the modern skyscraped metropolis of Medellín, nestled in the northern Andes. As my good cycling friend Urs would say, “this can only bring about the mileage of smileage”.
5 days trying to keep my dinner down on a boat and 4 days doing pretty much nada in Cartagena left me craving the saddle once again. I was mad for the mountains too after the Central American stretch which was as flat as the proverbial pancake and baking hot to boot. I didn’t have to wait long either as 3 days out of Cartagena the beginnings of the Andes could be seen; the land becoming ever slightly warped and within 24 hours, rising hastily from the ground.
Colombia seems like it could be a country of characters now that I’ve had a week to saturate myself in it. My first night was spent in a 12,000COP ($6) Posada in San Onofre which I had been sheparderd to by Tulio, a hefty, bullish man who spotted me getting my bearings upon arrival. He claimed to be a ‘tour guide’ in Cartagena and who was I to doubt with his proficiency in English either? But after hearing some unorthodox slang, I thought to ask where he learned the language, only to find out it was on the streets. So, naturally I thought to pry into his exact line of work in the tourism sector. “Oh, I sell cocaine to tourists in Cartagena” was his animated response. “90% of you guys are looking for the good stuff up here”. Tour guide indeed I thought. Instead of worrying about staying in the Hotel of a coke dealer (which was actually his mother’s – a lovely lady who took to stroking my hair while updating the GPS later that evening), I took the opportunity to chat with him about cocaine and Colombia as maybe he’d have some rare insights. Tulio was a pretty cool companion to have in the end, taking me out for dinner and the next morning for breakfast. I met his brother too, perhaps the smiliest man I’ve ever encountered. This guy was also quite proud to show me his extensive mobile phone porn collection just before I went to bed, switching enthusiastically from video to video and searching for an impressed expression on my weary face. Satisfied with the evening’s proceedings – and perhaps a little disturbed – I fell asleep without a problem.
Not soon after hitting the road from San Onofre, a car pulled in to the shoulder just ahead of me. 3 figures got out and cracked the boot open. Thinking it just couldn’t be, especially in Colombia of all places, I was glad to see lemonade and biscuits readied instead of an uncomfortable resting place. A judge and his two children from Sincelejo, the next town over, were delighted to meet me but insisted that all people here wouldn’t as friendly as them. It was an encouraging sign though and not the last in the succeeding days where I’d be extended truly incredible hospitality. The flat landscape may have been relatively uninspiring but the people most definitely were not.
Continue reading “The Mileage of Smileage”
The past 9 days have definitely been some of the wildest and most remarkable of the trip so far. I’m now in El Calafate, Argentina after windblown cycling on the historic Ruta 40, days gazing at the jagged and stunning Mt. Fitz Roy, standing awe-struck at the Perito Moreno glacier and crossing an international border that is tenuously connected by footbridges and horse tracks. Getting from Chile to Argentina over Paso Mayer took 2 days, a lot of willpower and a pinch of faith where the road ends and the compass takes over.
It all started with the figure they call Mauche. Mauche was the man who apparently lived on a mountain 40kms from Villa O’Higgins and it would be his land I’d need to cross before finding the wooden footbridge over the glacier fed river and follow the subsequent horse tracks through the dead forest and by the copper coloured streams that led to Argentina – so I was told. It all sounded a little Lord of the Rings and to be honest I was mad excited at the prospect of some very different trails indeed.
Upon arrival however, things were not to be as I had colourfully imagined. Firstly, Mauche didn’t live on a mountain. In fact, Mauche lived on a little brown hill and a poor excuse for a hill at that. When I approached his wooded hut at 12pm and in search of directions to the frontier, Mauche was so inebriated that his help and advice was lost within the several cartons of cheap red wine that lay scattered on his kitchen table. With Mauche’s continued struggle for words, I realised that I’d need to depend on the vague information and directions provided from the border police which issued my exit stamp. I had three things to do – 1) Find the Passarella or wooden footbridge, 2) Follow the tracks on the other side to the dead forest and 3) Cross the marshes and rivers to the Argentine migration station.
I spent the next 4 hours dragging my bicycle down a rutted horse track which I was assured would split just once and where I was to take the right hand turn, cross the river ahead and wind along the remaining path to Río Mayer and the beginning of a gravel road to the Passarella. One track split to two and two to four, four to eight and by 6 o’clock with a long bicycle shadow cast on the grass and just fat woolly sheep for company, I was assuredly lost. I had been careful to note the mountain peaks along the way and had created a mental roadmap in my head of where the Chilean migration post was. Defeated, tired and with 4kms travelled in those 4 hours I backtracked until I recognised the first horse track and so on until the police. They seemed genuinely surprised that I couldn’t follow their simple directions which earlier involved pointing and shouting ‘Allá, allá’ (There, there). Not caring for anything other than sleep I camped in a rice filled shed close by and scribbled down a map of what I had seen throughout the day and hoped for luck and sensibility the next morning.
Continue reading “The Wild Patagonia”
We have been very fortunate to receive the support of many individuals and companies in preparation for and during the journey. It really does mean the world to us and we would like to thank you all.
EComGoLive.ie were right behind the project from day one. Ken and Paul provided some great advice and got to work quickly on producing a website that would handle blogs, photos, video and anything else that could fully represent the trip.
Great Outdoors in Dublin gave great discounts on everything from clothes to best pop up tent to camp items. The stock was almost too much to choose from but with the help of a very knowledgeable team, we got what we needed for a year on the road and in the wild.
Kevin Roche designed the original logo for the journey which you can see on his website, amongst other fantastic pieces of art and graphic design. Kevin has had exhibitions in the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin and the Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo amongst others. Kevin dedicated much time to perfecting the 350South logo and we’re thankful for all the hours put in.
Continue reading “Sponsors”
The Night of the Spines! December 28th shall go into lore as the day in which the desert defeated Ian. After one single night in the desert outside of El Cien, Baja, a burst water bladder, a deflated Thermarest, restless night’s sleep and a flat tire were the consequences of a poorly chosen camping spot.
With the daylight dwindling and a healthy 75 miles on the clock, I decided that it was time to bed down for the night in the southern Baja. So, after dismantling a roadside fence by a telecommunications tower and scuttling into the sandy desert I reckoned I’d won. A little cover from the road and enough of the day left to cook dinner, it was the ideal situation. Well, isn’t it always? Unfortunately for me, I had planted myself in an area full of prickly, nasty cactus spines – hidden under the sand and on every tree and bush I had the privilege of dragging my bicycle through.
The executive decision resulted in me re-dismantling the fence and –mantling(?) it again. After an hour walking around amongst cacti and then finding out I wouldn’t be sleeping there at all I was pretty pissed off. No more than 45 mins of sunlight remained as I headed off down a hill and into another stretch of unknown, hoping for a break in the fence that had consistently lined the road for over 100 miles with periodic openings and therefore jeopardised any attempt I could make to break through. On more than one occasion I drifted into John McClane (Die Hard) mode and imagined myself sweeping away swathes of barbed fence on my Surly as plumes of dust rose up behind me, sweeping into the night.
Unfortunately, instead, in Ian style, panic set in. I’d prefer not to camp late when there’s the opportunity to set tent in the dark, eat in the cold by headlamp and rummage around for an hour just to find your toothbrush. This thought alone encouraged me to hurry down a track I spotted by the side of the road, heading into the hills and to a place called San Ramon de Dos Abril. However, close to sunset and tempting fortune, I looked to the offer of a campsite free of cactus spines that would surely do damage to my tent and gear.
Continue reading “Night of the Spines”
I tried not to think of Ushuaia as the ultimate goal for almost the entire length of this bicycle journey. After all, it should be the bits between Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and here that really count. Yet, rolling around that final snow-lined corner to see the southernmost city in the world neatly spread along the shores of the Beagle Channel inspired such a rush of emotion it’s hard to believe that it will ever just be a normal town for me again.
I have a very distinct memory of cycling in chilly weather close to the Kluane Range in Yukon Territory, Canada last year. It was the first day I borrowed Lee’s IPod and to the sound of Mumford and Sons I imagined what it would be like to lay eyes on Ushuaia for the first time with many months, countries, people, environments, good days and bad days behind. This place never seemed so far away yet now after a few days reflection in Tierra del Fuego it very much seems as if I just blinked my eyes to appear here.
Knowing what influence the trip will have on me is something I won’t discover at this very minute. I’m pretty sure a return to home and readjustment to the pace and demands of life will decide that. However, I’m certain that my way of thinking has been altered from experiences with others and the reading of a real-life story of people and place that played out before me every day. As my good friend Michael emailed me recently – “A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it” – George Moore, The Brook Kerith. 15 months on the bicycle is sure to bring with it even more questions once I reach Ireland again.
I cannot doubt that I’ve seen more aspects of the world and more specifically the Americas than many others could dream of and have been extremely privileged for that. As I stood down by the listing ship San Cristopher in Ushuaia’s harbour just after arrival with the southern Fuegan mountains on the horizon behind, that was probably the dominant thought. I know how lucky I am to even have developed this as a seemingly crazy idea in Denver in 2010. If I hadn’t attended that work meeting and initial ice-breaker session where a representative from a Wyoming conservation group replied he would take a man called Goran Kropp for a drink, I would never be here. If I had zoned out for a minute, not kept that initial intrigue or lived so close to the library I may never have borrowed Kropp’s book and become inspired to get out here and do something about it. The sliding doors aspect and fortune of just about everything in life always fascinates me and that was one big moment that hit at exactly the right time.
Continue reading “To the End of the World”
This was a question I considered long and hard before putting pen to paper. In January 2012 – somewhere between Mexico City and Oaxaca – I first started thinking seriously about turning my experiences into a story to share.
Writing a book had always been on my mind, but in one of those fleeting ‘wouldn’t that be nice’ kind of ways. It was never something to plan or focus on because the most important thing on my travels was enjoying what lay ahead.
However, when I started rolling back the layers of what it would be like to tell a story of the bike ride, I opened the door to many questions I imagine would-be first-time non-fiction authors come across.
First of all, I was found asking what would make my story interesting or different than any other similar tales of journey or adventure? I knew people had cycled from Alaska to Argentina before – quite a few in fact. Some had done it in big groups; others, alone like me (for the majority). People were doing it as part of round-the-world trips, such as Salva who I met in Baja California. He’d been on the road for 6 years when our paths crossed and had traversed much of Africa, Europe and Asia along the way. Others had even completed it through adversity, such as Cristi and Tauru from the US, who rode a tandem 26,000km even though they were legally blind.
If I were to tell my story, would it need to have a unique angle and message? Would that even matter or did people just want to hear about what I saw, whom I met, and how I was feeling? I’m sure plenty of other travel books (and there are a lot) would have recounted similar experiences in a more successful and entertaining manner. So what could I possibly add to the growing pile?
Continue reading “Why Write a Book?”