After 13 days and 600+ miles of riding through the three poorest countries in Central America: Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, *Honduras is actually the poorest country in the western hemisphere* I've arrived at the colonial town oasis of Granada Nicaragua.
With just a few miles between Granada and the Costa Rica border I can sleep well knowing that I'm now more likely to get accosted by questions from local school children about the flags lining my top tube than bike/jacked by armed bandits!
I´ve received many emails asking about what I´m going to do next since the last post by Brooks. The short answer is that I´ve decided to continue cycling south to Argentina. Since Brooks left Antigua two weeks ago, I´ve joined a Swiss and German touring team (Ruth and Horst) with similar itineraries through Central America. In the past 12 days, we´ve ripped across Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and are currently in the small town of Estelli, Nicaragua. I´ll write more about my travels through these VERY poor regions later.
I truly miss having Brooks as a cycling companion. Both of us respect and understand each others´ decision and Brooks has given me his 100% support to keep riding. He will stay involved by helping with research on the road ahead and managing our (recently approved!) 501c3 non-profit organization, Ribbon Of Road. Of course we will also both continue with our efforts to raise $50,001 for the American Diabetes Association.
The next major trip update and photo gallery will be be on-line when I reach Panama City, Panama. In the meantime, I will continue to post mini-updates about my location, a few short stories, and random photos from the road.
I also want to extend a special thanks to my friends and family who have supported, or at least have attempted to understand, my decision to go forward and all of our sponsors for sending gear to replace my loss during our attack in Mexico. Specifically, Outdoor Research (OR)
, went above and beyond the call of duty by express mailing a new super-deluxe tent, Gortex rain jacket and pants, gloves, straps, bags, and other gear in only 3 days! Also, to Co-Motion
for keeping my bike running smoothly with a generous supply of replacement parts and assistance with our fund-raising efforts.
I´m off to sample a hand-rolled Cuban cigar and some of the world´s best organic coffee!
More to come shortly!
After much thought, I have decided which way to turn at the fork in the road. This decision has been a tough one for me, one that I have gone back and forth on for the last few weeks. Should I continue to pursue a dream that I have been chasing for years or count my blessings and lay up a bit short? The bottom line is that I don’t feel comfortable about continuing south on a bike. Always worrying about how safe the road ahead is makes it hard to enjoy the daily experiences that traveling by bike brings. Of the 19 cyclists that we know of who have ridden through Southern Mexico into Central America in the last four months, nine have been robbed or attacked, six of whom rather violently. Although I am more than willing to hand over anything that a bandito might request from me, I’m not so willing to get gashed by a machete in the process. It is the first time that the risk has ever outweighed the reward and has changed the way I ride. A secluded dirt road, a lonely mountain pass and a curious roadside view have all lost a bit of their purity.
Still, I am very proud of what Gregg and I have accomplished thus far. We have gathered a lifetime of memories in the 8,000-plus miles that we have ridden together. I might not reach my goal of riding into Tierra del Fuego, but I still do plan on reaching our goal of raising $50,000 for the American Diabetes Association. I will continue with our fundraising, support Gregg in any way I can and set new cycling goals to shoot for.
If this ride has taught me one thing, it’s that life is full of highs and lows and that you should never get too used to either of them. I’m excited to return home and find a new life adventure, whatever that may be.
* Pictures online for this Part of the trip in the Gallery
section of this Web siteOaxaca Coast to Antigua, Guatemala
After reenergizing ourselves on the idyllic Pacific beaches of southern Mexico, we fought fierce side-winds, stifling heat, and climbed over the Sierra Madre along the Guatemala border to the most spectacular ruins of the Mayan world. On a rickety canoe, we crossed the Rio Guatemala and entered the third world for the first time. Thick jungle, tropical birds, huge spiders, monkeys, snakes, and “shaking the scorpion out of our shoe” became the daily norm. During this stage, our greatest fears were also realized as we were attacked and robbed by roadside bandits in southern Mexico, changing our lives and the trajectory of the trip for us both.
Stage 2, part 4 began during our 7am banana pancake feed in a beach palapa on Playa Zipolite. There, we concluded that if we did not remount our bikes immediately after breakfast, we might end up looking like the 58 year old vagrante passed out on the sand next to us who had dropped out of life to sell hemp necklaces and sing horrific renditions of Bob Marley on this same beach 30 years ago. However, the genuine reason we were so apprehensive about starting this stage was because we knew that the cycling ahead would likely be the most difficult of the trip to date.
After a couple days of easy spinning past luxury tourist developments on the coast, we entered the Isthmus of Tepantepec, a dusty, lowland region of Mexico that acts as a wind funnel between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. For the next three days, bridges, roadside ditches, broken down semi-trucks and anything that could provide shelter from the wind and dust became our best friend. Brooks experienced a rash of flat tires and our spirits hit rock bottom when his seat post bolt snapped in half, leaving his seat at a “ball busting” angle until we could find a suitable replacement bolt. After cursing our way to the next town, our day rebounded quickly as we ended up staying with one of the friendliest people we’ve met on our whole trip. Chaparo fed us until Gregg didn’t look bulimic anymore and then insisted on taking us to his cousins wedding as his guests. After waiting a short while for him to fire up his ’71 windowless Gremlin, we hit the road and enjoyed an evening celebrating a marriage with the rest of the town.
The next couple days would test our skills on the bike. The wind blew harder than either of us has ever seen on or off the bike. We had heard of people getting blown off their bikes before, but never really imagined how it actually could happen. Anticipating a big gust from one side and then having it hit you from the other side kept things interesting and you always laughed harder when it was the other guy getting tossed off the shoulder into the brush. For a brief moment we had the wind’s full force 100% at our backs and, without pedaling from a dead stop, it pushed us up a 1% grade at over 15mph. We’ll leave the math to you, but that wind could rip the padding out of your bike shorts if you weren’t careful.
After mastering the art of latching onto the back of a moving big rig for a wind block and a free tug, we entered the most southern state of Mexico for the first time. That night we also had something else to celebrate as Gregg heard (via the grapevine) that he was going to be an uncle. In proper fashion, we drank Mexican beer and feasted on tacos to honor the occasion. Our celebratory meal powered us to the capital of Chiapas, Tuxla Guiterrez, where we spent the first four hours of our stay sitting in the plaza eating and drinking everything that a continuous stream of vendors had to offer. The following morning brought us one of our more memorable days of the trip. We met David (once again) in the plaza, where we were soon joined by the Univision TV crew. What we thought was to be a quick interview turned into us being followed around for over three hours by the film crew. In each location they chose to shoot us, we were immediate rock stars as plazas and streets filled with curious onlookers and rubber-neckers. Being followed by the paparazzi crew made it easy to forget that we were actually climbing over 7000 feet to San Cristobal de las Casas, the town that was taken over during a Zapatista uprising in 1994. En route, we bumped into Mike & John (spinningsouthward.com) and their entourage in a memorable meeting of cyclists heading to South America.
After seven straight days of riding, capped with a 7500 foot climb, we took a day off to enjoy San Cristobal, one of our favorite colonial cities thus far. As we rode out of town, there was a distinct change in both landscape and the level of poverty. The jungle got thicker, the huts appeared more weathered and it seemed that each mountain pass brought us a village that spoke a different Mayan dialect. The questions we often got turned from where are you riding your bike from to how much is your bike worth? As we rode deeper into Chiapas towards the ruins of Palenque, the reality of where we were set in and we talked of what we would do if we were attacked. Ironically, it was a conversation that we were glad to have had as we watched two men in black masks jump out of the jungle ahead of us with machetes. It was a terrifying experience that changed our outlook on our trip significantly. You can read the details of the attack by looking farther back in our journal.
After what happened, we stayed in Palenque for a few days to decide what our next steps would be. The ruins of Palenque turned out to be the perfect spot to reflect and we sat there for hours amidst the ruins under the shade of a huge tree. Leaving for Guatemala on something other than our bikes seemed to be the option we were most comfortable with. So, we took a van, then a boat, then a bus to Flores, Guatemala before remounting our chariots and riding north to the ruins of Tikal. Tikal was unlike any ruins we’d ever seen. The site itself is massive, the pyramids are incredible and the jungle setting is one of a kind. We were fortunate enough to see the ruins in three very unique ways while we were there: (1) at sunset, sitting atop the pyramid of the lost world; (2) at night under the full moon and stars, after greasing one of the guards to let us in; and (3) on our bikes, after obtaining special permission from the park’s administration.
After an unforgettable experience in Tikal, we headed south again towards the Rio Dulce. The heat beat down on us like Bobby Brown before we managed to cool off by eating the local shaved ice slinger out of inventory. Along the way, we found a hippy/back-packers commune that boasted an all-you-can-eat organic dinner and hammocks to sleep in for the night. The stop brought Gregg one of his favorite meals and brought Brooks another bout with the mighty Montezuma which sidelined us for an extra day as he traded his bike seat for a toilet seat. On our last day of riding into Rio Dulce, our nerves got rattled again as Gregg felt the sting of a thrown rock accompanied by ¨Gringo, Gringo¨, from someone hiding in the jungle. We didn’t get a good feeling on the road, nor did we feel much better once we arrived at our destination. We spent two days on the Rio Dulce in a stilted palapa filled with spiders before we decided that we needed some more time off our bikes. We decided the perfect remedy would be an excursion to the Honduras Bay Islands for some scuba diving.
The island of Utila, known for its cheap (yet spectacular) diving lived up to all the rumors we heard about it. We enjoyed four days of diving capped off with the rare opportunity to dive with a 35-foot whale shark. The size of an underwater school bus, it was an incredible feeling to be in the water within an arms length of the world’s biggest shark (and biggest fish). We rode that high all the way to Antigua, Guatemala, after another day on the bus. Another beautiful colonial city and perhaps the nicest we’ll see in all of Central America, we were joined by Gregg’s parents, brother, Alexis & Nathalie. We spent the week leading up to Semana Santa taking in all that Antigua and its surrounding area had to offer. We kicked off our time there with Cuban cigars, Havana Club rum and the Buena Vista Social Club live in concert – an unexpected treat. A week with our loved ones, staying in some of the nicest hotels we’ve seen, helped us further gain clarity of where our road south would take us next.
Stage 2 Part 4 Stats:
Miles: 703.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 41,119ft.
Ride Time: 64 hours 38 minutes
Overall Expedition Stats:
Miles: 8,124.1 miles
Flat Tires: Brooks 13, Gregg 10
Sponsored by: Co-Motion Cycles, Schwalbe North America, Rudy Project, Outdoor Research, eRoi, ThinkHost, ZUM, Bay Club, Canright Interactive, R Bar, IBEX, Lombardi Sports, Jaunt