January 25, 2005

Panama: David, Panama

On a big long bike trips, this is what happens on random days where you believe the bad-luck-curse is with your group or with your bikes: today we woke up late - our muscles needed it - and attempted a brainstorm on how to accomplish just a part of the "Goliath" of tasks - in David no less!
-posting film cassettes, presents from Colombia back to Vancouver
-a continuing temperamental 700cc rear wheel,
-G's rear steel rack needing a bronze welder,
-A's aluminium front rack with an eroding confidence...

The slow start to the morning didn't bring us very much enthusiasm. It was as though the Correo (post office) was sending a parcel to Canada for the first time, ever!
Gwendal started seemingly doing well in the wheel department, finding what seems to us as the only stainless steel spokes in the country and a young steel tig welder that would do wonders with his rack.
A separate goose chase found Tania and I on the other end of town with "the" aluminium welder, Ambrosio Madrid, also happening to be the 1965 Chiriqui Province cycling champion and the 1991 masters-class winner. Ace in the hole! mental note: never count on this happening but know that it always will!This "taller" (tailor of stuff and things) ingeniously puzzled anti-skid pad aluminium with my back-of-the-envelope drawings and shakey technical-spanish explanations to create what the A-team would deem worthy of a medal, a bridge for my less than adequate front racks (sorry Axiom, Norco. Staying after hours for this lengthy process, Tania and I fretted the moment of payment - not yet knowing this man was such a bike enthusiast but getting a pretty good idea from his attention to cycling subtleties. Free was the payment, instead he pulled out "une sacoche" from the competition he now organizes and two jerseys as tokens of his love of the sport and our pleading cause. This was the David card being played in spades. Moved by this moment and its incoherent surfacing I am compelled to say:
Possible and existing Cycle tourists out there, please go and pedal the furthest roads you can possibly find. The mechanical blunders that WILL follow you will just be one more experience to write home about it and add spice to an otherwise flawless day of biking.

Posted by armel at 12:20 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2005

Panama: One year on the saddle!

Happy new Year!

The last month has gone by so fast and I have had so much to share... (luckily I now have more writers on the website to help)
and all of a sudden I found myself on the Bridge of the Americas, looking back on one year on the road.
On January 15th 2004 I left from Vancouver for a 36 hours series of flights to find myself with two other Canadians, Damien McCombs and Ryan Parton in Ushuaia. To say that we had no idea of what lay ahead is an understatement.

One year earlier with much more hair!
It is hard to write this... I am totally overcome with emotion when I try to look back. There are so many rich memories to live off already that I risk choking on them and fail to keep moving if I ponder too long. As Armel or Tania will attest, many conversations now start with the familiar refrain: "I remember back in ____ " or " back in Patagonia...." etc...

One year and somehow by chance I find myself on the isthmus that links two continents. (It was really busy with lots of traffic and not to conducive to stopping for very long... not the most cyclist friendly bridge)

I am so happy to still be healthy:

Although my mental health may have taken a beating... mostly my patience with recurring bike maintenance issues... I am still optimistic that sometime before the end I will find true zen-like one-ness with my saddle and everything underneath.

Thank you to all of you who have supported me and all those who have participated in this crazy flight of fancy (I love using clichés) by riding, writing, guiding and dreaming with me.

I hope to have many more stories to share with all of you in North America.

we are here!

Posted by gwendal at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2005

Panama: A new year, 2005

Panama, 2005. Doesn't ring the same alarm bells as Panama 1989! No more Noriega, no more American occupied canal, no more Bush Senior waltzing in unannounced... but the memory lives, there's nothing "they" can do about that.

Pushed and pulled around many times in recent history, Panama is clearly an example of a country shaped by the rest of us, the world. You simply cannot ride your bike, let alone think of driving, from the South American continent to the northern one! How’s that for odd? One would assume a connection between the two American land masses.

The isthmus of Darien, 100's of kilometers of dense jungle, exists primarily as the traditional Kuna Indian land, but also as Colombian guerrilla refuge and ever deepening Christian evangelization zone. This stretch is off the beaten path and off the grid in most parts. Missing the need to brave malaria and kidnappings we felt general lack of relaxation, an attempt to cross the gap, would yield! So we took an oxidation "one-two" to the exposed Chromoly (bikes don't love being strapped and sprayed with sea brine for days), and sailed around it.

Cartagena, Colombia to Portobello, Panama in 6 days, three of which to enjoy the western-Caribbean cruiser favourite: San Blas archipelago-365 islands. Sounds good doesn't it? It was, but you have to account for: all but one (of seven) passengers, heaving over the lee-rails as we crashed through the sea-sickening chaotic initial 150 nautical miles and the bizarre social behaviour of our captain, a 4-time married, Pepsi-loving, Mormon seaman. The boat literally resembles an untidy oxidized workshop! As one of our New Zealand co-travelers on board astutely put it, "why does he have 3 grinders of the same size, of which 2 are broken?" There is simply no room for pack-rating, even on a girthy 43 foot self-built steel sailboat, especially not a chartered one! Gwendal and I found it strange to be accused (behind our backs) of being unhelpful after we volunteered at the helm overnight (two thirds of the night at that) as his auto-pilot was not working. Human-auto-pilots are what I call that!

...and the adventure continues...

Panama, the capital, referred as "the second Hong Kong," it has the 2nd biggest "zona libre" (duty free zone) in the world. It is a medley of international banks, fancy cars, and expensive hotels surrounded by poor, rough and predominantly black neighbourhoods. So rough in fact, in one instance, we opted to bike back to our hotel after a leisurely Sunday promenade accompanied by the cycling tourist-police. They offer to escort any estranjeros (foreigners or literally "stranger") they meet to their destination. We got accosted several times a day each day in Panama City.

If you aren't confused with the strange mix of banks and (Miami) skyscrapers next to the ocean, you can loose yourself in the labyrinth of outlet stores doing their best to attract customers with rock-bottom prices, usually on dollar (balboa is the name for a US dollar!) store items made in China or endless options on clothing. Shorts: $1.99, tee-shirt: 88cents, etc... We took advantage of the big city prices by calling home to mom, Mael in the Philippines, Maiwenn in Toronto. 6c/min.

With Tania spreading her Wheels, as it were, and shedding the tandem we continued pedalling for the first time in a lunar month. The Panamerican highway, under constant construction, out of Panama City is less than favourable for cyclists. Big trucks, big smoke, no shaded stretches. We opted to take 200 kilometers of secondary roads (the old highway in fact) to bypass some of the blazing heat/highway. It was just that, secondary! Between the three of us:

4 flats (14cents each and some sweaty fingers)
2 broken spokes at the nipple (20cents each and some flagrant curses)
2 bikes down in the ditch (free and only minor wounds to show for it)
1 front rack rupture, (aluminium emergency weld, $9Balboas = $9US)
1 Epipen adrenaline injection ($90, smaller Panamanian wasps are just as nasty)
1 bikebox trailer hitch, shear off (in the spirit of our hero, MacGyver, free)

Joining Tania and my brother, Gwendal, making life long memories on a side detour, biking through Panama's wilder side: PRICELESS
(Apologies to mastercard!)

Posted by armel at 11:01 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2005

Colombia: Back wheel blues

Germán and Tania who helped us so much in Cali
On the 10th of December we set off early from Popayan to beat the midday heat. We had spent a well deserved day off resting and exploring the historic centre of the "white city", which is the capital of the Cauca department in southern Colombia.

But we had not cycled more than 5 kilometres that on a small hill our pedals started to turn freely without any resulting forward movement. I quickly guessed that the problem was related to a small mesurment error in the hub of the back wheel.
*here comes the technical section so if you don't care for that stuff read ahead one paragraph.

The freehub was screwed in to far and caused the casette to lock against the hub. So in Pasto I had a small 8mm wide spacer made by a machinist. However the problem was that by putting in this spacer the amount of threads holding the freehub was reduced.

The stripped hub and freehub

When we took the hub apart my fears were confirmed. the Freehub has stripped the threads in the hub. We then turned around and walked back to Popayan to look for a temporary replacement wheel. Unfortunately none was found. So we hopped on a bus to Cali 135km away to try our luck in a bigger city.

We were very lucky when just one block before arriving at our hostel in Cali, a man introduced himself as Germán and was very interested in our bicycles. He had seen us cross the street and had run out to meet us. He owned a bike store 1/2 block away and offered to help us find a solution. But we would have to wait until monday because everything would be closed on Sunday. He knew a welder and bike mechanic who should be able to help us. Sunday, everything was closed in Cali and this city of 2 million people felt like a ghost town.

the wooden raindeer bicycle

Monday morning with Germán we went out to a small shop in the bicicle shop district (there are at least 20 bike shops on the calle octava).
José can do almost anything. he likes to be known as "el minuto"... but to us he was definately McGuiver. He was working on a crazy wooden raindeer bicycle when we were there. He can also build aluminum frames and paints them very well. If anybody could help us it was him... after two minutes of describing the problem he had devised a solution of making a ring with threads on both sides. One for the casette mount and the other for the re-threaded hub. We then took a scary ride through Cali's "skid row" to get to the machinist who would do the work. "El minuto" told us that a parked car can be completely dismantled in less than one hour here.
the wooden raindeer bicycle
The we went back to our "safe" side of town and waited for the results... one day, two days.... and finally late in the evening we had the fixed hub.
Unfortunately in the process the spoke nipples had been wrecked. We had another day of frustrating searching to try and find this replacement. After being in Cali five days we gave up and took another bus to Medellin where we bought a new wheel. We were running out of time to meet my mother in Cartagena on the 21st of December.

Posted by gwendal at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)