I’ve been working on getting all my old newsletters online along with slide shows for each one – it’s been a massive task! I am now almost completely done – only the very most recent one is left. So – for those of you who haven’t been with us from the beginning, I hope this can give you an idea of what we’ve been up to these past 17 months!
OK, ok – so we’re just a *tad bit* behind on our videos, but John managed to get this one done today! Enjoy!
June 25, 2009
It’s hard to believe that just six weeks ago I wrote from my Peace Corps home of Choluteca in southern Honduras. Now it is a bit more than a month later, and we are in southern Costa Rica – which means we’ve cycled a grand total of about 700 kilometers since then.
Nearly three weeks after we first rolled into Choluteca, we lashed, strapped, and buckled all our gear on our bikes once again and headed out. It had been a fantastic three weeks and we all enjoyed being part of Gloria’s enormous extended family. We enjoyed the birthday parties, the family gatherings at the beach, and the community cookouts. The boys had fun getting to know their classmates at school and learned a bit of Spanish. It was a fabulous time, but eventually the day came for us to move on – Nicaragua was waiting.
As I pedaled through Nicaragua, I continuously marveled at all the daily life going on around us. I love watching the farmers tending to their crops, women carrying corn to the mill, moms chasing after babies, teenagers chattering excitedly, and kids in their crisp uniforms walking to school. Normal life in the pueblo.
We spent a day in the small border town of Chinandega just hanging out, and I took advantage of the day to wander around with a camera in hand. There’s just something about life in third world villages that I find so much more “real” than life in the USA. I wish I could figure out a way to describe it all, but so far words have proven woefully inadequate.
As we cycled southward through Nicaragua, we had gorgeous views of various perfectly-formed volcanoes rising majestically before us. Some of them spewed steam into the air while others were quiet, but they all totally dominated our views for miles on end, and reminded me – once again – just how small and insignificant we are against the awesome forces of nature.
Managua ended up being the highlight of Nicaragua for us, even though we feared it would be a disaster for a while. When we pedaled into town, we visited a contact at a university, which set us back a few hours. By the time we left, it was late and we weren’t entirely sure we could make it to a
hotel before dark. Tension was rising as we fought rush hour traffic and slowly made our way toward a hotel a few kilometers away.
“Hey John,” I shouted to be heard above the traffic, “what do you think about asking at this church if we can pitch our tent here for the night?”
And so it was that we met Pastor Adolfo – who welcomed us into the church community and helped us more than he’ll ever know. For the next few days, Adolfo acted as chauffer, tour guide, concierge, and ambulance driver as we explored the city of Managua. Our stay – originally planned for only two days – quickly stretched into a week as we stayed around in order to be interviewed for a TV show, and then to allow John’s injured thumb to heal. With each passing day, we discovered additional hidden corners of the area.
A week later, John’s thumb had healed sufficiently to push on, so push on we did. In Grenada, we stayed at the local fire station and the kids got to ride in the fire truck. The next day we met up with another cyclist, David, who is also on his way to Argentina. And a day after that, we made our way down to the border and crossed into Costa Rica – our eighth country so far!
Costa Rica started out slowly for us, but has gradually proven herself to be not quite as bad as we had feared. Our original plan of beach-hopping along the outer coast of the Nicoya peninsula was dashed when we discovered the entire road was now a muddy mess due to the rains – and the main road meant fighting the worst traffic of our entire journey.
We battled extraordinarily impolite truck and bus drivers for a hundred miles or so, and finally made the decision to leave the main road and take our chances on another 45-kilometer stretch of dirt road coming up. But that side road has, so far, proven to be great!
We’ve enjoyed a few days hanging out on the beach – watching scarlet macaws flit from one tree to the next and leaf-cutter ants make trails through the dense jungle undergrowth. The boys are excited about surfing at Costa Rica’s surf capital of Jaco, and we are all excited about heading out to another beach to watch sea turtles nesting.
The challenge these days – in addition to fighting traffic – has been dealing with the extreme heat and humidity of the area. We’ve taken to getting on the road by daybreak and getting off by noon, but it’s still a challenge. As John and I pack up the bikes in the dark at 4:00 a.m., we wander around with sweat dripping from our bodies as though from a faucet. By the time we hit the road at 5 or 5:30, we are drenched – and don’t dry out until we finally sit still under a fan somewhere.
We’ve found it’s a great challenge to physically drink enough water to replace what we sweat out, and are regularly drinking rehydration salts mid-morning. No matter how many water bottles we carry, it simply doesn’t seem to be enough!
But we’re doing well, and are making progress – albeit slowly. We plan to beach-hop our way south, putting in short days and taking plenty of days off to explore and play in the waves. We expect to arrive in Panama in a month or so – where we’ll figure out how to get across the Darien Gap to Colombia. South America is in sight at last!
Thanks for traveling with us!
Nancy, John, Davy, Daryl
It’s hot. It’s bloody hot.
All four of us struggled today. Big time. This heat saps our energy like an SUV guzzles gas. It’s hot and I’m miserable.
I’m convinced it’s not earthly possible to drink enough water to stay hydrated in this heat. I’m carrying seven water bottles on my bike – seven! – and they were all emptied a couple of times today.
In addition to gallons and gallons of water, the four of us managed to go through 2 liters of orange juice, 1.5 liters of milk, 2 liters of Squirt, 2 liters of Pepsi, and another soda with dinner!
I swear I should just hook myself up to some kind of automatic funnel – water goes in and comes right back out my sweat pores. Why even bother with the stomach?
But the best part of the day was dinner with David – and listening to all his tales. He spent 2.5 years cycling around the world in his late teens back in the 70’s and is now re-cycling the world. Fascinating man and great stories!
Kilometers today: 74
Kilometers to date: 13595
Cycling into Nandaimo for breakfast
The church in Nandaimo
Today we made it to Rivas. We also re-met up with a person named David.
Not only that, but we have been riding for one year now. I was planning on spending my allowance on one hour at an internet cafe here but never got the chance. Today is our last day in Nicoragua. Tomorrow we will go into Costa Rica.
How in the heck do we do this? How can we possibly take all day to go 55 kilometers? It just doesn’t make sense.
We didn’t get out of Managua til late – our bikes were at the church at the south side of town but we were staying on the north side. By the time we got transported back to our bikes, got everything packed up, and said our goodbyes to Pastor Adolfo and all the wonderful people at the church, it was around 10:00 in the morning.
50 km to go – normal cyclists would arrive in Grenada by 1:00 or 2:00 at the latest. But then – we never claimed to be normal cyclists…
So how in the heck do we manage to fritter away the whole day? We see a place on the side of the road where people are bringing their fruit to the truck driver and we stop to talk with them. We find a bus stop with a supermarket right across the street so we run over and buy a rotisserie chicken, a bunch of bananas, and chocolate milk and hang out at the bus stop to eat. We stop at an American-owned bike store on the side of the road and talk with the owner who came to Nicaragua in the 80’s to help out the Sandinistas and never left. While at that bike store, we meet up with another long-distance cyclist and spend tons of time talking with him.
And so it was that we pulled in to Grenada late in the afternoon and headed over to Hosanna Church – the same church we spent so much time at in Managua. Once there, Mauricio guided us over to the fire station where we were to spend the night – and got there just shortly before dark!
I don’t really mind frittering away the day like that – it’s actually the best way to travel. “Normal” cyclists don’t do it, but then – why would one want to be normal?
Kilometers today: 55
Kilometers to date: 13521
Pastor Adolfo and his sister Maribel at the church
David from Recyclingtheworld
Moving the house by horsecart
The sign says – If you do it for your country, you do it for God
John talking with a truck driver who hauls fruit up to Honduras
People haul their fruit to the road any way they can
The firemen gave us a ride into the center of town
The kids got quite a kick out of wearing fireman hats!
As I think back upon this year on the road, I see fleeting glimpses of images rolling beneath my wheels:
* the sheer beauty of snow-lined Atigun Pass
* Arctic Circle sign
* Santa Claus
* entering Canada – our first crossing
* buffalo, bears, and bighorn sheep
* the end of the Alaska Highway – 1,422 miles from the beginning
* the American flag at the border
* waking up to a couple of inches of snow on the tent
* the hiss and gurgle of steam vents and geysers in Yellowstone
* trick-or-treating in small town America
* inches of dust piled up inside the tent during a sandstorm
* being escorted through each and every Mexican city by the local motorcycle clubs
* visiting Mayan ruins and climbing to the tippy top of the temples
* getting off the beaten track in Belize to explore pristine jungles and rivers
* snorkeling the second largest coral reef in the world
* reuniting with my Peace Corps family after 22 years away
It’s been a wild ride. We’ve ground up mountains and plummeted back down the other side. We’ve gotten soaked by rain, frozen in snow, and sweltered in unfathomable heat. We’ve bounced and jiggled over rough roads and raced over roads as smooth as silk. And yet, through it all, we’ve lived life to the fullest and taken advantage of every moment we have here on this planet.
Yes – there have been challenges. We’ve pushed our heavy bikes up impossible grades in extraordinary heat as thick clouds of dust swirled about our heads. We’ve reached for water bottles only to find the water within frozen solid. We’ve battled headwinds and fought for each inch of forward motion we managed to make.
But when I think back upon this past year, it’s not the challenges that come to mind. It’s the many, many days of smooth sailing that I remember. It’s those moments when I crest the top of the hill and gaze upon miles and miles of valley ahead and my breath gets all tangled up in my throat at the sheer magnificence of it all. Or when a massive bison runs alongside us with his thundering hooves kicking up little clouds of dust and we pedal faster and faster in order to keep up with the beast but in the end he outruns us anyway. Or when a family who has next to nothing graciously offers to share it with us and we feel guiltier than hell taking their food but know all along that we can’t possibly decline. Or when Davy snuggles up next to me in the tent after a tough day on the road, puts his arm around my chest, gazes into my eyes, and says, “I love you, Mom.”
It’s the many people we’ve encountered who have brought nothing but magic to our lives and I pray that God will bless them all. May God bless the man who dragged us to his house in order to give us a new tire after John’s developed a mystery bubble. And God, heap blessings upon the woman who brought us a big plate of tacos even though all we ordered was Sprite. And bless the tour guide who handed over all the leftover food from his tour – including beer and chocolate. And bless, too, the couple who invited us to their RV for our evening meal so we had a sheltered place to wait out a downpour. And God – please bless the family who adopted us as their own and wouldn’t allow us to stay in our hotel “all alone” all day so we got to spend a delightful three days watching all the comings and goings of a typical Mexican family. And bless as well all those people who sent us emails after John’s accident offering us a place to stay or the use of their car or an invitation to a play group. God bless the cattle rancher who said he had more than enough money and simply wanted to share a bit of it with us.
It’s watching my boys grow and change and mature before my very eyes that makes this journey so special. It’s seeing the triumph in their eyes when they crest the toughest pass yet or when they finally break their personal record. It’s watching Daryl joke and laugh with Daddy as he revels in riding on the back of the tandem or hearing Davy expounding on the advantages of riding solo. It’s knowing that, no matter what may come in the future, my boys have learned life lessons from the road that will carry them through all the ups and downs of their lives.
Yes – it’s been a wild ride, and we know more wild times are coming. But we’ll take it one day at a time; one mile after another. With each pedal stroke we’ll see more of this grand world of ours, meet more of her wonderful people, and learn more than we ever could have imagined. It’ll be crazy and mad and zany and wacky all rolled into one. But it’ll also be the most incredible, mind-boggling, fantastically phenomenal journey of all – just like the past year has been.
When we started this journey one year ago, I knew we were in for the ride of a lifetime. I knew we would climb hills and descend into valleys – both literal and figurative. I knew we would fly on the highest highs imaginable and creep through lows lower than Death Valley. And that’s exactly what’s happened.
I look back upon this year and see fleeting glimpses of a myriad of images rolling beneath my tires.
• I look ahead and see the silhouettes of my three boys and their bicycles against the snowy backdrop of Atigun Pass and I wonder just how in the heck we managed to climb up that hill on that horrible dirt road carrying tons of food and other gear, but I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter how we did it – but that we did it.
• I see us stopped next to the “Welcome to Canada” sign and grinning for a photo and I shake my head in wonder to think that we had crossed all of that great big enormous state of Alaska and had pedaled each and every inch of it.
• I pedal in awe as a massive bison runs alongside us with his thundering hooves kicking up little clouds of dust and we pedal faster and faster in order to keep up with the beast but in the end he outruns us anyway.
• I watch the boys jump up from the pedestal to catch and swing on the “Alaska Highway” sign and am amazed that we actually made it that far and that, even though the distances between towns were outrageously long, we had managed to do it.
• I nearly jump off my bike with excitement at finally seeing the American flag – home, sweet home – at the border after having cycled three months and 3000 miles and after having climbed a killer hill to get there.
• I open the tent door early in the morning and am greeted by a blanket of white turning our campsite into a winter wonderland and I realize anew that Old Man Winter is rapidly approaching and that we need to get south – pronto!
• I see Claudio’s smiling face greeting us on the bridge over the Rio Grande and wonder just how this humble man will ever be able to pull off the logistics of arranging motorcycle escorts for us through every Mexico city, but somehow he does it and we are blessed with help from motorcycle clubs through the entire country.
• I remember passing the border into Belize thinking we would make a beeline through the country because we had heard horrible things about the country but it took us about five hours before we knew all those others were wrong and that Belize was a wonderful place to travel.
• I feel the agony as we push our heavy bikes up a steep hill on a dusty dirt road in Guatemala and it was hotter that blazes and we didn’t know how in the heck we were going make it up to the top, but all four of us jumped in with everything we had and we worked together as a team to help each other however we could and somehow – a couple hours later – we managed to crest the hill and get back onto a paved road.
• I see the Verhage’s smiling faces as they say “hi” in person after so many months of communicating via email and telephone and we finally got to meet them along the northern coast of Honduras.
• I arrived – after 22 years – into my Peace Corps village and saw Gloria again after all those years and it was like I finally came back home again.
One year on the road. 365 days. 13,500 kilometers. 8400 miles. Seven countries. Millions upon millions of memories. One incredible experience.
“I was thirteen when I made the decision to leave home,” Ubense told us. “I grew up on a farm where my dad was a machetero (one who uses a machete to cut crops) and I knew I didn’t want to do that the rest of my life. I had never really had the opportunity to go to school before that – I kept starting, but then I had to leave to go help on the farm. So when I was thirteen I finally left home to go into the nearby pueblo to live with my sister and go to school. I was in second grade. Second grade at thirteen! Imagine that!”
Our lives took a dramatic turn today… Early this morning John started complaining about his thumb. He’s not sure exactly what happened, but he thinks he hurt it the night we arrived here in Managua when he slipped and fell. The next day it hurt a little bit; the day after that a bit more. But this morning he woke up in excruciating pain. We pulled out the Soothex and hoped it would help quickly.
We had planned to leave this morning, but Adolfo had asked if we would be willing to stay in town in order to be interviewed on a TV program the church does each day. We went about the day – the interview, lunch at McDonald’s, and sightseeing around the city (visited Somosa’s presidential palace and an exhibition about Sandino – quite interesting!). By the time we got back to the retreat center, John was hurting.
“I can’t see how this could be broken,” he said, “but I think I need to get it x-rayed just in case. I don’t want to do any more damage to it.”
Adolfo took us to the state hospital – an amazing example of efficiency! We had expected to wait in line for hours and hours – it was, after all, a free hospital. But within seconds of arriving, they had whisked us in (they only let me in with him because he doesn’t speak Spanish – Adolfo and the boys had to wait outside). The doctor examined his thumb and sent us down for an x-ray – which was taken immediately with no wait at all. Back to the doctor who saw him immediately and assured him there was nothing broken. She sent us to the pharmacy where they gave him some anti-inflammant tablets and we were on our way. I think US hospitals could learn a thing or two from them…
So anyway, it looks like we will be “stuck” here in Managua another four or five days while we wait for John’s hand to heal. Pastor Adolfo arranged for us to stay with Ubense, Elizabeth, and their two kids.
Ubense an amazing man. After leaving home and spending a year with his sister in the pueblo, he moved to Leon to take advantage of the better schools and stayed at a residential school. Because he was bright, he moved through the system quite quickly – determined to make something of himself. Now, he is a lawyer married to a doctor with wonderful children. They also have a farm near Leon and try to get out there every month or so.
We feel so privileged to have been welcomed into this community so warmly. The entire church community has opened their hearts – and now their homes as well – to us. It’s really quite overwhelming.
Today was probably the most eventful since we stayed in Managua. First Daddy started complaining about his hand. He said it really, really hurt so we went to the doctor to see what was going on, I’m not sure what happened but they said it wasn’t broken. So we decided to move over to a different house, a friend of the pastor who helped us out so much. There one of the kids tried to teach us how to use this top thing, he failed miserably. I got a little bit done on Dragonfable but not much.
“Expect the unexpected,” John always tells the kids. And then he throws a stick at them or some other silly thing.
But the idea is there – one can never know just what might happen – especially when you are traveling.
So the other night we just kinda, sorta… stumbled into Hosanna Church here in Nicaragua. Desperate for a place to stay. Sicker than a dog. Not a pretty picture. But since then, the unexpected has happened. Why would I be surprised?
Adolfo has been amazing. Incredible really. He quickly stepped up to the plate and became a Road Angel the other night, but now we consider ourselves privileged to count him as an amigo – a friend.
Adolfo has helped us out here in Managua so much – from allowing us use of internet in his church office, to taking us out to lunch, to guiding us to a grocery store. We’ve had the privilege of presenting to kids here at the church school and attending the church service last night. It’s certainly been unexpected – but wonderful!
100 kilometers against a killer headwind – but that was the least of our problems…
We arrived into Managua exhausted after battling the headwind all day. Just outside of town, Silvio – who had invited us to his university to talk with the students – met us to guide us in. Unfortunately, the university was way on the southern side of town, and at the top of a big hill. A big hill.
A couple hours later, one of the students took John out in his car to find a hotel while the boys and I waited. We waited. And waited.
And my stomach started doing acrobatics. As time passed, I began to feel more and more nauseous, and started to wonder how in the heck I was going to manage to get my bike and me to a hotel – if and when John ever came back.
“Bad news,” John told me when he finally arrived. “We’re in the wrong section of town – everything here is outrageously expensive. As in more than $100/night. I did find one for $45, but I’m not sure the tandem will fit through the door. If it doesn’t fit… we’ll be sleeping in the street tonight. It’s also quite a ways away – we’ll have to go fast to get there before dark.”
“I think I’m going to throw up,” I mumbled as I climbed onto my bike.
A couple kilometers later we passed a church.
“Hey John!” I shouted to be heard above the roar of rush-hour traffic. “What do you think about asking here at the church – we may be able to set up our tent.”
“Hurry!” he replied. “The sun is setting fast and, if this doesn’t work out, we’ll still need to get to the other place.”
I explained our predicament to Adolfo – the youth pastor at the church.
“I don’t have any problems with you using a Sunday School room for the night,” he said, “but I don’t have the authority to make the decision. I’ll call the head pastor.”
But the head pastor was preaching in some other church and couldn’t be reached.
“I’ll try the administrator,” Adolfo told me. “Just wait.”
With each passing minute, the sun fell a couple more inches and it was getting dangerously close to the horizon.
“Don’t worry,” Adolfo assured us. “We’ll figure out something. There is a Christian retreat center a block away – they may be able to put you up for the night. If not, I’ll take the responsibility and put you in the Sunday School room. But right now, I have to go record my TV show. Just wait…”
We waited. Darkness fell. My stomach turned flip flops and I was shaking my crazy. I lay down on the floor of the church. John went out in search of food for the kids.
Still we waited.
At 7:30, Adolfo finally finished with his show. I was still passed out on the floor. John couldn’t speak Spanish…
Eventually I dragged myself off the floor to talk with Adolfo – and made a mad dash to the bathroom to throw up.
John and the boys took all three bikes to the retreat center, while I rode in Adolfo’s car.
Finally, at 8:30 pm, we arrived at the center and – despite a few more mad dashes to the bathroom in the middle of the conversation – we were checked in.
John and the boys headed out for some food. I took a quick shower and made a nose dive into bed.
It’s Road Angels like Adolfo who teach us so much. We’ve learned about the goodness of humanity. We’ve seen the “other” side of people – the side not portrayed in the morning paper or nightly news. It’s Road Angels like Adolfo who have shown us – time and time again – that people the world over are good. And for that, we are more thankful than words can say.
Kilometers today: 100
Kilometers to date: 13466
Maybe I spoke too soon…
“I’m getting worried,” John said. “Davy’s still not back.”
Davy had left 20 minutes earlier to buy some soda – and we hadn’t seen him again.
“Do you know where a store is?” John had asked.
“Yep! Sure do!” Davy replied.
We figured his would go to a small store somewhere right around the hotel, but some Pepsi, and be back in a couple minutes.
So when he wasn’t back 20 minutes later, we started to worry. What if he got lost? Does he even know the name of our hotel? How would he ask for help without speaking Spanish?
John and I dashed out the door to start the search.
“I wonder,” I said to John, “if he might have gone to the supermarket? It’s a fair distance, but I think he knew the way there. I’ll head that way and see if I can find him.”
“I’ll go the other way,” John said – and we parted ways.
I found some artisans in the park who were just packing up their wares for the night. “Have you seen my son? With blond hair?”
“He passed by here about 15 minutes ago – going that way.”
Whew! He was headed for the supermarket after all.
But when I got there – no Davy. Not a trace. I panicked.
I raced out of the supermarket and dashed back toward the hotel. If he wasn’t there, I’d call the police… I’d round up a search party… I’d… I dunno…but I’d do something!
As I passed through the park again, one of the artisans called out to me. “He just came by here! We told him you were looking for him at the supermarket.”
I turned around and raced back… and found Davy in the parking lot of the supermarket – with one of the artists.
Why did I even doubt him in the first place? He knew perfectly well where he was going. He knew perfectly well how to get back to the hotel. Will I never learn?
But poor John hadn’t been so lucky. He wandered the pitch black streets in growing panic. I had no idea where to even begin to look for him, so the kids and I simply went through our bedtime routine and waited.
Ten minutes went by and I knew John was panicking. 15 minutes… A full thirty minutes after Davy and I got back, John finally returned and his heart could – at last – slow down.
The takeaway? The kids know where they’re going. Trust them.
“What do we do now?” I asked. “There is no way we can find a hotel this early.”
It was 8:00 in the morning and we had just arrived into Leon for the day. It was sweltering hot, all four of us were drenched in sweat, and we were done for the day. At 8:00 in the morning?
We left Chinandega at 6 and flew. Nice flat road… good cycling conditions… We were smokin’ hot! None of us expected to make it 40 km by 8, but it just happened. But then what?
We asked at one hotel. “No – you can’t check in until 9:00 tonight.” Cripes.
Most of the hotels were still locked up.
In the end, John and Daryl hung out at the plaza guarding the bikes while Davy and I went out in search of a guest house – and we found a lovely little place that would let us check in early.
So now we have the day here in the historic city of Leon and are enjoying the peacefulness of it all. What an unexpècted surprise!
I think back on this past year on the road and I’m filled with wonder. Wonder at how much my boys have changed – at how they’ve grown. It seems like a mere year ago, they were babies. Now they are young men. They are intelligent, confident men who are capable of taking on the world – and succeeding.
This morning it was pouring rain – and I managed to twist my ankle yesterday and it was still hurting a bit – so we made the decision to hang out here in Chinandega today. The boys and I headed into town to wander around. It’s amazing watching the boys navigate around a foreign city!
One would think that 11-year-old boys would be at least a bit intimidated at the thought of wandering around a city where they a) don’t have the foggiest idea of where they are, and b) don’t speak the language. But Davy and Daryl? Heck no! These two will head out into the thick of the busiest market fearlessly. They’ll wander around trying to find a Coke without fear of getting lost. They have no fear whatsoever.
And you know what blows me away? They never get lost. Never.
I think Davy and Daryl have developed some sort of inborn homing device that will always lead them back to our hotel. They somehow have a natural-born instinct to be able to find their way back no matter how many twists and turns they take. I’m sure that skill will serve them well in the future.