South America: Of maths and memories…

Well I thought it would take me nine months, in the end my journey across Latin America by bicycle lasted two weeks over a year. There were a number of excuses I could offer up to explain my tardiness, but mostly it was because I wanted to savour the continent and I fell in love with those rough, high, slow-going back roads that twist and bounce through the Andean wilderness. Last week, as I cruised slowly towards the Colombian coast on the Pan-American highway which spiralled down a shrinking spine of rock, dropping into a steamy abyss, I remembered a friend’s description of my South American end point, Cartagena – “nice, but hot as hell“. She was mistaken. If Satan himself was holed up in Cartagena for a few days he would demand a room with air conditioning and keep his devil-tail dunked in an ice bucket. Cartagena is supernova hot and had me sweating like sumo wrestlers in crotchless leather suits making sweet love in a Turkish sauna, but I was glad to be here all the same.

Mountains have been the theme of the last twelve months of my life, it will be coastline for the next six. As I pulled into the city, my last of this restless, feisty continent, I had a moment of sentimental reflection whilst my eyes surfed the tranquil waters of the Caribbean and I recalled a similar moment in time from more than a year ago when I stared out at the Southern Ocean towards Antarctica but wondered instead what lay in the opposite direction. Between then and now there have been ups and downs, physical, literal ones and the more metaphysical type too. I have been evicted from my tent at gun point late at night in Peru, I cycled stark naked across the world’s largest salt lake in Bolivia, I survived a Colombian road known as The Trampoline of Death, I met a beautiful Australian girl called Polly, I cycled more vertical metres in one week than from sea level to the summit of Mount Everest, I was stabbed in the hand by a drunk, I got lost in the eyes of Colombian girls, I scared myself silly in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption in Chile and I had a flour fight with 25,000 other people in an Argentinian stadium. A rollicking ride. Never plain sailing but despite all the effort, the pain and the fleeting bouts of boredom, loneliness and anxiety, it was worth it.

I’m not entirely sure why I collect useless information about my life on the road, but it has become habit and here are some stats about continent number three…

Time taken – one year and two weeks
Distance cycled in South America – 16,793 km
Proportion cycled on unpaved roads – 31 %
Greatest distance cycled in one day – 182 km (Peruvian coast)
Punctures – 45
Broken spokes – 12
Chains – 2
Brake pads – 6
Gear cables – 8

Tyres – I retired a Schwalbe Dureme after a very impressive 15,500 km, I got through a few Schwalbe Marathon Plus’s and now I have the new Schwalbe Mondials on, more than 3000 km and no punctures yet.

Coldest temp – Minus 15 degrees Celsius (Southern Bolivia)
Top altitude cycled to – Abra Loncopata (5119 metres above sea level), Peru
Toughest climb –  La Esperanza to La Miran Alto, Ecuador (unsealed track which climbs 1675 vertical metres over 20 km, an average gradient of 8%)
Most days without a shower – 10



My favourite photos from South America…




I have read 27 books over the last year. Here they are… amongst my favourites are Skippy Dies, White Teeth, Bad Science, Cloud Atlas, The Fountainhead, The White Tiger and Middlesex.
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Stephen’s south-america book montage

White Teeth
Cloud Atlas
Bad Science
I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away
The Line of Beauty
Middlesex
The White Tiger
The Fountainhead
Skippy Dies
The God of Small Things
The Mosquito Coast
Absurdistan
Tuesdays with Morrie
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Light
Travel Writing: See the World. Sell the Story
The Help
The Art of Travel
Viva South America!: A Journey Through A Restless Continent
Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War


Stephen Fabes’s favorite books »
Share book reviews and ratings with Stephen, and even join a book club on Goodreads.


In other news – On the 10th I jump aboard a Catamaran bound for the San Blas islands and then Panama. It will be a sprint through Central America so that I keep deadlines in the US and don’t freeze to death come Alaska. There’s lots in the pipeline over the next ten months including…
  • I have written features which are due to be published in Outer Edge, Cycle, Verge and Wild Junket magazines plus an interview in Vagabundo. 
  • I start filming for an exciting documentary called Adventure Challenge next week. 
  • In California I am scheduled to speak in more than twenty events, schools and societies including the Rotary Club of Los Angeles and the California chapter of the Explorer’s Club (dates and details coming soon).
  • This blog will feature my 2012 equipment reviews.
  • I will soon launch a new blog called Riding Off-Route which will cover some of the practical details of touring and detail some of the more adventurous routes in South America.
  • This blog may even find a new format – as a (print-on-demand) book.
Finally as a happy coincidence I rolled into Cartagena on the Colombian Caribbean coast on just over 40,000 km which I have realised is roughly the circumference of the earth at the equator. So in terms of numbers, I suppose I have pedalled once around the planet. And to celebrate that fact I would love to reach another milestone – so far the supporters of Cycling The 6 have raised almost 20,000 pounds for the medical aid charity Merlin. If you can pledge a small amount and help to break the 20,000 pound mark now that I have completed continent number three, it would be fantastic. If you feel moved to donate you can do so on my fundraising page.

Have a great Christmas and New Year





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Comments (4)

  • Avatar

    welshcyclist

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    Fantasic adventure, I'm following your every step, sorry pedal, just wish I could have done the same. Will try and make a donation in the new year.

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Jessmess

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    Wh00p! Can't wait till NY! Just for the record I have been reading your blogs, but lurking. Now initiated into the world of blogging myself I appreciate the significance of commenting on others' you enjoy. Ace blog as always. Looking forward to the next leg xxx

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Neil and Harriet Pike

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    Great stats Steve! I know you left the Andes months ago now, but congrats for making it all the way to Cartagena.
    Enjoy Central America,
    Neil

    Reply

  • Avatar

    royal peter

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    Great showcase of your adventurous and fabulous paddling, it would have been interesting paddling one year and two weeks and covering 16,793 km, The Pros And Cons of Writing a Life Plan congrats anyways I really appreciate your effort which has been put and on the same time enjoyed myself reading

    Reply

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