Archive for March, 2007

Final Thoughts from Buenos Aires

Saturday, March 31st, 2007
Descending into Ushuaia

   I write you from Buenos Aires, where I am preparing for the return home to the States. My head is still spinning a bit from finishing this trip, and organizing my thoughts is proving to be difficult. Nearly 17 months ago I biked out my front door in California and started biking south. Just a few days ago I arrived at the end of the road, as far south as I can bike in South America.

   Much happened in these 17 months. I now have personal connections with so many people across the two continents – people whose houses I stayed in or camped next to. I now speak very good Spanish, some Portuguese, and a few phrases in the native language of Quechua (useful in the mountains of Peru). I have taken a boat up the Amazon, crossed dirt roads over 15,000 ft Andean passes, luckily escaped bandits in southern Mexico, felt the wind and rain of Patagonia, and dodged buses in the capital cities of nearly every country. It is difficult to believe I was able to experience all of this, and looking through my pictures and journals is an emotional experience.

Just another campsite - 30 miles south of Huaraz
I am the fastest vehicle on the road.
An excellent 'Once' in Osorno

   Global warming is a problem that has no borders and will affect all of us, and to solve it will require all of us to work together. It will cause water problems, deadly storms, agricultural losses, rising sea level, heat waves, and major extinctions on land and in the oceans. We simply do not want a planet with these problems – why should we tolerate these results?

The Metro
School Santa Rosa de Viterbo in Huaraz

   In terms of getting the word out, I had far more success than I expected. I visited over 60 schools, giving talks to thousands of students. I appeared in the national media in nearly every country – whether television, radio, or newspapers. Thousands have followed my journey on this site. This success combined with the generosity of all the people I met along the road leaves me feeling optimistic about what is possible.

   In a few days I will return to the United States, where I am sure I will be shocked by the number of cars and size of houses, if nothing else. Many people I have stayed with on this trip, especially in the countryside, live in small houses, are poor, own no car, and have little healthcare. While they would laugh and share food with me, many want what we have, and they would tell me so. I am left with a desire to help these people, but also a sad feeling that we cannot all be rich – under our current system, being rich simply uses too many fossil fuels. If we want the world to be wealthy, we must first figure out how to be rich and not produce so many greenhouse gasses. That is our challenge.

   I ask you all now to turn your eyes to the next project, Ride for Climate USA, which my riding partner for that trip, Bill Bradlee, along with a few excellent volunteers, have been assiduously organizing while I biked. It will be a journey around the United States to promote solutions on global warming, and we will start in Boston, Massachusetts on April 21st. It is a project that I deeply believe in, as it is clear that the U.S. must take serious action if the world is to succeed. You can contribute to this project here, or check our schedule to see if we are biking near you.

   Now, though, Ride for Climate The Americas is over. This is the last entry in these journals – all future entries will be found on the Ride for Climate USA blog. Thank you again to everyone who was a part of this journey, from those of you I stayed with to those of you who simply sent a small email of support. I hope I have given you a bit of a sense of what it is like to cross the Americas one village at a time, and made you feel a little bit connected to the many people who live across these continents. See you at Ride for Climate USA,


   Thanks to my excellent sponsors: Tarptent, Mike’s Bikes of Palo Alto, Chaco, South American Explorer’s Club, the bomberos of Latin America, and everyone who helped with this trip.

River boats at the dock in Manaus
The beach in Placencia
Into the Andes

Miles by Country
USA (California): 853

Mexico: 3,052

Guatemala: 130

Belize: 339

Honduras: 463

El Salvador: 225

Nicaragua: 299

Costa Rica: 404

Panama: 344

Colombia: 1,123


Brazil: 651

Peru: 1,964

Bolivia: 547

Chile: 2,233

Argentina: 2,106

Total: 15,921

Tierra del Fuego

Saturday, March 24th, 2007
Descending into Ushuaia

   I found biking across the island of Tierra del Fuego both more scenic and easier than I had expected, as strong tailwinds pushed me across wide plains and then mountainous forest. However, I found that my head was spinning most of the way, as I contemplated finishing the trip. For the past year and a half, I have said that I was headed to Ushuaia, Argentina’s most southern city, and, as I approached the city, I kept asking myself why it was that I was biking there.

   Indeed, my actual experience in Ushuaia was fairly unsuccessful. I tried to visit a school, but when I saw the teachers marching in the street demanding a pay increase, I learned that school was temporarily not in session. I tried to stay at the fire station in town (I have stayed at over 35 fire stations on this trip), but was turned down because so many travelers come to this city that the firefighters had to stop letting people stay with them. I found myself unable mentally to go to the media (although I did talk to a few people about global warming – all of whom confirmed that there is less snow in this area than decades past). I decided that this could not really be the end.

Route J, South America's southern most road.

   I looked on my map and found that there was a road that traveled a bit further south. ‘Route J’ curves southeast around Tierra del Fuego’s southern end, and it looked to me like the furthest south road in South America. Traveling two more days, I biked down this one lane dirt road to see where it led.

   At the end, I found a building overlooking the entrance to the Beagle Channel, where Cesar, Juan, and Eduardo were working for the Argentine coast guard monitored ships coming to and from Ushuaia. Cesar and I looked at the large nautical map on the wall, and confirmed that this was indeed as far south as I could bike.

Eduardo, Juan, and Cesar at the end of Route J, working for the Argentine Coast Guard
The furthest south point you can reach by bicycle.  Cabo Jorge Eduardo Lopez, overlooking the entrance to the Beagle Channel.

   They shared with me some lemonade and explained how they communicate with ships that come through the channel. I went ouside and took some pictures overlooking the water, and accepted that this was really the end of Ride for Climate The Americas. A pickup truck soon came by the building to drop off supplies, and, as it left, offered me a ride. It was only the third car I had seen on this stretch of road that day, so I accepted and left.

   I am now back in Ushuaia trying to find somewhere to take a shower (again not being very successful) before leaving in a few hours for Buenos Aires. It is still quite difficult to realize that I am here, and that this trip is truly over. I hope to write a few more thoughts on this trip, including final thoughts on global warming in Latin America, when I reach Buenos Aires in a few days.

The Rising Oceans

Friday, March 16th, 2007

   I am sitting in an internet cafe in Punta Arenas, Chile, right now, doing web searches to figure out just how big of a problem sea level rise will be. The sea level has already risen over the past century, although only about one inch. As more glacial ice melts, what will it do from here on?

Monterey Bay and Research Station
Malibu, CA
La Paz Shoreline

   The most likely result is not that bad – maybe a foot and a half this century. This could be very bad for many places I have visited – especially along the Caribbean coast—and also make storms much worse, not to mention erode some nice beaches. But I might not call it a disaster.

Mazatlan Coast
Beach at Placencia
Coast at Omoa
Panama City
The San Blas Islands

   The problem, though, is that it takes a long time for ice sheets to melt, and we don’t really know how long that is. In the ‘long run,’ which could be centuries or millennium, with a likely 3 degree C warming, the ocean could rise 80 feet. We don’t know if it is centuries or millennium, because computer models for ice sheets are very inaccurate. If it is centuries, as some argue, the oceans could rise much faster than we would like – maybe a foot a decade. And, again, we don’t know, but, well, do we want to find out?

Cartagena sits barely above sea level
Santa Fe Coastline

   As I have said before, I am in Punta Arenas right now. Punta Arenas sits on the shore of the Straight of Magellan on the southern tip of South America, and is just one of the many cities on the coast that I have visited. Throughout this entry I have interspersed photos of the coastlines I have visited on this trip – take a look at them and envision what a 1 foot, 10 foot, or 80 foot sea level rise would look like.

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales Shore
Punta Arenas Shoreline

The Carretera Austral, Fitzroy, and the road to Punta Arenas

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

   Since last entry, I have zig zagged south, following the Andes to the tip of South America (see map). I am now in Punta Arenas, a city at the southern end of Chile.

   The first segement of this journey, riding south from Coyhaique, Chile, involved riding Chile’s carretera austral, which was ordered built by the dictator Pinochet in the 1980s. The road is famous among cycle tourists, and I soon learned why. I camped every night, often next to giant turquoise lakes or rivers, or within sight of glaciated peaks and the nearby ice fields of Patagonia.

Carretera Austral, near Cerro Castillo
Campsite over Lago General Carrera - South America's second largest lake
Micheal ahead on the Carretera Austral
Couple from France crossing South America, south to north

   I met many cyclists on this route, almost all of whom were also on long journeys. It was a little strange to meet people who were crossing all of South America and think nothing of it – just give casual advice about the many months ahead.

Cyclist from the Netherlands - biked across Asia, then Australia, and is now going from Argentina to Alaska.

   I met Peter from the Netherlands, who left the Netherlands well over a year ago and biked across Asia. He realized he had some money left over, so he flew to Argentina and is now biking to Alaska. And that is nothing – If I had been on this road just two weeks earlier, I would have met the famous Heinz Stücke, who started bicycling 1962, and hasn’t stopped since. He was in South America because he was trying to get a boat to bike part of Antarctica, one of the very few places he has never biked. His boat fell through, so decided to bike the carretera austral, because last time he biked Chile, the road had not yet been built.

Local mountain guide Yoani explains that this section of the Rio Baker is going to be damed
Debate in Patagonia about dam building

   Along the carretera austral, I had a number of conversations with locals about the hydroelectric dams that will likely be built in the region. Most seem to support building the dams, as it would bring more infrastructure and development, while others complained that giant beautiful valleys would be flooded. These dams, though, would also provide incredible amounts of carbon dioxide-free electricity to Chile’s cities. No power source is without its drawbacks, and while I support dams over the use of coal, seeing such projects reminds me that energy efficiency–reducing our energy needs–is one of the most important investments we can make.

The melting face of Glacier O'Higgins

   The carretera austral ends at lake O’higgins, which you can cross by boat. I paid a little extra to see the O’higgins glacier, which you can see on the left and which has melted 9 miles over the past century. Once we reached the far end of the lake, I had to take a trail through the woods (sometimes pushing the bike and getting rained on) to another lake, which, when crossed by a boat, brought me to the roads of Argentina and the mountains of Fitz Roy, shown below.

Fitz Roy
Cerro Torre through the trees
Departing El Chalten

   (A thanks to the people at Cerro Torre Cabañas – a great place to stay in El Chalten).

   From these mountains, I headed south once more, crossing the dry steppe of Argentina before once more crossing over to Chile, where I stayed with families in Puerto Natales and Punto Arenas. In Punta Arenas, I visited my first school, Liceo Sara Braun, in many months, as the summer vacation for Argentina and Chile has just ended.

Sandra, Felipe, Carlos, Yara, Karen, Jonathen, Gloria, Juan Carlos in Puerto Natales
Liceo Sara Baun, Punta Arenas
Liceo Sara Baun, Punta Arenas

   I am now at the end of South America. From here, I take a boat across the Straight of Magellan, and bike a few days across the island of Tierra del Fuego to the Argentine city of Ushuaia. And then there will be no more road left.