vacationing! in patagonia

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When my friend Melinda asked me to take her bike-packing, and suggested Patagonia, one of my favorite parts of the world, l immediately said yes. And suggested the Carretera Austral. Which is the southernmost extension of Chilean highway 7. It is largely gravel, and dead-ends into a lake — meaning that the further south you ride, the less traveled it is. The road is well graded, the surroundings beyond spectacular, the water drinkable and the towns well spaced — pretty much a perfect route for bike touring. As such we had ridden while RidingTheSpine.

So l felt confident recommending this stretch of road as an ideal place to try out bike travel. When other cyclists we met along the way discovered Melinda had never even ridden a loaded bike before, the were uniformly shocked (and awed). But the truth is, as spectacular and remote as it is, the Carretera Austral is a highway. Which means it’s nearly impossible to get lost, and busses and other such emergency/bail-out help are readily available. In addition to the aforementioned perks, the climbs are not particularly steep, and this time of year there is 14 hours of daylight — so no need to hurry or ride fast. Hard find a better spot to tour most anywhere in the world. I’m happy to say she loved it, and is now a confirmed bike-tourist.


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merry Crustmas to me

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It’s the day I’d been waiting for — my ScapeGoat had arrived. Sure I’d been riding the (awesome) prototype Darrin made for me for a couple of years now. But theres nothing like opening the box. Especially after all the back and forth with Taiwan; design and redesign, drawing after drawing. And now l have a shiny (actually it’s matte) new, beautifully dark-red frame. Adorned with custom artwork and logo designed by my good friend ariel.

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Indeed it was so beautiful and exciting, that l was almost afraid to touch the frame; Fortunately, l also had a large pile of boxes – full of parts new and old – which need assembling and modifying. So I started there, separating the shiny bits from the enormous amount of packaging. Fondling all the beautiful, slightly esoteric and carefully chosen bits of metal that would soon come together to make my bike.

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grand canyon

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My dad John Yost is a white water legend (as well as proprietor of Wantok Adventures) and invited me to row a baggage boat with him in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado river — how could l say no.  My sister and brother-in-law would be on the trip as well, as swampers (helpers) . So we worked down to the wire welding treehouses in Nicaragua, finishing up long after dark; then I packed up, slept a few hours, and flew to Las Vegas.  Where l woke my dad up and slept on the floor of his hotel room.  In the morning we picked up my sister Arla and her husband Paul, and drove to Fredonia Az. Where we met up with the rest of the crew and started rigging. My good friend Melinda was rowing the other baggage boat. And three other guides were in charge of other passenger rafts — Jim, who l have known my entire life, and has logged possibly more river miles than anyone else on the planet; Brian who is a long term guide with TourWest (a family run rafting company with a Grand Canyon permit, who graciously charters trips to folks like us) who had worked with both my brother and Father before; and Pat, a new friend and excellent boatman who was in charge of the paddle raft.

Brian had already done all of the shopping, and most of the gear sorting — so all we had to do was stuff it in the truck and drive to put in. Where we met the guests (including my uncle Phil), many of whom had traveled with my dad or Jim before. With so many family and friends on the river with us, it felt almost like a private trip.

Despite not having been in a boat in at least a year, and having to battle some crazy gusts of wind (perhaps it followed me from Nicaragua), I felt good at the oars, and generally had good runs. The wild flowers were out, and this being the early season, we had the river largely to our selves. A lovely two weeks with family and friends in an incredible part of the world.

thanks to Melinda, Riggs and Phil for the photos

spikey trees, and steel beams: a nicaraguan treehouse adventure

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The idyllic sojourn down under was cut short by an entirely different sort of adventure.  My friends at Two Crows Ecological Design Had a sweet gig in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua — doing site planning for a development called ‘el Encanto del Sur’ including (several) tree-houses. Which I got to design and build! (only the substructures/access — local carpenters will do the rest) So I tore my self away from Mulumbimby, spent a week getting gear together in the USA and flew to Nicaragua.

The flight was an adventure of its own, l’m used to dragging weird gear through airports and customs — but we took it to a whole new level. An expresso machine, and 7 boxes of special treehouse bolts were just the tip of the iceberg, as our luggage included esoteric climbing gear, bicycles, surfboards, and power tools. As well as assorted baby paraphernalia — my brother JJ, his wife Alison, and their (soon to be) 1 year old daughter June were on the mish. We had so much stuff that it was actually cheeper to fly first class (because of the larger baggage allowance) so we had cushy seats and free drinks and all the rest. Other than physically moving the huge luggage pile, it went amazingly easily, no hold up at customs even.

Getting a complicated construction project going in nicargua on the other hand, required a whole lot of learning. Sourcing materials turned out to be the hardest part — to the point that we always felt like rejoicing when things we need actually arrived on site. No matter that it was usually not quite enough, or not quite the right thing. We arrived to a pile of (preordered) bits of steel in the corner of someone else’s warehouse — and set about finding welders, both machines and people to operate them. In order to turn the pile of metal into joists and beams of the required dimensions. By the end of the project, l was managing 4 different welding crews, and the other guys working with 14+ agricultural workers. All in spanish of course.

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dressed for success

my inner tycoon comes out

We were dwaddeling down the coast — just starting to find a rhythm — when we realized that our time was almost up. There were meetings to attend, factories to tour — business to be done. So we took the short way back to Taipei. Stashed our bikes at the house of a friend of a friend of a friend. And took to the fashionable shopping districts in search of a wardrobe transformation.

When discussing this trip (or imagining the eventuality of it) in Nepal we had entertained wild ideas about custom tailored suits and perhaps doing the whole tour of the island so attired. It turns out that bespoke suits aren’t particularly cheap in Taiwan ( as they are in some other asian countries) at least for clueless foreigners like ourselves. So we abandoned that idea, and traveled in our normal, somewhat less-fancy riding attire. Which rendered those few clothes even less suitable for attempting to look respectable.

So with the deadline fast approaching we headed out in search of a respectable facade. Matt, having somewhat of a more conventional wardrobe than l, really only need a nicer shirt. l on the other hand, needed a complete makeover…. And l got one. But we threw our plans to look normal out the window almost immediately. Looking for breakfast (preparing for our shopping adventure) we stumbled across a tailor with a hot-pink suit coat in the window — which was exactly my size.

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belated update

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Some how l find my life much less worth writing about when l’m not mtn bike touring.  I expect anyone who reads this would find it less interesitng to read too.  So (as is obvious — by my lack of posts) l’m not going to bother.

In case any one is interested — l’m in Canada.  Staying in Vancouver BC, with my sister and her fiance, designing and building a wedding dress for her. So far so good ( and yes l mean building — thats what they call it in the costume world, theres alot more that goes into such a project than just sewing)

 

It’s been a month or so since l left india. Since the last blog entry, l cycled across megalaya, which was pleasantly mountainous and remote enough to be campable/ relatively untrafficked despite riding on main roads.  Lovely really — would like to spend more time there, especially since l managed to ride right past one of (the extremely few) tourist attractions l actually wanted to see — namely the tree root bridges of cherrapunji.  I knew l was close, but lacking a map, and  all flustered/discombobulated by having dates and times/ticket purchased, and such like, I just rode right past it (and didnt realize for a couple of days). Being on “car time” and main roads l couldn’t really turn around so l kept blasting to siliguri (west bengal) in time to catch a train to dehli.  The one perk of bieng on main roads though, is that l ran into other cyclists. ( 2 of the 4 l met in the last year)

german its a race

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philosophical road signs

signs of Nagaland

The road signs all over India l find quite amusing, but Nagaland takes it to a new level — not content to advocate save driving practices, they want to tell you how to live a good life too.  I only have photos of ones l liked, which means the really paternalistic or sappy messages are missing — there is no way l could capture all of them anyway: on the road from Kohima (the capital) headed west, there is a new sign every 500m or so. And one fo the villages along the way added their own signs with famous quotations — everyone from Ayn Rand to Karl Marx and everything you could think of inbetween.  If youre going to have billboards its a good way to go l guess…

in the hills again

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a brief sojourn in Nagaland

My some-time traveling companion Matt loves the ocean, lives for it in a way. And can’t bear to be away from it’s presence for too long.  But its’s the mountains which call to me. Too long in the flat lands and l start to get restless, grumpy — especially when bike touring. So grinding through hot, flat Assam l was continually teased by the hazy contours of the highlands to the north. The eastern extension of the Himalaya/Tibetan plateau in Anarchal Pradesh. A state which, due to its proximity to the contested border with China, was for all intents and purposes closed to me. It is possible to get a permit to travel there — but you’re expected to have a guide, and an itinerary, and a group. Some one more adept at hoop-jumping and subterfuge, could no doubt have arranged the paperwork — but l, who, find even the day to day bureaucracy of presenting my passport while checking in at hotels trying, didn’t even make an attempt.
Locked out of the Himalaya ( actually think its a different mountain range — but obviously the work of the same massive tectonic uplift) by meaningless power struggles over imaginary lines — l did the next best thing, and pushed east toward the hill country of Nagaland. It’s hard to describe how happy l was to find my self climbing again (and steeply!) after a month or so in the flatlands. The Hills began literally at the state line, and with them a new ecosystem, and culture. So l spent the next couple of days winding my way upwards, through a strange sort of mixed forest, palm and bamboo, and pine and rhododendron, with a few cactus thrown in. Arriving in a world where all towns and roads perched on misty ridge tops — taking advantage of the only semblance of flat ground.

 

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unknown celebrity

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flat lands and boundless hospitality in Assam

Littered across the landscape of northern India are literally thousands of photos of me.  With or without my ‘cycle’ as they call it here ( the pronunciation sounding something more like “sickle”), and often in poses of great familiarity with complete strangers.  The images are mostly blurry and pixilated camera-phone ‘snaps’ —  indifferently composed and poorly lit.  None the less, the photographers seem universally thrilled with their work — insisting on showing me the pics (expecting  interest/admiration).  Sometimes, when a crowd gathers and everyone gets excited, — people start taking pictures of people they don’t know posed with me. And other times, particularly in rural areas, large groups of people — presumably without cellphones — will line up to be photographed (one at a time) by a friend or acquaintance so equipped — though it is unclear how or when they will ever see the photos.

If properly curated, a collection of the work of this informal paparazzi would be a fascinating socio-cultural document.  I’ve traveled in other places where cell-phones were relatively new and high status. Places where my long hair, skin color, style of dress, or mode of transport stood out as much as they do here.  But never before has the mere fact of my being, been enough to elevate me to celebrity status.  For the record l have only been asked for my auto graph once, but the crowds that gather to watch with keen interest the banal trivialities of my day to day life surely put me in at least the same universe as brad and angelena and company (right?).  A relatively quiet and shy person,  l find the attention overwhelming at times ( especially when l am calorie deficient and accordingly ‘hangry’), but l have long since resigned myself to it, and do my best to receive it in the spirit with which it is given.

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