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Aging while Living

February 29, 2020


How old are you?!  A question I was asked many times this past winter.

It was also raised last summer, very often.  Are we not supposed to continue living our lives as we get older?  Why is it so unusual that we can and want to do things we did 40 years past?

While climbing the Andes Mountains of Colombia this winter almost every time I stopped my bicycle to look at the wonderful landscape or have a glass of mandaria, I heard the refrain.  Someone would interrupt my sipping of the very tasty tangerine juice to question me.  There must be an age we are supposed to sit down and wait for the end, or why else the question?   Are we supposed to listen to that valid advice?

This past 12 months, the “road” has shown me 3 very different worlds.  In late April my friend, John and I drove to Phoenix, AZ to begin a couple of week’s bicycle ride from there to Bisbee, AZ on the Mexican border.  I lived in Phoenix for 12 years and very much enjoy cycling the desert.  I suggested to John that we make Arizona this year’s spring destination.  It also served as an excellent warm-up for my upcoming tour of Eastern Europe.

We rode out of Phoenix, 2 old men headed off into the great western desert with little plan.  We would find that my way of travel was different than John’s.  Even though we had traveled together many times the desert highlighted our, sometimes dramatic, differences.  I ride each day to discover what the road has in store for me.  John likes to have a plan and to accomplish that plan.  Both are good ways to travel, but not always compatible.  Even with our conflicting distraction, the question was heard. 

Leaving John to return to Ashland, I flew to Athens, Greece.

During the next 3 months, I rode my Soma Saga over the mountains of Europe up the island of Evia, North Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, and Belgium.  An unexpected left turn at Budapest found me in Brussels to watch the first stages of the 2019 Tour de France, instead of continuing to Nordkap, Norway, as I thought at the beginning of the journey.  But, regardless of where the path took me, the question kept recurring.  

A few years ago I solo canoed the Missouri river, from its naming place, in Three Forks, MT to the where it showed the Mississippi at Saint Louis, that the Missouri was the longest river.  I heard the same question, over and over.  Why was this old man doing these things that only younger men should be doing?  He is violating our image of what someone his age is allowed to accomplish.  Doesn’t he know better?

I am past the middle of my 7th decade.  Is it time for me to sit with a good book, watch TV, take a bus tour or a cruise on a large, safe ship, with others who are obeying the rules? 

I have taken a couple of cruises.  My first trip to South America was on a cruise ship.  That was the least expensive way to find my way to my last continent.  I talked the cruise line into letting me put my bicycle in my cabin and at each port, I would go for a ride around to see that place my way.  The crew loved the idea and would guide me to the wonderful places they knew and sometimes meet up for a beer.  That sailing lasted about 5 weeks, ending with a 3-month cycle journey through Uruguay and Argentina.  Iguazu Falls and Córdoba were truly worth the effort of turning the pedals.

This winter saw my fifth bicycle ride on the South American continent as I followed the very steep and difficult ending of my journey the length of the Andes.  It is a happy thing for me to know that my body does not agree with the thought behind the question.  It complains and tries to make it harder for me but in the end, it cooperates and keeps not listening.  Is there a lesson my body is trying to teach us all? 

In the small cafés and restaurants of Colombia where I sat sipping a wonderful cold jugo or coconut milk, the conversations around me were of my age and about my bike.  Someone would lean toward my table and ask how many years I had.  That is the Spanish way, not how old are you?  For me, it asks the correct question because I believe we earn our time in life.  It is not about a passing but an exploration and living of each day as it is presented.  Seeking the possibilities that waking up with our eyes and minds open allows. 

No, those who question our stepping out of the mold of age should not be our guide.  We should always discover our own life.  

Cartegna: Trip Complete
Trip Complete

—Bill H.

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Tourist Town

February 12, 2020


Up until yesterday I was trapped in Santa Marta.  A nice beach town, if such a thing really is a thing, which I doubt.  But it is the kind of place with little to offer but less to leave for.  

All my journeys define themselves and I have no idea when they will find their end.  
When I talk about an upcoming journey I say, when asked, it will end when the end comes.  It is interesting that most people do not hear that.  Those statements are not in most people’s travel vocabulary.   They want to know how long, where and when.  Those are things I do not know.  To me a journey never ends early or late,  just when it does.  The road always is in charge.  

I try to hear the road tell me the things to do, places to see and give each its own time.  In this way each place defines itself.  For me it is very true that a month is about minimum to say I like or do not like a country. BTW, I have never found a country I did not like.  Does that mean I haven’t spent a month in any country?  No, it merely means I have only a limited ability to discriminate.
I have been in Cartagena for 4 days and do find it very different from other cities in Colombia.  For one, English is spoken here.  Another it has a very tourist feel.  I guess that is because there are a lot of tourists here.  Boy, are there a lot of tourists here.  Colombia is at the end of its tourist season but still the streets of Getsemani, Old Town, are packed with mostly young travelers.  Many are from other South American countries and of college age.  Although I do hear a great deal of European, US and Canadian accents in the calles.  


It is certainly a lively scene, on these streets.  I like to walk and will find myself strolling the streets, watching the locals deal with the on slot, for hours. 
Had an interesting event the other day riding here from Santa Marta.  It was very hot and a sign for cold coco, coconut milk in the coconut drew me to a stop.  I ordered one and sat down to drink it at a small, thatched palm roofed road side stand.  I saw a picture of a cyclist on a wall and asked the old lady about it.  She offered her son to take my picture with it.  
Later, while we were discussing general stuff a group of American younger men rode up on rented motorcycles.  They stopped and wanted cold bottles of water.  This was a very remote place where few tourists came and they spoke no Spanish.  She turned to me and asked how much she should charge the men.  What, why ask me?  Then I became aware that she thought I was almost a local, but still a tourist, so I might be a help.  What a compliment!  I told her to charge 1 mill, about 30 cents more than the normal 2 mills.  She laughed and did just that!  Helped my ego and gave me an inflated view of my very bad Spanish.  
There is an areapa stand on the main tourist street that always has the sidewalk curbs full of the young and old alike sitting eating their fried meat or cheese filled cornbread and drinking a beer.  All day, all night, I never saw the curbs empty.  The music is playing, loudly, the taxis trying to squeeze down the very narrow, pedestrian and knee filled street.  Bars and restaurants add to the scene with their patrons poring in and out , not always in full control.  A lot of fun and very entertaining.
Cartagena is far and away the most expensive city in Colombia.  The same room with a private bath that I have been paying less than $10, is $35 to 40 here.  A lunch with a beer that costs $3 all over this country, is $6 to 10.  That may seem cheap, but for me, used to the other prices, it is very high.  Taxis, on the other hand are barata.   Had a cab for about 2 hours, running some errands the other day and the total came to around $6, very cheap.

It is hot here.  The temps have been in the high 90’s with 90% humidity.  The only saving is that there is a constant strong sea breeze pushing you around all day.  Another difference here is that everyplace is air-conditioned. Although I do like sitting in one of the many outdoor, I will call them stores, at a table having a cold jugo or beer and talking with the locals.  There are many types of fresh juice. One only needs to learn their names.  I say only as if that were easy.  Colombia has its own brand of names for things and one could spend years here and never learn them all.
Interesting about languages.  When I first entered Colombia I was reluctant communicate in Spanish, but I had no choice.  I am seating across the counter from a couple in the lounge in Miami, that I think are Russian.  I am now reluctant to speak to them in English.  
“Didn’t he start this story with how trips define themselves?  I pretty sure he did.” 
Thanks, I guess I did.  
But you know me, I get distracted easily.  The other day I went out for lunch and…. See, even talking about distraction gets me off track.

This trip has ended.  I am writing this from the airport in Cartagena and Miami.  Well, I guess that means it has not yet ended, just in its final phase.  I have about 24 hours of travel ahead of me.  
I felt the end coming in Santa Marta.  Just could not see anything calling me after Cartagena.  Nothing has.  I really do not want to return to the cold month or so of winter left, but the road says that is where I am going.  
See my Ashland friends on the winter streets very soon.  You others will have to wait until your road calls me.  I have no idea when that will be or for how long. 

Cartegna: Trip Complete
Trip Complete

Keep the porch light on.

—Bill H.

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February 6, 2020

…in Barranquilla

Up until yesterday I was trapped in Santa Marta.  A nice beach town, if such a thing really is a thing, which I doubt.  But it is the kind of place with little to offer but less to leave for.  
“What the heck does that mean?”
A couple, him from California and her from Wales were staying in the hotel as well as I.  How’s that for a turn of a phrase?  We met over breakfast.  They had been in town for  3 or 4 days trying to decide where to go next.  I thought I would leave the next day.  That did not work.  
The next morning over breakfast it became 9 or 10, way to late to leave.  They went off to explore and I to a machine shop.  I am trying some things on my bike.  If you remember I said that in countries like Colombia, they are always willing to help you solve any problem. 
The day passed and the new morning brought another long breakfast and another day trapped.
After breakfast Jim and Linda went off to find a swimming pool and I for a walk down the beach.  Really, how bad can it be to be trapped on a Caribbean beach with lots of restaurants, bars, warm breezes, and beautiful bodies?  

As I walked along I saw a guy with a touring bike.  Guess what happened.  

Diego & Liv

Diego and I talked a while before his lady joined us. Liv and Diego are on tour of South America. They began in Uruguay and have circled around to Colombia on their way back to Uruguay. They are also trapped in Santa Marta for the last month or so. He has a tattoo on his leg of South America to which he adds a country as they enter. My calves hurt enough without finding ways to increase their discomfort.

Diego has decided he wants to row a boat from here to Australia.  Yes, I said row.  I don’t understand people like that.  I mean just to get in a boat and paddle off somewhere? Anyway, there is an oceanography school here and an expert in building long-distance rowboats.  So, here they are trapped for a while.
We went to lunch and had a long discussion about life and its opportunities.  Try that in Spanish.


I wandered back to the hotel for who knew how long.

—Bill H.

PS See many strange signs.

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February 6, 2020


Very busy, work a day town.   Got warned several times about being robbed while ridding into town.  Oh, yea there was the process of getting into town. It has been very hot and I knew I had a long ride so I told my hostess I needed breakfast at 6 am.  She said she would prepare a couple of sandwiches and some juice for the morning.  When I got up, I went into the kitchen to make my coffee and get the sandwiches.  Took them out of the refrigerator and put them on the counter.  Went about making my coffee.  Went back to my bedroom and when I returned, she was up and had put my sandwiches on the grill.  She was fascinated that I had all my coffee fixings and watched me carefully as I used my French Press. 

Barranquilla, Approaching the Bridge

After breakfast I quickly loaded up and left. It was already almost 7.  It would get hot around 9 and I had almost 80 km to go today.  A long crossing of a land bridge across lagoon with no services, was most of the day. As I entered the road I noticed that my speed was up around 24 km.  Wow,  I was hoping for a tailwind but this was way more.  I was up in my big gears and just flying.  I had forgotten that I had such gears.  From my first day of pedaling in Colombia I have not used these gears.  Almost always I have been pedaling in the only gears I thought I had brought, the small ones used when things point up steeply.  See, even when it is flat, I get to talk about hills.
All day dead flat, wide shoulder and a tail wind, YES!  Well, I should say all morning, because that was all it took before I saw the bridge across the bay and the end to pleasure.
The bridge had a very nice bike lane next to a wide sidewalk.  All the way for the 2 or so km.   Sure, a climb, but nothing, really.  Then down following the bike lane.  Then, Then, or no Then! 

The bike lane ended in construction.  I mean ended.  Nowhere to go, just trucks and cranes and half-built bridges and part built roads, everywhere.  I asked the construction works, “what the heck?”  

They discussed how I could get to El Centro. An argument ensued.  I should go back and use another road. No, I should go across the dirt hills and find the road on the other side.  No, I should find a way to the other bike lane.  What other bike lane? The one on the other side of the six-lane highway running alongside where we were standing.  The one with the 4-foot wall and another 4 foot wall in the medium strip.  Right, that was an option.
When you are traveling by bicycle surprise is always an option.  Did I say option?  Well, maybe an opportunity.  After a while I noticed a dirt path that seem to go in the right direction and thanking them rode off.  Soon I came to another very nice bike lane.  Ok, this is it until I get into to town.
But opportunity had more in store.  There in front of me was a large hole.  I mean 50 feet across and maybe 400 feet long.  Now I want you to think about this.  A brand-new sidewalk, road and bike lane, paint almost still wet and they are digging it up!  
I have been riding next to the 4-foot wall and the super highway for a little while.  I stop again and ask more construction workers where can I go? I do see a dirt path leading to a neighborhood street and ask about it.  NO, very dangerous!  Many robbers, they will stab you and take everything.  The first workers had warned me as well.  Maybe?  Ok, what do we do?  

I look down the expressway and saw that it ended and became a big street.  What about me using the highway?  No, the police will arrest you.  I thought,  no they will not.  How can I get my bike over the wall?  I cannot take off the bags and then put them back on, on the fast road.  I grabbed the bike and walked toward the wall.  The workers followed and when we got to the wall three or four of them took the bike and lifted it over the wall, handing it to a couple of others who had climbed over.  I then asked for a photo which as you can see were very enthusiastic about.   I rode off knowing I had a good story.  

Stopping at a gas station for a cold drink I was warned again about robbers.  Wow, this town must be bad.  
Tonight, walking around I saw this was a busy place, but I did not feel unsafe.  Will see tomorrow, but I do wonder why so many workers feel their town is so dangerous. 

—Bill H.

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