Through the Rocky Mountains, USA – Km 111,164
From Canada, I re-entered United States through Babb, located in the state of Montana. I wanted to be friendly with the immigration officials who saw me arrive sweaty after a long ride uphill. When I asked them about the road in USA, they said to me: “first let’s see if you enter the country”.
The first time I entered the U.S. was through Hawaii, with my tourist visa I had obtained in Australia. There, in Honolulu I was given a 6-month visa for my stay. But in my second entrance to the country, Babb officials didn’t want to renew it, because one month and a half still remained from that first stay. “I have been cycling more than two months in Canada” I said disappointed. But the official did not care, and she ordered me to cross into the U.S. and handed me the passport. She was an older and obese woman, and with little patience, because she did not even check the Canada entry stamp in my passport. American authorities are more practical, they don’t stamp the passport when you leave the country.
That day, I felt antipathy towards my passport, due to the numerous stamps in it. It is the fifth one.
But I insisted and I talked to the other official, a young guy who had not intervened in the conversation, he just looked at the old flags of my bike. “I’ve been riding for 11 years around the world and I am on my way to Argentina”, I said staring at him like begging. “Six weeks is not enough to cross the U.S. cycling “.”Do you have proof that you have been in Canada two months and traveling all this time?” he asked me suspiciously. The officers were not bad people, they were doing their job, but I got the feeling that the woman was somewhat lazy. The guy asked for my passport and invited me into his office, where I went with all newspapers to prove what I was talking about. But I also had to answer how I support myself and show the money I had with me. I talked about my book and my occasional sponsors too. It took me a while to get another 6-month stay. When I was leaving the official told me, “Welcome to U.S. and good luck”.
Looking for majestic sceneries I chose to cycle through the Rocky Mountains which extend parallel to the west coast of North America. The Glacier National Park was the first place I visited, where in former times there were more than 100 glaciers. Due to climate change, 25 of them remain and, according to environmentalists, many of these could disappear by the end of the decade.
On my way through Montana I went through huge clouds of smoke, most of the time the fire areas spread through tens of kilometers. In Montanan I visited the cities of Missoula and Helena, where I finally slept on a mattress after 30 days without one; I felt like a child with a new toy.
Days later I arrived to Bozeman, where I was hosted by Charles, who for the first time opened his and his family’s house to a stranger. I really needed to sell my books at the farmer’s market during the weekend, but the mail did not arrive on time and due to the cold weather I had to leave after two days. But Charles was not a common host. Not only did he make me feel at home among his people, but after my departure he received my 40 books and sold them to his friends and relatives to send me the money later.
It was September 2012 and the road to Wyoming was uphill most of the time, the colors of the vegetation were changing from yellow to green. Up there, the air is pure and the temperature drops some degrees.
The Yellowstone was the first national park in the United States, which hosts until today a wide variety of wild animals such as bears, wolves, coyotes, bison and elk. It also preserves the Old Faithful and the most amazing collection of geysers and hot springs in the world.
When I left the Yellowstone, I camped next to a river, far away from the village. That day I was exhausted and angry, because I had several flat tires, I had ran out of patches and my air pump was broken. I could keep pedaling thanks to a tourist who gave me two inner tubes.
At dusk I started to cook next to my tent and I had dinner there. I should have cooked far away from my tent and then hung my food up on a tree, but after a hard day, there is not power to do such thing, plus there were no trees nearby anyway.
When I was heading to sleep I was approached by a bear. The animal, which sniffed desperately, stopped ten feet from me, right behind a plant, next to my tent. For a moment I froze, unwilling even to breathe. I was in complete darkness because my flashlight was dead and even though I was scared, I built up the courage and grabbed the pepper spray for bears and the bell to scare them away. This had already saved me in Alaska from another bear. According to what I was informed, two or three people die each year from bear attacks. Thereby I rang this holy bell during 15 minutes; I never imagined that its sound would be so powerful.
The wonderful Utah
On my way south, I went through Grand Teton National Park, then visited the city of Jackson and went across the state of Idaho. Then I came to the wonderful Utah, which was the scenario for many of the most popular films in the U.S. as Indiana Jones, Thelma and Louise, Back to the Future and Forrest Gump.
Imposing canyons, delicate arches or just rocks with amazing shapes and colors, provide for hundreds of miles the archetype of the American West. All national parks have a special charm: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands. Utah has been one of the most beautiful places I’ve ridden with vast landscapes, uninhabited areas, and sometimes almost 3,000 meters of altitude.
During my journey through Utah, I was hosted by several families, mostly of the Movement of the Latter-day Saints, popularly known as Mormons. For the Mormon Church, its founder, Joseph Smith (1805 – 1844) is considered a prophet chosen by God to restore the early church of Jesus Christ. According to their belief, the original Christian church was dissolved after the death of the 12 apostles, and subsequent Christian denominations were corrupted by pagan philosophy. “The social beliefs of the creed founded by Smith tend to be conservative. Smith established a religion very focused on traditional Christian family,” Julie told me proudly.
I really enjoyed to sit at the table and to talk with them; most of the young people are university graduates and they have command of Spanish or Portuguese because they had traveled to countries in Latin America to become missionaries. “A missionary is a Christian who travels to help others and evangelize people of other sites,” Lynn told me. I had deep admiration for them… they were united families, with a great faith and a big heart …
The day of my birthday, Julie and Louis organized a surprise party with friends and family for me.
During my stay in Salt Lake City I went to different farmer markets to sell my book, and there I met Merry, a clinical herbalist, teacher and developer of Thrive Tonic, a blend of liquid herbal extracts which increases energy and improves digestion, among other things. When Merry knew about my project, she decided to sponsor me with her product that has been in the market for more than 15 years. Since that day and for several weeks Merry helped me to contact the media through the cities I crossed in order to disclose my undertaking and hers.
Looking for more majestic places I went to Arizona, which holds perhaps one of the most spectacular places: “the wave of the desert”, a rock formation masterfully carved by the wind. But to get there, visitors need one of the 20 daily permits given by Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Ten of the permits are available in advance by an on-line lottery several months in advance. The remaining ten permits are available by lottery the day before one intends to go, in the Kanab tourist office, 50 miles from the wave. And I was lucky because on my visit to Kanab I got one of 10 permits among 120 people.
That afternoon I cycled to the wave. The last 10 kilometers go through a gravel and sand road in very bad shape. With the last light of day, I arrived at the parking area, a totally desolate place, where I cooked and camped. At sunrise, I left the bike with my entire luggage covered with nylon and locked; and after praying for it to be there when I returned, I walked 6 kilometers with a map which I got from the Kanab Tourist Office. The way there was beautiful and reaching the wave was more beautiful even.
The place is a mixture of colors with a slide form well hidden between mountains. The light was perfect and it was not hot. I was one of the first to arrive. It would have been impossible to reach there without that map, which marks very clearly the way to go, but not how to come back. Worried a bit about my bike I was also one of the first ones to return, confident. But I ended up getting lost. I ran out of water, I had no food nor extra clothes to spend the night in that place. I got scared, because it was more than 5 hours sauntering in that desert.
Monument Valley was my following stop. There a parcel for camping costs 30 USD, so I approached the native people and asked permission to camp on their land. In this area most of the fields are fenced and is no place to camp for free.
But when I came close to Guy I realized that this people are much more humane. They were happy to welcome me, then they offered me to set my tent in a shelter because at night the temperatures can drop below 0 degrees. They lit a fire and at once and offered me food. Then I was invited to their home and to meet other family members. I was happy to answer all their questions, and they even gave me some money when they heard about my trip.
I remember in New Zealand or Western Canada when I got close to houses in the middle of nowhere, people chose to hide. Fear perhaps? Possibly, but with that bicycle and all my baggage plus the flags most people understand that I’m just a traveler.
The state of Arizona is the land of the Navajos, the largest indigenous American nation and the biggest of any Native American group: 70,000 square kilometers. According to Guy, currently the Navajo nation is involved in economic clusters including farming, mining and production and sale of woven rugs, pottery and jewelry typically. It is very different from the African tribes that I remember. In the U.S., most Indians living on the outskirts of a city have one or more latest-model vans. But when I arrived in Kayenta, the most populous city of the Navajo Nation, I seemed to be coming to a remote village in Eastern Europe or the most remote Latin-American place. I was too naive when, with the last light of day, I stopped to ask for a campsite. I quickly cycled through the city and went to one of the houses on the outskirts where, after getting permission, I camped around dogs that barked all night. The homeowner warned me: “In Kayenta poverty, violence, alcohol and drugs are the main problem.”
Cycling through the Monument Valley and witnessing a sunset and sunrise was one of the nicest experiences that I lived in North America. The place is uniquely beautiful, solemn and surely with extra energy for those arriving by bicycle. Crossing this place I reached 115,000 kilometers of route.
Traveling by bicycle often involves traveling in painful conditions –I like to call them this–, when you pedal drenched in sweat in the damn cold, headwind or with constant rain; with heat, thirst or excessive hunger, or even feeling muscle pain due to the last climb of the day, ruthless. The absurdity is that arriving in painful conditions to a majestic place you can enjoy it, in a unique way. Only those who experience it, are aware of this. That physical exertion and suffering become a satisfaction and an energy reload that even your soul appreciates.
Once again on the road, I stopped at a shop to eat something, where an Indian came to me asking about my bike flags, especially the Vietnam flag. Minutes later the guy, who wore old and ragged clothes, bought and gave me a bag of food. There were cookies, dried fruit and a few juices. He was a veteran, and he said to me, “there was no reason we were there, it was all a lie. We have created a terrible tragedy for the Vietnamese people, it was a tragic mistake. The saddest thing is that we have not learned anything”. His wrinkled hands and face were the proof of a hard life. According to the shop owner, his comment did not refer only to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, but also to the large number of veterans who are currently facing critical situations of unemployment, lack of housing and health care.
In my tour through North America, I could not miss the Grand Canyon, considered one of the natural wonders of the world. Of gigantic dimensions, it has an altitude of 2400 meters and more than 350 kilometers in length. Riding along it for more than 100 kilometers allowed me to see the magnitude and beauty of the place. Once again I witness how nature manifests itself in all its glory. The Grand Canyon receives over 4 million tourists a year.
My last stop was in Las Vegas, where I was welcomed by Nacho, a Argentine bartender who had been working in one of the largest casinos in the city for several years. “It is the entertainment capital of the world, due to the popularity of the game and legal gambling, the availability of alcoholic beverages at any time of day and the legality of prostitution in neighboring counties, Las Vegas is known as Sin City. Everything that happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas “, Nacho told me, while he toured me around day in and out.
From there I flew to Argentina, where I spent three months working with the “Mascaro Cine” group on the documentary: “The World by Bike”. 15 professionals –including video editors, writer, musician, sound engineer, animator, off narrator, translation, and image designer– worked on it.
This is a fine job which shows the passion to discover the world by bicycle: “The World by Bike” the documentary is worth watching.
Article translated by Monica Fosado.