cranking (v.): covering large distances in long, difficult biking days.
Perhaps the term originates with the bike part itself which is laboriously turned constantly throughout the day. Cranking goes like this:
- The alarm rings at 4:30 am or some unearthly hour
- We down large quantities of oatmeal and cold rice from the night before
- Pack up and hit the road at dawn
- Ride all day, occasionally stopping to buy bananas, bread, or cans of pork and beans
- Roll in at dusk to rest for the night
- Immediately buy rice, beans, sardines, and vegetables
- Boil water, cook, and eat
- Go to bed as soon as possible
Cranking was the lifestyle we adopted to cover the hundreds of relatively boring kilometers through west Panama. It is a lifestyle that costs time, energy, and food. During cranking, we are reduced to biking machines–filled with lactic acid; in drafting lines like ducks in a four-lane highway; signaling with fingers, taps and shouts; focused on food and rest; eyes drooping at 6:30 pm; “hitting the hay” physically and mentally drained by 150 kilometers of sweat. The rewards appear on our dynamic itinerary, freeing days in the future with promises of rest: fresh legs, wide eyes, and sharp minds.
We began cranking from Panama City. Passing through high-rise apartment buildings, we spotted giant barges queued up on the horizon to pass through the canal. Bikes aren’t allowed on the America Bridge, and so we biked north along the old canal railroad line to the Centennial Bridge. As we stopped to watch an oil tanker crawl through the Gaillard Cut of the canal, Abe thought fondly of his father’s work with imports and exports. Seeing the canal also brought us face-to-face with the history and social changes of the construction process. Digging was started by the French in 1882 and finished by the US in 1914. In those years Panama was a part of Colombia, but the US supported an independence movement that in turn rewarded the US-Americans with rights to the Canal Zone. More than twenty thousand workers died, and we met one Panamanian whose grandfather was brought from Barbados to work on the canal.
The road through west Panama was long and hot, with trafficked stretches resembling the Untied States. Big parking lots in front of shopping malls with access roads to crowded highways, Panama reminded us how tough it can be to bike back in US.
To say goodbye to Panama and spend our last balboas, we got another half gallon of Estrella Azul Cremoso ice cream, supplemented with sugar cookies. We’ll burn off those empty calories, right?
Costa Rica was a breath of fresh air. Less traffic, more people with time to talk to us, and breathtaking forest. Less than a kilometer from the border, we already had seen several new, brightly colored birds. Levi, our most observant bird watcher, counted off three new bird types in three minutes. Michael instinctively went to squash a bug while regreasing his front wheel, but stopped short to see the bold stripes of red and blue on the moth’s iridescent body. Costa Rica’s biodiversity has impressed us.
Thanksgiving day started out rough. A plantain milkshake we were mixing exploded in the blender. We also drank almost all of the morning pot of coffee at the fire station, leaving none for the disgruntled chief. But our day got better when we stopped, hot and sweaty from the soot of the road, to take a desnudodip in a woodsy stream. The little creek and hike through the jungle to get there reminded us of the joys bike touring can bring when there isn’t any obligation to crank out the kilometers.
That afternoon we took another detour to see an area that our map labeled as ‘stone spheres.’ In search of the history of these archaeological balls, we crossed paths with Elsa, a US-American emigrant who bought a farm with her husband and has a reforestation project. She invited us to her home. We showed up with panniers filled with groceries, ready to cook a surprise Thanksgiving meal for them. Her husband David was a world traveler as well, and had plenty of stories of sleeping in ditches, hitchhiking and begging for bread when the money ran out in India. They also gave us tips on the route north, as they prefer to drive or bus the 6-8 days to return to California. Over the shared meal of squash, mashed potatoes, cheesy broccoli, green beans chicken and Michael’s experimental corn-flour cookies, we learned that David has a Mennonite background in the Loewen family from Winkler, Manitoba.
The road up the Costa Rican coast was filled with beautiful beaches and plenty of English advertising for the tourists and snowbirds that come here from the US. Abe still hopes to befriend a surfer and ride the waves.