We visited the Pan-American cyclists in Costa Rica for a week, and found the three amigos to be in excellent health and high spirits; truly an aligned, high-performance team. They are in incredible physical shape, tackling new adventures each day with a genuine curiosity and interest in the people, culture, language, and landscape that they encounter on their bicycles. There have been some tough times, e.g. showing up somewhere at dark after a long day’s ride in the rain, exhausted and hungry, with no place to stay. But overall, morale is high, as the crew is having a tremendous experience, and maybe more fun than recent college graduates with no money deserve to have.
It is an efficient team, carrying on their bicycles a well-organized load of precisely what they need. They handle the constant traveling and planning decisions of the trip in an impressive fashion, like a set of triplets with subliminal communication capabilities. Regarding decisions, there is inclusive discussion of pros and cons, and then fairly quickly an unspoken consensus agreement, as people who know each other very well can do, with no outward hint of conflict. It is a similar situation with their blog, to which all three contribute, but it is difficult to tell exactly who wrote which section. They are equally matched in several areas – in cycling prowess Abe has a slight edge on level terrain, Levi perhaps the fastest on the hills. All three eat prodigious amounts of food to support their bicycle metabolism, with Abe the most, Michael currently eating more than Levi. In the Spanish language, Levi is the best, with the others also quite proficient.
There is also a strong common characteristic on the team of – the Spanish word is aprovechar – which has no exact English translation, but means “to make good use of”. They are focused, partly by necessity, partly by choice, on a frugal lifestyle, and this takes the form of chatting with those they meet in an unhurried, beguiling fashion, charming folks into offering help in ways that are perhaps mutually beneficial. Abe in particular has become adept at asking for things that appear to be unused or available, e.g. in a store, “Can we have this pineapple with the rotten spot in it for free?” Once when leaving a grocery store with some ingredients for the evening meal, we found Levi outside, chewing on a loaf of Costa Rican bread secured from the store dumpster. And Michael is considered by all as the cheapest of the three; he embraces the bargaining culture, plus it’s a good way to practice Spanish!
I was invited to join the team for a “One Day In The Life Of” experience of routine bicycle travel. We started the day with a big breakfast, smeared on plenty of sunscreen, joined in a short prayer, and took off on a 95-km ride. The first 20 km were exhilarating, a bit scary with big trucks and buses whizzing by on the busy six -lane Pan-American highway out of San Jose, with some dicey merges at entrance ramps, but the drivers were very respectful, not squeezing us off the road. The next 20 km consisted of a 1300-meter aggressive climb on a small road over the cordillera mountain range, and sadly, I struggled to pedal my 10-kg rented mountain bike up the grade at a reasonably steady rate while the others cranked their 37-kg loaded bicycles up with comparative ease. The next stretch was mostly a rewarding downhill, and I was not comfortable going as fast as the others down the mountain, where Abe’s speedometer reached 73 kph – not a record for the trip. The final leg for the day was a rocky gravel road, a rough, jarring ride that was relatively okay for my mountain bike with suspension. I ended the day totally exhausted, hoping that I had not slowed down the group too much, and quietly relieved that the others also looked a bit fatigued. It was the highlight of my visit.
There were some juxtapositions – three guys eager to taste new foods, experience other cultures, practice their Spanish, who with their $15/day per person budget never stay in a hotel unless they absolutely cannot find a lower cost option – feeling a bit guilty but morphing into kids in a candy store when presented with a bourgeois USA-style hotel courtesy of the parents – wow, let’s do the pool, let’s do the weight room, a “Business Center” with fast internet, look at that breakfast spread, the TV remote doesn’t work? – that’s just not right! Also, they currently have the luxury of experiencing wonderful warm temperatures every day while avoiding the freezing winter back home, though on the flip side, the upcoming Christmas in Nicaragua without family could be a bummer.
So, from a parent’s perspective, the boys are doing well, hanging in there and keeping the faith, planning and executing an intense, intercontinental bicycle trip that is unfolding as the journey of a lifetime. Transmitting what you know to the filial generation is an important aspect of life, and I sensed the passage of this process during our visit. These guys are “wise beyond their linear years”, savvy but perhaps a bit too fearless, with still a few more things to learn. Soon enough they will be choosing our nursing homes.