Spring has sprung. April is upon us and that means stage two of Retracing Routledge is here. The bikes are in boxes, in transit and so are we. I’m writing this blog post from Miami International Airport – next stop Buenos Aires.
This stage holds much more of the unknown. Long distance cycling is a whole new ball game to me. I can mend a puncture and change a flat if needed, an issue which will surely crop up at some point during the thousand miles between Buenos Aires and Santiago. The only true form of cycle-touring experience I can draw on is from Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions (a British youth service award) that I did with my friend Helen the summer before we left Darlington for University. We chose to meet the requirements of the award scheme on our rigid mountain bikes of the time (circa 1996 frames), loaded with two big rear panniers, extras held on by bungie cords and tape. Our expeditions took us through northern England: Weardale, Upper Teesdale and into Northumberland. Hilly and challenging, but not quite the Andes. But it doesn’t matter. The outdoor experience I gained through the ‘D of E’ scheme is still with me today.
The great aspect of this stage is that my husband Jesse and I are able to ride the whole leg together, along with extra support from my brother Simon for a few days. The three of us will roll out of Buenos Aires on Sunday morning, following a route out of the city along the Rio Plato. Both Jesse and Simon have many cycling miles in their legs having completed the Coast-to-Coast ride in England, and bike-tours in New Zealand and Germany. The guys will be on their personal bikes whilst I will be riding a hybrid bike specially donated for the trip by Start Cycles in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Packing for three weeks of bicycle touring, and also the three weeks I plan to spend on Rapa Nui has been challenging. But it’s nothing in comparison to what it must have been like for the Routledges as they planned and packed provisions for the Mana and it’s journey. Space on a boat, and a bike are limited – and necessity over luxury becomes the main factor when making choices. I do think the Mana possibly had a few more luxuries and storage space than can be afforded on two wheels, but the Mana was specially designed to go the distance to Rapa Nui, and be at sea for long periods of time. As Katherine observed: “Nothing was more surprising all through the voyage than the yacht’s elasticity: however much we took onboard we got everything in, and however much we took out she was always quite full.” It will be interesting to see whether the same can be said of a bike and it’s panniers!
We’ve had some excellent advice for this stage from seasoned bicycle tourists: travel light and have waterproof panniers; fix a bell and a mirror on your bike handle bar; wear padded cycling shorts; have lots of snacks handy; fix at least 2 water carriers on the bike frame; ensure you have sun shade on your cycle helmet; wear a cotton scarf to stop sun burn on the back of your neck; find a good map and GPS; and carry a ‘Dazer’ to ward off stray dogs as you cycle into a town! But there are many things that are unknown; none of us have visited Argentina before and this is the longest bike ride either Jesse or I will have ever attempted – which are all parts of the adventure and challenge.
So – first stop Buenos Aires and a hostel where we can unpack the bike boxes and make sure everything is in ship-shape for the first day on the road. We also hope to connect with the Buenos Aires Soroptimists Group and visit the Casa Rosado. Spreading the word about the BioMax and fundraising, making notes and taking photographs of the modern landscape in comparison to what the Routledges saw one hundred years ago, and finding time for running and yoga on the road – this stage promises to be a whole new world.