I’ve been out of the corporate world for a while now, but, as I recall, this is about the time of year I’d be receiving the ‘It’s PDR season’ email. A slightly awkward experience for all involved, where individual performance is evaluated and objectives are set for the coming months. Whilst my job title has effectively shifted from ‘Senior Engineer’ to ‘Roaming Vagabond’, it seemed an apt time to evaluate the trip thus far and basically subject myself to a similar process. The beauty of such a lengthy adventure is the tremendous scope to reinvent your approach along the way, learning from experience and changing the plan accordingly. And with an exciting new continent now draped out before me, what better time to do it…
A cycle trip can mean different things to different people, much as a backpacking trip can entail a huge piss up in South East Asia for some or exploring the deepest corners of western China for others. And whilst cycling inherently involves a reasonable dollop of adventure, especially in Latin America, there are still a wide variety of approaches one can adopt. In true PDR fashion, if we use the 1 to 5 grading system to evaluate ‘level of adventure’ (a key attribute in most professions), the extremes would be something like:
1 – Credit Card Tourer: Follows primary routes, exclusively staying in hotels and eating in restaurants
5 – Dirt Road Trailblazer: Tackles the remotest of routes over difficult terrain, fully self-sufficient and primarily wild camping
Thus far I’ve probably been scoring a solid 3, but as alluded to in my previous post, recent motivation levels have taken a bit of a hit. The drudgery of progress dominated riding on busy, paved roads has been slowly wearing me down and frankly I’m craving wilderness adventure. So, with relatively densely populated Central America behind me and the Andes on the immediate horizon, it’s time to shake things up a bit. From Western Colombia onwards I’ll be aiming for 4’s and 5’s, seeking out the most interesting and adventurous off-road routes through the mountains. The Andes have always been a key focus of the trip and in my mind, to really do them justice means hitting dirt tracks and getting way off the beaten path.
Like any good PDR session, it’s prudent to consider what modifications or additional resources will be required to achieve these new objectives. And in my case, this largely means shedding weight from the bike and ruggedizing. Andean dirt roads tend to be of the seriously steep variety and as I’ve come to learn, tackling these with a heavily loaded bike is a rather frustrating experience, typically resulting in complete resentment of bicycle travel and life in general. As such, whilst the chilly High Andes may not be the best time to be ditching equipment, I’ve gone through a fairly ruthless purge of all my gear to get the total weight down to around 16kg (from the 30ish kg I started with). A not insignificant drop, which has meant some inevitable compromises; the Jeans had to go, as did the telephoto lens and I’ve resorted to a bike lock which a small child could probably bite through. Perhaps though, the most controversial and significant saving has come from ditching all panniers, front rack and handlebar bag, and substituting them with lightweight dry bags. Whilst this sacrilegious act will no doubt deeply disturb traditional tourers, it gives a combined weight saving of around 5kg and hopefully means everything won’t rattle about when off-road. In any case, with my panniers now back in the UK, there’s no going back…
Gear tweaks aside though, the most important resource for achieving dirt road nirvana is time. Remote, winding dirt roads take significantly more time than the main, paved thoroughfares and route planning thus becomes an often-frustrating balancing act between progress and adventure. Achieving harmony between the two requires substantial time or possibly performance enhancing drugs, neither of which I have. As such, if I’m to make it to Patagonia before the 2015 winter sets in. the ‘adventure sections’ will need to be interspersed with head-down ‘mile munching sections’ along main routes.
The alternative is, of course, to skip the ‘boring’ sections via other means of transport and focus instead on really exploring the areas of most interest, pioneering new routes and getting way off the beaten track. A sane move in theory, but the traditional concept of a continuous A to B route is still hard for me to let go of. It certainly sounds more impressive to say I’ve cycled the length of South America rather than just parts of it, but in reality the later is likely to be the more adventurous trip. In any case, I’d like to think that by now I’ve risen above caring about other people’s perceptions. My demons instead stem from the rather irrational sense of guilt or ‘cheating’, associated with breaking up the cycling; a strange, but ultimately completely self-induced concept. So whilst still not a step I’m ready to take, I am starting to question the rationale of continuous cycling and time will tell if I decide to throw my rulebook out the window…
Paul your trip is so awesome!! It’s great reading about your adventures!
I am a friend of Peter M., he told me about your trip so I have been reading about your wonderful trip and viewing your photography.
Thanks Stephanie, it looks like I’m not the only one who’s into photography!
So good to hear your comments, great writing style and very honest though obviously laced with the necessary b*****t that is an essential part of any good performance review! My advice is to go with what is really worthwhile in terms of your memory banks and photo collection. Do you really think you’re going to be at the pearly gates and worried about being challenged about why you didn’t ride that 15.7 miles of dual carriageway in central Chile!? more likely is why the hell did you bother riding that dual carriageway when you could have seen those unbelievably beautiful mountains! Enjoy the journey mate, it’s a brilliant adventure and well done for having the guts and organisatijon to do it. Take care! cheers, nige
Thanks Nige, some good words of wisdom there.
As a weight saving, have you considered cycling naked?
Probably the next logical step, will keep it in mind. Also, don’t think I’ve forgotten about our FaceTime sesh, I’ll track you down soon!
Personal opinion: you’ll kick yourself more if you don’t suck out every ounce of adventure…..there’s not masses to be had on the bristol-bath cycle path…. Looking forward to seeing you in Sept. Keep safe! x
Thanks Hannah, yep looking forward to the peruvian reunion!
Very impressed by your weight saving modifications to the bike & the soul searching involved with any long trip. My advice is to do the trip in the fashion that suits you, and lie about it. Regards from Max doing it in style (probably rated 2), but happy to brag that my pack is only 5 kg.
5kg – livin’ the dream!
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Given that I would probably have been doing your PDR if you were still at work, I thought it would be rude not to take the time to actually do some performance ratings for you myself. Obviously I’m not able to carry out a full 360 degree review because I can’t come and have a chat with the last Columbian sheep farmer you cycled passed so instead I am going to base my scores mainly on the photographic evidence you’ve presented. Clearly the usual categories don’t count so I’ve made a few more sensible ones up. Usual 1-5 ratings apply:
Hair cut – 1 although I’m not in a position to comment really
Personal hygiene – 2 I’m glad I’m not there to witness this myself
Tan lines – 5 looking sharp
Fashion sense – 2 too much lycra for any man
Photography – 5 Awesome
Blog writing – 5 Excellent
Mileage – 10,000?
Keep on rolling!
Haha, thanks Mike, I appreciate the feedback. I admit there’s work to be done with regards to the hair situation. Having just returned from a week slumming it in the mountains, I’d say you’ve been generous on the personal hygiene front, or at least I imagine that would be view of the poor woman who’s guest-house I’ve arrived at. I hope all’s well in the UK and tour fever is in full swing. I’ve yet to watch/read anything, one of the drawbacks of living in a tent.
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Ha! I’ve never heard of a PDR but it’s a good phrase!
Count yourself lucky!
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Reblogged this on diário / viagem de bike de Paranagua-Pr ao Rio de janeiro and commented:
Economia com alforges/ reduzindo peso.
Veja a evolucao de uma montagem classica para uma mais inteligente.
Thiss is great