Since leaving Humaita,´and passing through Porto Velho, I’ve cycled 443 miles in 4 days on the bike. I’m now resting in the city of Rio Branco. I had the fortune of meeting some fellow cyclists while in route from Porto Velho to Rio Branco, including the toughest man I’ve ever met…Alexandre!
The road out of Porto Velho is a major highway with fast traffic and long rolling hills. After a few minutes I passed a group of 20-30 road cyclists staging for a Sunday morning ride. They had the latest in high-tech equipment, the first I’ve seen of that kind while in Brazil. In the group was the guy I bought my pedals from the day prior. I took a quick pic and tried to keep up but the slightest incline had me spit out the back of the pack. A loaded mountain bike is no match for a feather-light road bike.
This far east in Brazil the rainy season has already begun. Everyday storms pass by, sometimes dumping huge amounts of rain. These storms move incredibly fast. You can see them coming from the jungle. The rain soon obscures the tree line and within a few minutes the storm closes the mile or so gap from the edge of the jungle across the cleared fazenda and into the road. When they barrel through it gets cold too…relatively speaking of course. When you’ve grow somewhat accustomed to 100 degrees rain in the upper 70´s is downright frigid!
The first day I planned to stop in a small town just 60 miles from Porto Velho but all the hotels were booked! I pedaled another 42 miles to a town called Mutum-Parana´ where I was able to get a hot meal, a cold shower, and a place to sleep. My room was as much chicken coup as it was a hotel room but I actually slept like a rock.
The following day I was to cross the Rio Madeira for the 3rd and final time. I had about 20 miles before the crossing when sometime in mid-morning I saw a form a ways off coming straight at me. Even from a considerable distance I could tell it was a cyclist, but a cyclist with a purpose. Someone commuting to work a few miles and someone on a journey have a much different presence or form on a bike. I could see this man was on a mission.
He was riding against traffic on my side of the road. He wore a baseball cap, a soccer jersey and shorts, and flip-flops. His eyes were red from the sun and wind (actually he never really unsquinted his right eye at all) and he was all smiles. We stopped our bikes front wheel to front wheel and shook hands.
Alexandre was on his way from somewhere in Peru to Rio de Janeiro to see his family. He couldn’t tell me how many days he’d been riding so far. He road a single speed steel bike with one brake, an entire spare wheel strapped to the rear rack (not just an inner-tube or tire, the whole wheel), and a book bag with a hammock and some clothes tied to his handle bars. He road in flimsy rubber flip-flops (a non-matching pair), he had no map, no food with him, not even any water or water bottles!
I started to feel put in my place. He was probably wondering what the hell I had in all those big red bags all over my bike. I began to wonder what the hell I had in all those bags too. While I was nibbling on cookies and Tang he was probably mawing rocks, roadkill, and washing it down with a quart of motor oil! This was one tough dude.
I gave him some of my water, he glanced at my map to make sure he should turn right at Porto Velho, and we parted ways. I had a lot of admiration for him. With the true minimum of supplies (with the exception of his entire spare wheel!) he was carrying out his adventure. He continued down the road on the wrong side with his head low grinding away at the pedals. I have a feeling Alexandre has been going the wrong way his whole life.
Once again I crossed the Rio Madeira and was within 50 meters of Bolivia. The hills and headwind kept my pace slow all that day but I kept thinking of Alexandre as I rode. After some more storms and another 100+ mile day I reached the town of Extrema.
Again, hot meal, cold shower, and a room with real walls this time. Up until this point I haven’t had too many problems with mosquitoes. I think all the mosquitoes in the Amazon were in this hotel. After turning on the lights and seeing little specks of my blood all over the sheets I suited up in all my Ex-Officio insect repellent clothing and bug helmet for the night. I didn´t get much sleep and was out the door at 5am the next day.
Rio Branco was now 112 or so miles ahead of me. I was feeling the wear and tear of the previous day’s miles so I gave myself ample time to make the distance. The hills were getting bigger again and that damned headwind was in my face. It is an impossible enemy. The wind never tires, it’s everywhere, the harder you fight the more you lose. Headwinds can be very a frustrating force.
For the time being I don’t mind the rain. It breaks up otherwise monotonous hours on the bike and washes away some of the salt from my skin. I know when I am back in the jungle and dirt in Peru I’ll be cursing it again. I snapped this shot of a couple of Gaúcho’s walking in from the fazendas, chaps and all. They gave me a thumbs up and a “Hey Patrao” (boss) as I passed.
I’m now in Rio Branco planning my route through Peru. The road from the Brazilian border, through Porto Maldonado, and up the Andes to Cuzco is going to be tough to say the least. There are a lot of dirt stretches that might pose quite a problem with the frequent rains. I also have to climb 14,000+ feet of elevation… no big deal. There is dynamite blasting in the mountains where the Trans-Oceanica route is being built that can close the road for entire days. I don’t have a map of this section and can’t find one anywhere in this city.
But hey, what would Alexandre do?