Alexandre The Great

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

12 Responses to “Alexandre The Great”
  1. 14,000 ft – no big deal! Ha! I think you give Alexandro a run for his money on the badass-o-meter! Glad to see you got some decent sleep and still have pavement beneath you. Stay tough man – everyone’s thinking about you!

    by Yost
    on 05. Nov, 2009

  2. I’m glad there are “Alexandros” out there. I am convinced that true freedom is obtained by letting go, not gathering up. Take it easy brother.

    by ed
    on 05. Nov, 2009

  3. One of my favorite posts so far. Love the cowboy pic!

    by sara
    on 05. Nov, 2009

  4. Hey Patron, if Alexandro doesn’t need a map im sure you’ll be fine… I’m also glad you got some rest and some solid road. I’m sure you were meant to run into that guy as some source of inspiration, he sounds awesome, haha. Sounds like your spirits are high, keep up the good work!

    by PhilKierl
    on 05. Nov, 2009

  5. Guess what? The soccer jersey that Alexandro had on belong to my favorite Brazilian soccer team PALMEIRAS which means PALM. Anyway, I can’t believe you are already leaving Brazil… keep it up SCM (super cyclist man)

    by idario
    on 06. Nov, 2009

  6. Hey! I live here in Rio Branco. Call me if you need something. It will be a pleasure to help. My name is Flavio, drama professor at the local university, and I also run a non-profit organization here in Rio Branco. I took the road to Peru few months ago, so maybe I can help. All the best to you!
    Flavio 3222 6844

    by Flavio Lofego
    on 06. Nov, 2009

  7. Hey Doug, This was a great post, as usual. You are very funny. The picture of the insect repellent clothing and bug helmet was really something. Um…did you know that bed bugs leave the telltale sign of blood specks on the sheets?
    Pleasant dreams!

    by kathy
    on 06. Nov, 2009

  8. Douglas see if you can bring Alexandro home with you. I think he is your long lost brother Peter? Love you and miss you.

    by Mom
    on 06. Nov, 2009

  9. Seems like what Alexandro lacks in equipment he more than makes up in attitude. He’s on the wrong side of the road by convention, but going in the right direction , and that’s what counts!
    Take care.
    Love Dad

    by Dad
    on 07. Nov, 2009

  10. Amazing progress and a nice contrast to see other well equipped cyclists on the road for fun, and another rugged individualist cycling on a personal quest with minimal equipment.

    Was just watching a show today on Viet Nam that showed the how adding two lengths of bamboo to a bike allowed them to walk 4-500 lbs of equipment along the Ho Chi Min Trail, and a Google search revealed that 2-week cycling tours of the Trail are now being offered as a vacation package.

    Bike travel is something we should be a little more in tune with, and your journey is certainly setting a great example of that.

    by Ken
    on 07. Nov, 2009

  11. Hey Doug, You are my favorite SCM too…I’m so proud of you and your accomplishments and really enjoy following your journey through your postings and pics…Sure hope you give Flavio a call! Best, Joni

    by Joni
    on 09. Nov, 2009

  12. [...] back on the fellow cyclists I met and their achievements I remembered Alexandre. I bet Alexandre and I could give them a run for their money laughing the whole way! Nasca desert [...]

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