Straight lines that connect all the dots are neat and tidy.
However, squiggles are much more fun.
Screw straight lines.
Riding in Peru presents two main choices of routes: the straight and flat but dreary landscape made exciting in a terrible way with risks for violent robberies on the Pan-American highway along the coast (especially in Northern Peru) or the mountain route that is neither flat, straight or boring. The mountain route zipping around on the spine of the Andes is beautiful but takes much longer to ride and many cyclists tend to bus at least some of the route.
It is tempting to draw that line all down the Americas, complete and unbroken. However, what is that actually worth and what do you miss out in the process? We decided to ride the beautiful river canyons in remote Northern Peru at the cusp of where the Andes meets the Amazon basis darting from high passes to cloud forests to jungles. The ride was phenomenal and became one of our favorite parts of our whole trip so far. However, it did include some draining heat and some wild climbs and took longer than if we had just ridden on the coast so after two weeks in Northern Peru, we bused down to Lima to meet up with Bryan’s parents. Together with them, we worked our way back up into the mountains to Cusco. We became extremely heavily loaded backpackers that filled up whole luggage compartments in buses with our bikes and gear and got to experience another side of Peru. We explored the desert coast, one of the driest in the world with huge sand dunes at times that interestingly is juxtaposed with an incredibly rich sea life, which we would have missed staying in the mountains if we had been cycling. Dipping off the Andes to visit the coast and then heading back into the mountains is big deal on bikes. Best of all, we got to see Bryan’s parents and it was like a little piece of home with us abroad.
Back in Cusco, we continued cycling south across the Altiplano to Lake Titicaca and the border with Bolivia. In our time in Peru, I have been amazed by all of the different environments we have encountered. It feels like we have experienced many different worlds. However, the diversity of experiences we were fortunate to have can partly be attributed to a willingness to abandon the idea of straight lines.
This idea of straight lines can be seen throughout life. I was graduating from my masters program in anthropology in the end of 2012 and I had this idea that I wanted to work for a bit and travel. Many people seemed to not understand this decision. I had not applied to go into a PhD program? Really? After graduation became a bit of an awkward topic with professors and others because there was this expection of a straight line. After my masters, I was supposed to start my PhD and then do some brilliant research and publish articles that gets my name out there, do a post-doc and publish a book to shore up my chances on the next step of navigating the trecherous waters of trying to get a tenure-track professor position and continue to publish or perish. Things seem to lead into another and there seems to be this fear that once you stray from the path, you may never find it again or worst, that gatekeepers will deem you uncommitted and unworthy and deny you entry back in again. That may be true but you may find another amazing and rewarding journey.
People sometimes ask us how Bryan and I can go on all these amazing trips and we usually answer that it’s an ability to quit life as we know it and leave it all behind. We leave our jobs eventhough we’re doing well in them, leave our wonderfully located and cheap one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver, donate most of our stuff until all we have left in our name is four tupperwear containers stored in the garage of Bryan’s parents’ house, fit our lives into four panniers on a bike and just start riding south.
This whole trip is a swiggle and a deviation from that straight, unbroken line so why worry about constructing seamless routes?
Sometimes, I think when you try to control the future too much, you end up missing spontaneous opportunities that could change and enrich your whole life. Straight lines look tempting in theory but what is it actually worth to have a neat and tidy journey and what have you given up in the process?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain