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February 28, 2006

Independent Fabrications - Steel Independence

The IF bike is a go. Zoltan (I just like writing his name) called IF to see if they could make the Steel Independence for 26” wheels and they can and will. It will take approximately 6 weeks to make the frame and fork and then I imagine another week or two, once it is delivered, to get the whole bike together. The bonus in this whole process is that I will be able to take the headset, breaks, bar end shifters, front and rear derailleurs, racks, and seat post (maybe) from my old Bruce Gordon bike (anyone interested in buying the frame please email me) and put them on the new one. This equipment only has 4,000 miles on it. Then I will get new 26” wheels built and buy a new crank arm, cassette, and potentially a new seat – not sure about that yet.

Zoltan, and everyone else at Sid’s Bikes in Manhattan has been very helpful. Everyone, except for one chick, has been friendly and will shoot the shit with you while you are waiting around for the much sought after Zoltan. I like the shop and Zoltan’s attitude about bikes and their desire to help everyone who is into biking, not just the racer-types.

Since I would like to actually keep this bike I’m getting all necessary braze-on for future accommodations:

• All rack connections (I’m using Bruce Gordon low riders in the front and BG regular in the back ) so years down the line, if these ever die, the bike will be equipped to handle a selection of racks
• Pump peg although I’ve never owned a pump that needed this – maybe now’s the time
• 3 water bottle connections – the more water the better, maybe one can even be, something stronger for those endless high-altitude climbs that I am trying desperately to prepare for
• Fender braze-ons, but I won’t be using fenders on this trip
• Fork type – (will add later when I get the specs)
• Tubing – (will add later when I get the specs)

And finally, the color scheme will be metallic carbon black with a pink and white decal. This is really important stuff, since we all know that the paint and decal are the most important decision that can be made when ordering a new bike and that I’ll be stuck with my decision for a long, long time. I almost went out on a limb and got a nice orangey-rust color, but at the last minute whet back to basics and stuck with dark. Even my clothes are all black, brown, and green worn sometimes with red shoes (yes, sometimes I look like a really tall elf) so I went with the same color scheme for the bike: dark with a spot of color.

Things are starting to move; the emails are being sent. The biggest hurdle left is telling my parents that their 36 year old, just married daughter is going to South America on an incredible journey that will indelibly mark the changes going on in her life. When I leave a new period of my life will begin which I look forward to sharing with my husband, friends, and family.

February 23, 2006

A Concise History of Bolivia

A worthy, if ponderous, read and as the nice bartender from Nougatine (my favorite bar for eavesdropping) said, “That looks like some heavy stuff.” I couldn’t have asked for a better conversation starter. After 30mins and a fair amount of a cucumber martini (read: gin infused with cucumber and a squeeze of lemon) it was time to close the book and listen to Jean George chat up two young Asian women next to me.

Back to the book...this is a great book for getting an overview of the country of Bolivia and how it came about. It gives a timely context to some of the incidences and attitudes described by Harry Franck in Vagabonding Down the Andes. I skimmed quite a bit though – the only place I could read it without my eyelids drooping (besides a bar with a gin martini) was on the subway which allowed for about 15 minutes of quality reading time at a shot.

I learned about how the conquering Spaniards embraced the existing Indian social structure to their advantage and about the war over guano which lost Bolivia its ocean access. And then there’s silver and tin. It seems that after colonialism and before the cold war, politics consisted of a bunch of hot air where each party promised everything, sucked the country dry and then either overstayed their welcome to the post or ran off to be diplomat somewhere far, far away when things started changing out of their favor. Not like ours is much better at times.

It’s crazy – loosely connected communities that have been successfully organized by an Indian social structure for ages (I have no idea how long) gets taken over, the new regime incorporates the Indian social structure into the colonial social structure, and finally centuries later the old colonial/indian hybrid social structure is permanently abolished through more politics and now you have a country with no past model for a functioning social structure and lots of military rule.

After the 50s there was a peasant revolution and the indigenous, bottom-of-the-rung farmers finally started getting a say in politics and some land to boot. Some changes that took place for the farmers were the disassembly of the hacienda system and the right to bear arms, but there still ensued another 50 years or so of military rule. Now there have been at least two bilingual (indigenous—Amayran or Quechua—don’t know which and Spanish) candidates in power. Ever so slowly the country has moved from military rule towards some sort of multi-party democracy with most, if not all, people being recognized. The level of education has risen and although still high, the infant mortality has dropped significantly.

Bolivia is a country with a rich history and I’m looking forward to meeting its people. A place’s government does not necessarily reflect everything or even anything of its people.

Amazon Link: A Concise History of Bolivia

February 21, 2006

And the Winner Is...

And the winner for Nif’s New Bike is...Independent Fabrications – the Independence Touring Frame . I came to this conclusion somewhere in the wee hours of the morning after asking every divination method I could thing of about which wheel to choose 26: or 700c. Finally I just said, “Screw it,” and figured that the 26” was sturdier.


Apparently, much of Bolivia is unpaved and then there is the infamous Ruta 40 in Argentina which apparently is getting better, but that’s looking on the bright side. I’ve just heard from Ian Thumbert (who is organizing a trip from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego) that “…much of this route the road is "BRUTAL" for cycling with large rock and potholes and barren, desolate, and isolated. Very hard on car tires and undercarriages. Obviously very tough riding on bikes; particularly hard on tires, tubes, and wheels if you are not careful.” Lucky devil took a scouting trip.

Ian’s tour is scheduled to leave in May or so, I believe, and you can contact him at j.thumlert@shaw.ca for more information if you’re interested in joining the trip.

Back to the bike…I have an appointment with Zoltan from Sid’s Bikes in Manhattan on Friday the 24th and I hope we get everything straightened out. This is the moment where I put down the huge deposit – it’s like buying an airplane ticket - I hate it, but love where it gets me.

As for the frame, I’m still not sure whether Zoltan asked Independent Fabrications if the frame could be made for 26” wheels. I suppose these things will be ironed out in good time (as in Friday). I’ll go in fully prepared anyway with the fit kit from IF and a description of the bike.

I’m excited. And apprehensive. And excited!

February 14, 2006

Vagabonding Down the Andes ..

What a huge book. Six hundred and twelve pages of trudging up and down the Andes, scavenging for food, attempting to talk with the natives, and figuring how to carry his photographic equipment. How lucky for us that, at the very least, cameras can now be carried without the benefit of a mule.

Harry A. Franck has written many of these tomes and although they are not the travel books of today, full of witty stories and slights of culture, they are remarkably readable. It will take you awhile however.

Vagabonding is full of minutia about life throughout the Andes was around the early 1900s. There are mentions of bribes, mosquitoes, heat and cold, and well he’s sort of a curmudgeon with a knack for detail. Although he makes a point about how walking makes him invisible to the upper classes and how he wants to see the real people, he tends to make a fair amount of stereotypical or even derogatory remarks about the indigenous people. He’s writing is typical of his time, before the concept of PC and should be taken with a grain of salt. It is important to try to read a book in the context of the time it was written and to not apply your own, current belief systems to it.

There is a lot to be gleaned from this book, especially about geography, culture, food, people and I can only hope that my accounts give some similar rendition in the modern setting.

Amazon Link: Vagabonding Down the Andes Being the Narrative of a Journey, Chiefly Afoot, from Panama to Buenos Aires

Self Defense

One of the main concerns that I’ve been hearing and having about this trip is about my personal safety. For some reason, I haven’t been too concerned with it as I tend to think that people, on the whole, are pretty nice. We were shown, over and over again, the generosity of complete strangers during a four month cross-country trip that a friend and I took in 1996. Along the way there were a few comments about a tee-shirt I was wearing in Montana (which I subsequently sent home) and other than that there was only one time that we were bothered. It was some local youth in Lawrence, Kansas who couldn’t have been much younger than us. And I still really like Kansas, it’s my favorite not-really-flat state.

There were so many other times on this trip that people were welcoming and protective of us. In Missouri, a man who was taking his 10 year old son on a canoe trip watched over me in a campsite because he had heard that the locals came to party there. They did come and they did party, but no one bothered us.

In Whitefish, Montana people gave us dried fish which sounds like an insult, but it’s really a great compliment and a source of pride in a place where seemingly everyone fishes and smokes their catch. We’d ask to camp in a yard and were welcomed into the house, given a full meal, a shower, and a bed by complete strangers – families usually.

The key is to keep your mouth shut and for once in your life not discuss your opinions about those things that your mother told you to never to discuss with strangers: politics, religion, sex, drugs and money. It’s not as hard as it seems – I never know when to shut up and somehow I managed not to insult anyone all the way across America. Of course, since I’ll be in South America this time and I speak next to no Spanish, conversation may not be an issue. I’ll just be exhausted and to learn a fair amount about Shakespeare in my downtime. Just kidding – I hope talk to whomever will attempt to converse with me.

After the scale and potential solitude of the trip sunk in, I decided that one way to make myself feel stronger and to reassure (somewhat at least) those who were concerned was to take a self-defense class. Using that wonderful superlative, “best”, I ran a Google search and came up with a “Best Self Defense Class” article in New York magazine which lead me to Impact at Prepare, Inc.

Next: The First Two Classes

February 09, 2006

Lone Traveller: One Woman, Two Wheels and the World

I picked up this book about a year ago because it was unique. It was about cycle touring and written by a woman. As I read I became more and more impressed with Anne Mustoe’s travel accomplishments and hope to be able to emulate these in my travels.

This book does not discuss a particular journey, rather it talks about different types of things that she encountered on multiple trips and the people she encountered along the way. She acknowledged in the beginning of the book that another book about scenery would not be appreciated and that is is, as much as we don’t want to admit, not fun reading for those who didn’t go on the journey. I appreciated the insight on situations and the story-telling aspect.

This book should inspire people to take their own trips, especially women who think “I could never do that, I don’t know how to fix a bike” or “I’m too old” or “I can’t find anyone to go with”. Anne has defied all of the misconceptions of what it takes to travel adventurously.

Amazon Link: Lone Traveller: One Woman, Two Wheels and the World


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