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  • there were eight of us, four women and four men, riding our mountain bikes from quito, ecuador, to tierra del fuego, four thousand miles away.

    we rode through cities and countryside, through forests, along farms, flying past ravenous dogs that chased us for several miles.

    even the tiniest villages had central plazas, so when we'd arrive, we'd circle the plaza like a cavalry coming into town, orbiting once, twice, looking for a lunch spot.

    we often rode the pan-american highway, having to share it with busses and 18-wheelers. there was little choice. fuck. there were a lot of truckers coked to the gills. i think we counted that, collectively, we were run off the road at least thirty-seven times.

    that's where we are in this picture, on the carretera panamericana, making our way through the volcano valley. a chiva bus is just about to rumble past us.

    we camped at 14,000 feet by chimborazo, that volcano to the left.

    . . . . . . .

    of the eight of us, haley and alex were a couple, the rest were not.

    tina is from austria, and she was probably the most fit. the vertical ascents never bothered her.

    katherine was also a mountain girl. every day was a competition for her - she counted victories for each time she was the first to glide in to the day's destination.

    we'd sleep in fields, on hillsides, in ravines, and would often wake up to a small audience of children who had heard about our arrival. we called it gringo tv, the way they watched us in silence. sometimes we'd see their parents off in the distance, on horseback, keeping an eye on things.

    haley and alex excelled at making camp, so they were the camp managers. when we left the campsites, there would be no trace of our having been there.

    angus had the nicest bike. it was light and very expensive but it broke down often because of potholes and he had to carry it across the dry riverbed that formed the borderland separating ecuador from peru. i remember running along side him, while a dilapidated ford thunderbird stuffed with twelve-fifteen people left us gagging on the dust.

    as if we didn't stand out enough in our high tech expedition wear, i dyed my hair bright red. at six foot one, i weighed 160 pounds and looked like raggedy andy.

    . . . . . . .

    eight to ten hours on a bike every day, for months and months on end.

    gabriel often made fun of his lack of sexual prowess, so we just as often made him the butt of many sex jokes. one day, when we reached the coastal range outside of valparaíso in chile, he had heard enough and punched me squarely in the chest, knocking me off my bike.

    hanne sophia was the first to go. she didn't last very long. she panicked somewhere near aguas calientes and took the first flight home.

    katherine left after a three-day fight.

    by the time we reached patagonia, there were only four of us, and we had split into two different groups. we had crossed the andes eight times by then.

    . . . . . . .

    in punta arenas, i met a girl from lawrence, kansas named raleigh coburn. she taught me card games and how to smoke from a beer can.

    i called my parents from a phone booth by a corrugated tin house that overlooked the straights of magellan. i dialed their home in norway and my mother's voice crackled over the telephone line, it sounded like the northern lights, half way around the world, not far from the other pole.

    i never felt so far away from home.
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