Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Months Later: Wrapping Up

Although the ride ended some months ago, the ride still lives on in our heads, hearts, and in the lives of all the people we met: those who helped us along our journey.

Here is an article from this month's "O&P EDGE"
"We're in this fight together" Riding for ROMP 2010

We think Pam Martin from the O&P Edge did an excellent job covering the ride. We are pleased that she was able to work with us.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Bitter Sweet End

Tuesday September 7th, 2010 is a day that Pat and I will never forget.

After 78 days of cycling 4,000 miles over mountains, through tropical storms, past mudslides, and occasionally through more than 100 degree heat, Pat and I arrived at ROMP's flagstaff prosthetic and orthotic clinic on Tuesday with a caravan of vehicles in tow. Around 2:00 pm we neared the clinic (25 Km), followed by our newfound (as of a week ago) and trustworthy SAG vehicle driver Dave Krupa. Knowing that my brother and the ROMP staff had something up their sleeves for our arrival celebration, I anxiously cycled alongside Pat, waiting for the inevitable surprise. After rounding a soft corner on the highway, the ROMP staff appeared in a microbus with signage and screaming and cheering heads. Not long after, a Guatemalan fire truck joined our caravan of three vehicles and two bikes (should go without saying). With a loud siren and PA system, we were escorted the last 25 Km with roadside fanfare of mainly unsuspecting spectators usually excited enough by the commotion to cheer us along.

We made it!
After what seemed like only minutes (thanks adrenaline rush), we found ourselves rolling through the Zacapa Regional Hospital gate, across a small parking lot, into the ROMP clinic. Pat and I relished the moment, sharing an embrace, kissing the clinic wall, and hugging everyone in sight. We were warmly welcomed by ROMP staff and supporters, including the fire department that came out in full force to show their support. The clinic was lined with baloons and concert size speakers loudly playing "We are the champions" as we dismounted our bikes. Dave doused us with a bottle of champagne, giving us the feeling of crossing the finish line at the Tour De France. After coming out of the hour long adrenaline high, we drank beer, shared stories, and of course had some cake, and ate it too.

Sweet Victory
The day proved to be the ultimate high, but has quickly resulted in a low. We are happy to have arrived, relieved even. But, now that our almost eighty day journey is over, we find ourselves strangely in limbo. Without the daily routine of biking into the unknown, we are saddened. We are looking forward, but find it hard not to look back. The ride proved to be what we all expected, a life-changer. And although we understand its completion and are excited to have successfully arrived, we will also miss the routine of meeting kind strangers, crossing long stretches of desert and fighting against the elements and whatever else Mother Nature decided to throw at us.

It is the bitter sweet end that we expected, but will not know how to accept for some time now.

"Riding for ROMP" has been a success; we have raised nearly $25,000, helped raise awareness to ROMP's incredible mission, met and shared time with incredibly warm and helpful people along the way, learned countless lessons on problem-solving, strengthened our will and of course our legs, and broke, at least in our minds, many misconceptions and false assumptions about the current state of Mexico. Which instead of being the dangerous and chaotic playground of narcotrafficantes and international crime syndicates that the twenty-four hour news would have us believe, was the safest stretch of our journey; where instead we encountered families, smiling children, and Good Samaritans at every turn of the Panamerican Highway.

Thanks to all of your support "Riding for ROMP" has exceeded even our highest expectations and given us the inspiration necessary to continue to work in a similiar capacity. If you ever doubt the good nature of humanity or have been reading the work of German or Russian existential nihilists, then I would suggest riding your bike to work, across town, across country, or even to Guatemala.

Ride on....


Monday, September 6, 2010

Cunén to Santa Cruz Verapaz

Landslides, Mudslides, Rockslides and Sinkholes
Escaping a sinkhole

This was fun! First I’m thinking, “We’ll get out of town and soon I’ll have a signal on my phone.” The weather is great and the scenery is opening up all around. A policeman told us yesterday that we could not get through on this road and that the crews were cleaning up lots of landslides from the day before. The man at the hotel said that they were cleared by morning. We take a roll of the dice. Again we are lucky. Every 100 yards we pass another landslide. Sometimes they are mud, sometimes rock, sometimes gravel. They are so bad in certain stretches that the guys are walking the bikes across and I’m in four-wheel drive so as not to get stuck. They get back on the bikes and cruise down another half mile to another slide. This becomes the rhythm of the day. In parts the road narrows to one lane, sometimes to ¾ of a lane. We keep going. This is by far the most stunning stretch of highway we’ve traversed. We are in the department of Baja Verapaz and its all mountains, valleys, rivers and tropical forests. Plus, one long, winding downhill after another. We know that it’s leading to another long climb in the afternoon but for now, ENJOY.

This is what a landslide composed of gravel looks like
Uspantan was the largest town on the way. Still no phone signal. We have the best lunch of the trip as we pull up to watch the Saturday afternoon soccer game. We are in the land of the Maya and it’s obvious. We hear more indigenous languages than Spanish on the road. We see more traditional garb than western fashion in the fields. We keep rolling down. On a side note, the people eating breakfast near me are talking about the 4 deaths caused by landslides during the storms two days ago. Good thing we are out of the worst stretches of road now.

A landslide composed of "land"
The descents are faster, the coffee with cream colored-river down below is getting closer. We are nearing the bottom out point for today and getting psyched up for the long climb ahead. We are ten or fifteen miles to the final destination. Check out this cool bridge, the water is rushing by under our feet. The road is pocked with potholes and they are getting bigger and more frequent with every turn. I drive ahead and see that it’s only worse. Finally the road turns to gravel, dirt and mud and I come back with the bad news. We decide to ride to where we cannot anymore and then have no choice but to load the bikes into the car and drive ahead looking for pavement. This part of the route was not very clearly marked on the map and we knew there was a chance we might not get through. We almost didn’t.

Landslide composed of rock
Here we are on safari or an assignment with National Geographic. This is legit indigenous territory. There go the little old ladies carrying bags of corn on their heads. We roll by a small village and see the smoke rising out of chimneys, there is no electricity here. People are working the fields of corn, beans and coffee. The road is in bad shape and even with the car we are progressing slowly. Then, shazammm! A big ‘ol sign saying THERE IS NO PASS! On the sign a little image of people running away from giant rocks that are falling on them. LANDSLIDE ZONE. OK, this is not a landslide, this is the entire face of a mountain that disconnected and tumbled into the valley below. Who knows when and who knows what it destroyed besides the road. It did, however, take out the road completely. A half-mile stretch at least.

We’re screwed!

There’s that feeling like your heart falling through your pyloric sphincter into your stomach.

“How can this be, we have to turn back and go all the way through Guatemala City to continue?” Noooooooo!

It’s a miracle when Pat notices the tiny road going through the landslide down in the distance. It’s so far down that a pickup passing by looks like a Matchbox car. We start looking for the access road and find our way down and across. This adventure is drawing to a close as we emerge into civilization through the town of San Cristobal Verapaz. Pat and Greg begin riding again as we make our way to the Park Hotel in Santa Cruz Verapaz. This place is awesome! It is a self-proclaimed four-star hotel but relatively speaking we put it at seven stars. The owner, Emanuel is an Italian from Rome and he is the man. We showed up at his restaurant, covered in mud and looking like something that cat dragged in. We told Emanuel about ROMP, the ride and asked for two nights. He donated a little cabin for two nights.

The mountainside slide blocking our path
We are reflecting on the tragedy that struck on a stretch of highway we passed a few days ago. On km. 171 along the highway near Totonicapan a bus was buried by a mudslide. A team of rescuers began digging to free the passengers when a second landslide buried them as well. As of today 23 bodies have been recovered and 40 people are missing. This is just one of the several deadly landslides that occurred on Saturday. We were already out of that region of the country travelling through the route about which I just wrote. Guatemala has had a string of natural disasters this summer, making an already tough situation even worse for most of its people.

Pat finds our road to freedom, look at that little car below

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Near Accidents, a Broken Chain and the Everest Climb

Without Supplemental Oxygen

Two nights ago we were cut off from civilization, with good reason. The ride from Chichicastenango to Cunén started off like the day before ended. Rain, fog and cold. We all thought, “Will the bad weather cover the most beautiful part of our ride?” The divine power heard our question, interpreted it as prayer and quickly sent the sun to burn off the fog and smite the rain. We paid for these climactic miracles with flat tires a near accident and the first broken chain of the now more than 4,000 mile ride.

Near accident? Unfortunately. We’re entering a small town. It’s still raining and we are early on in the day on Friday. I’m trailing Greg, Pat is just ahead. The highway turns into a cobblestone road. We need to cut through town to reconnect with the main road. All of a sudden a little yellow Ford cuts across traffic from my left hand side to enter the street we are about to turn right onto. The car passes in front of Greg, gives him a split second to brake and turn alongside the car. It’s too late. They sideswipe one another, thankfully at 8mph or so. Greg puts a foot down and stays upright; there is nothing I can do. Amazingly, the driver keeps on going. I’m now chasing this little Ford Focus through town with this gigantic Mitsubishi Montero with tinted windows. Water splashing up from puddles and I’m laying on the horn and flashing the lights. Nothing. The road opens for a block and I manage to squeeze my way in front of the car where I wedge myself in the road and block the driver. That was a real deal hit-and-run. It took quite a bit of berating to make this woman understand that she was driving like a jackass and in the midst of me yelling in Spanish quite a bit of English was slipping out.

Thankfully, Greg was fine just shaken up a touch and pretty angered by the fact that the lady didn’t even stop to ask if he was OK.

Now the broken chain incident.

The pain of having no chain
Greg is on a long descent. I’m following behind. All is good and great in the world. The rain is letting up, and the adrenaline from the near accident is wearing off. We round a corner. The climbing starts again. Greg shifts to a low gear and throws some serious torque into the gears. Bam! (Onomatopoeia).
Chain link busts open. We find ourselves bathed in sunlight, surrounded by cornfields changing a chain. This is where we discover how cool the multitool bike tool really is.

Bridge knocked out of service during last night's rains, good thing we didn't have to go that way
As I said, we paid for the nice weather.

On the elevation map we are looking at this long, killer descent into a valley before the 3000 foot climb jammed into 4 miles of distance. The climb is so steep that the color markers for the 12% and 13% grades are indicated with dark purple and practically impossible killer ninja black. I watch Greg and Pat man-up for just over an hour straight climbing. Their legs are pumping away, spinning wildly at a high rpm that translates into jogging speed. Sunbeams are breaking through the clouds lighting up the shrinking town in the valley below. We reach the pass and cruise down into Cunén past sundown.  Greg says, "No matter how hard that climb was it pales in comparison to what so many amputees have to deal with everyday living without a prosthesis." 

Views halfway up the mountain!
We are now cut-off from the world. No phone signal, no internet, a one horse town and some serious ganas for food and sleep.

Pat makes it to the top

Friday, September 3, 2010

Phone Number in Guatemala

For anyone interested.  The Riding for ROMP 2010 team can be reached by cell phone in Guatemala.


This is my (Dave's) phone.  Call anytime during the day.  If we're in a break I'll pass the phone to Greg or Pat.


Tour de Guatemala - Chichicastenango

There surely is a reward for every sacrifice. The 7200 vertical foot climb of yesterday meant one thing today. Lots of downhill racing. The 8 mph pace of yesterday would drive a cyclist to insanity. In the chase vehicle, using a six cylinder diesel engine to move at that speed, it was just plain mind numbing. Today was like the first sunrise in Antarctica after winter combined with the first cry of a newborn combined with the glory of witnessing a solar eclipse from a yacht in the South Pacific. We were greeted by the sun and expansive 360 degree views of volcanoes and Guatemalan pine forests up at 9000 feet above sea level. More importantly, the four lane highway was flown in overnight seemingly transplanted from a 40 mile stretch of the German Autobahn. Talk about quality construction. Descending from 9000 feet at 40 mph was a rush. I was in a car but could relate to the first test runs of Henry Ford’s internal combustion engine when going 30 mph must have been something to write home about.

Volcanoes above the clouds on a beautiful morning
Just when everything was approaching perfection on earth we were snapped back to Guatemalan reality. Reality came in the form of a huge mud slide that oozed out to block all four lanes probably 12 minutes before we arrived to the site of the obstruction. Road work, accidents and mudslides are so commonplace that mobile street vendors are ready to be called into action anyplace anytime. We didn’t need the drinks, fruit and boxes of hot Pollo Campero (Guatemalan KFC) that was being offered roadside. We took advantage, popped the cooler and proceeded to lunch during the wait while filming the cleanup efforts. The response was surprisingly quick and 30 minutes late we were on our way.


A few blisteringly fast descents later and we were in freezing rain with frigid winds. Nothing that thirty minutes in a parked car with the heater blasting couldn’t fix. This part of Guatemala is gorgeous. Really. Pine trees, exposed cliff sides, indigenous folks and dozens of different languages abound. Soon we could see Chichicastenango in the distance, way down below. This meant one last snaking descent and the most intense climb of the trip. Thankfully, it wasn’t very long but this climb was steep. The guys were passing trucks on the uphill and I felt that the diesel engine could barely give enough to get me to the top. As I came alongside Pat all he could do was laugh and the sheer madness of the last climb into Chichi. Before we could really decide how we felt about it, it was over. We were greeted by the friendly staff at the Hotel Santo Tomas who didn’t quite donate a room. They were kind enough to knock off 50% from the price and kept blazing fires in our chimneys and fired up the Jacuzzi for us after dinner. Talk about a nice reward for a hard day’s work.

The cold and rain before the day's end
30 minute nap in a warm, parked car.  It's cold out there.
This is where it all wraps up. One day closer to Zacapa. Fire crackling in the chimney. Greg and Pat writing overdue postcards and I’m putting the finishing touches on this bad boy blog entry. See y’all later. Next stop Cunen, not sure what’s there. Don’t know if we’ll be able to connect at all.
Chichicastenango, pretty interesting city full of history and indigenous culture
Leaving Chichi in about an hour.  See you soon.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Guatemalan Highlands

Crossing into Guatemala

(Photos from Day 1 arrival to Highland climb)
Yesterday, Greg and Pat accomplished a first on the trip.  They climbed more than 7000 vertical feet in one day of riding.  We left Hotel Virginia outside of Coatepeque at 8:45am.  The first 20 miles flew by in a blur of green sugar cane and banana farms.  Even as I trailed them in the SUV I sensed the speeds they were attaining in the long gradual 1000 foot downhill.  It was enjoyable.  By 11am we were at the fork in the road to Quetzaltenango.  To our left (east) the mountain ranges and volcanos of Guatemala beckoned.  To the right (south/southwest) the easy costal plains to Guatemala City.  We've planned the ride through Guatemala to avoid the smog and traffic congestion of the capital city.  We changed a flat tire on Greg's bike that had been punctured with what appeared to be a piece of a stray staple.  By 11:22 the climb began.  All was well at the outset.  No rain, nothing but sun and beautiful vistas all around.  We entered the coffee cultivation altitude somewhere around 3000 feet and continued to enjoy good weather.  Around 1pm we passed an accident site.  The crash had just taken place within the last 45 minutes.  A car, flying around a turn in a downhill busted through a guard rail and flew off the edge of a cliff.  The car was lodged in some trees suspended in the air but the driver and passenger weren't so fortunate.  I would say that they weren't lucky but luck has nothing to do with it.  They weren't wearing seatbelts and flew through the windshield.  End of story.  This only reiterated why we feel so strongly about having the vehicle escort through the roads here in Guatemala.  Unfortunately, people tend to drive like maniacs.  I cannot think of a time I've visited Guatemala and haven't seen a automobile accident.  Yesterday was no exception. 

We enjoyed a fantastic lunch out of the cooler while dangling above a coffee plantation on a suspension bridge. 

That was when the rain started.  The cold too.  Two hours later and we are above 7000 feet enjoying "epic" views of cloud shrouded verdant mountains while cycling through tunnels and along highways hugging the mountainsides.  As I cruised along in the comfort of the chase vehicle I could not help but admire Pat and Greg's fitness.  After 74 days of cross country riding they made this intense climb look easy.  I'm not sure if I could have pulled off just 500 vertical feet on those 7 and 8% grade highways. 

We pulled into Quetzaltenango at 4pm and found a hotel on the central plaza of a place that feels more like southern Spain than highland Guatemala.  A cool spot that we'll barely be able to explore.  Today it's on through the mountains to Chichicastenango.

Hope to have another reliable connection in Chichi but not sure when we will arrive.  It's 8:40am and they guys are still sleeping.  Yesterday really wore them out.