The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through South America
A Book by Bob Lutsky
Who Is "Ranger Bob?"
|"It is only going into the caverns of doubt that we can find truth and light"
We all have a daily grind. The homeless up through the independently
wealthy. By the daily grind I mean what we do every day. It's what
makes up our very life. More simply put, if you don't like what
you do every day, you won't enjoy your life.
After University, I worked as a headhunter (executive recruiter).
I found the job challenging, rewarding and lucrative but...
There's always a but. It was not providing the sense of purpose
that I was looking for. Sitting inside behind a desk just isn't me.
It takes a long time to find who you are and an even longer time to
be that person. Usually it means going against what everyone (family
friends society etc.) expects of you. I think the best way to describe
who I am is to quote part of a Robert W. Service poem.
" There is a race of men that won't fit in, a race
that can't sit still.
So they break the hearts of
kith and kin, and roam the world at will.
the flood, and roam the field and climb the mountains
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood and
they don't know how to rest.
If they just went
straight they might go far, for they are strong
and brave and true.
But they are always tired of
the things that are, they want the strange and new. "
It took me a long time to build up the courage to quit my job and set
out on a new life style. I knew the only way to discover who I was
and what was important to me, was to make a major change, and take a
big risk. So disregarding all the advice I received from everyone up
this point, and just did it. I quit my job, got a passport and bought
a one-way ticket to Europe, landed in Amsterdam, hung out for a few days
to recover from the end result of 8 hours of free Heineken (on the plane)
not to mention the loss of a night's sleep - and mostly just to figure
out what I was going to do now. I knew I didn't want to just tour
all the great train stations of Europe, and certainly traveling by car
is right out - so I thought... BICYCLE?!?!
Shopped around for a few minutes, thought a bit and bought a five speed
standard basic "ride to work and back in Holland" bicycle. Bought a steel
dish rack, bent it 90 degrees, bolted it on above the back wheel,
bought a few bungy cords, strapped on my regulation back pack (beats
carrying it any day) and a road map, water bottle, 2$ plastic rain jacket
and was off to tour Europe.
Despite 52 days straight of cold raw rain, and many many mistakes,
some miserable camping experiences, I really really liked it. I got
physically fit, saved lots of money and managed to cycle all throughout
Belgian, Holland, Luxembourg, E & W Germany and all 4 of the Scandinavian
countries. Not being a total egoist, I took some rides, some trains and
walked up many hills. I did not yet realize yet, but I
discovered not just a new way to travel or another sport that I liked,
but that cycle touring for me was to become a way of life. After
eight months in Europe with winter coming I returned home, changed
clothes and drove to Vermont. Bought a second-hand pair of skis,
got a job waiting tables to earn and save money for the next adventure.
taught myself to ski and became a ski instructor.
When the snow melted in April, I contacted a friend who I met in
Europe but lived in San Francisco - with the bizarre idea of cycling
to Alaska. Being as crazy I am, he was up for it. So together we
cycled up through Oregon, Washington state, Olympic peninsula - took
the ferry to Vancouver Island - cycled all the way up to port Hardy,
and then hiked on foot for six days to cape Scott. In order to visit all
the small communities along the Alaska and British Columbia coast,
we took the ferry up the ' inside passage, and got off at each stop
and cycled around the towns, all of which had no connecting roads.
For this trip, I bought an 18 speed Panasonic mountain bike - a proper
front and rear rack, two front bags, two rear bags (panniers) a PROPER
rain suit a good light-weight down sleeping bag with the ever so
important thermarest (well worth the extra weight and expense) Tent,
stove, pot, cutlery - all the necessities of life. My friend Al, who
I called Ranger Al, taught me a lot. I was still an immature neophyte
of the out door world but he put up with all my idiosyncrasies and
stupidness for which I'll always be indebted to him. Yet he reassured
me that I was HIS mentor and that it was he who learned a lot from me.
But I think I taught him what NOT to do more than anything else - but
I guess that's still learning.
Throughout the trip I became known as Ranger Bob - a name that
has stuck with me through the years. And through his own insistence,
Ranger Al became known as "Assistant Ranger Al". Of course, the higher
your rank, the more stupid mistakes you make. For example, on one particular
day, I cycled for almost an hour without a rain jacket - now if it
hadn't been for the light drizzle, this probably wouldn't have been a
problem. When I finally put on my rain jacket, I realized that although
I was not SOAKING wet, I was still very very damp. Ranger Al's way of
letting me know that I had done something stupid was to say "Ranger Bob
says... when cycling in a predominantly cold and wet environment with the
intention of camping, always wait until you are good and wet before putting
on any protective rain gear. This exponentially increases the chance of
hypothermia in places with a damp climate. This is a very helpful cold
weather camping tip from ... Ranger Bob.
The ferry trip ended at Scagway, Alaska. After several weeks of cycling
around and up through Alaska (most of the state contains no roads) we
crossed into the Yukon and headed into Whitehorse, the capital city.
We met some people there who insisted we must canoe down the
Yukon River. So three of us, Assistant ranger Al, I and Stuart (a guy
I met in Alaska who was from Quebec, Canada) embarked on a three week
canoe trip north from Lake Labarge - Three of us in one seventeen foot
canoe. We all took our turns sitting in the center playing the Moosekatoon
(a tin coffee can with a whole in the bottom and a piece of string through
it with a knot on the one end so it doesn't come out.) First wet the string,
pinch it with your fingers and pull your fingers down along the string,
and it emits a sound similar to a moose. It's supposed to attract moose,
but since a moose can run 30 miles an hour and swim like a fish - and it's
the height of the mating season and we're in a small canoe - it's probably
not a very smart item to have along, but the guy in the middle has to have
something to do, doesn't he?
After this journey, I knew the outdoor life, the unknown, the sense of
adventure and spontaneity was where my inner peace was. Needless to say
this met with great opposition from family and friends. I was
however, fortunate enough to realize early in life that to follow their
advice and wishes just to fit in and be accepted would ultimately result
in unhappiness, frustration and eventually illness. The following winter
I decided to live and work in New Orleans... Sugar bowl, new years,
Mardi Gras, warm winters, and the best music event of any year, Jazz
Fest - Seemed like a good way spend the next six months. Waiting
tables and working in a mask shop with the original carnival mask
maker. Sure these jobs don't pay a lot of money or build a "CAREER"
or even allow for retirement but it does allow me to maintain my lifestyle
and truly experience America's most interesting city. Your life is the
sum total of all your experiences. Traveling invites new ideas for
health healing and medicine, philosophies of life, new music, dances,
keen insight into local history and geography and different points of
view. People make up their mind on how different parts of the world
are without taking time to visit or see them first hand and that's so
sad. Why make your reality with certain boundaries? One is
self-impoverished if they close their mind to new experiences.
I went back to cycle the rest of Europe - East and West - around the
Mediterranean sea, north Africa, and then Central America. Then I took a
break and moved to San Francisco to learn how to sail and work on boats.
Variety is the spice of life. My love for the sea was not completely
satisfied in cycle touring. I had the good fortune of spending three
months going up through the inside passage along the intricate labyrinth
of bays, coves and inlets along the coast of British Columbia up to
Glacier Bay Alaska. Ice Bergs, bald eagles and leaping killer whales
became as common place as pigeons in a city park. The inner calm and
serenity created on this trip recharged all the batteries and I believe
set in motion my desire for a life of peace, tranquillity and contentment.
Away from the feeding frenzy of materialism. I went on to sail through
the south pacific, returned to San Francisco, and sailed with a friend
whom I used to race with on the bay in San Francisco. We spent about
six months cruising up and down the Mexican coast successfully learning
8 words in Spanish. Returned to Ohio to stories from family on how I
was wasting my life so I agreed and bought a ticket and visa for
Australia. However, two weeks before I was to leave, I got a phone call
asking me to crew on a sixty foot maxi racing yacht for a delivery from
San Francisco to Grenada in the Caribbean via the Panama canal. Tough choice.
After that - spent 7 months sailing up through the islands of the lesser
Antilles on various boats. Even got to do a sail with Dennis Connor,
competed in Race Week in Antigua and was paid more than I had spent over
the last 8 months to deliver a 60 Ft. Swan to Newport Rhode Island. At
this point, I knew my parents were right - I truly was wasting my life.
I guess that meant it was time for me to get back on the bicycle.
Cycled throughout Eastern Canada, and the Maritimes; worked on a fishing
boat in Labrador and worked as crew on a sailboat around Newfoundland.
The more I think of it, the more I realize I should have stayed at my
desk job, maybe even taken up smoking, learned to see a psychiatrist and
get to work on that ulcer. I could be half way to retirement and in
35 more years, I could really travel in fine style. At least my parents
would have been proud of me - I'll have to learn to live with my choices.
I always thought South America would be the last place I would visit
because I believed all the stereotypes we have all come to accept as fact.
Crime, drugs, police. America is all about paradox and contradiction.
Our stereotypes of South America are really true of the states. In 9 months I
saw no drugs, no police except at checkpoints and very little crime.
In the states there are all of these everywhere in abundance. Throughout
my trip, I felt safe at all times, even in the market in Lima and the
jungles of Bolivia. I don't speak Spanish, I'm alone - one could find
a million excuses not to go. I want to learn about the world I live in
and I want to see unusual places like Tierra Del Fuego, I want to learn a
new language, I want to get in shape' it's just as easy to find a million
reasons to go. If you think about it, the only difference is where we focus
our attention. What if I get tired or sick? What if my bike breaks down
in the jungle? Well, all these things did happen. On a long trip, they're
all something you can count on, but it's amazing how resourceful you can
be when placed in situations where you have to make it so.
Get a bike box - stuff your stuff and your bike in the box, get
ya' a round trip ticket to Quito Ecuador and don't worry that the flight
lands in a strange South American city at midnight - and you without the
language or a map, just trust in yourself and go!!