Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lost Nut and the Broken Tooth

Piglet the farm dog
This can’t be happening.  Droplets of sweat slide brow to brim, then ramp off my nose splattering on concrete hot enough to boil.  With a shirt like a damp wool blanket in an overheated house, uncomfortable and oppressive, I start unpacking my gear. It’s busy and loud just outside the rural airport, no goats on the runway but not far from it. The exit of baggage claim is a cocktail of energy; cowboys lean over a metal guardrail to welcome arriving family, women laugh and talk loudly in small circles, and kids are running around everywhere. I’m the sweaty dude dragging a bucket load of gear through the open air terminal.

Escaping the masses to a nearby parking lot, I carelessly rummage through my cardboard bike box.  Lifting my head momentarily like a dog in a dumpster--just long enough to realize my surroundings.  I have an audience.  A short stubby guy leaning into his shovel rifles something off in Spanish, too fast to understand, and I’m too frantic to care.  Cars glare slowly at the explosion of gear taking up two spaces; a bicycle, street clothes, food, helmet, repair kit, passport, local currency, and mountain run stuff all on display.  Aside from three missing CO2 cartridges, which TSA has gotten pretty good at finding, everything made it in one piece--almost.  I’m missing a nut.  

Where is my nut?

A nut is the piece that holds a skewer onto the bike.  A skewer then goes through the bicycle wheel, and thus holds the bicycle wheel on the bike.  No nut means no bicycle wheel staying on bike, which makes accessing the highest peak in the West Indies for a mountain run via bicycle a very difficult proposition in scorching afternoon sun.  

With enough duct tape, zip ties, and a spare bike lock key anything is possible.  I rolled out of a small airport in the interior of Dominican Republic a couple hours behind schedule, makeshift skewer and a wobbly wheel, but rolling nonetheless; I suppose that’s when the adventure really started.


From the cocoon of a desktop computer and in the comforts of home it’s easy to plan a human powered trip.  Perched behind Google earth with strong coffee in hand, riding forty or so miles from an agricultural valley, up and over a coastal range, to my buddy Zach’s place in Cabarete was seemingly simple.  Add gear malfunction, language barriers, heat, and towns with one way streets that are much larger in real life--shit gets real in a hurry.  Don’t even get me started on mopeds, Jesus, absolutely no spatial awareness and so many of them!  Simple things, like food and shelter, become very important when controllables are limited.  


After circling the same round-a-bout on three separate occasions I exit the town of La Vega, alpenglow setting on the foothills.  Only twenty five kilometers northeast of the airport and it took three hours.  Stray dogs, a sweaty map, and my bad Spanish added spice.  Muy caliente.

Endorphins flowing but temps dropping, I can feel the dark blanket of night chasing my shadow.  Daylight is a bastard.  Old trucks packed with people struggling up the mountain road are less frequent.  The road snakes and a radio tower punches the skyline.  Instead of a dramatic sun dropping into warm water with shoulder high waves and a light off shore wind, I see nothing but jungle mountains.  Angry clusters of dark popcorn clouds are making me nervous.

After a sketchy descent on the boy-scout skewer another steep climb ends on a broad ridge top with a guard station.  In my shitty Spanish:  “How much further to Cabarete?” The two guard men with rifles laugh and motion a long sweeping distance down the road with their arm.

“Mucho mas?” I ask pedaling away.
“Si.” One of the men responds plainly.

Cardinal Rule of cycle touring: don’t ride at night.  

It’s dark, I have no idea where I am relative to the Atlantic Ocean or Cabarete, hell, I don’t even know if I’m on the right road; this feels alive.  

Fishing out chincy headlamp with a grumble I set the timer on my watch: “one hour of night riding, then you either bivy or ask to sleep on someone’s floor,” I say to myself.  

Unfortunately I’m in the middle of the damn jungle, there are no floors to sleep on and the roads are lined with with barbed wire, likely to keep cattle in--I hate cow shit, and certainly don’t want to sleep with it. Three hours and an incredible isolated rainstorm later I reach Cabarete; broken bike, and wetter than a cow pissing on a flat rock.  It’s 11pm, everything is closed.

I spent several days surfing and training with Zach in Cabarete before continuing the tour.  Extreme Hotel/Rogue Fitness Cabarete was an amazing base: minutes from good morning surf, the best kite surfing right out front, yoga loft overlooking the ocean, and mountains to run near by.  Couple this with a restaurant serving food from their farm, a half pipe with ten foot walls, and a circus trapeze, and you've got yourself one hell of a base camp.

But all good things must come to an end, and I’d heard rumor of trails leading through the mountains to secret coves where drug smugglers lay over while hopping up the island chain.  The urge to run through the mountains and spy on modern day sea gypsies was too much to resist.

Riding down the coast before heading back inland toward Cordillera Central and Pico Duarte, the ultimate objective, I wanted to see the Samana Peninsula.  Las Galeras is where the sidewalk ends, there are no all inclusive resorts, and the beaches and terrain are what the brain creates when it imagines the perfect tropical beach backed by harry jungle peaks.  

Chilling with Dutchman pre-broken tooth
“Crack, crunch, crunch” Biting violently into my first piece of pizza.  My upper right jaw feels light and numb.  Wanding back with my tongue something doesn't feel right.  Spitting out what looks like a chunk of tooth I lean forward and put my head in my hands, waiting for the pain to set in and calculating next steps:  I’m a long way from the nearest hospital on the outskirts of a dead-end town at the end of a peninsula I accessed by bike in a foreign country.  Even if someone can get me to a hospital do I want to go in there?  
Las Galeras

I’d ridden eight hours down to Las Galeras, dropped gear at a bungalow six miles out of town and run towards the rumored secret beaches.  The approach was 4 miles, but after getting turned around for 7 I came back defeated and dehydrated; pizza time.  Fortunately no jaw pain, just a long ride the next day tongue-coddling a crater in my upper right jaw.  I’m en route to Cordillera Central!


The summit bid, like most of the trip, had a couple unexpected turns; some uncontrollable, some a pain in the rump.  In short, the park Pico Duarte is located in requires all entrants, including locals, be accompanied by a guide.  I’d read reports of being able to drop the guide and go after a speed ascent upon entrance.  I’d also read of accommodation being $7-10/night during the time of year I was going.  Paying $300 for a guide who does not carry or provide gear or food, speak English, and demands three days for an ascent that I’m confident would take ten hours or less was one variable.  I was working through options while paying $40/night, not $10, for a wobbly fan on a busy street.  
Cordillera Central

Fortunately three days of bad weather made the decision for us.  I stayed up in the range for five days, on the two non-storm days I had some of the best jungle mountain running I’ve ever experienced.  Lush valleys, sweeping views, zero crowds, and broad jungle peaks define trail running in the Dominican Republic.  Ultimately there are only so many things a person can control while playing in the mountains, weather is not one of them.

The trip to DM was a gentle reminder of why drumming up an endurance project in a foreign country is what I love about life; unexpected things go well, and things you expect to work won’t.  It’s in the midst of all the challenge, foreign culture, new terrain, and physical demand that I feel most alive.  

Above all else, just keep pedaling.  Simple.

Enjoying the journey.
Your pal,

No comments: