Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Conclusion of South America Adventures

Wow. After three months of crazy adventure through the heart of the Andes mountains, Matt and I have made it back to the good old USA.  But first, a summary of our final adventure, which was climbing the Misti Volcano in Arequipa, Peru.  This started with me developing a horrible case of food poisoning on the ten hour bus ride from Cusco.  Things weren't feeling much better as we set up base camp at 13,000 feet.  As the temperature dropped that night, I had a fever so bad I was almost knocking the tent poles loose from shivering.  At 1 am we got up to prepare for our summit attempt.  There were clouds just above us, but we could see the lights from the city spread out directly below us in the valley.  After some bread with jam, a lot of coca tea, and an ibuprofen for the fever, I was as ready as I was going to be.  Our group of five started climbing the steep volcano wall through the dark.  After climbing through the cloud bank, we were treated to a ghostly sunrise, followed by more clouds.  The climbing got monotonous, only the once an hour water stops to break up our constant trudging.  Strangely enough, as we got higher, my symptoms pretty much disappeared.  By the top I was feeling great and arrived in a white-out to the highest point on the volcano rim.  I sat down next to a huge cross planted at the top, covered in snow and ice.  Whoever decided to haul that thing all the way up there must have been crazy as far as I can tell. Because of the wind, snow, low temperatures, and zero visibility, there wasn't a whole lot of reason to hang out up there, so after the other's arrived, we took a picture or two and started the descent.  This was far more fun than the ascent, as we were able to slide down through the volcanic ash.  What took nearly six hours to climb from the tents took less than an hour of sliding to descend.

After this, we returned to Lima to await our flight home several days later.  This turned out to be quite an anticlimactic way to end our trip, as there really isn't much to do in Lima besides drinking or shopping, both of which were out of my budget range.  One day we did go to see the old historic downtown.  Matt and I were pretty sick of colonial buildings by that point, so it didn't take long to become bored of that and we went in search of a cheap lunch.  We followed our usual formula of walking out of the center until mugging or kidnapping seems imminent, then turning around one block to look for the cheapest chicken and rice lunch menu available. It didn't take long before we found ourselves in the unsavory Lima that no normal sight-seeing gringo would ever visit.  Having walked past the military station, armed with assault rifles and tanks, we soon found ourselves confronted by two very concerned taxi drivers who were shouting "dangerous, dangerous!" to us and waving for us to turn around.  Figuring that they knew best, we went back one block and bought lunch.

With our last adventures behind us, we spent our final two days apathetically waiting for the plane to take us home.  Finally it was time, and we miraculously made our 30 minute connection in Houston, even after having to clear customs with a passport full of South American stamps and no real purpose for my travels to speak of.  After landing in Boston, Matt's parents arrived bearing Christmas cookies, hugs, and news from home.  A couple last minute phone calls, and I was in a airport shuttle to go visit my old junior team director Toby, and Matt was on his way home.  After visiting my friend Paul in Connecticut, I found myself on one last bus, taking me to Burlington, Vermont.  And just like that, the South American Odyssey was over.

Sitting in a warm living room, enjoying things such as peanut butter sandwiches, warm showers that don't involve all the risks of bare electric wires next to water, and other comforts that I haven't had in months, I can finally reflect a bit on my past twelve weeks.  Unfortunately, I can't speak to any huge philosophical enlightenment, or a discovery of a new life purpose.  I can say that I got to see more places, try new activities, meet new people, and experience more adventure in three months than I could have thought possible otherwise.  I'd like to think that I even helped some people along the way. I have gained an incredible amount of respect for the people living in these countries, and an appreciation for the natural beauty that they call their home.  I am grateful for the comforts of home, but I have not lost the desire to wander down paths less traveled and to experience the world as someone ready to accept change or adventure at a moment's notice.  I know that the opportunities such as these don't always come often, but I intend to try my best to be ready when those opportunities come knocking again.

As far as what's next for me, I will be going back to the University of Vermont to focus on my studies for the time being.  Even that was up in the air until a day or two ago, since I was gone for all of the class registration and rooming assignment times and deadlines.  Big thanks to my brother for impersonating me in my absence to get me into some classes!  Regarding cycling, which has been a major part of my life for the past seven seasons, I think I will be taking a step back from the world of professional racing for now.  While I am extremely grateful for all the opportunities and experiences it gave me, and the memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life, I want to take this chance to explore some of the many other options that are available to me as I begin to look towards my adult life.  At the moment, my future is a completely blank slate, and I have no idea what to expect.  This can be a frightening situation to be in, but one thing that I've learned over the past three months is how awesome that can be as well.  Thanks to everyone who has helped me and followed me in my racing through the years. 

Check back here soon for some more photos from the trip (when I get the chance to look through all of them)!

"The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”  -John Krakauer, Into the Wild

Above the clouds at sunrise
Base Camp
Volcanic ash and a steep drop

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