Pedaling in Place: The Bolivia Journal

Joe Cruz is a professor, writer, and expedition cyclist. He teaches Philosophy and is Chair of the Cognitive Science program at Williams College, where he specializes in philosophy of mind and knowledge. He has toured and raced bikes the world over, most recently in the Andes of South America. Joe lives in his native New York City. Joe has graciously agreed to share some of his many adventures with the Expedition Portal community. His ambitious travel exploits are only matched by his eloquent wordcraft. 

Bolivia Journal

The days between blend. Though that’s usually a plaint, here it’s a reassurance, not every event is a distinct bounded object, movement through the hill rises and basins achieving a blurred continuity that is more difficult at a footpace, where evolution has successfully calibrated vectors of attention. Pedaling compromises that field and conspires with fatigue to wear it to unnoticed, when I am fortunate there are no hours.

I see their flags oscillating in the distance, then the riders from Poland on a tandem, we’d met a few weeks ago in Peru, they gained ground during my Yungas escapade. Stayed in the same town last night evidently. They left at 8 and I left at 10:30. Short friendly chat, I like them very much, and then I ramp it up again, tailwind, euphoria, making the best of this asphalt section, 140k today.

Then the pavement ends to sand and washboard. The braids unravel into the ahead, follow the powerline or at least keep it in sight. Rolling, mouth dry breath raw, dozens of mildly angry dust funnels into the sky line up against the scrubby flat mountain backdrop distance as far as pinpoint resolution like airplanes stacked for landing at Denver. I last saw a person five hours ago, here llamas and sheep. The Fat Bike prows through the sand, high speed downhill into a patch that on the race bike would be red alert full battle stations ends up as indifferent whatever, speed stays the same, losing track of boundaries.

Sitting on a rock, pink swirl in the baby blue sorbet sky, early moonrise and I stare upward to send a message, 1100. Horizontal light, less than two minutes to take a photo. I try to uncoil. The quinoa is ready, cream of corn soup packet, tomatoes and avocados added, I made a promise. With the stove off, pitch quiet again. Full pot, warming filling, gritty from the bag or the water source, don’t know which. The wind not too bad. It’s too dark to read, I put the book down, not much left of it, not wanting the headlamp to change the texture. I cast a shadow. I run my index finger along the inside of the pot to scour it clean.

My socks are fetid in the sleeping bag, but in the plus column the puff jacket smells like coffee because it was packed next to the fresh grounds in the saddle pack. My nose is runny, my neck and back sore from clenching jaw muscles into a sandy headwind for nine hours. My eyeballs groan and want to be closed but burn when I do it. The kind of leg tired that doesn’t bother when you’re cruising, but after a little descent and then the mirror image ascent on the other side you get up off the saddle and from your calf to your hip it’s lead and protest and blunt pain seizing up. By the time you get to the crest it’s gone, but you know there is going to be a dull roar as you try to fall asleep. Wake to twenty small aches, run my emotions over a few photos and writing keeps me from breaking orbit, coffee and oatmeal with peanuts and raisins. Pack up, there are dogs here now that act as if no one has ever been nice to them, appreciate their company. Creaking and dirt hiss, forward another morning.

Four hours a tailwind no stops or breaks big ringing heaving 75k washboard and sandtraps before lunch, sitting in the plaza watching then talking to the gardener in Salinas.


To read more about Joe’s amazing travels, visit his website. Be prepared to settle in for a while. Joe has been busy for the last few years.

Pedaling In Place

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.