Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Short Trip to the Hospital

Last Sunday, while riding the (amazing!) single-track I had a few minor wipeouts. Apparently on one of them I injured my foot and the severity of the injury didn't set in for about 3 hours. By the time I made it back to La Paz I couldn't walk or put any weight on my left foot.

Pain from the injury made sleeping quite difficult Sunday night, and upon waking Monday morning I decided an x-ray was in order. So I went down to the "second best hospital" in La Paz, only a 6 bs. cab ride from my house, to get it checked out.

Upon arrival they immediately put me in a wheelchair, and about 15 minutes later they wheeled me in to get an x-ray. No consultation or "hey what hurts". Just straight to x-ray. I'm pretty sure the cold war era machine took at least 10 days off my life, but within 45 minutes the doctor assured me that there was nothing broken. X-ray: 150 bs. 5 minute consultation in which the doctor told me nothing except "it's not broken": 500 bs.
Moral of the story... maybe it's not necessary to go to the hospital where all the gringos and rich people go. I was tipped off to this when the doctor wanted me to come back the next day to "see how it was doing" and maybe get a cast put on or get an injection for the pain. Seriously, an injection for a sprained (albeit badly) ankle? I definitely didn't go back the next day. Relatedly, one of my friends just went to get some testing done at a hospital that was not so "nice". Cost of 15 minute consultation with a specialist: 35 bs. So I learned two valuable lessons;

1) American medicine, (caveat emptor!) if you can pay for it, is pretty damn awesome.
2) If you don't want to get ripped off, stay away from any establishment that caters to: a) rich people and b) rich white people.

And, while I don't have a photo of the exact area that I think it happened on, I'm pretty sure it was only a few hundred meters below where I took this photo.
I foolishly tried to cut a really steep left hand turn and slid out on extremely loose dirt/scree. Almost miraculously, today, less than a week later, I am about 98% back to normal. I've never had an injury that sidelines me heal so quickly. Pretty crazy, but I guess Percoset, Diclofenac, and lack of oxygen combine in some sort of nuclear fusion to promote rapid healing; what do you expect, it's Bolivia!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mmmmm.... food.

I want to start this post with a picture of what you can buy at the cheapest market in La Paz. For 49 bs. ($7) you get: 4 medium onions, 8 tomatoes, approx. 1/2 lb. fresh basil, approx. 1 lb. spinach, a bulb of garlic, 5 slices of whole wheat bread (so thick it's like a full loaf), 3 large avocados, approx. 1 lb. of Argentinean Gueyere, and approx. 3 lbs. of carrots. No joke. And, it's all organic because few Bolivian farms can afford to use pesticides or herbicides. Did I mention I love Bolivia...

Another reason Bolivia rules. Coca-Cola made with REAL sugar, and in a bottle containing a portion that doesn't make you sick. 190 ml bottle is only 1 1/2 bs. That's roughly 6 ounces of pure goodness for about 21 cents. Coupled with a salteña it's the perfect snack if you're feeling like rebelling against all that veggie goodness above.

In case anyone's curious, that's my house on the left. Photo taken from our patio/parking area.

The wall that separates our house from the street. Note the broken glass cemented into the top of the wall and the barb wire, quite the theft deterrent.

The view out from the back of our house. You can see El Alto up above where all the antennas are located.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Should have listened to the guide just a little bit more closely.


On Sunday I had the opportunity to ride, literally, the most gnarly and technical downhill singletrack I've ever ridden. The first section had great views of Illimani, a 21,184 ft. snowcapped monster. I spent much of the day trying to get photos specifically for Gravity Bolivia. The three clients on this trip had it pretty good with a 1:1 guide ratio, awesome riding, and great views.

Phil with Illimani and the flat topped Mount Mururala in the background. Legend has it that Illimani became jealous of Mururala, who once stood taller, and threw a stone at Mururala, slicing off its head and leaving behind a shorter flat peak.

Ben catching some serious air.

On the way to our second single-track. Pre-Incan ruins that are burial structures.

Heavily laden donkeys in a village we rode through. On the trail we also spotted a herd of sheep and an old man who walked across the entire valley to see his family. He had on his Sunday best and must of walked well over 10 miles and climbed roughly 4,000 ft. all in a suit!

The steepest switchbacks I have ever ridden... the photo doesn't even come close to doing the angles justice.

Ben with more vertical release. He landed so hard the rear tube popped.

Nice open single-track before the gnarly descent.

T-Rex Ben!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Jungle Musings

A few days ago I tagged along on another ride that Gravity Bolivia offers, called the Ghost Ride. While the riding was fun, with some steep single-track in the beginning, the real gem of the day was a thought and realization I had when we stopped at a “haunted castle” to eat and relax.

Sitting there, in the old castle/mansion, having recently finished a late lunch of ice cold Bolivian beer, fresh trout, salad, and for dessert the best pear I’ve ever tasted, I had one of those moments where I ask myself, “what more do I need?” And, more importantly, what don’t I need? I’m sure part of it was that I am clearly affected by food, ask my girlfriend how important good food is to me, or ANY food if I’m cranky; definitely in the top 3 things in the world for me. Yet, as I was sitting there in the castle, in the Bolivian jungle, satiated and happy from food and physical exertion, I began to think about all the things we don’t need, and how hard it was to focus on what I find the greatest enjoyment in when I was constantly distracted back in the states.

When I’m riding (aka “working”) I’m not thinking about what the Dow is doing, or what new emails I have, or what’s new on Facebook. I don’t have a car, a TV, or a video, book, and CD collection. I make enough money to eat and pay my bills, I’m not really saving any money, but what would I save it for? An SUV? A big-screen television? A house that is worth less than I bought it for? Is what we’ve been taught about happiness getting through to anyone?

It is maximally cliché to say, “money doesn’t buy happiness”, or “things don’t buy happiness”, yet it seems as if few people are putting these overused sound bites into action. In my perception most people pay them lip service; and instead sacrifice, usually with minimal cognition, their own personal values, goals, and dreams.

Today I read an article by Matthew B. Crawford in the New York Times discussing the differences he personally experienced in work, from the coveted office job with a Phd. to starting his own motorcycle repair shop. Maybe I just like to read articles that reinforce my decisions and make me feel as if I’m not squandering my Ivy League education. However, he makes a fairly convincing argument for the value of tangible and physical work. Briefly, in the last twenty years the educational system of the U.S. and to a large extent the world has been focused on cultivating “knowledge workers”. The more formal and academic education you have the better; the more specialized and removed from the end result the worker is, so be it. Sitting in a cubicle, and then the boardroom, and then the large office is the goal, the objective. Blue-collar work is to be avoided, or least is reserved for those not quite as talented. As Matthew puts it, “A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.”"

I’ve experienced both of the aforementioned, first with “What are you going to do with a degree in Philosophy”, and, “Why the hell do you want to move to a third world country, make no money, and risk your life careening 12,000 ft. down a mountain every other day”. Prior to Bolivia I observed the effects of the pervasive application of concentration drugs such as Focalin and Adderal on the lives of young teenagers, especially boys. I won’t digress into medication philosophy, but if you think anyone can spend 8 hours a day “learning” in a detached and intangible setting without any sort of negative side effect, you are delusional. Couple that with the “relaxation” of hours and hours of TV and video games… that’s one unhappy person.

Everything we do affects our psyche. I remember someone told me once, and I wish I remember who, that what we do, especially occupationally, will quite literally change who we are. Do I have a double-blind, peer reviewed test to prove that statement. No, but I do have plenty of anecdotal and observational evidence for it. And quite honestly, that is all I need.

A few days ago I spent upwards of 4 hours working on my bike (or rather, asking questions and helping Carlos,Gus, and Jubi work on my bike!) and at one point I paused for a second and thought to myself, “This is great, I’m learning all sorts of new stuff, and seeing something tangible and pragmatic happen, and I get to enjoy it all when I go tearing down the mountain on my properly working bike.” Well, it probably wasn’t so linear a thought, but it WAS a thought AND a feeling that I had. I haven’t worked in an office in a long time, but I don’t remember being excited about work in the same way, much less excited about work I wasn’t getting paid to do.

In conclusion, I offer more pictures of another “day at the office”. And, what do I need to be happy? I already have it.

Nearly 5,000 meters above sea level. Yes, I'm above the clouds and on top of the world!

The Battle Cruiser, featured in multiple bike magazines and legendary in every way. Mike, a fellow guide, is in the picture, he went back home to Sweden today. Take care my friend!

In the distance you can see Huayani Potosi, often claimed to be the easiest 6,000 m. peak to climb.

Steeper than it looks. Three of the four guys on this trip were absolute beginners. Funny and scary to watch people fall so many times.

I replaced the bushing and pivot bolt in my shock mount recently. The bolt was visibly bent in a slight "U" shape, probably due to urban 5 ft. drops to flat concrete. Two days later... I'm trying to bend the new one.

The castle. It was built in the 30's by Paraguayan prisoners.

It's a pretty good life when part of your job description is drinking a beer and relaxing with your clients.

The dining room where deep thinking happened.

And last but not least. Llamas. Yup, those are llamas.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The infamous "Postcard Corner", the most photographed section on the road. If you've only seen one photo of the road it was probably from this perspective. As you can see there is very little room for error.
We start the WMDR ride at a mountain pass called La Cumbre, at an elevation of 15,400 ft. From there we descend 64 kms (40 miles) to an elevation of 3,600 ft. A descent of nearly 11,800 ft!

This picture is taken from the bus on the asphalt section of the road, before it gets crazy with over 2,000 ft. drops from the about 10 ft. wide dirt road.

We ride from a cool arid climate through cloud forest down into a hot and muggy jungle, and we end the ride at an animal refuge called La Senda Verde where we drink beer and hang out with monkeys. Just another day at the office!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Beginnings of Bolivia

This is going to be a sounding board for my random thoughts and travels... mainly for friends and family, but if you're a visitor... welcome!

I just moved to Bolivia on May 6th and want to document some of my more interesting experiences. I had been living in southern Utah since 2007, guiding and working with at-risk youth and young adults for a wilderness therapy program called Second Nature Entrada. The opportunity arose to move to Bolivia and mountain bike guide the World's Most Dangerous Road, so I took it! Stories and pictures are sure to follow!