Dec 17, Santiago Chile
What a difference a few months makes. While I was hanging out in San Francisco, in November, I started a search for a traveling partner. I learned this summer that I needed a traveling partner, someone to share the challenges and successes with. In fact a romantic partner would be optimal.
My friend Heike points out that this takes time. You cannot just push a button and get something like this started. In fact I was active on Tinder in Europe. Here I demonstrated the old proverb, a rolling stone gathers no moss.
Tinder is pretty much a bust for meeting women while moving 50km/day. Sure you get into interesting chats but are out of range before it is time to meet. Because I was in one place for over a week, I did have two dates with Madeline in Budapest. We fell out of touch quickly when I left.
Meanwhile I had somehow found Lucy, an attractive woman in Santiago. She was fun to chat with, even though she doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish. Modern software makes this easy and difficult at the same time. Translators make lots of small mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes can have a big impact on meaning. So, when the conversation crashes, you can always blame the translator.
We really don’t understand how we were able to make contact on Tinder being thousands of kilometers apart. Tinder only works by connecting people within a small distance. Though I was in Santiago in July for the eclipse, Lucy did not appear on my radar until October, when I was in Europe. Serendipitous software glitch or magical destiny, we differ on our explanations. In any case, the connection was made.
When I finally made it back to San Francisco, we were making heavy use of WhatsApp and translator. The cool thing is we have a record of our early courting on our WhatsApp account all or mostly in Spanish.
I learned that Lucy had a good career in marketing and management of hotel properties. She was part owner of a startup that went bankrupt in 2009 following the world wide real estate crash in late 2008. The startup was leveraged. She lost everything. She needed to start again from scratch.
However, Lucy is smart and independent. She pulled together enough resources to get a few startups going including a clothing company called Lucilasport. It worked well enough to support her without outside help. She also put her son through Engineering School. The amazing thing to me is that she was willing to put everything on hold, including walking away from a new job in hotel management.
Without any begging and pleading on my part. Lucy agreed to put aside her life in Santiago and join me in traveling the world by bicycle before even meeting me. We agreed to meet for the first time in Santiago on December 7, 2019.
We set up a fail safe agreement. We agreed she would not have to put things on hold until after we met. I told her I would like to take a bike ride first, and other stuff. But in a just a few days in Santiago we would agree to travel together to Asia and beyond for a year, or not. If we agree to go to Asia, at the end of a year together we could decide on further plans.
The first meeting was a nail biter for both of us. I did my best to appear calm, but the whole idea we were working out together could easily crash, in the first few days. The thing I like about Lucy is she is a realist, not a dreamer. She wanted to know how it was going from my perspective even in the first few minutes together.
We booked a room in the Santiago Sheraton for the first weekend. They rent bikes there. We spent the first day unwinding, and wrestling with the jet lag (5 hours). I told her that if I just sit on the couch and talk. I will fall asleep well before bedtime, which is not good jet lag strategy. It worked out well. Lucy knows how to keep me up past bed time.
The next morning I told Lucy I wanted to go to Asia with her, even before taking the first bike ride together. She agreed without hesitation. I figured what ever issues came up on the bike ride could be solved in the month we had together in Santiago. I was learning a lot about Lucy and liking it.
The first bike ride together
The reader should remember that although this is taking place in December, it is in the Southern Hemisphere. It is late Spring with long days and warm weather. Typically great riding conditions, though sometimes quite warm.
Lucy is in good shape. She has always been a runner. She finished a marathon a few years ago. The issue she has with bike riding is that she took a bad crash a few years ago. It required eight stitches to put her lip back together. But it also took a toll on her confidence on the bike.
Weeks before I came to Santiago, Lucy had rented a bike and was riding it regularly, in preparation for the tour. She reported a few bruises on the first outings. I didn’t think anything of it.
We rented two bikes from the Hotel. These are modern mountain bikes with 29″ wheels, front suspension, fat tires, and disc brakes. More than able to take what Santiago might offer in curbs, potholes, etc. I felt secure on this bike. I test rode Lucy’s bike before she got on it. We walked the bikes to a level spot to start out.
Lucy insisted that I lead the way. I kept a slow pace, Lucy stayed behind me by a block or more. I occasionally had to stop and wait for her. When I went back to check on her she insisted that I lead the way, that she was fine, she just had to get used to the new bike.
We climbed San Cristobal hill together which is less than one kilometer elevation gain at 5-8% grade. When I stopped to wait for her, she insisted that I meet her at the top of the hill. I agreed and told her I would find a beer and wait for her at the top.
It got a little confusing at the top. There are multiple roads, some of them closed to bicycles, and no beer anywhere, park rules. I picked a spot where I could see Lucy coming. She showed up a little winded. We found a place in the shade and relaxed with lots of sparkling water. While we were there, I explained to Lucy that it might be best for us to consider using a tandem bike. She didn’t know what a tandem was, apparently they are quite rare in Chile. But she agreed to try it, if I thought it was best.
Refreshed and ready for the long down hill, I insisted on riding behind Lucy. I needed to see how she handled it. It was immediately obvious. Lucy still was dealing with fear and lack of confidence. All of this under excellent riding conditions.
She would take a long time to get started, even though the road was relatively free of traffic. She would never get above 10km/hr, and frequently slam on the brakes. Unfortunately the brakes on this bike were excellent. Slamming on the brakes would send Lucy off the saddle to collide with the frame. By the time we made it back to the Hotel, Lucy had multiple bruises which would become black and blue in the following days.
This was a tough moment for us. Lucy desperately wanted to travel the world with me and would put herself on a tortuous path to qualify for the chance. Getting banged up on the bike this day did not discourage her in the least.
Here I already agreed to tour together. I owned this problem. I was honor bound to make it work. That and I found Lucy to be a solid partner for me. Not something I was willing to give up.
Lucy felt really bad about her performance. She was very sorry that she had jeopardized our plans. After a long serious talk, I convinced her that this was no longer her challenge. It is our challenge now. We will find a solution.
We moved out of the Sheraton and into a furnished apartment that Lucy found in the better part of town, far from the ongoing protest.
Igor and the Tandem Quest
Igor is a concierge at our hotel. I met Igor back in July, when my brother Eric and I were staying at this same hotel. Igor is from Slovenia, we became fast friends when I asked him if he knew Jure Robic. Igor is from the same town as Jure. They used to ride together before his untimely death. Anyone who knows Race Across America, knows the name Jure Robic. He is a legend. Please check the link if you don’t know of him.
Igor works in Santiago, he knows the cycling community there. He was my ace in the hole. I needed a tandem that was worthy of a world tour, and I only have a month to get it road ready. It would be even better if Lucy and I could get some time to train on the thing before going to Thailand.
Igor and I made a date to go see Carlos, the owner of Taller Chicle. A bike shop in the Barrio of Bella Vista. This is outside of the protected center of Santiago. Here the protestors are active. I had a good conversation with Carlos. He lived in San Francisco many years ago. He speaks English very well.
We get right to the point. If we want a tandem built, he can do it, but he needs a frame to start with. Not sure where he might find one here in Santiago. He will check his contacts and get back to us later in the week. I think I may be able to get a frame sent from California. I will call Dana and get back to Carlos later in the week.
He has a tandem. He does not usually rent it out, but will make an exception in our case. The thing is ancient. Probably built in the 1940’s. There are only four cogs on the rear. There are two chain rings up front, but no derailleur. If you want to change gears in front, you kick the chain over with your right foot while the stoker keeps the chain moving. It has a drum brake in back and a rim brake in front.
Carlos speaks of this bike with real admiration in his voice. I wonder about the stopping distance in city traffic.
I figure. OK, at least we have a tandem that Lucy and I could train with. Carlos and I promise to make contact in the next few days and see what course of action to take. Carlos said he will start ‘whipping the snails’, an expression in Spanish for managing the available resources.
Dana to the Rescue
I called Dana. He said he can definitely get us a frame, so we start talking details. He walks me through the plan. Shipping a raw frame to Carlos. Having Carlos get all the right parts together. Training if there’s time, then boxing and shipping to Thailand. All in about 4 weeks time. I start to wonder about the sanity of the plan. The image of whipping snails convinces me to consider Dana’s alternate solution.
Dana says with confidence he can have a bike ready to ride shipped to Thailand in time. Definitely a traditional tandem, maybe an Azub tandem recumbent. He will check his suppliers’ schedules and get back to me.
The next day I call Carlos and arrange to pick up the tandem. He wants $200 USD for rental until the new year. He has promised renting it out for a wedding in early January. I accept the offer without even test riding it. Paid cash without worrying. I figure Carlos wants to keep me happy. I am riding his pride and joy.
I take a cab down to the shop and ride the thing home solo. It’s about 15km back to our apartment. No problems, but I was right about the stopping distance. I can not take this thing on any significant hill. There is no way to stop it on a -10% grade.
However the geography of Santiago is on my side. The city is basically pan flat. It sits in a crater surrounded by the Andes mountains. There are some hills in town. I can easily avoid the steep ones.
Lucy and I take the bike out for our first ride the next morning. Grappling with finding a good route for this stodgy beast, the chain breaks in the first 10km. I don’t have a chain tool in my kit. I call Carlos and we make arrangements to meet at Costanera Center, about 6km from my current location.
Walking 6km would be tough for me, but I can get on the bike and push it along with my feet like a velocipede. It is mostly downhill to our meeting place, so I can keep a pretty good speed most of the way. Lucy runs the entire distance, without showing much fatigue. Yes, she is in good shape.
Carlos makes quick work fixing the broken chain and leaves me with the chain tool and some spare chain. Good that he did. We broke the chain a second time a few days later. We have named the bike ‘Senor Antiguo’. The bike reminds us of an old man that should be treated with respect, patience, and not asked to do much.
Lucy and I have developed a daily routine of riding Senor Antiguo 25-35km through the heart of Santiago. The beautiful thing is she has no fear and makes a good stoker. I am starting to feel confident about or plan to tour Asia and beyond.
Meanwhile back in California, Dana has figured out that he could get us a Davinci Joint Venture (conventional tandem, no suspension) delivered to Thailand on time, though we would likely need expedited shipping. The delivery time for Azub (recumbent tandem) is just too long. No chance there.
We talk about delaying the tour, but I have plans to meet another nomadic couple in Thailand (Joël et Irène). I expect it would be difficult for them to change their plans.
After a few days Dana comes up with the winning plan. He was planning to build an Azub tandem and ride this with his daughter on the California coast in January. The bike is pretty close to the specs we discussed.
Dana explained that he could order parts to change over the bike to our specs after his ride with his daughter. If he moved his tour up, a week or so, he would have time to convert the bike, box it and take it to Thailand personally. This is much faster than any expedited shipping available, and not more expensive for me.
Dana is contributing his own time here. He will endure the marathon airline flights to and from Bangkok. He will assemble the bikes for us in Bangkok. Make any necessary adjustments and see us off on our tour. We agreed that the money I would have spent on expedited shipping, he is welcome to use to offset his travel expenses. It will not completely cover it.
Incredible right? That’s Dana. My bike fetish enabler, and good friend.
Dana and I have a relationship that goes back to my days of racing. He has sponsored me several times, has built many bicycles for me. Recently He sent me a photo of a wall in his shop that is devoted to bikes that I have ridden in the past.
We sometimes joke about coming out of the closet as true recumbent enthusiasts. I think our friends already suspect this.
The closest members of Lucy’s Family are her son, Aldo, and his girlfriend, Pia. Aldo is a successful executive working for DHL in Santiago. Pia is an interpreter. I watched her do simultaneous translation from Spanish to English when they stopped by our apartment for a first visit. Aldo is also fluent in English, he also knows where to find craft beer in Santiago.
This first visit was originally planned as a quick meeting for Saturday afternoon. Lucy planned to serve chips and dip in the living room. So, I figured it was a good opportunity to assert my heritage and make apple pie.
While I was assembling the pie on Friday afternoon, Lucy made a video of me making it and sent it to Aldo and Pia. This prompted a contribution of ideas from all parties. Suddenly, Lucy was preparing dinner. Aldo and Pia were bringing wine. Aldo promised a tour of local craft beer places afterward. So, the entire sprawling event lasted for six hours, with the second dinner at the brewery, which included deep fried pig ears, finishing up at about midnight.
I don’t know if this is typical of Chilean culture, or just the way Lucy’s family works. It was wonderful in either case. I made one faux pas by picking up the tab at the brewery while Aldo was away from the table. So, we agreed to have another outing next Saturday as a remedy.
In case you were wondering, fried pig’s ears dipped in barbecue sauce are wonderful. There were none left uneaten.
Costanera Center is the tallest building in Latin America. It is the second tallest in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s also right here in our neighborhood. So of course we had to take the elevator to the top and get some pictures.
There atop this skyscraper, Lucy and I were getting into the layout of the neighborhood below with our unique life size map. It was clear that Lucy was lost in piecing together the streets below, when she said, ‘Hey, where is Costanera Center? It should be right there’. Imagine that. The largest building of all in the city and it was not on our map… We had a good laugh over this.
DuoLingo is a great app for learning a new language. It’s free, you can learn a lot with frequent five minute sessions. I started binge learning Spanish. Lucy started learning English with more conventional tools.
The though part about English is pronunciation. The tough part about Spanish is hearing individual words when spoken at normal speed. I can always get Lucy to slow down enough for me to hear individual Spanish words. Pronunciation of English words is still tough for her. So we speak mostly in Spanish. Though I did get Lucy to download the DuoLingo App for learning English.
The funny thing is Lucy knows so many songs with English lyrics. She pronounces them all correctly. Does anyone know how to tap into this? I figure some exercises in front of a Karaoke machine might help.