Wedded bliss on the road to Happy Town

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Wedded bliss on the road to Happy Town
April 16, 1997

Hunger and isolation can do strange things to a person. Consider the "IK" people of East Africa, subject of anthropologist Colin Turnbull's The Mountain People. Deprived of their nomadic hunting grounds and hence their food source, the IK society breaks down to the point where even the fundamental human values such as love between parent and child are discarded in the struggle for survival.

No, things haven't become that bad for us. But the mix of hardships such as food rationing, hostile climate, long periods of isolation, and sleepless nights can produce some strange behavior.

First it was the food. Carrying a 10-day supply is no easy chore; you must limit the package of cookies you can carry, for example. My appetite could never be sated. During dinners Nancy would catch me eyeing every spoonful entering her mouth — my share long since wolfed down. Desserts were pre-divided lest I eat all in the blink of an eye, the pause between chews. I'd become jealous of Nancy's milk powder and flour pastes, arguing the exploitation of these precious commodities that in truth no one in their right mind would consume in the first place.

The road has its own challenges — broken chains, bent derailleurs, busted racks, bad gears ... days when all you do is fix flats. And the wind — you know the wind. Days it howls without respite can quickly carry you to the breaking point. We stand and scream at the top of our lungs, hurling the battery of irritants we have gathered. Thankfully, the wind drowns out most of what we yell.

Nights too bring their own problems — a rock biting your back, the ground just too unlevel, the fabric of the tent smacking and snapping, the chill of night creeping into your bones. All these can keep sleep at bay. It's obvious when one of us wakes without a smile, the eyes half-sealed by invisible weights. It's the start of one of those days.

But the road too eases all pains. When anger arises, a few cranks of the pedals creates enough distance to let things cool. So it's not all sunshine and rainbows on our shoulders, but the travails are our secret sauce, without which even the most transcendent vistas can become bland.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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