"You will be lighter in Bolivia and Peru?"
He intended this as a question, but in his halting English it sounded more like a prophecy. A native of France, he had spent the last two years cycling from San Diego through Latin America. We met him in southern Chile and although months behind him, his memories of the difficult climbs through Bolivia and Peru remained strong.
"It is I think impossible with so many weight," he said, shaking his head.
How could we tell him we had just got rid of half our gear in Coyhaque? It was from Puerto Natales, in southern Chile, that we set off with the original mother load. With a little ingenuity and a lot of bungee cords we had managed to pack not only our cycling gear but also trekking poles, hiking boots, and expedition backpacks as well. I even managed to squeeze in Gabriel's 100-page master's treatise on tourist locales of Chile, a last-minute parting gift.
With all the weight, my bike frame flexed and wobbled like overcooked linguine, and in the ensuing kilometers both cargo racks and even my frame would break. This I attributed to faulty equipment.
With spools of wire and complaining muscles, we finally made it the 2,000 kilometers to Coyhaque, where we discharged over half the essentials we'd been hauling. Shortly after, we met Alexander, whose incredulity and stripped-down bike told us we still had a long way to go.
Fate has tried to intervene, offering sacrifices to the road in attempts to ease our load. The trekking poles, dromedary bags and water bottles, biking shorts and assorted clothing have disappeared along the way.
But it's not enough. And my mind constantly sorts through the gear and the miles to go. I anticipate each major city as a place to reevaluate and assuage my troubled conscience. Pages are torn from guidebooks, old maps are tossed, shirts and other clothing are given as gifts. I've even parted with our good-luck horseshoe, a 2-pound piece of steel transported across half a continent from Tierra del Fuego.
But it seems that for every item we relieve ourselves of, someone is generously bestowing upon us another. Bottles of wine, jars of liquor-laced grapes, bags of walnuts, address books and baseball hats, little calendars and clay jars — all of it finds a home in our panniers.
It's no surprise that people are constantly mistaking our bikes for motorcycles, disbelieving a mere cycle could haul so much. "Muy pesado," ("very heavy") they say. "Que pierdnas," ("what legs"), looking us up and down and slapping their fingers together to denote an effort that surpasses imagination.
Salta was our last unloading zone before Bolivia, and with manic zeal I scrutinized every item of clothing, repair tool, and scrap of paper. Nancy writes it all off as another of my obsessions. She's still hauling around jeans and a dress, anticipating a night on the town. She appeases my concerns with a litany of "yes, honey," while I agonize over the ramifications of carrying a third pair of socks.
In the aftermath we left Salta feeling like we'd accomplished our mission. Yet shortly thereafter we met another cycling couple from France. They too rolled their eyes in disbelief, straining to lift our bikes off the ground. "Estan locos," ("You're crazy") they said. Their amazement made us wonder if we'd really accomplished anything.