In 2009, I flew to Bogota, Colombia to join Gwendal Castellan and Tania Lo during their epic continental bike journey from the tip of Patagonia to the Canadian Arctic.
I arrived in country with my touring bags and gear, but my bike never made it from Los Angeles. It simply disappeared, and the airline claimed the bike was never checked in. I had to hire a lawyer and go to court, but I finally received a check for the bicycle just last week.
Down in Bogota, however, I didn’t have enough cash for a new bike or return airfare — I had purchased a one way ticket and planned to bike back! This broke gringo was forced to take the bus and hitchhike.
I found very modern transportation facilities in the cities (Bogota and Medellin in particular), but the rural residents live with devastating poverty. I quickly discovered there’s no road connecting Colombia to Panama, and Marxist groups fighting on behalf of the poverty stricken control the border region anyway. English speaking Americans like me were advised to avoid the area, so I took a long bus ride to Turbo, where there’s a thriving water transport trade from there to Panama.
The usual way for American tourists is to take the lancha. The tourists arriving from Panama looked very seasick, and the tourist boats charge $100 for the trip. I found a cargo captain willing to take me on for US$20, though later he tried to shake me down for another $50 in various extemporaneous fees. Captain Bligh dropped me off in a village along the Atlantic coast. I couldn’t find any real public transportation but many many taxis (on road and on the water) got me to a real road, where I caught a bus to Panama City.
This all sounds like a fun adventure, but it’s beginning to get old. I’m accustomed to international travel and different customs, but I’m traveling alone, I had uncomfortably close calls in the frontier regions of Colombia, and I just want to get home. I’ve mentioned before that I have close friends who are high muckity mucks in the U.S. military. My cousin Bruce is on a Navy ship in international waters off of the coast of Nicaragua. He’s in a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment. These are the guys who fast rope down from helicopters onto suspected drug smuggling boats. Pedro and Manuel on the boat usually say they do so because FARC (those Colombian freedom fighters I mentioned earlier) threatened to kill their families if they don’t do their bidding. So Bruce calls the Nicaraguan Coast Guard, who arrive a couple of hours later to accept custody of the boat and crew. Usually Pedro and Manny lose their cargo but are otherwise set free.
As I hitchhike my way through Costa Rica to Managua, I hatch a plan with my pal General Mike and Colonel Robert and Colonel Vince at the Pentagon to work out an excuse for my presence on a Navy ship on drug interdiction patrol. I’m still an Air Force Reservist (in the Individual Ready Reserve with no monthly training requirement for me), so I ask my wife to ship the uniform down to me. I get myself a shave and a haircut and a helicopter ride out to the USS Thach, a Navy frigate headed back to San Diego and temporary home for my cousin Bruce. This warship’s sole job is catching drug runners, and the ship commander’s name was Captain Troy Stoner (no lie, and he’s a real spit-and-polish guy with absolutely no sense of humor about his name and his job but with obvious curiosity about the presence of an Air Force Major on his boat.)
I’ve been on Navy helicopters before, but this is the first time in my life I’ve been underway on a Navy ship. We’re a few hours out to sea when really weird things begin to happen. Phil Collins begins to sing the music track to “Brother Bear” over the ship’s PA when the sky in front of us splits open and ….
I don’t know what happens next because I haven’t thought that far ahead. Did I see dinosaurs escaped from Isla Nublar? Invading aliens come to sink our battleships? The face of God?
Maybe I’ll think of something in time for the Bikes in Space Edition of Taking the Lane’s quarterly journal. Elly seeks contributions of science fiction stories and illustrations involving bicycles. I planned to reprint Ray Bradbury’s out-of-copyright story about Leonard Mead, but then last night dreamt about Brother Bear on a Navy Frigate so came up with this story instead.
Though I had no participation in it, Gwendal Castellan’s bike tour of the America’s is real. You can learn more about it and buy the DVD of his adventure. Here’s the trailer for that video.
I have a copy of the DVD. I might give it away on Monday so stay tuned…
And back to the point: Write your bikey sci fi story and contribute it here.