Back from the bottom of the world
If Biking for a Better World were to sit down and rehash the highs and lows from its Alaska to Argentina trip, it may take longer than the 15,120-mile mission itself.
The original team of four, each current or former North Tahoe residents, departed Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay on bikes on June 12. Jake Spero, Duncan Sisson, Sam Skrocke and John Witherspoon planned to pedal for nine months through 15 countries before reaching the southernmost city in the world ” Ushuaia, on the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego.
Their mission was altruistic: Raise $18,000 through their non-profit organization to help finance the construction of a school in Nicaragua. The trip would be used to meet as many people as possible to spread word about the cause, all while bringing in more funds to meet the financial goal.
On Feb. 10, a full month and two days ahead of schedule, Biking for a Better World rolled into Ushuaia, taxed after a 137-mile day.
“It (the trip) took so long we didn’t know how we’d feel,” said Sisson, who returned Wednesday to his ski patrol job at Alpine Meadows. “I was kind of numb to it. It was a weird feeling just to know that we didn’t have to follow a schedule anymore. There was no more structure, and we were able to hang out like tourists.”
So they did, starting by sleeping in until 1 p.m. the next day ” a previously unthinkable hour to wake.
Sisson and Witherspoon lounged around and enjoyed the city for two days, while Spero stuck around to spend time with family in Mendoza, Argentina, and has yet to return to Tahoe, Sisson said.
Skrocke was not there to share the moment, as he split from the team in Guatemala in late September to ride solo.
“Unfortunately, we had some heated conversations on the road,” Sisson said. “Sam wanted to focus on the athletic side of the trip. We just had different mindsets. He just wanted to pedal.”
Once he broke away from the group, Skrocke rode 750 miles in seven days through Central America, Sisson said. After taking a boat across Panama’s Darien Gap ” a large chunk of undeveloped jungle that is unsafe to cycle through ” Skrocke continued on for 30 days straight, Sisson said.
At such a blistering pace, he arrived in Ushuaia a month ahead of the other three, who flew over Darien Gap. Skrocke also took a different route, Sisson said, sticking to the coast throughout South America while they veered inland into the Andes Mountains, avoiding Chile altogether as they continued south.
“He was pushing it,” Sisson said of Skrocke, who continued to post blogs on the team Web site after parting ways. “He wanted to keep his own pace. He’s an individual, and he likes to ride to the beat of his own drum.”
For the first time since the split, Sisson said he spoke with Skrocke at Squaw Valley on Wednesday night.
“We were civil,” he said of the conversation, adding that even though Skrocke left, the team still considers him part of Biking for Better World and its Alaska to Argentina mission. “He was involved in the fundraising as much as anyone else.”
Yet he missed what Sisson considers the highlight of the trip, when the trio visited the newly constructed school in Nicaragua in October.
“The school was the most exciting part,” Sisson said. “It was incredible.”
With no way to reach the secluded school by bike during the rainy season, the team managed to rent a 4-wheel drive pickup to make the haul into the tiny village of La Bonansa. They had help from a translator provided by their funding partner, Building with Books.
The side trip was well worth the time and effort, Sisson said.
“It was cool to see what we had been working so hard for in the U.S., and see what we had done,” he said of the school, which was in progress when they arrived. “We could have called it right there and still had an incredible trip.”
Instead they visited with the children and teachers, speaking broken Spanish as best they could while their translator helped with the conversations.
After the short respite, they returned to their bikes and pedaled south, just as they had the past 7,000-plus miles.
They were almost halfway there.
Stay tuned for a story about Skrocke’s adventures in South America.