Close to 300 people gathered at Guadalajara’s Casa Clavigero on April 23 for the debut presentation of Salva Rodriguez’s latest book on his world bike tour. The Spanish cyclist set out from his home town of Granada in 2006 and since then has pedaled about 150,000 kilometers through Africa, Asia and, most recently, the American continent. “I have only 4,000 kilometers more to go and I’ll be back home,” he told his audience, somewhat wistfully.
As the tall, thin cyclist described his experiences crossing the continent from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina (“the southernmost city in the world”), it became clear to everyone that the people he met along the way had affected him deeply. Perhaps the one who affected him most was the woman sitting next to him, his wife, Tapatia Loreli Padilla, also a cyclist, whom he met during his 42,000-kilometer ride through the Americas and to whom his new book, “America, Around the World on a Bicycle, a Storybook Voyage,” is dedicated.
I was impressed that the gangly Spaniard said relatively little during his talk about technical matters such as kilometers per day, bicycle maintenance or the gear he uses for camping in the most outlandishly varied circumstances imaginable.
No, this was principally a talk about people. For example, there was Jack, one of several adventurers he met while shooting rapids in Montana. “This young man,” said Rodriguez, “kept asking me questions like, ‘How do you do this? How do you do that?’ Finally, I said, ‘Listen, Jack, you’re wearing me out. Why don’t you stop asking me all these questions and just come along with me for a while – you’ll find all the answers yourself.’”
To Rodriguez’s surprise, just 24 hours later they were on the road and remained together for over a week.
Then there was the time he found himself stranded in the middle of a isolated part of Colombia. “Globalization has not yet reached this place,” he told his audience. “There are no roads marked on the map and you need a compass to get around. The only way to get food is to knock on someone’s door. And if no one is home, you just have to wait.”
This is the lonesome spot where Rodriguez found himself with a broken wheel and no spare – “600 kilometers from the nearest paved road.” Here is where he knocked on the door of a man named William, who had just come back from rescuing a cow. William took one look at Rodriguez’s bicycle and said, “My son’s bike has the same size wheel – let me talk to him about this.” After a night of reflection, father and son decided Rodriguez’s need was much greater than theirs. “You can take my son’s wheel,” said the father.