BICYCLING TO TIERRA DEL FUEGO
By Peter Fredson
There is a gap in my memory about leaving Mexico City on my bike, and the succeeding week. I must have traveled through Puebla and into the state of Oaxaca. You will soon see why I have lost large chunks of memory concerning my trip to Tierra del Fuego.
I remember vaguely riding south on the Pan American Highway and that the paved road ended. I spent nearly a day riding on small gravel surface, then came to the part of the highway still under heavy construction. There was heavy gravel, construction trucks and equipment threw dust at me, and going up-hill on heavy gravel was nearly impossible
I arriving atop a mountain and saw gorgeous scenery all around, for many miles. I went down-hill riding the bike, but I should really have walked or taken the dirt road detour. At any rate I descended in very jerky style, then got to sight-seeing instead of paying attention to the road. I was going too fast for conditions, doing sightseeing, when I noticed a sharp hair-pin turn ahead of me. My bike started skidding on the coarse gravel. I jammed on my coaster brake but something snapped, leaving me on a skidding bike ready to fall off a mountain. I threw myself off the left side onto the gravel, while the bike skidded off the road, which had no guard rails yet, and went crashing and tumbling down the mountain side.
I faintly remember the acute pain of gravel bruises and burns over my entire left side. My shirt and trousers were ripped. I looked at the bike, several hundred feet below, and saw it twisted and mangled, with my possessions strewn over the mountain side. This part of my journey has some sort of mental block, perhaps to assuage the shock of dismal failure.
People of the construction crew must have come to my aid, washed the dirty mess away, and smeared some kind of lotion on my bruises, but I don’t remember any details. Luckily I had no broken bones. The road crew people took me and what remained of my bike and possessions by truck to Huajuapan de Leon, and put me in a small posada (boarding house). They also administered first aid with a bottle of alcoholic beverage sprayed on my skin. It probably hurt like blazes, but this is lost to memory.
The next day, hurting, with black and blue bruises, I examined the bike. Everything was twisted: main frame, handlebars. Spokes were bent and twisted, some broken. Headlight and horn were useless. My camping gear was battered, canteen perforated, and most clothing left on the mountain side. That was the lowest point of my young career.
I caught the next 2nd Class autobus to Puebla, and another bus to Mexico City, with my twisted bike atop the bus. I still hurt from the battering on the gravel.
In Mexico City I got a room at the Y.M.C.A. where I took stock of my assets. I had about $10.00 left, the clothing on my back, my pistol in a leather holster, and black-and-blue bruises.
I wired my parents for money from the Telegraph Office, located across the street from the Main Post Office. I still was not sure about ending the journey, but consulting with a bicycle shop I was told to get another bike. That trying to repair the old one, getting new tires, etc. would be expensive. I made a deal with the young manager of the Y.M.C.A. to give him the bike, in exchange for delaying paying room rent.
I walked daily about Mexico City as I was impressed by the colonial architecture. I visited several churches and spent considerable time admiring the Plateresque and Churrigueresque ornamentation of columns and altars.
A nearby bakery had delicious bread in many forms and lots of sweet bread to nibble on. A street vendor near the Y.M.C.A. sold Tortas de Milanesa and similar food, very inexpensive. But I soon got down to my last dollar.
I would go to the Post Office and Telegraph Office several times a day to inquire if I had received any mail. In those days mail addressed to General Delivery was posted on long lists, in alphabetical order. I would peruse the “P” list in vain. Then a week later, I decided to go over all the lists, starting at “A.” To my great surprise there was mail listed under my middle name, Alvin.
Those were depression days in the U.S. My father had worked for many years as a Master Tool and Die Maker, when the company folded and he lost his job. Then an official of his company absconded with all the money, including pensions, for South America.
I am not sure how much money I received, but around $50.00. After paying the Y.M.C.A. I would have about $25.00 left.
It wasn’t enough to buy a new bike, nor to restock my possessions. I made a decision, which has ever since bothered me, to end my journey to Tierra del Fuego.
A journalist staying at the Y.M.C.A. wanted to buy my .22 pistol, so I sold it to him for about $25.00
The Y.M.C.A. had a bulletin board on which I saw a notice asking for people to share expenses and driving, on an auto trip to St. Louis, Missouri. It was leaving the next day. For about $40.00 I rode with 5 other people to St. Louis, traveling over 1,000 miles daily. In St. Louis I caught a bus to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and from there took a trolley back to my hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
For years I purposely avoided any mention of the journey and it is only recently that incidents have come trickling back into my consciousness. A young man’s ego does not like to admit any failure, but in my old age I can allow it.