FOREWORD: I’m currently in beautiful San Pedro de Atacama, a place whose natural wonder makes me want to scream out in happiness. Observing the silent desert horizon and lunarlike landscape, I began to remember all the times I actually screamed out in happiness on this trip and decided to memorialize those ephemeral sounds onto glowing screen. Though the topic of screaming falls perfectly in line with our eclectic interests to which we’d like to expose our readers, even I had doubts about its blog value. The Me, Bob & Surly Censorship Committee deemed the subject material, at best, only loosely related to cycling South America, and the topic almost didn’t make the cut. In the end though the Committee approved it. Their official stance is the following: “Screams are as good of expression as any. It doesn’t matter if they mean anything or elevate the reader to a higher moral ground. The important thing is for the reader to find his/her personal meaning and expresses it as loudly as possible. The scream can be a vehicle for such expression when words, actions, and art are inadequate.” Very wise, that MB&S Committee.
Sometimes I get the urge to empty my emotions into the mountains, valleys, and skyscrapers with a scream. This is not some tropical disease I picked up in South America. It’s a childhood desire that only got stronger with time, but societal pressures and a number of self-conscious reasons never allowed these spontaneous outbursts to materialize. Before this bike tour only once had I cleansed myself with a good yell. I was a tender 19 years-old, a freshman in college. A doctor had just told me nothing could return normal wrist flexibility after my carpel tunnel surgery. I was quiet glass when the news broke, the nurse gave me a lollipop on the way out, my slow stroll in the parking lot revealed no irreversible damage, the car sparked just as it had a thousand times before. I pressed play on the player, turned it up, shut it off—the silence the silence before pulling a trigger—then screamed as if anger was air and I was drowning.
Afterward I felt immediately better. The endorphins released from the sudden scream buzzed under my skin and wiped the doctor’s block-faced smirk into a previous life. Now I don’t discriminate against screams. Happy screams, sad screams, stupid screams, any and all kinds of screams are welcome in my mouth. (Sometimes I even scream for ice cream).
On this bike trip screams come even easier now that I’m unattached, unconnected to anything but the highway that cuts through the landscape, now that I owe no explanation to those who may hear/see my spastic attempt to vocalize this inside animal of worry-free origins. The interesting thing I’ve learned from the underestimated, under-utilized scream is that, much as we’re different shapes of the same person throughout our lives—the baby model, the toddler action figure, the hate-the-world adolescent limited edition, and so on in wrinkly chronological order—the screams within us are also different pitches of the same sound. That sound is us; the screams different expressions of how we interpret and react to life’s situations. If we don’t release these terrible fools within us, they morph into one stubborn super fool that changes only under the most extreme conditions, if at all. Or worse, if these clawing voices are not unleashed, they take revenge by quieting themselves to a boring whisper. You might as well tuck yourself into a cold grave at this point.
Sadly, throughout antiquity the scream has been over shadowed by the yawn. The Mayans and Ancient Greeks believed yawns were souls escaping from the body. Mohammed the Prophet of Islam taught that yawning was Satanic. Thousands of studies have been conducted on this invisible, contagious beast. Bunsen Burners blaze, test tubes char, chimpanzees sit confused in white-walled rooms, and psychologists debate in happy hours all in name of the overrated yawn. People world-wide yawn like its going out of style. Even animals yawn.
There is no respect for the scream.
I’ve come to believe each yawn is actually a scream testing the waters, sticking its pinky toe in the bath tub, popping its head out the get-away tunnel to see if the prison guard is asleep, and that somewhere deep inside us all there are legions of screams who work punching bags with intense focus, move plastic soldiers around war charts, and philosophize in study groups about their role in the universe. Soon they will rise from the trenches to prove to the world once and for all that they, not yawns, are the only holy reason for the great Opening of One’s Mouth. The day is upon us. Join them. Open wide and find salvation. Scream—it feels good.
Below I share with you a highlight reel of real actual screams in South America.
COLOMBIA (A few miles east of Cartagena): Just hours after starting down the Caribbean coast, riding with my trailer fully-loaded for the first time, the mysterious South American continent breathing below me, I looked to the left, let go completely, and poured a long, joyous scream into the sea. When I contemplate that moment now I find it impossible to capture it in writing. Words are not screams and are therefore inadequate. I cannot reverse that scream or distill it from the turquoise waters that stole it forever. For all I know it drifted on the Gulf stream and is now vacationing in Spain. Much like my first kiss or the first time I saw the Pacific, its a memory that will dilute with time. I can never get it back. Even now I’m not sure why on that stretch of road, at that early morning hour, I opened my mouth wide like a lion to yell unintelligibly into the waves. Maybe my skin was sunburned, I cried out in pain, and I’m confusing the story with another; or maybe I felt the seagulls, motionless on the breeze with outstretched wings, would understand—they gawk and screech into the crystal waters all the time. Perhaps, perhaps. But I suspect it was as simple as this: instead of dreaming my dream I was finally living it. The moment you realize this words can only come out as screams.
ECUADOR (hours north of Ibarra): I screamed atop a mountain just a three day’s ride from the capital, Quito. It had been a long, vertical day on a road whose curves spiraled upward, almost piling on top of themselves, like a parking garage ramp with cliffs instead of concrete walls. It seems Ecuadorian engineers do not ride bikes, or feel an ounce compassion for that matter. Mountain ridges divided the land; trees lined the road, their skinny shadows like broken railroad ties on the asphalt. As far as I could see a green valley spread toward the distant Imbabura volcano. The sun set behind its massive cone-shape and shot red and gold rays directly into the corn, wheat, and soy fields below, infusing them with energy, with life. In the same fields, farm workers were tiny spiders in blue shirts that would disappear into tin-roof huts and take long cigarette breaks in the grass. My scream, humbled by the scene and unpracticed at high altitudes, embarrassingly waited for a line of slow crawling trucks to pass before breaking the silence. Just as in Colombia I cannot pinpoint why. It just seemed appropriate. Most screams are hardworking, simple folk. Perhaps the workers’ loafing below offended my scream’s work ethic, forcing him to speak out against sloth in the only way he knew how. Ahhhhhhhhh. The scream make-up was also light rays and volcanoes, falsetto, a natural blend of strength and humbleness, with a touch of anxiety about an airport meeting in Quito. Imagine a bull terrier’s bark at the exact moment it realizes his master, not the mailman, is fidgeting on the front porch. Something like that. This species of scream belongs to the same timid family as pleas and prayers: you throw it into the air hoping it lands in good hands. Though I don’t recommend ever calling a scream timid to its face—unless you like knuckle sandwiches—this scream is no longer with me so I can cut the macho baritone bravura: he was definitely a tenor, and second sting at that. Last I heard he was working the fields, smoking Lucky Strikes with the boys, and waiting for love to arrive by plane.
PERU (mountain descents throughout the highlands): After many miles accumulated and a passport thick with official ink the screams in Peru became more frequent, more natural, but never, never pre-planned. As I was traveling with my friend Max at the time they also, strangely enough, became more recluse, afraid to perform for the public, even before the non-judgemental Frenchman audience of one. They sure let loose on remote mountains, however. When I would coast past Max on down slopes thanks to my superior Japanese components, screams would cling to the roof of my mouth, crouched in a silent attack position waiting for a few curves to separate us and create a sound barrier, then—when an opening in the trees revealed a picture-perfect lookout or the speeds exceeded sane limits—they’d jump out the door with a surprising wail, uncontrollable and scary in their abandon. Sometimes the screams were so loud, prolonged, and reckless as to leave me breathless. All these factors lead me to believe they were young screams, fond of hide-and-seek, still unwise to the ways of the world. The unashamed outspokenness with which they should behave anywhere at anytime—not just when no one is looking—was not in their child-like demeanor. Further evidence of their immaturity: wiser, more traveled screams realize that beautiful panoramas and death-defying feats are not necessary for a healthy gallop around the vocal chords. Elder screams are familiar with the creative rights that entitle them to full, undisclosed expression at sunrises, baptisms, bonfires, dinner parties, bar mitzvahs, funerals, carnivals, public libraries, among others. No, these young screams knew not their rights, just their merry innocence. Still, I wish the little guys the best in the Peruvian highlands. It’s refreshing to see such playful innocence, if even for a moment.
CHILE (French Valley, National Park Torres del Paine): My one-and-only scream in Chile is partly, if not entirely, responsible for an avalanche, the little bugger. This is not excessive prose or masculine gesturing equivalent to the sports car my scream drives. My f-ing scream caused a slab of snow to fall like a skirt off a mountain! It’s true. I have no witnesses, just my golden word. And gold never devaluates. My father and I were hiking in Torres del Paine National Park in the Chilean Patagonia. It’s a beautiful, end-of-the-world kind of place where during the summer months you have all the majestic views that snow-capped peaks provide without the annoying shiver-yourself-dead cold. Before the day’s climb my scream and I made an agreement: should he express his joy/sorrow/mystery upon the thunderous mountain he wouldn’t do so in an S.O.S-tone. Helicopter rescues—even false alarms—are embarrassing and expensive. For one hour my scream and I climbed up the famous French Valley to sneak a peek at the giant rock face that sheds football field-sized ice chunks like dandruff. Though it was several miles from the closest lookout point and even farther from our campsite, this mountain’s nocturnal games sounded like thunder claps in the trees above our tent. The night before we could hardly sleep due to the constant thuds. Upon arrival we found a rock with a view, impromptu-ed a cheese and cracker picnic, chatted with some Germans, then a French family, then an older Dutch couple. The small talk belittled my scream’s true purpose in being there. He wanted to ricochet himself into orbit and become one with the Great Being, starting with this granite slab that interrupted his REM sleep, the bastard. Without warning, when no one was around and chit-chat was just a bad memory, the scream shot forward like an Olympic swimmer, kicking off my tonsils on the way out. I watched the excited ‘YEEEEEESSSSSSSSSS’ vibrate across the sky with vengeful purpose, the letters leaving glow trails like sparklers in a closet. Unfortunately, my father was asleep back at camp and did not behold my scream’s prowess. It made me proud. Goose bumps arrived along with the deep knowing that I was privileged for being in the presence of this million-year-old citadel of regenerative water and rock, for having contained for so long such a powerful force as my scream. I felt alive. Five minutes later a large patch of snow unhitched itself from the farthest peak, the jagged crack widened before my eyes, first slowly, then with momentum before finally tumbling down the mountain’s steep slope with a muffled boom. And my scream, the nutter, after punching the mountain in the face, went to live with the stars.