(Laguna Rocha, Uruguay) This is Christian, I think. For the sake of getting this post to press, I’ll call him Christian. Our encounter on the rustic shores of Lake Rocha, a one day pedal from the fashionably opposite Punta del Este, was so brief and unexpected, and his story was so humble in its grandness, that I was too fascinated with the whole to worry about details like his name. Christian, in the world of long-distance bike touring, is a myth, an urban legend, a perpetual peddler whose travels are like anonymous donations in foreign currency: he arrives, nameless, and though a finger can’t be placed on the exact value, the inherent wealth in his presence lingers long after he passes through.
That same night, near where Christian and I conversed, I asked a family for permission to pitch my tent on their property. Concerned about the flimsiness of fabric, they instead offered me floor space in their kitchen, saying the winds that howl from across the ocean and lake “knock at their door each night…and might punch through yours.”
They had seen Christian too.
Inspired or mystified, or both, by Christian’s slow pull toward some invisible goal, the children had since taken out their ten-speeds to toy with rusted-out chains. Their new excitement for bikes was evident in the way they traced Surly’s angles with their eyes; how they reverse-engineered Bob in their minds. On their remote beach two long-distance cyclists in one day was news, so I told them our stories, starting with Christian, as a lone boat trolled the dusk and the sun set behind the fishing nets draped over the awning.
This is what I know about Christian, if that is his real name: he is an Uruguayan who spent one year cycling in Colombia, two in Bolivia, and three in Brazil—six years total; he bikes at night; he prefers the natural over the urban; he travels with half as much gear as me; he knows my friend Juan Carlos, and though he didn’t refuse the above photo he didn’t initiate it either. Framed behind the bike that accompanied him during all his South America adventures and forced to freeze his friendly disposition, I don’t think he wanted to be featured as a blog post. He bikes for himself, and its obvious—I have some experience in these affairs—that he has managed to keep the wisdom of the solitary road separate from the confused cities and sprawling society that he must visit, occasionally, to get somewhere else.
“Great,” he said shaking my hand in an understood goodbye. “Vamos para arriba siempre”—in English, my personal translation: “Let’s make things better” or “Keep your eye on the prize.” I nodded in agreement. Then he rolled away to pedal through the silence of the night.
Christian does not have a blog.