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Paynesville Press - September 28, 2005

PAHS junior bikes across Argentina this summer

By Michael Jacobson

Having his first plane ride this summer was not enough for Tom Lewis. Instead, he took eight. All of them, however, were only in order for him to spend time using a manually-powered mode of transportation: a bicycle.

Through a Minneapolis-based program called Two Wheel View, Lewis traveled to Argentina and - with nine other participants, including one of the program's founders - biked about 250 miles in that South American country.

Until this trip, his longest biking excursion had been three days in Wisconsin, which was over a year ago. Lewis owns a bike and does some BMX biking, he said, but that is quite different from the biking that he did overseas.

argentinian map While en route, the group camped using gear that they carried, which included two-person tents. They normally stopped in small towns from the size of Paynesville to "smaller than Roscoe," said Lewis. They would set up camp an hour or two before sunset each night, which was around 6-7 p.m., he said. Argentina - as part of the southern hemisphere - is currently in its winter, so the sun sets early and 60- to 70-degree days turn into 20-degree nights.

They often took time to explore the areas where they camped, using the buddy system to do so before resting for the next day's ride, and the group noted that towns in Argentina seemed to be set in past decades. Buildings were "all old style," while one town looked like it had come from the 1940s or 1950s, Lewis said, because of the old buildings and cars. It gave him a feeling that he was "supposed to be wearing old clothes, too."

While Lewis and his companions traveled the countryside, they saw some sights that did not seem out of place at all, even for how old they were. Devil's Throat, a large rock formation, and a rock that was naturally formed to look like a giant toad were some highlights of the natural scenery. A large wooden Jesus depicted on a cross shared the faith of much of the area's population.

Without any need to worry about "random violence," which simply does not happen in Argentina, according to Lewis, he got along well with the Argentines. Though few spoke English, and Lewis does not speak Spanish, there was a Spanish-speaking member of his group, and he felt that the locals "were a lot nicer than the peopleŠin the United States."

The Two Wheel View group even met three Argentine boys who were doing their own biking trip while on winter vacation from school. They spent one day biking together, and Lewis said the boys were impressed by the group's venture through their home country.

Lewis discovered that the only place he feared the Argentines was on the road. They "drive like maniacs" and do not wear seatbelts, he said. When the group used round-abouts, where the road joins a tight circle with many exits coming off of it, the bikers learned to "go when there's an opening." A dislike for this more risky riding made Lewis glad they only came to a few.

All of the equipment used on the trip was provided by the program. The group got their bikes and bags to hold their gear on the front and back of each bike during a short orientation period in Minneapolis before the trip. In all, the luggage - including one bag of personal items - was an easy load on a bike, said Lewis.

He did not add too much weight to his packs with souvenirs, either, Lewis said. A flute-like instrument called an orca and some homemade rock and bead jewelry for his family caught his eye, but the best thing he brought back was a traditional drink called mate. The "rich drink it and the poorest of the poor drink it," Lewis said of this beverage. It is made of herbs and green tea, "but they chop it up different," he explained, and his two-pound bag, with a dry mix that only needs hot water, is going fast. Lewis let a few friends try it, and they appreciated its good flavor as much as he did, he said.

Occasionally, the travelers would find firewood and cook their own meals, but they mostly experienced the food by eating in restaurants. Though barbeque was the "main thing" for the Argentines, Lewis really enjoyed a dish that seemed to him like a large ravioli cut in half. It was served with different fillings, and he ate it every other day, often with chicken.

One obvious difference from American food was the way that fresh foods were used "however they come," he found. Whereas in America, carrots are not often sold unless they are straight, he explained that in Argentina "they could be twisted up in knots and they'll still sell 'em."

Not all norms Lewis discovered were true across all the land they traveled. Some parts of the country were very clean, he said, while in others, there was "garbage everywhere on the side of the road." One river that ran near a sugarcane factory was actually neon green, said Lewis, calling it "really gross." Environmental learning about things like this is an important part of the trip, he added.

Involvement in the local Trail Guards was what introduced Lewis to Rick McFerrin, one of the two founders of Two Wheel View. A member of the Trail Guards since a young age, Lewis started going on trips with the group as soon as he became eligible at age 13. On an adventure to the Boundary Waters, he met McFerrin, and Tom Koshiol (who organizes the Trail Guards) told McFerrin that Lewis might be interested in taking a Two Wheel View trip, Lewis said.

Despite the fact that he "don't normally bike," he was certainly interested in the trip: interested enough to raise $3,000 to go. Back in January, Lewis started fundraising by selling candy bars, working at a brat stand, and asking businesses for donations.

Part of the program's mission is to "use the bicycle as a tool to facilitate environmental education and action," according to its website. Inspired by a trip that McFerrin and his wife took - in which they biked more than 15,000 miles in 43 countries over a two-year period - the program has existed since 2001. Biking trips within the Twin Cities area as well as internationally help youth connect to the environment.

Lewis enjoyed the experience tremendously, he said. "Everything was different compared to here," but that certainly was not something he saw as a deterrent. He plans on returning to Argentina the summer after his senior year of high school, accompanied by Jimmy Jansen, a 2005 PAHS grad who did the same bike route in Argentina through a Two Wheel View trip in 2003. A 2004 graduate, Beth Schlangen, also participated in the program, going to Norway in 2004.

Though no one in the group lost any baggage, Lewis' first experiences with planes were not uneventful. Baggage workers went on strike in Salta, so the group was delayed for a day. Once they arrived in Buenos Aires, another hotel stay was necessary, because they missed a flight by only 15 minutes.

Lewis shared this experience with people he had never met before the trip, but who he now considers friends. Most came from around Minnesota, but one participant was from Chicago and another from Canada. He stated, "I'm keeping in contact with everyone," because the best part of the trip for him was sharing the time with both the people in his group and Argentines he encountered along the way.

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