Erin and Aaron are in the midst of planning their South American Tour. They are excited to have an opportunity to share stories of their travels abroad, and will be providing updates and photo documentation throughout their trip. Read below to learn more about Aaron and Erin’s Tour del Sur. How old are you two? Aaron-34 Erin-28 What are your origins? Aaron: I was born in Louisiana and I was raised in SE Arkansas. I moved to Fayetteville, AR 16 years ago to pursue a horticulture degree and have been here since. My mother was from New Orleans LA and my father from Memphis TN. In my youth my parents would take my brother and I on camping trips around the U.S. where they would give us perhaps sometimes a little too much exploratory freedom. I developed my love for the outdoors and sense of adventure on these trips and it has stayed with me ever since. Erin: I was born and raised until I was 18 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. My mom is from Wisconsin and My dad from Kansas originally; both field biologists who raised me in the backwoods of Bolivia. I learned adventure before I was born and was blessed with the opportunity to be exposed to a balance of conservation biology and community economic development through my parent’s studies. The exposure to this level of cultural and economic contrast has left a stark mark in my personality and perspective on reality. What was the first experience on a bike that drove you to make cycling such a central part of everyday life? Aaron: Growing up I was always that kid that would convince my friends to ride our bikes to the next town over or somewhere that seemed crazy at the time and generally I was riding back alone because everyone else called for a ride. When I got to college I bought a mountain bike and shortly after the guys at the bike shop invited me out for a camping/cycling weekend in the rugged Buffalo River headwaters. It was definitely beyond my skill level as a beginner mountain biker but it opened my eyes to just how much fun cycling could be. Since then I have been consumed with cycling rather it be racing, long gravel road rides, causal group rides, commuting, or the occasional pub crawl. Erin: The first sport I obsessed about was competitive swimming; this engrained a need to have an athletic solo activity as an integral part of my life style. When I came to the United States and encountered a tragic public transportation system – to say it politely – cycling was an obvious solution for my daily commute, considering my low budget. Given that I did not have a car, but loved getting out of town, cycling became my freedom. Through cycling I was enabled to discover the beauty of Ozarks, which soon became my home away from home. Tell us about your past experiences with cycle touring. Aaron: My experiences with cycle touring are pretty limited honestly. I had always told myself that when the time was right I would take some time off to cycle around what I assumed would be the United States. I had a feeling that my time was approaching so my first move was to acquire a bike that would be accommodate for touring. Since then I have only experimented with some short weekend excursions in the region. Erin: Well, straight up – never done a cycling tour. I live for pushing myself into uncomfortable situations and relishing in the growth that naturally comes forth. For example, when I was still in grade school I tagged along on a two month expedition with my parents (our camp was two days away from the nearest road, and three away from a town) on which food rations were poorly calculated – we ended up having to eat beans, rice, and oatmeal for a month (no salt, no sugar, just straight water). Experiences like these – where discomfort was long term – you learn to adapt and find comfort in uncomfortable situations. Erin, I understand that your parents were biologists who spent 18 months traveling in South America in the 80s. Is your guys’ upcoming adventure a tribute to your parents? In part inspired by them, no doubt, however Aaron and I connected on this since day one. For me personally, it is a tribute to my female lineage and to woman everywhere! Hearing stories about my parents’ adventures and then sharing travel with them leaves me inspired to take their accomplishments and move forward. My maternal grandmother was a solo world traveler and has fantastic stories of building hospitals and supporting women’s rights in South Asia in the 1970’s. This undoubtedly fueled the adventure spirit my mother embodies, and which I have gratefully inherited. My father’s sisters are pretty fearless women themselves – a touring cyclist, a photo journalist, and world travelers. I therefore feel it is my duty to carry this torch forward. What countries are you visiting? What are you plans for a general route? We plan to visit Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay. Santa Cruz, Bolivia will be our home base and we plan to ride two loops, both out of Santa Cruz. First, planning to head west through the Andean mountains (visit the Salar de Uyuni, Lago verde, and Sajama – highest peak in Bolivia) on the way to the Chilean coast. Second, we plan to head north towards Peru, through Lima, turning south-west towards Cusco, followed by a sharp turn south back into Bolivia. Arriving into Bolivia through Copacabana, we plan to travel through La Paz (a little adventure down the death road, cloud forests, fern forests, and rain forests) into to Santa Cruz. After a couple of good showers, we will head south to Paraguay over to the Brazilian coast. Then cycle south to Uruguay, west to Argentina, and lastly working our way back to the north to Santa Cruz. We are currently in the process of researching more precise routes between our primary destinations. We are also keeping an open mind regarding our route once we begin our adventure. Are there any countries that stand out more than others as far as excitement to visit and absorb the surroundings? Well Bolivia of course! Aaron: I have never been out of the country, I am very excited to experience the different cultures between the different countries and regions. I am probably most interested in the rural areas and the people and culture within them. As a cyclist, I can’t wait to get to the big mountains. Erin: I am most excited to visit Uruguay and Paraguay…they seem to be the forgotten ones of South America. I don’t know what to expect from them, and that is exciting to me. The climb up the Andes, then down, up, and down again is a dream I am eager to achieve. What bike will you be riding? Like a couple of geeks with the same name, we are also riding the same bike. At least we can say they are different colors. The Specialized AWOL is our bike of choice. I’m on a 2014 comp and Erin is on a 2015 AWOL X Polar. The primary reason for Specialized is the fact that we are die hard supporters of The Highroller Cyclery who has been in Fayetteville for the last 30 years and mostly sell Specialized bikes and accessories. After several thousand miles of primarily dirt roads, the AWOL has proven itself a worthy machine. Our current debate is the set up concerning the lights, mounts, and charging system for the anticipated generator hub, and the drive train options considering internal gearing with belt or chain drive. How are you training for a full year on the bike? Aaron: For starters, my goal is to spend as much time in the saddle as I can which has pretty much been my goal for the last 10 years. More importantly than the physical side of things are the luxuries that we live within our normal lives. We eat well, drink lots of good coffee, have a great appreciation for tasty craft beer, and spend most of our nights in a bed. We plan to take several multi day trips prior to the adventure to gauge what we’re able to live without versus what we’ve just got to have. Erin: All that, and in addition doing some cross training with rock climbing (another love of mine) and interval training with cardio and weights. When it comes down to it, there’s nothing like base miles, a lot of them. Do you plan to camp for the duration of your trip? What accommodations will you be calling home for the year? We do plan on camping for the majority of the trip. I’m sure that there will be times that the weather is terrible and given the option of a roof we would probably not pass it up. Other times, perhaps in more urban areas, we may choose to stay in hostels or utilize Erin’s network and crash with friends. We both very much enjoy “roughing it” and the challenges that come along. We are by no means credit card touring. Therefore we have a budget and it will require many nights under the stars. In theory, home will be a two person three season tent. An extra fly or two will probably be necessary to cover bikes and to create a little extra dry space in times of poor weather. Other than that, whatever we can fit into our front and rear pannier bags while still able to pedal up the Andes will be our home. Any plans on how to stay comfortable while living on the bike? Aaron: I am most comfortable when I’m on my bike, enough said. Erin: Tweezers, a machete, and some seriously warm cycling gear. I am most comfortable when I’m pushing my boundaries and having to adapt on the fly. Will you be riding for a cause? We will be riding for a cause. We have some seeds planted, and waiting to see which one takes root best. Generally speaking, the cause will be grounded in the contrasts of today’s world. Ideally, information will be shared freely and transparently and highlight: socio-economic contrasts, conundrums of conservation versus development, small scale agriculture versus large industrial agriculture, etc. I am particularly interested in honing in on how “economic development” is poorly defined and raise a dialogue around the concept of it being the bastard child of colonialism.