Biking the Amazon: Part VI

Between love and hate

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After crossing the Andes Mountains and finding the source of the Amazon on bicycles, Polish brothers David Andres and Hubert Kisiński are piloting their floating "Amazon Bikes" down the world's largest river toward the Atlantic Ocean. Amazon explorer Piotr Chmielinski is in touch with the expedition and provides this report as the brothers continue their journey.

By Piotr Chmielinski

Dawid Andres stood on a fishing boat watching the vast Amazon stretch toward the horizon. It was calm and mild, one might say friendly. Not long ago, it churned and fumed, throwing up waves. Within David grew anger and resentment mixed with doubt. Just weeks ago, he was ecstatic after delivering paeans in honor of this mighty queen of rivers. Today, he could not tolerate it. Enough. He hated the Amazon.

He recalled the long way he had come with Hubert. To reach the Atlantic, less than 1000 km. Almost nothing compared to the 7000 they had already pedaled across water and land! Yet the goal felt more unattainable with each moment, at least to Dawid.

Hubert Kisinski stood nearby, watching his brother. Dawid’s face mirrored all the same feelings. I’d better leave him alone, thought Hubert. My words of comfort are futile at this time.

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The face of disaster
The crash occurred 15 km before Santarem. The brothers saw the city outlined in the distance, where they could stop to strengthen their Amazonian bikes. Hubert, aka "Diamond Hand," imagined designs for the parts to be welded, which would stabilize their vehicles on the Amazon’s waves. For days, their peace of mind was disturbed by fears. Could their bicycles withstand the challenge from the raging river? Recent ad hoc repairs made after Manaus offered no guarantee. Relieved, they saw the approaching shore. Just a little more effort. A few more clicks and grinds of the bike, pounded by the current…

Hubert began to swear terribly.

"I have never heard Hubert cursing so much," said Dawid.

Hubert’s bicycle could not withstand the water pressure. The drive train jammed. The pedals wouldn’t turn. The bicycle succumbed to the element, like a drifting lifeboat.

"Until now, it was usually my luck to have something broken," explained Dawid. "I was always behind. When Hubert’s bike collapsed on these unforgiving waves, I thought it was probably the end. It was like a symbol of failure. It occurred to me that we couldn’t finish our trip."

Together, the brothers brought their vehicles to a nearby peninsula. They found a fisherman who agreed to transport them and their bikes, one in a sorry state, to Santarem. Besides the doubt of reaching the Atlantic, it was especially painful for Dawid to not reach Satarem on their own. The place seemed so close, yet so far. Instead of biking to the city, they were on a fishing boat. As he stood on deck, he felt humiliated.

"Dawid, it’s not a problem," said Hubert, finally gathering the courage to speak. Hubert had not considered any option other than continuing the expedition. "After some repairs, and strengthening the bicycles, we will return to where I smashed my poor bike and continue our journey. There will not be even a centimeter break in our route."

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Crisis averted
In the evening, the exhausted bikers finally arrived at Santarem. I arranged their hotel, thanks to the growing number of people who contacted me via Facebook and offered help. Hubert and Dawid’s journey is being told and written about more and more in Brazil.

A good night’s rest seemed the best medicine, especially for Dawid. He was depressed over the continuation of the expedition. A natural state on such a demanding trip. Once again, each brother approached the problem differently.

"I’m still in a good mood," said Hubert, the younger brother, during our Skype conversation.

Hubert was focused on the bicycles and where to look for the repair shop. Inevitably, he drew Dawid into the planning. The next day, both brothers regained their usual joy and enthusiasm. With the help of locals, especially Conde Castro, the repair work began immediately. Hubert’s bike would serve a little longer.

"So, what is your plan, gentlemen?" I asked. Abandoning further travel did not enter their minds! The only remaining question was whether to travel by land or pedal the river.

"The plan is that we reach Belem," was the response.

The reinforcement of both bikes was completed. The shop had repaired the broken and jammed parts—all should be ready by morning. Returning to the river, even one as capricious as the Amazon, did not seem impossible anymore. On the contrary, to not travel by river was frightening.

"You see, Piotr. The Amazon is playing games with us. Now, as I look out the hotel’s window, I see the water is smooth and calm, with not even one small wavelet. It is not until we put bikes on the river and start to pedal that it wakes up with a furious storm. We struggle with these waves, and the river thrashes us badly. After a few hours of struggling, we finally reach the shore to rest. And what? The river mellows and mutes, neither waves nor wind. It happens every day." Dawid laughed. "But this is the real Amazon. I couldn’t forgive myself if we ran the rest of the route overland. It would be our loss."

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Welcome back, Amazon!
After repairs and reinforcements to their bicycles, Dawid and Hubert returned to the point on the Amazon where strong waves had stopped their progress. They were accompanied by seven kayakers from Santarem, who joined to say goodbye to the friendly Poles. Soon, Dawid and Hubert paddled toward Belem. Reporters from a local TV station, Tapajos-Santarem, recorded the farewell and a report was aired on the evening news.

Two days later, I received a message from Dawid: "Pedaling hard. After reinforcements, the big waves are no longer scary. It is beautiful. I love this river!"

–Piotr Chmielinski is a Polish-American adventurer who completed the first source-to-sea descent of the Amazon River by kayak and raft in 1985/86. That trip was chronicled in Joe Kane's classic book "Running the Amazon."

READ the whole Biking the Amazon series on CanoeKayak.com

–Digital Feature | True Source: Discovery and Rivalry on the Amazon River

—Learn more on the expedition's website: bikingtheamazonriver.com

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