By David Spiegel with information and photos provided by Piotr Chmielinski
"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." So said Doc Emmett Brown in the movie Back to the Future. Instead of driving a Delorean time-machine through the sky, however, a pair of inventive Polish brothers are riding down the Amazon to the Atlantic Ocean on bicycles they mounted on top of home-made rafts.
Dawid Andres and Hubert Kisiński rode for almost 1,200 miles through the High Andes, following the course of the Amazon River before it was possible to use their floating "Amazonian Bikes" to pedal to the Atlantic Ocean.
They set out from the town of Camana on Peru’s Pacific coast in early September, and rode to one of the sources of the Amazon, Lake Ticlla Cocha. Though the lake perches 16,870 feet above sea level, where nighttime temperatures routinely plunge below 0 degrees fahrenheit, the brothers jumped into the water to celebrate their first encounter with the Amazon. From Ticlla Cocha they followed the path of the Apurimac River, a Class V tributary of the Amazon, cycling through Cuzco to the town of Ayacucho.
The ride tested the team’s endurance. Acclimatization, altitude sickness and flat tires were not, however, the only challenges that they faced on the unpaved mountain roads. While passing through the autonomous zone of the Ashaninka people, an armed militia attempted to commandeer Dawid and Hubert's camera equipment. "The attack, like many other events of our expedition, luckily turned out to be funny and subject of a good story to tell later," concludes Dawid Andres.
The cyclists eventually reached Atalaya, where they planned to transition to watercraft. Although most adventurers would likely opt to trade their bikes for regular boats when the road ends and the river begins, the Polish crew decided to continue downstream using the power of their pedals. Hubert, the expedition's handyman, spent several days converting and fine tuning the bikes to "Amazonian Bikes," a hybrid craft with a bicycle frame mounted between a pair of 10-foot pontoons. The pedals turn a propeller that push the boats along at an average speed of 3.7 miles per hour. The brothers tested the contraptions on the Warta River in Poland, but the real test will be on the broad waters of the Amazon.
“As far as I know, no one has ever traveled Amazon by bicycle,” Dawid says. “However, it wasn’t our goal to be the first Amazon bikers. It just turned out to be the cheapest way"
It remains to be seen how the pedal-cats will cope with the Amazon’s powerful eddies and whirlpools, and the ocean waves close to the Atlantic Ocean. “The bike mounted on the frame, creating a sort of catamaran will be unsinkable,” Dawid says. “However I’m afraid the most about the power of the drive; I think this might be our biggest problem.”
After readying the bikes, the brothers waited several days for a local Ashaninka guide Felipe Suarez Ruiz to arrive. They had hoped to get underway immediately but, after a previous experience with bandits, common sense prevailed and they delayed their departure. They started downstream on Nov 7th.
Follow the boys on their website, bikingtheamazonriver.com
Special thanks to Piotr Chmielinski for his assistance with this story. 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."