(97) Sharon smiled every second xxxx
This blog was meant to allow anyone to live their dreams through our eyes because it was not possible for them to do such a challenge due to the many other aspects of life and yet we have both enjoyed writing the blog which has reminded us both of the incredible places we have been to and the amazing people we have met. I never for one moment thought I would be writing a post about the last few days I would spend with my best friend and wife and find I am a differant person for it.
We both had many dreams of the things we wanted to do in our life and most of them we did. Money was never the goal but happiness was and I don’t think I have ever smiled and laughed as much as I did with Sharon. I have never met someone so motivating, giving, happy and loving as I have Sharon and to observe her from moment I met her to the start of our journey,much happier, more motivating, humble and loving is a treasure I will hold forever.
I still strongly believe we should all live our dreams and that losing Sharon shows how short life can be….Now you have seen life through our eyes what an amazing world it is I hope you can dream and do what to do through yours…xxxx
Sharon could humble a king and tame a lion just from the warmth of her heart and the smile on her face. I will miss you dearly my love!!
Sunday 23rd April
As the night went on the cold wind changed direction shaking our tent and sending in a chill. It was freezing inside but with a good tent we knew it was even colder outside. We rapped up in our little home and pulled the cords tight around us so we were snug as a bug in a rug.
The sun took much longer to reach us due to our tent being in the shadow of volcan Licancabar and Juriques making our camp very cold. We left the tent up to the last minute cooking breakfast in the porch until the temperature had risen a little outside and we had warmed ourselves up a little.
Once it had and with nothing left to do we quickly packed our kit to keep warm and rejoined the highway and a freezing headwind.
We made good progress waving at the many truck drivers that totted and waved encouragement as they passed, only having one puncture to slow us and the odd break to get our breath back and take more pictures. We reached the summit at 4,660m at around 11am and stopped to look back at the valley floor behind us and check the map to make sure we took the correct turning in to Bolivia.
Finally reaching the top
One of the many kind truck drivers
We got chatting to a nice truck driver who was transporting cabins for new Bolivian immigration office at the top and confirmed we were heading the right way. We weren’t in any rush to get into Bolivia as we had been hoping we would meet Jo and lizzie who were coming the other way crossing Paso Jama from Argentina.
With no sign of them in the distance and the cold wind cooling us down we turned off the highway and knew that once we got to the next town with internet we would try to arrange to meet up with them a little further north.
We joined the ripio towards the old control which wasn’t bad going mainly because it was down hill and reached a the remote solitary SAG border control building.
The guards were friendly and relaxed and we inquired about Yoann and Manu where about’s to find we were riding at the same pace as them as they had arrived at the border around the same time the day before. We thanked the nice guards and rode on to the park office and the refugio.
We reached the hut and were told we had to pay £15 each in Bolivian money before we could enter, it wasn’t a lot but being half of all the Bolivanos we had until we reached the first town we got worried we would run out.
Wanting to save money we sat outside the restaurant and started to cook lunch when a 4×4 pulled up to chat and asked if we wanted bread. We said yes please and weather the look of joy showed on our faces or hunger in our eyes he handed us a pile of bread, cheese, olives, oranges, beef, a coke, a fanta, 2 pears, tea, coffee and sugar. We were like pigs in mud, all this amazing food by such a kind person and even more amazing the fact we didn’t have much money left.
We sat a bit longer refuelling our bellies on our new goodies then set off feeling nice and full and headed for our next pass.
It was just after 2pm so should give us pretty of time to reach the summit along as it was a steady gradiant but this one was at 4,735 metres being the second highest we had ridden over which worried us a little as we were starting in the afternoon.
From the refugio we descended a little to the stunning Laguna Blanca and laguna verde and rode around their north east side.
This a photo taken from the summit of Mount Nelly and we would have ridden along the higher side of the lake then north around the left of the snow capped peaks.
We followed the rim of the lake before the road turned north and started the gentle climb to the pass. Even though we were at around 4,500 metres we couldn’t believe how much easier it was not being so steep.
We still had to stop to catch our breath but once at the top of Paso del Condor at 4,735metres it would be 13 miles of mostly down hill to the next settlement at 4,400 metres.
By the time we reached the summit the sun was starting to wain and the temperature was dropping fast.
After the main decent of good compacted sand was completed the road turned into deep sandy gravel with huge corrugations. We were now riding down a gentle slope and passing between the shadows of huge volcanos to the west and with the light fading it was freezing.
Descending into the cold shadows
Looking at the GPS it said we had 2 miles to go before the next settlement but as we got closer we couldn’t see anything. The ground levelled out and the salt plains to our right were covered in ice.
The frozen expanse looked amazing.
It was a tough choice knowing weather to camp and cook or keep going through the deep sand often having to push each others bikes and with the temperature dropping further below zero and yet only having 1 mile to go. We were losing light fast and seemed to take ages to cover any distance, From being a mile away, to 800 metres, then 600metres and still not seeing anything until finally we spotted 2 buildings with lights glowing from inside, could this be it? We reached the settlement shaking with the cold and entered the building with lights on. The owner was lovely but told us all the rooms were full and that we couldn’t stay then he spotted our bikes. He looked shocked held sharon by her shoulders and told us we could sleep on the floor and cook in the corner but we must come in to get warm.
Before we knew it we were told to go into the kitchen where we were promptly fed and allowed to warm. It was incredible how fast we warmed and the difference between outside and in the hot kitchen where plates of food were being prepared. it was so kind of them and so there was only one thing for it and that was to help wash up all the dishes from the other quests.
They were do pleased for the help but to us it was the least we could do to repay there kindness.
We got to chat to some of the guests who were very nice and even managed to change some money helping us relax knowing we wouldn’t need to rush to get to the next town.
After reading about a thermal pool outside before we had got here the thought of going outside after we had got so cold wasn’t at all appealing but with food in our belly and having warmed up we joined the others and took the plunge. It was freezing outside but as soon as we dipped our toes in it was heaven at 35 degrees under a blanket of stars it was the perfect end to a tough day.
We lay in the hot water with Ice in our hair and our arms around each other looking up at an uninterrupted star filled sky listening to other people adventures and knowing we had made it to Bolivia.
It felt incredible.
Monday 24th April
We woke at 7am having been told that the large group would be having breakfast and needing to sit where we were sleeping but with not a whisper coming from the rooms we got up anyway and cleared our mattress’s.
As we packed our things the sun started to rise and so was the perfect chance to go out into the freezing morning air and lower ourselves into the thermal pool.
It was amazing to be sat in the hot pool which was constantly being filled by the hot water coming out of the ground and to watch the sun rise over a new country.
Sharon enjoying the sunrise in the hot pool!
As the sun got higher more people arrived and lowered themselves in to enjoy the experience.
We managed to coax a few in to the pool that had just arrived by car and were apprehensive to get in at first but were so pleased they did. We finally got out and sorted our kit ready to go and managed to get a bit of breakfast down to give us energy for the next climb.
We were given soup from the owners along with pancakes but looking at the route we should have a fairly easy day. The only thing that was in our way was our highest pass yet. Paso Sol de Mañana at 4,945 metres was going to be a hard one but reading that the gradient wasn’t steep it should be ok.
It lasted for about 3 miles on and off peddling then pushing until the road climbed steeper leaving a fairly good but rocky track. Having been told about some geezers ahead we aimed for the turn off just before the summit. We turned off one of the many 4×4 tracks and dropping down to the multi colour basin and steam columns to have a look and find a place for lunch.
We arrived around 1.30pm after wrestling yet another deep sandy track and made our way around numerous bubbling mud pools and steaming vent holes.
The colours were amazing and so alive
This was a super hot vent that sounded like a jet engine.
The geezers were amazing some bubbling hot brown mud others white mud then water and steam, high pressured steam which was super hot with a sulphurous lurid smell. We were so pleased to have made the effort to take a look and after chatting to a huge wave of 4×4’s whilst having lunch we set off back to the summit and the start of our 14 mile descent.
We reached the summit around 3pm with not one road sign in sight we stopped a car to check our directions were right. We were pretty sure which way we needed to go but with a map given to us by the park office that looked like the picture drawn by a 2 year old in fact we have seen better maps done by a 2 year olds. Add to this the complete lack of road signs it could be a very dodgy place to get lost due to the lack of people, water and food.
The descent didn’t turn out to be the nice gliding down a track as we had hoped for but more like crossing a ploughed field of frozen sand. It was so tough and with extra climbs thrown it we were shattered.
Yep this is the main road, well the best one anyway.
Having to push and pull a bike through sand at sea level is tough but just under 4,800 metres it was lets say a little tougher. With the sun going down and still climbing and descending through deep corrugated sand the going was slow and cold. We passed a large volcano on our right and started the main descent down to a junction.
This was much better only stopping every few hundred metres having sunk and then pull the bike out and ride on. We finally reached the bottom and again with the distinct lack of clear signs and an array of new roads we headed to where our map said there was a refugio.
Not knowing if it actually existed we headed on away from our main route in even softer and more corrugated sand. We covered around 3 miles and with the trail of dust from distant 4×4’s that were heading to what looked like the refugio we new we wouldn’t be their for a very long time. We were cold ,tired, hungry and heading the wrong way. We spotted a park ranger and stopped them to ask if one of the buildings was a refugio. With a definite yes we asked if we could put the bikes in the back and were soon wizzing along and arrived at the camp.
We were shown to our room and made a start on dinner which we were told we could use there kitchen. It seemed to take ages to cook, clear up and wash but we did and was the end of one of our hardest days. If the road was in good shape and sign posted we would have done the distance with ease but these were some of the worst roads we had been on. What did the £15 entrance free go on? Being to tired to worry we fell into a deep sleep hoping for an easier day tomorrow.
Tuesday 25th April
After being disturbed in the night by someone walking in our room and turning the light on we did manage to drop into a deep sleep. It was a cold morning at around -5 and so we made a cup of tea cooked some toast and sat next to a group of Israelis.
One of the girls was telling us that her phone had been stolen from the room that they were sleeping in. It made us wonder who the person was that came into our room and was milling around, luckily at the time Tim asked him if he was ok and he left.
Feeling lucky we hadn’t been robbed we loaded the bikes and headed out side.
We were dreading the ride back to the junction but once we got going we seemed to pick a better line. It felt fresh at -1 but with the sun slowly warming us we soon arrived back at the junction to head north.
We rode along side the salar de Columbia and noticed a 4×4 very close to the waters edge. On closer inspection there were hundreds of flamingos feeding in he lake so we rode over to get a closer look.
Tim riding next to the lake
They were beautiful and with the incredible surroundings it made it truly magical.
Shaz enjoying this incredible sight
As we were taking pictures a green land cruiser stopped on the road and loads of people got out. At first we thought they must be fed up with sitting in the vehicle by the speed they got out, only to find they were park rangers who were coming to tell us we weren’t allowed to leave the track.
They were very nice and understanding and let us make our way back to the gravel road and continued on while the driver of the 4×4 got a fine. The road was much better then before but still with deep sand traps just to keep us on our toes we finally reached a deserted park office. There was a fork in the road and no one around and yes you guessed it no sign as to which way to go. We checked the route sheet we had and with a bit of playing around with the GPS, working out distances we came to what we thought was the right answer.
As we left the junction we passed a few very pretty lama all decorated in pretty bows looking more like pets then extreme high altitude animals.
We started the climb up to the un-named summit at 4,600m and reached the top with relative ease. Once at the summit we descended for a short distance to have lunch.
As soon as we stopped the wind picked up making lunch more of a chore then a pleasure. Not stopping for long because of this we soon arrived at the next fork and headed right hoping it was the right way, with a good surface and a bit of luck/map reading we finally arrive at a park check point.
Spotting a mining settlement ahead we rode on thinking we might camp but with no one around and still being fairly early we decided to fill our water and ride until 5pm. The town was built there for the extraction of salt and with the need for lorries came the need for a much better road. This lasted until we had past salar Capina where the trucks pulled off and with it the road deteriorated.
Our first road signs since the border
Next came the steep climb. With the sand and gravel and the really steep gradient it was almost impossible to ride so for the next half an hour we pushed up the worst of it until it levelled out.
We still had a fair bit of light left but knowing how cold it would get we stopped early and with us both feeling shattered it was a good time to stop and have a good rest.
It felt a good place to stop having already climbed half the height to the next pass leaving us with less to climb in the morning added to that the views of Salar Capina below and snow capped volcanos above we were happy. It didn’t take long for the temperature to drop fast and so we quickly cooked our tea and rapped up warm ready for a good nights sleep.
Wednesday 26th April
As the night went on the temperature dropped more rapidly then it had before getting colder and colder, probably the coldest we had been to in our tent. Our water bottles were completely frozen and we were struggling to stay warm. Sharon was feeling the cold and as I always sleep with my bag open because its too warm I could use it to cover Sharon incase she needs to get warm. we curled up together turning over each time one of our arms went to sleep. It seemed to take ages for the sun to come up and when it did the warmth wasn’t much.
Sharon put the kettle on and get breakfast on the go while I started to load the bikes and run around to warm up more quickly. With only a few bits of bread left Sharon had porridge while I had the last of the toast knowing we would pick up more food in a few km. As we were just packing up a 4×4 stopped and 2 guys got out and came to greet us. They couldn’t believe where we had slept but could understand with the view why we had.
Always pleased to meet others we took a couple pictures and wished them well before joining the steep track ourselves to the summit of Paso Salar Capina at 4,660m.
A wide mossy stream gently made its way down narrow valley with large areas of ice where the ground levelled a little and lamas munching on the lush green grass.
It looked stunning and vibrant after only seeing pale pastel colours for the last 2 weeks.
The track levelled and with it the surface got worse. It was stoney to start with but as we got closer to Villa Mar the road although looking good from a distance was in fact soft deep sand and gravel. Needing to push a few times was annoying but with only a mile and a half to the small town we didn’t mind.
We pulled up outside a white painted mud restaurant and decided to treat our selves to dinner, we were only a few days ride from Ollague and having enough local currency we could afford it. As we sat ordering our food and drinking a cool coke we were told there would be a lot of tour groups coming in for dinner and would we mind eating in another building. We told the owner that it was ok and so we were taken to a nice room where we could eat together on our own.
We opted for lama and chips which was a new thing for us and as we ate and practiced our Spanish. It was so nice just to rest and check out the route sheet which told us we had done the hard section. The road ahead of us was meant to be in great condition leaving town and would continue to be apart from a river crossing coming into Villa Alota.
Once we had finished lunch, filled our belly’s and rested we headed out of the village between the houses and over a small river crossing ahead with a tiny wooden bridge. Once across we made our way up onto the main road and headed for Villa Alota.
After re-reading my diary I am not going to write what happened next as it is far to painful even after almost a year and I hope you understand why.
After 16 of the most amazing years together, travelling the world, taking on different challenges, having so many amazing friends and family, experiencing so many amazing things and cycling 21,000 miles around the world then losing Sharon so quickly was the hardest most painful experience of my life.
I never realised how much pain it would give me and was like having my heart ripped out leaving me gasping for breath.
I have never cried so much in my life whilst holding wife with no response and with what was happening around me, I would never want anyone to go through this much pain and lose someone so close.
How do I then tell my wife’s parents and her two sisters that their daughter/sister has been killed in an accident that I was suppose to be protecting.
A family I was so proud to be part of but yet had not protected the one thing that was so important to all of us.
On that day of the accident I was helped by Adi and Carly who were travelling through South America on their honeymoon. They were incredible, like guardian angels swooping in to help and if it wasn’t for them I don’t know what I would have done and can’t believe they had to go through that on what was meant to be their holiday of a lifetime.
The following days were like a bad nightmare with the rest of the world moving fast around me and mine being in a suspended state, walking from the police station to the hospital dealing with statements and paperwork, belongings and trying to get home. I felt numb, along way from home and very alone.
How could this have happened to the most beautiful, most amazing, loving and perfect women who had achieved so much and despite everything that had got in her way. This adventure was so perfect and we had done so well overcoming different challenges that faced us each day and yet here I was without my best friend and the most incredible wife.
Walking the streets of Uyuni past tourist shops and tours all heading in different directions all looking excited of a new day and new experiences now felt strange with my journey that had now taken me down a different road and left me in a zombie like state, unable to believe what was happening, then having to speak words in Spanish I never thought I would ever need and dealing with people I never should have met.
After spending hours with all the different authorities time still felt like it had stood still and couldn’t get around what I was doing. I returned to my room where I was met by a short lady who told me I had 2 hours to pack our things and head to La Paz. I looked around me and saw a room that looked more like it had been hit by a tornado. I protested at the time and so given another hour.
I went through all our things in an auto pilot state. throwing away things that were so important on the road, from old peanut butter pots that we used for jam and an old face cream pot we used for butter, rags for the bikes, off cuts of an inner tube to make elastic bands but now all this meant nothing.
I had contacted a few people about what had happened one of which was Rafeal in Chile who offered his assistance. Seeing our bikes there and all our kit was to much and so knowing I had to return I asked Rafael if he could organise with the hotel to have the bikes sent to Santiago. He promptly replied and asked to leave it to him and not to worry.
I was then taken to the police station to have some more paper work signed and as I was waiting for the chief of police I got chatting to one of the drivers who had his son with him. As we talked he told me what an impact we had on him when he met us at the park entrance when we first arrived in Bolivia and that he felt he needed to give us some food to help us. It hit me like a sledge hammer that only a couple days before we were being treated to such amazing treats by such a kind person and had then been driving Carly and Adi when they came across the accident seconds after it had happened, we both stood in the street and cried. he was so sorry he couldn’t have done anymore and that taking tourist on tours was his dream and enjoyed working with people from around the world. I sat in the 4×4 and raised my hand to the guide who seemed to know what I wanted to say. We set off out of town and along the dirt road towards La Paz, I sat in the back while the passenger and driver talked constantly. We didn’t stop once traveling through the night watching the lights of each small town come and go until we reached the outskirts of the city.
La Paz was another major landmark on our trip and as the sun started to rise it started to illuminate the white peaks in a pinkish tinge as the rose from the flat expanse of the city, towering high into the morning sky and piercing the clouds that hung to the mountain side.
It was stunning and yet I couldn’t look at them long, I wanted to share their beauty with Sharon on our bikes but yet she was gone.
The realisation hit me that I would never share another beautiful sunset or sunrise, mountain scene or flowing blue river, never be there for each other when we were low, never laugh together at the same jokes she had told far to many times or love and hold each other like we would.
We were so well balanced, we both had our strengths and weakness’s but they seemed to be opposite and the ones that were both weakness’s we worked together to get through the challenges we faced.
I admired Sharon so much for the challenges she faced with her health issues that she overcome, the work that she did to help so many people and the energy and empowerment she gave to all of us. Sharon had become so strong on our journey and she shone brighter the stronger she got and yet became more humble.
As we drove closer to the centre the main city of La Paz dropped into a massive bowl, like the ground had dropped away sucking the houses down with it. It was so steep the red buildings sat clinging to the slope like red clay tiles stood on a roof ready to be laid.
I walked the streets preparing my journey home passing ice-cream shops that we both loved, supermarkets we had been so used to waiting out side while the other would go in to do the shopping and I couldn’t look at any of them.
I did’t want an ice cream without Sharon or even chocolate that looked so good but without her there it meant nothing.
Going home was something we were both looking forward to but not this way. After losing our flights we had booked due to filling the form out wrong and then finally managing to book them I could see Sharon change to an excited kid.
She loved her sisters and mum and dad so much. she had booked a weekend away with her best friend and we were going to my best mates wedding.
Now I was going home without my wife to a place in England I loved so much and to friends and family we are so proud to have. I couldn’t believe the support I was getting from so many people from home and south America and yet I was numb and scared.
We had passed through so many dangers along our route, with fast cars in northern Poland, five lane highways entering Istanbul, footprints outside our tent, wild animals in Africa, being stoned in Ethiopia being chased by machetes and yet Sharon was killed on a flat straight road, clear blue sky’s, no wild animals or distractions with no more then 15 cars a day then being hit by the only car on the road at the time. For 4 hours after the accident not one car came from the direction of the village. I just couldn’t believe how it could have happened and I don’t think I ever will 😦
All I know is I have never loved like I have with Sharon and she will take a massive part of me with her. I just hope that Sharon has left in me is at least a tiny bit of the the incredible kindness, selfless, loving, jolly and boundless spirit that she had.
I miss you Sharon xxxxx