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Monday 8 Jun 2015
Makassar, Indonesia

What just happened?

We got up in the morning and started waiting in what we hoped were strategic locations along the main road, to hail a bus that might be going to Makassar. There was no evidence that this was working, and it was raining, so we gradually started talking to people about other options. We negotiated for someone to take us in a car. Before leaving I phoned some bike shops in Makassar to ask about bike boxes. We had found these shops before when we were in Makassar and got their phone numbers. It turned out that this planning was important.

We were in the car for most of the day, then we checked into our hotel, grabbed our pedal spanner, and acquired beer on the roof of the hotel, squeezing past some children’s birthday parties. It turned out that both of us were unable to walk up or down stairs, because even though we were presumably fit from cycling, we had just done a large climb up and down on foot which we were not prepared for in any way.

The following day, using a variety of methods of transport, we picked up our bike boxes, which being prearranged, was easy. We also needed to get our bikes cleaned for Australian quarantine purposes, and we somehow found a large car-cleaning outfit where the guys were very happy to pressure clean our (filthy) bikes and even our panniers until they were definitely dead and also clean, and they didn’t charge us for this because it was so much fun. We visited Fort Rotterdam, which is full of an interesting museum, and wandered around Makassar. A lot of people wanted selfies with us.

At some waterfront restaurant we had elaborate fish and drinks, and it was indeed true that we ended up drinking beers in Makassar. By that measure, everything was ok. But in the end, we didn’t feel all that satisfied with our scrambling attempt to do a cycle tour in Sulawesi. We had bits of fun and bits of frustration, but there was not a proper arc either in roads travelled or in narrative.

By my definition, it’s a requirement of adventure to accept the risk of failure. The more terrifying this possibility is, the more real the adventure. Success does not mean everything going well, because that can be achieved by staying at home. Rather, the point of adventure is to sincerely endure risk simply for the feeling of being alive, and then to make the most of whatever happens. Somehow, getting this attitude right often seems to bring the material kind of success. I think this reveals the power of stories and of believing in them even while they are being written, because I can’t think of any reason to slog my way up a mountain other than because I am alive and perhaps it might be a story worth remembering. Amongst all the stuff we encounter in the world there are few stories worth remembering.

But what did we do in Sulawesi? Did we muddle through a series of hilarious disasters outside our control or did we misdirect our vision and fail to adapt to the circumstances? I think we were too ambitious and fixated on abstract goals and always pushing our limits. Being ambitious and going further on a given day increases the magnitude of the adventure in a numerical way, and being more exhausted at the end makes some feelings more intense. But if we had taken it easier early on, we might not have overstretched ourselves and might not have broken. There was also nothing wrong with the places we were going through and we could have enjoyed them more and eaten more, and appreciated a more subtle kind of adventure. But we were tempted by the expansiveness of Sulawesi. Even its geography defies understanding: as Felix pointed out, it’s like a fractal with innumerable mountains, peninsulas, coasts and islands. The potential of the mountains where Felix got stuck was irresistible and we had no greater purpose than to dream about what was up there and then try to find out. As for the risks, we can’t say we didn’t embrace them; maybe we weren’t deterred enough.

In the end we justified our axiomatic belief in persistence. After each of us had separately used up all of our strength and then had a rest, we launched gladly into the part of the tour that went most to plan, the roughly three days it took to go from the sealed road to the top of Rantemario and back. I don’t regret climbing that mountain, but this sub-expedition was difficult, intense and goal-focused, more than usual. Odd moments of breathing in scenery and vignette stops in villages really just confirmed the grandiosity of our idea. And we got what we wanted, a masculine display of our will to grapple with Sulawesi by standing on top of it. So maybe we did adapt to the circumstances, or we just kept doing the same thing and in the end it worked.

These are serious questions to have taken on for no real reason, but I don’t know any other way of undertaking a project like this. Possibly I don’t know of any better questions either.

Anyway, what can be unreservedly celebrated is the hospitality of people of Sulawesi who helped us out in all kinds of ways, and the conversations and perspectives we shared with them to the extent my Indonesian allowed. I remember this more than a lot of the other stories.

Do you think we did something interesting in Kuta on the way home? We spent ages getting to the beach and then we drank a couple of beers and then we spent ages getting back to the airport.

1 Comment for this Travel blog entry

Felix Dance Says:

6 March 2017

Amazing write-up, Alex! Incredibly well-written, and full of details I'd forgotten.

Sulawesi Cycle Tour 2015

Travel blog by blex



The definitive account of the Sulawesi “disaster” cycle tour: definitely true. It took a year and a half to finish, but a story is a story right?

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