The other day we cycled the last 100 km of this trek down the length of North America. What began nearly six months ago on the shores of the Arctic Ocean came to its conclusion at the Pacific by the entrance to the Panama Canal. For most of the previous days we’d been biking along the Pan-American Highway which had decent roadbed and shoulders until, curiously, we began approaching Panama City. The traffic intensified, the roar and whine of trucks and buses became deafening, the blaring horns sharper and more insistent, the road rougher and the shoulders overgrown and covered with debris, if it existed at all. Flats became a common occurrence. On our penultimate day my hefty rear tire was speared by a two-inch coil of wire and nail. To avoid the massive and dangerous traffic directly into Panama City we rerouted to Punta Chame, at the end of a long thin peninsula dotted with shrimp farms and mangroves across the bay from Panama City.
Our end point was Happy Corner, a rustic bar and restaurant owned by sisters Kathi and Janina. Kathi had come from Hamburg in Germany for the kite surfing and was locked down by Covid. She fell in love with the life and called her older sister who was in transition in her own life to come and join her. In a short while they had a thriving business.
We popped the corks on bottles of Prosecco and celebrated not quite believing that our journey was truly over. A couple of hours later we were hustled onto the beach and waded to three motor launches for the 90-minute crossing to Panama City. As our small boat, it only took five of us, slapped its way across the choppy waters, I had the feeling of riding a different form of jarring corrugated roadway. Every now and then the single outboard motor would splutter and seem to be on the point of dying. Our skipper would lift the cowling, tinkle with wiring and off we’d roar again. In the distance we could see the Bridge of the Americas, the entrance to the Canal and dozens of container ships spread across the waters waiting to enter.
It hasn’t sunk in yet. Even as we began our countdown, three weeks left, ten days left, our last day is on us, the finish never had a reality. It was abstract. A thing we knew in the way that we might know that matter consists of atoms; it has no meaning…