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WWU student biking through South and Central America

While most Western Washington University students were cramming for finals and typing out the last pages of term papers, Tyson Minck was learning his own personal lesson.

Don’t ride your bike over a newly tarred road, especially in the midst of a bike trip through South and Central America. The trip is part of Minck’s studies for Western’s Fairhaven College and Huxley College of the Environment.

One bike rebuild and gasoline cleaning later, Minck, 25, was back on the road, riding north to Ecuador. Minck took time off the road to talk to The Bellingham Herald via e-mail about exploring the world from his perspective as a dyslexic cyclist.

Question: Tell me about the degree you’re working toward at Western.

Answer: I am self-designing a degree with Fairhaven College and Huxley College. The title will be “human impact on the natural environment, a global perspective with a focus on bicycles.” My degree is centered around understanding modern environmental problems and ways of living a life that is more simpatico with our Earth.

Q: How did you decide to go on this trip? Why biking? Why South America?

A: I received an Adventure Learning Grant from Fairhaven. I decided to go on this trip to expand my understanding of the use of the bicycle, and the ways in which humans currently live in other parts of the world. Cycling has been something that I have done all my life. From BMX to single-speed city riding and an occasional tour to working and volunteering at bike shops, I have always had the bicycle as a significant part of my life — and despite several accidents, I know that this love for metal and two wheels will never change.I am extremely dyslexic. Scholarly life has always been and will continue to be a struggle. Daily I have used the bicycle to alleviate my internal stress associated with reading, writing and grammar. At a young age I discovered that although school was difficult for me, I could still be positive about it with support from teachers and parents and the physical exertion of cycling.

I had a small in with understanding basic Spanish, and I didn’t need much more than a few pictures of simple lifestyles and remote wilderness to fully bait my hook. I suspect that my touring will not stop here, as I hope to go on other tours in every continent.

Q: So give me a rundown of your trip. Where have you been? What have you been up to?

A: I landed in Lima, Peru, on Sept. 20, 2007. With very little Spanish, I found hospitality with an architect that designs bike paths in Lima. This was my first of many stopovers in bicycle-oriented communities on my tour. From Lima, I headed south, and got my first taste of rural Peruvian life, east of the Andes. To my surprise, there were rickety-mountain-bike riders in some of the most remote dirt-road pueblos. South from La Paz, Bolivia, I crossed the world’s highest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, 90-plus kilometers of pure, flat, hard-packed salt. It was here that I realized that there is a god and he or she is part of all of us, the creator of time, evolution and the Earth with all its wonder.

Q: What have you been learning? How is life different where you’ve been?

A: My learning, as with much of my university life, has been self-directed while on tour. I have had much time to contemplate problems such as pollution, the encroachment of Western life on other parts of the world, and the industrial technological system as a whole.

My studies while on tour consist of reading and taking notes on books and essays. I have been learning how to simplify things in my own life after playing witness to others’ lives, which are incredibly more simplistic than ours in the U.S. I have never felt guiltier to be at the top of the global food chain as an American citizen. Few hot showers or toilet seat covers, lots of price gauging and markets of a smaller, less corporate scale combine to make life in South America much cruder, harsher and more real than life in the states. Every dollar counts; I have lived by that law in the states for a long time, but things that I would have put in the trash are patched, repainted and sold here.

Q: Were there moments when you felt like you were really there for a reason?

A: Many. Patching a man’s tire in the desert so he could bike home. It was a simple action that makes a three-hour walk a 40-minute ride. Every stopover I try to fix my new friends’ bikes. It is something I know how to do and have the tools to work with and enjoy being able to give. I fixed a couple single moms’ bikes in Chile. As a mechanic it was really cool to learn and teach others how to work on bikes in another country.

Q: When does your trip end?

A: I have at least another six months of touring to return to Bellingham. Originally I planned to ride through Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil and fly home, but after seeing how much gas is consumed daily in the world, I have pledged to myself to never set foot in a plane or own a car again.

I just can’t feel good about my life and actions knowing what damage is being done to the natural world. I decided to spend the $1,000 that would have been my plane ticket home on living the simple life of bike touring instead. I am very happy that I did.