I, greenUPGRADER's own Doug Gunzelmann, will be embarking on a cycling trip that will take me across Brazil through the heart of the Amazon Jungle. Originally the Transamazonica was built to open up the interior of the Amazon for settlment. The project was left infinished a few years after construction began in 1973. By returning to nature and following this scar across one of earth’s most precious natural resources, I hope to educate people about the importance of nature in our lives and inspire people to actively engage their environment in sustainable ways.
Amazon Pilgrim will be the base for this expedition and will provide frequent updates and background info about the TransAm and myself. Matt Embrey, our chief editor, has been immensly helpful with the logistics planning for this trip and will be my contact point back at home here.
I've Begun outfitting a mountain bike for long distance touring and will be setting out this September by myself. Starting in Recife on Brazil's east coast I will follow BR-230, or the Transamazonica, nearly straight west until I reach Cruzeiro do Sul close to the Peruvian border. At this point the road dead ends, unfinished, in the middle of the Amazon jungle.
The project was one of the most expensive roadway construction projects in history and touted by many as an environmental disaster. The project was ultimately abandoned leaving a vast majority of the highway unpaved, in disrepair, and impassable during much of the year due to heavy rains.
The presence of the Transamazonica was enough to open this territory to loggers, ranchers, and farmers. The image above was taken from Google Earth and clearly shows deforestation as “hairy” looking offshoots along the Transamazonica.
Government land grants were most favorable to those equipped with the man power or money to work larger tracts of land. The easiest way to occupy the land, with the least labor force, is cattle ranching. Unfortunately this is practically the least productive use of land possible. Swaths of land across the Amazon are succumbing to clear cutting and deforestation (much of which is irreversible) due to cattle ranching. On top of that, only a few individuals profit from all this destruction, leaving many of the settlers struggling to farm for their own subsistence.
I've chosen this expedition as an extreme personal challenge, a vehicle to promote and understand sustainability, and to study the dynamic amongst the various groups of people that call the Amazon Basin their home.
As the departure date closes in I have a mix of excitement and shear horror with all the unknowns I'll surely face. I have slotted over two months to cover this territory. This past rainy season flooded huge portions of northern Brazil with some of the heaviest and most sustained rains since 1953. This may be the very real results of climate change that is already effecting the Amazon Basin. Check out Amazon Pilgrim and learn more about the trip, how you can help, who we are working with on this project, and of course feel free to provide any helpful input. I look forward to creating an adventure for everyone to follow, hopefully avoid malaria, and come back home with a story to tell!