Arrival - "Show me your skin now!" - CycleBlaze


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Record snowfall in Whitehorse for the second consecutive year meant it was time to get out! Our family had done our round of Covid from which everyone thankfully recovered and we lucked into a lull between the 4th and 5th waves (or was it the 5th and 6th??). As I watched flight prices rise we finally pulled the trigger on a relatively last minute flight to Varadero. 3 weeks in Cuba, the heart of which would be a 10 day, 300km bike tour of Pinar del Rio/Artemesia provinces. The second tour for our 11 year-old Xavier and first for 13 year-old Amelia.

With three flights on our horizon I was loath to box up three bikes and pay the exorbitant fees to fly them across the continent. Enter Jeff Reid of Bikes for Cuba who's been collecting and sending donations of bikes and gear to schools and kids racing teams in Cuba for over a decade. We agreed to shepherd 3 very full bike boxes with us on the Toronto->Varadero leg of our journey.  

Jeff connected us with Leandro Marcos, elite level road and track cyclist based in Havana who agreed to find 3 bikes for us to tour with and offered to collect us from the airport and get us to Havana. Wow! We were met at the airport by Leandro and Jariel. Jariel gathered the bike boxes and departed to distribute the contents to various clubs across the island. Leandro ferried us to our casa particular in Centro Habana (a not insignificant 100km drive in a country with a major petrol shortage). 

The next day Leandro dropped off the three bikes that we'd be using on our tour: a small 26" MTB for Xavier, his own mom's Kona Kahuna equipped with a rear rack for Amelia, and his dad's road racer (this was too good to be bashing over the roads and tracks of rural Cuba!!). Save for a couple final adjustments, we were looking good to go.

Our white-as-snow skin was not the only thing that easily identified us to the jinteros in Havana as prime tourist targets for their hustles; the intensity, grittiness, noise and sheer overwhelming humanity was a lot for us all to take in coming from cold, quiet Whitehorse in winter. It was going to be interesting to see how we'd all adjust to riding roads teeming with livestock, old cars, horsecars, motorbikes, bicitaxis and buses. So I waited to break it to them that we'd need to ride across town to Leandro's father's apartment in order to make some final adjustments to the bikes. They were not impressed with the prospects of an urban ride before they were fully adjusted to this new place (let alone the heat!) but, it was going to be a useful test to see how we'd function as a riding unit and how I could best lead this rag-tag pair of not-always-eager-to-ride, somewhat-nervous kids.

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