Student bikers are halfway to Lima

Adventure-learning bikers prepare for upcoming desert conditions in Chile.

by Rachel Raveling

Biking from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Lima, Peru has exposed University of Minnesota students to severe climate conditions, extreme elevations and most importantly, agriculture.

Four students and their professor, Paul Porter, have been biking through South America since Sept. 25. TheyâÄôve reached central Chile.

Meanwhile, students back in Minnesota are studying food and agriculture as it relates to the communities theyâÄôre visiting âÄî from farming to government policy in âÄúFood & Agriculture from Buenos Aires to Lima at 10 mph,âÄù which is partially based off of the travelersâÄô audio blogs.

Now halfway through the trip, the group has traveled through rainforests, mountains and ghost towns.

Wes Brunson, a senior studying science, technology, culture and sustainability who is biking in the group, said in an audio blog at the beginning of the trip that the idea of biking for four hours seemed difficult.

But now that heâÄôs getting used to riding six to eight hours each day on challenging terrain, the rides seem normal.

âÄúIt really feels like an eight-hour work day âĦ Some days youâÄôre tired, some days youâÄôre energetic, hungover, bored âĦ whatever, but you just wake up and get on your bike every day,âÄù he said.

The trek has led the riders through Argentina and the Andes Mountains. Now the group is preparing to ride through the desert.

Recently, the group has been focusing on the types of irrigation being used as they travel closer to arid tundra, Porter said in an audio blog.

He said as the ride takes them closer to the desert and the ocean, the climate is harder to decipher. Cold and wet mornings along the coast are often foggy and misty, making it difficult to dress for the day. By the afternoon it is usually dry and hot.

âÄúI thought leaving Minnesota that I would be warm this entire trip, but then I woke up to buckets of frozen water,âÄù said Grace Ramsey, a senior studying political science.

The group is biking on gravel, sand, rock and paved paths. Porter said the path structure makes for a lot of tire changes and occasionally forces riders to walk, particularly through sandy trails.

Back in Minnesota, students enrolled in the class review and discuss audio blogs posted by riders for each day of the trip.

Bryan Runck, research assistant for the class, said the collaboration between students and instructors is working well to keep students engaged.

The online component of the course âÄî found on the classâÄô own website, âÄî has brought outside perspectives from observers who arenâÄôt in the class to the discussion topics. ItâÄôs made for greater class discourse, Runck said.

Mary Brakke, co-instructor for the class, said students are responding positively to the class structure and seem to want to get a lot out of the course.

But both said they have run into some challenges with the experimental course.

Runck said the technology for the class, like the website, photos and audio blogs, could be improved.

High quality videos online for each lecture were not feasible with time and audio constraints, so each lecture was posted solely as an audio file, he said.

He added that some of the online components, at this point, arenâÄôt being used to the full extent.

Both Runck and Brakke said students have struggled to make connections between lecture topics because the course covers agriculture as it relates to many different fields.

After the class began, Runck said they realized the importance of learning the economic framework of agriculture, so they added it into the curriculum with the help of the Department of Applied Economics.

The remainder of the trip will lead the riders north through Chile to Peru. Still ahead is another cross over the Andes Mountains, as well as coping with the arid desert. The group will return Dec. 21.