I was born in 1963, only four years after Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. I had grown up during a time when Castro and Cuba were portrayed in the United States as godless communists and our adversaries. When travel restrictions to Cuba began to ease about a year and half ago, the thought of visiting Cuba jumped up on the list of places to explore. It seemed important to see first-hand what had been kept off limits for so long. I was curious to meet and visit with the people of Cuba as well as see the land, architecture, and certainly the cars before changes came as a result of the certainly imminent lifting of the embargo.
In early December of 2015, facing several more months of cold weather bike riding, I started thinking about where I could go for a few days of warm weather riding and explore some place new. Cuba was the obvious choice. I figured I could take a week off without getting into too much trouble with the family and work, so the first thought was to bike around the island. That was my first under-estimation of Cuba. The island is almost 800 miles long which is almost double the length of Florida. I figured on averaging 120 miles per day, so clearly I was not going to circumnavigate the island in my limited time frame. So, plan B was to ride as far as possible for 8 days.
Needing a partner in crime, Cooper Lambla was also the obvious choice. A strong rider, Cooper is even better suited for this trip because he loves the unknown and his Spanish is impeccable (only half that statement is true). Cooper jumped in immediately, and we then talked another co-worker into the idea, and soon Adam Bratton was on board. Adam was also a strong rider with the best trait of a travel partner: the willingness to say yes to anything.
Our thought was to travel in as minimal of a fashion as possible. We settled on just bike packs to carry a pair of shorts and shirt, bike tools, spare parts, and money. We wore a bike kit and bike shoes with recessed cleats so we could walk in them as well. I was able to get by on a half size frame bag, but Cooper was carrying camera equipment, so he had a little larger set up with seat and handlebar bags. Adam had a seat bag.
The rest is history, and perma-grin is still lingering three months later.
Jeff Wise is the Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. National Whitewater Center