Feeling guilty rich
FRISCO – Mark Anderson is rich. At least, that’s how he feels after a two-month bicycle ride through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
“We’re all rich,” he said. “We have a way of life in the States, and especially Summit County, that is really unparalleled in the rest of the world.
“I live at the top of the water chain. The water’s fresh. The air is clean. I’m struggling to find work in the off-season, but I have food in the fridge. I can get by until summer, and then we’re all fine again. (In Asia), I gave an amputee a dollar and he cried – I just fed that guy for a week or two.”
Anderson, 33, spent all of January and February on his 1,700-mile, four-country ride. He joined friend and fellow Summit County resident Brian Warshow in Hanoi, Vietnam; Warshow is attempting to ride his mountain bike around the world, and Anderson jumped in for a fragment of that tour.
“I went just for the adventure of seeing a foreign country and came back with a more intense appreciation for my family and friends,” he said.
A Nebraska native, Anderson has a lifelong love of biking and exploring that he attributes to his mother.
“My mom and I used to hop on the bikes, cruise around the cornfields and country roads of Nebraska,” he said. “We’d be on our bikes, 100 miles from home, and a storm would come up and our dad would have to come get us. She likes to wander around and get lost. That’s where I got my lust for wandering around and getting lost.”
Anderson moved to Colorado in the early ’80s, earning an English Communications degree from Fort Lewis College in Durango. In 1987, he came to Summit County where he’s worked for RSN-TV, in ski area marketing and for local radio stations. He’s also tended bar, most recently at the Blue Spruce Inn.
He’s a passionate skier, but his love of downhilling has never eclipsed his passion for bicycle touring. When Warshow was looking for a traveling companion, he knew the key to getting Anderson to join him.
“He said, “You wanna go get lost?’ And of course, I was all for it,” Anderson said.
Financed by money he’d saved from several months of bartending, Anderson flew to Hanoi. From there, he and Warshow began their two-month adventure.
The trip was hardly idyllic.
“It’s not vacation,” Anderson said. “It’s not relaxing. It’s battle.
“But it’s an enriching experience. You see places most people don’t get to see because you’re cruising through on a bike.
“There was the language barrier, which was different every stop depending upon the dialect. I’m still having a hard time getting my lungs cleaned out from all the dirt, and the parasites from my body.”
Anderson ate cobra, rat and dog.
“I didn’t know we were eating rat until it was done,” he said. “I knew it was mystery meat. And I ate it because I was starving. But even when you’re eating rat, sucking exhaust, thinking you’re dying of dysentery, you’re seeing these sad people with limbs missing and they’re begging. And I’m glad to be alive.”
Anderson’s perceptions of Vietnam are mixed. While he remembers scenes of extraordinary beauty, he also recalls enormous numbers of people, high volumes of traffic and the resulting noise and pollution. Every time the men stopped, Vietnamese men would gather around them, begging for money.
The perception among the Vietnamese, he said again, was that the Americans were rich.
In Cambodia, the men saw many after-effects of the Vietnam war. They were told to stay on the roads – even pitching their tents on them at night – to avoid land mines.
“You’d see people missing arms and legs, people with birth defects from Agent Orange,” Anderson said.
Anderson also described the Cambodians as hard workers, most of whom spend their entire lives where they were born.
“They work seven days a week their whole lives,” he said.
At the end of this often grueling, constantly eye-opening ride, Anderson flew to Hawaii to meet his brother for a week before returning to Summit County.
“I’m in the Ritz Carlton in Maui, drinking a $16 margarita, and I had a huge sense of guilt,” Anderson said. “Guilt because of my genetic luck of where I was born. And I realized they were right – I am rich.”
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