Thursday, March 26, 2009

Break. Breaking-points. Break-ups. Point-breaks.

Slow weeks. Lots of time and little space to cover. Parker was to meet his Dad and Sister in Zihuatanejo on the twenty second, giving us 5 days to travel 160 Kilometers. Slow moving, almost too slow. Break time.
The road out of La Placita was harsh. Up and down steep, jagged shoreline. Riding which reminded me more of the Oregon Coast than of anything we'd seen so far in Mexico. Camped nights on some beautiful beaches. Always taking the time to wash of the days sweat and dirt in the cool sea before setting up camp for the night. Watching the sunrise almost over the ocean (I forget that at some points, even though we're following the ocean, we're now heading more East than South). Still at just 40 kilometers a day we'd start late and end early.
The night before reaching Zihuatanejo, we scouted out a campsite just beneath a giant highway bridge in the bed of a small trickling river. Woke in the morning surrounded by cattle, strange, leathery beasts that looked more akin to a sacred Indian animal than to the big, clean, black and white Holstiens of the American west. Turns out, they heard these cattle along the riverbed to higher pastures every morning, and we were right in their path. Great thing is, nobody really seemed to care. The cowboys just nodded and waved. The cows sniffed at our bikes and moved on up the river. I got up and made coffee.
In Zihuatanejo we were able to get into the apartment that Parker's dad, Stan, had rented a little bit early, the night before his arrival. After a wild chase around town, we finally found the building and were let in by the caretaker. Incredible. Beautiful airy apartment, almost completely open to the ocean side. I know i'll lose a bout a billon "punk points" for this, but it was great. After nearly two moths of sleeping on the ground, cooking on the ground, reading, writing, relaxing on the ground. We had it all. Kitchen, tables, chairs. Things taken forgranted. Immediately ran out and bought a bunch of fruit and vegetables. Made a huge dinner of all the freshest things we could find. It's funny what you miss when you carry your life on your bike or your back. I almost hugged the refridgerator.
The next day, Parker's dad and sister arrived. We met them with yet another huge, homecooked meal, making the most of the kitchen at our disposal. It was fun to meet Parker's family, to see where he'd come from and to see them together. It was great. Definitlely made me miss my family.
And then the news came. I got an e-mail from my brother, Anthony, saying he was sick of reading about my fun and wanted to join it. He'd be in Acapulco in 7 days and could I meet him at the airport? Yes. Of course! I'd be there in a week.
After a few nights more in Zihuatanejo, checking out the towns, enjoying the luxury of a roof over head and a cold beer at arms reach, I decided to go check out a small surfing beach about 40 kilometers back to the North. My Dad had told me that some friends of his, Rick and Jan, were staying up there and I should go look them up. Having plenty of time to make the 230 kilometers to Acapulco to meet my brother I figured why not? Maybe get some surfing done too...
Jason and I rode out of Zihuatanejo after a brief goodbye to Parker and family (they'd invited us to stay when we passed back though). Climbing the steep accent out of town, Jason Pulled along side of me.
"I think I'm just going to go to the airport. Go back to Alaska."
This had kind of been a running joke with him, but this time it sounded different. Something had broken inside of him, and I could tell. I stopped riding.
"You're serious this time."
"Yeah, I'm just over this shit. I'm over touring."
"Honestly Jason, I'm sick of hearing just how over it you are."
"I know, and you shouldn't have to be party to my drama."
And that was that.
It was an uncerimonious goodbye, though we both held back tears. We hugged on the side of the road, split up some gear that we'd been sharing, and went our separate ways. As he rode away, I called after him.
"Oh yeah, and Jason?"
"The airport's back that way."
"Shit. Really? Thanks." He turned his bike around and headed down the right road.
I'd been feeling that Jason's heart wasn't in this thing all the way from the get go. He often seemed distant, joked about jumping the next plane, spoke often of Alaska and going back, sometimes downright admitted how road weary he was. Then he'd brighten up, get really stoked on life and the trip and the beauty of it all. Then a few days later he'd be bummed again. It was starting to wear on my own spirits, but
reguardless, we were in this together. We had fun together, and helped each other along, cooked for each other and played music and sang songs and part of it all was that we put up with each other when things weren't going well. He'd just reached his breaking point, and we both knew it was time.
There's a lot I didn't say to Jason, but this is not the time or place. I'll just say this, in case you're reading.

I hope you find what you're looking for.

Saladita. Not quite the surfers paradise I was hoping for, but pretty damn close. Unlike most Mexican beaches as pretty, Salaladita is not lined entirely with Palapa restaurants and tourist shops. There's two small restaurants (purportedly owned by two sisters) and some large, but not incredibly gaudy houses. Enough undeveloped (though still private) property to squat on, and a nice, long, peeling Left that breaks from about three or four hundred yards out all the way to the beach. Not perfect, but good enough for me.
Spent the last two days lounging under a palapa, reading books, drinking beer, and surfing. Looked up my dads' friends and dropped in on their vacation for a while.
Now I'm back in Zihuatanejo. Probably spending one last night here with Parker and his family, then heading out of town. Alone for the week. Likely be spending my birthday alone on some desolate mexican beach (29 on the 29th this year). Crazy. I'll build myself a giant cake in the sand and surprise myself with a tube of "Chokis" (the mexican version of "Chips Ahoy" and my favorite Mexican energy bar substitute). Then on to Acapulco, my brother, and the south. Ever south. Wait, no, make that East......

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Out with the New and In with the Old. Or, Bike Repair, Mexican Style.

It´s been a rough couple of days. Phisically, mentally trying times interspersed with moments of extreme beauty and clarity.
It all started in Salulyta. Dreamed of a secluded surfers paradise and got a white washed fucking gringo tourist nightmare. Beaches overflowing with people, more American and Canadian license plates than I´ve seen since, well, California. Not a word of Spanish spoken in the streets. Looking for a cheap place to bed down for the night, another gringo overheard our queries and attempted to help.
"How much you looking to spend?"
"No more than three fifty, total."
"Pesos? You´re kidding." A smug smile spreading across his fleshy face. "You know you guys aren´t in Tijuana anymore."
"Really? Hmm...that´s weird. Well boys, it looks like we must´ve taken a wrong turn somewhere!"
I don´t think he shared our humor as we rode away, laughing.
Too tired and road-weary to care anymore, we ended up staying at one of these overpriced, youth-oriented campgrounds that feels more like a hip hostel than the beautiful palm grove that it´s set in.
And the young gringos are almost worse than their older Canadian counterparts. I for one, am sick of their puka shell jewelry, their unfortunate body piercings, their dreadlocks, drums, drugs and their whole fucking pseudo-alt-recycled-neo-hippy culture. Excuse my french.
Next day brought a short but beautiful ride through a luscious Jungle. Parker´s bike began acting up again and we decided to camp at Punta de Mita, just at the edge of the Urban sprawl that is Puerto Vallarta. Hoping to dash into the city in the morning, buy some bike parts and be well clear of the whole mess by nightfall the next day. Despite the huge timeshare condos taking up much of the water front, Punta de Mita had a gorgeous public beach. Enough privacy for skinny dipping in the clear, cool water. Camp stove lentil soup, homemade margaritas on the beach under the stars, just enough wind to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Finally feeling back at home, only us and the Mexican fishermen on the beach in the morning.
Puerto Vallarta is a sprawling mass of hotels and tourist industry. Billboards, all in english, line the highway for miles outside of town. Hotels, restaurants, strip clubs. Think Las Vegas on the edge of what would otherwise be an amazing Pacific coast bay. Rolled into town a little later than we had hoped. Had a hell of a time finding a bike shop. Tired and dirty and smog choked from the ride into town. Finally Jason cracked.
"We´re staying here," he said, pointing at a hotel, the first in sight. "I´m paying".
O.K. I know I just threw us in with the whole tourist culture that I´ve been cursing for paragraphs, but I´ll admit it: A warm shower, and a large, air contditioned room were exactly what i needed. A chance to sit down, take stock, and breathe for just a night felt oh so good.

My friend Jasmin once told me this saying that her mother used to console her in times of trial and sadness. She´d say,
"Todo en la vida tiennes solucion, menos la muerte."
Everything in life has a solution except for death.
It´s become a mantra of sorts these past few days.
Before leaving P.V. we found a small bike shop and bought the parts needed to fix Parker´s bike. Switched his ten speed integrated shifting system into a jury rigged 8 speed friction system by mounting a cheap plastic mountainbike thumb shifter to the bottom of his drop bars. (for those of you who aren´t getting this, don´t worry, pictures will come sooner or later). Basically took off all the newest, highest end bike technology and replaced it with something much older. Works 100 times better now.
Rode from P.V. on one of the longest, but most breathtakingly beautiful climbs I´ve ever ridden. Up and up through miles of thick jungle, a river raging through the valley below. Parrots streaking by over head. Dripping sweat in the midday heat. Pouring sweat by nightfall.
Camped in a small cut off the road and woke in the morning with a flat. By noon I´d patched the tube twice. By three, four times. By five I took the rear wheel off one last time and found that the rim I´d replaced only a month and a half ago in Ensenada had failed. Spokes starting to pull though the rim once more. Hairline cracks where each driveside spoke met the rim.
Next day, rode into a small, nameless town on a Mavic x517 laced to an XTR hub with an 8 speed 11-32 cassette and rolled out on a single walled wheel with a six speed freewheel and (as a nod to Bikesnob NYC) a big, bright pink pieplate spoke protector. It wiggles and it shakes and I can´t use my rear brake, but it´ll get me to Acapulco....I hope.
Now crossed over into estado Michihuacan. Amazing rocky shorelines and Banana fields forever. Climbing up a steep, steep headland, Jason turned to me.
"I think something´s wrong. My bike seems kind of squishy."
Reached the top of the hill to find that part of his extracycle (the kind of cargo carrying addition to the bike) had broken clean in half near the left drop-out (that´s where the wheel attaches to the frame). Descended into La Placita on a wing and a prayer. Hoping that the rear half of Jason´s bike wouldn´t snap clean off, sending him careening over the roadside and into the pacific. Praying to find a soldera, a muffler shop, someone with a welder and the know how to tack the thing back together. Found a blacksmith/welder, but at 5 o´clock on a Sunday it was no wonder that he was closed. The next morning he´d weld it back together with an antiquated migwelder in about thirty seconds, for 20 pesos (that´s a dollar fifty american). Made our way to the beach and ended up being invited to stay with two young guys from Mexico city, Gabriel and Santiago, and a gringo ex-pat, Randy, who are trying to set up a restaurant on the beach. Passed a peaceful night under their palapa, Drinking Cuygamas of Corona and watching the waves crash upon the shore.
Woke this morning and Jason had flat tires front and rear. Fixing his front flat, he discovered two broken spokes. Replaced those, no problem. Fixing his rear flat he noticed that his wheel had suffered the same fate as mine. After nearly 11,000 miles, the spokes had torn out through the rim, not all the way through, yet, but definitely failing. It´s only a matter of time. It´ll get him to Acapulco...I hope......

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Always Listen To Your Mother

After hearing the news that our traveling partner, Jessi would be leaving us in La Paz to head of on her own return to Canada, my mom wrote me back with these words:
"It’s too bad Jessi has to stop now. You are just getting to the best part of Mexico!".
Always listen to your mother.
Caught the ferry out of La Paz on a sunday afternoon. Not much to be said about 18 hours on a boat except that I never, never, want to be lost at sea. Ever. Looking out over the moonlit water, no land in sight and only the silent vastness of the ocean in every direction made my stomach churn and my head spin, even from the deck of a giant ship. Imagining floating in that empty darkness still haunts my dreams. So much for a life at sea. I´ll stick to my landbound ways, thank you.
Arrived in and consequently departed Mazatlan as fast as possible. Out of the city and into open country. Immediately aware of the change that had taken place. Vegetation everywhere. thick, green, and wet. Pepper fields on either side of the highway. Cutting off the main road and along palm lined beaches. Iguanas skittering off the edge of the road, three armadillos crucified on a barbed wire fence. A warning, perhaps, to would be sqatters like ourselves. You are not welcome here.
Heading south and the jungle becomes deeper. Strange birds overhead, giant, bright green butterflies, strange calls in the night. Huge mangrove trees and stands of palms, coconuts, bananas, camping out in a huge mango orchard. Knowing what to eat by whats in the bed of the pickups passing by. Jackfruit, huge and spiky and piled high in the back of a rusted old ford. Cantelopes straight off the vine. Getting lost twice at dead ends, cursing the lack of detail on my map ("but this shows the road goes through!"). Long days on the relative safety of the toll highway (free for bikes!). A hundred miles with a nice, wide shoulder and a chance to enjoy the passing scenery.
Decided one night to camp at a place called Playa Chacala. A small beach village catering mostly to Mexican vacationers. Tired and hungry, we stopped in at a small restaurant for a meal and a drink. Looked out on the beach and saw a familliar face at a distance.
"No couldn´t be......that´s.....PARKER!"
Parker and I met in Beverly Beach, Oregon, and rode together almost all the way to San Francisco, Ca. I knew he was in Mexico, but he started nearly a month before us. Never would have expected to run into him like this, here. Just sitting on some random beach, 9 km. off the main highway. He´d hit a dog and messed up his bike. Said that he´d been on the beach for almost a week. Jason and I joined him for a day day on the beach. Waking up with a swim in the warm clear water. Bought fish from a fisherman staight from the sea. Gutted and cleaned them on a piece of driftwood for lunch. Slept to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. Lulled to sleep again by that same vast ocean.
I spent an afternoon in the sand with his ailing bike and got it back to some fuctioning capacity. Now we are three again. Heading south. Taking our time. Enjoying the beaches and the jungle. Enjoying the beauty and magic of every moment. We´ve truely reached the best part of Mexico.
Always listen to your mother.....

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Empty Bottles, Broken Spokes.

Ciudad Constitution. Five p.m. and the thermometer reads 34 degrees celsius. That´s 93 farenheit, and the sun is already way past the apex of its daily arc. Only two days out of Loreto and dreaming of a shower, a cold beer, anything to clean me off. To cool me down.
Two nights under the stars on top of my sleeping bagin the salt incrusted shorts, the same stained and rancid t-shirt I spent all day riding in. Two nights bug bitten and sweat soaked. Too hot to sleep. Snakes under my bags in the morning, Tarantulas (small ones granted, but still....) skitteing through the beam of my flashlight at night.
Climbed out of Loreto and into the mountains, a long steep grade winding through the hills. Heard the first spoke go about ten miles in. My rear wheel´s trying to tell me something.
"I´m tired. I can´t take it anymore".
"Well me too. Shut up. Just get me through the day and I´ll fix you later."
Uh oh. Talking to the bike again. Must be the heat. Gotta remember to drink more water.
Camped in the sand of a dry riverbed under jagged, moss covered rock peaks. Decended into the agricultural flats of Villa Insurgentes and Ciudad Constitution. Leaving camp before sunup and putting in as many miles as possible before being forced to wait out the miday heat in the shade of some dusty roadside tree, some crumbling cinderblock structure. Rationing our water, nervously aware of our empty bottles and hoping that the next chance to refill is just around the next turn, just over the next rise. Hearing the muted but unmistakable "ping" of spokes finally giving out under the weight of my load. Two days. Three bikes. Seven flats. Enough said.
Now three days and three nights later. Three sunburnt and red eyed days of hoping for that next glipse of the sea. La Paz. Bustling capital on the gulf. A turningpoint. A Nexus. Here´s where Jessi splits off. Leaving us and making her way back to Victoria, Canada. Back to life. To friends. To Family. To work and save and plan for next years adventure. She´ll be missed dearly. The balance she lent to the group and her level headed coolness in every situation. We´ll see you in Victoria, Jessi.
Jason and I are catching the first ferry out of dodge. Out of the desert. Crossing the Tropic of Cancer into Mazatlan. The next leg. The mainland. 954 miles in. A third of the way there....