mexican desert, brain baking heat, an empty stomach, and not a hint of vegetation higher than my knee. so when the mirage of some sort of inverted structure wobbly in the heat waves radiating off the asphalt was confirmed as reality, i set up shop in the shade for a feast. it was a ramshackle restaurant, mi ranchero, at one time, i´m sure, somebody´s dream, now, however, just slowly succumbing to the desert, which eventually brings everything, living or not, back to dust. it was only after my feast of old cheese and dumpster bread had commenced that i realized that, unless the wind blew just a certain way, my olfactory sensation was supersaturated with smells of human excrement. but hey, shop was set, i was starved, and my bread and cheese, though just this side of becoming blue, looked quite appetizing. so i ate. and then i learned something. it´s all in english, though in reality was a bit of everything.
(guy drives up)
how´s it going?
i is nice, and are you?
is it hot very.
yes, excuse me, i need to go peepee (that´s a direct quote)
and so, that´s why it stunk.
crossing the border amounted to nothing, not even an id check. going the other way, i saw people getting fingerprinted, photographed digitally, and inserted into various and scary databases. all while possibly the goofiest photo ever of george w bush watched from above. the roads in mexico, which i had been dreadfully warned about countless times, amounted to be as good as if not better than some of the roads i´ve traveled in canada and the states. the traffic has been extremely friendly and respectful, and on my first evening in this scary, bandit-ridden country, i had to turn down a 150 mile truck ride by a nice man who was worried about my ability to ride that far.
of course, this is all after my worst cycling day ever in the states, so perhaps it´s a bit biased. i´d been riding for the past four days with a solid friend of mine. it was great to have a cycling partner and be able to share expierences with something more than my camera and journal and head. we´d ridden from albuquerque to las cruces and had a feast of pizza before parting ways. the inevitable goodbyes were said with him getting warp zoned at 85mph back to albuquerque and me continuing doing what i´ve been doing and will be doing for quite some time. i had a great call with my parents and hit the long road with no one following and no one to follow once again. and it starts getting dark, and i can´t find anywhere to camp. now it´s pitch black and i´m walking my bike. i wake up a herd of hounds and during the cacophony of barks a search light comes out. not good.
sorry to disturb you, is there anywhere that i could camp?
so i move on. and on. and it´s a cluster of barbed wire and irrigation ditches and deliberately flooded chestnut tree farms. and nowhere for me. lights in the distance call. it´s a school. sealed up tight with fence and locks. but i spy an open gate. in i go and throw it down only to find that the school has two resident skunks. but maybe i outstunk their potential delivery and they respected that becaue, after initial investigations, they left me alone.
playgrounds make me sad, especially slides. so do school buses and kids running for no reason other than to run. children´s laughter. thier natural innocence. it´s the one thing we can never have again and with each day gets further away until our bodies our violated with plastic tubes in unthinkable places and we sit and wait for death while being bombarded with fluorescence and cradled with stiff crumpled white sheets. and our memories, if we still have them, go back to that day when you were eight and the girl next door was the love of your life and the trickle of that creek was a mightily raging river and you could come home to a mom-cooked meal and eat with your family and have some cookies for desert and not worry about a thing. but instead you are hearing a hopefully rhythmic beep to remind you that you are alive and it´s when that beep stops that
so the roads do get a little more rough now that i´m further into mexico. and i´m sticking to the two-laner backroads and these lack any sort of shoulder to ride in. the roads are nothing horrible, but defintely some rocking and rolling and tight passes. anyway, my bike lock that was cinched down under the bungees on my trailer comes loose and gets bounced off. so i pull my bike down into the ditch of a shoulder and walk back to pick up the lock. it´s at this moment that i notice a train of humungous trucks coming towards me in both lanes passing one another and exchanging positions and leaving no room on the road for anything but them. though i am down in the ditch and off the road, i duck out of the way just so i´m not blasted with their vortex of created winds. and so the question. did my lock get jarred off for a ¨reason¨? if i had still been cycling during this fiasco, i have a feeling that at the very least i would have been forced unwantonly down into the ditch, probably landing a sweet face-plant. but i wasn´t. i was off the bike. and i was safe. was it fate? was it physics? was it god looking out for a fool who likes to tell the entire world what´s wrong and offers no viable solutions? and the thing is, i could believe any one of these possibilities. because a belief is nothing more than a choice. it´s like deciding which way to turn on a street. either choice will lead you somewhere, one may be wrong, or it may be right, or it may not really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. all i know is that you just never know. point being, i would like, it would comfort and make me feel good to believe that my lock fell off for a reason. that some greater force, god, supreme being (pick your poison) saw me and said, uh-oh, this joker´s in trouble. boom, the lock falls off, the too many wheeled trucks travel on, and i´m left standing in the dusty ditch thinking, son of a...i´m not ready to die. that´s what i´d like to believe. it´s easy to believe, and if i think about it and repeat it a sufficient number of times, it sort of becomes a truth, albeit a personal one. but a truth is a truth is a truth and every truth is of course personal, because we all, whether we admit it or not, use our persons as the fulcrum by which we judge and base everything. what else do we ultimately have but ourselves? what else could we use? and by so doing, though we may be influenced by others, it´s all fundamentally up to us. or me. or you. ifitistobeitisuptome. so maybe the vibrational frequency of my bike lock exceeded the tension-capacity of my bungee cord. believable. or maybe it was just a random event and i got lucky. believable. or maybe god has taken a liking towards me, anticipated my position relative to the oncoming trucks, realized the numbers didn´t add up well, and knocked the lock off knowing i´d pull off to retrieve it. again, believable. but the question is: which scenario is ´´right´´? and i guess the real question is: is there ´´right´´? the ultimate question, however, is: how does one know for certain? the caudal conversation:
do you believe in god?
because it is simply impossible to prove god.
ok....do you believe in love?
yes, of course.
so it happens again. even my ferociously frugal self can´t pass up a night´s lodging and an all you can eat breakfast and supper for $7 near copper canyon, the world´s largest. apparently, though they´ve never actually tried, four grand canyons can be fit inside of it. good stuff. get off the bike for a bit. feast. you know. and then i meet these german girls. quite attractive. they say we can meet at dinner. in the meantime, i scrub the accumulation of many days of sunscreen and mexican dust (spf=infinity) off my body and realize i´m not nearly as tan as i thought...it was just filth. dinner. we meet. talk. it´s nice. really nice. too nice. and the one girl. she just happens to mention her bicycle tour in spain, france, and norway. the dams open on my salivary glands. the beard conveniently conceals and contains any chin drops. gotta play this cool hIrSch. and then, but of course, they´re leaving tomorrow. but we´ll meet for breakfast, which we do. and afterwards, we walk to the road together to part ways. she: beautiful, north, back to study for a semester in monterrey. me: not, south, my destinational direction. it: which never even began, over. and so on i ride. with my bike. and my shadow....when there are no clouds.
i am married to metal. i am married to this bike. where i go, it goes. when i leave it, i suffer separation anxiety, like those cute little college couples that can´t keep their hands off each other. i like to be able to see it when i sleep. to be able to reach out and touch it. being apart, i am constantly concerned. i don´t want it to be sad. i don´t want to be sad. it is a part of me, i am a part of it. i am in love with an inanimate object.
hitchhiking in mexico with a guy named carlos who asks me if i´ve killed anyone in iraq, because, after all, i´m an american and that´s what we do, was an experience. we scored a ride in a 196something beater ford truck busting at the seams with folks in the front cab including an incredibly large man in a scooby doo surfing t’shirt that proclaimed, ´´hang eight.´´ we were on the backroads amidst a whole lot of nothing, an area of the country that i wanted to see but that was off my route with no way to connect it up. so when the truck pulls off in the middle of a void and stops and one guy gets out and goes to the front and another gets out and goes to the back, both with looks of urgency, i think, hey, this might not be so good. they both just kind of stand there. i look at carlos, hoping for serenity, yet seeing only anxiety. and then, audible trickles and smiles of relief on both of the men, who proceed back to the cab. nothing more than a pee stop.
the ride down into and upupupup out of copper canyon was one of the most stunning thus far. the descents were so steep and crooked that they required all my intentness and finger strength for the brakes. the climbs were of such intensity that i was huffing and puffing along at a measely 4 mph, while the sun beat down with unrelenting paroxysm and all the precious and limited moisture i had stored in my body seemed to seek exodus. but it was the surroundings. and not just the sheer canyon walls and all that travel brochure stuff. the people. the little kids running to catch up with me (and doing so quite easily). the families somehow scratching out a living from this parched, arid land. donkies on the side of the road scratching with their hooves at the dust and somehow finding something edible. and these old men. just walking along. with homemade sandals and skin as wrinkled as all shirts and pants should be. incredilby fit and sinewy. and seemingly so content. just walking along. to who knows where, maybe not even they. just walking. and i, on my high-horse of supposedly living the unornamented and so-called simple life. but as i pass these men, i am put to shame. because they are carrying maybe a couple of pieces of fruit. not an ounce of water. just the clothes on their back. and the thoughts, which i so sincerely wish i could know, in their head. the ´´progressed´´ vs the ´´primitive´´? the question is: who´s better off?
if i ever needed incentive to do a full-on sprint, it came in the form of three very large canines. man vs beasts. very tired man vs very energetic beasts. i had the lead as they negotiated their non-containing barbed wire containement. they started gaining. i dropped the hammer and stood up and started pounding the pedals. i reached a dynamic equilibrium with the triumvirate just within nipping distance of wAylAy (my trailer, formerly known as lil´ billy). the four of us, fatigued. the battle was on. who would relent? i tapped my last stores of atp, hydrolyzed it, and left those mangy mutts with their tongues hanging. no rabies for me, at least not today.
the terrain in mexico has, by far, been the most challenging of the trip. it´s a roller coaster of mountains and canyons, and it is so wide open. one afternoon, after climbing all day, i finally reached the crest of the continental divide. time to let the bike do the work. flying down these hills, i notice a white car pull off. he stops and waves. gets ahead of me. stops and takes a picture. this keeps going on and on. finally, i am ahead of him and pull off. he pulls off. super excited, he insists on shooting a movie of me with his cell phone and then gives me bubble gum and a can of fish which i respectfully decline with my often used phrase: soy vegetariano. we also had a conversation that was all in spanish, but is here in english:
what is you name?
where do you sleep?
on the ground. where do you sleep?
tonight i will sleep in parral (a town).
i will be in parral tomorrow.
the next day i´m in parral. as i´m rding thru town, i hear a ´´church! church!´´ and there´s the bubble gum-fish dude frantically waving and smiling, incredibly excited..
sometimes it´s the synchronicity of the setting sun and the rising moon. sometimes it´s the bird who lands in the tree i am camped under and just kind of looks. sometimes it´s the slow passing of a vehicle with joyous, stacatto rhythmic horn blasts and a pumped fist out the window. sometimes it´s walking into a cafe and having the owner put in an unrequested but much appreciated beatles´ cd. sometimes it´s the virgin mary standing peacefully over a place on the road where someone was killed. sometimes it´s a guy who´s only two english words are ´´f-ing´´ and ´´okey-dokey.´´ sometimes it´s eating lunch under a tree and having two pounds of tortillas presented as a gift to the ´´´loco americano.´´ sometimes it´s not needing those tortillas and being able to pass them on to a hitch-hiker. sometimes it´s beating the sun so that i am on the road for the fiery explosion of morning....
....but all the time, it is me on my bike, watching the world go by, feeling the time go by, and being grateful for how fortunate i am.