Revolución del sueño

Coastal Roads.

On a motorcycle those are are special words that hold the promise of a journey with no need for final destination.

Everyone said I absolutely have to go to Sayulita, so of course I crossed it off my list. But the enchanting roads hemmed in by lush tropical jungle put me in a mood to stop for any excuse and I decide to slow down some, check it out. The little town is as cute as its name, tourism has made it a comfortable little cove and the rocky coastline cliffs limit the real estate enough that it hasn’t been able to grow out of control. A local tells me that there are almost empty beaches a few kilometers to the south, so I go exploring down the highway in search of hidden treasure.

I follow a mostly dry riverbed to a beach and am not disappointed – I’m the only one I can see.
Still, there are signs that the coastal rush has made it here. An opulent beachfront home caps the North tip of the beach, and a large building that can only be a resort hotel, barely a mirage at the south end. But in between is nothing but sand and sea, I walk along the line where they meet no different than if I had come out of the jungle a hundred years ago.

The sand is hard packed and it occurs to me I might be able to ride it…

A smile wide as the horizon says it all, the salty air whips and curls through my hair, the bike deftly maneuvering along the narrow margin of rideable sand packed between the soggy sea and soft beach. A couple of waves come up high and remind me not to get too confident as I struggle to keep Lost from being swamped. At the South end I discover construction competing with the hardy beach vines. Flowers adorn the concrete carcass and invite me to come take a closer look. Poking around I actually discover a few almost finished rooms with mattresses and everything.

I’m tempted to consider it a temporary home, but mistrust the thick moldy smell. This vagabond has health standards. From the roof I can see that there is a large finished hotel attached, complete with security – who looks right at me and starts running.

This is always my favorite part.

I’ve been planning for the fastest way out the whole way in. A hop here, a slide there, and I have the bike started before security is anything more than bootsteps echoing closer through the cavernous abandonment. People who say they’re too old to play tag are just too old for life in general.

Roaring back to the riverbed leading to the highway, the strip of rideable beachway is narrowed and treacherous, I barely make it back and realize I got lucky the guard prompted my exodus before the tide came too far to make leaving an option.

I head back to Sayulita for some food where I meet Eduardo, the closest to a gourmet taco purveyor I’ve met. Fresh and creative salsas, delicious and varied fillings… the prices aren’t the cheapest but I don’t regret it; I’ll even it out tomorrow. He introduces me to Damien and Eve, a couple from San Francisco who are about to open their resto-bar here to join the expat community. They’re cool people and convince me that tomorrow, Halloween, is the day to be in Sayulita. It’s a love-hate thing I’ve got going with these gringified towns. On the one hand, they encourage oversterilized and watered down attractions so that tourists of all stripes will enjoy. On the other hand, places like these attract the types who believe that sharing the best parts of their adopted home is a great business model, and you get a cultural incubator of sorts that attracts musicians and artisans who bring their crafts to trade and share. Sayulita seems to lean in favour of the latter, and I am intrigued.

Every time I see the stereotypical revolutionary icons, I think of the university professor I met in Chihuahua city who expressed her disgust to me against the system of hero-creation that has seen mercenaries and thugs branded as heroes in retrospect to promote nationalism.

The next day I buy a big loaf of bread then set to wander and make friends, learning about the gringo invasion, ecstasy-fueled maritime cuddle-puddles, and what it’s like having to import real butter. There’s marlin tacos… but I’ve already blown the food budget and decide I can imagine real hard how good they are while eating my bread.

At night I meet up with Damien and Eve again, and as he’s professed to be a rum connoisseur I bust out the big guns – a flask of 23 year old Zacapa Centenario, from my beautiful Guatemala. I’ll refill it down there, but there’s a long way to go and a tall shot is all I spare. There’s still lots of people who need to be introduced to this magnificent hooch. Wandering about I meet up with characters from all over, and park myself a while by a songstress from France with a voice that leaves many frozen midstride, not caring where they were just going. The town is surprisingly lively for its size and the tourists have certainly outdone themselves for being stuck in a beach town – almost everyone is in costume. I’m dressed as a modern Magellan…

I meet a girl stealing a horse, and decide to store the chains and saddle she’s removing at the place I’m hanging my hammock. Her sense of responsibility goes as far as removing those before setting it “free” on the street. We go play on the beach a while, and sure enough when we get back there are people waiting for her. The horse, of course, returned to its owner as soon as it was left to its own devices. When her friends saw the horse she “borrowed” from the drunken local who was making the poor thing dance for tourists all night, they noticed the missing hardware and assumed the worst. The owner, well he claimed to be worried about her. Fortunately I was the only one who could speak both languages, so my version of events where I rescued his gear and talked her out of riding the horse away goes uncontested and he thanks me while everyone berates the girl for being irresponsible. We share a good laugh when everyone disperses, and I decide Sayulita has been a success; tomorrow I will leave on a high note to see the Day of the Dead celebrations in Janitzio, where supposedly the most elaborate celebrations take place.

Doesn’t mean it can’t believe in you

Mazatlan serves me a series of strange serendipities.

A last minute request lands me a stay at Yesie’s house – latino pronunciations make connecting names to their gringo counterparts a fun game. I arrive at night in a small suburban neighbourhood. Typical beat up streets and smoking taco stands, small bungalows castled behind iron bars, and little parks where kids play in the blessed respite nighttime brings from the coastal heat. Not too sketchy, not too safe either. Yesie meets me in her truck with a couple of lady friends to guide me to her house. She’s going out and doesn’t invite me, but does ask if I’ve been drinking for some reason – I must be wearing the day’s travels poorly. Not quite the cultural exchange I was expecting, but I suppose that’s the point of it all. Saturday night in Mazatlan, and I sleep.

In the morning she’s comatose so I head out in search of some liquid fruit goodness for breakfast. Riding past the boardwalk by the sea I spot a badass looking Ural motorcycle with sidecar, a sticker outlining a path around the Americas. I stop to check it out and meet another inspiring adventure couple – Gary and Mary, or Gar and Mar. They’ve traveled the perimeter of the Americas together and are living on their sailboat, free to take their motorcycle where they please and explore. Radical. They are a super friendly couple and invite me to breakfast, he tells me it’s paid for by the videos he sells online of his adventures. I try to trade some tall tales but haven’t gone far yet compared to this seasoned wayfarer. He offers to loan me an extension bar I need to check and adjust the valves – I still don’t trust the job I had done in Durango, and now I’m getting some terrible backfiring.

I spend the day exploring Mazatlan; it’s an interesting bayside town struggling to balance gentrification and local culture as gringo & gang dollars speed up the former. The preserved colonial part of town is charming with quirkiness and character to spare. I spot a mechanic shop and show him my remaining gear-ring, he fishes one out of a box and gifts it to me. Feels good to have the pair again, I give it a spin to feel them grind satisfyingly against one another.

Not really all that impressive

Gar&Mar invited me over to see their boat where Mar fixes me some delicious fish and I get to see some of the videos and hear about what it was like to travel back in the day, and what a tank of a vehicle the Ural can be with its double rear wheel drive. It’s wonderful to share with fellow wayward souls, and I rest easy that night thinking I’ve seen a potential happy future for myself.

The next day I attack the engine to discover the valve cover gasket is all buggered up and the cam chain was one tooth off. I look it up and discover a chilling warning – “Your KLR can be 1, 2 teeth off max before you risk grenading the engine”. I discover and resolve a missing header pipe bolt, which should help my backfiring until I can get a new crush gasket. After returning the extension to Gary, I can’t get the bike to start again; we have to drag it up a hill (multiple times) as I learn the art of bump starting, which gets me to a mechanic who simply connects the fuses that had rattled out. Well, that was an embarrassing way to burn 100 pesos.

Maybe I’m flustered, but I start off without my helmet and get swept away by the winding one way streets. As I stop at a bank a couple of motocops dive in on me with grim faces and get my ID – it’s fine time. I tell them it’s been a long day and I just got lost after absently testing the bike helmetless, probably in part due to the fact that they don’t seem to have managed to get anyone else in town to wear helmets. They promise take me back to the shop as soon as I pay up, so I ask them how much the fine is. Their answer is a bold “how much you got?”.

Wrong answer.

I’ll (grudgingly) pay a fine for breaking a decent law, but fuck their bribes. We’ve got enough cops in the world looking to prey on the weak without me encouraging them to hunt gringos. I tell them I don’t have any cash and pull out the decoy wallet with a few coins and expired IDs in it. No problem, there’s an ATM over there. I head over and fiddle with the machine for a good while to make it look good and kill time, then go back and say it isn’t accepting my card, spinning a yarn about how worried I am that I’ll be stuck here without any money. They look at each other in disgust and decide I’ve wasted enough of their time and wave me off. I cheekily ask about the escort to the garage and one vaguely waves his hand in that direction. I’ve got more time than money, and am glad to have been able to trade one for the other here and avoid supporting corrupt cops.

After sheepishly recuperating my helmet I decide it’s too late to leave today and get myself a cheap room with parking by the beach. My stay with Yesie expired this morning and I haven’t actually had a chance to spend a single minute with her; I don’t feel comfortable asking her for another night.

A walk around leads to a couple of friendly conversations but it’s still early when I get bored and decide to just hit the sack and wake early to get in a good day. I do get a chance to see baby turtles being released into the ocean though – the locals tend to take the eggs for food so now conservation groups rescue them after they’re laid and return them after hatching in a big foam cooler.

The next morning’s progress is interrupted by one of those weird moments you don’t know what to do with other than move on, perturbed. I’m getting dressed and I notice I have three rings on my finger now – the two I had when I went to sleep, and the third I had presumed lost that drunken night in Durango. I decide that the set looks cool and I’ll keep it on as a sort of talisman, accept the possibility that something beyond my ken is going on despite all rational attempts to disbelieve the three rings on my finger.

Since leaving Canada everything has sort of fallen into place – security has never been paying attention, I always seem to land in just the right place for free meals and lodging, the fellow free spirits I’ve met on the road just happen to be on the right course for us to cross paths, the motorcycle seems to be taking a progressive approach to falling apart perfectly in sync with my increasing mechanical aptitude, and any obstacle I’ve faced has been accompanied by just the right expert to tell me what I need to know…

I don’t believe I’m being guided, but can’t deny that’s not to stop me from being guided.

There are waves of particles intangible to us constantly shooting through our bodies and the earth; we ignore them like a ghost walking through the sea. Some mysteries can be solved, and others only serve to drive men mad.

I spin the rings on my fingers, and wonder where I’ll end up tomorrow.

The holy grail is filled with acid

New scars to worry.

How to react, when a love affair turns against you? When your passion acidifies and tortures you, do you turn away or fight to reclaim it? My mistress, my motorcycle, my dearest Lost, the joy I once knew at riding you is gone. Learning to ride in Canada, I remember the feeling of exhilaration and pride when I began to learn to pull the bike up with the throttle after skidding the rear, taking familiar curves tighter and tighter every time.

But these are not familiar curves, and my adrenaline rush has soured. I’m riding down the Espinazo del Diablo, a gorgeous road full of hairpins, famous for being so steep transport trucks regularly have to use the runaway ramps. This also says a lot about Mexican transport trucks. The road could be a paved version of the copper canyon’s delightfully curvaceous descents. I try to enjoy what should be one of the best rides of my life, try to feel the electric joy flooding my veins. It’s no use; the curves come up and a tension seizes me, my head pounding from the effort of concentrating on the road rather than the terror. I try to push through, control the motions mechanically and separate my actions from my cowering psyche but the stress bleeds through and I have to fight my tightening muscles the whole way down. Naturally, there is a fresh streak of oil in my lane, mercilessly freeing me from friction, another hairline fracture in my composure every time the rear slips and spins wildly on the curves.

I take a welcome break to distract myself saluting Gert and Beth, biking up the massive incline, Gert towing a kiteboard behind his bicycle! It is incredible the levels to which some people push their physique, I can’t even contemplate the ride up, nevermind with a trailer. I wish them luck and grimly press on towards the coast. I follow another biker, challenging myself to match his leaning on the curves. I try not to think of the scratches on my helmet, and his passenger without one.

The road levels, straightens, and as I finally manage to ease some of the tension from my shoulders that insidious question rises: have I permanently poisoned my journey..?

The wrong way to the right path

It’s curious how convenient my disasters.

I’m riding into Durango, making my way through the city center in heavy traffic. Some guy yells something at me from the sidewalk, but I’m uninterested in whatever he’s selling. Then another one points at the rear of the bike and yells “Agua!”


I turn around and see bubbling liquid hissing out my exhaust. For all the the mechanimagic I’ve learned so far, I’m lost here. I have no idea how water can be coming out of there. It’s bad; I shut down the bike and have a standoff with a police officer over my choice of parking spot. Traffic is thick and pushing it is simply not an option in my condition. I invite him to help me push it and he decides it’s just fine where it is. My host, Hugo, turns out to live two blocks away and he comes to help me push my bike to safety. I marvel at the synchronicity, while my knee vehemently states its disapproval of the strain.

Hugo is the laid back type, a friendly fellow traveler who, thankfully, radiates calm. He’s already hosting a Korean fellow named Jun.

Jun is really interesting, been wandering aimlessly for about five years and recently walked over 400km with his huge-ass backpack on. Hugo has to leave but that’s fine, all I want is a shower and a nap. His mom Paty insists on taking my bloody pants and soaking them; I love moms. Peeling off the bandage fused to my flesh is an arduous process, I grit my teeth and remember to be grateful this is the worst of it.

Hugo’s family is close and welcoming, and eats really really spicy peppers. I was hiccuping for an hour. His dad helps me push Lost to the nearest garage, Motoservicio Zamora, where I describe my problem and we discover the fan isn’t working, which led to the engine overheating and blowing the head gasket. That’s how the coolant made it to the exhaust. He says he can repair it in five days, which is fine by me. I need the time off anyway. I feel like I’ve got a flu, every muscle is sore from being pancaked on impact with the road. Now I understand people who take pain meds.

Durango is one of those “best kept secret” type towns. Not too big but definitely a city, clean and a pleasure to stroll through with all kinds of interesting corners.

They love their VWs here

Celebrations are a cultural mishmash, follow a beating drum after dark and you may come upon block party in honour of some saint.

Highlights of the week include morning espresso ritual with Jun in the conscientiously preserved colonial center; being introduced to Tequila’s sexier older sister, Mezcal, in a bar lined with glowing skulls; trying intestines for the first time since Vietnam (in taco format, naturally); discovering the beer/fruit juice/sour gummi combo“fruticheladas”; and chasing skirts from bar to bar around town with Hugo’s hilarious and weird friends.

Lowlights include losing my #47 ring that same night of debauchery, bleeding all over my shorts every time I bend my knee, working with Captain Slow at the nearest welder’s to patch my boxes, and discovering (after paying) that I was overcharged for Zamora’s work. When I go to confront him I also note the hack job wiring on the fan has it always activated, they’ve forgotten to replace a subframe bolt, have left the handlebars completely twisted, and still haven’t added the missing turn signal or replaced the coolant. Hugo’s dad and I go to make a scene, Zamora won’t budge. I didn’t want to be that paranoid asshole gringo accusing locals of trying to rip them off… and now I see their side all too clearly. Zamora gets ugly when I push it and I realize I’m just screwed; the time for debate was before giving him the money. I decide to cut my losses and at least manage to get him to install a turn signal.

I’m healed as I need to be, and the bike runs, so it’s time to move on. I give Jun the Guatemalan chile powder I’ve been spicing my food with, and he gives me some homemade dehydrated babaganoush and a nail cleaner. I don’t get out until 9, Paty prays for me and gives me a mini bible to take with me. I’m heading down the Espinazo del Diablo, so it should come in handy. Spending time among them and all their love leaves me replenished and I part with thanks and a smile, adding six new people to my life and reinforcing my grandma’s saying “there’s bad people out there, but there’s more of us good ones”.

I’m still alive

I will never forget the sensation of my helmet scraping against the asphalt, moments stretching on for infinities as that grinding overwhelms my ears and I slide completely beyond control. I recall in this time outside of time, with odd detachment, a recently naive me. Confidently contemplating my recent relatively low-speed crash on gravel, imagining how I would position myself to slide and so on. And now reality like a hammer to the head. Powerless, such violence all I can do is tumble like a ragdoll.

And then it ends. I lie stunned, a concrete ditch on the other side of the road barrier. I must have missed it by inches, if that. Lost is on her side puddling gasoline into the ditch, and with a groan I sit up to assess. Not again, I moan, as if this was somehow not entirely my fault. I try to start moving right away, but have to get my wind back first. The bike needs to be righted and the luggage removed from the road. I limp over to a box; there’s no ignoring my knee now – I went down on it again. Boxes dragged to the ditch, I right Lost and assess the damage once again. Pannier mounts are completely wrecked, will have to use straps. Handlebar twisted, and the gas line broke at the filter. Trying to repair the line, I discover I must have crushed my thumb under the bike, I can hardly use it. I fumble stubbornly and eventually the fuel line is fixed, filter discarded. It’s redundant anyway. I try the starter, and the engine turns but nothing happens. On the fourth try she roars to life, and at least one problem in my life is solved. Now for the other 99.

I am not going to get this bike out of the ditch myself. Cars have been nonchalantly passing by. I’m too tired to even indignantly wonder what kind of person rides past a motorcycle accident. A curve on a highway is a pretty short window of opportunity to assess the risk, I reflect. A guy in a pickup stops and makes my day, pushing the bike along the ditch so we’re not in the curve and then strapping everything together for me. I assure him I’ll be able to make it to town myself and promise to check in at the hospital. I mean it too – breathing is tight and painful; nothing feels good. Lost and I limp the remaining distance to Parral with our new friend patiently following from the rear until we crawl into town and the clinic, warily handling the curves. Parral is a bigger city and the hospital looks good, the doctors are quick and professional.

Medical assessment – Suck it up, no damage done. They clean my knee and wrap it in bandages, then give me a shot in the ass for the pain. Kicks like a mule, but soon blissful opiates allow me to defer the damage. The security guy brings me a soup with some avocado and tortillas, I ask him how much and he insists it is complimentary. The doctors echo the same when I ask what I owe for their service – so you know that Mexicans are something special, and we from Parral even moreso, one tells me.

For all the thrashing my body has been through, I suddenly feel great.

…And then I try to stand up. Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

I figure now is as good a time as any to make some progress, at least today I’m somewhat shielded from the pain. Before leaving I shuffle into an internet cafe to see if I can find a friend in Durango – it would be good to hook up with a couchsurf connection while my body stitches itself back together. Messages sent, I head out, stopping to inhale a whole bottle of water – turns out I was a little thirsty. Ready to leave, I realize with a crescending panic that I’m not wearing my camera bag. The internet cafe – but that was almost an hour ago… Dejectedly I ride back and find the place, having already said goodbye to my loyal companion and chronicler. I enter and ask the middle aged fellow managing the place if I by any chance left my camera bag here. “Oh, there’s a camera in there?” he asks, as he reaches under the desk and passes it over to me. Incredible. I immediately feel guilty for assuming these people would have run off with it at the first chance. It’s so easy to judge, and I am thankful for the opportunity to confront my prejudices as much as for not losing my camera. Okay, so maybe I’m a bit happier about the camera.

I pass the tower of the past and present on my way out of town. A symbol for change, reflect on the past, act in the present, create your future. The worst is always behind me.

Riding with a wounded knee. Time comes to stop and stretch it out, I hobble painfully off the bike, feeling everything crack open under the bandages. Coffee and a strangely sweet empanada in a humble but clean joint with red plastic chairs; three ladies attending the lonely breeze as it carries away the seconds of the day. I ask how much, but the eldest tells me not to worry about it and hands me a plasticized prayer card. Prayer to the Powerful Hand. The reverse instructs say to make your supplication and then read the prayer. I guess I must look like I was just in a motorcycle accident or something.

I’ve brought all this on myself and am already more than lucky to be able to still move, and somehow the good keeps on coming. I just reflect on how beautiful life can be and thank her profusely. Riding on, I rewind and rewatch to try and see just where I went wrong but it’s all so fast. I remember the loss of control on the gravel, and then sliding. I remember the railing coming too fast, too close, and then the scraping asphalt. The memories aren’t revealing anything that can be of use to me, and curves keep interrupting my thoughts. I tense involuntarily each time, slow down to bicycle pace until the road straightens. Time, I need time to heal inside and out.

A sweeter distraction comes in the form of a beauty pageant in the small town of Vaqueros, girls riding on top of trucks in skirts are just the distraction I need.

A local photographer befriends me and introduces me to the girls as he takes shots. I don’t stay late; no energy to chase these shy small town girls tonight. I go to my rest that night thankful – for kindnesses from strangers, for the adventure. I feel the throbbing in my leg, my unbroken leg, and go to sleep glad for soft landings and to be alive.

Sometimes you really should just stay down.

Leaving Batopilas is just as scenic as entering, but several orders of magnitude easier. I’ve been given directions on how to find Korareachi, and hopefully complete my Quest for that delectable lechugilla. Lost and I snake our way up and down the canyonsides, the gravel road progressively improving. I too have improved, I’m pleased to notice the ease with which I can pick up the pace when I’m not busy trying to simultaneously stay on the road and drink in the canyons cutting away to adventures in the distance. Smiling eagerly inside; already I’m planning my return.

Thoreau still rings in my head. From what I understand the man was a massive hypocrite, but with standards so high it’s hard not to be. The point he makes, ultimately, is that it is important to be a good person, to question what that means and to pursue it. I wonder about my own life and decisions, and decide I have not suffered enough to learn be a good man yet. Mine has been a soft life; is this why I gravitate towards the rawest experiences, to callus my soul?

It’s not my soul that is callused today.

Anything worth doing is worth overdoing; I love that saying. At the very least it’s worth doing well. When my panniers fall off and I bash them into a shape that can once again attach to the motorcycle with a rock – that is not doing it well. So in a way I had it coming.

I’ve hit my stride, passing several trucks and a military transport, again remembering Chuck talking about drifting through the curves, that satisfying sensation as the bike pivots on the front wheel, gravel flying out behind me. Every time I slow to admire a view or take a photo I hear or see the military transport coming up behind me, I guess they want to catch up. Making a game of it, I stay just ahead of them, blasting through straight sections.

On one of these my right pannier falls off. I’m not near the canyon’s edge anymore, so I’ve picked up some good speed. The front tire catches a rut and we start drifting hard towards the left edge of the road. The bike slips, and this time I’m not doing it on purpose – and then the ground slams into me, hard. My boot is caught underneath as Lost slides on the loose gravel and we scrub the dirt together.

I lie on my back, and breathe, staring up at the sky in a daze until I notice the engine is still running. With a start I realize the time to act is now, while the adrenaline is staving off some pain. My ankle is throbbing and I can tell it’s going to get worse, I can feel wet blood sticking my knee to my pants, but I can move and nothing feels broken. I limp over to Lost and turn her off.

The shifter is bent to shit, but otherwise she looks to be alright – just a few more scars for character. I heave her upright with a groan, doing all the lifting with my good leg, and use my ratchet strap to secure the pannier after straightening it again – This time it’s staying on. The military transport comes around as I’m struggling with the shifter, and offers to load up the bike and take me the two hundred remaining Km to Guachochi. Maybe I’m still punch drunk, but I tell them no thanks, I just need to repair the bike and I’m good to go. They loan me a thick set of pliers and stress the importance returning them when I get to town. As soon as they round the bend it occurs to me that I haven’t started the bike yet, and anyway what the hell am I doing turning an offer like that down?

“I haven’t suffered enough to learn to become a good man yet” – Well, I’m working on it. Paulo Cohelo would have a smug comment to make about making your own destiny.

I get the shifter aligned and clear the carb, and after a few tries she starts again. I’m relived, because my battery is going on me – like an idiot I left my lights on one day in Urique, and when I (finally) found someone with cables who could charge the battery he had to coax it back to life by jarring the plates, pulsing electricity through as he tapped the cables against the terminals in a shower of sparks. I promise to buy Lost a new battery for being a good girl and starting for me when I needed her. Would have served me right to be stranded here after brashly passing up a free ride. Getting my leg over is not an enjoyable experience, and I have to shift using my heel – it hurts too much to tilt my foot for the shifter – but once I get moving it’s not so bad, just the steady throbbing in my knee and ankle.

The lonely gravel road implacably winds on, seemingly forever at my newly conservative pace, my mind occupied reviewing the fall and incredulous that I’m still going. But then the only alternative at this point is to just lie down in the middle of nowhere and wait for the vultures. I make it to Guachochi eventually and drop off the tools with thanks. It’s not even two in the afternoon yet, and I am close to Parral. Lost has proven she’s up to the task… My short-circuited common sense decides it’s a good idea to keep going.

Progress is tediously slow through curving roads, several times I stop to stretch out my throbbing knee as the pain becomes distracting. I try to hold off as long as possible because the raw wound fuses to my pants each time, cracking open as try to stretch out the ache. As I near Parral, darkness falls and I realize on a series of sharp bends that I have another problem – the light on the bike is gone. I ride with my blinker on for the scant light it provides but soon it is black out and I begin searching for refuge. Painstakingly and painfully we advance in staccato orange blinks. Eventually a small house appears and I decide to try my luck. Approaching in darkness in narco territory, a strangers home, wounded. But there is a pen with livestock, this home seems to be supported by an honest living… I hope. Barking dogs herald my arrival and the owner emerges cautiously, flashlight in hand. I explain my situation and to my relief he is friendly and agrees to let me hang my hammock up, even giving me the shed to set up in and bringing me some oatmeal and cookies. Gustavo talks to me a bit and tells me that he has actually hosted a few travelers caught by darkness, most recently a Japanese cyclist. These hills make distances deceiving; this must be why locals will tell you how far you are in hours rather than kilometres.

Sleep is rough. Get in the hammock with my left boot on just in case I can’t put it on again tomorrow. The owner gets in his truck and heads off, and I ask myself, paranoid, where could he be going at this hour and why? It’s nothing, he’s a nice man… but when I hear footsteps in the middle of the night I am alert and ready. They come closer and I sit up, turning on my light and flashing it around. “Who’s there?!” I demand.

I hear the steps again, this time followed by a plaintive bleat – it’s the goat. Must be an insomniac.

Morning comes – have I even slept? It’s chilly at this elevation, the sun still hiding below the horizon. Gustavo is outside, I thank him for his hospitality and ride off, only twenty clicks until Parral. So close, yet so far. I’m riding the curves at a decent pace, getting the hang of positioning my knee at the right angle to make it less bothersome. And then, coming up to a curve no different than the hundreds I’ve already passed through, something goes wrong.

I’m watching it come closer, wondering why I’m still going straight. My brain is screaming at my arms but they obstinately refuse to start turning in time, and then it’s too late.

We’re hurtling toward the aluminum highway railing. It’s too late to make the curve.

Icarus Complex

Fun is a relative term. That’s why some people’s favourite roads are what others would call “bad”.

The road, to use the term loosely, to Batopilas from Urique is one of those roads I think everyone can agree is bad, no matter how much fun you have on it.

I have never dropped my bike so many times in one day. The steep inclines and washed out roads cluttered with boulders keep pushing me to the limits of my abilities as a rider; I am consistently outclassed by this dilapidated pathway. I am focused with all my being on keeping the bike up, but around every hairpin a new rutted ruin of a road further taxes my overspent resources. There’s no going back, so I grit my teeth and pick the bike up every time, my ragged tires slip and twist as I fight a battle for every foot of progress. With the hefty weight of the panniers on either side, the slightest tilt off balance is a struggle to recover from. I twist the throttle to keep the bike up as it threatens to fall, only to hit a patch of loose rocks that slip out from underneath; now I’m trying to save it from falling on the other side. At one point Lost tips over onto the shifter on an especially steep and slippery slope, the impact knocking the gear into neutral. I try to lift her but now she slips down the slope and falls again every time, the incline too sharp for the front brake to keep the bike up. Eventually I have to find a good rock and dig away at the road to reach the shifter, straining in the dust to switch into first so the bike will lock into place when lifted. The going doesn’t get any easier. It’s a Sisyphean endeavour, and I lose my sense of self completely as every fiber of my being focuses on keeping the bike upright, moving forward, and away from that patiently waiting edge cliff edge. Occasionally the road will branch into two equally rugged choices, never an indication of where they lead.

After about the fifteenth (!) time I lose the battle (but not the war!) against the trials, one of my aluminum panniers decides to fall off in protest to being used as a cushion. I skid to a wobbly halt as my unbalanced ride yaws towards the edge. I empty the pannier and bash the box back into a more or less square shape again with one of the readily available rocks.
Fits good as new – after all this I hope I’m going the right way.

Occasionally a dwelling will be accessible from the path, but the locals are maddeningly unhelpful when it comes to asking directions. The native people of these cliffs are shy or unfriendly, and will pretend they don’t notice you unless you address them directly.

I spot a man repairing a fence, and yell hello. No answer. I walk over a few feet away and say good day, he acknowledges me by looking at me expectantly.

I ask the man, “Batopilas, is it that way?”
I point in the opposite direction. “Batopilas, is it that way?”

I’m concerned because gates are blocking the roads, wood lattices I have to take apart and put back together after crossing. Where the hell is this path taking me?
The canyon is no less breathtaking as I make my slow progress, so I decide not to worry about it. I’m going somewhere, best to embrace it wherever it is.

Standing on the pegs to better control the bike, I suddenly jerk to the left when my footpeg spins off – a bolt fell out! I can’t find it on the road, but fortunately I’ve been warned single cylinder thumpers like mine are notorious for rattling bolts off and am prepared with spares. I repair Lost in the shade of a pine tree, my boots crunching on the dirt road, the only company I’ve had all day. After several hours of wandering the meandering canyons open up before me to reveal a massive valley and a town below. Batopilas, in sight at last! At least I hope it’s Batopilas…

The intensity of the day has driven my focus inward, the voices in my helmet quiet as my energies concentrate on the immediacy of the moment. This inner silence sharpens my appreciation of the landscape around me, raw contentment and a feeling of achievement suffuse each moment on what is, to me, the top of the world. I sit and observe in the afternoon sun and silence, not yet ready to enter the town and switch on.

Eventually a truck drives by and breaks the spell. I take some photos for retrospect and head on down, the descent ludicrously simple after the day’s challenges; I enjoy the heightened feeling of awareness as the rear tire slips on the switchbacks and I simply twist the throttle for more speed, let the bike straighten itself out, no fear left for today, that inner animal conquered. If only I could capture and keep this feeling I could ride all the way to the top of the highest mountain, never need a road again.

Batopilas is intriguing, I ride around its tilted streets after finding a place for the night – 150 pesos. Lost and I go wander. A cute girl winks at me as I pass by – hopefully I run into her later – but for now there’s exploring to do. Across from town a set of ostentatious buildings in ruins catch my eye, the evening sun highlighting the paper thin scarlet bougainvillea flowers covering the brick towers.

Nobody seems to be around. I stroll through alone after a yelling out a couple of greetings, trying not to think of horror movie tropes. There are pickup trucks parked here, but everything seems to be vacant and falling apart. The trees grab my attention most of all; graceful forms contrasting against their effortless destruction of man’s fragile works. I see signs of habitation in the smaller structures closer to town – plastic chairs, clothes hanging on lines – but still no people. Strange.

Back in town I wander around and eventually sit down to chat with some locals. The conversation turns to my quest to discover a source of lechugilla moonshine – for its multiple uses such as fuel and sterilization of course. I’m entertained by hunting down a fellow named Lazaro Torres in a group of dwellings clustered together on the skirts of the cliffside. As soon as I get off the bike and start wandering around, the dogs approach growling and barking. A handy trick I picked up in Guatemala – I crouch and make as if to grab a rock and they quickly turn and run. Poor beasts have been trained harshly to fear people, here. I eventually get pointed to Lazaro’s house and a beautiful young woman comes to the door. He’s out working, but has sold all his hooch for now. I won’t be around long enough to catch the next batch, unfortunately, but get a lead on another town where I can find some on the way out of the canyon – Korareachi.

I park the bike inside the hotel and walk the streets at night, looking for something to fill my belly, and maybe run into that cute girl from earlier. I ask the armed police officer in front of the presidencia municipal building about the safety of wandering around at night. He says it’s fine, no worries. As I wander father towards the outskirts I fall into step with a middle aged woman of classically round Mexican proportions. She tells me I will get robbed, and that she never walks the streets alone at night. She explains to me that transient workers are housed at the hacienda across the river, and that robberies have increased with their presence. I ask her what she is doing out in that case, and she says, “Well I live here”. I walk with her until she turns at a door and wishes me a good night, and blesses me in the name of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I take it in stride and carry on, less than ten bucks in my pockets and ambivalent about the most likely imagined dangers.

I have a burger at a food stand, curious if it will be different so far from the beaten path. It is, and not for the better, but it’s food. Kids play with a soccer ball in the street, and I think of the friends I left behind in Urique. The people here are friendly but it doesn’t feel the same here – I’m a tourist again. It makes me wonder why it is that I don’t miss my vastly more intimately friendly community back in the frozen North, but I suppose it is merely the immediacy of the departure – eventually it will all fade into memory, overwhelmed by the present. I enjoyed the change of pace, but it’s good to be moving again. Too quickly I settle into a comfortable rhythm, my shallow root system taking hold. Need to keep the momentum, or the adventure decays into indulgence.

Nothing wrong with stopping to savour the places I pass, but there is a long road ahead of me. There will be time enough for comfort, for the now I seek adventure.

Be careful what you wish for…