Hearts and crossbones

 

Life in Gualadalajara is rich with experience. The colourful graffiti and crumbling colonial architecture, the bustle of life and music straining the seams of the city. Everything is vibrant. I arrive with no plans or expectations, just the promise of adventure and the memory of those eyes meaningfully gazing into mine. Cities naturally repel me – that looming concrete, the oppressive press of rushing bodies – but here I have found a welcoming oasis of fellow explorers on their own journeys.

My new friends open their home and their life to me, inviting me to come and go as I please. Fireworks at night, loud and colourful music everywhere, festivals, art, and parties punctuate my days as I more or less piggyback on the exciting lives of the seven international students living at Garbly house. Supposedly I’m here to fix Lost’s radiator fan, and to that end I’ve made a contact but progress is slow. There’s so much to see and do.

The morning after my arrival I’m taken for a walk to admire the Catalinas.

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Mexico takes its macabre traditions lightly, and as I’m clued in to the telenovela-worthy romantic entanglement I’ve fallen into a pattern emerges. Love and death, gangs and speed limits, religion and politics, all are taken with and irreverent wink and a nod. Life here is rich and intense. Even the food can be a near life experience, as I discover during my epic endeavour to finish my chili-soaked torta ahogada, an almost religious experience in spiciness for the uninitiated.

My vision begins to clear in the first couple of minutes after trying my first “spicy sandwich” to blurry faces laughing at my reaction this Guadalajaran baptism-by-fire. My ears are ringing and I can’t tell how much of the liquid pouring off my face is sweat and how much is tears. I love it.

Flow from one day to the next, exploring the city on my own between experiences with new friends. There are rivers that run hot, university lectures, art galleries, football matches where I can’t even keep up with the girls team, permaculture and adobe brick building workshops. I’m spinning around, just trying to take it all in.

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I’m introduced to friends and family. My friend’s grandmother burnt all her photo albums after her husband died and my camera is called into service; she heats us chocolate on the electric burner and they show me the bike with all the lights, the hundred-year-old clawfoot tub.

One “Oh you can’t leave until…” at a time, my visit stretches into a temporary residence.

I have little moments; they feel important but I don’t understand why just yet. I ask a guy with a pure smile and worldworn clothes for a photo. He tells me he’s got an important contract, and points to the empty styrofoam tray with leftover cheese sauce in his hand. He stands for the shot anyway and hurries on with his mission; buddha smile at full power. I wonder about the kinds of happy.

Human passions are enigmas; maybe we prefer it that way. Someone I just met whispers in my ear to tell her I love her while we dance. We don’t believe the words, we just love the way they sound. Couples fight and fuck behind walls thinner than the line between love and hate; it’s never clear which is going on. I join friends for a good cry. In the bar, she’s drinking deep and singing along to melodramatic cantina music. They call these songs corta-venas, veincutters. Now at the beach, to the soundtrack of crashing waves, he’s wondering where his lover is. Drink deep, I watch my friend’s tears join the salty surf. Eating some raw shrimp from a dubious cooler “cooked” a few minutes ago by lime juice, I reflect on all this emotional chaos. Do we even care why we feel, as long as we get that release?

I’m used to the flow of the city now, have explored its sights and flavours, and have my favourite market stalls and alleyways. There’s an undeniable, particular charm to Guadalajara. Despite the inevitable dirty concrete, crime, and garbage that comes from having five million Latinos clustered together in one place, it’s a beautiful banquet for the senses of this wanderer.

One day I ride out to Guanajuato. On the way I meet a man who built himself a castle. When I ask him why, he simply replies, why not? To each their own beautiful madness. I can barely grasp the clockwork of my own mind as it is.

Guanajuato, ah, now there is a place to sigh over. A city of carefully curated delights. Labrynthine tunnels and alleyways make the city a maze to navigate, but somehow it has escaped the criminal cloud that darkens so many otherwise idyllic towns here. The river of tourists flows through its winding pathways along the well-oiled tourist machine. The mummy museum is a jarring experience that interrupts the flow with mummified babies and the world’s smallest mummy. It’s a fetus.

Nights are for the revellers. The callejoneadas collect the curious into groups led by troubadours in traditional dress who play pied piper with songs, jokes, and wine, funnelling us through narrow alleyways – callejones. We’re pushed through to laugh and clap together as the jovial guides steer us around competing groups to reach the famous callejon del beso. Stand in line, a quick kiss, move along, follow the leader; end up where we started, red-faced and bright-eyed.

I get word that my friend Luis’ mechanic has sourced me a replacement fan. The cost of an original Kawasaki is prohibitive whether I find it here or get it shipped down. Luck is with me and he’s found a junked Suzuki using the exact same fan. I’ve already strained the budget with the stator and the chain replacements in Arizona so I breathe a sigh of relief. Lost will soon be fully roadworthy again! I get the royal treatment at my new friend Fernando’s garage and he even installs a switch so I can turn it on manually in case the temperature sensor fails, redoing some of the hack-job wiring Lost had suffered in Durango. While I was cautious about Fernando after my last mechanic experience, he teaches me to trust again, taking more pay in stories than cash, and wishing me luck in my journey. I can tell that some people do a better job at inspiring themselves with my story than I do, and wonder what the secret is. I’m just some vagabond on a bike, learning the lost art of living.

Lost thrums with anticipation; I pack my belongings and say my goodbyes. We’re just getting started.

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If it was easy it would be a vacation, not an adventure.

If it was easy, it would be a vacation, not an adventure.

This is my mantra for when shit goes wrong, mentally laughing about “that time I found myself lost at night criss crossing through the city of Guadalajara”. I mentally place myself in the future where this is already a funny story, and decide that it doesn’t end in my finding the wrong neighbourhood and ending my adventure on a ballistic note.

Gibraltar? Guevara! No, something Italian-esque; all I can remember is it sounds garbly. The name of the street I’m looking for, at night, alone in a strange city in Mexico on a bike that is threatening to burst into flames. Everything was going fine until we got to the toll at the city limits. Turns out I’ve not properly put Lost back into working order and idling by the car wasn’t an option; the temperature needle steadily crept up towards Kaboom! until I realized there was no way to avoid catastrophe apart from speeding ahead and getting some air-cooling action. I pass the toll, and the motor chills out but I know it’s only temporary. Another, more diligent owner might just turn the bike off. But this biker knows it took a boost to get running and doesn’t want to shut down – it can be surprisingly hard to get a boost. Or not surprising, considering the multitude of schemes people are warned to avoid to keep from getting hijacked on the road. I’m fairly certain there are more permutations of the story where someone is robbed for stopping to help like a good samaritan than actual instances, if only for the volume of stories.

The needle shivers its way higher and higher, I give in and turn off to wait for my escort as I have no idea where I’m going.

Time goes by.

Annnnnnd the car doesn’t pass.

Or did it already pass?

Shit.

Now I’m lost with Lost and its dark and getting darker. But I remember, Garbly street. They live near the university. I ask a tow driver where the university is and if I can get a boost – I get directions and a runaround between the toll staff, a security guard, and the tow driver until some kind soul stops to say hi about a half hour later and solves my most immediate problem by boosting the battery so I can go play marco polo with a half-remembered address.

Okay, 98 problems to go… I ride in the general direction of the university and the city centre, which was easy to see from the hilltop toll station. It occurs to me several times that this is madness, but that’s been the modus operandi from day one and has worked out stellar so I just keep criss crossing streets, avoiding missing manholes in unlit intersections, blazing through what clear stretches I can find to cool the engine. It’s a give and take game where I have to balance my need to keep moving with my desire to not be lost amongst the feral city dogs and other predators of the night when/if Lost throws in the towel and leaves me pushing her uphill in search of… what was that street called again?

Ah HA! Garibaldi, I spot it, and it just feels right. I’m at least seventy percent sure this is the street. The last two times I thought I found it I was wrong, so the odds are in my favor.

…Right?

It ends, and I go back up the parallel one way to do another pass and just as I turn around I hear a shout. I turn, and lo and behold, my new friend Iris is waving me over!
Totally how I knew it was gonna go down.

I ride up my first flight of stairs (but don’t tell them that) into the courtyard of their lovely colonial group home to some impressed faces. I give my best “do it all the time” smile and get off the bike to greet everyone, we figure out what happened and I get set up in my friend’s room with my sleeping pad to end the day once again thankful for my seemingly infinite font of dumb luck and with a kiss and a promise to dear Lost; I have one thing to do in town and it’s get her fan fixed!

And all the adventures to come

“C’mon leg!”

My dad motivates his travel-stiffened limb to make it over the motorcycle seat with the same determination every time. Most times he makes it.

This time we’re in Loja, Ecuador. A typical lunch of legumes and potatoes fueled us up, and now we’re back on the road. Gotta make it to Quito for the flight out in a few days. Plenty of time and not too much distance to worry about, but as he has learned travelling on the back of my bike with me before, things don’t always go to plan.

It was pretty smooth sailing the first time when he met me in Belize in 2012, actually. We lazed about on the beach, made cowboy sock coffee, and only went for a short ride of a few hours as he was worried about his back not being able to handle it, and besides we didn’t have a helmet for him. That would be a serious problem anywhere but the coast. The ocean sun bleaches your worries to the faded beige of driftwood and suddenly everything seems alright, doable, don’t worry. So we just wrap him up in his keffiyeh (I’ve been using it as a travel scarf) and head out, no idea where, just let the cracked and pocked highways and byways of this new land lead us where they may.

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We stop at an intersection. Fields for at least half an hour in any direction, and here an incongruous huddle of a nondescript wood and corrugated aluminum shack leaning toward an open ended diner with simple furniture. But we’re hungry, so we decide we’ve gone far enough, and sit down to a homestyle lunch. An old timer sits across from us and eyes dad for a while before getting up the nerve to ask, “So what’s it like in Palestine?”.

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He complains a bit about his back when we get back to the beach but we’re both pleasantly surprised at how comfortable it is to ride together. Still, a couple of years later when he asks me to take him to Machu Picchu from Cuzco I make sure there are alternatives for him in case he has to tap out halfway. It’s a full day’s journey, loaded down, stopping to stretch out, taking photos, releasing tension after the narrow road taking us up into the mist through 61 hairpin turns after passing through the lost-in-time town of Ollantaytambo.

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The point where he really starts to regret it is when we reach the dirt roads. Every rut and rock is transferred through the bike’s strained suspension right to his aging spine. He toughs it out, I try to go slow, but the noises coming from my passenger tell me that this won’t be a two way trip on the bike.

Macchu Picchu is, of course, incredible. We get there early enough to lose ourselves in the thick morning mist, quickly escaping the tourist crowds until we are surrounded by nothing but the finely engineered masonry of the Inca. The isolation, our footsteps muted by wet grass, it feels as if we could be the first ones to discover this mystery. The muffled noises occasionally piercing the fog could be echoes from any when; the diffused light trying to make it through to us casts gives everything a timeless, desaturated cast.

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It doesn’t last, of course. The sun burns off the mist and tour guides lead their packs diligently through the twists and turns so they can get all the regulation selfies without wasting too much time. We enjoy a lull around the afternoon when everyone seems to tire and fade away. Not sure what to do with the place without anyone to lead them by the nose, the greater part of the crowd trickles back down to two-for-one piscos in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the mountain that is the jumbled mess of consumer worship one inevitably encounters in small towns swallowed whole by the tourist industry.

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It’s a two edged sword of convenience. And dad is glad for the convenience. After trekking down the train tracks once, he’s happy to take the train back to where we parked – and the tour bus from there to the asphalt. Without the extra weight, I blast through the dirt roads with the joyful abandon of someone who had forgotten to appreciate the mobility and resilience of their youth until given something to contrast it with.

Dad makes it to the end of the dirt road a long time later, as I should have predicted. It’s started to rain so we decide to stop there in the unfortunately named town of Santa Maria. I wander the few blocks of town through the drizzle, down the road a loud sound system is inviting everyone to the town party. I go get dad and we stand around the dirt courtyard marvelling at how everyone, young and old, seems to come out to celebrate. Even the steady rain that we’re avoiding under the tiled awning, people keep bouncing to popular Peruvian cantina tunes. A drunk hauls a shy girl to me and grabs my had to put us together, we laugh nervously but go with the flow and have a quick dance before escaping back to our beers. Dad pokes fun at me, “How’d you get to be so stiff? Your mom is latina, and I’m not like that. Get another drink in you, loosen up!”.

When we get back to Qusko the next day we are both hurting. My back is in worse shape these days thanks to straining it on a weeklong solo ride into the desert. I find myself asking my 77 year old dad to carry his own bag to the hotel room, and decide we both need a few days of rest.

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Cusqo is a hell of a town. Start walking from the old town and thirty minutes later you can find yourself hiking alone along the endless waves of the Andean chain. Tourists from all over the world bring in their money and the infrastructure just grows more and more polished. A tourist hub, it naturally attracts all the weirdos looking for weirdos, as I discover when dad meets a guy with a wizard beard in a funky hat at the main plaza and an hour later he’s sweating into his beard as he holds himself up between two chairs while walking on our backs. The city bursts at the seams with bars, restaurants and lodging for all budgets and tastes. Tacky souvenirs and girls posing with llamas for a dollar share ancient passageways to art galleries and cultural museums. On Saturdays you can wander into the local’s turf for the baratillo market where you can stock up on salvaged circuit boards and doll heads, empty medicinal glass phials and cheap imported products of all descriptions. Keep your hand on your wallet, I warn dad, but he’s too busy taking pictures. He is at least smart enough not to share a drink from a plastic bucket with me.

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He’s not quite as lucky with the frog soup from the San Pedro market. At least, that’s what we blamed – really, it could have been any one of dozens of novel foods I made him try. Despite my prediction that we’d be at if for a couple of weeks before he gave up for the comforts of home, he seems to have been inspired by these lands and says, “That was fun! Where to next?”. I suggest we ride down to Bolivia together, but some gastrointestinal distress on his part leads us to a doctor’s visit. He tests positive for a trifecta of bacteria, parasites, and amoebas. The doctor tells me I should get tested too, but I feel fine! Some antibiotics later, we’re ready to head out and he really learns what it is to live life to the unpredictable rhythm of the road.

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The Salar de Uyuni is a giant flat saltscape, a dehydrated sea that has left behind a thick white crust of salt covering the planet’s richest known lithium deposits. Nearly eleven thousand square kilometres of this austere landscape have humbled many adventurers, and inspired countless souls. I particularly want to explore the desert region south of the Salar, where I had come up on my motorcycle not too long ago and been almost defeated by the unforgiving terrain. But first, we need to make a quick trip south from Qusco to the Bolivian border on lake Titicaca; sacred site of Inca mythology and home to the Uros people who still build reed rafts to float homes on the lake – though no longer to protect themselves from invaders.

We leave Kusqo early enough to get there before dark, already savouring the fresh lake trout awaiting us at the finish line. A few hours later, we come upon our first roadblock-mob. I ride around them, then around a curve just down the road I see some semi trucks stopped in the road and several boulders and rocks. Behind them I can just make out another group. I try to sneak around the left side of one of the trucks but stop when I see they have filed out all the way to the ditch I would need to ride through. I try to start up again, but the bike bucks as I start forward – turns out I stopped just in front of a large rock. Because I’m on the edge of the ditch, when I put my foot down there’s nothing there. The bike falls over, and dad with it. I get him and the bike back up, but the way he’s cradling his scratched pinky finger lets me know in the future I will be dealing with tales of how I left him “pinned under the bike, bleeding and broken with a maimed hand!”. Storytelling runs in the family. Too bad I have a bigger audience, dad (=

The plot thickens as the roadblocks become increasingly difficult to circumvent, until I run into a wall of campesinos, country folk, resolutely holding fast while a trio of motorcycles idle in front of them. I park and walk over to find out what’s actually going on, and they explain that they are protesting the government’s decision to rob their region of the locally extracted gas and jobs promised, instead selling it abroad for pennies on the dollar to what they have to pay. The congregation grows and a speaker explains the situation to the crowd, rallying them to hold fast and send a message to those who consider them too insignificant to listen to. I agree to let them paint their protest slogan on Lost, but they still don’t budge on their roadblock. Another KLR rider makes an ass out of himself by trying to ride through the crowd, but the sturdy country folk hold fast – I will never forget the outraged lady in her typical skirts frantically beating on his helmet with her bag. Hours pass, we learn that our motorcycle companions are on a celebratory ride – another father and son, celebrating 30 and 50 years respectively.

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Riding with my dad isn’t something I really thought about so much, but after seeing how hard the journey had already been on him I understood. Time slowly siphons away all opportunities, until eventually all the things you could have done at any point, on a whim, are gone, and you have to content yourself with a smaller and smaller set of possibilities. Already, the joy we share on this journey is corroded by a body that can’t keep up. I understand this, and am grateful to him for sharing his indomitable spirit of adventure. It puts my own pain in perspective, and also reminds me to look forward – if I want to be able to do this at his age, I’m going to have to take better care of myself.

But for now, the mob is parting at last. A medical mission wants to get through in a truck and after heated debate they agree to let us all pass. It is late now, and we have to contend with this situation once more before arriving at the town of Juliaca. They warned us to avoid it so we go around, and I see the other KLR guy working on his bike in a parking lot. He’s having some trouble with his chain, I stop to help and we decide to head out together – it’s getting dark and they say the stretch between here and Puno is the worst.

It looks like a war zone. Telephone and light posts have been toppled, fires are smoldering on the road from tire fires, and rubble is strewn for kilometres. I thank dumb luck that I just put on a pair of auxiliary lights when my main goes out, and that I don’t hit any rocks in the stretch of darkness while I fumble to remember where I placed the switch. Three wheeled moto taxis, other motorcycles, and even the occasional car brave the obstacle course, with no respect for lanes, just trying to find a path through the maze of debris. My smile widens as I pick up speed, dad holds tightly as I deke between boulders and oncoming traffic.

We make it to Puno after riding for a good hour in the dark. The stars are beautiful, I turn my lights off from time to time just to look up and see them. I tell dad the circuit is faulty so he stops complaining. This will bite me in the ass later, when it really does fail.

When we arrive to town the KLR guy catches up with us, in the chaos we lost track of him and I never noticed that he stopped to pick up his footpeg when it sheared off on one of the boulders in the road. We get together for a bite and I get to hear dad tell his life story – one that I learn new facets of with every telling. All I knew at the beginning was that once upon a time he went to Europe for a quick vacation and ended up staying nine months, becoming a teacher, and even meeting his future wife. Hearing about how his horizons expanded and his wanderlust was tempered by his world view and society, I am filled with gratefulness for the upbringing I was given and the society I was born into. At the table we are three different generations of explorers, each manifesting their own personal definition of freedom. And we drink a toast to sharing a day filled with all the hallmarks of adventure: unexpected delays, obstacles, danger, friends, wonder, and beauty.

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Day of the Dead

 

Wild creatures rise with the sun.

Except when they’re hungover.

By the time I am dragged into grudging consciousness the hammock is a stifling oven and all I want to do is turn on the fan. This model only comes with rain-proof tarp and regret-resonating headspace, so I get out and get on the road.

Focusing on the ride drags from my fugue. The scenery shifts from coastal jungle to gentle hills as I make my slow progress. Previous communiqués have indicated that a couple of the ladies from my Copper Canyon adventure will be at the festivities. The world is a small place when you have a motorcycle.

Still, my progress is halting; the entire province of Michoacán is celebrating today and every cemetery has a stream of people going in and out.

Of course I have to stop in each town, how else will I be able to compare? In small towns the people are, as usual, the most interested in striking up a conversation with the armored traveler wandering through their midst. I’m treated to candied yams and aguachile, a delicious shrimp, tomato and spicy chili dish cooked by the acid action of lime juice (read: eat raw shrimp and pray you’ve already got the necessary immunities). The decorations on the graves range from incredible flower arrangements to a simple scattering of petals; all together it is a riot of colour. I soak in the festival atmosphere – it is ostensibly a day to spend with your beloved deceased, but the party is anything but dead. Booze and food are in steady supply, and cheery families keep waving me over or hamming it up for the camera.

I lose all trepidation as I realize that the sacred and the profane are delineations for the chapel – here people relax in empty graves and tread over lumps marking the simpler burials, there is none of the somber pomp of traditional Christianity. Everyone is relaxed, today is a festival day, candy and balloons being sold to the kids and there are even groups of ambulatory musicians competing for pesos in traditional mariachi garb. One group comes over to where I’m taking photos, a fellow with a tiny guitar moves his hands in a blur while his companion to his right begins to pluck at an upright bass, three more strings join in and they sing in soulful union while the family pauses to give audience. They continue for enough songs to earn their pesos and move onto the next funereal party.

My hopalong journey lands me in Patzcuaro just before dark, and I’m lucky to find a place where I can hang my hammock – everything is booked solid, I get the impression that once again showing up on a radical motorcycle and claiming to have ridden all the way from Canada shakes a little compassion out of people who are tired of the usual unprepared tourist.

One of the first things I see in town is a couple with their faces painted as skulls, but it turns out they’re just tourists from the capital and that’s the last I see of that. I’m trying to see what the fuss was all about but I arrived too late – all the ceremonies took place during the day. I suppose the big event must have been exciting but I don’t regret the way I spent my day.

I meet up with Kristina and Martina who are partying with a bunch of tourists, but they vanish and I find myself with a bunch of gringos; tequila keeps appearing from somewhere among the rising volume.

The next day I wander through town, there are artisans from all over and one of them catches my attention calling me “carnal”. I find out it means “kin”, decide I like it and decide to start using it. The guy has a decorative skull on display that would look great on Lost, so I break a rule and buy a souvenir. The markets are full of incredible craftsmanship and kitschy creations awaiting a poorly considered impulse buy.

Having saturated my memory card in artisan goods I seek out some sustenance, it’s going to be veggie sandwich today. I pick out just enough produce for one sandwich including a couple stalks of cilantro from a cheery gentleman selling from the back of his truck, an he waves my money away when I try to pay him. He picks up a chili pepper and says it’s a gift to me – says it’s called No te olvides de Mexico, Don’t forget about Mexico. I’ve never tried these before but trust that it will remind me at least twice.

Fed and content, I decide to head over to the island of Janitzio following a wave of endorsements. Naturally it’s the exact opposite of what I am looking for, a slope covered in restaurants and souvenir shops. I can’t help striking up a conversation with a local kid about how it feels to have your idyllic island invaded by tourists and turned into a showpiece. He seems happy to have the money coming in; I leave him to it and decide I’ve seen all I want to of this island. On the way down I find the tiny cemetery, decorated in traditional style, but today there is nobody around to celebrate with the dead and I have them all to myself.

On the boatride back I strike up a conversation with a dude with a ridiculous shirt and a couple of cute friends, one of whom I had seen earlier wandering around barefoot.

They invite me to go with them to check out Camecuaro, and promise that it’s worth it. I don’t really have anything next on the list so I fire up the bike and follow them to meet up with some friends waiting at the famous Aztec rounded temples. I’m not sure how they got there but there is one person too many for the two car caravan, so next thing I know a Spanish girl named Jara is riding with me. I give her my spare poncho and wrap her in my scarf so all I can see is her eyes but she’s already wet underneath, she holds close for warmth and we ride slow sandwiched between cars with blinkers on as night falls. The trees branch over the road, headlights painting an endless tunnel of phantasmagorical shadows as I follow my new friends on into the night with no clue where we’re headed; time seems to start to distort and undulate just like the hilly road as Jara falls in and out of sleep, squeezing me tight each time I tap her to reassure me she’s comfortable and not about to fall off.

When we arrive there’s not much to see, they fumble around in the cars for tents and get everything set up. Guitars appear and thrum, voices sing, others start rolling joints; a bag of bread rolls appears from somewhere and then chocolates and chips. Jara turns out to have an incredible voice once she unwraps herself and shakes out the cold from her wet limbs, and as the empties pile up everyone starts to realize they can sing. It’s not overly cold, but it’s not too warm either, so when A offers me to share the tent with her and her friend I gladly take her up on it. We keep each other more than warm, but her friend’s presence keeps the tent from getting too steamy despite her protests that she’s asleep, which makes it all the funnier when she starts quoting things we thought we were whispering only to each other.

The next morning I wake to a scene from another world.

Ancient trees line shifting turquoise waters, their bare roots gnarled and wrestling for dominance all along the bank. Gaily painted boats skim the surface as visitors paddle along, elegant ducks wander boldly among people, all under a the grey sky whose softly diffused light gives everything a dreamlike quality.

I wander around discovering the details of this strange place, my new bohemian friends playing in the trees and wandering half-clothed through the flooded parks and along winding walkways. It’s my kind of day.

After a swim in the lake a German couple studying in Guadalajara tell me to come stay with them a while. Turns out they live in a gorgeous hacienda style house with a bunch of other people, most of whom I’ve already met here. They’re all enthusiastic, artists, film students, dreamers, musicians, and I agree without a second thought.

The breeze halts its swirling chaos and focuses, this leaf in the wind finds itself once again seeing the patterns in the currents, a future I can barely hear the shape of, but definitely there, waiting for me.

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!”

What?

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.