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.