Monday, October 08, 2012

You may call me Seῆor Hipster


I haven’t ridden a bike in Mexico for quite a few years. I’ve allowed fear and changes to my favorite route to put me in a frame of mind where it’s easier to just bring the bike on a 1500 mile round trip instead of actually unpacking it and taking it out on the road. It’s funny too, because my Mexico phobia came right at the end of my riding in China which was certainly far more risky. For some reason, I simply lost my nerve.

Part of it had to do with changes to my favorite route. A shortcut between San Carlos and Guaymas, the road used to be silky smooth and relatively light on traffic. It was built and essentially ignored for years, and during this time I became accustomed to a scenic, safe 15 mile out and back that allowed me to climb some hills and enjoy the seaside scenery. But then over the course of the last 5 years or so it became very busy with cars driving at speeds woefully inappropriate for the road itself. Couple that with the modern texting-while-you-drive phenomenon, and I decided I was done with it. I’d come full circle from being afraid to even drive in this country to timidly riding my mountain bike on unused dune roads to venturing out on the highways to not riding anymore. On this trip though, I decided enough was enough and that it was time to get back on the horse, metaphorically speaking.

Beginning my 2-step recovery with an auto trip to reconnoiter the old route, I was surprised to see how bad the pavement had become. Too many years of salt and moisture had rendered most of the surface into the worst example of wrist numbing chip-seal that I’d ever seen. Oddly, many sections were still in good condition, as though the asphalt machine had been set improperly every hundred yards or so. On the whole though, it was bad and I knew it wouldn’t be a pleasant ride so I made a plan to simply ride from the home base out on the main road and return, perhaps with an additional mile or two on the relatively safe frontage roads that border the main boulevard into San Carlos.  A nice, safe, 10 mile trip guaranteed to get me over my fear and one consistent with the demands that a hot and humid October morning places on anyone exercising outdoors.

The next morning I left the condo complex and got comfortable just rolling along. Turning right onto the main road, I stayed on the elevated lane that the road designers had included for strollers, runners or cyclists who happened to find themselves 5 miles out of town in the middle of the desert. Two miles into it, I found myself at the corner to the old route, today for some unexplained reason being guarded by a motorcycle policeman. I said “Buenas dias” and made the right turn, suddenly having the nerve to ride the old way. I left the main road and climbed up the first hill. The road surface was so bad that my stem mounted computer slowly shifted down and to the side to the point that it was vibrating against the handlebar. Taking my hand off the bars to correct it opened the real possibility of bouncing right off the bike so I did it as fast as I could. My auto inspection of the road was spot on – it was terrible, at least until I hit the first patch of decent road.

I kept on going, making a plan every quarter mile or so to throw in the towel and turn around. I passed an old man on a bike with milk crate strapped to the back – out collecting aluminum cans. A few cars went by quickly, but not so much to jar me. At least not as much as the road surface that seemed to be getting worse and worse. The scenery hadn’t changed - the deep blue and turquoise of the Bahia San Francisco, the deep green of the mountains above and the mangroves below. A spotless blue sky. It was perfect and I was back on the bike!

Six miles into it, I had to make a choice – big hill ahead and me on a single-speed bike – so I turned around figuring that 12 miles or so was a nice reintroduction. I was feeling pretty good and coasting downhill towards home when I was buzzed by an SUV going probably 80 miles per hour. Arizona plates of course and an instant reminder why I was out here and why I hadn’t been. Between the quality of the road and the threat of the cars, I concluded that this route was history for me but at least I had reached that decision on a bike.

When I arrived back at the main road, a different policeman was now directing traffic, even odder when you consider that the number of cars through this particular intersection probably numbers in the dozens on any given day. Two cyclists buzzed by in the far lane as I made my left turn, giving me something to chase. As I rode along in pursuit, I began to see road cyclists on the opposite side of the road, a truly unusual thing here. I don’t think I’ve seen more than 5 roadies in all my years of riding and driving around these parts. But there they were, and the numbers kept increasing. After a few dozen more, it dawned on me – I was in the middle of an organized bike event. A Mexican Century if you will. What an odd turn of events, to head out for a short mental recovery ride and end up in a pack of cyclists out riding together on a planned route.

I closed the gap on the two riders I had seen when I turned and blew by them smiling. One said “Mira” to his friend who instantly picked up the pace and latched onto my wheel. I knew at this point he was checking me out, because no rider on a geared bike likes to get passed by someone on a single-speed. I could see his shadow merged with mine and we rode on like that for a couple of miles. I had no idea where I was going or where this event was starting and ending, but I figured I had nothing better to do so I’d just stick with it and see where it took me. I let up a bit on my speed and the guy on my wheel went by. He dropped down into his aero bars as if to say “You had no chance” and I granted him that. I stayed back and let him lead. We rode on into San Carlos and I found myself getting pretty interested in where this was taking me. A cop on a motorcycle was riding with a cyclist up ahead and other policemen – machine guns at their side – were posted at every intersection. The roads were pretty much empty as we rode from one end of town to the other.

We were closing on the last main intersection in town and I decided if the cyclists went to the right, the trip was over for me. I had no idea how many miles I had to ride to get back to my condo, and heading out into the desert on the other side of the town didn’t interest me. It was getting late and hot, and I wasn’t prepared for a slog like that. But as we hit the final traffic circle, my leader, the motorcycle cop and the other cyclist all lined up to turn left, so I followed. We wound our way through the last bit of town and down towards a beach club near the grocery store we used to use. At the end, my leader took a left and yelled his rider number at a man at the finish. As I passed the man asked for mine and I shouted, “No tengo!” which made him laugh out loud. I’d completed the race I didn’t enter, finishing with the leaders and yet with no prize awaiting me. I pedaled past the people climbing off their bikes and headed back towards home, passing the next wave of finishers.

The end result was 22 miles and an arrival just before it became unbearably hot. My mental block was broken, I was back on the road and I’d done it in style.