Guanajuato, Guanajuato to Celaya, Guanajuato
Breakfast: one can beans, four eggs, two tomatoes, one potato, one bag of salsa… All of it sauteed in a disgusting amount of oil. Preemption. I climb the cobblestones and exit the city through a dark tunnel that resounds with the roar of cars and chokes with putrid exhaust.
I ride by myself, at my own pace and rhythm. I gained a bit of weight with Brin’s departure and it makes itself known. I ride slower than previously, while still stopping regularly to eat fruit, but my breaks are never any longer than a minute or two as I climb towards Juventino Rosas.
I stop for lunch and eat with men painting lines on the road. They have built a fire and alternate heating beans and tortillas on the comal.
Juventino Rosas sits in a valley hazy with smog. I drink a bottomless glass of pineapple juice at a roadside stand and I am sent on my way with a gift of Mandarines and a ton of advice. Celaya defies my expectations of an industrial hellhole strewn with powerlines and clogged with traffic. I effortlessly cruise into the city center where I eat several dinners.
I am not relaxed as I ride, I feel like I am lacking confidence in the world. I fight away the day, my mind constantly thinking about food, water, how many, what time, where, never thinking that it will all turn out alright and that I have limited control. The day seems lost to me.
Celaya, Guanajuato to Maravatìo, Michoacan
I awaken in a strange place that I occupy for only a few hours. Everything I do these days has a surreal quality, a detached feeling. I lose myself in thought frequently, apart from where I currently am. I am riding my bike on rural backroads of Mexico, crisscrossing the sierra. It seems like more of a concept than a reality. I don’t know how I got here, what I am doing, why I am doing it, where I am going…. I am not sure if I can answer any of these questions for anything in my life. I could give you a contrived answer. I thought I wanted time to think, time by myself?
Letting my mind free can be dangerous, there seems to be very little that it cannot deconstruct and bring into doubt.
I head once more again into the fray. I hope to beat some of the morning traffic as I have to ride on the highway for 20km to Apaseo el Alto. I have no such luck. I refuse to eat breakfast until I get off of this nightmarish stretch.
The road to Jerècuaro weaves through town and then begins to climb steadily, the theme for the day. Cliffs tower in either direction and the landscape is filled with cactus and wiry trees. Drivers on this road are vicious as there is no sholder, I am run off the road several times. A bus goes flying past me within inches, not an ounce of recognition.
A long straightaway climbs into the distance, I shift my hands to my drop bars and put my head down. Why do Mexican businesses cluster together? On the highway before Apaseo El Alto there was a 10km stretch of businesses selling caramel, hundreds upon hundreds right next to one another selling caramel at the same price. Aftwards came the pallet district, 4-5 kilometers of businesses buying and selling pallets. How does this….Holy fuck! An oncoming Coke truck wakes me from this reverie as it passes another truck and misses me by inches, the gust of wind almost knocking me over. Adrenaline courses through my veins.
I sing songs as I ride, parodies of Mexican banda music that invariably include the following lyrical constants: beso, labios, corazon, madrugada, alma, amor, cariño. I ride and sing with pride, regardless of my audience.
A Monarch Butterfly flits past me, dancing across the road. Maybe they are migrating right now? I ask around and I am told that the butterflies are around and to ride in the direction of Melchor Ocampo. After eating a half chicken in Jerècuaro, I set out in the direction of mountains and the town of Puro Agüita.
A man with a table full of coconuts? I slam on my breaks. I start to feel far away from home as I recline on the roadside and sip a coconut after the top is hacked off with a machete.
My cadence is roughly 80rpm, an average day is five hours at an average speed of 20km/hr. 80 x 60 x 5 = 24000 rotations. Sweat pours down my face as I climb in my highest gears. I ride into Maravatìo and feel like quite a spectacle as I ride around in search of lodging. I resist the recommendations to head out to the bus station, semen spraying rendezvous come to mind. The hotel turns out to be alright.
‘Hey, what’s up man?’ I hear from a guy examining the engine of a semi truck as I walk towards the city center.
Antonio tells me his story in perfect English: He moved to Santa Ana, California from Mexico 20 years ago since there were no jobs and too much corruption. He married another illegal immigrant and had two kids that were natural born citizens. Two years ago while driving his kids to school he was pulled over and obviously had no license. He was shipped back to Mexico with his family following soon after. He talks about each of his kids, enumerating their hopes and dreams. It is heart rending to hear these stories, to put a face to the ‘immigrant problem’ in America. The immigrant problem in America that consists of people who are in a sense more American than many natural born citizens, immigrants who want a better life and are willing to leave everything they have to pursue it.
The windows of my room rattle from fireworks and strobe from Christmas lights strung in the trees outside. High heels click down the hallway all night long.
Maravatìo, Michoacan to Melchor Ocampo, Michoacan
The champurrado that I drink on the roadside makes me breath steam in the cold air. I come across Antonio again as I am leaving town and we wish another well. I receive several distance estimates to Irimbo that are all various shades of wrong. As I climb out of the hazy valley where Maravatìo lies , the landscape moorphs as the mountains become steeper and their flanks are lined with pines. I know I am nearing my destination when every business, confusingly, is prefaced by the word Monarch. Irimbo is a strange town that gives me the impression of being on a slant, but a slant relative to the ground. Tilted in a way that makes no sense.
The mountains tower in the distance as the road wraps around their flanks, beams of light cut through the air as they energize particulate matter. The trees are thick and lush, water runs off the mountainside. I find myself in Ocampo, check into a placed called the Hotel San Carlos and catch a collectivo to the butterfly sanctuary.
At the sanctuary I am forced to take a man with me from a pack of loitering shiftless ‘guides,’ after 15 minutes of arguing. His claims of having attended school to learn about the area are dubious. The trail is cordoned off by ropes along its entire length, making it virtually impossible for even a person destitute of vision to get lost.
‘Why did you tell me that people get lost here regularly? Who could possibly get lost? The idiots from Mexico City that have never seen a forest before?’ I ask in befuddlement and irritation.
‘Yes! It is always people from Mexico City.’ We share a good laugh.
We get to their….roosting grounds?…. The air is filled with butterflies, they cover the abundant Oyamel Pines and every other extant surface. The
sanctuary exists within old growth trees that are virtually nonexistent in a country whose existence has been perpetuated by the hemorrhaging of natural resources. The trees vibrate with life, their branches grow and shape shift. The only audible sound is the fluttering of their wings as they flutter through the air and jitter on the branches that sag under their weight. They gather together in the afternoon to cluster together through the night and conserve warmth. They take flight in the morning at a time adjusted to the temperature and strength of the sun. A Monarch while migrating can cover roughly 120km on a clear, warm day and as little as 60km on a cloudy, cold day. A pattern very similar to my riding patterns.
As a couple of other tourists depart, I am left with one crazy Canadian named Dev. Dev is from British Columbia and is on his way to the End of the World Rainbow Gathering in Palenque, an event I will discuss later. The guides drop the rope and allow us to walk through the colorful trees, we walk mindfully to avoid killing any of the thousands of butterflies that litter the ground.
Have I ever seen millions of an individual thing at once before? I am
not sure if I can think of an instance, but it is impressive. Bark is barely visible on several trees. One lands in my hair and gently flaps its wins as I walk.
I catch a ride back to Ocampo with Dev and we grab some food in town. We walk through the central square in town and suddenly find ourselves running for cover as a group of kids rain fireworks down upon us. As I run from the square I ask one kid where I can buy fireworks and I spent every last cent that I have on fireworks, immediately a strategy comes to mind: Shock and Awe.
We light a mortar, in the middle of the square, which tips over and fires a horizontal fusillade of red. An all out war breaks out on in the plaza, resistance is more fierce than anticipated. The kids shout anti-American propoganda and are funded by shadowy figures on the periphery. Their small stature adds to their agility and ability to conceal themselves. They employ unorthodox tactics, such as running into stores, that lead to munitions lighting a towel on fire. Smoke and screams fill the plaza. I am the first to be injured, suffering blisters on my hands from letting the fuses burn down on entire fistfuls of fireworks, as I try to minimize my opponents ability to dodge them. In the end we clear the plaza and hold it until a group of well armed adults appear and we are forced to retire.
Fireworks are incredibly self-promotional.
Melchor Ocampo, Michoacan to Toluca de Lerdo, Estado de Mexico
I set out in my warmest clothes at 2500m. A relatively even landscape drops off into Zitàcuaro on switchback turns. I replicate the Doppler Shift to give pathetic peripetetics an even greater impression of my velocity. I slam on my breaks going downhill as I see a sign for Atole de Galletas, a soupy blend of crunched up cookies and milk that is everything its name promises. A modern day spin on a drink with thousands of years of history.
I always seem to find myself riding the wrong way in cities, something that bothers me far less than police and motorists. I hop onto the tollroad, weaving around the tollbooths with unstoppable confidence. I hope I get pulled over.
As I tackle an 18km, 1000m climb sweat cascades down my face. I aim it off the end of my nose into a crevice on my framebag, creating a small pool.
Michoacan is notable for the following reasons:
-A remarkably diverse number of dead animals on theroadside, their bloated bodies befouling the air to such a degree that I have come to associate the smell of rotting flesh with this state in particular. I try to study the smells, believing that I can honestly identify the scent of a dead dog before seeing its rigid carcass.
-Stunning scenery. This portion of the Sierra Madre has not been as deforested as in other areas. Rugged mountains rise over 3300m in all directions.
Climbing…climbing…climb… I reach the summit and the border between the two states. I see a 55 gallon drum billowing smoke with chicken carcasses splayed out across the top. I pull over and start shivering uncontrollably as soon as I get off my bike. The lady notices and invites me inside where she builds a fire. I change my clothes and savagely tear at the half of a chicken she places in front of me.
All ascents must come to an end at some point and after I eat I descend and hit a new highspeed at 73.6km/hr. I am run off the road at 45km/hr by a semi truck and narrowly maintain control in the loose rocks with my feet on the ground.
As I continue downhill a pickup truck follows behind me with its lights flashing, I ignore it. Eventually the driver pulls around me and then stops his truck to block my advance. I am flagged down and told that I am breaking the law, that bicycles are not allowed on the tollroad.
‘Sir, you a breaking the law. Bicycles are not allowed on the highway. It is too dangerous.’
‘Actually they are allowed on the highway. There is no other way for me to get to Toluca.’ I have no basis for this claim.
‘No they are not, it is too dangerous.’
‘I have never had a problem before, everyone has told me it is completely fine.’ A complete lie.
‘Sir, put your bike in the back of the pickup. We will give you a ride to Toluca.’
‘Put your bike in the bed, please.’
‘No thanks.’ I absolutely love confidently asserting what I want, making it clear that I am immovable. What are you going to do? Taze me bro?
‘I am going to get my boss out of the truck, hold on.’ I take this moment to refine my obstinancy and argument, I will throw in a romantic twist to my appeal.
‘Sir, what is the problem here?’
‘Look, I am riding to Mexico City to meet up with my girlfriend. I rode 2200km to get here on my bicycle, using my own power. I am absolutely certain that I will not get into your pickup. Thanks for your concern over my safety, but I can assure you that I am more concerned with my safety than you.’
They speak amongst themselves for a minute.
‘We aren’t going to call anyone else about this, but we cannot tell you that you are not going to have problems further on.’
‘That is fine. Thank you. See you later!’
I get my wish of being pulled over.
I find myself in the hellish sprawling madness of Toluca. I veer wildly around buses, taxis and cars. Car doors open, cars back out, buses merge, taxis stop. I run red lights, I swerve, I yell, I hit my brakes, I stand on my pedals, I spray black sootsnot out of my nose.
I eat ice cream and look at my map; I am going to center punch Mexico City on the 15. The main highway.
Toluca de Lerdo, Estado de Mexico to El Distrito Federal
I sleep like shit as Christmas lights, exterior to my room, cast their annoying glare upon my precious and fragile self. The liter of ice cream that I ate before bed is likely the actual culprit. I just can’t hold my choices or ice cream responsible for my restlessness. I cough up something black into the sink and leave it there. It tastes acrid with carbon and chemicals. The smog is so dense that I never see the 4700m volcano Nevado de Toluca.
As I nimbly weave through the rush hour traffic, I give in. I didn’t think it would ever come to this, it just wasn’t supposed to be this type of trip. My mom warned me though, and I adhered to her advice out of my respect for elders and family structure. Conditions change, your perspective must mature and aquiesce to the capriciousness of life. Life simply cannot just be about looking good as you valiantly cut through blunt machines manufactured for murder without a modicum of protection. I don my construction worker’s vest. Neon orange stripped with neon yellow reflective material.
I drink an orange juice blended with raw Quail’s eggs. Vamanos!
Speed is your friend in congestion. I feel like an auctioneer that is also a professional boxer. I am ducking and fluttering, confusing my opponents by shouting utter nonsense. I begin my climb into the mountains that cradle Mexico city.
I am passed by a road biker who looks like a factorymade chorizo in synthetic casing. He doesn’t wave at me or say anything as he barely manages to pass me on his carbon fiber bike. He is constantly looking back at me as he pedals hard, judging himself against someone on a bike that weighs 62kg.
I race a truck that is belching carbon, a more fair opponent. I stand up and pedal hard and put some distance between us. I finally slow from exhaustion, hooting and shouting pour out of the truck cab.
I reach the summit. I made it. I sit in disbelief and eat fruit as cars stream past. The real fruit though is the 10km descent into the city, I take over an entire lane with complete disregard for the angry muppets who pass me. The city suddenly expands in all directions, smoldering in its own effluence. Several potholes have metasticized to entire sections of the road and I am nearly airborne.
I split lanes. I diverge off the thoroughfare and find myself in the leafy neighborhoods of La Condesa.
At the hostel I bore the living shit out of some unsuspecting backpackers with stories of my travels and my self importance.