It feels a bit weird getting off your bike for a while after you've been on it for 6+ hours a day, six days a week for 2 1/2 months. While Kelly and I vacationed with her parents along the Sea of Cortez, everything felt amazing - plenty of sleep, and leisurely mornings sipping coffee on our beachside patio, American football on a pirated Canadian satellite feed, a full kitchen and home cooking. We'd gone from spartan days cycling across the desert to a comfortable facsimile of home. After three days I forgot all about the irrepressible fatigue I'd felt on the stretch from Guerro Negro to Posada Concepcion. On that second peninsula crossing, I'd dreaded getting on my bike in the morning for the first time on this trip. My arms felt leaden and the morning sleepiness that normally burns off after a few miles of riding would haunt me throughout the day. It was for that fatigue that Kelly and I decided to take an extended rest when her parents came down. For those first few days, the rest felt as wonderful as it always does. But in the middle of our vacation I'd find myself exhausted for no discernible reason, I felt foggy most days, and my muscles more sore than they'd been since the first days of the trip. Out of the rhythm of riding, my body was finally letting itself recover and it didn't feel good. Kelly was in the same boat, but getting to spend so much time with her parents made everything a little easier. She'd wake at 6am to chat with her mom over a cup of coffee and leave me passed out in bed. I did not complain.
When our vacation was up, and Kelly's parents had to fly back to Ohio, we packed our bikes on top of their rental Durango and took a ride to La Paz. We made a conscious decision to sacrifice our final stretch of the Baja (259 miles and third desert crossing) to the internal combustion engine. The rational was this: we needed the rest. We couldn't take more than a few days without getting far behind schedule. Behind schedule we'd have to wear ourselves right back down to catch up. This is the problem with trying to cycle 10,500 miles and having a hard deadline to finish: most decisions yield to an unforgiving calendar. Both Kelly and I knew we'd made the right decision for ourselves and for our journey, but as we started down the road from Loreto I couldn't help but feel a cheater. Sitting in the air-conditioning, speeding along at 100km an hour, floating up a twisting mountain road like gravity wasn't really that powerful after all, devouring chunks of desert in 45 minutes that would take us a long, hard day to ride, it was luxurious and foreign and made me grumpy as hell. Gone was reading minor wind shifts, analyzing terrain, monitoring what effort was sustainable, smelling a change in environment before I could see it, or having a continual conversation with my body. Instead it felt like were in a sealed capsule with the only purpose of getting from A to B. It reinforced my appreciation for what makes traveling by bike valuable.
Unfortunately, our arrival in La Paz was only the start of a stretch of motorized transport for us. Our plan had been to ride the 18 miles from La Paz to the ferry terminal and catch a boat to Mazatlan. Problem was that all the ferries to Mazatlan were booked clear through to January. While this seemed a bit fishy, we weren't about to wait around an extra day for a boat and not be able to get on. The only other option was to take a boat back north to Topolabampo and then load our huge pile of gear onto a bus to get down to Mazatlan. Suffice to say, by the time we made it to Mazatlan we were fully ready to get back into the rhythm of riding and see what mainland Mexico had to offer.
Getting out of town was a shit-show as bad as Tijuana. It felt like a different country compared to our past few weeks on the Baja. Here there were a helluva lot more people, and they were in a hurry. Schwan compared it to riding through Kansas, then getting dropped in the middle of Manhattan on your bikes and having find your way out. But find our way out we did, and soon we were out amongst the fields and farms and marveling at the greenery. Plants that aren't thornbrush and cacti! Look, this bridge has actual water underneath it! That side road is actually paved! It was all very exciting.
The road cut inland, amongst the low foothills of the Sierra Madres and we were confronted by the force of the mainland heat. We rode 47 miles the first day, then 57, then 52. We didn't want to ride that far but there was nowhere else to stay. The roadside was thick brush and standing water, bugs, furry white jumping spiders, and 2-3inch diameter snake carcasses. Not exactly anywhere to pitch a tent. We'd wake at 4:00am to be loaded and riding at sunrise. A few hours of pedaling before it became too uncomfortable, longer breaks when the sun was out in force. It was a good thing we'd rested, because the heat exhausted us like the steepest mountains. After three days we made it to Tuxpan, and the only place we could find to stay was the shittiest motel Kelly and I have seen yet. Grime smeared walls, toilet with no seat, the sheets and floors were clean but the mattress puffed dust and dirt that could've hid all manner of bugs when Kelly pressed it. So we laid our sleeping pads and bag on the tile and cooked outside. I tried to write. "Writing from the shittiest hotel we've had yet. Last option though. Rode 52 through some brutal heat," was as far as I made it before my eyes got the dry scratchiness that means I need to close them and focusing long enough to transfer thoughts from head to paper became near impossible.
At 6:45 the next morning we were bumping through the motel's courtyard, over cast stones that ride worse than cobbles. The traffic was already heavy: those who have cars speeding to work, those who don't walking in single-file groups along the roadside. It was already 70 degrees when we left town and headed back into the minor foothills of the Sierras. It was our first climbing of noticeable length since we hit the mainland. The heat came early, and by 9:20 we'd stopped at a Pemex, Mexico's national oil company's gas station, for cold water to dump on our heads. So the day became a series of leaps between shade and water stops. 94 degrees by 10:30, topping out at 96 about noon. I've never seen Kelly so hot, her face red and dripping with sweat like mine after a spray. Perversely, seeing Kelly's struggles bouyed my spirits. Knowing she was that hot made my perceived suffering seem justified. For her part, Kelly did an amazing job not getting grumpy from the heat, resigned as she was to the inescapability of it (although she can sweat, Kelly has a profound hatred of the heat). On we rode.
Our fortunes have improved immeasurably since then. I'm finishing this post on the tail end of two days of rest that we've earned from our 4 long days of riding. We've been eating delicious meals in a sleepy little beach town and lounging by the pool and in the courtyard of our wonderful hotel - an old rail building dating to 1883. Life swings pretty quickly from pleasure to pain when your on a trip like this, gotta enjoy the good stuff while you have it.