Leaving Mascota we knew we were faced with another 2000m(ish) day of climbing. Unlike the previous day of torture, this was slightly longer and had just as much decent, so that at any one particular time we were either going up or going down, never flat. We went straight from the bone shattering cobbles of town straight into a 10k climb, properly in the mountains again it was wonderfully picturesque and had I not been hauling myself around on a heavily laiden bicycle I feel it would have been quite a beautiful ride. Unfortunately the old iPhone does not do things justice and it’s only my imagination that now hold those images in my brain. The climbing for pretty much all of that day was never completely awful, it was always easiest gear territory but never too wobbly, and never getting quite down to the 2.5mph range of the days before. One thing was for certain though, we were in bandit country. I didn’t think too much about it when we were overtaken by our first police convoy. approx. 15 police trucks winding their way past us in the mountains. We must have then leap frogged them somewhere because a coupe of hours later they passed us again, now all fully loaded with blue barrels. I only knew it was the same set of cars because all the police cars are identified by numbers painted on the back and I had managed to absentmindedly recognise most of the 15 that passed. It was after this point that Herb mentioned to me all the bullet holes in the road signs, something I had up until this point completely failed to recognise. Yet low and behold the next road sign we passed did indeed have at least 30 bullet shaped holes penetrated though the metal. As if our two pointers towards being in Mexican bandit country hadn’t been enough at one point pretty much at least 30k for any sort of civilisation we came across a family picnic. Well to the naive Brit that exactly what it looked like to me, about thirty people of all ages who all seemed to be having a bbq on the side of the road in the mountains. I waved and did my best Hola like I do whenever I see people on the road, they mostly responded, smiling and waving – laughing at my cycling ability and my lack of coping with the heat. Then I saw one of the children, well he looked younger than my brother (who is 13) and he was holding a rifle, with a smile. I still have no idea if it was real or not, maybe they were out for family shooting practice on the local highway code and had just stopped for a snack!? Still, despite all of this I can 100% say I did not feel threatened in any way. maybe this again is me being naive, but that’s the truth.
After six hours we were still riding and it was still hilly, going uphill was somewhat awful but enjoyable in the way that you know every meter you climb is a meter you do not have to do again. We crested over a little summit and were met with a long straight road on a slight decent, only the mountains had been hiding something. The wind. I had not realised up until this point just how windy it had become. I was cycling slightly downhill, on a 45kg bicycle which should have been letting gravity take control, struggling to pedal and keep my speed around 7mph. This section, although only in reality about 2 miles long was the worst of the entire day. Luckily I had Winston Churchill (via Dr Tommy K) ringing through my ears ‘if you’re going through hell, keep going’. The only way this day was going to end, was to keep pedalling. I’ve done enough stupid endurance races to know that the pain does end, I will be able to crawl into a bed for the night, and when I’m in that bed and it’s all over the pain won’t seem anywhere near as bad and I will always ask myself if I could have pushed harder. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (via Kanye West). at what seemed like forever on the bicycle, which in reality was only about seven hours we finally crested the top of the last mountain, it was 23km all downhill and into town. The decent was fabulous, and this time Gravity did it’s job on me and my heavy steed. It was during this last decent we had our last encounter with our favourite police convoy. This time coming towards us, same cars, without the big blue barrels and mostly all smiling and waving at us as they passed. Maybe thankful a couple of gringo’s had negotiated the mountains safely, or maybe just more friendly Mexicans? Either way the gesture was appreciated and we coasted into Ameca and onwards towards our last day on the bike of 2016.
Without boring everybody with another blow by blow account of our last day cycling I will condense it into the only two mildly interesting events that happened… we had met some lovely people in a car park of Guerrero Negro who had offered to look after our bikes for us while we fly back to Tijuana for Christmas with Herbie’s family. We had their address and were relying on Garmin to navigate the way for us. We’d been on the road over 3.5 hours, were tired, hungry and Garmin was taking us the most ridiculous way possible. We stopped for a quick debate over whether to just take the motorway and suck fumes or trust Garmin and take the supposedly cycle friendly scenic route. I immediately regretted our decision, we swung right into a village and within 100m were negotiating some of the most horrendous cobble stones so far. I unclipped from the pedals and used the other ‘non cleat’ side so if I fell there was a higher chance of saving both myself and bike from an unpleasant spill. We were cycling through the dead centre of a small town and were at least providing amusement to the locals sat on the steps outside their shops, a couple of gringos crawling along looking like were riding bucking broncos rather than bicycles. I’d dropped behind Herb by about 50m or so but wasn’t too concerned as he was still in sight, this was until he turned back to me and yelled angrily ‘CAN YOU GO ANY SLOWER?!’ I didn’t realise we were racing and had by that point prided myself that I had remained upright, before I knew what was happening I heard myself shouting in response ‘F*CK YOU!’ Those gringos, bucking their way though a small cobbled town just got a lot more amusing… Looking back Herb says as soon as those words started to leave his mouth he knew it was a bad idea, but he was hangry, we both were and took the next immediate opportunity to sit in the shade of a petrol station and eat some lunch (Herbie apologised immediately for his outburst). Unfortunately we were now committed, Garmin route it is ’till the end. It took us past a ‘lake’ where the water had all but gone and was mainly replaced by a gentleman taking his cow for a walk on a lead. Another small village filled with cobble stones and the road started to climb. We had one more mountain pass to conquer and it was looking like tarmac hadn’t reached this one. Eventually the cobbles and gradient got even too much for Herbie and we were both resigned to dragging our steeds upwards. As we reached the top of the cobbled road it smoothed out (a little) to be replaced with a dirt track snaking its way up the mountain, not knowing how long the road was or how far we had to climb I put on my ‘climbing playlist’ and my phone on full blast in my back pocket. It’s amazing what a little Missy Elliot can do for motivation. We climbed and climbed hairpin after hairpin, occasionally passing shrines and once a man riding a donkey. Yes a donkey, like Mary on the way to Bethlehem, had my Spanish been a little better I would have negotiated my bike for a donkey right there and then. It was a sign, it was our last day of bike riding before Christmas and here I was cycling up a frikkin dirt track in a million degree heat while Jesus himself overtook me on a donkey. Ok, maybe it wasn’t Jesus (although the name is popular down here) but it felt like a fitting end to our last day mounted up. If only that had been the top….
Since then we hop skipped it to Tijuana on a plane, which was a bit funny since we’d been here only a few weeks earlier and peddled our way south. It has been absolutely wonderful seeing familiar faces for Christmas and spending my time doing mostly nothing apart from reading, jumping into the ocean and eating. The mind is a funny thing though and I’ve been finding the nothing really really hard to deal with. Not wanting to sound ungrateful in any way shape or form, seeing Herbie’s family has made me extremely homesick. Here I am, on an adventure of a lifetime where other people would poke their eyes out to be in my position wishing I was 5000miles elsewhere. I’ve been grumpy and I’ve cried more in the last week than I have in the last three months. I went out running, something which has been my saviour, something i’m usually quite good at. It was awful, which only made me even more upset. Just eight months ago I ran 50miles in just under 8:30hrs, three days ago I ran 5.6miles at barely 9min/mi pace and felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Homesickness has never struck me so hard before and being around really wonderful people who have done everything they can to make christmas special has made it a little harder, only because they aren’t my family and nothing is the same as my dad being a little tipsy reading ’twas the night before Christmas’ on Christmas eve. Again, I’m trying really hard not to sound so ungrateful, these lovely people have flown half way around the world to spend Christmas with us, all because WE decided to leave. BUT all I want to do is be at home right now. I don’t really care about the route we’re taking South. Do we go to Belize or not? In my heart I care, but up on the surface, the bit which is ruling my emotions right now really does not. Flying back to Guadalajara to collect the bikes feels like a massive chore that I really cannot be bothered to complete.
I’m writing all this with my emotions and I’m drinking a beer which is probably making my emotions even more emotional. It’s a bit like waking up at 5:30am in the middle of winter to fit in a 10mile run before work. You REALLY don’t want to get up, the bed is warm and comfortable and nobody will tell you off if you don’t go. But. As soon as you step foot out the door you’re glad you did. That’s what bike touring is for me right now. I want to go home, back to our flat, back to my job, go running before work, catch up with friends for coffee and see my family for the weekend. In my heart of hearts though, I know that as soon as we’re back on the bike, as soon as we’re heading south once again i’ll be glad we are.
One thing is for sure though, next Christmas will be at home.