Before I get too far I want to announce to the whole world that tomorrow is my birthday, and it’s not just any birthday. It’s my Golden Birthday. This shall be a fantastic celebration. It is a tradition in my family that when the age you are turning reflects the day of your birth it is golden. It isn’t that much different than a regular birthday. You still get to pick out a special sugary cereal. You still get pancakes with your age drawn out in them with batter. You still get to go to your restaurant of choice and have your own day. But this time it’s Golden. It’s hard to describe how special it is. It’s simply something you feel and know. And how am I celebrating my Golden Birthday? I’m in Mexico, man! What else do I need? But really, I will be around great friends, probably do some surfing and some drinking and eating. It’s a whole day affair. Do I want Davin to bah like a goat? Yup. He’s doing it. Does Acey have to cut off his mutton chops? You bet. And you better believe that Julie is speaking in pig latin all day. And more importantly, a smile is required to enter the celebration realm, laughter is mandatory and perhaps so is eating without utensils. I think backwards pants are in order along with silly hats. Plus, I want all of you to drink at least one beer in my honor. And if you don’t imbibe, strawberry milk will suffice…but not as well.
Also, if any of you got the crazy idea of giving me a gift I will remind you of my donation page. But also please consider helping out two organizations that I love. The first being my former employer, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. They do a lot of great work promoting bicycle, teaching bicycle safety, and lobbying for better laws to protect cyclists and streets to accommodate them. Please support their great work. The second is the orphanage that I worked at back in Uruapan, Missions Network International. They have a gorgeous orphanage that provides a home for 18 kids and they focus on family instead of simply providing shelter. Please support their gracious and loving homes.
A lot of friends and family are concerned for my safety on the Mexican roads. The Americans and Canadians driving their camper vans and trucks down Baja also are worried by my brazen courage. Although I’d like to claim that you need armored skin and nerves of steel to ride in Mexico – it simply isn’t true. The drivers in Mexico are actually the best drivers I’ve come across, and I analyze drivers and their behavior like fantasy basketball players analyze statistics. Nearly every semi-driver throws large waves and smiles at us and grazes the roadside gravel on their tires to give us space. But then there are those moments when you see a sign that reads CURVA PELIGROSA and a ripped barrier is sheared and hanging over a dropoff, behind it are small wooden crosses for Manuel or Roberto resting in a field of splintered windshield pieces and a truck rushes by and you think “What the hell am I doing riding my bike through the desert of Mexico?!” You look up and see circling above the outlines of pink mesas and unworldly cactus (I know cacti is the correct pluralization, but can I just say how stupid that word is? It sounds stupid to say and feels even stupider to write) offer strange poses.
There was a lot of boring in between Catavina and San Juanico. The heat was so hot that it burned away any beautiful scenery that could hope to grow in that wretched climate. Plains stretched, cars disappeared and vultures circled. The only reason to be on that road was to travel south. Geraldo had warned us that the stretch was barren and food and water would be hard to find. I have a friend who rode all of Baja last year and also warned me of this stretch. Unfortunately I had forgotten her advice to stay in my tent if there was any extreme wind.
Outside of Catavina I was drawn from slumber by my shaking tent and the sound of Sir Norte crashing to the ground. It wasn’t Acey and Davin and Julie attacking me. It was the wind telling us we weren’t welcome. We set off despite the strong headwinds, fighting them all the way. A giant hill towered above us that may well have been the biggest ones we had faced outside of Big Sur. Multiple times as I climbed the steep grade the wind blew sideways at me from the left side and nearly blew me off the road. To compensate, I leaned fiercely to stay upright. I heard a truck struggle to drive up the hill and the driver probably looked at me and thought I was puppet being dragged by strings because of my exaggerated leaning. As it passed me it cut off the whipping gusts of wind and I almost fell under the tires of the truck without the support of the wind. You know the trick of pulling out a chair before someone sits? For a short while the road curved and allowed me to ride with the wind at my back, but it wasn’t very long until it twisted around to point me head on into the dragon’s breath. The only thing that got me through the grueling madness were the primal shouts of rage I shouted at my blowing tormentor. ¨Gyagggeeehh..Stab your face!¨ ¨What’s your problem, dickmonger!!!!¨ The curses and non-sensical grunts somehow gathered strength from deep within me and provided the slowest cadence to push through the wind and the bumpy road. Then the road turned to the right, placing the wind on my left and allowing it to finally remove me from the road. I finagled my way back onto the asphalt and resumed my torture. I have no idea what I did to the wind or what treasures lay at the top of the hill for the earth to want to eradicate me so badly. Then, just in time to face the wind directly again, the road steepened. More cries drew whatever strength I was reserving to push me up those slopes of hell. I wanted to stand to provide more leverage, but I knew that it would only create more drag against the wind.And then I was at the top. I was about to laugh with joy but a vortex of wind rushing at maximum velocity sucked it right out of me. I fought through the downhill to find shelter and catch my breath from the horrors of the hill.
And shelter I found. Five blown out truck tires on the side of the road in the middle of a flat plain so whipped by wind that not even grass stood there. I stacked the tires on top of each other and climbed in. The whole structure trembled from the invisible shrieks outside. Over a half hour later my friends came upon my swirling hair and laughed at my goofy home or possibly at the unbelieveable weather.
Stupidly, we pushed on hoping the road bent and provided a section of tailwind or we found a better spot to camp. We found neither, and it got to a point where it just wasn’t safe to ride anymore. Julie was swept off the road eight times. Acey crashed 12. Davin and I feared for the skin on our bodies as the wind savagely ripped at them. I found a small turnoff to park our bikes in with a drainage to hide from the wind. I quickly came up with a half-brained idea to try and hitchhike the rest of the days kilometers. We all agreed to take turns sticking our thumbs out. but Acey was a bit skeptical. Julie and I did first shift. I flagged down a truck with a packed camper. I ran after it to keep it stopped on the fast highway for as little time as possible. Inside was a young German couple with their newborn child safely snuggled into a carrier between them. As we talked and realized they couldn’t help us their vehicle wobbled back and forth and threatened to topple onto me. Frightened, I thanked them and resumed my past. Before my shift was through Acey approached me. ¨You here to relieve me?¨I asked.
¨Not exactly.¨ Apparently, Davin and Acey, after spending the time eating, reading, and rejuvenating gave up hope and didn’t think we were going to be able to flag anyone down and didn’t want to do their shift. Acey wasn’t into the idea from the first place, but didn’t want to say anything.
It’s silly to write about it now, but I was pissed! I felt complete abandonment from the crew. There I was in the middle of a dreary desert trying to get to somewhere and after shuddering in a terrifying windstorm I discover nobody has any backbone. I’ve now come to realize that I had a bad idea but it also came at a point where I felt like our group couldn’t work together. We didn’t agree on riding plans. We argued over visions of the film. And then, behind my back they decide not to uphold the plan we had agreed on.
We flirted with the idea of taking a lunch, recuperating and riding on, but after boiling with anger and dropping my bike onto my leg. I told them I was done for the day and set up camp. I spent the rest of the afternoon and night in solitude. The next morning the wind was gone but in its wake was a foul mood and distrust. Everything is better now, but that day was one of the lowest of the trip. We now refer to it as ¨The Day That Shall Not Be Mentioned.¨
Did I mention that it’s my birthday tomorrow?