Saturday, September 19, 2015

The First Few Days


Well... I think it´s safe to say we've found adventure!

Our journey south in the car was about as ridiculous as you might expect. About 3 too many bags of chips, infinite brownies, and loud singing of the Spanish alphabet as a final attempt at learning the language. Talking with our Spanish guide, Laura, we quickly learned we are in fact not fluent, and spent more time emphasizing key phrases and ways to avoid speaking such as pointing and asking "What's this?"

After spending one last night in the United States at the finest of Super 8s in Laredo, and eating a Texas shaped waffle in the morning, we crossed the border and were amazed at the instant transition. Immediately, it felt like we were in Mexico, with small concrete buildings and signs entirely in Spanish. For the next few hours, we happily failed to read every billboard as we made our way south to Monterrey. By some crazy stroke of social media luck, we found out that a friend of a friend lived in Monterrery and was willing to host us for the first night. Since we didn't really have internet or cellphone coverage, we managed to track him down by going in a Holiday Inn, pretending to be guests, and utilizing the free internet in the business area. Yes, that counts as survival skills. When we finally found our guy Matt, we quickly realized just how lucky we were to get connected. Our first night in Mexico was spent on a rooftop with some beers overlooking the entire city. Matt also drove us to a taco restaurant with a salsa bar I´m still dreaming about.

The next morning, we took off through Huesteca Canyon because we knew it would have no traffic. Even though it was supposedly more gravel, we thought it would be suitable training. Let´s just say we didn't know how much training we were about to get :) Sitting at lunch our first day, we were embarrassingly tired. The road up to the canyon was paved, the actual "road" in the canyon was a dry river bed, complete with deep gravel and rocks. I don´t know if you've ever tried to ride a weighted bike through and old river, but believe me when I tell you it is one of the most tiring things imaginable. Like running a marathon in 6 inches of water. To make it even more fun, we had almost no downhill add day, and even had to push our bikes up steeper parts of the trail that were truly unrideable. However, the most redeeming part of the experience was we all got to suffer together, and the scenery was absolutely stunning.

Understandably, we slept incredibly well that night and a bit of a slow start in the morning, especially when we realized Jon had popped the first tube of the trip. Low on water and tired from the day before, we hoped the worst was behind us. We were wrong. The day turned into a contest of saving energy rather than maximizing speed or efficiency. Under a very hot sun, we worked incredibly hard and were only able to cover 15 miles. But I promise you, we earned every single one of those uphill miles.


Taking Us In

Eventually we rolled into a small mountain town called San Antonio. We were working through our broken Spanish, asking for a place to camp, when eventually a family was insanely kind to us. They first offered a place to camp, but it turned into all the apples we could eat from their tree, a huge dinner, a bed for each of us, a small soccer game with their 8 year old son Kevin, and breakfast in the morning all for free. I´m not sure if it´s because we smelled so bad or because we looked so tired, but their humble hospitality was incredibly appreciated. The next morning, we had enough energy from a full stomach to push our bikes the next 5 miles over the pass and out of the valley.

From the top, we had our first real downhill of the trip. Like Kai said, it was like a child's dream. Looking at the bike computer, we had about 4 miles without needing to pedal. I´m not sure why no one I've talked to associates Mexico with mountains, but maybe we should all start because they´re not messing around down here. As soon as we hit pavement, we were so happy to see a smooth road we got off the bikes and gave it a kiss. Finally getting some riding in, we made it to a main road. Feeling tired from our trudge through the river bottom and realizing there wasn't enough daylight left to make any serious progress, we went back to one of the oldest traveling tricks in the book: hitch hiking.
After about 40 minutes of waiting, a truck with a 4 wheeler in the back picked us up and we managed to squeeze our bikes around it. The two women inside were amazingly friendly and drove us all the way (rather quickly) to a city in the mountains called Real de Catorce. It was an old mining town that was made famous for finding gold, but currently had slowed back down. It had an amazing bike atmosphere and was super welcoming as we immediately had people come talk to us as we walked through town with the Trolls. We decided to take the laid back style to heart, and made Real de Catorce our first rest day to recover and explore. With a hostel to secure the bikes and a bed to sleep in, we were living large. To top it off, our rest day happened to be Independence day in Mexico.

We started the Independence day by finding a local bakery and indulging in some pastries for breakfast and upgraded our hostel. While roaming the streets, we met a Texan named Mark who could flip between perfectly fluent Spanish and English in a second. He told us about the town, the people we should talk to in it, and he gave our bikes a close look because he was interested in doing a similar trip. We ended up getting a room right next to his, with a balcony overlooking the city. That night, we went to the Palacio Municipal for the celebrations. There were many speeches, cultural dances, silly string spraying with the kids, an adrenaline pumping "Viva Mexico" chant, and the night "ended" with spectacular fireworks. By ended I mean we went to bed, but the bands kept playing and people kept partying well into the night.

It´s difficult to blog about our time here because it feels like we've already done so much in our first week. The trip is finally feeling real, and we've been exclusively surrounded by kindness, generosity, and patience. I´m not sure why Mexico get´s such bad hype. We haven´t let our guard down and are avoiding staying out late (not that we have the energy to anyway) but we've only been having positive experiences. Although we've faced some serous hardships by being low on energy, food, and water (plus I fell in a puddle the first day since I couldn't get unclipped and soaked ALL of me), I´m proud to be riding with Jon and Kai. Our spirits have remained high and complaining has been absolutely minimal despite plenty of legitimate opportunities. We all struggle with Spanish, but we work through it together and share a desire to improve. Our balance of cooking meals and eating out for a night has been excellent so far, and it´s amazing to think we´re actually making this happen. This is our life for the next 6 months. If it´s anything like the first few days, it is going to be one incredible experience.


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