I knew I had made a tactical error.
Steering my recently-purchased touring hybrid over viscous, terra-cotta colored mud, around potholes the size of armadillos; I yearned for the comforts of home.
The chip-sealed roads of my suburban neighborhood — long an object of my civic complaints — seemed like a skating rink compared to the slippery, rock-studded surface that passed for a “road” here in Baja, California.
The literature (if not the name) of this “Adios Adventures” package should have been a clue. “An off-the-beaten-path look at a side of Mexico seldom seen by tourists?”
Now I understood why! The road in front of me was “seldom seen” through the driving rain. My fellow cyclists were “seldom seen” after they left me far behind shortly after breakfast. And Mexico itself? Well, it’s hard to appreciate cultural nuances when water is pouring down your neck in a constant sort of cervical enema.
Rule Number 1: Be skeptical of the literature. Most semi-conscious human beings over the age of 18 have learned to read real estate ads through a certain set of filters. For example, we know that “cozy” translates to “cramped;” “quaint” means “outdated,” and so forth. In the world of bicycle touring, “off-the-beaten-path” means “don’t expect indoor plumbing;” “authentic” means “they probably eat chicken heads around here;” “rustic” means “plan to not bathe until your skin crawls.” And “adventure” means “hair-raising near death experience.”
A Bicycle Adventure
My first bicycle tour was — by anyone’s definition — turning out to be an “adventure.”
In the time-honored tradition of wives and girlfriends everywhere, I had allowed myself to be suckered into this spiral of self-destruction by my husband of less than a year, Stan. This good-hearted, if somewhat dim, guy thinks nothing of tearing out to chew up 80 miles or 90 miles of hill work after a full day at the office.
Bless his heart, he finds it “relaxing.”
My own theory is that, somewhere between the ages of 23 and 40, most men have a back-up of unused testosterone that seeps up from where it belongs and lands somewhere at the base of the cerebral cortex, effectively blotting out that portion of the brain that governs common sense and blurs the distinction between pain and pleasure.
Naturally, Stan acknowledges that we have a different approach to cycling. (My own idea of a nice ride after work involves picking up a bottle of wine and a couple of sub sandwiches and pedaling a few blocks to a nice park for supper.) So, when we decided to spend our spring vacation on a bicycle tour, we went for “moderate” level of effort.
Rule 2:Multiply Advertised Level of Effort by 10. Again, a good set of mental filters is in order. Watch for key phrases such as “some cycling experience beneficial.” This, roughly translated, means “quit your job and devote yourself to road work for three months preceding the tour.” Our mistake was ignoring the word “exhilarating,” which means, “Olympic-level athletic ability required.”
I pondered these things as the gentle rains of Baja, California, cascaded down my back and my teeth chattered like castanets with the rhythm of the roadway. The ride was grim, but worse still was the specter of losing contact with the rest of my group permanently (cretins though they were, abandoning me). I pedaled on, praying for relief.
As suddenly as it had begun, the torrential rains stopped and the sky cleared to the azure blue the brochure had promised. Things were looking up; the lunch rendezvous spot was just ahead.
As I coasted down into the tiny town of San Somethingorother (I soon learned that all Baja towns are located in bowls, dips, valleys or trenches), I spotted my traveling companions. All of them, including Stan, were standing outside a little taco stand (“quaint?” or “roach infested?” you make the call!) sucking down cerveza and yukking it up, looking fresh as daisies. Until I looked closer. In spite of my pain, I laughed out loud when I saw the revolting swatch of dung-colored mud that swept up from their behinds to mid-backs. Trying to maintain my cool, I applied my brakes and pointed out this disgusting decoration.
“Hey, you guys got mud on yer butts.” (Physical exertion always renders me stunningly articulate.) They just smiled. I sidled up to Stan for some sort of congratulatory hug and a sip of his beer, and as he drew away, I realized that about a dozen pair of amused eyes were locked on me.
I reached around to the small of my back, touching goo and pulling back a palmful of — you guessed it — lumpy, slimy, red-brown mud. I was one of the initiated.
Read more about the adventure in Part 2.