Another guest post from Alex Dunn.
my good friend erin left three days ago. now i am alone. i have been so long attached to my riding partner, for a month to be exact, always trailing one another, riding side by side, sharing every meal, sleeping head-to-toe in the close comfort of my tent for roughly twenty nights and the other nights spent in cheap hotels bed-next-to-bed– our every action was duplicated, mirrored by the other. our thoughts did not become the same, but our nature certainly did. whatever nuisances we harbored in the beginning seemed to have little effect in the end, for holding onto such trivialities would only tarnish such a unique and vivid experience. we became patient, easily pleased, almost impossible to dissatisfy. we were present.
now i am here, on a lonely road pedaling up into the hills away from the city of loreto – a place i came to love, for there i became reacquainted with the ‘self’. myself. in loreto i rented a small cabaña on the malecón, let myself decompress, reevaluated my objective, my journey. i let it all hang out so to speak. i had my own space for the first time in almost seven or eight months: first i took off my pants, i stretched, i slept to my heart’s content, i played guitar and sang falsetto, i journaled and started steinbeck’s log from the sea of cortez. i cooked for therapy to rid the loneliness– a great pot of honduran style soup (a recipe learned from my cousin from tegucigalpa) with chicken, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, five varieties of hot peppers, chayote squash, chunks of corn on the cob, plantain bananas, ancho chili powder, cayenne and heaps of cumin, and of course salt and pepper. the pot lasted me for three days, eating bowl after bowl. i also indulged in grilling some bacon wrapped steak, for what better meal to re-instill a sense of confidence and pride in a man. i cooked beer batter pancakes every morning to keep things light. i reawakened within the walls of familiar comforts and a sense of home. these days were a necessary tangent on the path toward my approximate objective.
i left loreto in the early afternoon and now i am simply man and bicycle. just south of town i turned west and am now climbing up into the hills some twenty or so miles. there is a sense of calm in the air. something foretelling. the golden hour, that hour just before sunset (or just after sunrise if you are on the other side) where the quality of light is most rich and even, seems to have come early. it’s only two p.m., yet the earth around me is bathed in a light so complete, it gives the feeling as though the sun is preparing to sneak away at any moment. the clouds are perfectly three dimensional, almost sculptures of themselves hanging motionless in the air, their shadows printed exact and defined on the land beneath. the wind is warm, but so calm, nearly a notion. this warmth soon fades to a ghostly chill as i climb higher and higher, more than two thousand feet into the sierra la giganta. the pavement is ideal, affording me comfort in my arduous efforts, though sometimes the surface crumbles into the valley, washed away by floods and destroyed by rockfall. out in the distance behind me i see the great blue sea, and loreto faintly teetering on its edge. i reach a high plateau and the sea disappears as i turn around a small peak. loreto is but a thing of the past.
the sun is undoubtedly sinking now, quite close to the horizon, but i know i am only a few miles from misión san javier (est.1699). soon enough, i drop down into the tiny pueblito of the same name. I need water, and i am tired. i pedal calmly down the cobblestone street that leads to the mission and am entranced by its commanding, beckoning presence. i get off my bike and practically stumble, gracefully, mercifully, to the gate of this great church. the village is completely quiet and i am alone, humbled by the history and location of this majestic piece of architecture in the mountains. the oranges hanging from the trees in the courtyard glow like orbs of fire, small avatars of the falling sun that keeps them lit – within them there is a sense of the immaculate.
i park my bike and walk to the small fonda close by, the open sign still hanging on the wall outside. i am greeted kindly by its proprietor and i purchase water and cold beer before inquiring about a place to camp. he smiles and asks for me to wait as he shuffles off into a back room where, from the muffled voices, i assume he is speaking with his wife. he returns promptly and tells me to set up my tent under the mesquite tree directly next to the church. this is unexpected, but i am obliged and excited for this rare, undeniably spiritual opportunity. i thank him and say “esta noche acampo con dios,” to which he replies without hesitation “despues de esta noche, siempre acamparás con dios.” well, i don’t quite know who this dios actually is, but i certainly cannot refuse such a blessing.
i push my bike over to the mesquite tree and begin setting up the tent as a mountainous veil is pulled over the sun at once. in this instant a biting cold blows through the canyon, a cold that chews straight to the marrow. i put on more layers, a hat and gloves and return to my duties with urgency. as i am preparing the rainfly a small black street dog, a dog that reminds me so much of one from my past, comes running up to my side. it wags its tail nervously, a strange combination of timidity and elation. in a way it seems to be begging me not for food, but merely for love. i crouch beside her and stroke her mangy black coat and she is nearly overwhelmed. i tell her to go lie down so i can finish making camp and she listens, scampers over to my bicycle and digs a small crater in the dirt for her bed. she waits patiently, watching me, as i set up my stove and begin preparing dinner. she does’t beg for any of my food at all, but i still share some chorizo and tortillas with her, to which she becomes forever indebted. i eat quickly for all i can really think of is my sleeping bag. the cold is getting colder. as i lie down, the little dog pops up under my vestibule and digs herself another bed in the earth just beside me. i allow her this moment of companionship, something she seems to ultimately long for. in the night i awake several times, once to a small hail storm dropping granizo upon my tent, and two more times to my little friend warding off other dogs from our camp. she is my protector.
the rooster’s crow wakes me in the still darkness, but it is too cold to move. i lay in my bag for an hour waiting for the sun to hit the tent but it never does. we are in the shadows of the peaks above, my little dog and i, and the tent is covered in frost. escarcha. the sun is out there somewhere i know, but we seem to be forgotten in this hidden bend of the canyon. i finally muster up the courage to climb out of my tent and my bones creak and crack as i hobble into the icy dim light. my little dog does not stir. my first concern is to fire up the stove, after which i drink cup after cup of coffee while waiting for the sun – this takes hours. around ten a.m. i am finally ready to leave and i head off from the mission down the dirt road that connects west to carretera 53. my little companion follows me to the edge of the village then sits down and watches, longingly, as i disappear into the high mountain desert.
from the pueblito, the road meanders out of the canyon and through a shallow valley for about twenty-five miles, back and forth across the slow flowing rio san javier. the dirt is hard packed for the most part and there is only a little washboard from time to time. i am riding at a pretty good pace for traveling on dirt, with the wind at my back the entire way, and i encounter no signs of human life all day save for the distant sounds of cow bells, muted by the breeze. i am thus alerted to several ranches just off the road, but still i see no one. i am solitary in this experience, yet the wind begs to differ as it sends dust devils swirling, dancing alongside me. mesquite trees tremble and shake, cheering me along as i pass. i take lunch and swim in the river, despite it’s murky, bug infested waters for i am too hot to really care. as i climb back on my bike i realize the rear tire is running a little low. damn devil’s thorn strikes again! these schwalbe fat frank tires have been perfect along the way in every other regard, except when it comes to goat heads – the sharp little pricks have found the achilles indeed. i change the tube, burning a little more day light, then ease back down the road.
as i am riding i am amazed with how seemingly effortless things have been today, for the dirt roads i’ve traveled prior have required more struggle. as i hold this thought i come around a bend in the river valley, rolling out onto the western steps of the sierra la giganta, and i instantly remember that the dirt roads of this peninsula turn to sand when they pass through low lying valleys and back out to sea. my bicycle comes sliding to a halt, and i am unable to pedal. all i can do is laugh as i walk my bike for about one hundred yards before i am able to get it going again. on and on it is like this for the next twelve to fifteen miles – gaining momentum, then fish tailing side to side, almost dumping the bike, and sliding to a stop. i look back at my tracks and they appear to be those of a drunken serpentine beast, not a bicycle. i become disheartened as i realize the sun will be setting soon and i have no idea how long it will take to go on like this. once i reach the highway, i may be riding in the dark for an hour or two before i reach ciudad insurgentes.
my spirits remain aloft however, for the colors of the changing sky are enchanting and the wind brings me solace. in the sunset i have visions of colorado, and i hear the song of wyoming in the tall grasses swaying in the light air – the same birds singing as those from the marshes behind my family’s house in saratoga springs, where i spent much of my youth. the gurgling warble and rattling trill of the melodious marsh wren, cistothorus palustris. i am overcome with nostalgia, and the empathetic wind takes me home.
sooner than i think i arrive at the highway, and turn south onto the sweet, consolatory pavement. as i begin to pick up speed a lone horse crosses the road in front of me and makes like it is going to charge. i am slightly uneasy about this, but my sudden surprise and confusion keep me from anything but pedaling forward. the horse stands stoic as i ride by, then commences to gallop up alongside me for what seems to be a quarter mile. it soon appears to me that this horse is not chasing me, but gallivanting with me. it acts as though i am a horse myself, or at least it feels we share similar motives. even when i have felt most solitary, nature again has proven it’s ability to commune with me. i suppose that first, we must be open to this communion before it can take place, we must bow before nature in humble fashion, and surrender ourselves to its power and mysticism.
i pedal towards the coming darkness and soon see a loncheria on the east side of the road, tecate sign flickering in the pale blue twilight. i am thirsty and go inside to buy a cold soda (they are out of beer) and fixings for dinner. as i am paying i ask about safe places to camp nearby for i am losing ambition and no longer care to make it fifteen miles further to ciudad insurgentes. the kind old man invites me to camp in front of the store and says that there will be no traffic once it gets dark and he will turn out the lights. the night he says, will be quiet and cold. in accordance with my motto, porque no, i graciously accept these accommodations and at once begin making camp. he is right, after a short time the cold falls heavy upon us, and the chill climbs back, deep into my bones. i cook, eat quickly and turn in soon after to read sea of cortez. as i am reading the old man turns out the lights, and i am suddenly fast asleep.
the next three days are very enjoyable, my game of bicycle solitaire continues and i become ever more comfortable with myself. but, the road is boringly straight and its surrounding features are quite bland, much like the stretch of carretera1 from guerrero negro to san ignacio. the days meld together, and the experience is a long meditation under the infernal sun, reduced to an exercise of sanity maintenance. half of my water i pour upon my head to keep from heatstroke. the nights are still bitterly cold, and my only comfort is to seek refuge in more loncherias – my new kind of hostel. it is all a vision, or a hallucination, and i do not fully return to consciousness until i arrive at the gates of familiarity. la paz.
All words and images: Alex Dunn. More posts from Alex here. More to come.