Just a quick update before I jump the fence into Mexico. In my last post I left you in Yosemite National Park – a climber’s paradise and all round mind-blowing destination, especially if you have a penchant for large granite domes. Freed from the shackles of bike travel I set off by foot for a mini adventure into the backcountry and ‘bagged’ a couple of peaks, including the iconic Half Dome. Breathtaking stuff…
In stark contrast to this serene wilderness, upon returning to San Francisco, lured by cheap rates and free beer, I unwittingly found myself staying in America’s largest hostel. Inducing flashbacks of fresher’s week, it was the kind of place where on a nightly basis a guy goes round the corridors with something resembling an air raid siren and proclaiming through a megaphone “FREE BEERS IN THE BASEMENT, BEER PONG, DANCE FLOOR, POKER, LIMITED SUPPLY DON’T BE LATE!!!”. As a man who lives in a tent and is generally tucked up in bed by 9pm, this was all quite overwhelming!
Teenage debauchery aside, it made for a good downtown base and became my hub for the next few days while I immersed myself in Operation ‘Figure out what the hell I’m doing in Mexico and Central America’. Up until this point I’d adopted a fairly cavalier approach to planning my route south of the border, basically ignoring the issue altogether. However, it suddenly all seemed very imminent, with friends and family chasing me for hard-and-fast dates when they could come out to visit. In the real world people need to book flights, arrange time off work etc and there was only so long I could string them along with vague statements like ‘Springtime-ish for Central America’. It was time to inject some structure into my wanderings and start committing to timeframes. So after a fairly intense period of back-to-back Skype calls, skim reading of countless guidebooks and trawling through websites, I emerged with a vague plan for the next six months.
By the end of all this I’d been off the bike for almost two weeks and my first ‘deadline’ to meet my friend James down at the bottom of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula loomed ominously close. Panic is a great motivator and a solid week of head down mile eating followed, taking me all the way to San Diego at the bottom of California. Long days, exhaustion and possibly a new world record for the number of Pop-Tarts consumed over a seven-day period would be a fairly representative headline. For the large part I was back on the incredibly scenic Highway 1, although due to the increased urbanisation I’ll admit it wasn’t all picture postcard material. If one were to personify this road she’d be the beautiful but mood-swinging girlfriend; one minute everything’s going great and you’re skirting around cliff edges along a remote stretch of coastline, then before you know it she’s turned into a six-lane freeway and you’re told to get off her!
Riding across LA was particularly challenging, with two encounters with LAPD in the space of a few hours. I was firstly awoken at an ungodly hour by sirens and a stern voice telling me to take my tent down from the beach where I was camped and then later being told to get off one of the maze of freeways (which are practically impossible to avoid). Obviously used to dealing with the many roaming vagabonds, there was evident surprise in encountering a well-mannered Englishman. Fortunately this prompted a switch in attitude to basically that of “Carry on Sir”, even going so far as to give me a handshake!
Apart these little sagas the riding itself was generally pretty easygoing and fairly uneventful, with the only real issue being some fairly painful ‘saddle sores’. I’m attributing these to the fact that one night, rather bizarrely, something (or someone?) tried to eat my handcrafted leather saddle, doing a good job of misshaping it in the process! A traditional Brooks leather saddle is something ones owner becomes very attached to (both literally and figuratively), since after enduring a fairly uncomfortable ‘break-in’ period, it softens and effectively molds to your rear end. Similar to getting a suit tailor made, only more painful. Furthermore, much like a pet, they take a fair bit of looking after; you have to wax it, tension it and most importantly stop it from getting wet. As such I’m rather hoping all my efforts haven’t gone to waste and with a bit more ‘contact time’ I can reshape it to its former glory. Time will tell…
Since arriving in San Diego I’ve been frantically trying to ‘reset’ the whole expedition ready for taking on Latin America. The bike has been stripped down and fully serviced, likewise the stove, and Thermarest have kindly replaced my sleeping mat (thanks!). Fearing muscular meltdown after so many big days, with only the occasional token stretch, I’ve also shelled out for a sports massage (albeit a half price one). Needless to say the poor chap certainly had his work cut out – big thanks. Thanks also to Pam and Walter for putting me up in their home for the past couple days at effectively no notice (they were basically just cycling past me!).
Feeling the pressure to get south, time has certainly been of the essence; Disneyland and SeaWorld will have to wait. This also means I’ll now be riding solo for the first part of Mexico, as I’ll need to push ahead of the other Patagonia guys I rode with previously. The plan is to cross the border tomorrow, at which point, according to the many scaremongers who’ve offered their words of wisdom, I’ll either be shot or kidnapped. Exciting times! Banditos aside though, tomorrow does signal the start of the ‘real adventure’ and promises a sudden transition from the easy life I’ve been enjoying in the States. Will they even know what a Pop-Tart is down there??
I’ll let you know…
Good read Paul – good luck through Mexico and beyond.
Peter Marshall, Vancouver BC Canada
Hey Paul, Welcome to central America. Joy has been happily riding through Guatemala City for the last few weeks and I took my first jaunt to school and back again and was pleasantly surprised that cars do in fact look out for you, a lot more than they do in London. There are a lot of guns and hills here so don’t be surprised when you see them. We live up the Calle Roosevelt in the East of the city and now have spare beds, or a garden if you’d prefer to pitch your tent. Also found two good bike shops if you need them. Ride safe.
Hey Tom, Good to hear you’re braving the roads on a bike! I’ll definitely let when I’m nearing Guatemala, it’s likely to be around the end of march/start of April now.… Hope you both have a great xmas and new year over there! Cheers
Another great post Paul. Your updates are always a welcome bit of Wanderlust for those of us still living a comparably humdrum existence in the Uk!
Enjoy Mexico – expecting to see some good tan line photos next post!
hope you enjoy mexico and south america! looking forward to pics and stories!
I enjoyed reading your post. hope it goes well for you in Mexico, looking forward to hearing about your adventure in Mexicao. Take care. Sheila.
As previously, it all sounds amazing! Good luck as you head south!
Great read and the pictures are top notch! It all brings back fond memories of my travels.
Keep safe in Mexico and best wishes for a happy Christmas and a productive new year!
Cheers Andrew, Happy Xmas & New Year to you too!