Back on the road

After a day’s rest and a good night’s I’m not feeling 100%, but well enough to get back on the road, and to quote The Fugitive TV show: “Never in one place too long.”

(Thank you to Paulina Cabrera for the photo)

Back onto route 57 – I’ve been on it most of the way since crossing into Mexico at Piedras Negras. With each city, Monclova, Saltillo, San Luis Potosi the road became bigger and busier. But since Queretardo, its been a propper 3 lane motorway. But there was less than 5 miles before the junction to a quieter road. 

On my way out of San Juan del Rio I stopped at a traffic light. A car pulled up beside me, passenger window down, driver and passenger with big smiles, enthusiasm and asking where was I going. With less than a minute before the lights changed, I told them in my best spanish where I’d been. Did I want anything? No – then I pointed to the green traffic light, said thank you and good bye, and started to move on. As they started to pass me, the passenger handed out a bottle of coke as if they were my official support car. I took it and said thanks. Shortly after this, they passed me going the other way, all smiles and waving. Yes, they had literaly gone out of their way to say hi and check I had everything I needed!
As I joined route 57,  there was a “No Cycling” sign – the first one I’d seen in Mexico. I paused for a moment – but I didn’t have an alternative road, it was less than 5 miles, and it wasn’t like it was a policeman stopping me. So I carried on, riding on the hard shoulder, away from the traffic. This was fine until the road started to go up hill, then the hard shoulder became a 4th lane. With a crash barrier at the side. Not good. But the lane was only being used by occasional slow trucks – so I sprinted as hard as I could, uphill, in the gaps between the trucks from one gap in the barrier to the next. This was not the gentile half day ride I had in mind. Then in the next gap in the barrier there was a couple of cars parked by the side of the road – one of them was a police car. Just great. I’d no option but to cycle right past this car. Had they seen me? I didn’t look to check. But of course they had, and a couple of minutes later I saw in my rear view mirror, the police car approaching with lights flashing. I was now pushing as hard as I could, but my breathing was becomming increasingly laboured (being at 2100m above sea-level, higher than most alpine ski resorts, didn’t help). Then I realised that the police car wasn’t trying to overtake and pull me over. No, I was being given a police escort! I got to the next break in the barrier, pulled off the road and caught my breath. I waved at the police car as it passed, and got a beep of the horn in reply. It then carried on up the road as i got my breath back. 
I was happy to turn off onto the smaller road, that was part way through being upgraded to a dual carridge way. But in a very piece-meal way – one minute it was a single carridge way with a nice big shoulder:

Then there was no shoulder – I had to move off the road several times to let rapidly approaching traffic past:

Then there was a section under construction that was traffic free and firm enough to ride on:

Then a huge wide expanse of lovely new tarmac that I had all to myself – the cars and trucks had to use a narrow strip on each side (between the pairs of white stones)

Even a section through a narrow gorge where I had to ride on the sloping concrete gutter to avoid the traffic. Not as difficult as it looks, but weird to be traversing a slope!

As I came up to a pickup truck parked at the side of the road, the driver got out and waved me to pull in. After a short chat with Rafael and Paulina, I was offered tacos, strawberries, water, beer, a lift for me and my bike past the next section of road and even money. I happily accepted the first two and politely declined the others.

After photos, swapping facebook details and farewell greatings I headed off. It was just then I noticed that they were going in the opposite direction. Yes, they had passed me going the other way, made a u-turn, overtook me, pulled in and waited for me to catch up. Yet again, people literaly going out of their way to be friendly and generous.

Shortly before getting to today’s destination, Huichapan, I got another “Mexican Wave”. Basically a line of vehicles passing the other way, one of drivers waves at me or gives be a peep. By the time I wave back, that vehicle has passed, and the driver of the next vehicle thinks I’m waving at them – so they wave back. I wave at them, and so on, usually for about 6 vehicles. Only in Mexico!

I crossed into my 6th Mexican State – Hidalgo, with fields of corn and pink flowers:

And alien plants waiting for the right moment to take over the world:

I got to Huichapan just in time to take this sunset photo with a silhouette of the large statue of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the initiator of the Mexican War of Independence and the person this state was named after. 

Before enjoying the spoils of the day:

If this seems a lot for just half a day of cycling, most days in Mexico so far have been as varied as this in one way or another.

Finally, it it just me, or does this look like a happy skull and crossbones???

Body says “No!”

‚ÄčThere have been days when I’ve woken up tired, weary or achey from the previous day. But today was different – finally, after:

  • 104 days of cycling (9000km),
  • 3 complete rest days, 
  • finishing a protracted Stage 9 yesterday,
  • 2 cases of a dodgey tummy in the past week,
  • and a run of bad luck (excuse the pun) over the past week with 6 punctures and losing my cerdit card

– my aching all over, itchy eyed and dehydrated body said “There will be absolutely no cycling today, and don’t even think about getting up before midday!” . I did wonder when I’d get a day like today – and here it is. Timing is good – I’m in a reasonable but cheap hotel in the centre of the pretty but congested town (bit like Henley) of San Juan del Rio. 

The 104 days of cycling excludes the time when Sue was with me in Texas.

Of the 3 rest days, two of them (Coldfoot & Monclova), were forced because of lack of onward accomodation, and the last (Eagle Pass) was to finish my pre-Mexico todo list.

The 2 cases of a dodgey tummy both following the consumption of deep fried chicked. I would have hoped that being Scottish I would at least had some genetic resistance to bugs from deap fried food! The first time was at a KFC in the city of San Luis Potosi was forced because of security considerations – I only got there just before sunset, so it was dark by the time I went out for food, so had to do with the first place I found. Despite my poor Spanish, unfamiliarity with local food and the energy demands of cycling, I’m happy to say that this has been the only time I’ve had a meal at a US chain restaurant in Mexico (MacDonalds? Burger King? Subway? Nope. Nope. Nope.). The other fried chicken was given to me by one of the occupants of one of the cars that stopped to speak with me on the main road out of the big city of Queretaro yesterday evening. After chatting with them, they started to drive off, then reversed back along the hard shoulder and offered me the chicken. It was getting late, I was hungry, and there’s only so many times I can say “no, but thank you”. Another car that stopped did so after tailing me for a good 5 minutes with its hazard warning lights flashing to “protect” me from traffic behind (this personal escourting has happened at least 3 times this trip – all in Mexico). The official advice is that if a vehicle passes you, then stops up ahead, you should drive on, only stopping at a place of safety. I followed this advice in Monclova when a very large, very black and very expensive looking pickup truck overtook me and pulled in ahead. I passed it, it over took again and pulled in at the side. I passed it a second time, and it overtook me and pulled in a third time! I wasn’t going to be able to out run it, and didn’t know the back roads or footpaths, so pulled in behind. Out climbed the driver – it was almost as if my helmet cam knew that the identity of this person should not be recorded

What was he doing with his phone? Calling a couple of heavies? Was I going to get mugged or kidnapped by some drug cartel to make some sort of point?

No, he wanted to photograph me and the bike, and show me video clips of his son taking part in local mountain bike races!! 

Damn you smartphones and your multi media capabilities. And here is one of the photos he took, posted to the internet, and seen by someone, who 5 days later passed me, stopped and excidedly exclaimed that he’d seen a photo of me in Monclova!

He said that the guy who had stopped me in Monclova was “one of the good guys”. This was reassuring, though “there aren’t any bad guys any more” would have been better.

Numerous times since then, everytime a driver has overtaken and pulled into the side, I’ve been greeted with smiles, enthusiasm and generosity. The biggest frustration with my Spanish is not being able to reciprocate and answer their questions.

As for the run of bad luck, strickly speaking it wasn’t “bad luck”, but mostly haste/inattention on my part. I lost my credit card at a service station while I was pushing to get to San Luis Potosi  before sundown. Having to stop for two punctures and being slowed down by hills I was running late, so had to put extra effort in to make up time. So I was a bit wobbly when I got to the service station. I saw a cash machine as I entered the small bright family friendly shop, and that it was from the same bank that issued the card. So I thought this would be a good time and place to top up my cash. I withdrew 1000 Mexican Pasos (about ¬£40), then picked up some water, sports drink and biscuits, went to the till, and couldn’t find my card! After a thourgh search of the shop, no card. Another search – no card. The only place the card could be was in the machine – but I had the cash, surely that I must have taken the card. All very confusing, and the sun was getting low and I had another hour of cycling to do. So I had to head off. I got to  San Luis Potosi just before it got dark and found a place to stay. But I didn’t have any way to call the bank (I couldn’t make a call with either of my mobile phones, despite attempts the previous week I had no international calling card I could use from Mexico, and the place I was staying at had no internet access) My only option was to plough my finite cash reserves into a payphone. Only wanting to do this as a last resort, the next day I tried again to get my unlocked phone to work locally – but despite the best efforts of the lady in a local mobile phone shop, (and me entertaining her two year old son so she wasn’t distracted. Desperate times required desperate measures!) this wasn’t an option. Then, as I was heading on my way through San Luis Potosi, I saw a branch of the bank that had issued my card. Perfect I thought, they’ll be able to help me out. But two hours later they had been unable to connect me with any call centre that could help me out, they couldn’t make an international call from the branch, or provide any internet access – and I had lost the will to live. So much for the “World’s local bank”!

In order to make a reasonably priced international call, I needed a phone that the calling card company could contact me on, which I didn’t have. So I needed to get in touch with Sue to get her to help set one up. Which needed internet access – that I didn’t have on my phone. With cyber cafes being a thing of the past, I had to find a shop that would let me use their internet access (and know the password). I found one, got in touch with Sue, she setup the international calling card and sent me the details (thank you Sue!). Thinking that I was now ready to cancel my credit card, there was one final hurdle. Despite the calling card having a free phone number, I needed to get a payphone card in order to make the call! Call finally made, credit card cancelled, and cash reserves preserved. What a palaver – really shows all the things that I take for granted back home.

As for the punctures, just count ’em:

The week before, I had lost the security key to remove the wheels. So any punctures needed to be repaired in-situ and at the roadside. 

This in turn required greater reliance on tyre leavers, and made it harder to check the tyre for the cause of a puncture (so it can be removed to avoid a repeat puncture). 
The first puncture wasn’t so much bad luck, as a statistical inevitability resulting from the local truck drivers’ preference for using tyres until they fail, with resulting rubber & wire debris at the side of the road. I did hear a dramatic sounding  blow-out when one of the many double articulated 18 wheelers lost one of its 34 tyres. Fortunately I was on the otherside of the road resting at a cafe. Inattention on my part also contributed to the first puncture. At the time I was trying to memorise the Spanish on my “script”, so paying less attention to avoiding tyre debris. 

This laminated piece of paper with effectively an FAQ of my trip on one side, and usefull emergency expressions (eg I need water/food/somewhere to sleep) on the other – all in Spanish. It has undergone various name changes from “scrip” that I got from a travel web site, to ones depending on the situation or the reaction of the person reading it. For example “fame pass” (they treat me like someone famous), “distraction pass” (people are sufficiently impressed that they forget to ask an awkward question – eg “why did you leave the border zone without buying a tourist permit”), “press release” (I’m too kackered to speak – have a read of this), “blagging slip” (eg “Can I camp here?”, or “keep my bike in a meeting room?”, or “use your WiFi” etc etc) or “freebie pass” (people have responded with offers of food, beer, water bottles, cash etc etc). But after getting a positive response from a couple of local police who pulled up beside me, I’m calling it my “get out of jail free card”. I should hasten to add that I’ve not needed to use it for this, but given its success to date, I’m pretty sure it would work for that too. The script impressing a couple of the local polis:

Anyway, I fixed my first puncture last week by the roadside. But didn’t glue the patch well enough – and the next day the rear tyre was flat again. I replaced the patch, doing a more thourgh job. But a few hours later the tyre was flat again. This one had been caused by over zealous use of tyre leavers (pinching the inner tube and making a hole). Two days later, another puncture –  now averaging one per day. I had no part in this one, but I didn’t look carefully enough to find the cause (small stiff piece of wire) so got a repeat puncture. This was all very unsettling and time consumming – about an hour per fix – losing the equivalent of a whole day.
But there were no punctures yesterday – so fingers crossed!

Hoping to be back on the bike for at least part of tomorrow for more onwards and southwards

Blog updates

Sorry for the lack of updates on this blog – I’m spending too much of my time cycling (not complaining! ) and adjusting to life on the road in Mexico (food & language being the biggest problems). The app for updating the blog also continues to be problematic – I was not impressed to say the least when it deleted a blog post I’d been working on for 6 hours.

I am still making daily updates to Strava with a photo and short comment from the day (you need to sign with Strava up to see these, but it’s easy and free)

The tracker page is still being updated (account ref 572079, password keithdotbike)

Though there continue to be intermittent problems with it reporting its position,  so I’ve got a second tracker that reports back via satellite (so doesn’t have the mobile network related problems of the original tracker). You can see where I am on this page:

Other than that, the big news is that in Monclova I reached the third of the way mark: 5,000 miles done, 10,000 to go! While that last statement is factually correct, it is a slight over simplification of the challenge ahead!

Finally some of the better photos from the past few days:

A monunent to the steel industry and a very large flag in the centre of Monclova: 

Some welcome rain just before Monclova: 

Not that there was enough to turn this into a river!

Rough camping in Mexico is a bit riskier – but at least there aren’t any bears. Then shortly before my first night camping I saw this sign: 

Other wildlife – butterflies: 

Just loads and loads of butterflies!!!

And this wee critter hitched a ride: