Adventure, Bicycling, Spotlight, Texas, Travel, Women

130 Miles to Laredo, Pixi Version

This is a guest post by Pixi, one of two co-adventurers who accompanied me on the 130 mile ride to the Mexico border. 

Pixi just before we start. Photo by André.

Pixi just before we started. Photo by André.

In one of the last emails before the 3-day bike trip across southern Texas, André wrote to Blake and me:

“Okay guys. Yesterday and today I did some riding. Yesterday in 94 degrees, today in the low 90s in peak afternoon. The wind was comparable to the one we’ll have behind us. When I was against the wind the heat was unbearable because of the hard pedaling. But when the wind was behind me the heat actually seemed fine… And I was even wearing long pants!”

“Sounds awesome,” I wrote back.

And it did, even though I was freaking out in my head. I didn’t believe there was any way this trip was going to be that easy. Just the planning had already been stressful: getting time off work, finding a replacement bike after mine was stolen, and figuring out how to get it from Minneapolis to Texas. But, I knew deep down that this was what I had asked for. I wanted an adventure.

Despite the stress of transporting the bike in a bike box on the Greyhound, I arrived just fine. Blake and André picked me up at the bus station and we went back to Blake’s house to prepare for the journey the next day. André helped me put the bike back together and gave me a tour around some of Corpus Christi showing me what he meant by going with and against the wind. It was still hot in long pants, but I could feel the difference he talked about.

Early the next morning, we were picked up by Blake’s sister and brought to the dirt road where André had ended the kayaking leg of his adventure. After last minute sunscreen application and pictures we set off down a deserted country road full of excitement and anticipation. The South Texas roadside flora, so different from Minnesota, was fascinating and beautiful to watch go by. The trip was off to a great start as we chatted, joked, and greeted the cattle who watched us go by, while an overcast sky kept some of the heat and sunshine at bay.

Then, despite Captain André’s weather reports, it started to rain. We stopped to put our phones in plastic bags and turn on our bike lights. The rain actually helped a lot with the heat and I was grateful for it until I realized my brakes didn’t work as well when they were wet. But, we ended up keeping a good pace of about 9 miles per hour. By the time we rolled into Falfurrias in the early afternoon the rain had stopped.

André had already researched the town and knew that there was an RV park where we might be able to pitch the tent and bivy. He called them up and the owner told us we could definitely set up camp there for a small fee. They even had a laundry room to dry out our wet clothes, a shower and even a pool! About a half mile from the RV park, Blake got the first flat of the trip. But with a place to rest in sight, he just walked the bike the rest of the way. The owner, Arthur, was one of the nicest guys and very accommodating. He showed us the area where we could camp, chatted about how he ended up owning the RV park, and told us if we needed anything to just come to the office and ask him. He also recommended places to get dinner—including a good Mexican restaurant and a bad Mexican restaurant. We changed into dry clothes, set up camp and André gave us a class on how to change and repair a bike tube (By the end of the trip, Blake was an expert at this!). Still, I was almost disappointed at how easy the day had been. Where was the Adventure?

After dinner at the good Mexican restaurant we went back to the RV park and started a fire in the fire pit in the rec room. Well, André would say I made a fire and he just helped. It was still hot outside, even at that time of day, but the opportunity to have the traditional fire at the end of a long day of adventuring was hard for me to pass up.

We started earlier the next morning to try to beat some of the heat, silently wishing for more rain which never came. Leaving the RV park, we headed straight for a country road that we thought would have less traffic than the highway. The country road eventually turned into a dirt and gravel road. We stopped and André asked us what we wanted to do: bike back to the last intersection and try to meet up with the highway, or walk the bikes for a somewhat uncertain distance on the dirt road. Blake and I said we’d be fine walking (a short break from biking and the opportunity to move our legs in other ways sounded good, actually). André later told us that that’s what he probably would have done if he’d been alone, too, just gone straight on instead of backtracking.

The heat of the second day got harder to deal with as the morning went on. I started lagging behind. Blake, on his new bike with the skinny, yet highly breakable tires, was taking the lead. We kept up a 9 to 10 mph pace, even in the heat and gratefully stopped at the very first food establishment when we reached Hebbronville. After burgers and being in the air conditioning long enough to feel cold, André whipped out his phone to research possible camping spots. He found a mobile home park and while it was less likely we’d be able to camp there, he called them anyway. The woman who answered the phone was not sure if we could tent camp there, though. One of the employees at the burger joint suggested a park in the middle of the city, sure that no one would care if we put our tent there.

We decided to scope out the Catholic church in town, which ended up having no yard space to speak of, and then the city park, on the way to ask the mobile home park owners in person about pitching a tent. We eventually found a mobile home park and André confidently walked up to what appeared to possibly be the office, or just someone’s house, and knocked on the door. The door was answered by a man who happened to be the son of a woman who owned a different mobile home park across the street. Her son pointed her out to us, saying we could probably camp over there, that all the neighbors who lived there were really good people and even invited us over for a BBQ later. We thanked him and went across the street.

His mother, Lupita, said we could set up our tent in an area that wasn’t being used. At first she charged us the same $15 for the night that we had gotten charged at the RV park, but later gave us back the money saying we should use it for dinner. Her husband brought us some plastic chairs to lounge in and we took a siesta in the shade. Later, they offered to hook up an extension cord so that we could charge our phones. But when none of the electrical boxes seemed to work, a neighbor connected the extension cord straight from his mobile home. Their hospitality was incredible!

After dinner, Blake and I decided to readjust our seat heights, as both of us had started having knee pains. When it got dark, another neighbor came over and offered us a flashlight. Everyone was so nice. Now the question is, would André have gotten the same hospitality in both these cities if he had been alone? I think he would have. We just ended up meeting the nicest people in these small towns.

We got up extra early the next day to beat the heat on our longest day of the trip. We got everything packed in record time, went to the nearby gas station to fill up all our water containers, and took off before sunrise. We knew from descriptions from our new friends that there were several large hills on our way to Laredo and one bridge, but also that it was mostly downhill. Whether it was the ease of our route, the seat adjustment, the cooling breeze we got most of the way, starting to listen to music on my phone like Blake had been doing, or a combination of all these factors, this day felt like the easiest of all three and I was leading most of the way. Even when I ended up getting my one flat of the trip, the three of us worked together very smoothly to replace the tire roadside.

Iconic road shot by Pixi.

Iconic road shot by Pixi.

We rolled into Laredo before we knew it and then the most difficult part started. When we got close to the city there was a lot more traffic than before and the shoulder of the road was filled with debris.Trying to navigate between the danger of passing cars or getting a flat tire was difficult and a little scary. Captain André’s leadership skills really came out to help us navigate the dangerous road.

After lunch, André tried to figure out the route to the border crossing and Blake worked on patching his latest flat as best as he could. We followed André, biking through the downtown, going the wrong way on several one ways until we finally found the right bridge for pedestrians to cross over into Mexico. Here we stopped and André made us take several pictures of the three of us. Then André put his hand to one of the columns, choosing the spot where he would officially begin the next part of his trip into Mexico. We went to a park in the middle of town to wait for Blake’s mother and stepfather to pick us up. Proud and exhausted at finishing our trip, we then had dinner and beers with them in celebration before heading back to Corpus Christi.

One of the pictures André made us take. Photo by Pixi.

One of the pictures André made us take. Photo by Pixi.

I am so glad I went on this trip. It was challenging and so much fun! I really believe anyone can do this. I didn’t really do any training at all. I only did one 25 mile ride beforehand. I can’t wait to see what other adventures I will get to be a part of in the future. Thanks, André, for letting me be part of this one!

Some notes to interested travelers:

  1. Having the correct bike fit for you (seat position, etc.) is very important and does make a huge difference in how tired you get or how many aches and pains you have when riding long distance.
  2. Although I had fears about packing my bike onto a bus it was actually much easier than I thought it would be. The policy on Greyhound is that you have to take the bike apart and put it in a bike box in order to have it as a piece of checked baggage. I thought I might have to pay a fee for it being larger than their 62” total height/width/length limit, but I ended up not having to pay anything extra. I may have had to if it was over the 50 lbs. limit, though. I also had the fear that with my several transfers, on a crowded bus there wouldn’t be enough room under the bus for my oversized box and I would have to wait for the next bus to my destination. This never happened either.

André’s note: does anyone have a question for Pixi?

Standard
Religion, Vodou

A Realistic Prayer About Hurricanes

Photo by Matt Hendrick

Every year our Vodou temple holds a public ceremony for Hurricane season. This is considered a community service, a “turning” ceremony asking Ezili Danto to protect our city from storms. As you can imagine, in New Orleans this is a big deal.

This year I was away in Texas. I held my own version, singing Danto’s songs for the benefit of the city around me. But the words I said are, I’m sure, very different than the prayers of my compatriots.

I’m a priest of many gods, but not a priest in Vodou. It’s not my place to lead the Hurricane Turning, but below you’ll find the words I would say if it was. Many Vodouisants would disagree with my take. But I spend much of my time on the road thinking about faith, and this, I think, is the most honest prayer I could give.

“Danto! Protective mother. You take care of your baby, and today we ask you to take care of us. Enter into our heads, so that may we protect others as you protect your child.

“Danto, the storms are coming. The storms could destroy our lives and our homes and our city. We are scared, Danto, but we are not going to ask you to save us.

“We won’t ask you to save us, because the hurricanes must come for a reason. They are a part of the world just like we are, just like sunny days and warm summers and full moon nights. The living world needs its storms, and we need our living world.

“The storms may be worse this year. They’re bigger these days and they’re fiercer these days and they kill more people than ever before. And if the storms are worse this year, we know it’s because of our own industry, because of oil and gas and power, because we use so much and we give so little. Each of us accepts the oil and the gas and the power, so we have to accept the storms, too.

“But we do pray to you, Danto. We pray because you are older than us, older than oil and gas and power, older than the storms. In your old age you are wise, and we have one simple request for you.

“If the storm comes this way, then be here with us. Be in our heads. Help us to act with courage and compassion. Help us to share our supplies, even when we have little. Help us to look at those beside us and help them, even when they’re strangers. And help us to help the children and the elderly before we help ourselves.

“Remind us, Danto, that however different we may be, we must work together. Because it’s only by caring for each other that we will best survive the storm.

“Danto, we know that prayer will not save us. But we know, also, that in you we find strength and calmness in the storm. It is the calmness that will help us survive. Lend us that calm, that we may lend it to others.

“In the storm, Danto, let us not be the baby, waiting for you to save us. Let us be the mother, saving everyone else.

Ayibobo!

Did you know that you can now ask me anything?

L Days cover_front only_half size

Lúnasa Days has been called “like Paulo Coelho only darker.”

Available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

Standard
Adventure, Bicycling, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

Making New Adventurers

Sunday at around 3:00 p.m. our little bicycling group reached the US/Mexico border. I officially completed the US leg of my Great Adventure.

It was also the first leg I did with a group. I can safely say that this trip went as well as I could possibly have imagined it going.

I don’t want to give too much away, because both Pixie and Blake have offered to write up their own accounts of the trip which I’ll share here. But I did promise before and after pictures, so let’s start with those.

Before

Before

After!

After!

I had expected that the two pictures might show a major change. In the “after” shot I thought we’d look dirty, disheveled, totally beat. As you can see, we don’t. I also wondered if my co-adventurers would look a little unhappy by the end. This isn’t experienced cyclists with professional equipment and sponsorship; this is normal people with mismatched gear and no idea where we’d even sleep at night. And yet, everyone’s smiling.

From the beginning everyone seemed ready for a challenge. We worked as a team and we all got along. Neither the rain on Day 1 nor the 100 degree biking weather on Day 3 garnered any complaints and, more importantly, I don’t think there were supressed complaints either. Everyone was mentally prepared for what they were facing.

That’s not to say it was easy. The sun just savaged us. I ran out of water on the second day and had to borrow more from Blake. Pixie’s gears didn’t work. There were more flat tires on one bike than I expected from all three of us.

But none of that really mattered. When there was a problem we just huddled around and solved it. As Blake said, within a very short time traveling together we had started to work like a well-trained pit crew.

More than anything, I’m grateful that we got good rest each night and stayed safe each day. All the concern about heatstroke paid off, with some tough rides but no truly dangerous moments. Between the three of us we always had enough water and the right basic gear to survive in the sun.

I’m sure I can’t expect every adventuring group I travel with to operate this smoothly, but it taught me a great deal about what to plan for and how to lead. That will be important as I plan the Mexico leg. Within a few weeks I hope to announce the dates for each segment so that more co-adventurers can come along.

But what gives me the most heart isn’t what I learned. It’s seeing others get to experience an adventure of their own. By the end Pixie and Blake both came to me and told me they’re tempted to join for Mexico. (Blake’s mom has already told me he is not allowed to do the border region.) They now have memories and achievements of their own—the kinds of lessons from the road you can’t learn by reading about it, only by doing it. When we made it back they positively beamed.

For myself, there’s something like 5,000 more miles ahead. But that road doesn’t seem so long now that I know I can share it.

André's Great Adventure reaches the Mexico border!

Standard
Adventure, Adventure Prep, Bicycling, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

On the eve of my first group adventure

Photo by Arturo Sotillo.

Friday morning I take out a bicycling group for the first time. This is the last leg of the US, and the first of my recruit-fellow-adventurers policy. Three days, three people, 125 miles. It’s a weird feeling.

For starters, people now call me “leader.” It’s a role I’m comfortable with, but in the past it was always more formal. As a younger man, the teachers who meant the most to me were the ones who enforced a strict master-apprentice relationship. That was the only way I knew how to lead. But that approach depends on having a lot of authority behind you, and it isn’t well suited to free adults. These days I prefer a partnership of equals, where I may guide or nudge but ultimately everyone makes their own choices. The problem is I have no experience leading that way.

Thankfully, a look at my two co-adventurers says not a lot of leadership is needed. Both seem pretty self contained. I can show them how to change a tire or I can talk about road safety, but for the most part I think they’ll be fine.

I do wonder if they’ll need moral support. On a long bike trip, the beginning and end are fun but the middle is the passage of darkness. That’s when you’re a long way from home and still have a long way to go. On a three day trip, will that still apply? I don’t know. Waking up that second morning, tired and sore but not even halfway done, could be the roughest moment.

Most of my time is spent thinking about safety. On my own, I can abuse myself as much as I want. I know my body pretty well, and I can push it to levels that most people would shy away from. If I want to keep going in the dark, or the rain, or against a strong wind, or with no food—I can.

With a group that’s no longer my right. To some degree I have to think about what my people need, even if they won’t say it out loud. I’ve never so thoroughly considered heatstroke, bike safety or equipment as I have in the past eight weeks. At the same time, I have a commitment to finish this trip powered only by my own muscles. If one of them has a crisis, I not only have to get them picked up and driven to safety, I then have to continue on my own.

It’s been fun to see how different people prepare for a trip. Pixi is organized and planful, asking equipment questions well in advance and demanding checklists for what to bring. This is a quality I really admire and aspire to. Blake’s style has been more like mine: plan it in the abstract but put off the details until crunch time. I’ve forced myself out of that habit: I’m the one who has to be ahead of everything here. Blake has expressed amazement at how much I pre-plan. Heh.

If there’s anything that surprises me, it’s that both of my copilots are totally following through. While I never had reason to doubt them, I’m just used to the reality that most people flake out on most things. Of the three people who wanted to come kayaking with me, zero ever showed up; but of the two who wanted to join this bike leg, both will be gathered around the bikes by the time you read this message.

This is particularly amazing considering both had huge setbacks. Pixi got her bike ready months ahead of time, only to have it stolen our weeks ago. When I read her email I was sure it would end with Sorry, but I think I’m done. Likewise, Blake was gifted a beautiful 1970s Schwinn from his dad, which barely wobbled out of the garage but survived a 30 mile test ride. We took it for routine maintenance and cleaning at a bike shop and 24 hours later it was a pile of scrap.

(Old bike fans: it will be resurrected one day. The head bolt was rusted through and snapped, and some other components were kaput as well. The shop in question isn’t used to working on v̶i̶n̶t̶a̶g̶e superior bicycles, but Blake is dedicated to getting the parts and fixing it.)

This is where a lot of people would have thrown their hands up, especially with the added cost, but Blake bought a brand new aluminum-frame touring cycle meaning he’ll probably outpace us all. Meanwhile Pixi hit the garage sales and successfully combined two non-functional bikes into one functional bike, even rebuilding a back gear cassette together with her boyfriend.

Ironically, while my bike is named The Giant, Blake’s is a Giant brand. I’m going to call it the Little Giant until he comes up with a name that doesn’t infringe. I don’t know what Pixi’s bike’s name is, but it seems like she has good taste in adventuring names, so I expect big things. Of course, there will be before and after pictures of all three of us.

I don’t really know what to expect from these next three days. Even with all the planning, all the new equipment, and two friends at my side, we’re heading to towns we’ve never visited and anything could happen. To me that’s where adventure comes from. Adventure is the unknown and embracing it wholeheartedly.

No one in the world knows where they’re going; an adventurer has no choice but to admit it.

Standard
Religion

It is not so easy to hear the gods

Photo by Felix E. Guerrero

Photo by Felix E. Guerrero

It’s hard to hear the gods.

It’s easy to hear the whispers of our own wants and fears. These are the first voices when we turn inward, and the second, and the third. We’ll gladly give them the masks of gods because we are in love with them. We love our wants because they tell us we’ll get everything we wish for with just a little time, just a little faith, maybe a dash of determination. Our fears tell us that nothing could be different than it is, that it would be too dangerous to change anything—and we love that too. So we live our lives passively, reassured, and if we remain unhappy we whisper, “everything has a purpose.”

What do the gods truly say? Often they are silent, because they know that if they spoke we would simply fail to listen, and gods do not do pointless things.

They are silent, because they see that we prefer the company of wants and fears, wants and fears, and who goes to a house where they are not wanted?

They are silent, simply because they have seen so much. They know that, irrespective of our individual pains, the world remains a glorious place.

When I was younger I was after esoteric practices. I sought visions and prophesies and messages from the gods. This is the most dangerous of all sciences because it is the most enchanting. Pursuing myth means opening up to an endless field of imagination, where every tree talks and every rock has an ancient spirit—each of them ready to tell you the grand significance of your own daydreams. The more extravagant a vision is, the more we like it. But extravagant visions are the ones that mean the least.

I learned to read cards, and spoke with startling clarity (because I spoke of wants and fears). I learned to sense spirits, and choose the right offering for each one, and hear them speak softly in my ear, always of wants and fears. I went through the most demanding and far fetched meditations from the Himalayas and from the Middle Ages, and I got the vision I sought, a vision of my wants triumphing my fears.

Today I rarely practice the esoteric arts. When I do it’s more for the simple joy of it. It’s the way you read an old, favorite book: you aren’t surprised by the ending, but there’s a certain pleasure in hearing the words again.

Sometimes I seem very unreligious. What good is a priest who doesn’t hear voices? Why listen to someone who doesn’t read the stars, the cards, the numbers, the smoke, the crystals or even dreams?

Even here, on the journal of my spiritual search, I rarely write about religion. It gets showy all too easily. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a pastor breathing the Holy Spirit or a Sybil breathing the fumes of Apollo. The gods don’t whisper of fears and wants, they only speak of truths; and most of us, when we seek religion, are there to get away from truths.

There are useful spiritual practices, and those are the ones aimed at the self. The self is the one tool the gods gave each and every one of us, the only tool that is with us all our days and must suffer whenever we suffer. So the self has a level of trustworthiness that visions, mentors, priests and even parents cannot match. It’s dangerous to get to know yourself because there is no room to secretly doubt the things you find, even when you dislike them. You can always find another guru or chase another vision, but you cannot beg another self.

To know yourself is only half of the practice. It may even be the least important part. But whatever little bits you find, you can shine them everyday. Everyday you can polish your true self until it gleams and serves as a light, a beacon past your wants and fears.

If the gods ever speak, that might be when you’ll hear them.

L Days cover_front only_half size

Lúnasa Days is a tale of finding yourself. It has been called “like Paulo Coelho only darker.”

Available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

Standard
Adventure, Bicycling, Texas

And then there were three

As you know, this month I’ll be doing the last 120 miles of Texas by bicycle. I announced earlier that my friend Pixi will be joining me. But in a few recent posts, I let slip the possibility that there may be not two off us but three. I can now officially confirm that we have a third adventurer!

Joining us for the whole three day journey will be my friend Blake. I first met Blake shortly after I moved to Texas, and soon I had rented the spare bedroom in his house two blocks from the bay. Blake is a philosophy student and quick with puns. He also seems to have a natural way with living things, from his many exotic fish aquariums to his hand-built turtle pond and the bonzai and other plants in the garden he grew himself.

I think the three of us are the types who will get along on the road. This is the first section of the Journey that’s truly open to others, and I’m excited that two practical and easygoing people will be my copilots. Hopefully it will give me a chance to learn what exactly it takes to open this kind of trip up to everyone.

Of course, there are still two weeks before the big ride, which happens July 18-20. So if you want to throw your hat in it’s time to send me an email…

Standard
Mexico, Photographs, Travel

One last stop in Guanajuato [Photo]

Today is Independence Day, the Fourth of July, George Washington’s birthday and the feast day of St. Benjamin Franklin! Happy 4th to all my US readers. I arrived safe and sound in the US despite some customs hiccups. Perhaps appropriately, today will be the last of my Mexico photos, at least for now.

I had to seek this one out. One day I was wandering through some new callejones (apparently other expats are scared to do this? Guys it’s just houses!) and I came upon what I call the Alley of the Flores, because every single balcony was hung with flower pots and the whole thing was painted bright colors. I wanted a picture right away but (of course) had no camera on me. I made a mental note to get return another day and take photos.

When that day came, I rounded the corner into Flores and stopped in my tracks. It was every bit as pretty as I remembered, but someone had thoughtfully parked a brand new VW that perfectly matched the trim paint of the alley. It’s like they knew I was coming.

Photo by André

Photo by André

I’m pretty happy with how this one turned out. I took a bunch of photos from different angles, and this isn’t quite my favorite but it has the best colors. What do you think? How could I have made it better?

Anyway, so long Guanajuato, hello beach town. I’m having a cookout this evening with my Texas friends. What are y’all doing?

Standard