Adventure, Bicycling, Fellowship of the Wheel, Mexico, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Three Days in Saltillo

In the last road log the Fellowship rode hard away from the border—and then promptly lost one of our key members. This time, I pick up alone.

This is the weather I was dealing with. Photo by André.

This is the weather I was dealing with. Photo by André.

November 11-13—Rest and Writing in Saltillo

After Pixi and Ernest left I biked over to my hotel for the first of my three rest days. The Hotel Huizache was a pretty little place with an outdoor pool surrounded by a garden/courtyard, both essentially unusable in the freezing, foggy weather that had descended over the city.

It didn’t matter much to me. My “rest days” were really work days. I spent the first two of them working overtime to catch up on articles for clients, road logs, and other writer duties. It still felt like I was perpetually behind, but I managed to get the most important work done.

Saltillo boasts the first, and likely last, bike lane I've seen in Mexico. It lasted two blocks.

Saltillo boasts the first, and likely last, bike lane I’ve seen in Mexico. It lasted two blocks.

That afternoon I went to a nice cafe/book store I had biked past and enjoyed their comida special. Afterward I perused the books, thinking I might pick up some extra Spanish reading material. It turns out they’re a Christian store, and all the books they had were either biblical or self help/inspirational in nature.

I was surprised that I didn’t feel more upset about Pixi leaving. In fact I felt quite calm. I had spent a year planning the group ride across Mexico, and canceled a kayak trip after months of training because I didn’t want to go it alone. Now my main partner had bailed on me. I wasn’t happy about it, but I felt completely capable of carrying on alone. There was also a chance that others would come through: last I’d heard Luce was trying to catch up to me, a cyclist named Ron wanted his own trans-Mexico trip to cross paths with mine, and Fellowship member Ysa hoped to join me in San Miguel de Allende.

Even so, I had to face certain difficult truths:

  • Pixi and I had planned to share hotel rooms. With her gone, my cost of living for the next 75 days is now twice what I had budgeted.
  • The next leg, from Saltillo south, was originally broken up into three or four days of camping out in the desert. With friends I felt comfortable with that; alone, it didn’t sound as safe.

I spent a lot of time pouring over my route, searching for signs of hotels in the tiny desert towns, and conferring with faraway friends. At no time did I consider giving up. Pixi’s decision had left me in a difficult place, but, as it is written by the sages of old, “Time to get your balls up, son.”

Selfie at the Huizache. Photo by André.

Selfie at the Huizache. Photo by André.

The second day I enjoyed the Huizache’s continental breakfast, which consists of: doughnuts OR sugary cereal, orange-flavored sugar juice, and Nescafé. (Get ready to see a whole lot of Nescafé on this Mexico trip.) Then more writing. In the afternoon, despite the cold, I made a short foray to the Centro—a reasonable walk—mainly just to find somewhere cheap to eat. One thing I love about Saltillo is that, finally, I had gotten to a town with a real Mexican centro in the sense of a central town area with plazas, a walking mall, food stands and local businesses like fruit and produce shops. The cost of a meal is much cheaper at these places than it is in bigger restaurants and supermarkets. The atmosphere is nicer too.

At night I continued working.

I had made an oath to myself that I wouldn’t spend my entire rest breaks working. The point of the journey is, at least in part, to see the places I visit—not just to pedal across them and hide in hotels with my laptop. So I worked double time the first two days and made sure I’d have the third day open for a museum and some exploration.

The Centro! Photo by André.

The Centro! Photo by André.

The third day came and it was as freezing as the one before (literally, with temperatures in the 30s). Desert nights are supposed to be cold, but these nights were 20 degrees lower than average and the days weren’t much better. [André’s note: I would later see a “coldest day of the year” bit on a local weather show.] Still, I had kept this day open for a reason, right? My new friend Scotch in Nuevo Laredo had told me that Saltillo is beautiful and its museums are great… so I looked up the museums online:

  1. The Museum of Birds. It has one or more stuffed specimens of every species in Mexico. Honestly this is something I would like to see, especially (a) the local species around Saltillo so I could identify them during my long rides and (b) the quetzal bird, sacred in the pre-Hispanic religions of Mexico. But was it worth leaving my toasty space heater with no jacket? Not quite.
  2. The Desert Museum. An eco-museum about the geology, history and wildlife of Mexico’s northern deserts. This actually is also something that interests me, except (a) I’d be seeing A LOT of desert up close and personal over the next few weeks, and (b) it’s far outside of town (in, you know, the desert) requiring a substantial bike ride to reach.

I was not museuming today.

(I explained this predicament to a friend online, asking if staying in made me a bad traveler. “No way,” she said, “It makes you smart.”)

Still, the day wasn’t a total wash. I did muster the will to venture out in the afternoon, exploring more around the Centro and having another great lunch (gorditas stuffed with nopal, delicious!) and some hot Nescafé. I also found a great artesanía (handmade craft) market. I considered getting a hand woven hooded sweater, but they were all acrylic rather than wool. I did, however, pick up a calavera (skull) which I mounted on the front of the Giant:

Photo by André.

Photo by André.

I also got bananas for tomorrow’s ride and a bag of dried cherries to add to my trail mix, both at the local fruit stand.

When I finally got back to the Huizache I finalized my plans for the route. I would go all the way across the mountains and desert, originally a four day journey, in just two days. These would consist of:

  • A trip over a high a mountain pass on the first day out of Saltillo. Pixi had showed a me a cool topographical tool for bicyclists, however, which revealed that the terrain was both taller and steeper than expected. Additionally, the hotel I had planned to stop at after this monstrous ascent (just 40 miles away) turned out not to exist. Thank goodness I street viewed it on Google Maps. Instead, I could aim for the only other confirmed hotel in the desert, bringing the day’s mileage to 55. Not an easy day.
  • If that wasn’t enough, I was then going to go the entire remaining 109 miles to the next rest stop, all in one day.

It wasn’t a great plan, but everyone I talked to agreed there’d be a shortage of places to stay out there. And besides not wanting to camp alone, my camping equipment just wasn’t meant for these record low temperatures. I made a fallback plan, charting roadside rest stops where I could camp near food and water if it came to it, but I preferred one brokeback marathon all the way.

Time to get your balls up, son.

Looking for the perfect gift for someone who loves to read? Let me recommend my novella Lúnasa Days:

L Days cover_front only_half size

Lúnasa Days debuted at #1 in Fantasy and #2 in Literary Fiction on Amazon. Following the journey of a magician who no longer believes in his spells, it brings together the spiritual and the magical—and the questions that they raise. It has been called “like Paulo Coelho only darker.”

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

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