Last time, one of my patented “shortcuts” became a hardscrabble mule track in the desert and brought me face to face with a funnel cloud. I managed to wobble into the city of San Luis Potosí, an unplanned stop, hours after dark. Now we pick up in the city and try to get this ride back on track.
Thursday, November 27 (Day 874 of the Great Adventure)—From the Lord’s House to the King’s
Hotel restaurants know they have a captive audience. Either the prices are high, the food is meh or both. But when I woke up in San Luis Potosí all I wanted was to eat quickly and get on with my day. 10% discount coupon in hand, I headed to the Hotel Maria Cristina’s in-house comedor. It became clear quickly that they weren’t interested in serving a foreigner. This wasn’t just the usual slow service. Table after table of Mexican families were seated, placed their orders, and saw their food come while I sat ignored. The server carefully kept her back to me at all times. I had two choices: waste even more time looking for another restaurant, or step up. I looked around, identified the manager (also with her back to me) and stood up from my table. “DISCÚLPE,” I half-yelled. Conversations stopped and all eyes fixed on the guero. The manager had no choice but to turn my way. I raised my hands, my eyebrows and my shoulders in the classic American gesture of “WTF.” She muttered the equivalent of “right away” and went to harass one of her servers, as if it was that person’s fault. I watched, still standing until the manager came in person. I ordered my food and conversations resumed around us. (Mom, if you’re reading this: thanks for teaching me how to be a problem customer.) The delay bothered me because I had a full morning ahead. As long as I was in a major city I figured I should hit the local bike shops and try to find a replacement for my damaged tire. Four local bike shops all referred me to one famed master: Bicicletas Villaseñor. I arrived twenty minutes before they opened, waiting outside his green door. A collection of hardcore cyclists gathered in the street. Three of them rode low-rider stunt bikes, complete with fat tires and front/back pegs. The fourth, an upper class kid with the air of a scholar, perched on a tall road bike—the space-age descendant of my own Miyata. His ultralight frame, pencil-thin tires and pro sports wear indicated he was a racer. The street bikes showed off some amazing stunts that the road bike wasn’t built to match, but El Académico had a few tricks of his own. Occasionally one of these urban badasses would glance my way as if wondering what my story was, but mostly they were engrossed in popping flips and wheelies.
At no point was I tempted to show off my own stunts. For one thing, that’s not the kind of bike I rock and for another, doing tricks on a damaged tire seems like a poor choice. But mostly, I just have a different talent set: I don’t ride along curbs on just one wheel, but I can go 175 km in on day. That’s impressive enough by cyclist standards. Finally the inevitable older, Obi-Wan-looking store owner showed up and opened the door. I followed the stuntsters through the narrow opening. They all gathered around me and Obi Wan introduced himself. “A su orden,” he offered. But my wait was for nothing. He checked his inventory and had no sturdy, long-road-trip-worthy 27″ tires in stock. It’s just not a common thing in Mexico. (Cheap crummy 27″ tires or high quality 26″-ers, sure.) I thanked him and left the Villa behind This is really where I should’ve given up—if he didn’t have them, nobody would. But I’m not good at giving up. I went to a few more stores in the area, all of which referred me back to Villaseñor. I figured I would try a different neighborhood on the way out of town. Most of the day’s frustrations aren’t worth detailing. Suffice it to say that I rode through ghettos, freeway bridges and exurbs to hit two more bike suppliers. One didn’t exist except on Apple Maps (which sucks) and the other was a warehouse, not a store at all. They probably had exactly what I needed on the shelves inside, but coudn’t sell it to me. Of the two security guards at the warehouse, one wanted to shoot me for daring to walk in the office door and the other warmly drew me a map to a store that sold their products. After trying to find it twice I determined that it was either nowhere near where he thought it was or it had closed long ago. Sometime after 1 p.m. I finally shrugged off the quest and hopped on the freeway. And I was stung. Maybe it was the urgency of getting out of a big dirty city or maybe I just needed to work off some frustration. I dug my feet into the Giant’s pedals like never before and cannonballed the interstate. I covered two hours’ worth of distance in one, then turned toward Villa de Reyes on a road signposted as the “Ruta de Haciendas Potosinas” (Route of Potosian Plantations). You can see what the surroundings looked like here. At that turn a tailwind billowed up behind me. I kicked into the pedals with new muscles built strong on the mountains. The gears clicked up into second-highest. It’s an insane setting for long distance cruising, but it synced my body with the wind. We soared. Around 4:00 I came out of my trance and realized I was in some sort of town. It was Villa de Reyes. I rolled to a stop and looked around in confusion: my legs couldn’t understand why they weren’t still moving, and the rest of me couldn’t believe I was here so soon. It was two hours till sunset, and if the pace held out I could reach the larger town of San Felipe by dark. It would surely have a better selection of hotels. On the other hand, stopping here was the safe bet—if there was anywhere to stay. A cruise down the equivalent of Main Street convinced me to stay. I could only locate two hotels, one that looked like a complete hole and the other that looked delightful. (They were two different entrances to the same place.) I rolled my bike inside and got a room. I thought my troubles might be over. Villa de Reyes is a charming town, with a stream/canal running through it and houses built on bridges over the canal. But I wasn’t in for the best night. The hotel boasted internet and hot water, neither of which worked; the room was freezing; and when I asked for a receipt I was told it would cost extra (uh?). The beds were made of rocks and my only lightbulb exploded in the middle of the night. The one enjoyable part of my evening was finding a crazy good cocina economica, where the doña kept candles on a Guadalupe shrine over her brick oven. After dinner, both my mobile internet and the hotel internet failed, and I turned in for a fitful night of sleep. 33.3 miles.
Friday, November 28 (Day 875 of the Great Adventure)—Oh Dolores
I had client work to finish, so I awoke early hoping for a 4G signal. It still wasn’t there, and I had to adjourn to the freezing hotel courtyard to pick up wi-fi. Wrapped in a blanket, I typed away as the sun came up. For those of you keeping score, this was when I finally ran out of prepaid internet thanks to some earlier bungling. I spent the morning variously shivering, looking for somewhere that would serve me breakfast, asking Telcel kiosks all the wrong questions, or wandering more than a mile to an Oxxo station to get a giant cup of real coffee. Finally I found a doña who could help. She ran a little electronics shop and tried to explain everything I didn’t understand about my Telcel account. Another $400 pesos later I had the internet back. It was another very late start, departing after noon. I wasn’t sad to say goodbye to Villa de Reyes and I looked forward to covering some mileage. The easy target would be San Felipe, but all signs pointed to a farther town, Dolores Hidalgo, being prettier and well worth a visit. I decided to go 60 miles and reach it, late start or no. The day was mostly uneventful. I turned onto the wrong highway as I left town, which meant narrow lanes and no shoulder. One semi truck ran me off the road, and you can see my feelings on that in the video logs if you’re a supporter. I turned a corner at a bypass road around San Felipe. The land after that made everything better. More narrow rural roads but the traffic was light. Vast hilly surroundings, green instead of brown, and I had crossed the border into gorgeous Guanajuato state. In setting like this my creative side returns. I recorded two long voice memos to myself as I pedaled, one of which became The Birth of a New Heroism. The Giant rolled into Dolores Hidalgo exactly at sunset. It was indeed a gorgeous, welcoming and thriving town—the opposite of Villa de Reyes. The second hotel I walked into, Hotel CasaMia, was pretty much the perfect place: friendly staff, beautiful space and affordable prices. After taking a hot shower I basked in the presence of two working internet signals. I was drained. I wandered around town a little bit, taking in one of the prettiest and most active Centros I’ve seen. I passed on the fancy cafes off the central jardín and found a place with a college vibe that served pizza, tacos and burgers. I chose a platter of alambre (meat and fixings supposedly roasted on skewers, but usually just grilled) that consisted of steak, bacon, mushrooms, pineapples and cheese. This I rolled up into tacos until I was so full I couldn’t eat another bite. An early night in a comfortable (if cold) room awaited me. 62.5 miles.
Saturday, November 29 (Day 876 of the Great Adventure)—Rest Day
By the time I’d gone to sleep I pretty much knew I’d be taking an unplanned rest day in Dolores Hidalgo. I didn’t really need more rest so much as I was enchanted by the town and the chance to explore it. The way I travel, working while I’m on the road, has its downsides, but this is definitely an upside. I can stop in pretty much any place I fancy. After breakfast at a corner cafe I canvassed out from the Centro. Dolores Hidalgo, like Villa de Reyes, had a central canal. But instead of building over it they turned it into an attractive green riverfront. I also had something of a mission. I saw lots of artesanías (handmade craft shops) and decided to pick up a small lightweight shoulder bag. Men carry these a lot more commonly in Mexico, and it would be handy for taking my laptop or a book when I went out. Check out the result:
I was surprised to find a place called Zona “V” (the V Zone, meaning the Green Zone) in the local public market. They had salads, green smoothies, natural juices, vegetarian and gluten free food, and other healthy stuff. I wanted a regular unhealthy Cuban sandwich, which they were happy to make, but I washed it down with a terrific mix of grapefruit and orange juice. Much of the day was dedicated to writing, which I did in the CasaMia’s courtyard. Dolores Hidalgo is the city where the Mexican Revolution began, and I shot a video at the historic church where the cry for independence was raised. (I got every single one of my Mexican history facts wrong, however, and had to film a do-over the next morning.) For dinner I went back to the same college-atmosphere cocina and this time tentatively tried their pizza, which was actually really good. I worked late into the night and got ready for tomorrow’s ride, which would take me to San Miguel de Allende—the halfway point in the ride across Mexico.
Total traveled this leg: 95.8 miles.
Total traveled since Day 1: 3636.1 miles.