Adventure, Adventure Prep, Bicycling, Mexico, Road Logs, Travel

Bicycling to Mexico’s Great Pyramids

Last time I explored the city of Mérida, where a 13 year old gave me a lesson in spirituality and a local artist joined me for a bike ride.

Now it’s time to push on—for the final leg of the Mexico ride. With literally thousands of miles behind me, just three more days will take me to my endpoint in Valladolid. And on the way I’ll see some of the most famous pyramids in Mexico.

Photo by Andre

Photo by Andre

February 5 (Day 944 of the Great Adventure)—The Yellow Town

I made a last minute change of plans. A major highway stretches from Mérida all the way to Valladolid, and I had planned to stick to it. But I heard great things about the town of Izamal, supposedly one of Yucatán’s prettiest, and I decided to go out of my way and see it.

I had a late start, around 12:45 in the afternoon. (I took so long getting ready that hotel staff moved my bike back into a storage closet after I’d already wheeled it out.) But with only 40 miles to go, I wasn’t worried about time.

The ride out of town mimicked the route Martín and I took for our joy ride days earlier. I remembered the fresh squeezed orange juice he’d brought along and got a hankering. Luckily Mexico has fruit stands just about everywhere, and soon I had a fresh 1-liter bottle in my rack.

Choosing the path less taken was a good call. Instead of a cuota (freeway) it was a country highway with jungle on both sides. There was a threat of rain but never more than a few drops, and traffic was blissfully light. Along the way I passed through Mayan villages. The people there would either gawk at me in surprise or pretend they didn’t even see me, depending on their mood, but if I waved and said good afternoon they’d always return the greeting.

Izamal is great! The entire town is yellow. Every single building is painted the same shade—thankfully it’s marigold and not, say, butter or lemon color. Other than white trim and some red-tile roofs, you can’t find another color within the city limits. I have a feeling that if a homeowner breaks ranks they face a forcible re-paint.

Photo by Andre

Photo by Andre

There was still plenty of light left, which was good because I had no idea where I was staying. I headed straight for the town center, rattling along on the faux cobble streets, but when I got there hotels were the last thing on my mind.

Instead, I stared up at a yellow and white palace sprawling across the top of a pyramid mound. The was the convento, the monastery at the heart of Izamal. If you can imagine slicing off the top of the Great Pyramid and dropping a medieval church into it, that’s pretty much literally what happened. The old Mayan temple had simply been replaced by a Christian one.

The Convento overlooks two squares, and I circled both and then explored out through the town streets. I found two very low-budget inns that could put me up (one with a nonstop barking dog and one with more mosquitoes than intact bathroom tiles). After that was a hotel that was blatantly vacant but which I was told was “completely full,” and one at the very edge of town that was out of my price range.

Despairing, I decided to take one more pass down the main road to see if I’d missed anything. That was when I found the Posada Ya’ax Ich, and immediately fell in love. The posada is actually a private home, with two guest bedrooms for rent. It was spotlessly clean, incredibly comfortable and had the first strong wi-fi signal I’d seen since Xalapa. I had a great conversation with the owner Elena and her sister Soco while Elena made up my room. Later I would meet her son Andrés as well.

Elena told me which of the three restaurants in town I should go to, and I mounted up one last time. (To be fair, there are actually four real restaurants in town, but one of them is super pricey and set up mainly for receiving tour buses.) My eyes dazzled: with the light of sunset on ochre buildings and polished streets, I thought I’d fallen into a bronze casting of a colonial scene.

Photo by Andre

Photo by Andre

Dinner was tasty, eaten in under the arcade surrounding the main plaza. I had my first taste of dzikil-pak, a Mayan dip made from toasted pumpkin seeds (amazing). It rained for a spell, and I enjoyed the cool air before the last ride back to the posada.

41.0 miles.

Map.

The Convento. Photo by Andre.

The Convento. Photo by Andre.

February 6 (Day 945 of the Great Adventure)

Morning came and I got up early. I had exploring to do. Andrés served a great homemade breakfast and Elena said I could leave my things in the room while I looked around.

Before long I was climbing the steps to the Convento, finding a giant courtyard with arched arcades on all sides. Each of the corners of the courtyard once housed a shrine, and the arcades were built to shelter religious processions from rain as they marched from one to the next. These days the shrines stand empty, for no reason explained at the site.

I didn’t spend long at the Convento, however. I was more interested in something else I discovered during yesterday’s hotel hunt: a giant pyramid right in the middle of a city block.

This one wasn’t cut off halfway to put a church on top. It’s gigantic—200 meters to a side—and rises in multiple levels up to a tiny stone platform stories above the city. Most of Mexico’s pyramids are cordoned off in archaeological parks far away from development, but this one is part of the neighborhood. One on street the lineup is literally: house, oil change shop, restaurant, house, pyramid.

Photo by Andre

First stairs up to the pyramid. Photo by Andre

I found the stone stairs that lead up to it—nestled in a break between yellow homes—and started up. The climb was intense; a series of steps led up to a large plateau, big enough that there were trees growing on it and a local family enjoying it like a park. Just past their picnic the stairs continued up the pyramid proper. I waved to them and up I went.

Second staircase up. Photo by Andre.

Second staircase up. Photo by Andre.

The pyramid itself. Photo by Andre.

The pyramid itself. Photo by Andre.

According to legend, offerings left at this pyramid were once collected by a red macaw who carried them up to the heavens. I’m not sure if mine will ever be collected, but I paid my respects and placed a few coins as gifts. If not a macaw, perhaps the next kid who climbs up will find a use for them.

Then I gazed out over Izamal, all yellow and white. From here I could see that the town is the original Mayan city, following the same streets as 600 years ago. It was obvious now that the Convento was once a much higher pyramid, looming directly over the town center. It would have been a twin to the one I stood on, and together they made up the heart of a once city-state.

Climbing the pyramid. Photo by Andre.

Climbing the pyramid. Photo by Andre.

View from the top. Photo by Andre.

View from the top. Photo by Andre.

There were other pyramids, too, according to the map, but each of them is in the center of a city block, houses and shops literally leaning against its stone sides as a convenient foundation. I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up with a pyramid in your backyard. I suppose that like all growings-up it must seem boring at the time.

Jim Morrison and the Road

Soon enough I was back on the road, headed toward Pisté—the nearest town to Chichén Itzá, Mexico’s most famous pyramids. I noticed a cocina economica (tiny restaurant) in the first village along the way. I didn’t stop but it put the idea in my head, and every time I coasted through a village after that I looked around hopefully for another one. No dice.

The hours passed by, listening to music or podcasts or just enjoying the jungle road. I got about three fourths of the way to Izamal before my tummy began rumbling in protest, and at the last real town I turned off the road and hunted around. Sure enough, a doña was willing to serve me some chipotle chicken and rice. I shared the only table in her kitchen with several construction workers, who had matching mustaches and all seemed more interested in football than asking a foreigner any questions.

After that it was a short, sweet ride in the late afternoon air. Golden light cut through the forest. Because my spiritual experience in Mérida had been inspired (indirectly) by Jim Morrison, I had downloaded a few of his albums. Previously I wasn’t really familiar with his music, and it seemed surreal to hear it in the peaceful Mayan jungle. The songs were as trancey as I’d been told, and reminded me of all the things I missed about New Orleans.

But every good buzz has to come to an end, and by late afternoon I crossed the toll road and entered the sprawl of Pisté. Everything that Izamal is, Pisté is not: it’s ugly, noisy, busy (for such a small place) and has no colonial town center that I could find. I suspect it exploded when Chichén Itzá, just a few kilometers down the road, became a major tourist site.

I was headed toward a cheap hotel, but first scouted the road to Chichén, clearly marked and even closer than I thought. After checking in and taking a shower I headed out for dinner, at an outdoor market alongside the busy main road of town.

The night ended peacefully. I had made a pledge to those who backed my journey that I would make offerings for them at the great pyramids. Now, one by one, I unpacked stalks of copal incense carefully bundled in my toolkit, and clipped pieces of red ribbon with my boot knife. As I tied a ribbon around each incense stalk, I said the prayers that had been requested by my friends, binding them to the offerings in knots.

It was a beautiful night.

45.7 miles.

Map.

Photo by Andre

Photo by Andre

February 7 (Day 946 of the Great Adventure)—The Last Day

Another early start. This hotel owner wasn’t as understanding as Elena, and I had to get all my stuff out of the room before I headed out to see the pyramids. I left it in the owner’s living room, then biked up the road. I wanted to be in the gate as soon as they opened at 8 a.m., and would save breakfast for later.

Even at 8:01, an entire tour bus managed to offload in front of me, but soon enough I had my ticket. I’ve actually been to Chichén once before, ten years ago. It felt good to revisit this place now that I’d come all the way on my own body power. To the various guides at the entrance I was just another tourist though, and I had to endure sales pitches in multiple languages to get through the gate.

Chichén Itzá was the capital of the Itzá people, one of the most powerful Mayan nations in the days before the Conquest. But it wasn’t the Spanish who knocked the Itzá off their throne; they had declined as a civilization long before smallpox or gunpowder. Even so, this city—the one I was walking into—had become such an important ritual center that it remained a destination for pilgrims long after its fall. Supposedly, emissaries from other Mayan civilizations would arrive here in large processions, walking through the ghost city to visit the oracle who still dwelt there.

Photo by Andre

Photo by Andre

The main draw of Chichén today is its largest pyramid, nicknamed El Castillo (the Castle). The railings of its staircases are carved stone snakes that run from the top to the bottom, where giant feathered serpent heads leer with gaping stone mouths. The main staircase was made with incredible precision: at the winter solstice, when the run rises, the shadows on the stairs look like serpents wending their way down from above.

That’s not the only engineering marvel. I was surprised to see none of the tourists clapping their hands. Standing in front of the staircase I took out my camera and recorded a short video for my supporters showing what happens when you clap in front of the temple.

“Excuse me,” said a Belgian after the video was done. “What was that you just said?”

“Oh,” I laughed. “Yeah, when you clap your hands here, the echo comes back sounding like the call of a quetzal bird. The quetzal is sacred to Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. This pyramid is his temple.”

The Belgian was floored. Soon, he and his girlfriend were clapping as hard as they could, and twee twee twee came the echoes back. I’ve heard recordings of actual quetzal birds played just before the handclaps, and they’re almost indistinguishable. The Maya (with possible help from the Toltecs) knew what they were doing.

This news spread to more tourists, and more, all of them wanting to know why we were clapping. Soon about fifty people were applauding in front of the pyramid and a cacophany of birds answered back. Smiling, I walked away.

El Castillo isn’t the only sight, though. The preserved ruins of Chichén are a Vatican-like city of temples and palaces. It’s bigger than most of the surrounding towns, and you could walk there for hours. Not far from the main pyramid I found a giant platform decorated with thousands of stone skulls, each one representing a sacrificial victim killed at the site. This is the monument that stands out most in my memory from 10 years ago.

I also strolled through the ball court, where warriors once played a soccer-like game with their lives on the line. Standing in the middle of the stadium, one of the tour guides demonstrated the “whisper effect.” A word whispered in the middle of the field echoes down the walls and can be heard everywhere. Then he had about 30 German tourists shout something in unison, and the sound of their cry resounded through the stands. It must have been a hell of a ball game.

Photo by Andre

Photo by Andre

In bygone times, the Chichén Itzá’s cenote (underground lake) was as much of a draw as the pyramids. In fact, the Chichén in the name basically means “well.” The water source was the reason there was a sacred city in the first place, and it was also considered a ritual gateway to the underworld; Maya pilgrims would once have paid at least as much homage to the cenote as they did to the oracle.

These days that sacred pool is at the end of a long trail lined with merchandise vendors. Their stalls crowd both sides and they aren’t afraid to accost you with promises of “Only one dollar!” (none of the merchandise actually costs $1). I thought about it and said my prayers from afar. I’d be making offerings at a different cenote soon in Valladolid, and didn’t really need the extra headache.

That’s not to say the rest of Chichén is vendor-free. Now that the park was filling up the salesmen were out in force, lining all the trails that wander away from the Castillo toward other areas of interest. I decided to do what I’d come for while the doing was good. I found a shady, empty spot around the back of El Castillo, knelt, and said the prayers of my supporters. These were people who had helped make my dream come true, and whose own dreams I had carried with me for 1,700 miles.

As I finished placing the offerings, a call split the sky. An eagle swooped over the pyramid.

Photo by Andre

Photo by Andre

From there on I wandered the ruins with a light heart. Toward the back of the site is a forested area with giant palaces crumbling amidst it; certainly my favorite spot. A different trail takes you to El Caracol (“The Snail”), a spiral-shaped tower once used as an observatory. Near the Caracol is a pyramid that’s a smaller replica of El Castillo, and a gigantic structure that has collapsed just enough to reveal that  its pyramid is largely hollow. All of it is breathtaking.

I didn’t dawdle as much as other tourists, and none of this was new to me. But it still inspired awe. And it marked a major accomplishment on my Adventure, reaching this sacred landmark and also reuniting with the place where I first fell in love with Mexico.

Photo by Andre

Photo by Andre

The Last Road

By 11:00 I was back in Pisté. I found a small kitchen on the main road where a doña served breakfast in a sunny room. Again, there was no sense of hurry: this was my last morning as an itinerant cyclist, at least for the Mexico trip; why not stop and enjoy it?

Ready for breakfast. And yes, that's Nescafé there. Photo by Andre.

Ready for breakfast. And yes, that’s Nescafé there. Photo by Andre.

Eventually I got back to the hotel and found the landlady, extracting my things from behind her couch. And just like that, the last day on the road had begun.

The road to Valladolid took me right past Chichén Itzá once again. The jungle is so thick you can only see the entrance; not even the pyramid tops are visible from the road. I turned my eyes forward. Again I had chosen a country road instead of the toll road, though this one had plenty of tour buses to buzz past me.

Time went by. I was in no hurry, and the wind was a little against me. As I approached the halfway point, I noticed a little trail running alongside the highway, tucked away back in the woods. To my surprise the trail was paved, and I quickly switched over. (It turns out Yucatán roads often have a bike/pedestrian path somewhere nearby, though the pavement on this one was remarkably good.)

Photo by Andre

Photo by Andre

The highlight of rolling down this trail was coming upon a small dog who got spooked and fled from me—but had nowhere to go except further down the trail. I ended up basically chasing him for a quarter of a mile. Eventually the path connected with the side streets of a village, and kids stared or waved as I rolled through.

Valladolid!

Valladolid was my home base on my first ever trip to Mexico. At the time it was a quiet, charming town without a lot of tourist buzz: large enough to have things to do, but not so big it was annnoying. As I entered the outskirts I was relieved to see that it hadn’t transformed, hadn’t tripled in size, hadn’t lost its charm. It was a lot like I remembered it, and for some reason that made  me happy.

I reached the town center, a giant central garden with a fountain and trees and iron fences and gates. It was as if I had just left yesterday. The Giant took a victory lap around the central square, then I pulled aside and recorded this video:

I couldn’t believe it. Later that night, riding in the dark just to enjoy the night air, it would suddenly hit me: I rode across Mexico. Everyone told me I would die, and here I was, alive and ready for 4,000 more miles.

But first a rest. I had booked an AirBnB in town based on simple criteria: pick the one with the coolest owner. That happened to be a British fashion designer who had built much of her home of out recycled wood and salvage. Once I got through congratulating myself I headed toward her house, some English tea, and the new adventure: find out where I’d live for the next few months.

28.9 miles.

Map.

Total traveled this leg: 115.6 miles.

Total traveled since Day 1: 4757.1 miles.

Thank you to everyone who followed along so far. The Mexico leg is over, but the Adventure is not. Next time I’ll fill you in on what I’ve been up to since Valladolid and what I have planned for the future.

Until then, of course, feel free to peruse past road logs, get yourself a postcard (yes, I’m still in Mexico) or ask me anything about the ride. Anything except, “How does it feel to bike across Mexico?” because the answer is, “Boy are my knees tired.”

Thanks guys!

Thanks guys!

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Adventure, Adventure Prep, Bicycling, The Great Adventure, Travel

The Next Three Days

The Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) as seen through the chain links of the border crossing. Photo by André.

The Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) as seen through the chain links of the border crossing. Photo by André.

Right now I’m in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. I crossed the border bridge yesterday on my bike in the rain. It almost never rains here—especially not at this time of year—but we managed two get two days nonstop.

I was exhausted. I left New Orleans around 9 am on Tuesday in a rental car, the bike in the back. That night I reached Corpus Christi where I had dinner with friends and grabbed a few hours’ sleep. I left before 4 a.m. on Wednesday, driving onward to Laredo, TX.

There I spent a long day working on my laptop at a motel. I raced to take care of last minute preparations. I got less than a full night’s sleep, but the next morning I set off on bicycle.

It felt good to cross an international border on a bicycle, a first for me. The border guards on the Mexico side didn’t search me, instead expressing shock and interest in the plan to bike to Yucatán—nearly 2,000 miles. The immigration officials were similar, and very friendly.

Then I bicycled over and met a local, Scotch, who had offered to put me up for a night. I met him at his sushi restaurant, Mr. Rollo. He’s very warm and easygoing, a bright businessman who has built up his two restaurants, his bar, and his girlfriend’s hair salon from nothing. We went to his house and I dropped off my bike, then he helped me get a new SIM card so my phone will work in Mexico. We ate at Mr. Rollo and later had dinner with his family at his house, conversing in two languages.

Today is a little slower paced. Pixi arrived this morning on her bicycle. I met her at the border bridge and led her over to Scotch’s house. Later, my friend Ernest White II will arrive—via flights and taxis, not bicycles—to act as our support. He’ll rent a car and follow us for the next three days.

So the plan is this. Tomorrrow we roll out at dawn, Pixi and me on bikes and Ernest behind us in the car. If we have a mechanical problem or other delay, Ernest can pick us up so we’re off the road before dark—a key part of safety in this area. For the first three nights, we’ll stay in hotels rather than camping.

As a further precaution, a friend stateside has my Find My iPhone login and will be able to report us missing—along with our exact last known location—if we miss any of our nightly checkins those first three nights.

Two other cyclists will join us within a week, but are running too late for the appointed start date. So it’s just the three of us tomorrow, but I feel good about our little group. It is a small Fellowship, perhaps, but one that I believe can go a very long way.

Fellowship of the Wheel bicycle adventure

Your contribution helps us afford crucial safety precautions as we bike across Mexico. Plus you get exclusive perks like video logs, letters from the road and blessings! Click here to support the the Fellowship of the Wheel today. Just one day left!

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Adventure, Adventure Prep, Fellowship of the Wheel, The Great Adventure, Travel

A Roguish Update

Preparation for the Fellowship has kept me busy this week (and therefore quiet on this blog), but I wanted to give everyone an update.

I’m in New Orleans, as I have been since the Texas Leg. For the first two months here I rented a room, and this month I was invited to stay in a friend’s guest bedroom. I pay utilities, help him with a few errands, and we’re all getting along great.

My to-do list while here has been a whirlwind. First I had to get the word out about the ride across Mexico and recruit cyclists, which went well. Then I had to put together our funding campaign, which I did but the results have been slow. And this month I’ve had to focus on getting our little group ready: making sure everyone knows where to be and when to be there, and that all the arrangements are in place when we show up to get started.

This has by far been the most intimidating part of the preparation, and I spend pretty much every day racing from one task to another. I’m the sort of person who really prefers to have a single, large project to lose myself in (like writing a novel or a batch of 10 articles for a client). A to-do list of dozens of smaller, unconnected items is pretty much my nightmare. But it’s also to be expected before just about any large adventure.

Given that I also have client work to do, what’s fallen by the wayside is much of my own personal preparation. I realized this week that I haven’t yet gotten a physical, gone to the dentist or gotten new contact lenses as I’d planned to; I haven’t registered for an absentee ballot so I can vote from Mexico; I haven’t switched to my new phone or made a final decision on what shelter I’ll be sleeping in on the road.

There’s no doubt that these projects will get done. I wake up every morning, check my list and dive in. What will get triaged, unfortunately, is my own writing. Aside from not blogging here this week, I have three finished short stories I won’t have time to edit and send out before the trip, and I’m about 40% of the way through writing another book. It gets extremely strong feedback from my writers’ group, but I won’t make much more progress on it till after we reach the Yucatán.

All of this, of course, makes me question the Adventure overall. I felt the same way last time I left New Orleans to push the journey forward. In one form or another I’ve been planning for this journey since March, when I finished the kayak leg. There’s no denying that it’s taken my focus away from other things I care about.

So I ask myself: what takes me forward? It’s more than just a stubbornness, a refusal to quit (though that is something I excel at). There’s also a sense of excitement. Finally getting to cruise into the Yucatán on my bicycle, the wind in my face, is an image that grabs me. It’s a day, like the day I rolled into New Orleans, that I want to remember for the rest of my life.

And this time I have companions. I don’t know how much will change, compared to past legs, with fellow adventurers at my side. It should make many of the hard times easier, and it will also bring problems of its own. But the individual personalities of those who have stepped forward are recommendation enough, and I would want the chance to mingle with a group like this whether we were on an adventure or not.

So a good crew, a good goal, and a certain amount of refusal to give in. Is that justification for a great adventure? I don’t know. But I’m damn well going to find out.

Please help us launch this adventure:

Fellowship of the Wheel bicycle adventure

Your contribution helps us afford crucial safety precautions, AND you get exclusive perks like behind the scenes video logs, letters from the road and blessings from Mexico! Please support the the Fellowship of the Wheel

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Adventure Prep, Fellowship of the Wheel

Deadline Extension

Fellowship of the Wheel adventure campaign

Several people have contacted me and said that they would like to be able to contribute to the Fellowship of the Wheel fundraiser, but won’t be able to before the campaign deadline. Several others have suggested that I should extend the deadline so that people can give right up till the day the trip starts, which will make it more exciting and possible lead to a few last minute contributions.

So, good news: the deadline has now been extended through November 8!

If you haven’t heard, contributions to this campaign will help us cover important group costs, like a support vehicle to tail us through the notorious border region. In other words, the money you contribute to the campaign directly helps us stay safe as we cycle. It will also help provide must-have equipment such as a wireless device we can use to get wi-fi anywhere in Mexico. That helps us stay in touch and further contributes to our safety.

Supporters get much more than a thank you (although your name is inscribed in a thank you card that will travel all 2,000 miles of our journey with us). You also get all kinds of perks, from video logs recorded as we travel to a series of stories inspired by the places we visit. We can even send you postcards and hand-written letters from the road.

If you haven’t already, please consider contributing to the campaign. Even a $1 donation helps (and gets your name on the card). And please share the link and tell your friends. Check out the campaign here.

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Adventure, Adventure Prep, Fellowship of the Wheel

On Losing an Adventurer

Photo by Amsterdamized

Recently I wrote that a total of 18 people have expressed interest in the Fellowship of the Wheel, of which about nine are serious. So what happened to the other nine?

A trip like this is a big commitment. I’ve always assumed that not everyone who threw their hat in the ring would actually show up. Taking a cue from my college activism days, I expected the “law of halves” to take effect: half of all interested would be serious, and half of those will follow through. In other words, if just five adventurers show up in the flesh I’ll be quite happy.

So I wasn’t surprised that a handful of people have bowed out so far, although I am surprised at the reasons why. I assumed that security would be the biggest source of attrition. Potential adventurers would start out enthusiastic, I imagined, but then balk as friends and family scared them with stories of mass graves in Mexico. (Speaking only for my own friends and family, who have overall been amazingly supportive, telling me these horror stories is an eerily popular activity.)

At least two group members have indeed reported warnings from friends when they announced their intention. But out of 18 people interested, only one has cancelled over safety concerns. And even in that individual’s case, the worries were more his wife’s than his own and it sounds like a busy work schedule was a bigger factor.

Another individual who dropped out had very different reasons:

  1. He doesn’t approve of a fundraiser to help defray group costs;
  2. He couldn’t understand why we’re taking “so long” (80 days) to bike across Mexico.

Both of these objections come down to personal preference. The Fellowship has a clear mission to make adventure accessible and to use that adventure as a chance to learn about ourselves and the world. Both the fundraiser and the slow pace are intentional choices to support that mission.

The fundraiser in particular helps reduce barriers to people who wish to come. The trip is already expensive: you need a plane or bus ticket, a decent amount of cycling equipment, and money for food and lodging on the road. The individual in question, an older adult with a lot of cycling experience, wrote that “I… would rather just pay my share,” instead of relying on contributions. And that’s a very reasonable preference. But not everyone is an experienced cyclist, and it’s easy to forget how costly it can be to a beginner. If I asked everyone to pay a $300 entrance fee I suspect we’d lose several of the younger and less experienced members of the group, and some people may never have expressed interest at all. That would go against the core mission of making adventure accessible.

Likewise with the length of the journey. Our 80 day trip includes three day rest stops every week or so, plus a week long break in Catemaco for Christmas and New Year’s. “The three day rest stops could be eliminated or reduced to one day,” our erstwhile companion wrote. “The 80 day trip could be reduced to 40.”

Again, this is a very reasonable preference. Some cyclists hit the road in order to challenge themselves athletically, to see how many miles they can log per day or how fast they can go. This competitive spirit is a huge motive in the cycling community and can be a lot of fun.

But it’s not our main goal. The breaks give us much more than physical rest—they give us a chance to learn from the towns we visit. Three days is time to see pyramids, to talk to locals, to try a regional dish, to tour a museum, or simply to explore the streets of a new place. These are the activities that make you think about yourself and your place in the world. They’re opportunities to make new friends, to learn about a people and to see things you would never notice rushing by. This is where a sense of adventure and exploration comes from.

I wasn’t the smallest bit offended by this adventurer’s reasons for dropping out. I was grateful he explained them. It made it clear that we want something different from our travels. And it was a good reminder that I should clarify expectation on pacing to each and every member of the group before we hit the road together. We’ll have both long, disciplined days on the road and slow, easy days of freeform exploring. The people who enjoy both are the ones who will be happiest with our Fellowship.

Please help us travel safely (and earn amazing rewards!) by contributing to the Fellowship of the Wheel today.

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Adventure, Adventure Prep, Andre Sólo, Fellowship of the Wheel

It Felt Like Chickening Out

Photo by Mish Sukharev

When I was in Guanajuato I almost gave up on my Adventure. I didn’t know if I wanted to go on and bike across Mexico, because I felt lonely and overwhelmed making such a big journey on my own. But I didn’t want to give up, either. I felt lost and confused.

I wrote to a friend for help. This is what I wrote:

I still want to bicycle across Mexico and Latin America, the more I read about other people doing it the more amazing it sounds. But they always go with a partner, a spouse, a buddy or a group… it would be nice to share the experience with other people.

I’m considering putting the adventure on hold to try to form a group. It would be so much more fun. It would also be safer. Not that we can ever say it is 100% safe but it makes such a difference when you have people looking out for each other.

But this makes me feel really conflicted. It feels like ANOTHER delay in the Adventure and also kind of like chickening out. Like I’ve already delayed the Mexico leg for a year, am I going to do it or not? I don’t want to sit around making excuses not to go and regretting it later.

My friend wrote back to me:

It’s your adventure, so you must choose your own path. I would suggest not thinking about it too much. Make a decision, stick to it. That’s the best anyone can hope for.

I have traveled alone and I know well the anguish of doing so. It also feels very pointless with no witness. But I’ve come out the other end, with very little memory of it, and so I know little of what was gained. I know that I have lost much on those trips.  But I wouldn’t change it. Either way.

It’s a tough decision, Andre, but one that you are more than capable of making. Delay means nothing. You are still young and have the luxury of time. It takes nothing away from the journey to change tactics. Any veteran understands the necessity of wisdom. Patience is key, and it matters not at all how long the journey takes you.

You are beholden only to your own impatience. No one else’s judgment matters in the least. Take your time, gather your resources, and enjoy the journey as best you can. You have already seen what traveling alone in Mexico is like.  If you don’t like it, don’t fucking do it, man! Screw that!

I would lean toward finding a human to share the trip with. Because it seems that is what you are doing anyway. And there is no shame in that anyway.

Those words cured me instantly. Right away I knew he was right. I asked another friend for help planning it, and today we have a group of at least 10 people planning to ride across Mexico together. I’ve never been more excited about the Adventure.

The moral of the story isn’t exactly “it’s okay to chicken out.” It might be make sure your actions align with your dream. 

What is your dream? Do your actions align with it? And, if not, what’s holding you back?

You can help us launch the trip across Mexico with a contribution. In exchange, you’ll be with us every step of the way with video logs, stories from the road, postcards and letters. Please consider contributing and help us spread the word: The Fellowship of the Wheel campaign. Thank you!

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Adventure, Adventure Prep, Bicycling, Fellowship of the Wheel, Mexico

Update on the Fellowship of the Wheel

Funding update for Andre's trip across Mexico

Adventuring means traveling freely. But it does not mean traveling for free.

That’s why I created the Fellowship of the Wheel crowdfunding campaign, which is currently live on Indiegogo. This campaign is designed to support the Fellowship’s ride across Mexico, my first major group ride. I announced the campaign a week ago and it’s time for an update on progress.

First let me say how impressed I am with the group of adventurers planning on crossing Mexico with me. We have about 14 people interested in going, which is more than I ever could have hoped for. Some want to go for the whole thing, others only for a leg. But it’s not the sheer number of people that amazes me, it’s the mix that we have.

Our group includes both men and women, skewed a bit toward the male side of the spectrum. There are people of all ages, from 20’s to 60’s. And their experience level varies widely, from people trying a long bicycle ride for the first time to experienced touring cyclists/bicycle mechanics. Basically, it’s everything I could have asked for.

One man, in his early 60’s, emailed me just today to ask if he could come along. “I haven’t toured long/overnight on bicycle,” he wrote. “I am a beginner. I ride everyday in Vermont and I find the hills difficult.” Even so, he wants to cross 2,000 miles of uncertain terrain.

This is exactly why I launched the Fellowship in the first place. To me, an adventure is an undertaking so big that at first you don’t have the skills you need to complete it. You have to improve yourself along the way. I have no doubt that all of us who attempt this ride will rise to the occasion.

Right now, we have raised only 25% of the funds we need. This money will help us afford safety equipment and resources. I’m asking all of you reading this to please click this link and consider donating. And whether you donate or not, please share the link as widely as you can.

All support is appreciated. You are making dreams come true.

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