August 2 – 10th, 2012, Nayarit, Mexico
We leave Tepic with our eyes set on the town of Jala, a little over 72 kilometers away (~44 miles). Now that we are 3000 feet above sea level, the weather is bearable. But it doesn’t take us long to realize that we’ve traded insufferable heat and flat roads in for some climbing and heavy humidity.
The day begins with a slow and gentle climb overlooking rich, dark green valleys. By mid-day the landscape is dotted with abrupt but neatly symmetrical peaks that jut up out of the ground. It’s sort of surreal looking and I can’t help but imagine a giant mole crawling around underground, responsible for making these perfect mounds. We’re cycling through a volcanic basin and before the day is done we’ll see two ancient volcanoes. We pass by the Sanganquey volcano, outside of Tepic, at 2340 meters and just before Jala we see the Ceboruco (2280 meters), which buried an ancient city under it’s lava and volcanic rock.
Within 10 miles of reaching Jala I begin to get excited because I know that we have a six mile gentle descent in to town. I’ve never experienced riding a descent that long and I have been holding it up my mind as a special treat of sorts. The fact that it would put a smile a mile wide on my face at the end of a sweaty day made me feel simply giddy. So, you can imagine how my heart fell when, just a 1/2 mile in to the descent, I got a flat tire!
My Embarrassing Confession :: A Smart & Independent Woman Woefully Unprepared!
Normally a flat wouldn’t have been such a big deal, right? Except that I really hadn’t changed a flat tire in quite awhile and, to be honest, I had never had to change a tire without the help of someone else. I had taken workshops on cycling maintenance and had changed a tire there, but it was with the help of my classmate (it was a shared task). I had carefully watched Kai change his tires and, once, two years prior, changed a tire on my mountain bike with the help of Kai. But here I suddenly found myself, sitting on the side of the road, with the sun setting and Kai miles ahead of me whooping it down the descent, realizing that I had had very few flat tires in all of my cycling years and very little experience changing one completely on my own! ’My god’, I think, ‘and you consider yourself an independent and self-sufficient woman?!’
My head starts reeling. ’OK. OK. OK. Stay calm. Theoretically, you know how to change a tire. You can do this.” And I start unscrewing the release bolt. But then I realize I really don’t know how much I should unscrew the Pitlock stainless steel locking skewer or really how it works – it’s not like a normal quick release that I’m used to. It was then that I realize having Kai be solely in charge of cleaning and maintaining the bicycles while I was in charge of other things, like GPS route prep and maintaining our computers and our blog, may not have been such a great idea. I am woefully uneducated and unprepared!
As the sun drops deeper behind the Ceboruco volcano, I finally get the rear wheel off and start to wrench the tire off the rim with the few plastic and pathetically weak tire levers I find in my tool bag. I don’t remember I’m not supposed to take the entire tire off the rim so I yank it completely off and then take the deflated tube in my hands and start searching for the mysterious puncture point by simply staring at a one inch section then staring at another once inch section, as if a hole will just magically jump out at me. Up to this point, I had tried to ignore traffic speeding past me and was trying desperately to look competent and like I knew what I was doing (ah, the ego!). But, now, I hear someone yelling so look up. There, on the other side of tall cement medians, and across four lanes of speeding interstate traffic, is a man is waving. He yells, “You’re husband’s waiting for you on the bridge! He’s about 8 kilometers down the road!” Great. Just Great. I thank them with a wavering smile. They drive on.
As I pull my headlamp out of my rear pannier I start to feel queasy. I realize I’m not going to be able to change this flat on my own in the dwindling daylight and that Kai is probably getting really worried. Just then, a truck with two mountain bikes in it’s bed pulls over in front of me. A man and his son hop out and ask if I need help. Do I ever! We throw my bike and my bags in the back, I profusely thank them and we commence with a part Spanish- part English discussion about cycle touring (they’ve toured through parts of Mexico). In less than 10 minutes, we meet Kai, climbing his way back to me.
After we unload my bike and gear (thanks again Jorge & son!!), Kai quickly switches out my tube and puts my wheel back in place but not without admonishing me for taking the release completely apart or for taking the tire off the rim. It’s dark by now and we’re both testy so we concentrate on racing off the highway as quickly as possible and on to the exit ramp leading to Jala. We stop at the hotel closest to the highway. The room is up two flights of stairs (requiring us to make multiple trips up and down with our gear and bicycles), has no screens (and therefore a plenitude of creepy-crawly bugs are scurrying around the room) and no shower curtain (and a shower head that squirts water all around the room so that everything gets wet). However, it does have it’s good points – clean-ish sheets, hot water & a roof. By the time we haul our gear and bicycles upstairs that’s all we need to get us through the night.
Lesson Learned :: Know how to maintain your bike, even if you have a partner that likes to and offers to do it for you. You & your bicycle (and maybe even your partner) will be a lot happier if you know what you’re doing and can do it confidently and efficiently.
A Change of Plans
After a night of fitful sleep (I kept dreaming of bugs crawling up my nose and in to my ears), we wake early and head off toward what we thought would be our next stop – the town of Magdalena. It’s going to be a long day, over 74 kilometers (46 miles) of climbing. When we pull off in to the town of Ixtlan del Rio, only 17 kilometers (11 miles) down the road, to pick up food for lunch and dinner, we end up meandering our way further and further in to town in search of a mercado. By the time we find it, threatening storm clouds are beginning to dispense large droplets, so we say, “Screw it!” and make our way to a hotel deeper in the valley.
Ixtlan ends up being a sweet, bustling town and we decide to stay for a few days to take it in. We really love something about these small towns. They seem so alive and interesting, so welcoming and homey. We wander the streets, climb the hill outside of town that houses a church and huge statue of Jesus on its peak and linger on the town square to listen to musicians serenade us in the evenings. We buy fruit from the street vendors, Kai gets a much needed haircut and we sleep in most days. Surprisingly, we also see several funerals over a few days time in which large groups of family and friends and a New Orleans style band playing festive music walk down the main street in town behind a hearse and a truck whose bed is overflowing with flowers. People are dressed in bright and bold colors. Some attendees, at least in one of the processions I see, hold bottles of alcohol and take long, mournful swigs of the whiskey or tequila as they swagger behind their departed loved one. Armed police men and women flank either end of the processions. As they pass, out of respect, the entire town slows and stops business and watches with saddened eyes until they are out of sight. Then, slowly, they return to their transactions, to yelling for a taxi, to laughing and chatting. And, just like that, we witness life both passing and life going on.
Video of the Week:
Music performed by a local band and recorded in Ixtlán del Río, Nayarit, Mexico,at the town plaza on a Sunday night.