unchaining

June 24th, 2014

On the road again.  It feels refreshing to have some air blown against my face in this heat.  Now just to get the heck out of this city for the second time this week.  The heavy traffic and bumpy roads are keeping me from seeing my friends 900 miles south of here.  I’ve already been in Mexico for four frustrating days and only have made it 80 miles past the border in total even though I’ve driven for days on end.  I’ve visited each town twice already, once heading south and once heading north.

. . .

I visited the immigration office here in Ensenada a few days ago to find it closed.  A side door was ajar so I went in to see if anybody could help me get a visa to be able to travel into mainland Mexico.  I met a nice man and his six-year-old son behind the counter and he told me they were officially closed.  He told me to come behind the official government counter to look at a map showing all the immigration offices in Baja California. “No te preocupes” he told me,  “don’t worry, you can get your papers in any major town south of Ensenada.” I didn’t want to lose any time so I was happy to hear the news that I could continue right away instead of having to wait another day.

I left as fast as I could for the long journey south where a few friends from home invited me to stay with them in a fancy resort in Cabo San Lucas.  They were arriving three days from then and staying a week.  I figured the drive was at least four days so I was eager to hurry.

This was three days ago and I find myself once again in Ensenada…

. . .

The traffic here is such mayhem, people switch lanes like they’re rushing to a hospital, no blinkers, just rash turns.  I weave in and out of lanes being glad to have learned to ride a motorcycle on the streets and freeways of L.A..  I am getting to the edge of the city and finally see some open road off in the distance.  I switch to a clear lane, gun the throttle and hear an unusual clanking sound underneath me.  The engine revs but doesn’t propel me forward.  I know immediately before having to pull over that its my worn chain.  I coast to the side of the road and with a quick look down confirm my guess.

I stand momentarily clueless while the world of functioning vehicles passes me by.  I take a moment to realize the implications of not being able to leave anytime soon, feel the surge of annoyance, stop myself, and asses what I need to do to get moving again.

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. . .

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Imperfect Horizon. Camping in Baja California

The last three days have been some of the loneliest and unsure days of travel I’ve ever had.  Uneventful days of driving through barren unpopulated terrain on top of a bike I felt unsure of.  At every stop my front tire seemed like it had reached its last mile with no sign of a city large enough to find a replacement in.  With each mile, my doubts about the validity of the immigration officer’s promise to be able to acquire a visa in upcoming cities grew as I  analyzed his personality in hindsight.  Most of all though, I felt the shock of loneliness, rapidly switching from a comfortable life at home with family and friends to camping out in the arid Mexican desert alone with the thought of any return being so far off that it seemed forever.

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A day and a half after leaving the immigration office here in Ensenada, I arrived in Guerrero Negro, the first city with an immigration office south of Ensenada.  Full of apprehension, I walked into the office and asked for a Traveler’s Visa.  I was instantly turned down and told that I would have to return to Ensenada.  After a few minutes of debate, I learned there was no other option, leaving the office in defeat.  Turning back is such a horrible feeling, especially when the only ounce of hope of getting over the loneliness was with my friends in the south.  They may be the last faces from home I’d see in a long time as I travel further and further away.

I wanted to jump on the bike and race back to Ensenada but thought of my deteriorating tire.  I headed into the tiny town consisting of dirt roads and worn buildings to ask around.  I was directed to a small side street where there was supposed to be a motorcycle tire shop.  I couldn’t find anything so I asked around again to only be led to the same area.  The second time around I saw a Yamaha sticker in the window of what looked like a clothing store.  I went up to the window and peering into the closed shop window saw dresses on display, random used children’s toys on shelves and a few motorcycle tires off in a corner.

According to the front window, the shop was supposed to have opened an hour earlier.  I sat down on the curb in front and waited another hour and a half before a lady in a minivan  pulled up to open the shop.  I was confused as to what kind of shop it was supposed to be after seeing what was on display; snacks, motorcycle apparel, books, toys and an assortment of random items.

I asked some questions about the six used tires available and it was obvious the storekeeper knew nothing about motorcycles.  I took a leap of faith in a knobby tire that looked the least worn out and that happened to fit.  The tire wall read “not for highway use” but it was the best choice I had between my own worn tire and the other used dirt tires available.  It was between surely having a flat in the middle of the desert or maybe having one.  I payed the equivalent of thirty U.S. dollars, threw the tire over my shoulder and rode to the nearest “llantería”.  I remembered that in the U.S., car tire shops were not legally allowed to work on motorcycle tires but I figured there wouldn’t be a problem here.

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At the llantería, (tire shop), I dismounted the tire myself and handed it to a guy who worked sloppily, not being careful as  he ripped the tube out from the old tire.  I know how to change my tire but just wanted it done quickly with machines at a shop but realized quickly that it was done by hand there anyway.  I worked side by side with the man to speed things up and to make sure he didn’t break anything.  After slopping on some filthy soap water to stretch the tire into the rim, we finished up and everything seemed ok.  I payed the equivalent of five dollars and finally head out.  I took the first few miles slowly to test the tire out then started hauling ass back north, in the opposite direction of the oasis of familiarity I was longing for in this dry, lonesome desert…

. . .

The sun is beating down on my black riding jacket and I’m covered in sweat as I slowly push the bike along the busy street.  This is the first time having to push this loaded bike any distance on this trip and it is much heavier than I expected.  A semi-truck trying to turn right squeezes up against me so close it knocks the bike over.  The driver comes out, apologetically helps me pick it up and we push it to an empty parking lot.

I immediately begin to unload everything to make the bike light enough to get it on the center stand and be able to work on it.  I get all my tools, manual, extra chain and sprockets I brought along and begin the process.  Within one minute I realize I didn’t  think to pack a socket big enough to remove my front sprocket and am stopped in my tracks.  With all my belonging scattered on the parking lot in the sun I assess the situation.

I stop a man walking by and explain what’s going on to him, asking if he knows a mechanic nearby.  He points to one a few blocks away and I ask him for a favor; to ask the mechanic to let me borrow a 30mm socket.  He agrees to ask for me and tells me to wait for him.  After half an hour I realize he’s not coming back.  I have to pack everything back up so it can be locked up and go myself.  The mechanic agrees to help me if I bring the bike to him, so I return a few minutes later, panting with my broken machine.

The owner comes out with an array of sockets and wrenches and begins chatting in english with me.  He asks me what’s wrong and I explain my situation with the chain as well as where I’m headed overall on this trip.  He thinks it is really cool what I’m doing and hangs out with me as I go through the steps of replacing the chain.  During the whole process, he points out a number of things I’m doing wrong and offers me some guidance.  He can tell I’m trying to rush the job and asks me what the hurry is.  I let him know that my time here has been lonely and that I’m racing to see my friends down in Cabo San Lucas before they leave.  He patiently listens with understanding.  He is the perfect person for me to meet right now.  His presence puts me at ease and it makes me feel better that two sets of eyes have been inspecting this whole mechanical process.

After all is said and done, I offer him 200 pesos and he just tells me to give it to his workers for lunch.  He gives me a card and asks that I call him when I get to Mexico City.  I finally leave the city with my paperwork, a functioning tire, new chain and am on the road again.

  The calmness of the mechanic makes me realize that rushing is not worth it, even to be able to hang out with people I love.  I feel the tensity in my muscles slowly release as this realization becomes more clear.  My chain could’ve broke out in the desert.  If I didn’t have to return to Ensenada for the visa, in a city big enough to have mechanic shops all over, I would have surely been in the middle of nowhere, without the right tools.  As my hurried mind slows down, I realize that I am not supposed to be hanging out at a fancy resort, on the beach with friends now, but I’m supposed to be exactly where I am, on the road learning a lesson.  I didn’t embark on this journey for a mere temporary pleasure but for the lasting lessons brought about by a removal from comfort.

I slow the bike down, take the curves more carefully and begin to enjoy the scenery.  I feel gratitude for simply being alive and well.  My gratitude starts expanding out to my now working bike, my health, my family, every experience I’ve had and will have, the fact that I even have friends to go visit.  I start to feel ashamed for any complaint I’ve been making to myself and follow the same road I passed a couple of days earlier but with new eyes.  I missed something the first pass through and the universe is graciously giving me another chance…

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