Mexico City and 1 week home in Florida

Typical traffic scene in Mexico City

One of the big obstacles of riding through Mexico is the huge metropolitan area of Mexico City, with over 20 million people the second largest city in the world. I don’t want to ride my bicycle there. Traffic is just chaotic and riding a bicycle here is not advisable, much less with a recumbent and a lot of luggage. Plus there is a considerable risk of theft here in the city; I had been warned by many friends to be extra careful in Mexico City and not ride there or even take the subway at night…

Subway in Mexico City

Last week I got to Toluca (about 40km West of Mexico City) and stayed in a hotel. I left my bicycle there and took a bus to Mexico City. After an interesting half-day / evening in the metropolis and some great chamorro dinner I went to the airport and took a flight back home to Florida.

Dinner in Mexico City prior to flying home to Florida for one week

This last week was very recuperative for me and allowed me to reconnect with my family. I also took care of some logistics and picked up my mountaineering gear for upcoming Pico Orizaba.

Yesterday I retraced my route back from home via car (to West Palm Beach), TriRail (to Miami airport), airplane (to Mexico City airport), metro (to bus terminal), luxury bus (to Toluca) and on foot (to hotel) to get back to the hotel and my bike here in Toluca. What a trip! Rainy / overcast weather provided better air quality and visibility of how vast the Mexico City area is. Amazing!

Today I need to cross Mexico City one more time, now with the bike and all my gear (including the 40 lb mountaineering backpack). This will be quite a challenge, as the buses from the West (Toluca) and to the East (Puebla) end at different terminals. Between those there is either the metro (not an option with my bike and luggage) or taxis. We’ll see how I can navigate the city one more time…

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Big city, big lakes, big hills

Sunset over Lago de Chapala

Crossing Guadalajara by bike was a high-energy activity. One has to be aware of everything around and ride a bit more aggressive to assert oneself in the lane so as to not be squeezed into impossibly small corners. After 2 hours of this I needed to seek refuge in the “sanctuary” of an A/C and quiet hotel lobby. This is not for the timid rider… The biggest city, Mexico City, I won’t try to cross by bike. Instead I plan to ride into and out of it by bus; I think this will be a safer proposition.

Guadalajara city traffic - not for the timid rider

After Guadalajara I reached the first big lake, Lago de Chapala. I stayed at the town of Ocotlan, where I was able to camp right on the lake shore. The folks in a hotel / restaurant took me in for free one night and even invited me for dinner, very generous of them (I donated in their name to my cause).

Camping right next to Lago de Chapala on the hotel premises

Then I continued on the cuota for another 125km or nearly 7h until the sun set. It’s not always easy to fidn a good spot, as sometimes there isn’t an exit for some 40km or so. Yesterday I got to a toll booth and exit, so I rolled into the little town of Panindicuaro. There I found Internet access, some food and a small, quiet and clean hotel room.

Evening mood riding on the Cuota near Panindicuaro

Today I continued on the cuota for another 75km or so – this was one of the toughest head-wind stretches of my entire trip. Also ongoing big hills – I reached 1900m altitude for the first time. The first 40km took 3 hours! That’s tough on your mind. One nice aspect was that I crossed the 10.000km mark here. Ten million meters under pedal power from Alaska to Mexico. Beautiful scenery, though, with clear air at higher elevations and cultivated farmland.

Bike at Lago Cuitzeo

Then I got to the second big lake (Lago Cuitzeo) which was scenic to look at. From there it was another 20 hilly km to Morelia. This town is very attractive, with a large historic center, cathedral, museums, cafes, and just lots of people everywhere. A very immersive, Mexican experience.

Cathedral in the center of Morelia

Only 250km to go to Mexico City, where I will catch a plane next Tuesday back home for 1 week vacation in FL…

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Mexico Mainland

Sunset over the Baja from the ferry leaving La Paz and heading for Mazatlan

I took the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan arriving on the morning of Friday, Oct-9. I spent a much needed rest day in Mazatlan at the lovely Ocean Front Inn Bed & Breakfast hosted by Jim and Candace – a place I can highly recommend. Their hospitality and great location right on the water and near the “centro historico” did wonders to recharge my batteries, which had been depleted after the 2 week nonstop Baja ride…

With Jim and Candace on the patio of their Mazatlan Ocean Front Inn

On Saturday I started riding South towards Guadalajara. It is much more tropical here, with high humidity and temperatures in the mid 90s. It feels just like riding in Florida in the summer! Sweating from the moment you get on the bike until you take a shower at night…

I covered quite some distance in the first two days – nearly 300km to Tepic. I stopped at the occasional little town, usually heading straight for the central plaza, often at the local church with plenty of shops, restaurants and mostly also some form of Internet access.

Centro historico in Acaponeta en route to Tepic

Initially it was all flat, and riding on the cuota (tollroad) is safe (wide shoulder, little traffic) and fast (straight-line, bridges and hilltop-cutouts). That changed yesterday afternoon, when I ran into the hills leading up to Tepic. I had no idea how much climbing was involved to reach this town (at 900m sealevel). So I ran out of daylight (and options to stay), so I had to finish the last hour in the dark, going uphill, with lots of traffic. It was hot, humid, stinky from the trucks, and I was tired after more than 9 hours on the bike. Not a scenario I would want to repeat anytime soon. I stopped at the first small hotel and got some of Ricos tacos next door – too tired to look for anything else.

Dinner at Ricos Tacos after a tiring day to Tepic

But today is another day, and I got caught up on email and Blogging. I’ll probably do a much shorter day today, continuing towards Guadalajara and then Lago de Chapala…

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Enjoyment and Happiness

When you spend many hours on the bicycle every day you have a lot of time to think. Think about why to do a trip like this, what makes it so enjoyable, how it contributes to one’s happiness. Here I offer some of my thoughts on this topic.

One of the recurring themes in happiness literature is the distinction between things which are merely pleasant (mostly sensual pleasures such as good food) vs. things which offer a higher level of enjoyment (for example aesthetics, arts, music, etc.) Indulging in simple sensual pleasures makes us feel good in the short-term; however, the pleasure subsides when the sensual need is satisfied. And after a while the need arises again, so indulging in sensual pleasures can not provide long-lasting happiness.

Humans have the unique ability to forgo simple pleasures in the pursuit of some higher, more rewarding goals. (Animals don’t have this ability.) We tend to create more complex goals for ourselves; their pursuit often requires considerable effort and can in fact require periods of unpleasant activities. (Think about forgoing sleep or other leisure in pursuit of studies toward a university degree.) However, when such a complex goal is reached, it provides a much deeper and long-lasting gratification then sensual pleasures. (The positive psychology concept of Flow points to this distinction. Also the Dalai Lama, who bases his philosophy on the observation that all human beings universally want to be happy and avoid suffering, emphasizes this distinction.)

In that light a project like the Panamerican Peaks can be seen as a much more complex goal which requires a substantial effort along multiple lines. For example it clearly requires physical effort or exposure to the elements which can be unpleasant at times. However, reaching camp after an arduous day in the mountains or on the bike is quite enjoyable and makes one forget the physical discomfort associated with it. And reaching a summit or completing a bike journey through an entire country offers a reward on an even higher level. For example riding down the Baja the last two weeks was hard at times and not always pleasant; now I’m quite happy to have completed it. I can only speculate on the level of enjoyment that the completion of the entire project will bring!

Then there is the charitable aspect. It makes me genuinely happy to see donations in the name of this project to Doctors Without Borders. These donations enable the organization to do very valuable humanitarian work. This goes towards what the Dalai Lama calls compassion and love towards other fellow human beings.

And there is the aspect of simple and pure enjoyment of the activities associated with the adventure. Being out there and being active, doing the things because you can, makes you feel alive. Think about the last time you were just happy to be alive? I mean not just content, but happy as in getting-the-goosebumps-happy! This reminds me of a quote by the famous British climber George Mallory. He organized three expeditions to Mt. Everest in 1920, 1921 and 1923. On the last one he and Irvine famously vanished high on the North Face of Everest. (Mallory’s body was actually found in 1999 after some 76 years on the mountain!) When Mallory toured the country to raise funds for the next expedition, he preempted the question as to “Why” he wanted to climb Everest as follows:

“So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself, upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.”

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Baja CabliSnapia

Over the last couple of days I have been dealing with a cable snapping issue on my bike. This is getting ridiculous now. I am thinking of this as a character-building episode; it is frustrating at some level, but also illustrative of what can happen when in remote places and without critical parts and tools.

Here is the background: I had bought my bike used, but had some maintenance done during my 1000 km training rides in Florida. So I started with the bike in good shape 3 months ago in Alaska. After nearly 7000 km one of my shifter cables snapped near Santa Cruz. (It’s a twist grip shifting mechanism with two cables for my Rohloff SpeedHub with 14 gears.) No big deal, I’m thinking as I’m riding the last 15 km to town in single speed mode.

Next morning I have both cables replaced at a bike shop. Unfortunately the mechanic tells me he can’t get the full gear range, only 12 or 13 gears. I find this annoying, but don’t think of this too much over the next few weeks.

Then I enter the Baja California. After a few days one cable snaps again; I need to ride single-speed to Catavina. Now I’m in the middle of nowhere. I can’t just go to a bike shop the next day. There is no bike shop in town; or in the next couple of towns. And I can’t wait for parts to be sent down here either. What to do?

Next morning in Catavina I meet Robert and Peggy, an American couple over breakfast. They have a large toolbox and I can borrow some tools required to open the cable-box and shifter.

Robert and Peggy with their large toolbox help me out in Catavina

I end up using the same cables, just shorter, which gives me a reduced range of 7 gears – but that’s a lot better than only 1. So I cover the next couple hundred kms with a gear set from 5-11 (instead of 1-14).

Then I ride on the leg from San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia; there are lots of hills and even though it’s only 75 km it takes me 5 hours to cover. And there, 20 km before I get to Santa Rosalia, the other cable snaps also. I am getting a bit irritated at this point, as the hills and vados require almost constant shifting, and riding in single speed is very strenuous, hard on bike and legs/knees and definitely not fun. This time I’m also riding in the desert rain – an unexpected, but not unpleasant scenario. In the evening in Santa Rosalia I ask around and get to a shop that supposedly has bike parts.

Shop in Santa Rosalia which sold bike cables

With the help of the owner’s son I try to fix the problem right then & there, but we lack the right tools, I am not thinking clearly as I am tired, wet, sweaty, hungry and frustrated. It’s getting dark and they are about to close their shop. So I buy two replacement cables, hoping to figure out a way how to fix the thing tomorrow.

Next day I study the installation guide of the Rohloff shifters on my computer in detail to fully understand what I’m supposed to do. Then I roll from the hotel to a tire shop where I had stopped the day before. It’s a bit of a zoo there, but they have shade and all the tools I need.

Fixing my cables at tire shop in Santa Rosalia

Now the new cables won’t fit into the grip shifter, because the end-nipple is too wide! What to do? Well, they have a air-pressure-powered grinding tool, which I end up using to round down the nipples – and voila, now the cables fit into the grip! Necessity is the mother of all invention. After 1 hour or more of work in the heat, dust and dirt I replaced both cables and I am back at 14 gear range. I feel great to have fixed this mess and start the ride late (2:30pm), but it’s only 60 km to Mulege, so that was fine.

I did notice a lot of friction though while shifting. So next morning in Mulege I spend extra time to reduce the friction before starting my ride. I change the handle bar angle to increase the turn radius of the cables and grease the cable and the end-points. It helps, the gears shift smoother on this leg. And I need to do a lot of shifting, as along the Bahia Concepcion there are plenty of hills to cross as you hop from one beautiful bay & beach to the next.

Bike at Playa Santispac in Bahia Concepcion South of Mulege

As I’m riding along I start to think: Boy, it sure is great to have all 14 gears again with these hills. (There was a total of 1600m elevation gain on the 140km from Mulege to Loreto.) And I actually feel pretty good about having fixed this myself. Snap! There goes one of the cables again :-( I can’t believe it. Now if I only had the right tools – I am missing a spiral torx wrench T20 and a cable-cutting tool – I know exactly what to do now. (Trouble is, here in the middle of nowhere you can’t just buy those tools either…)

20 km later I stop at a little shop to buy some cold water. And lo and behold, the friendly Mexican owner (I forgot his name, sorry) digs out those two required tools – I get to work! In about 1/2 hour I shorten the cable covers, which lengthens the cables enough so I can re-fit the whole thing and I get all 14 gears back – I am a genius!

Fixing the cables yet again at roadside shack

Now I really feel elated to have my gears again; it’s a long day to Loreto and without shifting it would be really hard. But for some reason I can’t get the gears to shift freely without a lot of friction. And before long, just 15 km down the road, one cable snaps again! At this point I’m convinced that either I’m doing something wrong or the cables are just not the right kind / quality for this type of stress.

I’m limping to Loreto, feeling frustrated once again. I have already asked my dad to order brandnew replacement shifter, cables and cable-box and forward-ship them to my home address in Florida. But I won’t get those parts for another 3 weeks. So I need to find better cables here in Loreto, La Paz or Mazatlan to get a grip on this problem. As I said, a character-building epsiode…

Next morning I visit the local bike shop in Loreto. I borrow the tools and get to work. Turns out, the one cable didn’t actually snap, just come lose inside the cable-box. That’s good to know. So I cut both housing and cables just a little bit, re-fit everything and also tighten the adjustment screws much more to force the cables snug around the circular element in the cable-box. And aahh, now the shift resistance is much lower, pretty much normal. So I have a good feeling from this point on forward that this will work. Just to be sure, I also bought two high quality cables as spare. Herman from the bike shop wishes me good luck for the rest of my journey.

With owner Herman in Loreto bike shop

I also fixed a flat tire on my rear wheel – caused by a small wire stuck inside the tire! A good place for this problem to have developed, as with the bike shops compressor I’m back at full tire pressure in no time :-)

Only the torx tool I can’t buy. The standard answer I get is: “Oh, you have to go to Estados Unidos for that – I bought mine at Home Depot…”

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