Cycling the Americas VIII: “Don’t Tell my Mum About that One.”
Picture the scene, if you will, as we roll into the city of La Paz. For several weeks we’d been riding through increasingly flat, featureless desert, interspersed with mountain climbs as Highway One swung from the Pacific coast over to the Sea of Cortez and back again. We’d camped on white sand beaches lapped by clear water full of rays and the odd whale shark in the Bay of Conception and struggled through river crossings and sandy roads coming down off the aptly-named Sierra La Giganta. We’d spent the previous three nights camping behind rumbling truck stops full of snarling dogs and unhappy goats and the days in between pushing into a ghastly headwind.
La Paz is a tranquil old town on the edge of a bay at the southern end of the Baja peninsula, but at first the only thing we have eyes for is a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet.
“Why are there greens on your plate?” Robbie asks Tommy and me when we sit down for round one. In the same time that it takes me to chomp through two plates of greasy Chinese, four whole mountains of meat (and meat only) disappear down Robbie’s gullet. Later, I return from the bathroom to find the other two standing by the dessert bar, Tommy bent over and scooping ice cream into a pair of bowls.
“Robbie, when you can’t physically bend over to scoop your own ice-cream, your body is trying to tell you something,” Tommy is saying. As the Neapolitan colours melt and go grey in his bowl, Robbie’s face turns a similar colour.
“Now I know what people mean when they talk about meat sweats,” he whimpers, and disappears through the door. When he returns, it’s to tell us he couldn’t bring himself to vomit in front of the chef, who was smoking in the carpark. He shutters himself in the bathroom and when he reappears 20 minutes later, it’s to tell us that if he hadn’t stopped shitting, he feared that freshly-chewed, undigested Chinese food would start appearing in the bowl. He lays his head on the table, a picture of utter misery, failed by his bewildered digestive system.
“I’m still hungry. I still want to eat but I just can’t.”
He winces with every step as we picked our way through the streets back to our host family’s house. Tommy and I rub at our own bulging bellies, satisfied with our tortoise’s approach.
“You can never let him live this down,” Tommy says in his Washingtonian accent. We burped, avoided bending over too quickly and chortled to ourselves all evening and the whole next day.
Testing our stomach capacity to its limits was just one of many ways we tried to kill ourselves in Baja California. On the way to Cataviña, a truck driver decided to overtake me despite an oncoming car and the lack of a shoulder in which I could take refuge. It thundered by mere centimetres from my shoulder, and for about five minutes afterward I thought very seriously about going home right then and there. However, I can report that cheap Nicaraguan rum tastes at least 20 times better in the immediate aftermath of a near-death experience. A week or two later, Robbie’s wheel touched mine as he drafted behind me south of Ciudad Constitución. The ensuing speed wobbles sent him over the handlebars just a couple of metres from a passing car. Not to be left out, Tommy came off as he tried to avoid speed bumps as we climbed out of a canyon, bending his wheel to the shape of a taco. In the postcard-perfect Bay of Conception we lost sight of him through my binoculars as he tried to swim to an island that turned out to be two kilometres away. I grabbed some Californian surfer’s board and thirty minutes later or so, staggered onto the island and collapsed into a purple, shivering heap at Tommy’s feet. It was another half hour before I moved, while the guy I was supposed to be “rescuing” serenely worked on his tan and contemplated the swim back. Lucky the man is such a gun swimmer as I don’t even know CPR, a fact I only remembered when I was about halfway out.
Having spent most of the last two months in the deserts of southern California, Arizona and now Baja California, rain is a distant memory and for the most part we left our tents rolled in their bags and slept under the stars. That was until we discovered a tarantula the size of your hand on a dirt road west of San Javier. The other night, Tommy tried to paddle a kayak across a bay in pitch darkness after a party on the sand spit across the bay from La Paz. He capsized ten metres from the beach, swam back, tried again and ended up swimming in the bay pulling a waterlogged kayak behind. When he woke up on some yacht with little recollection of how he got there, a guy on the boat gave him sympathy and a lift to shore.
“Tequila?” he asked.
“Mucho,” was all Tommy could reply.
And just last night, on our way home from an evening of bike polo with a bunch of local fixed-wheel riders and foreign cycle tourists, some bloke decided to use his car to push Robbie and his bike along from behind.
It’s possible that we’ve uttered the phrase “don’t tell my mum about that one” a few too many times in the last few weeks, but I swear we know what we’re doing.
Previously: Cycling the Americas VII – South of the Border
Quinten Dol is riding his bicycle from Vancouver, Canada, to Ushuaia, Argentina, to raise money for the Australian Cancer Council’s Research Fund. Like any scummy hobo, he’s scraping a bit off the top to feed himself. Throw him a bone by making a donation here.