Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Incredible Journey!

This week I am going to tell you about an experience that had it’s beginnings during my last drive down to Loreto, but I did not include it in last week’s posting.

About halfway between Catavina and Guerrero Negro (which comes about as close to the middle of nowhere as anywhere on the drive) I saw two cyclists pulled over at the side of the road, one with a prominent Canadian flag. Now, while seeing cyclists on the road is not an unprecedented event, it is certainly an uncommon one, given the narrow roads and almost complete lack of shoulders, riding a bicycle on the Mexican #1 Highway is a very different experience than on most North American roads. Added to this, the long stretches (hundreds of kilometres in some cases) between any form of civilization, requires anyone hardy (or foolish) enough to undertake this trip to be completely independent and self-sufficient.

With this in mind, when I saw these two men on the side of the road my first thoughts were; are they in trouble, do they need help, and so I started to slow down and made eye contact with them, giving them a questioning “thumbs-up” as we quickly approached and passed them. In the brief time that it took for us to pass they responded with smiles and a wave, but when I looked in my rear view mirror I noticed one of them waving with what appeared to be some urgency. Fortunately, we happened to be in one of the few places where it was possible to actually pull off the pavement onto a sandy turnout and so I decided to stop and make sure things were OK.

The two riders quickly hopped on their bikes and pedalled the 50 yards to where we
had stopped, and Grant (my passenger) and I were out of the car to meet them when they arrived. After the introductions to Matt (the one with the Canadian flag) and Loic, his travelling companion, we learned that Matt was from a suburb of Edmonton (where Grant was from, just north of Calgary) in Canada and his wave after we had passed was in acknowledgement of my Alberta licence plate, the first one they had seen on the road since northern California. Loic was from even further away, France, and the two of them had met in Vancouver from where they had travelled almost 3,000 km to where we were meeting, in the middle of the Baja peninsula, over the past two months.

That trip on it’s own was certainly impressive enough, but Matt went on to say that he had actually started his own trip two months before that – at the ARCTIC OCEAN! As this incredible fact was registering in my mind I was at a loss to say much (not a normal condition for me) so I blurted out something to the effect of; “So, I guess you are headed to Cabo?” since that is the literal end of the road in the Baja. But no, I was in for an even bigger surprise when Matt explained that they were headed
to La Paz (about 1,000 km south of where we were then standing) where they were going to take the Ferry across the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan, on the mainland and continue south from there, through the rest of Mexico and Central America, carrying on the length of South America ending up at the southernmost tip of the continent! Oh yes, they also mentioned that they expected that the trip would take the next 18 months to two years!

Needless to say, Grant and I were mightily impressed. In fact, meeting these two young guys and hearing about their incredible journey tended to put our four day “dash” from Alberta in a large comfortable SUV somewhat in perspective, in a word, we were humbled! After a 5 or 10 minute conversation at the side of the highway it was apparent that we both had to move on, although it was with some disappointment that we parted, as I was fascinated to talk more with them and learn about their travels. Since they would be passing through Loreto (they figured it would take them at least a week to get where we were going to arrive later that day) I gave them my card and offered to be of assistance if they needed some help when
they got there – hoping, in the back of my mind, to meet them again and learn more about these two adventurers. After checking that they didn’t need anything (water, etc.) we bade them farewell and “Vaya con Dios” (Go with God) and climbed back into my car and carried on our way. Not surprisingly, Grant and I spent a good part of the rest of the drive talking about the remarkable journey our two new “friends” were on, with the inevitable comparisons to our own trip, which had paled significantly in proportion to the challenges they faced on a daily basis.

Although the next few days after our arrival in Loreto were busy, I thought often about Matt & Loic and hoped they were OK and would get in touch, so I was happy to see an email from Loic a day or so later, sent from Guerrero Negro. In the message he asked if I knew of anyone heading down here from Canada in the near future, who might be able to bring down several hard to find (in Mexico) bike accessories and camping gear. As it happened, my friends and neighbours, Boyd and Camille were going to be arriving in the next week or so, and I was able to forward Loic’s email which listed three specific items by their Mountain Equipment Co-op’s product numbers (a large outdoor outfitter in Canada). Boyd was able to confirm that all three items were in stock at their local branch of the store and he was willing to pick them up, bring them in their luggage on the plane and get paid for them here on arrival. The requested items were a bike odometer/computer, a compact tire pump(his old one had worn out) and a backpacker’s hammock/lean-to/chair that folded down into a small pouch.

We made arrangements for them to email me when they reached Loreto, where they were planning on taking a few days rest, and we would get together after their goods arrived and make the exchange – Oh yes, did I mention that for these two guys, “taking a few days rest” included ocean kayaking while they were here? To get a better picture of what these distances mean, relative to travelling by car, you can basically say that these cyclists can cover about the same distance in a full day of riding as we can do in an hour by car. So when you consider that it took us about 5 hours to drive to Loreto from where they were in Guerrero Negro, the same trip would take them about 5 days!

But arrive they did, and I received their email to that effect a couple of days
before Boyd was to arrive with the goods, so we agreed, again by email, that I would send them a message when I had the things. We would then arrange to meet in town (15 km north of Loreto Bay where I live) and I would pick them up, with their bikes, and bring them back to my home for a meal and a good night’s rest before they continued on their journey. I met them at the Marina on the Malacon in town, as they had been beach camping near-by during their stay in Loreto, and with some juggling, we managed to load both bikes and their assorted panniers (which carried every possession they had with them) water bottles, sleeping bags etc.

This was another reality check for me, each of these guys were carrying less “stuff” on their bikes than I (I’m ashamed to admit) had in my “overnight” bag for the four day trip down from Canada (let alone the fully packed vehicle loaded with boxes, more suitcases, golf clubs etc). Talk about travelling light – they were carrying everything they needed to camp, eat, and repair their bikes - and it could have all fit in a good sized carry-on!

When we arrived at my home they enthusiastically accepted the offer of hot showers
and a chance to do laundry and I set about preparing a dinner that I hoped would be an improvement on what they were used to “on the road”. By the way, another detail that came out during our long conversations about their trip, they mentioned that in the over two months they had been travelling from Vancouver they had spent a total of two nights in campgrounds – both times because they had met up with other cyclists on the road who wanted to stay in those places. Otherwise, Matt and Loic had slept “rough” finding what protection was available just off the side of the road, so they were somewhat shielded from view from the road. Another interesting precaution they took was to carry their bikes from the pavement until they were out of sight behind a rock or tree or something so that the wheel marks would not lead others to where they were camping.

Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression, these guys were not apparently the
least bit concerned about their safety travelling this way. In fact, Matt made an aside comment that I found very telling of his philosophy about the trip. He said that you only meet “good” people when travelling by bicycle – mainly because you were so demonstrably vulnerable. It was obvious to anyone you met that cyclists are, by their nature and means of transport, non-threatening. For the same reasons, it is obvious to “bad” people that there is probably nothing of value to be had from interfering with people travelling by bike, they have so little with them! Finally, everyone else probably would not give much of a thought one way or the other and would never meet them anyway. Hence, you only meet GOOD people when you are riding a bike!

This philosophy has the ring of truth, if only for it’s simplicity, but I am still
in awe of their bravery, determination, stamina and resourcefulness, and I found it inspiring to meet, and later get to know a little about these two remarkable people on a life adventure that only a very few special individuals would even contemplate, let alone actually be in pursuit of as we spoke! Meeting remarkable people passing through this extraordinary place is truly one of the best parts of “Living Loreto”!