Tampico - Aspen
320 miles from Tampico, roughly 40 to the US border. All that stands between me and it is one of the most dangerous stretches of tarmac in all the Americas. Carjackings, drug cartels, grenade attacks, mass murder, and general treachery. Along the way a multitude of police checkpoints, serving as both vanguards of security and targets of terror line the route. Each stop halts my progress, I become a sitting duck. The police, eager to demonstrate their militaristic bonafides don full tactical gear, head to toe camo, bulletproof vests, night vision equipment, massive assault rifles, everything designed for utmost intimidation. Yet, as public servants visibility is paramount, so, rather inexplicably, they layer high visibility jackets over their camo, neon yellow with orange vests with reflective stripes, the sheer lunacy of it makes me nearly double over in laughter. The irony of it, at least the giggle relieves tension.
40 miles, 30 miles, 29, 28, with each mile the risk increases, the proximity to the border means a stronger cartel presence and an increase in violence. My fuel is good; my eyes wide, safety close. With each successive mile I go faster, push harder, get closer, and run more determinately for the safety of the border. It feels like a marathon, the numbers run through my head, 20 miles @ 70mph 17 minutes, 15 miles @ 80mph 11 minutes, 10 miles @ 100mph 6 minutes, with each thought I close in on my goal. As I approach the city the highway turns into a city street, dirty and depleted. Cars lumber sloppily into the road, men run out into the street, everyone a potential threat yet everyone likely an average citizen, glimpses of being an MP in Afghanistan. I see the first sign, “Estados Unidos”, yeeees! I bank left and barrel down the final stretch. Finally, leaving Reynosa, and Mexico, and the drug cartels, and general peril behind me, I cross the border. America the brave, the free, the exceptional, it all feels amazing, palpable, true, and real. The border agent welcomes me with a big smile, a dismissal of my excess tequila and a rather curt and derisive attitude to my country of origin. “21 states? I wouldn’t even cross the line”. I try to let it go. I’m home, safe, free. I’d kiss the ground if it weren’t so hot!
Yet as it will the excitement wanes quickly, the exuberance of safety quickly transitions into monotony and boredom of the same. Broken roads become needlessly perfect ones. I pull off for my first American meal, Mexican food, it’s delicious. I check my email and voicemail, novel, and come a across a post on the forum I had posted to two days back. A fellow biker who lives outside of Austin has invited me to sleep at his house, exchange stories and hang out. Sound so good. 316 up the highway through San Antonio to Austin to go!
The serendipity that ensues is magical. I arrive at my host’s office. There is a well-known Peruvian food truck that is considering opening a restaurant in town and they are hosting a pop-up tonight to test the market, he’s purchased tickets for us. We walk downstairs to a beautiful shower. I try to stay focused on small talk as we walk down the long corridor, I can hear the trickle of water in my head and feel the much needed drops of moister on my skin as I deposit a thick brown trail of dust behind me on the carpet. My clothes cling like Saran wrap to my skin, sweat laden and crusty. It’s been 3 days and almost 2000 miles since the last one, O how this shower is needed.
I clean up, change, and run upstairs to meet his co-workers, an eclectic group of deeply analytical and intelligent computer-chip designers from across the globe. We hop in a BMW 135i and speed off. We are greeted at the door of the restaurant with free sangria and freshly shaken Pisco Sours, does life get any better? Conversation is lively. Travel, motorcycles, politics, auto-racing. Everyone is dynamic with plenty to share. Dinner is amazing, each course more captivating than the last. Ceviches, Leche La Tigre, slow cooked beef and goat, delicate fish and unctuous crustaceans. Traditional Peruvian methods are elevated with cutting edge modernist techniques and flavors are layered beautifully, dancing on the palate. The chef and owner-operator are both engaging individuals; they add flair and fun to an already exceptional experience. We head back to the house where we spend hours chatting about travel, motorcycles and sticky situations, sipping fine tequila till the wee hours of the night.
The next morning we rise early, I treat my new compatriot to a hardy breakfast and at about 9am, I begin another long day’s drive, now the fourth consecutive day with over 500miles, and today will be the longest, 750miles with a proposed stop in Santa Fe New Mexico.
The drive is grueling. The long highways arrow strait, the roadside desolate. For the first 600 miles there is not a single hill, plant, animal and nary a turn or bend. It is mind numbing and hot, the temperature gage climbing past 110 degrees for most of the journey. The monotony is only broken by the shock and outrage that comes from some of the billboard messaging along the way. “50,000,000 PLUS HELPLESS BABIES KILLED by the GODLESS SOCIALITY DEMOCRATS and LIBERAL LEFT” and other such messages of unity such as “ MY GOD, JESUS IS LOVE. Islam god Allah, Qur'an, sharia law’s objective is death to all unbelievers. AMERICA WAKE UP” boy, I can feel the love.
40 miles outside Santa Fe the road finally begins to bend and rise, mercifully the temperature begins to drop as well. I stop at a hostel. I’m too tired to move, to sore to sit, to worn to eat. Face in pillow. Motionless. Asleep. 8pm.
5am. Up before sunrise and the cold has returned. I’m so ready to go home. 340miles to my front door, elation does not begin to capture it. I drive as fast as I can without shattering my hands in the morning cold. An early morning inversion renders valley floors cold and the mesas warm. With each climb I peg the throttle, barreling down the vacant back roads at one-twenty or more, with each depression I slow to a more reasonable eighty. A quick stop at the Rooster’s Crow in Buena Vista for an outstanding breakfast and I’m back on the road, up Independence Pass I climb.
Each mile brings me closer to friends and loved ones. Each turn I tuck lower, feel more, and move faster. I crest the pass and see people putting on skins for a morning’s ski, god I love this place! The ride down, I coast, soaking in my surroundings, internalizing the beauty, waving to people passing the other way, enjoying nature. The road levels out, I remind myself to slow down, and I’m home.
I pull up to my little brown house, looking just the same as it did when I left, the mountain behind it basking in its newfound greenery. I don’t yet know what to make of it all. I’m so frazzled and frenzied, entirely drained. Forced out of Mexico by my bank I’ve gone from the Guatemalan border to Aspen in just five days. 9-12 hours in the saddle every day, pouring rains, crazy drivers, drug cartels, sweltering heat and vicious cold. It’s not all soaked in.
It’s as if I’ve been gone forever and not at all. It’s 10:45am, and I want to have clarity, I strive for a story, a narrative, an insight or an idea, yet I’m blank, bleak helpless. My mind has been rendered moot by the previous five day’s ride. I’ll need time to process, time to rest, time to sip and eat and think. I look forward to great friends, illuminating conversations and sweet dreams. I’m ready for a great day in Aspen, I’m ready for a bit of peace and perspective.