We never entertained the formidable challenge of crossing the Darien Gap overland so we had three options to get to Colombia.Read More
The Darien Gap, “the world’s worst roadblock”, is sixty-six miles of untamed jungle isolating South America from Panama. Despite the continuous landmass that forms the American continents, only the brave and the foolish can cross it entirely by land and without the help of boats or planes.Read More
The cause was unclear, but no sooner had we bounced over the tope fifty yards back than I felt the unmistakable sad slushy wobble of a deflated rear tire. An old man watched us blankly from behind a tumbling pile of scrap wood across the street. He didn’t strike me as hostile but there was nothing notably friendly about his behavior.Read More
I wonder what it must be like to have grown up with volcanoes nearly always within sight; what force they exert on the imagination. Perhaps I can only speak for myself of the force they exert on mine—to make my daily trips to the market, to think, to be thoughtless, in the shadows of volcanoes.Read More
There are stories that I don’t want to be able to tell and already we had written the first line of it. ‘We went for a walk alone at night on the beach in Nicaragua…’Read More
It wasn’t the first time that we have had bike problems—in fact, these setbacks have become somewhat endemic of our trip—but before now we had ample time to adjust our itinerary. As we approach Panama and our sail to Colombia, however, our time is becoming much more precious. There is no shortcut. There is no finely paved toll-road. There is no circumventing the time-intensive border crossings. We had to confront the fact that we were not visiting the ancient city of Tikal and we were not swimming in the natural jade-colored pools of Semuc Champey, we were headed to the clogged streets of Guatemala City.Read More
Watch our video chronicling our journey across Mexico from Baja to Chiapas.Read More
What I want to share often seems so much bigger than my own particular slant, and behind my desire to relate experience in a way that seems authentic and immersive is the bare hope that someone is listening. For we all want to be heard. Rarely, though, do we know the peace of telling a worthy story without some grappling, without visions of pulling a dazzling fish out of the blind seas with only one’s hands.Read More
I have a recurring feeling of a trip just beginning. All the evidence to the contrary, the worn out tread on the rear tire, my slowly improving Spanish, the constant clicking of the odometer clock (recently surpassing the 50,000 milestone), my beard grown out, the wild coconuts, bananas, and coffee beans that burst jubilantly from the brush all around us, is unconvincing.Read More
There are as many routes as there are people to take them. Looking back on our time in Mexico I easily become distracted by the places we did not visit.Read More
Sunday evening, as the sun cast long shadows over the deep valleys of Chiapas, we arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas. We had expected to stop short of the city in a dirty hotel in a nameless mountain pueblo, but the roads were smoother than we expected and straighter and we made good time. We began our day on the beach and ended it at 7,200 feet.Read More
Our route was intentionally planned out very crudely. We took out a paper map of Mexico and literally drew a line across it along some roads that looked interesting, making sure to pass through the cities we wanted to visit. Of these there were only a couple at the start: San Miguel de Allende where Diana’s family lives and Mexico City, where I visited last Summer, but due to a surprise visit from the ghost of Montezuma, was unable to explore the pre-Aztec Teotihuacan city ruins just outside the city. Soon, by research in Lonely Planet (still a useful guide in spite of the internet) and word of mouth we added to our short list Guadalajara, Oaxaca City, the ruins of Campeche, Morelia and a handful of others. We estimated that we could ride 200-250 miles a day and planned our stops accordingly. We have since decided that we prefer to plan fewer miles and give ourselves more time to stop to eat, take selfies, and explore while still allowing enough time to arrive at our destination before dark. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work out as planned. Between Nayarit and San Miguel de Allende, we ate only gas station peanuts and Snickers bars for lunch, so pressed were we for time. The weather has been amazing in these winter months, dry air and moderate temperatures, but the short days have limited our riding considerably. We decided from the beginning not to ride at night. Everyone we have spoken to has agreed with that decision. The bandits come out at night, as do the cows, goats and sheep, and the potholes don’t go anywhere. Though there are highways that are safe and secure, even on those my enjoyment decreases rapidly with the setting sun.Read More
I hope you’ll forgive the certified food-handler’s geek in me as I recount how swiftly and efficiently one pork-kebab stand in Coyoacan met the demands of their immense nightly crowd, and how each crew member handled raw meat, cooked food, sliced fruit, and cash payments. Without even a bottle of hand-sanitizer in sight. Did I partake of the kebabs? Sure did. Was I conflicted? You bet.Read More
What exactly are we doing out here? I’ve seen probably a dozen cathedrals now and town squares and ocean front promenades. All of them unique, many beautiful, some decrepit. We’ve weaved through hairpin turns in the mountains on the way to missions and villages, bounced over topes and washboard dirt roads, swerved around potholes and semi trucks. Crossed hundreds of bridges and tunnels. We’ve eaten many tacos from the largest al pastor spits you can imagine. We’ve seen the landscape change again and again, wet to dry to wet to dry, mountains to flatlands to mountains.Read More
Nathan and the friends we’ve met on our journey have wanted to know how I spend all that time alone with the thoughts bouncing around in my helmet. In truth, I only get bored when we’re riding on toll roads, and I mostly love our connection to the environment as we ride. Without the shelter and security of an enclosed vehicle, we are especially vulnerable, but I find that within that vulnerability, we have a unique opportunity to exercise mindfulness.Read More
On a motorcycle you are free. Free to leave when you want. Free to go where you want. Free of time tables. Free of luggage bins. Free of pat-downs. Free of crowds. Free even, at times, of roads. But you aren’t free of your motorcycle and you aren’t free of yourself. These two remain. They aren't neat and tide like a time table and they aren't as definitive as a boarding pass. They respond to questions with more questions and demand a great deal of faith. You can't be certain how far you can go because you and your bike have never gone there. Lacking answers, you listen with all your senses and try to feel what your bike feels. You rub the oil in your fingers, you put your ear to the cylinder, you place your hand on the tire. You try to read the signs. You try to read yourself. This is your timetable though the lines are faint.Read More
We crossed in Tecate, were baptized in sand at Campo Papa Fernandez, pushed our off-road limits at the gap in Highway 5, broke down and were redeemed at Bahia Concepcion, rode the waves at Los Cerritos, and bid farewell at La Paz. In total, we spent a month on the Baja California peninsula. We experienced a wealth of desert and coastal beauty. Some great roads and some bad ones. We chose to avoid most of the most popular destinations, forgoing Tijuana, Rosarito for the more remote route South along uncompleted Highway 5 and skipped Cabo San Lucas in search of less adulterated sands.Read More
I forget distance out here in the desert. Phone reception can disappear completely between towns. A single paved highway connects a spiderweb of sand roads connecting innumerable pueblas. Many don’t appear on maps. But there are people and houses and minimarkets nonetheless. I forget that the distance we’ve traveled from town to wilderness would not even have taken us from San Francisco to Sacramento. Each turn creates new worlds from nothingness, erasing my sense of space. Out here among the cacti and sunbleached bovine bones, it feels we have traversed centuries.Read More
Where did you come from? Where are you going?
They’re the questions we’re asked at every military checkpoint in Baja. As we reply, the armed militia men behold our dusty, hulking machine and our matching, early-nineties era getup and wave us on our way.
My purposes in traveling are fairly singular. They don't have much to do with motorcycles, or with being a bad-ass female, or with compiling “Top Ten Things To Do” lists for the Internet. When asked about what I hope to get out of this journey, I see that this trip began fulfilling its purpose the moment I left. The moment I left that old fish boat floating in Richardson Bay, the marina gate shrieking shut behind me, I gave myself over to joy. True, I left my job for this joy; left behind the only semblance of a fulfilling career I’ve ever had, and let’s not forget—I’ll be thirty next month. Why would I leave now?
In the months preceding our departure, I considered the kinds of details I might choose to share in the accounts of my travels. I knew I would have no hesitation in recording such afternoons as those that Nathan and I spent in Mulegé. We camped on the beach at Santispak for three-and-a-half days, eating local dates and raw clams with a squeeze of lime; reading and watching small, transparent fish nip at our ankles in the clear shallows of the Sea of Cortez. Once, while day was still breaking, we sat on a stone outside our tent eating homemade chicken tamales, bought from one of the tamale-guys making his daily rounds among the beach campers, and looked out at the mirror surface of the sea. No wind or waves yet; just the ripples that fell away from the dark dorsal and back of a dolphin, which had just then decided to join us for breakfast.
Such moments feel like they have been plucked out of the cosmos for us. They are the kinds of moments our friends wished for us in their farewells, and for which we carry our loved ones, living and lost, in our hearts. And all this: afforded to us by the loss of some stupid steering head cap nut which had wiggled loose from the bike at some unknown time, and without which we dared not continue until we found a replacement.
It is with the same desire to write generously that I am compelled to share our hardships and frustrations. But to what degree? Perhaps I am the only one to bat an eyelash at this. Perhaps not. It is a question I face as a writer as well as a living, breathing person; a person who sometimes looks okay in photos, but who sometimes doesn’t, and who is ultimately as susceptible to intestinal parasites as my poor traveling companion. It is a question we all face, really. What lies behind the images of ourselves that we hope others will see, and why is it important that certain blemishes and bumps remain hidden? It seems to me that the jingling of all those little and loud alarm bells in our psyches are the exact occasions on which we ought to turn the beams of our compassion and gentleness on ourselves, and chance revealing a bit more.
In all honesty, I worried about how the people I love would receive the news of my travel plans. I shouldered more guilt about the anxiety my departure would cause my family than they will ever know. And I had more or less resigned myself to this by the time I left; that it will be okay if they never quite “get it”. And it will be ok—however varied their griefs are in which I play the primary agent, I know they will be proud of me for this one day.
I left because I want to get better at telling stories. I want to grow in patience for the times when my voice falters and I lose my train of thought. I want to know the freedom to speak in the terms of my choosing. I haven’t felt free because human experience is vast; and I have long struggled to find myself at the center of my own life; and my attention and feeling have always been magnetized to the person of nearest proximity; and the task of finding language authentic to a particular experience is hard.
But I know that healing awaits me in the practice of storytelling. And that the telling is one more step forward in the recovery of my voice. And that this healing is worth all the trouble.
Some people know and some people don’t know that I lived privately with Bulimia for the better part of the last decade. In fact, the very week in which we crossed our first border, I brought to a close my third year of recovery. I celebrate and I continue to recover. It seems to me, as I drain the last of my delicious black coffee in a Mexican hipster cafe, that there is no better way to honor my freedom from that terrifying darkness than to shine some light into it. In the fullest possession of myself that I’ve known, I throw my fear of the cliché to the wind and call my experience of Bulimia “darkness” and I call my recovery “light”. It is pure joy knowing that the light of no one else’s creation but my own could illuminate that darkness.
This is where I’ve come from. I rightfully carry my past with me, and as we rest here in La Paz, reflection is welcome and easy. At its core, my eating disorder was the desire to escape. My body, my vessel for perception and participation, when brought under my control, quieted my mind. Even for a brief moment, the noisy, intrusive machinations over painful experiences could be still.
I work now to trust the vessel’s integrity. I work to find myself worthy enough to hold and pour out the intricate fluidity of experience. We all must. And while the difficulty of knowing how to be present is just a part of my history, it is the only history I have. It is important to speak of it—it contains the lesson that to be present for pain is also to remain present for delight. It is a lesson without end.
So, when people ask me why I’m skiving off to Latin America with the man I love, I can only offer “love of self”. That’s the all and everything. If I manage to bring something measurable to those who need measurements, fine. I will be busy receiving the gifts—the tripe tacos and sand pits and coffeehouses and mountains and delicious afternoons doing nothing—offered to me by this world that would turn without me, regardless.
Somewhere in the sands of Baja, between Mulege in the South and San Luis Gonzaga in the North, there is a very special nut waiting to be found. We have been in La Paz for over a week now, waiting for a replacement to arrive.Read More