Running the Gauntlet

(For the complete set of 39 images head over to this Flickr album)

Finding your limits. Pushing yourself to the breaking point both physically and mentally. It's discussed by every type of adventurer but the concept has never been more real to me than it has been these last four months. If I'm being honest, I'd have never left my comfortable urban apartment if I'd known what hardships awaited me on the open road. I'd have tossed the maps in the bin, headed off to the pub, and had a great laugh with my friends about my ridiculous idea to bicycle over 11,000 km from Mexico to Canada and back. It is only in retrospect that I realize I never actually had a choice in the matter.

In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, "I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen."

My legs are an odd combination of lead and rubber. My muscles are cramping. I have to stop for just a moment. I straddle the bicycle for the third time today and put my head against the handle bars. Standing up straight is something for those with energy to spare. I would be dripping sweat if the howling 90 km/h wind and desert temperatures weren't evaporating it as fast as my body could produce it. Sand and grit are practically stripping the paint off my bicycle. It's in my mouth and my eyes. Tumbleweeds blow by like a scene from some corny western movie. I'd unwittingly left Texas during the height of the windy season and, in some form or another, these winds had been blowing for weeks. I give serious consideration to whether or not I can continue on like this. I've only finished half of the 110 km to todays destination and the wretched wind is directly in my face. I tell myself for the hundredth time that this can't last forever. Eventually I will get there. Just keep pedaling. I take a few more breaths, put my foot back on the pedal, and push off once more.

He had no ability to give up. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to quit, he couldn’t. It wasn’t in him. It never had been.

~ Dan Groat, Monarchs and Mendicants

As I climb another rain soaked hill a familiar sponginess in my rear tire signals a flat. The fourth one today and the second in this frigid desert down pour. I'd even had the pleasure of being hailed on about an hour before. I stop the bicycle and strip off my bags once again. The ferocious wind threatens to blow away anything I set down but I get the tire removed. Only then do I realize that even if I had any feeling left in my frozen fingers there was too much water and grit on everything to ever find the tiny object that punctured my tire. I stare dumbly at the piece of rubber in my hands. Rain is running down my head and into my eyes. My clothes are soaked and the cold is reaching my core. I throw down the tire in a fit of cursing. I kick dirt. I scream at the sky. I am hundreds of kilometers into the desert, alone, wet, freezing, and now this. I have only myself to rely on though so I choose to divide and conquer. Amid more cursing I reassemble the tire, pray it holds air for thirty minutes or so, and backtrack 10 freezing kilometers to the nearest business. There, hopefully, I can get dry and warm. Then maybe I can deal with this wretched flat.

Nothing valuable or great was ever discovered by quitting.

~ Edmond Mbiaka

I knew going into this stretch of desert that I'd be in serious trouble if I couldn't find water. Luckily, there was one "town" en route and it was just ahead. I'd drank my last of five liters nearly an hour ago. Multiple punctures in the morning had slowed me down so I was still in the valley, 35 meters below sea level, when the thermometer was pushing 43C. As I reach the small cluster of homes and businesses I discover the local store is closed. I vaguely remember another store in the area and eventually find it. Also closed! On a Tuesday?! Now I'm getting desperate. I see a sign in the distance. Further into the desert and away from my route I pedal to an RV park. At this point it doesn't surprise me to find it's office also closed. Refusing to give up I squeeze through the fence to commandeer the nearest spigot. I drink two liters on the spot, douse everything I'm wearing, fill my five liter capacity, and steel myself for another 65 km of unforgiving desert. The pedaling is almost enjoyable until my clothes dry...

One finds limits by pushing them.

~ Herbert Simon

I could fill a book with the hardships I've found on the road thus far. Nine broken spokes. Fourteen punctures. Three complete wheel rebuilds. A horrible fever. Debilitating loneliness. The failure of both my front and rear hubs as well as my bottom bracket. Freezing temperatures camped on windy mountain tops in the rain. A tire explosion and near death experience descending a mountain pass. A run in with drug smugglers on the Mexico border. I even had a black bear enter my tent once.

Being put in these situations without foreknowledge was likely a major factor in my overcoming them. No sane person would choose to subject themselves to these things. Every one of them brought me to the edge and very nearly broke my spirit. Once immersed in something insanely difficult you are presented with limited options. You can quit or you can find some way to persevere. It is with a mixture of pride and disbelief that I look back on these most difficult days with the realization that I still haven't found that which is enough to make me give up.

Yet.

Since my last post I have left the Pacific Northwest and entered Canada. My route in the upper corner of Washington was beginning to resemble a plate of spaghetti as I visited dear friends and family, sometimes twice, before crossing into British Columbia at the tiny border town of Sumas. I was even able to reunite with Rob and Ness Howard in Seattle before turning East to make my way toward Calgary and a meeting with my friend David who would join me as I turn South toward Mexico.

I cannot say what joys or trials might await me on the road ahead but I am ready to meet them with open arms and open eyes. This entire experience, hardships and all, is worth every single pedal stroke.

Thanks:

  • Daniel & Kari Lott @ Stanwood, WA, USA
  • Helen & Mark Lafferty @ Seattle, WA, USA
  • Meilani Obra & Philip Spanel @ Bellingham, WA, USA
  • Barb Scapinello & Jean Belleau @ Merrit, BC, CA

Justin Lott

Justin Lott

Adventure :: Photography