Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Statistical Analysis of a Cycle Tour

Location: Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
For nearly 9 months we have been cycle touring around the U.S.A, Canada and, to much lesser extent, Mexico.  Today we want to tell you the real reason we have been on this journey; to gather, collate and analyse data of the trip to give you folks an interesting insight in to the numbers.  Whooo!!! (In all honesty we are quite excited about this and we both geeked out over these numbers for a little too long).

From our starting point in California to our final day in Quintana Roo we have been away for 262 days and during that time we have covered 8,709 miles.  This distance was completed in 17 States in the USA, 5 Provinces and 1 Territory of Canada, and 2 states in Mexico (check these out on the map page).  

Pie Chart to Show Distance Cycled Per Country
In terms of analysing the data we we have decided to split the analysis up.  We are calling these 2 sections 'Cycle Touring' and 'Being Away' as since we arrived at our 'destination' of Oshawa things have taken a decidedly un-bikey turn.  We've cycled a total of 135 days; 75 in the United States, 56 in Canada and 4 in Mexico.  As with all exercise one needs to have rest days so as to prevent injury (though Drill Sergeant Soph would often forget to plan in rest days).  Whilst  in the Cycle Touring part of the trip we had a total of 79 days of zero or very little cycling. In the Being Away part we have had 44 days out of a total of 52. Just to put things in perspective.

In the About Us section we talked about doing 2 days of 60 miles and having a rest day (so 1 rest day in 3, covering on average 40 miles per day).  So just looking at the 210 days we spent Cycle Touring we have had more rest days than we thought (we had 1 rest day in 2.7 days), however, we have covered a few more miles that we expected.  The unfeasible regime of 2 on 1 off would have us at 8,400 miles by day 210 whereas as our total was 8,522.  So on average we covered 40.6 miles a day.  Considering the fact we had never done a long cycle tour prior to this we think we had a surprisingly good idea of what a 'good day of cycling' looked like. Incidentally, Sundays, far from being a day of rest, were the day of the week we clocked up the most miles on during the trip.

Bar Chart to Show Number of Times Different Distance Per Day Completed
Having a few more rest days than expected but still covering the distance we expected means we must have done bigger miles when we did ride.  And yep, when you average the days in the saddle we did 65 miles a day.  We can look deeper into these days and get some more insights.  The chart above shows how many times we completed different length rides.  It quite closely resembles the old bell shaped curve of our maths classes, with the apex at 71 - 80 miles.  However it drops off quicker than it rose with markedly less days of over 80 miles than below 71.  The day we covered the most miles was the 30th July (day 154 of the trip, it was a Thursday) and we did 115 miles.  In total we had 5 days where we completed more-than-century rides.  Before we set off Sophie had never done a century ride before and Tom had only done two, both unloaded and fully supported.  Now we have completed 5 on touring bikes weighing around 50 kg each.  We're proud of us.  And whilst the tour absolutely was not about riding far and fast, we think it shows how our confidence & fitness really improved.  All of these greater-than-century rides were clustered around weekends.  With one each being completed on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Drill Sergeant Sophie says Tuesday and Wednesday are feeling left out and we better plan some big rides in for when we get home!).

Bar Chart to Show Total Distance Cycled Per Month
The month we cycled the most was August, we covered 1711 miles!  Compare that to our first month on the road, March, when we rode 1030 miles.  In August we did an average of 55 miles per day, including rest days.  But if the rest days are removed, then when we did ride we rode an average of about 81 miles a day!  Our total mileage since arriving in Oshawa is 187 miles, so we did more in 3 days of riding in August than we have in the last 52!

Stacked Bar Chart to Show Number of Nights Per Day of The Week We Stayed in Different Types of Accommodation
Some other interesting day of the week stuff is shown above.  First of all we have stayed with a lot of people through the wonderful online network that is WarmShowers; we stayed 64 nights with hosts throughout Canada and the US and it is spread pretty evenly through the week.  Although we stayed slightly more times on Monday and Saturday nights and a little bit less often on Thursdays and Fridays.  The few times we stayed at Hotels/Motels/Hostels it was during the week and never at the end of the week or weekends, mostly this was due to serendipity (e.g. the snazzy hotel in Santa Barbara that some friends hooked us up with) or need (e.g. the hostel at Pigeon Point on our second night out after Tom broke his bike) but on the 2 occasions we splurged on a motel just because we felt we needed it, the fact these days fell midweek and were therefore a little cheaper, sure helped us to go ahead and book in.  The fifth night in this type of accommodation was Sophie's birthday, which was luckily a Monday.  Since being in Mexico we have paid for all accommodation, be it a hotel, an Airbnb or a home-stay; there are WarmShowers hosts in Mexico, but almost none in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Infographic to Show Total Weight Lost Across 30 Weeks of Cycle Touring 
It's hard to know, but we probably burned something like 5000-7000 calories each per day of riding our average 65 miles.  And we lost a bunch of weight.  Sophie lost something like 20lbs or 9kg, Tom lost around 39lbs or nearly 18kg!!  The best infographic for this our Friday Photos.  The photos on the left were taken on the morning we flew, 27th February 2015, the ones on the right were taken in Oshawa on 25th September 2015.

So that's about it from us on our statistics and our tour.  We leave in a few hours to fly back to Manchester.  We don't really know what's going to happen next, but if it turns out to be interesting and fun (and we are both very much hoping that that will be the case) then we will probably write about it.  We're so looking forward to catching up with friends and family back home and to all of you that we met along the way remember our door is always open and we can't wait to repay the hospitality you've shown us.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Roadside Meltdown

Location: Valladolid, Yuc., Mexico
Saturday morning was thankfully and luckily not rainy. I can't say it was dry as there was still a lot of water about from the previous hours of torrential onslaught, but the stuff had at least ceased to fall from the sky. We were soon loaded up and on our way Cobá. Outside of Tulum the road was good quality, with a nice wide shoulder and we took a gentle pace. Partly this was because despite being 9am it was already fairly warm and humid and partly because we have noticed a direct correlation between the speed we travel and the likelihood of Mexican stray dogs barking and chasing us. Admittedly our research has been pretty limited, but it does seem that if you're going at a more leisurely pace the hoardes of roadside pooches seem decidedly uninterested in you. As soon as we ramp up to our normal pace they can't get enough of scaring the hell out of us by snarling and nipping at our heels. So we're cruising along, it's maybe an hour and twenty minutes since we set off and Tom says "urgh I think I have a slow puncture in my rear tyre". I look at it. It's pretty flat. I comment that it does not appear to be all that slow so we pull over in a sort of driveway to fix it. Before Tom has even removed the wheel we spot a gash in the tyre about 1cm long.

This is not good. We don't have a spare tyre at the moment, we put our second spare on Tom's bike in Canada and since we weren't staying out much longer had thought we'd get away without a spare for our little stint in Mexico. We start trying to figure out what we're going to do:
Option 1) Try to fix it by lining he inside of the tyre with a note, we have a CAD$10 note, it's plasticky and we've heard of other folks get by this way. 
Option 2) I ride back to Tulum to get a new tyre from a bike shop.
Option 3) We try to flag down a bus or taxi for a ride to Cobá and hope they have some tyres for sale there.
Tom is cursing the tyre (after all this is the fourth tyre we've had terminal issues with) and is taking this very badly. Actually once we get the tyre off the wheel we realise that, incredibly, the gash doesn't go all the way through. The tyre isn't done yet. We find the puncture in the inner tube and I find a small piece of wire embedded in the tyre which is the culprit of this particular flat. Tom fits a new inner tube and starts the laborious task of pumping up the tyre. He is soaked in sweat. It's over 30 degrees (Celsius) and humidity must be about 95%. Admittedly it is not ideal flat tyre conditions, but at least the tyre is intact.

I can't say I was pleased about the flat or even the prospect of a dead tyre, but I just see overcoming these obstacles as part of the whole journey. Tom sees them as getting in the way of the journey and in his current state it causes him a great deal of anxiety and stress. I was finding it hard to relate to this, but then I had a little epiphany; if you recall back in Utah we faced a day of very strong winds and I ended up in a state of utter terror until I just got off my bike and walked. Tom is at a point where cycle touring in general is causing him the same level of stress and angst as I was feeling battered by the wind and so when things go wrong he has no reserves to cope with the problem. Coming to this realisation made me more sympathetic and also made up our minds about how we would spend our upcoming days. The remaining 16 miles to Cobá went without note, we checked in to our hotel, and headed straight out to the ruins. We'd been told it was a large site and better seen by bike so we pedalled down, however they don't allow you to take your own bikes, so our trusty steeds stayed chained up at the gate and we set off on foot.

The ruins at Cobá are the second Mayan city on our trip, the first being the ones in Tulum. They are indeed spread through the jungle and are impressive and thought provoking. There are bits where it really looks like the jungle is winning the fight to reclaim the area and you cannot help but think how much effort it must have taken to clear these patches and build these enormous constructions, the most magnificent of which is the Grand Pyramid. It is monstrous and from its summit you can see across miles of jungle, occasionally spying what look like little hills but which are actually overgrown pyramids. 

On our way back to the hotel we saw a crocodile! It was conveniently lounging on a collapsed pier under a sign saying 'Visite los Cocodrilos'.

The following day we ride to Valladolid, our first colonial town. It's a very picturesque town with colourful buildings lining cobbled one-way streets, beautiful old convents and pretty little squares dotted about and a behemoth of a cathedral, which looks like it was built to withstand a seige.

Valladolid is to be our staging post to visit Chichen-itza, probably one of the most famous Mayan cities and somewhere that has been on our detour list since before we set off, thanks to Rhys. We take our first bus out there and arrive at 8:30am. All the online guides tell us that arriving early means you miss the tour buses and the worst of the vendors though it seems pretty busy to us already. Almost by accident we stumble upon the castle, the iconic pyramid you may well recognise. 

The next few hours are spent wandering the site marvelling at the buildings, the carvings and the increasing hordes of people.

Towards the end of our visit I manage to trap a bee between my flip-flop and my foot and get stung on the sole. I've not been stung for many years and it was surprisingly painful, but Tom was quick to get the sting out and we had some insect bite stuff on hand so we were soon toddling around the site again and then back to Valladolid on the bus.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Scuppered Schedules, Sunburn and Snorkeling

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Yes we said we were going to wring out the last drops of excitement and fun from our trip and we had all intention to hop on the bikes the morning after the last post and pedal South to Laguna Bacalar. Then we got an offer to go to Akumal with Meg, the Coloradan from the homestay, and we thought we can postpone a day to go snorkeling in Akumal, which means 'place of the turtle' in Mayan. So Monday morning we got up early to pack and get sorted so we'd be good to go first thing Tuesday. That's when we noticed that Tom's back had taken quite a cooking the previous day at the lagoon & cenote. Ok so I know it might look bad getting so sunburned, but here's the thing, you're not allowed to wear normal sunscreen in the cenotes or the lagoon as its damaging to the wildlife. What we should have done is wear a shirt, but we didn't, so here we are. Tom is as pink as a camarone and we have an afternoon of snorkeling planned. We've learned our lesson and we pack long sleeved tops for Akumal.

We have our first colectivo experience, which was surprisingly straightforward and easy. They are little minibuses that hurtle up and down the coast and are the primary way most the locals travel making them extremely cheap. We are dropped off on the highway by the Akumal turn off and walk towards the beach. Meg has had a recommendation of a place by the lagoon that has cabanas for rent and so we get in a (totally overpriced) taxi who says he'll take us to the lagoon. He starts saying the words 'caro' (expensive) and barato (cheap) but none of us are sure quite what he is getting at. He then pulls up outside a person's house and it transpires that he is saying we can access the lagoon here for 150pesos each or we can pay US$40 each at the 'other place'. It all felt a bit odd, like in India when the rickshaw drivers try to take you where they will get a commission, rather than where you want. But we paid the lady our money and followed her down this little alley. I was extremely dubious. We wandered through a garden, past a pool, and out to a little concrete area where two other gringos were sunbathing with a palapa umbrella and steps into the lagoon. Still a bit odd, but at least there's the lagoon and they're going to rent us snorkels pretty cheap.

The snorkeling was fantastic. Tons of beautiful, bright fish darted around the clear water. There were lush little islands with large leggy cranes holding still, eyeing the fishes below. As we explored the whole lagoon we noticed there were bizarre currents which you could both feel and see. Warm sea water mixed with the cool cenote water. We've never encountered anything like that before and coming up for air after diving down we both excitedly exclaimed that it was, inconceivably, warmer at the bottom! We spent happy hours gliding back and forth, all previous doubt and dubiousness gone from our minds. Tom is a total pro at diving down with his snorkel despite only ever having been snorkeling once before. I was totally in my element and with GoPro in hand was realising my childhood dream of working as an underwater cameraman, with a David Attenborough commentary running continuously in my head.

Sadly we didn't see any turtles, I don't think they venture into the lagoon, but it was a wonderful experience nonetheless and as the sun began to set we headed back in to Akumal for a meal on the beach before flagging down a colectivo back to Tulum. The three of us went back to Paola and Julio's to say a final goodbye to them and the kids. We ate fresh coconut, drank beer and left with an invite to stay with them again next time we're in Mexico. 

Morning came and with it so did the discovery of a load of blisters all across Tom's shoulders. We decided that spending 7 or 8 hours in the baking sun cycling south was a bad idea which would probably result in Tom losing a significant area of skin and opening up the potential for infection. So we extended our stay in Tulum further. A lively discussion started up on Facebook about the best course of treatment for the burn and after a day of cold green tea compresses we got our hands on some aloe vera leaf and carefully extracted the oozing, jelly-like centre to gently smear across the blisters. The morning after we were utterly amazed that the blisters had almost all disappeared and Tom reported it being much less painful. Nevertheless we spent a second day emulating vampires by avoiding all sunlight to be on the safe side. Thursday came around and we'd planned to cycle to the biosphere but the weather was obviously still concerned for Tom's skin and it poured with torrential rain all day so no outing. Friday morning was pretty fine so we grabbed our chance and went to Gran Cenote for more snorkelling action. 

It. Was. AWESOME. It's a sizeable cenote, 20ft below ground with huge caverns opening up underwater and overhanging areas you can snorkel into, swimming between stalagmites and stalactites with bats flying overhead and fish and turtles gliding along beside you. It really was remarkable. The water was unbelievably clear and we were both mesmerised by the sunlight streaming through the turquoise, dappling the sandstone and spotlighting darting fish. In the recesses of the caverns looking back out to the sunlight Tom and I both commented on how it had the feel of a cathedral. Golden sandstone lit up by the glorious blues and greens of the stained glass windows of water. 

Our photos do not do it justice, but we had a lot of fun diving around, trying to sneak up on turtles and just floating about in utter wonder. We picked up some BBQ chicken on the way home for lunch and just after we got in it started to pour with rain again. If we'd been snorkeling I think we might have drowned. It was relentless and phenomenal; the swimming pool was overflowing, our shower started to flood and the sound was deafening. So much for our planned trip to the beach that afternoon. Raymond, the owner of our little apartment, said there had been between 10-12 inches of rain in 24 hours. We were scheduled to leave the following morning, but were wondering if Tulum would again find a way to keep us there longer still.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Plans Are Made For Changing

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
My motto, or at least one of them, is 'plans are made for changing'. I love making plans; they give you something to work toward, something to aim for, look forward to. But I don't believe in being tied to them. And I don't think this is because I'm a quitter and give up, I just think sometimes, a lot of the time in fact, what you want changes, circumstances change, priorities shift and to stay steadfastly stuck to the original plan is no longer desirable or feasible. Life is too short to waste trudging down a path you no longer wish to follow so change direction, leap off the path into a river, climb a tree, whatever, but come up with a new plan. Even if the plan is to take some time to come up with a new long term plan, it's still a plan and that's good.

When I was 21 I had a flight to Australia, via India, and I intended to spend two years away - a few months in India, then I had my work visa sorted for Australia and I hoped to make it to New Zealand too. I wanted to get my scuba diving qualifications. Since I was a little girl I'd loved the under water world and since my first taste of diving when I was 13 I had wanted to be a scuba diving instructor. Less than four months in while I was in India I got news my Dad's cancer had come back and they didn't know how long he'd have left. Within five days of getting the news I was back in the UK. I never did use my Aussie work visa or learn to scuba dive, but it was whilst I was in India, reading a BBC World Service magazine, that I learnt about the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University and so I made that my new plan.

I have many precedents for plan changing and was totally comfortable in the knowledge that our plan when we set off in February would almost certainly change. And it did. If you recall, two days in Tom broke his bike and we ended up stuck in Santa Cruz for eight days and utterly, radically changed our route through the US (Aloha Santa Cruz!).  What a brilliant stroke of luck that was and what a wonderful, circuitous, detour-filled way we ended up taking. Tom, who is much more goal-orientated than I am, sometimes sees plan changing as 'quitting' and hence the recent "What Constitutes a Failed Cycle Tour?" questioning and soul-searching. When we first started talking about going home early, and we have been talking about it probably since July, I said that I absolutely, categorically did not want to go home at the start of the British winter. To go home then would be a terrible idea, we would just find some nice place in Central America or Mexico and just hang out their until spring. That was our aim.  Well if I'm honest, my aim. Tom doesn't hate winter at home like I do. He loves getting bundled up in lots of layers of clothes and feeling cozy. I do not, I feel claustrophobic in loads of layers, not cozy. So I persuaded Tom that we could happily spend another 3 or 4 months mooching about Central America.

But the reality is that Tom has already been putting a brave face on it for the last four to five months and forcing another three months is likely to just put him off cycle-touring, possibly travel, for a long time. And it will ruin this trip as we will be left with a sour taste that will taint the rest of our sweet, bright, incredible memories. That can not be allowed to happen. So guess what? We've changed our plans again. We've booked flights home! We leave Cancun on Sunday 15th November and arrive into Manchester on Monday morning where my wonderful Uncle Brian will collect us in his work van (unlike in the US and Canada where everyone had a vehicle big enough to fit us and our bikes and gear, Uncle Bri is the only person we know who has a big enough one in the UK!) and take us back to his and my Aunty Ginia's house where we will be staying for a couple of months whilst we figure out what's next.

But for now we have two weeks to make the most of this little part of Mexico. We won't get to see everything, not even everything the Yucatan Peninsula has to offer, let alone all of Mexico, but it'll be a good last fortnight of cycling and swimming, of seeing ancient ruins and meeting friendly locals, of sunshine and downpours and racing clouds and lush green jungle. To start the final fling off we planned to cycle to the Kaan Luum Lagoon, recommended to us by Paola and Julio, which is about 5 miles south of town and then we'd call in at a cenote on the way back to town. Unfortunately we needed to get cash out this morning and it took us about and hour and half as we had to try 9 different ATMs before we found one that would dispense cash to us. Not the best start to the day, but it made getting to the lagoon all the more worth it. It's a really beautiful spot. A large, crystal clear lagoon nestled within the jungle with a super deep cenote in the middle of it. It's hard to appreciate the cenote when you're in the lagoon, it's just this roped off dark, slightly ominous area just past the jetty, but if you google it there is some great aerial footage of it. Nevertheless it was a lovely spot to while a way a few hours swimming and lounging about on the jetty watching the schools of fish circle our feet. It was a great shout by Paola and Julio and seemed to only be visited by a few locals.

We finally dragged ourselves away so we had time to call in at Cristal Cenote on our way back. Despite the area being strewn with cenotes, fresh water sink holes, this was the first time we'd got out to one. Cristal is a pretty small one and I don't have anything to compare it to, but it was lovely. The water was cool, cooler than the sea or the lagoon, super clear and an incredible jade green colour. There were a few ropes strung across it and a platform, maybe 15 foot up that you could jump off into the beautiful water. We had a lot of fun messing around with the GoPro and pretending we were slacklining pros on the ropes. This evening we are calling in at Paola and Julio's to say goodbye for the last time and tomorrow we are going to Akumal with Meg, a Coloradan who we met through the Spanish School.

So if you'd don't hear from us much for the next couple of weeks its because we are busy wringing the last drops of fun and excitement out of this cycle tour and we'll be sure to fill you in later. And yes, it is totally true that winter is not my favourite season, but this is definitely the right decision and we have so much to look forward to.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Negotiating Changes

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Many of you will remember Tom's post Cycle Touring Fatigue where he talked about having a tough time of it; the stress of the uncertainty, the boredom of the routine of the bike tour, the lack of knowledge acquisition and intellectual stimulus. Not to mention his most recent post "What Constitutes a Failed Cycle Tour?" This has been a tough few months for us in many ways with lots of realisations and self-reflection. And we are so grateful for all the messages of support and tales of similar feelings. It's definitely something that tends not to be talked about all that much. Having perused through dozens of blogs and websites of other cycle tourers and travelers the number of times I've come across anyone just saying 'this isn't for me' or 'I'm not having any fun' is extremely rare. Sure there's hardship, people have rough days, weeks, months maybe even, but to admit to not enjoying it overall, to wanting to go home, is rare. The singular example I have come across is an excellent one from Shirine Taylor's blog,, in which they flew home early after 2 years on the road. I can totally recommend Shirine's blog, she's a great writer and photographer and an inspiration.

While things have certainly improved in some respects the truth of the matter is that Tom is not a wanderer at heart, at least not a long-term wanderer, and so this trip will not go the full distance so to speak. I, on the other hand, am a wanderer. I can happily amuse myself looking at the flowers by the side of the road, trying (and usually failing) to identify the birds, letting my mind wander as my bike rolls along beneath me. I love it, I don't think it's routine or tedious, I think every day is different, small differences sure, but different. One of the big things we've had to come to terms with in the last few months is that neither Tom or I are right or wrong in our take on the cycle tour. It's just how each of us feels and rather than try to convince the other to come round to our way of thinking we have slowly learned to accept each other's point of view and try to figure out the best way forward for us. This hasn't caused us to fight, but it is a major point of difference so we've been talking a lot about how we both get what we need and how we both get to be happy.

It's really tough. In all honesty I don't want the trip to end, but Tom's happiness is more important than the trip and while it's not more important than my happiness (our individual happinesses are equally important) my happiness is more common and easily found, like blackberries in a British hedgerow. Tom's happiness is rarer and requires some cultivation, so at present we are trying to figure out optimal growing conditions for Tom. The trip was never about proving anything and whilst we intended to be away much longer we always said that if we stopped enjoying it or wanted to change it we would. And I am totally comfortable with this, though it must be said that the blog makes this a little harder. There is a certain level of obligation, felt more keenly by Tom than me, to "not let our readers down". Whatever that means, I'm sure you all have your own stuff going on and would soon get over it!

There is certainly a lot, which for me at least, remains unfinished. At the inception of the trip I didn't really have any great desire to visit or tour Central or South America. Now I feel a definite draw to explore these epic and beautiful countries, preferably by bike. So I very much hope we will be back. And as the tour comes to an end I can't help but reflect on how much has changed since the start, all the sights we've seen and the incredible people we've met, what was left unaccomplished and things that surpassed our most hope-filled dreams. It's been a remarkable journey, something many people have referred to as 'once in a lifetime' but I sincerely hope not. I want a life filled with 'once in a lifetime' experiences that push the boundaries for me, that take me out my comfort zone, that make me see the wonders of the world anew, that make me see how people can shine brighter than the stars and kindness stretch over vast chasms of difference. Life is full of wonder, adventure and joy - we just need to keep looking for it.

And that is what I most desperately fear about going home. It is all too easy to slip back into 'normal life', for the gripes and grinds of the everyday to take up all my days and for me to stop seeing the world for what it is and focus instead on the petty nonsense I find myself tied up with when I'm in normal life. Travel for me is so freeing, so removed from the obligations I place on myself at home, it allows perspective and gives me the time to be grateful for so much. So it is with some apprehension I return, but I am determined to keep the positive impacts of the tour nurtured in the cold, dampness of winter in the UK, to keep the sunshine I've been saving up for eight months shining in my mind and to seek to see the minute differences each day brings and appreciate all I can, wringing every last drop of pleasure, fun and joy out of every day. In this way I hope that at home I can live up to the trail name I was given by Justin and Melissa as much as I can on the road - Rainbow Bright. And with Cake Topper (that's Tom by the way) by my side I think this is just the start of another chapter of a lifetime of adventures. I'm already trying to decide what's next!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

What Constitutes a Failed Cycle Tour?

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
There comes a time in all walks of life when the going gets tough and you feel like you want to throw in the towel. However, you are taught at a young age that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  In fact there are a plethora of sayings to keep one motivated and they all basically boil down to; don’t give up, don’t be a failure.  But surely there must be a point when enough is enough?  This is a question I am facing on the cycle tour at the moment.  You may remember a previous blog post, Cycle Touring Fatigue, when I told you all that I was having a hard time and had been for a little time.  That was back in July.  It is now knocking on the door of November and, truth be told again, I have never actually gotten over feeling fatigued by the trip.  It’s not physically tiring, although at the present time I am extremely tired pretty much all of the time, it is more just a feeling of dullness.  A heavy fog touching everything, taking the shine away from all the experiences.

Sophie and I have talked a lot about these feelings and we both thought that a change of pace and scenery would do the world of good; a change is as good as a break, they say.  So we have been in Mexico for just over two weeks now.  The first few days we stayed in a hotel and did very little.  We then spent two days cycling down to Tulum and have spent the rest of the time doing the Spanish Immersion course.  New country, new culture, new language.  There has been no change to my mood. I am increasingly finding myself frustrated with the situation.  I do not want to feel this way.  I am in a major holiday destination for the entire planet.  Hundreds of thousands of people choose to spend their holiday time and money here to rest and recuperate and I’m underappreciating it.  So I am deciding if it is time to come home and admit failure.

My first reaction to the conversations with Sophie of heading home were these feelings of failure.  We had spent years saving and planning for the trip of a lifetime and how after only 8 months I’m having to fly home with my tail between my legs.  We set up this blog and told everyone that we were going away for 2 years and now, after just one third we might have to cut and run.  I feel like I’m letting Sophie down, I feel like I’m letting you down and I feel like I’m letting myself down.  You may have noticed that I haven’t written anything for a long time.  A reason for this is I wanted to distances myself from you, I wanted to make it easier for me to be forgotten.  This was foolish.  After looking at articles online I have discovered that by writing, one names feelings and emotions making it easier for your brain to pigeon hole that emotion (brains seem to really like to categorize things).  Another useful part of writing is it helps you remember the good times because you think about them again and write them down (full disclosure, we miss out some really dull bits from the blog!). This action of remembering and writing actually creates a stronger memory to recollect in the future.  So in a roundabout way by trying to distance myself from you I actually made the trip harder because I wasn’t reinforcing my positive memories.

But this feeling of failure is an interesting one.  Sophie and I have cycled 8,500 miles unsupported in 3 countries.  We have cycled further west and north than either us have ever been and we are currently at my most southerly point.  Even with writing this I can’t help but feel that this is a job left undone.  When we return early (again, full disclosure we will not be out for the whole 2 years, we are definitely not going to South America) I know that I will have failed Sophie and myself.  Sophie is a wanderer.  She loves to travel, see new places, meet new people and experience new cultures.  It fuels her, she is an extrovert and is powered by these activities.  I am not.  I’m an introvert.  Although I may seem outgoing, easy going and game for whatever it takes a lot of energy and it tires me out.  And it’s taking its toll.

What I’m trying to say but not very succinctly is that I am not a failure.  I’m not entirely sure that failure truly exists.  We came out here with a plan.  We didn’t complete the plan but we did come out.  We made that step.  I know now that I am not a wanderer.  I like going away, meeting new people and seeing new sights but I can’t do it for long extended periods of time, my batteries get depleted and they need to be recharged at home, where I have great friends and a fantastic family.  Although new cultures are exciting for a short time, I need to head back after a while to a place I understand and know what to expect.  It is horrendously clichéd and it actually literally pains me to say, but in these last 8 months I have found more out about myself than any other years previously.  I’m not saying I found myself (I was never that lost or unaware enough) but I got to know me, which has been great.  So in the next few days we have to make some decisions about what to do next.  But whatever we choose, we'll choose it together, it’ll be the right choice and we’ll have a great time doing it.

Monday, 26 October 2015

¿Hablas Español?

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
We managed to ride from Playa del Carmen to Tulum without getting any punctures or heavily rained on. The road was much the same as the previous day - good quality dual carriage way with a decent shoulder - and we were in Tulum by noon. Though we'd been sent a map of the location of our home stay family's house and instructions that it was between "Jaguar y Tepezcuinde" this didn't do us much good as none of the smaller streets had any signs indicating their names and none of the houses had numbers. We knew we were on the right street, just no idea which was the right house. Having ridden the whole road and turned back wondering what we would do now a guy outside a cafe said hola and asked where we were going. When I explained we were looking for an address and showed him it on my phone he unfortunately didn't know where it was either. He asked a dude stood near him if he knew but no luck. He asked if we had a phone number for the family and then he called them to ask for directions for us. As we waited for our host family to come meet us we talked some more with Ramon. He'd lived for some time in Colorado and had now set up his cafe here, selling BBQ ribs and chicken. If he hadn't helped us we'd have had quite a palava finding the house.

Julio arrived by bike and led us back to the house. Along with his wife, Paola, and their kids Frida and Cesar they run a little homestay for students of the Spanish school. We have our own room with bathroom and share meals with the family. When we arrived there were two other students staying too. Linda is from Texas, but her Spanish is amazing and Hanna, from the UK, who is a bit of a polyglot.

After getting unpacked we headed to the beach, first time since arriving in Mexico. We took a taxi as we wanted to suss out a safe place to lock our bikes without having to worry about them. The beach was fairly quiet. Despite the white sand and palm trees the scene was not the tropical paradise of brochures. Grey clouds streamed overhead in a strong breeze and the sea churned. Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful, just sultry. We were famished after riding so headed straight for some food - fish tacos and prawn and cheese quesadilla. Yum! We then spent a couple of hours strolling around, swimming and strolling some more. Then it started to rain and we took shelter at a beach bar where they gave us some incredible fresh coconut with chilli salt. It was so delicious. The rain eased and by the time we ambled back to where we'd been dropped off our taxi was waiting there again to take us home.

Lessons started on Monday morning.  We were in a class with one other guy, Danny from the Netherlands (and we all know how good the Dutch are at languages right?) and quickly got onto basics and grammar for 2 hours, had a short break, then another hour of conversational Spanish with Paola and another student, Tom from Australia.  And this pattern continued through the week.  The lessons are intense and tiring, but fun and we do feel like we're picking stuff up, slowly.  The school also arranges additional activities on a daily basis - yoga each morning before class, then traditional Mexican board games, Mexican cooking and Salsa classes on different afternoons of the week - all in Spanish, of course.  Friday came around and we decided that a few more days would be beneficial so we opted to stay, probably until Wednesday.  Tom has really got the hang of the verbs and is much better at understanding the rules of the language.  I am better at just having a go - if I don't know the word I make it up or act it out, often Tom can help correct me, so we make a good team and I think a few more days and we'll be adequately able to fend for ourselves in Mexico.

Friday night we went out for a few drinks with Tom and Hanna to celebrate the end of the week and say bye to Hanna who was leaving Saturday morning for Cuba.  The weather was much better on Saturday (all week the rain has been on and off so we only got to the beach a couple of times) so we headed for the Mayan ruins with Tom and Danny.  

They are in a beautiful spot, on a small bluff overlooking the surrounding area and out to sea.  Tulum is the only Mayan city built by the coast and the city flourished between the 13th and 15th Centuries and faded after the Spanish conquered the area.  Now the site is inhabited by a large population of iguanas and seasonally visited by many turtles and tourists.

On the road just outside the ruins there were some hombres selling 'frio coco', cold drinking coconuts.  It's the first one I have had since I was last in India, 11 years ago.  It was delicious and I can't wait to drink more of them.  After we finished they split the shell and we ate the soft flesh with chilli salt and lime.  Our thirsts suitably quenched we headed for the beach for a few hours of swimming and snoozing before heading home for an early night.  All the brain activity from learning Spanish, plus the hours in the sun, the late night on Friday and beers have wiped us out.  This learning malarky is so much tougher than cycling!  We have a rough route lined up for the next bit of the trip, around the Yucatan Peninsula, which we've based on recommendations from Paola and Julio so we have some research and planning to do before we head off.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Hola Mexico!

Location: Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
I was stressing a bit about bike boxes before we got them.  The boxes we got when we were leaving the UK were too small and it was only due to good fortune that we were able to get bigger ones from the bike shop in Glossop (see Leaving the UK: The Last Few Stumbling Blocks).  So I was worried that the ones we were scheduled to pick up from Bicycles Plus in Oshawa weren't going to be big enough.  There's not a lot of bike shops in Oshawa and we were heading into Thanksgiving weekend so if these weren't good enough we might be in trouble since our flight was at 8am Tuesday morning and we were getting dropped at the airport on Monday night.  Tom was relaxed about it and Rhi said that if we were stuck then they had tons of cardboard boxes in the basement we'd be able to fashion something from.  Of course, as is always the case, worry does no good and in this case it was absolutely unnecessary.  The bike boxes Bicycles Plus had for us had housed 2 sizeable fat bikes and were perfect for us.  Plus they had saved loads of awesome packaging for us too.  Major thanks to the super helpful dude there who made our bike packing so much less stressful than when we left the UK.  With that bit sorted we just had to get all our other stuff packed up, which was easy enough and left us with lots of time over the weekend to enjoy Thanksgiving.  We had a fantastic meal with all of Rhi's family at her sister's house; the full works - turkey, ham, potatoes, loads of veggies, stuffed squash, stuffed mushrooms, gravy.  Amazing!  Then there was a whole plethora of desserts - pumpkin cheesecake, brownies, pumpkin pie, cherry cheesecake, apple pie.  The following morning we went to a farm for pumpkin picking, which was a lot of fun and we left with a good haul of Halloween appropriate squash.

We said a sad farewell to Steve and the girls and then Rhi took us to the airport late Monday evening.  Toronto Pearson Airport isn't bad when it comes to providing space for people hunkering down for the night; we found ourselves a couple of benches next to each other, with space for the bikes and luggage, overlooking a section of runway.  We ate our turkey sandwiches while watching The Wire and laid our heads down for the night.  Not the best night's sleep it must be said, but we both got a few hours and when morning came round though we were both a bit bleary eyed we were both functioning.  We checked our bags in ourselves and no one weighed them.  We then took the bikes down to the oversize baggage area and had to undo all the duck tape we'd only just put on, but the security guy was very friendly and nice and they had extra tape so it all worked out.  We had some breakfast and boarded the plane.  It was so much less fretful than our last flight.  The rest of the journey went by without note.  We arrived into Cancun at lunchtime and spent about 3 hours reassembling the bikes and repacking our gear.  An English lady who'd just arrived told us how impressed she was with what we're doing and many of the Mexican staff of the airport came to ask us about our trip and welcomed us to Mexico.  We finally got underway and were pleasantly surprised that the road had a decent shoulder and was remarkably good quality.  It was about 5pm, it was hot, humid and sunny and the road wasn't too busy or tricky to navigate.  Until we reached the start of downtown Cancun then it got crazy pretty quickly; the shoulder disappeared, traffic increased, the road spread to being 3 or 4 lanes wide and buses, taxis and colectivoes pulled in front of us screeching to halt by the side of the road to pick up and drop off passengers.  As we neared the centre of town it got so nuts we decided to walk sections on the pavement as we were genuinely worried about getting knocked down.  Check in was easy and we got the bikes and all our gear up to our room on the sixth floor via the lift.

After showers we headed out for food as we'd not eaten anything proper since breakfast.  It felt thrilling to be in a new country that felt so different.  It reminded me in many ways of India, but for Tom it was something pretty different.  As we wandered along we were gently accosted by advocates for one restaurant or another trying to entice us in to their establishment.  Alejandro on reception had suggested a place which is where we headed for beer and tacos.  The next day we lounged around the pool and chatted with other guests who happened to be from Kings Heath in Birmingham (where our friends Mel and Paul live).  The next day we planned to take a trip to Isla Mujeres just off the coast but when we awoke the sky was deep grey and rain was lashing down.  Well it is still rainy season, though honestly I thought it would be similar to monsoon in India where it erupts into a monster electrical storm and torrential rain falls for an hour or so each day and the rest of the time its sunny.  Not here.  Since the rain started on Thursday morning its barely stopped until Saturday morning.  The streets outside the hotel were shallow rivers.  There were actual whirlpools around some of the drains.  When buses drive past waves of water flood over the pavement and splash against the walls of the buildings.  Since the rain was so sever we checked out buses so that if on Saturday morning the roads seemed impassable we had an alternative option for getting to Tulum in time for our course on Monday morning.  Buses are cheap and frequent and everything I can find online says they have no problem loading bikes in with the luggage so we knew we had a plan B.

This morning we awoke and there was a little lightness in the sky, still grey and cloudy, but not quite so foreboding and it wasn't raining so we were all set for our first fully loaded day on the bikes for over 3 weeks.  Leaving Cancun was again a bit hairy, lots of traffic and not much shoulder to speak of, plus an incident with a lorry where he turned right directly in front of us very nearly causing us both to crash and a couple of run ins with loose dogs.  We made good time and were happy that despite feeling a little unfit our speed wasn't too shabby which was good because about 6 miles from Playa del Carmen, our destination for the night, it started to rain.  Light at first so we pushed on and hoped we could make the town before it got too heavy.  No chance.  It tipped it down and in no time we were soaked through.  We stopped to put our high vis jackets on proceeded through giant puddles of rainwater.  Just before a major intersection on the outskirts of town we pulled over to check the map.  Just as we set off again I noticed my front tyre was flat.  We got some shelter under some porches and changed the inner tube.  Our pump is pretty broken at the moment and its pretty frustrating work pumping up a tyre so we took it in turns and finally got it up to pressure (or at least what we thought was right since the gauge is one of the things that is broken).  Flipped the bike back over and began to load the bags back on when BANG!  Ear-ringingly loud.  I had a moment of thinking a gun had been fired then I realised that it was worse we'd caught the inner tube when we changed it and had caused a blowout.  Time to change the inner tube again, more frustrating pump based shenanigans ensued, but we got it sorted and got on our way.

Less than 10 minutes down the road I realised my front tyre was going down again.  ARE YOU KIDDING?!  What the hell?  We're not far from the airbnb place we've booked for the night though and the rain is just bucketing down so rather than stop and fix it we just get off and walk.  By the time we get to the apartment somehow my back tyre is also flat. This last hour and a half has to easily take our 'Most Punctures in the Shortest Time' award, especially since half that time was spent fixing punctures!  Not the best day ever on the bikes and the rain is still pouring so we are going to get drenched again when we head out for food, but it felt good to be back on my bike and we're really looking forward to starting our Spanish course so we can communicate with the super friendly locals better.  But right now its time to get out the puncture repair kits and fix some inner tubes!