I started writing this when we first crossed the border and I realized we had just entered a world unknown. Lewis and I have been chipping away at it since then, and finally it is complete! It means a lot to us that you know how grateful we are.
Photo complements of Paul Downey.
It is Christmas day and we have crossed into Mexico. We are delayed in the border town of Agua Prieta, in a little hotel a bit outside of the center. The weather is keeping us… today a south wind blows hard enough to fill the streets with waves of dust and bits of trash. We decided last night there was no way we would be able to make it the 35 miles to Frontera in 20-30mph head winds. We didn’t even consider that there would be dust too.
We spent the morning walking around the town, which somehow feels full of life even though the streets are mostly void of people and most businesses are closed for the holiday. Is it the brightly colored buildings? The stray dogs? Maybe it is just the wind.
After a long and comfortable tramp around the north and west of the U.S., we have finally made it into territory more or less unknown. Even the maps are vague. It is exciting to think of the possibilities of what may lie ahead; more truthfully, the thrill is in the possibilities we can’t think of… the unexpected. But we also feel as if we have jumped out of the nest. There will be no more regular visits and long layovers with friends and family. We are so grateful for their time and support during our “training” months in our home country. We are so grateful to everyone who has made the beginnings of our adventure easier, pre-arranged hosts and random strangers too! Not to mention the fun we had spending time with all of them.
We want to write a chronological special thanks to everyone who has welcomed us into their homes since we we moved out of our apartment in May 2014. We have received so much generosity and kindness and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. I wish we had the writing stamina to thank every individual who has been a part of our journey, but we must limit it to those who have sheltered us. But believe us, you are all appreciated!
Walter, Sandra, and Joseph, Brandy’s family, who took care of us for 10 or so days on their Virginia farm. Thanks for holding on to a van-load of things we just couldn’t part with for this time that we are homeless!
Melissa, thanks for putting me (Lewis) up and for your friendship and inspiration/reality about online business. I hope you can keep up living the dream.
Lauren and Misha, thanks for letting us crash on your LES, NYC couch multiple times. Why didn’t we have more sleepovers when we were living there? Thanks for holding our bikes while we were in Hawaii!
Austin and Elyza, our best festie buddies! Always a pleasure staying over at your NJ domicile. You totally saved our Hawaii vacation by lending us your super old school digi camera when we couldn’t find ours.
Eric and Galia in Brooklyn. I don’t think I need to say anything here. You already know.
Steve and Samantha on the UWS, NYC. Good times are always in store with you, us and some great beers. Thank you for busting out the good stuff and giving us a roof for the night, and for your friendship throughout our NYC life.
Yaroo and Brad in the East Village, NYC, I can’t believe we never watched Portlandia before! Thanks for that enlightenment. Brandy is really missing snowboarding with you guys!
Mike, host of the volleyball party on Molokai, thanks for letting us strangers camp in your yard! We met many great people at your party, which changed the course of our time on Molokai.
Jon and Hannah, whom we met at Mike’s party, the shelter on top of the hill behind your little house was magical. What a view! It was great sharing dinner together, you are a lovely couple.
Johnny, whom we also met at Mike’s party, thanks so much for showing us your organic farm and giving us a place to camp for a night. And thanks to Stormy for upgrading the accommodations to a nearby beach house. The fresh sushi was amazing, and the mangroves were haunting in the best possible way!
Cameron and Shane on Maui. We dropped in without a plan and you guys scooped us up and let us join your island lives for a bit. Thanks for showing us so many amazing places and spending some great time with us.
Alice and friend Cori on Maui. Alice, your children are beautiful and our little loft in your round house was wonderful! Thanks for taking us out to Hana and introducing us to Cori, who let us stay at the fabulous BnB she worked at.
Thanks to the ex-military squatter in Kona that we found camped out in the only jungled lot in town. Your stories were fascinating!
Jess, Eric and family for sharing your home and delicious meals with us and showing us around your corner of the island. We probably wouldn’t have otherwise gone to all the spots you took us and we loved getting to the market for the food there to change up the generally bland backpacker’s diet we’d been subsisting on.
Thanks to the jogging lady outside of Saratoga for letting us pitch our tent in your backyard when our other camping lead could not be found. You saved us just in time to take shelter from an intense storm!
Tim and Maureen, our Warm Showers hosts in Saratoga. You made us feel immediately comfortable and at home. It was great meeting you and spending an evening with you. Thank you for letting filthy cyclists come through the cleanest house I’ve ever seen. We hope to see you somewhere out here.
Colleen in MI, hanging with you is always good times. It was great to see the farm and do some pond floating. We have been using your kale shucking trick every time since. Thanks for giving us an excuse to go to the Phish show, as if we really needed one.
Mike and Sam in Chicago. Thank you for handing over the keys to your place while you were gone for the weekend. Mike, I’m glad you were able to rouse yourself from your birthday couch flop when we showed up super late so we could spend some time before you rolled out.
Liz, your openness and hospitality is always astounding. Thank you for giving us the option of your place during the Phish shows. I’m glad we were able to spend some time with you while we were there. Chicago wouldn’t be the same without you.
Cesar and Stephanie thank you for having us at your spot in West Bend for a few days. Thanks also for being open to my sometimes random and unanticipated appearances. We hope to see you in Panama, whenever we get there!
Jesse thanks for putting us up in Milwaukee and hooking us up with the fatty ride out past the burbs. It’s always great to see you, and that ain’t gonna change. Wisco represent!
Deb, Lewis’s ma, thanks for giving us a little break from carrying all the crap, at least for a day. It was great to finally spend some real time in your house. We had great fun kyaking with you and Jim. Thanks for visiting us on the road too!
Jake and April in Ringle, thanks for putting us up for the night, despite the fact that you thought it was the next week. It was nice to hang out with old friends after a long and perilous day. The veggies from your garden were delicious!
Len and Dawn, thanks for all that you always do when we’re there and for acting as our mail forwarding service. Dad, thanks also for getting into the bikes with us and helping us load up on tools and parts for the long road ahead.
Bob from Warm Showers, thank you for hosting us in Wisconsin Rapids and the delicious pizza. We had a lovely time with you and your family, and a great night’s rest. I hope you get a chance to host more in the future.
Hannah, thanks for putting together the Buckhorn camping trip and bringing some great beer, and for just being downright awesome.
Jennifer and Mikey, thanks for taking us and all our shit to Madison so we could spend an extra couple days there, and also for hosting us at your owl-infested apartment. By the way, there is a ridiculously steep hill lurking around a blind corner not more than a mile from your place. We had to push!
Jack and Cathy from Warm Showers, thank you for hosting us in Everett and feeding us some great meals. We certainly were tempted to stay several more days, but that really wouldn’t have made much sense taking rest days on the first day of our tour.
Pete in Conway, thank you for flagging us down right as we were about to start looking for a spot to camp and offering your land in that beautiful place. We didn’t even get carried away by giant slugs either.
Brendan, the Couchsurfer on San Juan Isle who accepted our very last minute request when our ferry was canceled and we had to change plans. After a hard few days of hilly biking, your back yard jungle hot tub was just what the doctor ordered. We hope we have helped restore your faith in CS, you certainly have helped ours!
Diana, Orin and doggies, thanks for driving us around Vancouver Isle. It was great to finally meet and get to know you a bit! I hope we’ll have a chance to cycle through your part of the world sometime in the future.
Justin, there are very few CSers we’ve had the pleasure of hosting, and then visiting on their home turf. Your little house with your wife in the woods is wonderful, and your folks were so kind to let us stay in the empty room at their BnB. It was great playing games with you, and visiting the beaches near Sooke. Brandy has the feather your pops made for us attached to her bike handlebars… so cool!
Rebecca, J.Crew just wasn’t the same for Brandy after you left! We couldn’t pass through the NW without visiting you in Seattle. Your apartment with the rooftop view was amazing. Thanks for helping Brandy slim down her travel wardrobe, and for giving her the long sleeve tee she is wearing right now!
Heidi, our Warm Showers host in Port Angeles, thank you for your kind hospitality and for convincing us to take the 101. It was beautiful and very reasonable. But when you talk about hills, make sure you remind the listener that you are a hill climbing racer. It wasn’t the big one after Lake Crescent that got us, it was the climb up to Sol Duc that laid us out (well, Lewis at least).
Anson and doggies, we are glad we kept running into you that day on the Olympic Peninsula. Good thing Lewis was wearing his Wisconsin Tee (which has since been retired to rags, sadly). Thanks for driving us to Oregon, and all of the great travel hospitality you gave us. You’re a great camping buddy!
Di’s dad Rick, thanks for letting us crash a few nights at your house in the SW Portland hills. It was great to get to know you, and see you again a few months later! Oh and Di was there too … so great to spend time with you outside of the Phish environment!
Allan and Annie and baby in Portland, what a pleasure it was to reconnect with you guys after all these years. Thanks for taking us in for so many days and spending some good times with us, despite being in recovery mode.
Tracey our Couchsurfing host in Bend, thank you for taking us in and showing us some fabled great breweries of Bend. We had a fun and comfortable time for the days we were there. Your dog is awesome too. Someday he’ll get those darn f**kers!
Araby in Corvallis, you were far too kind in letting us borrow your car for a couple of weeks, but we are so glad you did… it made so many great things possible for us. Including taking you, and a traveling young woman from Australia that we picked up in Cali, to your first Phish shows!
Julie and Tristan in Myrtle Point, thanks for having us at your awesome spot. Julie, I haven’t seen you in so many years, but it felt like nothing as soon as I walked in the door. You’re as awesome as ever. Tristan, it was great to meet you again and actually get to know you some, and it turns out you’re awesome too, which really isn’t a surprise at all. Brandy secretly wants to kidnap your baby girl, but not for too long because, ya know, kids.
David and Michelle and family in Eureka, it was great to be at the center of your little hive of activity there and get to know you now that I am more of an adult, and get to see all of my cousins again. Thank you also for taking us to so many beautiful places.
Phish folks in Eugene, connection made by Phish friend Tyler, thanks for letting crash at the party house for a night. Thanks to Woody for letting the Aussie go to sleep early in your camper, she was oh so tired after that big night!
Nick and Lindsay in Oakland, thanks for letting us explode our junk all over your small apartment and for taking us around town while we were there. It’s a cool little area there and we’re glad we could spend some time. Hopefully we can decrease the gaps.
Eric in San Fran, thanks for putting us up and giving the executive bike facility tour to this infrastructure nerd. It was great to spend some time with you, and we always love an opportunity to take someone to their first show.
Jaki in San Fran, what an amazing host you were! Your apartment was a dream… I wish we could have spent more time there, but alas, what can you do when you have to go Phishing? It was a pleasure being with you for your first show! Hopefully we will enjoy your company again.
Lorrie and Rick in Santa Cruz, you gave us a great evening, an amazing meal and some sizzling harmonica! Thanks for having us. It was nice to see you again after all these years.
Thanks to Jeff, the craigslist poster who gave us a ride to the Hangtown Halloween Ball from San Francisco. Not only did you give us a ride, you introduced us to a great crew who let us join in their primo campsite, stage side! We are also glad you stopped at that thrift store for costumes, since we had none, and they were essential. Lewis’s pink wig was a wardrobe staple at the remaining 6 shows of Phish tour and the caution vest has become several pieces of visibility on our gear.
Steve in Tahoe, thanks for letting us crash at your place and then ride with you (bikes and all) to Vegas. In fact, thanks for organizing the entire Vegas Shit Show house! It was great to be a part of that. We are also grateful that you told us about the Hangtown Halloween Ball, since Brandy had really wanted to go to a west coast music fest. You made it happen!
Rick, our Warm Showers host in Henderson, thank you for hosting us. We hope we made a good impression as your first WS guests. We did enjoy the celebrity treatment we received from your son and his friends upon arrival!
Debbie & Vic in Truxton, you truly showed kindness to us strangers you met at the gas station! Thanks for dinner, and the great conversation that evening, and for letting us sleep warmly in your home. It was wonderful to meet you, and John, Roberta, and Broken Sky.
Genie and Peter in Cottonwood, you really shine as Warm Showers hosts. We had no intention of staying three nights, but you made us so comfortable and welcome! Thanks for taking us on the hike in Sedona. You guys are a true inspiration.
Amy, thanks for letting us be your roommates for so long in downtown Phoenix. It was great to finally get to know you outside of the Phish world (even though we still listened to Phish, like, every day ). I am glad we made it in time for Primus!
Jon & Kaili in Phoenix, our weekend with you was lovely, even with the smelly breath dog. It was great to scratch our board game itch before leaving the country and especially to meet the woman who has made my brother so happy.
Sashi and Di in Gilbert, your Friendsgiving celebration was the perfect way to spend the holiday so far away from home. Thanks for welcoming us into your home for so many nights as part of the family. We miss you guys already!
Ranger Georgie and the Lost Dutchman State Park, thanks for so kindly safe-keeping our bikes for 3 nights so we could hike into the Superstition Wilderness. We will visit again!
River Bottom Bar in Florence, thank you for letting us set up camp for the night in your great patio.
Meltem in Tucson, your home was a great place to rest and wait out the rains. Thanks for taking us in during finals time. I know I would hardly be able to spare a moment at the end of the semester, but yet you managed to make time to hang out and even take us to a party!
Hannah’s Hill Vineyard… the sun is soon setting, but the wine is calling! When we asked to camp on your land, you offered us warm shelter in the winery instead, cots and all! Best of luck with the vineyard, your wine is as lovely as your company!
Our Tombstone angel, who wishes to remain anonymous, your trust and generosity overwhelms us. Taking strangers in out of the cold is one thing, but leaving and trusting them with your apartment shows great faith in the goodness of people.
Couchsurfers Silvia and Edgar, our last U.S. hosts in the border town of Douglas, AZ. We hadn’t been given much advice for Mexico (except, “be careful, it’s dangerous!!”), so the tour book you made for us was an incredibly wonderful gift! You made us even more excited for our upcoming adventures in Mexico!
We spent a week in the “Pueblo Magico” of Álamos, Sonora. Luckily our Warm Showers host, Paul let us stay a preposterous amount of time during the FAOT music festival when we would have had a hard time finding reasonable accommodation. I think he secretly welcomed the excuse to sit around drinking coffee and talking instead of working. What a strange festival! It is in honor of a famous opera singer, and much of the music is oriented as such, but there are also random acts such as an American blues singer and whomever wants to get together in the streets to play. The old ladies and classical music students rule the week, but on the weekends the squares are flooded with youths carrying bags of beer. The final weekend is especially crazy as every youth in Sonora pours into town to party. Rock bands headline and the uniquely Sonoran cyclone mosh pits grow. Rather than just running around slamming into whomever you can hit, everyone skips, jumps and prances in a smooth counter-clockwise circle bouncing off one another, forming linked bands for others to attempt to destroy and throwing beer around. The hardcore moshers run in the opposite direction to get thrashed. Drunks roam the streets singing joyously and Norteño bands blast their Polka in the arroyo until the full light of day.
After over a week of this, it was finally time to move on. Paul convinced us to go back to our original route plan and take the back roads to El Fuerte, another “Pueblo Magico” in the neighboring state of Sinaloa. He told us it was very challenging, but had been the best part of his ride from Álamos to NYC. There are no direct routes between the towns, only a web of unpaved tracks connecting small villages. I drew out a detailed paper map including mileages and villages gleaned from Google and we set out midday after a leisurely breakfast.
We immediately became confused. There were far more intersecting roads than had appeared on the map and the couple people we met were of no help. Eventually we came to a road that was probably our turnoff and we left the pavement to climb a steep hill into the bush. As we continued, I was more and more convinced we’d made the correct decision and it was confirmed when we flagged down a truck full of drunk old men. They all talked at once giving conflicting directions on how to get to El Fuerte, but the one thing their flailing arms all agreed upon was that straight ahead was the way to go.
The road serviced a huge mine, so it was well maintained, and despite being gravel, we moved along at a good pace for the rest of the day. Although it was a mine road, traffic was very light and without trucks so we had a tranquil cruise through some fantastic scenery. Late in the day we came across some ranchers working on their fence and we got to enjoy the same silly colloquialism we have met throughout our travels. When I told them we were going to El Fuerte, which is in the neighboring state of Sinaloa, they asked if I was scared.
“Of course not. Is there something I should be scared of?”
He made the universal machine gun gesture.
“Is the rest of Sonora safe though?”
“Oh yes, absolutely.”
Right. Duly noted.
It’s always the next place that’s scary and dangerous.
As we cycled off, “regresa vive! (return alive!)”
We decided to set up camp while we were still in the totally safe Sonora rather than the bullet-ridden warzone of Sinaloa. Well, the fading light made the decision for us. Fortunately the sun painted yet another brilliant swath of color across the sky just as we came across one of the only places we’d seen all day where the fence was not right against the road. We had a nice space in some bushes above an arroyo where we cooked dinner over a fire. We sat into the night watching storms pass by the neighboring mountain and just as we were thinking of heading to bed, the skies above us opened and drowned our fire for us. We slept beautifully under the patter of heavy drops on the tent fly.
It was a good thing we got our sleep because the next day would be a monster. We had somehow passed the turnoff I’d plotted, so we were into the unknown for distances, but luckily we’d picked up a rudimentary map from the tourist point in Álamos so we weren’t completely lost. We would also be crossing into the notorious Sinaloa where we would need all our energy to dodge ambushes from machine gun and machete wielding maniacs. Knowing how overblown dangers can be, we were not too worried.
As it turns out, we had plenty to fear.
The secondary road was in poor condition and undulated up and down steep grades that sucked our energy dry. The sun was searing and I’d lost my sunglasses again, so was reduced to squinting and the rare passing car filled my eyes with dust. I figured the road would improve past El Chinal because that town was printed in bold face on my map, and the road was shown as a thicker line. Nope. El Chinal was nothing more than a collection of homes and a pretty church.
The road actually managed to deteriorate, but on the plus side, the traffic was nonexistent. Only two cars and a donkey passed us in three hours. We followed a massive dam for several miles, but rather than provide relief, the road would tease us by following the grade for a bit before dipping back down a steep drop in FRONT of the dam so that it could return up an equally steep climb back up, again and again. On top, a headwind pushed us back. I had picked up some bug along the way, which was odd considering we’d made our own food that day. I was feeling worse and worse as the afternoon heat bore down. My stomach was tensing up and I felt I would vomit at any moment. It was the kind of nausea of the athlete who has pushed too hard. It kept coming in waves, each worse than the next. I thought I might have heat exhaustion or dehydration, but I’d kept up with the water and electrolytes and I didn’t have the typical piercing headache. In fact, the homemade sports drink that usually satiates an afternoon sapping made me feel even worse. The bouncing of rubble and surprise washboards shook my bones and rattled my mood. I became angry. I take this anger out on my bicycle like a stupid asshole. I bomb the hills and take the holes hard. It makes me feel better, but I know I’ll be even more furious if I break something.
By the time we reached the actual sluiceway of the dam about ten miles from town, my life was flashing before my eyes. I begged for pavement. I needed pavement, or at least a graded surface. There is a junction, so presumably the road should be better, but the road should have been better after El Chinal. Why the hell would they pave a road out to some dam?
Not only was the road paved, it was beautiful. Silky smooth and new and there was no additional traffic! As the sky deepened into the now familiar orange and purple, we climbed long gentle hills onward. On each climb we dreamed of the top opening into a wide-open valley with El Fuerte shining beacons of light at the bottom. Each ridge provided a view of the road sinking down to a stream and rising back up yet another hill, until… stuff!
We finally pulled into the central plaza of El Fuerte and slumped into a bench. Darkness descended and we stared up through the palm trees at the twinkling stars overhead, unable to move. It was 6:30. We had left our camp at 9:30. That netted us 42 miles. My energy was gone, the sickness was overtaking me and it required everything I had to get back on the bike to find a hotel. Brandy wanted to shop around, but that was impossible. So we paid too much (500 pesos), but it was nice and it was a bed. I spent the night rolling around in pain and running to the toilet to do horrible things you don’t want to hear about. I was still feeling ill the next day and couldn’t make the effort to find another place.
The ride was hard. Very hard. It was also completely worth it. I would recommend it in a second, although I would suggest not getting dog-ass sick.
Current status: We are in Mazatlán for Carnaval. Tomorrow we will take a bus back to Culiacán to get our bikes and make a quick ride down to the state of Nayarit where there are supposed to be some great little beach towns. We plan to spend a couple weeks not moving around much before catching a bus to Mexico City for a music festival.