I’m on the roof of the dry-rotted hotel in La Paz (the roof has been propped back up looks like four times now) with a case of beer, a crew of Mexican welders, and a Canadian Romanian computer programer. One of the welders chews off the top of a beer can, and spits the aluminum onto the roof. Such a macho macho man. Repelled by displays like that, Colleen is downstairs reading.
The heat wave is finally breaking. Two weeks of sweating, drinking Tecate and Coca Cola, brain in a pressure cooker. Ninety-seven degrees and gas-torch bright sun is even enough to quiet down the city— people nap in the shade, turn down the speakers.
But that’s the calm. As soon as the sun sets, every bar and car and mouth and house are at full volume, I swear Mexican women can circular breathe when they get worked up, it’s the fastest, most impressive speech, music in the walls, touch them feel the plaster buzzing, some of it falls off in little dusty puffs.
Tomorrow we fly home, bikes unrideable. My dynamo bearings blown, wheel wobbles, Colleen’s hub flange snapped off on a beach, tires showing threads. And we’re worn out too- riding off-road in Baja is tough.
We flew, one bike wrapped in cardboard and tape the other in a real box. Only took a few hours to backtrack all those miles we’d sweated to cover in the past four months. Jet fuel, good as magic. But we still complain if the plane is off schedule.
And back to Pittsburgh. My dad picked us up from the airport at one in the morning, never outwardly excited, but obviously excited. And me too- it took some time away to realize it, and when I moved west I swore I was never coming home. But I was wrong. I really like this close damp green-grey piece of the country where the rust belt snakes upstream into Appalachia.
The first night back in the Pub, talking to a guy at the bar. Train horn blasts, car after car full of coal rushes and screeches past.
“Boy, we threw a mannequin on the fire other night. Shoulda seen’at go up! Goddamn, musta burned longer’n eight tires!”
A place where a tire on fire is a recognizable unit of time- that’s home.
We decided not to go back to Colorado this season, Colleen was more certain about staying east than I was. I’d spent so many years dreaming about moving to the Rockies that it felt like a failure not to go back, even if the place didn’t live up to my maybe unrealistically high expectations. Not that it’s bad- but it’s just a place like any other, not quite the mountain biker’s promised land that I imagined.
And this place is good. The trails are rough and technical, fine to ride when they’re wet. There are hundreds of miles of good single track here and just over the West Virginia border- and just a tiny handful of real dedicated people that ride them. We live and work with friends, I have to make an effort not to hang out on the porch until midnight every night. When I go to the bar I know everybody, when I get the urge to burn some stuff, there’s no chance that I’ll set half the state on fire.
The last few years, I’ve been surprised by how busy it is in the mountains of Colorado. But if you look at the numbers, it makes sense.
In this corner of Pennsylvania, the population is about half of what it was at it’s peak in the ’40s, dropping almost 10 percent per census period. Where we lived in Colorado- there are six times as many people as there were back then, and the place is growing 40 percent every 10 years. The tiny valley floor means there’s not much real estate, and everybody who moves there wants to be on the trails- add all that together, and the place feels real crowded.
That said, I did promise myself that I would never spend another grey, slushy, lay down on the railroad tracks with a fifth of Wild Turkey or prescribe me a bottle of happy-pills winter around Pittsburgh.
I want to do a wrap-up post about Baja, especially since it sounds like so many people are going to be attempting Nic and Lael’s Baja Divide thing this winter, some of which we rode, and some of which we mapped out (including I think one of the coolest/most frustrating sections). At the rate I’m going, I hope to get to that before we crawl out of our holler at the end of November.