Usually I aim for it to be several days into a trip before stuff goes notably ass over teakettle, but, really, why wait? Could see on the map where the road would take me, a roundabout and obscure route to be sure, but coherent enough and it would eventually link into a muck slog that Cass Gilbert did some years ago.
Obviously it was going to involve mud hole surfing, which it did, nor long before stuffing the front wheel into an unexpectedly deep void, dead stop and then ankle to calf to knee slop deep. Covered then, pedaling on, hours, many, of cloying jungle maybe it will maybe it won’t rain, until the skies open, which will at least clean up the drivetrain a little. Sometimes a narrow track, sometimes drier sand paths, and a notable fracture between my legs’ urban winter lethargy and my self expectations.
On paper I’m well through, a few turns then there’s a gate and a house and I scare the lurch out of a guy in a hammock. His shirt says “Ranger” and I make all the Polite Inquiries, evidently The Company doesn’t allow anyone through their decimating-the-jungle-but-I’m-not-right-now-judging land. But that’s not really the thing, it turns out. The road is collapsed in several places ahead requiring wading across, for which, of course, I conceal my enthusiasm and instead merely nod stupid and persistent. But they don’t want to risk me getting hurt, we politely disagree about whose business that is.
The suggestions of a “donation” to the company don’t work, hard to blame him for not wanting to put his job in jeopardy, so I turn the bike around to retrace my steps into the interminable, which is fine. Though it gets dark.
* * *
Next day the rain hasn’t stopped, wrecked legs preclude making up time. In the evening taking a break in the town park in San Ignacio, near the Guatemala border, just unwinding a bit and then a startling snap. Front tire is flat and green slime about. Sigh. Inspection reveals that it’s a colossal tear where the sidewall has separated from the bead. Things are getting interesting, walk to the main drag of town. Thanks for wondering along where I’m going to get a 2-9 tire in western Belize.
“Oh, you’re rightly fooked, mon. You’ll never find one here.” My face somewhere between rue and a smirk. The irony is not lost on me that I’ve insisted on precisely this truth a number of times. Jamal runs a tour company and, among other things, they rent the inevitably impossibly decrepit mountain bike.
“Wot the fook you doin’ bringing a 700c mountain tire here anyways? A 26 eench, I would just give you one, mon.”
“Er, well, yeah, I know, ridiculous.” I hem and haw about it being two weeks, what are the chances of a tear that couldn’t be sewn?, been on the road a lot and never blown a sidewall before, etcetera after etcetera. We’re laughing about it, “So you know better!” Sure, MC can just send me one but I’m on an aggressive timetable to move through Guatemala.
“A few months ago, there was this couple from Europe, they were having serious problems, mon. They were fighting, not listening to each other, you know? She was going to kyl that fooker, it was bad, mon.” I liked Jamal immediately so I suffer this non-sequitur and offer a cheerful “uh huh.”
“Yah, and so da solution was to give up on d’ayer bike tour, they had brought them bikes from home, you know, or give up on dayer marriage. So they offered to sell me the bikes, the racks with the bags, all their stuff, mon.”
“Dey wanted 300 US for each one, no way I was going to pay that even though they were worth it, maybe, you know, I wasn’t even in the market for bikes! But we negotiated, I didn’t want to take advantage of a bad situation, but I guess I a little bit did.”
“So now I rent their bikes to tourists with all the rest of the bikes, those fooker tourists don’t know shit about bikes, by the way, they shift all the gears without pedaling and when they pedal again it gets all messed up.” We laugh.
“That Euro couple’s bikes are these right here and it is your incredible luck, mon, that they have 700c tires.”
Jamal shows me two funky looking, i.e., Euro, trekking bikes and, no shit, they do have 700c x 38 tires, VeeRubber. We howl and laugh and carry on for awhile.
“Sell me a one.”
“Yeah, mon, I will but I don’t want to. Where da hell will I get a replacement in dis country? But, yeah, looks like you take advantage of me now, that’s the way the world is, you know? Like I said, it’s your lucky day.”