Sunday, October 25, 2015


I'd gone the whole trip so far without having to use my rain gear at all. It rained a bit while I was in San Ignacio, but I was mostly in a hotel bed with a cast on, so I hadn't ridden during it at all. I checked the weather one night and saw that there was some rain in the forecast, and when I looked a little further, I saw a little blurb about a tropical storm that was going to come on shore near where I was. Well darn, hopefully it won't be too bad, I thought.

Not long after, that little tropical storm became the strongest hurricane ever recorded and I was riding as fast as I could away from it.

When I woke up in Colima, I had a text - "Are you watching Hurricane Patricia?" Whoa, hurricane? So I hopped on the internet and started looking. Sure enough, that tropical storm had strengthened into a category one hurricane, and was now supposed to curve in and hit shore right where I was going to be that night.

I sat and debated a bit. I really wanted to stick around in Colima and see more of the town, and I also wanted to follow up on this Edgar thing - if that isn't the start of a good story, I don't know what is. I'd been through a hurricane on my last trip in 2011, and it honestly wasn't that bad - although New York City where I was at the time definitely didn't get the brunt of it (places like Connecticut and Vermont got it much worse).

Eventually, I decided I needed to get out of the way. But that screwed up all my plans on where I was going to stay the next few nights, so I did some quick route planning, asked Google Maps the quickest way to get to Patzcuaro, and got out of there as fast as I could to make good time. I headed right back out the toll road I came in on, just as fast, trying to get ahead of this storm as much as I could.

I try to avoid doubling back pretty much ever - I want to see something new, even if it takes longer. Not so much an option here.
I was only on the toll road for a little bit before I was supposed to take a smaller road off into the hills, but I missed that turn and had to double back. I hadn't noticed it when I took off, but this route had a bunch of turns on it. And given my navigation style of "try to memorize the next few turns, and stop and re-navigate if you get lost," that's not exactly ideal. When I was doing the 48 states trip I was constantly wishing there was a navigation option other than "least time" or "least distance" - I want "least number of turns you might miss."

But I soldiered on, because this route was supposed to be 40 minutes faster than the one farther north. Eventually as I continued north and east, I started gaining elevation - like, a lot. Started getting quite a bit of fog as I headed up into the clouds, and was feeling the chill as well. The usual greenery started including some pines, and then the usual greenery dropped altogether and left only pines.

Then, as I rounded a corner, I saw a haze in front of me. I squinted, trying to see what that was - it didn't look like fog, but it was hard to see through. And then I reached the haze, and realized.

It was rain. Heavy rain. The kind that you can see from a distance falling from clouds, if you're not already in the clouds. Big fat droplets of rain. I scrambled to find a safe pulloff on this curvy mountain road so I could get my rain gear on.

Eventually finding something, I started digging out the rain gear. Overboots, the zip-up covers for the vents on the front of my pants, jacket, gloves, cover for the backpack, cover for the tank bag. By the time I had all of it on, a bunch of it had already gotten wet, but I was (relatively) well sealed finally. I took off down the road once again.

The bike and me bundled up. I don't have anything to cover the saddlebags, but there's not much that can't handle water in there anyway.
And it was absolutely miserable. Like, "I don't want to be doing this at all" miserable. High elevation means cold, and while my rain gear was okay, it wasn't perfect - so I was cold and wet and hating every minute. The worst was the gloves - yet another compromise I made. The only thing keeping me going was the knowledge that if I stopped anywhere at a hotel, I'd just have to wake up and do even more rain riding the next day. The only way I was getting through this was to just get out of the entire hurricane system.
Side note: I'm honestly not sure why I thought these gloves would be okay, or how they worked at all before. They were my rain gloves for the 48 states trip 4 years ago and in San Diego, though they admittedly rarely got used for rain in SD. But they're horrible in the rain! They actually soak up water and get drenched. I was literally at the store looking at rain gloves before I left, and then thought "Nah I'll stick with what I got." Why? I have no idea.
My hand after spending all day in a soaking wet glove.
And besides the rain and cold, it was just a bad day:

  • The road sucked and was full of potholes and often washed out with slick mud.
  • Every town I went through had 15 speed bumps that, while I don't have to slow down a ton for them, every car in front of me slows to a crawl and every truck has to practically stop.
  • I made at least 8 wrong turns, and some of them took me long enough to realize that you can actually see it on the 10-minute resolution mapping from my GPS tracker.
  • I had no phone signal, so I couldn't re-route when I got lost, I just had to try to look at the map and figure out how to get back to where I was and make the right turn. One time got so lost inside a town (that I didn't even want to be in) that I had to ask three different people how to get back to the highway.
  • Even to just try to find my way back, I had to find a place to stop where (a) the terrain was solid enough I wasn't worried about slipping on my bad ankle and falling, and (b) there was some sort of overhang so I could actually use my phone in the rain. Finding such a spot turning out to be extremely difficult every single time I wanted to do it.

Trying to look up directions under an overhang.
By the time I reached Uruapan, I knew there was no way I was making it to Patzcuaro - I had to stop for the night. I got a slightly nicer hotel than I normally would (450 pesos, or about $28) just to enjoy a nice shower and a big bed. I wandered Uruapan a little bit after resting, but was too tired to do much other than get a warm cup of tea and a huge dish of chicken enchiladas in a creamy cheese and tomato sauce.

Delicious, delicious hot apple-infused tea.
I didn't have time to take a picture before I ate - the only thing I'd eaten all day before this was a bag of chips, so it disappeared too fast.
Did manage to stop in this bar for a beer while they played 90's hits from groups like The Talking Heads, Tracy Chapman, and Aerosmith.
One interesting thing about the people I saw during the day - on the back roads, I was apparently a rare enough sight that pretty much every single town I went through, people's heads would crank around and watch me go by. I'd see them watch me as I rode by, and catch them still looking - head turned all the way around the other way - as I glanced in my mirror. I'm not sure if it was the bright orange backpack cover, the fact that I was riding in the rain, or something else, but everyone was curious.

But in Uruapan, people seemed to almost intentionally avoid looking at me - though they'd stare at my sandals all day. It was a very strange contrast, to go from the most attention I've gotten the whole trip to the least attention I've gotten. Granted, I looked completely different - from bundled up on the motorcycle to walking around in just a normal shirt and pants and (not so normal) sandals - but it still struck me as a little odd.

When I woke up in the morning, I felt better... until I realized I'd have to put the (still wet) rain gear back on and do the whole thing again. I could hear the rain still hitting the roof of the hotel, and I realized I was actually getting so stressed at the thought of getting back on the bike that I had to sit and meditate for a bit to calm down.

But eventually I got back on, and headed out of Uruapan. I'd looked at the radar map and estimated that getting to Mexico City should be enough to avoid the rest of the rain off the side of Patricia, so I plotted a course on the toll roads and took off.

Toll road riding is fast - except for the part where I have to stop the motorcycle, take off a soaking wet glove, pull out some money and give it to them, put my change away, put the glove back on, and seal the rain gear back up. (Sorry, car behind me who thought he got in the short line.) But the faster riding paid off - by the time I got to Morelia it seemed like the rain was already starting to clear up, and I even caught a glimpse of a sliver of blue sky.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful - I spent more money on tolls than on a hotel that night, but kept up the pace and made it almost 300 miles despite a late start to the day. I saw patches of rain here and there, some to the north that had already passed me, some to the south that didn't make it to the highway before I was past them, but I spent the rest of the day mostly riding in dry weather.

And with that, I dodged a hurricane. One that, every time I'd looked up information had gotten stronger and stronger. There was a point when I was deciding if I'd leave Colima or not that I was feeling bummed about missing out on a potentially fun day exploring and a good story in Boca. But the peace of mind of knowing that I didn't have to hole up for what ended up being the strongest hurricane ever recorded was worth it.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoying reading about your trip! I was getting a bit envious until PATRICIA blog. Every day should feel like a good day after that. I texted your mom to see how you were doing with that storm pushing in.
    Be safe, M & Grandpa