We are not a decisive team and often settle into hopeless puddle of apathy until the levee is broken by a serious game of “ro-sham-bo”. “Live and die by the ´sham´” has become a necessary mantra for our lives. Though, (truth be told), it operates more as an oracle than absolute truth. Despite the prophetic implications of the game, we still approach the event with a practiced level of skill and concentration. The “sham”, at times, becomes more important than what we are shamming for.

And so, it was on a bright and sunny day we encountered a fork in the road. To the left, a guaranteed passage across the mountains to Autla and the main freeway. To the right, Tacotan, via “brechitas”(little roads for burros and 4-wheel drive vehicles) promising better riding, but plagued with uncertainty. It was doubly possible that either we would miss the turnoff for a trail to cross the mountain range, or that it did not even exist. Leaving us with a choice of either backtracking or continuing down to the humid coast where relief from tropical sea’level temperatures would be another 5,000-foot climb back into the mountains.

Ro-Sham-Bo… “Damn,” I cursed.

Ro-Sham-Bo… “Shit,” I cursed again.

“I always lose, and you always go for rock… every single time…without fail.. and I still can´t resist.”

“So who was shamming for what?”

“Ehh.. We didn´t say.”

“Head to Tacotan?”

“Sure.”

We had spent a couple days struggling to get back onto the “Spine,” enjoying each laborious pedal stroke knowing we were that much closer to an environment more suitable to mountain-bike touring.

The coast had taken its toll on our morale and motivation. Cars buzzed by us at alarming velocities, on roads that proved aggressively unaccommodating for bicycles. The sweltering heat forced us to wake up early and grumpy, to ride before the temperature consumed us and subjected us to an obligatory siesta. Every abarrotes en route was a veritable oasis, offering the only thing that mattered in my life, a cold drink. Even the shadows of the night failed to bring relief from the heat as we were subjected to the onslaught of biting insects that thrived so well in the humid climate.

And such easy prey we were without proper bug netting for our tent. With chemosensors attuned to carbon dioxide, warmth, lactic acid, and other bodily emanations (last shower, ehh..10 days), insects effortlessly honed in on any exposed morsel of skin. Our flesh would then be penetrated with needles and scalpels, as they employed siphons, and a large stock of pharmaceuticals, including: anaesthetics and anticoagulants, to get at our blood. We were forced to sweat through the nights under our sleeping bags to escape the torment, wishing we were back in the Sierra Madres.

Life in the mountains hit us abruptly. It started with a visible bolt of light, followed exactly 7 seconds later by a crack of thunder. Then 6.

“Uhh. Maybe we should set up camp?”

Then 5. But it was too late. Signalled by another crash of thunder, the rain poured down. We veered onto a small trail leading to a discreet roadside shrine where we camped. Tropical vines stretched to the high branches of the trees, trying desperately to pull them down. Leaves the size of my upper torso deflected the raindrops, and created an audible sound, much like that of a drum. And the water flowed freely, chaotically across the muddy surfaces.

And seeped through my shelter as the thunder tailed the flash of light be a mere 2 seconds. My sheetbag was soggy and I was for the first time in months, cold. My weary eyes pained for rest, my body, yearned for relaxation; but each bolt of lightning flashed through my eyelids and each crash of thunder changed the pattern of my heartbeat.

Then somebody appeared outside my tent. Apparently, there was a group of about 8 other bicycle tourists camped nearby and partying on occasion of the incredible storm. They summoned me to join them for some drinks. I was so excited that I didn’t even bother putting on my sandals and walked through mud, feeling it squish through my toes at each step.

Girls wearing cowboy hats and metallic clothing, danced around in the creek. Guys in fancy suits played hand drums, oblivious to the water cascading over their concentrated faces. They were such a lively and eccentric group that it did not even occur to me what a remarkably serendipitous event this was.

Or a pleasant dream. I woke up, sad that it was only a dream, happy that I had managed to sleep, and sick to my stomach from something I must have eaten. Instead of the party with a community of cyclists, I got to squat out in the rain. Fortunately, or unfortunately; I wasn´t alone, and could see Goat in the same predicament further up the road.

“Nice night, eh?” He said sarcastically.

“I just had the strangest dream,” I replied.

“At least you slept.”

After I had become thoroughly drenched and done my best to rid myself of whatever “animals” had attacked my intestines; I reached for a large lush leaf. The instant I grabbed a hold, it felt as if it were made of fire; my fingertips throbbed with pain from the poisonous spines.

The affliction followed me back to my sleeping pad, where I laid down in my own muddy rainforest hell to wait for the sun to rise, and hope for sleep while the thunder crashed. 6 seconds. At last, the rain eased from a torrential downpour. 7 seconds. 8. 9. Eventually, I found some warmth and rest in my soggy sleeping bag and dreamed of secret mountain brechitas.

            Guided by an unreliable map we pretend to use and the destiny of the “sham”,  we encountered a sign about 7 miles after the pavement ended, with the enigmatic words “Bosque Maples, Ruta Turisticas”.  And behind it was a road that wound straight towards the clouds.

“The `sham´ is infallible,” I boldly thought.

The rest of the day was defined by a grueling regimen of steep uphill riding. Due to the uncertain availability of water and supplies, we were carrying about 5 days worth of food and a full 13 liters of water, which made its presence known with every pedal stroke. My bike computer wouldn’t even acknowledge my painful efforts with a readout. 0.0 Km/H it would chuckle. Then jump to 3.3 and back down to ZERO.

A couple hours later, we had reached the clouds, and entered a misty elfin forest. Visibility was often slim, and ever shifting, morphing with the contours of the mountains. At times our narrow path would cut through a ridgeline, dropping abruptly on both sides, into an abyss of haze. Sharp turns were blinded by the murky air and shrouded the landscape with mystery.

Red mushrooms decorated with white spots, sprouted from the pine needles, and from the mossy roadside surfaces, large brown mushrooms materialized, some reaching 18¨in diameter. A few succulents lived incongruously in this wet forest, where tropical vines and blackberry patches intermingled in the maze of fauna, below the pine and oak trees.

Through the dark and foggy forest a resonating bass sound travelled languorously from above.

“Couldn´t be a puebla on such a steep grade.” I thought.

The rhythms intensified, reassuring me that it was not merely an auditory hallucination. Around a bend there were a few cars and a canopy set up, while a large family sat around laughing and cooking.

“You want a beer? Something to eat?” A man later introduced as Pedro asked. He was wearing a hat with American and Mexican flags intertwined. Within minutes, we had a bowl full of a carne asada, salsa Mexicana and freshly fried fish, recently caught in nets from a nearby lake. The pain of a fishbone lodged in my gums assured me it was not a dream.

As promised by the good’-natured family, about 5 kilometers further up the brecha; the grade tapered off and wound like an undulating ribbon of mud through a few “ranchitas” with corn fields and forgotten plazas. Briefly, we’d fall from the clouds down a steep technical section of rocky muddy trail, and then swiftly climb back up; a rhythm that continued until we passed San Miguel de la Sierra.

At the edge of the bumpy cobblestone “calle” through town, our trail widened into a smooth dirt road and steadily dropped until the impossible range of mountains opened up with a vista of an expansive valley. I was sure I could see Tacotan and it’s nearby lake. The only thing separating us was an hours worth of smooth downhill riding.

Therefore, it came as a surprise when we sped into the town of….

“Autla!” I said with dismay.

“Nahh.. Couldn’t be.” Goat replied after looking at the map.

“Live and die by the sham,” I said sardonically.

We shrugged our shoulders and pedaled on.

“Autla,” I thought to myself, “The ´sham’ works in mysterious ways.”

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