Bent over in the rocks and sagebrush on the side of a dormant volcano in Baja California, I feel the uncontrollable spasms in my diaphragm as my dinner — bagged beans wrapped in tortillas — rises in my throat and spills onto the chossy ground. The texture of refried beans doesn’t change much with a couple hours of digestion: it’s the thickest puke I’ve ever puked.
I walk fifty yards or so back to another person’s tent and feel overwhelmingly that I should not be there. It’s Adam’s tent and we started sharing it on and off a few days earlier, when a scorpion appeared on my thigh in front of a campfire for our group of six. Darrin killed it with his shoe and Adam asked, “Did it touch you?”
“Ah, ya.” I said. He laughed at me. We shared his tent that night. I sent my tent home somewhere near San Luis Obispo, California, convinced that there could not be any more rain between myself and San Jose del Cabo. It rained the following day. I wake up at two in the morning that first night with Adam irritated at the moon for its full brightness, irritated at all men for the breakup I went through only two weeks prior while home for the holidays. On that dreadful December evening sitting in the car talking to John… The nail in the coffin was not that he slept with another woman, or that he lied and lied until he didn’t anymore, it was that when he told the truth it was five simple words, the worst I had ever heard: “I don’t even like bikes.”
And so there I was again with my bike, knowing that my relationships fail due to a lack of mutual interests, that my investment in bicycles and travel is also, seemingly, my divestment from compatibility with a partner. And there was Adam, an attractive enough person with a personality, who liked bikes and paid for half of my limes and was apparently single enough to be there alone — maybe he had someone in his life that didn’t even like bikes, or at least didn’t like bikes like us. Maybe they wanted to, but couldn’t make it.
Re-entering the tent after brushing my teeth I try my best not to disturb Adam and briefly sleep. I wake up again nauseous and I take deep breaths. I tap Adam on the shoulder.
“Adam?” I say. He turns over and gives me a sleepy, “Hmmm?”
I smile. I’m nervous and I hate it. “I think I have food poisoning, so I’m gonna be coming in and out of the tent a lot. I’m so sorry.”
He says it’s okay and I climb out of the tent and vomit again in a different spot and diarrhea and brush my teeth and use baby wipes and wonder how my body could turn so violently against me. I’m certain I will die on this dormant volcano, thousands of miles from where I started on my bike in Canada, taken out by bad seafood. Shortly after me, Carly emerges from the tent she shares with her partner Carter and vomits.
“Have we got two pukers?” Adam asks from inside his tent.
I climb back in the tent and Adam says that he thought for a second that Carly was getting up to help me and that he should have been the one, “What are you gonna do?” I ask, “Hold my hair? I’m fine.” With the temporary relief from spewing I manage a bit of sleep.
Earlier that evening the wind was strong and we set up Adam’s tent together. Lying on our stomachs inside afterwards, he gives me patronizing instructions on how to correctly unzip and rezip the rainfly and tent openings. “For chrissake, they’re zippers,” I think as he demonstrates, pulling back and forth. I wonder if this is his revenge for when, a couple days earlier, he inversed into a handstand in a hotel parking lot and I told him, “Don’t be that guy.”
“What guy?” he asked, still upside down.
“That guy that does handstands. You know, before the start of every yoga class.”
Adam does yoga, I know, because he talks about it and getting ‘ripped’ a lot. I seem to have hit a nerve because he loses his prana and comes right side up to tell me, harshly “Don’t be that person that fucking hates everything.”
This hits one of my nerves, and it doesn’t feel good, but simultaneously, my God, sometimes people just get each other — for better or for worse. If we have anything in common, it is a stubborn, independent, proud sort of stupidity. Later that evening on the volcano our now group of four fantasizes about collectively owning a Mezcal business, the sort that will require a boat to spend most of our time at sea smuggling booze and spending more time with each other.
I get up again that night to vomit and in the morning I wake up with a throbbing headache and I press my head against Adam’s back. We are all slow to rise and Adam also pukes. He yells “Woo!” from the bushes afterwards.
I tell him the truth: now that we have shared a tent and suffered like this together, we are bonded for life. Homies.
The four of us pack up and trickle out of the campsite one by one. I’m the last to leave. My stomach is still churning and I can’t bring myself to drink water despite the sun and heat because I know it will end up in a puddle on the ground at my feet. I eat an apple. There’s vomit all over one of my socks already. We are heading back to town to meet up with others that are catching up to us after resting for a couple days in Tecate.
I am able to keep up with Carly for a few miles — it’s only ten miles or so back to town — before I get off my bike and walk. She fades ahead of me. I puke up the apple and sit down, stand up, keep pushing the bike towards redemption and safety.
Carly stops and waits for me and when I catch up I tell her the truth: “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” I know that if I keep walking I will make it to town in four hours, though, and this comforts me. Carly encourages me to try and hitch a ride and pedals on ahead.
When I hear a truck rumbling slowly behind me I don’t hesitate to put on my best smile and stick my thumb out. The truck slowly rolls up and an old Mexican man gets out. I can hardly talk and just keep saying “Oxxo por favor” — the nearest bit of civilization. He ends up lifting the bike into his truck because I cannot and I sit in the front seat with a wave of relief. My speech turns to “Muchas gracias, muchas gracias.”
We exchange pleasantries and then he says something in Spanish that I can’t understand, then, “Mi carro mal.” This, I know, means his car is bad. We’re going about 15mph and he gestures down at the pedals. He slams his foot repeatedly on the brake pedal. My eyes widen. Nothing happens. “Mi carro mal,” he says again. I nod, agreeing and trying to smile. The bumps in the road bring the nausea back. He tells me that the tattoo on my leg is not beautiful — It’s a temporary tattoo, though, and I demonstrate this by rubbing it and showing him how it flakes off. He asks if I have marijuana and I act shocked and say I do not — I do not. It might help the nausea.
We continue to slowly bounce along the gravel roads and I learn that he is 77-years-old. He pulls a deformed, melted Hershey’s kiss from his pocket and gives it to me. “Un beso,” he says. A kiss.
My stomach catapults at the sight of it but I’m grateful for this stranger’s generosity. Picking me up, lifting my bike into his failing automobile, giving me a kiss. I slowly unwrap it to delay the inevitable — I must eat it. I let it sit in my mouth, trying not to swallow until it melts and I must. My stomach roars.
I can see the Oxxo about a mile ahead but he stops and pulls into a driveway. To slow down to a stop he simply puts the truck in reverse, waits for it to come near a stand still, then shifts to neutral and engages the parking brake. Genius. He says something I don’t understand and then that he is tired and going to sleep. He must live there. He pulls my bike out of the back of the truck, waves farewell, and pulls down the drive.
The kiss returns at my feet as brown bile. I feel a bit better and pedal slowly to the café just past the Oxxo where Adam is outside and says “You’re alive!” and I feel even better and order dry toast and fresh fruit. I eat half of it. Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox are there, the famed bikepackers. I am Lael’s number one fan. Everyday last summer in June I sat at work in the bike shop on Trackleaders, obsessively refreshing the Trans Am Bike Race page, telling anyone that would listen that Lael would win — she simply had to win. She beat everyone. I cried. And then she’s in front of me in Mexico, only a few months later, and I’m too shy to say anything, too nervous to say anything at all.
We sit around and talk about our adventure shitting on the volcano and I ask Adam, “How irritated were you on a scale of one to ten when I woke you up in the middle of the night to tell you I had food poisoning?”
“I was having a really great dream,” he says.
“So, ten,” I say.
“One,” he says. He smiles at me.
We all bike together and get a couple hotel rooms and I vomit in the alley behind it waiting during check-in. Adam and I lie in bed and I ask him about his family. He tells me about them. Lael brings us each a chicken flavored Cup of Noodle.
We sleep for what feels like forever and Adam and I wake up in the middle of the night and I ask him if he needs anything, “I’m okay,” he says, “Kind of hungry.” I ask if he wants food but he says no. We lie there for a bit and then I hear his stomach rumble again and again. I get up and grab my last blueberry muffin Larabar. My favorite. A delicacy in Mexico, the Larabar in its own pocket in my frame bag, the one that I was saving for myself for when I really needed it. I toss it at Adam in the dark and climb back into bed. He asks, “What’s this?”
“Blueberry muffin Larabar.”
“Oh.” He says. I can tell he’s pleased, “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a Larabar in bed.”
“Well, your stomach keeps grumbling,” I say curtly. He opens it and takes a bite then offers me some, in the dark I try to break off the smallest piece possible, to leave more for him. And with this I know I’ve gone totally fucking soft.
In the morning I feel much better and I’m listening to music and packing up, dancing, like I do and I’m excited to ride again. Once I’m back on the bike I feel very weak. Nicholas leads our growing group through misty rain and mud to Cielito Lindo, a strange hotel and bar where George Michael music abounds. We all drink too many margaritas and eventually people start dancing. Adam’s friend, Jacob, a man in his sixties who bike tours alone because he and his wife don’t share mutual interests (according to Adam), tells Adam — “I can’t believe this woman! How incredible!” referring to my bike tour experiences and grinning at both of us.
I’m not sure about that, but it feels good, and so does dancing, I keep encouraging Adam and pulling him onto the dance floor and I think he doesn’t want to but I say, “When are we ever gonna dance again?”
“Probably never!” he says and we both laugh and grin and our moves get crazy. I dance with other people, too, but I like dancing with him. Even if he does handstands before the start of yoga classes. And even if I fucking hate everything. We fall asleep drunk, holding hands.
He goes back home a couple days later and I keep going South with Carly and Carter and he’s rude to me at dinner one night and I’m rude right back but he says “I love you” and I say “I love you too” when we say goodbye and that’s what’s important in this mess of a world. We part ways.
When I get home I buy a bulk box of Blueberry Muffin Larabars.