Day 1 – First experiences with bicycle touring
Cancún to Nuevo Valladolid
My very first day of bicycle touring started very early. It was around six o’clock when I couldn’t sleep anymore. Mexico’s mosquitos already gave me a hard time. My blood must be very tasty!
Brad woke up short after me and we started into a relaxed day. We had already packed our bags the day before. So it was just some last adjustments, a cup of coffee and some pancakes at the hostel Posada Chichen Itza we were staying at for our first couple of nights in Mexico. Then we were ready to start cycling – more or less…
I put my helmet on, got into my cycling gloves and got onto my bike. There was a small parking lot in front of the hostel and after our first 50 meters we would immediately hit a busy road in the center of Cancún.
My very heavy touring bicycle
My bicycle was very heavy. Fully loaded with our first supply of food it was hard to move it. When I started pedaling the whole bike was shaking like crazy. All the stuff in my panniers and my rackpack was way too heavy! Unsure I tried to hold the bike in a straight line and pedaled a bit further. “Is that shaking normal?” I asked my partner Brad. He is the experienced one of us with about 25.000 km on a touring bicycle under his belt…. or better on his seat! Actually I am a lucky girl to have a partner like him. Not only because of his cycling experience… 😉
A smile appeared on Brad’s face. “Yes, that’s normal. You’re ready?” I wasn’t but I said yes. What was I getting into? Would I be able to manage the bike on the busy roads? I still had 25 meters left to get used to everything. Of course I wasn’t when we turned right….
Into the traffic of Cancún
Right into the busy traffic of Cancún! Once my bicycle moved the weight wasn’t so much of a problem. Unfortunately we had to stop at a red traffic light very soon. Everything felt instable and wobbely. Okay, another traffic light… this time I had some start problems. I kicked two times, three times, four times with my right leg to get the whole ship moving. That’s how I felt. Like a captain on a ship that is hard to control.
After a while I got more comfortable. Brad was riding in front of me and I just had to follow. We only had to turn a couple of times to get onto the main road that would lead us out of Cancún and towards Nuevo Valladolid. From there we would take the turn-off towards Holbox island. Our first station of the trip.
But first we had to get out of Cancún…
Bicycle Touring in a different world
After a while I got used to the movements and additional flexibility of the bike. Riding through the traffic of Cacún I realized that Mexican car drivers take care and watch out for bicycles. For just a very short moment I thought about riding a fully loaded touring bicycle in Stuttgart – the heart of Germany’s automotive industry and a nightmare in regards to traffic. I could almost hear the horns blurring and nearly felt the angry car drivers shooting past me way too close.
I also heard some horns today in Mexico. But without any exception they were all friendly greetings or just a short warning because someone wanted to turn off. How different the world can be!
My first achievements while bicycle touring
It was before noon when Brad told me that we just cycled 20 km. Given the fact that we started past ten and had a stop inbetween that was quick. I was a little bit proud.
We stopped for lunch at 1:30pm. Next to the road was a nice little taco place run by a local family. We had left the outskirts of Cancún a long time ago. Our GPS showed 40 km. As we were both very hungry we ate a couple of tacos each in no time. Brad laughed when I asked for the main course. After another couple of tacos with some nice homemade mole, which is chicken in some kind of spicy chocolate sauce, we were ready to hit the road again. We wanted to cycle at least until Nuevo Valladolid and make it a 50 km day.
First aches and pains while bicycle touring
Starting again after the lunchbreak I could already feel my legs. Especially my quads and hamstrings. I thought that this just might be a preview of what will come the next days. Actually my legs and the most used gear – my butt – didn’t hurt too much. What really bothered me was that my hands started to hurt and go numb. That must be caused by the constant bend of my wrists while I try to stay in control of the bicycle.
Right now – while I am typing this blogposts into my phone – we are camping some km past Nuevo Valladolid somewhere in the bushes next to the road. We cooked some pasta with tomato sauce for dinner and tested our new MSR Whisperlite stove.
Now we are lying in our tent (Nemo hornet 2 pers – it’s unfortunately a little bit too small for bicycle touring). While I am writing this it’s already dark and I am listening to the sounds of nature. It seems like all the insects in this area are giving a concert tonight. Lots of clicking noises, squeaky noises and one even sounds like a ringing telephone! At a regular intervall I can hear airplanes over the tent. Maybe they are leaving Cancún and go to a destination unknown.
My very first day of bicycle touring was great! Hopefully it stays like this and my muscles (especially my butt) can get used to the constant exercise.
Day 2 – First experiences with bicycle touring
17. January 2018
Nuevo Valladolid to Solferino
We got up early for breakfast. Well, Brad got up and made breakfast. He is always early… Packing up our gear we tried to optimize our way of packing everything into the panniers. It will be a process over the first few weeks of traveling until everything found its place. We both carry only the essentials and only a few luxuries. Brad for example has a pillow and I have a second rain jacket. I don’t necessariliy need it but once we get to the colder mountain regions I will be happy to have it.
Not long after we woke up we were ready to go and hit the road again. I had to push my bike through the bushes and over rocks to reach the road. Pushing is actually much harder than cycling itself. I am already impressed about the weight my bicycle is able to carry. I definitely couldn’t carry all of that stuff on my back! Without food and water my bicycle touring equipment adds up to a bit more than 20 kg. (That excludes the tent but includes all the cooking gear for both of us.)
Learning from mistakes
As I started to pedal I realized that something was wrong. My feet touched my rear panniers on every turn. That wasn’t supposed to be. I gave Brad a signal and we stopped on the side of the road. He had a quick look and told me that I had put on my panniers the wrong way. Their forward movement had even caused my bicycle stand to get loose. A few adjustments from my experienced cycling partner and the problem was solved. He showed me what went wrong and how to put on the panniers in the right way. I guess I will keep that in mind from now on!
The art of shifting
According to Brad’s definition cycling on the Yucatán peninsula was on very flat roads. But it didn’t feel like it today. Growing up in the rhine valley in Germany I wasn’t used to any kind of elevation change. The rhine valley is flat. Really flat.
Today was a constant up and down and while I was mainly using gear no. 8 to 12 yesterday, I nearly needed the full range of my Rohloff equipped bike today (14 gears in total). Despite the effort it took me to pedal up small hills with “only” three percent grade it was good practising. With my old bike at home I never shifted through gears due to the fact that most of them didn’t work properly. With my new touring bicycle it was a completely different story. I learned that it’s best to shift the Rohloff inbetween pedal strokes when you don’t put pressure on the chain. If you stick with that it’s fairly easy.
How to travel the right way?
While cycling along the road and especially as traffic was getting less as we headed north I was able to look left and right. The whole area we cycled through was very rural. Despite the mixture of green shrubs nice yellow flowers were blooming next to the road. The occasional gaps in the vegetations were small side trails or entrance gates of ranches. Very often a sign told us “se vende” – for sale. Why were so many places for sale?
Our taxi driver in Cancún who picked us up at the airport had told us the sad story behind. People expected money from tourism and started to invest. Unfortunately all the income from tourism went to big spanish hotel companies like Riu or Ibero Star ( and it still does!). He used to work as a chef but is not anymore. The working conditions got worse and also the salary dropped with the development of too many mass hotels.
Cycling along lots of abandoned property reminded me of his words. I guess not many tourists travel as we do. Most of them just stay in their all-inclusive resorts moving from buffet to beach. We try to be different. Whereever we go Brad and I try to buy food from local families, we stay at small family-run places and go out for dinner in a small restaurant of a local family. It’s not only better for the local communities, it’s also much cheaper for us!
First impressions of rural Mexico
When you start cycling along the roads on the Yucatán peninsula, you will see lots of trash along the roads. It’s disgusting! For Mexicans it seems to be perfectly fine to just pull down the car window and throw out whatever they don’t need anymore. Especially before and after small villages you basically ride through the rubbish tip.
The Mexicans living in the small villages are very poor. The houses are mostly made of wood and corrugated metal, some are made of concrete. Everything looks very old and hard to maintain. the smell of wooden fires is present around all the villages. I guess a lot of people produce charcoal or burn some trash. Another smell that is very common in rural Mexico is the smell of roasted chicken. “Pollo” as it is called here is available to eat nearly everywhere.
Another typical sight in small Mexican villages are the dogs. Mostly they just lie around lazy, unable to move in the heat of the day. Or they wander around on the street in search of something to eat. Either way they are not very impressed by two gringos cycling past with big touring bicycles.
For most of the people in small villages we are a sensation. They all greet and give us a friendy “Holá”.
So far I have a really good first impression of Mexico and also my first experiences with bicycle touring are very good. But there’s still a lot I have to learn!
Day 3 – First experiences with bicycle touring
18. January 2018
Solferino to Holbox Island
Waking up at day number three I could feel the last two days in my muscles. Especially yesterdays up and downs brought some stiff feeling to my legs. I stretched a little bit under my sleeping bag before I got ready for the day. Our camp was fairly close to the road and so I could hear some traffic all night. Sounds just get louder once everything gets dark around you. I picked off four or five ticks from my legs. They must have settled down on me while I was in the bushes using the bathroom. Did I already write that nature loves me? Especially mosquitos, ticks and all other kind of biting stuff can’t get enough of me! At times that is really annoying.
The cycling was easy today. We just had about 25 kilometers left before we would reach the ferry to Holbox. Holbox island was our first destination on this trip and offered some days rest. Most welcome to my sore legs and my aching butt! In the last two days I cycled more than in the last year I think.
Resumé – My first experiences with bicycle touring
Was it only two days ago that I first got onto my fully loaded and very wobbely touring bicycle? What a change! After only two and a half day of cycling I felt fairly comfortable with the bike and its weight. I can also keep control over the bicycle and cycle with only one hand. Very important for drinking or getting some gear while cycling.
There’s still much room for improvement. Not only in regards to my cycling skills, also in regards to the gear I have. Brad has a couple of hanging bags on his handle bar for storing a bottle of water or other small stuff. These bags are easy accessible while cycling. Hopefully I can find something similar along the way. Opening the handle bar bag at all times is just not very practicable.
For now I am very happy with my first days here in Mexico and my first experiences with bicycle touring.
By the way – welcome to my new adventure! After hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016 I am now cycling from Mexico all the way down to Argentina! Stay tuned, subscribe to my blog and follow me along the way! I will keep you updated about my progress in bicycle touring and we will visit some amazing places!
I have to board the ferry to Holbox Island now.
Back to the overview!
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