Week 4: Best Birthday... Ever
Current Location: San Ignacio, Baja Sur, Mexico
Days on the Road: 34
Kilometers Traveled: 1958
As birthdays are generally a time of celebration, reflection, and taking stock; I offer you this account of my 31st birthday -- which contained so many extremes of emotion and happenstance that it seems impossible, in retrospect, that they could have all fit into a single day.
Waking up at our black-sand-beach stealth site to a beautiful sunrise over the Sea of Cortez, the first thought I had on the morning of my birthday was that we'd overslept our beat-the-heat alarm by over an hour.
As we stuffed camp clothes into panniers and skipped coffee in order to hit the road faster, what began as three bees casually investigating the inside of our trash bag...
... Multiplied into an entire swarm of bees, buzzing about inside our trash bag.
Shamefully, and not knowing what else to do -- despite a strong commitment to (and long history of) adhering to Leave No Trace ethics -- we left the bag of trash where it was, rather than risk getting stung dozens of times in the middle of nowhere to unpredictable effect; vowing to make up for it later with extra trash pickup down the road.
This decision would haunt me for the rest of the day.
Once we'd pushed the bikes half a kilometer through ankle-deep sand back to the road, there came the "three sisters," a series of climbs about which all the American expats in the area had warned us...
... And during which our new English friends Matt and Zoe (who are ALSO riding all the way south, and who camped 10km behind us the night before) cheerfully climbed past us, without ANY apparent effort or labored breathing at all.
The ride down, though, was spectacular; all ocean and cliffs and wind and curvas peligrosas and the steady, solid sureness of the bike beneath me.
I'd been expecting no cell service for a few days through the desert, but then it popped up -- just long enough to inform me that I had voicemails and text requests from friends, that I please call if I could, so they could sing to me... before disappearing again.
I found this even crueler than having no service at all, and began swiftly to sink into crankiness.
Compounded by the sweltering heat, my mood deteriorated further when Zoe and Matt re-appeared to report...
... That we'd rolled right past a restaurant where there was a whole litter of Australian cattle dog puppies, just begging to be played with.
This made me irrationally upset -- that the Universe would allow us to miss such an awesome gift, on today of all days.
I continued trying not to pout until we arrived at Rancho Las Grandes, our designated siesta stop...
... Where our English friends sweetly presented me with a blueberry birthday muffin.
I washed this down with a sugary coffee drink and some mango juice, completely ignoring the cold liter of water Bruce had bought, and then went off in search of the baños.
When I returned, feeling vaguely nauseous, Bruce proffered my phone and said "you have 30 minutes of wifi. Happy birthday."
I nearly squealed with delight!
I immediately called my Mom and then my sister, and even though the connection was so bad we had to switch to text, my sister surprised me by agreeing on dates to come to Oaxaca in June, booking her flight and a place for us to stay that same day.
Never have I felt so comforted, beloved, and delighted in the same moment.
UNTIL I read the sweetest email, from a dear friend:
Saying that taking my Own Your Story course helped her tell the story of working through (and growing from) her mother's death -- as she truly experienced it -- for the first time.
... And what an amazing gift I'd given her, in that.
I read the email first to myself and then to Bruce, dissolving into tears as I did so.
Then I stood up from the bench where I'd been lying down...
... and promptly vomited rivers of orange liquid into a nearby trash can.
Feeling loads better, though still achey and stiff, the four of us set off at 4pm, intending to make headway on the headwinds that were due to spring up overnight.
After struggling to keep up with the Brits for 10km, I dramatically announced that I could go no further and laid my sweaty back down on a sandy spot of shade, feeling every part the conspicuous holdup.
While we were all paused, a white van headed north came to a stop in the middle of the lane...
... And an old American ex-pat leaned out to ask if we wanted to "split" a beer.
Feeling weak and depleted, having just thrown up everything I'd eaten that day, I declined, and he was offended.
"Round these parts, a man offers you a beer, you reach out and take it."
When we asked, he informed us that the next 30+ kilometers of road were what they call "GFL" roads -- as in, "good fucking luck."
Then, after he'd driven off -- as though to bring the day full circle -- a bee randomly stung me on the inner thigh.
I pulled its stinger out with my fingernails, thinking guiltily of the yellow trash bag sitting on a beach some 80 kilometers behind us.
Lying down in the tent that evening, feeling insanely grateful as Bruce intermittently smiled at me and brought me things between chopping vegetables for a stir fry...
... I asked the group for stories of when THEY had turned 31 years old.
And while Zoe remembered an intense multi-day marathon she'd completed in the Himalaya...
... Matt could think of nothing significant that had happened to him that year, nearly a decade earlier.
Now, I ask you; from all these happenings, what meaning does one make of such a day?
Some might argue that the human drive to make meaning from random events is torture, self-flagellation, a uniquely self-induced burden in a context of random, chaotic human experience.
But as a storyteller, I can't help but believe that we have more agency than that.
So I choose, instead, to see this birthday as one I will never forget.
One that ended camped in a concrete storm relief channel by the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, Mexico -- under a blanket of stars.
This story originally appeared on www.jessicamastors.com.