page 34-37, Issue #3
– Tyson Minck
Currently I’m sitting in a hammock on the southwestern most point of the island of Puerto Rico. I’m camped out in a bird sanctuary about 300 yards from the road in a tree’s protective branches. Since Puerto Rico is so warm, there is no need for a tent, or sleeping bag. The stars are out along with the half moon and I cannot begin to express my contentedness.
This trip has been minimalist from the start. I visited a local flea market in Mayaguez, with hopes of finding a road bike. Along with BMX parts from the early 80’s, I discovered a Peugeot Bordeaux in great shape. Besides the flat spot in the front wheel (making it more square than round) the only problem with the bike is that it is several sizes too small for me. I figure that the minimum insertion marks on the stem and on the seat post are to help bike companies from being sued, and can be ignored by the discerning rider.
Day one: En route through Mayaguez, (home of Puerto Rico’s version of PBR, Medalla) I was flagged over by a man driving a 1970’s Ford pickup. After I told him that I did not speak Spanish, he pulled out a pair of matching 26” Alex single walled mountain bike rims, and pointed at my wheels. I told him that they were the wrong size, and that the wheels I had worked fine. He must have thought that the hop looked uncomfortable.
At my halfway point, I stopped for lunch at the mouth of a river. Sitting on a broken TV, I watched pelicans dive bomb from three stories up. Without a formal destination, I did not even know how many days this bike ride would take. With this thought in mind, I eventually decided to really make the best of my southward travels and head for a small beach on the very southwest tip of Puerto Rico called Cabo Rojo.
Beyond the salt flats of Cabo Rojo is a lighthouse, seen jutting up atop a large cliff. It was visible from far away and I knew this was my destination point for the day. Pushing on, the road decided it had had enough of pavement and shifted first to gravel, then to a drastic pot-holed dirt hard pack. Nothing a little cyclo-cross action can’t take care of. I eventually arrived at a beach that still boggles my mind: two large cliffs sheltering an opening to white sand and warm teal waters. Que bonita!
Day two: My slumber was interrupted in the late hours of the night by thundershowers. This rain proved a nuisance considering my bag (with camera) and myself had little water protection. Using the extra sides of the hammock as a makeshift fly, I curled up with my backpack and tried to get some shuteye before sunrise. When I awoke, the Peugeot had a flat from a glass sliver in the front tire. Enjoying some shade while fixing my flat—I was on the road again by mid-morning.
Beautiful grassy mountainsides greeted the Bordeaux and I. Since the early morning showers, the glimmers of sunshine have slightly warmed the roads, but not enough to remove the slick water from their rough surfaces. Today I witness to the poverty of the island and the degree in which it can devastate an environment. Trash lined most every road, and became worse on the poorer outskirts of towns such as Guánica and Yauco.
Winding my way up from Lago Luchetti I found an ideal spot for camping. Gauging from the most recent graffiti—PaPa Lore Jackie ’97—I was not going to be interrupted. The house’s only inhabitants were a few spiders and lots of lizards. Below me, the reservoir sparkled while the surrounding hillsides glistened with dew. As night rolled in, the lights of houses twinkled all round me, reminding me that I am not alone.
Day 3: With a healthy serving of bananas and peanut butter, I’m on the road by early morning. The road resembles a path that a drunken spring break college student might take when trying to get home. The switchbacks have turned the Peugeot into a bowl of Rice Crispies with fresh milk on them. There must be flat spots on the bearings in both wheels. I am glad to have twelve speeds today; my first two hours of riding are spent in the granny going in one direction: up. I watched two unchained dogs sprint out of their yard at full speed at me, one pulling a chain behind him. I unclipped my left foot, ready for the kick, but they did not even give me the time of day, just went on up the road to alert their buddy that I was coming.
I stopped for water and eats in the interior of Puerto Rico. To my chagrin I discovered organic Vermont applesauce on the shelves. Why was this product in the rural mountains of Puerto Rico? Upon return, the stead’s front tire is flat, at first I suspect foul play, but a closer inspection shows that a spoke has poked through the rim strip. With a carefully cut postcard, and some tape, I’m on the road again biking through orange and toronja trees.
I notice a turnoff with a beautiful viewpoint on the left-hand side of the road. Letting off on the brakes I planned to zoom right up the small grade. Instead, just after entering the drive I notice a metal cable spanning my path about a foot and a half off the road. I locked up the brakes but it was too little too late and a front flip over the bars. Luckily no damage was suffered to the rig or me.
After peaking at a closed lookout point, my downhill fun begins. Keeping my speed in check at all times proves troublesome. I fear the original brake cables may snap or a pad may shift and sent me on my way. My wrists and fingers go numb from excessive braking and vibrations from the square front wheel.
Returning to Rincon by late afternoon, I’m glad to take a long shower and to remove three days of sweaty clothes. I am reminded of another reason that bikes rule; they have given me one of the most positive memories of my time in Puerto Rico. With a ride like this, time has seemed to tick to different clocks. These clocks sound like ticking bearings and clacking gears, rather than the second hand of the classroom or office. Days later, on a short ride, I get a rear flat and to my surprise, there was no rim strip in the back wheel. Odd.