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Don't Go Chasing Butterflies

15 Aug 2010

Toluca, Mexico

6,116 km

 

The morning after the car accident the sky was mostly clear but sharply cold. I left around midmorning as Male and her sister and their parents left for work. Male apologized profusely and I sarcastically thanked her for the excitement. Soon I was out of the city and heading west on the free highway. The first danger came when I arrived at a patch of highway construction where deep grooves were cut into the lane parallel with the direction of traffic. The grooves are to hold the new tarmac when it is poured but they are a terrible hazard to a motorcycle because the front tire can get caught in the groove and loose all traction. This was made worse because here the highway twisted through hill country and I had to make leaning turns amidst the grooves in the tarmac.

 

Soon it grew very cold. It started to rain, then it rained hard, then the rain became hail. It pelted my helmet and the gas tank and I could feel the staccato sting through long johns, trousers, and rain pants. I pressed on and the downpour continued sometimes as rain and sometimes as icy pellets. It pooled in the center of the highway and then broke into rippling mudflows. Occasionally the rain stopped and the skies cleared but then the wind rose and I had to lean against it and the leaning means less tire touching the we tarmac and so less traction. Finally, I passed Zitácuaro and then I turned north on a secondary highway towards Angangueo. Before there, at Ocampo, I saw the signs for the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary.

 

The road meandered for 15 kilometers up the hillside in two lanes paved in rough, bone-jolting stones around two narrow tracks of smooth stone. Water flowed downhill as I climbed, soaked and shivering, trying to stay on the smooth tracks and trying to stay perfectly vertical to lose no traction to a lean. The rain turned to hail and struck hard and the downhill flows grew heavier and cut the road crossways rushing at times perpendicularly against the tires.

 

At the entrance to the butterfly there was a small open-air hut where old men and women bundled up and huddled against the stinging cold and did not come forward to greet me. I parked the bike and approached. The said there would be no butterflies today, which of course I knew. I said I wanted to get something hot to eat and drink in one of the structures a half kilometer ahead. They wanted to collect 20 pesos as a toll and I – cold, wet, and exhausted – became somewhat indignant and replied there was no way I would pay if there are no butterflies. The shrugged their shoulders and said that I could pass but now, bizarrely there was a principle to stand on, so I remounted, made a U-turn and returned the way I had come.

 

The descent was more harrowing than the ascent. To climb you apply throttle: you exert force against contrary force – you turn wheels against gravity, push water between treads, heat cold rubber, and this creates traction. But descending, gravity is no longer against you; you no longer create traction by exerting force against contrary force. Worse now was that the hail had frozen in sheets across the smooth paving stones and it was a virtual slalom for 15 kilometers until I arrived, shaken but not beaten, at Ocampo, where I took shelter in an open-air taquería and drank a hot coffee to settle my nerves.

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