Crossing the border, Tjuana traffic, a record breaking day and searching for Jesus

Preface; many of you have commented that you enjoy reading the blog, finding it especially funny when we encounter hardships. We can appreciate that, but by no means create situations of a difficult nature simply for your entertainment. This next blog however, will hold particular appeal to those of you who enjoy laughing at our misfortune. We hope you enjoy.

By Emma

Crossing the border, Tjuana traffic, a record-breaking day and searching for Jesus

Yes, 4 things in the title this time. It was another one of those days.

Up at sunrise ready to ride...?

Up at sunrise ready to ride…?

We awoke feeling slightly apprehensive about the day’s riding but optimistic about our new rear wheel. It was the last day of our USA visas so we started out bright and early on Oct 18th, ready to cross the border into Mexico. We had been staying in San Diego with  ‘Skinny Tim’, a great bloke we met while cycling the Oregon Coast. His house, or ‘The Castle’ as he & his best pals like to call it, is about a 40km ride to the border, with another 40km on the Mexican side to reach our destination in Mexico.

So with our best intentions to make an early crossing and get into Mexico before midday, Falkor was packed and ready to roll by 7:30am. And then Bren notices, before we had even begun to turn the pedals, that not one, but two spokes were broken on the front wheel. Are you kidding?

Fixing spokes 13&14

Fixing spokes 13&14 outside ‘The Castle’

We had originally planned to re-lace the front wheel with all new spokes, but were so overwhelmed with our indestructible new rear wheel, that we believed our spoke-smashing problems had been solved. Fools.

It became apparent that, on our 30km ride to the beach the day before, we had unassumingly broken these pesky two spokes. Well, it’s a bit of a bother and pushes our timing back 45minutes, but luckily we have plenty of spare spokes, 5 in total, so Bren gets to the task of, yet again, replacing spokes. We are glad at least that the new rear wheel shows no signs of spoke stress.

Clocking our total broken spoke count to 14, we take off at 8:15am, still with plenty of time to cross the border before midday. You can see where this is going can’t you?

Not 5km down the road, ‘doink’, there goes spoke number 15. Far out! We get to work again, Bren removing the front wheel, me getting the 1.  camera,  2.  wet-ones, 3.  wrench, 4.  spare spoke, 5.  towel to wipe Bren’s furrowed brow. With so many bloody spokes breaking all the time, we have our system down- pat, and clearly each instance must be documented with a photograph. My role is not to be downplayed here people.

Fixing spoke 15

Fixing spoke 15

30minutes later, we are back on track headed toward downtown San Diego. Feeling nervous about the front wheel we discuss our options.

Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego

Should we turn around and ride back to Matt at Black Mountain Bicycles and re-spoke the front wheel?

Shall we cross the border and promptly come back with re-newed visas?

Should we try our luck over the border and try to find a Mexican Matt?

All these possibilities are being weighed up, when ‘crack’, there goes spoke number 16. Bringing our total spoke count for the day to 4, a new daily spoke smashing record for TotallyTandem.

Pulling over yet again, we get to our designated tasks and replace the spoke. I should also mention that at this juncture, we also blow a front tube when tightening the new spoke. Good times.

Our abundant stash of five spare spokes has drastically dwindled and our confidence is at an all time low. What were those options again?

Fixing spoke 16

Fixing spoke 16

We are about 15km from the border, on the last day of our visas and we have one spare front spoke left. Surely we can’t break any more today? A South African cycling past sees our flag and stops to check on us. We tell him our plight and he assures us there is a bike-shop on our route to the border, about 8km away, so we can stop there and get new spares. Good plan. Only thing is, the bike shop does not have their spoke cutter in-store today (“if you had of come yesterday”). Hmmm. Nothing to do but continue on. It is now just after 11am. We can still make it to the border before our time frame. The reason we are trying to get there before midday is because of the stories we have heard about immigration workers taking random siestas, and having to wait around for hours to get your passport stamped. We wanted to be way ahead of the game. Oh Bremma, you with your best intentions!

We cycle 200m away from the useless bike store, when we hear that all too familiar ‘clink’. For heaven’s sake! It’s not even funny! Spoke number 5 for the day, and our final spare spoke. Unbelievable. (Editors note; due to the age- group of many of our readers, some of the language actually used has been modified to maintain propriety)

Fixing spoke 17

Fixing spoke 17

By now, you know the drill as well as we do, and so we are back on the bike, riding our final 7km to the border by 11:50am. Well, we are gonna make it pretty close to midday at least.

The towns close to the border are decorated with signs in Spanish and the border fence comes into sight. The landscape changes to brown dusty hills and all the shops declare duty-free prices.

Trepidatious as we approach the border. You can see the fence behind us.

Trepidatious as we approach the border. You can see the fence beside us in the background

We have read some really amazing blogs that helped us to prepare for this border crossing. In particular, by Randy Houk explains in great detail the steps involved, so we felt confident about this part at least.

In order to leave the USA on foot or by bike, you have to pass through a huge turnstile. Once through there, you are in Mexico. There is a heavily barred fence, behind which stands Mexican border patrol, dressed in army fatigues with large machine guns slung over their shoulders. I motion to him that our huge bike wont fit through the turnstile, and he shrugs his shoulders. Those Spanish lessons really would’ve held great value at this juncture. I imagine that he thinks Falkor is a motor bike, so I get Bren to present the side view, while I clasp my hands in a praying gesture and utter the few Spanish words I know “bicicleta, per favor”. He gives me the ‘uno momento’ gesture, and within a few minutes a Mexican gent in a suit appears to assess us. He nods his head, yes, you cannot come through the turnstile. He motions behind us to the USA border patrol and points to the lock on this side of the gate. Returning the ‘uno momento’ gesture, I go and ask one of the bullet-proof-vest-wearing-gum-chewing-beef-cakes for assistance with the side gate. They agree we need their help, and radio in for back up. Seriously, that happened.

At the border, waiting for the side gate to be opened. There was no way Falkor was fitting through those turnstiles.

At the border, waiting for the side gate to be opened. There was no way Falkor was fitting through those turnstiles.

Within 10 minutes, more bullet proof vests appear and the gate is magically opened. “Be safe”, is their only advice.

I should mention here how busy this border crossing is. Those turnstiles never stopped turning the whole time we were there, and it is very easy to leave the USA. You simply walk past the beef- cakes and through the turnstiles and voila, you are in Mexico. If you don’t actively seek out the immigration office to get your Mexican visa, then that will be your problem when you try to leave the country. We kinda like that mentality.

But even before locating the immigration desk, the first obstacle was negotiating Falkor down the 3-hair-pin turn ramp. She is just over 2 metres long, which is much wider than any of the wheel chairs this ramp was clearly designed for. However, Bren is very masterful of the 10-point-tandem turn, so we make it through with only mild distaste from the Mexican’s with machine guns and the people with wheelie bags stuck behind us.

Negotiating the tight switch backs of the ramp

Negotiating the tight switch backs of the ramp

Thanks to Randy’s blog, we find the immigration desk easily and Bren stays with the bike while I fill out our paper work. Thankfully, we made it before siesta time and the officer speaks perfect English.

Upon finalising our paper work I ask, “Shall I quickly take this to my husband to get him to sign it?”

He looks at me very confused. “Why don’t you just sign it for him?”

Ok, great. Nothing like a little bit of encouraged forgery to get your Mexican day started, I say!

And that’s it. Passports stamped with a 6 month visa, we just have to pay the visa fee before we depart the country. Piece of cake.

We negotiate the final 3-hair-pin-turn ramp, and are ejected into Tijuana where we have to pass the longest queue I have ever seen. These are the people waiting to cross into America. It’s truly quite the line-up. Making our way through the markets, we are met by shop owners & pedestrians waving, whistling and calling out ‘welcome to Mexico’. Some people just point and laugh but the smiles surround us and we are stoked to be here. There are some incredible signs of poverty, but warm smiles are given freely.

Having studied the map, we know where to go and hit the road along the border fence that will lead us to the highway to Rosarito. We marvel at the graffiti along the wall and wave to the fire brigade who mock hitching a lift with us. Noticing a police vehicle blocking the road ahead, we slow down to see a real-life arrest. I gesture to one of the cops if  it is ok to pass on the footpath, he nods and we lift Falkor up the 30cm curb. Passing the bust, another cop comes over to help us lower Falkor back onto the road. How nice. Pushing on, large sections of the road are simply missing. The comedy of lifting the bike has now lost its luster, and we make a turn down a street Goober assures us will guide us right. It’s getting pretty hot and we are pushing up a very steep hill with dilapidated buses passing us at high-speed, dangerously close.

We find ourselves cycling in the right direction (maybe Mexican Goober is our friend?) along even busier highway with no hint of a shoulder to ride on. Our hearts are racing and the adrenalin is on non-stop fire. With loads of highway entrances, we keep finding ourselves out in the middle of the road trying to cross back over to the side. It’s really stressful riding. We see the exit to Rosarito but have no chance to cross the 3 lanes of speeding traffic and are forced to ride straight into a town called ‘Playas’. Seeing a taco-stand in the distance, we decide to stop for a drink and calm our nerves, but are suddenly pursued by 3 angry dogs biting at Bren’s legs and our back wheel. Talk about adrenalin overload!  We outrun them and take solace at the taco-stand.  Coca- cola never tasted so good.

Hearing a gent speaking English, we ask him about how to access the highway turn off we just missed.

“Oh, bikes cannot go on that part of highway because of the toll booth. They will stop you and send you back, but if you ride this way, you will find a small fence past the booth that you can lift your bike over. You can get on the highway there.”

“Really? That sounds like a terrible plan”, I say sheepishly.

“Oh no, it is fine, and you are adventurers so it will not matter to you. You can ride this way, no problem.”

Sighing, I realize there is no other way. The only road to Rosarito is indeed ‘prohibido to cyclista’.

We find the cement fence he mentioned and proceed to unload all of the bags, plopping them on the highway side of the fence. The adrenalin returns as I have the front end of the bike lifted up over my head while Bren pushes the back half over the fence. At an unloaded weight of 25kg, it’s quite the operation I assure you.

We re-load and commence the prohibited ride along the only road to Rosarito. I want to take photos of the incredible coast but am focusing on calming my breathing. With it just about in check, ‘clink’, there goes spoke number 6. There are no faux swear words I can use here to relay exactly what happened next. But with no spare spokes left & not much of a shoulder, Bren simply cuts the rogue spoke off and we continue riding. 10km until we arrive at Roberto’s, our host for the night.

Cutting loose spoke number 18. Our 6th and final broken spoke of the day.

Cutting loose spoke number 18. Our 6th and final broken spoke of the day.

There is an excellent website designed by cyclists, for cyclists, where you can meet like-minded people who open up their homes to you, offering a place to sleep and indeed, a nice warm shower. Roberto is one of those amazing people offering his house & friendship to cyclists passing his way.

He gave us excellent instructions on how to find his house, our favourite part being ‘look for the giant Jesus.’ So indeed, we found ourselves cycling down the coast with one broken spoke, looking for a sign and searching for Jesus.

Our first sighting of JC

Our first sighting of JC

Like all good apparitions, Jesus appears over the top of a mountain and we finally arrive at Roberto’s family taco stand.

He got bigger as we got closer to Roerto's

He got bigger as we got closer to Roberto’s

A sight for sore eyes, Jesus guides the way

A sight for sore eyes, Jesus guides the way

“Dos cervesa, per favor”

Roberto and his mum Maria at their taco stand

Roberto and his mum Maria at their taco stand

Tacos & beer. Always a good solution!

Tacos & beer. Always a good solution!

Greeted with huge smiles and warm hugs, we set up our tent on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There are 3 other cyclists, from Spain, also seeking refuge at Roberto’s for the night. It’s a stunning place, which is lucky really as we are clearly gong to be here a few days sorting out that bloody front wheel.

Bremma & the Spanish cyclists with our host Roberto (front left)

Bremma & the Spanish cyclists with our host Roberto (front left)

6 broken spokes, a border crossing, mental Tijuana traffic, a dog chase, an illegal highway ride but 2 cold beers and a safe place to stay with wonderful people.  Sometimes balance isn’t always even.

Total broken spoke count = 18; 6 on the rear wheel, 12 on the front.

He found us!

At the end of a hard day, it was great to be shown the way. Christ indeed.

The big guy, in the palm of my hand

The big guy, in the palm of my hand

I write this blog on 21st Oct, my birthday. I would love to ask that any birthday love be directed through me to World Bicycle Relief. If everyone contributes just $1 to WBR through TotallyTandem in honour of my birthday, then we will collectively be supplying close to 6 bikes to rural Africa. Now That, really is a good birthday pressie. Ta! Arigatou! Gracias!

3 responses to “Crossing the border, Tjuana traffic, a record breaking day and searching for Jesus

  1. I can’t believe you couldn’t write down the swear words??
    What you need are a few spoky dokies, maybe that will stiffen up those Chez

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