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SPF 90. Yeah. It Exists.

Have I mentioned the mosquitos and sun? We hit the road early to not get caught on the scary beach past sunrise and fairly promptly stopped at Subway for breakfast and Walgreens for some new bugspray and sunscreen. GVP came out with SPF 90. We’d heard the sun on the southern coast is brutal and the only thing worse than biking in the sun all day is doing so with a burn. It was like covering my body with clay. Later we would learn it was indeed waterproof. I had to scratch it off my legs in the shower. Not cool but we didn’t get burned once the whole trip so I’m grateful. I mean, some people pay a lot of money for a clay mask…right?

Those 51.2 miles to Ponce were hot. So hot. I was fine if I was sitting still in the shade drinking water (or eating ice cream) but take any one of those away and sweat was running off me.

We ran into some cool things that day. There was a mural of famous and historical Puerto Ricans and how they influenced the culture. A local came by as we were admiring it and tried to shake GVP’s hand. Being from DC he instantly thought the man was asking for money and declined his hand. Once it dawned on him what the man wanted, they had a man-to-man moment. And to answer the question I know is on your mind, yes Daddy Yankee is on the mural.

We pulled over in a hotel’s entrance for some much needed shade.
As we took in our surroundings of a bare-chested woman sculpture IMG_0107in the fountain and a drawing depicting a nude male and female locked in embrace, we quickly concluded that Hotel Adonis was a by the hour hotel. We laughed at what the drivers on that busy road must have thought of the two of us and our bikes and then we headed back into the sun.

Do you remember how Adventure Cycling was kind enough to give us their cue cards for this same trip that they organize and run? Well low and behold when we stopped for lunch in Salinas we ran into that trip! We talked with a few people in their group but had to get moving. Some numbers were exchanged so we could meet up later (this never happened) and we continued to see riders here and there from their group. We actually pointed them in the right direction a couple of times. They followed our advice despite not knowing who we were.

Arriving to Ponce was a relief. We would stay for two nights on the balcony of someone from Air B&B. We never did meet our host but we did meet his other Air B&B guests (two Danes who were residing100_5869 inside), and our host’s father who tried to convince us to let him in the home so he could get his keys. Nothing like waking up at 2AM to a strange man standing by your tent. The morning we left we decided to sleep until 7AM since at 6AM his father was sitting creepily in a chair on the balcony. We had the pepper spray at the ready.

We went to P.F. Chang’s for dinner both nights we were in Ponce. And we went to the movies and had popcorn and a giant soda each. What can I say? We needed an American day.

Because biking lets me run into unexpected people and places, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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1000 Roosters, 1 Mountain, and 3 Drunk Dudes

Commence the biking.

14.7 miles have never been so difficult. We were just going from the Fajardo ferry terminal to the small fishermen’s town of Naguabo. How was it so hard? I blame the sun. I live in Chicago and appreciate a sunny day (especially during the gray months of winter) but this sun was too much. It sucked my life, my spirit, my SOUL out all day, every day; we literally (and luckily) did not have one rainy day.

After what somehow seemed like an eternity, we made it to our Air B&B. Air B&B is super useful and more flexible than it seems. Where we couldn’t find places to camp we contacted the Air B&Bs of the area and asked if we could camp on their property for $20/night. Most said no. Some said yes. One even let us use his entire house (normally $150/night) for $20 and told us to drink all the beer in the fridge (we only had a couple).

IMG_2484Back to Naguabo. Our Air B&B hostess was very chatty. She showed us to her deck which overlooked the bay and the cute little town. That’s where we would be setting up camp. She gave us towels and pointed us to the shower; showers are transformative. The nights when we had one available felt vastly different than when we did not. It was rejuvenating to my spirit. After the showers we were IMG_4685walking out to have what would turn out to be the most delicious meal of our trip (freshly caught red snapper with a side of tostones) when our hostess warned us to keep our things out of sight as her live-in mother-in-law has a penchant for stealing.

Some nights we didn’t lay down because we were tired but to escape the bombardment of mosquitos. This was one of those nights. We tried to wake up by 6AM to get on the road at first light at 6:45; this was to get as many miles done before the heat. Waking up in Naguabo was no problem. What was described on Air B&B as “the countryside sound of roosters” actually meant “the sound of 1000 roosters in our neighbor’s yard.” Contrary to popular belief, roosters do not just cock-a-doodle-doo at dawn. It is all day and all night. That coupled with the sound of the garbage man shoveling garbage out of the dumpster at 5AM allowed us to wake up early and get a headstart on packing. To that garbage man and that neighbor with roosters I would like to extend a cheerful YOU SUCK!

We headed to Patillas and died a slow and painful death on the way. What we thought was a hill was a mountain. A MOUNTAIN. We were low on water and had no snacks (foolish, we know). It was exhausting. We had to stop for breaks and push our 50+ pound bikes uphill. I wanted to hitchhike but the shoulder was too small for trucks to safely pull over. So onward and upward we went until we came to a restaurant. Our salvation. We filled up our water and ate three empanadas each. Not a super delicious food but it saved us.

IMG_0094Next thing we know we’re going through this really cool tunnel on highway 53. The shoulder was huge and the place was well-lit and, being a tunnel, it was shady. Hallelujah! 34.5 miles after we started for the day we rolled into what we refer to as the “scary beach” in Lamboglia. This was an unofficial campsite that someone on Air B&B told me, “People camp there but be gone by sunrise.” It was a city park with signs IMG_0092prohibiting camping in certain areas. The ocean was calm so we got in while we waited for nightfall to set up the tent. Needless to say, I woke up more than a few times that night: a couple having sex in the pavilion, three drunk guys talking and singing on the other side of some trees, and some early morning rain. Not a great sleep. Getting ready in the dark that morning I didn’t even realize I’d put my bike shorts on inside out. Whoops.

Throughout Puerto Rico we ran into cyclists. Sometimes one by himself and sometimes a herd of 40. They all thought we were crazy but shook our hands and wished us good luck.

Because shouting in a tunnel while on a bike is one of the coolest sounds, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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What Happened in There?!

As it turns out, the beauty of El Yunque is not the only thing that is indescribable. Another part of our two weeks that took my breath away was the STANK of our rental car. We had it for less than 24 hours and I’m pretty sure they had to total that car.

But Enterprise exacted its revenge. It took over an hour to return the car; we were afraid we would miss our ferry to Culebra Island so we enacted the “we pick you up” service of Enterprise and had them drop us off. So, while we did circumnavigate the island, we actually rode in a car for seven miles from Luquillo to Fajardo. (Don’t tell GVP I told you.)

Despite all the online ruckus, it was surprisingly easy to take our bikes on the passenger ferry from Fajardo to Culebra. We had to pay a little extra but it was literally no problem. Another reason I’m grateful we went on the off season (also because it is slightly cooler in the off season bringing the average temp down from 85/90 to 77/82).

IMG_2479That first night we grabbed dinner at a kiosko for a whopping $37 (note to self: ask how much before ordering), laid out our tarp on the beach, and saw more stars than I’ve ever seen at once. In one direction the sky was endless. In the other direction was Flamenco Beach, which Discovery Channel voted the second most beautiful beach in the world. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

We stayed for two nights which was pretty perfect. You might be doing some (very simple) math in your head and realizing that so far we have only biked 28.5 miles (and six from the ferry to the beach and back, so THERE) but don’t judge. There are another 308.5 to come (343 total…yes that 7 mile car ride kept us from 350).

Culebra was a definite highlight. We had pizza and rum. I reluctantly ate shark for the first time; I’m a
vegetarian but was eating all seafood on the trip. Unfortunately that night no one had anything but shark or chicken (GVP got the chicken and when he couldn’t finish it he threw the extra to some chickens and we100_5848 saw CHICKENS EATING CHICKEN). On a romantic sunset walk on the beach we saw a guy owning these HUGE waves with just a noodle floatie for assistance. Legit the waves were so gigantic we didn’t get in past our waists. We also saw a couple of the tanks the US Navy abandoned on the beach when it was a training base before WWII; while the natural beauty was better, I like a good juxtaposition as much as the next person.

I also learned a lot about my likes and dislikes while on the tiny island. Likes: Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap (because I don’t feel bad when it runs off like with soap that’s full of chemicals), cortisone cream, doing laundry in an abandoned camp chair, this one perfect spot on the beach under the shade of some trees. Dislikes: mosquitoes, a big family coming up and blasting their music right next to the perfect spot, the tide coming in a soaking us in maybe our not so perfect spot.

Also a big like is that guy I call GVP is my boyfriend now.

Because even a bike vacation isn’t all about biking, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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Let’s Be Tourists

The Northeast of Puerto Rico is what I would call the tourist district. It has San Juan, Luquillo, El Yunque Rainforest, and the ferry to the islands Culebra and Vieques is nearby. There are tourist destinations for a reason. They. Are. Beautiful.

Pulling away from the Ritz Carlton that first morning was terrifying. We were officially on our own, just the two of us. So many people warned us about the potholes, the glass, the crazy drivers, the people who would want to mug us, and more. We were prepared with our self-sealing Slime tubes and Kevlar (that’s what bulletproof vests are made of) tires. We each had pepper spray and a list of emergency contacts. But it was still worrisome.

And then we started biking. My worries melted away (to the back of my head) as we found a bike path along the ocean that crossed into the palm tree studded forest. Granted, it was HOT and definitely humid, but it was glorious…until my tire slipped on some moss and my bike and I fell over. Luckily no harm done but a bruise on my shin and a scraped ankle. It was worth experiencing the freedom of exploring the island 100_5838 via bike. There is just something different, something breathtaking and relaxing about biking through a forest-lined road. Top it off with our first campsite at Monserrate Beach in Luquillo being a real place and the first day can be considered a success (especially because we could both get in the water at the same time due to a kind older man who vigilantly watched our things; this guy was on serious bird patrol).

We wanted to go to El Yunque rainforest but upon seeing the MOUNTAIN towering in the distance, we quickly decided we would not be trying to bike to the visitors’ center (good thing too because we would have failed miserably). What did we do? We called Enterprise. Best. Decision. Ever. They picked us up at our breakfast spot and about 30 minutes later, GVP was expertly navigating the windiest and steepest road I’ve ever entertained biking on. That would have been MURDER and I would have given up. For sure.

IMG_0073The drive up was insanely gorgeous (as was the AC we blasted; you’d think we’d been on the road a week instead of a day). We went as far as we could go, ate our Subway sandwiches (don’t judge us; we ate local food too but we also ate so much Subway they could have sponsored our trip…get some good press after that whole Jared debacle), and walked on over to the Las Minas trailhead. How could it be difficult when it was so short? Slick concrete, steep parts, and stairs is the answer.

IMG_2321Alongside Las Minas was a creek/waterfalls with small pools throughout. We gladly hopped in to rinse off the sweat and salt water. This was one of my favorite times and places of the entire trip. As some people pointed out, it was quite the romantic setting; some might even say it was like one of the Adam and Eve displays (see photo to right) in the Creation Museum (for the record I went there because I was curious; I believe in evolution and science)…minus the lotus flowers and snake (I hope!).

We headed back to our beach campsite. Much to my dismay the bathrooms were locked so I had to take matters to the woods (not so romantic).

Because I know my own biking limits; that’s why I (still) love riding my bike.