Lista? Si. Segura? Si. I’m stalling. It’s 11:30am and we’re about to set out on an all out race around a 10km loop course with 700m of altitude gain in 29°c heat. We’re somewhere between 2300m & 2400m high but that’s no excuse anymore, I’ve been training at this altitude for 21 days now. The goal is to accomplish 3 laps of the course. I’m on foot and she on a mountain bike, (un avion as she calls it), so in order to win, I have to work on my anti-style and maximize my uphill advantage. Tres, dos, goddamn this is going to suck! Vamos!
I’ve come here to find a home. Because a home sometimes needs to be something more than mind and body. Because using my body to run away from my mind is not a race I can win. On my last visit to Mexico, I had spent four days in a secluded mountainous paraíso in the province of Hidalgo. Family owned, the vast property transforms itself into a wilderness retreat on the week-ends accommodating well over 100 people at a time within its campgrounds and cabañas. It offers 4 well maintained mountain bike trails and an innumerable amount of hiking trails for those seeking the luxury of losing themselves scenically. The week-ends were also a time for home cooked Mexican food, and the opportunity to ask for provisions from town. Cecilia (Ceci’s mom) was incredibly accommodating to my odd requests of snickers, seeds & nuts and kilos of pasta. What she must think of my diet is beyond me!
During the week, at times I had a neighbour, Cetto, a mountain bike champion, good friend and passionate bike mechanic with whom I sporadically broke the weight of solitude, sporadically because our training schedules rarely coincided. At times I was completely alone for entire days, with no one but three golden Labradors to talk to. I will always remember those solitary nights, cooking myself a meal in my tiny kitchen, sitting on the counter, jotting down notes for the book I was writing. And somewhere in the middle of hermitage and fiesta, I found my balance.
The dogs are whining. I’m running back and forth on a knife’s edge between a slip&slide to death and a sheer fall to death. We have finally encountered the Espinazo Del Diablo hidden a hike and a bushwhack away from nowhere. Now if we can only get the photo right. Otra vez! I go again. The dogs are whining.
That same evening, we hammered out seven one-minute intervals along a gradual slope next to the lake as the sun was setting behind the Espinazo Del Diablo.
On my daily walk, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on balance. Or more accurately, lack of balance. At times I’m inclined to think that its my capacity and outright passion for hard work that throws off the scale. Give me a field and I’ll plow it by hand. Give me a mountain and I’ll run every inch of it. Yet it may surprise you that this fire, this strength was born not so long ago out of laziness, out of lack of purpose in life. And as I take a turn along an unknown trail, I walk deeper into the subject. What do I seek in coming here? How can I explain that it is both an escape and a homecoming? That I feel alienated in Canada? That despite spending most of my years there, I have never found a community in which I belonged? That here in Mexico, I truly feel at home? As I did in Chile, India & Nepal. Where life is sweet because it is a struggle. Where the struggle brings people together. Makes them stronger. Makes them love one another. Makes them a community.
A community is the cornerstone of culture, of heritage, of co-operation, of acceptance, of confidence in one’s place in the world, of love. And it is something I have come to dearly need.
At a small square table we sit, all four in absolute silence, trying to speak in numbers to our team-mate across the table. A four and a six are my options, I count with my finger six sixes and I hold the last one paired with a four. The silence endures, we endure the silence. Ceci has begun with a zero and a one, was she trying to tell me she had many of those? If so, I should seal the game with my six for surely our total is lesser than theirs. I grab the domino tile in my hand and lay it down four against four, sealing the game. A long sigh accompanies the show of hands. Ceci smiles as she flicks her tiles face up: a mula of ones and zeros. We win!
In this family, domino is an artform rich with tradition, subtle courtesies and superstitions. I have quickly learned to show the game some respect!
Though it is true that a common struggle brings people closer by means of an outside pressure, the true richness of a community comes from within, from the ties formed between people pulling them closer from the inside. Half-way through my stay, I came back from a 3 hour walk with Pita, Berta & Tikka my hiking companions, when I stumbled upon Cecilia chica (so named because she shares her name with her mother) near the lake. As it turns out, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a rare family reunion. Daniela had just returned from France where she had met with her new mountain bike team, and Andrea had flown over for a short vacation from Guadalajara where she owns and manages a yoga-wear company (sulayoga.com).
For the best part of two weeks I had the opportunity to observe the love they all share for athletic pursuits, languages, nature, for their country Mexico, as well as for one another. A love strong enough to create and bring together a community of linda gente who share their values and athletic passions. And thus, they have succeeded in attracting me too, their neighbour from two doors up.
What then do I seek in coming here?
VamosAhí! The words cut through the tense air like a Japanese sword. In my limited Spanish it sounds a whole lot like Bonzai! or some other such war cry. Apart from sounding Japanese in his self-encouragements, Roberto (Ceci’s dad) wields his ping-pong racquet intimidatingly well. There are three of us, Poncho, David and I, taking turns at being massacred on the way to 21 points. The last point of the game here is called novia or girlfriend, and by the end of the night all three of us boys go to sleep single. So to speak.
I’ve always had a love for the unconventional training log. Summed up, during my month here, I have trained 110+ hours. Divided it gives an approximate of 64hrs of hiking, 38hrs of running and 15hrs of cross-training.
Here the first number is the date, the second is the hours of training and in parenthesis, a small synopsis of the noteworthy destinations, trail numbers and/or training sessions.
20: 1 (3 y 1)
21: 5 (Peñas Cuatas)
22: 5 (Moab, Cascadas + la 3y1)
23: 5 (Mirador + Moab)
24: 5 (Cascadas + X-Train + Hacha)
25: 5 (Dolor + Peñas Cuatas)
26: 3 (Muerto, Fin Altura, ChikisPanta+2)
27: 4 (Tempo Malpaso 41min)
28: 3 (1:14 La 5 Hamaca + Xtrain)
29: 1 (3y1y2)
30: 4 (Tempo 3y1 54m + 4x50sec)
31: 5 (3y1y2 + Xtrain)
1: 6 (Espinazo + 4x 49sec, 3x 1:13)
2: 3 (Xtrain+ Tempo Malpaso 39:17)
3: 6 (Peñas Cuatas)
4: 3 (2x la 3 en 1:13 + Xtrain)
5: 4 (2x 30min tempo)
6: 1 (1hr @easy + nadar)
7: 4 (2:15 Escalera + Xtrain)
8: 5 (Kayak + 4x 6min Uphill)
9: 3 (5y3 + 4x 51sec, 4x 1:19)
10: 3 (Descanso + Xtrain)
11: 4 (3x 10km 1:03/1:06/1:10)
12: 3 (Descanso + Xtrain)
13: 4 (1h @easy)
14: 3 (Arco + Hamaca 1:50)
15: 5 (Xtrain)
16: 3 (2-1-3-5-Malpaso-Hamaca-4 1:50)
17: 3 (2-1-3-5-Malpaso-Hamaca-4 1:43)
18: 4 (Arco-5-3-1-2 + CrossTrain)
19: 4 (Gollo + Xtrain +1y2)
Otra vez? This time I’m asking. I had just run a 30min tempo around the trail #1&2, trying to catch Ceci & Dani (who by the way is an Olympic Athlete!) who play the roll of pace bunnies on their bikes. Forever slightly out of reach. I nearly puked on my first lap and now I am asking for more. In the morning we had gone on a 3 hours exploratory walk (read: getting lost) with Ceci & Andrea. A feast of epic proportion and of exquisite taste awaited us upon our return and I dug into it without my usual reserve. Surely I was trying to forget an entire week of eating oatmeal and almost plain pasta or rice & beans. And it is thus, positively stuffed, that I decided to head out for a 2x 30min tempo (between 10k and 21k pace) run. The truth is I had only intended on doing one repeat. But somewhere during our warm up, Ceci mentioned that we were having LASAGNA, LASAGNA for dinner. Lasagna! I lost it completely. Became paranoid that I wouldn’t have any space for it inside me.
Otra vez? Si? Vamos!
In life, I will always value the extremes for the incredible learning opportunities that they are but it became very clear last year that I must work on finding my balance, much in the same way I work on finding my place in this world. As an old proverb of mine says:
If you can’t find meaning in your life, work on giving meaning to your life.
If you can’t give meaning to your life, work on finding meaning in your life.
Follow along on Instagram: @etiennegabriel
4 Comments Add yours
love this post and the pictures are awesome! Really like the one where your gal is doing yoga in the woods…. love your writing too!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks! It was hard to write about everything that happened, so I chose to convey the feeling instead! Thanks for reading!
Me encanto 😊. Ha sido increíble conocerte y compartir contigo unos días en el Paraíso. ¡Pitaya ya te extraña!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Muchas Gracias Dani! Eres mi heroína! Aprendí mucho contigo y Cetto y por eso te agradezco mucho.