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Marty McLennan

Why I Almost Threw My Bike Into The Sea Of Cortez


Cataviña, Baja California

February 1

My bike is following me. And it watches with its jealous intuition. We’ve spent nearly every waking moment together for the past two thousand miles. Since leaving Canada two months ago, we’ve spent five to six hours a day riding together. While I eat lunch, it waits patiently beside the taco stand. When I sleep, it rests at my tent door. In truth, it knows my every last move. I consider it a friend, a pal—a pinche cabron. But above all, it’s a sexless piece of machinery. A eunuch.

Not that I haven’t looked at my bike in a half sexual way. It has numerous nipples, several lovely hydrating units, has fantastic curves and provides me with hours of fun-without ever going numb. But it’s a conscious decision, one I made long before entering the desert of south central Baja California. Way back in Vancouver, I had the power of mind never to give my bike a lover’s name. Not even Bessy.

I concede, though, my bike does have a feminine side. One that has charmed the pants off of almost every stray dog in the Mexican countryside. In this respect, my bike is part female chihuahua. And likely in constant heat. Dogs come racing out of the cardon cacti forests, chasing me breathless for miles. From the Pacific across the string of volcanoes to the Sea of Cortez, over Mexico’s shoulderless Highway, I pedal maniacally, swearing insults at my bike’s canine suitors. Sometimes swinging my bike pump and other times just pounding with the fear of Dog racing through my veins.

Yes, I have to admit, that out in the screaming hot desert, powered by sun-warped Grateful Dead tapes on dying batteries, out of water, eating nothing but refried beans, my body and mind do funny things.

At night, when I prepare myself for the hours of horizontal solitude in the desert sands, surrounded by scorpions and viboras—the four species of poisonous snakes found here—I boil up gallons of tea and drink until I’ve urinated an unbroken line around my belongings. But it’s a worthless first line of defense. While the sun moves west and wakes up Asia, the coyotes come out howling. And I wrestle with grizzly fear, clenching my Swiss Army knife. Surely, my Sunday morning Loony Toon education, with a specialization in desert ecology taught by Road Runner, Coyote, and Speedy Gonzales, hasn’t prepared me for this adventure.

Am I paranoid? I don’t think so. But my bike is. It’s become a little evil. Every time I think of anything remotely related to sex, it breaks down. Sure the elephant trees which look like upside down carrots, the pink luminescent dry arroyos, and the avian raptors are magnificent. But the North American male mind does wander, every 15 seconds according to some researchers, to a sexual thought. I consider myself average and for a Canadian that must up the ratio because of our long winters.

Now, just below the 28th parallel, when things just couldn’t seem to get any worse for this lonesome two-wheeled Lone Ranger, it started to pour rain. So I pit-stopped at the four-star La Pinta hotel to use the can. Just as I got comfortable there was a loud bang on the door, "Excuse me," a kind but deafening RV driver hollered over the din of a scratchy hearing aid, "are you the Canadian cyclist? There are two lady cyclists stranded up the road a mile..." I was out in a shot, pedaling up the highway.

Word had filtered down the Baja grapevine that there were two super fit, super hot, Spandex-clad French Canadian cyclistes who were a couple of days ahead of me. Apparently the desert’s frost filled nights and freak blistering rains had slowed them down to a frozen standstill. Surely this was the Manna I deserved. Saddle ablaze, I raced the short stretch. For the moment, I was Don Juan. A caballero. But my bicycle was bucking. It understood the entire dialogue. By the time I reached the ranch where the troubled two-some were hiding out, my wheel was warped and tire was flat. While we exchanged excited two-cheek Montreal kisses and embraces, the odometer went blank.


Baja de Los Angeles, Baja California

February 8

I never loved my bike. And now I’m starting to hate the jealous piece of oversized fat-tubed aluminium. The girls and I hit it off and now they are leaving me messages on the side of the highway, "come meet us here", "where are you now" but my breaking down metallic chihuahua falls apart faster than I can repair it. The tally for the past two days: four flats, a broken spoke and a bent rim. Today, desperate to catch up to the two, I hitched a ride with a couple of visiting Americans. And guess what, they had a flat.

Tonight I’m going to kill my bike and toss it into the Sea of Cortez.


Guerrero Negro, Baja California

February 13

I got the message a couple of beers too late. I’d pedaled seventy parched, siesta-less desert miles. To make matters worse, my lover’s quarrel with my bike was way out of hand—we weren’t talking anymore. It had caught wind of my evil intentions, but I was too chicken to kill it and too poor to buy another. Instead, I endured a flat a day, another couple broken spokes, and broken brake cable all in desert heat with turkey vultures circling. Clearly this Canuck was starting to break down himself. The girls were at Scammon’s Lagoon, a world heritage site and home of the spawning grey whales-some twenty miles off-road from where I stood stumbling and stammering.

A chocolate bar was attached to the note suggesting that it might provide me enough energy to make it there that night—the eve of St. Valentines. Why not, I bargained. I was drunk, fearless, and within minutes I’d found the perfect gift—a fresh pineapple—and was pedalling wild in the mesquite scented breeze. Then the sun set and the lights went out.

This time my bike held up. It was only I who failed. For hours I was rattled by washboard and steering into sandpits. But finally, I arrived. It was way past bedtime, and I was too exhausted to make sense. So I did the next best thing, I went to the beach-side palapa—a small vending shack-where a group of marine biologists were passing around bottles, and drank. When I eventually found my berth under the table with the tortilla crumbs, I hardly noticed the cries of coyotes.


Scammon’s Lagoon

Valentine’s Day

The coyotes went wild. While I lay in a perfect coma last night, they stole both water bottles and grub from my neighbor’s food chest. But I slept soundly and was awoken by the girl’s cheerful cries. Upon seeing me, they decided to stay another day, and arm-in-arm we watched whales all morning.

I then made a smart move. I left my bike behind. And as the new moon waxed in, we danced to the music from sixties tape on an old ghetto blaster in an old hut filled with Mexican filterless cigarettes and Tecate beer. By night’s end, the girls’ loaded me between them on the bench seat of an old pickup that would drive us down the coast to a camping spot. My ship had come in. But as we pulled away from the thumping shack, one of the girls posed the question I hoped would not arise. "Where’s your bike?" she asked, looking in the back. What could I say? I explained where I left it and quickly she told the driver to go pick it up.

I lowered my head into my hands... I was doomed.


Over the past decade Marty McLennan has managed to ride his way halfway across the planet.  When not biking he has worked as photo-editor of Equinox, Harrowsmith Country Life, Canadian Wildlife and Wild magazines, and has freelanced his writing and photography skills for thirty-some magazines that range from Argentina to England.  At present he's taking some time off the saddle and working on a PhD in the philosophy of technology.

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