Nico will be providing a better story on the trials, tribs and treasures of our shared journey through Guatemala for Cog magazine so be sure to keep an eye out for the next great issue. Otherwise, here is a recap of some of us Chicagoans’ experiences through the land of fine rum, tequila, cobblestones and tortillas.
If you haven’t heard by now, Air Mexicana filed for bankruptcy… down to 3 days before some of us were set to leave. Not entirely awesome but everyone was still determined to get something sorted out for the trip. A few just rebooked with American and a couple rolled the dice to see if someone would bail them out. All in all, everyone that was originally going still found a way to get down there. My trip kicked off from Guatemala City into a tourist rich town named Antigua. We got our footing through a friend of a friend (thank you Sandra and the Urizars!). A major highlight of that trip includes a free breakfast and tour at a badass coffee farm that’s run by Paolo‘s uncle. Secondary highlights include squirt/tequila combos and Jake Blaze teaching some local college kids how to chug a beer followed immediately by an explanation of what the middle finger means in the U.S.
The next day, we were going to have to make the most of Antigua as the mudslides prevented us from getting anywhere near Panajachel. So the cultural exchanges extended through a 7 hour long happy hour that concluded with a bar trivia MC threatening to smash a bottle on Mikey’s head right before the bar gave us 6 free coronas in a plastic bag for nailing the music portion. We stumbled home to decide no matter what the conditions were, we would brave the next shuttle willing to make an attempt to Pana.
Arranging a vehicle for passage was not easy given all the crap we had and the only conceivable reason for the delay was this foreign concept of mudslides. We arranged for a shuttle to San Pedro, a small town across the lake from Panajachel. From there we would take a boat across the lake and finally be able to unpack our bikes and reunite with our friends. Our plans of partying another night in some strange city were thwarted, however, as we were stuck on the highway for 4 hours in the middle of the night as cleaning crews tried to come up with safe methods of clearing the highway. There wouldn’t be any way to get through for the next 16 hours so we turned back and found a hotel for super cheap.
The next day we arranged a ride with a Pana local who had an empty van and backdoor route. It was pretty intriguing to see the landslides in the day time and finally gain a perspective and respect for the severity of these sorts of disasters. There were stretches where one lane of highway was completely left floating on the sides of a mountain because much of the earth just washed away from underneath it. Not only did crews need to clear massive amounts of dirt off the road, they also had to be certain we could get safely over the concrete. It was an intense realization of a completely foreign (to me) natural disaster.
We got in to Pana fine enough and it was pretty cool. The “roads” more closely resembled a rock pile at a construction site but it certainly added to the town’s character. There was a “Headquarters” which would house the next few evenings’ reunions and act as daytime base for announcements and cheap drinks. One of the many great things about this group is the conscience most messengers have for our surroundings. The tip jar at HQ was devoted to raising money for the locals that were set back by the rain, floods and landslides. By the Wednesday night leading up to the main race, well before the majority of racers arrived, there was reportedly 3,500 Quetzales raised in the tip jar alone.
Another wonderful experience in Panajachel was the day spent at the downtown school. Someone figured since there would be tons of weird looking gringos on bikes we might as well confront that fact with the locals and play a role in a bicycle themed project day at the school. We all got to hang out with some of the most adorable kids as they drew bicycles and colored pictures. Eventually the pictures were put up for auction to raise money for the school and supplies were purchased with registration money and donations. The smiles and laughs from all the kids as we towed them around and jumped and played with them were, for many of us, the biggest highlights of the trip.
That was immediately followed by the first of two open forums, Nico took spokesperson status to place a bid for Chicago to host the 2012 Cycle Messenger World Championships and we put feelers out there for who was interested and what it would take to pique that interest. The seed was planted and it was planted well by an honest man and really the best spokesperson anyone could ask for when it comes to making a positive and solid impression.
As for the bike and the races, well, yeah. All that fun was fast approaching and when unpacking I discovered I found a way to forget my saddle, seatpost, AND pedals. Not only that but once I bought/borrowed enough to get rolling I found a way to strip my seat collar and finally break the most emo part of a bicycle… the tiny ceramic (?) anchoring piece for spoke nipples found in the sharp rim section of Mavic wheels. The shop was not about to have a replacement for that but luckily Allison Peck is a huge sweetheart and she gave me her wheel to use for the races. My first ever experience of actual, legitimate climbing was cut short but at least the racing was not going to be missed.
Truthfully, the racing had been quite an afterthought given all the awesome things going on. Alas, Andrew and I got into the qualifier and did well enough to make the main race on the first try. I remember Nico had to gain passage in the second round and he did it with a roar. They did a neat thing by making you race the qualifier to be eligible for the sprint and I got into that decently enough. I also did the cargo race with my new giant coupler bag as built by Cory of Dank Bags. I spent more time just filling it up than I necessarily needed to (it sure looked pretty cool, though) and got done 4th out of a good handful. Regretfully I did miss a turn by a few meters and did an illegal uturn to get back on the right path. My conscience couldn’t bear it so I snitched on myself and got a lovely little “4th place/CHEATER” on my manifest. Wamp-waaa. Kai, a German that has taken up residence in NYC and rode his track bike from New York to Panajachel for the trip ended up winning the cargo race. On said track bike. Dude ruled.
The next day’s sprint was interesting. I donned the State Champs jersey just to be an ass but then I was totally outdone by Toronto’s Brooks. The man brought his Guru, zipp disc, speedplays, rollers and carbon bars down to go for the sprint title… Round 1 I drew Brooks and a few others. I wasn’t quite feeling the match-up equipment wise but everyone else was in the same boat. We got the go ahead and surprise, surprise I got smoked and 2nd. Top 2 still advanced, though. Round 2 I had Brooks again and 2 more, faster guys. I got a better start and got within a few feet of elbow to elbow but then Brooks just took it on in and I got the bridesmaid role again. The final round I got to switch out for road shoes and pedals and I was feeling giddy about the better starting. Once we got the “GO”, however, the cleats/shoes combo gave way easier than wet toilet paper and I ended up clipping out twice. Bummer. 4th place in the sprints, Brooks took the W.
Main race was fun. We were started by a long barrel .45 magnum being shot into the air. I routed myself well enough. Made an annoying mistake like everyone. Wiped out pretty harsh on the rock to gravel downhill transition, bent my borrowed 4x touring wheel, and eventually front flatted with no replacement wheel in sight so I had to repair it in the middle of the race and slowly rolled my way in to a 24th place finish (?) Either way I spent the rest of the race gingerly in the shower, regrettably missing Nico’s 13th place finish and Christina’s SECOND PLACE!!! Fucking brilliant! Craig who hails from Seattle took the overall win and he was super classy about it.
The afterparty was a blast and of course the impromptu dance party sealed the deal that Chicago demands your A-game when it comes to partying. Although I’m not trying to say we totally ran the floor. Gotta give credit where it’s due… If there ever was an Olympics for partying, Australia’s traveling bike messenger contingent would undoubtedly win the gold medal every time. Those Aussies can fucking rip it.
Either way, at the closing forum where they held the final vote, we convinced the world courier community that Chicago deserves the right to test all them boys and girls at their own game and the Chicago couriers are on the hook for throwing our group’s biggest annual party. We will be the proud enablers of the 20th annual Cycle Messenger World Championships come the year 2012. To be honest, we’ve got plenty of work to do and lots of sleep to lose but that will have to wait until after we celebrate at this weekend’s Classic and Prom.
The trip back was fine enough. Everyone except for Allison and Mikey found a way to get really sick from one thing or the other but whatever. Things are still crazy in anticipation for the CMWC Chicago planning process. There’s a lot of work left to be done and a lot of buzz and excitement going around about it. I’ll leave the glorious details to Nico and fine print but we’ll be sure to have a good contingent for 2011 in Warsaw and then it’s on like Voltron in 2012!
Photos courtesy of Meredith Begin, Joaquin Bicimensajero, Biker Bill, and Sargent Lunch, Leah Hollinsworth.