Jacob reports from the North American Epic bike tour:
It is raining outside, not heavily, but a persistent drizzle. The sky is thick and grey with the surrounding landscape cloaked in a low hanging band of clouds. Water runs down the cobbled streets of the small town called Ajijic, where we are staying. Grocery stores and restaurants have shut up for the evening, and there are very few pedestrians or traffic around. Despite these warning signs there is a feeling of calmness. Local people don’t appear to be preparing or worried in any way about the category five hurricane approaching a few hundred miles away. It is hard to comprehend the scale of the approaching storm. News reports from the U.S give us an idea of the magnitude. Comparison photos of Patricia to Hurricane Katrina show the former dwarfing the latter – this doesn’t look good. ‘Hurricane Patricia is now the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western hemisphere’ – ‘we are expecting catastrophic damage to the Pacific coast of Mexico and states inland’ – ‘there could be potential gusts of up to 200 miles per hour’ – the news reports warn. I know everyone has been hoping for tailwind, but that is a bit excessive!
Plans are put in motion quickly to move the riders out of the path of the looming hurricane. Cycling is out of the question. Two stages are cancelled due to the danger of high winds, flash floods, mudslides, that the storm could cause. With each news report seeming to increase the threat level, the clock is ticking. An extra van is quickly organised to transport the riders and bicycles over one hundred miles out of the path of the hurricane. With this extra buffer zone, the damage from the storm will hopefully be much less, and the chances to continue riding much greater. In the safety of a very well built hotel we watch videos coming in from the coast of palm trees blown sideways – this is it. Night begins to fall – the rain and wind picks up. However, safely inside the hotel, we notice little disturbance during the night. By morning the rain has mostly stopped, and there are gaps of blue sky between the clouds – could that really be it? News reports suggest that the hurricane quickly lost power as it hit the coast. Our location several hundred miles inland, and at a high elevation, surely helped to dissipate the ferocity that was witnessed by the ocean.
It is incredible to think that we were in Puerto Vallarta merely four days prior to the storm hitting. What is more incredible is that for the largest hurricane ever recorded there were zero deaths and very little damage as a result. Fortunately the Pacific coast where the storm hit is quite sparsely populated besides a few large resort towns. Thousands were evacuated early on, in an emergency operation that has been a good reflection on the Mexican government. There seems to be a huge sense of relief and surprise that more damage and devastation was not caused. For many on the tour it has been an eye opener to how quickly a tropical storm can escalate into a category five hurricane. Life is continuing as normal, there are a few clouds in the sky, but the sun is shining, and there isn’t even a hint that anything major has happened recently. Thankfully local communities can continue their lives as normal, glad that a hurricane named Patricia won’t be haunting their lives for years to come. Meanwhile the tour can continue as normal. With only five riding days to Mexico City, there is already plenty of reflection and anticipation for the now tangible finish of the tour.