Cycling 70 kms around Cozumel Island in half a day (with breaks)
On my last few days in Playa Del Carmen, I decided to take the challenge of covering 70kms in a day. It was three-times longer than what I’d done in the past, and it stretched me to the limits.
Getting to Cozumel
The best way to get to the island off the eastern coast of Mexico was to take a 40-minute ferry from Playa Del Carmen. It was around $12 each way and one could bring a bike onboard in place of luggage. The ride was fairly uneventful, until I misplaced my bike lock and endured the dizzying combination of wearing a face mask and mild sea-sickness.
I hit the ground cycling as I had only one day to finish the loop around the island. I was mentally prepared to turn back midway and had considered breaking the route over two days to relax on the island between rides. But all those plans went out the window as I breezed through the first 15 kms towards the southern tip of the island. I was too far out to turn back.
I don’t know if it was the lack of training, energy or food intake, but my body was ready to give up as I hit the 20km mark. My head was throbbing and it was a very clear indication that I needed a break to cool off and get some food in my system. Luckily, a public beach called Playa Palancar was nearby and I decided to take a detour to eat at the restaurant there.
I parked my bike, found a table in the shade and ate the best ceviche in years. It was the perfect meal, with enough energy and protein to see me through a few hours. The food was light and I was able to take a dip in the turquoise waters to lift my spirits and reduce my body temperature. I drank lots of water and isotonic drinks to keep myself hydrated throughout the journey.
The Second Leg
I had covered a little less than one-third the route and the next 15kms were not going to be easy. The fierce midday sun burnt my body and it wasn’t always easy to find shade. However, I was grateful that it was a Sunday, with very little traffic on the island. The route was exclusively built for road cyclists and there were no rash drivers inching past me.
My next stop was a famous reggae bar on the south-eastern tip of the island. It opened up to the scenic route along the ocean. Iguanas and raccoons roamed free on this side of town and the route was truly a blessing, a motor-free paradise for cyclists.
As beautiful as it was, I was fully exposed to the mid-day sun, with little to no tree cover. This part of the journey was the hardest for me. Turning back from here wasn’t an option and it put my fitness, will-power and commitment to the test. With the intense heat, the head throbbing started again; I knew I had to take a break at some point, I just didn’t know where.
On my way along the scenic route besides the Caribbean Sea, I saw a little shack with some beach chairs and umbrellas. It was a quiet little spot with no one around, just a speaker blaring tropical music along the coast. A short, rounded man emerged from the shack wearing a hat and shorts. “Agua?” was all I could muster at this point. I ran out of water.
“Si!” he said, and brought out ice cold bottles of mineral water. This angel in disguise was Nelson, a former restaurant worker who decided to open his own shack. He provided beach chairs and cold drinks out of a small makeshift room which he slept in at night.
Many people on the island were courteous to cyclists since the island regularly hosted racing and endurance events like the Gran Fondo and Ironman.
“Get some rest Amigo. Sit under the shade as long as you like. I can bring you some ice to put in your hat” he said. I took his offer and just sat there, tired and out of breath. I didn’t have the energy for small talk.
The pit stop helped me refuel and cool down. In any sport, rest, recovery and nutrition are key to endurance. Whether it’s eating spoonfuls of peanut butter while on the bike, taking it regular sips of electrolytes or simply taking a break, every decision counts. Any source of calories and hydration goes a long way. It can make all the difference on competition days.
Somewhere I felt a sense of guilt while taking breaks, I wanted to do the whole thing in one go. I thought about how triathletes and pro cyclists keep going for hours on end. But it takes them endless days of training to get there.
Thought patterns like these and instances of negative self-talk often hold us back in sport, and in life. “I suck at playing the guitar, maybe I should give it up.” “I can barely dance, I’ll embarrass myself.” “I might not be able to finish the marathon, why even try?”
A lot of us go through this, and it becomes a real problem when it starts influencing our life decisions. Instead, when one has compassion and applauds themselves for attempting something difficult, it brings a great sense of self-respect and empowerment.
I had to talk myself out of the negativity. At that point, I really started enjoying my own company. I had a lot of love for myself for completing the course and I can go on and on about how the trip went from there, what I ate and where I went. But the real essence is experiencing this feeling of empowerment when one attempts things they only dreamt of doing before.