David (pronounced ‘Dah-veed’ in Spanish) is a young buck of a Mayan who works for my father in one of his business locales in a village not too far from the mouth of the rainforest. He is an eager, strong, and ambitious man who has been loyal to my family – and honest in his efforts to earn his keep and move himself along the walk of life of a day laborer who can physically carry a ton of mountain boulder on his shoulders for daily construction work.

He attempted to immigrate to the United States last summer. He paid over $5,000 to cross the Guatemalan border into Mexico and be transported in a semi-trailer situated with countless other Central Americans and a pot to piss in for over 50 hours of travel to a modest river separating Mexico and McAllen, TX. He jumped out of the truck trailer thinking his journey was now at the easy point of simply wading across one final pass and climbing one minor stretch of dirt and tall grass into the homely confines of the United States. He couldn’t have been more wrong. He was held at gunpoint and forced to divulge the telephone number of a relative who would answer the call. His ‘coyotes’ (the illegal transporters of immigrants) called on his family to demand an additional sum of money or he would be shot on the spot. They walked him over to a well and forced him to look down the rocky protrusion from the clay ground to witness his fate. A well filled with oily murky water and a horror he had to witness firsthand: the bodies of poor immigrant cadavers lay at it’s bottom, in the multitudes. It appeared his fate was sealed via the technological breakthrough of a cell phone; his family couldn’t pay and therefore he couldn’t pass. He was not murdered, he was not beaten, he was simply let go to wander the desert in the same direction he came with no assistance from the truck or the locals. He was less than 200 meters from the land of the free and home of the brave – and he walked south, away from the grassy lined fences across the river, with tears in his eyes and vomit in his mouth. This was his lucky break – David, got to live and tell this tale to me in the jungles of Guatemala on a sunny Thursday day over roast pork, rum, and tortillas.

He found me to be the curious one – even after having listened to his story of despair and ill fate, to have come eye to eye with a potential turn that would have made his existence invisible to the world. He wanted to know why my father thought it fitting to celebrate trails on a mountainside as something exciting to come home to. He did not understand why I loved to bike through the mountains, an activity reserved for that of children with lesser things to aspire to in his eyes. My father had just shown me some rudimentary trails he had his workers carve out on the mountainside so that I could witness he had my joy in mind when he sculpted the terrain for the one day I’d come home and enjoy his creation. David helped create that landscape.

Cycling has not been a lifelong affair of mine. It wasn’t until 1993 that I really followed mountain biking, despite having raced BMX and raced even motocross with family in Guatemala throughout the early 90s. I have grown my appreciation not only of the sport, but of the individual strength it has given me to feel appreciative of the great efforts given by greater athletes in this same endeavor of bicycle racing and riding. A quiet regret I have is not having discovered it sooner and aspired to ride like the great Latin American racers that forged the history of climbs throughout the southern continental mountain passes. I find myself now pining for that history. This is something that David cannot understand. He sees a bicycle, a mountain pass, and an impossibility of the human spirt – yet doesn’t understand the irony that his human spirit carried him to a depth far greater than I believe I could take myself on a bicycle anywhere.

I didn’t immediately answer David’s question. I instead toasted a few more rounds of rum, and enjoyed a sow that hours earlier was alive and kicking, now on a mountainside grill. I wanted to be careful to express the pettiness of my joy of riding a bicycle. I could only imagine that his struggle to achieve a greater meaning to his own life, he could never understand my love of the simplicity of a bicycle. I weaved through conversations with David throughout the day and he gained confidence with me and removed his fear of speaking to the boss’ son and matter of factly asked “Te da mucho alegria?” I said yes, it does give me great joy to ride my bicycle. He smiled and toasted me some more and said he was happy for me but also that he now understood why my dad built the trails around the land: my dad wanted to give me joy. He said it was too simple to believe.

Rarely do I have profound moments in life that display the simplicity of what motivates my heart to the rhythm of what is not the norm of my first world surroundings, but are clearly at the root of a third world upbringing. Joy is found in these simple things that I do, that I profess, that I find in the forest, on a bicycle.

That joy is the greatest gift I can pass on to my friends and family – and worth dying for. David will not immigrate again. He too found joy. He seeks more in the mountains. My trails or his trails – and he may walk them now, but he knows they are meant to be ridden, and someday he may. May my joy, be his.

Tierra de Mi Papa.

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