By Joe Kurmaskie — Alejandro Alverez had a way of moving a bicycle through space so effortlessly that, even though I stood half a foot taller than him, he dwarfed me with his skills. My friend from Monterrey, Mexico rode like it was the first AND last time he might own a pair of legs.
I hated him a little for that. But he seemed to live as effortlessly as he rode and so I loved Alejandro as one loves a brother from another mother.
I featured him in the final chapter of Riding Outside The Lines, and tried, but surely failed, to learn much from his style.
We met on a mountain bike adventure high in the hills above Puerto Vallarta. Alejandro and Chiquis were our guides for the week. When I asked why they weren’t taking the small airplane of questionable mechanical repute the next morning, Chiquis mumbled something about being attached to living for another day, but it was Alejandro who offered up the real reason, “Because I want to get in a warm-up ride.”
Holy Moly, that warm-up ride involved pedaling uphill while we flew, not metaphorically, but actually flew to the starting point. When Alejandro arrived not ten minutes behind the last panic stricken shuttle of tourists and bicycles, many of whom were kissing the ground after disembarking the Cessna, I knew I wanted to hang with my guides more than any of the guests.
“When did you start?” I asked. His smile was the size of the world. “Today.”
Autumn in the mountain town of San Sebastian, high up on “La buffa,” is almost heaven. We were relaxing in what was still John Houston’s villa. Lit only by hurricane lamps and a fat harvest moon, we decided to hike out to a cornfield where a flatbed truck missing its wheels, but featuring a working radio, provided a comfortable bed to view the stars. We passed around some herb and concurred that even Mexican radio stations overplay the Eagles.
By the end of the week the three of us were joined at the hip. On a long climb, just to show me how strong he was, Alejandro would talk during the push to the top of the next switchback. And though he would not have been confused for a New Age facilitator, at that moment he did ask me what animal I would compare my riding style to.
“El Gato” but only because it was one of the few animal names I knew how to say in Spanish and to say in one quick breath. He knew as much, laughing so hard I was able to pass him for a few yards.
When this racer, once ranked number one in Mexico, caught up, Alejandro looked me in the eye, gave me a keen smile and said, “ No, no, my friend. I ride like el gato. Remember you told me how I float and glide and pedal lightly and land on my feet. You? More like el armadillo.”
On the downhill, back in earshot, I yelled, “The world needs armadillos, you know!”
When someone emailed me the link to that article and horrific photo of the bike race tragedy in which a Texas man killed a cyclist and injured 10 more in a drunk driving nightmare at a bicycle race in Mexico, I did what most of you who saw it did.
I wrung my hands, felt a piece of myself sag, and even though it is not my daily practice, I said a silent prayer for the dead. Then I read the name of the cyclist who had been killed. Then his age and his hometown. Respect for the passing of an anonymous fellow cyclist became very personal. The bottom fell out of my heart and I desperately needed to put some speed in the saddle, some velocity to help slow my anger and dull this loss. I went for a very long ride. Home after darkness.
I told Alejandro I thought he was bigger than Mexico’s race scene, that he could be a player on the world stage, he just smiled, “You know, I used to sell crap to tourists at the airport. We are friends now so I say it’s a nice idea, but it won’t sell for someone like me, someone from here…not today, maybe not ever.”
I like to think that the reason Alejandro was the one cyclist out of 420 racers who got his ticket punched that day… it’s because he was the one out front, always floating and gliding and making it look effortless.
Forever young and always going very, very fast.
Joe Kurmaskie is a journalist, syndicated columnist, and contributor to numerous magazines including Outside, Bicycling Magazine, Men’s Journal and Parenting. He’s a bike advocate, activist, found of Cadence Press, and a Random House author of seven books including Metal Cowboy, Mud, Sweat and Gears and A Guide To Falling Down In Public.
Editor’s note: The crash discussed occurred in June, 2008. A photo of the crash was widely circulated at that time. A contemporaneous news article with the image can be found at https://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/local/one-dead-four-injured-as-car-hits-bike-racers/article_b238804d-b138-57dc-9c7c-9726115065ff.html.