Inevitably heading towards the larger city of Zacatecas, we again are keen to stay on the smaller, dirt (when possible) roads.  As we approached our second lake in hopes of more fishing, we were faced with yet another extremely crumbly and rocky descent.  Even going very slowly, I found myself slipping and sliding and forced to pitch my bike and bail at certain points.  As I was regaining my balance at one point, I heard a truck behind me and I decided to move over completely and wait until they passed before I continued.  The two guys in the truck slowed to ask if I was okay and if I wanted a ride down.

That is not a mountain bike” one of them said  “This road is very dangerous on a bike, even with suspension.

I insisted I was okay and they continued on.  Once the road started to level out, I caught up with Kurt, who was now stopped and talking to the men in the truck.  One of the dudes introduced himself as Fidel and invited us to his house that evening in the town of Canatlan.  We had not originally planned on heading in that direction, but it was easy to reroute ourselves and we took him up on the offer.  We put in another great half day of riding, including a lovely picnic by the lake, and moved on to meet Fidel in the plaza of Canatlan.  As we were about 8 kilometers outside the town, a jeep pulled up alongside us and slowed down.  It was Fidel and his wife Juanita, checking to see if we were okay and still coming.  So nice of them…

We spent the evening getting stuffed on Juanita’s cooking and learning all about the local Durango mountain biking scene, of which Fidel is a very active member of.  To my delight there was also a tiny tiny squeaky German Shepard puppy named Princessa just begging for attention.  Upon waking and having breakfast, Fidel, after finding out Kurt is a bike mechanic, asked if he wouldn’t mind looking at some of the local guys’ bikes and doing some tune ups.  We then spent the full day down at a nearby auto parts shop, with Kurt fixing bike after bike.  It allowed me some good time to work on some bike projects of my own that I’d been meaning to get too as well, such as shimming out all of my panniers so they hold snug to the racks again and sewing in some new padding to old, worn out riding gloves.  Everyone left with a smile and I am happy to report there are some smooth running bikes back on the streets of Canatlan.

Dinner with Fidel and Juanita...

Bike talk...

We got to see some great recent Mexico racing shirts, a rarity since we have been here...

It started with one bike...

...then the word got out and more started to show up...

...and some more...

...until the sidewalk was filled with bikes and local bikers. Here's the Canatlan Mountain Bike crew...

They were pretty adamant about me taking a photo of their URL, so here you go...

Funny thing was... there was a bike repair shop right around the corner. However, Fidel told us they didn't fix "competition bikes"...

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What I imagine it may have looked like from Berkeley Hills many years ago...

Like living in a daydream almost all of the time...

We had an episode with some bees a bit back and Kurt lost his glasses while being stung repeatedly over and over. These are the new ones he picked up. Now I get to check out my hairdo all day when we have close conversations...

Please let me know if I take too many photos of green hills and you are getting tired of seeing them because I'm not...

The mini teapot bell gets them everytime (Photo: Kurt)...

Greetings from the shore of Lake Santiaguillo, a popular place for Menonites to settle...

Back on dirt…

July 22, 2010

After spending the last few days in seemingly bustling towns, connected by quite bustling roads, we were most excited for the days ahead where we could get back on some dirt.  Our visit to Mata Ortiz proved uneventful because we got there just too early and nothing was really happening at that hour.  We proceeded on to climb the newly paved grade that officially put us up into the Sierra Madres, the mountain range running through the center of Mexico.  Not long after reaching the top, we encounter trucks of various natures, all poised to continue paving those dirt roads we all enjoy so much.  Happy to be back on dirt, we wound up and down through tiny mountain roads, twisting through quaint little villages and passing endless amounts of ranch animals.  The air was cool and crisp at this elevation, which made for some very enjoyable riding.  An added bonus to this dirt road in particular was the fact that there were rarely signs informing us of our whereabouts.  Every once in a while we would happen upon a legible sign, though usually it was directing us toward towns that were not on our map.  For two days we guessed our way through most forks in the road.  Eventually the road started to flatten out and began to show signs of life, mainly that of loggers and logging trucks.  We ended up popping out on a highway passing through the town of El Largo.  Turning left, we were back on pavement and continuing our ride up through a stunning canyon, where every twist and turn revealed another stunning detail of breathtaking landscape.

The next day brought more paved ups and downs, making it feel like a roller coaster ride at times.  We made a brief stop at Cascadia de Salta only to find that barely any water was running to make for a spectacular waterfall.  Next stop was Madera, where I learned that I cannot handle two large agua frescas back to back, no matter how thirsty I feel.  There we met Carlos and his son who very kindly invited us to stay with them for the night.  Anxious to continue on, we declined the offer but swapped a few travel stories before parting ways.  Carlos informed us it was “all downhill from here” and we set out again while the sun dropped down, soon finding our ranch land camp spot.  I should mention one of my favorite parts of the day is the camp spot hunt and set up.  We’ve been making a habit each night of getting settled in and enjoying some tea and biscuits while we start cooking dinner (read: biscuits… really just an adult attempt at saying cookies).  We’ve gotten quite attached to a brand called Maria’s.  They are nice and crunchy, hold their form when dunked in warm liquids, are not too sweet and cost around 6 pesos, or $0.50.

Heading up into the Sierra Madres...

After climbing the paved grade, the road turned back to dirt. It will make for easier travel for those heading to and from Nueve Casas Grandes and Madera by car. However, we were quite happy to catch it in the undone phase...

Some interesting rock formations we passed and maize, the most common crop found in these parts...

Adobe kilns. Many of the homes are built with bricks made in these...

At times the road was steep and very rocky, not very conducive to my wiggly form of bike riding...

Our chosen camp spot for the evening. The stream was tiny and quaint and allowed for a late afternoon dip. We enjoyed the spot, until...

...we had to make a mad dash for high ground. Due to the afternoon monsoon, the stream turned in to quite a flowing river, rising an unexpected foot. The night was an interesting one, as we watched the water rise and then fall, before rising furiously a second time. We eventually had to abandon the spot and throw all the gear and bikes up onto higher ground in attempts to get at least a little rest for the evening.

The next day brought a few river crossings...

Sometimes having to push...

One of the many unmarked forks we would encounter along the way...

Signs such as these did not help very much...

A sign like this would be extremely helpful, except the town names shown were not ones listed anywhere on our map...

Jaw and teeth of some unlikely wild(or maybe not so)life...

Mind if we play through?...

Again confronted with a late day monsoon...

...we spent the afternoon constructing a veranda for our tent and frying up some potatoes to go with our endless cups of tea. Thanks to some huge puddles nearby, water was far from scarce and we relaxed in our cozy fort the whole next morning while the rain continued on....

Freshly hatched, this butterfly would not leave Kurt. He went from his shorts to his finger, continuously flapping and drying his wings. He was reluctant to let go, but eventually we had to say goodbye and Kurt placed him on a log...

Unfortunate signs that we were getting close to something and someone somewhere...

Pumping water with a curious crowd...

We made it only so far down the road, before stopping in Casas Grandes to check out some of the old town scene.  While circling around the park in the center of town we were met by Spencer, who said his wife and him had seen us on the road and he wanted to personally welcome us to Casas Grandes,  hoping with his encouragement we’d take some time to explore it.  As it turns out, Spencer was quite involved with putting Mata Ortiz on the map, having purchased two of Juan Quesada’s unsigned pots in a thrift store back in 1976.  Enamored by them, he sought out to find the artist behind them, eventually finding Quesada in Mata Ortiz.  From there they became friends and Spencer helped Juan’s pottery and Juan travel throughout the world, giving pottery seminars and the likes.  Spencer took us to a compound he is renovating and showed us some of the most impressive wood work I had ever seen.  Made by a local artist, all of the tables and chairs were made from fallen timber and still held their original form in some sense.

From there we visited Paquime, a maze-like settlement of adobe structures from which Casas Grandes  (Big Houses)gets its name.  It once was the largest trading settlement in Northern Mexico before being ransacked by the Apaches, so the belief goes.  We took time, at Spencer’s recommendation, to check out the museum there as well.  I really enjoyed looking at all the jewelry made of shells and bones, so intricate and unique in their colors and antiquity.  Further along we took another detour through Colonial Juarez, a settlement of Mormons tucked away in a lush valley.  There we met Fred who was out cruising on his bike.  He gave us as impromptu tour of the area…which consisted mainly of us riding up to the highest lookout point/massive Mormon church grounds and picking some apples.  Fred’s English was excellent and it was fun to practice my very frustrating a very poor Spanish with him.  From him we got the real scoop of what it’s like to grow up in a Mormon run area, while remaining on the outside in terms of religion and culture.

It was a beautiful evening as the sun set and we camped in a field not too far from Mata Ortiz, planning on visiting the town and its potters in the morning.

One of the many roadside shrines we see along the way. Some are elaborate, towering off the ground with brightly painted bricks, while others are more simple, made only of recycled metal and stone. They are usually filled with pictures, candles and other various offerings...

The washroom in Spencer's beautifully renovated compound. We made plans that once the trip is finite in a few years, I would possibly come back here to take a bath...

One of the rooms in the compound. Notice the intricate table and wooden bowl in the center, hard carved and polished. Interestingly, the brass bed in the back may have slept both Pancho Villa and Madero at separate times...

Some pottery shards discovered by archeologists staying at the compound. They say the area is slim pickings due to years of vandalism at the sites...

A view of Paquime, the ancient maze-like adobe settlement...

Fred, our buddy who showed us around Colonial Juarez...

Nueve Casas Grandes…

July 22, 2010

We awoke to our first sunny day in Mexico, reminiscing and swapping stories about the last time we had woken up in another country.  For me it had been about two years ago in Prague and for Kurt it had been Holland two years prior as well.  We headed back out onto the highway to take on the trucks.  To my surprise, it really wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.  Granted the shoulder was nonexistent, the trucks were kind enough to move over to give us room or slow down to let other trucks pass before trying to come around us.  By mid afternoon we had reached Nueve Casas Grandes and our first agua frescas.

In our wandering around town looking for some good inexpensive tacos, we were befriended by Tony, who not only led us to a great place to eat, but also offered us a place to stay for the night a little ways out-of-town.  Wanting to get a few things done in town, we told him we’d think about his offer and perhaps meet him later on, at which point Tony drew us an excellent dirt map to follow.  A few hours into the night we decided to take Tony up on his offer and rode to his place of work, where he acted as night watchman for what was explained to be something of a lumber yard.

We arrived pretty late, but Tony was just as happy to see us, welcoming us in with a very enthusiastic “This is a special day!” and thanking us so much for coming.  He had already been preparing us a snack of tortillas, roasted jalapenos and hot dogs in his camper van, which he told us was a Volvo (Tony was crazy about all things Volvo) but was clearly a VW with all of the name plates switched.  We got right down to business talking about bikes and being shown his Cannondale (which he claimed was made by Volvo), complete with a homemade sheath hidden in the seat post.  This was eventually gifted to Kurt later on in the evening to use for protection in Mexico, which was very thoughtful of Tony.  Tony’s family came by later on as did his friend and we all took some photos with us and them and the bikes, before retiring on a covered patio.  We were woken up a mere 5 hours later to Tony’s “my friends…the sun is coming.”  (I still here Tony’s voice in my head most mornings when I arise, warning of the sun and a reminder to best get on with things.)  Tony very kindly brought us to his home where we shared breakfast and marveled over lots of family photos (“family is the most important thing in Mexico”) and the 12 copies of the Book of Mormon that Tony had in multiple languages.  After more photos of us and Tony and the bikes in front of the Volvo, we parted ways and headed for town.

Tony (right) and the family in front of "The Volvo"...

We are clearly not the only ones who get spoiled by Tony...

A practical use of some sturdy tire rubber...

"Family is the most important thing in Mexico"...

Crossing the border…

July 22, 2010

We were accompanied by Glen on our way out of Silver City, and for the first time since Oakland I felt a pang of leaving a place behind.  As we rode away, I wondered what William and Angel were doing on that fine afternoon, a natural thought after spending such a long time in their company.  Nonetheless, I was more than happy to be back on the road, once again heading for places new and exciting.  Our journey to the border lasted two days, dodging afternoon monsoons and taking time at the last of the American rest stops to support the local economy with what US dollars we had left.  Of course, mine all went to postcards to use up my stamps.  I can say with pride that over the course of traveling so far I have written in between 40 and 50 postcards.  So many I lost track.  Having the time in Silver City allowed me the luxury of even printing out my own photos to send as cards.  If you’d like to get a surprise postcard at some point, just email me your address and I will be sure to follow through.

We camped underneath the water tower in Hachita, witnessing a lighting show far more impressive than the fireworks in Silver City.  At some points, the sky was illuminated in four different places, with brilliant white bolts striking down here and there.  After a quick breakfast in the park, we filled our water, had a few words with the locals and started to make our way towards the border.  After about 20 miles we found ourselves once again in some rain and took shelter in an abandoned garage, making tea to warm our insides.  Somehow, this was not the weather I was imagining we’d encounter so far south at this time of year.  The tea turned into tuna sandwiches as well and before long I realized it was after 2pm.  The border closed promptly at 4 and we were still 25 miles or so away.  Not wanting to get caught for another night on the US side, we started our mad dash to Mexico.  To some, 25 miles in an hour and a half is no big thing…but not so much to me.  The slow buffalo I am doesn’t like to cover miles in a pressing fashion, but this time I turned it in to high gear and kept on it.

We made the border with about 4 minutes to spare.  The guard let us know they’d be closing in a bit, but to feel free to take some photos, making sure to point out the places people take “good photos”.  It was then we realized he thought we were turning around.  We informed him we wanted to go into Mexico and were soon after escorted through the gate, which had to be unlocked at this point.  We cruised up to the Mexican immigration office and apologized for being so last-minute, explaining that we were hoping to get our passports stamped before they closed.  On came the barrage of Spanish we both agreed later on that we had not been entirely ready for.  “Where are you coming from?” “Where are you going?” “How long are you staying?” “When will you leave?” etc.  Some we had answers for, some we did not.  It took a bit to explain we would not be leaving Mexico at any point, but actually riding through Mexico out the other side.  After a bit we got all the basics covered and were granted the generous 180 days of travel.  We were also given 7 days to find a bank and pay the $262 peso turista tax.  (Currently pesos are 11.something to the US dollar, so the tax equals roughly $25 US dollars.)

Our bags were then patted down for guns and other such dangerous items and we were sent on our way.  As you can imagine, the “other side” of the fence was pretty much the same at that point.  Same grass, same ominous clouds, same mountains.  But to me everything seemed new and beautiful and exotic and Mexico.  The road did turn back to dirt, which was nice, as it always is if it is not raining.  We took a minute to take in the massive expanse of fences and barbed wire stretching as far as the eye could see, designating this land versus that land.  Pretty soon after beginning to ride again, the skies opened up on us yet again, turning it into one sloppy, slippy-slidey mess.  This mud was actually an interesting consistency at this point, making it hard for us to even stand up in, let alone push our bikes.  As with most things, hilarity ensued and I found it difficult to push my bike at times because I was laughing so hard.  We eventually made it out to the highway and took one look at the shoulder, or lack of, the monster trucks barreling down and the puddles they were each conveniently displacing and decided to seek refuge under an awning for a bit.  It was but a matter of 10 minutes or so when we were able to continue down the highway.

And here comes the big way-to-effing-go!!!  It was with that border reaching that Kurt had officially completed the Continental Divide Mountain Bike Route.  A year in the making, with several detours and some parts ridden more than once, he can now add this to his ever extending list of bike trails mobbed in epic proportions.  Way to go Kurt!  And how did we celebrate such an occasion you may be wondering?  Well, by sleeping in a field full of cow shit of course.  The sun went down and we found cover from the road in some bushes the best we could, the field just happened to be a hot spot for cow dumps as well.  With the highway to our left and mountains to our right, we just settled in for our first night in Mexico before it was too dark to see anything.  Once again, we were welcomed seemingly with open arms based on the beautiful sunset playing off the thunder clouds.

Back on the trail, heading towards the border...

The secret life of ants is something that continuously fascinates us. Kurt and I have spent a considerable amount of time following ant tracks here and there to see where they go...

To our delight, a bag containing some seriously meltable things formed into one gigantic chocolatey, nutty treat...

Bear Hunter resting at Sam's feet, two of the locals we met in Hachita. Sam picks up CDT hikers and helps them accoplish such tasks as getting back to the airport or getting more supplies. After a whole lot of "baloney" (according to Sam), he became a certified CDT trail guide...

Riding towards the ever-ominous midday monsoon...

The border patrol vehicle. Just one of the defenses used against people who want to work really hard for a better life in the US...

Gringo y gringa, having just crossed the border...

Many forms of fencery, designating clearly one side from the other...

The beautiful scene as we enter into Mexico...

A view looking back. Goodbye US of A...

Leftovers from the earlier rainstorm. It was not long before...

...the mud gave us the "push only" option. The consistency of this gray mud had me in fits of giggles, slipping around so much that most of the time it was hard to stand up straight, let alone push a weighted bike...

Our camp spot the evening, complete with lots of obstacles to practice your short distance hopping...

As muddy as it gets, you can't complain too much when you get sunsets behind thunderclouds such as these...