Misty mountain hop…

April 3, 2011

As far as Guatemala goes, the region of Peten occupies about 1/3 of the country, yet possesses less than 3% of it’s population.  The area touches closest to the Lacandon forest of Mexico, a place we visited a while back as we looped from San Cristobal in Chiapas down to Los Guacamayas and the likes.  This time we got to experience the same as before, with various birds swooping and calling, ancient Ceiba and mahogany trees gracing the roadsides and howler monkeys playing their part in keeping it noisy both day and night.

Just after the town of Fray Bartolome de las Casas, we start our climb into some magnificently windy and dense green mountains, with canyon views dropping off swiftly on each side.  For the next few days we rode (and sometimes I pushed) over one of the most beautiful territories I have ever seen in my life.  The days were hot and muggy, some including a bit of fog and rain, but nothing broke our stride as we climbed up over one range and were swept down to the base of another only to begin the process all over again.  As Kurt so eloquently put it, “If there were a podium, this road would be on it.”

As we are only taking in a bit of Guatemala with our route, in an effort to make some steady southward progress, it will be these days spent in the mountains which imprint on our hearts the beauty and kindness that Guatemala has to offer.

 

Waking in a foggy mist...

...can be a most beautiful thing...

Antonio and his sister joined us for lunch one day, as we took refuge near his family's sheltered wood pile. We shared some rice and hot cocoa while they shared some incredibly cute smiles and questions...

We spent the better half of this day climbing in the rain...

 

Despite the dirt and water mixture, the roads remained rideable the entire time, staying packed down by the trucks which frequent the route...

 

 

Show stopping views...

 

...do help to calm a constantly churning heart and mind...

...bringing light to areas that might otherwise be dark...

One of the more precarious campspots we've had involved this pannier-less shuttle of bikes through a delicate cornfield perched on a hillside...

The different shades of love...

Thankfully not every beverage comes in a plastic bag. Kurt and I call these "healthy sodas"...

Many families along the way were drying stashes of cacao, one of the crops in the mountains. I was let to taste a piece and even though newly dried, I found it bitter and delicious...

The streets of Cabahon, one of the largest mountain towns...

And the majestic Rio Cabahon, helping to ever create the deepness of the valley and the greenness of the landscape, not to mention a running bathtub for two dusty gringos...

We climbed...

...and we climbed. This day in the sunshine...

Upon entering one of the villages, we met Che Che, a teacher at the small local school. The families in these mountains are mainly indigenous Maya or ladinos (mixed race)...

Waiting for our eggs to firm on up for the midday eating...

And as always, what goes up... must eventually go down....

 

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Sweet, sweet riding…

December 1, 2010

While I was out having my moral cultural dilemma, Kurt ran into Tom in town.  A fellow mountain biker and San Cristobal resident, Tom offered to take us out on a ride the next day to see some of the trails and natural wonders outside the city.   The day was fantastic!  After a chest burning climb (at this point we were pounding up pavement at close to 2700 meters), we turned off into the woods and enjoyed a morning of riding though cloud forests and swoopy, pine carpeted single track.  It was wonderland-like to say the least.

We entered a forest where the sunlight filters through trees similar to madrones. There was a canopy of moss and orchid stalks to marvel at...

New life sprouting everywhere...

...and every shade of green you could imagine...

The ride was a mix of dirt roads and single track, absorbing breathtaking views the entire time...

A few kilometers out we visited El Arcotete, a giant arch in a cliff side, with a subsequent cave to explore as well. Not a bad thing to pair with some awesome mountain biking...

There's nothing that gets Kurt grinning ear to ear like some epic single track...

We eventually were able to pull ourselves away from all the pastries and modern conveniences of Zacatecas and, as usual, those first few pedal strokes out of the city filled us with such joy we rode on into the evening, putting more and more distance between us and the bright, glittering lights.  Our course of direction was more or less heading east, toward the Biosphera Sierra Gorda, a reserve located in the Sierra Madre Oriental, the of the other mountain ranges of Mexico.   En route we stuck to as many dirt roads as possible, getting to see and feel the impending fall season as we rode through open valleys and  worked over farmland.

Time to switch over to the other pair I think...

Goats, goats, goats. This one's for the homies. Maaaaaaa......

The heart warming sites of autumn on display...

All bound up in the desert flora...

I love the details of these...

These girls were too much. I was packing up and getting ready to push off into an afternoon of riding when I noticed their two little faces continuously peeking out from a nearby community computer lab. Eventually they came over to ask where I was from, where I was going, etc. Then they asked where I slept at night and when I told them we camped and I showed them the tent, they gasped and squealed "Campamiento!?!" Then the girl on the left very cutely, quietly and quite boldly asked me if I wanted to sleep over. The thought of this interaction brings a smile to my face every time I think about it...

Another great unhaunted, tentless sleep spot...

Our dirt road traversed beautiful open scenery such as this...

I will start this one by saying oooooooooh boy, this one really pressed my buttons.  Granted this was our second time climbing up and out of this 8,000 ft deep canyon, you’d think the whole experience was already signed, sealed and delivered. And it was in a way.  There was a bit of the up thing, then a whole lot of the up thing and when I thought I had just about had it, some more of the up thing, paired with similar grunting, pushing and swearing as I had the first trek out.

We began just after visiting (or pretty much coincidentally passing by) the Mission De Satevo, a great big gaudy renovated church positioned smack in the middle of this desert canyon.  Built in 1760, it was probably beautiful back in its day, however newly renovated and pink stucco-ed to the max, it agreeably looks like the smuggler’s bar on Tatuine in Star Trek.  It was here that we ran into an area guide who spoke English very well.  We hit him up for some directions and suggestions for ways out and he highly recommended we go back to Batopilas and take the well traveled road from there.  Then he let on to the fact there was a new road just across the river that climbs quicker faster and which would put us up on top in a matter of 6k.  The mention of a new road and both our eyes lit up.  Decidedly we’d be taking that one.  We thanked him for the info and rode off towards the bank of the river, only to find it too deep and moving too swiftly to get across.  Our next option was to backtrack a bit and cross the small swinging bridge we had seen earlier.

On our way we ran into some kids who took the pleasure in shouting “monies” “monies” “monies” “dinero” at us, not something we have encountered very often thankfully.  It was already hot and sunny and I was hurling my bike over mini boulders yet again and was not in the mood for the heckling.  So I decided to try something new and started shouting back at them in the same tone “monies” “monies” “dinero” “pesos” “yen” “baat”, any form of currency I could think of.  It worked like a charm.  My pestering them was followed only by some very confused looks and silence.

After crossing the bridge we started once again up the canyon, via the nueva carretera.  They were not kidding.  This was certainly a new one.  So new I don’t think anyone has really even attempted to drive it yet.  Downed trees, rock slides and chunks of missing road were a few of the obstacles we encountered over the next few days.  Again, the going was slow.  On the second day I took off my bike shoes and switched hiking shoes, resolving to get better traction as I pushed up the scree path.  The following day I completely removed my pedals for a few sections, having grown tired of jabbing myself in the calves.  It was once again a battle for the top.  After another three days, we finally began to wind up through more trees, leaving the site of the abyss behind.

And just when I thought my legs might completely commit mutiny, we turned a corner and started to go down….yes down!…through wooded apple orchards, filled with red and green apples, children and chickens.  I quickly hopped over the fence and shoved as many in my pockets as I could, craving some natural sugar after so many days of pasta and lentils.  The little kids watched me curiously from the edge of their yards, giggling and squeaking out shy “holas” when I  said hello.  All of a sudden I felt completely rejuvenated and remembered exactly why all of the fumbling, pushing and cursing under my breath is necessary sometimes.  Being out there and then returning from that place to appreciate what is around all the time.

It was another day and a half before we reached the town of Guachochi  and all the comforts it had to offer.  Here we splurged on a $20 motel room, made a mud room of the bathroom and kicked back comfortably while we watched the rain continue to pour down outside.

And up around this bend we have...a big pink church plopped right in the middle of a canyon...

Things were pretty desolate for the holy day of Domingo...

Each switch back is just as exciting as the last, believe me...

Clearly much more rain water traverses this road than the weight of either cars or trucks...

...and sometimes there is hardly a road at all...

.The camp saw comes in handy once again...

Who says biking isn't an upper body workout? (Photo: Kurt)...

One look around quickly rewards you for all your efforts...

...but don't forget to look down, you never know who you might miss...

A day in the canyon on a new road would not be complete without some pannier shuttling...

Camp where you wish, even in the middle of the road, no one will be by to tell you not to...

Having run out of fuel, all of our meals were cooked over fire...

Who can really complain when every turn of a corner reveals sites such as this...

Just what every off-road, calorie depleted, sweat shedding bike tourist wants...some Villa Viva. Armed with his really, really cheap tequila, this dude saw us as a great excuse to start an impromptu party in the middle of the road, blasting mariachi music from his truck and handing out snacks. Him and his compadre were sure to warn us of the "dangerous folk" in the area. The only danger we really considered was riding on roads these guys were driving...

And like that, after days of dirt, the road turns to pavement...

...and our epic canyon adventure distinctly ends here. Ten points to whomever can name that episode...

To begin, we can confirm that indeed there is a road that goes from Urique to Batopilas…almost completely.  Our overly optimistic 2010 map denotes it is there, we will just tell you that the journey will involve some grunting, pushing, pulling, heeing, hawing, scurrying, scampering, slipping, sliding, shuttling and…maybe some riding.  Here’s a brief outline of the experience:

Day 1- Leave late afternoon and ride enchantingly down alongside the river into Guapalina where you will ford a river quite deep and swift after discovering the swinging bridge you were told about is not actually there.

Day 2- Rise early and start the half riding/half pushing day.   Break to rest arms.  Push more.  Break to rest legs.  Push again.  Hop on your bike, but don’t clip in because falling off while struggling to climb a steep grade covered in loose scree is a likely scenario.  By nightfall you reach what you think is the top, and gleefully begin to look for camping.  Luckily run into a young cowboy who, when answering his “a donde va” with Batopilas, instructs you that the road to Batopilas is back the way we had just come.  Flop down on your sleeping pad and decide to figure it out in the morning.

Day 3- Ride back in the direction you just clawed your way out of.  View what looks to be some sort of end to a road about 1000 feet above, with only a faint outlines of smattering of goat trails in between where you stand and said road end.  Investigate the situation,  which reveals that indeed the road you need is quite a ways up there and even walking along those trails with nothing on your back or in your arms proves to be an unbalanced endeavor given the very narrow and ever crumbling path.  Make some tea, eat some noodles, procrastinate a bit.  Bite the bullet and start the 3 hour endeavor of shuttling the bikes and all the panniers up these goat tracks over the course of multiple trips.  Get to the top, enjoy a sweet descent for a bit, before getting caught in torrential downpour.  Rest your tired muscles wondering what the next day will bring.

Day 4- Spend a morning pushing and riding along several ridges, with no real view of the deep canyon you are anticipating to be seen.  (Highlight of my day (and maybe in the top 5 of my life thus far): while riding through a little town (two houses) a family stopped to ask where we were coming from.  When they found out we’d come from Urique (which feels like another world at this point, kind of like you stepped through the looking-glass when shuttling up and over that mountain) the elderly lady in the bunch steps forward and gave me the biggest toothless smile I’d ever seen, while reaching out and grabbing my hand to shake it, continuously shaking her head and smiling in disbelief.)

Later on, feeling like a true sucker and glutton for punishment, you descend yet again into the second deepest part of the deepest canyon in North America, with another 6k spent riding alongside the river, plopping you in the town of Batopilas.

So in the end, to confirm…you can get a loaded touring bike from Urique to Batopilas.  If you are reading this and planning to go in that direction, they may even have the road completed by now.  Who knows.  Either way it is, as always, well worth the effort.

Well, I just think that is a great name for a restaurant!...

After witnessing my quick photo snap of the restaurant across the street, these enthusiastic kids insisted they get in on the action...

With no bridge to be found, we wade across...

...and begin the push up the loose and crumbly road...

Laying on the ground and photographing the small details is a great way to take a break...

Kurt waiting for me at the top after day 1. Based on the size of that peanut shell pile, it took me a bit longer to get up there...

But of course. Up there is the road we need to continue on...

Pannier removal...

One of the many goat track shuttles...

Narrow, narrow paths to traverse...

The grand finale at the top. After this section we were free to put our panniers back on and continue the riding/pushing on some fairly level dirt...

...but the road still wasn't easy-going...

...but it did have its blissful sections, including these orchards...

Prickly pear cacti in bloom, a sure sign we were again dropping in elevation...

Sometimes its hard for me to enjoy the surrounding scenery, as I have to keep my eyes glued to the road and constantly ready to navigate through loose rock...

The grandness of it all...

The happy ending...

Having returned from our backtracking side trip to Basaseachi Falls, we were most excited to continue heading South, into the plus, toward BarrancaDel Cobre.  After days and days of rain, our stink bags needed some serious airing out and we spent some solid morning hours removing everything from our bags and letting the sun work its magic into all the moldy corners.  We made it to Divisadero later on that afternoon just as the rain started to fall again.  Lured by the description of gorditas in our guide-book, we landed smack in the middle of a heavy tourist stop.  As this is the first place you can actually get a good glimpse down into the canyon, in addition to being a stop along the tracks, the Tarahumara and their children have set up an array of stalls to peddle their various crafts, including jewelry, handmade guitars and cutlery, as well as some printed on mugs and calendars to remind you of your visit to the largest canyon in North America.

By the time we had finished our gordita sampling and pried our bodies away from the warmth of the oil drum stoves it was fairly late in the day.  The day’s rain and cloud situation was gearing up for a fantastic sunset so I enthusiastically put in my two cents about camping right on the rim.  It was certainly not hard to convince Kurt that waking up to a cup of coffee right on the rim would be a fantastic way to start the next day.  So we paced down along the cobblestone path, feeling like we were in some life-sized version of candy land, peering over into the abyss that was now graced with not one, but three sunset rainbows.  It was a breathtaking way to end the day.

Despite being up quite late that night completely sucked into Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, I was able to rouse myself at first light and amble down to the edge to watch the sun peek out and set upon a new day in the canyon.  It was here that I really first got a glimpse of the glowing copper-colored walls that give the canyon its name.  Completely in awe, I sat for a good while thinking happily on other canyon experiences in my life and how good it felt to be next to another one.  The perspective they grant is unmatched.  Tossing a rock with no landing sound to be heard or watching a helicopter disappear amongst the many folds lets you know just how big you really are in the grand scheme of things.

Thinking we had but a few miles and a swift descent down into Urique, we spent the morning on the rim, roasting blue corn tortillas for breakfast and having conversations that included the words “wow, wow, wow” over and over.  Setting off, we quickly came upon the town of San Rafael, where the evidence of the greenery business was dully noted in all of the fancy big trucks we kept passing.  And then it began….a rolling hill here, a switch back of two there.  Up up up we went.  Seemingly all day.  We had begun our ascent down into the deepest side canyon, go figure.  Spoilage alert….we missed an unmarked turn, sending us out and around and up over ridge after ridge.  It was not until the next morning that our mistake was confirmed.  The signs had been pretty clear…riding uphill that whole previous day, camping next to a rather shallow valley where we had expected a deep canyon and the fact I heard the faint whistle of trains all night, when both of us knew full well there were no trains that ran down into Urique.  We reaffirmed our gut notions the next morning, setting our eyes on the telltale sign that read Urique…54 km.  So it was another full day of climbing, before finally setting our eyes down into what looked to be a pretty official deep deep deep canyon.  We hunkered down that evening again in torrential rain, thunder and lightning and slept well knowing the dizzying descent that finally awaited us in the morning.

Sun, glorious sun...

The constant battle against the mold monster...

Tarahumara masks for sale...

Gorditas, excellent fuel for a hungry cyclist. Here we got to choose between various tortillas, stuffings (including vegetable and meat medleys) and beans or cheese...

Nevermind the gigantic canyon to the right, look at this extra long bike over here...

The first glimpse of sun hitting the canyon wall in the morning. You can see one of the reasons it is referred to as Copper Canyon...

Not a bad spot to wake up in the morning...

...or have that first cup of tea...

The beautiful inside of a shrine along the way...

...which was worked into the natural beauty already in place...

Sierra Madre riding...

The town of Bahuichivo, which is actually outside the Barranca Del Cobre region. This was our first false Urique sighting...

The huge plus side to wrong turns, excellent swim spots such as this one...

This man gave us the go ahead to hop the fence and plunge into those crystal clear waters, as it was on his property...

By the end of day two we had reached the spot where we wanted to be. Below us the crevice leading into Urique, the deepest part of Barranca Del Cobre. The town seen in the photo is actually Guapalina, as Urique can not be seen until continuing around the bend...

These last couple of weeks have been nothing short of utterly epic.  Kurt and I have been chewed up and spat out by the grander of canyons, Barranca Del Cobre.  Having emerged on the other side, I can honestly say it was one of the most breathtaking and humbling experiences I have partaken in in my life thus far.  Until I get to Zacatecas and can give you a full update, here are a few photos to hold you over…

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...

Riding the Divide…

July 9, 2010

After leaving Pie Town, we dropped onto the Continental Divide Mountain Bike Trail, a route running the length of the continent from Canada to Mexico.  The trail is all off-road, making it the longest mountain bike trail in the world.  Kurt started the divide over a year ago and will finally get to finish it these next few weeks, a huge accomplishment.  He was well on his way last year, but after a visit to California in the summer he decided to winter it in Durango, CO, taking time to check out some of their trails while adding some cabbage to our funds and waiting for me to come join him on this world-wide adventure.  What a pal!  You can read about Kurt’s epic year in review here.

The divide riding has been the best riding of the trip so far, hands down.  All off-road, mainly above 6,000 ft, the views are incredible.  Wildlife is plentiful and everything is just dreamlike.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

An exciting change in numbers as I left the Toaster House. Though, my computer went down in between Yucca Valley and Flagstaff due to faulty wiring, so I actually hit 1,000 quite a while back. Sigma kindly sent me a new wire, I just have yet to count up the missing miles and add them in.

Continental Divide landscape...

Cowboy...

A cheesy photo to make you go 'awwwww'. We had some cheese sandwiches and donuts here, given to us by some church folk when we stopped to get water. We just narrowly escaped their many requests for us to stay for the service and their 5 or so offerings for us to use their shower...

Rancho abandonado...

One of the many stock tanks along the Divide. Great for collecting water from when it is windy enough, otherwise the option is to filter out of the tank...

One of the Divide crossings. Over the course of the trail, which runs from the Canadian border to the mexico border, the route crosses the divide 28 times...

This day of riding was absolutely amazing...

Herd of elk. Be sure to check out Kurt's blog (pocket-thunder.blogspot.com) to view a great video of this herd...

Hanging out with the Beaverhead Forest Fire Crew and Matthew Lee. These guys were so great and hospitable. Real heros too! The Gila USFS are known for revolutionary forest fighting techniques now used by many others. Matthew Lee on the other hand is a 4 time(?) winner of the Tour de Divide, an endurance race that takes the route mentioned above. Already a day ahead of the other riders, he was able to stop and have a beer with us and hang for a bit that night. Now that is what I call taking a race seriously...

New...

...Mucksico. Mud like this makes the trail virtually unrideable. After struggling about 30 yds for over an hour, Kurt and I decided the mud had won the battle and we packed it in for the evening. The next morning the roads had dried out again, enough for us to continue on...

The ever-present and ever-ominous clouds up overhead. We kept keen watch and out feet on the pedals, hoping to make it out of the forest before getting stuck again...

The Aspen fire, the only fire in the area still active at the time...

They don't call it Rocky Canyon for nothing...

Victoriously, we made it out of the forest and to the nice long descent that dropped us down onto the paved route 35...

There were too many baby calves in this area my camera could hardly capture all of them. I really loved how the momma cows stood protectively in front of many of them...