Trip Report - Stage 2, Part 3
Thursday, February 23, 2006
* Pictures online for this Part of the trip in the Gallery
section of this Web siteQuerétaro/Mexico City to Oaxaca Coast
While cycling from Mexico City to the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, we were forced to navigate around a megalopolis of 30 million inhabitants, climb the highest pass of the trip, and sweat through 100-degree heat after descending from alpine forests to steamy tropical jungles. Ancient pyramids began to replace colonial plazas as our top attractions. We wore gloves for the first time since Alaska, not because of frigid temperatures or the rugged terrain beneath our tires but because of the intense humidity that made it impossible to grip our handlebars with bare hands. We both fought fierce battles against the dreaded King Montezuma and for the first time of the trip, life back in the states felt a world away.
Stage 2, part 3 began as Hilario, Alejandro’s family chauffer dropped us off at KM 135, the exact same place that we were picked up at 3 days before. A few morning mouthfuls of truck exhaust on the busy interstate replaced our traditional cups of coffee and ensured that we were awake and ready for the day’s climb over the continental divide. En route to Guanajuato, the last truly spectacular colonial city on our agenda, Gregg danced his last dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. It was only a matter of time before one of us ordered the wrong thing off a street vendor’s menu. With Gregg safely curled up in fetal position on the bathroom floor, Brooks set off to enjoy the cafes, skinny streets, and network of underground roads and tunnels that make up Guanajuato. One street in particular, Callejon del Beso, is so slim that residents can lean out over the second story balconies and exchange kisses. Brooks made sure to tell Gregg all about it, so he could tell people that he was there too.
In Guanajuato, Brooks became so hot and bothered by the romantic notion of two lovers exchanging kisses on Callejon del Beso, he decided to import Nathalie to our next stop, Mexico City. The trek into the big city would not be complete without our local tour guide, Alejandro (see last stage), who schlepped us around to a never-ending list of tourist attractions and taco stands. The incredible view from atop the ancient Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, and the museum of Anthropology, depicting the history of Pre-hispanic Mexico, were high points of our visit. Some of the low points were narrowly escaping a night in Mexican prison after a failed attempt to scalp tickets to the 60th anniversary bullfight in the city’s famed Plaza de Toros and Gregg drowning his sorrows in a piss warm Tecate after he watched his native Seattle Seahawks lose their first and only Superbowl. In an odd twist of fate, we met up with two of our friends from back home, Alec and Adrianna, at a Starbucks in the trendy neighborhood of Polanco.
After an action packed weekend of bright lights and big city, we adjusted our route away from urban areas and more towards tranquil mountainous back roads. Little did we know that this minor tweak to our plan would result in breaking our trip altitude record on consecutive days. At nearly 11,000 feet, the pass over the Sierra Chincua mountains, west of Mexico City, is also home to a Monarch Butterfly sanctuary. Each year, millions of butterflies migrate to the lush region of Michoacan from the US and Canada to breed. Tucked away in a valley of pine trees, we witnessed a spectacular display of nature as the silence of the forest was broken by the flapping of a million butterfly wings, turning the landscape a velvety -orange. Quiet time at the butterfly sanctuary was followed up with an adrenalin pumping, break burning, 5,000 foot descent in less than 20 miles to the town of Cuernavaca. In the Palacio de Cortez, we crossed one more thing off our Mexico to-do list as we spent a few hours gazing at a huge Diego Rivera mural depicting Mexican history from the Spanish conquest to the revolution.
We knew that the road from Cuernavaca to our next significant stop, Oaxaca city, would be hilly and difficult but Brooks’ case of explosive diarrhea and oppressive, 100+ degree temperatures made the cycling even more challenging. The trouble began in the market place of Acatlan, as a talented cheese slinger used a dazzling array of samples to persuade Brooks to purchase of over two kilos of not-so-fresh product. A blessing in disguise, Gregg left Brooks in the room alone with the stockpile while he used a payphone to call home. Upon his return, he was alarmed to find the last few crumbs of the original stash dangling from Brooks’ scraggly beard. Brooks was even more alarmed the next morning as he realized that the strange new sounds from below were coming from deep within his bowels rather than a blown out tire or squeaky chain. After a few days of miserable riding through hills and heat, our arrival in Oaxaca couldn’t have come at a better time.
From a freshly painted bench in the best plaza we’ve seen in Mexico, Oaxaca’s tourism was immediately apparent as we noticed that there were in fact other gringos around besides us. Nonetheless, it would turn out to be another place that we would have a hard time leaving after hanging in the plaza by day and swilling Havana Club rum and local mezcal by night. Cycling up to the hilltop ruins of Monte Alban for a Frisbee golf tournament concluded our stay.
After cycling for 35 consecutive days at over 5,000 feet, we were eager to fill our lungs with oxygen dense air at sea level. In an epic 100-mile single-day peddle push, we descended from a 9,200 foot pass in the Sierra Madre to a tranquillo travelers beach on the Pacific ocean, just north of the Guatemalan border. Dense jungle vegetation, stickyT-shirts, and roadside banana slingers became the norm. A true testament to how far we’ve come, for the first time during the trip, we could no longer compare our environment with anything we knew from back home. We concluded this stage by palapa hut-hopping along a row of beach towns, bodysurfing, and dangling our toes from one of a never-ending supply of hammocks.
The next section of our trip will include a huge zig along the Mexican border to the Mayan ruins at Palanque followed by a huge zag across the border and into the heart of Guatemala.Stage 2 Part 3 Stats:
Miles: 809.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 50,210ft.
Ride Time: 73 hours 50 minutesOverall Expedition Stats:
Miles: 7,420.2 miles
Flat Tires: Brooks 11, Gregg 9Sponsored by: Co-Motion Cycles, Schwalbe North America, Rudy Project, Outdoor Research, eRoi, ThinkHost, ZUM, Bay Club, Canright Interactive, R Bar, IBEX, Lombardi Sports, Jaunt
If you’ve been following our journals from day one, you’re already aware that we regularly create and compete in World-Class sporting events to make dull sections of the road more interesting. This Ribbon Of Road Olympiad may not get the press coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics but please be assured that we compete in our events with the same level of intensity and devotion as a juiced up Russian hockey player. Unlike the Olympics on TV, in our games the loser is heavily disciplined with penalties ranging from carrying 6 packs of beers over long distances to treating the other competitors to all-you-can-eat taco feeds out of their personal cash fund. Here’s the latest medal count and summary:Flat Tire Event
– Gregg slung the gold medal around his neck as Brooks suffered the trips first devastating puncture in a mosquito-infested gravel pit in the Yukon Territory, Canada. Bears Drinking Olympics
– We battled for a draw as we each were able to consume 14 beers, equal to the amount of bears we saw along a 400-mile section of the Cassiar highway in Northern British Columbia.Durango Downhill
– Taking advantage of freshly laid tarmac, a 2,000 foot descent and Gregg’s slip stream, Brooks was able to maneuver around Gregg at the last second, splitting the uprights between two cement trucks, to take gold with a blistering max speed of 51 mph.The Best Plate Olympics
– This event, shrouded in controversy and international scandal, stretched from truck stops in Canada and the US Pacific Coast to a fine eatery in a wealthy suburb of Mexico City. In the exciting conclusion, Gregg took gold with a questionable order of bacon wrapped filet mignon trumping Brooks’ traditional Mexican enchiladas.Montezuma/Iron Stomach Event
– Gregg’s triumph from the best plate Olympics was short lived when his chicken torta order took a turn for the worse in San Diego de la Union. Later that evening, Brooks lifted his gold medal high as Gregg gave the plumbing system of our $5 per night hotel a run for it’s money.Dead Dog Slalom
– Nearing Maravatio, MX we were stunned to come across a perfectly laid slalom course of five hungry street dogs that overstayed there welcome on the busy highway. Gregg took gold easily as he ripped the course in a world-record breaking pace of 3.9 seconds.
Current medal standings:
Gregg: 3 Gold, 1 Draw
Brooks: 2 Gold, 1 Draw
Unless you get extended coverage on Telmundo Univision, you have to tune back in to RibbonOfRoad.com for future event details.
* Pictures online for this Part of the trip in the Gallery
section of this Web siteTodos Santos, Baja California South to Querétaro/Mexico City
After 21 days of riding through the desserts of Baja with only 2 days off the bikes, we were looking forward to catching up on some rest during our two-week holiday break. Brooks flew back to San Francisco to spend time with family and pick out a wedding location with Nathalie. Gregg stayed in Mexico to backpack Baja Sur and do some mountain biking in the Copper Canyon with Alexis.
Stage 2, part 2 marked a major transition in the geographical and cultural/historical elements of the trip. From the dry desert terrain and shallow history of the Baja peninsula we crossed the Sea of Cortez to the tropical mainland climate near Mazatlan. Next, we cycled east to Durango and then south past the Tropic of Cancer, through the storybook towns of central Mexico’s colonial heartland en route to Mexico City.
From mile 1, cycling in 2006 seemed much more difficult than is was way back in 2005, especially after two weeks off the bikes. The 18-hour overnight ferry to the mainland departed from La Paz and like chipmunks, we decided to stash some food for the long voyage. In an impressive eating display, we each put down 1 kilo of Rancho Viejo’s famed tacos arrancheros and properly crowned the establishment Baja’s #1 taco stand. We selected the lowest class option available for the ferry crossing and settled into our sleeping bags on the back deck to enjoy the reflection of the full moon on the Sea of Cortez.
While strolling the Malecon (Mexican beach boardwalk) just a few hours after hopping off the ferry, we bumped into two fellow Pan American cyclists, Mike and John. We met these guys on a mosquito-infested riverbank in Alaska on our second day of the trip but haven’t crossed paths for nearly 5 months. We all enjoyed a night of beersks and Mexican playoff baseball as we watched the national champs, the Mazatlan Venados, from deep in the bleachers.
We said goodbye to Mike and John (they were taking a different route through Mexico) and followed hordes of cyclists on their morning commute out of Mazatlan to the Villa Union junction. At the junction, the road turned east and up and up and up over the Sierra Madre towards Durango. From sea level, we road through tropical jungle, lowland desert, and pine tree forests as we climbed for 3 straight days, gaining over 18,000 feet. Our first stop on the way up the hill was the colorful colonial town of Copala, where we quickly became accustomed to the rattle of cobblestone streets under our tires. On the way out of town, we met the ¨Good Doctor¨, a former 3-time Tour de France finisher. He warned us that on the road ahead, there were two category 1 climbs and in Le Tour, they would be considered the most difficult climbing days possible. He left us with these words of wisdom,
¨Think of hill climbing on a bicycle like playing the piano…hands to the left, hands to the right, pedal up, pedal down. Play, play, play and make art of it all! And if that doesn’t work then scream ¨you stupid mother fucker¨ as loud as you can and then just keep climbing¨.
The peddling lived up to the Good Doctor´s hype and proved to be a valid test to gauge our fitness for future big climbs in Southern Mexico and the Andes. The road topped out at 9,250 feet along a hairpin section called the ¨The Devils Spine¨. Just outside of Durango we spent 20 minutes convincing a roadside security guard to let us ride an unmarked section of highway into the city center that was closed for construction. In the end, our argument of ¨your boss will never know¨ led to a new land-speed record of 51 mph as we descended 2,000ft of freshly laid, “like butta’ ”, tarmac and had the road all to ourselves for 20 miles.
While not as elegant as some of the colonial cities to come, Durango provided plenty of bench-lined plazas and ice cream shops to recuperate from the past few days of climbing. While emailing at the local net café, we learned that David, a solo-cyclist heading south from Palo Alto, was also in town. We met David a few months ago at Camp Pendleton Military Base in Southern California, he’s cycling to raise awareness of climate change www.rideforclimate.com. The three of us decided to ride out of town together and cruised south for six eventful days to San Luis Potosi. Just south Durango, we witnessed a 600lb pig getting slaughtered on the side of the road for the Vincente Guerrero town festival. Next we crossed the Tropic of Cancer and sampled local wine, cheese, and pumpkin candy in Los Melones. In Fressnillo, we rolled into a dumpy sports bar where Gregg watched his Seattle Seahawks beat Carolina and make it to the Superbowl for the first time in team history. Later that night, while whispering sweet nothings into Nathalie’s ear at a street-side payphone, Brooks found himself caught in the middle of small town Mexico gang warfare. Luckily, in Mexico, they use bricks and clubs rather than guns to beat the hell out of each other. Brooks escaped the mellay with nothing more than an elevated heart rate.
Our arrival to Zacatecas felt like a video game. We shot down steep 500-year old cobblestone streets, bunny-hopped manholes, dodged in and out of rush hour traffic, and tried to stay focused on the road as we passed countless churches, plazas, and mariachi bands on the way to Hostel Villa Colonial. Hands down, the best city that we’ve experienced during our trip, Zacatecas had it going on. At 8,000 feet in elevation, the El Centro is crammed into a gully between two hills with enough cafés, churches, plazas, windy side streets, and museums to keep a traveler occupied for weeks. At least the Spanish conquerors that plundered the area's mineral wealth in the 1500’s spent their money well. As luck would have it, we met another team of Pan American cyclists from Germany who happened to be staying at the same place. Over beersks on the rooftop deck overlooking the town cathedral, we told stories that only other touring cyclists could relate to. We had a lot to talk about because they too had ridden with our old friend Harald in Utah.
It was difficult to leave a town like Zacatecas but thoughts of meeting-up with Alejandro, Brooks’ friend from culinary school in Paris, provided ample motivation to remount our chariots. We were now deep into the interior of central Mexico. This area, also called the Altiplano, hovers between 6,500 and 8,500 ft. in elevation--¨sucking wind¨ and nose bleeds became the daily norm. On the way into the town of San Luis Potosi, we discovered Mexico’s first bike lane. Fitted with signage, reflective paint, and concrete barriers to keep cars out, it was nice to be able to stand up and give the family jewels a breather without having to look back to see if a cement truck was about to run us over. Unknown to us, a random email by David led to the 9 founding fathers of that same bike lane hosting us for dinner at a hip restaurant in the town center. They rolled out the red carpet, set up an interview with the local paper, and even guided us out of town the following day, a perfect way to celebrate being on the road for 6-months.
We said goodbye to David (he stayed behind to talk to some local schools about climate change) and hit the busy divided highway towards Mexico City. Three flat tires later, at KM 135, we were happy to see Alejandro roll-up in his truck. We tossed the bikes in the back and enjoyed 3 great days with him and his family in Querétaro, a suburb just north of Mexico City. With Alejandro, we toured old silver mines, artsy colonial towns, and his Dad’s Coca-Cola factory. His parents treated us to fine meals while we consulted their son on proper care of his pet monkey and his lack of female companionship. With consistent daily showers we managed to clean ourselves up enough for our first live Mexican radio interview.
During our next stage we will trek into one of the world’s largest cities and follow a long-line of Aztec and Maya ruins into the jungles of Guatemala.Stage 2 Part 2 Stats:
Miles: 627.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 33,360ft.
Ride Time: 56 hours 43 minutesOverall Expedition Stats:
Miles: 6,610.6 miles
Flat Tires: Brooks 9, Gregg 8Sponsored by: Co-Motion Cycles, Schwalbe North America, Rudy Project, Outdoor Research, eRoi, ThinkHost, ZUM, Bay Club, Canright Interactive, R Bar, IBEX, Lombardi Sports, Jaunt