Two weeks to go before I’m back on the road. I have a flight to Phoenix Arizona on December 4th and from there…… I’m still deciding. My time back home, while a bit stressful, has also been enjoyable and is something I needed to do. It’s been many, many years since I’ve spent this much time with my family.
When people talk about the dangers of traveling through Mexico, two words of caution are usually given; don’t travel at night and don’t travel in the mountains. Between the news stories and personal tales from people you meet along the way it seems most of Mexico is warzone and as a traveler you will be right in the middle of it. The truth is much of the news is about the border cities and many of the people who issue warnings haven’t actually traveled in the mountains to see the areas for themselves. After spending a week dragging my bike through the mountains and valleys of the Copper Canyon region of I’ve come to realize, as a traveler, you are as safe here as in any rural area in the USA, maybe safer. Most people will agree that traveling through an unknown area at night is not a good idea and traveling through Mexico is no exception. There is no reason to build a fort a mile into the woods to protect yourself when the sun goes down, but basic stealth camping is a good idea. During the day however, travel as you wish and the locals are happy to see you coming through.
When I reached Creel I was a little unsure of my next move – some of that paranoia had definitely seeped in. When all you are doing is looking out for the negative it becomes really hard to see the positive in an area. After talking with the great folks at Amigo Trails, a guide service and general source of wisdom for the Barranca del Cobre area, I decided to ride a loop from Creel to Urique then up the other side of the canyon through Samachique back to Creel. The only way to get over my paranoia was to confront it and this ride seemed like the perfect way.
My first day I rode from Creel to El Divisadero
I decided to spend another day. This is the land of the Tarahumara, the native Indians of Mexico who live above and below the canyon rim. Herding seems to be the primary way of life and the canyon is littered with trails from animals and people.
In an effort to promote tourism to the area, many mountain bike specific trails have been created
saw some great sunsets,
and woke to some great sunrises.
You can’t do this at the Grand Canyon. In short, the people, the trails and the area are awesome.
Technical and flowing singletrack
and doubletrack complete with animal herds
Also, there are many great hiking trails below the rim, some of which will take you all the way down to the river.
One word of caution, the wells in the area seem to be contaminated, so water is in short supply. Bottled water or a dug well hidden in Areponapuchi, the next town south seem to be the two options. I’ve been drinking local water in Mexico, including from the well in Areponapuchi and
have had no problems (after a two week incubation period I definitely question this well).
Riding out of El Divisadero the road was freshly paved
After lots of climbing, descending, one flat tire and two beers passed to me out the windows of passing pickups I set up camp just before the big decent into Urique. And a decent it was, almost two hours of constant down.
By the time I reached Urique my brake levers were almost out of travel and my rotors were an iridescent shade of blue. Hitting the main street and turning right I was instantly offered a Tecate Roja and heading back I was offered a free place to camp.
The next morning I headed south out of town to where a new bridge is being built across the river, but for now there is still a knee high water crossing to the other side. From here the blue collar grunt work begins.
This was one of the hardest days of physical exertion I have ever had. Triple digit temperature and beaming sun absolutely fried me and this summer’s record setting heavy rains have made the steep road a rutted path covered in loose rocks. Also, as a note, this is some really remote terrain and if something happens you are on your own. I didn’t see a person from the time I crossed the river until I set up camp in the evening. The area I camped in is a small Tarahumara settlement and has a great spring (white cement tank after the gate and the only water available since Urique) to resupply with. My company for the night was a large goat herd
I was told about a tienda in a small town on the way to Samachique and spending my money there was my goal for the day. Thoughts of a cold beverage and maybe….. ice cream filled my head. As it turned out there was a lot of ground to cover between my camping spot and that bebida frio.
After a lot of climbing, descending, guessing at forks in the road (fortunately I guessed right) and then climbing again I finally reached the store, only to find out it was closed for siesta. Not a lot of outsiders come through this area, so few that the school dismissed all of the students just so they could stare at me. I say this in the kindest way possible, but I’ll admit, I’ve never had so many eyes follow my every move and leap back as soon as I made eye contact back. Fortunately the person who owned the store opened it for me so I could get my sugar fix and I entertained the town by drinking an entire two liter bottle of Coke, but unfortunately there was no ice cream to continue the show with.
After destroying my tooth enamel I followed the road climbing out of town along a river and set up camp on the top of the final climb to Samachique,
or what I thought was the final climb. The next morning, after 3 hours of riding, I finally reached Samachique. There is a lot of climbing and descending between Samachique and Creel, but the road is paved and the traffic is practically nonexistent. I stopped to camp about 20 kilometers from Creel
I returned back to the place I started from, exhausted but enlightened. Everyplace has it’s dangers and Mexico is no exception, but as a tourist (and I really dread that word) and really as the average Mexican citizen, you inhabit a part of the spectrum that the news doesn’t cover. Friendly people who pass beers out the windows of their vehicles, regardless of what they do for a living, don’t glue people to their brain washing TVs, but gruesome murders committed by one mafia member against another do, so that is the message that is sent. If you go to Mexico to take part in that side of the business world you may make the news as well, but if you go there to travel and learn, chances are you will see the best of what the country has to offer.
As I write this I am back in Douglas Arizona, picking up a few much needed bike parts, shipping some unneeded kit home, finishing up some work and enjoying my last days in the states for the foreseeable future. I’m stocking up on pancake breakfasts and peanut butter, two hard to come by enjoyments in Mexico, but I miss the fresh avocados, apples, and the adventure. In a few days I’m taking a bus south to Nuevo Casas Grandes, then back into the mountains from there. I’d rather take my chances with beer passing locals who shout Pedal Amigo than urban barking dogs and semi trucks.
This past Saturday I awoke to a sunny sky, light wind and a meeting time of 6:00am. My friend and fellow Ripton bike commuter Jeff was riding down to Springfield, VT. to meet his traveling brother and asked if anyone was interested in riding along for some of the way. It was easy for me to say yes and and as a bonus, our friend Noah was going to ride as well. Noah, Jeff and I have been planning a good ride together for years, but have never been able to make it happen.
After rendezvousing in my driveway, we started off with a climb up and over Rt. 125 and a quick trip down Rt. 100 for breakfast at the Rochester Cafe and Country Store.
I highly recommend The Rochester breakfast, it’s a lot of fuel for a big ride.
With stomachs full and a light tail wind we make great time down Rt. 100 and took River Road, the short dirt cutoff, to Rt. 4.
The plan was for Noah and I to ride south to Rt. 100A and make a loop back to Ripton, while Jeff continued on to Springfield. Noah had a return time of around 1:30pm and the riding was flat, so this didn’t seem like a problem.
We hit the country store that has been closed since Hurricane Irene, just before the 100A intersection, around 10:15am and bid Jeff a bon voyage. This is where the riding changed. Turning onto Rt. 100A the first big climb appears. I’ll admit, I tend to look at directions on a map and ignore the contour lines. It adds a bit of spice to my rides. I also missed the point on the map referring to Plymouth Notch about 1 mile up Rt. 100A, so this climb was a surprise. The grade was pretty consistent, the views were great and there was no traffic, a perfect road. We rode past “Silent” Calvin Coolidge State Park and many well kept country homes. The decent was gradual down to Rt. 4 where we turned east and picked up North Bridgewater Rd. to take us to Rt. 12.
North Bridgewater Rd. is another perfect Vermont cycling road. No traffic, great views, smooth dirt and another steep climb with many false summits. Some people pay money to ride roads like this.
At this point we realized time was getting away from us (shocking) and we decided to take more direct route home. After a fast and smooth dirt decent we intersected Rt. 12 and took that north to Rt. 107.
From there we rode Rt. 107 to Rt. 100 and traced our steps over East Middlebury Gap (past a large bull moose near the top of the gap) back to my house.
Until I can find a better online mapping site (suggestions welcome), Google Maps will need to suffice. Great company, 107 miles and a bit of climbing makes for a great ride.