Mexico is a very large country, where I spent almost 6 weeks and rode some 3700 km – second only to Argentina. It was my first Spanish-speaking country along this adventure, and I was a bit apprehensive initially due to the perceived safety risk from drug-related violence. I had no security issues whatsoever, though and thoroughly enjoyed both the friendly people as well as the scenery. My major challenges were the heat and repeated snapping of my shifter cables in Baja California and then lots of mountains in mainland Mexico. The time in Mexico was split in 4 parts:
I enjoyed a badly needed rest day in Mazatlan. Later, after my mini ‘vacation’ back home in Florida I also picked up my mountain gear for Pico Orizaba, which I climbed after returning back to Mexico. I reached the end of the North-America continent at the windy isthmus of Tehuantepec, where I spent another rest day and also performed some bike maintenance on my Rohloff gear hub. I reached the border to Guatemala near Tapachula some 6 weeks after entering in Tijuana. Mexico is a great country and I would not hesitate going back there.
Below are some daily notes. They include links to various articles with photos which I had posted on my Blog while on the road.
Back to Rides page.
Detailed Daily Notes
Thursday, September 24
San Diego to Rosarito
89km / 7675km; 5h / 412h; 500m
I get up and go grocery shopping within 5 min walking distance from Nick’s beach place. Then cereal with milk and banana as well as yoghurt for breakfast. I get my stuff ready while the place starts to convert into a bike and surf rental shop for the boardwalk tourists. After a quick phone call with my parents I leave around 10am. The ride to downtown San Diego leads past well-known areas such as Mission Bay, Nimitz Blvd, Sea World, the Int’l airport and then to the harbor area. I want to take a short ferry to Coronado to avoid the city traffic and ride down the scenic Silver Strand from Coronado (which has much less traffic). Unfortunately I just missed the hourly ferry by 5 min, so I ride over to a Starbucks and do some email over coffee and a croissant as 2nd breakfast. Then ferry crossing past aircraft carrier which seems to be just leaving for service abroad. Phone call with my friend Andi from Munich. Then resume ride down towards Tijuana. It is a hot day, and there are some hills down to San Isidro.
The actual border crossing poses no real problem, but it’s still interesting. I follow the signs for bikes and pedestrians; there you get to a barrier (“Drehkreuz”) which is designed only to let pedestrians pass. Like other riders I finally squeeze through the barrier by separating the trailer, tilting the bike up and moving it through with me (like I have moved a bike into an elevator) and asking another pedestrian to do the same with the trailer! Then you just walk across the border and get to another barrier (again “Drehkreuz”). After that you’re in Mexico, just like that! I look for the tourist office, but it was behind the barrier now, so I can’t go back in for the tourist card (which you need when you want to stay in Mexico for more than 7 days).
So I ask around and learn that there is a tourist info in the center of Tijuana. So there I go with the bike. Crazy traffic, no shoulders, one needs to assert oneself so the cars don’t squeeze by too close. Once I get there I learn that I could go to the Immigration office in Ensanada (will be there tomorrow afternoon). Then I get directed to the scenic route to Rosarito. I loop around a few km in the center of Tijuana to end up more or less in the same spot, but on the right side of some freeway. The scenic route starts with a 120m hill up next to the border fence. You see two different worlds on both sides of the fence. Then the road drops steeply and I realize that I can’t just let it roll down at 60-70 km/h on Mexican highways, as there are potholes and steps on the road which are dangerous at high speeds…
Then I get to a toll booth (the “cuota” is a toll road). I had heard that sometimes cyclists are let in, sometimes not; I am not so lucky: They don’t let me pass, even after some arguing (which helps sometimes). First they want me to ride back (against the traffic); I convince them that that is too dangerous. Then they have a police officer escort me a little ways through and past the toll booth and he directs me to exit through a narrow hole in the fence to the village streets. I have to unhook the trailer and then he helps me haul the bike over the fence as it wouldn’t fit otherwise! So there I am on the other side of the fence in the little streets of an unnamed small village. What’s worse, there is no other road on the coast than the cuota, so I would have to ride back almost all the way to Tijuana incl. the hills! I roll into the village center to get a Coke and think. Then I see a bike shop next to where I got the coke. Very friendly people everywhere. I ask them how they ride to Rosarito. Well, the cuota of course! And yes, it’s ok to ride there, they assure me. Just don’t go by the toll booth. “Here, follow me and I’ll show you where to get back on at the end of the village”, offers one of them and off we go through the village streets. When I get back on the cuota, there are other riders and some even ride on the wrong side of the street against traffic flow. Police drives by and doesn’t care. Yup, that’s Mexico for you!
In Rosarito (only about 30km past Tijuana) I find a tourist info center and they direct me to a hostel with a tiny backyard for camping. The host wants $10 for the night. I said “Oh, that’s a lot of money” – just like Loralee Brown had taught me to negotiate – and there it is only $7. Includes hot showers and a safe place away from the street behind a locked fence and gate.
After the shower I walk a few blocks to get dinner at a nice looking restaurant. I fire up my laptop and sure enough, there is a free wireless network with Internet access from somewhere close by. So while I have a big meal I am doing some email and photo uploading. And the food is good and cheap (2-3 times less than in the US). This is particularly exciting for “hungry man” – any touring biker will be happy to eat more food for less money
Tomorrow I will continue to Ensenada; a nice and scenic road I am told; the day after tomorrow they will actually have an organized group ride for 5000 riders on this 50 mile road!
Friday, September 25
Rosarito to Ensenada
95km / 7770km; 5h / 417h 900m
I get up and walk over to buy some groceries. Have a coffee and pastry in the shop; then walk back to hostel and have cereal with milk and banana there. Some conversation with hostel host Jesus. Not much in a hurry since distance isn’t too great and it’s still foggy. Then brief phone call with Jill and getting ready to leave.
Riding on the libre along the Coast; moderate traffic. Beautiful scenery as sun burns off the fog. Then switch to cuota which is a much better road and also a more direct line / slightly less hilly. There is one big hill (260m) at 50km from Rosarito. On the top I stop at a small roadside food shack; I take in the view and eat & drink a little bit.
I pass a toll booth with no problems (only need to use the sidewalk, not a lane) and arrive in Ensenada around 3pm. I go to the Immigration Office to get my tourist card. They give me a bit of the run-around as I first need to go to a bank and pay a 55 pesos fine for being in Mexico for one day w/o tourist card. Finally I pay the visa fee and get my 6 month tourist card. I also stop at the Tourist Info Center to inquire about campgrounds.
I continue riding through town past a huge Mexican flag and the cruise ship harbor. A good amount of traffic winds its way through town. I stop at a huge mall which seems very Americanized (WalMart, Home Depot, McDonalds, etc.). At the McDonalds I have free wireless Internet and Skype with Jill. Then I continue to a resort hotel / RV park and campground. I get a good deal on a one-night camp and set up my tent. Then I swim a bit in their pool and relax in their hot tub. After the (unfortunately only cold) shower I have dinner in their restaurant and write a Blog post “Into Mexico“. After that I walk to the Hotel lobby and complete some emails. Brushing my teeth and into tent by 11pm.
Saturday, September 26
Ensenada to Colonet
111km / 7881km; 6.5h / 423h; 1450m
What a day! It starts with packing a wet tent at the Estero Beach resort. I start riding at 8am. After 10km I get to a little town with
a grocery store. There I buy milk & cereal and pack a 2000cal breakfast with coffee. That was a bit much (the entire cereal box and 2l of milk), but I will need it later. I also fill up with 4l of water in my Camelbak and bottles.
The next section to Canadas is just terrible: it’s dusty, smoky, uphill in town with lots of traffic and then road construction for
maybe 5km – absolutely crazy to ride on. I need 1h for the next 9km! At the campground of Canadas – a huge complex with all kinds of activities incl. rope tours – I rest a bit in the shade. There is a 260m hill as a first obstacle. And when I get to the top (after the Military checkpoint) I roll down to the basin of Santo Tomas. And boy is it hot here: My thermometer shows 37C, it feels like a hot oven or a hairdryer with the hot wind off the pavement. I’m not good at riding in such hot conditions. I stop in the shade but there is hardly any relief from the heat. I open the towel & tent and spread it out in the full sun – it is dry as a bone within minutes.
After a while I continue just 2km or so to the ‘El Palomar’ restaurant in Santo Tomas, where I stop for a cold coke. There are 4 Baja Rally vehicles at this place, some commercial tour operator. I leave a brochure of my project with the hostess and she hangs it up in her place right away.
Now there is a real mountain pass of almost 500m to traverse. In this heat it’s not very efficient, as much of the energy goes into cooling rather than climbing. Slowly but steadily I gain the pass. No big downhill though, rather continue on a sloped plateau. I get closer to San Vicente, but it’s getting too hot for me. So I stop at a little place that sells cheese (and sodas), sit in the shade, drink and actually sleep a little bit. I probably spend 1.5h here before I resume at 4pm. Soon I get to San Vicente. However, I still have 2h of daylight and slightly cooler temperatures to ride, so I should be using those. I decide trying to reach Colonet, some 38km down the road. There is another 200m hill along the way; here on this stretch is some of the most dangerous riding: No shoulder, some trucks and school buses don’t slow down for me. When there is oncoming traffic they just honk and keep going. No less than 4 times do I make an emergency drop off the road into the dirt to avoid being hit! When it’s getting dusk I feel I need to get off this road, despite the fact I’m probably still 5km short of Colonet.
When I got close to the little town of Colonet I stop at a small house with a sign that they rent rooms. I inquire about camping, but they really want to rent a room instead. Also, their backyard isn’t particular pleasant or safe as they have no fence around their property. (Those encounters show me how much I still have to learn to make myself understood in Spanish. But with each day it should get better.) I continue to the next place with a hotel sign. Again, no camping there, but they suggest I ask at their neighbors, which has several Christian signs on it. It is the residence of Pastor Obregon, his wife Shirley and Missionary Peggy from Canada. They are kind enough to let me put up my tent in their backyard, which is away from the road and safe behind a fence and locked gates. Not only that, but they invite me in for dinner as well. And then they invite me to come along to an evening at a nearby drug rehab facility where they will show a DVD of a Christian concert (which is actually of very good quality). I help the two elderly ladies by driving there and then setting up the DVD player and TV. Before they start the video, Shirley says a prayer and also introduces me to the assembled men. “Este es el hermano Tomas!” And the crowd applauds and cheers. Then I brief them via an interpreter about my project; I encounter quite a captive audience there: About 100 men which almost look like prisoners, very poor and some in struggling health and on rehab medication. For these folk the DVD movie on the weekend seems to be the highlight of their week. And Shirley has brought some bulk candy which we hand out to those men after they had some simple soup as their dinner. I also contribute my trail mix and give it to the men. To be clear, I would also have liked to eat it myself. But seeing those poor people hold out their hands and the joy on their faces about this unexpected treat is an amazing feeling. This turned out to be a very unexpected evening with the two missionary women at the drug rehab station! It is a very interesting experience and a good Spanish learning opportunity for me. Back to my tent and typing these notes by 11pm.
Sunday, September 27
Colonet to San Quintin
73km / 7954km; 3.5h / 427h; 460m
After the long and eventful day yesterday I decide to take it a bit easier today. In addition, the following towns either make for two shorter or one very long day, and I need to pace myself a little bit. Besides, with the nice company of the Obregon family I don’t want to leave first thing in the morning without spending some time with them over breakfast. It is late morning by the time I start riding. After about 2 hrs I reach the small town of ‘Canalu’. There I seek out a nice looking restaurant and have a generous lunch while typing a Blog post. Unfortunately there is no Internet access here so I need to wait a bit longer with uploading it. I continue cycling on a full stomach; it’s somewhat slow, but at least very comfortable on the recumbent bike. After only 45 min or so I reach another small town called ‘Vicente Guerrero’. I spot a new, clean looking cafe with two important words on their outside banner: Frappuccino and Internet. So I splurge over a cool caffeinated drink while uploading my post titled ‘Baja California – the heat is on‘ describing the last two days of riding. While I cherish the time spent online and reconnecting with friends and family via email and the occasional skype session, it does take up a lot of time, especially during the rather short daylight hours in these latitudes.
But it is a somewhat lazy day today, and around 6pm I continue for the last hour of riding today. I reach the village of ‘San Quintin’ which stretches a few km along the highway as the sun sets and the headlights of the vehicles come on and signal to me that it’s high time to get off the road. I look for a place to stay; it’s not a very inviting place actually to set up my tent in the village along the dusty main highway. I have to check upon a few places as some of them are fully booked. Finally I find a somewhat cheap motel, but with shower and after some negotiating that’s good enough for me today. I meet Steffen Klose, a German motorcycle traveller who is doing the Panamerican Highway in the opposite direction from Patagonia to Alaska (his photo album and Blog). We have a good chat – feels good to actually understand everything during a normal conversation for a change – and then retire to our rooms for a good night’s sleep.
Monday, September 28
San Quintin to El Rosario
61 km / 8015 km; 3h / 430h; 540m
Today I only had a short half-day ride of 60km. I started at 8am near San Quintin and was finished by 11am. It was a cool and easy ride in the morning, except perhaps the last 10km, where all of a sudden the road turned away from the Ocean and a 300m high mesa needed to be crossed. Hot on the uphill, fairly steep near the top, then a military checkpoint – not sure why in the middle of nowhere they would have a checkpoint – and then a steep descent. On the good quality, fresh paved road I briefly reached a top speed of 80km/h, coming into town “jodeling” from the high speed rush.
Then I stop at Mama Espinoza’s place. This was the first rest stop of the first ever Baja 1000 off-road race (from Ensenada to La Paz) back in 1969, so it’s a place with some history. I had the famous Lobster Burrito for lunch, which was rather disappointing (both in quantity and quality) and quite expensive. That’s what you get when there is a tourist “must-see” type of attraction. Going forward I’ll stick with the no-name family restaurants, where you get better food for half the prize.
Peggy the missionary told me that Mama Espinoza is still alive and 104 years old. She apparently had some role to play in forming the Medicos Sin Fronteras in Mexico. So I told the hostess at the restaurant that I am doing this project and raise funds for charity (MSF) and I would like to meet Mama Espinoza. She is sleeping now, but later in the afternoon there may be an opportunity for me to be introduced to her. Here is my Blog post on Mama Espinoza with more details on this extraordinary person and some of the history surrounding this place.
It’s early in the day, so I hope to get some rest, do some email (took some time for them to give me the password, as the restaurant network doesn’t connect to the Internet and the hotel network is usually for hotel guests only…), have time to read and maybe learn some Spanish. I just stitched up my left bike sandal which came apart at the seams (wear and tear from my bike crash in Florida in April). I’ll also have to buy groceries to prepare for the next leg of my trip. Tomorrow I will try to start very early so as to ride as far as possible before it gets really hot. The next village Catavina is about 130km away, with some serious hills to be climbed at the beginning. So it’s going to be a long and hot day, with only one intermediate stop to get water or food in between. Will likely be as remote as the Dalton Highway in Alaska…
Tuesday, September 29
El Rosario to Catavina
125km / 8140km; 7.2h / 437h; 1540m
I get up at sunrise and pack my tent. My breakfast is a 1/2l chocolate milk and two pastries plus some water. I’m full with 4l water on the bike.
It’s hard to find a rhythm in the morning as the road goes up & down incessantly, mostly uphill. For the first 40km I need 3h 10min! The elevation gain at this point is nearly 1000m. After initial cool temps and fog it gets hot quickly after about 9am. The temps will climb to about 38C/100F between noon and 3pm. I hit every little restaurant for at least 1 bottle of cold coke to stay well hydrated.
To my dismay, my shifter cable snaps again at about 65km! This means that I will continue the next 60km in single speed (9 of 14). At least the worst of the hills are behind me already, so I only need to get off and push the bike once every 20km or so. Nice colors in the late afternoon. I arrive in Catavina at about 5:30pm. I buy some water and then setup my tent at the local RV-park.
I get online at the local hotel “Desert Inn” and send emails asking Gary to help me research how I can get a replacement shifter and cable-box set from Rohloff; I need to fix this problem for good so I don’t have to mess with it every 1000km. Afterwards I have dinner across the street and meet Bill, Hendrick and Nina, who are touring the Baja by motorcycle. (Coincidentally, many weeks later in Southern Mexico near Tehuantepec, a motorcycle passed me from behind, pulled over and Hendrick and Nina greeted me again!) More email in the evening and into tent by 10pm. Here is a blog post with some photos describing this first day leading into the Central Baja.
Wednesday, September 30
Catavina to Punta Prieta
104km / 8246km; 5h / 442h; 1000m
I get up early with the sunrise. I pack my tent and roll the bike across the street to the “Desert Inn Hotel” for breakfast. It’s the nicest place around; I’m sitting in a courtyard in the shade next to a little fountain, eating French Toast and drinking coffee while checking mail via wireless Internet.
During breakfast I meet an American couple (Robert & Peggy) and we chat about my project. When I mention my bike issue with the cable Robert offers up a large toolbox; thanks to that I can open the cable box and improvise a solution with the shortened cable. This will give me only a few gears, but that is much better than to have just one single speed. I end up with 7 (of 14) and feel quite happy about it. Now I can more realistically look at riding two days to Guerrero Negro.
The ride starts with a lot of up & down, similar to yesterday. The first 20km see 500m of elevation gain. Without the 7 speeds it would have been very painful to ride here…
Then after crossing a highpoint of nearly 900m it’s mostly flat terrain. I stop at a little place at 55km to drink 2 bottles of orange soda and eat my last Clif Bar. After a 45 min break I resume the ride at 3pm. It’s 5C cooler than yesterday, so I can tolerate the heat a bit better. The remaining 50km I ride nonstop. There is a plain slightly sloped downhill which makes riding really easy and fun. At one point I feel like in a hangglider at the end of a long flight gliding down on final approach.
After reaching Punta Prieta (104km) I buy some soda and water. Then I have an early dinner at the local restaurant and write a bit on the laptop. I can set up my tent outside under a little straw roof. Another family arrives and we chat a little bit – as far as my Spanish will allow me to. Sounds like they were very excited to learn about my proyecto and may make a donation when they get back to their home in Calexico, CA.
We take some photos and then I brush my teeth and go to sleep early (8:45pm).
Thursday, October 1
Punta Prieta to Guerrero Negro
142km / 8388km; 6.8h / 449h; 840m
The night was cool but loud: the dogs, a truck with it’s engine running for hours and then a rooster in the morning… I should have camped in the desert – the facilities would have been the same (i.e. none).
Good breakfast at 7am (3 pancakes and coffee). I start riding at 7:30am. The first 20km or so the road continues to descend slightly, so it’s easy riding and my average speed is almost 27km/h! Then I need to cross the first of many vados, which slows me down a bit. I readjust the cable-box of my shifter several times to move the 7-speed range up or down.
After 55km I reach Nuevo Rosarito, the first small village. I buy a 2l bottle of coke and some cookies. Then I continue to a small shop which supposedly has Internet access. Unfortunately the cable modem seems to be configured such that my laptop isn’t allowed to connect via the LAN cable. I fiddle with the confugration and Spanish Windows XP for some 20min and then give up. (I don’t want to login at Hotmail from a public computer for fear of keyboard loggers.)
When I ask for the Banos, the lady points to a shack in the backyard. I’m about halfway there when a good-sized Rottweiler dog charges at me at full blast and barking like crazy! Luckily for me the dog is on a thick chain, which comes tight and yanks the dog back so hard that it flips around sommersault-style. I stay well clear of this dog…
I continue after a 45min break at 11am. The next 6-7km are aweful: The road is extremely rough, I face headwind and it’s slow going. Thereafter the road gets better, but the wind is still bad. The next 2h are pretty hard; it’s a featureless landscape and there is little to distract me while I’m riding. Some high clouds move in which keeps the temperature from rising above 33C. I am counting down the last km to the next little village, Villa Jesus Maria. There I’m having three Fish Tacos and a coke as a refresher.
After this stop the road is much better and with the two bottles of coke I have just consumed I have more energy. The remainder of the ride is pretty straightforward now. One can see a tall monument indicating the 28th parallel from many miles away in the flat terrain. This marks the border between Baja and Baja Del Sur. There is also a military checkpoint and base. I stop at one of the first hotels with Internet to check my email. Then I continue into town to find an ATM at a bank. This is quite the spectacle here in Guerrero Negro, with many people of all ages out on the streets. Again people shout after me when they see the recumbent – it’s just crazy! I buy some groceries and head back to an RV park (with Internet) back on the Mex 1 Highway but out of town. I’m the only guest there, which is a bit eerie but fine. I have a (badly needed) shower and then dinner and email. Into tent by 10pm.
Friday, October 2
Guerrero Negro to San Ignacio
148km / 8536km; 7h / 456h; 700m
I get up early with the first light. It is overcast; from the satellite images and Weather Channel I realize these clouds are the outer bands of Tropical Storm Olaf which is heading our way. So it will remain cloudy all day; we might even see some desert rain! I have a generous breakfast with coffee and French Toast as well as milk and cereal and bananas. Some email and then ready to ride by 9am. Just met Holger from Germany who is touring with his partner Anne on a F650 BMW motorcycle. (www.2aufreisen.de)
The first 45km the road is pretty much one straight line across the desert. For hours there is hardly anything to look at. Then a turn in the road! Then another 10km straight line…
I divide today’s distance into three 50km blocks. When I reach 50 and 100km respectively, I stop to drink and eat some food. Since the road is mostly flat I’m making good time (avg. speed 22km/h). I do something for the first time since I started in Alaska 3 months and 8500km ago: I listen to the iPod music while riding. There is really nothing else to look at or consider. It works. I get a motivational boost and the km fly by. At 120km I stop at a little road-side restaurant to have a cup of coffee. Only one more hour and I should be in San Ignacio.
It actually starts to rain during the last hour; not torrential rain, more a light sprinkle, but it gets the road wet and keeps everything much cooler. I pass another military checkpoint where young military personnel with machine guns around their shoulders inspect my bike and ask where I come from…
San Ignacio looks nice, but it’s getting dark and it’s raining, so I don’t waste any time to find accommodations. Since the campgrounds look all sandy and muddy I decide to stay in a small room rented at the central plaza next to the mission church. I bring my bike and trailer into the courtyard under a small roof – right through the narrow entrance and kitchen steps. Then I go for dinner and to an Internet place across the plaza. Reminds me of some of the plazas in Peru. Thanks to the wireless Internet access I can post on my Blog about the riding of last couple of days, titled Desert Rain in the Baja.
Saturday, October 3
San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia
75km / 8611km; 5h / 462h; 850m
It had rained all night on and off. In the morning it is still raining. We are under one of the outer bands of Tropical Storm Olaf. I eat cereal with yoghurt and drink Gatorade for breakfast. I’m waiting for the Internet place across the plaza to open up. At 9:30am I knock on their door which instead of business hours just says “Abierto”. A sleepy lady opens the door a bit and says she will be open “en media hora, mas o menos”. At 10am I get tired of waiting, pack my bike and leave. No rain initially, but slight uphill and headwind make for slow going. This can’t go on for too long, I think, because I don’t remember any significant hills to come. But it does go on for a long time. I crawl uphill into the wind, it’s hard. I take a break at 23km (avg speed 14km/h) in the little village of ‘Tres Virgenes’ for some brunch (coffee and pancakes). After that still no rain, and more wind and uphill! Despite the rather short distance a harder day than I thought…
But I notice that the desert has turned green! I assume the massive rains from hurricane Jimena passing through here 4 weeks ago provided the water which turned the usually barren and brown desert floor into a sea of green with yellow flowers. And I finally do get some rain – this one caused by the remains of Tropical Storm Olaf – a welcome reduction in temperatures and a much needed wash for my bike jersey.
After cresting at more than 500m there is a steep descent towards the Ocean down the ominously called ‘Cuesta del Infierno’. The road is really steep, and the occasional truck wreck below another sharp turn indicates how serious this slope is. Since my other shifter cable snapped as well I’m back to riding in single-speed. I need to dismount and push my bike a lot. Not a lot of fun.
I make it to Santa Rosalia around 5pm. I look for Internet to do email, then for a bike shop. Or any shop with a replacement cable and tools. I find one and with the help of the owner’s son I fiddle with my shifter for 1/2h. I try to reuse my old cables, but to no avail. It’s getting dark, and they’re closing their shop. I buy two cables, hoping to figure something out tomorrow. Then I find a nice hotel room, take a shower and go for dinner. Some more email and Skype with my parents, then to bed at 11pm.
Sunday, October 4
San Ignacio to Mulege
65km / 8681km; 3.5h / 466h; 560m
Today I start out easy going. First I have my cereal breakfast (would be easier if the milk wasn’t frozen). I am checking email from the wireless Internet at the Hotel Del Real. I also study the Rohloff installation guide to understand how to mount the shifter cables. Then I go to a bank ATM to get some cash. Next I have some more breakfast (ham & cheese omelette) at a restaurant.
After this I take another shower and get dressed for the bike. I roll to the tire shop I saw yesterday to do my cable repair there (with the help of their tools). It takes me a full hour or so, but I manage to replace both cables and put everything back together. I now have all 14 gears again, albeit with greater switch resistance due to the lower quality cables.
It’s past 2pm by the time I roll out of town toward Mulege. It’s hot (36C) and I have to climb a 100m hill.
After that hill the road levels off and there are beautiful views of the Sea of Cortez. I didn’t expect this, but the scenery is stunningly beautiful – the best I have seen in Mexico! In the afternoon light I enjoy the landscape with lots of green / yellow plants against dark blue waters and white-blue sky. I take lots of pictures. One quick stop for a coke, but today is not a very long ride.
Towards the end the road climbs again another 110m hill before dropping down into Mulege. Lots of palm trees and buildings everywhere. Of course, still signs of the flooding devastation, but they are clearly trying to get things back up & running. I ask around and check a few hotels before finding a cheap place with shower. I bring in the bike to the room, take my shower, then go next door for dinner. Before I can chose my dinner there is a total blackout over the entire village. Only the full moon shines on the balcony – it’s eerily beautiful. They run on generator power for 15min, then power is restored.
Monday, October 5
Mulege to Loreto
140km / 8820km; 7.8h / 473h
I eat a big cereal breakfast and do some email in the morning. Then I make some adjustments to the bike and grease the shifter cables as they have a lot of resistance. I start the ride at about 9am – after all this will be a pretty long and hot day to Loreto.
The road follows the Bahia Concepcion with its many bays and beautiful beaches. Unfortunately this also means lots of hill climbing. The scenery is lovely; I especially like the Playa Santispac (unfortunately on those long days there is hardly enough time to stop and enjoy the beaches). And then around 50km it happens: One of my shifter cables snaps again! How am I supposed to finish this day to Mulege without shifting gears? I use a low gear and to my surprise am riding this for 15km (uphill ride slow in low gear, downhill coast) as it is a constant succession of either uphill or downhill. Then I reach a little rancho and buy some cold water. To my surprise the owner has the tools I need, so I borrow them and get to work. In less than 1/2h I am back in business
The next 15km I can use my gears, but then again one cable snaps (actually it only came lose in the cable-box, but to the same effect). I am getting very frustrated about this now. And there is neither another rancho nor enough time to fix the problem one more time. So I occasionally stop, change the gear with my multi-tool, and then continue. I also get off the bike and push it up a great many hills. So it goes until I reach Loreto. The beginning of a town can always be told by the big garbage dumps on the outer town limits. Just like in Florida there are hundreds of vultures and other birds around those garbage dumps.
I roll into the town center and ask for the campground. Luckily there is a campground and RV-park not far from the center and also from the beach. It’s a nice campground with a very friendly hostess and even wireless Internet. I set up my tent, take a shower and then go for a 20min walk to the nearest cluster of restaurants. I eat at the Mediterreano Grill with a view from the balcony to the moon rising over the Sea of Cortez! (The place reminds me of Bostons Upper Deck in Delray Beach.) I meet and chat with Lori and Justin (65 and 92 years old). They are enthralled with my project Double Dinner (big salad followed by seafood linguini), then walk back and write about the frustrating cable snapping episode in a Blog post titled ‘Baja CabliSnapia‘. Into my tent very late at 1am.
Tuesday, October 6
Loreto to Ciudad Insurgentes
127km / 8948km; 7h / 480h; 1200m
I get up around 8am and have a nice breakfast and email; then I visit the local bike shop and fix my cable issue, plus grocery shopping (incl. a gallon of water) and email.
By the time I start my ride it is almost noon! And it’s a bit more than 120km to Ciudad Insurgentes, with a significant pass (400m) plus some other smaller hills along the way. So it’s going to be tight to get there during daylight.
At first the road follows along the bay, which makes for scenic views. There are some big hotels/resorts out of town with golf courts and large areas. I enjoy the fact that I can shift easily again and have all my gears! That makes the ride so much easier.
At 40km I stop for some refreshing coke and two delicious yogurt drinks. Right after this stop the road turns inland and steeply upward. It is 34C hot at 2pm and I’m sweating like crazy up the 400m pass. There are a few nice views now that I gained some altitude. After several false summits the road continues to climb along a river valley. After 2 hours of this I feel how I’m getting low on energy – haven’t had much after my breakfast. So I stop at 63km in the only shade for some crumbcake, cereal bars and nearly 2l of Tang powdered water (lastes like Gatorade). During this break I notice a fairly large tarantula spider crossing the road, some unexpected wildlife here.
The air is noticeably cooler (25C) and there is a fresh breeze. At 80km I finally gain the crest of the road, which climbs sideways out of the river valley. Once on top there is a seemingly endless plateau with the road straight to the horizon. Thanks to a slight downhill slope I ride the first 45min at speeds around 30km/h. It feels like on a long 45km final glide. I enjoy the green colors – it’s much more green than I had expected. Unfortunately I am very short on time so I can’t take any breaks; it gets really hard towards the end to keep up the pace. I’m counting down the km and finally I’m very happy to get to Ciudad Insurgentes just before sunset. Here there are strong signs of wind damage (from hurricane Jimena 4 weeks ago). I find a restaurant which also offers rooms. However, I don’t need a room, just a shower. They have a bano where I can take a shower. Then I have a double dinner and type my notes on the iPhone. Unfortunately no Internet access, though.
Wednesday, October 7
Ciudad Insurgentes to El Cien
139km / 9089km; 5.5h / 486h; 250m
Today should be a relatively easy day; at least I don’t lose half the day to bike repairs After some pancake breakfast I check email at an Internet cafe at 9am. Then I ride the 27km to Ciudad Constitucion; and what a joy, there is a strong tailwind so I ride along effortlessly at speeds around 30km/h! Soon I’m in Cd. Constitucion and find a restaurant with wireless Internet. I skype with my friend Frank in Munich and also research the TMC ferry schedule to Mazatlan.
The next section is much like the first, except twice as long to Santa Rita. I greatly enjoy riding this straight line, flat road with tailwind today – and I also pass the 9000km mark, which makes me think back to the many, many miles I have already covered since I started in Alaska. Green farmland around the two Ciudads, similar to the land near Lake Okeechobee in South Florida. There are signs of wind destruction from hurricane Jimena which remind me of the damage hurricane Wilma caused in Oct 2005 in FL: Large roofs, signs, billboards, agricultural buildings etc. Those are the structures that were most affected by the storm. But there is lots of reconstruction work going on. Anyway, this region seems to be developing strongly. There are new power-lines going up, a fiber optic cable runs next to the Hwy, there are cell-phone towers, the road is being improved at places, so a pretty good infrastructure here.
After 81km I encounter the first turn in the road today! I continue for another 44km to La Posita as there is no Internet here in Santa Rita. And none in the next little villages either I stop for an early dinner at La Posita – maybe 50 houses here – and then go for another 12km to El Cien. I reach this village – maybe 10 houses here – just after sunset as it starts to get dark. El Cien is exactly 100km from La Paz (hence the name). In the fading daylight I set up my tent in the backyard of the little restaurant away from the road. Then I have dinner and type a few emails, even though there is no Internet access here. I go to sleep early at 9pm. Tomorrow I need an early start to catch the ferry in La Paz!
Thursday, October 8
El Cien to La Paz (Pinchilingue)
120km / 9211km; 6.5h / 493h; 920m
I get up at 4:45am. It’s still dark, but for the moon. I have a small cereal with 1/2l milk in my tent. With the wind it’s actually a bit cool outside. Then I pack my stuff and get ready to ride by 5:30am. This is my first pre-dawn start; I just want to make sure that I don’t miss the ferry (departs at 4pm, need to be there at 3pm). And it’s 100km to La Paz plus another 18km from there to the ferry terminal. I ride about 30km before it gets light. There are many hills along the way. The upcoming sun creates wonderful views and light for photography. At 45km I stop at a bus stop. Unfortunately it’s another 35km to the first restaurant – that’s what the locals tell me. So I keep going and eat pretty much all the snacks and bars I have with me. Also my water is running a bit low – didn’t think that there wouldn’t be anything for the first 80km! There are many rolling hills (like vados) which slow me down.
Eventually I reach the 300m high edge of the plateau and I can see the Ocean and La Paz down below. It’s another 35km to La Paz. Now the ride is fun; it’s a lot of downhill and the goal is in sight. Another military checkpoint with curious and emphatic staff, asking questions and expressing acknowledgement.
At 85km I see a plaza with a coffeeshop; I stop for brunch and to get online. I also buy some groceries and water. At 12:00pm I continue. Riding through La Paz isn’t fun; near the center the traffic and the roads are pretty bad. I head straight for Pinchilingue North of La Paz. The remaining 20km of so are tiring, with lots of up & down along the coast. At 2:10pm I finally reach the ferry terminal. I buy my ticket, then go to eat at the nearby restaurant. At 3:20 or so I board and tie my bike to a corner. Mostly trucks on this ferry (TMC).
Dinner is paltry, I’m disappointed. I’ll need to get my 9000km steak in Mazatlan! I watch my photo slide shows. All Mexican truckers stand around with an American couple that hands out Tequila; you can imagine the level of their discourse…
I sleep outside with fresh air under the stars rolling slowly sideways with the big vessel…
Friday, October 9
Rest Day in Mazatlan
(after ferry crossing from La Paz to Mazatlan in the morning).
I don’t feel like continuing right away; I am exhausted and feel a bit burnt out after the non-stop Baja ride and the not so relaxing ferry crossing. I ride along the scenic water line and check in at the upscale Mazatlan Ocean Front Inn Bed & Breakfast. The very friendly hosts Jim and Candance Penn (American expatriates) take pity on me and give me a room incl. great food at a discounted rate. Jim later says that when he first saw me, he thought I looked like a ‘stray dog’ and needed a break badly. I sleep, enjoy good food and a full body massage at a nearby spa. I also watch some cliff divers jump into the water very close to the rock cliffs – just like one envisions from Acapulco! 24 hrs later I am full of energy and ready to ride again.
Saturday, October 10
Mazatlan to Ojo De Agua de Palmillas (30km prior to Acaponeta)
129km / 9345km; 6.3h / 500h; 500m
I have a nice breakfast with the hosts on their patio overlooking the Ocean. After some email I finally get ready to leave at 10am.
It is very humid and hot, so right from the start there is a lot of sweating. I follow Candace’s directions to get out of town. Not very pretty, actually, with lots of industrial activity, dust and bad smells. After about 10km a car passes me and stops in front of me: It’s Jim from the B&B and he is waving my wallet at me! Stupidly I had left it in my room! I’m so happy they found it quickly and that Jim drove after me to get me my wallet – incredible!
I continue to about 30km and stop at a little town for a coke. Other than the heat and humidity everything is good. I get on the cuota, which is a very good road with wide shoulder; it’s relatively safe to ride here. There are some rolling hills and a few stretches of road construction, but overall I’m making good progress on this road. I stop at a toll booth near Rosario for some more coke and sweet waffle cookies. Later at Escuinapa I get off the toll road hoping to find some restaurant and Internet access. No luck with the former, but a small Internet shop so I can do some email. Riding back to the cuota (did about 5km extra that way). It’s easy and comfortable riding for another hour or so. Then the cuota and libre separate and I follow the libre so as to find a small restaurant or place to stay. The sun is about to set when I find a place at near 130km. I have dinner and set up my tent right next to the restaurant.
Sunday, October 11
Ojo de Agua to Tepic
166km / 9511km; 9.6h / 509h; 1200m
I get up at 6:45 and pack the tent. I leave the restaurant place at 7:15 which hasn’t opened yet. My idea is to ride to Acaponeta for breakfast and Internet. This turns out to be 35km; by the time I’m in the centro historico I’m riding for about 2h. I ask for an Internet cafe, but several people there only point me to a cafe… I find an Internet shop and go online for 1/2h. Then I buy milk and have cereal breakfast on the central plaza. Everybody is dressed up for Sunday church! It’s a lovely plaza, but I need to hit the road again. By the time I’m back at the Highway intersection outside of town it’s 11am.
Then I get on the cuota and ride. Weather is overcast, so not quite as hot (but still up to 33C) and no need for sunscreen. There is no wind, which makes the air feel a bit stale at times. On the mostly flat terrain I make good progress and my average speed is near 20km/h. Once I get low on water but thankfully I can refill at a toll station and later at some agricultural inspection stand. At 120km I start thinking that I could reach Tepic (165km). I still have 2.5h of daylight, so this should be fine. But then the hills start! Up to this point there were almost no hills the entire way. Now, however, the terrain gets really hilly and all of a sudden my speed slows way down. I climb to about 240m and stop at 140km at a little restaurant for some coke. Only 25km, that can’t be too bad, I’m thinking. Boy, was I mistaken!
The remaining 25km develop into a nightmare of a ride: It’s all hills, mostly uphill, cuota and libre combined, lots of traffic, it’s hot, stinky, humid, I’m tired after 8+ h on the bike, and it’s getting dark with no other place to camp. At 7pm I reach the last toll booth with only 8km to go. By now I am at 600m and the road is still climbing! I can’t believe it, but it ends up climbing pretty much all the way to the town; At the last km there is the Col de Palomar and I’m showing 900m!
My odometer shows 165km and 9.5h on the bike, the last hour in the dark. What a nightmare that last hour was! I need to get off this road and off the bike now! I stop at a gas station / grocery store and ask a security guard for nearby hotels. He points one out just a few hundred m down the road. First I buy some yoghurt drink and a big bottle of coke. The 1/2l of yoghurt tastes so good that I buy another one and also finish it right on the spot – ahhh that tasted delicious! Then I roll up to the motel and check in. They rent by the hour and have curtains in front of the parking stalls for privacy… Well I don’t care what else is going on, it looks clean and I need a room, so here I’ll stay.
Next door I eat some tacos and then I sit outside for a while in the cooling fresh air and type these notes.
To sleep by 10pm.
Monday, October 12
Tepic to Jala
80km / 9592km; 5.3h / 515h; 1200m
I sleep until 8am and then prepare to move to some restaurant for breakfast. I need only ride 1km and find a hotel next to a gas station with a nice little restaurant and wireless Internet. So I stay there and have two breakfasts in a row; I also do email and post the impressions of my first two days of riding in Mexico Mainland on my Blog; finally I order spaghetti for an early lunch before I finally buy some groceries and start my ride by 12:30pm. Fully loaded with 4l of water I am slow going uphill. Tepic lies in a bowl where I had just reached the crest last night. So now I get to see a little more of the city; but the main road bypasses the center – not that I mind after having ridden through towns like La Paz…
Again the road is climbing a lot today, which gets me to altitudes above 1300m – almost as high as the Atigun pass (1440m, so far my highest point on the bike). There are pine trees among the lush forest; at times I feel like in the middle of the rain forest. The road passes the volcano Ceboruco, with many of the lava streams still visible right next to the road. Due to the long climbing my average speed is below 15km/h, one of my slowest days. At one point it’s almost raining on me; there is a rainbow nearby and the road is wet in parts. Then there is a 350m descent with top speeds above 70km/h which brings some of the fun back to riding. At 75km I get off the cuota to stop at a little village called Jala. It’s 5:20pm and I just don’t want another evening where I’m caught out on the road when it gets dark in 1 hour…
Here I find a small Internet shop in a side alley with cobblestones – quite the contrast. After some email I go and find a restaurant for dinner. Afterwards I look for a place to stay. The big hotel charges a fortune, so I keep looking. I find a small hotel, which let’s me bring in my bike and pitch my tent inside their hallway! Not your average tent setup, but it’s a safe place away from the street and hopefully a bit quieter than the last two nights as well. Into the tent by 9pm.
Tuesday, October 13
Jala to El Arenal (near Guadalajara)
110km / 9702km; 6.8h / 522h; 1200m
It’s a beautiful, fresh morning. I get up at 7 and have a mini-breakfast from my own supplies. Then I start under a cloudless sky at 7:30. There is a 150m hill to the next town at 12km, Ixtlan del Rio.
With 25000 people living there it provides a typical Mexican experience: little streets, a centro historico, some modern infrastructure. I get off the cuota and ride downtown. First for some email, then for some big breakfast. Those stops take time, but they also convey the rural Mexico, the little towns with cobblestone side streets, the little shops and the dogs in the streets, the busy central places and the Catholic churches. My breakfast is a 1/2kg of shrimp with fresh vegetables and rice and onions and garlic – delicious!
2h later I’m back on the cuota and climbing again. It seems as if the roads here in central Mexico are never flat. In fact, a road sign “Inicia Zona Montaña” makes me worried – that can’t be good. But there is a 250m downhill first, so there is some justice after all 😉 The road passes along some volcanoes, and there are two roads (cuota & libre) and a rail road track. I stop at 40km at a toll booth for some coke. Mentally prepared I tackle the next big hill, with the road winding through the mountains. I see beautiful butterflies here, incl. a very large white one. After a short downhill there is finally some flat terrain for 10km or so – how effortless the miles fly by then! At 2pm and 65km I reach Magdalena and feel like having lunch or a coffee break. But first I need to follow the toll road all around town and then ride back 2.5km to town, very annoying. I stop at a nice little restaurant next to a small grocery store. There I buy 1l of milk and a yoghurt drink, which both go down immediately. Then I have an omelette and some Gatorade and water. To my surprise they have Internet here, so I do some more email. At 4pm I continue; it’s less hot and more pleasant to ride those last two hours of the day. I need to pass by another volcano, also passing the town of Tequila. It’s getting late and soon it’s past 6pm and the sun is about to go down. At 6:30 and 110km I reach the El Arenal toll booth, 10km prior to the end of the cuota and about 40km prior to Guadalajara. I am too tired to continue and also don’t want to ride in the dark. So I decide to wait here until it’s fully dark, then setup my tent and crash here for the night.
Wednesday, October 14
El Arenal to Ocotlán
124km / 9826km; 6.3h / 528h; 800m
The night was not very restful; too much noise from passing trucks and I wasn’t fully comfortable with the public location, either. I crossed into a different time zone (CST) yesterday, so I lost one hour on the clock. Sunrise is now around 8am. I pack my stuff, wash myself and walk over to the 24h open OXXO supermarket. There I have a large cereal breakfast with banana and milk + donut + coffee, as I didn’t have a real dinner last night (only 2 sandwiches). Then I’m so stuffed that I’m just sitting there for some 20min. Finally I’m on the bike by 10:00 (used to be 9).
The next couple of km pass relatively quickly. I stop once more for internet access at 15km. Then I realize I’m about to enter the metropolitan area of Guadalajara, Mexico’s 2nd largest city. This is it. The traffic increases and soon I ride in the right-most of 6 lanes towards the center. Luckily the avenida is very broad, so that people don’t mind too much that I occupy 1 full lane – that seems the safest way to ride. (Otherwise small trucks try to squeeze by and that’s dangerous since there is no shoulder…)
After about 30km I need a break; city traffic is loud and hectic, and the frequent stops at red lights require extra energy to stop and restart. But it’s also exhilarating in some way, with hundreds of people shouting and waving from vehicles and the side of the road. I stop at a Hampton Inn and escape to the A/C and quiet of their lobby for 1/2 hour. They also have wireless Internet, so I type these notes and send them out. I’d like to reach the Lago de Chapala region today; it should be nice for camping…
After the refreshing break at the Hampton Inn I hit the road again, confident that soon the worst of the traffic will be behind me. It’s all flat and even some dlight downhill, which allows me to proceed at a good pace. Soon after the aeropuerto the road turns to the East and heads straight towards Ocotlán. There are some rolling hills here and wide open farmland. Also one area with road construction, where the single lane is too narrow for trucks to pass me. Hence on the uphill sections I create a bit of a traffic jam behind me. I wait once but eventually have to jump back in there in the almost unending stream of trucks and buses. Those smaller roads and libres are less predictable than the cuota and sometimes not as safe.
Anyway, I am on time to arrive in Ocotlán well before sunset. I ride to the town center with the big cathedral. As usual, I do get a lot of attention with my unusual bike. I study a city map and ask where I have the best chance to find a campground. Then I proceed to the lake shore to the South. The sun is about to set when I get some nice views of the lake, so I stop twice for sunset pictures. I don’t see a CG but stop at a large hotel / restaurant and inquire about rates (500+ pesos). I explain that I usually sleep in my tent and that I can’t afford those rates I’m about to leave when a waiter follows me and asks me to wait a minute; he has asked the “jefa” whether I could stay here and camp. And sure enough, the “jefe” comes to greet me personally and shows me a nice grassy spot right on the lake shore where I can camp for one night for free! Not only that, they show me some baños where I can take a hot shower and then I hear that the “jefa” invites me for dinner! So I have a nice two-course dinner with a big pitcher of lemonade while doing email all for free! I end up donating $40 to my cause in their name due to their extraordinary generosity! What a great evening to another long day on the bike!
Thursday, October 15
Ocotlán to Pandindicuaro
125km / 9955km; 7.5h / 536h; 1400m
I pack my tent and have a generous double breakfast at the La Cabaña de Yeyo hotel while checking email. I leave around 9:30am. The road is flat and for the first couple of km follows the lake shore to Jamay, then to La Barca. Here I stop at 25km at an OXXO store to drink yoghurt and coke, and to stock up on water. From here I get on the cuota; it says 403km to Mexico City.
The ride is flat at first and relatively uneventful. Then the hills start again; somehow they don’t bother me as much today, though. We’re at elevations between 1300m and 1850m, so some long climbs in there. I stop at a toll booth for more refreshing coke and have a chat there with some locals. Also some travelers who had passed me earlier stop and talk briefly.
Then I pull out my iPod and listen to some music. After 1 hour or so I change and listen to the audiobook “Awakening the Buddha within” – quite the contrast! But riding on the shoulder of the cuota is safe and very straightforward, almost boring, so the audiobook takes the mind off the bike for a while. This makes the hills seem less daunting, actually. Twice I ride down several hundred m at speeds of 60-70 km/h, which is fun and refreshing. The scenery is also quite amazing, with the low sun after 5pm creating wonderful images, especially in the last half hour between 6:30-7:00pm.
I need to get off this road again as it will get dark soon. I knew the next toll booth would be at 123km, and there is a little village called Pandindicua very close by. I ride into town and find an Internet place to check email for a half hour. Then I stop at a little road-side place for some Enchiladas for dinner. I haven’t found a place to sleep yet, so I roll around to the town center. There is a police station and I ask there for a safe spot to camp. They point right next to their station under some arches on the concrete floor, under the street lights right on the big plaza! I am not picky, but this doesn’t feel right. It’s as if you set up your tent on a moderately busy train station or something – I don’t like it here. So I continue searching and find a nice little hotel called La Posada with a clean and quiet room in a courtyard for only 150 pesos. And the hot shower does feel good again
Typing these notes and then to bed by 10:30pm.
Friday, October 16
Pandindicuaro to Morelia
100km / 10058km; 6.5h / 543h; 1400m
I take it easy in the morning and have some breakfast and do some email. Then it’s back to the cuota and the ride. However, today is a pretty strong headwind and there continue to be some big hills. My first 40km take a full 3h! So it’s not exactly an easy day. I try listening to the Buddhist audiobook again, but somehow today I can’t focus as well – or maybe I’m just frustrated with the agonizingly slow pace. But the views and scenery are nice. Once I stop at an overpass and take some photos of horses and birds from up there.
Then I reach the 10.000km mark at a downhill towards the Lake Cuitzeo basin. I stop and take a picture of this momentous milestone.
Along the shores of the lake I stop again to dry out my tent and sleeping bag – they were still damp from packing them yesterday morning at Lago de Chapala.
More headwind until I reach the turnoff to Morelia; now it’s a short uphill and tailwind (which also makes it feel much hotter). Then a long break at an OXXO store to cool down and drink. Now it’s less than 20km to Morelia and I arrive in this vibrant city with about 45min until sunset. I tour the center and take pictures of the cathedral. Then some email at an Internet shop. Now navigating the dark streets back to the central plaza; what a commotion there of restaurants, people, artists etc. I park my bike – which continues to be a great attraction and instant conversation starter – and have dinner under the portals which surround the entire plaza. Then I ask around and find the inexpensive Hotel Colonia within walking distance from the plaza. After a hot shower I spend some more time on email and describe the last few days in a Blog post called ‘Big City, Big Lakes, Big Hills‘. It’s late to bed around midnight.
Saturday, October 17
Morelia to Los Azufres (cuota parking)
67km / 10126km; 5h / 548h; 1100m
I get up before 8 and walk to the central plaza, enjoying the fresh morning mood and looking for photo opportunities. I also have breakfast in a little restaurant above a bakery – you select the fresh pastries and they bring it up to you where you can enjoy them with coffee – and a very scenic view of the cathedral, perhaps the most scenic breakfast spot of the whole trip!
After returning to the hotel I chat with the receptionist about the road ahead. My planned route leads into the “Mille cumbre” – the thousand hills – and the road is small and dangerous for bicycles. So I decide to backtrack the way I came yesterday back to the cuota and continue there to Toluca. Getting out of Morelia is a small adventure in itself, lots of traffic and very little streets… Then I take a direct road to the East via the airport and on to Zinapecuaro. Initially this road is not good, lots of traffic both ways and no shoulder. A taxi driver stops and talks to me, wishing me good luck for my trip and giving me 20 pesos for a refreshment. Octavio and his wife Lupita then pose for a quick photo and I give them one of my cards. Great to see so many people taking note and wishing me well for the trip! Today the headwind is even stronger than yesterday. After 25km I stop to refuel, get water and replace the batteries in my SPOT which has been blinking red since this morning.
The road continues past the airport without shoulder, but traffic isn’t too bad. Also more headwind
I reach Zinapecuaro around 3:30pm. There is a real campground here, one of the first I’ve seen in Mexico. I get some coke and ask for directions to the cuota. Then I’m back on the toll road at 56km. The next village is 37km away – doable with my 2h of remaining daylight.
However, the first 10km or so is all uphill! I climb through 1700, 1800, 1900, 2000m – will this ever end? 2100, 2200m! It’s getting chilly and ahead I see dark clouds which promise rain shortly. It’s 6pm and I only have 1h remaining daylight. There is some rest stop (no services, though). I decide to stay here for the night. I can pit up my tent a bit below so it’s not visible for cars from the road. It’s windy and cold, so I dress warmly and soon get into my sleeping bag, even though it’s only 6:30pm. It starts to rain and I’m happy to be inside my dry tent and warm sleeping bag now!
Sunday, October 18
Los Azufres to Atlacomulco
103km / 10229km; 7.2h / 555h; 1600m
I get up at 8am with the first rays of sun hitting the tent. 13h of rest in my tent – I must have been tired! It’s a chilly 9C (48F) when I start, riding in long pants the first time since Oregon. After another 50m climb the road drops a bit into a high plain and there is an exit; after only a few km I sit at a restaurant having breakfast (pancakes, omellette, pancakes). Had I known I could easily have made it here last night before dark…
I get back on the road and push into the relentless headwind. The view opens up to some plateaus and valleys, some of them probably more than 500m below. The road drops 400m which helps, but the headwind takes the fun (and speed) out of the downhill. At 11:15am I reach Mariavato and ride to the town center for an Internet place. Hard to find I pass it twice – it’s camouflaged well in a narrow walkway up to the 2nd floor…
Then I buy some more coke and sit at the central plaza with some loudspeakers continuously announcing an upcoming cultural event. At 1pm I’m back riding. Into the wind. Into thinner air… I have about 70km to go. Usually that’s not a big deal, but today my avg speed is only about 14km/h, so this could be another 5h of riding..
At 58km I stop for a coffee at a little place on the other side of the freeway – have to carefully cross the freeway! I also open up my tent and sleeping bag to dry in sun and wind. The friendly old man also has a cup of coffee and takes a break from his gardening work.
After another 1.5h or so I get to a little town at 80km. I have a coffee and cake and need to put on warmer clothes. Up here between 2000 – 2400m it is a bit chilly. It’s already 6pm and I know I can hardly make it before dark. I speak to a Police officer; he indicates there is only one more hill and buses to Toluca only go from there. So I decide to keep going. Another hour of up & down, then it gets dark. At a toll booth I fit my lights and need to cover 8 more km. After another hill there is construction and a detour on the way down. I can hardly see and it’s not safe at all to ride here in the dark. I stop at the first hotel but they are expensive and have no Internet. So I carry on; at least it’s all downhill now into town. At one intersection I see a sign for the bus terminals. Spontaneously I go there and after a few hundred m I am at a huge bus terminal. I ask around and sure enough there is a bus to Toluca leaving in 1/2h! I buy a ticket (39 pesos) and fit the bike in the empty luggage compartment beneath. And there I’m on the bus to Toluca!
1h ride by bus, then short search for nearby hotel and check-in. Shower, late dinner and email; to bed by midnight.
1 week vacation back home in Florida, October 19-27
Wednesday, October 28
Bus transfer with bike, trailer, and mountain backpack (!) from Toluca through Mexico City to Puebla. While I have to due hardly any riding, today is a stressful day due to the very heavy load – bike + trailer + bike-gear + mountain-backpack incl. boots – and the constant attention to watch all my stuff while loading/unloading the bus, purchasing tickets etc. On a day like this it would definitely be easier with a companion so one can take turns watching over stuff and doing other things. In any event, I am just happy about my decision not to ride here, as the metropolitan area with some 20 million people is so huge and the traffic is very intense and dangerous. I am happy when I find a little place close to the bus terminal in Puebla. I post on my Blog about Mexico City and the 1 week vacation in Florida.
Thursday, October 29
Puebla to Tehuacan
124km / 10366km; 5h / 561h; 880m
Today I rode 124km from Puebla to Tehuacan. It was the first day of riding in nearly 10 days after the 1 week vacation in Florida and 2 travel days. Yesterday I had crossed Mexico City by bus and settled in Puebla about 80km East of Mexico City. My original plan had been to do some acclimatization climb near Puebla (to the Malinche volcano, 4500m) and then proceed to the climb of Pico Orizaba. However, the current weather forecast has rain showers and isolated thunderstorms for the next several days, so not exactly good climbing weather. Therefore I changed my plan such that I will first continue the bike ride to Oaxaca (350km from Puebla) for 3-4 days, then come back by bus, do the acclimatization and climbing, and return by bus to Oaxaca and continue the bike ride.
I needed to leave the backpack somewhere near the Puebla bus terminal. They have luggage storage in there, but charge by the hour and have no reasonable daily or weekly rates. Interestingly, the hotel where I stayed last night wanted to charge me 300 pesos (US$25) for a 1 week storage of my backpack – that’s quite expensive given that the room was only 220 pesos. (Also my bike & trailer were stored at the Toluca hotel for free, and it took up much more space than 1 backpack.) So I walked across the street to the bigger hotel and asked whether I could store a backpack there for a few days. To my surprise they said yes (even though I had not been a guest in their hotel). So I saved 300 pesos on this one by simply exploring one more option!
I left not only the mountaineering gear in my backpack, but also some clothing, my stove, cooking gear, gas, water bottle and filter. That reduced my weight by probably another 10 lb. So I left Puebla with much less weight than when I rode to the bus terminal in Toluca the other day. I quickly found the Autopista – the highway running though Puebla continuing to the East. Its shoulder was a bit rough and with some gravel and sand, but all in all a very direct and good route. Also, mostly flat considering the many mountains all around. In addition, there was a slight tailwind, so I made good time – for the first 50km I needed exactly 2 hours! It was cloudy and comfortably cool (20C), but no rain, so near perfect riding conditions. My legs felt great, only my lungs did feel the altitude a little bit, as the road was around 2200m most of the time with two little climbs up to 2400m.
At one toll booth I had an interesting encounter. I walked the bike across the side-walk far on one side, but then realized that the outermost lanes did not continue straight but turned away. And there was a barrier to the innermost lanes. So I was about to go back to reach around to the innermost lane when I was stopped by a machinegun-armed soldier. I thought: Am I in trouble now? The young kid started talking to me, and I told him about my project. Then he wanted me to provide a piece of paper!? So I dug into my backpack and produced a small piece of paper. Now he wanted me to translate some Spanish phrases into English and write them down for him; turned out he had a love-interest in some English speaking girl and didn’t know enough English to write her. So I had to translate for him, things about not drinking too much and having a safe trip etc. How funny, so I was not in trouble after all, but actually felt good helping the guy out.
As for the mountains, Malinche was in the clouds all day, with cloud cover starting around 3000m. Further into the ride I got some glimpses of Pico Orizaba in the distance and covered in clouds from the SW. The further I rode the clearer the sky got. Around 5pm when riding South towards Tehuacan I got a little better view of Orizaba. While there were still some high clouds the entire volcano cone was now free. Fairly little snow, only the last 500m or so. Some 3300m higher than where I was riding! On a clear day the view from up there must indeed be spectacular!
At about 100km I crossed a little pass of 2400m and started a short downhill, followed by a last uphill and then a long downhill. I knew from Google Map that there would be a descent to the valley of Tehuacan, but I was still pleasantly surprised by the size of the downhill – about 650m! And since I had tailwind the downhill translated into very high speeds. For 10-15 minutes I was cruising at speeds between 40-70 km/h! Good thing that I could use the highest gear and pedal up to 50 km/h so as to not cool down too much. At 124km I reached a gas station, restaurant, coffee shop and police station. It was 6pm and the sun had just set. In 20 minutes it would be pretty dark, so I knew it would be best to stay here. Luckily there were friendly hosts at the gas station who talked to me and were happy to offer me a slightly secluded place to put up my tent.
I went to the restaurant to wash up a bit and then for some dinner. Then I typed these notes while listening to Jill’s New Age playlist. With near 125km a very good day, given that I only started around noon and had only 6 hours of daylight (5 hours of ride time). At this pace I should be in Oaxaca by Saturday and back in Puebla on Sunday. Hopefully the weather will clear enough by then!
Friday, October 30
Tehuacan to Tepelmeme
96km / 10463km; 6.3h / 567h; 1650m
After a good night’s sleep I get up early and have a good breakfast at the gas-station / restaurant. I ride about 25 km bypassing Tehuacan on the cuota and then stop at a little village called San Gabriel de Chilac. It is a typical little Mexican village, somewhat off the beaten path and not very touristy. I receive all the more attention with my unusual bike in this place. I obtain some cash and buy a second breakfast and most importantly lots of coke and water. Ahead is a very challenging section of the road: A 1000m+ climb is waiting just after a few km from the border of the Puebla and Oaxaca provinces. Although I am mentally prepared for this, it takes me 4 hard and hot hours to climb up through the Canyon. The scenery is great, mind you, but it is very hard work. A few times I try hanging on to a slow moving passing truck, but I can’t quite catch any of them. Once on top I stop at the first road-side restaurant and take a long break. I drink, eat, drink some more and then take a nap. Life is reduced to basic necessities and simple pleasures when on a day as demanding as this. I wonder whether any friend or relative might be following along thanks to my real-time SPOT signals. If they know about riding in the heat and mountains, they know this is a hard day…
After my long break I continue for about an hour, but I am tired and don’t want to get caught out in the open in bad weather (looks like it might rain tonight) and without much food or water. So after about 15km I exit the cuota to the village of Tepelmeme. Less than 100km today, but after more than 6 hours of hard riding it certainly feels like a very hard day. Just as I roll into the center it starts to rain and I find a small place renting out rooms; however, I convince them that I really only need a safe place to pitch my tent and they let me do so in their garage. For a small fee I can use their shower and then have some big dinner.
Saturday, October 31
Tepelmeme to Oaxaca
140km / 10604km; 7.8h / 575h; 1930m
It’s raining in the morning. Too bad, as I don’t like cycling in the rain at all. But I guess it can’t always be sunny out on the road. Plus, it will certainly reduce the heat problem, and as long as one keeps moving it’s not so bad even when completely wet. After some breakfast I go to a nearby Internet place to publish a Blog post I had written up last night titled “Big mountains in Mexico“. Finally I can’t wait any longer for the rain to subside and take off, thinking to myself that this is quite hard and uncomfortable. At least it’s not heavy rain, just some drizzle. After a little while I take off my rain-pants as they restrict movement and make me sweat more inside than I get wet from the outside. Even when wet the long pants keep me warm anyway.
After about 3hrs at 50km I reach the town of Nochixtlan. Good time to get off the cuota and have lunch. I roll into town and stop at the center near a bus terminal and many small tiendas selling food. All of a sudden I have this big craving for chicken meat. I order one full grilled chicken and devour it hungrily. It’s just amazing how much you can eat when you’re riding all day, every day. Unfortunately, when you resume riding after such a feast, your blood is in the stomach, not the leg muscles and things are very sluggish and slow.
But I’m making steady progress all afternoon and the weather keeps improving. I have a bit of tailwind and the cuota does a good job of minimizing the impact of the many hills due to many cutouts – this may not look as nice and leave scars in the landscape, but at the moment I’m just happy that I don’t need to climb as much.
I am getting closer to Oaxaca and push to get there today so I can take a bus back to Puebla tomorrow (for the Orizaba climb) and not potentially lose a full day. It’s getting late and I get into a race against time, specifically against sunset. However, there are long drops down to Oaxaca, at 1500m considerably lower than Tepelmeme at 2100m which help me cover the distance. In fading daylight I reach the outskirts of Oaxaca and pass under a huge sign “Bienvenidos a OAXACA Ciudad Colonial”, welcoming visitors to the districts capital. I am cheering up and pumping my fist into the air to signal that I made it – funny and silly somehow as nobody is watching anyway, but who cares. However, I still have several km to pedal through increasingly dense city traffic and now it’s getting dark. Exactly what I always want to avoid: Night-time city traffic in Mexico. I figure it best to get close to the bus terminal and ask my way around. To my dismay I need to climb over a big hill called “Cerro del Fortin” in the middle of the city. One hour after I rode under that welcome sign it’s now pitch-dark and I am wondering what I am doing here still riding. At least I get a nice night-time view of the coty. After the short downhill I finally reach the bus terminal and find out about the bus connection tomorrow. Then I ask around and find a nice hotel nearby where I can leave my bike for the next few days (while climbing Orizaba). After a much-needed shower and a big dinner and some email I fall asleep on this last day of October.
Sunday, November 1
Going back by bus from Oaxaca to Puebla.
November 2 – 6
Shipping mountaineering backpack back home to Florida from Puebla.
Return by bus from Puebla to Oaxaca
Saturday, November 7
Oaxaca to El Chacal
104km / 10708km; 5.25h / 581h; 1150m
First day of riding after 6 day break for Pico Orizaba. I feel great
due to many reasons: More rest (no exercise during bus transit days),
more food (good dinner, huge breakfast), more oxygen (4000m lower than
Orizaba summit), perfect weather, more downhill (starting the day at
1600m, ending it at 1000m ASL).
I start late around 11:30am after a big breakfast and about 2h of work
on the computer (SPOT page, Blog, email, Picasa photo upload, Twitter
etc.). Due to great weather I enjoy riding again. It feels so much
more comfortable compared to the mountaineering part of my adventure!
At 30km I reach Tlacocula, a nice little town. I stop for a few slices
of Pizza and to look at the church (with wedding ceremony in progress)
and central plaza and adjacent market. Original Mexican scene here!
And again the level of attention in those little towns – unbelievable!
Later at 50km I reach Matatlan, the world capital of Mezcal, with lots
of distilleries and the tart smell of fermentation.
Then there is a more significant hill to cross, around 350m or so.
When I reach the crest a great view opens up into the next valley in
the afternoon sunshine. And now there is a huge downhill from 1950m
down to 1050m, some 900m (3000ft)! The road is great for downhill, not
too steep with lots of turns – definitely “Yodel-Territory”. One of
the best downhills of this entire expedition, with great light and
late afternoon mood.
It’s 4:30pm when I reach the little village at the bottom. From Google
Maps’ “Terrain” feature I know there is another climb of about 300m
coming up. I decide to keep going, even though that may mean I won’t
reach the next village prior to sunset. The uphill is a good workout,
but due to the long rest for my bike legs in the past week I still
feel pretty good this late in the day after about 5h of riding. I
reach the top of this little pass at 5:45pm, just as the sun is
setting. I take off my sunglasses and mount the red blinker on the
bike for the downhill. It’s going to be pretty dark in 20min, but at
these downhill speeds that equates to another 10-15km. At 103km I
notice a little village down in a steep valley. I need to get off the
road soon, but don’t want to ride down into this valley… A little
bit later I pass a roadside building which is a small restaurant. Some
kids come running out as they see me passing and start yelling. I stop
and turn around to inquire. Turns out I can get some dinner and pitch
my tent here, so I decide to stay. The kids are naturally curious:
Alberto (13), Abraham (12), Nayeli (7) and Genifer (5). I show them my
bike and later some pictures on the computer. I set up the tent and
have dinner. Some conversation with the family and especially the
curious kids. A little bit away from the building it’s completely dark
and there is a great night sky with brilliant stars and the milky way
clearly visible – very little light pollution here in those mountains.
Into the sleeping bag by 9pm for an early start tomorrow.
Sunday, November 8
El Chacal to Tehuantepec
150km / 10858km; 8.5h / 589h; 1880m
I get up at first light, quickly pack away my tent and take off without breakfast around 7am. Since I hope to make it all the way to Tehuantepec today – some 150km and lots of hills in between – I need to start early. After about 1 hr of early morning riding in the cool shadow of the surrounding mountains I reach the small village ‘San Jose de Gracia’ where I find a very inviting restaurant with a sunny patio. So I stop for a hearty breakfast, soon in the company of a road-crew also stopping here for breakfast. I continue along a narrow river bed and enjoy the sun climbing higher and warming the air. After about 2 hrs I reach a small village where I load up water before tackling the major hill of the day, a 600m vertical pass near ‘El Chifo’. From the pass it’s a nice downhill. At the end of today I will have cycled 250km, with 3000m vertical gain, but 4500m vertical drop as I will end up near sea-level. What a blast those downhills are! The weather is good, sunny but not too hot, and I feel really strong, in part due to the acclimatization advantage after just having climbed Pico Orizaba. By mid afternoon I reach the little pass ‘El Portillo’. From here it’s an almost 800m downhill into the low-lands, where I stop at a road-side kiosk to drink some coke and enjoy the view. After the remaining downhill I ride along the reservoir ‘La Presa Benito Juarez’, and stop in a village for some Internet access and to drink more water.
By late afternoon I need to cross one more small pass before dropping down into the low-lands around Tehuantepec. On this last pass I get distracted during rolling downhill by a flock of parrots noisily flying directly overhead. I look after them and crane my neck, which makes me lose my focus on the road. When I look forward again I notice that I am about to roll off the road into the gravel. I hit my brakes hard and manage to slow from about 40km/h down to maybe 20km/h while sending the gravel flying all over the place. I try to ride back on to the paved road surface but my front wheel catches on the bump and sends me crashing and sliding on the road. I quickly get up to get off the road – luckily there is no vehicle coming right behind me! Unlike during my crash back during a training ride in Florida, this time I am unhurt, just a little scratch on the bike, really. But I am furious with myself to have caused such an accident in the first place. This could have ended much worse… Somewhat rattled I finish in the last daylight, riding a rather hectic last hour or so to Tehuantepec. The sun sets and I get my blinker out for the last 10km or so on flat terrain. I am happy to arrive in this little town and quickly find both a little hotel as well as some place for dinner.
Monday, November 9
Restday in Tehuantepec
Plenty of logistics today, email, phone calls, laundry, plane ticket to Costa Rica etc. I even return a head-hunter call for a SW management position in Seattle. It is amazing how different this world is from the one where the head-hunter sits on the other end of the line. I have trouble remembering all the pertinent info from my work life, given that I’, in this busy town with a noisy food market going on outside.
Also some bike maintenance (change Rohloff hub oil) in my little hotel room.
In the evening I go to the nearby coastal city of Salina Cruz. For one, this is the only place that has an open laundry. And I figure I get to see a bit more of the surroundings by going there via cheap minibus (‘collectivo’). I also have some great pizza dinner there while I wait for my laundry to finish.
Tuesday, November 10
Tehuantepec to Zanatepec
110km / 10972km; 6h / 596h; 380m
Flat stage, so much easier riding than the last two days. Initially I met the two motorcycle riders Hendrick and Nina from the Baja California – small world. There are long straight sections of road and the gusty wind makes for some tricky riding (blew me off the road 3-4 times!). I also pass by many wind farms with hundreds of wind turbines.
I make it to Zanatepec, where I find a nice restaurant and next door hotel ‘San Rafael’. For a small fee they let me pitch my tent in their backyard, use their shower and then I have a great dinner at the restaurant, complete with WiFi and Sangria. Life is good when you have all the necessary items after a long day on the bike.
Wednesday, November 11
Zanatepec to Tonala (+20k) Morelo
110km / 11083km; 5h / 601h; 300m
Stay at restaurant and email until 10:00am. Flat roads again today. Crossing from district of Oaxaca into Chiapas near Arriaga. Nice encounter with military staff at one of the many checkpoints. Strong and gusty winds from N. At times road bends toward S, then smooth tailwind riding. Mostly though from the side. Overcast but hot.
In Tonala I’m only at 90km and still have 1.5h of daylight and some tailwind left. So I continue, even though there is no town coming up for the next 70km or so.
An hour later I stop at a little comedor for dinner and then ask whether I can stay in my tent on their property; luckily the friendly folks agree and show me a little spot sheltered from the wind and invisible from the road. In the tent by 8:30pm and trying to sleep amidst strong wind gusts…
Thursday, November 12
Tonala to Mapastepec
104km / 11188km; 5.3h / 606h; 450m
(no notes taken)
Friday, November 13
Mapastepec to Tapachula
103km / 11292km; 5h / 611h; 400m
(no notes taken)
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