The Trip pt. 1

After a few days of “bullshitting” (ie: blogging) my way through life and lying to myself about the epicness of my future trip, I managed to actually leave my home with my new non-custom made non-hand built bike; an ’89 DiamondBack Ascent EX bought for exactly 8 bags of peanuts. Indeed, my vintage rig was bling, and updated with modern components I was quite happy to explore mexico’s darkest off roads.

Of bikes & men
My tasteful vintage touring rig.

This time, the leaving part was not done alone (there´s a first time for everything), instead I left with a dear friend of mine: Mario, with whom I have climbed for many years. He was to ride with me for the first five days, after which I would continue alone. Cycling with a friend is not as nice as you might think though (lots of waiting/decision making involved). However, travelling with a friend is much better than going at it alone, especially when you camp, sightsee or just hang out. Truth be told, the biking part is possibly worst, because unless you ride at exactly the same pace, either you’re waiting for someone or stressed of having to catch up with him; it’s the other things that really take a turn for the better. At the risk of sounding like a new age, pacifist hippie (which of course, I am) these things become really important when you’re alone for a long time.

If you’ve read this other post, you can probably infer that the main purpose of the trip was to climb. And honoring this purpose, the climbing started almost right away; you pretty much have to climb to get out of Mexico city because it’s a valley. The first climb leads to Milpa Alta and eventually down to Amecameca, the last important town before entering the national park that hosts Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl. It is a beautiful climb that many riders use to leave Mexico city and the ensuing descent is equally entertenaing, as it meanders through some very ancient country where maize has been grown for thousands of years.

Milpa Alta
Looking down from the third "mirador", the summit of the Milpa Alta col.
Getting close to Amecameca
Beautiful agricultural landscapes give way to mountains.

Having now really left the massive amorphous urban blob that we call D.F, the true adventure started as we snailed slowly through the landscape that I would come to childishly call home for the next month: the trans volcanic belt.

The Popo
A partial eclipse of the heart.

Home sweet home: leaving that view behind, we knew we were headed for a nice trip and that maybe we were not underestimating the epicness of mexican off-roads, it’s amazing how re-assuring a nice view can be.

New definition of “epic”

I recently had a visit from three international riders, each of them a very different and amazing individual, and each of them on a separate trip. Through their visit I learnt about really long beards, really good punk music, dancing elephants and the truth about Rohloff speedhubs (also known as the Holy Grail of bike touring components).

For the sake of entertainment, I will attempt to elaborate a little more on each one:

From left to right, Rob, Chrigi and Marie

Rob is a 55 year old welsh cyclist, he has almost no earthly things (no TV, no property, no furniture) and whenever he is out of work he is touring or travelling. He has toured to Tibet, (where he met Reinhold Messner no less), Patagonia, Iceland, Europe and a handful of other small (2 to 18 months) tours of the sort. After meeting him, I can’t ever use the proverbial getting older excuse, or any other, really.

On to Chrigi (in his fourth decade), the guy with the epic beard: At the moment (feb/2012), he’s been on the road for 3 years and 42,000 km. Chrigi is the only person I’ve met who has broken a Rohloff, (I’m sticking to my derailleurs and ancient cogs from now on). He quit his job as a chocolatier in Chocolate Country (also known as Switzerland), sold his stuff and embarked on a trip that makes most of my so called tours look like grocery getting or fixed gear urban riding.

And now Marie, a self proclaimed “gringa”, born in california. She started cycling a couple of years ago but has already toured across the US of A and pretty much half of Mexico. At only 24 years old, she is the youngest of the lot, and pretty much the youngest rider I have met doing the panam route. She keeps a nice blog and is probably constantly teaching important lessons to mexican women and machos who think it impossible to travel alone as a young lady.

Here they are sight seeing in the centro:

Rob & Chrigi sightseeing.

Notice the legendary “swiss bulge” under Chrigi’s shirt, one of the many manifestations of swiss superiority as an evolved futuristic race.

We became as close as a group of solo riders can get in a few days of non-riding time (which is what most people could achieve over coffee break were they not distracted by smartphones), and soon discussed the advantages of cycle touring over any other kind of transport, at which point Rob enlightened us with the following video:

Which really says more about bicycle use than most cycling propaganda in the new continent. In ye old continent, bicyclers do not need such interventions, as it is a normal thing and not something bullshitters (ie: me) blog about.

Riding the highest road in North America

It’s been a long time since my first post (a true masterpiece of modern blogging), but as you may or may not have heard, I recently (Jan 2012) embarked on an “epic” off road traverse of the mexican trans volcanic belt and east sierra. I was following this route (click on the blue markers to see info on important bits):

View Larger Map

Granted, it was a short trip -around 1000 km- but most of these were off road, and during the 3 weeks of cycling entreprenouring I climbed around 26,000 metres, 90% of the time well above 2,400 metres. For those of you who think in feet, that means 85,300 ft of climbing above 7,800 ft.

The pinnacle, at least physically, of those weeks was climbing the service road for the LMT (Large Millimiter Telescope) right to the summit of the Sierra Negra volcano, which sits next to Pico de Orizaba, and at 4,600 m (15,000 ft) is home to the highest road in North America. As my title gently suggests, this is the main matter of this particular post (more on the rest of the trip later) and I will henceforth, get on with it.

I’ve been thinking long and hard on how to describe the road, and after a lot of mental strain I have successfully found a word to describe it: amazing. Actually, thinking a bit harder I thought of one (1) additional word: hard. Amazing & hard is mostly what my limited describing abilities can manage, although it was also cold, sandy, slippery, foggy and high.

Winding, sandy, high road at 4,300m

It was nice to finally bike here, I had tried a year before and was denied access because I did not have a permit (if you need a permit, email Ing. Janina Nava). I will say that reaching a summit by bike is not nearly as dramatic as dragging one’s behind through a ridge or front pointing the last steep ice slope, dramatically grasping for breath. However it is equally tiring, less stressful and you do get down a lot faster; it’s sort of like skiing in that way, so not all that bad.

Irrefutable proof of my presence and success.

I hope you enjoyed it, and will continue to post soon.