I feel a pretty deep connection to Holger Franz Hagenbusch. I met him on a beatiful morning on the mountain pass between Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl. I recognized him instantly as a fellow bike traveller, upon deeper examination we found that we had both lived close to the town Bochum, in Germany. I had looked exactly like he looked in december 2010 when I had climbed that very road to Paso de Cortés with my bike, on my way to Chiapas and eventually Cancún, just like him.
Skipping most of the usual questions I jumped right into the direction and duration of his trip, of course, asking about his equipment. We talked about his bike, a Surly. A german with a Surly? Pretty remarkable and unusual combination. And without a Rohloff? Even weirder. Holger explained that he had built this bike in America – I inspected his bike closely. It was a Long Haul Trucker with a front and rear panniers. I used to travel with a Surly Cross Check and loved it. I travelled the baja, chihuahua, mexico cancun, Barcelona to Slovenia, the pyrenees and Norway with it. All before it was taken from me in the city of Guadalajara. A group of 5 people took it from me. Apparently they only wanted my cell phone –These amateur mexican robbers had no idea what my bike was worth. To add insult to injury, there was no signal to unlock my phone from the icloud account that protected it and they grew ever more anxious. They dragged me away from the street and into some train tracks, I could hear the train coming at a distance. They made me kneel and pushed a gun right to the back of my head. GIVE ME THE PASSWORD! They demanded. ‘I’m telling you the password’, I replied, ‘but it’s not working’, I explained there was no signal, really not wanting to die giving customer support to a group of disgruntled idiots.
They beat me up a little every time the password did’t work. The train horn broke the silence intermittently as it was nearing. They were losing their patience. They threatened to hit me with the butt of the gun and leave my body on the train tracks for the train to dispose of. Their shouting grew louder, their beating me up too, the cold steel pressed to my head every time they asked for the password. The sound of the train now an impossible roar– WAIT, I said: take my bike!! It’s worth more than the phone! ‘How much?’ they asked–I hesitated, not wanting to disclose the full price… about 10,000! OK, they said. They disappeared to the other side of the tracks, just before the train passed and left me there kneeling. I could see my white, custom Surly Cross Check rolling through the train gaps beneath the passing cars. It was a lucky getaway for me. I’m lucky to be alive.
Today, I can’t help but remember when in 2010 I rode the exact same road that Holger died on. Back then I wrote:
My opinions on the zapatista movement are generally neutral. I must say I feel empathy and completely disagree with the military and political oppression in the area, however I am not an expert on the subject, and it’s not my intention to judge, but this is what I lived through when I went by:
“They will rob you here, you know? They say they are zapatistas and even if they’re not, they will fuck you”. That is the first thing I heard when I entered Ocosingo, from a group of teenagers. –the next thing I heard was “If I were you, I’d just go back, it’s going to get dark and all hell will break loose”.
It is notable that this incident happened almost in the exact same place where Holger was found, in the same road. I shiver when I think of this. I’ve ridden my share of roads, races and courses. Holger Franz Hagenbusch and Krzystof Chmielwski were not part of an accident as the authorities have said. Their bodies did not end up in that cliff after being hit by any car. They were purposely thrown there after being murdered, I have no doubts about it.
- I’ve ridden that road, it is not dangerous, car wise.
- Bikers uphill tend to distance themselves, especially when their gear differs as greatly as these guys’ did, (bike trailer vs. no bike trailer).
- You do not lose control of a bike while going uphill.
- The whole idea that the this is an accident is completely ridiculous.
Having travelled through most of my country, I can only say that the dangers are becoming un manageable. I have been robbed several times, Humberto Cabrera was shot in the face by a .45 caliber illegal weapon, I barely survived the ordeal in Guadalajara I described before, and Holger will never ride his bike because of this. The people responsible for this should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
* Cover picture is a self portrait taken on the road from Tuxtla Gutierrez to San Cristobal de las Casas in 2010; Holger’s instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kozmopolit_by_bike/ ; Holger’s website: http://www.kozmopolit.de/en/