Cycling to Bucarelli was the highlight of my last couple of weeks on the bicycle. I’ve completed a lovely 950km circuit of the Huesteca and Sierra Gorda region of Mexico. And visited some of the most amazing places in Mexico. During my last couple of days not everything went to plan.
I left Jalpan late in the day with the knowledge that I had a long climb ahead of me. It was a hot day. After several hours of cycling I took the poorly signposted turn off to ‘Puente de Dios‘. There are 2 places called Puente de Dios in this part of the world, one near Tamasopo and one near Jalpan.
I cycled down the steep dirt road. It was steep enough to have me a little worried about the return journey I would need to do on the same road. It was only about 5km to a small village. I left my bicycle at the village ticket office and walked through the narrow gorge to Puente de Dios. I was the only person elected not to have a local guide escort me on my hike. Puente de Dios is a series of cascading waterfalls in a cave. A small stream ran through this cave.
It was a weekend, but there were not a lot of people around. I lingered long enough to take some photos. I chose not to get in the water and swim. It was very hot during the day but the narrow gorge was quite cool.
I returned alone to find my bicycle exactly as I left it. I ate a dinner of Gorditas at a small street stall next to the ticket office. There were several other people also eating there, some were locals, some were Mexican tourists. One of the guides approached me.
‘Do you want a beer‘, he said. ‘I will buy it for you‘.
‘OK‘, I said.
The guide wanted to practice his English with me. Several other locals joined in. I gave English lessons for the price of a beer, or three. I was also receiving free Spanish lessons but I don’t think they realised it. I was getting a good deal here.
‘You can camp over there. For free‘, said one of the guides. ‘It’s safe here, no problems‘.
The stream that flowed from Puente de Dios split apart and re joined nearby causing a small island to appear. It was on this island that I fumbles to set up my tent. It was now dark.
I sat in my tent reading and updating my diary. I thought locals were walking past with flashing green lights. I was wrong. Fireflies. Hundreds of them. The warmth and humidity near the stream must have provided the perfect habitat for them. I sat outside my tent for a while watching this natural spectacle. I love the natural world.
The following morning I made my usual coffee and oatmeal while I waited for the sun to rise. I love the mornings. It was a long and constant climb to the town of Pinal. I stayed in Pinal almost 3 weeks earlier. I made my return. While in town I planned the next stage of my journey. One that I had been looking forward to for many weeks. I was cycling to Bucarelli.
It was more than one vertical kilometer of descending on a narrow road that at times clung to the side of a cliff. One of the most spectacular roads I’ve ever ridden. Imagine cycling a road that descended to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. As I neared the bottom my rear tyre exploded. Not only did it explode, the sidewall had a hole big enough for me to put my finger through. My tyre and tube was destroyed. I also noticed that the rim tape was irreparably damaged. I only replaced it 5-6 months ago when I was in USA. Luckily I carried a spare tyre and spare tube, but no spare rim tape. I had little confidence that I would be able to continue cycling.
I had been carrying 2 spare tubes with me. I like to have a least 1 spare tube with me at any one time. I have a bad habit of destroying tubes. When I get a flat tyre it usually is a good one.
I slowly cycled to Bucarelli. I walked around the famous old convent. It is now in ruins. The town and ruins are situated at the bottom of a this deep gorge. Mountains rise up 1500m all around me in every direction. A nice place for a town.
I was faced with a problem of sorts. The road I wanted to take out of town was rather remote and rarely used by locals. They told me that maybe 2-3 vehicles per day used the road, except on Sunday when there was a small bus that traveled the road. It was Monday. Without a spare tube I felt vulnerable. I like to limit my exposure to risk. Not having a spare tube put me in a position I didn’t want to be in.
I went to the small restaurant opposite the convent. Nancy, the owner, is well known in the area for her great food. She did not disappoint with her enchiladas. I made a decision to hitch back up to Pinal, on the same road I had just descended. I would then be on a main road. I could keep cycling. If I had a problem I could stop one of the many buses that traveled the road and go to the large city of Queretero. I knew it had bicycle shops etc.
I waited for several hours. No ride. I was a quiet town. During those several hours I ran many different scenarios through my head. I formulated another plan. But first I needed to buy some supplies. I rode to the nearby shop. Five guys were sitting outside drinking beer. I joined them. I walked into the store to purchase some water, food. The five guys refused to let me pay for my supplies. And they bought me a beer.
I sat with the locals drinking beer and chatting for a couple of hours. I learned about the area. I also learned just how easy it is to walk through the desert and enter USA illegally. One of them had done so 6 times. He got caught 6 times. I’ve met so many Mexicans who entered USA to work. Both legally and illegally. They do all the jobs the Americans don’t want to do. And every single one of the people I met were great people.
While drinking beer with these guys I was offered a lift to the town of San Joachim. That’s where I wanted to go. One of the guys took me to his house. His wife and daughter cooked me dinner and I drank yet another beer while listening to country music.
It was dark. He drove me another couple of kilometers to the top of the hill near San Joachim. In the last 2 years of travel I have received many random acts of kindness. All of them prove to me that the world we live in really is filled with nice people. Unfortunately, the media would have us believe otherwise.
The following morning I rode the short distance into San Joachim. Nearby was the main road that would take me back to San Miguel de Allende. Though that would still be a couple of days away. It was about 30km of downhill riding from the tree covered mountain tops to the cactus covered desert floor. Clouds were building up and the wind was now a very strong headwind.
Late afternoon and I was cycling up a narrow desert canyon. There was a strong headwind. A thunderstorm was approaching fast. Way too fast. Places to camp were few and far between. I pulled off the road and set up camp under a large cactus trees. I scrapped away the cow poo and sharp thorns to make room for my tent. The heavy rain and wind started. It was difficult to put the tent up. By the time I finished putting up the tent and the heavy rained stopped. I was soaking wet.
For the rest of the afternoon, evening and night there was intermittent rain, thunder and lightning. The last of the lightening woke me at 3am.
7am. I woke to rain. I procrastinated in the morning. Starting to pack up many times. It was about 9am when I finally started cycling. My front tyre was almost flat. I suspected one of the cactus spines had punctured the tyre.
The wind was horrible. It was mainly a headwind. At times it gusted to around 100km/h. On several occasions I was blown off the road. I had a couple of near misses with the traffic. The wind would just blow my bike around like a scrap piece of paper. I had to get off the road. It was just too dangerous. This is the first time I have really feared for my safety while cycling.
I had little control of the bike. I would cycle for a short distance until a gust of wind would stop me. I took up the whole lane of the road which gave me space either side depending on which way the wind pushed me.
I descended a 5% grade hill. I was pedaling in my lowest gear at the speed of 5km/h. Normally I would descend such a hill at 50km/h. This wind was horrible.
I approached the town of Bernal. The wind was ridiculous. It took me about 2 hours to cycle 5 kilometers. The local Police escorted me into town. They either feared for my safety or they were having a good laugh at this stranger attempting to cycle.
I checked into a fancy hotel. The owner gave me a 50% discount on a room. I was the only guest. All the restaurants in town were closed. I bought a beer and some food from a local shop and cooked in my hotel room. I didn’t leave the room for the rest of the day.
The local news reports were talking about the weather. Northern Mexico was getting lots of snow. Schools were closed. Trees were falling onto roads and onto houses. Even the towns all around me were getting snow. I had several choices. Stay in my nice hotel room in Bernal for several days, catch a bus to San Miguel or get on the road early the next morning and see how far I could get before the expected strong winds started all over again.
It was just after sunrise when I got on the road. The temperature was 1C and the wind was not too strong. After about 30 minutes of cycling I lost all feeling in my fingers. They were so cold I struggled to open my panniers to get my thick winter gloves. Hail started to fall. I sat under a bridge contemplating my sanity.
Slowly my body warmed up and I got back on the bicycle. Despite the cold, hail and wind I was actually enjoying the ride. Yesterday, the wind was so strong I genuinely feared for my safety. From such a bad day, every day was so much better. Today was great. I cycled for about 3 hours until I found a place with warmth and coffee. The predicted 30-40km/h headwinds had yet to appear.
I continued cycling towards San Miguel. I had a headwind the whole way but many days of cycling the mountains of the Sierra Gorda and Huesteca had made me strong. There was snow in the mountains around San Miguel. I was told it had been 10 years since snow had fallen in this region. Only 3 days earlier it was so hot in the Sierra Gorda that I was cycling with no shirt on.
I made it to my home away from home in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende. So ends my trip in the Sierra Gorda and Huesteca region. An so ends my cycling journey in Mexico. My 6 month visa in Mexico is about to expire.
I will now take a couple of days rest and start eating to put on the 3-5kg that I have lost during the last month. I will also start training and planning for the next part of my journey. Starting on 18th April I will hike the Continental Divide Trail. I will start in New Mexico at the Mexican border and hike to Canada. If the weather and my body are still willing I will continue hiking north until either the trails run out or the weather defeats me. A length of around 6000-7000km. After hiking the Pacific Crest Trail last year I felt the need to take on another long distance hike.
Some of my PCT hiking buddies just released a book about their journey. I just downloaded it and started reading it this week. Have a look at it on Amazon.