Photo Story: Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers

Oct 10, 2015
by Nicolas Switalski  



Oaxaca, Mexico is a place surrounded by magic, folklore, and traditions. Birthplace to some of the most important pre Hispanic cultures in Mexico, the Zapotecs, and Mixtecs. Oaxaca is a city situated in the southeastern part of the country, and one with some of the most diversity in America. This city hosts a great variety of flora and fauna which changes drastically from north to south and east to west. Surrounded by great mountains, Oaxaca is a perfect place for Mountain Biking.

One of the most fantastic and extraordinary Mexican traditions is the “Day of the Dead”. This is the day in which the souls of the dead cross the bridge back to their families, where they are received by their loved ones with vivid coloured decorated offerings to spend one more day with the ones who have already departed. This holiday is composed of just two days in which people celebrate the return of the dead, the loved ones and the friends from the eternal life. The celebration begins several days before this date. Many families work together to make this a great celebration. The local markets offer flowers, “day of the dead bread”, incense, sugar skull candy, Mezcal and everything necessary to complete the offerings. November 1st is the day that the saints and innocent children arrive from “Mictlan” or world of the dead. The next day, all the dead arrive.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
  The typical Oaxacan Day of the Dead offering, this is a common sight all around town in houses, business, and streets.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Mil Ríos” (Thousand Rivers) is a race that is born out of the love and passion for biking, planned and organized by BIKE LOGISTICS with the sole purpose of sharing the magic of this place with every racer, its traditions and the “Day of the Dead” celebration.

The Sierra Norte de Oaxaca” (North Oaxacan Sierra) has a peak altitude of more than 3100 meters (10,170 ft.), inhabited by the joint indigenous communities known as “people of the clouds”. The North Oaxacan Sierra is comprised of an infinite number of single track trails and roads used by the ancient settlers of the high mountains to get to the Central Valleys where they would trade their products. These days the trails are being used for trekking and biking since the terrain is ideal for this.

The Mil Ríos race format is unique to the Enduro formats we are used to, in the way that teamwork played a strong factor. Making all of the teams race the track blind, with no practice runs added to the difficulty, so strategy and handling abilities were obviously key elements in the performance of each team. The format of the event was to have two racers per team, both started off with a 30 sec time difference, and both riders should arrive at the end of the stage within a difference of no more than 3 min, every second after these 3 minutes would be summed to the total race time, which complicated the race a bit more.

Last year, some of the best Enduro racers in the country were summoned to this first edition Mil Ríos Enduro Race. The hard conditions of the terrain and climate played an important part in the dominance of the race, a large quantity of the riders suffered punctures or mechanical issues thanks to this unforgiving terrain, so the ones who played strategy and nursed their bikes were the ones that got down first.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

We arrive

It's almost pitch black, hard to see out the bus windows, the silhouette of the trees between the fog reveal a faint glimpse of the Oaxacan sierra. Trusting that the driver knows the way, the racers just look out the window quietly. We had been picked up a few hours ago in downtown Oaxaca during Day of the Dead festivity preparations, so this was not the right moment to remember a Hitchcock movie, heading high in the Oaxacan Mountains, approximately 2 hours from Oaxaca city. This first edition of the Day of the Dead Enduro Race in Oaxaca was yet to prove itself.

After a few twisty turns and bumps, the bus arrives into what would look like a desolated town. Stepping off the bus all we can hear is the wind howling as strong as I’ve ever heard, hurricane like, and it carries some freezing showers. Our only visible reference in the pitch black night is a far away house with a dim light inside. We walk across and an old lady welcomes us, who speaks no Spanish, only her native tongue. But she knows who we are, and far from the cold and freezing night, inside the town’s dinning building we find a warm and welcome greeting from the women of this town. They had been waiting anxiously, with dinner served, for these long talked “crazy bike racers”, with hot traditional and native Oaxacan cocoa and some of the best quesadillas you’ll ever have, all handmade and cooked in an authentic traditional wood fire oven. This whole town is operated by the native people and they are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.

After this great dinner, we meet in the main cabin and gather around for the rider's brief. Now far away from the cold wind and rain, with a lit fireplace and a “few” beers among the riders makes this a perfect way to reunite or meet new friends. The paired rider team race format would be a new challenge for many over the 17 km of single track.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
  After a few explanations and trail pointers, the rider's brief was over and so was the beer. So now it was time to rest and wait for what this unknown trail would have for us tomorrow morning.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
The base camp situated in the Benito Juarez town, was home for one night to all of the riders, where great vibes, team gathering and the race brief took place in.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
  Morning is quite chilly, fog surrounds the little town (no wonder the people who live here are called People of the Clouds). This makes the chill factor seem a bit higher and all riders prepare for a cold, wet start.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
  All the riders are anxious to start and set off with their preparations.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Zempasuchil flowers, which have a stunning orange color and are one of the most important items in a Mexican Day of the Dead offering.
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
This whole town is operated by the native people and they are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Off they go!

There was a small 40 min liaison stage, before the fun began, nothing to worry about, but a perfect warm up to shake the cold away and get the mind set into racing mood.

The trail was made up of mixed terrain, from perfect hard packed soil, leaf covered ground, to some technical rocky sections, but as some rain had moistened the dirt the night before, grip was perfect. As the trail descended the climate changed and it seemed that with every turn the temperature increased and the fog up on the mountain which had covered us in the morning was now substituted with a perfect blue sky. The foggy trail at the start of the morning now was a totally different place from what the scenery presented us now. This was now a more tropical climate, where all of the racers knew that heat and humidity played a big factor in the race. Not to mention that if you had a puncture or a mechanical it would be best to fix it as fast as possible, not because it was a race and you’ll have to go fast as hell down the hill to win, no, that wasn't important, what mattered is that in a few seconds you'd become the perfect mosquito meal!

By the beginning of the second stage, the winner could literally be anyone since some of the favourites by the middle of the race had already lost time due to some Mil Ríos adversity. The locals would later say, if Mil Ríos doesn't punish you, then… it is not Mil Ríos!

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
  The track was comprised of more than 17 km of single track with 90% of it descending and 10% of it in pedaling sections, two special stages that started at 3100 (10,170 ft) and ended at 1900 meters (6,233 ft) with terrain variations that depended on the altitude. At the highest point it was a deep forest with perfect hard packed dirt, in total contrast with the lower section which had more tropical vegetation, where the main obstacles were rock gardens and quite a few river crossings; this is where this track gets its name Mil Rios or A Thousand Rivers.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
  This trail is called Mil Rios or A Thousand Rivers because the trail repeatedly crosses the river and this makes it a challenge for the race, at some parts the river is almost as high as the bike's wheel and the riders must commit and charge ahead to maintain the momentum and not lose too much speed.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

The end of the second stage arrives beside a beautiful, wide riverside with abundant cactus and some tropical vegetation which make a beautiful contrast. There is still a small liaison stage to get to where the award ceremony would be, and as a proper Mexican town party, the ceremony is right in a nearby town’s little plaza beside a small market that is still selling some Day of the Dead flowers, called Zempasúchil flowers. Now, the locals watch as the award ceremony begins and some that are surpassed by curiosity or the chance to try some Mil Ríos official Mezcal join in.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
  No bottle opener...no problem!

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

So now it is obvious to say that no Oaxacan celebration would be complete without its famous Mezcal, which is an alcoholic beverage similar to tequila, and as part of the race kit one small bottle was included, so now was the perfect moment to toast in honor of the of the dead and on those who's victories in this race were made true, and for a few people this time, “Dreams of Mezcal and a thousand rivers” would make a new chapter in some of the riders’ bucket lists.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article
Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article

Every race, trail or trip is unique, no doubt about that, but this race has all the elements to become a true Mexican race, a complete experience, with all its color and warmth, it is a race of its own in a very special place, Oaxaca.

It's almost that time of year again, and this race is just around the corner, the 30th and 31st of October 2015 will host the second edition of this magical race in Oaxaca, which will also be part of the 6th round of the Mexican National Enduro Series, if you'd like more info on it, the guys from Mtb Enduro are the organizers and can answer all your questions!

Entries can be bought online here.

Images for Dreams of Mezcal and a Thousand Rivers article


MENTIONS: @nswitalski / @TransitionBikeCompany




35 Comments

  • + 18
 Increíble reseña!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Tienen que vivir la experiencia en Oaxaca!! Es realmente mágico el ambiente. Felicidades a la banda Endurera de MTB al fotógrafo y a los competidores.
  • + 4
 que Chingon me gustaria ir a Mexico tengo anos de No Ir y nunca a celebrado dia de los Difuntos en la tiera natal . ir a correr y visitar a toda la famila en un chingadaso estara chingon . conocer otro estado que no conosco y ir al DF despues con la Familia que padre conosco mas a Mexico que EEUU y so Chicano aver si me pongo las pillas y saco de Nuez mi passaporte y junto una lana para hazer la corrida de Mil Rios y a ver a la familia Ariba Mexico y saludos y felizidadez a los que corrieron y los que van a corre este 2ndo ano a ver si voy para la terzera
  • + 10
 This is probably one of the most magic places in Mexico and one of the most significant traditions that have survived over the years. Now combine this with MTB racing... It's bliss
  • + 3
 TRUE That !!!...
  • + 0
 ..
  • + 8
 Can't wait to ride Oaxaca!
  • + 7
 You should come over to this race, you won't regret the experience of racing there and the magic of Oaxaca on Day of the Dead!
  • + 1
 ..
  • + 5
 Proud to be Mexican! Excelente Trabajo!!! Saludos a toda la banda
  • + 4
 Front page, Nico! Great work :-)
  • + 1
 Muchas gracias! Saludos!
  • + 5
 On my list!!
  • + 3
 Start crossing it out and head over there for the race! The trip alone is worth it, not to mention the riding!!! Cheers!
  • + 4
 casi un año de esto, buenísimo nico
  • + 4
 Si, gracias @haitman! Ya pronto de vuelta por allá, si vas no?
  • + 2
 Great race, great article and I would love to make it some day. Keep up the good work, guys! Viva México!
  • + 3
 Genial reportaje : Ire ! !
  • + 3
 Buen trabajo! no puedo esperar a estar ahi Smile
  • + 4
 Loving it!
  • + 2
 Felicidades a BikeLogiistics, excelente trabajo el que hacen por el Enduro MTB en México
  • + 1
 it's nice to see lot's of riders out there still on the Covert. Such a sweet bike!
  • + 1
 Anyone knows wether this is going to happen again in 2016?
  • - 1
 How safe is this area? Mexico being one of the most dangerous places on earth in regards to violent crime, murders & kidnappings.
  • + 4
 i just finished a unit on Oaxaca in spanish and it look super sick, and as far as i know, its pretty safe.
  • + 3
 just google it, oaxaca is relatively safe. haven't been there in a while, but it's kinda out of the way so there isn't much, if any, drug trafficking.
  • + 15
 Mexico is huge. To say all of it is dangerous is so f*cking ignorant. Sure some of the border towns are sketchy with cartel wars, but in all reality the cartels are after each other not you. I've done lots of surf trips around oaxaca state and spent a bunch of time in Mexico City and never felt scared. The people (Oaxaca especially) are incredibly warm, content with their lives, and completely non violent.
You're more likely to get beat up by some guidos in Jersey before a bunch of guys in a puebla in Oaxaca
  • + 2
 Pump the brakes. I posed a question. Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries. In fact it has ranked in the top ten for the past 15yrs thanks to the US' brilliant war on drugs. A legit question.
  • + 9
 It's super dangerous man so stay out of mexico! Now I'm gonna go ride my bike in oaxaca! Smile see ya
  • - 11
flag Mattin (Oct 11, 2015 at 2:08) (Below Threshold)
 Actually you are totally wrong AndrewMacNaughton. Crime in countries like Mexico is generally so much higher and most criminals are so low-life, that (no ones) life has no value at all for them, and they are willing to murder for just $2. Muggings, car jackings, murder, etc, etc, are so much higher over there. Especially the rich tourists are easy targets with high value steals: IF you have a job your minimumwage is 4 USD per day. If you mug a tourist you'll win a brand new iPhone, probably $200 cash, a $1500 camera... I haven't been to Mexico yet but traveled through some cities / countries with extremely high crimes, and believe me the non-criminal people have a lot of troubles because they are easy targets. For example if you ride your bike in South Africa alone once a week, you'll get mugged by gun point about once every 2 years. If you ride your car on a daily base to work, you'll get car jacked about once every 10 years also by gun point. If you don't immediatly hand your stuff over and don't run away you will most probably get shot to death. And Mexico has much higher crime than South Africa...

Don't forget that feeling safe and actually being in safety is a huge difference. Often you can feel very safe in high crime countries because you forget about the crime because of the beautiful nature and the friendly locals, but that doesn't mean at all you are in a safe place and that you are safe.
  • - 6
flag Mattin (Oct 11, 2015 at 2:16) (Below Threshold)
 Note: I'm not saying not to go there. The cultures and the nature are usually amazing and a very unique life experience. Do some research before you go so you know what you can and can't do, but never let it stop you from going to the most beautiful places on earth.
Only disagreeing with on being safer in Jersey than in Mexico, and on the quote that crime is only between gangs.
  • + 17
 Great advice!!! Yes I live in Mexico city and I ride my bike every day to work and have to change Bike, phone, car wallet, etc... every once a week! In fact, I am 35 years old, can you imagine how many bikes I've had throughout my life?
I knock on wood, but I can say that in the 35 years I've been living and travelling throughout Mexico I've never been robbed, the most that has happened to me is being pickpocketed. YES Mexico is not the safest country, but what country is 100% safe? I'm sure there are few places on earth that you can be completely safe from getting robbed. I do have to admit that there are some cities in Mexico that are off bounds, but most of them are up north close to the US border, why is that??? Well never mind!
I'm gettig really tired everytime I publish a article, the main topic of the comments is about it's insecurity, come on guys!!! Don't you have anything better to daydream about?
I see hundreds of tourist in every city I visit in Mexico and I imagine they have a good time, because they keep returning. Maybe you should get rid of that sombrero, tequila and desert image you all have of Mexico, come out of your lovely little magic bubbles and experience something different! But hey, I don't get anything out of you coming so, do whatever you please.
All else I can say is that Oaxaca and many other parts of Mexico is not the Mexico you see in the news.
So, guys, get off your mountainbikes because it's really dangerous and you might get hurt!
Hasta la vista!
  • + 9
 @Mattin you lose all credability with this one sentence. "I haven't been to Mexico"
  • + 3
 @nswitalski well written my friend.

regarding getting tired of seing articles talking bad about Mexico, I am 32 yo and I have never lived in a time in which Mexico doesnt have that reputation abroad (yes...just reputation), so i dont completely understand the getting tired part if it is something we have always lived with, are we really tired? or we want to pretend to be tired?

just food for thought.
  • + 3
 Not worst Than new york
  • + 2
 I've spent a lot of time in Mexico -- mostly in Guanajuato, SMA and Oaxaca -- and have never experienced any kind of real safety issue. FWIW, @Mattin, the last time I was pickpocketed was on a trip to Paris... ;-)

Speaking seriously, Mexico has problems with inequality, poverty and crime -- many of which are made much worse by the same political and business elites you'd find in DC, Toronto, Moscow, Brussels, London, Beijing etc. -- but, it's an incredible country with a rich history and culture, a beautiful landscape and warm, friendly people. You're missing out if you let fear rule your life...

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