By the time our bus pulls into the Puerto terminal, the morning's golden hour is washing out as the sun gains distance over the jungled peaks of the Sierra Madre del Sur, home to Oaxaca's lush coffee plantations. The lingering rich colours in conjunction with the overnight bus ride beckon us to the sea to let the warm waves and cold Coronas set the tone. A few weeks back I received an invitation to a downhill race at one of Central America's fastest growing mountain bike festivals, the Popobike in Metepec, Mexico. The email came as I was finishing a birthday breakfast with my better half's side of the family. As soon as the topic of a spontaneous trip to Mexico came up an avalanche of conjecture ripped loose. I quietly listened with a somewhat serious look on my face to all the concerns that were for the most part based on the ten o'clock breaking news, but as it was, Jenna was glued to the window as our plane touched down in Mexico City a few days later.Day 1:
After a smooth collection of our bikes and pass through customs I found Gustavo patiently smiling and holding a sign with the familiar Mexi-phonetic "cris vandin
" scribbled on it. Gustavo was a really nice older gentleman who didn't speak a word of English and evidently had never driven a torquey V8 pickup. It turns out the truck belongs to race promoter Diego Sda, Gustavo's boss of seven years at the car tire store. Gustavo doesn't like patching tubes on jalopies but he likes tacos al pastor. A few punchy corners and al pastors later we pulled into Diego's place in Puebla. Day 2:
Fresh papaya, huevos a la diabla, and a tasty local light roast was served for breakfast with our hosts, "Team Bullet". It turns out our newly crowned U.S. National downhill champ, Logan Binggeli and his teammate in crime Kevin Aiello set the bar pretty high and broke out some never before seen moves (presumably straight out of St. George, Utah
) in the discotheques, making quite an impression on the locals. The town of Metepec was in full festival mode with Mexican mountain bikers of all shapes and sizes pushing their race plated bikes through the vendors and plaza festivities while the mariachi played, the red, white, and green flew, and the smoldering Popocatepetl volcano towered in the distance.Day 3:
The race went down on a fun two minute track in the hills overlooking Metepec. Mi amigo loco, "Rockero" (The Rocker
) pulled out a hell of a run and bested Aiello by just under a second, I took the bronze, the smooth young Mexican National champion Javi Lopez netted the 4th, and Logan danced his way to round out the podium in 5th. I was able to convince Jenna to give downhill racing a try and she totally pinned it, came down dusty and smiling and brought home the bacon in the amateur women's class. It was an awesome race replete with genuine smiles and handshakes, creative shuttling techniques, and plenty of poorly conjugated Spanglish trash talking.
|It was an awesome race replete with genuine smiles and handshakes, creative shuttling techniques, and plenty of poorly conjugated Spanglish trash talking.|
There were some hammers in what would only be classified North of the border as a "marathon" 50 mile cross country race. In the end the Colombian sensation, Hector Paez rode away with the win. The Mexicano mountain bike scene is just like the country, warm, colourful never boring. Logan and Kevin headed home and Jenna and I ventured west with compadres to Ixtapan de la Sal (you will be hearing more about this place and the GranReserva in part two
Local primo Haitman Rivas took us to the Toluca volcano and we bombed 6,000 feet of ripping singletrack back to Ixtapan de la Sal. One of the steepest big mountain lines I have ever seen caught my eye off the south rim of the volcano. It looked rideable from a mile away, but looking down the confounding 2,000 foot shot it was a classic case of good from far but far from good. I wasn't sure what was going to happen when my front wheel rolled into the ridiculously steep spiny pitch, but I had to ease off the brakes and trust my reactions. Somehow I was able to avoid turning into a shoe-flying mexican snowball and maintained control before traversing out a few hair raising seconds later. It would have taken a solid three hours to hike out from the apron, so we'll get back to that one.
Riding street in Mexico is a unique exploit I hope all you city shredders experience at some point. Crazy transitions seem to be found everywhere and instead of calling the cops, people call for cervezas. While pedalling through Anypueblo, Mexico, on the way back to Ixtapan I found an untouched pocket wallride that would cause half the street riders in the mid west to steal their mom's minivan if it were in the states. After an impromptu session and quick al pastor, we shuttled street laps late into the night before hitting the hot springs. It was a perfect day on the Cannondale Claymore. It's the only bicycle I've ever ridden that is at home on the all day trail shreds and at the bikepark, a blazing fast enduro, urban, and downhill racer, while being capable of big mountain shots and technical street lines - without taking the shock pump to it! It's the best bike Cannondale's ever made, the problem is that it's too far ahead of it's time.
|At this point I have been consuming about one fresh green coconut per hour for the last week straight. I've never been so isotonically charged or isotonically regular.|
Travel day. We took the scenic route to Oaxaca and had a nice long soak in the Hierva Agua hot springs. At this point I have been consuming about one fresh green coconut per hour for the last week straight. I've never been so isotonically charged or isotonically regular. There are no shortages of cheap, fresh coconuts in Mexico so I expect this trend to continue for the duration of the trip.Day 7 and 8:
Marveling at the Mesoamerican Monte Alban ruins I couldn't help but realize that they are the ultimate grounds for the bike polo world championships, as their playing fields and grand stands are like a 15th century NFL stadium. If the Zapotans only had bikes and mallets... We commenced to pad up amongst the tour buses in the parking lot and rip an enduro run straight into down town Oaxaca.
When we caught the bus to Puerto our essentials were pared down to fit into our hydration packs for the quick trip to the coast. It was nice to cruise past the cabs straight to the playa as soon as the luggage doors were opened and our bikes were pulled out. Some of the Mexican bus parties are as good as any limo party I've been to, and at the end of it you actually end up somewhere cool. Removing pedals is optional. In this case we flipped ten bucks in pesos to check out the "Mexican Pipeline" of Zicatela and savour a little taste of the blissed-out socio-geographically secluded Mexican beach life.
Along with a burgeoning number of the international cognoscenti, I have been drawn to a handful of Pacific coastal mountain towns, each a unique expression of someone's idea of unspoiled Americana. Places where anything other than flip flops is overdressing. In this world boards and bikes dovetail beautifully, and sometimes their cultures can turn sleepy towns into healthy, sustainable enclaves. Puerto, one of these simpatico pueblitos remains to be one of America's most naturally winsome surf towns. It couldn't be more contradictory to the bourgeois second-hand reiterations we heard over and over up north. Beyond the charging wave riders and chilled out middle-class Mexicans, this seaside stretch's consistent big beach breaks barreling into left and right tubes before detonation and lack of faux idyllic all-inclusives could very well be paradise to many of my friends. On the Costa Chica the fishermen share the waters with teenage boogie boarders just around the corner from the beaches where "Y Tu Mamà Tambièn" was filmed.
"Our beloved governor is trying to rebrand us as the Oaxacan Riviera,
" a local tells us over a cold Corona "Even the guidebooks are using the name now. It's insulting. We're the second-poorest state in Mexico, we've got places down the road with no water or electricity, and now we're a Riviera…
" Rivieras don't have hideaways with no road signs and no websites savoring their anonymity. We found one half a block from the white sandy bay with wifi and pastel palm tree silhouettes for under 20 bucks a night, so we dropped our camelbaks and spent the first day of "Dia de los Muertos" on the coast. That night at the cafecito we heard local folklore of Puerto master, Noel Robinson who passed at Zicatela last year. The ocean interpretation of the "Day of the Dead" celebration is something I will always remember and honor.Day 10 and 11:
Back to Oaxaca to catch the cities version on the second day of the festival. Unfortunately not all states celebrate Los Muertos but for this unforgettable night Oaxaca's streets are alive with paranormality, incense and an abundance of fine small batch mezcal. Despite a precarious amount of coconut water the next morning, the drive to Puebla proved to be relatively quick and painless, but not before breaking in Diego's new enduro motorcycle a bit. Motos rule the streets, and there aren't many places up north where barking a 450 through the city, into the hilly cobblestones and endless mountains es no hay problema, guey. Day 12:
Guanajuato is the coolest city in Mexico you've never heard of. One part Parisian catacombesque tunnels and passageways, and one part Shakespearian festival, the city marches to the beat of it's own drum and puts on a fantastic urban downhill race every year. Unfortunately my chain had enough by that point and snapped during my final run, but my runs with Victor Caballero and the boys were well worth the trip. The sheer energy and mayhem of that race down the belly of Guanajuato is incredible and could easily be as big as Santos, Brazil or Valpo, Chile. Day 13:
Mexico City is a behemoth, but the kids are too busy playing street soccer and the vendors were too busy selling cashews to worry about it. A few bucks delivered us from Puebla straight to the terminal with complimentary power outlets, wifi, and snacks. When we made it to our beloved American Airlines check-in we were slapped with a $300 charge because our underweight golf bags didn't have golf equipment in them, which is about what we spent the previous two weeks, pulling sweet passes all over the Mexican countryside. Welcome home gueros!
From the quick strikes to the deeper quests, I'm relatively accustomed to the peripheral joys that come standard with these two-wheeled adventures. It's far from a Club Med vacation, but dragging a golf bag all over the free world chasing seasons, conditions, swells and singletrack is not all pain and suffering and excess baggage charges. When you learn how the world works outside of the tourist traps travel gets a lot cheaper, the world is not an expensive place. That bag is worth every penny because it houses the ultimate global vehicle. Bikes rule all over the world, they blast over social barriers and create bonds in the most incredible places our planet has to offer. Offering my wheel and sharing my flow has paid in so many ways, the Mexican mountain bike brethren certainly gave us a memorable initiation to the mainland. When in doubt leave it South I always say. It keeps the cycle turning, and we all know nothing in this world is possible without cycles. Big thanks to Cannondale and all my friends and supporters that enable it to transpire. Gracias Mexico, nos vemos pronto! To be continued…
Stay tuned for parts two and three of Chris in Mexico!