Part 1: Gods
The Eight Wonders of the World were crafted by humans, but there are some things that we simply cannot design. We own Mount Rushmore, a monument created by sculptors and the leadership of great men, while chance and force own the magnificence the Sierra Gordas.
I didn’t get to them right away after San Miguel. The plan was to ride to Queretaro, a nearby city that was certainly surrounded by lots of car traffic and little else. I passed a sign pointing towards Doctor Mora. “Doctor Mora,” I thought. “That’s an interesting name.” I looked at my map, and sure enough there it was, just before the Rio Victoria. “Strangely named city plus river valley? Adventure!” I had originally avoided the route because of the hills depicted on googlemaps but I was feeling wily and turned my mighy bike around and headed to Doctor Mora. It was a pleasant ride through – well, to be honest I don’t really remember – but I got to the mellow city while it was preparing for siesta. The market stands were being torn down while ice cream and elote peddlers rolled their carts in. I saw a Nishiki bike, Sir Norte’s cousin and talked to the guys for a while. “What’s up, man?” one of them asked me. What’s up is always followed by man in Mexico, but I can’t figure out which show/movie/song that uses it as a catch phrase. In Spanish I understood that the name of the town comes from a Doctor Jose Maria Luis Mora who came to the town when it was just the village, Charcas. From what I understood he brought a lot of people with him and created a real town.
After a few photos and a farewell I was off again into farmland. Bit by bit large rocky outcroppings popped out of the landscape and I found myself surrounded by gray rock. A huge tree grew at the edge of a bump hanging over a crevasse and I knew that’s where I was having lunch. As I walked to the protruding piece of land I noticed that the earth was not cut by individual rocks, there was no vegetation growing in cracks. It was one giant piece of stone and somehow that tree had grown so large all by itself. Just below a small river flowed, proof that just enough water was around to feed the tree. As I sat there munching away on beans and tortillas I remembered the Revolutions Southward crew. The rocks reminded me a lot of Catavina and the playground we found there. After I ate I had some leftover trash in the form of biorganic lime and orange peels. Because there was no evidence of organic or non-organic trash I packed them up and walked them back to my bike, just like Julie would have liked. I don’t necessarily agree with her on biorganic trash/evidence of humans but I couldn’t bring myself to molest that beautiful scenery.
A few seconds later and I nearly broke a land record. I didn’t realize I had done any climbing but around a bend a huge bomb lay out in front of me. A cyclist’s dream – a free downhill, no climbing necessary. I crouched into the bike and pedaled hard. Forty kilometers an hour, fifty, sixty. I had gone 70 with Donas and Nacho. “C’mon baby…break 70!” I cried. My watery eyes tried in vain to spot potholes while glancing at the speedometer. Seventy-five, seventy-eight. “C’mon! Boom!” Eighty! Eighty-three! “Can I break 90? Break 90!” Eight-five! Pedaling was useless. I ducked even more and steered through velocity-maximizing turns. 86.1 km/h! As the road flattened out I relaxed my knuckles and whooped happily. 86.1.
Slowly, the gray rock turned into mounds of brown ones. Cactus and other green things sprouted from the earth. I rode through a few small towns and enjoyed investigating their pretty churches. As I rode out of one of them a guy caught up to me on his bike and we rode and talked about mountain biking and my trip. He offered me some peanuts and I some water. It was nice to have someone to talk to during the pedal. Made me remember the good ol’ days. A barbie doll laid in the road. The dude leaned over his bike and snatched her off the ground. “Aqui,” he said and handed her to me. “Una novia para ti.” I am so starved of Carla that I immediately thought the blonde, formed hair looked like Carla’s even though hers is brown with sun-bleached highlights and curlier than a poodle’s. But now I have even more of an excuse to be taken for as a wacko with Carla taped to my seat tube.
Cars all but disappeared after I bid my road buddy goodbye, which was evidenced by a pile of dog I narrowly avoided in the middle of the road. The few people I did pass stopped their work to stare at me. Normally I nod at folks such as these but I was too busy staring at other things. I was riding through the valley of the Rio Victoria. Exquisite ranchos with patios and windows lined so to take in the sight of the rounded hills that overlapped each other as if they were clambering for air space. The homes’ farms were split into two levels, dry-season and wet-season for when the rain comes by short stone
walls. Trees either bald or spotted with dying leaves teased the imagination as to what they could look like when they are no longer thirsty. Some of the homes were large and extravagant without attached farms making me think they were vacation homes, and understandably so. I imagined myself coming back someday to buy a home and enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning to gave at the sunrise illuminating this gorgeous and hidden wonder of Mexico. The gods had gotten it right when they made this one. The ride was up-down through curves but all the way and through all the small towns I passed everyone smiled or called out some form of greeting in English. It was so calm I was the menace to kids playing soccer in the rural highway. After all of the momentum- and energy-zappings of the up-downs I called it quits on a hill on the other side of the river and watched and listened as the village changed from evening recreation to hushed night under a black thunderstorm as I enjoyed an orange Victoria soda. I don’t know if it was the fatigue or real, but it is the best orange soda I have ever had.
The next day was more of the same but with higher cliffs lining the river. Farmlands gave out to goat pastures that navigated the steep faces. A hidden boy hooted at me from the other side of the valley. His goats helped me trace a line to where he sat. We exchanged a few foolish calls before letting exhaustion find a campsite. On both of these days the next morning I came across a much better campsite about 15-30 minutes later. I guess the lesson from Lindsay never stuck. But it seems that at the end of everyday there is a climb and all you want to do is wait until the next day to tackle it when you have more strength.
Turns out, I didn’t quite realize how much that climb was going to be the next day. The rocks turned gray again, but the farms seemed to get greener. After the ol’ up-down up-down in the morning, grinding away almost on my lowest and then throwing into my highest and back again, the sun came out torment during my climb. My speed fluctuated between 6 and 9 kilometers an hour, depending on whether I had headwind or not. But nothing makes you feel more badass than seeing a kid stick his head out the window and ignore the amazing view to look at you and say “Whooooooaaaa.” I spied a flat spot and aimed for it, until…I got a super flat. I say super because after three attempts the mother fucker would not seal. It was a long slit caused by my emergency tire boot. I used it to cover the hole ripped into my tire caused by the super pothole. Apparently it says emergency because the small ledge between it and the tire can cut the tube. Good thing I had a whole spare tire. After about an hour’s worth trying to fix the super flat I got the new tube in and rode to the flat part in minutes. I ate lunch and watched as a man took pictures of his car against the backdrop of the view on a tripod-mounted camera. Way to go, dude. I bet it was quite a spectacular accomplishment to get your car to that spot.
After lunch I mounted Sir Norte ready for a bomb or at least a level ride. Nope. As soon as I rounded the first turn I saw it was all uphill. ALL uphill. I stuck my head down not wanting to get falsely encouraged by flattened turns or completely drained by views of the upcoming stretches. Finally, the road did smooth out into a downhill, but it was only a tease, pointing me straight into the wind. I couldn’t even get into my highest chainring. It seemed as if both the gods and human engineers had teamed up to create the worst climb possible and then laugh at me. The downhill ended just in time to climb up to a small village where I stopped to buy water and an ice cream. I asked some of the locals what our sea level was.
Around 2,000 meters they told me. I looked up the mountain to see the top crusted in green foliage. My next destination, Xilitla, is jungle territory. This must be where the terrain starts to turn into jungle. I trudged on and as soon as I crossed over the mountain, gray was immediately replaced by green as far as I could see. Every crevice, every nook was forested with pines and vines.
The end of the day was spent looking up at the road and seeing how high I had to go. Each hill conquered presented another. It was like playing old school video games where the boss starts out in an airplane or something until you blow that up only to find a whole ‘nother element and to the bastard. I began to think of the ride in stages by the small villages. It took about a half-hour to get from village to village and each time I looked down to see where I had come from and the preceding village looked so small and far away. I was literally on top of the world. I couldn’t see any part of the river I had been to, nor any of those towns.
Sometimes you have to wonder why the gods created the Earth to be so goddamn difficult.
I woke up early the next morning to resume the climb. Three days now of climbing or up-down up-down. In less than an hour I came to a sign in front of a tunnel of trees. The sign read, “Blah blah blah, this highway is called this because it means where the heavens meet the earth…blah blah blah…It is at 2,600 meters, the highest point of the highway…blah, blah…” Wait! Highest point? It’s true, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. This must be biker’s nirvana.
What happened next can only be described as a two-hour orgasm. The hill bombed through Pinal de Amoles, and dozens other villages that I can spend the time describing but they don’t matter because I bombed a hill for two hours. I stuck around 50-60 kmh only because of the extreme switchbacks that stopped my heart and stretched my smile. I sang a song whose sole lyrics were, Oooooh man, shit, haha, Uuuuuuh, Yeah, and Fuck Yeah in various arrangements. The whole time crests of pine trees spread in front of me to appreciate care-free. The most magical part of it I realized was that I was in virgin forest. The only trees that had been cut down were to make way for farmland. It looked like Europe with white cottages in the middle of verdant pastures and pine trees on the top of the world. There’s something about being so high and only seeing a few homes and forest. You feel untouchable, and as fun as it was to go down that road, I felt accomplished and comfortable in my position. I knew that if I wanted to go back there, I would have that same 3-day struggle. But the payoff awaited and so after a quick brake-cooldown I rode downhill more, amazed that I couldenjoy a downhill so long that I could break it into two segments.
I blasted through towns with churches and more scenic views, but nothing built by the gods could compare to the pinnacle of the Sierra Gordas.