If you are familiar with our particular (perhaps peculiar) method of adventuring into parts unknown to us, you’ll know that for some reason we choose to NOT take full advantage of The Google. Perhaps it’s the feeling that to research something to death takes away from the mystique and the feeling that you are venturing into the great wide place beyond your comfort zone. Perhaps it’s just a foolhardy notion that “meh, it will be all right, it always has been!” This leads me to our journey over the Devil’s Backbone.
Mind you, we really had no clue that the “treacherous 140-mile mountain road running through Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountain range” is CALLED The Devil’s Backbone. We did not know that the Sierra Madre mountain range is the tallest and most rugged mountain range in Mexico.
Neither did we know that 4 short years ago it was home to a fair number of expansive marijuana and opium poppy fields and the towns had violent reputations (the states of Sinaloa and Durango were among the deadliest states in terms of drug-related killings between 2006 and 2011) that accompany those particular types of enterprises. In all honesty, we looked at the map, saying “we need to get from the west coast to the east coast… oh lookie here! There’s a road!” Yup, that was the extent of our research. In fact, you could probably write a book with all the things we did NOT know about our latest travel destination.
We spoke with a few other cycle travelers we met in Mazatlan who told of “friends of friends” that had recently completed the trek from Mazatlan to Durango, who also spoke of how beautiful the ride and that it was highly recommended. SWEET! Let’s DO THIS! We did have some memorable experiences on this leg of the journey, but probably not what you’re expecting with the title of this blog post…
We left Mazatlan at 6am on March 20th and were treated with fairly flat roads and many opportunities for ice cream and taco stops ignoring this sign we kept seeing, cuz you know, we don’t really speak Spanish. After Villla Union, the roads were less and less flat but we completed 33 miles that day!! Cycling off the toll road toward a small town called Mesillas, we stopped to ask the first locals we found; two gentlemen sitting on the side of the road chatting. Now that I think back on it, they were just sitting there with no bikes near them… again using our less than formidable Spanish skillz, we asked about a hotel in the town there is none there but there is in Concordia about 4km away and I guess noting our travel worn appearances, tell us that is all down hill 🙂
We turn around to head that way and after about 2 km here come the two men, now on bicycles riding up behind us. I had no concern at their arrival and they both seemed friendly enough, waving us on and saying that it was just a bit further, they were escorting us, oh happy day! Cuz it was getting late and after 34 miles we were EXHAUSTED! I DID get nervous when they directed us to follow them down a road that strayed off the main road and into a rural area with few houses and even fewer potential witnesses. I pushed out the thoughts of first being dismembered then eaten by wild dogs afterwards as it turns out it was just a short cut and the two men had lead us straight to the only hotel in town. I gave them MXN$40 for their help with profuse thanks, leaving out “thank you for not dismembering us”.
Concordia is a beautiful little town that we stumbled on to, we stayed for two nights, sampling the food (of course), meeting the locals; like the English speaking hotel proprietor Eduardo who helped us get our package released from Estafeta Mail Jail in Tijuana. It was being held hostage at the customs office. He told us, NEVER trust the shipping system, they’ll rob you blind! DAMNIT, yet MORE information we are ignorant of. We have yet to see the package sent from San Juan del Cabo on March 13th… sigh….
Then there was Maria, the Pozole Lady who’s front room of her house has
been converted to a dining room and in which she serves, yup you guessed it, pozole. A FABULOUS tomato based soup of hominy, beef and onions. She was so friendly and loquacious, explaining about her son who also rides bicycles all over the country, even though we both understood a fraction of what we were trying to get across to each other! We also met another cycle tourist, from San Diego, on the same route as us. Again we left while the whole town slept, like thieves in the dark, trying to get some miles in before the heat arrived. This day of cycling was not to be like any others.
We started with a spring in our steps and our sense of determination firmly in place. That day we spent SEVEN HOURS walking our bikes up mountains. There were no reprieves offered by way of a free downhill ride here or there, the only break came at midday for a few hours to escape the sun (where the San Diego cycle tourist caught up with and surpassed us). NINETEEN MILES uphill ALL DAY. We pushed (I can’t even say we rode, it was only MAYBE a mile of actual riding combined) until well after dark and made camp on a flattened dirt area off to the side of the highway. Patty was nervous about the possibility of being discovered so I offered to share my tent with her, she jumped at the offer.
The alarm sounded before dawn and was once again too early, our leg muscles, especially our calves, were protesting. “Shut up, Legs, do the job I hired you for” They listened and off we went for another day of “Push Touring Mexico With 80lbs of Crap”. At this rate we had gone about three miles in two hours and wanted to cry. (Hey, there will be no rose colored glasses here, I’ll tell ya like it is) We had pushed up 2,200 feet of mountain and were completely spent.
We came to a tunnel with some construction work going on and were offered a ride to El Salto by the nicest man that never spoke a word to us after that. He helped us load our bikes into the back of his pick-up and we climbed in after them, he refused the offer of money and off we went. It was freezing cold in the back of that truck and we huddled under my sleeping bag but no matter we were so grateful to have it. I’ll take a moment here to describe the exhilaration no… the sheer terror of careening UP winding mountain roads in the bed of a small well-worn Toyota pick-up while your driver passes anything and everything including two semi’s fighting to pass each other while your diver is fending off the car trying to pass the whole mess. Confused? Terrified? Just close your eyes and hold on, that’s what we did. At one point he stopped to pay the toll, we had money at the ready to pay it for him and he refused, despite our pleadings. He dropped us safely in El Salto where we found a hotel and once again saw the San Diego cycle tourist who also caught a ride into El Salto.
And that’s the story of our experiences on The Devil’s Backbone. No murder, no mayhem no matter how careless we are we can’t seem to avoid all the lovely and helpful people in Mexico. Damn, maybe next time.