The Mountain Bike Ride to La Casita

The dirt road switchbacks between Batopilas (as the bottom of Batopilas Canyon.) to the intersection with the paved highway at a place known as La Casita. in the Copper Canyon region of Mexico) to the intersection with the highwty
The road from Batopilas up to Kirare in Copper Canyon.

Part 1

I set off from Batopilas, at the bottom of Copper Canyon in Mexico, intent on riding my mountain bike up the 40 or so mile gravel road ascent to the intersection with the paved highway. My plan was to ride it as fast as possible and break the unofficial record of 4 hours. Whether or not my quest was realistic will forever remain to be seen.

As I rode, the bike made a sickening squeaking sound each time I pushed the pedals down. The road was dry and dusty, so I figured the chain just needed more lube. Even though the noise was irritating, it provided a distraction from the incessant uphill riding tedium. Initially, the ride was simply tedious, but that soon changed.

After only a third of the way into the adventure, my legs were already feeling heavy. Each time I approached a bend, I hoped to be greeted by a flat or downhill section. But time and again, that hope disappeared when I was invariably greeted by the sight of yet another long, painful-looking, and persistently uphill straightaway. Besides my mistaken assumption that the riding was about to get easier, I did have other things to think about. But unfortunately, those “things” mainly involved the physical pain I was dealing with in my right leg. I did keep trying various mental tricks like visualizing birds flying or my legs pedaling in smooth circles to mitigate the pain and monotony. Unfortunately, doing so did nothing to alleviate my pain, although it did lead me to ponder the concept of a loop that was all downhill. My mind began wandering more and more as I rode, but my lungs and legs stuck to the reality of the situation, and they began to scream.

At this point in the ride, I knew that my goal (and the high point on the road) was still more than 20 miles away and a couple of thousand feet higher. Then, as I rounded a corner near an old graveyard, a mongrel of a Border Collie came at me quickly and deliberately. I yelled, stopped abruptly, got off my bike, reached down, and actually picked up a rock to throw at it (which I ultimately didn’t). Thankfully, with my rock-grabbing motion, it retreated back to wherever it had come from, and I was able to move along, bite-free. 

The temperature was almost ideal, not too hot and not too cold. The sun mostly stayed behind the clouds, and there was just enough of a gentle breeze to keep the air fresh. And so, at least the weather wasn’t an issue. Up until this point, I had avoided looking at my watch but finally did so and saw that I’d been riding for nearly two hours. After some mental ciphering, I determined that I was several minutes ahead of the record pace. So, I decided I could slow down a bit. I concluded I could just soft-pedal the rest of the way to the top, not get so tired, and still break the record. But then, the reality of the situation became more apparent as I realized that I’d miscalculated the time. So, going easy from that point was not an option if I hoped to beat the record. 

The bike didn’t have the same choice of whether or not to ease up and began to get louder as it continued to climb. Once again, I thought about how it must be the fine dust of the road getting into the chain. I grasped at any sort of thought or idea that might take my mind off the pain that continued developing in my right leg. And then, my knee on the other leg began hurting, and I suddenly concluded that perhaps what I was feeling wasn’t actual physical leg pain. 

“Is the sensation I’m feeling just a thought in my head,” I wondered? 

I knew for a fact that both knees hurt, or at least they seemed to. I realized the pain and fatigue had developed after first seeing and then pondering the route. So, I began considering how it might have actually blossomed in my head (and not my knees) after looking toward the top and seeing what lay ahead. All the while, I continued looking at my watch. And I was well aware that I’d been riding for a couple of hours, and if I wanted to break the record, I was still at least 2 hours from that imaginary finish line. At that point, I realized that the main things in my immediate future involved pain. So, I just lowered my head and continued riding, avoiding doing the arithmetic, pondering my leg situation, or thinking about the lung burn that was beginning to develop. I knew that thinking about those things would only worsen matters, and I didn’t need that.

Right then, almost at the halfway point, a faint flute sound came into my ears and seemed to float right on through my head. It was as if it was in one ear and out the other. The flute melody was just suddenly there in the air, and I felt like my ears were just going along the dusty road and scooping it in. In an instant, I went from looking ahead and above and thinking about my pain to pondering what was going on somewhere out there in the brush and cactus with the flute.

Part 2

The flute player was actually just a teenager who’d been sent out to watch the family’s little herd of one single sheep and nine goats. The animals were content to slowly graze their way through the brush toward the Screaming Lady spring. Herding was a boring business to the kid, especially with the dogs running around and doing most of the work.

The new flute the old blind man had made for the kid was begging to be played. So, since there wasn’t a lot of running around or rock throwing to do, the young shepherd sat down in the wide-open on a big flat rock and pulled the new flute out of his shirt and let it play. The mouthpiece tasted sweet, and the flute player’s breath was all it needed to send its song out into the air. It seemed to play itself. At first, the boy wasn’t sure what the melody was. He played but strangely didn’t consciously know the song coming out of the flute. Each time he went to the following note, the right one just seemed to flow out. He was confused, but he kept blowing and letting it happen. The boy found the unknown melody soothing and noted how the goats and old ewe also seemed to. Soon, once the refrain had repeated itself a couple of times, he started to know how it went.

“Have I heard it before,” he wondered? It seemed so familiar. Why and how did he know where each following note was? He had a lot of questions as he continued repeating the melody. After doing so five times, he finally realized the combination of sounds was something he knew and held deep down in his gut. Maybe he’d heard it at the church during Semana Santa. Or perhaps he’d heard it when he was younger, sitting around a fire outside his grandfather’s house. It could be that he’d heard it at a Tutuburi. Whatever the case, he suddenly understood that it was an old well-known melody that he and the others probably knew.

Part 3

Eventually, I rounded a corner, and as I looked up the next straightaway, I saw the little mud hut of a house and store that marked the top of the steepest part of the climb. I knew I was almost there because I’d passed that way before. There was no mistaking the scene that was suddenly before my eyes- the large red Coca-Cola sign near the road contrasted with the surrounding canyons.

At that point, the flute music had drowned out all the pain, dust, and squeaking of the early part of the ride. Now there was just the picture of a cold Coke and smooth sailing along with an unseen crow cackling somewhere up above in what had become my immediate future. Once I got to the store, I took a break and had a soft drink before tackling the second half of the climb.

Ultimately, I reached the top, although not in record time. After the cold Coke, the second half of the ride went smoothly, and the pain in my legs and the burning sensation in my lungs just went away. The remainder of the ride was by no means all downhill but was less steep and tedious. Even without the flute playing during the final part, the melody kept repeating itself in my head. Then, almost abruptly, the dirt road intersected the highway, and I was at my destination, energized and feeling stronger than ever.

Mpuntain biker riding the road between Batopilas and La Casita in Copper Canyon, Mexico
The long ride from Batopilas to La Casita

 

A Way of Giving Thanks

The Tarryalls

Embrace the time and place,
That puts a smile upon your face.

Wallow in it,
Soak it up,
Savor the moment,
Pour it in your cup.
Plant the vision in your mind,
Tell the story to remind.

The memories don’t have to disappear,
Or become less clear.

For me, I still….

Feel the river jostling my canoe as I marvel at the sunrise over the Del   Carmens.

Ponder the quiet of the Tarryall Mountains as I lean against a rock on the top of Bison.

Taste the Tuna Surprise we ate on Mount Borah.

Am amazed by the midnight sun as it finally begins to set over the Kahiltna   Glacier.

Hear the Popo Agie River roaring while I search for a good place to camp.

Feel the flow of the Puke Loop when I finally point my bike downward.

Make the right combination of moves near the top of the Rock Staircase.

Turn my eyes away from the blowing wind and snow as I near the top of       Huayna Potosi.

See the Milky Way come to life as I look up from my bivouac in the Winds.

Walk to the cadence of the Semana Santa drums in Copper Canyon.

Smell the campfire telling me how to get back.

Each instant a wonder,
A tale of its own.
Remember and treasure,
Help it be known.

 

Audio Version:

Ecuador

Re-finding the Silver Trail- Copper Canyon, Mexico

Hike-a-bike on the Silver Trail

From the mines near Batopilas,
To the bank in Chihuahua.
And then by train,
To El Paso.
Haul the silver,
Hide the gold.

125 miles of trail.
Trains of mules with steel shoes,
Tarahumara’s with none.
Five stations along the way.
Mountains with pines,
Canyons with rocks.
Following the path,
That leads,
To the wagon road,
At Carachic.

A generation of travel,
Stopped by time.
Trees grow,
Meadows change.
The route forgotten,
Except for what,
The mules cut,
Into the rock,
With their hooves.

Forgotten stories linger:
Pilares, El Patron,
La Laja, Los Conchos,
El jefe with the knife,
Teboreachi,
The piano,
Huajochi.

Eventually, the day arrives.
And we go.
60 years later.

Years of talk and wondering,
Turn into action.
How hard could it be?
Mountain bikes, walking, and camping
Many questions asked,
But few answered.
Is this the trail?

We do it backwards- from Carachic.
First to El Ojito, then on south.
Past La Herradurra,
Night with Gabino Flores at Huajochi Station,
Walk through the Arroyo de las Iglesias,
Camp at The Hot Springs,
The next night with support at Pilares Station.

On to Siquerichi.
Cold night at La Laja Station.
Camping near Teboreachic Station.
Past Coyachique,
Then down to the Batopillas River.
From there, it’s ten miles of gravel road,
Finally, we arrive in Batopilas,
And Casa San Miguel.

The trail re-found
Was it ever lost?
Reconnoitered, mapped,
Ridden, walked, photographed,
Written and talked about.

Then,
Like before, the Chabochis
Move on.

But the trail stays.

Audio Version:

Morning Dawns in Huahochic

Tarahumara- a poem about the indigenous people of Copper Canyon

Tarahumara men dancing during Semana Santa in the town of Norogachi in Copper Canyon, Mexico
Semana Santa in Norogachi

Drums,
Beating slowly,
And filling the air
With distant
Thumps.

A sound that connects
One canyon
To another.
One village to
The next.

Like a heartbeat,
Faintly pounding,
Almost rumbling,
As the people
Move their feet.

Walking
Somewhere, always somewhere.
Down the arroyo,
Across the meadow
To the big rock,
Never talking.

Soft, but hardened,
Mostly happy,
Sometimes sad,
And often burdened.

By others,
Who want something more
Than….

Semana Santa,
Matachines,
Tesguinado,
Raramuri.

Many
Places to go,
People to see,
Things to do,
And a world to ponder.

Audio Version:

Semana Santa, Noragachic

Mine Riding

033_Old_Mine
Porfirio Diaz Tunnel

The entrance to a horizontal mine shaft that we could ride our mountain bikes into was music to our eyes. The stone opening to the Porfirio Diaz Tunnel sat solemnly on a hillside in the middle of a barrio in Batopilas, Mexico. Sure, it’d been abandoned for 70 or 80 years. But that was of no consequence to us at the time. The entrance was circular and at about 12 feet in diameter, a little bigger than we’d each envisioned it to be previously. A flat dirt surface/pathway- perfect for mountain bikes– led into the darkness. Even though the place had the ominous appearance of almost being eaten by the solid rock, its beckoning call was persistent and ultimately won us over.

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Thirst

A mysterious thirst is quenched.

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Wild Copper Canyon

The sixteen empty soda bottles sat on the counter in the Cerro Colorado store for two days before the shopkeeper finally stuck them down with the other empties. They were a good conversation piece while sitting out there in the open. But when he found a spider in one, and since he needed to move them anyway, he put them into some empty slots in the Fanta case down on the floor. Then, after he tidied things up, he thought about dragging the whole box of empties out from behind the Sabritas rack so that they would still be visible. That way, they would continue to be the talk of the town, but he realized that if he did so, they would just be in the way and make things look disorganized. And so he just stuck the case in the back room.

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Nacho Kino

Missing a Tutuburi

Copper Canyon Kino Springs campsite
Camping at Kino Springs

The countryside opened up as the Silver Trail left the Valley of the Churches. Our group of seven had passed a young Tarahumara man (the indigenous people of Mexico’s Copper Canyon) earlier in the day. And I’d asked about Nacho Kino, an old Tarahumara whom I’d met while mapping the Silver Trail a few years before.

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The Beer Truck

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Tarahumara house in Copper Canyon, Mexico

             I was in Mexico’s Copper Canyon with a group of adventure travelers “Chavochi’s” (non-indigenous/devil people as some of us gringos are fondly known among the Tarahumara). Some things happened while we were down there in Batopilas Canyon and the town of Batopilas, which may or may not be related to each other. I think they are.

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Lost and Found on the Silver Trail

“You’re not lost, if you don’t care where you are.”

Mountain biking the Silver Trail

By this point, we were some 20 miles from the last little outpost of a town that we’d been through. But theoretically, at least, we were about to come to another. Jerry had the best available maps of the area loaded onto his GPS. But it only told us where we were relative to whatever data it was loaded with. The adage, “garbage in, garbage out,” came to mind and was soon followed by the vision of a web page that simply said, “no data available.”

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Mountain Biking The Trail of Death

An interesting turn of events while mountain biking some Copper Canyon singletrack.

Trail of Death 1-03
The Trail of Death

Afterward, we began to call it the Trail of Death.

For the longest time, Batopilas, Mexico, was connected to the small town of Cerro Colorado by just a little bit of dirt road and seven or so miles of trail, just barely wide enough for local burro traffic. Then, a few years back, that same dirt road was bulldozed into that little Copper Canyon town. Most of the old trail was “improved” for vehicle use, although the last mile or so was left untouched where the road took an easier route.

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