11.23.2002-12.15.2002       La Paz, Mexico to Zacatecas, Mexico
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My level of anticipation for the next section of the trip was high. In fact I had not anticipated a section of riding so much since the Icefields Parkway. I was also excited about crossing over to the mainland, to something new, to something not Baja. After crossing by ferry to Tobolobampo I cycled with my new riding partner, Fritz, into Los Mochis. The mainland felt instantly more friendly than Baja. Early the next morning we boarded the famous Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico(Copper Canyon Railway) and began our journey to Creel, our starting point for exploring the canyons that comprise an area four times the size of the Grand Canyon of Arizona. Riding the train poses no moral dilemna for the Pan-American Cyclist--there is no road. The train ride is legendary so I had high expectations. The train ride was enjoyable and perhaps if we were more sedentary travelers we might have found it exciting. At Divisadero we were allowed to disembark and catch our first glimpse of Copper Canyon and the terrain we would soon be riding through. Situated at 7000 ft., Creel was a shock to the system, both in terms of cold temperatures and thin air. We spent a day cycling around Creel to acclimitize ourselves to the atltitude and to take in some of the sights around town. As we cycled out of town I realized it had been the first time in months that I´d gone out for a day ride, unhindered by all my gear. Copper Canyon and the surrounding area is home to one of Mexico´s largest indigenous populations, the Tarahumaras. We passed several of their cave dwellings while we rode through Complejo ecoturistico Arareko, a Tarahumara landholding collective that also contained some interesting rock formations.

The following day it was time for the real fun to begin--our bicycle journey to Batopilas. The road between Creel and Batopilas is a roller coaster, passing through five major canyons. On our first day of riding we passed through several of these canyons, each canyon deeper than the previous. It is said there are only two directions to go in the canyons--up or down. This became clear on our first night as time to search for a place to camp arrived. Level ground seemed to be non-existent but just as despair was about to set in a track leading down from the road appeared. Investigation revealed a piece of level ground perfect for camping, perched near the canyon wall. The next day we bid farewell to pavement and embarked on the rough road that would eventually take us to our destination. As we appproached Batopilas canyon from a side canyon, I worried that our loss in elevation might diminish the dramatic effect of arriving at the deepest of the canyons. I needn´t have worried. The view down to the village of La Bufa was stunning. A bone-jarring descent followed as we dropped several thousand feet to the bottom of the canyon. The final fifteen miles between La Bufa and Batopilas were slow and tedious but also some of the finest riding of the route, as the road went up and down the walls of the canyon. Upon arriving in Batopilas it seemed hard to believe that it was once home to the world´s largest silver mine. We spent a day in Batopilas and cycled out to the Catedral Perdida(Lost Cathedral) at Satevo. It was an overcast day and the route peaceful so we decided to walk back to town and savour our last day in the canyons. There is only one road out of the Batopilas, the road we arrived on, so we did what any logical cyclists would do--we threw our bikes in the back of a pick-up and caught a ride back to the pavement.

Since La Paz and for the first time on the trip I had been on the traveler trail--all the Westerners from the ferry checked in to the same hotel in Lost Mochis(such is the power of the Lonely Planet), boarded the same train, stayed at the same guesthouse in Creel, went to the same bar for drinks in Creel(leave it to budget travelers to find the only bar in town serving a beer and a shot of tequila for a mere $1.50), etc. It was nice to run into the same friendly people day after day and to learn from those travelling up from the South. After Batopilas we would be leaving the trail and would most likely not see the same group of people again. They would travel by bus to the next traveler´s destination, arriving in a day or two. We would spend the next several weeks traveling by bike to arrive at the same destination.

The ride between Copper Canyon and Hidalgo del Parral presented more tough riding, with numerous ups and downs. Along the way the pine trees of the Sierra Tarahumara gave way to the arid landscape of the altiplano that would be our companion for the next several weeks. Hidalgo del Parral, famous as the city where Pancho Villa was murdered, proved to be a very friendly city for its size. With its colonial architecture it also gave us a taste of the delights to come further down the road. Unfortunately, that would be much further down the road. The stretch between Parral and Durango is the type of stretch that leaves you wishing you had an auto-pilot setting, so that you might just sleep through the hundreds of kilometers of rolling, arid landscape that separate the two towns. Perhaps mentally I was asleep. I have difficulty remembering the names of the towns we passed through. The day we left Parral we passed into a new time zone. We didn´t realize it until five days later.

One day I had the type of conversation that I guess was inevitable. It was late in the afternoon and, arriving at our destination, we were inquiring as to what our lodging possibilities for the night might be. I asked a man if there were a hotel in town. He replied that no, there wasn´t and that the next hotel was an hour away. I´d come to appreciate it when people used objective measurements to describe distances, instead of the highly subjective near or far. A distance in kilometers would have been better but driving time was acceptable. One need only take into to account the terrain and road conditions to translate it into a fairly accurate distance. The problem arises when people don´t grasp that this unit of measurement is tightly coupled to the mode of transport, i.e. Is there a motel in town? No, the next hotel is one hour away. That is too far, we camp here. But you still have time. It will not be dark for a few hours and it is only an hour away. But that is by car. By bike it is a day. Yes, of course you are tired. But it is only an hour away. I give up and angrily bike away. Another inevitable experience followed a few days later. It was a Friday night and we were in need of drinks. Given the size of the town a cantina was the only option. I usually avoid these establishments as they tend to be quite rough but we found one that seemed harmless enough--just a few friendly patrons drinking and peacefully watching a movie on the television. However, as I´ve stated previously in these pages, good things never last and a few minutes after we received our drinks a drunk man came in and started arguing with the bartender. A shouting match ensued and shortly after the bartender ran out from behind the bar and started slugging it out with the patron. We hadn´t paid for our drinks yet so we had little choice but wait for the bartender to beat the less sober patron into submission and return to his bartending duties.

The area surrounding Durango has been a popular location for movies, especially Westerns. The day we rode into Durango we had the opportunity to stop at one of the more famous and well preserved sites, Villa del Oeste. It was a Sunday afternoon and day-trippers from Durango plentiful, making for an enjoyable afternoon and a nice transition from the past several days of monotonous riding through inumerable ranchos to our first large Mexican city. Our Sunday arrival also meant we were treated to the usual Sunday festivities in Durango, which happened to include a fireworks display over the town´s cathedral. The day we rode out of Durango we encountered two other cyclists on the highway. From a distance I could see a Yak trailer and Swiss flag. This left little doubt that the two were my Swiss friends. We had last parted ways nearly three weeks earlier and I had expected them to be at least that far ahead of me so I was quite surprised. They had decided to spend several weeks studying Spanish in Mazatlan and, as in our first meeting, it was by mere coincidence that we had met up again. The highlight of our ride between Durango and Zacatecas was the town of Sombrerete. On the map it appears as nothing special but upon arriving we found a delightfully friendly, small colonial town. With the Day of our Lady Guadalupe just a day away, festivities were in full swing. At night a parade wound its way throughout the town, its presence made known from the industrial size fireworks being launched from the lead pick-up truck as well as from the sirens from the numerous fire trucks, ambulances and police cars that comprised a large portion of the parade. I was especially amused by the marching band equipped with mining hats and headlamps. The following night in Fresnillo I watched a much larger parade, which culminated the festivities. From Fresnillo it was a short ride to Zacatecas, the first of the famous silver cities we would visit. We would spend a few days there walking the city´s streets, visiting the sights and enjoying a bit of culture.
DistanceElevation GainFlat Tires
Leg770 mi/1239 km44190 ft/14498 m1
Trip7615 mi/12255 km72 mi/116 km5
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