Saturday, March 18, 2006

Copper Canyon Tour: Part 5: The Climb Out

Today was the day we climb out of the Canyon. The nervousness and anticpation was in the air the nght before. Earlier in the week when the climb out was talked it about, we weren't sure how we would approach it.

"Oh, we are on vacation, why kill yourself. There is still more riding afterwards" yada yada yada. We'd heard the stories of how people had gotten up before dawn to ride up. And we all did the ride down so we knew (sort of) what was in store.

But please. If you are the type of person who's idea of travelling in Mexico is riding a mountain bike in some of the most remote parts of the steepest canyon(s) in North America, then you are also the type of person who is going to see how far you can get before the van catches you. Besides when else are you going to get the chance to climb like this. The longest extended climb I have done in recent memory has been 40minutes.

The way it works was you can leave anytime you want to from Batipilos. The trailer had been parked at a school partway up the mountain, so we weren't really climbing all the way out. If the van reached you before you got to a certain point (a store partway down the climb) you had to get in. It's a good challenge. There is success in reaching the trailer, but there is no failure because you just get as far as you can.

So the night before everyone was buzzing. "What time are you leaving?"...etc... I was worried. My legs were really hurting the day before, and I could feel that tell-tale burn that precedes the muscle lockup cramps that I'm known for. But I didn't say anything except whispering to my wife about it.

Our plan was to leave at 6:30am. Breakfast and bags already packed.

No pictures on the way out because I wasn't about to stop for pictures. Three goals for me
1) keep moving. stops less than 30seconds
2) hydrate
3) eat

Karen and I rode out together at 6:30 sharp. We stayed together a short bit, but with this kind of ride, you just have to go your own pace. Get a song in your head and go. I turned around after a roller climb, and didn't see her. I should have said See ya, or good luck, but I was just in my own little world.

The air was cool but the kind of cool that you know is going to lead to a scorcher. The road was in the shade so it stayed cool. The sun was coming over the side and lighting up the tops of the canyon. Chugging away, Lost in the Super Market going through my head. The copper color shining off the walls of the mountain from the sun's rays. It was as close to a religious experience as I've ever had on the bike.

I wish I had brought my camera to document this vision. Thanks so much to Dave who sent me a link to his pictures from the same trip. This helps me solidify it into memory

I saw donkeys in the middle of the road. I passed by within a few feet of cows with 12" curved horns. I saw goats. And I saw vultures, circling. They knew a sure thing.

Stopping only to take a natural break and open up a bar. The milestones were the small town of La Bufa. The Bridge which is the start of the extended climb, the store on the road, and finally the trailer.

The road to La Bufa was several rolling climbs. Some long and steep. Every climb I put it into the small ring to save the legs.

Made the bridge at 2:17 feeling pretty good. Now crossing the bridge into the full sun, the temperature rose. The climb was a constant grade. Middle ring if one had the legs. I did not and just spun, spun, spun. Sometimes complete granny gear, other times one or two down. The limiters were hydration, nutritional, and muscular. My heart wasn't taxed at all because I could only spin so high a gear to keep from cramping.

The KM signs passed agonizingly slow. Looking back over the edge I didn't see anyone behind me. Then I looked down and two or three switchbacks below, I saw a figure, hunched over rocking their body across the bike. It was Tim on his singlespeed. Mashing the pedals slowly one after another. On a single speed, either you have the legs and gearing to turn it over, or you mash without any way to flush out the burn of the legs.

Keep moving, keep forward momentum. I passed the store. They had said that if you make it to the store you deserve to make it all the way, and the van would pass and let you keep riding. So that must mean that it isn't too much farther. right?

Hell no.

It went on and on and on. Then I passed through the thermo cline. The temperature dropped. The wind picked up. Oh I also ran out of water by the store. Ok... here we go...Now I was getting a little worried. Where was this town, when will the cramps hit? Can the vultures smell the fear.

I passed a man draggin a billy goat down by a rope tied to its horns. For miles past him I could see the hoof marks in the dirt where the billy goat was digging his heels in. Stubborn. Just like mountain bikers.

I passed by a cactus plant, and there was a bottle of water placed inside of it. I was so tempted to grab it. But it might have been some Indians who had stashed it there for a 100mile run. They might die if they don't have it. Me, well I'll just wat for the van on the side of the road if I have to stop.

Don't stop, keep turning. The cool air felt good, and there was almost a tail wind. I started to get into some more trees, and recognized some sections. There was a town sign, but was it the same town where the school was? Still not sure I just kept going, then came around a corner and finally recognized the school and saw the trailer. I put my vest, arm warmers on, and lay down on the dirt. In a haze, I could hear a drum beat. The Tarahumara drum all the time.. It was surreal. But I didn't feel too bad, yet.

4:19. 2hrs of solid climbing. The longest ride I have done in the past 5 years has been 4:30. If anyone doubts the efficiency of the Morris training plan, they need only look at me.

Tim rolled up about 10 minutes later. He was hurting for certain. I cannot believe the legs he has to push that single speed up that climb. Amazing. Then Karen rolled up another 10 or 15 minutes later. That is my wife.

Tim had hauled his huge pack up the climb, he had two shells in there that he lent to us. We were cold. I started to get real nauseated. From dehydration and the altiitude, so I curled up in the fetal positon to wait for the van.

Several more people rolled up.
Simon rolled up hanging onto the mirror of a vehicle
Pete and Lisa cruised up
Andrew and Cheryl

The van followed and said that Doug was on his way up.

Later we learned that this was the most # of guests that had completed the climb out of any tour.


Logistically, I think Western Spirit could have done some things different. They should have had several guides spread out from front to back to provide aid to anyone. With only the van in the back, if anyone had a flat or mechanical and couldn't fix it themselves than their shot to climb out would be gone, and they'd have to get in the van.

The van picked up the trailer and we drove several more miles past the top for lunch.

To put things in perspective, the local hotshots make it to the bridge in 1:30 and ALL the way out in 3:40, which was still several miles passed where we had stopped.

After lunch we drove to a sweet lodge that is Off the Grid with no electricity and pot belly stoves in every room.

One of the owners is American and he tries to tell the Mexican government to not put big hotels out here, because the Gringos will pay MORE if there is NO electricity.
We were going to do a short ride out to a local museum but there was a communcations breakdown between our two vehicles and the other vehicle didn't get there for awhile.

Time for Margaritas and music. These were strong.
DSC00753 DSC00751

The Tarahumara also make violins.

Another great meal, and a good night's sleep.

Next post: Last Day of Riding


At 1:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GREAT writeup of the long climb out of the canyon... I was there about two weeks before you on the WS trip and I ran out of water at just about the same spot as you.

I paused a bit on the climb out to take some early morning photos of the canyon , which should look familiar to you... and feel free paste any of my photos into your writeup, if you like.

I didn't make it up quite as fast as you (I think my time was 4:30), but I *did* down a generous shot of tequila upon arrival :)



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