Over the Sierras to the Pacific


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Over the last few weeks I have fallen into a comfortable,  predictable routine: Wake up around 7ish, on the road by 9ish, off the road around 4ish, go to bed around 10ish. The next day, rinse and repeat.

This is one of the reasons I don’t publish posts on a daily basis. A lot of days blend in to each other as I rumble south. Saturday, the 29th of October was another kettle of fish entirely, and worth describing in detail.

Its 190 miles from Durango to Mazatlan on Mexico’s pacific coast. A good part of the route is composed of the famous/infamous Espinazo Del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone).  It’s a narrow 2 lane road with a reputed 2,000 curves over 80 miles, running along a ridge at over 8,000 feet over the Sierra Madre mountain range. Its one of the main transit routes from Northern Mexico to the ports on the pacific coast.  It’s not dissimilar to the Blue Ridge Parkway, except its higher, twistier,with rougher roads, trucks, drug smugglers, and cattle grazing by the side of the road.

Capture1

I don’t use my GPS (the power cable failed and I haven’t had time to fix it), and rarely use a paper map. I just check the route on Google maps before I leave and if necessary ask people directions once underway. Before traveling this section, I made a few lazy inquiries of the BMW people on this route and they didn’t mention any particular difficulties with it. Well, I guess they have much more experience than me.

I set out in ignorant bliss form Durango. Surprisingly I had no problems either with traffic or navigating my way out of town and was soon on the highway to Mazatlan. The first 50 miles are relatively straight, but go up and up and up. For the first time since I started the trip it got very,very cold. Even with all my layers and heated grips I had to stop a couple of times and warm up by putting my gloves on the exhaust to warm them up.

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All smiles before I knew what was ahead of me

Beyond the 50 mile point the road started the get curvy, and signs to started appear which, loosely translated, announced:

CAUTION: VEHICLES INVADING YOUR LANE”

That along with a bunch of  roadside shrines and crosses was beginning to make me think this road was going to be eventful.

Around that point the road became riddled with an endless succession of tight curves. One of the fun things about riding a motorbike is the leaning the bike trough the bends so it was fun at first, but the novelty wore off after about 30 miles and just became hard work on my overloaded bike. Traffic was light so it wasn’t a big problem, until I came into a bend and was met by an oncoming 18 wheeler exiting the bend taking up half  my lane. I didn’t feel it was dangerous though as we were both going under 25 mph. I was able to correct my line and scrape through.

Another hour so in I came to the highest point of the road, and one of the few places there were pull offs to admire the view, and what a view it was:

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At the summit

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At the summit

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At the summit

The scenery was spectacular, when I had a chance to admire it, which wasn’t very often. This is a very remote area with lots of inaccessible valleys and they tell me its prime pot growing country with a proud drug smuggling tradition. That might explain all the army vehicles and checkpoints.

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One of the many army vehicles on this route

The road snaked along a ridge for several more miles, with steep hairpin bends and switchbacks It was thrilling and terrifying in equal measures.  Mostly I had the road to myself but now and then I came up behind trucks moving at almost walking pace. It was there I learned how to overtake through curves because the bike was not geared to handle the slopes and curves at a crawl.

By now it was 2 pm. I left Durango at 9.30 and had only covered 100 miles, give or take. All afternoon the curves went on and on. Among the other obstacles I came across were rockslides, fog, rain, livestock on the loose, more trucks in my lane and some guy texting while riding his horse.

Finally I came to a hardscrabble town strung along one of the rare, straight sections of road. The town was a dump but I was happy to see it as I could, rest my weary muscles and re-hydrate. I forgot to mention by then I had moved into a tropical landscape, so after being chilled to the bone a few hours earlier now I was peeling of layers to try and cool down.

I did see some more motorcyclists on this section and they were all zooming past me. I did catch up with one group,for a short while at least, and we all stopped to swap war stories.  I mentioned how tough this road was and one of them told me at least the car and truck drivers sort of respect bikers here, wait until you get to Colombia. So I’ve that to look forward to.

Towards the end of the mountainous section I passed a sign for the Tropic of Cancer (no photo, because there was nowhere to pull over). A bit further on I saw a colossal bridge looming in the distance…

Puente carretera Mzt-Durango

Photo from chihuahuaexpress.com.mx

The photo isn’t mine since again there was nowhere to stop. This is the Baluarte Bridge, the second highest in the world and part of the new road from Mazatlan. At its highest point its taller than the Empire State building, at almost 1,300 feet. As tough as the old road was, I was glad I didn’t have to cross over this thing.

After what felt like an eternity I finally descended to the coastal plains around 5.00 pm. I was so exhausted I found a hotel in a town 45 minutes from Mazatlan and decided to stop there. I had covered only 166 miles in 8.5 hours, and that’s with gaining an hour after crossing into the pacific time zone at some point during the day.

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I stopped for the night in the town of Concordia

Once settled in my hotel I thought that was the end of a roller coaster day, and time for some well deserved rest. Well I was wrong. Some fellow guests invited me for a drink and we ended up going into Mazatlan to collect one of their girlfriends from the bus station. Then we hit the bars on the beachfront. I finally got to bed around 4 AM. So I did finally make it Mazatlan, but in a car. It was one of the most memorable and toughest days of the trip so far.

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One Response to Over the Sierras to the Pacific

  1. Doug says:

    Keep on keeping on! Love the posts and still, stay safe!

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