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|Last year, when I tried to leave Durango
early, I froze my butt off for the first 100 miles or so. I decided there
was no rush to get going this year, especially given the weather reports on
TV, claiming a cold front that was affecting Mexico was responsible for
record setting low temperatures. I know it's hard to believe from the
pictures, as the skies were completely clear all day the last few days, but
those cold fronts in Mexico only cause precipitation in high elevations,
mostly in the form of snow. The rest of the country, around this time of the
year is just colder than usual. They mentioned the Durango sierras and some
towns I quickly found on the map as being right off the road to Mazatlan. It
felt really cold last night as I was walking back to the hotel after dinner.
This can't be good.
I woke up at 6:30 anyway. Damn internal clock. Took my time and decided to go out for breakfast, but it was too early and the only place I found open was an Oxxo (convenience store). They had warm coffee and some pastries. I guess that´ll have to do. Walked around the plaza, were shoe shiners were setting up their stalls and city workers were cleaning up the mess left by visitors the previous night.
Balam tells me Mexico is the dirtiest country in Latin America. He should know, he has traveled most of it. It's harder for him to accept, since he is Mexican and an environmentalist by heart, hearing him rant about it is both entertaining and sad. But he is right, from what I've seen. It's not uncommon to see people roll down their window as they drive and dump whatever junk they have out the window. And it's not just poor, uneducated people. I've followed a new S-Class Mercedes out of a Pemex station only to have to dodge a Coke can that came out the passenger's window a mile down the road. Why they couldn't have thrown it into a trash can at the station is beyond me. Money buys an S-Class but no class.
The road out of Durango starts up with a nice climb into the sierra. I was wearing all the warm gear I had, and it was the right choice. The air was crisp, clear and the sun was shinning (but not providing any warmth). I wasn't cold, but I knew it was the gear, not the air temperature.
The main industries in this region are cattle ranching and timber. Almost all towns I passed through had sawmills. Most towns were scattered on both sides of the highway, in a way that looked like not much planning happened before construction. They simply grew as more people moved there and they built their houses just about anywhere they found a piece of land. Needless to say, the only paved road is the main road, everything else is dirt.
When I stopped for gas in El Salto (a huge sprawling, dusty, sawmill town), more or less at the top of the sierras, it was still rather chilly. From El Salto
it's about 100 miles to Concordia, and I was really looking forward to this stretch of road. This is where the Espinazo del Diablo starts (not that the section between Durango and El Salto wasn't fun, but the next section is even tighter and with less straights). Last year I had a great time, but there was more traffic than I would have liked to enjoy it. This time, going in the opposite direction, I was there a lot earlier, and I had not seen that much traffic so far. It was looking rather promising.
The road climbs a bit more from El Salto and there I started to see snow by the side of the road. Hey, what happened to that warm weather Mexico I was going to ride through for my vacation? I guess keeping all that cold weather gear on was the right choice. I stopped to take a picture of a snow covered mountainside and went on my way. A few curves down the road there was some ice on the road. Not a lot, there were clean tracks to ride through, but still, it got my attention. I made a mental note - Remember to not blindly charge through curves on the "dark side" of the mountain (northern facing sections that get almost no sun in winter. Sure enough, there was some more ice on some other "dark side" curves. No big deal.
After a while of not seeing any more ice, I figured I had passed the coldest sections and went back to the usual pace. And then I come to this relatively mild left hander that's on the "dark side", it takes me a couple of seconds to adapt to the light and when I do all I see in front of me is ice. Pretty thick, whitish, slab of ice on the road and no clean tracks that goes on for about 20 meters. All I could think off is "oh shit, there goes my trip". I am not sure I can come to a complete stop before I hit the ice, so that's not a good option. I pick a line that looks cleanest, move forward in the seat, keep a loose grip on the bars, steady throttle and one deep breath. About half way through I hit a bump left by a truck's tire in the melting ice (likely the previous day, it wasn't melting today) and the bike moves sideways a bit. Suddenly it got really warm, even in the shade. I think American Super Camp just paid for itself, as I managed to keep the bike up. I owe thanks to Tony again for talking me into taking it.
There was another "dark" curve that had some ice after that, and then as the road descended, the ice patches disappeared. I kept a slightly slower pace for a while, until I was sure it was warm enough to find no more ice. I took advantage of the slower pace to snap some on board pictures. But as the road got tighter and more fun, the camera went back into the tank bag and I concentrated on the job at hand - keeping a good, entertaining pace, while avoiding becoming a hood ornament on an on-coming truck. Traffic was significantly lighter than last year, and it was a lot of fun. I only stopped once, to take a picture and peel off the cold weather layers, as it was getting warm. I made good time to Concordia, but good time here means I averaged only a little over 40 MPH. It's a 100 mile stretch. It's one of the best 100 miles of curves I know, though. It's fun, it's challenging, it's exciting and it requires absolute concentration, can't day dream on this road, if the road conditions don't get you, an oncoming car/truck will. Maybe I can find a job in Durango...
It was more than just warm in Concordia. I took everything off (OK, not every- thing), drank a lot of water and promptly got back on the road only to get stuck behind two large trucks that were using every inch of the road to negotiate the last tight turns before reaching the coast. Given this delay, I decided to take the toll section south from Villa Union to Tepic, but it turned out that most of that road is under construction, so after a short 30 mile section we got diverted back to the libre road. That is a narrow two lane road that serves as the main north-south road on the pacific coast side, traffic was very heavy and passing opportunities limited, at least so I thought. I would slowly make my way around long lines of cars, pickups and trucks only to get stuck behind another long column of slow moving vehicles a few miles down the road.
I took the detour to San Blas, I figured even if it's not any faster, at least there will be less traffic and I'll make a stop in San Blas to see the town. The town turned out to be a disappointment, not what I was expecting at all. Never mind, the road was nice and twisty, there were no trucks to follow, so I didn't have to inhale exhaust fumes like on Hwy 15 and when I got near the coast, the views were really nice. Good choice. When I re-joined the road to Puerto Vallarta traffic was even heavier than on Hwy 15. Not as many trucks, but obviously, a lot of people going to the beaches for the New Year holiday. In Bucerias traffic wasn't moving when the lights turned green, as there was nowhere to go. Luckily, you don't have to wait in line on a bike, and I made my way to the front of every traffic light rather quickly. I got to Nuevo Vallarta around 7 PM and found Jose Luis´ new house without a problem. It was a 500 mile day, I only averaged 50 MPH between the tight curves of El Espinazo and getting stuck in traffic on Hwys 15 and 200, but it was a really good day.
Tomorrow we continue on our way south.
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