Mountain Bike Bill, Get the Dirt on the Dirt

Copper Canyon, Mexico - The Big Climb Out

Day 8 – The Big Climb Out

Photos on the page were taken by either Kevin Otto, Chip Brent, Dale Brent or Paul Brent at various places along the trip

Copper Canyon Picture Copper Canyon PicturePaul, my roommate for the trip, was up at 3:30AM so I was up a little earlier than I had originally planned.  I ended up rolling through the absolutely still and quite town square on my way out of Batopilas at 4:02AM.   It took only a couple of minutes after rolling out of town to be in complete and “advanced” darkness that was eerily broken only by the bluish light from my handlebar light.  The first leg of the climb would be to La Bufa about 20 miles away.  This leg also has the steepest pitches of the entire route and while there was is only a 2,000 foot elevation change between Batopilas and La Bufa there are three significant hills between the two that add at least 1,000 feet to the effort.  This was my first day on the trip where I was neither lugging around my big camera or wearing the helmet camcorder rig and I felt quite spry.  The crude mountain road looked very spooky in spots when you had a sheer rock wall on your right and your light would shine into nothing but a dark abyss on our left.  Another factor that added to the eeriness of the leg was the little shrines along the road.  One such shrine that really got my attention was on a short downhill section in the apex of a turn on the edge side.  I came into the turn a little hot and drifted towards the outside just enough Copper Canyon PictureCopper Canyon Pictureto setoff alarm bells.  This particular shrine was the only one on the entire route that had a lit candle in it and the sight of the lit shrine as I drifted towards it at a good clip while my handlebar light shined into the nothingness beyond freaked me out a little more than a little. I was quite a bit more cautious on the rest of the downhill turns.  The only other thing that really surprised me on the way to La Bufa was nearly running over a skunk that crossed the road right in front of me.   The skunk missed my front wheel by no more than an inch and the hair on his tail brushed against my leg as I passed by.  I’m so thankful that the little fellow did not have time to spray as I would have no doubt spent the rest of the trip riding on the van roof with the bikes. 

Copper Canyon PictureCopper Canyon PictureI made really good time to La Bufa and after a short break, I crossed the Rio Batopilas and started up the seemingly endless series of switchbacks out the canyon that would take me from 3,800 feet up to nearly 7,800 feet.  Twilight was just starting when I was somewhere around the fourth switchback so I was able to turn off the light.  The colors of the canyon continued to grow as I climbed and as I neared the top of the canyon the sun started walking down the canyon wall in an explosion of red hues paired with brilliant green flora.  I was truly inspired but it did little to actually increase my pace.  Shortly thereafter I stopped for a snack and a rest and realized an error I had made.   By both leaving Batopilas earlier and making better time than expected to La Bufa,  I was up near 7,000 feet much earlier in the morning than I had planned on.  This meant it was cold in my short sleeve jersey and Lycra shorts.  It could have been in the high 30s or maybe low 40s.   After a five minute break, I was Copper Canyon PictureCopper Canyon Picturecold and my knees felt very tight getting restarted.  I had a long sleeve jersey in my camelback, but I wanted to save that at the ride's end to replace my soaked short-sleeve jersey.  I found that as long as I was riding I was okay so I refrained from stopping for more than a couple of minutes at a time.  I soon passed through a village of where a few "Olis" were exchanged as I continued up the road.  The sun was climbing in the sky, but I was still gaining elevation so the temperature seemed to be a wash for quite sometime.  Eventually I was rewarded with some downhill sections which were absolutely a wonderful break from climbing.   The descents were bitter sweet as I knew I would have to regain the elevation lost in a few minutes.  The road had markings that counted down the kilometers left in my journey and I was always happy to see another marker go by but it was sometimes tempered with the fact that they were going by very slowly.  My posterior was quite tired of being in the saddle so started switching things up by spending a few minutes here and there getting out of the saddle.  With 10kms left to go the temperature was no longer an issue, but I was quite tired and there was a sizable climb that I’m sure was exaggerated by both the altitude and my fatigue.  At around 5kms to go, just as I was telling myself “Stick a fork in me, I’m done.”, I topped out on a hill and started descending.  It felt like heaven not to pedal.  I did the entire Copper Canyon PictureCopper Canyon Picturedescent standing up as it was also quite nice not be in the saddle.    I enjoyed this until the 3km mark where the road turned uphill at a very unpleasant grade at this point in the ride.   I figured I was on the verge of reaching the top just under the six hour mark so I gave as much of a push as thought I could sustain.  It was not much.  2km…1km…The clock was ticking and I was not going to make it.   During the few seconds I was looking at my watch, I crested over the top and 30 yards away was the payment.  I gave a few good strokes on the pedals and I was REALLY DONE!   The time was 10:01AM; I had made the climb in five hours and 59 minutes.

Copper Canyon PictureCopper Canyon PictureOutside of my own elation it was pretty anti-climatic.  I bought some Gatorade and water from the little store and put on my dry long sleeve jersey.   After mowing down on a really good sandwich and sucking down some fluids I laid down a large concrete block using my Camelbak as a pillow.  I believe I was out in less than a minute.

Copper Canyon PictureCopper Canyon Picture          Have you ever been in such a deep sleep that you did not know where you were at when you woke up?  That was me over an hour latter.   Now unbeknownst to me at the time of my departure from consciousness, I fell asleep at the spot where the weekly bus from Batopilos to Creel stops.  So I wake up and there are several Tarahumara Indians sitting somewhat close beside me in their traditional attire and there is a bit of chit-chat going on at the side of the road where I was crashed at.  So for a few long seconds when I was waking up, I freaked out as I had no idea where I was at and there were very strange people about speaking a very strange language.  It was comically a few seconds later but in the moment I was quite freaked.

Copper Canyon PictureCopper Canyon PictureAfter that I kicked back and chilled while I waited for the van.   Hirim and Rafael were the only others not to get caught on the climb and by early afternoon we were driving back to Creel where we made a quite stop to change clothes and transfer some stuff around before hitting the road.  We were going to cut down some of the drive time for tomorrow by staying the night in the large city of Cuauhtemoc that night. 


That night we ate at an extremely nice steakhouse while we started recounting the whole trip.  We were done with the riding now so it was mostly about logistics from this point on.  Blair ended up in the money from my climb bet, but he just threw that right into the cervaza fund that night.     By the next afternoon we were back in El Paso and said goodbye to our guides and now friends.  We were soon figuring out how to jam bikes back into their boxes, call wives and girlfriends, and generally reconnect with the “normal” lives that we had so eagerly turned off over a week ago.  That night we all ate at a great steakhouse in El Paso and reflected on what an amazing life experience we had just finished.   The following day we were all back home more enriched as humans than when we left.

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