Yeah. It’s been a while. It’s been well over a year since I’ve blogged. I actually have a write up of my thoughts on my 2014 Tour Divide ride, but I really don’t want to subject people to that. I think it is quite opposite of what most people want to hear about the Divide and I don’t want to come off as more of an asshole than I already am. This past weekend I did something that I think is blog worthy, positive, uplifting, and hopefully a bit humorous for my 10 readers. I finally traveled deep into Mexico for a mountain bike race. Over the years I’ve been invited more than a few times. Sometimes we (back when Jen and I were together) weren’t invited….just told about some really cool race after the fact. When I found out about this race, the Reto Cusi in Cusihuriachi, I decided to take advantage of some new friendships and get my ass down there.
GETTING DOWN THERE
To travel into Mexico you need a few things. A traveling partner that speaks the language is a bonus. My friend Luisa is from Chihuahua City. She is getting into running (not managing) events and found the Reto Cusi on one of the many Mexican sports facebook pages. You need a passport (I have the ID card), a vehicle permit, and a travel permit (free since I was going to be there less than a week). The vehicle permit cost me $460 USD, but I had $400 refunded upon my return. An older model vehicle would result in a much lower deposit. We snagged the permits the morning we crossed into Mexico at the Santa Theresa/Jeronimo crossing. It took about an hour to get everything we needed. The race promoter sent us a toll booth exemption permit so we wouldn’t have to pay tolls. That saved us about $60 USD. I felt like Wayne and Garth with the back stage passes. The last thing you need is enough money for gas and food. Gas is a bit more expensive, especially if you get convinced to buy premium gas since “that low grade stuff is so bad for your car.” One last thing….make sure your car is in tip top shape. The roads are rough and people drive WAY faster than the speed limit.
Driving down was fairly uneventful. We passed Samalayuca where I will definitely be returning for some fat bike adventures on their dunes. We passed through some smaller villages where guys were trying to make you think you were being pulled over for some traffic violation, guiding you into their burrito place. We navigated that successfully. No burritos or quesadillas were harmed in the process. Rolling into Chihuahua City felt like a return to Korea with fewer high rises. We had tacos at Tacos Orientales with Luisa’s mom. The tacos did not have an Asian twist. The family that owned the place was originally from a neighborhood outside of Mexico City called Orientales. Turns out that there are lots of places with Orientales in the name.
After Chi City, we cruised into the hills flanked by mountains towards Cuahtemoc. One last toll check and suddenly there was the Walmart on the edge of town. Registration was at a pizza joint next to the Walmart. We got some bad directions to Cusi and wound up about 20 minutes past town after battling traffic through town (I got a great window wash from a guy who had a brand new scrubber….5 pesos). We reoriented ourselves by getting confirmation on our location from a very short farmer selling the worst elotes (roasted corn on the cob) in the world. 10 pesos in the trash….well…we got confirmation that we were in the wrong place.
We eventually got on the most horrible road of the trip that guided us through huge apple orchards owned and operated by white Menonites. I felt like I was in Colorado. Then we dropped into a canyon that took us to Cusi. We took a little tour of the town and then found a good campsite on a neat spot of land owned by the family of the race promoters. Then it rained….and hailed…and rained…..and hailed…and rained some more. Some of our fellow campers got completely hosed and ended up getting a cabin in the little mining town.
I could have spent an hour trying to do a bank transfer to register for the race, but since only a few people from the states attended this thing, the promoters were willing to save us a spot and let us pay when we got there. The entry was 250 Pesos….about $18 USD….yeah. Awesome! They were capping entries at 500 and they closed registration in the middle of the week. I got zero riding in the day before because the rain started right when I got my bike out of the van. We sat out the storm, ate dinner, then finally crashed out.
There was no need for an alarm the next morning because 500 cars were making their way into the tiny canyon. We had a prime spot near the finish and across the creek from the start. I got a good warm up in and made my way to the line. I chose to ride my Racer X since it has gears and I was unsure of the course. I tried getting details but they were limited. The profile seemed like a few long climbs. It turns out, there was only one place a single speed would have struggled…about 3 km of flat road (dirt and pave). The rest was a lot of fast double track descending and climbing with most of the climbing fairly short and punchy relative to what I’m used to riding in Colorado or in El Paso with Mundy’s Gap.
I got a bad start but stayed patient and worked my way up to 14th. Then I bridged up to a group and at the front of that group, I only saw a couple of tracks. The mud was pretty bad in spots, but overall, the course was pretty fast. Most of it was between 6 and 7,000 feet. That kind of caught me off guard. Being about 15 pounds overweight and choosing to do a bit of “promotional” work by running a frame bag with a bladder and bottle in it, I was having to do a little work on those climbs, but I was comfortable where I was. Then my front tire went really soft. I hit it with an air cartridge, but it only lasted about 500 yards before going way too soft again. Sealant wasn’t spewing out, so maybe that wasn’t sealant I heard shaking around inside when I checked the wheel before the race. I had to use my mini Leatherman to unscrew the valve core so I could put some sealant in, then hit it with my last cartridge. It didn’t hold air. Hmmm. I kept riding on it. This is my chinacarbon rim so I’m was not overly concerned about completely destroying it. With only about 8 or 9 psi in it, the Ikon 2.35 did a great job in all the mud at that low pressure. However, the descents on this course were very rocky and stuff would come up on you pretty fast and I banged the rim a bunch and came close to rolling the tire off. I stopped two more times to use the hand pump and eventually made it to the end of the lap in about 15th. I didn’t see my friend Luisa near the finish area, so I rode off course to my van, injected some sealant, and pumped it up pretty hard….like 30 psi. I grabbed a cartridge (2 more were in feed bag with Luisa), and got back on course. Just at the creek crossing after the start/finish, Luisa was there with my bag. I grabbed a bottle and the 2 cartridges in my bag and proceeded to work my way back up through the field. The course had dried out quite a bit and was much faster. About 8 miles in I started passing single lap racers, but I was starting to feel my efforts. I’m pretty sure I caught one of the guys that was in the teens, but he pulled away on one of the longer climbs. Then the main descending started. I was catching and passing people like crazy. I felt super smooth and under control, floating and bunny hopping stuff while probably going too fast for my own good. Just past the 10k to go sign, I pinched the rear. I was running a brand new Ikon 2.2 on my Spank (tank) Subrosa rim which slammed a rock pretty hard. The air and sealant hissed out in less than a couple of seconds. I immediately went for my tube, inserted it, but couldn’t find the head to my inflater. I tried the hand pump, but apparently, my tube was not good despite being sealed in Tyvek. A rider being toted out on an ATV let me borrow his inflater head, but that only confirmed that the tube wouldn’t hold air. So I ran and rode the last 8k or so to the finish on the flat tire. I was still passing the single lap riders and I was actually able to stay with some guys in the long race as long as the climb was fairly smooth. I ended up 20th. I only had to do some minor truing to the rear wheel and my front wheel with the carbon rim was still perfect.
The organizers where extremely welcoming and super cool. Their entire family worked together doing everything. They had a really great start finish area, plenty of fencing, good course markings, and feed zones every 5k. The top 200 finishers in the 70km race got a long sleeve jersey with pockets. How they’re able to pull that off in Mexico is beyond me. A Tarahumara won the overall and walked home with about $180 USD. I heard no bitching or whining but I could tell the mud took it’s toll on people and they would have preferred it to be dry. Trophies were given as well as big blocks of cheese.
I was a bit concerned about getting home at a decent hour. I didn’t want to be driving the crazy highways in the dark. They don’t have much of a shoulder and some even have a gnarly concrete ditch maybe a foot outside the line. We were a bit delayed in exiting the venue, but they moved some fencing and we went right under the finish banner to leave the venue. The organizers wanted photos so we got out one last time and gathered for photos and a bit of q and a. You could tell these guys were in their second year for this event and you could feel their enthusiasm. They asked if I returned. If things stay cool down there, I’ll definitely be back.
Fueled by a half liter Coke, a small ice cream cone, and all the fruits and veggies left in our cooler, we rolled into the military checkpoint south of the Salamayuca dunes about the time it started getting really dark. The guy searching our vehicle asked where we had been and he said, “Ah. Los montanas!”. I told him it was awesome. He smiled and sent us on our way.
The highway before Santa Theresa actually got better so driving in the dark wasn’t that nerve racking. South of the last toll station, the road has an excellent shoulder. The entire evening we were flanked on both sides by huge thunderstorms that were putting on quite the show for us. Eventually we rolled into the border where the Mexican official processed the refund for our deposit and finally got through our customs person to head home.