Back on Track: Mazatlan and Magnificent Mountains


Mazatlan, Sinaloa Mexico. Reverse culture shock. A 6 week reprieve from journeying was complete with one short flight from Seattle to the South. Picking up the bike box at the airport and slowly assembling it in a quiet area of the baggage claim, many an airport worker meandered by to watch the process. With a final snap of a clip, I was off to ride North into the city. I was told it’d be quite cheap lodging in comparison to the Baja Peninsula, which would normally be true. Unfortunately there was an event: the largest motor bike rally in Mexico — Bike week. Luckily I found my way into a back alley hotel for $10USD a night. Other hotels that’d normally be charging $15-20USD were charging 5 times that.


From Harley to crotch rocket to 4 wheeler, the streets were full of loud engines.  I tried to enjoy exploring the local beaches, but the sheer volume of people and engine noise was too much for me.


The beauty of the pack raft. I’d purchased an Alpacka Rafts boat while back in the states to open my travel options, and so glad in this moment that I did. about 2 miles off of the busy beach in Mazatlan were two beautiful islands, just begging me to visit them by boat and paddle.


A short hike up to the summit of the big island provided fantastic vistas, completely absent of the hordes of humans I’d left behind on land.

Upon returning to the beach, I packed up the raft and walked the beach one last time. Many small mobile bands roamed the beaches in search of donations.


My last day in Mazatlan, the finale rally along the main boardwalk. Quite a display.




Best bike I saw, on my way out of Mazatlan toward the mountainous city of Durango. All handmade. Knowing the 10,000 feet of elevation I had to gain in the next few days, it definitely crossed my mind to ask for a ride…



Always a good idea to watch out for armadillos.



From Durango to Mazatlan, there are 2 paved options by bike: the Carretera Cuota (toll road) and the Carretera Libre (free road). I had actually found an off-pavement route between the two cities, but couldn’t get good beta on water and food sources in time to try it. I had also spend the last 6 weeks riding with no weight and had just taken on an extra 14 pounds of pack rafting gear. Good to ease back in slowly. So I started with the toll road (free to cyclists, and a huge safe shoulder). By far the more direct route, the cuota achieved this by routing a series of tunnels through the mountains rather than curving up and around them. I must have ridden through 30 tunnels that first day. Interesting, but it got old fast.


The longest tunnel was about 2 miles long. Fantastically there was a parallel emergency exit tunnel in case of accidents. Faint sounds of cars whizzing by in the adjacent tunnel were far less annoying when I had this cavern to myself!


 Enough was enough however. I needed to see what the free road was all about, as it was claimed to be one of the “world’s most dangerous roads” on some website due to it’s sharp curves and high exposure. I found it to be fantastic. From high elevation pine forests to immense mountain views, it was by far the better choice.








“Drive with Caution. Your Family Wishes for it.”



By shear luck, a cyclist friend had suggested I follow the signs to a waterfall outside of a small town called La Ciudad (ironically translating to “the city”). The falls weren’t all that for me, but I was captivated by the immense rock gardens that seemed to stretch on for miles.


I had planned to just visit for an hour or so, but there was a magic to this place. I climbed to the top of a rock tower with sleeping bag, pad, and a book and settled in for the day. I was eventually shooed off of my perfect little terrace by a flash hail storm, but enjoyed 5 hours of breezy silence first. Time to breathe, watch the clouds, and remember the insights that only come from a pause in nature. It is among the paradoxes of being out here that I LOVE the experience of pushing big days in the saddle, covering lots of ground and collapsing into my sleeping bag at night. I also deeply value the experience of taking in the quiet insights offered by wilderness, but only when I’m awake and not distracted by riding. The juggle continues.

In the meantime, it was quite fantastically fun to ride the bike through the rock gardens the following morning! A little mini Slickrock Trail!


First touring cyclist seen on the mainland. This man has toured all over the world for the last 25 years on and off. It was an interesting albeit short interaction. I had been feeling an extreme degree of loneliness in the last week of being back in Mexico as I’d yet to connect deeply with anyone since arriving. So I asked him how he deals with the loneliness. He told me he doesn’t get lonely. He also speaks only minimal Spanish despite a myriad tours through Latin American countries. The contrast in our experiences of the road highlighted an important fact for me: I need human connection. Endless months without deep conversation and touch are actually not good for me. It works for some others, but I would need to find some good people soon if I wanted to remain in Mexico in good spirits…


 After 3 1/2 days of solid riding and gaining about 20,000 feet of elevation, I rolled into the state capital city of Durango.

One Response

  1. Dana VanVoo
    | Reply

    I love your pack raft. It adds yet another dimension to your awesome adventure. Man, you sure covered some serious elevation getting to Durango. I’d say you eased back into Mexico quite well. Viva Mexico! Thanks for sharing!

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