November 27th – One month on!

One month has now passed since we cycled into Mexico City at the end of the North American Epic 2014! Seems a good time for a review of the overall trip now I have had time to think about what we saw and where we went.

The very northern section through Alaska & Canada was interesting in the sense that you were constantly left wondering what the people who lived there did because there was so much empty space and some quite large distances between towns. Certainly not the sort of place that you went shopping, got back home and remembered you had forgotten something – sometimes the thought of just nipping back to the shop was just too big to consider.

The weather would also be a big part of their lives. Before we arrived in Anchorage it had been enjoying temperatures up in the mid to high twenties celcius, when we were there it was noticeably cooler and in the mornings and evenings it could be very cool indeed. Somehow though the mosquitoes managed to be on top form at quite a lot of our camp sites!!

On of the things that really made an impact on me was the sad sight of so many motels, restaurants, stores and garages that had closed down in this area especially. The advent of the big RV’s (Recreational Vehicles) had meant that the Alaskan Highway was being used by lots of people who owned one of these and therefore they no longer needed to stop off at motels or stores as they were carrying most of what they needed and could just pull in at an RV park, or not, and live in their home on wheels. This may be progress to some but it was also the end of many peoples working lives when they just did not have the customers to stop off at their establishments anymore.

The scenery was very diverse and there were places where it was just stunning with snow capped mountains, lakes and forests that took your breath away. Other times it was like so many places in the world where it stayed the same for many days on end and became rather monotonous. I think I suffer from the fact that at home we can have a complete change of scenery in just a matter of hours but because of the vast scale of the areas on this trip the timescale can be quite a lot bigger!

One other area that was a bit disappointing was the wildlife, or lack of it! Some of the riders and crew had great stories to tell of what they had spotted during the day, but in general the amount of wildlife was quite small. This is just one of those things that you have to take potluck with, you may be lucky or you may not. We did see some bears, bison, lynx, moose, beavers and foxes, which sounds quite good, but the number of them was surprisingly small and that surprised me a bit. One of my biggest highlights, which you may remember, was when we stayed next to a river with beavers in it, they were amazing!! They were only feet away from us at times and to see them going about their daily routine while we looked on was a real treat and one I will remember for a long time.

America was in many ways the same with the scenery being a mixture of the monotonous right up to the totally stunning with the canyons and buttes that we saw on some very special days. Even though my saddle sore problem was getting worse, the day riding into Moab was just amazing!! Riding along at the bottom of a canyon with the walls rising up hundreds of feet above you on either side was just incredible. You felt so small and when you thought that all of this large hole that you were riding along had been created by nature over thousands of years it really did take your breath away.

The temperatures in America also changed compared to a lot of the northern part of our journey, most days being in the mid twenties upwards towards the high thirties celcius. Thankfully it is a dry heat and therefore not as bad as we have back home where the humidity is a big factor on our “hot” days!! Sadly I was off my bike for the trip through Arizona which I had been looking forward to, but that did give us the opportunity to take a few days longer in some places and to look over some places that we would have just bypassed or spent just one night in if I had been riding. So there were some days which we saw and the others didn’t, and equally the same was true in reverse – we missed some places that the others saw.

This only leaves Mexico and this was somewhere that I had never been to and had no real expectations of what it would be like. It was again similar to all the places we had travelled through already, a mixture of scenery but in my own opinion there were very few really stunning parts. It is more southerly than everywhere else and therefore it tends to be more dry and desert like. The coastal towns we stayed at were quite nice and I suppose they could have been much better in many ways but the country is not as affluent as America and Canada. It also suffers from the bad publicity it gets with things like the drug gangs which make people very nervous about going there. I have to say that the people in Mexico were generally speaking very friendly and pleased to see tourists especially as a lot of the areas we went to were not actually on the tourist trails!

The Baja California is the longest peninsula in the world, I didn’t know that, but it is not very well catered for with regards to infrastructure like roads, and therefore it takes quite a long time to get from the top where we entered to almost the bottom where we left from the port of La Paz. This, along with a sparsely populated interior, meant that it took quite a long time to get to La Paz and again in my opinion this part of the journey somewhat lacked in the WOW factor. Not sure how you can do much about this as the distance to be covered, and the possibilities of where to stay being limited, does give the organisation some problems. There is also the additional problem of getting to the mainland from La Paz on a ferry system that could so easily let you down and cause big problems with scheduling, we were lucky this time.

Mainland Mexico had some nice coastal areas and as we moved inland there were some scenic mountains, but again the WOW factor was not very evident, again in my opinion! Along the coast it was very hot and humid, but when we started inland the temperature started to drop, especially at the start and end of the day, as we began to climb towards Mexico City which is over 2,000 metres above sea level. There were many small towns where we stayed which very pleasant but they were very similar to each other and it just made the journey seem to take a long time. I am not a great lover of cities but Mexico City was really nice and I am pleased that we stayed for some extra days there before coming home. The pyramids near there are in the top 5 in the world and were truly amazing and well worth the visit.

So what are my thoughts overall? Well maybe I would think again about going on a trip of 4 months, it does begin to seem a long time and there are so many things that can cause a problem which may make it seem even longer. Would I go back again? Well we very, very rarely go back anywhere so that answers that question. We have friends in Jasper, Alberta so we do often go back there, but there is not really anything that makes us say we must go back there again – there are too many other places in the world to see. The route was generally speaking good but I just feel that Mexico was just a bit too long.

The crew were great and we enjoyed their company very much, they were dedicated and tried as hard as they could to make everyone’s trip as memorable as possible. It was also a great pleasure to meet Henry, the founder of the company, and some of his family when they joined us for a few weeks. He has set up a very good business that tries to cater for all types of cyclists and to give them an insight into many different parts of the world. So will I go on another trip? All things being equal and providing I have my health the answer is most definitely YES! Avril has also threatened to ride next time as well, so there is something else to look forward to.

All the photos are now complete too!

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October 27th The Final Stage – What really happened!

Well we had all enjoyed a party the night before at our last camp site. Some of us were concerned that it would be a bit of a let down having been in hotels for a good few nights, but the weather was quite kind to us and it turned out to be good fun.

The crew made sure that there was enough Tequila etc., to mix a lot of Margaritas and there were still enough beers in the cooler for the beer drinkers. So when we arrived at camp there was some TDA style bunting up and balloons making the place look different. There were some others camping there but they left late afternoon so we had the place to ourselves. We had a last meal prepared by Jon and the Chocolate Cake he prepared for dessert was massive and really made us pudding lovers happy, in fact we wondered how he had managed to make such a masterpiece – it almost looked as if he had bought it at a shop!!!!! The campsite owner got a camp fire going and we had music blaring out from his stereo and in the end after playing some games we just sat around the camp fire trying to finish off the drink. Now, I have painted the picture of how sober and boring we all were on that night, I can fill you in on what happened in a few hours time!!

After a few sounds of zips opening during the night as some of us went to answer the call of nature, I was awake at around 6am and wondered why there sounded like people were packing their tents away? Avril woke up and looked at her watch and exclaimed that it was 7:10am!!! I looked at mine and it was the same but all our electronic kit was saying it was an hour earlier – have you guessed yet? Nobody had thought to say anything about Summer Time ending that night like it would have back home. So anyone who was still using old technology like wind up alarms was still on Summer Time and therefore was getting up 1 hour earlier than they needed to. The whole camp was in turmoil for a while and so we had breakfast an hour later and all had a good laugh on how the timing had caught us out but not a Time Zone problem as we have managed to avoid for the whole trip!!!!

So, we all set off a bit later than planned and were expecting a journey of about 50K to the hotel with the last few K being in the centre of Mexico City with roads closed for cyclists in the area by our hotel as this is what happens here on Sundays. We agreed to ride in convoy as a group and the vans would wait for us regularly to make sure we did not get lost. Mexico City is the largest city in the Western Hemisphere and it starts it’s outskirts almost out where we were camping. All was going well and then we arrived at a junction and saw Cristiano talking to a policeman and we wondered if they had pulled him and Jon up for some reason, on this our last day! No, he had stopped to talk to them about directions and they said they would escort us into the city, WOW!! So off we set with a police pick-up in front of us stopping all the traffic at the junctions and keeping us safe. Every few K’s one set would swap over with another set who seamlessly continued the convoy. Then suddenly the last ones left us to our own devices, they we the Local Police and would be passing into an area covered by the next level of Police upwards, so suddenly we were back looking after ourselves.

After Jon and Cristiano found out exactly where we were, we set up our own protective unit of one van at the front, one at the back and us in the middle. By now Cristiano was also having to use GPS to guide Jon into the hotel and we were all following with Haley and Avril in the other van behind us. It worked beautifully, at all the junctions Cristiano would be leaning out of the window waving signals at the vehicles coming in from side roads that they should stop and let us all through, and I did not realise but Avril was doing the same from the other van behind. If anyone seemed to ignore all this we had one more weapon at our disposal – the mighty AIR HORN!!! Andreas who was acting as the cycling go between with us, was occasionally checking with the lead van at times what was the latest problem stretch, had the Air Horn on his bike. So at some more major junctions after the lead van had signalled and it looked like some drivers would be ignoring his signals Andreas went into AIR HORN mode, rode a bit ahead of us and stopped in the centre of the road and blasted the Air Horn at the unsuspecting drivers – even the sometimes aggressive Bus Drivers took note!!

So eventually after over 60K of fairly traumatic riding with the usual potholes and so on to miss as well, as all the chaos I’ve just explained, we reached the cycling friendly area and split off from the vans for the last bit. Mind you when you have been riding as a convoy of 8 riders and then have all sorts of riders, roller bladers, skate boarders etc., life continues to be stressful!! We were only on the closed road for about 1.5K so we got to the hotel and the journey was ended.

I will do a summing up, of our thoughts of the whole trip, and put a posting up soon. Also the last few photos of Section 8 will be up soon too.

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October 27th Stage 94 – Nicolas Romero to Mexico City

Stop Press – WE HAVE MADE IT TO MEXICO CITY!!!!!!

I will put a more detailed post up later.

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October 26th Stage 93 – Acambay to Nicolas Romero

The weather was looking good this morning, in fact there was already a feeling of rain in the air at 7:30am and the sky was quite full of clouds. At first I did not feel much like riding but after breakfast I decided to at least ride to lunch.

We set off just after 8am as usual and we had about 2K to go before the first climbing of the day started, and there was going to be quite a lot today. Also as we were climbing the rain tried to get a bit stronger, along with the wind which was more or less a headwind. Dom and I stuck together and rode strongly to start with, taking it in turns at the front after maybe 3K turns each. We were on some main roads but the traffic was not as bad as yesterday, but the roads were only single lane which meant that sometimes the vehicles overtook a bit too close. The pattern for the ride to lunch was mainly uphill with the occasional down which was never as long as the up had been. Andreas and Avril were at lunch, which of course was going to be our last lunch of the trip because we ride into Mexico City tomorrow and there will be no lunch stop.

After lunch there were only about 24K to go but the climbing continued straight away. Nearer to the end we had a dirt road of maybe just over 1K which was a bit bumpy but had not been turned into mud by the small amount of rain we had during the morning. At the end of it, which had been mainly downhill, we went back onto tarmac and started climbing immediately. The only problem with that was that your legs had become quite dead bracing yourself over the dirt and did not want to come alive again for a few metres. A few more little climbs came in the lsat few K and eventually we found the camp for the night after 82K and 1450 metres of climbing!

It seemed a bit weird camping on the last night but it did give us the opportunity to let our hair down a bit and have a sort of last night party. In Mexico City we will have a meal together but tonight we could just have some drinks and our last meal cooked by Jon, along with a campfire and some music playing from the campgrounds stereo. So almost done, just around 50K left in the morning.

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October 25th Stage 92 – Queretaro to Acambay

Well today was only going to be 112K long and was going to use the highways more than the initially planned route of over 140K. It was another very cold start and due to the slightly complicated way out of town and the somewhat awkward layout of the highways we were asked to ride in a group for the first 10K. This was also because there was very little shoulder to the first part of the highway system we were using.

Unfortunately, compared to the highways we used yesterday, the ones we were using today were very busy as it was only about 8:30am. On top of that there was not much hard shoulder for us to use and once we hit the highways the road started to climb. The rate of climb was not enormous but I take about 10K to get warmed up and my legs, heart and lungs start co-ordinating with each other. My breathing just was not good enough at this time and I started to drop back from the rider in front, on top of which I was just too nervous of all the traffic around us. There was a sort of “lay-by” that we took a bit of shelter in and at this point I decided to give the “thumbs down” signal knowing that the lunch van was following just behind us. I got off and abandoned at about 7K not being in the least bit interested to carry on. That was the end of my day and I was not in any way disappointed.

The others stuck it out as they were able to climb easier than me at this time and at around the 10K mark the hard shoulder began to get bigger, even though the climbing had not ended. Once the hard shoulder started lunch van passed the riders an set of to set up lunch and also after a few K we passed the baggage van which had stopped to pick up some supplies. Once we had set up lunch Avril & I waited until the baggage van arrived and we swapped over and came on to the finish. Apparently at lunch a few of the others said that they had not been happy either but that once the shoulder had started it was a bit safer and now at lunch they were off the highway system and it was a lot less noisy and a bit more relaxing. There was over 1000 metres of climbing today and I was still happy that I had got off when I did, there is no point trying to do something when you are not enjoying yourself and it was not as if I had to carry on at the time as I could jump in the lunch van before it passed us. I had missed over 5 weeks of the ride due to my abscess and so was not able to claim the status of having ridden every inch of the trip, so it made no sense to put myself through anything I did not need to. Tomorrow is only around 80K and is hopefully not going to be as busy at the start as today was!! Only 2 more days to the end at Mexico City.

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October 24th Stage 91 – Saint Miguel de Allende to Queretaro

This was a day that was forecast to be a bad day because we were going to be riding a lot of highway shoulders and arriving in a town of over 1 million people. In fact it turned out to be a day where the highways were almost empty, compared to some we have ridden along, and riding into town after lunch, as a group, was nowhere near as bad as everyone imagined.

We started off in possibly colder temperatures than yesterday and I even had my arm warmers and gilet on, long time since I wore those!! Anyway, unlike yesterday it began to get warmer soon after 9am and by the time we reached lunch I took of my gilet and when I finished the day it was getting up into the 20C’s. Nothing exciting to see on the way out of town and soon we were on a reasonably wide main road with not too much traffic. We split up after about 20K and Dom and I rode together as usual. His arm felt okay this morning and by tonight it was looking pretty good compared to last night. So we carried on and joined the first of the highways and just kept going until we joined another one and finally reached lunch. Everyone remarked as to how light the traffic had been and was happy that we had not had any problems.

After lunch Cristiano had asked that we ride the last 15K into town as a group, simply to present a larger presence on the road and make the drivers notice us more than if we were on our own. There were a few bumpy bits of road as we went through the suburbs and got a bit closer to the town centre, but everything went well and as a final cruel touch we had a road of about 400 metres of cobbles before we finished our day with a few metres of descent road as we turned towards the hotel. So just over 70K of uneventful riding.

We went for a walk around some of the historical part of town near the hotel and had a group meal at the restaurant, in the hotel, tonight. Avril, Dom and I then went out for our customary ice cream afterwards!

Tomorrow was threatened to be 145K but Cristiano has found a more sensible route of only 112K, so I think I will ride the whole day.

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October 23rd Stage 90 – Guanajuato to San Miguel de Allende

A stage that on the face of it was going to have nothing special to it, it was only 74K between the two towns.

So the first thing that changed things a bit was the weather, it was less than 10C at the start and we had a headwind most of the way. It felt just like we had returned to Alaska and in only two days the temperature had dropped by about 10 – 15C!

Yesterday on the rest day Avril and I were only just discussing with Dom how the dogs of Mexico seemed to be quite calm! He has ridden the Andes like I have and we both said how bad the dogs were over there, almost always chasing you as you went by. Well today when I started I must admit I was not really feeling full of life, my legs were a bit dead. Anyway, after an hour or so I went to the front of Dom and Andreas, who was on sweep duties today, and as we carried on into the wind over the rolling countryside my legs seemed to get a bit better. Then it happened, as we were going up a slight rise I suddenly heard the noise of a very angry dog coming straight towards me! I had not seen it as it was a grey colour and had blended into the gravel beside the road. It was so close so quickly that all I could do was get out of the saddle and sprint away from it at the same time shouting some choice expletives at the top of my voice!! A little higher up the rise I turned back to see if the dog had gone and noticed that Dom and Andreas were about 100 metres behind me. My adrenaline was still in full flow and I did not realise that the dog had run between Dom’s front wheel and his frame, causing him to crash! With the noise of the wind and in my state of panic I did not hear any sound of a crash and therefore rode on.

Next thing to happen was that I missed a lefthand turn and carried on by myself for about 4K before I checked and realised I had gone wrong, nothing to do but turn back and take the turn. After the turn it was only a few K’s to the lunch van and just as I was approaching it I noticed Haley pulling out and coming in my direction, as Dom and Andreas had arrived and everyone then wondered where I was. When I stopped Andreas asked me if I had heard Dom crash, and I said I had not and was surprised to hear the story. I felt terrible as the last thing I would have done if I had heard it would to have ridden on and ignored them. I can only think that the wind stopped the sound coming up from behind, and when I turned around Dom was already on his feet and in the split second I saw them they both appeared upright and to my mind were therefore riding and okay!!

So a day that looked a somewhat boring A to B day turned out to be nothing of the sort, and I did 82K instead of 75K!! Dome has a small graze on his right leg and a fairly sizeable chunk of skin missing from his right elbow, but he is a cyclist who like all of us has had his fair share of tumbles and is not complaining. I do feel very guilty that I rode away from the scene, but I was just totally unaware of what had happened. I hope that the short stage tomorrow is just that and that there are no more surprises!

Oh, there was a surprise at the end of this day and that was that the hotel was at the top of the town which meant that we had a whole load of steep cobbles to get up, needless to say Dom and I walked quite a large portion of these!!

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