Oaxaca to Panama Ride

For the second year in a row a French cycling club has set up a weeks-long cross-country ride from Oaxaca to Panama. Working with local tour guides Pedro Martinez and Nicolas Garcia, the group of 40 Frenchmen set out from Oaxaca at 9 am on Sunday, 29 January with a police escort and accompanied by riders from the local Nitos Cyclistas En Movimento mountain bike club. On the first day of their epic ride they planned to stop briefly in San Bartolo Coyotepec, Tilcajete and Ocotlan de Morelos, finishing for the day and staying overnight in Ejutla. Over the next several weeks they will pedal through the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas and tour the Yucatan Peninsula before riding through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica before reaching their destination of Panama City, Panama. 

Mountain Bike Race At San Antonino

San Antonino is a village in the shadow of Ocotlan, perhaps the most famous town in the Zimatlan Valley to the south of Oaxaca city. It is noted for the fine embroidery work done by the ladies of the community and for the extravagant floral displays put on in the cemetery during the “Day of the Dead”  celebration every year on November 3rd. On this particular Sunday in December the town sponsored a mountain bike race, which attracted over 250 registered participants representing bike clubs from all around central Oaxaca state. The race course was a 4.9 mile (7.88 kms) loop laid out in the rolling countryside on the south side of town. There were two significant hill climbs, with subsequent sharp descents (with downhill gradients of up to 16% and 24%, respectively), built into the loop. Riders had to make it up a total of 720 feet (219 meters) in elevation gain each time around the course. Racers in the Elite category had to ride the loop four times. Those in the various Masters classes had to go around three times. Women and riders in the Aficionado class had to make the circuit two times. As always, there were plenty of spectators on hand, and the people of San Antonino provided lots of food and beverages to reward participants after the race.

San Cristobal Loop

Continuing our recent excursions exploring the Etla Valley west of Monte Alban, Larry and Albi set out at 9 am on a warm and sunny morning on Thursday, 8 December to ride a little-used jeep road that drops down the side of the mountain from San Cristobal to El Carrizal. This road apparently serves solely to provide access to the farms and a few homes scattered along a burbling brook used to irrigate some of the fields in the valley. We drove west from Oaxaca city and parked in the same spot we used as a staging area for a ride to Cuilapam on 23 November 2016, recounted in an earlier post on this web site entitled, “A Final Ride In Oaxaca.”  From this vantage point we pedaled into San Pedro Ixtlahuaca and proceeded to make the long climb up the main road which leads to San Cristobal and Cuatro Venados. Since both of us have ridden this way before and the climb is tedious, we were delighted when a passing truck offered us a ride on the steepest part of the climb. As it happened, the driver had spent a few years in Denver and spoke excellent English. We had a great conversation for the mile or two we hitched a ride to the top of the mountain. In summary, we covered a distance of 16.6 miles (26.7 kms) on today’s outing, with an elevation gain and loss around the loop of 2675 feet (815 meters). The high point was at San Cristobal at 7226 feet (2202 meters) and the low point was at one of the creek crossings at 5196 feet (1584 meters). It took a bit less than four hours to finish riding the loop.

Gringos Go For An Epic Ride

With the coming of December there are enough gringo mountain bikers in winter residence in Oaxaca to constitute a weekday riding group. On this first day of December five guys set out from Oaxaca to ride an epic loop in the mountains. The plan was to ride in the Sierra Norte from La Cumbre to La Neveria and then plunge down the mountainside on the Mil Rios trail (14% grade in many places) into Tlalixtac.  The total distance for the day’s outing amounted to  45.9 miles (73.8 kms) and had a total elevation gain & loss of 6518 feet (1987 meters). The group pedaled to the monumento on the east side of town, where they hired a camioneta  to haul themselves and their gear up Hwy 175 to La Cumbre. This mechanical assist eliminated pedaling 13 miles (21 kms) and saved the group climbing 3875 feet (1181 meters) up the mountainside. But that still left a challenging 32.9 miles (52.9 kms) for the gringos to manage under their own power.

The portion of the ride between La Cumbre and (almost to) La Neveria entailed riding 12.3 miles (19.8 kms) on logging roads — which, as it happened, had several crews cutting trees in the forest and hauling the logs out on nearly a dozen trucks. Our bikers managed to climb 2075 feet (632 meters) and descend 1918 feet (584 meters) on this segment of the ride.

The most challenging part of the ride — and the most fun — was the descent on the Mil Rios trail. It was also the most confusing. Even though one fellow in our group had ridden this way before and we had a fairly accurate GPS map of the trail, we still managed to make a couple of wrong turns. For a while it was a comedy of errors — think “Laurel and Hardy meet the Three Stooges”. At one point we spent 45 minutes bushwhacking up and over a ridge in the hope of connecting with the correct trail. Happily, we were successful in this endeavor. And once on the Mil Rios trail, it was all downhill. A good part of the trail was great fun, as we swooped merrily through the woods. But there were also many really steep and rocky sections that had some of our riders hike-a-biking.  We found the Mil Rios trail ran 9 miles (14.5 kms), dropping 3768 feet (1148 meters) in altitude to the town of Tlalixtac on the floor of the Tlacolua Valley. From there the final 7.9 miles (12.7 kms) was an easy ride back to Oaxaca.

Community Cycling Program

There is a local community bicycling organization in Oaxaca city called Mundoceiba (www.mundoceiba.org) which promotes cycling as good exercise and an alternative form of transportation. The group sponsors night rides around el centro every Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 11:30 pm. They also sponsor a weekly Sunday morning ride from Oaxaca to Santa Maria del Tule and back. These outings are open to the public and people of all ages and biking abilities are welcome to participate. Mundoceiba has a fleet of bikes that can be rented at nominal cost for these or other bike rides. Below are photos taken on the Sunday ride to Tule on 27 November 2016. There were 24 participants in this outing — a pretty typical turnout. The author was the only gringo rider in the group on this day, but at the height of the winter tourist season it is not unusual to have several extranjeros joining in the fun, either on the night rides around town or the Sunday trek to Tule. The group left Santo Domingo at 9:15 am and rode at a very leisurely pace, arriving in Tule about 10:30 am. There people split up to have breakfast, then reassembled in the town square at 11:15 am to head back to Oaxaca. The ride ended at the “Bicis Cafe” about 12:30 pm. The round-trip distance amounted to about 13 miles (21 kms).

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