(January 10 – written by Dave)
Last night we ended up cooking dinner in the hotel kitchen. The place called itself a hostel but our poor Spanish prevented us from fully understanding our host. We were able to use the kitchen again for breakfast so we just don’t know what was formally allowed. Time to study more!
It was very cold overnight but we had nice thick blankets on the bed, plus flannel sheets. It was really hard to get up this morning, as our room was simply frozen. We didn’t have a long day planned today, so the hour we spent in bed after the alarm went off was really no issue. By the time we got organized and headed down for brekkie, the sun was hitting the deck and it was starting to warm up. It was a bit tempting to take a day there and just hang out in the sun, but we kept going.
It is very clear that most of the heat in homes in these smaller towns is provided by wood stoves. In fact, they used a wood stove for cooking in the hostel kitchen even though they had a fancy new gas range. We had a nice view out over town from the deck and boy was it smoky this morning. While a lot of folks heat and cook with wood, it’s pretty obvious that most of the stoves do not have catalytic converters or any form of smog prevention. Those things are probably a good idea but cost more than folks here can afford. It’s hard to care a lot about the environment when you are just barely getting by.
We didn’t get ourselves on the road until 9AM but considering the time change, it was really still only 8AM for our body clocks. We said our goodbyes to our host and made our way through town. We had a slight tailwind which was nice, but it only served to keep us in the smoke of town for a few more K. It was actually quite nice to start a short climb as it meant we finally got some fresh air.
Town was at about 2,500 metres (the reason it was so cold) but we had to still ride over the highpoint of the Sierra Madres. We had a few ups and downs before finally tapping out at 2,898 metres (9,508 feet). There was no pass marker – but we knew we were at the top by checking our phone and MapsMe app. There were a few last distant views of the Sierra Madres but nothing like we saw yesterday. Today was mostly a mountain plateau with pine trees in every direction.
There were a couple lumber mills in operation but we didn’t see any log trucks. We had more traffic today than yesterday but it was still very manageable. Once off the biggest part of the descent Highway 40 and Highway 40D met up. We of course stayed on the free 40 but for a time we rode right alongside the 40D. We even had to ride the 40D for a small section but it was by design and we had neither fee, nor signs telling us not to ride there.
El Salto is a logging town as well. There are quite a few more mills in town. It is about 10 times the size of La Ciudad (last night’s town). We arrived about noon and the sky was already full of smoke. It is pretty clear that they use wood to heat things here as well. That combined with the mills, means that the air quality is pretty rough.
We had a couple hotels to look at so we pulled into town to get our bearings. We found a small friendly gordita shop for lunch. We got what we wanted to eat but didn’t understand everything that they asked us. The first hotel was only two doors down from the lunch stop so I when and checked out the rooms. Everything looked good, nice room with a toilet seat even, but they didn’t really have a spot for our bikes. So we hit the shops for dinner supplies and road another K to the Real del Bosque Hotel near the far end of town. They have nice rooms where we could roll the bikes directly inside.
The hotel is nice, but there is no heat and it is still pretty cold. We are basically at the same elevation as last night. They have fire places in the rooms and supply you with wood but I hated the thought of adding to their poor air quality. My moral high ground position lasted about 30 minutes in the cold room before I cranked up the fire. Now, in spite of there being a little too much smoke in our room, I’m in search of more fire wood.
We have dinner supplies but the hotel restaurant looks good as well. I’m not too sure I want to cook on our camping stove outside in the cold. I almost forgot to mention that we had frost this morning and even at noon today, I was able to spot some ice on the side of the road. Being at 8,500 feet in January means it is not warm. We rode today in arm/leg warmers for the first time in a long time.
Tomorrow we have about 100k to ride to reach Durango. Durango is 2,000 feet lower than here so I’m sure that it will be warmer. There are a few climbs to get through so it won’t be a downhill day but at least it’s not Devil’s Backbone-like climbing. We already miss the mountains and quiet surrounds. We still have not picked a place to stay for Durango – we have to do some digging tonight so as not to have a long ride, followed by a bunch of wandering in a big city to find a hotel.