(January 11 – written by Dave)
After spending 5 days in the mountains, today’s ride into the big city of Durango was always going to be a bit of a letdown in scenery wise. But it was not at all boring.
For starters we knew we had a longer day so we started early. Early means cold at 8,500 feet. Our room was not too bad because we still had some overnight heat from the fireplace fire. But outside, wow, it was cold. Nancy was smart and really rugged up before going out. I made as far as reception, about 20 meters from our room, before digging out both long fingered gloves and a jacket.
We had a small climb out of town but didn’t mind one bit, at least it warmed us up. At the top, I stopped for a photo of a brewery thermometer – it read -0.7 degrees (that’s 31F). Later, Nancy’s bike computer registered at -3.0 degrees (that’s 27F). The road was completely clear, no risk of ice, but the fields and bushes were covered in frost. At the top of the hill we had some sun and boy did it feel good. The few short downhills early in the ride, well, let’s just say that wind chill at -3.0C is downright freezing.
There were a few small towns along the route, presenting our first road hazard of the day – smoke. Wood is clearly the fuel of choice for winter heating. Every town seemed to come with some level of inversion and near choking levels of smoke. We tried not to breathe too deeply but that’s kind of hard when the road tilts up and you are on a loaded touring bike.
The second road hazard was one we’ve not seen before. In one of the smoky towns early on, we came across a Mexican cowboy who was either breaking or just training his horse right on the edge of the road. A very spirited horse at the end of a rope ran circles around his cowboy boss. Each circle edge just touched edge of the road we were riding on. We snuck by on the far side of the road so as not to aggravate the situation any further.
After the horse we had a few climbs and some rolling highway. We stayed on the free road (40 Libre), and did not take the motorway (40D). The free road was pretty good, though a little narrow. We had a few more trucks than we would have liked but we stayed safe by pulling off the road when it didn’t look like the driver would have room for us. All of the drivers were very polite – we got lots of toots. The free road is a lot hillier, longer and there are few, if any, towns or destinations – it seems likely that trucks on this road are just trying to save a buck by not taking the toll road.
The new road (the one we were not on) avoids a 1,000 foot decent and 1,000 foot climb into and out of a very narrow, steep gorge. The trucks really grinding down and up this road were clearly paying a price for their choice of routes. We are nearly faster than them both going down and up. The climb was not too bad but the cumulative effect of the past week made our legs feel it. We climbed 3,500 feet in total today, even though the net for the day was that we started at 8,500 feet and ended at 6,500 feet, 2,000 feet lower.
At the top of that last climb we encountered our third new road hazard of the day – a grass fire. We could see the smoke from a distance. We also could see the cars and trucks passing us pushing on through. So that’s what we did. It was not clear if this was a hazard burn that got away or a just a grass fire. It was coming right at us, on both sides of the road. There were no warning signs or fire crews. We saw several locals beating the fire with blankets and using buckets of water to stem the flames that were heading towards their properties. We pushed through, feeling the heat from both sides of the road and very thick smoke for a short spell. Exiting the far side, we saw a fire-chief like car coming to the fire, then a bit later a fire truck. We didn’t stop to offer a hand with the buckets but did think about it. It was all a bit crazy. We could both only think how different this would have been managed or dealt with in the USA or Australia. It was an experience for sure!
The last hill top also meant that it was mostly downhill to town and the hotel we selected. We stopped on the way in at a bike shop where I could buy a new bike computer – mine died the first day out of Mazatlan. The shop had moved from where we noted it, but another helpful local pulled up to give us the new location, including drawing a map. From the shop we made an easy route into old town.
Once there, we had a bit of back and forth over which hotel to stay at. We had a couple picked out but didn’t have a booking. The first hotel was nicer but there were some questions over where we’d put the bikes. So we headed for the second, the Hotel Posada San Jorge. It’s an old hotel in a traditional old town building. It could use an update in some places but it has so much character that we had to stay here. Bikes are in our rooms and safe.
We had a great dinner at a local gordita restaurant just near the hotel and are now settled in for a couple of days rest and to have a look around Durango. We’ll post a bit more about town in the next couple days.