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Gravel Comes Before a Fall

5 Apr 2010

Agua Prieta to Janos, Mexico
1,409 km

After crossing the border at Agua Prieta I rode east then south on Federal Highway 2. Highway 2 is the western prong of a wishbone-shaped junction that connects with Ciudad Juarez in the east and then runs south to Chihuahua. It is a major trucking route and principal conduit for drug trafficking.


The highway first cut a straight line through a barren desert of scrubland surrounded by hills on all sides. Soon the highway rose into these hills and meandered along narrow ridges. In the distance I could see snow speckled mountains and before long I was in those mountains. These are the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental – the western of the two mountain ranges of the same name that run along almost parallel tracks in a southeastern course through the whole length of the country.

Here, among the mountains, the blue sky, clear and windy, became very cold. The riding went like this: you weave fast up the mountain road then, getting stuck behind a semi, you wait until the road opens so that you can pass, then you ride fast again, weaving, until you encounter another semi and must wait again. Then, soon, I was descending and it was warmer and the road became straight. Then it was totally flat and straight. Now the sun was low and the shadow of a man on a bike with a large pack stretched long ahead and to my left.


The two prongs of the wishbone meet Federal Highway 10 at Janos and from there go south towards Nuevas Casas Grandes and then Chihuahua. Janos, small and dusty, is a town of 2,000 inhabitants, of little note except that it is located at an important crossroads. I stayed the night there. I went to the nicest restaurant in town and spent $10 on dinner.

The next morning I woke up warm in my hotel room with the heater on. When I went outside the cold struck like needles. I was told that it had snowed very early in the morning. I wore everything I owned and even took the insoles out of my boots to wear two pairs of socks. My body was warm and bundled but the wind from the fast riding stuck my double-gloved hands and numbed my fingertips to the bone.

After a short time, I slowed to pull over. I came onto the gravel pull-off too fast and still breaking – an amateur move. My front tire lost traction and then my rear and the bike went over and I was thrown off. I tried to right the bike but my fingers were too numb and I was shaken by my first fall. It turns out I had stopped or ditched beside a small private school alone beside the highway. Two teenage boys saw me and almost immediately came to help. After we righted the motorcycle, the boys admired it and we commented on the cold. Soon they went back to class and, my hands now mostly thawed, I returned to the highway.

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