México: Urique to Balleza

Leaving the tranquil comforts of Entre Amigos in Uriqué saw us making quick progress down the canyon. The road we’d walked now passed at a pleasant speed, and even the hills didn’t feel too bad. Fording the river at Guapalyna (or Guapalina depending on who you talk to) was also fine – calf deep for Sarah and dry for me as a ute turned up and offered a lift at just the right moment. Sadly, the lift didn’t go up the hill…

Making our way down-river from Urique. This short, sharp climb is dwarfed by the slopes of Cerro de Ventana that the first part of the route out of the canyon takes.
The Guapalyna ford was only just above ankle deep with the water not unwelcome in the heat of the morning at 500m elevation.

Our journey has seen us grinding up a lot of hills, and they are the inevitable price to pay for travelling in mountainous country. The daily prospect of a pass to climb in the earlier parts became an expectation, though it didn’t lessen the effort involved. With these, the mind could wander to other things, or as often as not to nothing at all. All very zen and meditative.

We'd set up our camp on one of the few tent-sized pieces of ground part-way up the climb from Guapalina when these two Tuhumaran indian girls stopped to pick fruit from a tree near our tent. We were then gravely and silently examined before they waved and walked bare-foot on up the road.

The climb out of the Uriqué Canyon is the toughest we’ve done – both physically and mentally. This time every pedal stroke and metre of upward progress required intense concentration. The margins for error in traction and balance were too small for any pondering or musing. Despite this we found the 20ish km until the canyon edge better than we’d been expecting. What information we had found about this stretch had painted it even more bleakly. They’d told of strong, experienced cycle-tourers pushing when they hardly ever did otherwise and comparisons were made to the stamina required for child-birth.

Loose dust, fist-sized rocks and hot sunshine make the climb out of the canyon a test of mental and physical stamina. This is one of the easier looking upper parts.
Sarah on the move - the rideable 'line' is much harder to find on the corners and switchbacks

When we started this journey we’d (we thought) sensibly pegged our daily travel at 50-70km depending on the terrain. In Canada/USA we’d found this pretty realistic, and even done much more on roads or between well-spaced water. Getting to Samachiqué and the main Creel-Guacochi road we did 20-30km days and were exultant to have made it that far. The rewards were some of our best lunch and camp spots, and we’re very glad we didn’t cheat using motorised means.

Lunch at the top of the hardest climb we've done.
Creating the breakfast of kings at our cliff-top campsite shortly before Cororeachi. (photo S.Hedges)
With such tight switch-backs that the trucks using this road have to do 3-point turns on every corner, the descent before Cororeachi wouldn't be fun without good brakes.
The road from Cororeachi repeatedly crossed the river. Some fords we prudently walked, but others invited the chance of a topple - avoided elegantly this time.

The roads from Samachiqué to Balleza don’t go through quite such spectacular territory. They’re not far off though, and the opportunity to let your mind drift made a welcome return.

No amount of tyre technology can protect against Mesquite thorns - the ground surrounding the road to Balleza were liberally covered...

Now we’ve got a 40km back-road short cut to the pavement to El Vergel followed by 140km of back-road (via Rosilla etc) to Guanacevi and the pavement to Tepehuanes. This should take about a week, and have us in Durango just before Christmas.


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