Climbing to the City :: Rain, Flats & Night Riding

Climbing toward Jalisco state line; Looking back at Ixtlan

August 11 – 15th  ::  Ixtlán del Río, Nayarit to Guadalajara, Jalisco

Our panniers are packed and we’ve smeared ourselves with the proper amount of sunblock.  We’ve been ready to ride out of  Ixtlán del Río for hours now yet we’re still standing in the hotel lobby with our loaded bicycles leaning against the registration desk.  We’re not alone.  Every single one of the hotel staff are present, other guests crowd the lobby and street vendors are standing in the doorway.  Outside, children on the sidewalks press their faces against the lobby’s huge window, hands up around their cheeks acting as blinders so that they can see better.  All eyes are on the hotel lobby’s television set, watching the Mexico vs. Brazil 2012 Olympic soccer game.

Mexico has worked it’s way to this final match and they are the underdogs.  As the game begins the tension and excitement in the room is palpable.  Right out of the gate and within the first minute, Mexico scores it’s first goal and the room and streets erupt with cheers.  Kids are jumping up and down, screaming with joy, and the adults look at each other with pride and nod – yes, yes, yes.  How can we leave now?!  We decide to forgo an early start in order to watch the first half.  Big smiles stay plastered on everyone’s faces as the Mexican team continues to play well.  As the first half closes the energy in the room bounces off of the walls and we’re all grins as we shake hands with friends we’ve made and say our goodbyes.  [While we rode that morning, Mexico won their first Gold Medal in the second half, scoring another goal and ending the game against Brazil 2-1!!  A very pride-filled day for Mexico!].

Grasses, Ixtlán, Nayarit to Magdalena, Jalisco

Cycling Nayarit. Beautiful grasslands, mountains and agave fields.

Cycling from Nayarit state into Jalisco, we find ourselves in a land of valleys and gorges which make for some surprisingly steep inclines.  We spend the day skirting through the “volcanic sierras” (the western edges of the Sierra Madre range).  Nayarit has hundreds of miles of rain forest and it strikes us as odd to see evergreen trees in the midst of overflowing vines and dense vegetation.  As we dive in to valleys the rocky cliffs swallow us up.  Calls of birds we’ve never heard before echo off of the craggy walls entangled with vines.  It’s a natural “surround sound” system, compliments of mother nature.  As we climb back up and out, toward the open sky, we find ourselves briefly balanced on a short plateau.  Before making another drastic dip downward we catch glimpses of magnificent and lushly vegetated valleys even further below and to the east of us.  It’s an absolutely breathtaking ride.

Agave Plants, Ixtlán, Nayarit to Magdalena, Jalisco

Agave Fields

Horse crossing, Ixtlán, Nayarit to Magdalena, Jalisco

Another form of regular transportation : horses. On an overpass over the toll road.

Lots of climbing, Ixtlán, Nayarit to Magdalena, Jalisco

Lots of highs and lows, Ixtlán, Nayarit to Magdalena, Jalisco

And let the serious climbing begin.

Waterfall, Ixtlán, Nayarit to Magdalena, Jalisco

In the dips life is bountiful – waterfalls, vines, birds of all kind.

Shoulders between Ixtlán, Nayarit to Magdalena, Jalisco; gas line laid

Freshly laid piping in the shoulder made for some interesting riding in the late afternoon. We had to wonder why they were so opposed to digging a straight line.

We climb over 2500 feet that day and end at an elevation of 4600 feet in the town of  Magdalena, known for its opal mines.  We cycle the last five miles in the dark and in heavy rain, having been delayed by two flat tires earlier in the day.  (The first flat was mine and, unlike last time, Kai was with me, so I took the opportunity to learn how to change and repair it on my own, with Kai offering verbal instruction as I needed it.  Of course, as I was cleaning up we turned around to find Kai had a flat of his own!)

Now, riding through pouring rain with distant lighting occasionally breaking the darkness is not an ideal end to any day spent climbing and fixing multiple flats but right now it doesn’t really matter to me.  I’m so in what I call “the zombie-zone” – meaning, I’m in the space between complete exhaustion and last-ditch determination to make it to wherever we need to be next – that I am on automatic pilot.  Kai describes me as switching over to another dimension during these times, noticing that I “kick it up a notch” and claims that I “bring us home”.  During these long moments, the methodical pumping of my legs (up and around, up and around, up and around) and my unusually focused and steady breathing represents a whole-body meditative mantra of sorts.  I am a body but I’m not really in my body.  And, quite surprisingly, to help get me to where I need to be, my mind turns toward gratitude.  How incredibly lucky am I to have cycled through this gorgeous, gorgeous countryside today?  How great is it that I am capable of repairing and changing flat tires?  How frickin’ fantastic is it that I’m going to stumble in to a hot (hopefully) shower then fall in to a perfect, perfect bed tonight?  How blessed is this life, my life?  Incredibly.  Incredibly.  Incredibly.  (said in sync with the beat of pumping legs) Blessed.

Sheila, Ixtlán, Nayarit to Magdalena, Jalisco

Cycling to Magdalena. Late afternoon, before the flats and the rain and the dark.

Magdalena Church

Pretty, tiny historic church in Magdalena

A Fire Opal from the Magdalena mines. The unique red/orange of these gems comes from the presence of iron oxide. (Photo by: Jason Stephenson)

Lunch in Magdalena

Lunch in Magdalena : The jug holds and naturally cools water. The chile relleno and tortillas were great.

Magdalena Fruit Stand

Fruit Stand in streets of Magdalena

The Irony

We continue our upward climb toward Guadalajara on toll road 15D, passing the town and World Heritage site of Tequila, home of the infamous alcohol that bears its name.  Blue agave plants, from which Tequila is made, dot the countryside, their blue-tinged razor-sharp leaves providing an aesthetically appealing contrast against the dominant dark green vegetation surrounding it.

As we’re packing up from our midday snack break we notice that Kai has a flat tire.  We laugh in disbelief.  We rode through all of Baja without one flat tire despite all the warnings from other cyclists about thorns and now, in mainland Mexico and far away from thorns, we’re getting flat after flat.  Although we love the room we have on the toll road, the shoulder has been degrading in to a collect-all of nails, screws, broken glass and a plethora of blown tires and no matter how much we try to dodge these obstacles, we can’t miss it all.  The most insidious of threats are the thousands of the thin wires that run through automotive tires.  When tires are blown the wire is strewn everywhere and there’s barely a spot alongside the road that we don’t see either the wires themselves or wires sticking out of rubber remnants.  They’re stealthy and deadly, slipping their way deeper and deeper through the tire until they puncture the tube.   I inspect my tires while Kai changes his and use a tweezer to pull several glinting pieces out of my own rear tire.

Agave Plants

Agave Fields near Tequila

Jalisco Landscape

Just Beautiful Valleys in Jalisco

Sheila & Water Well : Toll Road to Guadalajara

The toll roads have emergency phone booths and water wells (the black/white well you see in this photo) every kilometer or two.

Fields in Jalisco


The End-Of-A-Bad-Day-Getting-Worse-Push-Home (a.k.a. Hell)

By the time we’re ready to take off again we’re both feeling lethargic from taking too long of a break, it’s late in the afternoon, storm clouds are furiously building above us and we still have about 20 miles of climbing ahead.  After asking for the time from a passer-by we realize we’ve lost an hour due to a time change – when did that happen?!  Some swearing ensues.  We’re grouchy now and when we try to offer each other our not-really-sincere-pep-talks about pushing through the last half of the day we both fail and end up just turning our grouchiness on each other.  At some point, through the bickering and mutual whining, we realize we’re procrastinating.  Time to just shut up and ride already!

Cycling Jalisco

We’ve got some climbing ahead of us.

Sheila, cycling to Guadalajara

Sheila riding through the sprinkles.

We start off strong but within 5 miles the skies darken and it starts lightly raining.  As we get closer to the city of Guadalajara the traffic increases and, as if on cue, the rain simultaneously increases as well.  10 more miles in to it and the shoulder starts to narrow and eventually disappear, replaced by a deep concrete gully and no guard rails.  Daylight dwindles away.  I’m feeling some panic now as my worst cycling nightmare is starting to unfold before me.  For some reason, for the last half year, I’ve been having horrible make-you-sit-straight-up-in-bed-with-fear nightmares about cycling along and suddenly falling in to a deep, dark hole that randomly appears in the road, my being unable to swerve or avoid it.  And, here I am, in speeding double lane traffic, teetering on the edge of a slimy, wet roadway right next to a deep, cavernous gully… the near-dark!  Not good.

What follows is about 7 miles of pure, unadulterated hell.  The clouds open up.  Thick rain pelts us as we unsuccessfully try to take some of the lane.  Traffic is too thick and steady so instead of cars slowing and merging into the left lane to give us plenty of room they try to squeeze themselves between us and parallel traffic.  Guess who loses out in that situation?!  I’m furiously shaking by now, certain that I’m going to die exactly as my dreams foretold, falling into the abyss to my right.  I pull off at the first chance (there aren’t many) and I try to pull myself together but as it’s getting darker and darker and traffic is becoming more congested, I know road conditions are becoming more dangerous with every minute I stop.  Now I’m feeling both panic about riding and panic about not riding……perfect conditions for a quick and furious cry and a slight mental break down!

We manage to muddle through the last few miles without dying, hitting Guadalajara’s multiple lane highways and a cornucopia of underpasses till we find a cheap hotel off an exit on the outskirts of the city.  We are exhausted, wet and hungry and, of course, the hotel attendant insists that there isn’t a single restaurant or grocery store nearby.  For a brief moment we consider going back out in to the weather to scout for food, incredulous that there isn’t something nearby.  But when we push our bikes in to our room and immediately fall on to the bed we laugh deliriously, knowing we’re not going anywhere.   Eventually I make an executive decision and order a pizza for delivery, usually a last choice for us since Kai is vegan (they have a Domino’s Pizza here!).  When it arrives we devour it like wild animals and proclaim it the best pizza we’ve ever, ever had in the whole wide world.  How’s that for cycle-touring induced delusion?!


To the Heart of the City

The next morning we sleep in without guilt.  It’s lightly raining outside and we’re less than 10 miles from our hostel in downtown Guadalajara.  Forced outside by our check-out time we begin riding on the main artery, Vallarta Avenue, which was to take us directly to our hostel but soon enough we find our selves on parallel side streets, preferring to meander through calmer neighborhood streets.

We eventually make our way on to Lopez Cortilla Avenue and fall in line with slow moving city traffic, the many stoplights giving us a chance to stop and take in the scene of each block.  As we get closer to the historic center of town we start to see some beautiful stonework and architecture.

Kai, Cycling in to downtown Guadalajara

Cycling in to Guadalajara Historic District

Public Sculpture, Guadalajara

Public Sculpture/Art in a Plaza near our Hostel.

We find our hostel, in the heart of town and adjacent to a beautiful park, and they happen to have an obscenely huge room on the ground floor available for us.  The Casa Vilasanta hostel is unique in that they offer private rooms, each with their own bathroom, instead of the normal dormitory-style shared bathroom option.  We still share a huge kitchen and common areas with the other guests but it’s nice to have a little privacy, not to mention the security it offers us for our gear and bikes, when you’re staying in the city for a few weeks.

Casa Villasanta Hostel, Guadalajara

We find Casa Vilasanta off of Lopez Cortilla on quiet Rayon Street.

Casa Villasanta Hostel, Guadalajara

Casa Vilasanta’s colorful interior courtyard, as viewed from an open window from our room.

Casa Villasanta Hostel, Guadalajara

Our huge, beautiful room with original stained glass doors.

We spend the afternoon Skyping with friends and family and relaxing in the beautiful interior courtyard of the Casa Vilasanta.  In the evening we excitedly walk to Goa, an Indian restaurant Kai had scouted out online weeks ago.  This is one reason we love visiting cities – the variety of gastronomical options available to us.  It is a glorious meal and we totally gorge ourselves on pakoras, Chana Masala, naan, mango lassi and, finally, chai.  As we sip on our chai, completely satiated, we watch the staff make naan in the tandoori oven.  And when the sky opens up for its normal early evening rainstorm we watch it from our warm and protected outdoor table, grateful that we don’t have to go anywhere any time soon.

Chai at Goa Indian Restaurant, Guadalajara

An accidental but kind of cool photo of Kai sipping chai on the patio during a rain storm. Goa Indian Restaurant in Guadalajara.


Route from Ixtlan to Guadalajara



5 comments to Climbing to the City :: Rain, Flats & Night Riding

  • Arturo Torra

    I wrote to you a few months ago. I live in San Diego and I have been following your adventure since you started riding in Baja. I was borned in Mexico city and I have family in Queretaro. If you arrive in Queretaro let me know and I can put you in touch with some family members. I am so impressed by your description of Mexico and very happy to know that you are enjoying your riding in my beautiful country. Your stories are amaizing and very inspiring. Keep the pedal going and keep us informed about your journey.
    saludos mis amigos
    Arturo Torra

    • Hello Arturo! Thanks for getting in touch with us again and for following our blog. We are so grateful for your offer, thank you! We’re thinking of staying put for awhile longer to finish some work and writing our ebook but we will definitely be in touch once we know more about where we’re headed next. I’ve heard Queretaro is a great place.

      I don’t think we can really express how much we have loved cycling through your country. It is so beautiful and we are just so moved by how wonderful people really are.

      Looking forward to staying in touch with you as we continue on.

      Sheila & Kai

  • Arturo Torra

    Sheila and Kai
    thank you for your fast response. I am very happy to know you are doing well. Guadalajara is a beatutifull city and there are lots of places to see…….make sure you go and listen the Mariachi band playing Mexican music. Enjoy you stay and make sure you have some Tequila to flavor our mexican culture. Stay in touch.

  • luis

    Are you guys still in Chapala ? I hope you are doing good ! my best wishes from las vegas luis

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