The “It’s raining donkeys” or “No mo’ square tires” tour of the Sierra Gordas - Kawasaki Versys Forum
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post #1 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-06-2012, 07:29 PM Thread Starter
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The “It’s raining donkeys” or “No mo’ square tires” tour of the Sierra Gordas

It’s been a long last couple of months. My Dad passed away in December, then I got sick in January, (like the kind of sick where you don’t get out of bed much for three weeks), then on my first day of feeling relatively OK, my stator gave up the ghost, and I waited patiently for three weeks for the part to arrive. It arrived about a week ago, and I installed it. Then tentatively rode around the general area on some day rides and around town till I gained confidence that my installation was working as planned. It's time to book on down the road from San Miguel de Allende





My girlfriend had gone to the US on business, and I was on my own. One night after about a week of these local rides and decided I was due a mental health ride. A long one. On curvaceous roads. At about 9 PM, I Emailed a few friends who weren't sick, or attending weddings or such, and whom I thought might want to join me, and whom I thought would ride hard and fast, as I wanted to do, that I was leaving the following morning at 9 AM. I was pretty sure I would have no takers, but dutifully stopped at the local super market at 9 the following morning to be sure. In some ways I was relieved to be riding solo. I haven’t done much of that in the past year and a half. So now I was free to ride wherever I wanted, and for a s long as I wanted, and had no one to consult about the route, the gas stops, or the breakfast lunch or beer stops, or the hotel to spend the night in. I lubed my chain, and when my clock struck 9:02, I cast off for the Sierra Gordas, a wonderfully convoluted piece of topography that begins a mere 45 minute ride from my home town.




That first 45 minutes is rather flat, straight, mundane riding through broad, flat, agricultural valleys surrounded by scenic mountains. After you pass the town of Dr. Mora to the East, the ground drops out from underneath you, as you begin a serpentine road that hugs a cliff face as it descends to a desert valley below the agricultural plain that leads to it. It’s truly a spectacular vista as you begin the descent to the town of Victoria below. From Victoria you begin a slalom course as the road hugs one desert valley wall after another as it snakes its way through the town of Santa Catarina, then Penamiller, and finally intersecting with Federal Highway 120 near the town of Pena Blanca.



Somewhere between Santa Catarina and Penamiller, I rounded a curve just in time to see a burro tumble down a 15 foot cliff into the middle of the road. He lay there struggling to get up, and I was feeling pretty sorry for him when I saw him finally pop up onto all four hooves, shake himself, and glance around as if to see if anybody was watching his pratfall. First time I ever saw a burro drop out of the sky. I suppose Mexico really can be dangerous.






The road surface deteriorates between San Miguel de las Palmas and Penamiller especially, but it’s scenic, and heads up riding with enough diminishing radius curves to keep you honest, and focused on your riding.



Once you hit Hwy. 120, you’re in the puddin so to speak. Most of the curves are constant radius, the pavement is good, and they are continuous for the nest 60 miles or so till you reach the town of Jalpan in the next valley.



It’s been a hotter than normal day, and as you climb to the summit, you can feel the air cooling, and I even thought about stopping to put a sweater on under my mesh jacket, but thought better of it, and rode on to the mountain town of Pinal de Amoles where I stopped for a really nice steak in a habanero sauce with potatoes before descending the rest of the slalom course to Jalpan where I stopped for gas, then headed out immediately for the town of Xilitla a bit over the next mountain range, and through a corresponding series of continuous twisties.



I think this ride, which I’ve made several times heretofore is a world class motorcycling road, and there are few passes in the US that I’ve found that can compete with it for the plain fun you will have riding it.





As I climb up the mountain toward Xilitla, I’m throwing the bike around as I have been for the past 4-1/2 hours when I notice it’s getting a little squirrelly when I lean into the corners, so I stop to check it out. The axle nut is tight, and the air pressure is spot on, and there were no striations in the road surface to cause that kind of “walking”, so I saddle up and continue on out of the desert biome of the west side of the range into the more lush Huasteca to the East. They get more rain here from the gulf, so they have more plant life, and seemingly more people.



Xilitla, (pic taken on a previous trip, it wasn't rainy foggy this trip)

Xilitla was the home of British aristocrat and eccentric Edward James, who in his thirties was one of the world’s richest men when he inherited his parent’s and his uncle’s fortunes. He retired to this corner of Mexico in the 1930s and began a labor of love building a jungle castle with follies abounding. All in all a rather creative guy, and worth visiting his estate which is now open to the public, and run by his caretaker’s family. I’m not gonna visit this trip however. This trip is only about the ride. No tourist attractions for me.





I arrive in Xilitla relatively early in the day, but between the heat, and throwing the bike around corners for 5-1/2 hours I’m exhausted, so I check into the Hotel San Ignacio with their own covered parking lot, hot water, and a free bottle of water for 200 pesos/night, or about $16 US. After joking around with the owner, Elena, I went to my room and showered before venturing forth for food and cervezas. I ended up at a place I’ve eaten before called Cayo. The food is good, and they have a nice broad patio overlooking the hills and town, but the service, like the time I’d eaten here before is abysmal. After waiting for them to come and check on me, ( I was the only person in the restaurant at that point), I finally got up and carried my bottle inside, and left it on the table next to where the one waitress was sitting. She never looked up, so I interrupted her daydream, and asked for another. She dutifully delivered another and never showed her face on the patio again. I decided I was gonna stay here and drink a lot of beer just to annoy her and here compadres, and began a routine of banging my bottle on the stone topped table whenever I was ready for a refill. And so it goes.


Xilitla

I was vindicated when I stopped into another restaurant bar, Casa Vieja on the plaza and met Jorge. When I told him where I’d eaten, and how lousy the service was, he laughed and said I was the first gringo he’d met who’d expressed what he and the rest of the town apparently knew quite well. In his own words: “They act like they’re doing you a favor when they wait on you”. Amen. I hung out with Jorge for a bit longer than I expected to as he began buying me drinks, and then I would reciprocate. He’s lived in the US as an illegal alien for seven years, but had made the decision to return to Mexico, where the quality of life is better even if the pay isn’t so good. He introduced me to his friends, and eventually I wandered the block and a half to my hotel, where I slept the sleep of the dead.



Casa Vieja


Tomorrow, I’m heading down the east slope of the mountains to Tamazunchale, then up Rt. 85 which is new turf for me, and looks really twisty and windy, and when I met with ADV rider kennyanc, he said it looked like an awesome ride, (although he had the misfortune of riding it during a cold/rainy/foggy spell), so “Yay!”, (for me).

Michael
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- Terry Pratchett

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post #2 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-06-2012, 08:45 PM
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I always love your stories and the pics are great!!



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post #3 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-06-2012, 09:06 PM
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very nice!! Thank you for sharing!
Enjoy the ride and be safe!

Versys 2015 Green
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post #4 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-06-2012, 09:32 PM Thread Starter
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I always love your stories and the pics are great!!
Thanks mate! (And sorry to see you're trading in your Versys). Happy trails with whatever ride you choose.


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very nice!! Thank you for sharing!
Enjoy the ride and be safe!
Thanks Chid.

Michael
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- Terry Pratchett

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post #5 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-06-2012, 10:17 PM
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Miguelito, I'm sorry about your Dad. Your first picture is of a fairyland?
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post #6 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-07-2012, 12:06 AM Thread Starter
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Miguelito, I'm sorry about your Dad. Your first picture is of a fairyland?
Thanks Blipco. He had a good long life, and passed relatively easily, so that part was good anyway. The "fairyland" is the town I live in, San Miguel de Allende. It is pretty special.

Michael
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post #7 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-07-2012, 09:48 AM
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Exellent as usual. You are developing a reputation.
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post #8 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-07-2012, 11:14 AM
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Good stuff! Looking forward to the next installment.
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post #9 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-07-2012, 03:25 PM
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Thanks Blipco. He had a good long life, and passed relatively easily, so that part was good anyway. The "fairyland" is the town I live in, San Miguel de Allende. It is pretty special.
I'm going to look that place up.
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post #10 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-07-2012, 04:39 PM Thread Starter
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Day 2, Xilitla to San Joaquin the long way around

I wake up, and bid Elena adios, and begin descending the mountain through more wonderful curves. I stop in one of the first towns I get to to lube the chain, which I didn’t want to do in the hotel parking area. When I look at the rear tire, I let out a “Holy sh#t!”. The outer treads of the tire look like they’ve grown wings. I’m starting to figure out what was happening yesterday when the bike was slipping on the corners. I think the tires were melting. Does that sound reasonable? Anyway, they look pretty weird, but it’s riding OK for now at least.





After Tamazunchale the road begins to climb into the improbably vertical world of the eastern flank of the Huasteca. Small groups of houses cling to this horizontally challenged world like roof jacks on a 16/12 pitched roof. Hope I don’t see too many donkeys falling on the road today. There are more people here and consequently more traffic, and topes, (speed bumps). Still, it’s not too bad. I’ve been able to safely get around all the trucks and cars in spite of the curvalicious nature of the road. It’s seriously beautiful. Vertical and beautiful. I can’t imagine riding this ride as Kenny did in the rain and the cold and the fog. Lo siento amigo! Next time it will be better!





I detoured through Zimapan, but didn’t stop. I’ve been here before, but never got a chance to see the center of town. South of town I took rt. 45 to the west and stopped for a break at Huichapan, at a carnitas place near the central plaza called Los Arcos. I liked the town, and the people. I asked directions from a cop on how to get over near San Juoquin where I want to spend the night. I head north from Huichapan toward Tecozautla, where my map shows a road in the general direction of where I want to go.



But it’s not easy. Maps are pretty much useless when you get this far back of beyond in Mexico. I ride into Tecozautla, and scout around, and most people tell me I need to ride back to Huichapan. Not me. I head back to a sign I saw a few miles ago that said Ezekiel Montes which is in the general direction of where I want to go. But it’s still hard. I ride out through some tiny towns, one was called Pathe, and then got lost in a small town where I find myself riding down lanes barely wide enough for the bike between houses, and am beginning to become frustrated about finding an exit from this village, when I spy a paved road ahead with cars on it! I arrive at the road, turn left, and accelerate out of this puebla, eventually arriving at the road I wanted to be on. I turn right and shortly thereafter bear right again toward the mountain town of San Juoquin.





Now begins another spectacular section of twisties up into the then mining and now, (mostly), resort town at over 9000 feet elevation. The road surface is excellent, but some of these curves have varying radiuses so beware if you come this way. The town is more or less a cul du sac on the paved roads, though I did once ride a dirt/river bed way between Zimapan and here. There is so much to explore everywhere I’ve ridden this trip, and I know I’ll be back to revisit all the towns and more that I’ve passed through.



I check into the Posada de las Pozas right in town. I’ve stayed here before. It’s small, has gated parking, and is a little more expensive than most of the other hotels in town, (300 pesos, or about $24 US), but it’s close to everything, and it is a lovely 4 room hotel. I have dinner at El Burrito, which is one of the more popular, (read: “best”), places to eat in this little town. The first time I stopped by the 7 or 8 tables were full so I stopped back an hour later and there were only a few tables occupied. I had the burrito a la Mexicana. Yumm! Then bought a bottle of water, (not included at the hotel), and returned to my huge master suite, king size bed, and DVD player/TV, (although after sampling some of the DVDs I chose to read my book before drifting off, as a fog settled over the town.



Tomorrow, I return to San Miguel de Allende via a somewhat different route than that by which I came over this way.

Michael
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- Terry Pratchett

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post #11 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-07-2012, 04:42 PM Thread Starter
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Exellent as usual. You are developing a reputation.
Thanks Ken. Just so long as my reputation doesn't precede me when the cops are in the room.


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Good stuff! Looking forward to the next installment.
Thanks Baron!

Michael
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post #12 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-07-2012, 06:07 PM
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Like the others have said love your ride reports, great read and photo's
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post #13 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-08-2012, 10:32 AM Thread Starter
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Like the others have said love your ride reports, great read and photo's
Thanks Kiwi!

Michael
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post #14 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-09-2012, 11:51 AM Thread Starter
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Day 3, San Joaquin to San Miguel de Allende

I wake up and can see out my window that there is heavy cloud cover and fog in town. Not unusual at this elevation, and close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to suck up some moisture.



I’m debating whether to lounge around town and see if it clears up or book out of here. I waffle. Then I think it looks like it could just as easily start raining as it could clear up. I pack my bag, turn in my key, and am heading out of town feeling cold for the first time since this ride began. Brrr! I’m wearing my mesh jacket’s liner and a fleece sweater, but it’s not bad. And it’s all down hill from San Joaquin. I can see patches of blue out there to the east, and I know it’s gonna get warmer as I descend from this altitude.



I always start the day slow but not totally slow, building to the rhythm of the day. It’s refreshing, and the view traveling this direction is outstanding. It’s a pity there aren’t more places to pull off and get some pictures, as you look down on the lower lying Sierra Gordas, which look so much smaller, but you know, that they are huge mountains in their own right.



When I get to Hwy. 120, I decide to head back a different way, and head north to Toliman. Nice sweeping curves in this section of road. As I approach Toliman, I pass a convoy of about 10 ADV type riders heading north on their fully outfitted bikes. I flash the wave, and it’s returned by most of them. Like ships passing in the night they’re gone.



I’ve repeated this scene a multitude of times during my time here in Mexico. It’s bittersweet. Sweet because you see other kindred spirits out and about the country, exploring, and having adventures of their own, and a tad bitter, as you know you'll never sit down with these cats and break bread, share a beer, and tell stories. It’s always different for me too, as most of the time, I’m out on my own or with Dianna riding second position.



BTW, if any of the riders from that group stumble upon this report, I was the guy on this bike at the turnoff from Toliman toward Jalpan near the Pemex.



I always wonder what it would be like to be with so large a group. Would I have met Jorge in Xilitla? The Posada in San Juoquin would have been too small for so many, so we would be having a very different experience. Either way, I salute you all, for doing what you do, however you do it. Life really is grand. Don’t waste it.



At Toliman, I head out the back way to San Miguel de las Palmas, which I passed through on Day 1. About 5 miles out of town, I decide to take the road to Penamiller, as I’ve never taken it.



This ride is spectacularly beautiful as have all the previous days been. It’s an amazing road cut into the side of cliffs, and as such an area which you might call “geologically active”. ☺ As I proceed, I see the sign “Zona de Derrumbes”, or landslide/rockfall area. They’re right. The road to Penamiller is littered with rockfall from the cliffs on my left.



On certain sections the highway department has seen fit to spray tar and toss gravel. Fortunately those sections are blacker than most of the other sections and I can moderate my speed accordingly. Pity. This is one twisty section of road, but with no guard rails for the most part, I’m not leaning into these curves.



At Penamiller I head toward Santa Catarina again. The road surface sucks for the first 5 miles, but it improves as you go on. I take the road through Tierra Blanca as I have my thoughts on lunch at El Salto, and hang gliding/parasailing location not far from San Juan de Iturbide. It’s a pretty valley, but there are way too many topes on this stretch. Finally I reach the end of the topes, and begin the ascent out of the canyon and up the vertical walls much like I entered it after Dr. Mora on Day 1 of this ride.



El Salto is right at the top of this climb, and I settle in for their Sunday Buffet, and a couple of obscuras. I’m tired, and almost home, but it’s a good tired.


The view from the balcony at El Salto.



I got what I wanted from this trip. I’m not sure if it was to get into my head or out of it. I did both, by focusing on the thousands of curves that presented themselves, I had to focus on the outside world, and the consequences that a moment’s inattention could introduce. At the same time by doing so I found a center in myself beyond all the hoopla and externalities that make up so much of our day-to-day lives. Now, I can't wait to make this ride again. I wish you all un buen viaje, (a good trip).



And BTW, any squareness that was in my tires before this sinuous trip began is now gone.

And a final note: I forgot to bring my camera on this trip, so I’ve used pics from previous trips as best I could, and lifted others from the web where needed. Lo siento.

Michael
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- Terry Pratchett

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Last edited by miguelito; 03-09-2012 at 12:18 PM.
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post #15 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-13-2012, 10:11 AM Thread Starter
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I rode over to Xilitla again this past weekend and took some more photos. I was struck by the mixture of sophistication and grit in the town of Xilitla as after sitting in a cantina with the working men of the town drinking 10 peso beers, I then wondered over to a more upscale restaurant, which played acid jazz into the evening. Acid jazz in the wilds of Mexico. Welcome to the 21st century.


This is what it looks like just as you drop into the valley to Victoria.



Same as above.


On the road between Victoria and Santa Catarina.


On the road between Santa Catarina and Penamiller.


On the road between Santa Catarina and Penamiller.


Near Penamiller.


Near Penamiller.


Highway 120 on the way to Pinal de Amoles.


Highway 120 on the way to Pinal de Amoles.


Highway 120 on the way to Pinal de Amoles.


Highway 120 on the way to Pinal de Amoles.


Highway 120 on the way to Pinal de Amoles.


Highway 120 between Pinal de Amoles and Jalpan.


Highway 120 near Jalpan.


In the valley below Xilitla, near Tamazunchale.

Michael
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post #16 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-13-2012, 10:21 AM
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Beautiful, just beautiful . I see the need for a reliable bike down there. I would love to make that ride.
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post #17 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-14-2012, 11:34 PM Thread Starter
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Beautiful, just beautiful . I see the need for a reliable bike down there. I would love to make that ride.
This is a beautiful corner of the world Blipco. If you ever do get down this way, give me a shout ad I'll point you in the right direction, and probably join you for a short ride!

Michael
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post #18 of 18 (permalink) Old 03-15-2012, 06:54 AM
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This is a beautiful corner of the world Blipco. If you ever do get down this way, give me a shout ad I'll point you in the right direction, and probably join you for a short ride!
Thank you. Maybe someday.
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