The second-highest bridge on highway 40D.
We spent four days climbing from the seaside city of Mazatlan to the high elevation town of El Salto and finally to the big city of Durango in Mexico’s wild west. They have been the four most difficult, but most rewarding, days of the entire trip. The road we traveled is a newly opened toll road that passes through 63 tunnels and 115 bridges, including the highest bridge in North America. It also traverses a wealth of ecosystems and features stunning scenery around every bend. I will briefly describe our trip on this road, which includes a night camping in the jungle, another sleeping in the dorm rooms of emergency medical personnel, and a final wonderful night we spent with a host family.
Mazatlan is right on the ocean, and officially in the tropics. The weather is hot and humid, and we noticed immediately that we needed more water and that riding was more difficult. We asked about the availability of water and services on the toll road to Durango and all responses were negative. For this reason, we ended up carrying large amounts of water (about three gallons) up the mountain and into the hills.
Flowers everywhere at lower elevations.
The toll road had low traffic levels and a wide shoulder, making it perfect for cycling. Further, it was free for us! The guys at the toll booths would always come out of their little booths to direct us around the car sensors and send us on our way. Our first day on the road was through low foothills that teemed with plant and animal life. Flowers were everywhere and of every color. That night we stealth camped in this jungle and were amazed (and a little horrified) at the variety of insect life. We spotted far too many kinds of spiders as we made camp and ate dinner.
The mountains beckon from the nice, wide highway.
Our wild camp near the highway
The next day we hoped to be on the road early to avoid some of the crippling heat. It worked, mostly, and it certainly helped that we climbed into higher and cooler elevations as the day progressed. The road on this day was stupendous, and we were constantly amazed and pinching ourselves. Was this real?
Sunrise from our wild campsite
The tunnels and bridges led us ever higher into the mountains. We crossed the tropic of Cancer going north, and emerged from a tunnel almost 2 miles in length into a massive and beautiful valley. Later in the day we crossed over the Baluarte bridge, which is the highest suspension bridge in North America. It was an incredible experience to pedal over this feat of engineering.
The second-highest bridge on highway 40D.
The boy’s dorm at the medical center.
That night we got permission to camp outside one of the tunnels’ power stations. There are guards there 24 hours a day, so it was a safe spot. As we finished setting up camp a pick-up truck arrived carrying two toll road employees who were worried about us. They convinced us to take a ride from them to spend the night at the medical personnel dorms about 20km up the road. It didn’t take much, to be honest. They were so nice, and we had a restful night.
The toll road employees helping us load our stuff.
Gordita with Mexican spiced coffee.
The next day we rode back down to where we had gotten a ride and then climbed back up. Our legs were definitely starting to feel the strain of all the climbing! We stopped for a delicious lunch of gorditas (stuffed corn tortillas) at a roadside shack with a great view.
Restaurant with a view.
One of many, many tunnels.
El Salto: a town based on logging and processing of pine trees.
That evening we headed into the industrial town of El Salto, where I don’t think any tourists ever go. We wanted to find a safe place to camp, and met a nice woman and her grandchild who helped us find one. Later on, she came back to check on us. Even though we had already paid for camping, she offered to host us for the night in her rancho nearby. We convinced the campground guy to return our money and we went with her to her house. On the way we rode through a small village where all the children ran out to meet us. We also had to ford a small river.
River fording en route to our host house.
Enoc and the chickens. There were over 100 chickens there!
Our wonderful hosts.
We spent the evening with our wonderful hosts Manuela, Maciel, and Abihu. They are mother, daughter, and son. We were also delighted to play with Maciel’s son Enoc who is 1.5 years old. They warmly welcomed us to their home and shared their dinner and their evening with us telling stories and chatting. We camped outside their house, and it actually got cold that night. In the morning there was frost on the tent. I suppose that’s what we get for sleeping at nearly 9,000′ of elevation!
Our tent, complete with foraging chickens, in the morning
It was such an honor to be welcomed by this family, and we are very grateful for the kindness they showed us. Hopefully we can pass it on in the future.
Our final day on the toll road to Durango was full of ups and downs, hills, headwinds, and unexpected canyons. In short, it was exhausting. Beautiful, but exhausting. At the end of the ride the scenery opened up into high, flat plains dotted with cactus. We descended into the large colonial city of Durango victorious, having successfully ridden an incredible stretch of road.
As we neared Durango the scenery changed to Old West.
We made it!
Currently, we are spending a couple of rest days in Durango catching up on chores and seeing all the tourist sights. It is a good city to be a tourist in, and we are loving it. We will have to write another post soon just to describe all the adventures we are having here!