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thinking

You have a lot of time to think while on a bike tour. That can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon what you choose to focus on. At least a portion of my thinking the past two days has been looking at parallels between what we’re doing now and our boat cruising days. I’ve found several. Along with that, my mind was also partially occupied by repeated flashes of, “What were you thinking?” I mean, seriously, who chooses one of the hardest off-road bike routes for their first bikepacking trek? Surely only crazy people, or dyed-in-the-wool masochists!

Into the desert we go

In order to get a jump on the heat, we left our hotel in Tecate shortly before 6:00 AM on Wednesday morning. The morning air is chilly before the sun starts burning down, so we began riding with our jackets on. It didn’t take long to heat up though with all the climbing to get out of the city.

So long Tecate.

Unfortunately, there was a stretch of highway that we had to contend with before we could leave the traffic for the solitude of the dirt roads. For the record, the safety of an 8′ wide shoulder is negated when the drivers treat that shoulder as if it’s an additional lane!

This is better!

Click the above to view a much larger panoramic image.

Problem solving

We had to deal with three separate “oh oh” situations, things that could have ended up being fairly significant problems. The first occurred at the time the above pic was taken, shortly after leaving the highway, but after a long downhill stretch. Upon stopping to take a photo of the scenery, we noticed that one of the 6L water bladders that we were carrying was leaking around the cap. We were each carrying 10L of water, and we knew that we’d need every drop. We actually purchased bladders that were reportedly robust, taking the hit in the form of a weight penalty because we know how important that water is.

As it turned out, the problem was solved by more carefully screwing on and tightening the cap (phew!). If that had failed, I was prepared to try to seal the leak with some adhesive that I had brought with me. If there’s one thing that boaters know, it’s how to fix a leak! 🙂

Our second challenge came in the form of our iPhones not charging well. In fact, even with the sun high in the sky and the phones set in airplane mode, our solar panel could only just keep up with the output. We played around with the settings and ultimately found the key: we needed to turn off auto brightness. Once we dimmed the screens, the iPhones charged brilliantly. In fact, we were able to keep both phones fully topped up by switching the solar panel back and forth between us, never having to resort to using the 4 charging bricks that we were carrying.

Leave it to us to find 2 boats in the middle of the desert!

Big problem!

The third challenge, and it is still ongoing, is my knee. Shortly after our lunch break, I was forced to dismount my bike due to a sharp pain in the back of my knee. Big problem considering that we were miles and miles from anywhere! The pain came and went, and I was able to still make progress, up until around 4:30. By then we had been riding for 10 hours, and had covered a little over 31 miles. Thirty one miles of pretty tough terrain! Even though there was still plenty of light, we made the call to stop for the day to give my knee a rest. Fortunately, an OK camping spot with some nice shade was not far from where we were, so we pulled off the road and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.

It’s amazing how the temperature varies from day to night. I have to say, we’re pretty happy with our sleeping setup. Our Tarptent only takes us a few moments to set up, our sleeping bags (quilts actually) are warm when we’re wearing our long johns, and our fold-up sleeping pads are the bomb. In fact, they may look funny strapped onto the front of our handlebar bags, but those pads are one of the best equipment decisions that we have made. We use them even when we take breaks because they are so quick and easy to deploy, and we don’t need to be worrying about puncturing them. I can only imagine what an inflatable one would be like. I bet I’d forever be dealing with patching holes just like we did with our inflatable dinghy on the boat!

This is the route we are attempting to follow. Can you find Ojos Negros, where we are now?

Shoutout to Tumbleweed Bikes, and Rogue Panda bikepacking bags. Everything is working perfectly!

Our cruising friends could likely relate to this analogy. Imagine you are motoring from place to place and your boat develops engine problems. You pull off to an unplanned anchorage where you make repairs. The next day you set off for your intended destination, but the entire way all you can think of is the engine, wondering if your repair will hold, and if you’ll make it without further troubles. That is exactly how I felt the day after my knee started acting up. With every pedal stroke, and every step I took, all I could think of was my knee. Fortunately, I felt no real pain. That is, not until we had again been pedaling for close to 11 hours. By then we had covered over 40 miles, and were within spitting distance of our intended stopping point, Ojos Negros. Or so we thought.

Click the above to view a much larger panoramic image.

Flowing water, in the desert. Not likely going to come across that too often!

Due to a miscalculation on our parts, we actually had an additional four miles to travel before we reached Ojos Negros. And as luck would have it, we had the trifecta of bad riding conditions for that final four miles: deep sand, washboard road, and a headwind. All we needed was an uphill grade and fast-moving traffic to make it perfect!

We made it!

Ultimately we made it, and as we had imagined, tacos and a warm bed at a $20.00 hotel were waiting for us. We’re taking another full rest day today before setting off further south tomorrow. Our destination, 2 days further on (we’re trying to take our time, where possible), is Ejido Uruapan. Reportedly there are hot springs nearby that spot. The adventure continues!

Trip Stats:

  • Tecate to Wild Camping: 49.82 km, 10:14 hours
  • Wild Camping to Ojos Negros: 74.34 km, 10:44 hours

22 Comments

  1. Hope your knee quits acting up, sounds like it’s on schedule at that 10-11 hr mark. I love that I can still follow y’all on your new adventure! I look forward to seeing your progress.
    All the best!

  2. great update – glad to hear that you are making progress and are happy with your gear choices. Sorry to hear about your knee acting up Mike – hope that by pacing yourselves it will settle down. Hopefully you have plenty of time factored in so you can slow the pace to not cause damage to the knee. Doesn’t sound like either of you would need any exercise gear on this trip with the trails that you are taking. Beautiful scenery – enjoying the photos as well – best wishes on your continued travels.

    • The unfortunate fact of this route is that there are spots where we must put in very solid days of riding due to the lack of water. We can only carry about two days worth, tops three, and there are a couple of sections that are 100 miles+ between resupply points!

  3. Ha ha 2 boats! There’s got to be a message or something as the coincidence is just too much.

    For the knee, are you familiar with the concept of spinning where you petal at a high cadence but with light pressure? It’s something the road bikers do and a bit harder on a mountain bike but you should still look into it if you have not done so already. It will take some practice and your knees will be much happier with the reduced strain.

    Good luck,
    Jeff

    • Interesting. Over the past day and a half I’ve experimented with a variety of things. In some cases it actually feels better in a higher gear. One thing that I did do is raise my seat. My seat was considerably lower than Rebecca’s. We traded bikes for a bit and hers felt better. I had my seat higher for the entire last day. Strangely, when I google it, the pain that I have (rear of knee, almost hamstring tendon) is caused by having the seat too high (or in some cases too far back – I do have a swept back seat post). When I get to the next bike shop I’m going to ask the man there to check it out for me.

  4. You’re really knocking it out. On that terrain, with that load, a very long day.

    I know you will figure this out. You figured out sailing. But I’ve ridden a LOT, have had two serious knee surgeries, and I can still go out and hammer with zero knee pain… if I follow the rules. So I feel compelled to share a few that I learned over the years. And yes, they guy at the shop can help, bu you will also have to adjust to how YOU feel. Everyone has different joint geometry and problems. This is what works for me.

    Some of this is a real transition for runners. It is ergonomically very different, even if it does not seem so. Bikers pedal in circles, whereas runners peddle in squares. It will take you some time to develop a good stoke. You can always tell an experienced cyclist by the smooth, effortless cadence.

    1. High cadence. Stay at or above 100 RPM as much as possible. This will feel very fast and wasteful at first, but it will keep your legs fresh, compared to slogging in a higher gear. Tour De France riders know this, and the feet are spinning, even when they are loafing in the pack. It becomes efficient, once you learn to pedal round.
    2. Seat height. Generally, you should be able to JUST get around with your heels on the pedals. Just barely, with your hips rocking a little.
    3. The ball of your foot should be 1/4″ forward of the pedal axle. Varies with the person. This is a difficult position to optimize without cleats–the foot naturally slides either forward to the ball, or back to the arch.
    4. The nose of the saddle should be ~ 3″ aft of the bottom bracket. More for hills and no-cleats, less for sprints and track bikes. I kinna doubt you are too far back for the riding you are doing. But you do have a very laid back seat tube, which is good for your riding. However, if you move the seat forward, that will change the reach to the handlebars. We’ll come back to that.
    5. Cleats. Not because you will pull up, but because you can begin peddling in circles and keeping your feet in the right place. Properly adjusted, they reduce knee problems. I know this for a FACT. One of the reasons your knee may hurt (behind) is if you are using your ankles to push forward across the top of the stroke, and then pointing your toes a little and using the calf muscles to pull across the bottom, particularly on steep hills. Cleats eliminate this need, because your feet will not slide on the pedals. You can just pedal circles.
    6. Toe in-out. Generally you should toe-in a few degrees more than when running. Not much. It should feel neutral.
    7. Handle bar position. Play with it. There may be room for improvement. Depends on terrain and torso length. Height changes probably require spacers, length (reach) probably requires a goose neck change… or try…
    8. Aero bars and bull’s horns. Not for speed, but to allow more hand, wrist, shoulder, and elbow positions. They also give more reach options, giving your shoulders and back a change. If you start having any of these problems, try them. I started with aero bars for wrist problems, not for speed… although they also make it faster and easier on your arms.

    Just some ideas on what works, and why. The farther you pedal, the more perfect fit matters. I have my ideal bike dimensions so dialed in that if something slips 1/8 inch, I can tell within a fraction of a mile. When I buy a new bike, I transfer the measurements. And I ride pain-free. I wish I could sail pain-free.

    • Thanks, Drew. Yes, we’ll figure it out, or die trying. 🙂

      Interesting point on the cadence thing: I have found that it is better for me to keep it in a higher gear, and pedal more slowly. My thighs and lungs don’t agree, but my knee does.

  5. Firstly, forgive me for not following your overall plans too closely, but aren’t you heading for Patagonia? Seems like this extended peninsula route could be problematic in that regard, no?

    The knee is a real concern in your situation because it seems like one of the most recommended solutions I am seeing is to … stop riding for at least a couple of weeks to ease the inflammation. Is there any chance you have one leg that’s longer than the other?

  6. Hi Mike, Besides, your knee issue which, you mention, maybe is corrected with proper saddle placement, i would be concerned with numbness,in delicate and sensitive areas of male anatomy. Have you cut,a slot on your saddle to ease pressure there, from hours ,with pressuret in that part of your anatomy. There was a study, done about cyclists,a few years ago, discussing ,problems, findings, etc. Be safe!

    • I am not finding that to be a serious problem. Rebecca finds the saddles we have (WTB Pure) to be very comfortable, and I am finding them to be OK as long as we don’t put in excessively long days.

  7. Glad to hear your problems have all been within your abilities to solve them. Great photos! Update when you can. Good luck and happy trails.

  8. Pain in the back of the knee can be an indication of blood clots.

    • Seriously, Susan???? It could probably be caused by a hundred different things but the infinitely more logical assumption is that it’s caused by overuse!

      • More logical? YES, no doubt. INFINITELY, more logical? HARDLY. A hundred possible causes? ROFL Seriously, a hundred? Well, to be kind, that’s doubtful. Let’s see. My husband is recouperating from his second surgery on his left leg in as many months, one five hour surgery of which required he be flown out from our boat in GGT to Nassau in an emergency…he almost lost his leg. His symptom: pain behind his left knee.

        But, you know, the truth is I could really give a FF why your knee hurts, I just thought I’d try to participate given a recent serious issue that happened to us. “Seriously.”

        I’ve said it before but I will never, EVER comment on this blog again. Smart asses who don’t know what they don’t know just don’t do it for me. “Seriously.”

  9. Similar to sailing – once you are out there, it is real. Hills are really real. Your cruiser mentality will serve you well. On some seats, loosen the bolt underneath and you can slide them forward on their frames an inch or three. Meloxicam may help also, if you can get it.

  10. Interesting route with a nice combination of inland and coastal. Seeing those elevations for the route really puts it in perspective. You will end up climbing a nearly 10,000 ft mountain on a bike. No wonder your knee hurts!

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