Bike Commuting

July 1997

In which a mountain bike route is pioneered between Oaxaca and Etla...

I've pioneered a superb bike route form my house to Etla where the warehouse is. This has been a lousy 25 minute drive that I make three times a week when there's a load going. To much driving and dealing with rude drivers, myself being one of them, tension, hurries. The commute scene. But now I've found this great way to make that trip on my bike and not wind up like so many dogs along the side of that highway.

The railroad passes through Oaxaca and of course it passes through Etla, that's why I'm there. And it takes it's own railroady route, unconcerned with the highway or even the villages for that matter. It just gets it self from point A to point B. One of my warehouse workers said he had ridden halfway to Oaxaca along side the railroad. That concept at once struck me as amazing and obvious. I figured I could get all the way to Oaxaca, or Etla, 'long side the iron rails.

So one fine morning before sun-up I set out to do it, swinging down through the sleepy AM streets of the city and out past the train station. There I got next to the tracks and headed Etla ways. And sure enough, right from the start It was smooth going. In fact, from the city to the outskirt I followed a road called Camino National, The National Road. This was an un-noteworthy work of concrete paralleling the tracks until I came to a little bridge crossing an arroyo. This bridge was a left over from the pre-concrete Camino. It was all stone work and brick, a smooth arch of cobble suddenly rising out of the concrete waste like a whale rising to breath in the sea. I bounced over the bridge and realized that this road, The National Road, was the remnants of the old road that first connected Oaxaca to Mexico City some 100 years ago and that bridge was as old as the road. So I followed this road with new appreciation, looking around and imagining what it would have been like to travel this route a century ago. Different to be sure, but maybe not so much so as one might suspect.

That remnant of road soon gave out and followed some tire tracks into an arroyo that climbed out right next to the tracks, and from there I followed trails and wagon paths just next to the tracks for a good long ways. At first I was riding through the back yard of the outskirts of the city, with no familiar landmarks close by I tracked my progress off of the surrounding hills. Soon the city and muddy little neighborhoods started sputtering out and corn fields started sputtering in. Then I was in the country, in the middle of the valley with wide views to the east and west, across fields of corn and alfalfa with carts here and there and now and then a farmer or family bent to the task of cutting cornstalks or a young man swinging a scythe at the alfalfa. It was quiet and beautiful and my trail was holding like a good wind. And It kept holding with the occasional dismount for ditch hopping, or to pick up the path on the other side of the tracks. At one point a railroad work party came zipping by on a little rail cart, headed up rail to fix some bent track I suppose.

My path held clean and lovely until I came to the old crumbling ruins of a train stop that, according to an old rusty sign, was called "Mogote". Mogote means hill or mound in Espanol and is often used to describe the mound that an old pyramid makes in the middle of a corn field. And sure enough, while stopping to get my bearings and figure how I'd continue my trek, around me I saw mogotes, I was in an ancient town, and very close, on the hill was a newer little town, San Jose Mogote. Seeing no continuation of my route I asked the close by farmer, there is almost always one around when you need directions, how I could get to Etla. He said the train didn't stop here anymore, that I'd have to take a bus, or for riding the highway was just over the hill. I explained my dirt road desires and he swung his arms around and reeled off a few vague land marks and sent on my continued journey to Etla. The road took me right through San Jose with its donkeys and chickens and hulking remains of previous ventures undertaken in this town, the old hacienda brought down in the revolution, and the enormous central pyramid, de-sanctified by the Spanish some 500 years ago.

The road continued past town and a busy little dump and the graveyard, along the ridge of a low hill above the tracks and finally, after crossing the tracks twice, it set me down right in the middle of the sweet, quiet, tree lined road that is Santo Domingo. I rode right by the land that Rachel and I have eyes for, and five minutes later was at the warehouse talking with my workers. Then I headed up to the market, got some fresh squeezed OJ from Victoria, some good sweet bread from the fat lady and sat down for some me Melas(open tacos) with Yoda. My butt hurt a lot, my legs cried, I had hardly ridden in 2 months and I'd just been in the saddle for 2 hours. But the food and drink fired me up again, and I rested as I saw to things in the warehouse. The ride home was a relative breeze, the trail was blazed and, though you would never know it in a car, Etla to Oaxaca is all down hill. I made time, getting back to the city in an hour. It was noon and just the right time to head to the pool for my swim.

Since that wonderful morning I have ridden the ride 3 times, the going is an 1:20 the return is 0:50 except for one morning after a rain, the mud along one stretch held me for an extra 20 minutes. But returning was fine 'cause things had dried out. This has become a twice a week ride (for the two weeks since I first found it) and will continue to be so forever. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to have this opportunity to ride a lot again. It's been a long time since I've ridden a lot. I've been fed up with driving so much, and it has been a big contributor to stress. Viva la Bici! Plus I'm swimming every day.

I plan on making some rough panniers for the commute. I will make them out of truck tire innertube rubber. They will be sewn and riveted together and designed with a way to put them on quick for town use, and a sturdy attachment for the commute. That way I can hit the bumps harder (this is ain't no road bike route). Since they'll be rubber, they'll be rain and mud proof, much more so than myself, and they'll look badass!

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