The long way north(west)
October 28, 2023
I’m currently writing (while being sick) this blog post in Yosemite valley, with limited internet access. I will try and upload the pictures of this blog entry later on. It’s a long story as I didn’t write this for a while…
After a couple of days rest and goodbye to Marie, it was time for me to hit the road on my own gain. The first couple of days where filled with mixed feelings, excited about what I was up for and missing Marie. Enjoying the fact of being alone and just being alone. Hard to describe, but I hope you get it.
The first couple of days I made very good progress, the result of cycling alone and nothing else to do. Something I expected, but despite that I really enjoyed the cycling. Oaxaca was a bit of a chaos to get out of, but wasn’t that bad after all. As I was cycling up North, I had a contact from TV Azteca where they asked me to make a report for the news near Mexico City. I made a detour to the big chaotic city for that, but first I had to go to Puebla for that. The ride there was beautiful, in between cacti fields and the canon alas verdes. It brought me to some beautiful places to wild camp, near rivers to wash and get water.
5 minutes of fame
After a days rest (and climbing) in Puebla, I left for a big challenge: entering Mexico City. It was going to be a tough day! With some big hills and a tv crew following me, I knew this was gonna be difficult. The same time traffic gets more and more busy and I was cycling on a major highway to Mexico City. When I met the crew almost at the top of the last hill, we had lunch together and set off for some filming. This means; riding back and forth several times to get the best shots, forgetting to eat and drink and do some interviews. Then it was time to go all the way down into the valley of Mexico City, a thrilling descent ending up in major traffic jams. We split up our route, making arrangements to meet in the evening at the main square of Mexico City. What came next was crazy! Cycling through one of the biggest cities in the world is never boring!
You just have to keep an eye on yourself and traffic the whole time, it’s not the first time in situations like this (Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta, Lagos,…), but it never gets boring… It made me realise why I try to avoid the biggest cities.
When I arrived at the main square we made a last interview and then I searched for a hotel in the area. I was extremely tired and needed some good rest. The next day I was just too tired to do anything
I got contacted by Sergio, a Mexican climber, on Facebook. He invited me to stay at his place and go climb with his friends. So after an easy day in the centre of Mexico City I cycled all the way to his place. Surprisingly it was very easy to cycle and quite a lot of green around. Never expected this from such a big and crowded city but Komoot made a very nice route around. The next couple of days we went climbing there and realising I’m out of climbing shape. They took me out on some crack climbing, a very specific style, which we hardly have any of in Belgium so that was an eye opener!
These couple of days have been great, good climbing, good food, good drinks and lots of laughing. They really treated me as family and I was sad to leave after a couple of days. To avoid the big traffic I decided to take the off road path outside the valley. A beautiful climb up to 3200m, but pretty hard and for sure the descent. I wished I had brought my mountainbike on the steep trails there. Crazy to say, but I didn’t see a human being after 10am and leaving one of the biggest city in the world.
It would be too easy to get straight to the US from there, so I decided to make a couple of detours. First I went to Toluca, to pick up my waterfilter at a warmshowers host (thank you Memo, Jonathan and Elements for setting this up!). Where I continued to Queretaro, to be hosted by Alex, a Belgian cyclist I met in Senegal. He lives now in Mexico and definitely wanted to see him. He and Tania were the perfect hosts, I had a very good time there taking some days off. I even bought a hangboard in the climbing gym there as I really needed some training for my climbing strength.
The reason for that climbing training is that I was eager to make a bigger detour to El Potrero Chico (EPC), near Monterrey. A Mexican climbing paradise! First off was the road to Peña de Bernal where I did a bit of bouldering and sightseeing. From there I went straight into some mountains with beautiful views, hills and descents, only to be stung by a bee just above the eye in a downhill. The next day I couldn’t open it anymore…
The road got more and more desert and soon I found myself navigating lots of gravel roads in the middle of the desert. Beautiful views and great places to camp, but sometimes hard to find water. It made me realise to plan a bit more carefully some of the passages and take enough of that liquid gold.
One time I wanted to camp somewhere in the desert and found 2 buildings next to each other. An older woman and her daughter sitting in front of it. I ask if I could camp on their property, for safety. They tell me camping is not good there, there’s narco’s in the area and I’m not safe to camp. My Spanish is not good enough to understand it all and when I ask if I could camp inside their garden its again a no. What I didn’t understand is that the mother was talking to her daughter and suggesting I should take her house for the night. She would sleep at her daughters place and I can sleep in her bed, take shower and have dinner next doors. That’s what Mexico is like! Full of helping people, just because they want to help, nothing else.
After 2 weeks of desert I cross over some other mountains and head down, suddenly everything is green, warm and moist! I’m nearing Monterrey and the roads get super busy. The big detour is because I really wanted to be climbing in EPC and I had made a Facebook post to look for partners. One of the people responding was Rancho El Sendero. They really loved what I was doing so hosted me in this great room with a bed, shower and AC! I met lots of great people there to be climbing with and Jan, from Belgium came over to start shooting for a trailer of a documentary. More about that later. We went to visit Escalando Fronteras, an NGO using climbing and education to help young people with a vulnerable background. A very great cause and great to visit them. If you’re interested, visit their website and consider leaving a donation!
After a couple of days of climbing and filming Jan and Javier (from Ohh My Gatas) followed me for 2 days of filming and camping together. In his old volkswagen beetle they followed me making great shots for an upcoming trailer. Many thanks to Javier for helping us out on this one!
From EPC I went straight to the border of the US. A special moment, as I was a bit nervous about this one. It’s probably the most famous and controversial border in the world. After a few easy, but rainy (in the desert!) , days I arrived at the Texan border. I had all paperworks done in advance , but there where a couple of questions before I got in . Mainly the usual ones like why a bike and so one. But once they hear about what I’m doing most question become more out of interest than anything else.
After this crossing I found myself in the desert again, only the roads where getting bigger and I needed some time to adapt. Things got a bit more complicated to camp anywhere as most of the land is private owned, and will include signs like ‘no trespassing, trespassers will be prosecuted’. Sometimes even ‘trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again’. This didn’t give me a lot of confidence for camping, but after a while I found my ways. Camping in parks of little towns seemed very okay to do, even there’s toilets and drinking water. Then again on certain kind of land (BLM) I was able to camp easily anyways. It’s a bit of a challenge, as this country is maybe the closest to Europe in a way, yet so far away as well. I really missed seeing people on the streets and the long sections between towns made that I had to plan really well.
When I arrived in Texas I had about 3 more weeks of desert cycling ahead. This was going to be a real challenge as most of the long stretches had no water resupply and the prospect of headwinds. A couple of great interactions happened on the road, but mainly I found myself just cycling all day long. This is mainly due to the desert region as people want to get from a to b as fast as possible, and I don’t blame them. The heat was getting really hard with temperatures up to 40°C and no shade to find. Mostly I found myself cycling as much as possible as the riding wind gave me some kind of cooling. Whenever I stopped to eat, it became mostly unbearable.
I managed to find a couple of warmshowers hosts who treated me really well and made me forget sometimes of the hard times out in the desert. One day I found it hard to camp somewhere in a village as there were all signs it’s not allowed. Then I continued cycling and after about an hour I saw a huge storm developing. The dark clouds were rotating in front of me and I hoped I would miss it. Well this time it didn’t and suddenly I was caught in high winds and oncoming rain and hail. The hail got the size of golf balls and suddenly there was thunder and lightning, very close! I got pretty scared as there was no way I could hide somewhere. I got to the side of the road and squatted down to the lowest point possible. It was crazy and I wanted to get out of there, the hail was pretty hard. Until a car passes by in the opposite direction, I try to stop him and he does. It’s a border patrol car and allows me in, but first I have to throw the bike in the back of the pickup. I have to do it alone, as the hail is too hard for him to leave the car (which I totally understood). Even his windshield broke of it. 10 minutes later I’m back at the same spot I started before the storm and I wait at a gas station. I felt miserable and alone at that moment. I tried to find a place to camp, but nowhere… Then I decided to continue again after the storm and just at the end of town I saw people in their garden. I asked them if I could camp and they allowed, even I could take a shower and relax….
In the Gila national forrest I found myself riding in the mountains and trees. A beautiful road taking me more remote and just for 2 days out of the desert. I loved it and found some great places to camp. But then one morning I start cycling and after 10 minutes I see a car that crashed into a tree. It looks that it’s there for a while but I decide to take a look. Suddenly I see a body at the drivers seat, face down. I’m slightly panicking and tap on the window but get no response. Then I open the door and smell that this body is there maybe 1 or 2 days. So I close the door and don’t know what to do. There’s no phone reception so I can’t call anyone and I decide to wait for a car to pass. There’s not that many and after a bit of waiting there’s the first one. I try to stop them but they don’t even slow down. I’m surprised as it’s clear there’s been a car crash and a cyclist in need of help. Then a second passes and doesn’t stop either. After the third, which slows down, opens his window and sets off again. I get really angry and don’t understand why people wouldn’t stop for other people in need. So I continue cycling for 30 minutes until I get phone signal and I call 911. They just say they’re coming, I don’t even have to stay there and cycle on, no-one wants to hear my story it seems. I understand people are scared, but does that have to mean we loose our humanity? It still upsets me writing this and I don’t agree with people riding on when someone is obviously in need.
After my pleasant time in Phoenix, where I stayed with Layne and his family, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Better known as Mormons but that’s not completely true. It’s always interesting to meet people from all backgrounds, cultures and religions so I had fun hanging out with them and I was interested and happy they showed me around their life. Then I head out to the desert again and the headwinds as always were messing with me. After a while you learn to deal with it. What I usually try to do is just lower my gears and keep on going. Trying not to get frustrated or fight the winds, just calmly go and I’ll make it. I feel that by doing that I have less frustrations and I arrive maybe a bit later at my goal, I will get there with more mental and physical energy.
The longest stretch I had to to without water was about 160km, but it didn’t work out to be a full day of cycling. So I just took enough water to get me through 2 days, which with this heat is not easy. I’m drinking about 7 liters a day and with making food I nearly have enough. Yet I make it through the last part before entering a more crowded area, Joshua Tree. The road there is quite busy though and people don’t seem to have a lot of patience in the desert. Whenever there’s a car behind me and upcoming traffic, they wouldn’t slow down but just get scary close to me. For these couple of seconds people are risking my life and it makes me furious from time to time.
When I reach Joshua Tree I decide to take a day off , but not to visit the park. There’s just another desert and it can be nice I guess, but after 5 weeks of desert, I had enough of it and needed rest. So I continued cycling to LA, my first goal of this journey. Getting into the valley was pretty hard, there was suddenly no road I was allowed to cycle on, but I did in the end. A 5 (or 6?) Lane highway with crazy headwinds for a few kilometers. It was crazy and I was happy to get off it. Then I drove about 2 days through La, which was surprisingly easy, Komoot gave me a very good route. When I saw I was near the walk of fame, I had to make this 5 minute detour just to see it. Nothing special, but happy I made the detour because I wouldn’t go there otherwise. I cycled to some friends in Thousand Oaks and made my planned stop there for 3 months. I cleaned the bikes, met up with Nele a good friend from my childhood, and got myself ready to get back to Belgium for summer there. I had planned to be in summer in Belgium to get back to Marie, attend some weddings and more. After more than 9 months begin away, I really felt I needed a break, I’ve just had enough of all the sailing and cycling for now.
After about 3 months in Europe, I’ll be back on the bike in the beginning of October to continue cycling north. I’ll make a detour to Yosemite for a couple of weeks of climbing there. The plan is to reach Seattle and head back to Europe again once more for December and Januari. I still have a life in Belgium. Then I’ll be going back to Seattle in februari 2024 where I will cycle in winter through Canada and Alaska. This will be hard as these are dark months over there and very cold. I’m expecting temperatures down to -40 (yes °C or F that’s the same) and icy roads. The reason being is that I will have to start skiing to Denali in the first week of April with Jeroen. Otherwise the snow can become too soft and difficult to ski. Then we plan to ski for 10 days to basecamp and climb Denali in April – May.
Thanks to my sponsors for making this possible!