Rough ‘n Tumbling to San Cristóbal

A short backcountry ride that forges a rough 'n tumble passage into the foothills of the Sierra Norte, west of Oaxaca.

In the absence of being able to ride to Cuatro Venados – closed due to COVID-19 restrictions and a missing piece in my Oaxacan jigsaw – we’re consoling ourselves with deeper explorations in the direction of its lower-lying, nearly neighbour, San Cristóbal.

In doing so, we’ve tapped into a rich seam of roughstuff riding, by way of a delightful series of unkept jeep tracks. These lie, often forgotten, between the rural dirt roads that percolate out of the city sprawl and the western flank of the Sierra Norte mountains (ie in the direction of the Pacific coast).

Faint and primitive for the most part, they’re rough and tumble in places, awkward ups and downs in others, maybe a bamboo alley here, perhaps a rocky gulch there, grass up the middle, splish splash over streams. And, like the finest Oaxacan dirt road specimens, they’re really only suited to donkeys, goats and bicycles…

This is the latest version of a loop we’ve been enjoyed a couple of times before, and it’s my favourite rendition so far.

Think loose, whirligig climbs that make no apologies to the faint-hearted. Empty plateaus where birds of prey soar overhead. Sweeping ridgetop views across the Etla Valley, vistas that reach all the way into the big brother peaks of the Sierra Norte beyond. Think to babyhead rocks and no to babysmooth gravel.

It’s based on a track from MTB Oaxaca that Larry shared with me at some point, but we’ve tweaked it into this Rough ‘n Tumble version that I rather like… in part because it makes no attempt to iron out the bumps, both big or small.

Off road handling skills will undoubtedly come in handy, as will knobbly treads. The descent from the highest point of the ride can be an especially tricky little number so watch out! Those crafty water snakes just love grabbing bike tyres as you swoop merrily down amongst the acacias.

Then, mellow roads prevail once more. The final stint of the route unravels into dirt ribbons, back to fast riding and smiles… perhaps even faster (but probably less smiley) than intended should a gang of motley farm dogs take chase.

A splash of colour: the trompet-like petals of a flowering, ornamental Be-still tree. And next to it, its plump yet pokey friend, Pereskia guamacho. Afternoon moisture and midnight downpours bring increasing evidence of floral life to the valley. It seems the full heat of the summer is now tempered by the rainy season’s early arrivals, with candyfloss skies in the valleys and more brooding tones in the high mountains.

Saving the best until last? A creamy paleta, a la Michoacana, in one of the rural settlements on the way back to the city. Note how half a strawberry lies submerged within, surely the very best prize of the day. Me puedes dar dos, por favor. I’ll take two, please!

Track below. Enjoy!

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