A Family Bike Ride through all of Mexico and more….
Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Nancy Sathre-Vogel of Family on Bikes. She completed a thousand day journey from Alaska to the tip of South America in Argentina. She and her family biked it all.
Her inspirational family journey (http://familyonbikes.org/blog/) is an epic adventure and on it she cycled through Mexico. Not to my surprise she loved Mexico and wanted to talk about her travels there. I asked her a few questions to share with the readership of Mexico Today.
q1) Before we talk about Mexico, tell us what inspired you and your family to chart this 17,300 mile course and bike from Alaska to the tip of South America?
We met some other people cycling from Alaska to Argentina while we were cycling around the USA and decided we wanted to head down to South America too. The REAL question is why were we out there cycling around the USA in the first place? And that is a hard question to answer.
It basically came down to time – my husband and I wanted time together, time with our children, time to enjoy our lives before it was too late. As teachers, we were both spending more time with other people’s kids than our own and decided that needed to change. So we headed out on bikes. (Yes, I know that makes a LOT of sense, but it’s the truth.)
q2) Incredible, so now looking at a map, Mexico must have been a large part of the journey. How many days, weeks, or months did you spend in Mexico?
We spent about two months passing through the country on our Pan American journey and roughly four months cycling there on that trip “around the USA” I referenced above.
q3) So you must definitely understand the country, but let’s start from the beginning, where did you cross the border? And was safety a concern?
There were two distinct journeys through Mexico. In 2007 we entered through Tijuana, cycled the length of Baja, ferried to Mazatlan, then cycled north to Arizona. Then in 2009, we entered at Reynosa near the tip of Texas and cycled the entire east side of the country.
Was safety a concern? Not so much for us. We had been to Mexico before, we knew the people were wonderful. Yes, we knew there was drug violence, but figured it was targeted. WE were not concerned. That said, OTHERS were very concerned. So much so that we came under quite heavy criticism for taking our children south of the border.
As they put it, John and I, as adults, could make the choice to risk our lives by heading into Mexico, but they didn’t feel it was fair to risk our children’s lives. If we crossed the border in Juarez, a city greatly feared amongst many Americans, we would just be feeding them. We caved under the pressure, conceded to public criticism and made the decision to continue south along the border to a smaller, perhaps safer border crossing.
As it turned out, every border crossing we reached was deemed “too dangerous” by THEM. Finally, the stars aligned just right and our lucky star was shining and we managed to score an escort. Not just any escort – Claudio.
Claudio, a local man very involved with motorcycle clubs, managed to line up an entourage to escort us through the border region and then through every single city we passed through.
q4) So you received an escort? A unique experience, how much assistance did your family have in Mexico? Was it needed?
It was incredible. Truly a remarkable experience. The Mexican people went above and beyond to help us out and won the Hospitality Award in a huge way. Every time we were a couple days out of the next city, I hauled out my cell phone preprogrammed with the phone numbers of the presidents of the local motorcycle clubs. They organized themselves and came to help us get through their cities. The motorcyclists helped us find a place to stay (many times in their homes) and arranged interviews and other activities for us. They were wonderful.
Did we NEED the assistance? No. We could easily have passed through the country without their help, but we greatly enjoyed getting to know them. They added a whole new dimension to our journey.
q5) I noticed from your stories on your blog, you had quite an adventure in Veracruz. Tell us what happened? What did you learn about Mexico from it?
We learned that day that people know way more than maps. According to our map, there was a perfectly good road right along the lagoon. To our way of thinking, a remote road along a beautiful lagoon was a much better choice than the main highway. Many local people told us to stick to the main road, but… ummm… we knew better.
We turned away from the main highway and headed back onto what was supposed to be a nice, quaint rural road next to the water. And for the next ten hours pushed our bikes through deep sand and mud puddles up to our knees. Needless to say, we stuck to the main highway after that.
q6) Ouch. You already mentioned the Mexican people are one of the best reasons to travel to Mexico, but so is the food. I imagine you ate some great food while in Mexico. What do you miss? What was your favorite?
Plain ol’ tortillas and beans is one of my son’s favorite food in the world. He was in heaven in Mexico where he had an unlimited supply of fresh tortillas and beans. He frequently brings up the day he walked past a tortilla shop making fresh flour tortillas and the woman handed him a tortilla still hot from the oven. His mouth starts watering at the very thought.
My other son loves tamales and sought out tamales wherever we were. He was always sorely disappointed if we couldn’t find any.
q7) You probably explored more of Mexico than most will in theirlifetime, what place or places would you recommend to travelers searching for a unique Mexican experience not offered in major resort towns?
We enjoyed all of our time there, but I think the most unique part of the country was the Sonora River Valley up in the north near Arizona. The tiny road snaking alongside the Sonora River between Douglas, Arizona and Hermosillo, Sonora wasn’t even on our map. In Google Maps online, we had to zoom in nearly full-on before we could even see the towns – but the road still didn’t show up. Even so, it was a delight to cycle like we had never found before.
All along the valley, we cycled through small, historic towns every 15 or 20 kilometers. The people had smiles ready and beers in their hands. They invited us to lunch and to spend an afternoon in a hot spring. We were welcomed by hundreds of cattle ranchers at their annual meeting, party, and rodeo. We spent a night with one of those backcountry Mexican places you see in the movies – but this one was real. In the morning, he caught a raccoon for his lunch.
The Sonora River Valley reminds me of the “old Mexico” – the Mexico portrayed in the movies. The Wild West experience. Certainly not what you will find in a beach resort.
q8)Very cool. That is still I part of Mexico I need to explore. But, everyone is not biking through the Mexico. So, for those considering a vacation or even an adventure in Mexico, what advice would give?
Go. Do it. Just head south and you are likely to encounter friendly people, great food, and loads of fun. Honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with Mexico. The variety is enormous and each section is unique so there is no end to what you could do.
q9) Thanks Nancy, that is great to know and hear that from you, someone who has biked all over the world really appreciates Mexico. So, now for everyone interested in learning more about your Mexican adventures and your entire trip, where can they find you online?
We have a blog and extensive resource section at www.familyonbikes.org Our journal from our entire bike journey from Alaska to Argentina is on there, along with loads of information to encourage and inspire people to pursue their passion and follow their dreams.
Ok, great. Thanks again.
- Craig Zabransky