6th April 2023
Le Tour de Frankie “...Bone-rattling descents”
India Clare has been in Mexico for a few months now, with her MASON ISO. At the beginning of her trip, she spent time living in the Mexican jungle, with a Maya community, and exploring jungle trails and roads in her spare time (you can read her Mexican Jungle Diary blog post here).
She’s since met up with her partner, Stefano Ravizza to ride the Le Tour de Frankie, the first unassisted ultra-cycling race in Mexico. The route takes them an 8OOkm (approx) journey with +12000m elevation, with four checkpoints along the way, and 110 hours to complete the course!
With “bone-rattling descents” and “frightening challenges” we hand you over to India, to see how they’ve been getting on…
Sprawling 2,200m above sea level you will find the oldest capital in the Americas, Mexico City. It has been the backdrop to many historical clashes. It has witnessed the rise and fall of an empire, Spanish ransackings, a Revolution, an earthquake, The Olympics - and its sinking. Amongst the chaos, or perhaps in line with it, this city has housed an array of famous artists, actors, and musicians. Ambling through the hot colourful streets one can see how this city has played part muse part safe haven. The city is littered with museums, liberal murals, and eateries; which add more vibrancy to a city already saturated in it. I was fortunate enough to call it ‘home’ for two weeks before setting off on a brutal bikepacking journey with my boyfriend, Stef.
If you travel, by bike, 800 km south of Mexico City grinding up-and-down the undulating mountains, tyres crackling on the never-ending switchbacks, and swish-swashing through banana trees; you will arrive at the mellow surf town, Puerto Escondido. The town claims its name from a pirate’s captive who went missing in this bay, coining the title, Bay of the Hidden One; evolving over time to become the Hidden Port (Puerto Escondido).
The name blatantly hinted at something more, daring me to come and find out for myself. 750km later, finally spat out by the mountains, we approached the forgivingly flat town, dirty, bloody, and sweaty. Music ebbed and flowed from passing cars, the air thick with salt, spices, and smoke. We had made it.
To me, bikepacking around Mexico sounded like the adventure I needed. Choosing to ignore the soft warnings about rising temperatures in the comments section of bikepacking.com and laughing off sharper warnings from concerned family members. I packed up my MASON ISO and headed to the airport.
Having caught the ultra cycling bug, when I saw Le Tour de Frankie: Infierno del Sur promoted in a cycling café in Mexico I felt the pull. 791km and 12,000m of beautiful gravel roads, this would be the first route we would bike pack.
In an attempt to beat the pollution and the anarchy of people travelling to work, Stef and I set off at 6 am. and were promptly plunged into rush-hour traffic; things obviously start earlier here. Unused to the weight of the bike I wobbled my way through the traffic, quietly questioning what I had signed myself up for.
As the kilometres ticked past, my comfort on the bike increased and soon it felt like the bike was an extension of my own limbs. Showing the smog of Mexico City, my red light we began to climb La Loma, a comparatively small, shallow climb (~10km, 400m). We embarked on the second climb of the day, Paso de Cortés, a comparative Megalodon to the puppy that is La Loma (24km, 1,280m) taking us to the highest point of the route, 3700m.
The romanticised idea of falling asleep between two rumbling volcanoes spurred us on. However, a previous knee injury forced me to hail a colectivo (small van) to boost me to the top. Not worth risking injury on day one.
The proceeding days we found our rhythm to beat the heat. Big breakfast. Pack tent. Ride. Drink. Ride. Arrive. Temperatures easily reached 34℃ by Midday. The gravel terrain varied from sand to big rocks. The roads riddled with potholes and unfenced switchbacks made for a frightening challenge.
By day five, I didn’t feel like dragging my body and my bike over more climbs, without the motivation of a proper shower and a bed. Also having dropped in altitude, the environment became increasingly inhospitable: dogs, snakes, scorpions, and worst of all people. With this in mind, we started staying in hotels. It sounds like this was a recipe for disaster, but Stef is a brilliant riding partner, always seeing the funny side and laughing instead of crying.
However, on the tenth day, we were faced with the toughest climb of the route. After battling up 1500m over 20km, the 35km descent provided no respite. The sun followed us to the other side of the washboard switchbacks, and a bone-rattling descent ensued. Gaining some speed and enjoying skidding around the sharp corners. An oncoming truck forced me to steer into a deep sandy bank, the bike slid out from under me and I landed on a rock. Shaken, scratched, and bruised I limped to the shade trying to steady my breathing.
Stef hailed a pickup truck, which took us to a small village. A generous offer from a stranger to stay in his house saved us a lot of brain energy, and soon enough, we were tucked up in bed, fast asleep.
The next morning we took some local transport the rest of the way to Puerto Escondido, my bruised knee was not ready to pedal the remaining 150km.
Le Tour de Frankie: Infierno del Sur, which translates to “Southern Hell”, is aptly named. I have never felt hotter than grinding up those climbs. The black asphalt is like a radiator, the white gravel like a mirror, we could do nothing to escape the heat, save for stopping, and even then the breeze was hot. The ISO was the perfect steed to take on this route. It compensated for any skill that I lacked in the technical areas, allowing me to roll over almost anything. It is comfortable and quick and I loved riding it. The best part of this route is the unyielding generosity and kindness of the Mexican people. We are excited to discover more of Oaxaca after a couple of weeks of rest.
What a journey India and Stef are having so far with tough conditions, both terrain, and temperatures. We wish India a speedy recovery and look forward to sharing more tales from this epic adventure soon.