Sorge & Doerfling Escape to Oaxaca
February in the north finds James Doerfling and Kurt Sorge smack in the middle of a long, frigid winter. The jumps in Kurt’s front yard are hibernating under an unusually deep snowpack, and the motor boat ride across the water from his home over to Nelson is especially choppy and cold. Meanwhile, never ending sub-freezing temperatures in Williams Lake, have James doubled up on long-johns and steadily idling on hot coffee. Diesels don’t like starting up in the cold, neither does the Goat.
As mountain bikers in the north, this seasonal riding hiatus does seem rather involuntary, forced in fact. Stuck amidst snow banks and baklavas, what’s a rider to do? Fat bikes are novel option, so are indoor spin bikes or just doubling that baklava and making the noble mid-winter bike commute to work- cycling is cycling if you’re a cyclist, right? ...Perhaps. However, it’s the ripping descents of summer we yearn for, a far cry from slushy road shoulders and buzzing traffic. A fix for prime-time shredding hits most of us hard come February, when the sun teases mildly higher in the sky. This is especially true in the interior British Columbia hometowns of James and Kurt, where the spoils of world class mountain biking come at the cost of heavy winters.
Reprieve from this bleak and bitter winter existence is a blurred dream. It can be difficult to imagine warm climates existing while shivering away up north in February. Winter or not, we've got to ride. Fortunately for this dilemma, an emerging mountain bike culture and network of incredible trails continues to grow a few thousand miles south in Oaxaca, Mexico- the perfect opportunity to escape the grip of winter, get some suspension testing done for the upcoming year, and replenish the Vitamin D reserves.
Arriving to Oaxaca City, our very excited guide, and owner of Oaxaca Bike Expedition, Javier, scoops us up at the airport. We drop luggage and get straight to work- Javier drags us into our first Mezcalaria. Mezcal, Victorias, and a feast of tlayudas, grilled with a hearty fill of meat and veggies, cover the table almost immediately. Sitting on the dimly lit rooftop patio looking over the city, we absorb our first exposure to this rich Oaxacan culture. Then mistakenly, we take our first glasses of mezcal and shoot them back, to the awe and disgust of the guides and wait staff. "You are supposed to kiss the mezcal. Sip and enjoy it, not slam it back. Stupid gringos." it's explained.
Oopsies...We call for another round to get it right. The delicious food and libations, topped with discussion of our riding plans throughout the surrounding mountains, sets the stage for a very exciting week. The itinerary is pretty simple: wake up, eat, ride, mezcal, repeat.
Right out the gate, the riding proves spectacular. We shuttle up through the forest on seldom used old stone roads reaching the ridge line. Dropping straight into fast, flowing, long, and fairly raw trails, the group's collective amazement is audible as the wildly fun first lap continues. The trails run down different aspects of the mountain, each aspect providing slightly different terrain, and good mix of difficulty. Up high, the small and well dispersed pine trees create an even canopy that coats the forest floor with needles, absent from much other vegetation aside from the frequent, and massive, agave plants. The trails wind between trees and the ever undulating mountainside, into deep gullies, and out onto exposed ridge lines with long vistas over the endless mountains or down to the valley floor. After each new trail we shuttle back up for more.
Between laps we take the time to further dial in the bikes and suspension. For the extra chunky trails coming up, Kurt decides to add an extra volume spacer to both his fork and shock. The spring curve on James's fork feels good to him so he doesn't make any volume changes, but the stanchions are a bit sticky, so he pulls the lowers to clean and grease his Durolux. Some quick love, then it's right back to riding.
The Luchadores. Feeling like the cultural experience of Oaxaca couldn't get any better, Javier and the guides insist on one more in particular that we simply must experience. They take us to the outskirts of Oaxaca on a Sunday afternoon to a small garage-like industrial building where a line is forming outside. Kids chase each other with strange masks while people filter into the building. At the center of the big open room is a ring. We've come to a Lucha Libre match. The term meaning "freestyle wrestling" is massively popular in Mexico, and with good reason. We take our seats as the first matches commence. The energy in the room goes bonkers when the Luchadores (wrestlers) make their grand entrances and climb into the ring. All wearing unique masks and acting out their characters, the entire show is incredibly animated and highly entertaining. Within a few minutes of the first match we are dying laughing as the Luchadores jump around the ring, throwing each other all over the place, and working their moves while the crowd wildly cheers and heckles. The Luchadores are clearly amateur and of all different backgrounds. Whether they're bankers or plumbers during the week, come Sunday evening they trade all that in for bedazzled leotards and masks for their time to shine in ring. When we finally leave the ring after the long series of matches and characters our faces are in pain from laughing so hard. Simply amazing.
We conclude our week of riding and experiencing Oaxaca with one last feast at one of Javier's favorite restaurants, Pitiona. Again on a patio looking over the city, just as we began days before, we now sip our mezcal, like locals, reflecting on the incredible week. When traveling in search of world-class mountain biking the main focus may be on the riding, but to also acquire a unique cultural experience along the way is a very special and fulfilling experience. With our horizons broadened, bodies sore from the countless incredible descents, and sun kissed from the Oaxacan sun we prepare to leave this beautiful place and head back to our respective winter wonderlands. The experience of traveling to Oaxaca, mid-winter, to find truly worthy riding has been beyond everyone's expectation. And talks of next winter's trip have already begun.