Returning Home to Ride Mexico’s Unforgiving Gravel

Returning to his home in Mexico from B.C., Juan finds inspiration and purpose riding gravel and singletrack.
Photos: Juan Francisco Garza Elenes & Patricio Zorrilla

Growing up in Puebla, a relatively large city in South Central Mexico, my friend Patricio Zorrilla and I started mountain biking at 12-years-old. We spent as much time riding bikes as we possibly could. If we were not riding, we were probably watching mountain bike films online. Our favorite ones were always those filmed in the Coastal Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. 

As we got older, we explored more gravity oriented disciplines of the sport. We always said “Once we finish high school, we are moving to Whistler.” It started as a joke but in the summer of 2021, after COVID-19, it finally happened. We arrived in town and rode at the bike park for 30 days straight. Our childhood dream had just started. 

This spring, the idea was a little different. I was in Puebla for a week visiting friends and family. I got my hands on a demo gravel bike, so we decided to extend a typical road ride into a gravel sufferfest but also a trip to a water spring in the middle of the desert. The ride started from my front door. We crossed the biggest mid-size housing complex in the city to get to a two-way road we would follow for about 40km. This road was mostly ups and downs for the first half, while in the other half, we descended into the arid desert of Southern Puebla. 

After settling in Whistler, Pat and I rode together less. We got a glimpse of adult life. Pat focused on his career as a mountain bike coach and hustled to save money to race, whereas I worked full-time in the industry, gaining experience while figuring out a way to stay in Canada and find a pathway toward permanent residency. After living the dream for almost two years, Pat decided to move back to Mexico to race and go to school, while I relocated to Vancouver Island to continue the trail as an immigrant while enjoying the year-round riding possibilities of the region. 

These days, every time Pat and I go riding, we reminisce on the countless races, rides, and riding trips we have done together. These rides usually start like every other ride would, however, they end up being a remarkable mission. Last summer, we started grinding up Sproat Mountain at 3 a.m. to catch the sunrise in the alpine on the world-famous “Lord Of the Squirrels” trail in Whistler. 

After a long stretch of road, we finally put tires on the dirt, descending 7km of fire road in the middle of the desert until we got to San Agustin Ahuehuetla, a small village where the river flows. From there, we rode a janky technical trail that ran parallel to the river for about 5K, a combination of roots, slick river rocks, and loose dirt. This was by far the highlight of the ride. As avid mountain bikers, we had to get jibby on some rock slabs and techy sections; we rode about  95% of the trail up. 

After some type 1 fun, some river crossings, and a flat tire, we arrived at a beautiful waterfall, a popular swimming spot amongst outdoor enthusiasts in the area. We enjoyed a swim in ice-cold water, and after hunger struck, we sat down at a puesto (food stand) to indulge in hand-made quesadillas and Boing, a popular juice drink sold in street food stands & taco places. One of the things I miss about living in Mexico is the quality and accessibility of traditional gastronomy.

After the delicious food, we continued on the trail,  only to realize we had about 47km of mostly uphill riding left; this was when we realized this was a bad idea! 

We grinded up the fire road we had previously blazed down and the sun shined harder. With the temperature rising as the climbs got steeper, dehydration set in. Luckily, after about 15km, we passed through a small village where we stopped for water and more snacks. After a horrific stretch of road with endless climbs, we were back on the main two-way road where we first started. Exhaustion arose, but another quick pit stop at a tiendita or small store provided us enough fuel to keep going until we reached the housing complex. 

This route was many of the hidden epic rides Mexico has to offer. The biodiversity and the variety of terrain the nation has to offer are hard to beat. I am stoked to continue exploring the beauty of my home country while also continuing the trail as an immigrant and professional in Canada. As for my friend Patricio, he rode 20km more that day.

Since he was flying to Europe to race in a couple of weeks, he saw an opportunity to build some more base kilometers for the race season. I truly respect that, when you are young and driven, life is all about moving forward and progressing. That is the reason we have committed our lives to two wheels.