Escaping Winter in Oaxaca With Geoff Gulevich

words & photos :: Dane Perras

Oaxaca isn’t the first place you think of when you are planning to ride world-class trails. This bustling town that has been attracting tourists for cultural and culinary experiences has just become a hotspot to those seeking adventure and high speeds on two wheels. Geoff and I were in the midst of a cold wet coastal BC winter, making the most of our days backcountry skiing when the snow and weather conditions lined up.

Plant in Mexico with dew on it and skeletons.
Fresh precipitation lingers on, bringing out the vibrant colours surrounding Oaxaca. A welcome sight for a few riders that feel at home on damp trails.

January saw record precipitation which made it difficult for backcountry travel, and wet cold mountain biking on the shore was growing tiresome. We decided to head to Mexico where Oaxaca Bike Expeditions had graciously offered to show us their finest trails and best cuisine. We were eager to take advantage of some warmer weather.

We had such an unforgettable trip that Geoff had to take home a souvenir – a tattoo of a taco drinking Mezcal, which is a liquor distilled using Agave plants native to the area.

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We arrived at the small airport in Oaxaca and were quickly brought to the Hotel Victoria, our home for the next six nights. Once we dropped our bags we were treated to amazing tacos and ceviche on a terrace overlooking Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, the ever-present catedral in the heart of Oaxaca. That night at the hotel, loud banging noises could be heard in the distance as we fell asleep.

We would later learn that these were fireworks – a nightly occurance. “In Oaxaca we celebrate everything, there is a party every night!” our guide Javier would tell us the next day.

Huicho, the dancing machine, getting the day started off right by packing the cooler full of beverages and snacks at the local general store.
Geoff Gulevich finding his flow in the mist of Ixtepeji.

We woke up the next morning, loaded the bikes and drove into the unknown. With each turn out of town and up towards Ixtepeji, we drove further and further into a veil of clouds. The elevation gain on the drive was intense. Geoff and I knew we were in for something special as we passed through the many ecosystem and the landscape changed from dry valley bottom to fertile forests.

When we arrived at the top of the trail, it was 5 degrees, with fog and light rain. The trails were fast and flowy right off the bat.

Keep the rubber side down, or the cacti and sharp Agave leaves will leave you wishing you did.
The road through Etla provided a colourful gateway towards the high elevation trail networks.

Gully was suitably impressed: “The rumours aren’t exaggerated, I rode trails so smooth and fast I couldn’t believe it. Even though a rain system came through right before we arrived, and levels of grip teetered terrifyingly between unbreakable traction and nothing whatsoever, it was so fun bombing down new trails knowing you had to be ready for anything”

Don’t forget to hug your bike for bringing you to Oaxaca!

The dirt was a mix of tacky soil and greasy sections which kept you on your toes at every corner. We would learn over the next 5 days that these trails networks were expansive with a wide variety of trails that could challenge the best riders in the world. Trails as long as 7km that drop 1400m through 7 different ecosystems.

Beyond the riding, the trip centered around local food and several offerings of Mezcal to soothe the aches of smashing your enduro bike downhill for hours on end.
The Luchadores put on a show for the crowds, a local form of entertainment that is deeply embedded into the culture.

Daily permits were purchased in order to support the trail networks which are maintained by local families and trail building organizations. The trails range from fast and flowy in the pine forests to steep and rowdy ridgeline descents into small towns in the valley bottoms.

There are a wide range of technical trails as well to test your bike handling skills through the loose rocky jank. Don’t leave home without an extra tire and an extra set of brake pads. If you are eager to ride, Javier and his crew will ensure you can get up to 4000m of descending per day with food and cold beer ready for the après.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Mexico without some dry, powdering dirt to smash through as well. Gully trying to play hide and seek with the camera.

Of course we couldn’t leave Oaxaca without a bit of time in town and a few visits to the Mezcalerias to sample their local spirits. Beto, another of our guides informed us of a Luchadores event happening one night.

We arrived and were treated to front row seats, and quickly found out that the show often found its way out of the ring, with wrestlers hurling at each other into the stands. The high energy excitement matched how we felt on the trails and throughout our time in Oaxaca.

Javier, owner at Oaxaca Bike Expeditions, showed us the best of Oaxaca. From vibrant ridgelines to valley bottoms, Javier was prepared for anything and always rallied for another lap.

We had such an unforgettable trip that Geoff had to take home a souvenir – a tattoo of a taco drinking Mezcal, which is a liquor distilled using Agave plants native to the area. This certainly won’t be the last time we find ourselves riding Mexico with Oaxaca Bike Expeditions. —ML