The Washington Times - February 21, 2009, 05:56PM

by Nancy Sathre-Vogel, Family on Bikes, special to Donne Tempo Magazine

It was a chain reaction.  You know how it goes – person A tells person B who tells persons C, D, and E.  In our case, that chain reaction resulted in our most unique experiences yet.

Our border adventures began with a simple email on New Year’s Day.  “I’m a cyclist in McAllen,” Al wrote.  “If you will be passing through here on your journey, I’d like to take you all out to dinner.”

 

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Team McAllen and the Cactus Cruisers brought us out to ride the canal system. (Photo/Nancy Sathre-Vogel)

The next email mentioned that Team McAllen, the local cycling club, would like to have a barbeque for us, and that the executive director of Los Caminos del Rio had offered us space in his home.  McAllen was starting to show its true colors.

By the time we actually cycled into McAllen, the entire town had been alerted of our arrival, and we were greeted with more honks and smiles and thumbs-up that we could have imagined.

A mere thirty minutes after arriving at our host’s home, the phone rang.  “Hi Nancy!” Laura, the president of Team McAllen greeted me.  “How about going to a hockey game tonight?  And a barbeque at my house tomorrow?”

And so it was that we found ourselves as honored guests at a professional hockey game and the kids were riding the ice-cleaning machine before the game and during breaks.  We were honored to meet the community of McAllen and swapped stories with them all.

“Could you guys stick around a few days to help promote the valley-wide trail network I’m working on?” Eric asked one day.  “I’d love to get you out there on the canals, but I can’t do it until the weekend.”

Eric Ellman, the Executive Director of Los Caminos del Rio, is working hard to establist a network of hike/bike trails using the vast array of canals in the valley.  We were more than happy to help him in any way possible.

A few days later we headed out onto the canals with a group of fifteen cyclists on a chilly morning and explored the network of waterways.  It became immediately apparent that a high priority item is pedestrian walkways over the roads in order to connect the various segments of canals.  I also recognized right away that the valley could be the premier cycling area of the state if they could only manage to develop the canal network.

 


Looking over the Rio Grande River into Mexico (photo /Nancy Sathre-Vogel)

One of the things I came to appreciate about the people of McAllen was their drive to better their community.  Each time we turned around, we found yet another example of home-grown efforts to improve the lives of those around them.

In addition to the canal trails, Mission Trails, a mountain bike club in the area, has developed a series of single-track trails through the desert.  We had a blast riding the narrow paths through dense cactus and other prickly plants.

Our intended two-day stay in McAllen had somehow stretched into ten days before we finally headed south.  But there was one final treat for us on the US side – the Pump House Museum.

The Hidalgo Pumping Station (Photo/Nancy Sather-Vogel)

A hundred years ago, the entire Rio Grande Valley was nothing but dry, barren desert.  Eventually the vast network of canals was dug and a pump house built to lift water out of the river and deliver it to 40,000 acres of fields.  The pump houses quite literally changed the face of the valley.

Now, the pumps have been converted to an electric system rendering the old steam engines obsolete, and the ancient pump house has been converted to a fascinating museum.

The pump house lies right on the banks of the river, so it was a short jaunt to the bridge over the Rio Grande to Mexico.  Our lives were about to change!

One of the many people we had been privileged to meet in McAllen was Claudio, former head of the motorcycle police brigade in Mexico.  Claudio had offered to help us out in any way he could and we were more than honored to have his help.

As soon as we appeared on the Mexican side of the border, motorcycles appeared out of nowhere to escort us to Claudio’s home for the night.  Our little rag-tag bunch of cyclists looked like backwoods hicks compared to the slick, shiny, powerful motorcycles escorting us through the city, but it was a wonderful experience to have them stop the traffic for us.

The following morning, Claudio showed us the true extent of his magic.  Escorted by two police motorcycles, one police car, and four members of the motorcycle club, we made our way to the mayor’s office where we were officially welcomed to Reynosa and to Mexico.  From there we made our way to a local school, where the principal and all his students welcomed us once again.

I’ll admit we were more than a bit apprehensive about riding through a Mexican city as large as Reynosa, but Claudio had assured us it would be a problem.  I should have listen to him.

Accompanied by our enormous entourage of security personnel, we slowly snaked out way through the city as our escorts stopped traffic.  After thousands of miles of watching traffic and being ultra-careful of cars, it was a bizarre feeling to simply pedal knowing others would stop the traffic for us.

Ninety minutes later, we were on our own.  The city traffic had faded away and a remote, little used, rural road stretched ahead.  Our escorts turned back.

“Are you ready?” I asked John and the boys.  “Mexico is waiting!”

The Vogel Family, a group consisting of Mom and Dad, Nancy and John, and twin-eleven year old boys, Davy and Darryl, are riding from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Tierre del Fuego, Argentina.  To date, they haver reached many milestones and have set world records for Daryl and Davy as the youngest cyclists to complete the Dalton and Alaskan Highway.  Watch their journey here or at Family on Bikes.