Returning to Cuenca Los Ojos: Sarah Swallow’s Otso Voytek and Ruta del Jefe Updates

Ruta del Jefe has officially announced the dates and the new venue – March 21-24, 2024 in Cuenca Los Ojos, Mexico –  for the next edition of this adventure, education, community, and advocacy event. Cuenca Los Ojos is a protected natural area in the Sky Islands of the Mexican state of Sonora, southeast of Agua Prieta/Douglas, Arizona. Daniel Zaid and Karla Robles recently linked up with, organizer Sarah Swallow and, below, document her new new Otso Voytek, which she has been using for scouting the 2024 Ruta Del Jefe route. Additionally, Daniel and Karla share an update on the work Cuenca Los Ojos has been doing to provide the best platform for Ruta del Jefe in advance of the event’s first season south of the border…

In October of last year, Karla and I teamed up with Sarah Swallow and her partner Adam Gaubert to scout a possible new venue for the adventure cycling event Ruta del Jefe, at the conservation ranch Cuenca Los Ojos (CLO). In our shared Reportage from that initial recon trip, we wrote about the unique terrain of Mexico’s Sky Islands where jaguars once roamed. And to recap our impressions of the ranch, after a week of learning about the place, what they do, and riding (oftentimes pushing) our bikes on the roads within the property, the team decided that Cuenca Los Ojos was an excellent site for Ruta del Jefe to happen. This resulted in a long to-do list for both the CLO staff and our scouting team, where one of the main items was that some roads needed to be maintained to make them more bike friendly, without taking away their rugged and remote personality. At the end of April of this year, we went back to CLO for a second scouting mission and to continue the organization of the event.

Six months after our first visit Sarah had partnered with a new bicycle sponsor, I swapped my bike from drops to flat bars (based on my experience from our previous time here), but also, we were told that the roads in CLO had been improved to about 80% of the total requested, and there was even the promise of a road where there was none last time (see here and here). Let’s have a look at Sarah’s new bicycle, then we’ll check if that road really exists.

Sarah’s Otso Voytek

Earlier this year Otso Cycles became Sarah’s new bike sponsor, and they’ve provided her with their different model offerings which Sarah didn’t take long to put to the test, first bringing the Voytek to CLO, and more recently the Fenrir Ti Drop Bar to the Tour Divide. Sarah’s Voytek comes in a carbon fiber frame with a RockShox Pike suspension fork, and can run a wide range of wheel sizes, from 27.5” or 29” plus mountain bike tires to 26” x 4.6” fat tires, making it an excellent platform for exploring the sometimes sandy, often rocky, steep roads in CLO.

Last time I saw Sarah lowering her saddle by opening the seat post clamp; this time it was only a matter of a click via a wireless RockShox Reverb AXS dropper post, with a Fi’zi:k Vento Argo R3 Adaptive saddle featuring a 3D-printed cushioning that if you’re sensitive to surfaces with holes you might not wanna stare at for too long. The shifting is wireless with a 10-52 SRAM Eagle cassette matched to an oval 30T chainring from Wolftooth, providing friendly gears for the 20% plus grade climbs often found in CLO. With 29×2.8″ Teravail Coronado tires there’s still plenty of clearance, and the tuning chip in the dropouts allows for adjustment of the wheelbase length and the bottom bracket height.

On this photo shoot a Tumbleweed’s Persuader handlebar was in charge of steering; I remember Sarah being unsure of leaving it on the bike because she felt she had a very upright position due to the angles on it and she had brought a spare handlebar. She left it on during our stay, but as I was redacting this she told me she now has the Truvativ Descendant Carbon Riser Bar, in favor of better handling on steep climbs.

The Framebag by Rogue Panda

Renowned bag makers at Rogue Panda provided Sarah with a custom frame bag, made with a new material that they’re adding to their line. I sent Rogue Panda a message to ask about it, and Nick took the time to provide a detailed explanation:

“It’s Ultra 200X, which we’re going to add to our product line soon. It’s similar in weight to Dyneema Composite Hybrid fabrics [DCF], but it’s much more durable because the fabric construction is a better fit for bike bags. Basically, both fabrics use UHMWPE fibers (Ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyethylene), but DCF uses them to increase tensile strength, which isn’t very important for bike bags. Ultra fabrics use them in the face fabric to increase abrasion resistance, which matters a lot more for bike bags.

Weight-wise, there’s a 2.92 oz DCF hybrid that’s commonly used. It has a 50-denier polyester face fabric, which is really weak in terms of abrasion. Ultra 200X is 3.5 oz and is tougher by at least a couple orders of magnitude in terms of abrasion.”

CLO Roads Update

One of the rides during our first visit included a three-hour walk through a river bed, and a canyon named Cajón Bonito; we were told there’s usually a road here, but the above-average monsoon season in 2022 had completely washed it out. Making our way through eight kilometers of river, fallen trees, sand, and rocks made us incredulous about the possibilities of a road, but it would be a connector for other rides south of the ranch, so we included it on the list to be maintained. Prior to our arrival in April, they told us the road had been opened, and our curiosity made us head there on our first ride. We found that what once required a three-hour hike-a-bike is now a scenic and shaded 30-minute ride, sandy at times but rideable on chubby tires; still, there were over twenty creek crossings within the first 3km, so if you are hoping to attend RDJ in 2024 be ready for wet feet from the start and to most likely have your bottom bracket serviced after the event.

The other sections we requested needed less work, as we opted that the roads should keep their rugged personality, but even having the rancheros drive them a few times helped in making them more visible.

During the years that Ruta del Jefe was held in its previous location, it acquired a reputation of being an adventure gravel event, with routes that included longer technical segments. I attended the last one and I’d pretty much agree. Now I’m not one to tell anyone what bike to ride for what terrain, but our little team of scouts concluded that a bike with wide rubber and flat bars seems like the most adequate for the terrain in CLO. After a week of riding together, I thought Sarah’s Voytek seemed very fit for the kind of stuff we were doing, although I believe Sarah could make any bike work. Still, having the right tool makes the job more enjoyable, and I know she was having a blast.

Keep an eye on Ruta del Jefe’s Instagram and website for more info!