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Old 04-13-2009, 10:24 PM   #1
DantesDame OP
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Joined: Aug 2004
Location: Basel, Switzerland
Oddometer: 1,780
Copper Canyon in the dry season. Right.

Mexico, Take Two
Many people had warned me about the dangers of traveling to Mexico at this time, especially for someone traveling alone and on a motorcycle. The borders were rumored to be rife with murders and drug cartels were fighting for supremacy. But I wasn’t planning on staying near the borders – I only had to be there long enough to get my paperwork in order and then I’d be gone, deep into the interior where the locals were friendly and helpful. Friends and family questioned my intentions, some of them sending me helpful official US Government warnings. But as with most people, they only know what they see on the 11 o’clock news, and we all know they only report on the bad news. I took their cautions under advisement but did not let them deter me. I had done a lot of research for this trip and I had a list of places and things that I wanted to see. Almost all of them were in the Copper Canyon area, far away from the border and known as a haven for tourists. It would be safer than taking a commuter train to Oakland, CA.

March 6-15, 2009
Total Miles: 3,422 miles
Mountain View, CA to Copper Canyon (Mexico)
Tickets: 0
Mishaps: 0
Puckers: dozens


View Larger Map
This is the route through the States from home to Douglas, AZ

Photo note: some of the photos were taken with my 2nd camera "on the fly", if you will. This lead to some blurry, not centered photos, some with gloved fingers interferring. I included these photos anyway because I felt that they give another glimpse of what one sees while zipping down a Mexican road.

Day 1 – Friday 392 miles
I had my bags packed and ready to go the night before I was to depart. I left work a little early on Friday, threw the bags on the KLR and immediately hopped on I-5 south to Anaheim. The ride, as usual, was uneventful. But spring was in the air and before the sun set into the western sky I could see the orchards full of blossoms, the dainty white petals covering the ground beneath like a fine layer of snow. Honeybee boxes had been strategically placed to encourage proper pollination and a plentiful crop. But not much else sparked my interest and it was only a matter of following the GPS for a few hours before I finally arrived at my friends’ house in Anaheim. Robert and Trina greeted me warmly and we settled in for a short evening before retiring for the night.
Robert, Trina and Audry
Day 2– Saturday 531 miles
The next day being Saturday, Robert offered to take me on some interesting roads on my way east. I was heading for Tucson, AZ and I had no particular agenda. The two of us set out in a southeastern direction, following the interstates while Robert pointed out the scenery where wildfires raged just a few months ago. The number of lanes diminished and soon we were on a nice two-lane road that rolled through the countryside. A turnoff a few miles later led us up Palomar Mountain and to Mother’s, a famous local restaurant and motorcycle hangout at the top of the mountain. Robert, who knew the road and his limits much better than I did, took off while I dawdled along behind him. I eventually reached the top and together we had a nice breakfast and watched the sport bike riders come and go. Afterwards we headed down the other (“fast”) side of the mountain, where the road doesn’t twist quite so much and speeds were held a little higher. Robert remarked a number of times about how unusually green everything was, what with recent rains and the early springtime. Deciding to take advantage of this rare weather phenomenon, we took a slight detour to visit Borrego Springs. Rumor had it that this was to be a “100 year bloom” where the valleys would be full of beautiful desert flowers. We descended down into the valley, temperatures rising slightly as we came down the open and rocky mountain face. There wasn’t a lot of color to be seen, but perhaps it was tucked in a canyon somewhere at the bottom. We stopped at a gas station to ask and the attendant was kind enough to give us incredibly vague directions. Robert and I meandered around straight, un-blooming roads, looking for any hint of spring color. We eventually ended up at a large metal sculpture in a field with many cars parked around it. People were walking around, some with large and unwieldy cameras, and we decided that this must be the place. We parked the bikes and walked along the sandy tracks. Only up close could one really get a sense of the individual beauty that was happening in this desert oasis. Flowers for which I have no name or knowledge of were blooming, their tiny heads sitting low over the warm ground. Not a grand show of nature, but a subtle one at least.
View from Palomar Mountain
The east side of Palomar
Borrego Springs
The highway down to the valley
The town of Borrego Springs
Flowers
More flowers
Weird sculptures
Sculpture detail
Sculpture detail
Bike amongst the flowers
Close-up of a cool plant
Glowing cactus!
Robert and I with the bikes
Ocatillo plant
Bike near some more ocatillo plants
At this point Robert had to head back and I needed to continue east. I had made arrangements to stay with someone from ADV in Tucson and I didn’t want to be rude and show up in the middle of the night. I continued east to the Salton Sea and then followed the coast to Brawley (which has a very nice city hall) and Yuma before being regulated to I-8 across the desert. I looked for things to amuse me along the way, enjoying the acrobatics of a crop duster as it flew low over a field before it rose up and banked hard to start another pass. Later, I watched ORVs make their way across silky sand dunes, the vehicles’ tall orange flags waving in the breeze. The Border Patrol had set up shop along this route, it being just a few miles from the Mexican border. I felt that their actions were a waste of time and money, but what is one to do? I kept on riding.

Not wanting to impose on my future hosts, I made a quick stop for dinner at a Casa Grande truck stop. The food was mediocre, the service was slow and the water tasted awful. Other than the break it gave me from being on the bike, it was not worth stopping for. I eventually reached Tucson, and thanks to the GPS, I found Bill’s house without any trouble. I was very tired at this point, as the KLR is not the ideal bike to ride for hours on a straight road at high speeds, and my bum was glad to get off the stock seat. Also, my knees were slightly sore from the restricted space I have to position them in and it felt good to stretch out my legs. Bill and his wife were very friendly and let me just sit and recover a little bit before calling it a night.
Dunes near Mohawk, AZ
I-8 in Arizona
Day 3 – Sunday 263 miles
Sunday morning was bright and hazy, a perfect day for riding. Bill made some road suggestions to get to the border crossing at Douglas and I was eager to check them out. The roads ran through Arizona’s “Wine Country” and having come from California’s “Wine Country”, I was curious as to what I’d see. What I didn’t see was anything that remotely resembled what I knew of wine country. Instead there were some scrubby hills, a few nice twists and turns early on (it always pays to take the road marked “Old” before the name) and eventually some wide open grazing lands. I noticed a sign in a field, rather unofficial looking that read “Grazing prevents wild fires”. The irony of the sign in that barren, overgrazed pasture was not lost on me.

There were a couple of other motorcyclists on the roads with me, not surprising since it was such a lovely Sunday morning. I followed a couple of cruisers through wide-open fields with short rocky hills in the distance. I was on my way to Tombstone. Not quite “on the way”, but a short enough detour to warrant my taking the time to see the infamous Western town. The town itself was very well preserved, with the main street blocked off from vehicle traffic and still unpaved. Garbed historical actors kicked up dust as they prepared for their “Gunfight Daily!” show. I can’t imagine the joy that it must be to kill the same person, day after day. A few tourists wandered around the wooden sidewalks and I went back to my bike. It was time to head for the border.

Homes outside of Tucson, AZ
Old Sonoita Highway
Plantlife along the way
Views along Hwy 83 in Arizona
Tombstone, AZ
City Hall in Tombstone
Downtown Tombstone
Locals in Tombstone
The road south of Tombstone was surprisingly interesting. The hills had heavy geological striations and slight variations in color. The earth on either side crowded in close until I was riding through a narrow, rocky canyon, the red rock face exposed to the sun. Suddenly I was in Bisbee, a quaint looking town stuck to the sides of the canyon. Buildings perched precariously upon the rock walls and the streets wound narrow along the canyon floor. My viewpoint from the main road allowed me to look upon the town as an oversized miniature and it would be easy to imagine a model train running through the middle of it all. On the other side of the town was the key to its prosperity: a massive open pit mine. I stopped for some photos, but without reference, it is difficult to imagine the scale of this operation.
Highway 80 south of Tombstone
Bisbee, AZ
Bisbee, AZ
Determined house-building
Lavendar Pit Mine in Bisbee
Lavendar Pit Mine in Bisbee
The road from Bisbee to Douglas is beyond unremarkable. It is straight and with nothing of interest along the sides. The last 10 miles have been built up into some Grand Entrance, with the road widened into two lanes in each direction, a boulevard down the middle and massive streetlights curving overhead. The town did not deserve this welcome, as it was a small, dirty place whose only claim to fame was as a well-used border crossing into Mexico.

It had been recommended to me to change my dollars into pesos before crossing the border, as it was generally easier on the American side. What I didn’t take into account was that today was Sunday and any change house or bank would be closed. I stopped at a couple of places but found nothing open. I decided that I’d find a way on the other side and proceeded to cross into Mexico. When I did cross over, I found that the exchange house was right across the street and the rate was a nice 14 cents on the peso. My American money looked very impressive in pesos.

The border crossing at Douglas was much easier than the one in Tecate. In Tecate, there were three different buildings that had to be visited in order to get all of the Tourist Visa and vehicle importation paperwork taken care of, plus some running back and forth as stamps and copies were procured. At Douglas, all three offices were located in the same building, all windows open within 50 feet of each other. While they didn’t speak much English, they managed to let me know what I needed to do and I spent a few minutes filling out paperwork and handing over various copies and forms. An American gentleman was behind me, doing the same thing and we struck up a conversation. He made suggestions on roads and towns, saying that he comes down here often and knows the area well. After 20 or 30 minutes, I finally had my papers in order, an Importation sticker on my bike and I was ready to go.
Douglas/Aqua Prieta border crossing
My bike waits for me at the border
Signage in Mexico, at least within the towns themselves, leaves a lot to be desired. I headed south, or so I guessed, and hoped that I was on the right route. A little zigzagging eventually took me a to a highly trafficked road that seemed to be about right. Sure enough, a couple of miles later I saw a sign for Mex 17 – the road that was recommended to me and the one that I wanted to take. I had originally planned on taking Mex 2 southeast towards Chihuahua, but on a whim I figured that this would be more interesting, and I could then cross over later to reach Nuevo Casas Grandes and Madera, two of the places on my list of things to see and do while I was here. The road was fast and wide open. There was very little traffic and I could see far into the distance, the sky heavy with clouds as they met with the mountains in front of me. There was a steady wind from the west and the air was slightly cool, but not uncomfortable at my speed. I was heading for the mountains, but it would be a long time before I reached them. Instead, I reached a Police check station. They didn’t bother to ask to see my papers (I assumed that having the Vehicle sticker on the bike told them I had everything else they would need to see) but instead asked me in Spanish where I was headed. Using my own meager Spanish and my map, I showed them my proposed course: head south on 17 for a while longer and then take one of the small roads to the east towards Nuevo Casa Grande. They frowned slightly. They told me that I shouldn’t go that way; that it would be dangerous. I don’t know if they meant dangerous as in “bad roads” or dangerous as in “robbers”, but I figure that it didn’t really matter: if the Mexican guards said it was dangerous, then it must be dangerous. I thanked them, inspected the map and continued south on Mex 17.

The road was fast and straight. I passed through some very small, poor looking towns, barely big enough to be considered “towns”. There might have been 6 or 7 buildings clustered around the road. Frequently along the side of the road would be a shrine of sorts. In America, some people will place a simple wooden cross at the site of where a loved one died in an accident. But in Mexico they take this idea to a whole new level. Shrines were everywhere and would consist of anything from a white painted cross, loaded with plastic (or maybe even real) flowers, to entire buildings built to house candles, photos and vases of flowers. Elaborate paintings might accompany such a shrine, or be painted on the raw rock face nearby. Fences, white-painted stones – the grieving families let it be known how much they missed the departed soul.
Road-side shrine
Road-side shrine
Road-side shrine
A more elaborate oad-side shrine
Inside the shrine
Heading south on Mex 17
Most of the landscape in this area was dry, desert scrublands. Some evidence of agriculture existed, especially once I started to follow a river. I approached a pick-up truck driving my way and couldn’t quite figure out what he was hauling in the back until I passed him: he had two very large steer in the bed of the truck but one of the poor creatures had slipped and was resting on his haunches while one hoof dangled out the back, rhythmically bouncing on the pavement. There being nothing I could do, I kept on going.

During one straight stretch, with thick brambles on either side of the road, I saw someone jump up from the edge of the road ahead of me. He was on the opposite side of the road and started to walk across the road, all the while frantically waving his arms up and down, as though asking me to stop. It being my nature to help others, I immediately rolled off the throttle. He was still a ways ahead of me and I quickly scanned the situation: a long, lonely stretch of road, no houses nearby, no other vehicles near by, “something” (person or large bag – I didn’t take the time to verify) lumped on the ground near where he sprang up from and more than likely, nothing I could do to help anyway. I shook my head as warning that I wasn’t stopping and that he should move. I rolled back on the throttle to zip by him as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, he spent this entire time still waving his arms and walking across the road. By the time I was getting to the point of no return I had a serious choice to make: do I go around him to my right on what little pavement is left (recall that most Mexican roads have no shoulder and drop off immediately to grass, dirt, rocks, shrubs – whatever is handy) or do I scoot by him on my left, hoping that he doesn’t follow human nature and jump back from my speeding bike? I chose to go to the right. I guess that I had about 3’ of space left – not a lot when you consider how wide the bars are on the bike and that he’s still waving his arms. As I passed by him he was in mid-swing, his hand coming up quickly and glancing off my hand guard, knocking my mirror back and hitting me on the upper arm. My hand never left the bar and the bike held steady; I kept on going and never looked back.

Continuing on Mex 17
Views along Mex 17
Typical cemetery in Mexico
The cemeteries usually look better than the houses
River along Mex 17
Looking back the way I came along Mex 17
Around 4 o’clock I reached the town of Moctezuma. This was shown to be a pretty good-size town and it turned out that it was. But that night, in the section I was in, it looked tidy but small. I could only find one motel and one official restaurant. I couldn’t go any further that night, as I needed to do some research on the roads that I intended to take on the next leg and besides, it was starting to rain. I rode through the main section of town from one end to the other. I casually noted that many locals ran the one stop sign and the unusual group of locals sitting and standing under a makeshift tarp while someone stood by his hot dog cart. I finally returned to the solitary motel I had seen earlier which looked surprisingly neat and tidy.

I pulled up and opened the door to the attached restaurant (ah ha! I hadn’t noticed this on the first time through) but no one was inside. However someone soon showed up and took my request for a room. For only $300 pesos I could have my own well-appointed room, hot water and the softest and warmest blankets I found all trip. It was a deal. I parked the bike near the door, unloaded my gear, changed into something more comfortable and proceeded to explore the town on foot.
The town itself was cleaner than most towns and everyone I met was very friendly. There were the requisite stray dogs and the occasional chicken, but no cats. It turned out that the crowd under the tarps was there for an upcoming election, the hot dog vendor had tasty bacon-wrapped with grilled onion hot dogs and the local store sold Hershey bars by the 6-pack. Not a bad haul for the night.
When I returned, I found the motel family working around the property and I asked the father about the roads that I wanted to take the next morning. He and his wife spoke no English whatsoever, but their son Orlando was very fluent and helpful. The three of us discussed the various roads and towns I would find if I were to continue south instead of going west towards Hermosillo and they assured me that it would be ok, although there might be some dirt along the way. They encouraged me to talk to them in the morning and they would show me which road to take south of town so that I was on my way. The rest of the evening was quiet, with me reading a book and listening to the rain pour down outside.

Nice hotel in Moctazuma
Room #3, please
Stray dog
Nothing to investigate, I'd presume?
Election time!
One bacon-wrapped hot dog, please
Painting the truck
Unfinished structure
Walls - check. Paint - check. Logo - check. Roof? Eventually.
__________________
You don't know unless you ask.

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DantesDame screwed with this post 04-13-2009 at 10:34 PM
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Old 04-13-2009, 10:24 PM   #2
DantesDame OP
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Joined: Aug 2004
Location: Basel, Switzerland
Oddometer: 1,780
Day 4 – Monday 252 miles
When I woke up the next morning it was still raining and I packed the bike quietly and donned my rain gear. I found one of the family members, but soon found out that Orlando had already gone to school. How was I to get my directions now? The mother then indicated that I was to follow her, as she got into her pick-up and started to drive south (blowing through the stop sign, of course).

We wound our way through some very wet streets, bouncing through hidden potholes and generally making a grand mess of things. I saw another motel along the way, but the one I stayed at looked much nicer. Besides, I was getting a lead out of town; how can you beat that? As we left the town behind the hostess eventually pulled over to the side of the road, an intersection jutting off to the right. I pulled up next to her window and she indicated that I was to go that way. I thanked her profusely and pulled away, heading towards lumpy mountains reaching for low-hanging clouds.

South of Moctezuma
Straight roads and overcast skies
The pavement was good but wet. The mountains kept their distance as I found an arrow-straight road in front of me. I was just a few miles from town but I already felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. A well-maintained dirt track on my right, complete with starting gates, indicated that horse racing was a popular pastime for the locals. Eventually the road reached the mountains and as I gained elevation the pavement twisted and turned. The rain, which had tapered off in the flatlands, was starting to come back but I still had good visibility and could take in the scenic scrublands around me. I was very pleased that I had brought my contacts along for this trip, as dealing with fogging glasses and raindrops would have been almost impossible. There was a particular tree that I noticed dotting the hillsides, notable because of the large white puffy material it produced, I could see the white balls of fluff dotting hillside after hillside and I found it fascinating.

Because of the wet and unknown roads, I kept my speed down to 40mph, making this mountainous stretch last a lot longer than I had anticipated. I finally reached the town of Sahuaripa, a key point on my travels south. I stopped in the town itself to see what items of interest it held, but other than being uncommonly neat and clean, and having a large rodeo ring, it was unremarkable. I did find an Internet café and sent a quick note off to Dan before heading back out into the rain.

Getting closer to the mountains
Looking back on the road
"Fluffball tree!"
Close-up of the fluff
Snaking my way through the mountains
Clouds added for dramatic effect
There were a few other small towns I passed through or near – one of them I never did learn the name of, despite getting lost while going through it. It had a beautiful square and church and the space was lively with children playing under the blossoming trees. I was hoping to find more central zones like this, but on a much nicer day. As it was, I got some directions (barely) and managed to get to the other side of town and continue on my way.

The road had dropped down into a sort of lowlands, following a river where I saw large cranes and herons flapping low along the surface. Along the sides of the road was a tree that held what looked like a watermelon. The fruit looked to be about 6” in diameter and had the peculiar green and white stripes of a young watermelon. It was hours later before I stopped again. After miles of ups and downs and intermittent rain I had finally reached Mex 16. This would be the end of the slow back roads and I could finally make some time - or so I thought.

River along the way
Good grazing at the side of the road
Notice how the arrow is missing - I had to stop and check my map
Another nice cemetery
Sahuaripa
Internet!!!
Typical Mexican street
More Sahuaripa
More Sahuaripa streets
A very nice looking hotel in the middle of town
The hotel's yard
Leaving town - which way to go?
Mission in an unknown town
Square across the street from the Mission
Kids playing in the square
Bridge south of town
Almost to Mex 16
Mexican house
Mexican house
Mexican house
"Watermelon tree!"
Dam near Guisamopa
Looking back
Visible raindrops in the puddles
Coatimundi (for my roadkill photo, click here - warning given!!!)
One of many, many rockslides
More cloudy views
Muddy detour
It turned out that Mex 16 was in a lot worse shape that I remembered from when I had been on it years before. Between the bumps and the potholes and the rain, I was lucky to break 40mph. There were large trucks hauling just about anything through the mountains, but mostly loads of lumber. I could see one truck grinding up the mountain ahead of me and assumed that I’d catch up to it eventually. That time came even sooner than I expected when I rounded a corner only to find the driver waving me to slow down. Apparently he was hauling some cattle and the tailgate had fallen off of his truck. When I reached him, he was dragging it across the road to put back on behind the animals. At least he didn’t hit me as I went by. It was also during this section of road that I noticed that my voltmeter flickered and died, as did my heated grips. By default my auxiliary lights were also out and as I found out later, so was my headlight. Apparently something had worked itself loose at the front of the bike. And this road also ensured the demise of my fork deals. Sure, they were leaking slightly when I left San Francisco, but by the time I stopped for lunch in Yecora there was more oil dripping on the outside of the fork than there was inside it.

I hadn’t been on Mex 16 long when I saw the first sign warning that there would be a military inspection point ahead. This didn’t concern me, as the Federales have always been very polite when I went through their checkpoints on my prior trip. This stop turned out to be no different, with them asking me only where I was from and where I was headed. They then asked me to open my bags, which they barely even looked inside of, before waving me through. The worst part about the entire stop was the dogs that chased me as I was leaving. The military had laid down very high and steep dirt berms across the road and I couldn’t take them as fast I would take normal topes. This gave the 3 or 4 dogs an easy target as they barked and snapped at me.

Near Santa Rosa on Mex 16
New sign? Old sign? Why not both?
Wet views on Mex 16
Mex 16 continued to pound my bike and me for another two hours before I reached Yecora. Someone had told me that Yecora was a beautiful place, but not today. The rain had started in earnest when I reached Mex 16 and it hadn’t let up since. My boots were mini swamps, my gloves were soaked and I was sick of being cold. I rolled up and down the muddy roads of the town, looking for an inviting, warm restaurant to take a break in. The only one I could find was back out along the main road. As I made my way back to it a modern pick-up truck flew up on my right and blew through the stop sign. I managed to slide the bike to a stop, the rear wheel kicking out sideways on the wet pavement, and the driver never even hesitated. I’d have to watch these stop signs.

There was a small shed/concession stand like structure near the restaurant and I parked my bike under it, a vain attempt to keep it somewhat dry. What I hadn’t noticed was the tiny puppy tied up inside this shed, now cowering from my noisy bike. I quickly pushed the bike far from him and said some words in a calming voice. I went inside and tied to order a burrito, but the woman taking my order didn’t seem to understand me, as she came out later with a large bowl of soup. Burrito? Soup? No, they’re nothing alike. But the soup was very tasty with large hunks of vegetables and some rather scary looking but meaty rib bones. I ate the soup and then smuggled a rib bone out to the puppy. I also gave it some water (it was hard to believe that in the middle of all of this rain that the creature had no water at all) and then continued on my way, heading for Basaseachi. As I left Yecora I chuckled at an odd sight: horses grazed freely on the left side of the road, cows were on the right, and off in the pasture was a dog. It was though the locals didn’t know where to put their animals. Fortunately from here on out, the roads were smoother and a little more open and it only took me another four hours to get to a good stopping point for the night.

Streets of Yecora
Lunch
A dry spot for the bike
Puppy!
I had stayed in Basaseachi once before, in a tiny 100 peso room with a wood-burning fireplace. I dreamt of this same place but was disappointed when they didn’t have room available. I went next door and found a tiny room with an electric heater for 200 pesos. It would do. I unpacked everything I had and hung it around the room, hoping that it might dry somewhat before I had to put it all back on the next morning. The town, if you can call it as such, is merely a strip of mud that runs from the highway to Basaseachi Falls, just a couple of miles away. I ventured out into the rain to see what I could find of interest, but other than picking out an orange to eat later, I came back to my room with nothing else.

Restaurant and main building
My room was behind the two windows on the left
Hanging stuff out to dry

Day 5 – Tuesday 140 miles
I listened from the warmth of my bed as the rain pour down outside. It hammered loudly on the metal roof over the doorway, amplifying the true quantity that was pelting down. I dreaded getting up, putting on my damp gear and getting back on the bike. As I lay there I listened to the construction workers load up their trucks and pull out of the lot, honking and calling out as they did so. Then complete silence once again. But wait – complete silence? Full of optimism, I jumped out of bed and looked out the window: not exactly blue skies, but at least the rain had stopped. It was quarter after 6 when I stuffed my belongings back into their bags, pleased at how dry most of it was. I went over to the main building and despite verifying the correct words in my dictionary, I still stumbled on how to ask for two plastic grocery bags. I wanted to put them on my feet, seeing as the boots didn’t dry at all over night. Eventually I got my point across, mostly by pointing to a couple of bags and then myself, and walked out with a couple of bags for my feet. By the time I had everything packed and my gear on, it had started to rain again.

I left Basaseachi in a heavy drizzle, first doubling back a few miles to the last gas station I had passed the night before. After filling up, I went back to Mex 16 and turned east once again. Fortunately the road was in much better shape and I could maintain a normal pace. Heavy clouds and dark skies obscured the view. Where on a clear day I might have pulled over for half a dozen photos, I was not enticed to do so at all today. I kept on riding.

The usually dry pinewoods soaked up the moisture and the rocks glistened. There were few towns along the way and I trundled along with my cold, wet hands and feet, watching the miles go by. According to my map, there was a road that would save me quite a few miles on my way to Creel. I would appreciate that today. I kept an eye out of for the turn for San Juanito and felt relieved when I finally saw it. But as I stopped to verify the town names indicated on the sign as they compared to my map, I saw a second sign, one that directed me to stay on Mex 16. This didn’t seem right, but it was a big, new-looking sign and my map was, well, not an official road map. I stayed on Mex 16.

Hours of tree-covered hills
Dropping down into the flatlands
I eventually realized that I should have indeed taken the mis-marked turn now miles behind me. But it was too late to bother backtracking and besides, the rain was starting to let up. The road wound itself nicely through the mountains, opening up slightly as it did so. I soon saw open fields and pastures and the occasional signs of inhabitation. The sun hinted that it might make an appearance and I encouraged it to come out. I could even see a halo of blue sky hovering low in the northwest and I hoped that the wind would push the remaining clouds out of my path.

A couple more miles passed through dense pine forests before I was given a view: miles of flat lands with a couple of mesas to break up the monotony. This seemed odd, as I was expecting the more dramatic geology of Copper Canyon, not a prairie. This must be part of the route though, as there hadn’t been any roads heading south for a very long time. I kept on going, distracting myself with the blue band in the sky behind me and the ominous clouds to the south of me. I passed a large, well-signed junction and checked it with my map. If that junction was the one I thought it was, then I had missed yet another turn off. This was getting ridiculous. I pulled over and studied my map. I turned on the GPS, but it continued to be useless and only showed me major Mexican highways or the individual streets of big cities. It did not show me the road I was looking for to Creel. I turned around and went back to the junction and found a pick-up truck parked alongside the road. I parked my bike and walked to the driver’s side door, where I could see two men sitting inside. They opened the window and, using my map and limited Spanish understanding, they reassured me that the road I was looking for was just a few more kilometers down the road.

True to their word, five kilometers later I came upon a large sign announcing the turn to Creel. Now the blue sky was to my right and easily visible, but it wasn’t to get any nearer. The rain had tapered off, but now I was getting soaked from a different source: passing traffic kicked up an enormous amount of road spray that swept over me every time someone drove by, which was more often than I would have thought possible in this empty and wide-open farmland.

As I left the farmland behind me, the mountains returned. The valleys were wide and frequently filled with rough Mexican homes and buildings. I saw the railroad tracks that lead from Creel to Chihuahua, thinking about the tourist trains that run through here and what it must be like inside a dry and warm rail car. I reached Santa Juanito, a large and bustling town, and saw the road that I should have come in on. I stopped for fuel before making the final leg to Creel. It was still early in the day and I had hopes of getting to Batopilas that night. But then those dark and ominous clouds opened up and the rain came pouring down again.

Heading south towards Creel
A dry shed to take a break in
I pulled into Creel amid a deluge. The streets ran tan with mud and water and the water flowed across the pavement. I slowly cruised along the main street, wondering where to stop. Off to one side was an enormous three-sided shed with a corrugated roof. The only thing inside was a trailer full of what looked like dry corn stalks and some windblown litter. I crossed a river of mud and rode my bike under the protective covering. I stood there, watching the wind slant the rain across the opening and wondering what to do next. I decided to explore some more, as I noticed a parallel area of the town that I had missed. I backtracked and found a way to cross over the railroad tracks and found myself in the more touristy area of the town. Colorful storefronts proclaimed that they had authentic Tarahumara arts and crafts inside while motels abounded and a few straggling tourists huddled under overhangs. I rode from one end of the tourist district to the other and back again. I stopped at one small store and bought two pairs of socks, knowing that all of the pairs I had brought with me were soaking wet and having dry feet would be greatly appreciated. I noticed an Internet café and decided to check my email while procrastinating on making a decision on what to do next. While in there, I spoke with an American tourist who had just come from Batopilas via the tour bus. She said that the ride to the bottom of the canyon was about 6 hours and that with all of the rain, surely the dirt road 2/3rds of the way down would be a complete quagmire of slippery mud. She did not paint a good picture for the success of my reaching Batopilas that day. It was already noon and the sun would set around 6:15; add to that the rain and the mud and the uncertainty of what I’d find at the bottom of the canyon? I decided to get a room and stay put. I could dry my things, do a little shopping and then make a plan of attack for the next day.

I found a hostel for 100 pesos; a stellar deal that even included dinner and breakfast. But the best part of the hostel was the washer and dryer they had on the premises. I didn’t need the washer, but I put just about everything I had into the dryer. I had changed into warm and dry clothes, pulled out my maps and considered my options. They looked meager; I’d have to do some investigation this afternoon. I loathed the idea of sitting in one place for an entire afternoon, especially considering the driving rain that made any sightseeing unmemorable.

My hostel next to the church
My room
Courtyard of the hostel
Local girl walks by a nice Mexican house
Once my stuff was dry, I put on my jacket and went out into the rain. I found the cyber café and emailed Dan that I was going to stay put for the day so that he didn’t worry about me. Then I found an interesting shop: through the windows I could see 8 small tables, each one with a sewing machine on it. The walls were lined with shelves full of material and thread. Finished shirts hung randomly around the room and one person was diligently moving around inside. I let myself in and managed to convey what I wanted done, which was to add a small length of fabric and Velcro to the neck flap of my jacket so that it would actually reach the other half of the Velcro when I tried to closed it. She did this, as well as re-attach some loose Velcro on the sleeves, all for a paltry 20 pesos. I thanked her profusely before heading back out into the monsoon. I had difficulty in crossing the streets as the water was inches deep as it flowed by, covering the pavement from curb to curb. I had brought my summer sneakers with their well-vented construction so that I would stay comfortable while hiking around in the warm sun. Instead, they let in the water if I didn’t choose my steps carefully enough.

Eventually I met Bob. Bob is an American who lives in Creel and Mazatlan (as well as “in the States”) and knew the town very well. He proceeded to buy me a hot chocolate and explain to me about the town, the people and – with my insistence – what the story was behind the recent murders in the area. It is questionable as to just what Bob does, as he stated that he has no job, but works for various shops yet gets no money. He had an uncomfortably close association with the recently murdered local victims, explaining how it was all due to the cocaine people wanting to take over the marijuana people’s business. He knew all of the victims very well, knowing their names and calling them friends. The more I listened to him, the more I realized that being seen with Bob might not be a good idea. I excused myself, saying that I was tired and was going to have a nap.

Local sewing shop
Seamstress saves the day!
One good thing that Bob did before I left was to introduce me to the owner of Three Amigos Tours. Simon spoke good English and knew the area very well. The plan of attack for the next day relied heavily on local knowledge, and local knowledge that wasn’t wrapped up in Spanish. I showed Simon my maps and he showed me his. I had three options: retreat north back up to Mex 16 and west to Hermosillo (something I loathed to do); go east to Batopilas and then ford a river to reach Choix; or go south towards Urique and cross a bridge to Choix.

Obviously going back to Mex 16 was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. I had just come from there and quite honestly, it wasn’t that interesting the first time (especially in the rain). Not to mention that the pavement west of Yecora was something I didn’t know if I could tolerate again. The Batopilas route was interesting to me, as Batopilas was the site of a lot of interesting areas I had wanted to see and made up the majority of my List. But while the first part of the road was paved, the second part wasn’t. The tourist’s comments from earlier that day about slick mud still haunted me, and the idea of fording a large river at the other end of the road concerned me. I had seen pictures of this river and I knew that it was a very wide one. Would the recent rains have caused it to swell? There was also an unknown portion where I would mysteriously get from “here” to “there”, as the map didn’t indicate that there was even a track between the two places. The third option, passed Urique, was also a cause for concern because only the first 30 miles were paved and as for the rest of the road? Most of it wasn’t even on the map I had. It was reputed to be steep and difficult, but there was at least a bridge at the bottom to get me across the river. Both routes were estimated to take 10 hours, and each one had their own level of anticipated traffic (Batopilas was a big tourist destination whereas Urique was near an operating gold mine). I finally decided to go with the one known factor I really had: the bridge.

The evening was passed with the two-dozen or so hostel guests over a tasty dinner. Or at least the soup was tasty. I couldn’t eat anything else, as I was already full from the soup alone. There were two other people sharing my room: a couple from Rhode Island who had just spent the last two months exchanging their labor for room and board at a small ranch just north of the canyon. It was fun to watch them "come back to civilization" and re-acquaint themselves with things like beer, music and conversations in English. Now they had three months to hike and backpack around the country before heading back to their hometown. Other guests were from the States, Europe and even one from Mexico City. I find it amusing to think of a Mexican tourist, but I guess it does happen. Most of the guests at the table had taken El Chepe, the tourist train that runs from El Fuerte to Creel and then on to Chihuahua. Most of them thought I was “brave” for riding my motorcycle this far and were very sincere in their efforts to help me with my dilemma. Now all I had to do was get through tomorrow.
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DantesDame screwed with this post 04-13-2009 at 10:31 PM
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Old 04-13-2009, 10:25 PM   #3
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View Larger Map
Click here for a larger just as it was drawn for me. Or click here for the larger image with my route highlighted in green.
This is the route through the States to home

Day 6 – Wednesday 202 miles
I woke up to the sounds of the kitchen staff making early preparations for the morning’s breakfast. I didn’t hear any rain and peered out my window hopefully: pink-tinged clouds and blue skies greeted me. The rain had passed.
I leapt out of bed and as quietly as I could, I packed up my bags and donned my gear. Today looked like a good day and I was excited to be getting on the road an hour earlier than planned, it being a full 11 hours before sunset to make my 10-hour journey. Too excited to get on the road, I didn’t wait around for the hostel’s breakfast and I slipped out of the building virtually unnoticed. One of the hostel workers, as a joke, had left a large green chili on my bike. If only he knew how dear a chili is to my heart he would have left a red one. As I puttered down the main street, I could see that this section of town was actually quite beautiful when seen in the sunlight and I was almost sorry not to stick around to enjoy it. I stopped for gas before leaving and the attendant had fairly good English and was able to reassure me that I would be ok on the route I had chosen. I was still nervous about my decision, but the sunshine brightened my outlook.

Curch in Creel
Gift of a chili pepper
The road to Divisadero was paved and fun. I was able to keep a decent pace and I enjoyed crossing and re-crossing the railroad tracks that the usual tourists took to reach Creel. I felt all the more an adventurer knowing that I was taking a little-used route and seeing much more than most visitors to the area would see. It was a quick 30 miles to the famous lookout point and I stopped to see what the fuss was all about. Unfortunately for me, while the sky was bright and cheerful, there were still many clouds in the area and they hid the vastness of canyons in front of me. I could see down into the canyons, but not across them and therefore I was unable to fully comprehend just how big they are. I have been told that the Copper Canyon area is deeper than the Grand Canyon and from what little that was visible, I could see how that could be true. The local artisans were still setting up their wares, my arrival being much earlier than the first standard tourist bus. I was tempted to buy something to remember my trip by, but the thought of packing it on to the bike (and not breaking it) kept me from doing so. I kept going the few miles to San Rafael, the road staying on the ridgeline of canyon and offering me fantastic views on either side. There were occasional trucks coming the other way, giving me hope that there would be help if I needed it later on.

In San Rafael I passed an ancient gas pump at the side of the road. Two men were standing near it and I went by, waving as I did so. But as I went by, I wondered if I should fill up. Sure, I had only used 35 miles of my 250+ expected range, but what if I was short? A friend of mine had said, “always carry as much water and gas as possible” through this area, so I turned around and filled up the tank. While I was stopped, I figured that I might as well use the restroom and asked the guys where it was. One of them pointed up a set of concrete stairs and up I went. Sadly, at this elevation I was almost out of breath by the time I got to the top. I opened the door to find a toilet but no seat. Tricky, but I could overcome that. I hovered for a little bit but the stress of the last day had taken its toll on my insides. I perched carefully on the edge and after a bit I looked around for the toilet paper. There was none to be found. Yikes – this was not a convenient time to run out of toilet paper. I looked disgustedly at the bin of used paper next to me (keep in mind that the paper isn’t flushed in Mexico, but instead tossed into the garbage) and saw the cardboard tube from the old roll resting on top. Paper is paper, but I will attest that the tube doesn’t do a very good job.

Paved road to Divisadero
Visitors building at Divisadero
View from the lookout at Divisadero
View to the right
The depths of Copper Canyon, as seen from Divisadero
Local artwork for sale
Puppy!
Views to the west
Pavement continues to San Rafael
Gasing up in San Rafael
Now it was time to get down to some serious riding. This was the point where I was going to leave the pavement and soon after, leave behind the lines on my map. I left town as mining trucks came in and I once again breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t raining. The dirt road was fairly wide, usually wide enough for two vehicles to pass, and it was hard packed. Still, it twisted along the ridgeline and often became muddy in low-lying areas. The morning hours passed while I gazed through dry pine forests and caught glimpses of deep ravines and valleys. A few more trucks came my way and I waved at the drivers, wanting to make as many friends as possible along this route. Local people sat on the back of empty flatbed trucks, bouncing roughly as the trucks trundled along. The big trucks were not high-speed vehicles, although the smaller pick-ups tended to maintain a good pace, something I was mindful of on the many blinds curves I encountered.

The mud that I encountered, while infrequent, was quite mucky. At one point I came to a sharp uphill “S” shaped switch back only to find six large trucks and tankers wallowing in the mud. The lead truck was trying to pull the second truck out, and the other trucks were waiting their turn to either get by or get stuck. I didn’t want to linger too long and besides, I was curious if I could get through this mud myself. The tires I had on the bike were designed for street use, but with a slightly aggressive tread for use off road. What they would do in this thick mud I didn’t know. I was easy on the throttle and the bike moved steadily ahead. A slight fishtail of the rear wheel before it caught traction and soon I was easing my way along the shoulder and passed the two lead trucks. The drivers cheered me on and I was on my way.
Pavement ends
Heading downhill
Hours of views like this one
Thicky, gooey mud
While the roads were generally dry and clear, they were by no means fast. I was usually going about 30mph, with bursts of speed up to 40 or so on open stretches. Therefore the miles I covered were a long time in coming and I was going at a pace that really let me study the landscape. I stopped in the town (cluster of buildings) called Bahuichivo mostly to be sure I knew where I was on my map. The road continued to stay high on the ridge but I greeted every descent with joy, as I knew that it would bring me closer to the river and therefore closer to the end of this uneasy day.

After Bahuichivo the road rose sharply - much to my dismay - but made up for my anxiety by winding through some beautiful high altitude meadows and gentle valleys. As I entered the next town, the road forked with one half going up and around a hill while the other dropped gently into a wide valley and across a small bridge. I assumed that both roads went to the same town on the other side of the valley and decided to take the lower route, as it looked more scenic. As I did so, I looked back at a sign resting in the ditch and saw that the upper route would have actually taken me entirely out of my way and to a different town. The words of the gas attendant in Creel came to mind: “There are signs just like in the States!” he had said. Sure.

Tiny settlement along the way
The scenery opens up after a while
The last town along the ridgeline
Tunnel ahead
Cerocahui was quite a modern town with paved streets and many stores and buildings right up against each other. It was bustling with activity, one of which was to bury copper cables across the streets. This caused some very bad bumps and was followed by a water leak that had flooded the torn up road. It was slow going, what with all of the ruts and holes and mud. I eventually was free of the town and back to the standard issue dirt road. I was feeling confident that I would actually complete the day early.

It was almost noon when I reached another fork in the road. This one had a sign, but it was so decrepit that I couldn’t read it. Off to the right and behind some trees were a few buildings (this turned out to be the town of Mesa de Arturo) and three men standing around, supposedly fixing a couple of vehicles. I asked them, in my pidgin Spanish, which was the way to Urique. Even though I was asking about Urique, I didn’t really want to go there. Urique had been my “destination city” thus far, as it was the best known of the towns along my route to ask for and I was sure that the person being asked would know where it was. As I came to each major landmark town I’d then start to ask for the next one. The three on my list today were Urique, San Juan de Dios and Choix. The men assured me that the left fork was the way to Urique and I dismissed the right fork as purely leading to this outpost of civilization. The hand-drawn lines on my map showed a cutoff just above Urique that would take me further south and not down the dead-end road that leads only to the bottom of the canyon. I continued on my way.

Looking back at Cerocahui
A glimpse of things to come
It wasn’t too long after that stop that I got my first glimpse of what truly makes up Copper Canyon. The land fell away immediately at the edge of the road. Below, a massive river rolled slowly between huge jutting ridges. Rocks stood exposed in the sunlight and at the very bottom of the canyon, about 7,000 feet below me, I could see two towns. One must be Urique and the other would be San Juan de Dios, the mining town I was heading for. I started to descend.
The turn off for San Juan de Dios never came. Down I went for 26 miles, taking over 40 minutes to navigate numerous turns, steep rocky downhill sections, sheer drop offs and freshly graded dirt before realizing that I was wrong. Once on the town streets I found an American tourist who appeared to know the area and he assured me that there was no way out of here but to go back up the mesa. Jovial as can be, he encouraged me to camp at the end of town and enjoy the city. He didn’t seem to understand that my vacation time was limited and if I didn’t get to Choix today then there would be some very uncomfortable and high-mileage days ahead of me. I grumbled mightily as I turned the bike around and headed back up the mesa. By now I was hot and tired and I was calculating that my hour cushion of time had just been squandered. Sure, it was a beautiful ride down and I did try to enjoy it, but the ride up was tedious and I just wanted to be on the right road.

Looking down upon Rio Urigue
Narrow, bumpy roads
The land drops away quickly - and for a long distance
The town of Urique at the bottom of the canyon
Rocky outcroppings along the way
Heading down, down, down
i
Another view along the way
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DantesDame screwed with this post 04-14-2009 at 08:21 AM
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Old 04-13-2009, 10:27 PM   #4
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Roughly translated: "Watch your speed - dangerous curves"
Still going down
Not a lot of room for eror
And the road keeps going
And down it goes
Urigue
More Urigue
An hour and a half later I was back at the vehicle-repair guys, still standing around along the muddy road. I imagined what they must have been thinking of this crazy woman who asks about Urique and then so soon comes back and asks for San Juan de Dios. Regardless, they knew where San Juan was and pointed me down the right fork. I apparently was at the correct fork in the road the first time but had asked the wrong question. I headed for San Juan de Dios.
Overall, the road was descending. It was quick to do it in some places with entire sections a slimy, muddy mess and I wondered if the tires would lose traction and I’d just slide down the hill. Other times the road went back up, making me groan with the knowledge that I’d just have to go back down again eventually. I was seeing few trucks along the road by now and the sight of a white van taking the corners ahead of me gave me something to chase. I was just about to catch up to it when it stopped at a curve. I rolled up behind and then next to it to see why it had stopped. Hidden from view because of the van were two police pick-ups facing each other, front ends crumpled. A few locals stood around, not appearing to do much of anything. I eased my way around the entire mess and proceeded to enter the village of Piedras Verdes.
Immediately upon entering the village two young Mexican boys came running up to me excitedly. They rattled off something in Spanish and I made a comment about the police trucks and laughed. I then asked them which way to San Juan. One pointed to the left. The other hesitated and then also pointed to the left. I questioned them, left or right? They confirmed to the left. The town was situated in a very narrow canyon with steep walls on both sides. There was barely room for three buildings across and the streets (all two of them) were narrower than usual. Still uncertain about what the boys said, I went left but almost immediately doubted the direction. The road was down to one car width and was full of packed rocks, one edge right up against the canyon wall. I stopped to ask some men working on a house and they confirmed my suspicions: I should have taken the other road. I barely was able to turn around and retreated back to where the boys were. They were nowhere to be seen. I double-checked with some more locals standing near a store and they pointed to the road on the right. One more check once I was on the road set my mind at ease and I followed the still-narrow and now muddy road further down the mountain.

The road to come
Still going down
And yet more road
Sand takes over
Interesting tree
Still not there
I was definitely near the mine now. Heavy trucks were parked along the road, a grader was moving rocks and dirt off to one side and I could see some work buildings behind a fence. I felt triumphant, as from what I could tell by my map, I should be very close to the river by now. And another map from the hostel in Creel (granted, it was one of those cartoon maps that gives you an exaggerated view of the world) showed that once I crossed the river, I’d be in the flat lands that lead to the coast. But until then I still had this road to deal with. An unmarked fork appeared. I stopped. I had no idea which way to go, as both roads looked equally used. I knew that if I waited 10 or 15 minutes, a truck would come along and I could ask, but I didn’t feel that I had time to wait. I looked around and much to my surprise I saw a man sitting on the hill about 40’ above the road. There was no reason that I could see for him to be out here, but he was, so I asked him which way to Choix. He babbled something in Spanish and pointed to the left. I went left.
It was slow going: usually about 20mph and slower in the corners. The temperature was rising and there was more sand and less dirt to contend with, slowing me down even more. Rocks continued to hammer at my bike and me and the constant downhill was causing my hands and arms to get sore. Because I had dropped out of the tree line I could now see the far ranges of mountains and how the road snaked alongside them. I tried to anticipate which pass the road would cross and bring me relief. There were no longer any trucks on the road with me and I saw only two farmhouses along the way. A lone man walked down the road, a guitar slung over his shoulder. Goats scattered up a hillside. Nothing else moved.

Up over another ridge
More mountains to follow
The road followed a long valley, climbed up another ridge, followed the ridge for a while and then finally, in the distance, I could see the river. It wasn’t too far below me and it was just a matter of snaking my way down through the scrublands before I’d reach it. I could see another white work truck in the distance before me and while I tried to catch it, I never did. Another unmarked intersection appeared but this time I knew that no one would be coming for a long time. I went with my gut feeling and headed to the right. Fortunately it was the right choice and I was soon crossing over a large, modern bridge. The river below it was quiet but wide. I wondered what it would be like to ford it, as this was the reason that made me choose the route I took. I probably could have done it, but despite my love of river crossings, I was glad not to have to try it. Tubares was on the other side, but it was a poorly put together town and not anything that sparked my interest. I was there long enough to verify how much further to Choix (about 50 miles) and that it was a “very good road”. I was curious as to what that meant. It was already around 4 o’clock so assuming I could go about 30mph, I should get into Choix just before sunset.
Finally, the bridge across the El Fuerte River
Tubares
On the "good" road
Abandoned church
The road out of Tubares was indeed much better than the road leading into it. But it still wasn’t terribly fast. It was well-packed dirt/gravel but had some loose gravel on the top and some bumps that kept my speed down. I knew that I was doing well when I saw the speedometer hit 40mph once. The road followed the El Fuerte River almost exactly. The river was wide and bordered by lush greenery, as compared to the dry brown scrub that I had been looking at for the last few hours. Unlike the hostel’s cartoon map, however, the land did not immediately flatten out south of the river. There were high rounded mountains to cross first, or so I guessed. Either that or the road would follow the river to the coast. I really had no idea, as I was still following a road that did not exist on my map.
Far ahead of me I saw a wisp of dust. I assumed that I was following a truck and that I’d catch up to it eventually. Therefore you can imagine my surprise a few miles later as I came around a brush-lined corner to see a military jeep coming right at me. Someone in a menacing-looking ski mask manned a machine gun on the back and the truck was full of gun-toting masked men. Behind the jeep were three Humvees, also full of olive-drab garbed men. The last Humvee was cutting the corner close and hadn’t seen me yet due to the dust and my lack of a headlight. The driver finally noticed me and turned quickly away from me. The rear tires continued to slide towards me for a moment before finally catching traction and following the front of the truck. But what worried me most was whether or not they were going to stop. I checked my mirrors for the next 10 miles, each time expecting to see some military truck bearing down on me. But none ever came and eventually I was back to my subdued thoughts of “where the hell am I?”

The El Fuerte River
With great joy I followed the road as it deviated from the river and wormed its way through a very green and beautiful canyon. Surely this canyon would lead me through this range and I’d be home free. I was enjoying the close confines of the canyon when a truck coming the other way flashed his lights at me. I mentally thanked him for letting me know that my headlight was out. Then I rounded the corner and came upon a large truck parked in the middle of the road. I pulled up next to him and surprised at his English, he reassured me that on my bike, I could be in Choix in an hour. It seemed optimistic to me, but hey, this guy obviously knows the roads around here better than I did. I’m still not sure why he was sitting there – I think it was a smoke break, even though he wasn’t smoking.
I soon left the truck and the canyon behind. The road was climbing again – one last range! The sand emerged in corners with a vengeance and I found myself slowing down even more. Then I crested the ridge – only to see another one before me. The sun was starting to reach the top of the far ridge and I could see the path that I’d follow to the bottom of the valley and back up the other side. It was slow going and I was tired. But more than tired, I was worried about daylight. There was nothing around here. It wasn’t as though I could simply say “Oh, I’ll stay here tonight and get to Choix in the morning”. No. There was nowhere to stop before Choix. I had to get there or spend the night at the side of the road.
The road I had been on
Climbing up the next ridge, I passed a man herding his cattle to the side and he waved me on through, the cows meandering across the road in an aimless fashion. A couple of pick-up trucks went by and I waved at them, hoping that I wouldn’t need their assistance. And then I was heading down again, more and more sand encroached in the corners. I was beyond tired; I was exhausted. I found myself almost wishing that I would go down in one of the soft sandy corners, welcoming the excuse to just lay there and not move. But I kept the bike moving, alternating between crawling along in the sand and pulling my best “Baja 1000” moves as I passed trucks making their way through the wilderness. I devised wild plans on how to ask them if they would follow me when the sun finally gave up so that I could use the light from their headlights. I contemplated what it would be like to stop at one of the shanties that dotted the landscape, asking if I could stay until dawn. And I continue to hope that the next corner would be paved and I’d be done for the day.
The road was getting faster: it was now following a flat-bottomed valley with tidy farms on both sides. A family gathered stones from the river while the dogs chased me. I flew along at 40mph again, barely noticing a roadrunner and a cardinal in the dying light. And then the road was paved.
Looking back
And looking back some more - it's getting darker
A couple of false stops finally led me to the actually town of Choix, a big and bustling collection of people and buildings. I stopped at the first motel I could find and gladly handed over my 300 pesos for the tiny room. I took a hot shower and with clean clothes and a refreshed outlook on life, I went to the office to ask about an Internet café. Much to my surprise, the woman behind the desk offered me the office computer and hurriedly finished up her work. I took just a couple of minutes to let Dan know where I was before logging off and going back to my room. I didn’t have the energy to find food, even though I hadn’t eaten all day. I pulled out an orange, a granola bar and some pistachios. A little bad TV, some book reading and it was time for lights out.
Unfortunately, it was not time to sleep. Despite my exhaustion, the noise outside of my room kept me up until well after midnight. My door was metal it and allowed sound to reverberate through it. People called to each other and talked loudly, dogs barked and fought, car radios blared the unique accordion-based music that is so popular in Mexico and horns honked. It was a long and restless night and I woke up again at 6:15am, ready to hit the road.
Motel at Choix
Happy room!
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Old 04-13-2009, 10:27 PM   #5
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Day 7 – Thursday 562 miles
I had one last chance to see something from my list of “things to do” that I had so diligently made before leaving home. All that was left was the colonial town of El Fuerte, supposedly with a beautiful mission, a nice cobblestone square and some historic buildings. I left Choix behind in the early morning light, once again woken up by dogs and roosters, and once I found my way out of the town, I enjoyed an amazingly smooth road. Recent construction left me with the typical Mexican highway: one lane in each direction with a dotted line indicating the shoulders. But the shoulders were clean and just about a car’s width and intended to be used for slower vehicles. I passed big, lumbering trucks and sped along in the comfortable morning air. The mountains receded behind me and open flat farmlands stretched out on either side of the road.

The road changed moods many times, going from glass-smooth pavement to a rough, pot-holed surface that made me long for the dirt roads of yesterday. Mid-size towns were sliced in half by the road and the traffic was constant. Topes (speed bumps) often went unnoticed until I hit them, the bike lurching with the sudden impact. Most of the homes along here were brightly painted and, by Mexican standards, tidy. Many people were out, often standing in groups or skittering across the roadway. There was a lot to look at as I headed for el Fuerte and I was comfortable with the early hour – I would have time to explore this town and maybe even pick up a blanket or other souvenir to bring home with me.
Las Mochis was too far. Where the hell did El Fuerte go? I had been diligent in watching the sign names and not once did I see one for El Fuerte. I had missed it. I wasn’t about to retrace my steps, so I gave up on getting anything done from my list and simply headed north on Mex 2. This would be my route through the rest of the country and I knew that any opportunity for excitement was essentially over. Mex 2 is a toll road and is well maintained by the government. It passed through a couple of large towns, this providing a little bit of a diversion as I tried not to get lost, get hit or to miss anything interesting.

Aguave field
The biggest trees seen yet
Spirited horse playing near traffic
Roadside village
Finally out of the mountains
Mountains near Navajoe
Typical Mexican restaurant
Big-city sights
Somewhere north of Las Mochis I saw a sign pointing to El Fuerte. I mumbled some unflattering comments about “too little, too late” and kept on riding. I rode with the sun on my back around Guaymas, through Navojoa and north towards Hermosillo. However just south of Hermosillo I finally found an appetizing place to stop for lunch: a tasty grilled chicken hut at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I parked the bike and walked up to the couple behind the counter. I prepared my meager Spanish to request my food when the man said something to his wife and chuckled. His wife looked up at me and asked me in perfect English what I would like. That this American woman was here surprised me, but I also felt a sense of relief of not having to butcher more of the Spanish language to get what I wanted. And that’s when another English voice spoke up from behind me; it was one of the guests from the hostel in Creel. He had taken the train from Creel to El Fuerte and picked up his van to continue his trip north. He had randomly pulled off for lunch and saw me only after he parked. We had a nice lunch together, sitting under the shade of the hut and talking about our trip since our Creel departure. The chicken was moist and tender but I could only eat half of the half a chicken I had ordered. My lunch companion and I said our good-byes and he was on the road before I was, even though I’d pass him soon enough at the next tope-filled town.

My lunch stop
Friendly host and hostess
From Hermosillo it wasn’t long before I hooked a left in Santa Ana, taking me away from the directly north crossing at Nogales in favor of a more diagonal route home and a crossing at Sonoyta. My last trip through here led me to stay in Altar, arriving after a good rain and in the dark and thinking that the place was a pit hole. But now, in the daylight, I could see that it was actually not that bad of a place. It had grown since I had been there last and while I didn’t see a central zone, the business section along the highway was bustling. But on my map was the town of Caborca. The sheer number of “tourist icons” stamped around the name on my map gave me great hope of finding a neat little town to stop in, walking around the square as the sunlight faded to the west. I kept riding towards Caborca, reaching it about 30 minutes before sunset.

A massive construction project hindered me finding anything readily, and I spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get from one side of the highway to the other, seeing motel signs but not being able to reach them. I finally found one and stopped to check it out: 700 pesos!? I didn’t need a pool that bad and besides, I knew that the next night would be spent in relative American luxury. I kept on looking. I finally stumbled upon a not-so-nice looking motel on the “other side” of the highway. The proprietor called out from the 2nd floor window “120 pesos!!!” Oh goodness – how can I pass that up? I stopped and checked out the room: incredibly small, two beds and a clean shower. It would do. Besides, I was now sick of this town and realized that there wasn’t much worth sightseeing. I unpacked the bike and asked the proprietor if there was Internet access. Why not? I had nothing better to do tonight. He said that it was just “four short blocks” down the street. After the fifth block, I asked someone else and he said that it was just three more blocks. After those three blocks passed without finding Internet access, I asked someone else. He said that if I went down one more block, then over two blocks, I’d find it. He promised. And he was correct. The problem was that as soon as I walked in the door, the Internet access went down. I waited around for 15 minutes but finally gave up and walked back to the motel. I passed by the “historical district” and even took a peek inside the church. It was awful. It looked like some white tiled beast from the 1960’s. The square was uninviting. The shops sold low-quality goods, although I did stop to buy a strawberry Popsicle. I happily went back to my room to sleep.

Note the cavernous courtyard - perfect for carrying voices
Cram in as much furniture as possible!
Day 8 – Friday 436 miles
I woke up completely annoyed with the owner of the building. He had repeatedly assured me that it would be quiet. No dogs, no kids – just quiet. It was anything but: I spent three hours listening to two men holding a conversation in the courtyard behind my room. I slammed the bathroom window closed, which seemed to temper the volume for a little bit, but not long enough for me to fall asleep. As I lay in bed, I fumed and thought of the scathing words I’d spit out in the morning. Eventually I turned on my iPod and pretended not to hear the voices and finally fell asleep.
The next morning I dismissed it. It wasn’t worth bringing up, especially with my limited vocabulary. The owner was cheerful and helpful and pointed out how to get out of town through the construction. Maybe his directions were thorough in Spanish, but what I got out of it was “go left”; nothing more about turning right and then left again. But I managed to figure it out and was soon back on Mex 2 and heading north for the border. It was another nice morning and as usual, I was on the road by 7:30.
The landscape was quite beautiful in a barren, desert sort of way. The moon was fading in the west as the sun’s intensity increased and the sky was clear. The vegetation showed undulations of greenery as the road passed through areas with higher moisture content. Soft rounded mountains dotted the landscape on either side and the traffic was light. It was a perfect day to go home. But first there were the construction zones to contend with.

Unlike the States, where contractors make nice paved secondary roads to funnel traffic onto while they repair the original road, the Mexican workers simple graded the land alongside the highway and put up some signs. Every semi, car and bus on the highway would ease its way off the pavement, down a slight embankment and proceed to roll slowly across the lumpy dirt. The dust that was kicked up was blinding and the mud - where they had sprayed to keep down the dust – was thick. Three or four miles at a time, with oncoming traffic hidden by the haze, made for some slow going. Once in a while it was clear enough to see that I could pass the trucks and I stood up on the pegs, spent forks bouncing over the dirt until I was in the lead again.

I reached Sonoyta at the early hour of 9am. I found the border and a group of Mexican guards standing around in the shade. I asked them where I could turn in my vehicle paperwork before crossing and they looked around at each other before finding someone who could speak English for me. I’m glad that he could, as I don’t know if I would have understood otherwise. Apparently Sonoyta is a small border crossing, too small to have an official office in the town itself. The guard politely informed me that the office was 27km back the way I came from. I couldn’t believe it and made him repeat himself. I then indicated the next border crossing (San Luis) and said that perhaps I’d just cross there. The guard looked alarmed and pointed to Mex 2 as it paralleled the border for a hundred miles. That section was very dangerous; I was better off going back to the office down the road and crossing here. Once again, I figured that the man knew more about his own country than I did and I followed his instructions. The ride back to the office was a nice one, with spring flowers and some fun curves to enjoy. Processing the paperwork was quick and painless and I was back in Sonoyta within 30 minutes or so. I thanked the guards as I passed by them again and crossed in to the States without any issues.

Riding through northern Mexico
Springtime in the desert
Variety
More vegetation along the way
Now I was in Arizona. In the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Hundreds of cacti stood at attention as I rolled by and I enjoyed the empty land. But something was nagging at me: while at the border, I mentally made fun of someone else’s vehicle, laughing at how it squeaked like a set of old bed springs. However, once I was across the border and pulled over to put my paperwork away, I realized that it was my bike making that noise. I could only imagine the damage that I must have done to my bike over the last few thousand miles. Were the bearings going? Was the front wheel going to lock up at 70mph and kill me? There wasn’t much to do about it right now. The State side of the border was nothing but National Park and the cacti didn’t look terribly helpful. I didn’t have a map of Arizona specifically so the roads I was aware of trailed off into the text portions of the map that I did have. There appeared to be a nice scenic road that cut off towards the west, or I could continue north to Gila Bend and then head west from there on I-8. The unknown road sounded much more appealing, even though I was conscious of the fact that I’d be further from help if my front wheel really did act up.

Organ Pipe Cacti
More glowy cacti!
I diligently looked for the turn but reached Gila Bend without seeing it. Oh well, perhaps this was fate working its magic ways again. I stopped at a gas station, considering the likelihood of finding a dealer to check over my bike, when I found myself in the midst of a jeans-vest wearing bike gang. They looked pretty rough and the amount of chrome was blinding. One man stood next to his van, two naked prosthetic legs supporting him. Another member sported a full leg cast. What a bunch of misfits. I noticed “Prospect” and “President” patches, but then I noticed something else: the slight smiles of admiration as they took in my mud-encrusted motorcycle. They circled around me as I asked them about dealerships in the area and then they asked me about my bike and where I’d been. They were a friendly group and as I noticed the back patch, I saw that they were the “Sober Riders” group; obviously not a name that strikes fear into the hearts of others. They suggested “Ike’s Bikes”, an independent shop in Yuma. This was a good two hours away but at least it was in my direction. I thanked them for their help and wished them a safe ride. It was time to hit Yuma.

The bike shop was at the far end of Yuma but fortunately not too far from the highway. I rolled up in front of it and saw a sign in the window: “Closed”. There was more text to the effect that this place wouldn’t be opening up any time soon and there was a number for me to call if I had a claim against Ike’s. Apparently the Sober Riders don’t frequent Ike’s too often, as I found out later that it had been closed for a year.

After a lot of running around, I finally found Wild West Cycle and a friendly employee that gave my bike a once over (as well as topping off the oil) and deemed it fit to make it home. With a much lighter heart I left Yuma, enjoyed Brawley’s City Hall again and skirted the western flank of the Salton Sea. The sun was setting as I rolled into Banning, CA and found a lovely – and very quiet - motel room for the night. A good hot shower, followed by a light meal at the restaurant up the street and then it was time to watch bad American TV. Tomorrow would be an easy day and I knew that I was allowed sleep in, assuming that I could.
"Sober Riders" in Gila Bend
Fork oil galore
Back in the USA
So much room!!! They need more furniture in here
Day 9 – Saturday 384 miles
Saturday morning. I had all day to go four hours. I slept in, tinkered with the bike, met up with my friends Robert and Trina in Anaheim and then road with them through LA traffic and up 101 to the little towns of Santa Maria and Nipomo. Tonight a steak dinner had been planned that was to be the mother of all steak dinners. Jocko’s had a 100-year history of being in business and I was about to find out why. A dozen of my friends had ridden in from various locations for the event and we all crowded around our table. Robert had made reservations weeks in advance, a good thing as we heard a woman storm out muttering that it was a “4-5 hour wait”. But it would have been worth the wait: the steaks were thick and juicy and tender. Flavor oozed out with each bite. The table fell quiet as the waiter brought out our meals and it stayed that way for a long time. Finally, plates empty and the bill paid, we went back to the motel for a few more hours of tire-kicking and bench racing. A diligent inspection of my bike showed that I had blown a main fuse under the seat – something I hadn’t even considered checking while in Mexico. I kicked myself because knowing about the fuse would have saved me from a lot of headaches over the last couple of days. With the bike no longer a focal point, the party had moved to my room and it was all I could do not to fall asleep while conversations hummed around me. The group eventually left and it wasn’t long before I was sound asleep.

Jocko's Steaks in Nipomo, CA
This was my half of the meal
How they cook the steaks
Let's get a closer look at that, shall we?
Day 10 – Sunday 260 miles
The last day of my odyssey and I would spend it on the most beautiful section of the west coast. My friend Jim had ridden down from the bay area and we would ride home together. The early section of 101 wasn’t much, it being mostly inland and the morning sky painted with clouds. But then we hit Big Sur and the roads woke me up as they hugged the coastline. Fields of flowers added a wash of color to the background of green hills. Sharp corners and sheer drops made me pay attention to what I was doing. We saw the aftermath of two different motorcycle accidents but having seen the way other motorcyclists ride through here, it was no surprise. I rode my own pace, knowing full well that I was both mentally and physically tired as well as fighting the “I’m almost home!” urge to go faster. I was excited to return and see Dan and relax in my own surroundings. Jim took us on a short detour just south of Morro Bay, one that took us up to the top of a hill and gave us a great view of the ocean and the intense green of the spring landscape. After that it was nothing but following the coast, past Hearst Castle, Pebble Beach and Santa Cruz before ducking inland again to hit the south bay area. I waved good-bye to Jim less than 10 miles from home and then it was a long blink of an eye until I pulled my bike in next to Dan’s. Home at last.

Passing a fire truck
One more dirt raod - why not?
Views above Morro Bay
Morro Bay
Riding along the ocean
Fast, open roads
Pacific beauty
Wild flowers
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Old 04-13-2009, 10:38 PM   #6
kildala2000
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Hey DantesDame,

Long time since we have seen you on the site.. What a GREAT adventure but no r1150GS?

Keep it coming,
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Old 04-14-2009, 08:16 AM   #7
DantesDame OP
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Yo! How've you been doing?

As for the 1150 - are you kidding? I never would have made it to Choix if I had that beast under me. Of course I would have enjoyed having it while on the rest of the trip, that's for sure.


Oh, and I added the maps from the ride to Choix and home.
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Old 04-14-2009, 09:25 AM   #8
KimR
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Great story, great trip, great photos!! Just returned from Copper Canyon myself. I'll post as soon as I get all the photos tweaked.
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Old 04-14-2009, 09:41 AM   #9
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Great Report
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Old 04-14-2009, 12:44 PM   #10
exwingnut
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Thanks for taking us along.
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Old 04-14-2009, 01:44 PM   #11
ArmyMedic
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How am I supposed to sit here at work and be expected to work with reports like that?

Thanks for extended break!
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Old 04-14-2009, 01:51 PM   #12
Idahosam
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Excellent DD, beautiful narratives accompanied with a nicly organized mosaic of photos. I wish I knew how you did that.

Thank you for taking us along on your solo trek. Glad your out playing once in awhile.
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Old 04-14-2009, 02:09 PM   #13
GalacticGS
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Now that's a great ride report!

Thanks for sharing. Great pics...
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Old 04-14-2009, 02:20 PM   #14
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2xD Love the formatting of the report. Thank you for sharing.
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Old 04-14-2009, 06:09 PM   #15
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Sounds like quite an adventure! Some mis-direction from the locals was no match for you!
I met a couple of those Sober Riders in Madeline CA last year, they gave us some good tips on routes up towards Bend OR. Nice folks once you got past the biker gang appearance.
Thanks for sharing, Copper Canyon is on the to-do list, though it's quite a hike from here.
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