Sunday 17 April 2011

From Nogales to Creel, my first week in Mexico

So I'm in Mexico... Have been for two weeks now. I crossed the border at Nogales on the 2nd or 3rd with a recently faked driving licence. Mine has expired you see and I didn't realise. I only actually found out a day before I had to cross so rushed to the copy shop and did a quick bit of editing. Added an extra 7 years to the life of the licence though I am expecting my new one in the post eventually. The border crossing went very smoothly all things considered. I expected a lot of hassle with documents and language difficulties but in the end it was a rubber stamp job. Even getting the temporary import for the bike was easy if not very quick.

As was always my intention I wanted to get away from the border areas as quickly as possible. This is where the drug wars are carried out. The town of Juarez is considered the murder capital of the world with almost 6000 murders last year alone. I assume most of them were drug related. So, with this knowledge in mind I proceeded to drive for nearly two hours along the border.... My crossing was considerably further east of where I wanted to go than I expected but the ride was worth it. A mix of vast empty expanses and mountains. A combination I found very agreeable. When I was bored of long straights there would be a long twisty section and just when I felt like my arms would give out a straight would appear. Towards the end of the day my arch nemesis showed up and I spent 100 or so clicks riding at 20 degrees off vertical just to cope with the wind. I have developed quite a technique. Hang off the side of the bike into the wind and pretend you are trying to turn. It works and at least it saved the rubber from the center of the tire.

I arrived in Neuvo Casas Grandes well before sunset and found the Hotel California down a backstreet. This would be home for the next couple of days while I orientated myself and made a proper plan. As far as plans go mine didn't last long. I intended to visit Pequime on Monday followed by a ride to a small cliff side settlement and then back to the hotel. Nothing is open in Mexico on a Monday so instead I took photos of random things

A friendly horse

A small shrine at the side of the road. There are hundreds
of these all over mexico. Also there are many crosses by the
side of the road, sometimes a group of 4 or 5 crosses.

Inside the shrine

A cross on top of a hill near Casas Grandes

The classic Pequiem photo.

Inside the cliffside settlement

And the view from the settlement. Not bad to wake upto huh?
So instead I visited on Tuesday and planned to go to the cliff settlement and ride straight on through to Madera. It took a mere two hours of riding to reach the cliffs and then a further two hours of riding to reach..... Casas Grandes, back where I started. The road had been closed after the settlement so I had to break the cardinal rule and ride the same road twice.

The off roading was gorgeous and I managed to get a video clip using the gopro. What beat everything though was the genuine, ten gallon hat, boots and oversized belt buckled cowboys. I passed several along the road and each gave me a tip of the hat. I was half expecting gunslingers to come running out of the brush.

I finally reached Madera as the sun started to set. It was beautiful as it went down behind the mountains the sky was lit up with shades of reds, pinks and blues. I even managed to howl at it a few times while grinning like an idiot. (the howling probably implies the idiot part but there ya go)

The sun setting just outside of Madera, Unfortunately the
camera failed to capture all the colours
I stayed in Madera two days. The weather was pleasantly cool and the people were kind enough not to rush my halting spanish. I also managed to finally lengthen my sidestand. If you remember back in Nepal I raised the bike by about 3cms, one unexpected result of this was that everytime I put the bike on the stand it would feel like it was about to fall over. It also meant it was heavy to pickup off the stand. Now with an extra 2cm it is as close to perfect as I need. When I tried to pay the owner of the shop refused to accept my money and even handed me a bottle of engine oil for the trip. I got a few contact details for the next town and called it a night

The next day I headed on a short ride to Cuatemoc. Here I was to meet a Honda dealer who was going to help me get a new bash plate made for the bike. I found him easily enough on the side of the main road into town and, for the first time in a week had someone who spoke fluent English to talk to. We were soon visiting one of his employees brothers who was going to make the plate and planned a trip to see the Mennonites while the work was being done. The Mennonites are blonde haired, blue eyed Germans who used to live in Canada. They like to stick to their own ways without government interference and, in Mexico it seems, they have found their home. Just north of the main city is their “town” which has a better resemblance to heavy farming communities in America than it does to anything in Mexico. We spent the day seeing the sights and doing quite a lot of business along the way. By the time we got back the bash plate was finished..... I am now fully prepared for IEDs in Afghanistan!

My new bash plate
Some modifications will be done to slim it down a tad.

The following morning I said my goodbyes and headed off.... in, you guessed it, gale force winds. The kind of language I discovered I knew that day does not need repeating. It did eventually calm down though and I made it to Creel in the Copper Canyon. There was one small stop along the way. We had to wait for two hours for a mixed class road rally. I took the opportunity to practice my filming and editing skills. The short clip below is just around the corner from the police checkpoint we had to wait at.

So Creel.... I think I will leave it there for now. Its been a long day and there is a lot more to write about. Right now I am down in Mazatlan on the West coast. Going to get a new tire tomorrow and maybe modify the bash plate. For now though I am going to eat Tacos, take a Spanish lesson and hit the sack.

Friday 1 April 2011

You're in Buckeye now baby!

Ooops I missed my deadline. Missed alot of them recently actually. Since my last post I've been worrying quite considerably about the bike. The speedo and odometer have not been working, combined with the continually faulty Honda fuel guage I've been, on the most part, guessing my fuel range and regulaly ran dry. Performance had been an issue with the bike running out of power at about 70mph and a complete lack of tread on my front tire. Although these are not major issues by themselves I have been riding with a feeling of doom. Waiting for a wheel to fall off or for something to explode with the result being a painful bloody mess. As I have been riding along these images would come into my head and they were not confidence building. I had searched for help in San Fran and someone offered but in my haste to find sunshine I pushed on South to LA.

The ride from San Fran to LA was fairly nice, apart from the rain but I was used to it now so mostly ignored it or hid under whatever shelter was available. I took the 101 down the coast to LA and had originally decided not to go all the way there. In the end it seemed easier to make the final push and I arrived at Venice Beach incident free just as the sun was going down. I even managed to check into a reasonably clean hostel. In the couple of days in LA I managed to pick up two parking tickets on the same day in the same parking spot (if you get a ticket in the morning DONT remove it). On the bright side I will not be paying the tickets as I doubt I will be back in LA any time soon and for sure not with the Alp.

In LA I finally started sulking about the bike, she needed a good pampering and I didn't have the resources, the facilities or the know-how. I reached out to  and asked for help. Almost instantly I got a response from DSM8. He sent me a PM and got in touch on the phone. Long story short, we arranged to meet the following day. In the meantime I started sourcing parts. Essentials that I needed basically came down to a new chain and sprockets. My old chain disintigrating on the way down the Oregon coast. I decided to make one last attempt at money saving and started calling round asking for sponsorship. Chad at Mid Cities Honda came back and said that if I could ride in they would see what they could do to help out. With no fuss at all I was told I could have a new chain and sprockets and an oil change all at cost price and no labour charges. Also a free, all american, hot dog. Although because it is a european bike I would need to wait till monday for them to be fitted.

It's not much in terms of total cost however the kindness of the people and the willingness to help out a traveller was a great reminder that you're never really out on your own.

I eventually met up with Dave at his house. He wasn't there at the time but had left the garage open for me with a firm warning that if I touched the KTMs and they didn't kill me he would. I soon learnt that this friendly ribbing from the gun touting american would be par for course over the next few days.

Dave had left his garage for me to start work and I soon had the faring off trying to fix the Odo and the fuel guage. Turns out a small plastic gear had worn out near the front wheel. This gear drives a cable which in turn drives the odometer. I eventually decided on bending some parts to bring the worn out gear back in contact with the wheel. Thankfully, rather than exploding, I now know how far and how fast I am travelling. From this I can also guess my fuel range. Also managed to confirm that the fuel gauge was (in technical terms) fucked. When Dave came home we fitted a new tire to the front (kindly donated by dave) and made plans for the weekend. I was duely informed that if I did not want to attend the ADV rally in Death Valley he would introduce me to the method of transporting recently killed dear and strap me to the hood of his truck. We both agreed travelling by bike would be better and so started packing for the trip.

The ride from LA to Death Valley was almost exactly 200 miles and there must have been about 4 corners the whole way. The ride was mostly uneventful apart from leaning about 10 degrees to the left the whole way to compensate for the absurd amount of wind. Dave had my luggage in his truck so it was fairly easy riding. We arrived at the Panamint Springs campsite in the early afternoon to a scene of pure havock as people attempted to erect their tents in 55mph gusts. My georgous 1 man tent went up in about 5 minutes with no fuss at all and we preceeded to wonder around the campsite ogling near enough 100 bikes.

The folk here were mostly hardcore offroaders with a tendancy to the insane. They thought I was mad and I thought they were mad. It was a match made in insanity. That first night beer and conversation flowed in equal amounts. There was even some green smoke in the air. I didn't manage to meet a single person I didn't like as everyone was friendly and basically out for a long weekend of pleasure. That night and the ones to follow all ended in the early hours.

On Friday morning I met up with two bikers, one on a seriously modified 89 TA and we planned to head to the old Manson house (Home of the notorious Charles Manson) however, and I made plenty of excuses for this, I did not feel comfortable riding through the sand. I blame a dead chain, a round sprocket and a pure road tire. None of these excuses made me feel better as I turned around and headed back to camp.

I spent the rest of the day planning a road route around the local DV sites and the next day I grouped up with Bronwyn and Rob for a ride to Deadwater. The lowest point in the US at -238ft. Named badwater for the fact that the water was very very bad. The salt flats spread out from this point covering the land far into the distance. All in it was a good days ride. Just cruising around at about 80mph and stopping regulaly for photos. That night Pablo, who had set up a refuelling point which no-one had visited, set up a different type of fueling point and gave me free access to it. ERROR! I barely left the keg alone all night and people began to comment on the Welsh never being far from the beer.

Sunday morning we said our goodbyes, loaded the bikes into the truck (my chain was truely dead by this point) and drove back to LA. With daves help and more than a few suggestions I managed to clean the carbs, flush the radiator, melt my bash plate and fit a drip fed chain oiler. Monday afternoon I rode to Mid Cities and had my new chain and sprockets fitted. Now, with all but the fuel gauge working I had confidence in the bike again. I was to spend one more night with Dave before heading back on the road. When he got back from work Dave decided it was time to unload some of his old gear so I have recently aquired a new bed roll and winter gloves. A small bit of America will now travel with me wherever I go whether I like it or not.

Since leaving LA I have once again met up with Bronwyn, a crazy Aussie chick with a welsh name who once lived in Dublin, Edingburgh and Seattle who is now on a trans-america trip. We met up in Joshua tree NP and camped the night there. The next morning we loaded the bikes in brilliant sunshine and, on the bare minimum of gear headed through Joshua Tree and on to....... You guessed it..... BUCKEYE!

Yes, the grand city of Buckeye is where we are currently residing in a stupidly overpriced motel with about a million truckers. It's as backwater as the name suggests but its a bed and a shower. God knows I needed one. Tomorrow we head to Tucson then Amado for the Overland Expo where I hope to find more sponsorship and pick up the last few bits and peices I need before heading into Mexico.

I was not prepared for the States but hopefully with the help of a few friends I am now ready to go on.

Photos below:

On the way to LA trying to outrun the clouds. I failed!

Still going down Hwy 1, Finally some georgous weather

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair.....
Camping with the folks from ADVrider

Water in the desert

 Can he make it?


A Ferrari

Rob, Oliver and Bronwyn at 283ft below sea level

Would sir like chips with his salt?

The Death Valley salt flats

Joshua Tree National Park

Skull Rock, so named because......

Just before the sunset at the campground.

The setting sun

A pretty serious Joshua Tree

Night night

My highly organised tent

Hiding from the sun

A final shot of the JT National Park

Saturday 19 March 2011

Seattle to San Francisco. Rain, snow, tsunami, tornado

So much for every Monday huh? I have a good excuse though. A Korean man stole my netbook about 6 months ago and along Highway 101 they have only wifi and no real computers. My theory is that no backpackers really take that route and as such there are no hostels. They have alot of RV parks (camper vans) and motels and even camping. Each option is horribly overpriced and only has wifi.

So, Seattle to San Fran in 5 days. Not sure if that is quick or slow but it certainly wasn't fun. Infact I think I will happily put the Oregon coast as a place to never ever take a motorbike. I left Kevins place at about 11 on Monday morning planning to blast down the I5 into Seattle, pick up a couple of packages I had delivered and then down to Portland and the legendary Highway 101. The plan was sound the execution was not. Within 15 minutes of leaving I'd picked up a puncture and had shredded the inner tube to pieces (literally) trying to get off the interstate. Fortunatly Alex had decided to give me an escort into Seattle so by the time I got off the interstate I met him on a smaller highway and we went in search of somewhere to replace the tube. A local garage didn't mind us using one of the bays so we got the spare out. In true comedic style the spare had a puncture which we patched up and fitted. This took some time and as we were about to leave Alex recieved a call.... I'd left my GoPro behind. Seems the puncture was a bit of a godsend as I would have been long gone otherwise. So a quick U-turn (called Whipping a bitch in the US) back to Kevins, grab the camera and onward to Seattle where I picked up a wetsuit, a BCD, regs and a diving knife. My bike is now thoroughly overloaded! Alex pointed the way South and we parted company. We'll meet again somewhere down in Mexico I am sure.

15 minutes out of Seattle and guess what? Apparently We were not good tyre repair people. I felt the rear end go soft and start weaving across the road! Not fun. Hazards on and teeth tightly gritted I weaved through 3 lanes of traffic to the hard shoulder. Standing by the side of the road contemplating another hour changing tubes and another angel of the road pulls onto the shoulder infront of me. Lance, the legend and a rider of a most majestic bike, a 1989 Honda Transalp, jumps out of his car and walks on over. We soon have the rear wheel off and all my crap loaded into the back of his car. I was a bit anxious leaving the bike behind on the interstate but with little other choice we head towards Lances house. There is an independent bike shop near him so we pick up a new tire and two tubes. Get them fitted, back to the bike and I'm soon on my way again. What can I say but cheers?

Lance pointed out Canon beach on 101 so I decided to take his advice and just before portland I turned off the I5 and headed to the coast. It had been raining all day and now it was getting dark. The new road was a minor road and had no street lighting. Combined with the rain it was too much and I pulled into a motel for the night. Hands and feet white and wrinkled from wearing wet clothes I curled into bed shivering having only covered 130 miles!

The next day, and up early for a long ride to make up for the previous day. I looked out the window and the sun was shining. I could see the road for a few miles and it was all twisty. A grin spread across my face as I hurried into my still damp clothes. I couldn't care less. I was on the road finally after a month of false starts. All was good. As I straddled the bike, rev the engine and wave to the motel owner.... It rains!!! Not just a little bit either. It pisses it down and continues to piss it down for the next 150 miles! Cannon beach? I looked, it was windswept, I carried on. Tillamok with its famous cheese factory? I didn't even slow. I'll give the North Oregon cost one thing. It knows how to throw a good storm. Waves crashing against the cliff face, howling winds and rain driving sideways. At many points spray from the sea would hurl itself onto the road adding to the misery. All it needed was a lone woman standing on the cliff waiting for her fisherman husband to return home and the scene would have been set. I did finally stop in a town called Neskowin. Shivering and looking like a drowned rat I stepped into the relative warmth of a motel reception. $55 for a warm room? Done deal. I checked in, turned on the shower and without getting out of my clothes sat in the bathtub. 6 hours in pouring, freezing rain and again only 150 miles...

Tsunami + Tree =  great place for a fire pit
By this point I was beginning to think I had been very unlucky to catch such bad weather. I was putting it down to cold fronts and other scientific reasoning but there is a deeper, more malicious story here. For, within 10 minutes of stopping, after I had dragged myself out of the tub and had dressed in fresh warm clothes I decided to make the most of a bad situation. I'd head out to the beach and get some photos of the storm. If not exactly comforting a storm does have a beauty all of its own and it deserved to be photographed just as much as anything else. So warmly dressed and ready to face the storm I head out into the..... sunshine. That's right. The storm cleared and the sun came out.

Moody Ocean
And another one
Figuring that this at least meant that Wednesday would be a good dry days riding I slept slightly more comfortably. The next morning brought more rain and another long horrible ride. My boots still soaked from the day before had now given up all pretense of being waterproof. My gloves looked and felt like soggy toilet paper. By the end of this day I would have twice poured out about 2 cups of water from each boot and spent half hour in McDonalds warming my entire body under a hand drier.

There was nothing... NOTHING that could redeem this ride. The roads were beautiful for summer riding but in the heavy rain they caused more depression. As the road turned away from the coast the mountains became an endless source of grief as frozen fingers tried to work the brakes and clutch for each damn corner. My visor steamed up and would not clear and it even hailed at one point making riding with the visor up an impossibility. I had to pullover and wait it out. I was offered sympathies by passing motorists and one lady gave me hot chocolate and a salami sandwich. I did make it through Newport and North bend all the way down to Brookings where I decided to call it a night. Just outside of the Redwood National Park and the real reason I was on the 101. I'd ride the great Avenue of the Giants, drive through the drivethru tree and generally have a good ol time.

One of the big trees
So it's Thursday morning and guess what? It's raining. I wont bore you. There were some big trees, some of them were huge even. The road would have been great except it was far too slippy to push so more miles passed with little to note the actual passing of time except those key moments when my gloves gave out and water seeped between my fingers. Or when the water, pooled between me and my tank bag, decided it was time for a change of scenery and subsequently drenched my nuts. The first bead of water to roll between my jacket and backpack all the way down to my butt crack. The inevitable shivers!

Friday morning... the last stretch. 150 miles to San Fran. I hadn't planned on visiting but by this point I just really wanted a warm bed and somewhere with other backpackers. The weather forcast for the next 2 hours ride? Rain and Thunderstorms! Tornado warnings and, you guessed it, snow!

I managed to make one good stop along the way in Ukiah. I stopped in a coffee shop where people took sympathy on me and helped me book a hostel in San Fran. I managed to not take a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge but I did find the hostel on my first attempt.

I've probably been a bit unfair on the Oregon coast. It was beautiful in its own dramatic way. The riding would be awesome in the summer. I stopped several times to look at the ocean and its ferocity was something else. Speaking to locals I found they had a love hate relationship with the weather. In many ways I think the weather defines life here. In the summer it is warm and beautiful and there is huge tourism. In the winter those who tender to the tourists must deal with regular blackouts. Tsunami warnings and random snow storms all year round. They have a saying here. "If you don't like the weather wait 5 minutes and it will change." I took this advice and in the worst of the storms you could find me sheltering under the nearest awning. One way or another the weather always improved a little bit.

Going to rest up a day or two here and take a look at the bike. There are a couple of niggling problems I would like to fix (the front tire has, in parts, split in two) and she is seriously lacking power. Probably one of the carbs is gummed up a bit. Wouldn't mind doing a dyno run as well but beggers cant be choosers.

There were at least a few moments of good weather

Monday 7 March 2011

Just an update

Not much to report but in the spirit of regular blogging here is an update.

So I told you that my ride was booked to reach Vancouver and if everything had gone to plan I would be there now. Instead I received an email a day before we were going to ship the bike which said "we suspect a 90-95% chance your bike would receive moderate to serious damage during transport. It is unlikely it would be ridable at the delivery destination"

Errr wot???? So as you can imagine this option was very quickly removed from the table. Fortunately I made a few posts on requesting assistance and someone got in touch. Big ups to David from Edmonton who has saved me from the pits of despair. He has a 1 ton truck and is heading West to Vancouver on Tuesday the 8th. Spoken to David a couple of times since he contacted me and we are going to load the bike on Tuesday morning and plan to be in Vancouver by the evening. He's even offered to help with accommodation in Vancouver. Brilliant!

In other bike related news everything is ready to go, I even have a new tank bag from Al which is going to be a God send further down the road allowing me to keep a map in full view and other essential stuff close to hand. Also made one or two big ticket purchases including a GoPro helmet cam and some diving equipment. As you can probably tell I am very much ready to go now and have been for a while. Once in Vancouver I really don't care if it is raining.

So, if you happen to be reading this from somewhere along the West Coast, keep an eye out for a grinning, soaking wet Welshman heading south.

Bryn Rhys and guess who? My cousins and I for the
obligatory family photo
ps. Checkout the new map on the right. The old one was a bit bloated so this one will be purely for this leg of the trip.

Monday 28 February 2011

On the road again......

Been a while huh? Well I'll do a quick recap on the last year without boring you too much. I've been working for a living (how dreadful) in South Korea in a city called Wonju. The lonely planet refers to Wonju as "possibly the worst city in Korea" but I have to disagree. It's a small place with around 200,000 people. Plenty of shops, good restaurants and places to hang out. The nightlife lacks a bit with no real clubs but you can always find a good place to go to pass the time until the sun rises.

If you ever do find yourself in Wonju then I highly recommend Family Mart drinking. This is a highly complex social and cultural gathering in which you congregate near a family mart with friends and consume large quantities of an alcoholic beverage known as soju. This is usually combined with beer to create someck. During this gathering it is expected that you talk crap for hours on end, do not leave before sunrise and occasionally try to converse, in konglish, with the locals.

Memories of that kind of summer night in Wonju will be my everlasting memory of Korea.

I did teach English, at various levels, for 5 days a week. Sometimes the lessons were great and had some really good banter with the kids and other times I would spend an entire lesson being hit by several very small children. Korea can be a very random place and sometimes the things that happen blow your mind for the absurdity of it. I had a class turn up stark naked because there wasn't enough time for them to change after swimming lessons and everyone seemed to think that this was a perfectly normal way to teach a lesson. I also had one class dressed entirely in Hambo (traditional clothing) and found out on that day that I too would be wearing traditional clothing, cooking at eating traditional food and learning to play the a traditional musical instrument.

So yeah... Random... I suppose I love and hate Korea. Sometimes I was driven insane by the quirks but in the end I made some great friends and had some great experiences and really there isn't much more you can ask for in life.

Anyway, about 2 weeks ago I left Korea. We all went to Seoul for a proper goodbye. Got truly hammered in the night and said our teary goodbyes the next morning. Going to miss my group of friends more than I will miss the country. We had some great times causing several international incidents.

So yeah, after that I spent a night in a hostel feeling incredibly lonely before almost missing my flight the next day. The flight, like many, was long, boring and seriously lacking in entertainment. The only movie was an Indian film with Chinese subtitles.

16 hours wouldn't have been so bad except that, after arriving in Vancouver I needed to catch a bus to Edmonton. That's a 16 hour bus ride for those that don't know. They didn't even turn the TVs on this time. I've finished 3 books in about 3 days...

In Edmonton now staying with family. My Uncle Alan, Auntie Anne and their son Bryn. Hopefully I will see Rhys too before I leave. I have been reunited with my bike after about 15 months. It is in better condition than when I last saw it thanks to my Uncle who is a big bike fan himself.

The following two pics are of the bike as it arrived in Edmonton. Tightly packed up for shipping and after (a probably very frustrating) few hours rebuilding.

It seems one of the fork seals blew on the trip over so Alan fixed that up, got some new fittings for the faring and windshield which should reduce any rattle and changed some pipes which were leaking. We've also had to adjust the chain which had 118 links instead of 110 so we broke the chain and found out the o-ring chain was two wide for the only masterlink we had available. Correcting this involved taking a grinding tool to one of the sideplates making it a bit thinner and removing the o-rings and the metal loops they sat on. This will be something I will be keeping a very close eye on until the chain is replaced.

Finally a new battery fitted and a few nuts n bolts replaced and it appears we are good to go. I'm working out what can stay and what can go when it comes to luggage as there seems to be considerably more clothing now than there used to be plus all my scuba gear.

So why haven't I left you ask? Why, with miles and miles of open road ahead of me and all the possibilities, am I sitting inside typing away and staring out the window? Well, -23 Celsius and 2 inches of snow a day can seriously put a dampener on a bikers spirit. With a little bit of help and a lot of googling I finally found a shipping company who is willing to throw my bike in the back of a truck that is deadheading over to Vancouver. So I'll be on a bus soon enough heading back to Vancouver myself. Should be back on the bike by Monday or Tuesday next week.

Excited? Just a tad. Bought a LP for Mexico today and tried to pick up some maps for the US and Central America. Few things left to buy but they can wait till the US where they are a bit cheaper. Should have a GoPro head cam soon and a new netbook to edit the videos.

Weekly updates this time around? I can't promise anything but I will try to keep Monday as my posting day and we'll see what happens. Should have videos and photos from the bike this time too.