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