Tag Archives: copper canyon

Copper Canyon: Sanctuary

I woke up at dawn to the droning of millions of honeybees overhead and immediately thought Peter must have been stung to death through the night. Thanking my lucky stars for having taken the time to put up the tent for myself to protect against the murderous insects, I sat up and looked around.  Peter was standing around, admiring the view, and it became clear that wherever the droning was coming from (which seemed to be everywhere), the bees were no where to be seen. The ranges and valleys we had ridden yesterday were painted golden by the morning light.

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I never feel like the glass can adequately capture what some of these scenes look like.

Peter informed me he hadn’t slept the previous night, since he needed to take some pills to do so, and couldn’t do so without some kind of liquid.  I was pretty certain a small sip of beer to swallow the pill wouldn’t cause any issues, despite the warning label said, but he disagreed.  He then asked me to run back down the mountain to where he had previously collapsed the day before, as he had lost his motorcycle gloves and camera. So I packed up camp and shot down the mountain, spotting the gloves, but no camera. The rest of the group had already arrived when I returned, with quite their own story about the previous night.

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Apparently, they only made it about 2 kilometers in the dark, the terrain no better on the road to El Rodeo.  They stopped at a house, and after a few minutes of banging on the door an elderly man peered out suspiciously.  Stefan begged for some water, and the man brought out a small cup of water, for all six of them.  This went on a few more times until he got the picture and brought a large pitcher for them all, before they slept on some concrete.  Temperatures were around 32 degrees the previous night, so it probably wasn’t that enjoyable.

A truck pulls around and Stefan asks the driver if this really is, honestly, the road to Batopilas.  The driver assures him this road will take us there, but it’s going to be a rough ride, as the conditions deteriorate quickly heading up the mountain before they get somewhat better on the descent.

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Finally we begin moving, with Stefan and Andi in front, then me, and then the rest behind me. As I ride up a particularly steep part of the hill, I look back and notice Peter, who was behind me is no longer visible.

I park the motorcycle in the middle of the switchback, and start walking down, thinking he may need some assistance.

His bike is laid down, hanging over the edge of the road, a drop about 50 feet or so, with no sign of Peter.  I rush over and see that miraculously his foot is pinned underneath the motorcycle, which is leaking gas everywhere.

“Peter! Are you ok?”

“Yes, just get the damn bike off of me!”

The hill, where it bends left is where the accident occurred.
The hill, where it bends left is where the accident occurred.

Of course, if I move the bike first, the guy will slip down the cliff face, and probably tumble down the mountain for who knows how long, especially given his lack of sleep.  So I grab his arms and wrench him up, before lifting the bike off his leg.  Chris has come up at this point as well, and we finally get everything sorted, but the mental damage has been done.

Sadly I have no pictures or video of the accident (or maybe it’s better that way?), my GoPro having pretty much died the day before.

Peter’s decided there is no damn way he’s riding anymore, and Agnes explodes as well, exhausted and drained from having to get off and on the 1200 GS every few minutes.  They want to stay put and have us ride ahead, and send a truck back from Batopilas to pick them up.

I’m not sure how feasible this is, but I find that I’ve lost my patience and after making sure every one is ok, ride up to where Stefan, Ira, Andi, and Noah are waiting and explain the situation. It’s their group, they can deal with it.

An apt representation of the conditions of the road and people's temperaments.
An apt representation of the conditions of the road and people’s temperaments.

Stefan heads down to try and talk to Peter and Agnes, while the rest of us hang out for twenty minutes.

Andi just can't believe we've made about 1km of progress in the last 45 minutes.
Andi just can’t believe we’ve made about 1km of progress in the last 45 minutes.
Road conditions.
Road conditions.

Eventually Chris shows up with Agnes walking beside him, and Stefan a few moments later.

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We all have a big pow wow, a come to Jesus moment, a few laughs and press on.  There will be no stopping now until we get to Batopilas; the app says it should about an hour but it will turn out to take more like 4 hours.

The truck driver we met earlier was correct, the road gets worse, but there are some spectacular views as the sun climbs higher throughout the day.

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Look at all that road we get to drive!

There’s one more particularly nasty descent, extremely steep, extremely slippery, and a little frightening to those on the bigger bikes, but we manage to blast through it and keep on keepin’ on.

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We climb one more mountain face, and then are greeted with a view of a spectacular valley. And Batopilas! I can see it! Everyone instantly feels better now that our destination is in sight.

The winding road to Batopilas! Sanctuary!
The winding road to Batopilas! Sanctuary!
Confidence high, I let the throttle rip and ride hard, stopping every once in a while for a few photos.
I mean, c'mon, look at that view.
I mean, c’mon, look at that view.
I'd been seeing these purple flowers on the sides of many roads here in Mexico.
I’d been seeing these purple flowers on the sides of many roads here in Mexico.

I stop at another T-intersection and wait for the rest of the group. Andi and Noah are right behind me, and the rest appear ten minutes later.  We hook a left onto a copper colored road, and descend into the valley, passing by locals riding quads every once in a while.

The copper road to Batopilas.  We probably would have been riding something like this had the initial bridge still be intact.
The copper road to Batopilas. We probably would have been riding something like this had the initial bridge still be intact.

And then, civilization! We’ve made it!

Southern entrance into the town of Batopilas.
Southern entrance into the town of Batopilas.

Much hootin’ and hollerin’ follows as we gleefully ride into town as the triumphant adventurers we are.  The last two days have been difficult, but we persevered and it paid off.

We pull into the town square, directly in front of the police station as locals curiously look at these spacemen arriving from the mountains. I start to get off the motorcycle and, I’m not sure what happens but I lose control and drop it. So many miles through horrific terrain without a single incident, and I crash at zero miles per hour.  As I fall I grab the front brake, it’s tight and then suddenly it’s extremely pliable.

Hmm, that’s not supposed to feel like that.

Andi runs over to help me (I’m alright), and as the bike is put back up I see the front wheel is covered in brake fluid. Closer inspection reveals that I stupidly routed the brake line incorrectly, going on the inside instead of the forks instead of the outside.  So, when the forks compressed, the steel braided brake line would rub on the rotor.

And they compressed a lot in the last 48 hours.

Yeah, you can't buff that out.
Yeah, you can’t buff that out.
Your dejected mechanic, admiring his handiwork.
Your dejected mechanic, admiring his handiwork.

For now though, everyone’s tired and eager to eat, drink, nap, and shower off the Canyon. We check into a small hotel called Hotel Juanitas, which is basically this woman’s yellow house, but with a hotel on the backend.  She has a tiny ramp you can use to wheel your motorcycle through, passing the living room with the TV on the right hand side into a courtyard.

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Entrance.
Entrance.

After washing up, I visited the two local mechanics in town, but no one had anything to help with my missing brake line issue.  At least the rear brakes still worked, and they’d just have to get me through the next few miles until I could reach some major time.

The rest of the day was spent recharging batteries, resting and eating, before everyone crashed early, ready to head to Creel in the morning.

Town bench.
Town bench.
Gazebo in the town square.
Gazebo in the town square.

 

Eating a well deserved meal.
Waiting for a well deserved meal.

Copper Canyon: Into The Maw of the Beast

Note: I don’t have many pictures of this time period, and all the video is contained below. Scroll down to watch it if you can’t or don’t read.

Up to this point we’ve been relying  heavily on my Nexus 5 phone and the Skobbler app.  I highly recommend it for your offline mapping needs.

Stefan has some handwritten notes with distances as well, which have worked out as well, to my surprise.  Despite my reliance on technology, there must be something to these tried and true old ways, and I stash that knowledge away to be used at some future date.

Either way, he asks me to accompany him back to the old man who sold us all the Coke’s and see if we can find a way around.  Walking across the road, onto a porch shading the house from the beating sun, the smell of fresh blood wafts through the air as we’re greeted by a freshly quartered and carved cow, pieces hanging from the rafter and dripping into the dirt beneath. The old man stands by the bright Coke machine and mentions that there is a mining road we can potentially take, but you need a permit. He and Stefan speak in Spanish (Stefan speaks pretty good Spanish, among other languages), and I attempt to find it on my maps, but it doesn’t look like anyone has gone that way yet. Or they never reported it back to the OSM project, which Skobbler relies on. We thank the man and head back to rejoin the others.

So, we have three choices:

  1. We can go see the missing bridge ourselves, and potentially investigate a side road that seems to go a bit farther I have found on the maps, and hope to find a way across.
  2. We rely on Coke mans intel and ride the mining road.  He’s told us it’s about 12 km north, and then we’ll see an iron arrow pointing towards the mine.
  3. We turn around and hopefully find another way through the Copper Canyon.

My location
Get Directions

The bridge.

Well, I can tell you that right away we knew the third option was right out, and how dare you even mention it as we’ll lose a few days figuring out and, more importantly, we’re god damn adventurers.

No, we decide to take the mining road. Worst case scenario, we can come back and see how the bridge looks, as well all have plenty of gas and there is sufficient daylight still.

Chris and Agnes finally show up, and, after a bit of an argument with Stefan about the groups riding speed, clarification of our current situation, and some Coke (so much Coke during this time, we would desperately wish for some later on), are on board as well.

A grader rounds the corner, Stefan asks him about the bridge (yes, it’s out) and the mining road (he’s not sure), and we mount up and ride on through the dusty road.

The terrain is much more difficult here, and the road climbs far higher than any other we’ve traversed to this point. Onwards and upwards we go, occasionally glancing at each other wondering how much longer this road continues on, until, finally, we reach a gate.

With armed guards.

The mining road certainly exists, and it leads straight to an active gold and silver mine. We unpack as Stefan and Chris (who also speaks a ton of Spanish, having done a similar trip like mine many years ago) ask about passing through the mine, explain that bridge is out, and, no señor, we’re very sorry but we don’t have enough gas to turn around and go back, we promise .

I notice another guard in a watch tower, high above the cliff face above us and the gate peering down at us.  It’s a great tactical position.

The guards radio down to El Jefe, and we wait.  I can only imagine what was going on through their minds, when four motorcycles and eight brightly dressed spacemen appeared at their gates, gibbering in foreign tongues.

We wait a while. I mention to Stefan (in German, apparently Mexicans love Alemania) that we’ll probably have to bribe these guys.

And then, they let us in the gate! We’re only allowed in the guard area, but, having paid nothing yet and no holes in our bodies, things are looking up.  We sit in the shade and wait a while, and even use the bathroom facilities. Sadly there is no water to drink, but I give a little of what I have left to the group, confident we can ask the mine owners for some when they let us proceed.

If they let us proceed, the paranoid part of my brain reminds my conscience.

Anyway, after what is probably about an hour, a truck with emergency lights comes up through the other gate, the guards come over and tell us we can proceed. I turn on the GoPro, and we drive through the mine, escorted by a truck in frond of and behind our group.

We’re ecstatic! We made it! Through a damn gold and silver mine! How many other people have driven this road before? Has anyone? Boastful Me doesn’t think so, and I’m grinning ear to ear as I wait at the exit for Chris and Agnes, to make sure they get through before the guards close the gate, until they wave me off.

I ride about a kilometer later and see the rest of the group.

And the river.

Copper Canyon: Baby Steps

I should take some time to introduce the other members of our group that I met on the ferry, before telling you of the adventures we had in Copper Canyon.

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First up is Stefan Knopf and his wife Ira, both from Heidelberg.  Stefan used to lead motorcycle tours in Mexico for many years, and is pretty much known worldwide as the guy to contact when shipping a motorcycle from/to anywhere to/from Europe, through his company Knopf tours. He was leading the group and had the route planned, hotels booked, etc. Ira rode passenger, and is extremely pleasant.  She suffers from some type of asthma, so one of Stefan’s panniers is full of a specialized machine to cure attacks, making our long ride (and their many other long rides) all the more impressive.

Andi & Noah
Andi & Noah

Andi, the guy I met the night before on the ferry, is a plumber in Heidelberg and a motorcycle aficionado as well. Actually, he’s Stefan’s plumber, and Stefan invited him out on this trip, as payment for some work back in Germany (I’m assuming.) That’s pretty awesome of Stefan if you ask me.  Andi would ride the whole way with a young kid named Noah.  Noah was a straight badass, because, well he’s so young but he hung with all of us through some really hard days. I initially thought he was Andi’s son, however I later learned they just have some kind of good father-son relationship from a previous relationship? Not that it’s important to this story.

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Next up is Peter, a plumber from Heidelberg.  Yep, same deal as Andi.  Peter and I would get to know each other very well as the day proceeded, as you’ll soon find out.

Chris & Agnes
Chris & Agnes

Rounding out the group were Chris and his partner Agnes.  Chris is from San Diego and has been long time friends with Stefan, and he rode a pretty new and very nicely kitted out 1200GS, the biggest of all the bikes in the group. I believe he does some kind of online training of teachers.

And of course, me.

So the next morning, we wake up to find our hotel has provided breakfast for everyone.  Stefan picks up my tab, payment for use of the hotel room the previous night, and while delicious, it does delay us a bit.  The Mexican way is one of bringing out multiple dishes at different times, something none of us is really used to yet, so we don’t leave Choix until a bit later.  All packed up with my 2L of water and we’re on the road, jiving to conquer the Copper Canyon by 9:30AM.

We head out, and immediately get lost.  Stefan is leading however we’ve missed the turn onto the dirt road, and it’s another 20 km until he pulls over and asks someone, and I consult my GPS. Yep, we passed it. So, we turn around, find the entrance, and hit pay dirt: no more asphalt!

DCIM100GOPRO

Weaving through small puebla’s (and dodging donkeys) the motorcycles climb higher through the mountains, with road conditions remaining generally the same: dirty.

It quickly becomes clear that I’m riding the superior machine for these conditions; the BMWs are fairly heavy and apt to get caught in smaller ruts, while the much lighter weight of my DR650 lets me rip open the throttle to charge up the hills and stay nimble in the sand.  The big 1200GS particularly has some problems, laden down with two humans and all the gear, and Chris and Agnes have to continually stop so Agnes can walk a bit as Chris maneuvers the motorcycle through deep sand. After about an hour we stop for a break and some photos.

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Break time!
"Wow we just rode that stretch, how cool was that! I wonder what's next?"
“Wow we just rode that stretch, how cool was that! I wonder what’s next?”

It’s a little after 11AM, and my phone says we still have about 7 hours of riding left. But we’re making good time, so we hop back on our bikes and continue on, and I encounter my first stream! Excitedly I gun it across the water after watching Stefan’s line and then turn around and do it again so he can get a photo of me, as we wait for Chris and Agnes to catch up and cross the stream.

TEMPORARY INSERT UNTIL STEFAN SENDS ME THE PHOTO. FOR RIGHT NOW, JUST IMAGINE HOW DASHING AND AMAZING I LOOK.

We stop again about an hour later.  I’m itching to go a bit faster though, so I pull Stefan aside and ask if he minds if I ride ahead, still a bit unsure of the groups dynamics since I did only just meet these people the day before. He’s totally fine with it so I mention that I’ll stop again in about an hour or so and wait for everyone to catch up.

Damn fine roads son.
Damn fine roads son.

I snap another picture, rip open the throttle and barrel down the two track road, a massive grin on my face.  The DR is incredible responsive, and I quickly grow more confident with the tail end sliding around curves as we tear down mountains, through valleys, and back up other mountains.  No guard rails, at times sheer cliff faces, and just pure enjoyment.

Beats working!
Beats working!
Did I mention how dusty it is out there? It hadn't rained for weeks, so I had to constantly wipe dust from my shield and camera lens. I'm still carrying that dust around on my bike.
Did I mention how dusty it is out there? It hadn’t rained for weeks, so I had to constantly wipe dust from my shield and camera lens. I’m still carrying that dust around on my bike.

I stop a few times throughout the ride to take photos and find Peter, the oldest rider of the group never too far behind me.  At one point, I lose my phone in the dust and sand, and Peter comes up behind me. I motion for him to stop, fearing he’ll run it over, and sentencing the rest of my journey to be music-less.  A few minutes search and I find it lying in the middle of the road, well hidden. Close call, that’s for sure. We head out again, and pretty soon we find a decent pace riding together, only stopping later when Peter feels a bit guilty for our quickness as we spot some river, whose name escapes me. We pull over and wait for the others, who soon arrive, with the big 1200GS many minutes later.

As we feel the day go by, we’re all a bit keen to pick up the pace, wanting to arrive before dark, so Stefan, as German as he can, tells us all not to stop again until we hit the bridge, after a town called La Mision. Peter has been wanting to stop at the next Coca-Cola sign (and mentions he lost his water bottle somewhere), and with the group getting thirsty, we press on.  I glance down as I ride and am glad I filled a two liter bottle of water before I left. Just in case of course.

I'm guessing it's called La Mision because of this mission.  Just a hunch though.
I’m guessing it’s called La Mision because of this mission. Just a hunch though.
Shrines like these are on the sides of the roads EVERYWHERE in Mexico.
Shrines like these are on the sides of the roads EVERYWHERE in Mexico.

Off we go then, here’s the video.

VIDEO OF RIDING TO THE BRIDGE. USE YOUR IMAGINATION BANDWIDTH IS LIMITED DOWN HERE.

What might not be clear is that, as I arrived at the bridge, with Peter well in front of me, three gun shots rang out somewhere down the valley.  The deal was to stop at the bridge, so I get off and wait, and Andi and Noah appear soon after.  They too heard the shots.

Andi just needs a smoke after that ride. Smoke Andi, smoke.
Andi just needs a smoke after that ride. Smoke Andi, smoke.

We wait a while and eventually Stefan and Ira show up, and they tell us they were stopped by the military.

“Yeah they just came running out of the woods yelling at us, asking us where we were going and how many of us there were.”

Peter shows back up, having seen zero Coca-Cola signs across the bridge, and with everyone thirsty  we decide to regroup in the town and search for drinks. Soon after I arrive I spot “the Army.” It looks to me like one guy in uniform with a gun and two locals in plain clothes, though perhaps the others have gone back to their posts? The uniformed man starts to get a bit agitated and begins yelling at and waving us off, so we make a quick decision to GTFO and look for some drinks after the bridge in the next Puebla.

View from the bridge. Yep, it's water.
View from the bridge. Yep, it’s water.

We cross over, and stop on the other side, and wait for Chris and Agnes, who still haven’t shown up yet at this point.

And wait.

Stefan spots a refrigerator and goes to speak to a local about the route to Batopilas, and hopefully grab some beverages. He comes back dejectedly with cans of Coke, and no water; apparently the entire fridge is full of Coke products. Impressive.

Worse, the remaining bridge between us and Batopilas had been washed away, and there is no way to get there; the water is too deep and swift to ford. We certainly won’t reach the town by nightfall.

I take a sip of Coke, look back, past  the bridge to where we spotted the military (or bandits). It’s the only way back.

I give a little bit of my water to Ira, as she needs to stay hydrated.

We’re stuck.