Tag Archives: offroad

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: 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!

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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.

San Borja

Eager to move on from Bahia de Concepcion, I woke up fairly early-ish, ate a quick bite of something I can’t remember and went to gas up. I was wanting to do a bit more off road riding and noticed a nice long dirt road that would take me through the mountains along the coast, eventually swinging west towards Guerrero Negro, my ultimate endpoint for the day.

You can see the route I wanted to take south of Bahia de Los Angeles on the right hand side there, and the actual route to MEX1 through San Borja near the top.
You can see the route I wanted to take south of Bahia de Los Angeles on the right hand side there, and the actual route to MEX1 through San Borja near the top.

I should mention that this lovely AAA map was donated by a grand couple who stayed in the camp site next to me at Daggett’s.  They had an extra one, and though it was 10 years old were very happy to give it to me.  Sadly I don’t remember their names, but I do remember being quite stunned by how happy this elderly couple seemed to be after all these years.  Then off they went to go kayak across the bay.  Those crazy Boomers.

Pulling into the Pemex station, I saw this technological marvel.

I bet it's fun as all heck to drive.
I bet it’s fun as all heck to drive.

Anyway, after fueling up I talked to this guy, Donnie Williamson, and asked him about the route.

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As you can see, Donnie is also from Austin, TX and a huge Longhorns fan. He even provided my bike with some much needed Austin bling.

Hook 'em! And it's mad reflective!
Hook ’em! And it’s mad reflective!

Donnie mentioned that the road was pretty torn up after the previous days Baja 200 race, and it would take me most of the day to get through heavy deep sand, the kind of stuff that makes professional Baja riders cry. I should mention that Donnie was hoppin’ around madly, as I found out he was late to return back to Austin by a few days.  So we parted ways and I started back whence I came towards MEX1.  About 20 minutes in I noticed a sign to some mission called San Borja, flipped around on the road and stopped at the sign.

San Borja.

Well damn it, I have this amazing map, let me actually look at it and see if I can cut across the desert, and what do you know I surely could.  It would be a few miles but it would be fun as all hell, I knew that much. So off I charged down a road made of rocks and Baja dirt.  I don’t have many pictures of this time, but I did meet some Gaucho’s headed towards the highway. At this time I stopped and turned on the GoPro, to record an epic ride.

One of a few signs pointing the way.

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Here’s video of the ride, including me crashing after I hit some rocks. Which was actually pretty fun, and I imagine it always is whenever you don’t get hurt (thanks Alpinestars!).

Eventually I got to the mission.

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Of course it was closed for renovations.

I’ll spare you all the rest of the details but needless to say I enjoyed a very boring and straight ride before ending up in Guerrero Negro.

San Felipe to Gonzaga Bay

Eager to see the ‘real’ Baja, I awoke at a blisteringly early 10AM, shoveled some huevos rancheros into my mouth and hopped onto the MEX5 south towards Puertocitos.

MEX5 is littered with good ideas shot dead by the recession.  Worn billboards line the roads, their sun-faded lettering extolling the latest and greatest parcels of land for sale, or a new hotel opening up last spring.

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The road, as well, quickly becomes a bit rougher, ever present sand dunes continuing their steady march more and more inland. It’s still completely drivable of course (and easily), I mention it merely because some Americans more used to the highways of our country might be in for a bit of surprise.

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The ride is mostly uneventful, though I have my first experience with vados, the Mexican solution to road floods. While Baja is extremely arid, it does rain at times, and the area is known to flood during high rainfall (as was the case in 2012 with Hurricane Paulie Cicero).  So what the Mexicans have done, is create dips in the road that allow the water to flow towards lower elevations.

These can be properly terrifying when they are not marked, and they are often not (though more times they are on major thoroughfares), and will work your suspension over like a fat man on a pogo stick. Luckily, local gringos will often take matters into their own hands to warn fellow travelers of upcoming vados.

A Mexican vado.
This was one was proceeded by a 10 foot “OH” sign as well.

I continued on, through the desert scrub that makes up this land. The mind can play tricks on you at times, as the road is very straight and the surrounding area begins to look a bit alien to a traveller, but a quick glance towards the coastline and, sanity regained, you’ll see many homes that have been built by locals and gringos.

Houses in the distance, though I explored some and found many abandoned.
Houses in the distance, though I explored some and found many abandoned.

Eventually I made it to Puertocitos, well, at least the outskirts, and came across this sign, and, while taking pictures, was stopped by a gringo curious about my motorcycle.

Every gringo who lives in the area, I assumed.
Every gringo who lives in the area, I assume.

“You long distance riders are crazy man, where are you going?” I told him my short story so far, and he mentioned I should stop at a place called Cowpatty’s for a “beer and hotdog.” Only in Baja. Feeling peckish, I decided, what the hell. A mile later, I’m at the cow shit bar.

His logo is a Mexican with a massive sombrero and accompanying mustache.
His logo is a Mexican with a massive sombrero and accompanying mustache.

There’s a lot to look at it, and judging by the race team stickers appears to be a pretty popular place on the Baja 1000 circuit.

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I find the owner (Richard), tending bar, order a beer and a dog and we start conversating. He tells me that there’s not much to see in Puertocitos, and I should keep riding as it’s only 1PM and I can easily make it to Gonzaga Bay, a much prettier place with a store (a store!). He also tells me a bit about the place, how he’s planning on having a Super Bowl party here and that I should definitely not stay here because everyone is an old gringo.  As if on cue, they start filtering in from their surrounding beach homes for a mid-day beer and some conversation.

One thing I have noticed is that these transplants are a tight knit group and not keen on carrying on conversations with travellers, unlike the locals.  I’m not sure if it’s due to a generational divide or the climate, or perhaps something else, but it reminds me of the Portland Freeze. Anyway, I pay Richard, leave him a tip, and head out towards Gonzaga Bay, passing through Puertocitos for some gas.  He was right, there really is not much there (apparently some hot springs but those are everywhere), but it’d be nice for a day trip I’m sure.

puertocitos

 

The road to Gonzaga Bay is much more interesting.

While paved, it begins to snake through the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir Peninsular Range, a feature I was not expecting when I first rode into Baja.   Along the way volcanic rocks jut through the Sea of Cortez, defiant through the ages as always.

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Excitingly, my friend Mr. High Brown Pants Moment Crosswinds has decided to join me as well, so I don’t have too many pictures of the ride towards the Bay. The sun was setting as well, and I was not relishing the possibility of riding at night in high wind traffic. No sir.

As luck would have it, the road ends, due to construction. It turns out, the MEX5 is still under construction, and past Gonzaga Bay it’s all offroad until you rejoin with the MEX1 further central to Baja. It’s also here that there exists a military checkpoint. Because why wouldn’t there be a checkpoint on a dirt road?

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I eventually get to Gonzaga Bay, which is nothing more than a crescent of sand, a Pemex gas station, and a store/restaurant. Numerous fishing vessels sit offshore, as Gonzaga is a small fishing village, though these are clearly commercial and I’m not sure where they dock.

Gonzaga Bay and fishing vessels.
Gonzaga Bay and fishing vessels.

On the beach I camp under a palapa, which has the exorbitant price of 250 pesos for wind protection, or 120 without.  I opt for with, and damn, I sure am glad I do.

A palapa.
A palapa.

It’s been a long day, so I eat some tacos at the store, head back to the beach with few cervezas, and am treated to a nice sunset over the bay.

And then the wind picks up to about 50mph.

I huddle in my tent as the sand begins to pile up inside the palapa and around the tent, finishing off my cervezas and listening to some tunes.  I’m pretty thankful I went for the wind barrier, I can’t imagine what my night would have been like in that weather without it.

Big Bend

Big Bend, the jewel of the west. Ok, I may have made that part up.

Either way, I’ve always heard great things about this national park, but being a 10 hour drive from Austin it’s not something you just up and decide to visit on a Friday after work. I rolled into the park right as the sun started to set, and managed to snap a few photos (though Ansel Adams I’m not while wearing motorcycle gloves).

more rocks rock

Spent the night in Chiso’s Basin, not much to report, but luckily it was 30+ degrees that night. Unluckily I spilled water all over my sleeping bag, so, yeah.

Look it's me trying a fancy long exposure shot.
Look it’s me trying a fancy long exposure shot.

Next day, I was up bright and early and rode on down to the Santa Elena Canyon, before heading up my first non-paved road, Old Maverick Road.

This is where the Eye of Sauron used to sit before Aragorn defeated the Dark Lord, now affectionally called "Mule Ears."
This is where the Eye of Sauron used to sit before Aragorn defeated the Dark Lord, now affectionally called “Mule Ears.”Santa Elena Canyon, proper.

Luna's Jacal, a house made of dirt, stone and plants this guy built and raised 18 kids in. 18. Kids.

Luna’s Jacal, a house made of dirt, stone and plants this guy built and raised 18 kids in. How many kids do you think I could have if I can convince a woman to live with me on a motorcycle?

So yeah, Big Bend was beautiful but my bike was not really happy with me.  Remember that cam chain tensioner issue I mentioned? I was sure this was the cause of oil leaking all over the engine, and I was keen to push it to El Paso and get some repairs done at the Suzuki dealership there in town.

You should not be loose Mr. CCT bolt.
You should not be loose Mr. CCT bolt.

I hauled ass out of Big Bend and headed north on 118, before realizing I had zero power left on my gadgets. Not a huge deal, but I would have no way of finding the damn dealership since I didn’t have a map of Texas (who needs maps of the state they live in, am I right?). Luckily I have a 12v cigarette charger, so while gassing up in Terlingua, I plugged in my USB charger and my phone and…nothing. Damn thing must have been broken.  Well this wouldn’t do, so I pulled off to the side, ripped off the front fairing and set out to repair it, but, alas it was fried. While doing so, a friendly dude with a southern drawl asked me if I needed any help, and, while I didn’t, I explained my concern about the CCT bolt and what not. He ran a dual sport rental shop right next to the gas station, said his name was Dan Dickie, and if I needed anything else to come find him. Of course I didn’t though, right? I mean, I was going to El Paso to get some repairs.

And that’s when the wheels fell off.

As you go north on 118 from the Alon gas station there, you climb a pretty steep hill, with Bee Mountain to your left. POP POP POP and the bike dies as I barely climb the hill.  Startled, I start it up again (reluctantly), nudge it into second, hit about 30 mph and POP POP dead. Oh man, I am fucked I thought. There was no way I could make it to El Paso, every time I hit some higher RPMs the bike would backfire insanely and then die. After a few minutes of cursing and generally behaving insanely (why wouldn’t I expect the 6th time to be different), I turned around and coasted down the hill to get Dan’s help.

The man was a saint and, while he couldn’t do anything for me, he knew a guy in town who he said was a “motorcycle genius, and he’s only 5 miles away, but he knocks off at 3:30 sharp so get moving,” and off I went. I eventually found the entrance Dan had described, crawled up a few dirt roads and ended up at Cycletek, where a man in shorts impatiently motioned me over, and as I pulled up, exclaimed “God damn your bike sounds loud as shit.”

This was how I met Ralph Delmar.

broken

cycletek

It was immediately apparent to me that Ralph knew what the fuck he was talking about, and had zero time for games, bullshit, and general malarkey, so we got to work. Or rather, he and his employee Darren got to work, while I sat around feeling generally useless snapping a few photos.

tools

Ralph determined that the CCT, while not broken, had no more threads left so the bolt had popped loose, so he installed a helicoil and a replacement seal and reset the cam chain.

ralph
Ralph fixing my CCT.

 

The leaking oil was due to a missing washer on each banjo bolt on the oil line. Yeah, not sure how I missed that one. And the noise? Well, that was due to the exhaust valves being insanely out of adjustment, so much so (yet so exact) that the local shop I took it to must have confused inches and millimeters when setting the clearances. Luckily, no major damage (so far).

Everything was finally sorted, and Ralph offered to let me camp out at his place that night, as there was no way I was getting out of Terlingua that night. The amount of stars you can see on his property is ridiculous, I’ve never seen that many, and sadly my poor astrophotograpy skills do not do the sight justice.

Seriously there were so many stars, that light is from the moon rising.
Seriously there were so many stars, that light is from the moon rising.

But, let’s back up a bit, because Ralph suggested a local place called La Kiva, which turned out to be a bar/restaurant built into the dirt, decorated with fossils and local knickknacks, and a giant copper kettle to piss in.  It was, and is, completely awesome, and I know a number of friends back in Austin who would absolutely love the place and make it their local. And of course, the beers were on me.

la_kiva

la_kiva_inside

And so, while finishing up my brisket calzone (it’s no Franklin’s) and a Big Bend Porter, I meet these two dudes, Curt and Bob a.k.a. Waldo and we get to chatting about Riding, specifically, Riding In Big Bend.

Me (left), Curt (center), Bob (right)
Me (left), Curt (center), Bob (right)

Bob’s from Illinois (an Illinoisian?) and comes down to Big Bend every winter, and this is Curt’s second (maybe third?) time in the area, but he rode with Bob last year. He’s a farmer from Iowa who has a badass Harley he uses for Iron Butt Association challenges when he’s not getting dirty in Big Bend.

Bob’s a bit of a local legend in the area, and has a motorcycle related story for every possible situation. He also rides something like 30,000 miles a year. Yeah, that’s a shit ton of miles.

They like my trip, and Curt was even down in Ushuaia many years ago, but rode north to Santiago. I tell them all about my plans, and my fears, about Baja and how I’m a bit nervous offroad and right then and there it’s decided that Bob and Curt are taking me riding the very next day, and damnit if we’re not doing River Road west to east (and some other roads I have forgotten the name of).

Anyway, not to ramble on, but here’s the GoPro outcome of my first forays into off-roading under the tutelage of Waldo, with Curt riding sweeper and generally helping me pick up my bike.

I could write a lot more about my new found love for Big Bend, Terlingua, and it’s residents, but we’re over 1200 words here on this blog post and most of you probably have skimmed past. If you’re ever in the area and need someone to ride with, find Waldo (he rides a KLX250). If you need to rent a bike, find the gracious Mr. Dan Dickie (and find him in Tennessee when it’s not winter). And if you need an honest and smart mechanic who also knows the backroads, talk to Ralph Delmar at Cycletek.

Thank you gentlemen, I still owe you one, and I surely can not wait to get back to that area of Texas again.