Map Detail of Copper Canyon (with my route highlighted in green)
The road to Divisadero was paved and fun. I was able to keep a decent pace and I enjoyed crossing and re-crossing the railroad tracks that the usual tourists took to reach Creel. I felt all the more an adventurer knowing that I was taking a little-used route and seeing much more than most visitors to the area would see. It was a quick 30 miles to the famous lookout point and I stopped to see what the fuss was all about. Unfortunately for me, while the sky was bright and cheerful, there were still many clouds in the area and they hid the vastness of canyons in front of me. I could see down into the canyons, but not across them and therefore I was unable to fully comprehend just how big they are. I have been told that the Copper Canyon area is deeper than the Grand Canyon and from what little that was visible, I could see how that could be true. The local artisans were still setting up their wares, my arrival being much earlier than the first standard tourist bus. I was tempted to buy something to remember my trip by, but the thought of packing it on to the bike (and not breaking it) kept me from doing so. I kept going the few miles to San Rafael, the road staying on the ridgeline of canyon and offering me fantastic views on either side. There were occasional trucks coming the other way, giving me hope that there would be help if I needed it later on.
In San Rafael I passed an ancient gas pump at the side of the road. Two men were standing near it and I went by, waving as I did so. But as I went by, I wondered if I should fill up. Sure, I had only used 35 miles of my 250+ expected range, but what if I was short? A friend of mine had said, “always carry as much water and gas as possible” through this area, so I turned around and filled up the tank. While I was stopped, I figured that I might as well use the restroom and asked the guys where it was. One of them pointed up a set of concrete stairs and up I went. Sadly, at this elevation I was almost out of breath by the time I got to the top. I opened the door to find a toilet but no seat. Tricky, but I could overcome that. I hovered for a little bit but the stress of the last day had taken its toll on my insides. I perched carefully on the edge and after a bit I looked around for the toilet paper. There was none to be found. Yikes – this was not a convenient time to run out of toilet paper. I looked disgustedly at the bin of used paper next to me (keep in mind that the paper isn’t flushed in Mexico, but instead tossed into the garbage) and saw the cardboard tube from the old roll resting on top. Paper is paper, but I will attest that the tube doesn’t do a very good job.
Paved road to Divisadero
Visitors building at Divisadero
View from the lookout at Divisadero
View to the right
The depths of Copper Canyon, as seen from Divisadero
Local artwork for sale
Views to the west
Pavement continues to San Rafael
Gassing up in San Rafael
Now it was time to get down to some serious riding. This was the point where I was going to leave the pavement and soon after, leave behind the lines on my map. I left town as mining trucks came in and I once again breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t raining. The dirt road was fairly wide, usually wide enough for two vehicles to pass, and it was hard packed. Still, it twisted along the ridgeline and often became muddy in low-lying areas. The morning hours passed while I gazed through dry pine forests and caught glimpses of deep ravines and valleys. A few more trucks came my way and I waved at the drivers, wanting to make as many friends as possible along this route. Local people sat on the back of empty flatbed trucks, bouncing roughly as the trucks trundled along. The big trucks were not high-speed vehicles, although the smaller pick-ups tended to maintain a good pace, something I was mindful of on the many blinds curves I encountered.
The mud that I encountered, while infrequent, was quite mucky. At one point I came to a sharp uphill “S” shaped switch back only to find six large trucks and tankers wallowing in the mud. The lead truck was trying to pull the second truck out, and the other trucks were waiting their turn to either get by or get stuck. I didn’t want to linger too long and besides, I was curious if I could get through this mud myself. The tires I had on the bike were designed for street use, but with a slightly aggressive tread for use off road. What they would do in this thick mud I didn’t know. I was easy on the throttle and the bike moved steadily ahead. A slight fishtail of the rear wheel before it caught traction and soon I was easing my way along the shoulder and passed the two lead trucks. The drivers cheered me on and I was on my way.
Hours of views like this one
Thick, gooey mud
While the roads were generally dry and clear, they were by no means fast. I was usually going about 30mph, with bursts of speed up to 40 or so on open stretches. Therefore the miles I covered were a long time in coming and I was going at a pace that really let me study the landscape. I stopped in the town (cluster of buildings) called Bahuichivo mostly to be sure I knew where I was on my map. The road continued to stay high on the ridge but I greeted every descent with joy, as I knew that it would bring me closer to the river and therefore closer to the end of this uneasy day.
After Bahuichivo the road rose sharply – much to my dismay – but made up for my anxiety by winding through some beautiful high altitude meadows and gentle valleys. As I entered the next town, the road forked with one half going up and around a hill while the other dropped gently into a wide valley and across a small bridge. I assumed that both roads went to the same town on the other side of the valley and decided to take the lower route, as it looked more scenic. As I did so, I looked back at a sign resting in the ditch and saw that the upper route would have actually taken me entirely out of my way and to a different town. The words of the gas attendant in Creel came to mind: “There are signs just like in the States!” he had said. Sure.
Tiny settlement along the way
The scenery opens up after a while
The last town along the ridgeline
Cerocahui was quite a modern town with paved streets and many stores and buildings right up against each other. It was bustling with activity, one of which was to bury copper cables across the streets. This caused some very bad bumps and was followed by a water leak that had flooded the torn up road. It was slow going, what with all of the ruts and holes and mud. I eventually was free of the town and back to the standard issue dirt road. I was feeling confident that I would actually complete the day early.
It was almost noon when I reached another fork in the road. This one had a sign, but it was so decrepit that I couldn’t read it. Off to the right and behind some trees were a few buildings (this turned out to be the town of Mesa de Arturo) and three men standing around, supposedly fixing a couple of vehicles. I asked them, in my pidgin Spanish, which was the way to Urique. Even though I was asking about Urique, I didn’t really want to go there. Urique had been my “destination city” thus far, as it was the best known of the towns along my route to ask for and I was sure that the person being asked would know where it was. As I came to each major landmark town I’d then start to ask for the next one. The three on my list today were Urique, San Juan de Dios and Choix. The men assured me that the left fork was the way to Urique and I dismissed the right fork as purely leading to this outpost of civilization. The hand-drawn lines on my map showed a cutoff just above Urique that would take me further south and not down the dead-end road that leads only to the bottom of the canyon. I continued on my way.
Looking back at Cerocahui
A glimpse of things to come
It wasn’t too long after that stop that I got my first glimpse of what truly makes up Copper Canyon. The land fell away immediately at the edge of the road. Below, a massive river rolled slowly between huge jutting ridges. Rocks stood exposed in the sunlight and at the very bottom of the canyon, about 7,000 feet below me, I could see two towns. One must be Urique and the other would be San Juan de Dios, the mining town I was heading for. I started to descend.
The turn off for San Juan de Dios never came. Down I went for 26 miles, taking over 40 minutes to navigate numerous turns, steep rocky downhill sections, sheer drop offs and freshly graded dirt before realizing that I was wrong. Once on the town streets I found an American tourist who appeared to know the area and he assured me that there was no way out of here but to go back up the mesa. Jovial as can be, he encouraged me to camp at the end of town and enjoy the city. He didn’t seem to understand that my vacation time was limited and if I didn’t get to Choix today then there would be some very uncomfortable and high-mileage days ahead of me. I grumbled mightily as I turned the bike around and headed back up the mesa. By now I was hot and tired and I was calculating that my hour cushion of time had just been squandered. Sure, it was a beautiful ride down and I did try to enjoy it, but the ride up was tedious and I just wanted to be on the right road.
Looking down upon Rio Urigue
Narrow, bumpy roads
The land drops away quickly – and for a long distance
The town of Urique at the bottom of the canyon
Heading down, down, down
Another view along the way
Roughly translated: “Watch your speed – dangerous curves”
Still going down
Not a lot of room for error
And the road keeps going
And down it goes
An hour and a half later I was back at the vehicle-repair guys, still standing around along the muddy road. I imagined what they must have been thinking of this crazy woman who asks about Urique and then so soon comes back and asks for San Juan de Dios. Regardless, they knew where San Juan was and pointed me down the right fork. I apparently was at the correct fork in the road the first time but had asked the wrong question. I headed for San Juan de Dios.
Overall, the road was descending. It was quick to do it in some places with entire sections a slimy, muddy mess and I wondered if the tires would lose traction and I’d just slide down the hill. Other times the road went back up, making me groan with the knowledge that I’d just have to go back down again eventually. I was seeing few trucks along the road by now and the sight of a white van taking the corners ahead of me gave me something to chase. I was just about to catch up to it when it stopped at a curve. I rolled up behind and then next to it to see why it had stopped. Hidden from view because of the van were two police pick-ups facing each other, front ends crumpled. A few locals stood around, not appearing to do much of anything. I eased my way around the entire mess and proceeded to enter the village of Piedras Verdes.
Immediately upon entering the village two young Mexican boys came running up to me excitedly. They rattled off something in Spanish and I made a comment about the police trucks and laughed. I then asked them which way to San Juan. One pointed to the left. The other hesitated and then also pointed to the left. I questioned them, left or right? They confirmed to the left. The town was situated in a very narrow canyon with steep walls on both sides. There was barely room for three buildings across and the streets (all two of them) were narrower than usual. Still uncertain about what the boys said, I went left but almost immediately doubted the direction. The road was down to one car width and was full of packed rocks, one edge right up against the canyon wall. I stopped to ask some men working on a house and they confirmed my suspicions: I should have taken the other road. I barely was able to turn around and retreated back to where the boys were. They were nowhere to be seen. I double-checked with some more locals standing near a store and they pointed to the road on the right. One more check once I was on the road set my mind at ease and I followed the still-narrow and now muddy road further down the mountain.
The road to come
Road grader, in action
And yet more road
Sand takes over
Still not there
I was definitely near the mine now. Heavy trucks were parked along the road, a grader was moving rocks and dirt off to one side and I could see some work buildings behind a fence. I felt triumphant, as from what I could tell by my map, I should be very close to the river by now. And another map from the hostel in Creel (granted, it was one of those cartoon maps that gives you an exaggerated view of the world) showed that once I crossed the river, I’d be in the flat lands that lead to the coast. But until then I still had this road to deal with. An unmarked fork appeared. I stopped. I had no idea which way to go, as both roads looked equally used. I knew that if I waited 10 or 15 minutes, a truck would come along and I could ask, but I didn’t feel that I had time to wait. I looked around and much to my surprise I saw a man sitting on the hill about 40’ above the road. There was no reason that I could see for him to be out here, but he was, so I asked him which way to Choix. He babbled something in Spanish and pointed to the left. I went left.
It was slow going: usually about 20mph and slower in the corners. The temperature was rising and there was more sand and less dirt to contend with, slowing me down even more. Rocks continued to hammer at my bike and me and the constant downhill was causing my hands and arms to get sore. Because I had dropped out of the tree line I could now see the far ranges of mountains and how the road snaked alongside them. I tried to anticipate which pass the road would cross and bring me relief. There were no longer any trucks on the road with me and I saw only two farmhouses along the way. A lone man walked down the road, a guitar slung over his shoulder. Goats scattered up a hillside. Nothing else moved.
Up over another ridge
More mountains to follow
The road followed a long valley, climbed up another ridge, followed the ridge for a while and then finally, in the distance, I could see the river. It wasn’t too far below me and it was just a matter of snaking my way down through the scrub lands before I’d reach it. I could see another white work truck in the distance before me and while I tried to catch it, I never did. Another unmarked intersection appeared but this time I knew that no one would be coming for a long time. I went with my gut feeling and headed to the right. Fortunately it was the right choice and I was soon crossing over a large, modern bridge. The river below it was quiet but wide. I wondered what it would be like to ford it, as this was the reason that made me choose the route I took. I probably could have done it, but despite my love of river crossings, I was glad not to have to try it. Tubares was on the other side, but it was a poorly put together town and not anything that sparked my interest. I was there long enough to verify how much further to Choix (about 50 miles) and that it was a “very good road”. I was curious as to what that meant. It was already around 4 o’clock so assuming I could go about 30mph, I should get into Choix just before sunset.
Finally, the bridge across the El Fuerte River
On the “good” road
The road out of Tubares was indeed much better than the road leading into it. But it still wasn’t terribly fast. It was well-packed dirt/gravel but had some loose gravel on the top and some bumps that kept my speed down. I knew that I was doing well when I saw the speedometer hit 40mph once. The road followed the El Fuerte River almost exactly. The river was wide and bordered by lush greenery, as compared to the dry brown scrub that I had been looking at for the last few hours. Unlike the hostel’s cartoon map, however, the land did not immediately flatten out south of the river. There were high rounded mountains to cross first, or so I guessed. Either that or the road would follow the river to the coast. I really had no idea, as I was still following a road that did not exist on my map.
Far ahead of me I saw a wisp of dust. I assumed that I was following a truck and that I’d catch up to it eventually. Therefore you can imagine my surprise a few miles later as I came around a brush-lined corner to see a military jeep coming right at me. Someone in a menacing-looking ski mask manned a machine gun on the back and the truck was full of gun-toting masked men. Behind the jeep were three Humvees, also full of olive-drab garbed men. The last Humvee was cutting the corner close and hadn’t seen me yet due to the dust and my lack of a headlight. The driver finally noticed me and turned quickly away from me. The rear tires continued to slide towards me for a moment before finally catching traction and following the front of the truck. But what worried me most was whether or not they were going to stop. I checked my mirrors for the next 10 miles, each time expecting to see some military truck bearing down on me. But none ever came and eventually I was back to my subdued thoughts of “where the hell am I?”
El Fuerte River
With great joy I followed the road as it deviated from the river and wormed its way through a very green and beautiful canyon. Surely this canyon would lead me through this range and I’d be home free. I was enjoying the close confines of the canyon when a truck coming the other way flashed his lights at me. I mentally thanked him for letting me know that my headlight was out. Then I rounded the corner and came upon a large truck parked in the middle of the road. I pulled up next to him and surprised at his English, he reassured me that on my bike, I could be in Choix in an hour. It seemed optimistic to me, but hey, this guy obviously knows the roads around here better than I did. I’m still not sure why he was sitting there – I think it was a smoke break, even though he wasn’t smoking.
I soon left the truck and the canyon behind. The road was climbing again – one last range! The sand emerged in corners with a vengeance and I found myself slowing down even more. Then I crested the ridge – only to see another one before me. The sun was starting to reach the top of the far ridge and I could see the path that I’d follow to the bottom of the valley and back up the other side. It was slow going and I was tired. But more than tired, I was worried about daylight. There was nothing around here. It wasn’t as though I could simply say “Oh, I’ll stay here tonight and get to Choix in the morning”. No. There was nowhere to stop before Choix. I had to get there or spend the night at the side of the road.
The road I had been on
Climbing up the next ridge, I passed a man herding his cattle to the side and he waved me on through, the cows meandering across the road in an aimless fashion. A couple of pick-up trucks went by and I waved at them, hoping that I wouldn’t need their assistance. And then I was heading down again, more and more sand encroached in the corners. I was beyond tired; I was exhausted. I found myself almost wishing that I would go down in one of the soft sandy corners, welcoming the excuse to just lay there and not move. But I kept the bike moving, alternating between crawling along in the sand and pulling my best “Baja 1000” moves as I passed trucks making their way through the wilderness. I devised wild plans on how to ask them if they would follow me when the sun finally gave up so that I could use the light from their headlights. I contemplated what it would be like to stop at one of the shanties that dotted the landscape, asking if I could stay until dawn. And I continue to hope that the next corner would be paved and I’d be done for the day.
The road was getting faster: it was now following a flat-bottomed valley with tidy farms on both sides. A family gathered stones from the river while the dogs chased me. I flew along at 40mph again, barely noticing a roadrunner and a cardinal in the dying light. And then the road was paved.
And looking back some more – it’s getting darker
A couple of false stops finally led me to the actually town of Choix, a big and bustling collection of people and buildings. I stopped at the first motel I could find and gladly handed over my 300 pesos for the tiny room. I took a hot shower and with clean clothes and a refreshed outlook on life, I went to the office to ask about an Internet café. Much to my surprise, the woman behind the desk offered me the office computer and hurriedly finished up her work. I took just a couple of minutes to let Dan know where I was before logging off and going back to my room. I didn’t have the energy to find food, even though I hadn’t eaten all day. I pulled out an orange, a granola bar and some pistachios. A little bad TV, some book reading and it was time for lights out.
Unfortunately, it was not time to sleep. Despite my exhaustion, the noise outside of my room kept me up until well after midnight. My door was metal it and allowed sound to reverberate through it. People called to each other and talked loudly, dogs barked and fought, car radios blared the unique accordion-based music that is so popular in Mexico and horns honked. It was a long and restless night and I woke up again at 6:15am, ready to hit the road.
Motel at Choix
Day 7 – Thursday 562 miles
I had one last chance to see something from my list of “things to do” that I had so diligently made before leaving home. All that was left was the colonial town of El Fuerte, supposedly with a beautiful mission, a nice cobblestone square and some historic buildings. I left Choix behind in the early morning light, once again woken up by dogs and roosters, and once I found my way out of the town, I enjoyed an amazingly smooth road. Recent construction left me with the typical Mexican highway: one lane in each direction with a dotted line indicating the shoulders. But the shoulders were clean and just about a car’s width and intended to be used for slower vehicles. I passed big, lumbering trucks and sped along in the comfortable morning air. The mountains receded behind me and open flat farmlands stretched out on either side of the road.
The road changed moods many times, going from glass-smooth pavement to a rough, pot-holed surface that made me long for the dirt roads of yesterday. Mid-size towns were sliced in half by the road and the traffic was constant. Topes (speed bumps) often went unnoticed until I hit them, the bike lurching with the sudden impact. Most of the homes along here were brightly painted and, by Mexican standards, tidy. Many people were out, often standing in groups or skittering across the roadway. There was a lot to look at as I headed for el Fuerte and I was comfortable with the early hour – I would have time to explore this town and maybe even pick up a blanket or other souvenir to bring home with me.
Las Mochis was too far. Where the hell did El Fuerte go? I had been diligent in watching the sign names and not once did I see one for El Fuerte. I had missed it. I wasn’t about to retrace my steps, so I gave up on getting anything done from my list and simply headed north on Mex 2. This would be my route through the rest of the country and I knew that any opportunity for excitement was essentially over. Mex 2 is a toll road and is well maintained by the government. It passed through a couple of large towns, this providing a little bit of a diversion as I tried not to get lost, get hit or to miss anything interesting.
Finally out of the mountains
Mountains near Navajoe
Somewhere north of Las Mochis I saw a sign pointing to El Fuerte. I mumbled some unflattering comments about “too little, too late” and kept on riding. I rode with the sun on my back around Guaymas, through Navojoa and north towards Hermosillo. However just south of Hermosillo I finally found an appetizing place to stop for lunch: a tasty grilled chicken hut at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I parked the bike and walked up to the couple behind the counter. I prepared my meager Spanish to request my food when the man said something to his wife and chuckled. His wife looked up at me and asked me in perfect English what I would like. That this American woman was here surprised me, but I also felt a sense of relief of not having to butcher more of the Spanish language to get what I wanted. And that’s when another English voice spoke up from behind me; it was one of the guests from the hostel in Creel. He had taken the train from Creel to El Fuerte and picked up his van to continue his trip north. He had randomly pulled off for lunch and saw me only after he parked. We had a nice lunch together, sitting under the shade of the hut and talking about our trip since our Creel departure. The chicken was moist and tender but I could only eat half of the half a chicken I had ordered. My lunch companion and I said our good-byes and he was on the road before I was, even though I’d pass him soon enough at the next tope-filled town.
My lunch stop
Friendly host and hostess
From Hermosillo it wasn’t long before I hooked a left in Santa Ana, taking me away from the directly north crossing at Nogales in favor of a more diagonal route home and a crossing at Sonoyta. My last trip through here led me to stay in Altar, arriving after a good rain and in the dark and thinking that the place was a pit hole. But now, in the daylight, I could see that it was actually not that bad of a place. It had grown since I had been there last and while I didn’t see a central zone, the business section along the highway was bustling. But on my map was the town of Caborca. The sheer number of “tourist icons” stamped around the name on my map gave me great hope of finding a neat little town to stop in, walking around the square as the sunlight faded to the west. I kept riding towards Caborca, reaching it about 30 minutes before sunset.
A massive construction project hindered me finding anything readily, and I spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get from one side of the highway to the other, seeing motel signs but not being able to reach them. I finally found one and stopped to check it out: 700 pesos!? I didn’t need a pool that bad and besides, I knew that the next night would be spent in relative American luxury. I kept on looking. I finally stumbled upon a not-so-nice looking motel on the “other side” of the highway. The proprietor called out from the 2nd floor window “120 pesos!!!” Oh goodness – how can I pass that up? I stopped and checked out the room: incredibly small, two beds and a clean shower. It would do. Besides, I was now sick of this town and realized that there wasn’t much worth sightseeing. I unpacked the bike and asked the proprietor if there was Internet access. Why not? I had nothing better to do tonight. He said that it was just “four short blocks” down the street. After the fifth block, I asked someone else and he said that it was just three more blocks. After those three blocks passed without finding Internet access, I asked someone else. He said that if I went down one more block, then over two blocks, I’d find it. He promised. And he was correct. The problem was that as soon as I walked in the door, the Internet access went down. I waited around for 15 minutes but finally gave up and walked back to the motel. I passed by the “historical district” and even took a peek inside the church. It was awful. It looked like some white tiled beast from the 1960’s. The square was uninviting. The shops sold low-quality goods, although I did stop to buy a strawberry Popsicle. I happily went back to my room to sleep.
Note the cavernous courtyard – perfect for carrying voices
Cram in as much furniture as possible!
Day 8 – Friday 436 miles
I woke up completely annoyed with the owner of the building. He had repeatedly assured me that it would be quiet. No dogs, no kids – just quiet. It was anything but: I spent three hours listening to two men holding a conversation in the courtyard behind my room. I slammed the bathroom window closed, which seemed to temper the volume for a little bit, but not long enough for me to fall asleep. As I lay in bed, I fumed and thought of the scathing words I’d spit out in the morning. Eventually I turned on my iPod and pretended not to hear the voices and finally fell asleep.
The next morning I dismissed it. It wasn’t worth bringing up, especially with my limited vocabulary. The owner was cheerful and helpful and pointed out how to get out of town through the construction. Maybe his directions were thorough in Spanish, but what I got out of it was “go left”; nothing more about turning right and then left again. But I managed to figure it out and was soon back on Mex 2 and heading north for the border. It was another nice morning and as usual, I was on the road by 7:30.
The landscape was quite beautiful in a barren, desert sort of way. The moon was fading in the west as the sun’s intensity increased and the sky was clear. The vegetation showed undulations of greenery as the road passed through areas with higher moisture content. Soft rounded mountains dotted the landscape on either side and the traffic was light. It was a perfect day to go home. But first there were the construction zones to contend with.
Unlike the States, where contractors make nice paved secondary roads to funnel traffic onto while they repair the original road, the Mexican workers simple graded the land alongside the highway and put up some signs. Every semi, car and bus on the highway would ease its way off the pavement, down a slight embankment and proceed to roll slowly across the lumpy dirt. The dust that was kicked up was blinding and the mud – where they had sprayed to keep down the dust – was thick. Three or four miles at a time, with oncoming traffic hidden by the haze, made for some slow going. Once in a while it was clear enough to see that I could pass the trucks and I stood up on the pegs, spent forks bouncing over the dirt until I was in the lead again.
I reached Sonoyta at the early hour of 9am. I found the border and a group of Mexican guards standing around in the shade. I asked them where I could turn in my vehicle paperwork before crossing and they looked around at each other before finding someone who could speak English for me. I’m glad that he could, as I don’t know if I would have understood otherwise. Apparently Sonoyta is a small border crossing, too small to have an official office in the town itself. The guard politely informed me that the office was 27km back the way I came from. I couldn’t believe it and made him repeat himself. I then indicated the next border crossing (San Luis) and said that perhaps I’d just cross there. The guard looked alarmed and pointed to Mex 2 as it paralleled the border for a hundred miles. That section was very dangerous; I was better off going back to the office down the road and crossing here. Once again, I figured that the man knew more about his own country than I did and I followed his instructions. The ride back to the office was a nice one, with spring flowers and some fun curves to enjoy. Processing the paperwork was quick and painless and I was back in Sonoyta within 30 minutes or so. I thanked the guards as I passed by them again and crossed in to the States without any issues.
Riding through northern Mexico
Springtime in the desert
More vegetation along the way
Now I was in Arizona. In the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Hundreds of cacti stood at attention as I rolled by and I enjoyed the empty land. But something was nagging at me: while at the border, I mentally made fun of someone else’s vehicle, laughing at how it squeaked like a set of old bed springs. However, once I was across the border and pulled over to put my paperwork away, I realized that it was my bike making that noise. I could only imagine the damage that I must have done to my bike over the last few thousand miles. Were the bearings going? Was the front wheel going to lock up at 70mph and kill me? There wasn’t much to do about it right now. The State side of the border was nothing but National Park and the cacti didn’t look terribly helpful. I didn’t have a map of Arizona specifically so the roads I was aware of trailed off into the text portions of the map that I did have. There appeared to be a nice scenic road that cut off towards the west, or I could continue north to Gila Bend and then head west from there on I-8. The unknown road sounded much more appealing, even though I was conscious of the fact that I’d be further from help if my front wheel really did act up.
Organ Pipe Cacti
More glowy cacti!
I diligently looked for the turn but reached Gila Bend without seeing it. Oh well, perhaps this was fate working its magic ways again. I stopped at a gas station, considering the likelihood of finding a dealer to check over my bike, when I found myself in the midst of a jeans-vest wearing bike gang. They looked pretty rough and the amount of chrome was blinding. One man stood next to his van, two naked prosthetic legs supporting him. Another member sported a full leg cast. What a bunch of misfits. I noticed “Prospect” and “President” patches, but then I noticed something else: the slight smiles of admiration as they took in my mud-encrusted motorcycle. They circled around me as I asked them about dealerships in the area and then they asked me about my bike and where I’d been. They were a friendly group and as I noticed the back patch, I saw that they were the “Sober Riders” group; obviously not a name that strikes fear into the hearts of others. They suggested “Ike’s Bikes”, an independent shop in Yuma. This was a good two hours away but at least it was in my direction. I thanked them for their help and wished them a safe ride. It was time to hit Yuma.
The bike shop was at the far end of Yuma but fortunately not too far from the highway. I rolled up in front of it and saw a sign in the window: “Closed”. There was more text to the effect that this place wouldn’t be opening up any time soon and there was a number for me to call if I had a claim against Ike’s. Apparently the Sober Riders don’t frequent Ike’s too often, as I found out later that it had been closed for a year.
After a lot of running around, I finally found Wild West Cycle and a friendly employee that gave my bike a once over (as well as topping off the oil) and deemed it fit to make it home. With a much lighter heart I left Yuma, enjoyed Brawley’s City Hall again and skirted the western flank of the Salton Sea. The sun was setting as I rolled into Banning, CA and found a lovely – and very quiet – motel room for the night. A good hot shower, followed by a light meal at the restaurant up the street and then it was time to watch bad American TV. Tomorrow would be an easy day and I knew that I was allowed sleep in, assuming that I could.
“Sober Riders” in Gila Bend
Fork oil galore
Back in the USA
So much room!!! They need more furniture in here
Day 9 – Saturday 384 miles
Saturday morning. I had all day to go four hours. I slept in, tinkered with the bike, met up with my friends Robert and Trina in Anaheim and then road with them through LA traffic and up 101 to the little towns of Santa Maria and Nipomo. Tonight a steak dinner had been planned that was to be the mother of all steak dinners. Jocko’s had a 100-year history of being in business and I was about to find out why. A dozen of my friends had ridden in from various locations for the event and we all crowded around our table. Robert had made reservations weeks in advance, a good thing as we heard a woman storm out muttering that it was a “4-5 hour wait”. But it would have been worth the wait: the steaks were thick and juicy and tender. Flavor oozed out with each bite. The table fell quiet as the waiter brought out our meals and it stayed that way for a long time. Finally, plates empty and the bill paid, we went back to the motel for a few more hours of tire-kicking and bench racing. A diligent inspection of my bike showed that I had blown a main fuse under the seat – something I hadn’t even considered checking while in Mexico. I kicked myself because knowing about the fuse would have saved me from a lot of headaches over the last couple of days. With the bike no longer a focal point, the party had moved to my room and it was all I could do not to fall asleep while conversations hummed around me. The group eventually left and it wasn’t long before I was sound asleep.
Jocko’s Steaks in Nipomo, CA
This was my half of the meal
How they cook the steaks
Day 10 – Sunday 260 miles
The last day of my odyssey and I would spend it on the most beautiful section of the west coast. My friend Jim had ridden down from the bay area and we would ride home together. The early section of 101 wasn’t much, it being mostly inland and the morning sky painted with clouds. But then we hit Big Sur and the roads woke me up as they hugged the coastline. Fields of flowers added a wash of color to the background of green hills. Sharp corners and sheer drops made me pay attention to what I was doing. We saw the aftermath of two different motorcycle accidents but having seen the way other motorcyclists ride through here, it was no surprise. I rode my own pace, knowing full well that I was both mentally and physically tired as well as fighting the “I’m almost home!” urge to go faster. I was excited to return and see Dan and relax in my own surroundings. Jim took us on a short detour just south of Morro Bay, one that took us up to the top of a hill and gave us a great view of the ocean and the intense green of the spring landscape. After that it was nothing but following the coast, past Hearst Castle, Pebble Beach and Santa Cruz before ducking inland again to hit the south bay area. I waved good-bye to Jim less than 10 miles from home and then it was a long blink of an eye until I pulled my bike in next to Dan’s. Home at last.
Passing a fire truck
Views of the Pacific
Views above Morro Bay
Riding along the ocean