I should have taken more photos than I did on my way home. But I was in a hurry (I had a job waiting for me!) and the weather wasn’t always cooperative. Of course, now I have 20/20 hindsight about the places and things I didn’t take pictures of – towns and people and arts and architecture. I know that now, but then – it was a race to get home as quickly as I could without mishap. I’ve learned a lot since then, but I know that I still have much more to learn.
Day 30 –Puerto Angel – Oaxaca
The bike was packed and I only had to put my gear on in order to be ready for the first step towards home. I had breakfast with the guys before taking off on my own and was on the road by 8:30, getting a good start on what was rumored to be a tightly curved and poorly maintained road. The rumors were true. I had chosen to take RT 175 north to Oaxaca, as the other option (RT 131) was supposed to have large sections of gravel and be in even worse shape then RT 175. And seeing as my main goal was to get home as quickly and safely as possible, the prospect of riding twisted gravel roads alone did not appeal to me. I started out enjoying the lush, almost jungle-like vegetation of the southern side of the mountains. This would be as close as I would get to “jungle” so I tried to appreciate the hanging vines, the fat leaves and the intense greens as I entered the beginning of 150 kilometers of curves. The pavement did indeed leave much to be desired and I took my time rounding corners and climbing over passes. This was the single worse paved road I was on in all of Mexico. There were almost no towns or villages along this route, although I was still surprised to see the occasional cluster of buildings perched high on a hillside in seemingly random and isolated locations. As the road climbed over mountain passes, the lushness decreased, leaving pine and other deciduous trees to reign over the slopes. I could see the evidence of the vast clear cutting that I had heard about in the state of Oaxaca, the first that I had really noticed so far. With the change in vegetation came a change in temperature: it had gotten quite a bit cooler than the 90 degrees I had left on the coast. I had the pleasure of watching a local woman herd her goats to another location while I stopped to put on a sweater.
Getting ready to head out on my own
Heading north into the mountains
Common sight of trash along the road
Evidence of vast clear cutting in the mountains
Views stretching forever
Looking back the way I’d come
Plenty of forested roads; not many towns
Harvested cornfields on the hillsides
Houses stuck to the sides of the mountains
The roads were not always well-maintained
I saw at least three sections like this
Stopping to put on a sweater
Waiting as the woman herded her goats
After 94 miles of fun, the road finally crested its last ridge and dropped down into an expanse of land that stretched off to the distant hills. I was to pass by more farmland and larger towns during the remaining journey to Oaxaca. Despite appearing flat, there were actually a number of ravines and hills in he landscape that kept me on my toes and made the ride a bit more interesting than straight-lining it for an hour.
More fabulous roads
Still making my way through the mountains
I can finally see the other side!
I entered Oaxaca not knowing where I was going or what I was looking for. Until this point, I had been at the mercy of Mark and James’ decisions and route-finding skills. Now I had to take the reins and find my own way, without aid of GPS or detailed maps. This was to be interesting, to say the least. I rode around along narrow one-way streets in the thick traffic trying to find either the main market or an affordable hotel. I stopped at a couple of hotels, but was concerned about the high rates, as I was on a tight budget and no longer had the pleasure of splitting the cost three ways. I should also mention that until now, both Mark and I had relied heavily on James for most communication with the locals, as neither of us spoke much Spanish (I spoke none at all). So now I was on my own with a vocabulary of about two dozen words and almost no comprehension of what was said to me. This would make for a truly interesting return home. Through blind luck, I found exactly what I had been looking for: a hostel. I would have my own bunk in a room with another girl and share the common showers for the incredibly low price of $6. It was one of the most comfortable and quiet night’s sleep I was to experience during my entire time in Mexico.
Oaxaca’s market is huge! After I tucked my bike and gear away at the hostel, I went out on foot and explored the city. It’s a large, well laid-out city and very modern by Mexican standards. I walked through the main plaza and thought it curious when a man caught a pigeon with his bare hands and stuffed it into a bag he was carrying. I’m not sure if I want to know what he planned to do with it. I discovered the main market quite by accident, as it is entirely enclosed in a building and not easily detectable from every other storefront in the city. Within the walls of that building you can find everything for sale, from handmade blankets and rugs, to morsels of chocolate, to chicken innards, to hand carved objects d’art. I eventually managed to find my way out of the market and back to the hostel. It was chilly that night, but I had two blankets and soon drifted off to sleep to the happy sounds of quiet conversations, a guitar strumming softly and slightly off-key singing.
Hostel in Oaxaca
Day 31 – Oaxaca – Puebla
The next morning I was eager to get on the road. I woke up early and had a hard time waiting for the small breakfast that was included in my $6 room fee. It was a quick ride out of the city on RT 190 before turning northward on RT135. This would keep me away from Mexico City, a place I had no desire to see, let alone ride through. RT 135 was a good road with consistent cornering and grand views. The road followed the contours of the ridges closely and I could see its scarred path for miles ahead of me, cut sharply into the rocky hillsides. To my surprise there were a number of bicyclists climbing the same mountain I was descending – apparently it was a bit of a race, as there were support vehicles and fancy gear on display. I had to slow down as I passed a couple herding their cattle up the road ahead of me. I never knew what I’d find around the next corner. The pine forests had given way to leafless trees and tall cacti and I soon found myself at the bottom of a long valley that followed a wide and rich river. Agriculture had once again become king and the small towns that had sprung up to support the farms were offering me topes to navigate over. The road flattened out and I passed through more towns and topes, ever on my quest for Puebla. I saw a state road crew maintaining the median of the highway I was on, trimming back the grass using handheld scythes and sickles. It didn’t seem terribly efficient and I once again marveled at the contrast between Mexico’s modern achievements and the old fashioned methods they still used for various jobs.
I had forgotten about the volcanoes that are near Puebla until I rounded a bend and was struck by the sudden appearance of a massive, obviously volcanic mountain. It stuck up into the sky out of nowhere, tendrils of steam drifting from its peak. I was mesmerized by it for the rest of the ride into Puebla, at least until I reached the city. Then I was overcome with the sheer size, congestion and general dirtiness of the place. I strove to get through Puebla as quickly as possible but, due to the nature of Mexican signs, I wasn’t sure what direction that should be. I guessed and apparently guessed correctly, for I was soon approaching the outer limits of the city. This led to another quandary: just how far could I ride before I ran out of hotel options? The towns listed on my map were never guaranteed to have a gas station let alone a hotel and it was getting very cold at night. I wanted to make sure that I had somewhere warm to sleep, so I stopped at the next hotel I found. It was an odd setup in that I passed under an archway and was immediately presented with dozens of garage doors around a circular drive. In the middle of all of this is the “reception desk”, where I paid for my room. They opened one of the garage doors, I pulled in my bike (dropping it on the slick tile floor when I hit the brakes too hard) and from within the security of my garage I then entered my hotel room. My room was very nicely appointed with a large bed, a clean and updated bath area and a TV with a remote control (the first one I had seen so far in Mexico). I thought that I had hit the jackpot. I pulled out my camp stove to heat up water so that I could make oatmeal for dinner (an advantage of having an attached garage to your hotel room) and then checked out the hot water situation. Nope, not hot. I skipped the shower that evening and crawled into bed to be entertained by Mexican TV. To my chagrin the remote did not work and to make matters worse, the room was freezing cold. There are no heaters in Mexican hotels except for the ones way up in the mountains. I asked the hotel for a second blanket, set the TV to a decent music station and curled up under the covers with my book. It was a very, very cold night.
The road cut into the hillside
Roads that go forever, but have curves!
No more lush coastal forests
Looking back down the valley I just traversed
Day 32 – Puebla – Queretaro
The next morning, I geared up wearing every layer I could get my hands on. I repacked the bike and, despite the coldness outside (as compared to the coldness inside the room), was very glad to be heading away from Puebla that morning. I had difficulty finding route 136 (as I mentioned, most Mexican towns are very poorly marked) but the local Pemex gas station once again came through with their helpful and friendly service. I was soon heading north towards Pachuca with my final destination for the day to be Queretaro. On the map it looked like a fairly easy route so I was surprised when I found that I was lost. Not entirely lost, just no longer on the road I thought I was on. The road had started out newly paved and fast with a lot of semi caravans. A cold, low cloud cover prevented the sun from warming up the land or burning off the fog in the valleys. I stopped at a truck stop in an effort to warm up my innards and was pleased to find that they offered hot chocolate as well as toast and eggs. “Toast” of course, not being anything like what I would find in the States. No, when you order “toast” in Mexico you get a slice of white bread that has indeed been toasted, but then left cold, unbuttered and without jam or jelly. It wasn’t the most satisfying breakfast I’ve ever had, but it did the job of warming me up. The towns I passed through were larger than I was used to seeing and there was little untilled land after leaving Puebla. I did notice a huge increase in dead dogs by the side of the road. I will liken the dog in Mexico to the deer in Pennsylvania: after a certain point you’ve seen so many of them that you start to forget that they were once living creatures. This was brought home to me as I was running across a fairly flat and open section of road and saw a group of people on each side of the road before me. I slowed down as I approached them and was surprised when a small dog ran out on a direct path to my front tire. I braked hard enough to slow down and swerved away from the dog just as he realized that this was a bad idea and tried to stop. I continued past the dog and checked my mirrors to see if he was ok. I looked back just in time to see the dog bounce off the bumper of the pickup truck behind me. I cringed and shook my head. The truck didn’t slow down. In fact, it sped up and passed me.
It was shortly after this that I found myself not where I thought I was. I had just passed the town of Apan and was heading north when my inner compass informed me that this was “not right.” I ignored it for a couple more miles, but felt that it was better to check things out now before I got too far in what might be the wrong direction. I had passed a Police truck with three policemen standing around and considered asking them, but decided to ask someone else instead. There had been a “Y” in the road and I went back to that point. I had originally chosen the right leg and the people I asked (from what I could understand) were telling me that the right leg was correct. I thanked them and went back to my original route. It still felt very wrong, so this time I stopped by the policemen and asked them the same question: Donde esta Pachuca? They got a huge kick out of the fact that this single American girl on a motorcycle who couldn’t speak a lick of Spanish was asking for directions. Well, they tried to explain to me where I should be going but there were way too many words that I didn’t understand. Wasn’t it painfully obvious in my original question that my knowledge of Spanish was limited and that I wouldn’t understand their rapid responses? Then the driver got a big grin on his face and indicated that I should follow them. They all jumped into the truck, turned on the lights and escorted me back to town. Mid-way through town, my escort stopped across the street from another police truck and they began to converse. They gestured frequently in my direction and laughed, but it was friendly and I didn’t feel uncomfortable. One of the men came and told me that the other truck would take me the rest of the way. More lights came on and I was lead out of Apan to the proper road to Pachuca. It was very entertaining for me and they appeared to enjoy themselves. Quite honestly, I think they were bored until I came along. I reached Queretaro at an early enough hour that evening to allow me to find a good hotel near the downtown square and walk around looking at shops. It was a clean, busy town, with a great variety of stores and activities. If I hadn’t been so tired, I would have liked to explore it more. As it was, I had a relatively warm room, an almost-hot shower, a TV with no pretensions of a remote control and a good book. I was set for the evening.
Blurry volcano from the Puebla area
Breaking out of the mountains
Crossing the Tropic of Cancer (for the 2nd time)
Heading north from Zacatecas
Anticipating an approaching storm
Day 33 – Queretaro – Sombrerete
It was hazy when I left Querataro and still cold. What about all those tales of a warm Mexico? I was on the road by 8:30 and had high expectations of reaching Durango for the night. It’s difficult to judge just how long it will take to ride from one city to the next by simply looking at the map. What looks like a three-hour ride may actually take me 6 hours just because of the number of curves, quality of pavement or the frequency of topes. Or it may only take two hours because it’s arrow-straight with no roadblocks to speak of. So when looking at the map that morning and planning on my next evening’s destination, I hoped for Durango. There was nothing notable on the ride from Querataro to San Luis Potosi. It was a fast and fairly uninteresting road that led directly to the next town and not much else. From the road, San Luis Potosi itself was disgusting: smog hung over the valley in a thick layer and the town sprawled out for miles, encompassing the surrounding hillsides as well as the valley floor. I got some relief from the monotony of the landscape while leaving San Luis Potosi, but it was to be short-lived. The hills rose up slightly and the exposed rocks were soft and eroded like worn teeth. No sooner had I settled into a good pace of dashing through the curves, when they straightened out and I was left with wide open spaces and distant mesas. For 70 kilometers the road was straight and fast – I would make good time today.
The lack of road signs in the towns was a constant source of confusion for me. If the town was very small then the road would go straight though with no or very few turns. If it was a city then there was the occasional sign to point me in the right direction. But some of the towns were sized right between the two and would have me taking turn after turn, looking for the main road exiting out the other side. I soon developed a system to aid my route finding skills: follow the bus. Mexico has a national bus system much like Greyhound in the States that would travel through almost every town in the country. I quickly realized that the buses would take the most direct route through each town and I learned to follow them. This worked well every time except once. This particular time I was in quite a large town, hopelessly wandering around when I saw a bus go past me. I followed it, matching every turn and lane change for a number of blocks. I was feeling rather pleased with myself for using this little trick until the bus took one more turn – into the bus yard. I had been duped. I sighed and turned the other way to start over, fortunately finding a directional road sign not more than five blocks later and was soon back on the main road system.
At Zacatacus I stopped to visit Frederico, the man who has the motorcycle-friendly hotel whom we met the last time I was in town, but he wasn’t around. I left him a message and hung around the city for a little while, but the urge to make it further that day was too strong to resist. I pulled the bike out of Zacatacus and headed north. This was to be the first road that I had traveled on more than once in Mexico and it brought on an interesting feeling of déjà vu. It had been weeks since I had been on it and I had seen so much since then that it felt unreal to be on it again. But no road is ever the same twice and the weather gave the ride a much different feel than the first time I had been there. The first time it was sunny and warm; this time it was cold and overcast and I could see heavy rain falling in the valley to my right. I was pleased at my decision to come this way. This was also the fourth time during the trip that I would cross The Tropic of Cancer and this time I remembered to stop and take a picture.
I had forgotten just how long it took to traverse this section of road and soon realized that I would not make it to Durango that night. I recalled how much we had enjoyed our lunch in Sombrerete and I decided to stay there for the night. What a great choice! The hotel I found not only had hot water, but water pressure as well! The bed was very comfortable and the TV came with a remote. The remote didn’t work of course, but it was a nice touch. And, unusual for most Mexican hotels, this one had carpeting. I don’t think I had seen carpeting since I had stayed in Zacatacus. The hotel room was quiet, too. I had found heaven and slept like the dead.
Day 34 – Sombrerete – Parral
I was ready to go at 7:30, but I couldn’t get out of the parking lot. I had pulled my bike up onto the curb next to a truck parked at a 45-degree angle on one side and a heavy cast iron table set on the other side. Sometime that night, a car parked behind my bike, blocking it in completely. After I anxiously paced around the parking lot for half an hour, the owner came down and moved his car. I was finally off to Durango and points north. The weather hadn’t changed at all and I had continued to put on all layers of clothing and gear before I hit the road. Durango wasn’t much further from Sombrerete and I stopped only long enough to withdraw enough money to get me through the rest of the trip. I was now on my way to Parral, a town that I knew nothing about, but it looked big enough to have a decent hotel and was well on the way home.
There is nothing between Durango and Parral. The road runs down the center of an incredibly wide valley, verging more on the definition of a plain, and was edged by ancient, rounded mountains. I could see that the area had plenty of rain in recent times, as the lake levels were very high. The evidence of the rains was also apparent in the high clouds that continued to haunt my journey. But they didn’t open up on me and the ride was a dry one. The valley eventually narrowed and the road started to twist and climb. I was again amazed at the absolute nothingness in this area. I passed through less than a handful of towns in the seven hours I was riding and saw little in the way of human alteration to the landscape. About half way to Parral the sun finally managed to punch its way through the clouds and I felt the beginnings of warmth. I’m not sure when I reached Parral. The $2.50 watch I picked up in Oaxaca might have been wrong. I thought it was 3:30, but the clock in the hotel said 2:30. I didn’t know what lay ahead of me for hotel choices, so I decided to stay there anyway and make a short day of it. The daylight was short this time of year and the overcast skies lead to early evenings. Parral was a nice town and not too big to walk around. The people I met were very friendly and they helped me find an out-of-the way Internet café where I caught up on my email. It was Saturday night in Parral and I could hear a lot of activity from the plaza nearby. There was no TV in my room, which was fine by me, and I took my book out into the lobby to make myself comfortable on one of the couches there. That’s when I heard the rain. Not just a subtle pitter-patter on the roof. No, this was a maelstrom. It poured and poured and then it poured some more. The water gushed down the gutters with force, washing off the dusty streets of the town. I only hoped that it would blow over by morning. I spoke with a local who knew some English and asked about Copper Canyon to the west and the likelihood of rain there for the next day. He shook his head: “No, rain won’t be a problem. It will be snowing.” I wanted to ride through Copper Canyon, but there was no way I was about to risk riding through snow by myself just to do it. I decided that I’d wait and see what weather the dawn brought and make my plans from there. Meanwhile, the warm heavy blankets were calling to me and the rain on the window was a comforting sound.
Day 35 – Parral – Basaseachi
I pulled the covers back and peered out the window. From my fourth floor window all I could see was the building across the street and layers of fog. Apparently Copper Canyon would have to wait for another time. It was still raining slightly when I headed out of town and I spent 30 minutes looking for RT 24 to head directly north. I finally gave up and headed for RT 45, figuring that I might as well get somewhere, even if it was slightly out of the way. About 30 minutes later I saw a sign that told me I was on RT 24 – I’m not sure how that happened but I wasn’t going to complain about it. The fog and drizzle plagued me for the rest of the day, lightening up occasionally to give me a sneak peek at what sort of landscape I was passing through. Most of it was low rolling hills and scrub brush. The dampness in the air chilled me, but it felt good to be on the road and I was still dry underneath all my gear. I missed my waterproof winter gloves but once again my heated grips came to the rescue. After 3 hours the rain let up and I stopped for lunch in Cuauhtemoc. I found an inviting floor heater in the corner of the restaurant and placed my soggy gloves on the edges to dry out while I ate my breakfast and relaxed for a bit. I was all set for the cold and damp when I left and I wasn’t terribly surprised when it started to rain again. Fortunately it didn’t last long and the roads eventually dried out, even though the sun never made an appearance.
Leaving Parral in the early morning rain
Not much of a view today
Leaving the flatlands behind
Curves – and as much sun as I’m going to get
At a gas stop I met eight guys from the Chihuahua area riding big touring bikes, something I hadn’t seen much of on this trip. Almost all Mexican bikes I had seen up until then were little 125cc’s that buzzed around the towns and cities delivering pizzas and parts. I talked with the riders about the roads and asked for directions and suggestions. One of them gave me some very good information on towns and travel times. He suggested that I stop at Basaseachi, a town that wasn’t even listed on my map. I thanked them and continued on my way west, wondering how far I would get before the sun started to dip towards the horizon. I didn’t get too far, as the road I was on was full of tight curves and kept my speeds down much more than I had anticipated. When I saw the sign for Basaseachi I stopped and studied my map. The next town that had been suggested didn’t look that far away but the motorcyclists at the gas station had warned of rock slides and lots of curves. I wasn’t sure if I could make it there before nightfall and the last thing I wanted was to be on these narrow roads in the dark. I took the pull off to Basaseachi.
Going deep into the mountains
Traces of blue skies
Freshly paved roads lead the way
Fascinating rock formations
Almost to my stopping point for the day
There is an 800’ waterfall at the other end of town that drops down into a large canyon – it was very beautiful and worth the detour and hike to see it. The town itself consisted of perhaps three-dozen structures, so I was surprised when the first four hotels I stopped at were full. I was very pleased to find a room at the other end of town for 100 pesos, complete with a TV and a wood-burning stove. Oh how I loved the stove that night! The proprietor handed me the key to the room, a towel, a bar of soap and a (new) roll of toilet paper. No washcloth though. I didn’t see one washcloth the entire time I was in Mexico. The TV was quite humorous, as there was only one channel that I could find. Since I planned on reading and was only looking for some background noise, I wasn’t too concerned about it. Only when the channel started to change randomly did my curiosity pique. I had seen this happen once before, in northern British Columbia, where the “one channel” was actually brought in via satellite to the owner’s house and then distributed to all TVs in the hotel. I was at the mercy of the hotel owners. They finally settled on an old Arnold Schwarzenegger film and I sat back to watch. Not ten minutes later there was a bright flash and the room went dark. An ominous rolling boom echoed in the mountains and I could hear the rain pouring off the roof outside my door. “The Terminator” had been terminated and I was left with the comforting warmth of my flickering fire. It was another good night’s sleep.
River leading up to the falls
River leading up to the falls
Looking across the canyon
That’s an 800′ drop – watch your step!
View from the top of the falls
Edge of the falls
Close up of rocks and water
Stone arch way at the top of the falls
Horses wandering along the main street
My motel – street view
The bike, tucked in for the night
A very simple room
With simple entertainment
And a source of heat!
Day 36 – Basaseachi – Altar
I was surprised to wake up to an actual sunrise the next morning. The storm had passed over during the night and I was left with what promised to be a cheerful and warm day. The roads were drying out as the sun hit them and the clouds were high and fluffy against a blue sky. It would be a good day. And the roads were equally as good. I don’t believe there was one straight stretch of road in the first 5½ hours of riding and I saw only five vehicles in that entire time. The views were amazing, with visibility reaching for miles over a series of ridge lines. I frequently noted how blessed I was not to have yesterday’s weather on this road. This was also the most treacherous stretch of road I had encountered and it had nothing to do with pavement. I frequently came around a corner only to be face to face with a sharp-horned steer, or skittish burros, or rock slides that covered the entire lane, or combinations of the above. There was a bank of fog that lasted for 15 miles, complete with six burros that were munching the grass along the sides of the road. I scared three cows that tried to outrun me for a little bit before darting off to into the underbrush. The rock slides were frequent and the potholes occasional, all of which made for an interesting ride.
Early morning views
Where was this sunshine yesterday?
Small settlement along the way
Riding into the sun
Not something you want to see in a full lean at 9/10ths
More scenic rocks
My trusty KLR – carrying me home
Burros, watching me ride by
Heading into a massive valley of fog
I’m not so sure this guy wanted me to stop
I counted six burros when I took this picture
Basking in the sunshine
Still more mountains
Following the road cut
Eventually the twisties stopped, and there was no question when that happened. I went the next 60 miles without once changing directions. Miles of wide-open ranch lands, good pavement and sunshine brought me into Hermosillo, my planned destination for the night. However it was still early in the day and I could see that the next stretch of road was a toll road, which meant that it would be in relatively good repair and fast. I would shoot for the next major town, Altar. I left Hermosillo, paid my 55 peso toll and rolled on the throttle. The gas mileage would suffer, but it felt good to fly. I was never worried about speeding in Mexico – speed enforcement appeared to be very low on the list of priorities and this toll road was no different. I saw two police cars and they were both busy helping drivers whose cars had mechanical problems. They had no interest in my speeding bullet drive-by. Not to mention the numerous cars and trucks that passed me as well; sometimes I felt like I was standing still. I did have one scare on this road. I was flying along and a car had just passed me. Up ahead an animal transport trailer was parked on the right hand side of the road. Just as the car in front of me approached it a large bull came tearing out from behind the trailer and straight for the highway. I could see that I was on an imminent collision course with this massive creature and immediately braked and planned for an uncomfortable outcome. That’s when the bull saw the car in front of me and decided that perhaps this wasn’t the best direction to flee in. His front hooves dug deeply into the dirt as he slid to a stop, just in time to avoid the lane I was in. I looked over and saw the panicked face of the cowboy who was attempting to catch this wild-looking creature. That was a close call.
As I neared Altar, I started making wild plans to ride all night and get as close to the border as possible by morning. I’d done an all-night ride before, so that wasn’t a problem. But what would be a problem was twofold: bad roads and bad headlights. I found out the next day that the roads weren’t that bad along this section, but the KLR’s lighting system leaves much to be desired and I couldn’t see the road well enough to be comfortable. I rode well beyond nightfall before reaching Altar and once again had to hunt around for a reasonably priced and available room. The room was unremarkable and I had finished my book so there was little to distract myself with. I went to bed very early with the intention of getting up and making a mad dash for the border.
Finally out of the mountains
Day 37 – Altar – San Marcos
I was on the road earlier than I had been for the entire trip and was rewarded with a sunrise in my mirrors and a full moon setting over the mountains in front of me. I was in the desert and spring had arrived. There was a sense of freshness to the green bushes that surrounded me on this last leg of my trip. The road was not challenging and I marveled at the not-so-distant mountains that marked the border between the United States and Mexico and thought of the desperate souls who attempt to cross the desert and mountains to get to the other side. Acres of purple flowers carpeted the ground and bunches of cheerful yellow flowers sprung up along the way. I also saw some large white flowers along the roadside and while individually beautiful, when seen en masse, they reminded me of the litter I had seen throughout the rest of the country. I would have stopped to take pictures of the flowers, but the road was narrow with rare pullouts, and the traffic was heavy enough to discourage stopping on the road itself.
After a few hours I reached Mexicali, a place that did not appeal to me at all. The road construction was interminable, the smog was disgusting and the overall feeling was not a pleasant one. I was more than happy to get past there and continue on towards Tecate. Once Mexicali was behind me, the road changed drastically and rose over 1,000 meters in a very short period of time. The landscape had become barren and rocky, with Fred Flintstone types of formations. The road snaked along the ridge, always climbing and giving dramatic views to the distant ridges. I stopped once to take a picture and when I looked down at the drop off below me, I was startled to see two rusted car hulks resting among the boulders. I had heard about such things but was still surprised to see it.
It was a quick return to Tecate from this point and another sense of déjà vu as I rode on the first road I had been on in Mexico over four weeks earlier. Tecate was busy and there was a line four blocks long to cross back over the border. I waited in line for about 5 minutes before one of the Mexican policemen standing on a nearby corner walked over to my bike. He smiled and told me to go ahead and cut in line. Who am I to argue with the police? I did as he suggested and I was soon trying to hand in my Banjercito papers to the border patrol. They had no interest in them but I knew that it was vital that someone get these papers, as failure to turn them it would result in a $400 charge to my credit card (part of the promise I had made not to sell the bike) as well as the possibility of not being allowed to bring a vehicle across the border in the future. I told the border patrol I was going to go back across and check with the Banjercito itself. They were very friendly and even suggested where I could park while I walked back across the border. I parked the bike on the US side and walked across the border back to the Banjercito. There was no line at the Banjercito and I was helped immediately. The woman who came to the window needed to see my bike so I had to walk back across the border, slipping past all of those cars yet again and greeting the US border guards with a casual wave and explanation. I then rode my bike the 50 feet back to the Banjercito. The same woman now verified the VIN number, took my paperwork, made some adjustments in the computer and I was done. I got back on my bike, cut into line one more time, had a pleasant conversation with the border patrol (who never once even asked for my ID) and then I was back in the United States.
The ride back to San Diego was uneventful and enjoyable. I couldn’t get over how green everything was! It didn’t take long to get to James’ dad’s house and even less time to repack the bike with some of the things that I had left there while I was out of the country. I called my Uncle to get directions to his house and was soon on my way to San Marcos. It was comforting to know that if I got lost at this point anyone I asked would give directions in English. My Uncle was waiting for me with a fire in the fireplace, a tasty meal on the table and a warm couch for the night. I showed him my pictures and told him stories and we had a great visit. It was weird to actually put the toilet paper in the toilet when I was done with it. In fact, I felt almost guilty. Toilet paper aside, it was good to be among friends and family.
Once you’re west of Mexicali the road gets interesting
Not a lot of vegetation along Highway 2
There are some interesting things off the side of the road
Day 38 – San Marcos – Healdsburg
My uncle asked if I could stay for a few days but being so close to home, I wanted only to finish the trip. I thanked him for his hospitality and slipped out of his garage as he went inside to answer the phone. I had been invited to stay with an STN friend in Healdsburg, an estimated 8 – 10 hours north of my Uncle’s house. I found my way through Los Angeles, surprised by the light traffic, and was even somewhat disappointed that there was no need to lane-split. I reached San Francisco and Oakland and aimed for Healdsburg – today was to be a straight shot with no stops except for gas. I crossed over the Bay Bridge, admiring the water and the boats and the rainbow (did I mention that it was raining again?) when I came upon a tollbooth. I knew that the Golden Gate Bridge had a toll, but I didn’t know about this bridge. I pulled up to the booth and exclaimed in dismay that I had no cash. This was true: I had given all my pesos to my Uncle and I had been using my debit card for my gas purchases. The booth worker came out to take down my license plate number only to find that my bike no longer sported one. That’s when he turned to me and said that the car behind me offered to pay my toll and I could continue. I thanked both him and the car behind me and was on my way. I reached Bobby’s house in nine hours, just in time for a great meal and house full of wonderful company. Not to mention a good night’s sleep on the world’s longest couch and under the world’s largest blanket.
Dinner at my friend Bobby’s
Getting ready to hit the road again
Day 39 – Healdsburg – Eugene
It was difficult to leave the comfort and warmth of Bobby’s house, but I knew that a storm system was supposed to hit the West Coast the next day and I wanted to get as far north as possible before that happened. After an indulgent breakfast of Honeycomb cereal, I set off through the Napa Valley wine country, with beautiful roads and scenery to start my day. It went by quickly though and I soon found myself back on the drudgery of I-5. I rode north through a cold gray morning, wishing the sun would come out and warm my bones. I eventually stopped for something to eat and was surprised to find that I had already been on the road for three hours. Shortly after “breakfast” the sun did come out, but that was brief. Once I reached Mt Shasta and the Siskiyous, the pavement became damp and the road soon rose up to join the clouds. I could see where the previous week’s snowfall still lay among the trees and pretty soon I couldn’t see that, as it was raining and a fine mist covered my visor. I enjoyed following the semis as the heavy spray they kicked up washed off my visor better than anything else. I was hoping to spend the night with a friend in Medford, but he wasn’t home when I got there. I considered waiting around for him, but I was again anxious to put as many miles behind me as possible, so I decided to continue north, at least over Grant’s Pass and where the road straightened out again, wherever that may be. That turned out to be Eugene, Oregon and about eight o’clock that night I pulled into the parking lot of the first motel I found. I cranked up the heat, grabbed the (working) remote and watched bad TV until I fell asleep.
Day 40 – Eugene – Seattle
The home stretch! I got up early in anticipation of cold and wet weather only to find that it was merely cold and foggy. This was do-able, and I packed up the bike for the quick estimated 5-hour ride home. Now just because I don’t have a speedometer cable doesn’t mean I was speeding, but I somehow managed to make it home in 4 hours. I missed all rush hour traffic in both Portland and Seattle and pulled into my driveway around noon. After over 6,500 miles and 40 days, it was good to be home.