Warming up the bikes at the bottom of the Copper Canyon.
In early October, 2005, I started my journey around the planet. Day one was tough, a cold and windy day ahead of an approaching winter storm. By the time I reached Pueblo, Colorado I was done for the day. Shivering badly, I checked into a hotel depressed to have not even left the state. Day two was very similar, the wind was brutal. Arriving in Santa Fe, New Mexico boosted my spirits a bit. The next day, however, I awoke to pouring rain and a temperature of 40F. It rained for two days. My hopes of reaching a motorcycle rally held by http://www.horizonsunlimited.com in Creel, Mexico, were fading fast. I was already missing home and thinking of returning and calling off the trip. I decided to at least try and reach Creel and take stock of my situation there. Each day of riding seemed almost horrible. Having crossed the US by motorcycle twice and touring almost a dozen countries in Europe I was puzzled...I couldn't remember experiencing the pain in my back, neck and butt. The misery of riding for hours with no one to talk to, no music, just the road and the uncomfortable roar of the wind. And so I pushed on, crossing into Mexico on October 5th- only to be met by more fridgid rain. I bedded down for the night in the garden spot of Paloma. Paloma makes most other border towns look like resorts. This trip wasn't going well at all! Until...
October 6. I got on the road and started into the Sonoran desert. The road was narrow and often shoulderless, if the bike broke down, where would I go? It didn't seem to bother me. Where was the anxiety I'd been feeling the last week? It was gone. The sun was shining, small white clouds were drifting across the desert. The temperature was perfect. The sound of the BMW's Rotax engine purring brought me comfort. Mile after mile fell away that day. No buildings or even traffic for many miles at a time. It didn't bother me. On October 6, the rider in me found his way back into the saddle. Suddenly I spotted a couple lights ahead. As they grew closer I could tell they were motorcycles. This group of 3 riders each greeted me with their left arms up forming an L with with a fist at the top. Seeing these guys lifted my spirits through the roof! I was pumped up for hours after seeing these guys. The riders must have been coming from Creel.
My arrival in Creel was a joyous one. My first objective had finally been met. I was now in the Copper Canyon area. The Copper Canyon is larger than the Grand Canyon- and some 1000 feet deeper. I got a hotel in town and decided to ride out to the campround where the HU rally had been held. There, I found a guy named Mike having lunch with none other than Grant Johnson- the founder of HU. I was estatic. Mike and I were able to have a one on one session with the man who started it all with his round the world trip and subsequent incredible website. Grant and his wife Susan weren't the first to ride around the world, but their website is THE website for long distance riding. Grant left that afternoon and Mike and I began planning a ride to the tiny village of Batopilas at the bottom of the canyon. The road to Batopilas is somewhat notorious. It is comprised of loose gravel, dirt and sand. There are huge drop offs and no guard rails...very primitive. With only a week in the saddle over the past 15 years I was nervous. Still, I slept great that night.
Into the canyon...It took us almost 3 hours to reach the dirt road that leads into the canyon. Here, we lowered our tire pressure to help cope with the loose rocks. As we continued, we all agreed the road wasn't as bad as advertised. Before long, we would change our minds. The road began to steepen- and narrow. Soon the road was a single lane, and carved from rock in sections. At times our wheels were only a couple feet from tremendous drop offs. The exposure was terrifying. It was difficult to focus on the riding. Several times I realized I had literally stopped breathing and had to make myself inhale. When we met oncoming vehicles we had to move towards the abyss. There were parts of the "road" that were anything but fun! We took a break at a welcome flat area before continuing down the canyon, the worst part now behind us. Along the road to Batopilas we encountered: goats, donkeys, little burros, dogs, pigs, live-stock, and chickens. As we passed through one village I spooked a chicken who frantically flapped her way into the air in front of me. The chicken hit the right side of my windshield as I ducked to the left. The chicken tumbled over my right shoulder as a group of villagers laughed.
At long last we reached Batopilas. As we rode into the towns narrow streets the rumble of our engines intensified. All along the way children stood in the middle of the narrow street with big smiles- and their left hands extended. At first I was confused. Their hands were held vertically, palms toward us. And so we rode down the street extending our left hands, touching the kids hands. They would jump with joy, screaming aloud as they touched our dusty leather gloves. All through Mexico I have been stared at, smiled at, and waved at 50-100 times a day. This was in a whole new league though- alot of fun. We arrived in the town square soaked in sweat and utterly caked in dust. During the ride down the canyon we descended roughly 7,000 feet into a sub-tropical climate. At the town square we dismounted to stretch and decide where to stay. I promptly found a bar and before long we sat in the shade of some lime trees on a patio, pouring down cold Carta Blancas. We got rooms in an incredible palace of a hotel overlooking the river and steep canyon walls. A 3 course dinner and sumtuous breakfast were included for the price of $30. That night we dined with a terrific family from Mexico, visiting the canyon as well. We drank wine into the wee hours on the balcony, under a sky full of stars- Venus shone brightly.
The next day we left early to beat the heat. We rode to the Lost Cathedral. Who built it and when remain a mystery more or less. The documents recording its history were destroyed in a fire long ago. So, in this tiny village in the middle of nowhere stands a huge cathedral completely out of proportion to its surroundings. We then began the long ride back out of the canyon. I led the way from the Lost Cathedral to the tiny bridge that leads to the long climb out of the canyon. I asked Mike if he'd like to lead. Leading can be ugly. The leader is the one who greets the animals- and cars/trucks, coming around the corners. The only thing bad about following is the dust. Mike took off across the bridge. I noticed I had left my camelback on the ground and stopped to get it. Then I started up the canyon. After a half mile I found Mike standing in the middle of the trail. His helment was off and his mouth was wide open. There was no motorcycle. I couldn't imagine where it was. I got close to the edge of the trail, shut down the bike and asked what had happened. He just pointed down the cliff. I dismounted, and sure enough, the bike was down on a ledge some 50 feet below us. The Gods were with us that day...In less than 10 minutes a Jeep Liberty with 3 Federal police arrived and the boys kicked ass. In a matter of minutes ropes were thrown over the edge and these brave fellows were soon dragging Mike's luggage up the steep slope. Soon, the Jeep was loaded and Mike was on his way to Creel. So there I was, a guy with 8 days in the saddle standing alone at the very bottom of the Copper Canyon. With an almost sick feeling I eyed the cliffs towering some 7,000 feet above. If a guy with this much experience just rode his bike over the edge...you get the picture. I started the bike and carefully rode out of the canyon. When I reached the paved road the Federales were stopping traffic trying to find someone going to Creel. Soon they did, and Mike was on his way. I watched as Mike tried to give the Federales money for their 4 hours of assistance. They laughed and refused to take a peso. The next day Mike returned with a tow truck and retrieved his motorcycle. Some local riders hooked Mike up with a ride to El Paso and Mike is in the States as I write this. We hope to meet up in Central America in December. So much for the theory of widespread corruption with the Mexican police. So far in Mexico I've been stopped by over a dozen police and military checkpoints without a problem. All of them want to know what I'm doing here, where I'm going, etc.
After the Copper Canyon I rode to Hidalgo de Parral. This is where Pancḥ Villa was assassinated. One evening in 1924 he and 7 other men were getting into his Dodge touring car when a hail of bullets fell upon them from the second floor of a nearby buiding. Villa and 6 others were killed. He was given a heroes burial with thousands in attendance. Not long after he was buried someone dug up his grave and decapitated him. It is said his head was taken to the US, no one seems to know why. His killers were never brought to justice.
I pulled up to my hotel in Parral dusty, thirsty and tired, as I always am after a long ride here. In the hotel lobby stood a man unloading his motorcycle, he was grinning from ear to ear. His name was Mel Clarke, from England. There are very few long distance riders down here, even fewer as I head further south. There is a closeness between us, a bond. After the introductions, the conversation sometimes goes... "I heard about you, thought you were further south though", etc. He helped me get my bike into the hotel lobby, and after getting cleaned up we soon hit the cantina for loads of cold beer, food, and of course we swapped lies about our travels.
The ride to Durango was fast, on great roads. Durango itself is a beautiful city. Mel and I met there and had pizza for dinner- a welcome change of pace. After Durango I rode down the Spinaza del Diablo (the Devils Backbone). It was an incredible, twisting ride through the mountains. There were free range cattle everywhere- including the road. In places the winds were driving the clouds over the the ridgeline. At times the visibility dropped to a few yards. This road starts at some 7,000 feet and winds its way down to the coastline in a spectacular fashion, the views were incredible.
I spent a few days lounging in the southern part of Puerta Vallarta, where I was "adapted" by a gay bar. The two women who own the place, Mary Ann and Andrea, are just great. The place is called Apaches, be very careful though, Andrea mixes a savage cocktail! The girls invited me to a Mongolian Barbeque high up in the mountains. There were more than a dozen of us in the group. The food was fantastic and so was the company, it was the highlight of my trip to PV.
Next stop was the sleepy seaside town of Zihuateneo. It was easy to meet expat Americans here as the town is small and there are plenty of expats. I was fortunate enough to meet a man named Lawerence, a typical American! This guy decided to retire in Zihua, not long after he moved here he discovered education in Mexico is guaranteed only through the sixth grade. This didn't didn't sit well with him, so he and a couple other Americans hit up the local government for some ''Building permits.'' Soon, they began scraping together wood, paint and other odd supplies and began erecting a school. He laughed as he told me how they bought electical wire and illegally tapped into the power grid. The staff is all volunteer and out to help disadvantaged kids. I contributed to this inspiring cause. www.losninos.us
A hungry bull eating trash. Batopilas, Mexico.