Sunday, February 28, 2010

On the road again........

We're back in the saddle and on the road heading North. As much as we liked a few down days in Mazatlan, it feels good to be back on the bike and rolling down the road.

Mazatlan was great - on several levels. First, it was nice to finally use some of our time share weeks and try out the whole resort living thing. It was a very nice first taste. Just through blind luck - especially since it was a spur of the moment, last minute choice - we picked a very low key resort. It didn't require mandatory all-inclusive and the the clientele wasn't pretentious at all.

On another level, having a work space was also great. I'm very much down here on a working vacation and last week alone, I facilitated a national webinar with 20 participants, had to partake in four different conference calls and I'm conducting interviews as research for a speech I'm giving at a conference next month. Having a quiet space to work and a reliable Internet connection was a real plus.

But all good things must come to an end.

Brad left Mazatlan on Wed to ride to Los Mochis, where he caught the train up into the Copper Canyon. We left on Saturday too, and rode to Los Mochis to meet him. It was a great ride - nice scenery and great weather. And hot, very hot! Ironically, since much of Mexico has been unseasonably cool, this area is just the opposite. Much hotter than usual - we'll take it! It beats the heck out of the alternative.

We arrived into Mochis around 2:00 and checked into a nice upper-end Mexican business-class hotel. From there we had a few drinks, hung out and went out to the local mall to catch a movie at the ciniplex - which by the way, is every bit as nice as a multi-screen SilverCity multi-plex back home.

We met Brad around 9:00 when his train arrived back from the CC and we had a late bite to eat and swapped stories about the last few day.

This morning we got away early and called it a short day so we could be firmly ensconced by a TV in time to watch the Can/USA hockey final. WOO HOO!!

So there you have it. At this point we're roughly at the 4,000 klm mark with two days and 800 klm more to go before we roll back into Apache Junction.

Viva la Mexico!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Devil's Backbone

What is it about riding a motorcycle? Three years ago I did this same route by bus and it scarred the absolute life out of me! Yesterday on my motorcycle however, it was exhilarating, and sometimes had a high pucker factor, but the road itself wasn't that frightening. Does being on the back of a motorcycle somehow negate a fear of heights? Or is it that you're too busy, and concentrating too much on just staying on the road, that you don't have time to notice how high you are?
Whatever the reason, it was a great ride!
Rosi stayed behind to do a little shopping and Brad and I headed out on highway 40 to Durango, also known as the Devil's Backbone - the highest road in Mexico. It's a high mountain pass through the continental divide. It's close to 10,000 feet at the highest point and even the switchbacks have switchbacks! In some places you're right on the ridgeline and looking down literally thousands of feet on both sides. It's only 225 klm to Durango but because of the twists and turns it's over six hours by car and would be at least four on a bike so we only went half way, stopped for lunch and made our way back.
Not much else to report - staying in a resort is nice for a few days but exciting it's not.
(Pictures to follow)

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Dark Side

Well, apparently hell occasionally does freeze over and a snow ball does have the odd chance in hell, because Rosi and I have officially turned to the dark side. Or in this case, a very nice resort on the beach in Mazatlan. A place where the only Mexican you’ll meet is either making your bed or bringing you a cold drink. A place we always avoided in the past like the plague but now that we’re older - and some, but certainly not all, would say wiser - we’re willing to relax our standards a little and join the rest of middle-class, middle-aged BC, here at a resort.

We left Rincon Saturday morning to a bit of an overcast sky but still warn, and headed north on Hwy 200. The road was absolutely fantastic and gave us some of the best scenery and riding we’ve had so far! It’s a great back road, well maintained but not much traffic, that hugs the coast through thick green jungle and lush forest before it eventually leaves the coast and climbs back to the main autopista on the route north from Tepic to Mazatlan.

Once we hit this stretch of highway the sky was a crystal clear blue sky and the temperature rose to a really pleasant mid-twenties. Warm enough that mesh gear was perfect but not so hot that the heat became debilitating. We cranked it up to 140 (which I have to add is indicated, not actual. The speedo on these bikes is approx 10% optimistic so 140 is probably 126 in actuality) and headed north. Brad and I had already agreed we’d meet on this stretch of road somewhere so it wasn’t a huge surprise when up in the distance we saw another bike on the road and realized it was Brad making the run northward.

We pulled of at the next town for gas and a nice lunch, compared notes, caught up on our mutual adventures and continued north to Mazatlan.

Rosi and I succumbed to the pressure about two years ago and bought a time share package that gives us access to the RCI condo/hotel network. I won’t go into it here but I can tell you that I crunched all the numbers and if you take advantage of a few loopholes they don’t want the average owner to know about you can REALLY get you monies worth. In our case, for a relatively low investment, we can access seven weeks/year at some really nice resorts. Last week I booked online at Cost del Oro, a typical condo resort here in Mazatlan. We have a one-bedroom unit with a full kitchen, a balcony overlooking the beach and a fold-out couch in the living room for Brad. So here I am, typing on my lap top by the pool, a bucket of happy-hour beer by my side and my biggest worry in the world is will it be Cab Sav or Merlot with my fettuccini this evening.

Don’t despair though. For those of you thinking that we’ve gone completely over the edge, all is not lost. I can only take so much of resort living. Tomorrow Brad and I are leaving on a day run into the Sierra Madre to see how far we can make it up and over the Devil’s Backbone before we have to turn around and head back before we loose daylight. It’s the highest mountain pass in Mexico and is >10,000 feet at the highest. Snow and black ice are a concern but shouldn’t be too bad by mid-day.

Viva la Mexico!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A view over Dales shoulder

A few pictures from day 6 and 7

Day 6 & 7 Chapala - Rincon de Guayabitos

Well, I'm afraid the Mexican weather Gods are conspiring against us this trip - but from what we've heard it's all over Mexico, not just where we've been. Yesterday we did some great site-seeing around Lake Chapala, to a small little town on the lake called Jototepic. Very quaint, very Mexican, very colonial - but oh, so cold, wet and rainy! It started to rain sometime during the night and basically didn't let up all day. It ranged from a light misty rain, almost like a heavy fog, to full on pouring - and the temperature, because Chapala is fairly high, was cold and damp. Not too pleasant after a couple days so this morning we pushed on.

Luckily, although it was still cool and damp, it wasn't raining when we pulled out and headed into Guadalajara, where we hoped to pick up the Autopista to the coast. I said hoped, because the best laid plans etc. etc. came into full contact with eight lanes of VERY chaotic early morning rush hour traffic and we missed our exit - again. I'll let it go at that. There's no use in rehashing our hour of living hell that was Guadelajara traffic and our attempt to get back on track - suffice to say that we were eventually spit out the other side and aside from a few frayed nerves what doesn't kill you truly does make you stronger.

We had fairly good weather for the rest of what was a fairly short trip this time. Just 350 klm and some four hours, and as we descended onto the coast it really started to warm up, so much so that only for the second time we were able to peel off all our rain gear and ride in just our hot weather mesh gear.

About twenty minutes out of rincon though, it clouded up again and started to spit rain, with a threatening storm moving in. We were close enough that we weren't going to stop to change again so we motored on - into a worsening storm. When we made it to Rincon we pulled into the first restaurant we came to, a place we've frequented before, and just in time. The skys absolutely opened up with huge deluge and howling winds. I kid you not, it was like a mini-hurricane for a few minutes. We ran into some other tourists from Kelowna, also taking shelter from the storm, and they said it's been like this for the last ten days they've been here. In PV for every one good day they've had it's been followed by a day of heavy rain and wind, so we're not alone.

The restaurant has rooms in a small courtyard behind the main restaurant area so we grabbed one just to make it simple. It's great! A good sizes room with two double beds, large storage closet, fridge and microwave, LOT's of hot water (which is VERY important after a day of riding)and a crystal clear pool just steps from the room - all for $28. Mexico, gotta love it!
We're here for two nights and then we're giving ourselves a treat. More to follow

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A few pictures from the road

Day 4 & 5 Lake Chapala!

Day 4 & 5
I’m writing this on the morning of Day 5 - sitting on the balcony of my very nice room overlooking the large manicured grounds of a Mexican hotel/resort.

Before I go on though, I have to clarify that on a trip like this the bike isn’t just a form of transportation. It’s not like hopping in a car to get somewhere. For me, the bike IS the vacation - it’s the journey I love, just as much as the destination. Otherwise, four days of riding just to spend a week somewhere and then do it all again to get home makes no sense whatsoever. I’m just lucky enough that Rosi is willing to come along. I’m not stupid; she doesn’t feel the same passion for it as me but she doesn’t just tolerate it either. There’s times she loves it too. It’s unfortunate that this area of Northern Mexico isn’t the most picturesque - and it’s often a LONG way between cities of size - but hey, we’ve seen things few others have.

Which brings me to yesterday. I don’t like to ride more than three days without a break and I like to keep it to ~ 500 klm but this time that just wouldn’t worked out. So far we’ve been averaging >600 klm and we pretty much had to ride another day to get to some warmth.

Because we’re starting to feel a little road weary we didn’t get an early start. By the time I got up and pulled the bike out of the lobby and loaded our gear it was after 8:00 before we left our little town. We then pulled into the first Pemex/Oxxo we came across for our obligatory breakfast of coffee and muffins so it was close to 9:00 before we really started to make tracks.

After that it was more of the same. Miles and miles of miles and miles - all of it at close to 120 kph but good roads and light traffic. Approx 1 ½ hours south we picked up the Autopista and I was able to average 140 kph again. The Autopista is the Mexican toll freeway system. All the roads are four-lane divided freeways in fantastic shape and are patrolled regularly by the Green Angels in case of breakdowns etc.

We wizzed through Zacatecas on a freeway by-pass and continued down the road to Aguas Callientes. According to my map there should have been another ring road in AC but for whatever reason we missed it. Instead we knew we were in trouble as the divided freeway became just four lanes, then two and then regular city roads in an ever increasing amount of traffic. AC is a large Mexican city of approx 1,000,000 and it brings new meaning to the terms hectic and chaotic. It’s BUSY, especially when you’re two-up on a loaded bike and you’ve been spit out in the very centre of town. The main town square was on one side, the main mercado on another and traffic and people were closing in fast. And poor Rosi, who doesn’t like Mexican traffic at the best of times, was panicked and more than willing to let her displeasure be known through the intercom. I actually didn’t know she knew some of the words she used - and I’m REALLY happy the Mexican drivers couldn’t hear her or we’d still be there trying to explain that we really didn’t mean it when we said the things we did

And here’s the other thing: like the previous three days, up until AC the temperatures ranged from cold in the mornings and at higher elevations, to cool during the day, but when we descended into AC it got hot. REAL hot, REAL fast - and here we ere, stuck in chaotic Latin American traffic and unable to peel off the rain gear we’d been using to add a layer for warmth. So now, on top of worrying about traffic we were both approaching heat stroke. OK, even I had to admit , Mexican motorcycle adventure or not, a nice flight into a resort for a few weeks was looking really good at this point.

But all things good come to those that deserve it - or maybe God truly does favour the brave - all I know is we eventually made our way through the maze of downtown and got spit out the other side and were able to pull over. We got off the bike, peeled off our rain gear and took a minute to decompress and get our bearings. I was able to ask a man on the street walking by for directions and it turns out he was right. (you sometimes have to ask three different people for directions and then use the average. They either don’t know and don’t want to admit it or they don’t understand because of the language barrier) He told us to take an immediate left at the next light and follow that road all the way out of the city until it hooks back up with the Autopista. We did and it did, and an hour later we were back on track and rolling down the freeway.

But….. and I have no idea how this is possible but we’re in the central highlands so it may have something to do with the elevation and mountains…..within minutes the temperature plunged and huge thick clouds rolled in. We knew we were in trouble so we pulled into the first Pemex (have I mentioned that we LOVE Pemex stations? They’re often our comfort zone and home away from home) and put all our rain gear again. We could see a HUGE storm rolling in but I asked one of the attendants which way it was to Guadalajara and it looked vaguely clear in that direction so we decided to chance it.

And for those of you now thinking “Poor Rosi. what a bastard for putting her through that”, I offered to stay the night and avoid the storm but it was only 2:30 at that point and we really wanted to get here. So we bundled up and headed off into the wilds. And what a wild ride it was!

For the next 45 minutes the winds ranged from hard to horrendous: we had heavy rain and sometimes hail so hard it actually hurt through all our gear and in the distance forked lightening, which only added to the pucker factor. But heads down and a look of grim determination on our faces, and with the promise of a slightly lighter sky in the distance, we pressed on.

Our perseverance eventually paid off because we hit clear blue sky again and had to finally pull over and peel off layers.

Our next bit of excitement was hitting Guadalajara at rush hour. The freeway into the city is eight lanes wide and BUSY. Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city with a population of six million, all of whom seemed to be out driving when we arrived. But all’s well that ends well. We only had to stop and ask for directions once and only had to perform two U turns before we made our way to the road out of the city to Lake Chapala.

Which is where we are now. We found a really nice large hotel type place right on the shore of the lake. It’s a resort, but not in the North American way you probably think. Instead, try to imagine the family vacation type places that were popular in the fifties - kind of like the place in the movie, Dirty Dancing - and you’ll have a better idea. First, it’s huge, with lot’s of rooms, and a restaurant, a large ballroom and an absolutely HUGE outdoor dance floor. It’s right on the shore of Lake Chapala with beautiful manicured lawns and two pools - but no disco, no bar and no loud crass tourists. As a matter of fact, it’s not popular with gringo’s at all. Rosi and I are the only white faces here, which is just how we like it.

There’s only one wrench in the works. We’d really like to stay for three days but they’re fully booked starting tomorrow so we may have to push on. If there’s a cancellation we’ll stay but otherwise we’ll head to the coast in the morning. And from looking at the preparations underway for a major fiesta it may not be such a bad idea.

More to follow
Viva La Mexico!

Day 3 follow up

Day 3 started wonderful. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before and enjoyed a VERY nice king-size bed with high-end linens, a nice continental breakfast and some great service. And even better, it was chilly - around 5 degrees - but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and we could feel the warmth in the sun even before we began. WooHoo!!

With firm directions in hand on how to leave the city we hit the road around 7:30 and by 8:00 or so we were on a good road heading south. We stayed on a secondary road through the mountains for an hour or so and then we picked up the Autopista and really made some great time.

And here’s where I have to put in a plug for Mexico in general and Mexican’s in particular; at no time have we felt threatened or put out because of the language barrier or the fact we’re tourists - sometimes the only tourists these parts have seen for a very long time, if ever. Instead we’ve only met warm welcoming smiles and anytime we’ve stopped to look at the map or to get out bearings someone ALWAYS materialized to ask how we’re doing of if he or she could help in some way.

Anyway, all day we made great time and saw a lot of northern Mexico. An area by the way, that would put northern Manitoba to shame for remoteness and desolation. We saw miles and miles of miles and miles - and not much else.

We eventually ended up at the outskirts of a city called Gomez Palacio around 2:30 and here’s where me made our mistake. It was really 3:30 because we’d crossed in to Mountain time without realizing it. It’s no big deal because we’re not on any schedule but it meant we had an hour less of daylight than we thought. We looked at the map and decided 2:30 was too soon to stop so we’d push on. We could see that the next city was still >200klm away but there were lots of small towns on the map so there must be a hotel. Right. Wrong! Once we started on the next stretch there was nothing! By then we’d changed our clocks ahead and realized an hour or so later that we were quickly running out of options. We were now on a secondary road again and as the day wore on we noticed a real increase in heavy truck traffic. They must run at night. Anyway, long story short, we eventually stopped at a truck stop and got directions to this place about 5 klm off the highway. It’s a very quaint, typical small colonial town with a main square, large cathedral and an older hotel right on the square. VERY small but the kind of place we love.

We’re now firmly ensconced for the evening in a small room with 20 foot ceilings and just enough flavour to make it unique, that is if 150 year old buildings with electricity and plumbing retrofitted in the fifties turns you on :-)

My bike is now put away in the lobby and I’m just finishing up a few notes before we head out to a lovely Valentines dinner in the lobby/restaurant cooked by the owner/manager/chef. Afterwards we’re going to join all the families in the main square and just hang out and soak up the vibe.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Day 3 - Long, tiring and a real sense of accomplishment

Hey everyone
Too tired and not a great internet connection to post much. Suffice to say we zigged when we should have zagged and, 675 klm later, we're in a VERY out of the way, small Mexican colonial town, WAY off the beaten track. Lov'n it!
And Rosi is a FANTASTIC co-pilot and a real trooper. The last few klm were nip and tuck whether or not we'd find a place to call it quits before it got dark - and you NEVER want to be out on a bike after dark.
Anyway - once I finsh here the restaurant in the lobby will be closed and I'll pull my bike in to get it off the street.

More to follow tomorrow from Lake Chapala

A few more pictures from Day 1 and 2

Snow, Ice, Screeching Tires and Squeeling Brakes

Snow, Ice, Squealing Brakes and Screeching Tires: this CAN'T be good!

Well, we're well on our way into the Mexican heartland and so far the trip has been fantastic! I can't believe it's been just two days!

We arrived safe and sound in Phoenix and I took a day to prep the bike and take care of a few things and we had a great time going out for dinner with Dad and Carol (who were fantastic as always, and REALLY patient with my last minute goings on to get ready), Ward and Bonnie and Mick and Sharon. On Friday morning I still had some last minute prep because I had to complete the wiring for Rosi's heated vest but we finally hit the road at 9:00. A little later than I'd originally hoped but that was due to my over optimistic plans, not anything else.

The ride to the border was longer than last year because this time we crossed at Douglas rather than Nogales. Along the way we had a great lunch at a historic old hotel in Bisbee and a quick tour through downtown Tombstone. The snow on the side of the road at the top of the pass overlooking Bisbee was unexpected but by then it was just after noon so it had warmed up a bit and wasn't too bad.

We pulled into Douglas around 2:00 and decided to play it safe. The next town of size was a good 200 klm away and we still had to clear customs so rather than chance arriving in the dark we crossed into Mexico, checked into a nice hotel and walked back to Customs to take care of our tourist visa's etc. I'd like to say we then had an exciting first night in Mexico by partying until dawn but that would be just a wee bit of a fib. Instead, we had a great dinner at the hotel restaurant and, thanks to fresh air, too much excitement and 425 kilometers on the first day, we were both sound asleep before 9:30!

The next day(today) was a bit of a shock. We knew Northern Mexico is cold due to the elevation but we weren't prepared for quite how cold. Last year, south of Nogales was cold, this morning however was freak'n freezing!

It was right at zero when we took off at 7:30. We're riding in our mesh gear because we expect it to get hot at some point and we're using rain gear and long johns to layer up and cut the wind. This is an OK compromise when it's cool but today it was woefully inadequate. It warmed up a bit as the sun rose but just as we thought, OK, that's not so bad, we started to climb over the continental divide between Agua Prieta and Janos. I have no idea how high we were but I'm guessing 5,000 feet(?) and the temperature gauge on my bike dropped to minus five. There was hard crusty snow all around us and the mud puddles in the ditch were frozen solid. Who would guess that we'd travel to Mexico and our biggest worry wouldn't be the drug war but instead was black ice?!

The rest of the trip this morning was fairly uneventful. We picked up the Autopista half way to Chihuahua and were able to make some great time. And yes, my bike will still do 140 kph fully loaded and two-up! The autopista, gotta love it!

The only mishap - more like a VERY close call - was arriving into Chihuahua around 3:00, just in time for rush hour. The Mexican traffic light system is confusing at the best of times but it's even worse when you start to pull an illegal u-turn and then decide to abort and pull back into traffic at the last minute. But hey, the other guys brakes apparently worked really well, at least from what I could hear, and we finally arrived safe and sound, if not a little shaken after another 525 klm.

Total so far = 950 klm

The only other thing of note is our plans have changed quite a bit. The five day forecast for Veracruz is highs of 12 -13 and a 30% chance of rain and thunderstorms. There have been some wicked storms down here and it's been unseasonably cold in some areas so we're going g to stay further west. Our plan now is to head to Lake Chapala for a few days and then dogleg down to Cuyutlan just south of Manzanillo where it'll hopefully be hot and sunny.

That's it for now