Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Giving credit where credit is due

Just a short final entry to let family and friends know we're back in the US safe and sound. It was a wonderful trip and speaking to security concerns for just a minute - there weren't any. Motorcycle trips are kind of like flying: uneventful is often a very good thing, and on this trip such was the case. We saw very little in the way of a police or military presence and there was nothing at all that gave us any cause for concern.

But I have to give credit where credit is due. For those of you that ride I think you'll agree; there's no better way to travel but riding is a lot of things but the one thing it isn't, is easy. Especially long distance travel on a VStrom. It's a great bike and nothing is better for some of the roads we covered but after a few long back-to-back days a Gold Wing starts to look good. (Shhh.... don't tell her I said that!)

But the credit that's due isn't for my bike, it's for my wonderful, hard-working and oh, so patient wife. We covered some hard miles on this trip and she was a real trooper, especially through Chihuahua rush-hour traffic but nothing compared to what she endured today. And endured is the only way I can describe it. There was no joy in today's ride. No adventure to be had, no scenery to be seen - no, today was just that; a test of stamina, will and endurance and she came through with flying colours.

Last night in Chihuahua all the news reports from El Paso Texas were full of warnings and advisories telling motorists to stay off the roads and to avoid all unnecessary travel. WIND WARNING, CODE RED, STAY OFF THE ROADS were just a few of the flashing red warnings that scrolled across the screen. What we didn't count on or even consider was even though we were 200 klm southwest, the storm they were warning of was actually blowing west to east and was originating - and blowing through - the path we were taking. And blow it did - hard! - all day. Sustained winds of 25-45 miles per hour with gusts to 55 miles per hour - all freak'n day! And with the wind comes the dust...... and the tumbleweeds......

And please believe me when I say it's not hyperbole; this was honestly one of the hardest rides I've ever endured. I've ridden through snow storms on the Hope-Princeton, torrential rain on more occasions than I can count, temperatures that were both frigid and brutally hot, but never, not ever, have I ridden for eight hours with a non-stop white knuckle death grip on the bars like I did today. For most of it we were both hunched over the tank as low as we could get to give as low a profile as possible, all the while praying that the Semi's coming at us didn't blow into our lane or at the very least, gave us some warning before they did so we could try to keep out of the way.  And lets not forget the few kilometers through the mountains where hundreds of tumble weeds all of a sudden blew onto a long stretch of highway and I couldn't avoid them because of their speed and ferocity. Nothing puckers the ol sphincter like a series of tumbleweeds literally exploding against your windscreen and fairing while you pray they're all as flimsy as they look.

And finally, one other little tidbit that makes it so exciting - for most of the last half of the trip there was no shoulder on the road to speak of, paved or otherwise - so "pulling over" was never an option.

We arrived in Douglas five hours ago dog tired, hot, dusty and weary and more than a little shaken from the experience and it may be a while before Rosi agrees to go on another ride. But no matter if or when she rides again she can hold her head up today with the best of them.

Signing off for the last time (on this trip anyway) from Douglas AZ

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Of Mice and Men

The best laid plans can often go awry, but not always in a bad way.

We've been on the road since Thursday and as anyone that rides knows, and more important rides in Mexico, it's a different time scale and a different world. 6-8 hour days on the bike are looooooong days in the saddle and cute quaint Mexican hotels, as darling as they are, often have beds designed by the Marquis de Sade. And what is it with Mexican bed and sheet manufacturers? Would it be too much to ask to have the sheets actually fit the bed? But nooooo, that would be too easy. It's much better to have them pull away during the night so you end up in a disheveled mess by the morning. But such is life and it's the price we willingly pay to experience the true Mexico. And at $58/night including breakfast and dinner one can't nit pic too much over fitted sheets, can one?

But sometimes the best laid plans change and not always for the worse - sometimes  for the better.

We woke up yesterday with the full intention of riding out to a close-by lake and taking in some more of the sights in Creel. Our original plan was then to leave Creel today and take a secondary rode north which would by-pass the Chihuahua freeway system (or as Rosi would call it, hell on earth) and eventually spit us out in Nuevo Casas Grande, a really nice little Mexican town not far south of the border. From there it would be a long but easily doable one-day ride home.  

But two things changed. We started thinking about safety and as much as we've never - not once - felt anything remotely threatening down here, discretion played the better part of valour and we decided we should ride through Chihuahua, city traffic or not, because from there we can stick to the better traveled toll roads. And with this in mind, and knowing it was a little longer ride, we decided to leave Creel a day early. Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous  morning. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and by 10:00 it was really warming up and the high-mountain road out of Creel just begged to be ridden.

So off we went; a great ride on a sunny day on fantastic roads, and like the Yellow Brick Road, it eventually spit us out at Oz. Or in our case, that bastion of civility, that which knows no compromise, the Holiday Inn Express! It was a a VERY stressful last half-hour navigating the eight-lane freeway through the centre of the city to get here (especially when a large truck in front of us dodged out of the way to avoid the big piece of cardboard that then blew directly into our path)  but once we arrived it was all worth it.

We're in a large room with a king bed, high-end linens and a luxurious bathroom with a massage shower head and HOT HOT water. Muy Bueno! And I can't tell you how much we enjoyed the free happy hour in the lobby last night with an open bar of wine, beer and drinks and enough "snacks" to make dinner unnecessary, and the hot breakfast buffet this morning was superb!

Which brings us to our change of plans. This morning, when we should have been climbing back in the saddle for another six hours to the border, we decided to spend an extra day here in Chihuahua.

Chihuahua has a history going back to the 1700's when it was first settled by the Spanish but more recently, in the early 1900's it was the headquarters of the Mexican Revolutionary Army of the North lead by Pancho Villa.

Lately it's better known as a large, modern, sprawling city of just less than a million people and a hub for industry, commerce and agriculture. There are large north-american styled suburbs and modern shopping districts right next to huge Mexican housing developments and mega-factories with names like Ford, Honeywell and Toshiba, all pumping out merchandise for shipment north and abroad.

The downtown core though is replete with lovely parks, the presidential palace and several fantastic museums all within walking distance of the main town square. Most north-american tourists, those few that there are, only stay long enough to board the train to the Copper Canyon but for the Mexican tourists and locals the downtown central historical district is a hub of activity and we enjoyed every minute of it. The absolute highlight of the day however was the visit to Casa Villa, the home of Pancho Villa, both for it's excellent museum and the great way it offered education and some perspective on general Villa's influence and contribution to what is now modern Mexico.

It's now late in the day and we've settled down in our (very nice) room for a bit of a Siesta before we make our way to the lobby bar for drinks and snacks.

Viva Mexico!
Outside facade of Casa de Villa

The car Pancho Villa was assassinated in

Interior courtyard of Casa de Villa

Second floor sidewalk cafe overlooking one of the pedestrian malls in downtown Chihuahua

Typical interior courtyard of  a government building downtown 

Pedestrian mall - I'm much happier than I look! :-)

Just one of many downtown parks and churches

Rosi always smiles better than me when she gets her picture taken!