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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Santa Rosalia, MX

Wow. What an interesting set of rides these past couple of days.

First, coming down from Guerrero Negro, Highway 1 takes you through some serious desert.
Though this isn't my first trip through a desert, I'm really enjoying the scenery this time.
I chalk that up to being on the bike.

For those readers who don't ride, the feeling of being out on an open road, with nothing by nature from the face shield to the horizon in every direction ...

The cacti and other shrubbery tend to be short, and of only a small variety of species. After a while I realize I'm moving through a forest of sorts -- except that nothing grows taller than about 4 feet high.

Then I come up to a most amazing scene -- a real-live, honest-to-goodness oasis.
Right there in the middle of the desert, a river has broken through from its underground channel and brings a small 1 x 2 km stretch of desert to life.

Looking down from the highway the flora suddenly jumps from scrub bushes to 20 ft palm trees. Now this is the kind of forest I'm used to!

What an optimist..


And as suddenly as it appears, it's gone.





And we're back to the sameness of the open sandy stretches with the stubby cacti.

I turn back on Michael Moore's "Stupid White Men" audio book (thanks for the suggestion Skira) on my Garmin Nuvo 660 GPS ( a post of this wonderful piece of kit is coming soon)

My next pleasant surprise comes when I see an open patch of desert serving as a playing field of America's pastime.
Add caption

I don't quite have the words to describe my shock at seeing, not just a baseball diamond out here in the desert, but an organized game being played on it, to boot.

I rode almost a full kilometre before making a U-turn as I realized I just had to take a picture of this for it to be believable.

What you have to understand is that this field is 45 kms from the nearest real town, Santa Rosalia -- and that's where the majority of the players drove in from.

My Spanish was too poor to ask, but really? Here? Was there not flat ground for 45 kms... ?

What an arm!
In any case, my new friend Henry aka Quito, and I swapped biker stories as he told me about his old Suzuki 750, bought before the wife and kids...

He suggested the "Hotel Sol y Mar" in Santa Rosalia. I'm happy to report I now know enough Spanish to instantly translate that complicated name :)

The fellas


Santa Rosalia is a lovely town. So quaint and picturesque. As I rolled up to the town, they were closing off streets in the downtown for a big political rally. One of the politicians running for Governor of this State would be speaking at night, and all the party faithful were there.


They pulled out all the stops of this one. There were balloons, face-painting for the kids, popcorn and candy snacks vendors, lots of free (soft) drinks, and plenty of music.
Henry, aka 'Quito'

Santa Rosalia
The town itself has a very old feel to it. There's not a single glass-and-steel building to be seen anywhere. It felt so very familiar to me.
It wasn't until walking 'home' to the motel after dinner that the familiarity struck me.
Santa Rosalia between the hills and the sea

As the rally ended, people started slowly walking home, or to their cars. Some old men were still liming at the back, drinking as they had been for the entire rally. Others who had been listening to the speeches we stopping at the few remaining vendors to grab one last taco for the night.

It felt exactly like downtown Port-of-Spain after a night in the Calypso Tents during Carnival.

Substitute the corn soup man for the tacareria and it's the same thing ...
Phil and his '87 KLR

I ran into a fellow KLR rider down here, Phil Reasons, on his sweetly custom-painted 1987 KLR650.

He's headed north back home to Tucson, AZ after spending a few weeks on the road.
We stood in a parking lot chatting about bikes, schedules, vacations-while-working, philosophy -- everything, for over an hour. It was wonderful.

Phil's working on some world-changing projects in the area of clean water technologies, and I wish him all the best.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Desert Run

Almost ran out of gas today. That long desert stretch Jose warned me of yesterday .. well I thought it was still a day south of me. Turns out I was wrong.

So I slow down to an even 80 kph, where I think I get my best mileage, and keep an eye out. After fretting about it for an hour, and constantly doing the math to see how far I can go, I finally found a lonely little outpost selling gasolina. These ladies saved my day.




I put in 2 gallons, just enough to reach the next Pemex station.

---

Stayed the night in Guerrero Negro, an old whaling village on the west coast. Now they do a big trade in whale-watching. There are no whales here right now, so we'll just be moving along in the morning.

I ran into a couple from Los Angeles who spend 6 months of each year on their sailboat in the Sea of Cortez and along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. They're really nice, approachable folks. My burning question was, "How do you afford it? What do you do?"

Ann is originally from Peterborough, Ontario, and now manages a dental hygienist office. Dave is a marine mechanic. They work hard for half a year, and live simply in the big city. Then come down here and live on their boat. While down here, they don't work -- just travel around and port for fresh supplies.

A nice and simple life. And a wonderfully inspiring story.

Oh yes, Dave tells me they sample the Fish Soup everywhere they've ever travelled, and the one served by by the Hotel Malarrimo is the best. Ever.

Dave and Ann, as well as another couple down from Oregon, crossed into Mexico through Tijuana a couple nights ago. Apparently it's pretty safe right now..






=== CORRECTION ===
I've been informed that there are NO wild horses in Baja. So the ones I saw roadside near Tecate were just hanging out waiting for their cowboys to come round them up. Pretty cool. I've seen many horse-mounted cowboys out here so far, and will try to get a picture...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Baja California

Uriel on the right
Man, I'm missing the Hotel Santo Tomas back in Ensenda. That was a palace! Here's a picture of Uriel who was invaluable in helping me deal with the Mexican Import authorities (We tried, my friend. We tried...) I hope to see him in Canada one day...


The room I'm in tonight in Rosario de Arriba is much colder than I expected, or am happy with. There isn't even a heater in the room.

I thought I'd just take my computer over to the restaurant attached to the motel office, but it's just as cold in there. I guess I haven't yet trained myself to look and ask for working heaters when choosing a place to stay…
Mountains of Baja

Other than the frosty fingers tonight, today was a wonderful travel day. Only about 25 kms of construction in the nearly 200 kms I rode today.




Jose, Elizabeth and little Robert

I met a lovely Mexican familiy on the way back north to their home in San Diego. Jose informs me to make sure I have extra fuel on hand while crossing the desert stretch up ahead, where the road crosses from the Pacific coast of the peninsula to the Gulf of California side.

Lickily I still have the 1 litre fuel bottle on the bike that I was using to carry camping stove fuel. Hmmm .. where I can empty that fuel to replace it with gasoline?

It's only an extra 20 or so kilometres of range that will give me, but acording to the map, there are settlements well within the range of my bike's 23L tank…

I guess we will see…

Along the road today I passed through two more military checkpoints, but was waved through each time. Since I will most certainly NOT be taking pictures of these checkpoints, I should explain them a bit.

Dusty streets of San Vicente, B.C.
There are probably about a dozen soliders visible as you approach these checkpoints along the road. All traffic must stop, and each vehicle is approached by a solider with an automatic rifle at his side. Off to each side of the checkpoint, set back about 10 feet from the road are little bunkers. Each is about the size of a couple porta-potty's standing together. They are surrounded by used tires, and inside sits one or two soldiers with really, really large mounted machine guns. The kind I used to really love seeing in those old Westerns when the hero surprises the bad guys and whips the cover off the wagon and, ta-da!, lays waste to all evil-doers with seemingly endless rounds spraying while he sweeps the big machine gun back and forth.

When you're on a motorcycle, in a foreign country, facing a language barrier and realize these soldiers, like soldiers everywhere, are mostly just boys with deadly toys .. suddenly the charm of so much steel and machismo is not quite doing it for me.

Like I said though, so far, I've only received a quick looking over, and been waved right through..

Not so for many of the folks that had been traveling the same stretch of road with me earlier. I don't know these people, or their stories, but had kind of grown fond of the guy in the blue Mazada pickup with the busted taillight, old tire in the back, with this little daughter playing hide and seek with me from the jump seat of the cab. I hope they made it through okay.

---

Another lovely family on their way to the US. Junior, his wife (I'm sorry I forgot your name) and their almost 5-1/2 month old (off camera - still in her tummy!)

I wish you guys all the best! Cheers.



---

Some video I shot today. I just pulled over to the side of Federal Highway 1 and panned around me. Not a single soul. Very peaceful, very nice. I think I'd like to come back one year and camp along this stretch of the coast during the warm summer months.

Ensenada, MX


View from my balcony
Hotel Santo Tomas -- first rate. Excellent quality and service. Great low prices. Friendly, professionl staff. Bright, clean rooms with a decent speed Internet connection via WiFi throughout the building.

Got the big runaround trying to get my temporary import permit papers for the bike. I had a nice bilingual fellow on the hotel staff, Urel, on the phone trying to track down the correct office for me to visit.

See, when I crossed at Tecate, they told me I'd have to come to Ensenada to get the import papers.

So after tramping around to 4 different office yesterday, I think I have a good handle on the layout od downtown Ensenada.

It seems almost all of the government office are right in core, but there must be a checkpoint on the way into the city where the staff are requested to leave their good senses while at work.

I'm told I may be able to get one at a military checkpoint on the main raod south. Or if not, then there are some more immigration offices down in La Paz.

First Full Day in Mexico

The road from Tecate to Ensenada is under construction. Well at least the first 20 kms of it. What a horrid mess of dirt, rocks and mud.

But then the construction zone finally ended, I passed the 18-wheeler that had been holding us up for the past 15 kms, and was enjoying the open road.

I was trying to recall what the landscape reminded me of. Was it the Badlands of Alberta, the high plains of Hawaii's Big Island, or perhpas the Argentinina Pampas..

I told myself to stop with the comparison's and just enjoy it for what it is … the countryside in Northern Baja, Mexico.

Then I saw some blue spray painted graffitti on some of the rocks -- at least 10 kms from any visible settlement! What the heck?!

All I could think of were the New York City subway cars during the 80's.
Beautiful works of art to be sure -- shame about the chosen canvas.

No more than 2 minutes later, my mental flashbacks were interrupted as I came around the bend of another set of twisties and saw a horse. I suppose he was a wild horse without a curfew, being so far from any villages, and just grazing by the side of the road like that.

Then I saw 3 more horses, scattered on both sides of the road.

They all looked up laziliy at me.

Then one broke, and decided this green thing coming towards them making so much noise was not a good thing.

And spooked horses, in case you don't know (I sure as heck didn't!), care nary a wit about which direction they will run.

Sure enough, one them ran across the road.

I jump on both brakes, and greared down.

Thankfully he passed about 15 feet in front of me. Not really a close call .. but at that distance, the horse looked huge. I keep saying he -- it could have been a she, for all I know.

I just glad 'becca and I didn't have a chance to find out too many of the particulars this afternoon.

---

So while in Tecate, I called the toll-free number for the office in charge of Temporary Import Permits for Motorcycles. The kindly man on the other end of the line informs me that I need to call the office in Ensenda, and gives me the phone number.

The friendly ladies at the front desk of Hotel Rosita are wary about calling long distance to an area they recoginze as being in Ensenda. Since it's my next destination, and slighly over 100 kms away, we all decide it'll be best to just go there and make a local call.

Well, I am in Ensenda now. I change some dollars to pesos, find a telephone and make my call.

The number is not in service.

"Who know what tomorrow brings?"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Teacte, MX Part Dos

I was going to write about all the drama that ensues when a traveler loses his wallet while in a foreign country... but you can fairly well guess that I forgot to use my Sunday School words.

Just as I had stripped off all my gear, and locked my jacket to the bike to prepare for the hike to retrace my steps of the morning, I got a call from the the bike shop -- someone found and turned in my wallet!

Oh happy day!!!!

-----

The trip down to Mexican border took us through some really cool canyons. I live the amazing scenery of this part of the world. The area seems to be an arid semi-desert, with mostly scruffy, tough-looking bushes among the outcroppings of rocks that appear to have been place along the landscape with the delicacy of Jackson Pollock splash of paint.

The road is the constant winding twisties that all motorcyclists love. I really envy the folks for whom this region is only a quick post-breakfast sprint away.

I took too long at the Kinko's in making my fake wallet, so the light was fading fast on me. My plan was to stop on the US side of the border, and wait until morning to deal with all the paperwork and such.
As I approached the border, I realized there's NOTHING on the US side. On the Mexican side, Tecate is a fairly large town/small city. On the US side, there are maybe six dodgy-looking shacks (IF that much!) offering currency exchange.

So, I enter Mexico.

It's quite amazing to me. On the Southbound side of the US/Mexico border crossings, the guys standing around with guns and badges are only directing traffic. As you pull up to the 'control' gate the arm swings up and the 'guards' hurry you along to clear the lane so more people can come into their country.

The US side .. ha! You don't want their armed guards waving at you for anything. You'd think their country was too full, or something the way they want to keep the Mexicans out. Or perhaps they're spitefully ignoring  the fact that statistically the country actually needs immigrants to keep the birth rate up, so the US halts it's decades long slide into being a nation of Viagra-popping, Depends-wearing old folks...

I inquire as to where I can get a Temporary Import Permit for my motorcycle, as required by Mexican law. Hmmm... not in Tecate is the reply. I'll have to go to Ensenda for that.

This is not a good thing to hear.

It's already dark, I've just entered a Spanish-speaking country, and I'm told I should ride the 110 kms to the next town to complete my paperwork.

Fat chance. I inquire about the nearest hotel, and am directed to Hotel Rosita.

Tomorrow is another day.

Tecate, MX

Well, I'm finally here in Mexico. So begins the next Phase of this adventure…

I left Jim's place early this morning, as he likes to leave his home at 6 AM, and I certainly did not want to infringe. His kindness in helping me last night will stay with me for quite some time.

I breakfast'd at McDonald's (I don't want to hear it folks -- they offer free wifi!), and answered a few questions from our client. I imagine my next reliable Internet connection may be quite some time away..

I then headed back to Escondido Cycle Center to have a new rear tire installed, and to get an oil change. Again, Amsoil was not available, but at least I got 100% synthetic 20W50

With an hour to kill while the bike was being serviced, and my debit card unusable in the shop's computer system, I walked the mile or so to the nearest mall. On my way back, I was practically melting in my ATGATT clothes. As I took off the jacket and slung it over my shoulders, I thought I heard something drop. Nothing was visible on the sidewalk around me, so I felt the big pockets of the jacket, hoping to feel the familiar shape of my wallet.

Ahhh.. I felt that familiar bulge right where I expecting it, in the right hand side pocket.

When I got back to shop, it was like a party. By then, all of the mechanics had read the well-wishes, prayers and comments scribbled across Rebecca's rump. Everyone wanted to know the story of the trip. We gathered around one of the computers on the Service Desk to help me map out the best route to Tecate, and beyond.

They even printed me a hand out of some interesting tourist sights in Ensenada. Plus they printed out my Mexican Moto Insurance papers for me.

After that great visit, it was time to head out to Kinko's to print some more paperwork, and have it laminated.

My plan was to create some colour copies of my Driver's License and other docs and laminate them against any future rough handling by bored policemen and under-paid boy soldiers at the military checkpoints I'm expecting to see along the way.

And, of course, my wallet was nowhere to be found.

That can really take the wind out of your sails…

Escondido, CA

Bubbletron, a fellow KLR rider

Finally leaving L.A. had me feeling quite blue. The energy, the vibe, the feeling of family ... all this was very present for me in the last few days.

Once I stop riding for more than 2 days in a row, just getting back on the bike feels alien, and takes quite a bit of mental effort.

"Why am I doing this, again?"

Thankfully, before even reaching the metro limits, I run into Bubbletron from KLR650.net (there she is on the left in her disguise as Alison).

Actually she ran up to me at the gas station just bubbling [n.b. see what I just did there? I crack me up :)] with excitement about seeing someone on the same bike as hers, geared up to go long. She's a fantastic lady, and recently completed a big ride of her own

I decide to break up the ride to Tecate by stopping in Escondido, CA. On the way though, the rear tire suddenly doesn't "feel" right. My words are failing me to describe what felt different, but I take a look and the pressure seems ok, but the tire itself is looking really aged.

The Mefo Explorer 99 I had back there is starting to showing deep cracks along some of the knobs. The tire is biased 50/50 for dirt/street. Too much highway has seriously shortened its life. It has probably another 2,000 kms of life yet, but I'll be in the middle of Mexico by then... So I'm replacing it now.

As I ride through downtown Escondido, I spy a parked BMW F800 GS, and I realize this rider MUST know where to find great dual sport tires.

After hunting in the stores near the parked bike, I spot Jim stuited for tarmac battle. After giving me directions to a few possible sources, he then offers me his spare bedroom for the night! Now how cool is that?!

Jim and his trusty steed


Friendlies at Escondido Cycle Center
Then he takes me around to 3 different bike shops until we find a suitable tire at Escondido Cycle Center. Get this -- a brand new STOCK tire that comes with my bike. Wow!

Then, the man treats me to dinner at a local Irish pub. Guiness Stew never tasted so good :)

Life is good to me.

Los Angeles, CA … Take 2

Ahh.. the ability for a human connection to transform the simplest of interactions into profoundly deep, and binding experience.

The past week in Los Angeles was nothing short of amazing. Just finding the house Skira lives in, at the top of dark hill, fed by a narrow and winding one way lane shouldered with a steep drop off..

You ever visit a house in Trinidad where the address is so-and-so trace, and the dirctions inevitably include turning left at the second mango tree .. ?

That's the feel of this space. Even the arcitecture of the places, from the concrete pavings to the artists burgular-proofing .. palm and citrus trees in the yard .. that smell of .. life.. when vegetation grows freely, any and everywhere two roots can get purchase..

The only thing missing was the broken glass set in concrete atop the walls.
A few more crowing roosters would complete the picture..


Leon - this man can COOK!

Christy
My hostesses Skira and Christy were wonderful. Over the next few days we would share meals, laughs, jokes and dreams. Leon joined us later in the week, and added his seriously deep knowledge of the histories of the original peoples of this land.

"What's up, G?!"

The feel of Skira's home has been perfectly transplanted from Toronto to the hills of Lincoln Heights. Visitors dropping by, music playing, prose and poetry being read and written, cooking and LOTS of love and laughter ..

The only missing ingredients were the vinyl records ..

We visited many places aroud town, giving me ample opportunity to continue butchering the lovely Spanish language.

Skira
Props to Raul Martinez and his art work. I'll be looking for your mural down south ..

We went to see the mural along the historic archway leading to the old orphanage in Highland Park.
Irie and Eva

There we met the lovely Eva, and a crew of lively hikers, including Skira's twin -- Eyerie.

Eva



Sunday, November 21, 2010

LA at night

I've been in Los Angeles 4-1/2 days now, but it feels like 3 weeks. I've spent a most of the time working, so it's not all lost.
View from Skira's street
On Thursday I stopped a woman as she was leaving the IHOP parking lot. She had long, freshly tightened braids, so I figured she could hook me up. Well, it turns out she wasn't local, but she placed a call to her friend John, who is.
John gave us a number for Angel somewhere across town. I called Angel and arranged for a session the next day at her shop, Divine Roots over in Inglewood.

For the three hours I was there we had some wonderful, wide-ranging conversations, starting with J.A. Rogers all the way to Michael Moore.
She did a good job on my hair, but Avalon's still my main girl!

On Saturday I said officially goodbye to anymore camping for the rest of this trip. I loaded 18 lbs of gear into one big box at the Post Office, and had it mailed to Toronto for $54.

I finally met Skira's beau, Leon. He's a wonderfully brilliant, socially-minded and politically committed man. From the moment we shook hands, we've been engaged in non-stop dicussion on just about everything.

I've learned quite a bit about the politics of the Latino and other non-white populations of East L.A.
Tonight they took me to see their corner of Los Angeles.
We took in some great reggae by the Constant Blues band on a cold outdoor stage in Leimert Park







with Raul, Skira and Leon
Visited the Lucy Florence Coffee House to view a jewellery show, and see some art. That space is an amazing multi-use facility with a full theatre in the back. There are many small rooms within the building, each display the arts and crafts of a different local artisan. I'm not aware of a space like this back in Toronto, though the Berkley Church comes close.

Saw a beauty salon on Leimert Blvd with an absolutely wonderful name --- "Who Does Your Braids?" Come on, how perfect is that?!

Skira, Leon and I then went to check out the closing of an art show in a skateboard chop.
Raul Rodriguez is the artist. We chatted and clicked, and he gave me an address to look out for a mural he painted this summer down in El Salvador. If I can find it, I'll post a picture up here.

We ate at a proper Mexican taqureĆ­a. Can you believe Taco Bell has had me completely fooled all these years!)

The we cruised around the city (making sure to avoid getting busted), while chatting about menudo (the soup-ish like food dish), Menudo the pop group, and, of course, the relevance of Ricky Martin -- Menudo's most famous former member.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

La-la Land

Well, I've finally made it to the West Coast.

I know, I know ... aren't I supposed to be going South rather than West?

When you look at maps, main route from Phoenix to LA is the Interstate highway, I-10

But, there must be an old route, right? Before Eisenhower started the Interstate project to rebuild the US economy.

So I looked for, and found the old road out of Buckeye, Arizona. I was looking forward to a somewhat leisurely ride on the 7-1/2 hours route that the GPS had mapped out for me.
However, the road was simply awful.
It was was not just bad. It wasn't even like they stop maintaining it after they built the Interstate.
It's more like they ripped the asphalt right off the road and put on the I-10.

I couldn't for the life of me imagine why the road was in such a state. And more importantly, I couldn't imagine staying on it for another 500 miles.

I guess the fates do listen to my pleas every once in a while. After just one mile of that washboard foolishness, we came to a road closed sign.

At the edge of the road you could see where single, and dual-track off-road vehicles had picked their way around the barricade.

I'll pass this time.

I turned around an found my way back onto Interstate 10.

Did I mention I HATE riding on the freeways?

The next 2 hours reminded me of just why I have that opinion. Trucks, trucks, motorhomes, and more trucks.

After the next rest stop I reset the GPS to take the local roads.

A few U-turns, another ride through a road-closed/active construction site and voila -- I find myself on Highway 62. Finally, I'm Goin' back to Cali!

The road is nice, lots of twistie bits, as well as some desolate landscapes that look like they were imported from Mars.

I do feel a bit cheated though. In the final 100 mile stretch to LA, I am again directed back onto the I-10.
The sun's setting now, and the traffic is getting heavy. I don't really want my first bike trip through LA to drop me into middle of an infamous Los Angeles rush hour.

So, I put aside my misgivings, and get on the Interstate again.
This time I am greeted to one of the most fantastic man-made sights I have ever seen -- the San Gorgonio Pass windmill farm.

I'm at the top of a long valley looking south. The sun's beginning to set to my right, but before me is spread out over 3,218 giant wind turbines.

The sight is phenomenal. They've all lined up like so many rows in a farmers field.




The towers are all gleaming in the reflected light of the setting sun. The blades are spinning, and all are faced into to same direction. From this distance, they look like so many unbowed, white sunflowers.

I sweep my head from side to side to take in the vastness of the wind farm. It stretches farther than I can see. The magnificence of the sight lasts about 3 seconds.

Then a violent blast from my right side pushes me over the white line of the highway.

Where there are windmills, there be winds. A mighty wind farm inevitably means mighty winds :(

The next 30 minutes is just one of sheer terror riding my usually lovely bike, which in situation like this takes on the ergonomics of a sailboat.

Not good. But what can I do? This valley is the way into LA.

One day I'll be back this way, and able to truly appreciate the view...

For today, simply surviving that experience is quite enough for me. Thank you very much.


----

In LA I'm hanging with Skira!

Quomada, NM

At 7:50 AM is 18 F. That's cold!


The battery doesn't seem to have enough juice to start the bike, so we'll get some breakfast, and try again in 20 minutes.

From the motel the road west is as straight as an arrow for about 50 miles. There are lots of ups and down, but we don't drop much altitude. By 11 AM I'm still over 7,000 feet, and only marginally warmer than when I began the day.

Salt River Canyon is the start of some magnificent riding! I'm still on US 60, but here the road builders gave up on forcing nature, put the road wherever it could fit.

There are dozens of switchbacks
What you WANT to see on the GPS!
hugging the sides of the canyon. As we descen along the wonderfully paved and signed roads, you can look up and see the traffic on the same road, climbing to the other side of the canyon.



They knew they were onto a good thing here, so they've cut scenic lookouts every couple of miles.
The scenery I breathtaking. The sandy scrub land of scraggly bushes and winter yellow grass up on the plateau had given way to a forest of actual trees. The lush greenery hangs from the multi-coloured rock faces.

I check the GPS, and sure enough we're now at 5,000 feet and dropping...

Another good day.

I think I'll rest in the Phoenix area tonight, and ride into LA tomorrow.




Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dirt and stars

After a light complimentary breakfast of toast, muffins and coffee at the Days Inn, it was time to hit the road for my big final push into the south-west. According the the GPS it's about 20 hours from here to San Diego, so that's a few days of riding.

The bike is running well. Superb in fact. The oil usage has stabilized to about a few ounces per 1000 kilometres. I've been using 100% synthetic since I got the bike. Usually Mobil1, but tried to switch to Amsoil just before this trip. The problem is finding places to buy Amsoil 20w50 while on the road. I think the most consistent spots are large Harley-Davidson dealerships. High Plains H-D in Clovis, NM hooked me up nicely.

From a biker's perspective, today's ride had just about everything.

I cruised out of Albuquerque down old highway 25, which runs parallel to the new I-25. They run down the same valley, but on the empty old road I get to ride at 55 mph and fell like I'm doing 100, rather than on the Interstate struggling to hit 70 and be constantly pushed around by the trucks.

I met a group of 3 BMW riders, fully geared for a long ride, standing roadside with a map. I thought to approach them, but contented myself with a toot of the old air horn and a wave.

Ten minutes after passing them, I was lost in the desert.

According to the map, there was supposed to be a road right here ...



Well, there were many roads, but without names. So I took one that looked promising. For the sake of vanity I would rather lie, but won't -- I took the one more travelled. And boy, it made all the difference.

My GPS knew where I was, but insisted the road beneath me did not exist. After 10 minutes of riding blind like this, the Garmin finally worked itself out and showed the road I was on did in fact lead me back to my original route.

And what a fun ride this side route turned out to be. About 40 miles of rough stuff - a combination of hard-packed dirt, gravel roads and some seriously deep sand in many corners. I was riding dirt, for real!

Here I was in a real desert, picking my way slowly along the washboard roads. A half hour earlier I was cruising at 60 mph, now I was down to 25 and standing on the pegs. This is what a KLR 650 was made for!


Thank goodness for my Mefo Exlporer tires. In most places, they keep me sure-footed when the road was doing it's best to buck me off. I was sure something was going to rattle off the bike though. The washboard effect of the dirt road kept 'becca and I rattling for the entire 3 hours in this section.

First I thought I road was headed straight to the mountain, and I thought this would be quite the adventure. 

Thankfully, the road skirted around to the north of the mountain, and it's a good thing. As we go closer to the mountain, the road became more challenging. Up and down, twist and turn. The 318 corners of the Dragon seem like a distant childhood memory. THIS ride was tough!

The highlight was coming to section where the road dipped into a gully and was completely washed out by a slow flowing river. I stood on the bank for a minute to contemplate the best way across. The water was not deep, probably less than 4 inches for most of it. The deep sand on the embankments and the mud below -- those I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle.

After surveying for a minute, my adrelenaine was on over-drive. I didn't want to lose my nerve, so I jumped back on the bike and started across. 

Down the first bank smoothly, then the front tire hit the mud. The handlebars jerked sideways in my hands, and I was sure I was going down. My leg flew out instantly and touched down hard on a rock just below the surface of the water.

The bike righted itself and we pushed forward some more. Crossing to the other bank probably only took about 2 seconds, but felt like 5 minutes.

As we reached the far bank, I twisted the throttle slightly for more power to get us up and out.
Too much.

The rear wheel bit in and the front lifted slightly off the ground. It's an interesting place to pull a wheelie. Not the ideal place however. 

My poor heart must have shot to over 200 BPM for second there, as the wheel came back down in some sand. 

For those who don't ride, sand is very tough. I have yet to learn the practical physics that will tell me which direction the front wheel will go when I hit deep sand.

The bike wobbled left, right, then left again. Rinse, repeat 5 times in the next 3 seconds, and I am fully puckered.

Thankfully, there was no one there on the bank for me to crash into, so I just dropped both feet and slid to a stop next to some cacti edging the road.

After it was done, and my heart rate slowed I thought, "I should have filmed that!"
Sadly, I think my video camera's battery is dead, as I wasn't able to capture anything at all for the day.

I didn't even think to take a photo. I keep thinking my photo skills cannot capture these landscapes I see, the sounds of the desert wind, the feel of the bright sun in clear sky high in the mountains. 

Next time!

After that crossing, it was back to corrugated gravel/dirt for another 40 minutes, before coming out on Hwy 60 near the 'town' of Magdelena, New Mexico.

I gassed up, got my usual power lunch (Red Bull and Snickers), then headed west towards Phoenix.

Then came the coolest part of the day.

In the distance I could see a giant radio telescope.
And another.


It's a whole farm of them.







Wow! I had just come across the Very Large Array Observatory. This is one of the places where they filmed the movie Contact. They actually do real science here, listening to sounds from deep across the Universe.

I get so lucky sometimes.

The sun is starting to set, and we're up on a 7,000+ foot plateau, so it's getting cold.

Really
But there's no way I resist stopping to tour the facility!

The array is made up 27 of these giants, spread along 3 axes. The dish of each can hold the infield of major league baseball diamond. 
Each radio telescope is on a rail track and can be moved and reconfigured depending on the particular experiment at hand. 
Today it seems they are looking at something in great detail, as all of the telescope are close.

When they was maximum distance, they can spread the array to length of 36 kilometres! Wow!

So I take in the 9-minute movie on how it all works, and do the walking tour. They allow you to stand beneath of these silent giants.

The BEST part of the day comes as I am scurrying around the base of the telescope looking for a good shot, and I hear the whine of electric motors high above.

The dish is moving! I can actually look up and watch the disk move a tiny bit as it continues tracking .. something .. out there...





I can't see from here, but I know all of the other dishes are moving in unison.

Wow.

----

On the recommendation from the woman running the gift shop (her husband is a rider, and is trying to raid their savings for a Ducati Multistrada), I ride through the next town and stop 50 miles up the road at the Largo Motel in Quemado, NM. It's expensive ($60) but the rooms are brand new, and warm.

It's almost dark now, and the temperature is down the 32 F. Time to stop.

Today was a good day.

p.s. I'm on the other side now. I crossed the Continental Divide just a few miles ago. From here going West, all rivers flow to the Pacific Ocean.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Another night in Albuquerque, NM


Albuquerque is a beautiful place. It's nestled beneath a sand coloured mountain, covered all over with individual green shrubs. It sorts looks like green polka dots.

At dusk, I found myself on top of a ridge opposite the mountain. Looking down at the city nestled into the valley below was actually breathtaking.

I only wish I could take photos that would do the scene justice. Take my word for it, if you can -- this is a magical place.

The homes here tend to have, to my eye, a typical Southwest look to them. Short, mostly bungalows, in adobe style, with strong-looking walls clad in earthy tones of plaster.

The only downside is the cold. MUCH colder than I thought it would be. I guess my research failed me there. Today's high was 50 F, and it's going down close to the freezing mark tonight.

I like the fact that there's no visible smog above the city. And smoking is not allowed in hotel rooms :)

I think I'll take another walk tonight, and see if I can get some good views of the mountains.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Albuquerque, New Mexico

I made the turn! I made the turn!



Seriously, that was the only reason I came to this state.
But it is oh so gorgeous here!

Many people have told me that they're inspired by this journey I'm on, and that they consider what I'm doing to be challenging. Well, I'm pleased to make a difference for you.

But I'll let you in on a little secret. I know of many people doing things I can draw inspiration from.
And one of those blessed souls happened across my path today.

While riding through the phenomenal, wide-open landscapes that form this high plateau across much of New Mexico, I saw a little figure in the distance.



Folks, it's even more desolate out here than it looks.



As I got closer, I could only shake my head. It was a person with a bicycle.



Oh my! They are pushing the bike! My mind starts racing. It's been about 25 kms since I passed any sort of village of settlement. I DID pass a coyote run over the side of the road.

According to my GPS, it's another 50 kms to the next village.


The first thing you see is her huge grin!





Well, I'll be! It's a woman pushing that bike. By herself. Smack in the middle of this desert. I HAVE to pull over to chat.



So it seems Ursula (my Granny's name!) Holsbeke is riding from Alpena, Michigan to Santa Fe, New Mexico. She's only 1 day from completion now!

She's been on the road the same length of time as I, but is doing it to raise funds for Green Planet Films, a nonprofit who promotes environmental education thru films specifically about invasive species in the Great Lakes.

Wow!

She's so prepared. While chatting with me, she reached into her handlebar bag and pulled out a photocopied flyer to give me with all the details!

It gets better.

She only learned to ride a bicycle in 2008! And already has a Michigan to California trip under her belt from last year!

Check her story and drop a donation at http://www.causes.com/causes/522767/about (you can link it to your Facebook page... or not)
Now this is a champion! I get to meet the coolest people, eh?!



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When you're out here by yourself,  you can start to get a little bored. But then along comes the train...