Subject: The Permanent Vacation (1 of 2)
Date: Fri, 14 Feb 1997 20:55:28 -0800
Some things - even good things - sometimes take longer than one expects ... this is my trip report from the Death Valley Days trip and my sojourn into Mexico in January. A little late, but it's probably still interesting reading for snowbound presidents in the East. (Sunny and 70+ in SF today :)
2,970 miles in 6 days of travel. This story would have been MORE compete if I hadn't left 5 pages of notes on the boat in Baja - but I get ahead of myself.
Pre-story: 4 pm, Thursday
afternoon, just before I'm ready to go home from work and pack for the
early Friday departure, the new senior manager drops by and delivers the
news I expected to hear in July (the place is being closed and moved to
Southern California, I was part of the project to do the move): poof. Change
in plans, we don't need you. More specifically, we don't need you as of
After a bit of discussion about timing of departure and severance pay, etc, I suggested that this could wait until I returned from my ride. Graciously, they agreed. "Happy vacation". Yeah. Looks like it's going to be a permanent vacation. Now if this HAD been July, I would have planned a very long trip, but most of the rest of the country is, shall we say, not pleasant for motorcycle travel at this time?
Friday. Day 1.
Agreed to meet new President Dave at a coffee shop in Lafayette. Beautiful sunrise, clear and cool in SF, low 50's. Simple packing done in minutes, the K75RT looks eager to roll, and I'm across the bridge, through the tunnel, and into 'the burbs' to wait for Dave. What is it about Starbucks? Do they give away coupons you save up for free Ford Explorers? It seems you can't park in their lot if you drive anything else. Dammit. I am a motorcyclist. Don't need no steekin lot. I park on the sidewalk in front of the place. Dave's a few minutes late ... but since he lives closer I figured it would take him longer.
Isn't it strange how when you're waiting for someone you've never met it is so easy to recognize them? That's one of the odd things about the IBMWR that seems so 'right', as I later commented in Death Valley. This group, and the Internet in general, has restored some of my faith in society. How is it we can so readily trust people we know so little about, but are so sure of? We go through the rest of our business and social events inherently suspicious of people, but expect and find compatibility between our net friends. Maybe positive thoughts make positive experiences.
It was the second BMW rider that came off the freeway who I 'recognized' as Dave. Ice green R11RT, tankbag piled to his chin, the "oh boy what's next?" look on his face. Yup, the adventure has begun.
Handshakes, coffee, pastries, and life stories in 20 minutes, then we're rolling out to Marsh Creek Road, down the Byron highway to Tracy, heading for 120 to take 99 south. Passing what used to be grazing fields east of Tracy, we were both surprised to see lakes from the big floods. Lakes with houses in the middle of them. Houses with water up to the tops of the windows. Houses with cars still beside them, and in one case laundry still on a line ... dipping into the water in the wind. Startling images to remind us we are only visitors on the land; nature owns it, not us.
There's never much to say
about the central valley of California. It is flat whether you take 99
or I5. I5 is faster, but bump more bump boring bump and bump not bump quite
bump as bump smooth. (Bump) We had considered going down some well known
2-lane roads, but given the recent rains and the 500+ miles we wanted to
cover before sunset, 99 was the better choice. Seeing some of the rivers
we crossed (San Joaquin, Mokelumne, Merced) right up to the bottom of the
bridges, I was glad we wimped out. It wasn't until that night, however,
that I found out this was Dave's *first* long trip. More glad we didn't
push the limits.
We exited at Bakersfield and found a diner for lunch, then decided to chance CA 178 and Walker Pass rather than more freeway over Tehachapi. It was still clear and warm enough that the high country shouldn't be icy (Walker is 1,500 feet higher than Tehachapi). It got noticeably cooler as we rose in the hills and I asked about road conditions when we stopped for gas at Lake Elsinore. "Well, yesterday the plow had a slippery time, but today there's only a little sand at the summit." Never assume about weather in the Sierra Nevada. Always ask. (faint announcement in the background ... 'now seating the Donner party ...' :)
The pass was clear, but there was plenty of snow on the roadside. Good ride. As we came down the other side, another R11RT caught up. He stayed with us until Wildrose where he took the "shortcut". We stuck to the paved route. Nothing significant to report about the rest ... Dave finally had enough of my 72 mph locked throttle and blew past me over the Panamints. What a sight - a R11 at full tilt devouring a mountain slope like a hungry wolf on a fresh kill. This guy and this bike were in their element. We met again in Stovepipe just at dusk and rode the last 25 miles to the Ranch in a starkly vivid eerie waning luminescence that seemed to make the desert 4 dimensional, with the 4th dimension being timelessness.
525 miles today.
Enough others have talked about DVD itself, so I'll skip to Sunday. Day 3.
None of the other Presidents
who had been interested in going to Baja were able to make it except for
Duner, who decided he wanted to go 'down' Baja. So I headed out by myself
aiming toward Tucson and Nogales. I waved to Duner as I left and joked
"Maybe I'll pass you in Baja." When I got to Baker, just as I entered the
ramp to I15, another BMW came to the light. We rode east together until
the Searchlight exit where he waved, peeled off, and was surprised when
I followed. Quick intro at the bottom of the ramp ... he is Bryan from
Tucson and was planning on going home by following the Colorado for a bit.
That's one of the great things about being a motorcycle traveler. You can
make destination decisions based on the terrain, almost at whim. So on
a whim, I scrapped my route plans and said let's ride together! He was
happy to do so because he hadn't done a lot of long trips alone either.
Great day for riding. Getting gas in Searchlight, I noticed an 'extra'
hose at the filling station ... it was labeled 100 octane _leaded_ "racing
fuel". Now WHO uses that enough for it to be in a roadside pump? Is this
UFO country or what?
When we gassed up in Parker, I told Bryan about a neat 2-lane I found from Hope to the Interstate just outside of Phoenix when I came back from Alpine in November. He looked at my map and 'accused' me of drawing the road myself since he had never seen it and he was familiar with this part of his state. What can I say? I also 'found' a road in New Mexico that the famous group of riders from Tucson who have a global positioning sensing device on their handlebar didn't know about. But hey. That's the adventure part of my travels. We took it and he had a blast. Well, it must have been, because he sure blasted away from me!
We didn't quite make Tucson by nightfall as I hoped, so while we were on I8 during "deer time", we rode side by side in two lanes with our bucktail toasters on high. What a light two bikes can throw! Eventually, he peeled off to go home and I found a cheap Patel, uh, I mean Motel. BTW, did you know there really is a "NoTell Motel" in Tucson? It is only a few blocks from where you can find someone to share the room 'by the hour' as their rates indicate. (No, I didn't stay there.)
About 725 miles today.
Monday. Day 4.
Up early and ... Damn. I
forgot. It is a holiday. Triple-A was closed. I HAVE to get insurance before
Mexico and I don't really want to vamp another day in Tucson, nice as it
is. This was supposed to be a _riding_ vacation. Bummer. So what do you
do when you hit a snag? I throw donuts at it. Dunkin Donuts, in this case.
Got in all four of the food groups in one sitting, too! Grease, Sugar,
Caffeine, and Chocolate. Ah, now I think I'll burn it off by riding down
to Nogales and get ready for tomorrow.
Road signs as soon as you exit I10 south to Nogales: This Highway Is Signed In Metric. All *distances* were in kilometers, but it was very misleading that the speed limits were still in miles per hour. You could tell the Mexican drivers - they would see 65 as the speed (thinking kph) and be going 40 (mph). So I compensated ... I saw 65 (mph), translated it to 100 (kph), and went 100 mph. Seemed appropriate, no? Nogales in Notime! And hey! Nogales (being metric) hadn't heard there was a holiday 'up there' in the rest of Arizona. Everything was wide open! Yeah, except there is no AAA there.
Then I remembered what Richard told me in DVD about Sanborn's Insurance as his vendor of choice. Yes, I have to agree. Sanborn's was helpful in explaining everything I needed to know, answered a boatload of 'stupid' questions, exchanged money at very reasonable rates, and gave a great guide book for the trip (although it is intended to be read by a car-seat passenger, not a motorcyclist. $40 for a week of insurance, including legal assistance support if needed, translator assistance available, info on making phone calls, good city street maps in the travel book, shortcut info to customs, do it. It is worth it.
Mexico! First impression.
Bus breath. I'd only been 'way south' once before when I flew into Mexico
City. After a day, I had a headache from the acrid unburned aromatic hydrocarbons
(translation: thick black smoke that just hangs in the air). Well, that
part of Mexico hasn't changed. After a while you get used to the smell
of the exhaust, but again after a day I had a dull sinus headache again.
Anyway, immediate change in driving habits. Anybody parks anywhere they
want. Traffic is dense as sardines and rolling mere inches from each other.
Ok. Just think "L. A.". Zoom. Lane split, and Do Not make eye contact.
And certainly do not stare at those senoritas! What is it about the way
Latin women dress? They are downright sexy in close fitting, how-can-anyone-sit-down-in-something-that-short,
very exposing clothing. Their 'normal' street attire is mighty suggestive
compared to even what I see in SF. Luckily, I kept my eyes on the road.
When you cross the border, the Federal customs officers barely notice Americans. I stopped, waiting to at least be asked a question. After about 2 minutes of no one giving me a second glance, I rode off somehow expecting to be chased at any minute. Then I remembered I was supposed to get a vehicle permit 'after I crossed the border', so I turned around on a side street and headed back to the border. Of course, at this point all the traffic is funneled toward American customs - and now I'm trying to NOT cross the border. (Why do I always seem to end up swimming upstream?) I pulled up behind the Federal officers and caught their attention. No, I didn't get permits there ... there is another checkpoint at Kilo 21 south of the city. Ok, thanks, uh, how do I get back to the other side without double-crossing the border.
The Mexican answer to traffic flow: What traffic? The Federale just pointed backward against the oncoming stream of 4 lanes of traffic and said "Vaya ayi". "Go this way." Sure. Why not split oncoming traffic on a $12,000 motorcycle in a country where an accident - even a scratched bumper - is a criminal offense that YOU have to prove was not your fault. Ah. When in Rome (or Mexico) ... I shrugged, rode up on the sidewalk, tapped my horn to ask the 3 Federal police with automatic weapons to move aside, and rode a block through the center of a "no vehiculos" park ... leaving with no gunshots and one laughing customs officer in my wake.
Kilo 21. Lots of signs in
Spanish and English for "prepare to stop" "you must stop" "do not proceed
without stopping". So, when you do stop, there are NO signs for what to
do after you stop. Since there weren't any other tourists there at the
time, no one I asked knew about permits. Especially for motorcycles. What
do you do when faced with three buildings: Banjercito Cambios Immigracion
? I figured money is what makes it all happen, so I went to Cambios. They
told me to go to Banjercito. They told me to go to "the first building".
They told me to go to Cambios. So, I went to Immigracion. :)
One thing I can suggest if you want to travel in Mexico - take LOTS of time with you. Luckily, I had that. The 'migra officer gave me a form to fill out, said "Take your time.", and picked up a newspaper. I filled out a couple of lines and asked a question. Without looking up from the paper he said "You are there already? Not taking enough time." When I finished the form, I left it on the counter and just turned to look out the window. Hmm. It did seem everyone was stopping. It did not seem anyone was going. The parking lot was filling up. It was a full five minutes later he put the paper down and said "Ah, you must be done!" Then he gave me the explicit instructions about the 5 other steps I would have to do to get the permit, sparing me what probably would have been a lot longer if I was in a hurry. Take lots of time with you ... and use it.
One more note, one of the clerks picked up my System3 helmet to try it on, but didn't notice the gloves I had stuffed into it. What silly hand movements we both went through to get the gloves off his head! He eventually said it was 'too quiet' in the helmet and he wouldn't be able to hear cars sneaking up on him. In Mexico I can understand that. I wore the helmet anyway.
Everyone who saw the bike had the same question - how fast can it go. I gather that most Mexicans do not get a chance to really speed even though absolutely no on pays attention to the speed limits. 200 kph wowed them. So. After all that time and a now very full lot of stop-don't-go ... who did they give the first permit to? Yes, thank you. He who has the most time loses the least.
The rest of the day was,
well, a bit of a disappointment. MX 15 down the west coast of the mainland
is just like an Interstate - 2 sets of double lanes divided by a median.
And the west coast is just like west Texas. Straight. Flat. Cactus scrub
to the horizon. The Sonora desert is lovely, but as a motorcycle road it
is, well, boring. Except for the occasional moments of terror.
Two words I came to love seeing on a sign: Curvos Peligrosos. After the first set, which I entered cautiously, I realized they really meant it, and those Dangerous Curves were likely to be off camber, reducing radius, narrow, and blind - all at the same time. But fun.
Two words I came to hate seeing on a sign: Gravella Suelta. Luckily I was alert while trying to process this translation in my head at 62 mph, sorry, 100 kph, because the OH SHIT reaction factor would not have had enough time to respond. The Loose Gravel sign was about 10 feet, sorry, 3 meters, before the road dissolved into (I kid you not) marble sized gravel 3 to 6 inches, ok,ok, 7.5 to 15 cm deep. They just oil the road (with what looks like all the used motor oil we recycle in the US), then dump a truck load of rocks and wait for the following traffic to press it down! You do not want to follow a truck through this ... but you do not want to be in front of traffic either. You do not want to be here at all! I waited for a break in traffic and 'snowplowed' the K75 through the drifts to an exit about a kilometer away.
It was too easy to travel on the divided road, but it was too difficult to travel on the side streets through and between the towns. Passing through even a small town could take half an hour to cover barely 2 miles. I decided the toll road was the lesser of evils, though boring. 400 miles of west Texas south of the border in a day. Not bad, but not fun. The tolls were reasonable for a motorcycle ... about $14 total. One interesting side event - when you pay the toll you get a raffle ticket for a drawing of a Chevrolet. It was some benefit that you can also buy tickets for, I don't remember the cause. But anyway, since I wasn't going to be present to win, I saved my 3 or 4 tickets until my last toll on the road. Then while taking a short break, I walked toward a family lounging in and around a van in the parking area. Motorcyclists are rare thereabouts, and those local motorbike riders do not wear helmets or leathers. I must have looked like a space alien coming to take a specimen back to my planet. As I homed in on one boy the family crowd grew quiet and a couple shrank into the van ... I handed him the tickets, said "Por usted" and walked away. Geez. You would have thought I had given him the grand prize itself (Maybe I did?). They were jumping and screaming and waving and lined up to wave again as I rode past them out of the lot. Sometimes a little thing means a lot more than you though it would.
Everybody says DO NOT travel
in Mexico after nightfall. They are not kidding. If the vacas don't get
you, the topes will. Vacas, the cows, lay down on the warm pavement after
dark. Even a GS has difficulty with that large a bump. Topes, speed bumps
that may be a foot high!, are not marked. Nor are potholes that may be
the mirror image of where the topes came from. So, I timed my day's travel
to get me to Guaymas at sundown. "Timed" is a euphemism for aligning my
throttle wrist with the angle of the sun in the sky. The more one went
down, so did the other. Even so, a topes nearly got me. I bottomed out
the K and threw 3 curses before the airborne front end landed. All appeared
to be ok, rim check was fine - thankfully I do not have the 3 spoke
wheels, or they both would have been goners.
Guaymas itself is a pure Mexican port town. A couple of miles away is a for-rich-Americans marina and resort. It had been suggested to me as a place to stay but was too 'familiar' for this adventure. I found a wonderful enclosed courtyard motel with a nice restaurant attached, right on the main street. Room for one: equivalent of $17. Called home that night using the special Mexican 800 number that directly connects to AT&T for credit cards. Unless you speak fluent Spanish, good luck on Latatel (normal long distance). About every 2 minutes while I was on the phone, another local bus would come by unmuffled BLADA BLADA BLADA BLADA BLADA leaving that trail of visible air sewage (black exhaust) hanging like wires just above the street. Man, I can imagine what it would be like to decarbonize one of those engines.
Vicinity of 600 miles today.
(Think I'll break here ... tomorrow: the ferry to Baja, and boogie Baja back to the border.)
Sam Lepore, San Francisco, 1988 R100RT and 1995 K75RTA