Ao2W - USA and Mexico
I've always been into motorcycles in one form or another. I have done a few solo trips and lots of breakfast runs of all shapes and forms. So I was very lucky to marry a woman with enough balls to learn to ride her own bike and start to go on trips with me.
We did the centenary IOM TT (with her as pillion) and a few ride-outs while she was learning, but the turning point in our lives was a talk by Lois Price in London, at a Globetrotters meeting. Me and the missus looked at each other and knew this was for us. I had an 1100 Slingshot at the time, and she had a Honda NTV 650. We sold up and got XT600e's and rode them all over the place. I kitted them out for our overland needs, and set out on a preparation trip to Norway, taking in Holland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. This taught us a valuable lesson in mileage planning and forced a light on to what Susan Johnson mentioned in one of the Achievable Dream series, "Travel less, see more". Nevertheless, we had high hopes and maybe shot our mouths off a bit as to what we thought we'd achieve, we were so excited! I decided to try and make a sort of brand name for us, which came to be Ao2W (Adventures on 2 Wheels). This first video is our run up and prep with a bit of camping in England, some of the Norway trip, and plenty of optimism!
Episode 1 –
Ao2W - episode 1 - YouTube
As you can see, high hopes. There was obviously loads of planning to be done, and Horizons Unlimited was invaluable for information and tips. We got our bikes packed up in London and air freighted to Montreal, Canada, because we had some friends there, and we had heard that Canada would be easier to deal with than the U.S. We were right, Canadian Customs took one look at us and our stuff and said 'Enjoy your trip'. Awesome, we were on our way!!
After spending an impatient but fun few days in Montreal, taking in the sights, sounds, poutine and beer, we said our goodbyes and headed out into the unknown. But almost as soon as we left we had our first mishap, on the first day! My wife’s ignition had been damaged in the UK, due to and attempted theft, and it chose this moment to jam off. Jiggle as I might, I could not switch it back on. I had to go and find a bike shop in the backwoods of Quebec with my 2 words of French I knew. We eventually got the bike hot-wired and rode into America with the ignition wires twisted together!
Entering America, we got drenched riding through Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts but by the time we got to Cape Cod the weather was just great and we stayed in a stunning campsite, sheltered by trees and beautifully secluded. We couldn’t be happier! Onwards to Connecticut to stay a few days with family - We loved it there, it was all about neighbourhood barbecues, shooting down at the range, chopping wood and exploring thrift stores and our favourite: army surplus stores! Spent a day in New York as well, just to get the flavour ;).
Episode 2 –
Ao2W - episode 2 - YouTube
Heading west through bad weather to Ohio, we took in the sights of Niagara Falls and the Great Lakes. Dead straight roads lined with post boxes, tiny little villages, Amish buggies on the road and delicious hot wings! We met up with friends in Canton, Ohio and got treated to some all American activities, like swinging away in the batting cages!
Episode 3 –
Ao2W - episode 3 - YouTube
Whoo hoo, we’re heading into Amish country, down south and into Kentucky, and there's corners there. Learned a bit about the Amish, like they not scared to let their kids loose with power tools and they make great baked eats! Some of their road going buggies have indicators and everything! There were great twisty roads in the Dan Boone National Forest and lots more rain, great to be really taking big bites of the trip now! Our first night camping here, irrational bear fears abound (Hey, we are from South Africa, what do we know about bears?)...and a midnight storm straight from hell had us worrying about tornadoes (the US had just been through a record-breaking tornado season!).
Episode 4 -
Ao2W - episode 4 - YouTube
Still heading south, with some party time in Nashville and Memphis - a variety of bourbon and live country music , Yee Haw! We camped next to the Heartbreak Hotel and explored Graceland. Elvis is king! Explored more Americana, pulled pork and mac & cheese. Yum, I love food like that! We got our first puncture, just off the Natchez Trace Parkway. That was killer, as it was so humid there in the Mississippi basin, I reckon I would have keeled over from heat exhaustion. But the locals were so nice, people were stopping to give us water and sandwiches! Wow, I was amazed at how friendly and helpful people were. After that it was time to head into the swamp! SWOMP! SWOMP! And bugs BUGS! More remote camping and great people made it all worthwhile :)
Episode 5 -
Ao2W - episode 5 - YouTube
Now we are well south. Stayed near New Orleans, in Denham Springs, and made our assault on the Voodoo city! We went to the oyster festival, drank loads of bourbon, rolled down Bourbon Street and visited St Louis No 1 (cemetery from Easy Rider). We stayed with such awesome people again and ate some more classic American food, slow smoked brisket. O my, o my, must control myself otherwise the bike gear isn’t gonna fit any more! Saw some of the previously flooded areas and went on the "world famous" swamp tour. That was great and the guy taking it was quite a character. He taught us that all the swamp’s creatures love marshmallows – from gators to fish to raccoons! We sneaked up onto a levee with the bikes and did a plantation house tour. I really loved the deep South, maybe I'm a closet redneck!
Episode 6 -
Ao2W - episode 6 - YouTube
Westward bound again, into Texas on long hot roads, checking out yard sales and Judge Roy Bean. We stayed in Big Bend National Park and watched breath-taking sunsets and the odd bear looking for what was left out. The heat was a force to be reckoned with, but luckily every gas station had gallons of root beer for 90cents. We had to hide out in a few gas station shops to cool off in the aircon! More epic sunsets and camping out in the wilderness was the order of the day and we saw the Milky Way a good few times. Both of us loved the Lone Star state.
Episode 7 -
Ao2W - episode 7 - YouTube
Headed up into New Mexico, Alien/Bat country baby! Wow, now this place is interesting. Went down Carlsbad Caverns, an epic underground cave system and the largest single open cavern in the world (I think!). We stayed in Marfa, in a hippie commune with Mongolian yurts for rooms, and went out to see their unexplained light phenomenon. We got seriously lucky, because they actually turned up the night we were there! Yes! Sticking with the unexplained, we headed for Roswell, to the UFO Museum and Research Centre, where they take these things very seriously ;) I loved it! We continued North and things started to get greener and hillier, the mountains were starting to appear. We were VERY happy to start seeing trees again!
Episode 8 -
Ao2W - episode 8 - YouTube
We headed into Colorado, one of the most beautiful places in the world. We rode over Independence pass into Aspen, and wow what a landscape! We stayed in Colorado for a while, and did a loop around in state, just because we liked it so much. We stayed in a town called Ouray, and I did a 4x4 mountain pass on my XT (with road tyres I might add!) Ouray was so beautiful, I think it was in the top 5 places of the entire trip. They had hot springs that were pumped into swimming pools, and you could sit in them till 10 at night, checking out the stars and mountain shapes. Absolutely amazing. I'd love to go back there one day...
Episode 9 -
Ao2W - episode 9 - YouTube
Back into the desert, towards Vegas. Rode over Hoover Dam and met the only asshole of the entire trip. Federal Agent Double O Cock pulled us over on the dam wall and accused me of nearly riding over a little girl, and causing an international incident (that’s a little dramatic buddy). Thing is, I was recording with a chest harness, and I've watched that video over and over and I can’t see any little girls nearly going under the wheels of my XT. Anyway, there was no cooling this guy down, so I just said yes sir, no sir, thank you sir and eventually we were on our way, into Vegas. We were super lucky in Vegas, because my Dad let us use his timeshare points to stay in a nice apartment for a week. Wow, luxury for us dirty bikers, for the only time on the trip. Vegas is everything you can imagine, lawless and awesome. I'm more of a drinker than a gambler, so me and the missus walked the strip with party cups of hard booze! Yea, love that. And casinos would have shows outside to watch, like the volcano outside The Mirage and the pirate show outside Treasure Island. We both really liked Vegas, but not for the gambling! Only regret is we didn’t go to the Pawn Shop form the TV series 'Pawn Stars'. Next time then ;)
Episode 10 -
Ao2W - episode 10 - YouTube
Between us and the coast lay Death Valley. This place is legendary for its temperature and dryness, and we were a little worried on our air-cooled bikes with our nice insulating bike gear. We went and bought something called a cool vest, which is basically a waistcoat which you soak in the sink and put it on under your jacket. These things worked so well, I hardly had to drink water! We were so worried about the heat, but these 'cool vests' sorted us out. I remember thinking, damn; we should have had them in Texas. Death Valley could be ridden through in a day (we did it in two), but Texas took us a week to ride across, without 'cool vests', and we sweated bricks! Besides all the heat, Death Valley was an epic place. We stayed at a place called Stovepipe Wells, and explored the nearby rock formations and dunes at night. The sky was so clear and moonlight so bright, it was unforgettable And the ride out the next day wasn’t bad either!
Episode 11 -
Ao2W - episode 11 - YouTube
Californi-a Motherf**ker! Expensive camping in Malibu and awesome views of the beach. Stopped in the kind of places you've heard about on TV, like Santa Barbara, and Neptune’s Net. Rode past Beverly Hills and on to Sunset Strip. This was a bit of a pilgrimage for my wife and me, to go to Sunset Strip and the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, where so many of our favourite bands had started. Stayed on the strip and rocked out at the Whiskey and The Rainbow Bar down the road. Pricey night, but worth it. Got called a hillbilly/redneck in the street by someone driving past in a cab. Yes, finally, recognition, I was honoured! After that we headed down to San Diego to plan our assault southwards.
We met some awesome people in the San Diego camp site and ended cooking up a storm with them and trading stories. Bliss.
Episode 12 -
Ao2W - episode 12 - YouTube
This next video starts off with a few pictures of the wonderful people we met in the San Diego campsite :), all about to head off in our own separate directions, but for the same reason. Adventure.
As for Mexico, we knew that certain towns/border crossings in Mexico were more dangerous than others, and after being in the USA for 3 months, had a bit of fear in us from all the people we met saying how they'd pray for us when we went to Mexico (I haven’t figured out how that’s gonna stop bullets, but hey).
We decided to head east in the US to the border town of Nogales, cross there and head south as quickly as possible. We soon realised that Mexico wasn’t as bad as was made out in the US. Maybe it had something to do with being on two dirty bikes and not a million dollar RV. We camped on the coast and got fried by the heat and battered by torrential rain. I loved it, and the bikes lapped it up. In the beginning though, the route we had chosen looked really rough, and we weren’t sure where to stay half the time. But it all started to get better when we arrived in a town called Alamos. This town looked the way you'd imagine Mexico to look, with colonial buildings and street food and markets. We paid for a guide, which is something I'd always recommend, and got shown about and more importantly, informed.
We really liked Alamos, and the guide told us about an 8km dirt road out of the town back to the main road. Let’s ride!
Episode 13 -
Ao2W - episode 13 - YouTube
This next part of the trip has a back story. The Christmas before, my wife and I had ridden up Sani Pass, from South Africa into Lesotho. It’s a famous pass that off-roaders like to do, and there was a rumour that they wanted to tar it (see: destroy), so of course we had to go up there, post haste. At the top we stayed at a backpackers, where we met an American couple on an adventure of their own. They told us they were building a environmentally friendly RV park on the south west coast of Mexico, south of Puerto Vallarta - near a little village called Mayto. They invited us to come down and have a look. We were super keen, but it was so far away, we couldn’t visualise ourselves being there. But time and distance do go by, and soon we were right around the corner! It was an exciting 50km dirt road to ride down and we were soon at the gates. They have a lovely farm and RV site and the coastline is rugged and beautiful. The couple we had met up Sani Pass weren’t home, as they had just returned to the U.S. We were taken in by the caretakers of the farm, a wonderful Canadian couple who were there to enjoy the isolation and beauty and work on the ranch. We stayed for a week and tried to help out as well, but some days the heat was so oppressive that we weren’t much good! What a blissful time we had, with wonderful people. Fish is readily available and we barbecued a few nights. The local beach had a turtle camp, run by the University of Guadalajara, and we even got to release our own little turtle. We called him Sancho! On the farm there were goats, chickens, a donkey called Lupita, and a dog called Chancho. We loved it! I cleaned the goats’ enclosure while my wife milked them. The different things you learn on the road! This time spent at Rancho Sol y Mar was one of the highlights of our trip.
Episode 14 -
Ao2W - episode 14 - YouTube
We were well into Mexico now, heading into the Tequila region. Eish, even the best Tequila in the world still tastes like Tequila! We did go to the actual town of Tequila and visit the Jose Cuervo distillery. I love things like that! Any time there’s a brewery or distillery to go to, I’m keen. We satisfied ourselves with various forms of Agave and rode into the hills for some serious Mexican cornering. Through misty mountains, wet valleys and finally congested traffic into Guadalajara we rode. We stayed at a very nice backpackers near the city centre and went for a night on the town. The annual Mariachi festival happened to be on, so things were lively and busy. The mariachis in the street played well, but the ones on stage for the festival were magnificent, backed by a full orchestra. Glad we saw that ;)
Guadalajara is also famous for sandwiches drenched in chill sauce. I salivate as I write this now, for this is a taste which speaks to me. Pork on a roll, ladled with super hot chilli sauce. I will say no more!
Episode 15 -
Ao2W - episode 15 - YouTube
The first part of this video I am showing how we packed the bikes every morning. Roughly 40kg’s on each bike. We travelled a bit too heavy, but we managed. Notice at the back of the rack there is a mini barbecue grid that was our little rack extension! Not exactly Touratech, but it works. We were still heading east, but avoiding Mexico City like the plague! Our rationale was to stay away from one of the busiest cities in the world and take in some more countryside riding. This proved difficult, geographically, because it would seem that all sign posted roads lead to Mexico City! The road was wet and twisty a lot of the time, just how I like it! We managed to get ourselves up on a volcano for a bit of a look and a fun days riding! Most of the day involved being lost, asking people where to go in our rubbish Spanish, and crowning it all off by coming down the volcano on a very muddy flooded road with busses and scrap cars all around us. Adventure!
We headed through Oaxaca and sampled some good Mescal along the way. This region seemed to have a fair bit of police and military presence, and we were stopped more than once. The military were far more intimidating than the police as they had the 1000 yard stare well practiced, not to mention the automatic rifles they could wave around. But all our papers were in order, and no altercations ever arose.
It was around this time that the penny was starting to drop. We didn’t have enough money to complete our trip. Far from it, in fact. By my calculations we might just be able to ship our bikes and ourselves away from Mexico and just about break even on the other side.
We were heading for Australia when the trip was over, to start a new life (which we have subsequently done) and the thought of debt when we got there was against my sensibilities. And besides that, I think we were secretly done. We learned on our trip that we aren’t the type to travel for years. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not for everyone. We decided to ship our bikes out of Veracruz, so with that in mind we continued and enjoyed the rest of our time on the road.
Episode 16 -
Ao2W - episode 16 - YouTube
We spent a couple of days in the blissful cool of the mountain town San Cristobal and enjoyed shopping at the fantastic markets. Met a cool biker on the road to Palenque, Pablo was his name-o. He was coming the other way and we waved each other down to stop for a chat. We arranged to meet at the backpackers and have dinner the following night. The next day we checked out the awesome pyramids at Palenque. I had heard that the locals try to sell you magic mushrooms, but these magic mushroom selling locals never showed up. O well...
Palenque was interesting and amazing to see. We then headed back to our backpackers, where, true to his word, Pablo arrived and we cooked him dinner. Meetings like this are what make travelling worthwhile. We rode together the next day, heading for the Caribbean coast.
We ended our trip on the south eastern coast of Mexico, in Tulum, which I can highly recommend. Its looks just like you’d imagine the Caribbean to look, turquoise blue water, white sand, bars with cocktails, and a pair of XT’s ripping up the place! Met some more bikers on their way to South America in the supermarket, and had dinner and drinks with them too. All in all a wonderful time in the Mexican Caribbean, but the battle was far from over.
We had to travel up to Veracruz to the port to get our shipping done. This was about a week after Veracruz was in the news for Drug Cartel murders, so we were apprehensive. But we went there and managed to sort everything out in about a week. In that time we ate all things Mexican and enjoyed every minute! The ride along the coast from Cancun to Veracruz, which took us four days to do, was very very good. We went through some seriously un-touristy places and unspoiled tropical jungle.
Don’t get me wrong though, shipping was not easy, and involved a lot of Google Translate emails! We finally got our bikes crated up and shipped to Durban, South Africa, via Rotterdam (it was the only way!). After 6 different flights, we stepped out in Durban, glad to be home.
Episode 17 -
Ao2W - episode 17 - YouTube
This video is a wrap up of the entire trip, with a selection of our favourite pictures. We had a wonderful time and it was the trip of our lifetimes. We learned that nothing is going to turn out how you thought, people are going to be wonderful, and glad you’ve come to their part of the world. O, and its going to be more expensive than you ever imagined!
Every problem needs money and time to solve, and a never give up attitude. I’m not sure how travellers travel cheaply, because we couldn’t. Now we don’t need pampering, but after 8 to 10 hours on the bike, sweating like mad, packing and unpacking every day, you need a shower! If you free camped, there’d be no shower, or water, unless you were next to a river or something, but that doesn’t mean you can just use that water, it might make you ill, depending on where you are. The more out there you wanted to be, the more stuff you’d have to carry. One of the most difficult and heavy things to carry is enough water. I’m not disputing that people do this, but be aware that it won’t be easy, and if you travelling in a pair or group, everyone has to be on the same page about things, because it’s going to get hard, sweaty and dirty.
That’s all I can say really, Go out there and enjoy, because there’s a lot to enjoy. And the boy scouts have got it right: Be Prepared.
Episode 18 - the wrap up
Ao2W - episode 18 - YouTube
Here’s a bonus video, when we went into Monument Valley in the States. Worth a visit!
Ao2W Monument Valley -
Ao2W - Monument Valley - YouTube
Once we got back to South Africa, we did a few amazing trips with friends. Big thanks to MotoZulu, Thumpers MC and friends. Cheers.
Ao2W Namaqualand South Africa -
Ao2W - Namaqualand 2011 - YouTube
Ao2W Transkei South Africa -
Ao2W - Transkei 2012 - YouTube
Sounds like an amazing trip. I just read over your notes now, but I will try to make time tonight to watch your videos as well.
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