On a -12C Canadian winter day in February 8, 2007 I left my warm comfortable home near Toronto (and my partner and my almost grown-up kids) and headed to Mexico to begin my dream trip around South America. I had originally planned on going to Australia but it somehow seemed too easy to rent a bike and travel in a great but English-speaking country. I could do that after bigger challenges.
After all I had a perfectly good BMW 650 Dakar in the garage - why not use it? A Horizons Unlimited meet in British Columbia made believe I could do it. When my partner, Maria said she would go to Brasil to visit her parents it gave me the last reason to go - I could meet her there!
In January, I put a heater in the garage and started getting the bike ready. Not much more to do than a complete maintenace, new chain and sprockets, Bridgestone Trailwings, Touratech Zega panniers, engine guards and handlebar risers. Did all the work myself as I will need to my own maintenance on the trip.
This is my first "real" trip having rented a motorcycle in New Zealand, taken guided bike tours in Vietnam and Thailand. Also rides close to home in Canada and USA, of course. I must give credit to my buddies at the Ontario Dual Sport Club http://www.odsc.on.ca for helping me learn to ride off-road (don´t quite have that down yet but...) and for their encouragement.
Checking the Weather Channel almost hourly, I saw the forecast open up with clear but very cold temperatures -12C for my route down I75. That´s what I needed, dry roads (no snow/slush). So making a quick decision, I wheeled out across my snow-covered driveway and hit the 401 to Windsor/Detroit.
I should have worn a snowmobile suit but didn´t want to have to throw it away or carry it to Patagonia (where it might be useful again). So wore my BMW Savannah riding gear including boots. This was supplemented with high tech ski socks, ski long johns and heated vest and gloves. Then over everything I squeezed into my $75 rain suit that normally would be a sauna but it did a great job stopping the wind. I found I could ride about 1 1/2 hours at 100kph before getting chilled.
After a very cold 4 hour ride, it was a blessing to have some difficulty crossing the US border at Detroit. It was warm in their offices.
I spent the night at a friends home in Detroit then was back on the road at 8:00AM. It was even colder than the day before!
The interste highway was boring but had he great benefit of speed. The faster I could get south to warmer weather the better. I stopped just outside Memphis for the night. the motorcycle did not seem to mind the cold temps but I worry it might be running too cool.
I’m currently holed up in The Super 8 in Beaumont, Texas. The predicted severe thunderstorms broke about 6:00PM and I just made it to the hotel lobby. I wanted to get to Houston today but it is another hour down Interstate 10.
My bone-chilling trip from Canada finally warmed up yesterday about mid-day as I entered southern Alabama. It was great to see the snow disappear from the ditches and have the smell of pine trees. By the time I arrived in Mobile and the Gulf coast it was quite pleasant. Since then I have removed my layers of clothing sequentially as the temperature rose along with my confidence that it wasn’t just a cruel joke and would start snowing! I don’t think I will ever attempt riding in those temperatures again.
Some things I have learned so far:
1. A lot of things fall off trucks on interstate highways (chains, tarps, bits of metal, and the ever-present shredded tires
2. People in cars stopped waving to me in direct proportion to the rise of ambient temperature
3. Men my age (60) can’t resist telling me about the motorcycles they have owned
4. Everyone has been pleasant and kind to me (includes the guy who tracked me down in large bookstore to say my lights were on and many “ride safely” and watch for; weather, construction, crazy drivers, etc comments)
5. If you ask for a discount at a discount hotel – you’ll get it easily
6. New Orleans is still a mess – I saw hundreds of flood-destroyed homes, mile after mile from the highway. Didn’t have the heart to stop and take pictures (we have all seen enough)
7. I should have started to study Spanish a long time ago
Today’s ride through southern Louisiana (Cajun country) was an amazing geography lesson. It seemed half the highway was really an elevated roadway over swampland or “bayou” of the Mississippi delta. At this time of year the trees and bush has no leaves allowing you to see deep into the swamp. A very special place.
Should cross the Mexican border on Feb 14th - Valentine's Day.
I crossed the US/Mexican border at Laredo, Tx where I spent the night. The hotel clerk advised me to get there early so I showed up bright and early at 6:00AM only to have to wake up each of the Mexican aduana clerks to obtain the transit papers for the bike. I should clarify that only the male clerks were sleeping and the female clerks were wide awake. I was their only customer.
It was still dark as I pulled onto the road from the border. I got about 50 meters before I was pulled over by the Neuva Laredo police for speeding! It was just a half-hearted attempt at extortion. Although I had told myself I was not going to pay any bribes on this trip, it cost me $20 to ride away after a 20 minute discussion.
Motored down to San Luis Potosi and by chance ended up in a "love" motel on Valentines Day - alone! It was 240 pesos for the night, was spotless and had TV and hot shower. I slept in my sleeping bag liner though.
Next day almost made it to Mexico City before being stopped by the police again - this time for riding a motorcycle on the toll road - it was so laughable the cops couldn´t keep from smiling as I showed my disbelief! Anyway, that cost about $30. My excuse (to myself) for paying again of being hot, tired, and wanting to make it to Cuernavaca before dark was feeble and just made me mad. I´m not going to let this happen again - I´m working on a strategy. If it works, I´ll let you know.
I´m starting Spanish School today for 3 weeks. The school (The Cuernavaca Language School) has put me up with a nice Mexican family, Mom, Grandma, and 20 year-old son. I take all my meals at the family table and have been made to feel part of this family. Of course they don´t or won´t speak a word of English around me. I think it is a great way to get "acculturated" to Latin America.
I found a motorcycle shop up the street "Moto Servicio Oliver". I asked to use their shop for an oil change and despite the language barrier Oliver and his amigos watched while I did the service. The discussion was, of course all about motorcycles and an ample supply of old parts helped the language charades greatly. My offer to pay was refused with an offer of a chair and cold beer which was gratefully accepted.
I like Mexico. Note: the oil was very black after 5007km - was this due to running too cold resulting in above average piston blow-by? It was 6 1/2 days of 100 -120kph average speeds (about 5000rpm) which won´t happen again on this trip until I´m back in Mexico. Time will tell and the bike runs well.
Just noticed that the bike developed a front fork seal leak on the way down. I think I´m responsible for disturbing the seal doing maintenance before I left Canada. Anyway, I did bring a spare seal and will install it as soon as a shop here can order the correct fork oil for me. Next I need to shed a lot of weight, either personally or from my gear. I think it is the best way to prevent suspension problems which is the common repair issue in South America i.e bad roads + too much weight = broken motorcycle.
I cant get rid of any clothes. I only brought one pair of pants and I won`t give up the heaviest stuff, my tools and spare parts they give a (false) sense of security. So it looks like the laptop, the sleeping bag, shoes, travel books (Im not a back-packer anyway), tie-downs etc need to go. Hell, I´ll be living in my motorcycle boots until Brasil and they have lots of cheap clothes there.
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