October 03, 2006 GMT

When I left Belize I headed to Villahermosa. It was a nice ride through the jungle, but inevitably, come the afternoon, the rain started. Visibility down to 100 yds and instantly soaked to the skin.

I passed two petrol stations, both closed due to lack of fuel. A digression here: the Mexican oil company Pemex has a monopoly on petrol/diesel sales, so petrol stations, although privately owned because they're franchised, are rather few and far between.

When I was nearly on vapour I stopped at Emiliano Zapata (yes, named after him) where the petrol station was not only open but, predictably, busy. Having replenished the tank (40 litres into a 43-litre tank) I hung around having a ciggy and a coffee, upon which I was accosted by a chap who spoke English. This turned out to be Santi, a Spanish guy who owns this and a few other petrol stations (and a few Repsol ones in Spain). He's also a motorcyclist (it's a Harley, but it still counts).

Santi persuaded me not to press on the 80 miles to Villahermosa (it was now 6pm with only an hour of daylight left) as there are roadworks with diversions over gravel, sand and mud. He was very proud of having built some very nice motel-style rooms and having a 24-hour restaurant, as well as a bar containing a small swimnming pool. So he installed me in a room and The Old Dear in his garage (next to his silver Audi Quattro), and he and his Mexican girlfriend Merla entertained me to dinner and many beers. In fact, Santi refused totally to charge me for anything and made sure dinner, beer, the room and my breakfast went on his bill. What a lovely chap. He's aiming to do round-the-world one day as well.

So the next day I found out how right he was about the roadworks, and made it around Mexico City (there's no ring road as such) to Teotihuacán to see the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. When Phil posts the pix you'll probably be as grateful as I am that they're the last Mayan ruins I'm visiting, impressive though they are. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third-largest pyramid in the world after the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza and another one here in Mexico, which I'm not visiting. It's huge, and all built without metal tools or wheels. The view of it on Google Earth is pretty cool, too. Zoom down on N 19deg 41'33.01 W098deg 50'37.57.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 04:43 PM GMT
October 16, 2006 GMT
The Dead Sheep Died

It's always great to see old friends again, especially when they plonk a pint of Bombay Sapphire and tonic in your hand before you've even got your kit off.

Bruce (Grove, ex-colleague from Sun-IMP) lives in a gorgeous house on the outskirts of Austin (Texas), complete with cat and a garage big enough for several bikes (he has a Triumph at the moment).

Entering the US was fun. As I stopped at the Mexican border post at Ojinaga I realised my sidestand was hanging off. It's mounted on the rear engine mounting stud, and the nut had disappeared somewhere along the way. So I found a lamp-post to lean the bike against, kicked the stud back through properly, and tightened a cable-tie around the thread to stop it moving until I can do it properly. Meanwhile the customs man checked the bike out of Mexico, and all I had to do was cross the Rio Grande.

Big queue on the bridge. So I did the usual passing to the front, dumped the bike outside immigration and went inside. There was no clue as to queuing procedure or what paperwork was required, and most of the signs were in Spanish. Eventually I caught the eye of the sole immigration officer. Waving my UK passport I convinced him I wasn't either American or Mexican, and he grumpíly gave me the the green visa waiver form to fill in, the same one you get when you fly in. But he had to brighten up in the end because he kept addressing me in Spanish and having to apologise.

So I went back to the bike and merged into the queue of cars and trucks waiting to enter the US. There's no temporary import paperwork for the bike, but they're supposed to put your registration number into their computer system. Except that it can't cope with the number/letter format of British plates. So the guy gave up in the end. So I'm here but the bike isn't. Hope that doesn't cause a problem when I leave.

When I arrived in Creel for the Horizons Unlimited do the Dead Sheep was clearly past its best. It never got tanned, and I could never quite bring myself to pee on it. Oh well, never mind. But a nice chap from Guadalajara appeared and gave me Dead Sheep II, this time properly tanned and likely to last much longer. In fact I spent the whole week being completely spoiled by lots of US and Canadian riders; other than them and the Mexicans, the only foreigners were me, Lars from Norway on a 100GS outfit, and three British lads who turned up on Friday on a couple of F650s and (I think) a Transalp, all of them heading south.

I sang for my supper with some presentations, which were quite fun as people actually laughed at my jokes and asked sensible questions. The interesting thing was that of around 100 bikes, more than half were 1200GSs and half the rest were KLRs or KLXs. Only a couple of other airhead boxers, one being an original 1981 R80G/S like mine and actually the property of the rider's mum. Oh, and an immaculate Cossack Ural outfit.

There were even a couple of guys who recognised my name from the Chris Scott book (The Adventure Motorcycling Handbook) and asked me to autograph them. It was nice for me as well as I left the UK before the latest edition was published, so although there's a copy waiting for me at home I hadn't seen my words/pix in print before.

So, for the record, that's 50,828 (riding) miles, 2 years 47 days, 6 continents and 36 countries. And Rotary Clubs and geraniums are still top of the ubiquities list.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:48 PM GMT
October 19, 2006 GMT
Exploding Gearboxes

Well, I did warn you before I left.

Lone Star BMW in Austin are really, really helpful. Having bought a few bits and pieces there yesterday, I returned today for a pair of tyres and a few odds and sods.

A rather sad Josh came out of the workshop. They're not happy about the output shaft bearings, which, if you can remember that far back, is why I fitted a brand-new gearbox before I left Blighty.

Upshot is I'm here for another week. They've ordered the bits and will do the job as soon as they arrive, bless them (servicing for customers has a three-week wait).

I could risk it, and the box might last all the way home, but as the last lap is Africa I don't think it would be sensible, and in any case I know the kind of damage that can result if one of those bearings collapses suddenly. So I might as well get it sorted while I'm somewhere sensible; and Austin is pretty sensible.

On the bright side, I have the bike over the weekend, and tomorrow is Club night (tyre-kicking and tall stories) and Jay, who I met in Creel, is taking me to dinner at a good Italian restaurant.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 12:21 AM GMT
October 29, 2006 GMT
Brian Rix Would Be Proud

Last Tuesday I went to Lone Star and bought bits and pieces to sort what I thought the minor-ish problems were.

On Wednesday I went back and had new tyres fitted. Having asked for 90/90 front and 110 or 120/90 rear and agreed to Pirelli Scorpions (as they had them in stock) I had them fitted, which is when they opined that I might have a gearbox problem. When I rode back to Bruce's place I thought she was a bit tall (had to plan my stops rather carefully) but attributed it to new tyres, lack of luggage, and the new dead sheep.

When I had trouble wheeling the bike around and heard mice, I investigated and found that the rear tyre was actually a 140 which is too fat and not only contacts the swinging arm/shaft housing, but hits the inside of the rear mudguard on big bumps. So I sort of mentioned this when I returned on Thursday for the Club night and to find out if/when the required parts would arrive.

Big apologies. "We'll replace the tyres with Trail Wings when you bring the bike in on Tuesday, no charge to you." (Monday is their day off, and Trail Wings are my fave.) Fine.

You know about the puncture and falling off (again).

I dropped in a couple of times this week. Yesterday - "Finished tomorrow." Brill.

Went round this afternoon. Josh was in Homer Simpson mode. Turns out that the noises they thought they heard from the gearbox were entirely due to the rear tyre being too big and rubbing on stuff, which at that point they hadn't realised, and in fact nothing's wrong. "Doh". Abject apologies for making me wait for parts which weren't actually required. Meanwhile they'd done all the stuff I wanted (rear main oil seal, pushrod tube seals, Trail Wings, new screen, pannier frame welding (again), full service etc.) and said I could probably pick her up around 6.

Rang in and Randy said "Aargh, electrical problems, we don't know what you've done to the electrics, aargh" so I went back in a taxi with my kit (being a hopeful soul). It was simply a couple of wires dislodged from the ignition switch inside the front cowling when I fell off, so that was easy. And everything else was done. Can't tell you. They even found a new indicator for me (there's only so much you can do with a broken one of those using gaffer tape).

And because of the hassle and everything they refused to charge me for the labour. I argued the toss because they'd been really helpful and fitted me in around their proper customers, but Josh insisted and even gave me a couple of T-shirts, which are rather good ones. In fact they bent so far over backwards I thought my luck was in.

So if you have a BMW or a Triumph and are anywhere near Austin, Texas, go to Lone Star because the coffee's really, really good. And Ardys Kellerman is usually hanging around somewhere - she's 74 and done the Iron Butt several times in recent years. Has a few stories to tell.

BTW, the puncture was a teeny-weeny staple-type thingy. Unbelievable.

PS to non-motorcyclists. The Iron Butt is a US-type thing where masochists do 11,000 miles in 11 days. Often with a dead sheep to sit on.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 05:30 AM GMT

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