Niko’s Kantina Ride: Copper Canyon

Eventually I stopped and sat mid hill, emotionally exhausted but physically numb…

Bags, check. Chileaquiles in my belly, check. Gas, check. A bit of water and a bag of cookies. Destination Urique Canyon. Up and down and up and down again. Try not to get killed by drunk truckers or narcos. Simple plan.
I check my bike and start the day with no phones. I want to hear if everything is fine. We do a couple of switchback turns on bad pavement and my trust in Mexicans is really low at this point. 50 kilometers is a 100 for them, potholes are impassable roads in their mind.

Soon I learned that they know what they are talking about. After we got up on top of the first hill we hit gravel. Easy, nice gravel. Keep riding at a good speed, passing trucks who keep throwing empty cans out of their cabin. Road pop… Eventually we meet with a trio of bikers, one from Switzerland and a couple of Texans. We exchange greetings, some info about the road so on and so forth. The Swiss guy points out that his bike is light (a very minimalistic DR 650) and mine is heavy. “Lots of loose rocks, it was a bitch going down, I can’t imagine I’d go up there. It took us 3,5 hours, should take you at least 4”. The other two gave fed me the same story. “It’s an hour to Urique”, we were 22kms from there!

I start to get worried. How would I tell to Danes dad that he got shot?! His dad is in the army… What if I get shot? I shrugged this unnecessary thoughts away. Let’s take less than an hour for that little canyon.

From 2600 meters down to about 560, almost a straight drop. In dirt, with trucks and a shit load of dust. That’s how it takes an hour. It was a hell of a ride. One of those rides when you feel like you should stop for taking pictures, but you also want to ride this road. So many roads like that in this life…

Urique

It was hazy and it was starting to get warm. Actually hot. I felt like a little ham getting ready for Christmas at that point. Once we got down and through Urique, crossed the river that carries the same name as the village we stop. Time for motocross shirt and gloves. We were about to enter the “technical” section.

Most of the road that day was something like that
And this was probably the hardest section…

Lose rocks. Ok, but somehow I was expecting lose boulders on a non-stop clutch burning steep incline. I was almost disappointed til we got to the part pictured above. It took us to stop and study the line. I almost dropped the bike because I didn’t want to go too fast and eventually went too slow and stalled right up on that corner. For the rest, it was a ride in the park. A huge, awesome park.

And the narcos you’d ask? We met a couple, saw a couple of guns and a machine gun, I stopped to talk to them, they were all polite and ok dudes, so I soon forgot about this. The actual scary part were the bulls. The bulls in the middle of nowhere, usually standing opposite to a deep ditch, freaking out as you passed. That was scary.


As we climbed to the top, took us about an hour, we got to see street signs! I was so amused, took me way too many pictures, analyzing the bullet holes and vandalizing a little bit. In the end, we are in the land of outlaws.

The other side was as fantastic as the Urique side. We could already see the river Batopilas, but we had no idea how long it will take us. My gps was useless for that matter. The roads are way different as on it’s maps.

These views make you feel small. Almost as small as you feel when you check the map to see your 2 month progress. We are like a little shit that a fly drops on your helmet… ok, lets not got there one again!
The other side was steep I guess, and it was getting hot once again. It was like how I picture a colonoscopy. It was getting old. Engine brake, rear brake, switchback. And repeat. Over and over again. Once every now and then I’d stop, enjoy the scenery for a moment and then go back to work. At that point, hanging off the cliffs, I could only wonder how our destination looks like. Sincerely, I was expecting a shitty little village, full of degenerates. But home was there. There is no other place anyway.

Finally we are at the bottom. Took us about 3 hours, 3,5 with stops. I can already smell tacos de machaca and beer! The ride was not hard as for physical strain, but it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Mostly very positive, but at times I felt like “why I’m I doing this?” It was, I admit, fear of the unknown. Sometimes it happens…

We connect to a road that seems like we’ve got way out of the canyon. I’m intrigued. The village, is way bigger than expected, has it’s share of degenerates (first person to approach us), but it has a very quiet, relaxed feel. We find a place to eat called restaurante Carolinas. And the waitresses? Wow, my eyes were indulging in all that beauty, I still cannot believe what you can find in the most remote places on Earth. The food was great too, and hey, we found a really nice place to stay. Which formed a sacred triangle of goodies. Carolinas for food, right across the square our little oasis where we stayed and right across the street a shop, that would carry pretty much anything you could imagine.

But that mysterious road was calling upon me. I had to ride it. At least a little bit. I was said it leads to the deepest point of the canyon.

So I take off the biggest bag and go for the last ride of the day. Sunset, nobody on the road and something that got me completely by surprise. That road. That road!

Niko’s Kantina ride: Narcos, canyons and fiesta

To my surprise, nobody tried to stab me, rob me or hurt me in any way. Not only foreigners, also Mexicans tend to exaggerate when it comes to safety in Mexico.

After two days of depressing ride, cloudy, hazy weather, Dane being tired because of the crash and it’s consequences and relatively boring road, we got to the entrance of Barrancas del Cobre in Sierra Madre. First stop was Basaseachi waterfalls. The second highest waterfall in MX and at the time, probably the highest one, since the official highest, the nearby Piedra Volada, is a season waterfall and it stops flowing in autumn according to the locals.

Magic place, a kickass canyon and a breathtaking waterfall. Pictures don’t do it justice. We decided to cam there for the night, just so we can enjoy it a bit more. The night. That night we got the most overwhelming display of the night sky on this trip. Milky way and more stars that one could imagine. However, it was pretty fresh. The local guy that was taking care of the camp ground said that it will get town to minus… way below zero. And that we stay at 2600 meters above sea level. He was wrong in both cases, but nevertheless the night was cold, as we were sleeping at an altitude of 2000 meters.

Siesta time in Basaseachi

The day after, earlyish in the morning we packed and took off towards Creel. Fun little road leading through San Juanito and then Creel for lunch. It was early in the day, so we decided to do what I planned for two days in one day. Ride towards Bahuichivio and then Cerocahui, on the rim of the canyon. Awesome road, good pavement, good visual and ups and downs like a roller coaster. We didn’t see much of the canyon that day, so I was getting a bit suspicious.

The road to San Juanito
The town of Creel
Central Cerocahui

Coming to Cerocahui seemed like a small mistake at the time of our arrival. Tiny place, no prospect for a hotel. But in fact there were two. A really crappy looking one and one that seemed really out of place, because it looked so fancy. We ask in the fancy one, Cristina, the receptionist gives a very friendly price after a bit of persuading and we end up having a really pleasant night, meeting new people, sipping the local wine. Perfect place.

The back of the hotel was a vinyard

When do the local drug lords come in you ask? Well, the “narcos” as the locals call the people involved with the Cartel are everywhere around us at this point. We just didn’t know it yet. Exaggerate about safety? In fact yes. The first reaction when I asked the local tour guide about the road to Batopilas through Urique was: “NO, no, no, es muy peligroso!” The road to Batopilas through the Urique canyon is the most direct and one of the last dirt roads in the area. It is also one of the major hideouts for the Narcos, who grow tons of weed and do a lot of their drug stuff in those hills. I asked why and how. Many times since then. No definite answer so far.

The “Why?” should actually come after the how. There is no reason to hide, especially in places so remote, because it seems that the local authorities, including the army, have no intention to catch anyone. It is not uncommon to see a narcos truck pull by an army truck and nothing happens. You’d expect at least some tension. Nothing.

The “How?” is just how they do it. How can a criminal, violent and “bad” organization co-inhabit and prospect in a community of such nice people. I’m asking myself the same in the case of Yakuza in Japan as well. Everyone knows it’s there, everyone knows what they are doing is illegal, but it’s still there. I guess it’s just the way we, humans, do it. As long as it’s big stuff, like a government, coroporation or a criminal organization it’s ok. At individual level, we’ll stone you to death.

Back to the road. After I point out that it’s past harvest season, that our bikes can be fast if needed etc. We get the directions in and out of the canyon. And in again.

Next day, with a lot of expectations and a bit of nervousness we head on a 150kms long journey, that was about to take us 6 hours deep in the land of the Sinaloa cartel.

Niko’s Kantina Ride: Mexico, baby!

A learning experience is one of those things that say, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”

We rolled out late in the morning. Afternoon actually, on our way to see Jay and Barbara. All the way to Phoenix. The most boring way possible. Freeway, I-10. To make up for that special kind of chinese torture, I decided we’re at least riding through Joshua tree park once again. It was well worth it, like taking all the turns you have available for the day and compressing them into 70 kilometers. Then all was straight. We rode straight in heat, we rode straight through the sunset, we rode straight at night and in the cold. We were at our destination for dinner. Late dinner.

After that, Jay helped me to change the tires (he changed them). My rear was completely bald, I wanted to take it all the way till the wires show, but I guess it was a good decision. We did a much needed oil change on the bikes and fixed some electric problems. Along the way we had some more fun meeting people, movies etc.

Dane took the opportunity to fly back home for a conjugal visit and after that we were ready for the earliest start in the history of the Kantina ride. 7 a.m. direction Mexico!

Jay and Barb decided to join us for a good stretch, almost to Tucson, from there on we were on our own. And sure enough, my bike suffered some electrical problems right there, first intersection in Tucson …

I tried a couple of things that at first seemed to work, but didn’t and I was too tired and depressed to care about Mexico at that point. Luckily BC1 decided to give up right in front of a hotel, which provided us an expensive stay and gave me some time to have a nap and then think about the problem. It ended up being a faulty spark cap. Never happened to me before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. Dane noticed his brake pads are gone and found a replacement, but decided it’s gonna be a quick morning fix.

The quick morning fix was not morning, neither quick. Pure Kantina ride style … After unsuccessfully taking the brake caliper off, destroying the bolt, the next step was to take off the rear tire. I was helping holding the bike still, when I notice the new brake pads look like nothing I’ve seen before. They were the wrong pads.

After realizing that this is not going to be an early morning and the way I planned the day wouldn’t work, we decided to split. Dane was to go to the shop that sold the wrong pads and replace them, this gives me exactly enough time to realize my plan. Ride through the Saguaro N.P.

After I returned, the bike was ready, I picked up some extra spares for my bike and off we go. The good old freeway once again. This time was to save us some time, so we can visit the town of Tombstone. Pretty little touristy town and last burger in the States.

Mexico, baby! We were finally in Douglas and you could see the border already. They let me through without questions, they stop Dane on the Mexican side, paperwork check. After I get across the border I realize that there is no Immigration, I didn’t get stamped out, in or anywhere in between. So I turn back and ask, the fine Mexican lady officer says she doesn’t know what to do, but that the immigration is behind there. Go ask them …

Once we find the office everything is as I rehearsed so many times before. Get a stamp here, give a copy there, pay this, pay that. A lot of money for the visa, but I got a 180 day visa (I officially can get only 90 days) and all the paperwork I need. It was time to celebrate, and celebrating we did. A lot. That set us back for 3 days. 2 for party, one for curing the after party impressions. We met the strangest people, lots of self alleged criminals, sicarios and some surprisingly nice persons, like Maria, our hotel host. She was almost like a mother to us, worrying about our safety and well being.
The first impression of Mexico completely met my expectations. Chaos, but fun chaos. A bit sad about the striking difference in the life standard you see right when you cross the border, but the food is a big step up in quality and taste. No mas Jack in the box!!!

Night out with live music, where everyone on stage was either playing a trumpet or a singer. In total, 50 people on the stage.
Mexican breakfasts are the best!

After we put ourselves back together we got to ride this country. Lots of dust and road work on the N2. Way too many trucks for my taste, but the scenery was alright.

We set the goal pretty low for the day. 230 kms to Nuevos Casas Grandes. After lunch we only had to ride 50 more kilometers (yes, Mexico is fully metric!) And some more roadworks detours through gravel and dirt. At one point there is a water truck taking care of the dust. My first reaction was, “why didn’t you come before?!”. After that I start riding on the wet, compact dirt and I feel like riding on ice. Experience? Probably luck, I make it back on pavement. I look back, Dane is down. When I turn back and see him laying holding his foot I get worried something is broken. A couple of people stop, a doctor is among them, quickly checks the ankle, nothing broken. Lucky. After we get to town we go to the hospital, hoping to score some good painkillers (I hurt my back lifting his bike). Instead, he gets a shot in his butt. I pass …

From Casas Grandes we carry on to Chuauhtemoc, heading into Copper canyon or  as the locals call it, Barrancas del Cobre.

Niko’s Kantina Ride: From sea to desert

Some days the road doesn’t count. What counts is that you are going…

San Francisco was too much fun, but the point of this trip is to get to South America right? Like a long gone ex girlfriend that creeps in your thoughts when you’re riding for too long without music, this city will do the same. Did I miss something there, should I have stayed or there is more beiond that bridge? Well, unlike the ex, a place takes you back without too much begging. 

After a little bit too much freeway, we are back on the one. Freeways in big cities are fun, as long as you don’t have a bunch of people trying to follow you. Four, five lanes, heavy traffic, I can’t help but imagine that I’m like a little speck Of dust or a blood cell, getting carried away into something bigger. In our case, it’s probably an oil spill in a river… 

After some foggy, moist riding we get to see the sun once again, just before it sets. We’re in Big Sur. Pretty place, slightly overrated if you ask me. Perhaps I got spoiled from all the amazing places we’ve encountered so far. However, the campsite charged us 60$ US for the night and just because of that, I’d choose to never return. It’s ridiculous, but at the time it was our only option. We met some interesting characters and ended up staring the remains of the super moon by the river, wasn’t so bad after all. 12$ for a bundle of wood by the way. No fire that night… 

What counts you cannot see, you can only imagine. Some dreams can make you bleed a little bit.

The day after was grand. Early start, sunny, warm and more HWY 1! The only problem were the cars that drove too slow on the curves (double solid line) and then blast out full throttle on the straights, making it impossible to overtake. I was just getting upset about it, when my bike started handling funny. Yeah, the rear was flat. The tube couldn’t choose a better place to give up. It was right before a beautiful view, close enough to a service station so Dane could go and pick up some sandwiches while I was taking the tire off. Black trash bag, put the tire in and have a sandwich while enjoying the view. Then the tire gets off like a charm. While I was putting on the tire and Dane was exploring around a van passed by, with a guy sticking his head out. Sure enough they are back in a minute. It was Josh and Ashley. A really nice couple on a road trip with their kick ass van that Joshua put together himself. They fed us, gave us water, help and we exchanged stories and our info. The World is small and round, I’m sure we’ll meet again. Sadly I forgot to take a picture…

Finished the day in Morro Bay, had way too much chinese food and went to sleep. Next day was about to change the sccenery quite drastically.

After seeing Elephant seals and zebras bunched each on their side of the road we take the 166 heading East. It got cold very quick as we gained a bunch of elevation in short time, the landscape became more arid, after some time I start hallucinating. Ennio Morricone in the background and tumbleweed. Lots of it…

Well, the tumbleweed was real. Pretty cool sight, so we stop to have some fun before heading further up, past Bitter creek on the 95. Very cool ride, both Literally and figuratively. Most probably our coldest day in California.
More fun roads, some trails and we end up in Victorville. A big town in the middle of the desert I guess. We got there when it was quite dark already.

It was one of those days the next day, the plan was something, we did something else. We were aiming for Yuma, we ended up staying in Joshua tree NP. As we entered in the park we stop on the side of the road, flip the coin, “yeah, we stay”.

Very busy park and I soon understood why. It is a very special place, huge boulders surrounding Joshua trees, which are basically Yuccas on steroids. Yucca is something more like a palm tree, that in Slovenia grows indoors. As a decorative plant. Here they grow into big ass trees. Every housewife dream.

As we’re doing a beer run, we meet Claire. A biker lady on her way from Alaska. We soon agree that we’ll stick together for beers and campfire. It was like meeting myself, a couple of years younger in a female version. Are we bikers really all the same? Might be.

Let the good times roll! We’re out, direction unknown.

Niko’s Kantina Ride: Getting stuck in pretty places

“Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
– Douglas Adams

We left after a few days of resting. Well, it was all about resting, but it was major fun. Something I feel odd, that I never felt before, is that everytime I have to pack the bike after spending some days still it feels like I’m starting over again. That feeling of excitement, expectation and slight anxiety.

All good and jolly, we decided, mainly because of the cold, that we’ll carry on following the coast. Some dirt roads, some gates, some bypassed gates and more mud puddles. The floaters are nothing compared to those in Oregon, but for that we had some pretty good ruts to overcome. The most interesting was the ride towards the Lost Coast. The Usal road was closed, but we managed, barely, to ride around the gate and ride towards one of the prettiest sights that day. It was nice and warm and the spirits were high. Knowing the road is closed I had the same idea the potential dirt bike coming from the opposite direction would have. To twist that throttle and clean the valves a little bit. The memory of Danes subframe was still fresh, that kept reminding me to take it easy, but the trail was pretty fun and I got a bit too frisky. The slipsters didn’t help when I came around a corner to meet a nice, slicker patch of mud. That’s what I like from dirt bike crashes. 9 out of 10 will be just about getting dirty. This was one of them. We carry on till the scenery opens in front of us. WOW. There is not much more I can say about it. A magic place where I could easily just pitch my tent and stay for a week.

Further on, we join Highway 1. It’s like a road in Sardinia, similar to the Adriatic highway in Croatia, The road in southern Peleponnese in Greece, the hell, it looks like just any road along the coast. Well, not really. As any of these roads has something special and all of them have something special in common. I love riding next to the sea. Being a scuba diver, a wanna be surfer and generally spending most of my life next to this beautiful, unknown creature it really feels like joining the best of both worlds. Smell the salt, feel the breeze and usually you have a good visual on the next corner and the corner after that. Sometimes I wish BC1 would be a Beemer…

We end up in San Francisco where we get stuck. Instead of one night, we spent 3. This is my kind of town, where I feel more normal than usual, just because there is so many freaks. Mostly good freaks, fun freaks, the odd Irish illegal immigrant and lots of artists and well, people who are fun to be around. Spent our days cruising around the steep streets torturing our clutches, eating some very american sushi, sipping beer at the docks, sipping more beer on the roof tops, morning coffee and cigarette on the fire escape while shouting “Hello New York!”, listening to some great street performers. I’m gonna be back for sure. San Fran is my kind of city.