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: 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.

Niko’s Kantina Ride: BC1 (about my Kawasaki KLR 650)

Is this bike the ultimate adventure bike? Arguably, depending on your definition of adventure I’d say.

BC1, or the Kawasaki KLR 650 as the rest of the world knows it, it is a peculiar bike that will never blow your socks off, but it will never bore you either.

It’s a bike that can do pretty much everything, but it’s not excelling at anything. Pretty much as the owner I must say.

Lets take handling for example. Once you’re really into it, it handles sweet, but if you drive too slow or too fast, it feels like riding a unicycle. The BC1 has a lot of aftermarket parts that are supposed to make it handle better, like progressive springs in the forks and a fork stabilizers. I guess it makes it handle a bit better.

Engine, pretty similar to the KLX 650 engine, maybe a bit less power, but with the brakes on this bike, you don’t want to be going fast anyway.

The front rotor is a joke. It’s the size of a rear disk on an average 125cc bike. The rear is pretty much the same size, but does a better job. Many people do an upgrade on the front. Braided brake lines, bigger rotor and even dual piston calipers. I wanna do that too, but it’s hard to just find it in a random bike shop and internet orders don’t work so well when you’re moving. I hope we’ll stay here long enough so it gets here, otherwise I’ll have to blow more cash to order the same piece again and find an address further down the road.

Other upgrades/downgrades. Shorter spring on the monoshock. Not my favorite, but the bike sits high anyway. When not loaded with all the shit I carry around it’s actually pretty high. So high that I wish I was into stretching.

Another thing I find interesting the previous owner did. Clutch lock and side stand lock are taken off. That way it’s easier to spot electrical problems which I like big time. I took off with my sidestand twice so far. That’s how much you get used having this piece of equipment thinking for you …

Highway pegs. Everyone is super stoked about having them on my bike, personally I couldn’t care less. I use them every now and then, but having no access to my only working brake makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. The position is not so great either, reminds me of a squat toilet. But hey, it came with the bike and on long rides, every chance to change the position is welcome.

A very great addition I find almost life saving is my gel seat cover. Like an airhawk but with gel instead of air. This was a gift from Jay and Barbara that I used only on my computer chair so far. On a “serious” bike, when you want to go fast, I could never use something like that. Makes you feel detached from the bike. But on a ride like BC1, with that seat it has, I love the gel thingy. Could ride for hours! I’m curious what will happen with the gel at higher temperatures though.

Sidecases are from Happy Trails and they’re kick ass. I wonder when will the frame snap from all the vibrations, but in terms of robustness, waterproofness and storage capacity I’m glad I have them. Once I’ll put a dent in the spare parts I’m carrying I think I might be able to get rid of a dry bag or 2. Probably not though.

All in all, I love the Kawi. It handles like a piece of crap and working on it, it feels more like a Russian than a Jap bike. But it makes me confident to ride it through anything and it seems indestructible. It has a carburetor, chain drive and a big tank, that’s my kind of bike. And remember that this bike already has an around the world trip under its tank and we put it through some pretty gnarly off-road and crashes and still everyday it starts with a smile.

Is it the perfect adventure bike? For what I’m doing it’s probably quite close. However, if you want to ride the Road of Bones in Russia you probably want to consider a different machine and of course, if your kind of adventure is riding to a Starbucks, we all know what’s the perfect bike.


Niko’s Kantina Ride: Team meeting

We get to the mountain camp and meet William and Jean, the other two members of our wolf pack.

We reluctantly leave Grants pass in the afternoon. Say goodbye to everyone and keep on riding. It starts raining again, so we pull over in Cave junction, where we’ve been told they make the best beef jerky in the World. Burger time again, and lots of other meat stuff.

More riding, more rain and we are in California. The temperature change is impressive, a day ago we were freezing, and now it’s perfect for riding even in rain!

The plan was to camp in Jedediah Smith (I probably spelled that wrong) campground in the Redwoods. But we got there soaking wet and realized that the camp is almost full and they charge 35$ per tent plus the bikes! Even in dry weather I think I’d skip that. And it was worth going all the way to crescent city. It was pretty dark already, foggy but not much rain. Riding past these giant trees, with their trunks disappearing into the darkness. Surreal and magnificent, 10/10 would do it again.

Crescent city was our last stop before we meet the guys. William and Jean are living a bit further out in the mountains, where as usual there is no phone service, so we had to wait till he comes down to be able to get the message that we’re here. Another lovely motel and drying our stuff was the goal for the night.