Thursday, 13 February 2014

A New Direction

Hi, Long time no posts, I know, however that isn't because there has been nothing happening. This brief post is to let you know about my new website This is where all future posts will be, along with the best of the photos and the latest news on what’s happening. The site has brought together my Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts so now one site fits all. Come and have a look, it’s where things are happening now. See you there.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Sunrises, sunsets and all that happens inbetween

If I hadn’t have stopped to take in the view, the hairpin lesson would have been harsh but if there was no view, there would be no need for this unique road rule. I stop to photograph the road winding into the valley because it seems quite a popular theme to post on FB. The cars and trucks are switching lanes on the hairpins. For a brief moment they are driving on the correct side of the road, the left, what kind of a safety measure is this? On some but not all the bends you are required by the multiple arrows marked on the road to switch lanes, look closely at the photo. If I hadn’t have stopped and seen this I would have been leaning into a new and steep learning curve; with all the confidence that the tires allowed I would have gone head on into an upward coming vehicle. So, another day, another new experience, on my way to meet up with a friend, a Canadian expat with a 20 year knowledge of this Golf Coast state of Veracruz. We ride roads I would never have found, from sea level to over 9000ft, where geo thermal tundra steams and spurts its reluctance to be harnessed turned into energy. We are up into a land which is simply winter. Bare trees and brown dead grass. I instinctively pull over in the shade then realize its cold and push my bike forward into the sun. With the attitude comes remoteness and with that comes tradition. Horse and carts for haulage, a donkey is transport, like they were at the beach but not for a 10 minute joy ride, more for a commute to the town or to gather a herd of goats. From architecture to clothing this is a Mexico that is a long way in time if not distance from glass hotels, the KFC’s and Burger Kings where our day trips begin and end. Later a descent into spring, blossom and new life, fresh green, arable farming, the sense of smell is stimulated again and at the end of a 10 hour ride we are back to the humidity of an ever-present summer city. I hear Guatemala is even better than Mexico but once again I haven’t made it past the southern border. Entertained, thrilled and awed, tanned and well fed, the loop of my journey is at the bottom of its horse shoe. I don't anticipate any new experiences coming my way just a repeat of some of my favourite ones. And that complacency, combined with a feeling of homeward bound is what causes an old but unwelcome experience to reoccur. 2000 pesos, £100 that ought to see me out of the country, I think I've got 3 more nights, a few toll roads and maybe I’ll treat myself to a pair of kickarse cowboy boots. There’s nothing like a period of dormancy to drive you hard. I pass many inviting campgrounds at the edge of a blue sea under shady palms. Perhaps if I was with company, but it’s too early in the day, to familiar to my other camping locations. I ride on, knowing that although this afternoon’s heat is uncomfortable and tiring I will miss it when I reach the frozen north I'm heading towards. The next time I'm this hot on a motorcycle will be the next trip. A sign posted lagoon never materializes, at least not to me. And as the light goes I pull into a town that boasts a Riviera. That will do nicely, however from the height of the toll bridge I look between oil refineries and gas flames spurting from high chimneys wondering exactly where this idealistic location is. Then, not due to meditational discipline, the moment I'm in gets my full attention, with the honking of horns and blowing of whistles I'm pulled by the police. It’s evident immediately that this is not going to end in a smile and a warning. I went through a red light I'm told. I’m pretty sure I didn’t and even if I did there are none round here. The fine will be £400 it will be paid tomorrow and until I pay it my vehicle import papers are confiscated. I won’t describe the act; there was nothing original or cleaver about it, as played by corrupt cops worldwide. After the disgrace of my law breaking had been brought to acceptable levels of bureaucracy I'm given the option to pay the fine now. On a busy street, in, if not broad at least adequate daylight I'm robbed the entire contents of my wallet. Two things I find it very hard to do is, one, part with money and two, keep my mouth shut when somebody desperately needs yelling at. However the only way to win this game is to shut up and obey. The other way to win and I've know because I've played it before is to only have a token amount of money in your wallet, it’s been that way the entire trip, every trip, but today knowing I was on the home straight I didn’t practice what I preach. It was all there inviting and accessible and the fuckers took the lot. They will always be corrupt cops, they will never amount to anything; the money will bring them no good. If the bullying little short arse bastard buys crocodile cowboy boots with my money he will know deep down when he stands in front of the mirror that they would have looked way cooler on me. Ironically none of the junctions after this incident have traffic lights that work; all out, perhaps they need my money to pay a repair or electricity bill. My reaction to this infuriating injustice is to leave this country as soon as I can, but I have no money. With the passage of time and more human contact, the never ending smiles, the English pleasantries if they speak it and the genuine indications if they don't; it takes me about 24 hours to remember you can’t judge a town, a country or even officialdom by 2 degenerate motherfuckers. (Yes, I’m as angry at myself as I am at them) I camp wild for 2 nights and live off sardines until I find a town with an ATM. I look in a few boot shops but with my skinny jeans and boots inside not over them, the painstaking design in Jagermeister colour scheme (or KTM depending on your preference), maybe in full view but somehow inappropriate, it looks too gangster, or too dad or too Brokeback Mountain or something and doesn’t match my eyes. So with second hand or at least second foot Alpinestars, the exact clothing I wore here last year, I leave Mexico. Another trip does not require another outfit, I spend my money, (corruption not withstanding) on travel not clothing, and I think I'm all the richer for it. My eyes are tired and wild; maybe my previously owned bike and gear compliment them. One last boot shop at the border town but I have a desert to revisit and a border to negotiate. Where I indulge in the luxury of understanding the language again, and the frustration that ensues when asked by immigration where I am coming from. I try to remember the name of the town that still has my boots on the self, that’s not the answer they wanted anyway. Mexico? You’re coming from Mexico? ‘Yes’ I'm on the Mexican border on motorcycle where do you think I'm coming from? Has your brainwashed education for this placement really left you unable to realise that you were not placed to the prestigious post of an international airport? That question is irrelevant, and my destination before you ask, appears to be the land of ignorant authority. but it’s familiar and I’ll keep my mouth shut again while you charge me a processing fee that my pre approved visa blatantly states I’m exempt from. But I'm dealing with someone whose respect was not earned with humanity, understanding, sensitivity and wisdom but demanded with the donning of a uniform. I have one more destination, back to the desert that inspired me so much on the journey down, to slow my pace, warm my bones, hear my breath and exercise my mind. Over the last 3 months when ever dogs barked through the night and bass pounded through my wall I laid awake dreaming of the silence of this desert. Here in this timeless expanse the only seasons are the rise and fall in temperature, here, my little life shows its insignificance. It demands a belief, not necessarily a religion or faith but you can’t ignore it, cant bury your head in your busy day and forget how everything came to be, this place may not give answers but it makes you aware there are questions you have to ask. I sit on my little sunrise and sunset hillock of choice I pick up stones of interest leaving their indentation in the hard gritty ground, they look really cool, I'm quite sure that is the recognised geological term used to describe such a phenomenon. upon inspection it realise the stone wouldn’t look any better anywhere else than right here, where it belongs, and if put it back right where it came from its very satisfying even if the operation boarders sanity, I feel a little like Bob Geldof playing Pink in The Wall. Making patterns with the remnants of his recently wrecked hotel room just as he's about to become comfortable numb. The silence is interrupted not by a knock on the door but by the sound of rushing wind but I can’t feel it. I see the spiky desert brush bend and bow in the near distance, and the sound of its dry rustle is brought to my ears on the breeze that proceeds this brief and passing gust, slowly, this containment of wind that is about 20 foot long comes closer, over my tent and blows my socks which are airing over the mirrors, and then it passes on, just a noisy bundle of air in a hurry. It’s the closest I've ever been to seeing wind, it was visually and audibly evident and it briefly immersed me in the moment I was standing in. And when I leave that moment unaware of my heightened senses, I feel the change in temperature as I walk down my little hill to the flat of my camping area that has been is shade 30 minutes longer that my view point and has cooled noticeable. I can also smell the oil I put on my dry and dusty chain. 3 in 1, earth, wind and fire, simple elements individually creating this harmonious landscape. You have to slow right down here to avoid the feeling of monotony; to rush through this land is to miss the subtle fascination in every step. From an open visor it will be a blur of repetition, viewed from a motionless stance it shows its varied uniqueness. I'm aware at this point that the desert has captivated me, my pace has slowed accordingly and I got what I came for. In company, impatient, impervious this would never occur. It’s so perfect that the experience I've tried to describe in this post, viewed from the wrong environment could be seen as pretentious but it’s as genuine as this planet can provide, pretentious is a conservatory. On show to the elements but unfeeling, a bubble in the outside world. As natural as a resalable plastic bag. I ride every day, rivers to wash in, mountains and canyons reflect the ever changing light and the desert is as silent as the shadows that cross it, it borrows its best colours from the sun when it rises and sets. The in-park gas station attendant remarks on my filling of my tank again, ‘The problem is I can’t seem to stop riding’, I say ‘That's not a problem’ he says My visit is a blip in an unfathomable stretch of time that created this space. I'm riding through, a time unfortunately, when the need for control and regulations reach out to this wild environment; I have a list of laws I mustn’t break and rules to abide by. But my bike takes me to where the rangers don't check, beyond the limited stretch of the long arm of the law. Where the isolation wows me and wows me again and I don't have bow down to the laws pointing out and enforcing what is basic survival and common sense. If I take enough water; I'm free to go wild in the country, at least for a little while. A week is enough this time, I’d say longer but in another way next time. Carry more supplies to ensure longer isolation. As ever with a prolonged stop it feels so good to ride again. I know there is a border patrol check point up here somewhere, I'm dreading the interaction. I slow into the shady canopy, lift my flip up chin guard, and pull down my bandito bandana. ‘US citizen?’ ‘No UK’ ‘Can I see your passport?’ I pass it to him; picture page open, used foreign visas tend to generate unwanted conversation. He looks at the photo and as he looks up I pull my Oakley’s down my nose and smile. ‘Cool dude’ he says and I'm free to go. Well I wasn’t expecting that. It may be a characterless soulless road but it’s smooth and empty and the miles pass by not stimulating the mind in the slightest. Half remembering songs and singing the same bit over and over again until I become aware of it and deliberately change it to another half remembered song ‘I’ll do better, yeah I’ll do better’ it’s a little more catchy and wont revert back to the last one. In this part of Texas here are lots of micro oil wells, several pumps and storage cylinders, business looks good judging by the tankers that pass me by in a slamming burst of wind and turbulent slip stream. I pass a Google car on the side of the road, it had a camera on a tripod on the roof, I stop for to drink from my water bottle and it passes me, and to be sure I overtake it once more. I think I may be on Google earth when this latest data is uploaded. Into Roswell where the temperature is still campable but only to me, so I get the place to myself. Bottomless lake it’s called, it’s bloody not though, I threw in a rock to check. ‘A little deeper lake than expected camp ground’ wouldn't have the same ring though. Not a place to spent much time unless you happen to know that 100 miles up the road is a snow storm that continues a further 300 miles to your destination. So I will just sit here in the sun and wait 36 hours listening to some UFO on my iPod. Mentally prepared and after a long sleep I do what I've been doing all trip, the wrong side of hard core, i wake when the people of faster lives would be going to bed. I'm cold already, I’m not even in a good mood, I'm not sure why. My water bottle has ice in it and my The plastic milk bottle dribbles enough to lighten my chai and the rest is congealed and inaccessible. My fingers are numb, all The wrong things are stiff, the plastic fasteners on my Boots, the zipper on my jacket, the clutch leaver and the packing and rolling of the tent, sleeping bag and Thermarest does nothing to stimulate the circulation and everything to numb the extremities. I'm swearing and grumpy and try to change my mood. When the sun raises enough to start shining on the plains beyond my shelter, I'm ready to exit this prolonged harbour of endurable weather. All packed up, multiple layers on and I'm ready, I press the starter and it won’t fuckin start and my mood is worsening, the battery is exhausting its self and there isn’t a the faintest hint of a spark, only the smell of petrol in a flooded cylinder. It’s an altogether shitty start to a very long day, I start to consider my options in 2 hours a ranger will arrive I can get a jump start, in 2 hours I won’t have enough time to get to my intended destination. I wander round. I think about it, I try again, it starts. I plug in my heated vest and settle down in the seat, let’s go then. As I leave the rocky hills of shelter the sun shines on me with no heat at all. ‘Are you going to be my friend today?’ I ask it.The answer was obscured by clouds. It disappears in a haze that turns into freezing fog. After only 50 miles I need a wee, the bottle of water now resembles a flavourless slush puppy. Bugger It starts to snow, double bugger, it doesn’t come to much or settle on the road. After 100 miles I stop for breakfast, I take off me boots and massage my feet, the waitress frowns but wisely decides to make no comment. I'm stopped for no more than half an hour and I need full choke to start the bike again. Another 130 miles. At this increased speed I'm using up so much more fuel. I stomp around the forecourt. If I was to approach someone in my predicament what would I say? Best not approach me I think. ‘Be careful out there’ the attendant warns, ‘there is snow down in Santa Fe’ ‘Yeah but I'm going north’ ‘North?’ Then there is no hope for you, his expression seemed to say . It’s less than a 500 mile trip why are these distances going so slowly? This always happens when you go from a land that uses kilometres to a place of miles but still my mental calculations are not corresponding with the glance I took on Google maps yesterday (not to see if I could see myself) I'm on the interstate now but New Mexico just won’t seem to end. Little milestones like the Colorado boarder are what keep me going in such situations. I can’t hold on any longer. I need more sustenance. I pull into a Denny’s, massage my feet again, drink coffee order the day’s second breakfast and surprisingly eat the lot. I text my friend for a weather report. ‘Are you over the pass yet?’ ‘What pass?’ Its 28 degrees and snowing up there, its 13 miles away. Outside is a Motel 6 with a very inviting sign of $29 a night, I could just call it a day. No I want to get over the pass. It snows, the lanes have snow between them, a slow RV towing a car is crawling up, I want to get past, I don't want to cross this slushy slippy divide. I don't want any more spray over my visor either. I cross the divide, pass the RV, reach the summit and the decent brings a dry road and another little feeling of achievement. More miles, more fuel. This fill up should get me there. The snow is constant now, never quite settling but freezing up my visor and I can see its covering the parts of me that reflect in the mirrors, it edges my clocks are like a shop window Christmas display. I need to stop again but if I do I will catch Friday night rush hour, my feet are so cold now. I think of humans who have done harder, arctic explorers, barefoot indigenous Siberians. But fuck it, my feet are so numb the wind chill is tortuous and there are not many options left inside my helmet other than to start crying from the pain. The traffic starts to back up and soon as filtering is illegal here I obediently stay in lane, the snow gets harder, the traffic slower, but on a positive side the wind chill has stopped and with this crawling traffic my limbs are moving more and circulation is thawing the frozen pinkys. The light is almost gone now, this has taken so much longer than I expected. One more elevation increase, and again the snow is settling on the highway I try to follow the tyre tracks and with the final decent comes my turn off and just another 16 miles, into dusky swirling orange clouds above the silhouetted mountains. And I'm back, at an empty house I left from. That took 10 hours and was nearly 600 miles making a total of 8000 miles since I left 10 weeks ago. Surprisingly I stand around outside. Congratulating the bike and Monklet who both performed their duties much better than I did, couldn’t have done it without them. And that's it, from holiday ride to international adventure, somewhere in between lays the label of this jaunt. Bit of work, bit of play, bit of endurance, bit of new experience, yep, that’ll do nicely. Right where the washing machine? The niggle I could no longer ignore, I re checked Google maps (I'm still not on it) I don't have GPS, didn’t even have a map, it was heading north, what could possibly go wrong. Turns out there was a point in New Mexico I should have gone east, then north east then north. It would have cut off 100 miles and a high elevation mountain range. Bollocks.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Surfing, Sights, and trying not to mention the book.

Chill for too long and you will simply freeze. Entirely the wrong metaphors for describing the high temperature of the southern Mexican beach life. Every day is 35 degrees and the only time I reach for something with sleeves is to watch the sunrise from my little balcony, the chai in my mug cools as the daily inescapable heat returns. I came here to do nothing, nothing that the beach had to offer, not skydiving or sea diving, dolphin watching, or surfing. I just came to sit quietly and do some book stuff and trip preparation. ‘Book stuff?’ If it’s not pounding bass through the walls, or dogs barking through the night, it’s book thoughts going through my head that wakes me, the never ending quest to get the word out. And trip stuff the constant battle against red tape to obtain the visas for the next journey. This was, I had decided an ideal location to achieve both of the above whilst my tenant paid for this warm and frugal homeless lifestyle. A room here for a month is £225 and I live on muesli and avocado with a treat of street tacos for dinner 5 for £1. So if I avoid the sea front posh and tempting I can live pretty cheap. It’s so easy to form a routine regardless of location. And within a week I have one, writing, emails, Spanish lessons, siesta and down to the beach for sunset. There I was sitting on the sand with my unfeasibly large lens when a surfer dude approaches me and I jump out of my little moonrise daydream. He mistakes me for a professional, he didn’t say professional what. Can I make some photos of him surfing, he will pay me. ‘No worries if you like them buy me beer if not, no obligation. He likes them I get fed and alcoholed and approached by his friends. Within a week I know half the surfers who indulge in these waves, the legionary Mexico Pipeline. I’m in with the surf crowd, I know how to do the hand shake and everything; I have a constant stream of people at my door with beer and memory sticks to have their photos transferred to. Many moons ago it was Thai stick and tequila the stick is now digital the spirit of the age is simply beer. I haven’t made myself a sandwich or brought a drink all week, I have a growing pod of a belly slowly getting browner and my spare time is not spent researching visas for the ‘Stan’s’ but surfing surf photography sites. My pictures improve, word gets out and coincidently I'm asked to submit some Mexican photos for an article in Overland Magazine. So now I must be a professional, should I declare on my tax form burritos and beer? My little routine has gone right out the fly screen in the window. When one surfer chick asks what she owes me, I say 20 minutes of your time, her frown soon goes when I say to go clothes shopping with me. I have no sense of style or fashion at all. And I need a style adviser, she’s good too, the right girl for the job. ‘This one is too gangster, no not that too dad, too gay’, ‘oh really I though it looked pretty good.’ ‘This one brings out the colour in your eyes’ ‘eyes, right, does it? Ok thanks I’ll take it.’ So now I'm the coolest dressed surfing photographer on the beach. And I can’t step outside the door without a surfer hand shake or that other sign they do with the thumb and pinky finger pointing out, it might mean hang loose but the way I do it, it’s more like hang up. They talk waves and techniques, heroes and legends and I listen and inadvertently learn. I should be doing my Spanish. They speak of the meditation, the spiritual connection the unity with nature. It all sounds great but I'm a biker. The day the internet crashed everyone comes out to play; the pool is crowded when the pasty surfers of cyberspace venture from their rooms. I choose to ride. Up the mountains, in 2 hours I'm at 6000ft and for the first time since Copper Canyon I experience the discomfort of a chilling temperature and the thrill of a twisting road. The beach crowd don't believe me. Firstly that I rode that far, secondly that there are that kind of elevations so close by and thirdly that it can be so much cooler than the beach. That's when I realize that although it’s a privileged insight into their world, I'm not a surfer, bikes are my thing, all the waves in the world will leave me stagnating. I came here to do nothing, free of distractions and I've got a better social life than I do at home. I mastered some new photographic techniques and learned some new capabilities of my camera. So it’s been useful in a way but I've lost all motivation and enthusiasm for the mission I came here for. I've seen 30 sunsets, some with whales, some with waves some in the company of a wounded surfer and some just high on my balcony. It’s time to ride again. After all, this is a bike trip right? I wallowed all the way here and when I got here I went to the forums in the hope someone could shed light on my confidence extracting Kenda tyres. It was suggested to vary pressures, loaded, unloaded, check bearings, spokes, and also I was reassured it’s a character of the tyre. In desperation I took off the front which had not DOR arrow and looked symmetrical in tread pattern but I turned it around anyway and what do ya know, it handled like a... well like a cheap tyre as opposed to a gyroscope. You know when you hold an bicycle wheel in your hand and spin it, then try and turn your wrists and it fights you to retain its original course of gyroscopically travel well that’s the feeling I got when I tried to lean into corners. Now that has gone and I wind my way back up to the high altitude spine of Mexico. Putting the layers back on, blowing away the malaise of the beach and remembering that I may have developed the eye for a good surf photo but I retain the mind for a good ride and this is what I do. I'm heading for the Golf Coast now to meet a friend from my last trip here. I have 3 days to do a 2 day trip, it was exactly this scenario when my accident occurred last year and it was tyre related. So this new confidence in my rubber is tenacious. My road mind debates what I will do with this extra day, I get out my guide book the brick I have been carrying and barely looked at. I discover a cactus desert is a day’s ride away. My dithering morning turns into rushed and excited preparation. I love being on the road. Just this, wake up warm, look at my guide book and with the freedom of a solo traveller I make a decision, load the bike, look at the map and head out. I don’t know if it’s because the only riding I've done in the last month has been in shorts and shades to the supermarket but I suspect regardless of my previous activities it’s just one of those rare and magical days you occasionally get on the road. A dismal breakfast experience did not bode well for the day ahead. Luke warm Villella coffee a chocolate flavoured bun and 2 greasy eggs with some insipid salsa laying on the oil. Is my inability to be understood in Spanish really so bad? Or is it just the inability of this side street 2 table dinner to actually produce the very basics in the edible and drinkable. Still the food is brought with smiles and enthusiasm if not culinary skills, warmth and hygiene. Undeterred and underfed I leave the plate much at it arrived and walk on down the street to a bakery, where I take a large round aluminium tray a pair of pincers and pick our freshly baked cheese and ham rolls and baguettes whilst trying to calculate the room in my panniers and my stomach and equating it to this ever increasing pile of pastries on the plate. I blatantly walk past the diner of discontent stuffing my face with tasty treats. And that is where the day turned around and stayed. It takes more than a bad breakfast to break the day. I find my way straight out of town which is always a little bonus. For a minimal charge I take a toll road to fast track me to the better scenery. The cactus desert destination is forgotten about, it’s the journey that's taking my attention, it’s all about the journey, the road twists up to 7000ft but the temperature stays comfortable, the cliffs and rocks have multiple subtle colours the dark blue high altitude sky is a complementary back drop and I know that my words and photos will never capture this day, this feeling, this next perfect bend that brings into view a whole new scene that slows me down and has me contemplating camera settings and premature camping. And that in turn has me thinking supplies, if I get water and some food now I have 24hours of self contained independence. The town is tiny and the stares say that not many overloaded motorcycles come this way, but I find the shop and my limited pannier space it filled with the shops limited supplies. Back on the main road, as if they were stuck there, the ground becomes a pin cushion of cactus, towering bigger than any plant pot could contain; and covering the hillsides as far as I can see. They protrude out of the undulating landscape making the place a descending hot air balloonist’s nightmare. And just as I'm contemplating a wild camp I see that little triangular sign that means I won’t be breaking any laws, a camp site is a few miles up ahead. Let’s be clear, the sign actually says botanical gardens, a phrase they must have picked up from a glossy magazine. I go to the hut that says administration, a little English is spoken. No I don't want the tour just to camp. My £2 is taken and the fridge is instantly opened and the beer it contains is distributed amongst the 3 workers/ employees/ owners. I’m shown to a space next to a newly built sleeping quarters, the boiler is lit so I can shower and the door is left open. I have some whiskey in my panniers and soon as I can already smell it on my hosts breath I offer it and its accepted and exchanged for a short walking tour. He's very proud of his botanical garden, or at least staking his claim to this natural cactus desert and putting a few slightly inappropriate buildings on the land. After I've set up my tent and finished the whiskey I take my camera for a walk about, there is a wooden viewing platform and the bottom ladder has been removed to prevent easy access, ‘what would Monklet do?’ I think to myself, then I climb up the framework and look down on the prickly spires of this dehydrated forest. It’s good, it’s ok, it could be better, those big cold bottles of beer that came out the fridge would enhance this scenario no end. And that's when the day went up another gear. I ride over to the admin building, ‘sorry none left, have some of ours’ The guitar is out and the laughter is unstoppable, so I share a beer, ‘Are you a musician?’ I've been hearing it all my life no I just look like I could be, no I can’t play guitar but I can pose well with it , just stand me in front of a Marshall stack. ‘But you can sing though?’ No I really can’t, ‘sing Yesterday’ he sings it. He loves the Beatles, ‘oh not Guns n’ Roses’ version then?’ The fact that I know the words and have an English accent, if not scouse, is all they need and when I get stuck on the next line they help. ‘Ok look I'm going to get some beer I’ll be right back’ The sunset was probably not going to be as memorable as this sing-along anyway. Once again shorts and shades to the shops. I put 4 cans on the table and now they sing La Bamba. They all have such good voices strong and in tune, one of the guys is younger than me has 7 kids and more hair, thicker and not a trace of grey, this is incredibly unfair. They point at the bike ‘Mondo?’ ‘No just Mexico,’ ‘Where else?’ Now look this was never my intension I only wanted a beer for the sunset, but I do happen to have a map to show and tell, unfortunately it’s inside the cover of my book. I just show the map. Then the photos, its feels a little like I'm at Motorcycle Live again. ‘So that's you?’ Yes but I just wanted to show you the map. But it’s too late phones come out, photos by the bike. They insist I will eat with them. Whilst we wait for the taxi the oldest of the 3 men who speaks no English at all tells me a story sentence by sentence. The sentenses I don't get are translated; it’s a gentle story of old time in these parts that his father and grandfather knew. It’s told proudly and with patience and it’s so in keeping with this setting. So with my camera and valuable documents left in the tent I follow a taxi on my bike, a restaurant is opened for us, people are summoned and the book is shown round, it has at this point turned into a passport. More beer is brought I'm invited they insist, it is there treat. I've meet at least 5 of the 7 children, the wife, sisters and uncles, I have to sing Yesterday once more (not yesterday once more, by the carpenters) I must say I'm sounding pretty good, in harmony with my understudy prompter, then Hotel California. Can I leave, can I? No, the story teller has another story for me, of the sacred cactus that occasionally produces fruit, that the fruit can be fermented into an alcoholic juice, a prestigious and potent brew, but the story has an agenda, this juice is only available at a certain bar and I am invited by the story teller to come and drink 2 glasses of the juice with them. ‘Oh go on then’ Now my bike is left on a main street, my possessions are slowly getting scattered. We go into the centre of this dusty town to a building in the centre of the square, and I’m ushered in. It doesn’t look much like a bar to me and I've seen a few. No this is the president’s office; He’s a man with bulging biceps a t-shirt won’t cover, he shakes my hand ‘I am president of the town’ he tells me and in case I don't understand he adds, ‘Bill Clinton’. ‘Hi I'm Tony Blair’ I hear myself saying, it’s received with a laugh. The book which hasn’t been in my possession since it came out the pannier is now shown to Mr. Mussel and his side kick. Who they say will come and visit me tomorrow. Then to the bar. Oh for a camera. The bar man has two customers, and more character than an Oscar ceremony. A dusty demijohn is brought out from under the bar, there is the sound of shuffling, a shot glass is cleaned and put on the bar. It clearly doesn’t come out much. It’s filled with a cloudy liquid, and passed to me, would this be happening if I wasn’t travelling alone, if I hadn’t got the fucking book out? Ok , well, here goes, I'm not going to shot it, the story was long, the fruit is rare and this drink deserves respect. I sip it, thankfully it’s palatable, and furthermore as it goes down there are no surprises. The tension in the bar relaxes, or is it me. The barman could be Benny Hill, not in a high speed chase way, but in an unfeasibly impossible hair way, I would never imply it was a wig but it needs adjusting. His contempt for me is just beneath the surface if his obligated service. A younger man sits on a chair with his back to the wall but his body is a 45 degree ramp from his cowboy boots balanced on their heels and crossed on the floor up long thin legs covered in faded denim to a red shirt and waist coat his face obscured by a battered cowboy hat. Smoke rises from beneath it, how lawless a smoker in a bar seems now. When he leans forward to take his glass from the bar I see he has a long face, missing teeth but still strikingly handsome, sharp cheek bones covered with dark weathered skin. This guy is cool. Very cool. I just know there is a ponytail down his back; I want him to be my friend. The other customer is sitting at a right angle to him also with his back the wall but by the door. He’s wearing a 70’s brown leather jacket, he has a round face and a grey fringe hangs over a forehead of ravines which don't quite frown, he has the look of a man who has seen a lot of trouble but avoided most of it. Music plays at a level to keep awkward silence away but to invite conversation. ‘Scorpions’ says the thin dark duke Where? my body language said but thankfully not my mouth, ‘Wind of change, they are German no?’ Yes they are, and so the ice is broken with my new cool amigo, he has seen Pink Floyd in Texas, the momentary lapse of reason tour I think we establish, and as we chat my glass is refilled. My hosts are very drunk, I don't seem to be, I do say that this is one of the coolest bars I've ever been in. There is an exhale of disbelief. ‘Don't you believe me?’ I say to the 70’s trouble avoider, ‘I believe everything’ he diplomatically says. Although I'm not sure just how good of a philosophical life choice that is. My hoists are now slurring drunk and I think perhaps a little jealous that my attention has be taken by stronger and stranger characters. I held my drink, I've established my presence, I've met everyone and annoyed no one. This it would seem is a very good time to leave, I think I’ll just say goodnight. I leave the bar into an empty street, the kind of bar I would imagine the clientele are either thrown out of, crawl out of, or are taken out of to be relocated into a room with more bars, across the window. I must say I feared a more severe effect from this cactus juice which, if this scenario were ever turned into a cartoon would, have been poured from a jug that would doubtlessly have several X’s on it and perhaps a skull and cross bones. Which anatomically speaking is simply another X only made with femurs. Dogs probably bark, rats may scurry and I stride purposefully in the direction of the place I last saw my bike. The author is leaving the bar. I frequently try and occasionally succeed in living in the moment. Fully aware of what is around me, appreciative and undistracted, ‘the moment’ is a very important place to be. I spend at least half my life considering the next bit, the other half is divided between reminding myself to acknowledge the here and now and actually managing to immures myself in it. It’s a very satisfying state when it is achieved, because when it passes as it inevitable will, that moment can be recalled with perfect clarity. This particular moment is such a moment, however the cactus juice was having an effect and total recall is sketchy. The bike was where I left it. The keys are in my hand. The directions in my head. I start the bike and by about the time I've selected 3rd gear the refreshing wind that I am passing through brings me back fully aware of what I'm actually doing, riding out of a small town into a cactus desert with inadequate protection and not in the least bit concerned about it. I never ride at night so I was unaware of just how bright my full beam headlight was; it shines off the towering pillars of prickle and gives me a sense of insignificance. Taking the dirt track back to my tent, I know this is one of those moments that I just have to experience firsthand to know the feeling it brought me. I fumble with a bread roll and avocado making a ‘just got home from the pub snack’. Stumbling round the sandy ground repeating ‘Yo soy boratcho’ with increasing emphasis on the rolling of the R. ‘I am drunk’, I tell the silent night and it doesn’t disagree. I eat my wonderful roll, drink enough water to quench and leave enough for a night of parch. And that is the end of a day that reminds me that regardless of what you call it, adventure, overlanding, touring, prolonged holiday, independent travel; it is, irrespective of the label why I do what I do.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The varying degrees of Mexico

I did it again, I know I knew better but I let the scare mongering get the better of my first hand experience and judgement. Purely for opening times and facilities I researched the border crossing into Mexico and that's when the bombardment of horror stories started, most of them surely posted by people who hadn’t actually done it, people who watched Fox News and then relayed their ill-informed factless fear onto threads of innocent enquires. There is no point in walking blindly into a troubled area but trying to find facts on crossings from the US into Mexico is like trying to find facts in religious beliefs. So bravely with firsthand experience of a stress free crossing a year ago I rode to the border town of Presidio. From Big Bend National Park, I was told the road following the river which separates countries was a spectacular ride, but one mans spectacular ride is another’s commute. It was though, despite my scepticism it lived up to the hype. There were canyons, hoodoos, and extreme undulations, down into tight bends. It was not unlike the Laguna Seca circuit at times over a blind hump and speeding down into a cork screw bend. If only I had not opted for cheap Kenda tyres, if only I had a fork brace, if only I didn’t have the bike loaded with luggage, if only it was a Ducati. Still it was an enjoyable journey to a shitty destination, Presidio was perhaps designed to encourage you to keep going and cross into Mexico not that I needed any encouragement. A stunningly easy transition. Into an inspection bay for a brief check of my documents, ‘You will need I vehicle permit’ ‘I know, where do I get one?’ ‘Just there señor, your bike will be safe here’ First through a basic immigration formality then to a photo copy booth for a helpful, friendly and perfectly reasonable price I got my copies and was processed with ease efficiency and professionalism. I was free to go. It’s a rare border crossing that is a comfortable temperature, no traffic, no queues, no touts, no confusion, no shouting, no rip offs, no delays. And contra to the forums of fear I was not gunned down by infighting drug cartel. So out of the customs compound and onto the street of food stalls, souvenirs vendors and all things other than a bank. I have no local currency but that is the only concern I have. The road to Chihuahua is barren and brown, sparsely populated by both the permanent or transitory. It’s a little daunting. More from what I’ve read than from what I see or experience. But my tank is full; my bike is running well and its less than 3 hours to the big city. There is a check point, unlike the boarder patrols on the north side of the boarder; this one has smiles, no alarm or supplication, no paranoia or fear inducing authority, just a little inquisitiveness, a little welcome and a blasé bon voyage. And that's all the contact I have until I'm waved through the next check point and the only negative experience I have is my annoyance that once again I had my judgement swayed by the been-no-where ignorant; their loss. Into the Centro of Chihuahua, and a bank which spews pesos’ into my fingerless gloved hand before an unattended bike can become a victim of the opportunist. In fact its appears to go unnoticed by the early evening city shoppers. I can’t find the recommended hotel I'm looking for and the low sun is in my eyes. The hotel I do come across has a homeless bum of clear mental instability sitting on the step. There’s budget accommodation and then there is plane undesirable. After 3 laps of the one-way system I give up on my guide book map, made all the more complicated this year by the donning of glasses to read the bloody thing. I put the book back in the tank bag, hit the side streets and look through my open visor for a sign, and within a few blocks I've found a hotel, in a few more blocks I find a better one. The bike is not off the road but 24 hour reception will keep an eye on it for me. And the day is done. That's how you change countries, with a little common sense, a little awareness, and lot of smiles and a relaxed and gracious attitude. Now for the little things on the list, I need a shower and shave I've been 6 days in the desert. Then it’s time to hit the town, as I pass the receptionist, I get a nod of approval at the transformation that just occurred in the bathroom. I need some thin socks for the imminent upcoming heat. The sock shop epitomises the Mexican hospitality and helpfulness, they split a pack for me and even give me a calendar.
At the convenient store on the way home for a hot chocolate I’m asked a question I don't understand by the young checkout girl, her boyfriend leans on the counter and is keeping her company through her shift. He could be seen as an intimidating youth, he shows me a plastic bag, oh right, I see, no I think I’ll just take it in the cup thanks. My bike is still covered from the ice and snow dispelling nasties that are put on the roads up north. But a short push from the hotel in the morning is a car wash so my cold engine doesn’t crackle and steam when I squirt the high pressure water over it. No soapy bubbles because I can’t read the choices on the dial. Wow now I remember why I brought it, it looks gorgeous when it’s all clean. Whilst it drip dries I address the challenge of going to find, and order breakfast. it’s not so tricky, I know the sign ‘desayuno’, and I know what I want; Huevos rancheros, the restaurant owner, a tall thin man with a permanent smile has travelled all over the country and speaks English to me, he is an electrician, I’m not quite how that lead him to own a one table breakfast diner in a northern city back street, he didn’t say. He wants to talk about women he's known, and what beaches he found them on, I'm not about to interrupt. Contra to the cactus and sombrero symbols of Mexico there is a lot of it that is high altitude snow and ice. Especially in December. For some stupid reason I ride up to Creel at 7000ft. Why? Because I sort of promised to revisit the place I stayed in last time. It was a big mistake, the guy I made the promise too isn’t even around. He had helped with the production of my website last year. The room is expensive, cold, no hot water, no free coffee in the morning, and the restaurant isn’t even open. You should never go back, so on an empty stomach I go forward into the cold but deserted roads of Copper Canyon, I stay on the paved bit, but 200 miles of scenic twisty roads is worth the uninviting self imposed invitation.
I'm wearing the 4 layers top and bottom I left Denver in, it’s a high altitude, low temperature ride 100 miles of which are before breakfast, the same breakfast as yesterday. In a restaurant with the biggest log burner I’ve ever seen.
I've ridden this road before, I'm sure I have but not a single thing I see is familiar. Yes it is, the military check point at the T junction I remember that. But I'm waved through, they are preoccupied with a bus they have just pulled over. It’s going to be one of those ride till dusk days. A mileage eater a destination achiever. The sun decides to revel itself today just as its going down which is just when my road had turned to face it, but that's fine the best scenery of the day had coincided with its decent and misty hills are the last view from my visor today before my helmet is placed on the concrete floor of a perfectly reasonably priced cell for the night.
I walk the street, find a stall selling something that smells good and is freshly cooked, yes I think I’ll point at that and nod enthusiastically. It’s a good choice and once I've scurried back to my cell the smell of grilled meat and melted cheese distract me from the four walls of chosen accommodation. The amber tint window shows a shadow of my mirror on it from my bike parked outside so I know it’s there. Well the mirror is at least, possibly stuck into a bit of Plasticine on a table top. But its comfort enough to induce good sleep. The last of that dinner doesn’t look so appealing this morning and unrefrigerated I think it will not be left overs best just left alone. So back on go the layers, minus one as I'm sure I will be dropping in altitude today, I pay a quid to miss Durango and use the toll road. (Despite what my spell check thinks I did not give a local beauty queen a pound) A pound well spent all the same, the toll road crosses ravines and cuts through mountains. But best of all its smooth and new not a single red light, nor unfortunately a fuel station. Today I've done 120 miles before breakfast. Perhaps that's why I'm feeling a little down. I pull over for a protein bar; it’s over a year old and is all crumbs and crunch. But I need to put something in my noraing stomach. I'm stopped for 5 minutes, no longer and surprisingly I even have reception on my phone, I discover this because it rings, a very short call from a lovely ex. It was all I needed though, I feel ok again now. Food for thought or mental distraction but I move off the toll road and indulge in ‘La Espinosa del Diablo highway’, one of those prestigious mountain twisty roads that will provide adrenalin all the way to the coast.
I really need to eat something though if I'm going to enjoy this. I stop at ‘Fanny restaurant’, there are so many joke possibilities I’ll let you insert you own here.
Annoyingly it was one of those places that questions your presents in their establishment and all I could get was coffee, the stomach kept churning. But they all came out to wave me off. The tires continued to handle with as little confidence as a hungry gringo in a restaurant who can’t speak the language. However the traffic was light and when I dropped through the tropic of Cancer it was time for a change of clothing.
How it all changes when you leave behind the death of winter, the transition to jungle green, chirping and swarming, flying and crawling, I got bitten just taking off me thermals. Do I care? Better than frost bite. Warmth at last, cloths strapped on all over the place, a little gap between the tank bag and dri-bags to fit my skinny arse in. And I wallow the last of the highway in the last of the light, to a place where I can call home tonight. There was a strange noise in the morning, not heard that sound since England what is it again? Rain, bloody rain, I battle snow, and extreme cold; I conquer bland brown lifeless planes. Blind hairpins on reluctant tyres and what do I get? Bloody rain and a forecast for the same for the rest of the week. It’s one of those easy decisions that isn’t easy till you voice it out loud. The bike is under cover, I have Wi-Fi, I have satellite TV, I have a supermarket across the road and how hard will it be getting a room on New Year’s Eve? I’ll stay una noche mas. Just like the end of the world and Christmas this other significant time on the calendar passes by without any real acknowledgement just chatting with like minded biker on an internet chat thingy. The first ride of the year, especially after a day off is all the more enjoyable. And I've got warmth at last, cloud cover but warmth, that turns to rain and stays that way all the way to the the recommended ‘well kept secret’ of a resort. Which turns out to be an utter shit hole, my room overlooks a sewage works that noisily and smellily pumps all night.
Americans to rich or lazy to walk, ride the streets in golf carts and I can’t wait to put my feet into wet boots in the morning and get out. With an open jacket, what festered in the night is beginning to dry in the morning breeze but then I ride into torrential rain. Was that a speed camera just got me? No it’s lightening; when I stop for fuel I hear the thunder.
The road is flooded, the fields are flooded, the rivers are flooded. There are rock falls on the road; I let a car pass me just before I aquaplane across an unseen dip in the road. Oncoming cars project spry at me with such force I feel the darts of water pierce my jacket. I can’t get wetter, I'm breathing in water from my scarf across my face. Monklets weight tripled and he hung like a ‘bad un’ from the bark basher by his cable tie tether, but kept smiling. Another rock to avoid, it has legs and a shell it’s a turtle crossing, it’s too wet for photos, but a turtle says it all, it’s wet and that's all there is to it. In these situations you have to have optimism, you have to assume you will ride the storm out despite no end in sight. It can’t really rain this hard for the whole day. It’s too extreme and after 3 hours its subsides, well I’m riding dry roads at least it’s still raining, so I can be pretty sure its following me. But I'm leaving it behind along with the hills, the road leads back to the coast.
It’s turned into a nice evening, so pleasant and enjoyable in fact I've gone onto reserve and left all towns behind, I was so wet that when I finished my water and didn’t bother to replace it. So now even a wild camp is out of the question. How can I constantly manage to do this to myself? It’s the most annoying aspect of my own company, I have a firm talk to myself but I'm not really listening, I can justify anything. In a one horse town there is no need for a fuel station but I find a man with a hose and a cleaver little siphoning technique who sells me 5 litres of mileage and I get some water too. Phew, 2 miles later is a camping sign, I ride onto the beach under a cabaña. For £2.50 I have a legitimate place to pitch my tent and somewhere to hang my cloths in a sea breeze, funny how in the space of 10 minutes a dire situation can become a scenario that couldn’t turn out better if it was planed. Sleep by the ocean, wake by the sun rise; soft panniers are drier maps less damp, mozzie coils less soggy, only the boots remain wet.
Today for breakfast I stop at an OXXO, it’s a national convenience store, I get yoghurt and press the button on the coffee machine, it fills my cup...and keeps going, I grab another too fills and the flow continues...on grabbing the 3rd I call for help, I should have filled my cup from the dispenser the machine is designed to fill up not the machine itself. luckily I know the word for sorry, but not the words for ‘that I've spilled coffee all over the counter, the floor and made a load of unwanted extra coffee no one will drink and now have 2 other cups of the stuff getting cold’ but they can see it wasn’t deliberate. I was looking forward to sitting on a stall in the air conditioned shop to drink it but now I'm too embarrassed and sit outside on the curb by my bike. I'm riding with my cuffs open, it’s a net basically I've made a net out of my jacket, I've cast it and eventually I catch something, a bee, it gets to my elbow and upon discovering there is nowhere left to go it stings me. I'm lucky I don't react to such things, well only in so far as perfuse swearing to stop from screaming like a little girl. I stop at a pharmacy, ‘Do you speak English?’ ‘More or less’ ‘Oh, in that case I’ve been stung’ but was willing perform the mime I have rehearsed in my helmet to back up my simple sentence I'm given the cream that isn’t in my extensive first aid kit. And I’ll hang onto the mime until I have, in the next game of charades to silently illustrate an actor, yoga enthusiast and lead singer of a major 80’s pop group. (No not B.B. King)
Today the road had lots of wildlife, vultures preying on bloated road kill dogs; the sickly stench of death is recognisable before the signs of opportunist prey. Lots of lizards sun themselves on the hot tar; even a tarantula crosses my path.
I'm not going to Acapulco, I have not the slightest need to go to such a touristy place, OK I have a little need, I would like to witness the cliff divers, but I'm not going to ride into town in this heat with such a loaded bike, find a room, unload everything, get a taxi to the cliff, pay tourist prices, get hearded and hustled, it just seems like too much effort. I take the bypass, in the hope of finding a place like last night, I don't. I find a rip off little hovel, with a sweet little old lady who would be all the sweeter if she hadn’t just charged me so much for my room without so much as a toilet seat, which makes it a squat really. And the final push, 6 hours 400 kms to Puerto Escondido, I get stung again, not by the money grabbing little old lady, another bee, it flies through my visor and when I stick my hand in to find where it went it leaves its calling card on my cheek. Out with the cream, I'm getting used to it now. I continue to the place where I will stop, where the plan begins, today seems to be about the destination not the journey, I ride erratically, everyone is driving badly, there just seems to be a madness in the air today. Inevitable it ends in crumpled metal and bloodshed, not mine but sobering to see all the same, not that I've had a drink this trip 16 days on the road and no alcohol. Mainly because, well I just want to see what it’s like. I want that delayed gratification feeling of the first beer on the beach. A bridge takes me over a wide, clear, fast running river, it’s too attractive to ignore. I take the track down to it, onto the sandy bed that I'm not sure I can turn round on. That, for me puts the adventure into biking, doing something you wouldn’t do on ya commute to work, stopping by a river and having a wash, spinning out on the sand and standing on the pegs up the track back to the road. That's what you do when you go away on your bike.
OK it’s not actually ‘adventurous’ but it is I think the definition of the freedom of the trip, self contained, independent and taking the opportunities that come your way. Not preconceive, not researched, just an on the moment impulse that needs no explanation. It occurs to me about a month too late if I had looked at the picture from last year, I could have seen the name of the place I stayed, called them and reserved the room I wanted, the one with the ocean view, great to think that now I've just got within 20 miles of the place. I know I'm getting close I start to see white people on mopeds, any other part of the journey this site would have at least have provoked a wave. Now I have become one of many, no acknowledgement needed. So two weeks to ride 3800 miles, from snow, through baron frozen lands, storms, humidity and heat; now I've made it to my beach of choice. I'm recognised, remembered. ‘One room left’ ‘I’ll take it’ ‘The lock doesn’t work amigo’ ‘I’ll fix it.’ A bargain price for a month’s stay, I unload the bike, shower and take a ride to the super market, I know the isles, where everything is. I get my washing powder and supplies and come home to do my laundry and as calculated I go to my local off licence for a 6-pack of Modelo while it soaks. I'm back; in the evening I wander without knowing I’m heading there, to the Split Coconut where the ribs are barbequed. The toilet block has changed since my last visit. I pop my head inside the new thatched hut and am handed a joint. I sit at my table, sip my beer listen to the music, Led Zeppelin is followed by Boston, I push my toes into the sand, I lean back on my chair so my hair falls away from my neck, I look up at the canopy of palms above me and I feel that feeling, more than a feeling, it says this is where I wanted to be. I remember now. Sometimes it’s OK to go back.

Friday, 28 December 2012

A deserted and dry Christmas

I can’t seem to get going?, I had said I wanted to be in Mexico for the end of the world, the end was drawing neigh and I was still in Denver and my ammunition of excuses not to leave was far from exhausted; replenished even, by the predicted blizzard snow storm on Wednesday.
I couldn’t leave before it came as my tires had not arrived; I fitted them whilst snowed into the garage. Wednesday evening alone in the house I could feel myself mentally preparing for the transition to road life. It’s hard to put my finger on any specific part of the transformation but I slept on the couch that night by the embers of the log burner and at first light I knew I would be leaving today. Well rather than lose face I knew I was going to try and leave today, outside the garage door snow had blown 8’’ deep and drifted across steep and winding drive way.
Feet down, I slithered to the dirt road; I know already I was committed. I could freeze here waiting for the thaw or carry on because there was no way I was going to make it back up again. It was my first trip with the bike loaded. Double soft saddle bags the smaller ones as tank bags the bigger ones as insufficient panniers. They were freely available and the saving was necessary. Baptism by ice for my virgin dual sport tires, which one of the 2 was this? The main road was packed snow, the first 7 miles I was not anticipating the journey to come, just extreme concentration, no wondering thoughts of destinations other then the fuel station. The first fill up, my boots already encrusted with snow. I could see the questions in the eyes of the man behind the till but he thought better than to ask and I had nothing but intentions to tell. On to town for some last minute supplies, I didn’t even bother to remove my tank bag of valuables, passport, money and big fat sealable camera. It was too cold to be weary to cold to thieve. Now to the highway and south, lots of soutnness is needed. The snowy white planes turned to their pre precipitation brown and soon only the Rocky Mountains on my right showed any signs of winter. ‘Well that was easy’ I thought. But I thought too soon. Temperature dropped again an in the town of Trinidad a name that suggested I should be able to feel my toes if not touch them, I needed a warm up. I asked the filling attended to recommend a restaurant, she did and I reluctantly took the recommendation back down the cobbled stone main street authentic and enhanced with extra slippery packed snow. The restaurant opens daily from 7 till 9, 7 days a week but closed today. I ended up in designer cafe where yummy mummies cooed over babies and don’t bat an eye at the price of the pretentious food. Pastry with something organic and inadequate wrapped inside and given a multi syllable name and multi figure price. I settled on a $4 hot chocolate it was as disappointing as a mother half my age and was cold before I got to the bottom of my wide diameter but shallow cup of regretful purchase. Feet still cold back on the bike. Let’s try more of that soutnness again. Into New Mexico I was hoping for a drop in altitude but I would have had to bare left for that to happen. I didn’t want diversions I wanted fast distance and a more direct route; I stayed on the highway, then the stupid southerly highway turned. I was riding into the sunset and then the red sky was on my left, what the fuck? I looked at the map in the tank bag but with my shades still on it was futile. I gained altitude, lost temperature, my heated waistcoat and grips had been doing there thing all day, resulting in me being able to ride all day. Now with the loss of light and a sense of heading back to the frozen north I was feeling the coldness like I was fully exposed. I was immersed in it, all encompassed, and willed the highway to turn through the next gap in the ridge that hid the last of the evening light from me. When it eventually did it was too late, I was frozen to the point of pain. Santa Fe was an hour beyond my extended discomfort zone. Off the highway and the first red light, I unclamped my fist from my left grip, removed my glove lifted my visor of misted short shivering breaths, and took off my shades, it’s still dark. The last 2 miles to a motel were not a pleasant delayed gratification but an agony of endurance, it would have been so much easier if I had a ground floor room and the card key had actually unlocked the door. The 2nd trip to reception did nothing to warm me up, ‘that's frustrating’ observed a bystander who innocence was questionable. The loaded sprint up and down the stairs didn’t get the blood flowing. It’s not a damp cold, not an in¬¬-your-bones crippling cold, just a blast, freeze-dried kind of cold and it didn’t last long once I closed the door on the night and let the heater rumble its way to thaw. My feet still cramped from the curling of my toes in a physically impossible attempt to retract them into my feet whilst the freezing air had turned the wind-chill in my Alpinestars to below bearable. They weren’t stars of this alpine environment. The next morning they still hurt but it was from strain rather than frost bite. More southness yesterday has to have been the worst day. I always said 2 cold days and I’ll be OK.
Down towards Roswell although I haven’t the slightest interest in aliens or UFO's. The windswept planes blew the snow across the road and the blue sky let the sun sparkle a million glistening crystals to pierce the scratched polarization of my Oakley’s, that were forced uncaringly into a pocket last night at a red light. I took the truck route to avoid downtown and any more red lights and the feeble displays of little green men. I was warming up, a blood red sunset as I entered Texas and I could switch off my waistcoat and stop for photos.
But I’m not going to camp, not tonight, one more night of luxury, well for the price I paid I would have expected it but all I got was sleaze I walked to a truck stop, a once familiar part of my life. Impatient big diesels ticking over in line for the fuel pumps. I scurry between them like a rat round wheelie bins and into the fluorescent shop, for heat lamp dehydrated pizza and chicken wings of battery decent. This hotel never sleeps, doors bang all night, cars honk their affirmation they are remotely locked and loud voices move to slowly outside my door. It never seemingly ceases, and my dreams are distressing and unstable, ex’s and attractions I thought I’d forgotten about but it seems the file still exists, accessible in a subconscious sleep deprived night, alluring and dangerous. The world didn’t end last night, so much for my Mayan party; I was awake all night in a Motel 6 that felt like a Texas whore house. A new day a new beginning the next solstice is 182 days away. What did I miss out on last night apart from sleep? Other than birthdays I’ll party when I choose to, not when the calendar tells me to. I'm obstinate like that, but it avoids the crowds. I eeek out the morning waiting for the temperature to rise. As I take another load to my bike a ‘fellow biker’ asks of my destination, he has a Russian ‘girl pal’ with him, wants to ride Siberia, ‘have you ever?’ Well actually... he can’t believe me but the mention of Ullan Ude to his pillion and a map in my book removes all doubt. I can’t help it; I haven’t mentioned it for nearly 2 days. Well I’ll never see them again.
Mexican cleaners stand by their trolleys outside my door. Turns out I passed through a time zone and I'm an hour later then I thought. Onto a lonely road that leads to the international boarder.
800 miles and I can revert to fingerless gloves. I stop on a silent road to readjust my multiple layers of clothing, I've entered southness. The bike encrusted in salt, the luggage thrown on with numb fingers, all this can be rectified now, well soon. A nasty little town with over priced fuel and a shitty attitude to match, because there is no other choice. It has echoes of home, the place is called Marathon, I expect it will be changing to snickers sometime in the future. And then down to a national park, Big Bend, imaginatively named by the shape of its border with Mexico. I have to slow down now, now its warmer, I have to get back into road mode, remember it’s the journey, the moment the immersion. Slow it down and take it all in. $10 and I'm a tourist again. So I better go to the visitors centre I suppose, get the lay of the land. As I pull into the car park so does another bike, its Bob, Bob has been riding this park every winter for 19 years, he marks my map with the best off road trails and camp grounds and with that the transformation has occurred, I am synchronised again back in the rhythm of the road. Took 3 days and 1000 miles but now I'm right again. As I apply for my back country camping permit I'm told there is only 1 hour and 40 minutes of day light left, where did the day go? I wanted to eat in the lodge. Instead I get a frozen burrito from the fuel station. I don't have my glasses, how long do I put it in the microwave for? Long enough to buy a tin of ravioli, some water, and kettle chips, another healthy dinner awaits.
And I ride, off the road, on to the dirt, between the rocks, round the hills, to my individual desert camping spot, its perfect. Solitary, silent and I have a sunset to myself. Did the ranger who booked my back country permit read me? Who I was? My desired location? or did he just want me out of the way? Like a hostess seating me in a roadside restaurant, I don't care this is just what I was looking for.
You couldn’t create desert like this in your theme garden with cactus and succulents, tumble weed and the odd trace of a past civilization. Your B&Q sand would lap up to conifers or an interwoven fence, not infinite distance and daunting mountains of red rock, nothing is as authentic as nature. When the distant desert dusk fades behind the biggest mountains, a half moon casts me a shadow and now I'm ready, ready to stop and enjoy, enjoy not being on the road anymore. Utter silence, too few people witness this, the sound of the blood rushing in your ears. The sound of nothing else, no breeze, no crickets, no planes over head no distant traffic, just stillness. It can be scary, 360 degrees of land that has not been changed by modernization. The human mark is minimal, a single light 30 miles away is visible, actually it’s really annoying, bloody inconsiderate neighbours, and I may have to go have a word tomorrow. This place won an award for the darkest sky anywhere in the mainland US; strangely the trophy is quite bright. My camping stove had not been used in 11 months, it still has fuel in it, impressively it still has pressure too, I have forgotten the knack and the hairs on the back of my hand singe with a sickening smell. I boil water for tea, I don't fancy that ravioli now. I'm in my sleeping bag at 6.45 on a Saturday night, I don't care, there is no credibility here to lose, time and days are irrelevant out here. I just wonder what I’ll do for the 12 hours of darkness... sleep is what I did, undisturbed sleep. First light spans the horizon like a shallow rainbow outside my open tent, just where I anticipated it to appear, it’s hard to get perspective on it, could be a head light, or the top of an illuminated dome. But it’s just dawn, just the first evidence of it and its very exciting, to new to miss, to vast to view from my tent so I run up a hill to take it all in.
When the sun and hot chai has taken the chill away, blood, ink and thoughts flow more freely. As I write my diary I hear the rush or wind and look up to see it comes from the wings of an inquisitive crow as it glides over my head. It’s really quite loud before being replaced by the sound of silence.
That’s the sound before we messed it all up, this is a still land, and it can still be found. I don't think I want to leave it for a while. If I had demons they would surely come out to play in a place like this, but I don't, nothing to bad seems to be surfacing. The occasional embarrassing memory, recollection, released from suppression and the song in my head gets spontaneously sung out loud to repress the recounting and cringing. I ride, deciding an unattended tent in this deserted area is safe but not secure I take the trails and my valuables take a pounding, lap tops and SLR’s were not designed for this battering but better broken in my possession than taken in full working order in my absents.
Miles of uninhabited deserted desert roads, then the paved road leads to the tourist sites; I suppose I better have a look and stock up at the all you can eat salad bar. The calling to my silent wilderness is deafening and I happily leave humanity behind. The indecision of the road is back; at my camp tonight my quandary is am I hungry? No. Do I want to carry the ravioli on the bike? No. Do I have an answer to this ridicules dilemma? I could stay another night. I suppose I better see what I'm missing is there somewhere better I could be? How can this satisfaction stay if I don't prove to myself I've found the best of the desert? When I relocate to the a river camping spot, the bike is now hanging like a Christmas tree with gifts of cold weather clothes, it’s not an pretty site, I need to work on this.
This evening the bond with my bike began. We ride up to nearly 6000 feet, its cold but the west side of the park I discover is the most popular for a reason, it’s by far the most scenic. I light is going and it’s a long way back, well 40 miles, every ride out is a minimum of 70 miles the place is so vast and the scenery so stimulation the distances disappear in a constant stream of thoughts and sights. However these 40 miles back I will feel every one of them now the temperature has dropped. However its one of those rare occasions when you warm up as you ride. I drop 4000 feet and the sky ahead is pink, the formations silhouetted against the sky, I have no luggage and the road is smooth and empty, the wind is warm so is the road and the tyres. I lean it more than I've had the opportunity to before it’s quite possibly the best Christmas Eve ride ever. I sing a Bruce Dickenson song out loud even my voice sounds good this evening.
I meet the neighbours, this popular river location means I have to share with 2 others. They live in there camper full time, in the evening they invite me for Xmas eve ordurvs. It’s good to have a little company, keeps the weirdness away, well I try my hardest. They have, they tell me 4 levels of protection, air horn, car alarm, mace and level 4 is a machete. I consider mine, a Swiss army knife with multiple torturing devices from toothpick to corkscrew never underestimate the pain of tweaking tweezers, yeah be afraid, ya better run on home to ya mama if ya know what’s good for ya. And the ravioli lives to see another day. Christmas day perhaps. There is a reason people like me stay in a desert this time of year. I bloody hate Christmas. Hate summer heat and no one minds, dislike autumn leaves and it’s just fine, moan about November rain and people empathise but say you can’t stand Christmas and all you get is ‘bah humbug’ well there ain’t no humbugging out here, ha. So it would seem there is nothing significant that appeals to my being on this date. But deny it as I try, I still have some obligations and have to go to a place of reception. The park of the recreational vehicles. And the chatter of their inhabitants. It’s not my favourite environment. I have to sit in the laundry room to charge batteries and get Wi-Fi. Spinning machines with warn bearings screech they dilapidated displeasure and still the inhabitants talk above the noise. Children scream as they are taken to the showers, and my tranquil existence has been infiltrated and eradicated. Replaced with resentment and repulsion. I leave with loathing for everything, people, location and date. I go ride some trails but the water falls off my bike. I go back to my tent but take the wrong road, where did my satisfaction go. I doze in the sun, calm, I need calm. But some inherent instinct is telling me to do something significant with this day. I ride, unaware that my destination was the lodge, for the all you can eat dinner. It was awful, based solely on indulging Americans in their shallow need for quantity over quality and the unignorable conversations that penetrate my foul mood match the offerings, bland and unnecessarily excessive. I hear a lot but no one is saying anything. The two redeeming features of the meal are the stolen creamers for me morning chai and the use of a porcelain toilet. So this is Christmas. The night is cold, my water freezes, my dawn climb rewards me with a beautiful sunrise but the chill in my hands is saying more southness is needed it’s time to go to Mexico.
One more day of discovering canyons the sides of which divide countries, it would be all the more impressive in the right light, in warmer times and with better ambiance. But the domestic row of a family on the vista trail echoes off the walls, all this yelling just for a photo, and what memories will that photo bring. I take a different path, I always have.
I come across an old forgotten dwelling which once housed a family who would no doubt say all I've experienced here is nothing compared to the lives they lived here. Before there was an all you can eat salad bar, entry charges and convenient paving to vista points. But the silence remains the same (most of the time). Back at camp I run over hills to photograph another stunning sunset.
I'm getting in touch with the beauty of the desert, the plants and occasional wildlife. I could spend more time here but it’s too cold for comfort again tonight. It’s time for the ravioli and no desert.
I think I feel the need for a taco and cerveza its been a very dry week.