This post is about my return journey across the United States from Boone, North Carolina to Boise, Idaho–via New Orleans and Los Angeles. The two trips (totaling 13 days) covered 6,200 miles and 20 states. Check out this link for the first half of the story.

Upon completion of my development contract in North Carolina, it was time to make my way home to Idaho. The first order of business was to get my Kawasaki Versys back. It was mid-November, which limited my options as far as viable return routes. Anything north of Oklahoma would be prone to freezing temperatures, so I elected to head further south.

Leaving Boone on a Friday afternoon, the weather did not look promising. Storm clouds were everywhere, but I had to shove off due to a forecast that included rain and a deep freeze over the coming week.

Taking the 321 southbound from the High Country for the last time was bitter-sweet. I had accomplished many good things in North Carolina, but knew that I would miss the beautiful rolling panoramas and narrow country roads of the Blue Ridge corridor.

As I merged onto Interstate 85 just outside of Charlotte, the rains came. Unrelenting, I was beaten to a pulp by the time I rolled into Atlanta for the night. This first leg of my cross country voyage totaled about 300 miles, and took just under 4 hours.

The problem was not the rain, but rather the traffic that greeted me in Atlanta. I’ll spare you the details, but I spent a solid 2 hours trying to navigate my way to the Atlanta International Hostel near Georgia Tech.

I parked the Versys around back, checked in, and was instantly greeted by folks who were looking for some mischief. A fellow from Baltimore and I covered a good chunk of ATL that night, and I awoke early the next morning ready to hit the tarmac. A tall coffee and I was on to my next stop: NOLA.

The week prior to my departure, a good buddy from Boise had emailed me with some interesting news. He would be in New Orleans for a conference during my ride, and wanted to meet up.

I made quick work of the remainder of Georgia. Alabama was a breeze apart from some rowdy Auburn fans who didn’t appreciate me riding up the median around traffic during their game day scuttle. Apparently the Iron Bowl is a big deal for SEC football fans. After Montgomery, I hunkered down on the tank and set a solid 99MPH pace that held beautifully until a fuel/lunch stop in Mobile.

I said goodbye to Interstate 85, and picked up on I10 westbound–my route to the Pacific. Part of me was excited to see this region of the United States, while another part of me was anxious at the idea of being stuck on the same road for the next few days.

I snipped Mississippi in less than 2 hours, and was on my way to the Big Easy, with plenty of daylight to spare. Arriving in the French Quarter before dinner time, I was amazed to see how much of Hurricane Katrina hadn’t been cleaned up 3 years after the fact. Sadly, the periphery of the City was peppered with debris and wreckage, and the feeling of destitution was still very palpable. In the tourist areas, everything was business as usual.

My buddy had not mentioned that he had booked the 2,000sf presidential sweet on the 49th floor of the Sheraton Hotel just off of Bourbon Street. The shenanigans of that evening made the previous night in Atlanta look novice.

A little drained from the previous night’s revelry, I headed toward Houston the next afternoon. The swampland of Louisiana slowly transitioned to the vast, arid expanse of Texas.

The sign at the border between Orange, TX and Lafayette, LA indicated that I was no less than 863 miles from El Paso. What I didn’t realize was that there would be only one noteworthy curve on all of I10 in Texas–just past San Antonio where the speed limit increases to 80PMH… long, straight, and flat across the biggest state in the lower 48.

After a lonely night at a side-of-the-Interstate motel just outside of Houston, I pinned the Versys all the way into Fort Stockton–508 miles. I elected to stay here, as there were large signs warning of deer in the road, and I counted no less than 3 accidents in the last hour approaching dusk. My bike spent the night in my motel room at the foot of the bed, compliments of an unusual number of unsavory types loitering in the parking lot well into the evening.

I came to the conclusion that Texas, apart from Austin (which I didn’t visit on this trip), is more or less a 268,000 square mile landfill. The black munge cloud over El Paso is clearly visible from 50 miles away, as is a foul amount of garage along the roadside entering most major cities. Between cities, abandoned vehicles, refrigerators and animal carcasses littered the side of the interstate in greater quantity than any other state I visited.

The next morning i put the Lone Star state behind me and pushed through New Mexico to Phoenix. I was surprised to be riding in genuinely hot weather that late in the year, but was grateful to be making solid time. I stayed at my Uncle’s house in Chandler, AZ that night, where I enjoyed the deepest sleep of my journey. I would put my toes in the Pacific Ocean the next afternoon, and get to ride one of the best motorcycle highways in the world the day after.

Breakfast with my aunt & uncle, and I was on to the last leg of my I10 stretch. I rolled into Los Angeles around 4pm, where I quickly realized the advantages of owning a motorcycle in California. The traffic was atrocious, but I averaged 70MPH between cars in a lane sharing line that vacillated between 3 and 15 bikes. I made it to Malibu in time for dinner with my former boss. He offered to have me stay the night, but I was eager to get north to meet friends for the Boise State-University of Nevada football game in Reno. I stayed with a high school friend in Santa Barbara that night.

From SB, I headed to San Luis Obispo where I treated myself to a 135 mile detour that amounted to pure bliss. Highway 1 meanders along the Central California coastline with a symmetry that rivals the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee–although the scenery is arguably better on the west coast. The best section of H1–the Pacific Coast Highway–runs from San Luis Obispo to Monterrey, passing pristine beaches and the historic Hearst Castle. Carmel on the north side of this stretch is one of the nicest towns I have ever visited.

Getting back on Interstate 5 north, I passed through San Francisco en route to Santa Rosa–wine country. I stayed the night with friends, and took the scenic route the next morning through Napa Valley to Sacramento. From Bagtown, I made a B-line for Nevada on Interstate 80. The ride over Donner Pass was brisk but efficient, and I was in Reno in no time.

I met 6 friends from high school plus my family and a handful of acquaintances from northern California for a celebration of epic proportions. Our BSU Bronco’s beat the Nevada Wolfpack in a nail biter. Now officially into winter weather and high elevations, I loaded my Versys in the back of my brother’s truck and slept all the way back to Boise.

The trip was a wonderful success, and although hurried, allowed me to see just how diverse the United States is culturally. Next time, I plan on taking a few roads less traveled, and at least another week to complete the voyage.

TOTAL DISTANCE: 3,700 miles

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:bignasty.jpgPhoto courtesy of bignastyhillclimb.com.

Aptly named, the Big Nasty Hill Climb returned to Pence Ranch near New Plymouth, Idaho Sept. 16-18 for its ninth iteration.

For the uninitiated, here’s a Big Nasty Hill Climb primer: competitors navigate high-powered dirt bikes—many with custom modifications—up a very steep, rocky, rutted-out hillside. Those who don’t make it over the top face a rough-and-tumble scuttle back down the hill—sometimes with significant injury. There are several classes of riders over different courses, ranging from a 260-foot mini bike hill to a 600-foot pro line.

Over the years, the event has grown to international prominence with the addition of a wide variety of complementary events: mud-bog drag races, helicopter rides, RC car racing, Marine pull-up contests, food, live music, street-bike stunt exhibitions, a giant cannon, monster trucks and a 500HP air boat to name a few. The laundry list of entertaining revelry goes way beyond just the hill climb.

The sensory overload of hanging out with gear-heads and thrill-junkies from all over the United States prompted some hilarious and entertaining conversations—and I would venture to say that the people watching is some of the best anywhere. Touted as being “where NASCAR meets Burning Man,” the Big Nasty attracted a robust crowd. Many folks made the 45-mile trip from Boise for a single day of fun but with 500 campsites available on the ranch, others turned out for the entire weekend, motor homes and camping gear in tow.

The hardware ranged from 50cc mini bikes to 300hp dirt rockets. Last year, fewer than 22 percent of the total attempted runs made it over the top, arguably making it one of the most challenging hill climbs in the world. According to the Big Nasty website, “All hill climb bikes are cool, but the pro bikes are wild, noisy, exotic, stretched-out, paddle-tired, nitromethane-powered machines that will blow your mind.”

Event organizer Ron Dillon was a busy man at this year’s Big Nasty, which set attendance and entry records.

“We’re having a great time this year … I think we’ll go over 13,000 [attendees] for the weekend,” Dillon said.

The Big Nasty lived up to its reputation as a fun and rowdy gathering for an eclectic group of power sports fanatics. More than 700 competitors signed up to battle the big, nasty obstacle and those who beat it have reason to be proud. All of the winners will be listed at bignastyhillclimb.com soon but a few of them are listed below:

450 Pro Class: Bret Peterson of Yorba Linda, Calif.
700 Pro Class: Harold Waddell of Omaha, Neb.
Open Pro Class: Jason Smith of Farmington, Utah
Pro Mini Class: Chase Seal of Meridian, Idaho
Pro Women: Jenny Kouba of Star, Idaho

We can’t wait for Big Nasty Hill Climb 2012.

Video from the event can be seen here.

Following my Mexico tour in 2008, I took a contracted Directorship at a resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. I was there for 8 months, and had the pleasure of riding my Kawasaki Versys across the United States twice that year. The following is my account of the first leg–from Boise, Idaho to Boone North Carolina:

It was July and the dry Idaho heat was unbearable. I had just returned home from the cool but humid high country of North Carolina for a week long river trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon–after which I was going to ride my Kawasaki KLR 650 back to NC. Not more than a few hours off the plane, and I was on my way up to the Boundary Creek put-in on my KLR to select camp spots for our trip. It was nice getting to ride again after months away without a bike.

I hurried into the administrative office at the put-in, where I was able to negotiate some of the best camp sites for our 17 person crew. A few hours later, my group arrived by bus, and we began rigging our boats. The river trip was excellent. Fishing and relaxing without a care in the world or cell phone signal does wonders for the soul.

A week later I arrived back in Boise to a little surprise. My KLR had tipped over in the trailer behind the bus and been rattled to pieces over the 26-miles of washboards back out to Highway 21. I was meant to leave for NC the next morning, but that was clearly not in the cards.

I immediately called my insurance company, and explained the situation. They agreed to expedite the claim, so I had Carl’s Cycle of Boise do an estimate: $2,200 worth of damage. Weighing my options, I made a few calls and came across a high school friend who had been looking for  a KLR for several months. Mine was only a few months old, had just under 8,000 miles on it, and the damage was largely cosmetic. I sold it to him that afternoon for a steal, cashed my insurance check, and returned to Carl’s to get a brand spanking new bike. I considered purchasing another KLR, but couldn’t resist the Versys. It was tight, nimble, fast and light. Not the best long distance tourer, but totally adequate for my purposes. A long afternoon of breaking the Versys in around Boise, and I was on my way to Aspen early the next morning.

Road construction on Interstate 84 made an otherwise efficient ride frustrating. I rolled into Salt Lake City by early afternoon, where I stopped off at a friend’s house for a brief respite. He informed me that the construction would continue all the way to Grand Junction, making my ride even longer. Not the news I was looking for.

The going was slow through GJ, but I was able to make time into Glenwood Springs on Interstate 70. Now late in the evening, I jogged south towards Aspen. I stayed with some high school friends for a night in Basalt, and sampled all that is the Colorado mountain high life.

The next morning, I continued along the scenic periphery of Aspen to 12,095 foot Independence pass. The Versys handled the tight rolling switchbacks without any issues.

This is where I began to get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew I was within a few hours of leaving the mountains and heading straight for the plains of the Midwest. No more scenery, just agriculture and industry for the next 1,500 miles+/-.

A fuel stop in Colorado Springs followed by a short haul up Highway 24, and I was back on Interstate 70–where I would remain for quite some time. That night, I made it as far as Hays, Kansas. Wind and lightening greeted me as I entered this Central Kansas oasis. I slept well in my side-of-the-interstate motel, and awoke refreshed and ready to cover some ground the next day.

I wish I could say that there is something–anything–interesting to report about I70, but there isn’t. Topeka, Kansas City, St. Louis… all pretty much the same as far as aesthetics go. That night, I posted up at a hotel in Mount Vernon, Illinois, with my final leg just around the corner.

From Mount Vernon, I made a B-line south on Interstate 57 to Paducah, Kentucky. It was hot and balmy, so I stopped for lunch, fuel and a wolf nap in the grass. From Paducah, I shed my riding jacket to beat the heat and rode through Nashville, where I picked up on Interstate 40 eastbound. I made quick work of Tennessee, before getting onto Interstate 81 to Johnson City. It was dark, and I was tired from pounding pavement, but being no more than an hour from my apartment in Boone, I had to push on.

Its easy to get turned around in Johnson City. The people are friendly, but many of them have not traveled much outside of the county, which made for an interesting time when asking for directions. After 8 or 9 inquisitions, I finally found somebody who pointed me towards a viable route into Elizabethton. A little worn out, I found my way to Highway 321, and was back in Boone in no time.

Total distance: 2,568 miles

While I cannot recommend this hurried approach, it did make for an epic marathon. Keep an eye out for future posts on my trip back to Boise a few months later, where I traverse the deep south during fall time.

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:Before we took in the breathtaking views, Geronimo insisted on reading the trail signs.

Carved perfectly between the Main Salmon and Middle Fork of the Clearwater rivers is the Magruder Corridor Road–named for Lloyd Magruder, whose 1863 pack train fell to mutiny when Magruder’s hired hands robbed and murdered him along the trail. The corridor sits between the Selway-Bitterroot National Forest to the north and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness to the south, running from Elk City to Darby, Mont. Because of its off-the-beaten-path location, it is one of the only major access roads in what is commonly referred to as Central Idaho’s sea of mountains.

A couple of weeks ago, I set off on Geronimo, my trusty Kawasaki KLR 650 motorcycle, for my first trip through the Magruder Corridor. This historic part of Idaho’s epic mountainscape bisects some of the most remote country in North America, and during the 700 total miles I traveled–from Boise and back–I came to see why this area is held in such high regard by recreationists.

My first stop was in McCall, where my brother joined me on his motorcycle. We pushed north to Grangeville before descending the Harpster Grade to scenic Highway 14 and on to Elk City, where the more than 100-mile dirt trek that constitutes the Magruder Corridor begins.

Part of the original Southern Nez Perce Trail, the Magruder is often regarded as the Holy Grail of adventure recreation in Idaho, and it’s easy to understand why. Picturesque start-to-finish views, excellent hiking, camping and fishing, and a complete absence of modern comforts make this an appealing route for those looking to get away from it all for a few days.

A stop for fuel in Elk City led to a chat with some locals and a slight shift in expectations for Magruder. I had imagined that the ride could be done in five or six hours, but after asking around a bit, we realized that most people plan for anywhere from one long day to three or more days.

As I was asking around, I met Cheryl Sims at the Elk Creek Station Cafe. She pointed out that we ought to be careful about trying to make time on Magruder.

“There’s a lot of motorcycles on the trail this time of year … even more than in years past,” Sims said.

She reminded us about the lack of services along the route and noted the substantial burn area from recent fires between Idaho and Montana. These intermittent scorched tree lines proved to be intensely beautiful but served as a powerful reminder of how much damage can result from forest fires.

A 15-minute haul to the Magruder trailhead near the Red River Ranger Station just outside of Elk City, and we were on our way.

We stopped at several lookouts to admire the tranquility and remoteness of region, and we really got a sense of what it must have been like making the trek on foot back in the 1800s. The road–while well kept in most places–turns very rough and unforgiving in certain sections. Crossing the trail’s central saddles on a clear day is especially rewarding since you can see for hundreds of miles in all directions. We scouted several well-kept public campgrounds along the way with the intent of making a return visit this fall to spend a little more time exploring and fishing.

The highlight of the ride was undoubtedly Burnt Knob–a weather-beaten lookout station at 8,196 feet in elevation. This 1.5-mile out-and-back detour offers those bold enough to attempt it arguably the best 360-degree panorama in Central Idaho. Giving new meaning to the phrase “head in the clouds,” this alpine perch showcases everything from the aftermath of recent fires to crystal-clear mountain lakes to the rocky spires of the adjacent Montana wilderness.

The biodiversity of Magruder is certainly best observed from Burnt Knob. The side road up is particularly rough and rocky, so tread cautiously and pack for pinch flats if you go. As we descended into where the Selway River meets the Magruder, we began to realize that our trip was coming to an end all too soon. Just shy of four hours from when we started, we were in Darby, Mont., refueling. My brother and I concluded that the Magruder by car should take about eight hours–as indicated on the trailhead sign near Elk City–but the ride can be done in about a half-day on a motorcycle if you’re on a nimble bike and pack light.

Thankful for no major mechanical malfunctions, we headed south on scenic Highway 93 to Challis. The Magruder had given us a fantastic day of exploring, fishing, riding–not to mention lungs full of dust–and just south of Darby, we were looking forward to wrapping up by meeting friends at the Braun Brothers Reunion Festival in Challis.

Unfortunately that’s when my bike decided to call it quits. My motor was blown. We towed Geronimo back to a small, friendly roadside bar, where I was able to negotiate a ride for me and my broken two-wheeled friend as far south as North Fork Road near the Main Salmon. The guys who gave me a ride were the owner/operators of Booker’s Retreat and Mother Chukar’s on the Main Salmon–a hunting and fishing lodge and restaurant. They refused all of my attempts to pay for gas or their time, and then they arranged for me to store my bike until I could bring a truck a few days later. I jumped on the back of my brother’s Suzuki DR650SE–imagine Dumb & Dumber–and we rolled into Challis just after dark.

My 2012 Trans World Tour Kickstarter campaign is off and running. For more information, please check out:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/590785064/trans-world-tour-a-global-motorcycle-odyssey

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:
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In previous Motojournals, I have explored Warren, Placerville, Garden Valley and Round Valley. Deadwood Reservoir is the final piece of this region’s puzzle—and a mighty fine piece it is.

Nestled high up in the Boise National Forest, Deadwood offers recreationists everything imaginable and just a few hours from Boise: fishing, boating, hiking, camping, backpacking and trails for riding horses and dirt bikes.

Getting there: Leaving Boise around 8 p.m., I made my way up Highway 55 to Banks-Lowman Road through the dusk of a mid-week evening. I stayed at a friend’s cabin in Crouch for the night, where I rigged the War Pig (my Honda Transalp) for the next day’s journey. A quick breakfast at the Garden Valley Market and I was on my way out Banks-Lowman Road to the Scott Mountain turnoff 13 miles up the South Fork of the Payette River.

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The road in to Deadwood Reservoir is narrow and covers some very steep grades. Ascending Scott Mountain to an elevation of 8,000-plus feet left me stunned. From this height, I could see firsthand how the Sawtooth Mountains to the northeast got their name: The silhouettes of jagged ridge lines overlap one another as far as the eye can see.

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From Scott Mountain, 16 miles of ridge-to-canyon road takes you to the dam that bottlenecks the Deadwood River and forms the reservoir.

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I rode around the dam and past an airstrip to a spot where some friends had set up a massive camp. Campers, horses, bikes, boats—all the finer things in life.

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Beyond Deadwood to the north is Warm Lake and the way to Cascade, the remote town of Yellowpine or all the way to Warren. Alternately, a single-track trail system goes over to Silver Creek Plunge, which runs back to Crouch, Boiling Springs or north to Round Valley on Road 670-600. You can also reach the Boundary Creek area near Stanley from Deadwood, which runs into a vast road-and-trail system that spans the Sawtooth Mountains. However you choose to connect the dots, the Boise-Valley County road systems offer some amazing opportunities for recreation and exploring and act as the gateway to many of Idaho’s best kept secrets.

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Total distance: 198 miles, 71 on dirt

Check out Andrew Mentzer’s 2012 around the world motorcycle tour at transworldtour.com

Originally published in the Boise Weekly:
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Idaho has more than 30,000 miles of dirt and two-track roads, which makes it hard to imagine a single resource that is a key to them all.

The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation met that challenge by creating one of the most comprehensive online trail and road databases out there.

Unlike many other mapping services, this one is free. The site’s interactive map allows users a detailed look at trail and road systems using unique search criteria based on what type of vehicle is allowed: non-motorized, high-clearance, motorcycles, ATVs and automobiles.

If you plan to go exploring, check out this great trip-planning tool.

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Originally published in the Boise Weekly:
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It doesn’t get much further off the beaten path than Warren, Idaho. As you enter this rustic mining relic, signage stating “Since 1862″ informs you that this place has been around for a very long time.

Warren was originally settled as a gold mining town. It still boasts an active mining culture but has broadened its horizons as a major access point for public-lands managers charged with maintaining the adjacent Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness—a dirt airstrip and some U.S Forest Service buildings are the first things you see when entering Warren.

Various scenic drainages abut the route to Warren, including the Secesh River and North Fork of the Payette on the McCall side and the South Fork of the Salmon on the Yellowpine side. The fishing is excellent during summer months in this region with its high mountain lakes, streams and rivers.

If backpacking is your bag, then this area is hard to beat. One of the best hikes in Idaho is the trek to 20 Mile Lakes just down the road from Upper Payette Lake. Fires from 1994 and 2000 have scarred parts of northern Valley County and southern Idaho County, making for an interesting landscape—with old torched trees towering above young conifers and green grasses.

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Burgdorf Hot Springs is also a great relaxation spot along the way. Just 30 miles from McCall, the hot pools are a real treat, and camping and cabin rentals make it an easy overnight trip.

Getting There: Leaving McCall around 2 p.m. atop my KLR 650, I made my way north of McCall on Warren Wagon Road. Skirting the western edge of Payette Lake, the luxurious waterfront cabins became sparse as I neared North Beach.

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The road begins to wind its way up past several trailheads before flattening out near the turnoff for Burgdorf.

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Just past the turnoff, the road turns to gravel and runs alongside the Secesh River for several miles. I passed through the town of Secesh with the intention of stopping off at the old Stage Stop, but it has closed since my last trip up there many years ago.

The last 20 miles into Warren are punctuated by steep but well-kept grades and excellent panoramas. Dropping into Warren, remnant piles of rock from former dredge mining claims begin to appear along Warren Creek. A hop and a skip up the road—past the airstrip—and I had arrived at my destination.

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A brief stop for refreshments at the local watering hole and I was on my way back to McCall in time for dinner.

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If you are feeling ambitious, you can continue an additional 62 miles into Yellowpine, which leads back to Cascade and the heavily traveled Highway 55 corridor. Or you can tack an additional 57 miles on your trek and end up at Deadwood Reservoir between Lowman and Crouch (see alternate route below). Always check road conditions before you go, as these areas are remote and highly subject to the whims of Mother Nature.

Total Distance: 46 miles each way from McCall, 16 on dirt

Alternate Route From Boise:

The following is an account of my 2008 ride during the infancy of the Mexican drug war, in and around the state of Sinaloa.

My brother and I decided to ride from Boise, ID in sub-30 degree weather to Mexico February, 2008 with little more than a rough itinerary, a couple of KLR’s, and the necessary documentation for the border crossings… no reservations… no real plan at all.

While I wouldn’t recommend this approach, it did make for the following silly-assed time:

Day1: Boise to Vegas
Day2: Vegas to Phoenix
Day3: Phoenix to Douglas, AZ
Day4: Border crossing to Creel, MEX
Day5: Creel to Batopilas/BFE Canyon Country
Day6: Batopilas to near Choix… Banditos… back to Batopilas… back to Creel
Day7: Creel to Yecora (very dodgy town)
Day8: Yecora to Cuidad Obregon & north to Guaymas & San Carlos
Day9: San Carlos to Topolobampo
Day10: Topolobampo ferry overnight (across the Sea of Cortez) to La Paz, Baja
Day11: La Paz to Cabo San Lucas
Day13: Cabo back to La Paz
Day14: La Paz to Loreto
Day15: Loreto to Calavena
Day16: Calavena to border & north to Malibu
Day18: Malibu to San Francisco
Day19: San Fran to South Lake Tahoe
Day20: Tahoe to Boise

TOTAL: 5,065 miles in 17 days of riding (20 days total)…

This was my longest tour to date, so it quickly became a trial by fire approach to buffing out my Spanish and learning just how painful a 700 mile day can be on a stock KLR seat.

TO THE BORDER:
The first day we were slowed by 30-mph head and cross winds paired with 25-degree temperatures between Twin Falls, ID and just south of Ely, Nevada. The occasional snow flurry added to the fun, but we just kept riding… 13 hours and nearly 700 miles later we were just south of Las Vegas. The next day, the wind didn’t slow up, but it was a much shorter haul to Phoenix, so we took our time and enjoyed the warmer temps. We serviced the KLRs in Chandler, AZ.

Phoenix to Douglas was a surprisingly nice ride. We stopped and took a few photos at sunset in Tombstone, and pushed on to the Motel 6 in Douglas.

BORDER MYTHS:
As many veterans of this region have noted, I can confirm that all you need to enter Mexico–at least at Douglas/Agua Prieta–is your bike’s registration, a passport and a drivers license. I suspect the border officials were supposed to confirm some sort of insurance, but I was never asked about it. We obtained our vehicle importation stickers, and headed slightly south… then considerably east (the highway from Agua Prieta runs east parallel to the border for several hundred kilometers). It didn’t really feel like we were in Mexico until the road jogged south again a few hours into it.

NORTHERN MEXICO:
We broke the hell out of rule #1–never ride at night–on our first day in Mexico. We rode for about two hours after sunset to get to Creel, the gateway to Copper Canyon. It’s about 390 miles from the border, but the going can be slow because there are little towns every 20km or so, not to mention those unreasonably large topes (giant speed bumps). We often observed a police officer snoozing in his truck on either side of these towns, and consequently decided to abide by all posted limits adjacent to said towns. This made for a sluggish ride as the route through some towns could be over a kilometer long (at 40kmh/26mph). One caveat: we came to learn that there is no real speed limit in most parts of Mexico. Cops don’t typically care how fast you are riding, as long as you aren’t being a nuisance. As noted, we kept to a respectful speed in towns, but ramped up to 80-85MPH on the open road.

We stayed at Margaritas on the plaza in Creel. The people were super-friendly and for about $17 each, we got a clean room with an awesome breakfast and dinner. The bikes were safe on the front patio. From Creel we decided to head into Canyon Country via Batopilas. This ride was incredible. We had missed much of the scenery coming into Creel the night prior because it was pitch dark, but heading south the next day made up for all that we missed.

Per the recommendation of the Lonely Planet, we crashed at the Batopilas hotel that night. We each got our own relatively clean but very basic room for $8/night. I woke up at 5am to a pig slaughter outside my window… freshest bacon I have ever eaten!


NOTE: Batopilas is an interesting place. It seems to be something of an oasis in the middle of nowhere. We noted several dodgy individuals driving new Hummers, Grand Cherokees, or other pretty nice rigs. This is when I began to suspect that Batopilas is the epicenter of a significant Central Mexico drug trade.

WHERE THE STORY TAKES AN INTERESTING TURN…
Batopilas is 140km from Creel, and takes 5-7 hours by bus. The first 80 or so km is tight, twisty hard top through some incredible scenery–by far the most fun paved riding of the trip. The last 60+/-km is on a gnarly switchback dirt road that skirts the canyon walls (also fun). We took our time and made it in 4 hours on the KLRs. This is relevant because there is generally only one way into Batopilas and one way out; except for a seasonal route that takes those who choose to venture it west to Choix, Los Mochis, and the heavily traveled coastal highway on the Sea of Cortez. This quickly became an appealing option because we didn’t really feel like doing any back tracking, and had entertained the idea of heading as far south as Nicaragua. The route to the coast apparently has several variations, but I was told that they all resemble each other. We chose the “short cut” which avoided the tiny town of San Ignacio, and sent us straight up Batopilas Canyon. A local guide had drawn us a pretty legible map on a napkin at the bar in Batopilas the night before. We had to stop twice to ask permission to cross private property, but the ride was fairly do-able… until the river crossings. The route we took required us to cross the Batopilas River 5 times. These crossings varied from 6-inch deep long crossings to waste deep short ones.

The crossings were not the problem. The road had turned into mostly deep sand, with occasional single track sections above the water line in the canyon. We asked a goat herder if we were heading in the right direction, and he told us (in some broken Indian-Mexican-Spanish dialect) to keep going. We did, which resulted in us bouldering up a dried up creek bed for a few hundred yards. This was not the right route. Heading back, our goat herder friend came back out of his tent and promptly informed us that we could either go up the hillside (canyon wall) where we had just been, or go back a few hundred yards to a mining road. He also kindly added that there was a camp of banditos at the top of the hill who made a living stabbing people and stealing their stuff. We looked up to the top of “la montana,” and sure enough there was a white Ford pick-up full of guys with guns parked on the ridge looking down on us. After an entire morning of river crossings and canyon switchbacks, we opted hi-tail it back to Batopilas. A little bitter, my brother and I took note of a few unique drainage and piping features along the trail. There were hoses running off of the side of the road that appeared to go to nothing. I cannot say definitively, but based on the geography, remoteness, and presence of a few unsavory characters we are fairly convinced that there is a massive pot grow operation going on in Batopilas Canyon.

It turned out that Choix was on just the other side of the mine where we were. We would have been in Mazatlan the next day, but instead we backtracked all the way back to Creel that night–dodging cows, goats, potholes, etc. in the road the entire way.

Frustrated and somewhat defeated, we had to reevaluate our itinerary. We came to find out that the alternate route south from Creel through Urique was at least as dodgy, and the rail route was “unpredictable.”

We spent the night at Margaritas again, and got up early the next morning to brainstorm another route. We ran into some fellow riders while using checking emails at the Creel Best Western. They recommended that we ride west on the main highway with them to Hermosillo for some coastal R&R. These guys had come from Choix through the Urique route, and been harassed and followed by banditos for two days. This made me feel much better about backtracking.

Now plus 3 riders, one of our collective party who had ridden ahead laid his Beemer down in road construction. We ended up at the hospital in Santa Juanita for several hours getting our fellow traveler squared away with an ambulance ride to Chihuahua.

Leaving greater-Creel at 2pm now, we figured we could suss out the 350+/- miles to Hermosillo by dusk… not the case. The highway is one tight, twisty turn after another; and it seemed like there was an animal, semi, 2-foot deep pothole or drunk local around every corner. I had a near miss with a large bovine, and made the executive decision to not become a statistic. We stopped in Yecora and got an overpriced crappy hotel for the night.

Yecora was super-sketchy, as the majority of the locals were kind of unfriendly in a generic sense. I doubt that many gringos come through this small industrial/ag town on vacation. Our neighbors were up all night playing loud tejano music, and driving their Jeep around the block… literally ALL night. We brought the bikes inside the room, and locked all the windows.

The next day we rode for about three hours to Cuidad Obregon instead of Hermosillo per the recommendation of some soldiers at a military checkpoint. This turned out to be a good call because the road straightened out nicely and we were able to crank out a more efficient pace.

NOTE: We asked a lot of questions in Mexico. I found it to be most effective to ask a minimum of 3 people the same question and then average any numerical answers, and determine a 2/3 majority for more subjective topics. The ride from Creel to Hermosillo was estimated by the locals to be between 5 hours and 14 hours. We did it in about 10. People WILL assume that you can do things in half the time because they see you as a high-strung supergringo, or because your bike is bigger than a 125cc. Calibrate accordingly, and always know that any individual answer you get will probably be at least a little bit misguided.

From Obregon, we headed north to Guaymas and San Carlos for some tourista time. We fronted for a nice hotel on the marina, met some new friends, drank too much, did some fun things I will leave out for now, and got up refreshed the next day.

From San Carlos, we took the toll highway back south to Topolobampo where we caught the overnight ferry across the Sea of Cortez to Baja. It was $160 (bike included), if you are curious. Ferry’s also run from Mazatlan and Guaymas.

BAJA:
Baja was fairly predictable. The roads were far better here than on the mainland, and the presence of tourists was exponentially greater. We rode south from the ferry port in LaPaz to Los Barillos, where apparently two days earlier federal agents had busted one of the kingpin drug lords of Baja in a violent shoot-out. We had no idea that this went down until we were informed later that day by a hotel manager in Cabo San Lucas. It’s really funny how much goes on in the underbelly of some of the sleepier Mexican towns and villages. Cabo was Cabo. I developed a strong dislike for the place after spending two days there. Its kind of like staying in a circus for tourists.

Heading north, we changed rear tires and serviced the KLR’s at a BMW shop just north of Cabo San Lucas. We rode north on the Trans Peninsular Highway to Loreto the next day. This was a really nice change of pace from Los Cabos. We had hoped to do some deep sea fishing, but the weather blew out the catch.

There isn’t much north of Loreto, so we began a long haul towards California. We went through Mulege, which ironically was where a pilot from Boise would be hijacked just a few days after we passed through by some local criminals. Again, it amazed me how violent the crime was in some of these sleepy little towns.

We stayed in Calavena for a night, and pushed north to the border the next day. Two decompression days in Malibu, then San Fran, then Tahoe, then home to Boise.

All said and done, I would have done a few things differently, but the trip was a tremendous success. The only advice I can offer is proceed in northwest Mexico and Baja with caution. The US State Department issued the same recommendation the day after we got back.