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Galeana -- Real -- General Z: March, 2018

Joined
Jan 28, 2017
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46
Location
Round Rock, TX
I told my fellow motonauts (or maybe just motonuts) on this excursion that I would write up a ride report. When I got back on March 16 I got hit by a backlog of work and family stuff piled up, so I've put it off, but here goes:

Saturday, March 10, 2018: Ride from Round Rock, TX to Donna, TX

Mexico? Are you nuts? Do you know what THEY do to people down there? Have you seen the clips on the internet?

It was hard enough to justify the trip when I was planning to go with a big Mextrek group last October, but when I had to tap out of that trip for family reasons and placed a notice on TWT asking if anyone wanted to join me in March, friends and family were fairly incredulous. Going to Mexico, on a motorcycle, with people I'd never met before, who could very well be Cartel members posing as friendly Texans? Why don't you do something a little safer for fun? Like juggling flaming chainsaws on a crappy tightrope over an abyss.

On the other hand, if you are a father of four living in a Texas suburb, where the HOA will fine you if you do not remove the wilted palm fronds from your ornamental palm tree, you just need to get away sometimes. You will balance the cartels on one hand against another weekend in the Sienna frantically running the circuits of practices, birthday parties, church, little league, Happy Meals, strip malls. And you'll choose the Cartels.

The trip did not start well. A nail appeared in my fairly new K-60 scout on a preride check. Thought about replacing, but plugged it.

Got on the road on a bright Saturday morning and dodged 18-wheelers and texting teens down to San Antonio and hit a road closure on 410. Blessing in disguise. I pulled off the Strom in a motel parking lot, and noticed that the cool rubberized waterproof duffle bag I'd bought just for this trip had shifted backwards in the wind. There was a funny smell. It had sagged over the muffler, which had burned a hole in it, and it had incinerated my toiletries bag, some shorts, and a few tee shirts. A sticky goo of exploded shaving cream, contact solution, toothpaste and other unnamed creams had leaked down onto the back fender as I rode, where it had formed a slick ugly paste. I have abused my Strom in a number of ways since I bought it a year and a half ago, but this was a new low.
 

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I threw away the charred clothes and toiletries, taped up my bag as best I could, and got back on the highway, praising the foresight (actually more like blind luck) that I had put all my documents and cash in the hard cases. I hadn’t lost very much, but my imaginings of the trip, always on something of a see-saw between adventure-bliss and disaster-chaos, took on a darker tint. This was a Rookie mistake, if ever there was one. How was I going to handle a week in Mexico if I couldn’t help but burn my provisions an hour down the highway from my house. It did not look good. I decided that I would send a pic of my bag to friends and tell them the cartels did it.

The rest of the ride down to the border area was uneventful -- South of San Antonio I turned off the highway, and stopped in Three Rivers for gas, in the shadow of the Valerio gasworks. Headed south through one of the more desolate sections of Texas until I hit the border area, and found my ride partner Jim, who I'd met through TWT.

My wife was concerned that this person named “Jim” -- a gentleman in his sixties with a kindly smile and a weathered face, by the looks of his picture -- was actually a 6’8” dude with neck tattoos named Loco or Sangre who did the legwork for a kidnapping and extortion ring. Turns out this dangerous "Jim" was exactly as he appeared in the photo -- a family man, former motorcycle mechanic, fix-anything guy, Nam-era Navy vet, and frequent Mexico moton(a)ut. And a super nice guy to boot. I couldn't have invented a better ride partner. I probably should have paid him a guide fee.

Jim took me in his car over across the border that afternoon to finish off the paperwork, where I discovered the joys of Mexican bordertown traffic on a Saturday afternoon, Jim showed his ornery side toward people who didn't obey traffic laws (which was pretty much everyone in Nuevo Progreso) but we got it done and got back.

The next morning, Sunday, we took off on our bikes.
 

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Thanks Spirit-at-Bay, I have really enjoyed reading your posts in the past!

Thricepilot -- I appreciate your recent recommendation for a mechanic. I’m moving forward with it. Gracias, Hombre.

And while I'm at it: Ditto to Trail Boss and Shadman for their generosity in giving me advice, all of which was good, much of which I actually listened to, before the trip. Anyone who is thinking about this ride needs to get the Rich Gibbens book ASAP.

Onward.

About 8 am Sunday Morning Jim and I gassed and tacoed up stateside, then crossed the border at Pharr, cruising into Mexico with that Ride-of-the-Valkyries feeling happening, except that we soon got kind of turned around in Reynosa, which is a pretty big city. We rode for a while along a dirty canal. It was Sunday morning and quiet, but at stop lights I was keeping it in first, just in case any bloodthirsty Cartel members appeared suddenly and forced me to gun it. Reynosa has a bad rep. It was peaceful today, though, the only menace being the occasional stray dog and those stripes of metallic road pimples know as topes.

Eventually, we had to admit it, we were lost. Neither Jim nor I are big on GPS. So we stopped at an OXXO, which is kind of like a Mexican 7-Eleven. Behind the counter, a Mexican twenty-something gal with lots of tats and piercings was talking to her boyfriend on a cell phone, just as, somewhere across the border, I’m sure there was an American gal with lots of piercings and tats sitting at a 7-Eleven talking on her cell phone to her boyfriend. I eventually asked her in Spanish how to get to highway 40 toward General Bravo and Monterrey. She said goodbye to her amor and then told me in an untroubled sort of way that she didn’t know. So we went outside. There was an older gentleman in a rumpled white suite, with a cane and hat, taking his morning walk. He looked like a retired professor on a scant pension. He greeted us courteously, inquired about our travels, and then gave us precise directions to the highway, which was about three turns away.

The ride after that was fast, flat for a while, then gentle rolling ranchlands, occasional roadside vendors with a smoking grill, a busted Tecate or Carta Blanca sign, a corrugated roof and a few people sitting around on stumps or plastic chairs, a little blare of ranchero music, then more open land. We passed through General Bravo, China, and somewhere north of Montemorelos the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains appeared, a block of darker blue against the horizon, far away but massive and oceanic in their relationship to the land before us.

Around Montemorelos it became lush. Farmsteads in orange groves, trees arching over the road to form a vernal tunnel. Trying to skirt the busier part of town, we got turned around again, and ended up talking with a guy who ran a little market from the front of his home. If we’d had GPS we might have saved ourselves a few minutes here. But we also wouldn’t have got to talk to this pleasant person. He had lived and worked in Houston for 20 years, but had always planned to come back to Mexico to retire. He seemed very content to chat and didn’t try to sell us anything. It was a fine little concrete house he’d made, amid fruit trees and cacti, on a twisting road with a view of the mountains in the distance.

We found the highway again and then turned and rode up the narrow, paved, potholed road toward Rayones. This was some of the most beautiful riding I have ever done on my Strom. Everyone who’s done MexTrek knows this road -- it shoots up into the pinyon and oak forests of the Sierra Madres, with tight turns, steep drop offs, new views of jutting sunlit mountains just unfolding all around you as you throw your bike into the turns. Brilliant. It was Sunday afternoon, perfect riding weather at about 80 degrees now, and we passed a number of riders along the way, a few ADV guys, a little squadron of sport bikers, some Harleys. I was having some fun kind of working the lean-in/chicken-out ying-yang of a fairly new 650 rider, enjoying the views, minding the road debris, wondering idly what angle a Heidenau K-60 Scout starts to slide. I have some pictures of this section of road, but I took them on the return part of the trip, so I’ll post them a little later in the RR.

At Rayones, we turned onto the dirt road leading up to Galeana. Jim was at an advantage here, riding a DR650, not to mention having a lot more years of riding, some racing experience, and a lot more bikes, so he led on the thumper. But I’d been waiting for the dirt. I always seek it out. I’ve had some great rides in the Texas Hill Country, but mostly it’s 30 miles of pavement for 3 or 4 miles of graded dirt, then back to pavement. I love riding on dirt. I had a trail bike for a few years as a kid and I have always missed it. There is a great moment in “Long Way Round” when Ewan and Charley have been riding and dropping their GS’s on hundreds of miles of Mongolian dirt roads, and when they finally reached pavement again they get on their knees and kiss it. Well, that is the way I felt about the dirt. It had been two days of pavement to get here, and now I was on a dirt road in the mountains of MX.

It was probably 90 minutes or so of good, twisting, rutted, class 2 -- stones panging against my skid plate, shocks bucking, feeling the back tire start to skid just a little bit before it digs into a berm. There was stuff thumping around in my hard cases, which were themselves rattling on the mounts, and I was probably going pretty slow by TWT standards, but still …. ADV baby! It passed in a flash. Soon enough we were on the outskirts of the town, negotiating topes, avoiding strays, cruising into the town square, the mountains all around it, to find our destination -- the hotel Magdalena. We got our rooms and unloaded, strolled around the town, took some pics. Got dinner -- chicken mole and a beer. It had been a real good day.
 

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And also that day....

I believe it was late on that Sunday afternoon that we met Matt and George, two buddies who grew up together in Mississippi. For some reason they called themselves the ******s. Jim and I had been the only gringos in town, but then we saw two dudes gliding through the Zocalo, one on a GS from the early aughts that had been in the ditch a few times, the other on a post-apocalyptic K1100 with a Mad Max look to it -- windshield gone, burgundy fairing with incongruous dayglow soft cases, all riding on a pair of Heidi Scouts. The thing had character. I could tell immediately it would be great in a shootout with the Cartels. I hear those old German engines are bulletproof.


Jim greeted these gents with some cold beers, and after that we rode together for a lot of the trip. They were generous, funny, friendly guys who knew a ton about bikes and liked to give me a hard time about how little I knew in comparison. For example, I was a worried because my chain lube had exploded in San Antonio along with my toiletries. I wasn’t sure where I could find a suitable replacement in Galeana. Matt kept pointing out things in store windows -- such as tile calk or charcoal accelerant -- and saying they’d work great to lube my chain.

George and his Armageddon Machine are pictured below, from a little later in the trip.
 

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Monday, March 12: Cienega del Toro

A fat plateau of clouds had sat along the mountains to the west of the town the afternoon before, and now the day was gray and misty. The ***Hats were still asleep when Jim and I woke and got breakfast at the OXXO and started packing for a day ride. Matt appeared in his doorway -- red-faced and bleary-eyed from a night of beers, Benadryl, and George’s snoring -- and courteously informed us that he would hate for us to “wait on them.” We’d talked about maybe doing the loop ride together but Jim and I took our cue and saddled up.

Then I hit the starter and nothing happened, not a sound. Checked the key, tried again, nothing. Jiggled some things, tried again, nothing. Matt and Jim started to toss back and forth possible diagnoses while I felt a rising panic and envisioned the financial and emotional nut-kick of a truck ride back home with my Strom. And then I noticed the kill switch was engaged. Oh, yeah. Whoops. My bad. Yet another Rookie mistake. We had a relieved laugh and headed out.

The topes were slick, the air was soupy, and soon we motored past open fields, a graveyard, geometrically planted trees in skirts of calcium hidroxide, through an outlying community where kids were going to school. We found the turn to Cienaga del Toro, got onto the dirt and rode up into tall pine forests draped with Spanish moss, down into valleys and past small farmsteads, log cabins and homes of broken stone with rough-hewn corralls, slowing for donkeys and sheep on the road.

For a while, a kid on a 150 caught up to us and buzzed just behind Jim; he had a sweatshirt on, hood pulled over his head, and a skeleton mask, Sicario-style. It was cold enough for a mask, but, still… kind of creepy. I was relieved when we got to Mimbres and he cut left and was gone. We rode on through the high country, passing in and out of light drizzle, stopping to wipe condensation of our goggles and glasses.

Just above Cienaga del Toro a curtain of mist opened and we pulled off by some fields to check the topo maps and return some coffee to the earth. There were sheep and horses grazing inside fences made of cut branches and strung wire. I would have liked sunlight but it was real quiet with the engines off and the mist had its own ghostly and meditative mood that spoke to my Nordic side, which is my only side. We went down into Cienaga del Toro, a tiny town of a few hundred people, with concrete homes and twisting two tracks heading in different directions. I got directions from a man, and they sounded to me like, “Go to the tree, then straight, straight, straight, straight, straight.”

Ten minutes and about about 300 feet later, we pulled up at the police substation, a forlorn trailer near the one-room school, and three policemen came out into the rain. After a neutral greeting, they warmed up and pointed the way for us. The road to Santa Rosa went out through a field up a steep hill. Soon we were on a rock scramble through a narrow track that cut into the side of the mountains. The valley below appeared and disappeared in the mist that rolled down the mountainsides. Cliffside turns on loose rock and dirt kept me in first gear much of the ride. It was consuming, trance-like riding.

On a long descent around a mountainside, I saw Jim trying to negotiate past three horses on the narrow road. They stared him down, then trotted further down the road, then stopped again and stared. “Don’t let them get on the inside!” he yelled back to me; then, with characteristic nerve, he blasted past them on the inside. I rode up to them, stopped, took some pictures. For a while we did a little dance: I’d move up a little, they’d trot back a little then turn to face me, but eventually I filtered through them and on down into the valley. We passed through a little town called Santa Rosa, across a floodplain, and rode through the valley with the weather clearing and the mountains rising out of their misty slumber all around.

We stopped in the shuttered cobblestone town square of Rayones, and my cell phone began doing its disco song. I took a call from a medical professional in the US, trying to set up an appointment with my son. You can get far away, but it’s hard to cut those tethers.

That evening we met up with George and Matt again, and the four of us had dinner then walked around Galeana. I bought a soccer ball to give to a local boy. There had been one kid who came running out to the edge of the road near Cienaga del Toro, staring at us and smiling, and when I waved he waved back like I was Cuahtemoc risen, and I wanted to find a kid just like that somewhere on the trip and give him a soccer ball.
 

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Hmmm, how cold was it exactly up there? I want to say 50 degrees but felt like 40 degrees in the ride chill. Maybe a little colder? I had an all weather insulated riding jacket, thick winter gloves, and a bunch of layers on, so I was pretty comfortable.

And the bag did smell bad.

Some pesky little things known as work and kids have got in the way of the ride report, but I'll get back to it later tonight or tomorrow.
 
Joined
Nov 13, 2007
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Location
Sugar Land, TX
I think I will copy and paste your description of the ride from Montemorelos to Rayones to Galena and quit trying to put it into words myself.

In short, when you hit the mountains, you know you've ARRIVED. Somewhere magical. Not like "back home". And it gets better and better.

Looking forward to the rest of the report. Don't dilly dally too long or you'll never get back to it... impressions and stories are best told fresh.
 
Joined
Nov 13, 2007
Messages
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Location
Sugar Land, TX
Also, for anyone worried about the most dangerous part of the trip, Reynosa / Border Crossing, completely avoid Reynosa by staying in Mission, Texas at the Clarion Inn (Free truck and trailer parking in quiet neighborhood) and cross on the Anzualdas bridge. Almost never a wait of more than 15 minutes. Much smoother and better run than the busy in town crossing. FYI, Mission is 10 miles west of McAllen. When you cross the border you make 2 clearly marked easy to follow overpass turns and you are on the Highway 40 free road headed towards Monterrey. you only get slowed down by 4 or 5 stoplights on an 8 lane road in suburban Reynosa. No drama, just avoid the speeding taxis and crawling double trailer semis.

The most nervous I ever was on a motorcycle in Mexico was my first Mextrek, 2009, 100 yards into mexico, where we got turned around and around in downtown Reynosa. A line of about 40 gringos on dual sports getting split up, turned around, etc... Fun memories. My fear was unfounded.

However, fast forward to 2018 and the Zeta cartel and Gulf cartel are having open hostilities as they battle for control of the "pueblitas" (small towns) on the east side of Reynosa. Daily gunfire, evil people, stay away. Anzualdas 20 miles west is your answer.

P
 
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Jan 28, 2017
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Round Rock, TX
Thanks Shadman. Looking forward to joining one of your trips real soon.

Day 4 Tuesday, March 14: The Soccer Ball

I woke up around 630 am, energized and high on riding. Couldn’t wait to get back on the bike. I got coffee and came back to the Magdalena, passing by the Ampersand-Dollar-Sign-Dollar-Sign-Hats room (trying to skirt the censors here) and heard a sound kind of like a motorboat in heavy waves. It was impressive in its oscillations, its range of frequencies and amplitudes. It believe it was snoring. The four of us had planned to ride to Real de Catorce that day, leaving around 9, but I figured they’d be asleep for a while, so I put the soccer ball on the back of my bike with a luggage net and cruised into the hills for a pre-ride ride. Minus 80 pounds of gear, the Strom felt like a stiletto. A few miles out I realized my pump/plug kit were in my hard cases back at the Magdalena. If I flatted out here I would have to hitch a ride back into town, and probably delay the trip for a day, which would really piss everybody off. But it was too beautiful and the bike felt too good to turn around. Screw it. I’ll just, uh, keep an eye out for nails.

I started retracing the ride from the previous day. The clouds were burning off across the valley, sky opening: banner day. As Mr. Jagger said: It’s good to be alive. I blazed up the same road, noting the familiar landmarks -- some kind of government cooperative hut, a PRI political painting on concrete wall, a soccer field, another hallway of branches -- and then found the road to Cienaga del Toro. Up in the foothills kids were walking to a little one-room school, and I saw a young Mom with her boy of maybe 7 or 8. He was a handsome kid, hair neatly combed, big eyes and aquiline features, almost like a kid you might see on the Disney channel, but we were far from Hollywood and the homes were humble. They stood and watched me, mother holding her son’s shoulder protectively, as I rode by, circled back, then stopped, and got off my bike before them. This was my chance!

It took me a moment to get off my Vader-black machine and unstrap my full face helmet, and while I did, they stood still as rabbits near a dog, staring at me with about 2 parts puzzlement and one part panic. I must have looked to them like something between a stormtrooper and a Hazmat specialist, and they were no doubt wondering what the **** I was doing. I took the soccer ball off my rack, which, unhelpfully, was still wrapped in plastic.
“Hola, “ I intoned, “I…..” (how was I going to explain this?) “I love soccer.” (Which is true, but I was already getting off track). “I am from the United States. And I am a friend of Mexico! I am happy to be here in your beautiful country.”
Ahem. My Spanish is decent, but my speech had taken on a kind of stiff, ribbon-cutting formality. They stared and waited. I felt a little fraudulent, like some kind of explorer offering cheap metal trinkets and mirrors to wised-up natives. Maybe the kid had a nicer soccer ball in his closet. Maybe they thought I was an idiot.
“Therefore, I would like to donate this soccer ball to your school. Because I am a friend of Mexico and of soccer,” I said.
The slightly fearful look I’d first seen had given way to awkward smiles. They realized I wasn’t there to kidnap, extort, or demand anything, but this was still highly weird.
“So…. would you take this ball? It is a donation for your school.” l held it out to them. “From an American. Who loves soccer. And Mexico!”
I felt an enormous relief as they accepted the soccer ball. I think it was they who had given me a gift by accepting it. The whole trip, really, was a gift from Mexico to me. I strapped on my helmet, wished them a good day, and rode off up into the hills, glancing back once. I saw the boy look back over his shoulder. For the first time he wore a wide, unguarded, fascinated smile. It had nothing to do with me. It wasn’t even about the soccer ball. I know that look. It was a kid falling in love with a motorcycle.

I rode further into the mountains along the same route. I stopped at a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, a wood-framed square alcove cut into a wall of rock, where a candle still burned inside, then went on further. Up in the forest I came to a hardscrabble log cabin with a steel roof, outside of which I met a man named Hector, pushing wood along in a wheelbarrow. He seemed generally pleased to talk to me, he shook hands avidly and consented to a picture quickly, said something admiring about the bike, but even with my fairly good Spanish there was an awkwardness and a difficulty understanding him. I said goodbye and turned the bike around. It was a little after 8, as I headed back down the switchbacks, and I had that I’m going to turn into a pumpkin feeling I get sometimes when I’m late for something that is important to my wife. I stopped a few times to take pictures of the valley as the fog lifted -- banks of mist dissipating and clearing from the mountains behind me, and distant plateaus of clouds still hanging over the town and the mountain to the north. Coming into town a ten-pound mutt yapped furiously at me as he stood in the shade of a 75-pound bulldog mutt who couldn’t have cared less.

Of course, this turned out to be a morning when Matt and George were on time and everyone was waiting for me. In fact, since MX did not observe daylight savings time, there was some confusion over the hour of departure, and they had been ready for a bit. They were nice about it though. Jim seemed relieved when I got back and had possibly been a little worried. One of many kindly unspoken gestures from himon the trip. I hastily got my stuff packed, checked out, we mounted up -- and then George noticed a leak in a fuel line of the Zombie Killer. This sounded pretty deadly to me, but it was diagnosed, he found a hose clamp in his kit and in another 10 minutes we were on the road.
I really admired Matt, Jim, and George’s relationships with their bikes: it was one of persistent inquiry and near universal understanding, of an empathy more complete (if unidirectional) than most human relationships. They frequently checked over their bikes, they understood everything that could go wrong, how serious it was, and they fixed it. Matt even made his own GS bushings for Pete’s sake. They could take apart their engines and rebuild them from the ground up. That is cool. I recently stripped my oil plug. That is not cool. I asked Matt once how I could get to that level of mechanical knowledge. He started to say something, then revised and said, “Just keep riding a Strom.”
 

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The Ride to Real de Catorce

We were off then, south out of town. Matt led on his GS. He had a curious riding stance, letting his legs hang down off the pegs, his toes just an inch over the pavement, his head often cocked to better hear the radio on which he communicated with George. It looked like he was flying in a wingsuit.

The road descended from the mountains. Eventually we got on a 4-lane divided highway south across arid desert altiplano known as the Central Mexican Plateau. It was flat, unremarkable riding for a while. North of Matehuala we turned onto a smaller road, passed through the small town of Cedral, and then onto the cobblestone road that ascended to Real de Catorce. The cobblestones were quite uneven, with deep irregular grooves that the bike would track into then wobble out of, but Matt blew through like it was moto GP so I tried to keep up.

The road curved and passed through a little hamlet, on up into the mountains, with 100-mile views opening up behind us, and then we came to the famed Ogario tunnel, the main way for cars and trucks to come in and out of Real. The tunnel is a mile-and-a-half long and wide enough for one-way traffic only. Radio operators on either side control the traffic flow.

We dismounted, took some pics, stretched, then eventually got the signal to go through. The tunnel was black and dusty with amber lights shooting overhead periodically and illuminating the blasted, rough-hewn walls and sketchy support beams. Time dilates in this tunnel because it’s so different and you’re taking everything in. Riding is like that. Time can speed up and sometimes it can slow down too. This mile-and-half seemed to go on for about 10 miles. There was a sudden turn, I passed some kind of shrine, and I was riding in a muffled sonic envelope of engine reverb, and then suddenly I was released into the bright light and the engine sound scattered outward, and I was in a dusty market area with stone buildings and steep narrow cobblestone hemmed in by hillsides -- and it felt like I had not only arrived but because of the tunnel, there was a through-the--rabbit-hole feeling that I was in a different time and place.

Following Shadman’s recommendation I aimed for the Hotel Real Bonanza. We rode slowly through narrow cobblestone streets. This is an old mining town which was built on a grand scale in the 1800s, then crumpled when the silver prices bottomed out, only to be resurrected as not only a tourist destination but also as the site of a sacred pilgrimage for the Huichol Indians of the Sierra Madre, who come and harvest peyote from the nearby hillsides to induce holy and beatific visions. (I just need a Strom for that). The town has a timeless high-desert otherworldliness, a Sergio-Leone-meets-Carlos-Castaneda feel. We first-geared it past storefronts with dark interiors and high ceilings, piled high with wares. (Apparently there were was a movie filmed here with both Selma Hayak and Penelope Cruz in it. I really, really need to see that movie.)
We turned at some kind of giant mill stone, went up a steep section of cobblestone that I already wondered about getting down, and found the Real Bonanza, and L-shaped structure built around a cement pavillion where you can sit and look out across a valley, a grand ruined hacienda far below, and across to mountain sides cut with switchback paths that sheep and wander up and down.

The weather was beautiful -- probably mid-seventies, high, dry, desert air. In a little restaurant right just down from our hotel, we ate a meal -- I had a delicious milanesa de pollo with fries, a salad, and a Negro Modelo for about 5 bucks. That is my happy meal. Then we walked around the town, taking in the ancient church, the old granary, statues and hidden turns, looking for a few gifts for family. George noticed something in the construction of the walls -- bigger blocks of stone with stacks of little flat stones, like skipping stones, shimmed into the gaps.

That was one of the cool things about traveling with Matt and George. Whereas I tend to look at the history and the metaphors of a place, Matt and George thought about the factual, engineered world, they way things were made and put together, the infrastructure. I’d be looking at the view; they’d be talking about how the cement under their feet was poured. Where did the water come from? How come that CFL lightbulb is so big? For that matter, where is the power grid? What about the water? Where is it coming from? This wall, how was it constructed? And why do we build with wood in the US? These buildings are going to last longer.

They had inquisitive minds. And they could drink too. At least three wooden legs between the two of them. I made the mistake of matching them beer for beer that night. Jim had a couple and then sensibly bowed out around 9 pm, but the rest of us stayed up late, talking, tossing back beers, tracking the occasional set of quad lights on the road across the valley, wondering about the psychological well-being of a very loud donkey across the valley, going back and forth on life, politics, guns, education, civil liberties, etc. George’s genteel drawl got longer and more ponderous as he searched for his thoughts. The beer was slowing me down too. In fact by that point I think I'd pretty much stopped talking. Eventually I staggered back to my room and hit the hay.
 

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Day 5 Wednesday, (the real) March 14: Through General Z back to Galeana

Woke up early feeling like death and swore off drinking forever (again). One problem with being a teacher is that you are hard-wired to wake up at 6 even when you don't need to and your body needs more sleep. So I lay in bed feeling like I'd eaten roadkill and chased it with Strychnine the night before. Maybe I did. Details were hazy.

The rest of the crew popped up an hour later looking ready for a marathon. Just sitting up and putting on my boots felt like a huge, draining effort. The trick in these situations, for me, is to fight your instincts and eat a big breakfast. At our favorite little restaurant, I sat there swaying slightly in my chair, eyeing the bathroom, while Jim shook his head and gave me a bemused smile that said, Well, you want to dance, you pay the fiddler.

Several tortillas, a pile of beans, bacon, huevos rancheros, two coffees and a sprite later, I actually started feeling halfway decent. We had to leave soon if we were going to ride through General Zaragoza and back up to Galeana that day. I realized there was a lot that I hadn't seen in Real -- the ghost town, the Palenque, the silver mines -- and I probably should have managed my time there more wisely but.... I'll just have to go back.

I was a little concerned about getting the loaded Strom back down a real steep section of cobblestone right outside the hotel. Matt helpfully advised me to lean as far forward possible and try to lock up the brakes. Knowing Matt just a little better now, I did the opposite and got down easy.

We had a not-exactly-foolproof plan to make sure we were last in line at the Ogarrio Tunnel so that we could stop and get a group photo inside the tunnel on the way out. We went in last, with me leading our little group, but when I started to slow down I heard Matt or George yelling "GO GO GO" and realized another vehicle had joined the line behind them and stopping now would get us steamrolled. We cruised out and got a picture at an overlook on the road out of town instead.

We made our way down to Matehuala; George was leading using GPS, stopping now and again to look at the route. There was a minor note of tension between the Non-GPS and GPS factions of the crew as we waited -- a look exchanged between me and Jim I guess -- after which Matt quite reasonably said to Jim and me, "Well, if you guys want to lead, go right ahead." Eventually we did.

In truth navigation between towns and cities is not too difficult in northern MX (backcountry dirt roads is another story). There is usually one major road between towns, and it often bears the name of the places it connects, such as the Matehuala-Doctor Arroyo road. I did have to stop in Doctor Arroyo and ask someone the way to General Zaragoza. It seems to me with GPS you can stop and look down, and without GPS you need to stop and look up. But to each his own. And honestly, as soon as I have 400 extra bucks lying around, I'll probably get a GPS too.

The other slight note of tension in the group had to do with me wanting to take a dirt route up to General Zaragoza, cutting through a town called Puerto el Pino, which exists on some maps and not others. The rest of the crew thought there were too many variables to take this route and it might get us to Galeana after dark. We had a number of discussions about it, and I would eventually concede to the paved route. But then a while later I would say in a musing tone, "But you know that dirt route actually looks a lot more direct." Or, "Man, it would be great to get your DR out on the dirt today, wouldn't it Jim?" It was starting to tick the rest of the group off.

It was windy cool riding, with clouds over the mountains ahead of us hinting at rain. We stopped in Doctor Arroyo and gassed up. I saw a curious white vehicle, a kind of hearse-golfcart hybrid, transporting a white glass religious shrine of some sort (pictured below). It had a BMW crest on it but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a BMW. Very odd.
 

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General Zaragoza

From Doctor Arroyo we struck up north along route 2, riding next to a spine of mountains. I looked ruefully at the dirt roads shooting east off into the mountains -- somewhere in there was the road to Puerto el Pino, if the town existed -- but I knew better than to bring it up. We weren't sure exactly how hard the dirt route was. We also realized Jim's headlight bulb had burned out and risking travel after dark would be foolish. Traveling after dark in Mexico, even with working headlights, is not something any of us wanted to do.

The rain held off; the scenery was pretty and the riding got real fun when we turned at La Escondida to do the paved out-and-back to General Zaragoza. From Aramberri to General Zaragoza the road cuts through a valley, dipping and curving through little farmsteads, rising and snaking along the mountain sides through pine and oak forests with steep peaks and changing alpine cloudscapes all around -- gorgeous high-quality riding on any kind of bike.

We passed through the town of General Zaragoza and went south up a hill into Parque El Salto. This is a state park built around a series of forking and converging waterfalls that course down the mountainside through thick foliage. We got off and checked it out. I will let the pictures speak for themselves here, rather than trying to describe it. We stayed about 45 minutes, but the day was getting on, shadows lengthening, and with Jim’s headlight non-operational, we needed to get going back to Galeana to beat the dark.
 

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This was an ambitious trip. In 5 days of riding you've covered most of the distance we did on last October's Mextrek. But this is Mexico. Gotta slow down and sniff the flowers! We spent 2 nights and 3 days in Real and enjoyed every minute. The food, day of the dead festivities, kids in halloween costumes, more food, great views, clear cool nights. Heck, Curtis and I had the pleasure of watching the Astros win the world series in a cowboy bar full of Mexican dodger fans, lol. We did a night at el salto and had a fancy home cooked bbq at the cabins at el salto. What a cool place. Unexpected. Waiting to hear how this wraps up!!!


P
 
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Very nice report. I finally had time to read it to this point.

Need passport I guess. Some day I'd like to try to ride to Alaska and back. Maybe I can try going south before then.
 
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I agree completely, Shadman!

That sounds like a great time you had in Real. I would love to have spent 2-3 days in each place we visited. Maybe more in Galeana, as there are so many rides in that area and I only tried one. I'd also like to check out other areas of Mexico. But I crammed all I could into 7 riding days and it was a heck of a trip.
 
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Thanks for reading NotYou83. Excuse the type-os; I was rushing a bit to get those last sections finished. I need to put this thing to bed!

You will definitely need a passport for this sort of trip into Mexico, and as you can see from my ride report, I highly recommend riding in this area.
 
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Zaragoza to Galeana

From El Salto we turned around, retraced our steps to La Escondida, then continued north on Route 2. It was good riding in the cool late afternoon light, a narrow road with quite a few twists and turns up around San Juanito de Solis and Poblano, and for a good stretch we saw more livestock on the road than vehicles. In places it reminded me of arid mountainous northern New Mexico or southern Colorado, where I had travelled some a few years back. Some of the southern routes in Rich Gibbens' book come along this road, and I saw quite a few intriguing looking dirt roads shooting off east into the mountains. It feels so tempting to turn and explore just for a few minutes when you see a road like that, but... another day, another trip, another ride.

At one point I stopped to get a picture of the clouds kind of foaming over the side of the low mountains ahead of me. (The picture is below -- but it looked a lot cooler in real life). In the picture you can see a motorcycle coming toward me -- that's Jim, who turned around to check on me when I faded out of the pack. He was always keeping an eye on the rookie to make sure he got back in one piece. I really appreciated that about him.

We got back to Galeana about an hour before dark. I have to say the comfortable, affordable Hotel Magdalena felt like home. The people there are friendly -- there was a girl who helped behind the desk and also played a couple songs for us on her guitar. She had a pretty voice.

Jim and I sat on the green steel benches in the square outside the Magdalena and talked about different things. The hotel, a police station, a pharmacy, a market, a church, and a few other restaurants and stores all faced the square. The square was peaceful, clean and well maintained, with a few vendor carts, some ornate victorian lampposts that looked like gas lamps, a gazebo and various trees -- palm, oak, pine, and pencil pine, trunks painted in calcium hydroxide. Even at its busiest there was a sense of serenity and somnolence in this windy valley under high mountains. In the evening teens would come out to talk and flirt and get an ice cream. Elderly men would trudge across the stone and call out a hearty greeting to one another, then shake hands. People walked around and talked to each other, rather than staying indoors glued to the internet or a giant screen TV. The town had employed a number of people to clean the square, and they did a good job. Occasionally a police officer could be seen walking around, enough to know there was law and order, but a discreet presence. It seemed like there was a place for everyone here on the square. The town had a heart. “This is something we’ve lost,” Jim said. I agreed.

Around this time I was getting text messages from friends in various parts of the US, who had heard there was someone in Austin leaving package bombs in mailboxes and on doorsteps. Was I OK? Had I heard about it? Did I know those neighborhoods? I had to tell them I was far away from all that, but I'd be coming back soon.
 

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Thursday, March 15: Back to the Border

This day was pretty much the reverse of Sunday’s ride in: Galeana to Rayones on dirt, then the paved mountain road to Montemorelos, and finally northeast to the border. It was my third time on the Galeana-Rayones dirt road but I still enjoyed it. Another fine day for riding. This time I stopped to take more pictures.

The higher portions of the paved Rayones-Montemorelos road, those cliffside s-turns where I’d seen a lot of bikers the previous Sunday, were scarved in clouds. We could see them up above above us for a while, and then suddenly we were inside them with about 20 feet of visibility, slowing down to a jogging pace. We got pretty stretched out here, but we all met up at the turn-off to Montemorelos.

I believe it was on the highway north of Montemorelos when we got pulled over by soldiers at a checkpoint. Matt was in front and an officer started barking questions at him pretty quickly -- where were you, what were you doing, what was the purpose of your visit? Matt didn’t have much Spanish. Jim suggested quietly that I move up and talk to the officer, but I let it lay. Matt just repeated something along the lines of “moto, tourista, viaje, montanas,” and made earnest and honest-looking gestures to every question they asked. Sometimes the less said the better. They realized there wasn’t much point in asking more, looked over the bikes but didn’t check our bags, and waved us through.

We were getting close to border now. I don’t know about other riders, but I really, really, really hate dropping my bike. And as we approached Reynosa I was feeling pretty proud of myself for not having dropped the Strom once in Mexico. I’d made it through quite a few miles of dirt without laying it down. We stopped to gas up and get a snack. The bikes were parked, engines off, on a slight incline and I was just rolling mine around to get it pointed in the right direction, and suddenly … it was going over in slow-motion and it was past the point where I could right it. No harm to the bike, but my pride took a hit. The guys all had a good laugh. George and Matt had helmet cams that captured pretty much everything, and generously offered to post the video and distribute it through motorcycle sites.
 

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Back in the USA!

The border crossing went easily; we cancelled our TVIPS on the Mexican side, then checked back into the U.S.A with no hassles, Jim sweetening up the female customs officer by calling her “Senorita.” We cruised through Mission, TX, trying to find the Clarion Inn and Suites where George and Matt had left their trailer, got turned around in a wealthy neighborhood of modern Spanish-style haciendas, each looking exactly like the next, sitting on perfectly manicured emerald-green lawns with wide clean sidewalks and pricey German cars in the driveways. After the grit and the mutts, the crumbling concrete and stone, the corrugated roofs and narrow cobblestone streets of Mexico, it felt weirdly sterile, uniform and replicated, almost a hall of mirrors.

When we found the Clarion, Jim went and got us a few beers and I renounced my renunciation of alcohol that I’d made back at Real de Catorce a day and a half before. We leaned back against our bikes and drank one and talked about the trip, then talked about doing another next year.

A picture of Jim and me is below. He’s the 6’8” guy with the neck tattoos on the left. I’m the skinny guy with the awesome hair on the right. Jim finished his beer and we said our goodbyes before he headed to his home nearby. He’s a man who knows when a day cannot be improved upon.

I maintain that the most dangerous part of the trip -- or at least the most worried about my safety I ever felt -- was the ride on I-35 back home the next day. There was a nasty accident south of San Antonio, and from there on it was wall-to-wall traffic all the way through Austin, with speeds going up to 80 then suddenly slowing to a stop. When I am on my Strom on the highway, surrounded by 1/2 ton pickups and 18-wheelers, I sometimes get that minnow-among-sharks feeling. It’s not enough to ride well -- you have to watch out for other people’s mistakes. It was a relief to get home, dehydrated, exhausted, but happy to see my family.

On Wednesday March 21st, the Austin Bomber blew himself up not more than a mile-and-half from my home in Round Rock. It made me think more about the question of violence. The roads felt quiet and safe in Mexico. So did the towns. The cartels had never appeared. But that is not to say they are not there. I’ve read enough to know that the cartel violence is real, brutal, systemic and ongoing.

Maybe we were just lucky. I do feel, however, that the advice given to me by other riders about Mexico was good: ride during the day, ride with your buddies, have a plan, don’t go out carousing in unfamiliar places late at night, and you should not have any issues. Life involves risk. But perhaps the biggest risk is living an overly cautious and sheltered life and never seeing the world. As a friend of mine likes to say, Guy who dies with the most stories wins.

I hear a sound, a swelling of mariachi trumpets and violins resolving in their final, conclusive chord. It is the end of my ride report! Big thanks to everyone involved in this trip, and thanks for the those who were patient enough to read the RR. See you out on the road.
 

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But you left out the part about Jim dropping his bike right before that last photo?!

great read man, you write well, maybe sobriety and Japanese bikes fit you better haha

George and I had fun and have already been discussing doing something similar again.

Hanging out with you and Jim was a highlight of our trip, and helped us ease into a "first South of the border" experience with ease and confidence. I thank you both for that.

-Matt
 
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odessa MO/donna TX
I'm enjoying your RR. It's important to start off on the right foot in Mexico and I was glad to help. Your descriptions of the places and people of Mexico are the reasons my wife and I like to travel there so much. Our new Mississippi friends definitely added the comic relief and were great riding companions. Yeah, I did my only drop in the parking lot of the hotel. Great time, looking forward to another trip with "the crew". Vaya con Dios, amigo.
 
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Great RR, ax. Your humor, humility, & photos made for a good recap. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join you for the ride, but glad that you took the time to capture descriptions of the experience in a manner that so many readers can enjoy. Your write up reminded me of the awe & elation I felt throughout my own discovery of Galeana, GZ, El Salto, & R14 on last fall’s epic MexTrek journey. Those are magical roads, places, & people best encountered astride two wheels and among friends. Hope we can connect for a return south o’ the border sometime or on the roads around Austin.
 
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Matt -- thanks for chiming in, it was great riding with you guys, as I think I've already described. Hope we can do it again.

Jim -- I appreciate all you did before and during the trip, which wouldn't have happened if you hadn't thrown your hat in the ring back in January. Talk to you soon!

BrotherWolf -- thanks for your kind comments. Yeah, let's take a ride some time, either local or international!
 
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