Ride Report: Day 14 - 18

Day 14 / Friday, October 5, 2007
Start: Guanajuato City, Guanajuato, 8:30 am
End: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, 8:30 pm
Mileage: 480

The hostel provided breakfast, which consisted of dry, crispy bread with jam, a banana and powdered coffee. It was included, so I'm not complaining. During breakfast, I chatted up with a European couple, a Spanish girl who was here with her English boyfriend. They were studying in Cancun and were currently touring around Mexico by bus. They too didn't know about the Cervantino music festival before they got here and were pleasantly surprised by the liveliness of the city, like I was.

It was a nice climb out of Guanajuato on the road towards Dolores as it offered a bird's eye view of the city. Houses were sprawled across the mountains and I thought of all the hidden tunnels under the mountains that are part of the city and add to its character.

The city of Guanajuato with tunnels all through those mountains.

The road was nice and sinuous and lacked traffic probably due to the time of day. Morning twisties are always refreshing. Soon after, the road got flat and I hoped on the freeway, Hwy 57 heading North to Monterrey. Thankfully, it wasn't a Cuota road as I probably would've run out of money. As I was nearing the end of my journey in Mexico, I was trying to ration my use of my remaining Pesos so that I crossed the border with the least amount possible without actually running out. I also didn't want to get anymore change back in coins from gas stations, so I started filling up to round digits of money, such as gas for 50 Pesos, as coins are hard to exchange back usually.

The highway passed through generally barren landscape, which appeared to be a plateau as I stayed at 6,000 ft throughout the day. With traffic being light, I plugged in my audio book, The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene, which kept my mind entertained. I still did get very fatigued and my reserve Red Bulls came in handy. I always take two Red Bulls with me for instances when I really need them in remote regions. I also noted that cruising at 60 mph gave me a constant 50 mpg.

I was going to Monterrey to meet my Mexican friend from work, Cesar who was back home for a friend's wedding. Since he lives on the southern side of Monterrey, I decided to come in through Linares to make the directions easier to get to his house. The road connecting Hwy 57 to Linares on Hwy 85 was surprisingly an awesomely twisty road. I saw on the map that the road twisted a little bit, but did not expect such a nice road. It was recently paved and the road condition was excellent, with some construction still going on. After going through the mid-point town of Iturbide, the road goes through a national park with dramatic scenery of huge granite rock faces. It resembled the ride through Zion National Park in Utah, where the road is flanked by huge towering cliffs on either side. What made the ride more enjoyable was not expecting it. Unexpected nice roads and scenery always leave a bigger impression. It might be similar to what early explorers felt when discovering new worlds. Another fascinating part of this ride is the end, near Linares where the road suddenly spills out of the canyon and is flat as far as the eye can see. Looking back in my mirror, the mountains loomed like big giants. With a few clouds in the air, they could also be mistaken for huge rain clouds. What really makes mountains impressive is when you can stand back and see them in all their grandeur. This mountain chain ran alongside Hwy 85 into Monterrey and the southern part of the city sprawls into the quickly rising mountains.

Going through an unexpected National Park on my way to the northern city of Monterrey.

The cliffs were very jagged and views were quite dramatic. The road was running in the valley of some narrow canyons.

The road was also very twisty and would be the last fun road to ride in Mexico for me.

Looking up at the jagged peaks.

I had a quick look around downtown Monterrey before heading to Cesar's house, which is set in a nice neighborhood. Arriving at Cesar's house, I gave a quick acknowledgment to the fact that I had made it through all of Mexico solo and was safe and sound. I was never really concerned about my security, or felt threatened in anyway, but there is that unknown risk factor and I was happy nothing major had gone wrong. Cesar's parents were amazed that I rode all around their country by myself, that too without a firm grasp of Spanish. After a big meal of stewed lamb and lot of Don Julio, some well deserved deep sleep was in order.

Day 15 / Saturday, October 6, 2007
Start: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon
End: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon
Mileage: 0

With the help of Cesar's driver, I found a nice touring tire at the Kawasaki dealership on Pino Saurez road in downtown Monterrey. It was a Kenda of some kind for $76. There were two other dealerships on the same road, but they didn't have a tire in my size. The dealers mainly had dirt bikes and ATVs in the showrooms, with no sportbikes. But all the banner advertising showed their sportbikes, probably to bring in the shoppers.

The driver, Manuel said it would be too expensive to get the tire changed at the dealers and would instead try and find a mechanic shop who would do it for much less. Surprisingly, around eight mechanic shops didn't want to work on the bike either cause they were too busy or didn't want to mess with it. We finally found Moto Tecina, who would do it for 150 Pesos. It was a father and son team and their shop was quite a mess with numerous bikes in various states of disrepair, including an Ural motorcycle sitting in the front of the shop. The tires were also the originals since they had 'Made in USSR' stamped on them. I suspected the work might be a bit sloppy, which proved to be true when they punctured my tube during the reinstall and had to patch it up. I hoped the patch would hold up till Chicago. While working on the bike, they mentioned a rider who was heading for Argentina who had been through there a few years back. Must be the same guy that the restaurant owner near Melaque talked about.

Shopping for a new rear tire in Monterrey as my Kenda K270 was flat in some places after around 4500 miles.

The other side of the tire. I'm sure if I had been nice to the tire initially and not gone 80 mph on the highway it would've lasted the whole way back home. Look how much tread is left on those knobbies.

Checking to see if the Suzuki dealer has a tire in my size. One of the main streets in downtown Monterrey, Pino Suarez had about 3 motorcycle dealers. The Kawasaki dealer had the best selection of tires and I got a nice street-oriented tire for $70, similar to US prices.

Surprisingly we couldn't find a tire shop who wanted to change the tire for me. I could've done it, but it would've taken about 3 hours and am saving that for emergency situations. Moto Tecnica agreed to change the tire for $15.

The mechanics using proven techniques to break the bead of the old tire (using the kick stand of another bike to press down on the tire to remove it from the rim). I did the same thing when I was changing my tires at home.

I bet there's a Harley hidden in there somewhere… Note the Che sticker on the gray cabinet. These guys mentioned that they changed tires for another adventure rider who was heading for Argentina. Must be the same guy as before…

Putting the final bit of air inside after puncturing and patching my tube during the install. I hoped it would last all the way back home.

Check out this old Ural (a Russian military motorcycle based on a 1941 BMW R71 motorcycle design).

The tires were Made in the USSR. Wow, these tires are over 16 years old! I've never seen anything with a 'Made in USSR' stamp before... How cool.

In the afternoon we headed to Cesar's family ranch house to enjoy a big lunch with all of his extended family. The scene looked very characteristic of big Italian family gatherings with the men sitting on one table (drinking Tequila), all the women on another table and the younger generation (us) on a table on the side. The food was fabulous and I had a great time talking with various members from Cesar's family. Most of them thought I was crazy to ride around solo, but I attributed that to them being city folk, as friends back in the States were saying the same thing.

The ranch house of my friend Cesar, where we relaxed and met with all of his extended family.

Reminded me of scenes from movies of old world Italian family gatherings, were the men sat at one table (drinking tequila), the women at another table and the kids on the side table. The food was fabulous; stewed lamb, pork and beef. And the Don Julio flowed like water...


Day 16 / Sunday, October 7, 2007
Start: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, 9:00 am
End: San Antonio, TX, 6:00 pm
Mileage: 346

This would be my last day in Mexico and I wasn't overly eager to cross back into the States. I was thinking that if I had two more weeks of vacation, I'd turn around and ride some more. I was told by Cesar's dad to cross over at the Colombia bridge instead of the two bridges in Laredo as they would have no truck traffic and probably no traffic being a Sunday. The toll from Monterrey on the cuota road to Laredo was 85 Pesos, from my last 100 Peso note. On the road to the Columbia bridge, there were numerous truck cargo sorting facilities. And the sites they occupied were expansive with over a 100 trucks and trailers at each site. This is probably all fueled by NAFTA and these trucks are probably bringing goods from border factories for sorting before crossing over into the US and onto Canada.

I was heading to San Antonio to meet Bob from advrider.com (tricepilot). He was following my trip report from the road and offered his place for me to crash at. From the experience of his two previous crossings into Mexico, he gave me the run down of what to expect when exiting Mexico. I was supposed to find the customs office and turn in my tourist visa and bike permit to legally exit Mexico. The problem is there are no Mexican exit immigration facilities and the road takes you straight to the bridge to cross back into the US. I went around to the customs checkpoint on the entrance to Mexico side and explained what I needed to do, but they just kept waving me on and saying it wasn't necessary. Not wanting to cause any issues, I crossed the bridge and entered the US. I should've parked my bike and walked into the Mexican Immigration office, but I'll deal with this at my local consulate in Chicago.

When I crossed into the US, the border agent asked what my number plate was since my plate wasn't there. He was very casual about it and wasn't really bothered that I had no plate. I hoped any more encounters with the law enforcement on my trip to Chicago would go just like this.

Being a relatively small border crossing, there was only a small 'Welcome to the US' sign. I was expecting a nice big banner, but maybe that's at the bigger crossings. I've entered the US many times on my work visa, but there's always a small amount of hesitation before being fully approved since the immigration officer could chose to do further questioning and detain me if they have the slightest suspicion of anything, like why I wanted to ride around Mexico for two weeks on a bike. Luckily, the immigration officer at this border crossing was very friendly and she did a great job. Two years ago, when I crossed back from Canada after a ten day sport-touring trip, I was a bit more nervous going up to the immigration officer since I was wearing full 'Power Ranger' leathers with torn up rain gear, which was definitely not presentable. But they hardly gave me a second look.

Regarding tolls at this crossing, there's a $2 toll to cross the bridge from Mexico and then there's a $2 toll to use the two-lane highway from the border to I-35. This was the smallest toll road I've been on in the US and that too, the least used probably. There was one toll booth agent for both sides of traffic, that's how lite the traffic was.

I continued on I-35 and made it to Bob's house, north of San Antonio, on time around 6 pm. It was really fun to meet another enthusiast motorcyclist and his loving family. We spent the evening drinking brews and talking about travel and other random subjects. Bob was heading back into Mexico for the third time in 12 months and is terribly in love with the country. He has opened up his place as a launching pad for motorcycle trips into Mexico as some other riders had parked their truck and just left for Mexico recently. He truly is an asset to the ADV community.

Thanx to Bob for the following pictures:

Arriving at tricepilot (Bob's) house in San Antonio from ADVrider.com. The border crossing back into the US was a breeze. Bob was following my trip report from the road and offered his place for me to crash at on my way back home. I always enjoy meeting other motorcyclists, cause we all have the same mindset no matter which walk of like we come from.

Bob and I. Bob's an ex-Air Force Colonel and has ridden to Mexico twice before and was going again in two weeks. He's in love with the country and asked how I managed to do the trip solo.

This was my response. All I needed for my Mexico trip was the Lonely Planet guide book (which had all the hotel and town info), the Guia Roji Mexico road atlas (used in planning the next day's route), my Spanish phrase book and my GPS with the Bicimapas Mexico maps.

The phrase book was invaluable to me. I listened to Spanish language audio CDs on the way down to the border, which taught me basic pronunciation and sentence structure and when used with the details of the phrase book, I did all right. Once I even managed to tell a hotel receptionist that the shower had no hot water. I was quite impressed that I could communicate that.

My trusty Garmin GPS 60Cx, which had the new Bicimapas Mexico maps with auto routing. The maps weren't 100% accurate but it was still a good tool to have especially in the big cities.

My new rear tire that I mounted in Monterrey, it's a more street-oriented tire for the highway riding.

The remains on my number plate, which I think broke off after Batopilas, early in the trip. I rode all over Mexico with no one bothering me about it and even rode from Mexico back to Chicago with no cops hassling me about it. Number plates must be overrated...

The road rash and bruises from my low-side near Zihuatanejo on my elbow. There's no holes in my jacket, so I think this was caused by the friction as the road surface was quite rough. My jacket has foam armor in the forearm but this was the one place with no armor.

Enjoying a brew with Bob's brother, Joe.

And I arrived just in time for pizza!


Day 17 / Monday, October 8, 2007
Start: San Antonio, TX, 8:00 am
End: Little Rock, AR, 8:00 pm
Mileage: 560

I got an early start and was aiming to make it to Memphis that night and then Chicago the next night. I went through a little rush hour traffic in Austin and then experienced a vibration coming from the rear tire. Not having a rear tire go flat on me before while riding, I didn't know immediately that it was flat. When I pulled over on the shoulder, since the tire had gone completely flat, my kick stand was now too long to support the bike, so I had to point the bike in the opposite direction of traffic to get the kickstand on a lower ground, which would be the edge of the tarmac. It was starting to drizzle lightly, so I decided to use the Slime compound to seal the leak before committing to doing a tube change.

Yeah, so that puncture and patch job those guys did on my tube while mounting the new tire in Monterrey… I don’t think it held up, cause the tire went flat south of Dallas. I'm pointing the opposite way because I had to find lower ground for my kick stand because it's too long if there's no air in the tire and the bike will fall over. I put Slime and pumped it back up, hoping it would hold.

A few minutes down the road, the tire went flat again. I called a few knowledgeable friends who said the Slime compound took a while to work effectively. But after riding for about 20 minutes on the shoulder at 30 mph, I figured the Slime was not working and I was committed to doing a tube change. At a gas station, as I was looking for items to prop up my bike, a guy in a van said there was a Suzuki dealership just down the road. I was gladly happy to pay someone $65 to replace my tube than me struggling for probably 3 hours on it. The guys at Action PowerSports Suzuki in Red Oak, TX were a great help and they immediately got working on my bike. The mechanic was amazed that I was able to ride up to their shop after he discovered that my tube had exploded in my tire and somehow the tire held up for so long. I think the heat from running on a flat tire at highway speeds accelerated the puncture and caused it to explode. The Slime had gotten everywhere and sealed the tire to the rim. We had a good chat and I found out he was a local road-racer, originally from Mexico. He was pleased to hear that people were touring on motorcycles around Mexico and expressed an interest to do something similar in the future. He did an excellent job of repairing the tire and also gave the bike a look-over to see if anything else was an issue, such as brake pads, clutch cable and front tire wear. Great service.

Alas, the Slime was not going to help. This is the remains of the tube. It exploded in the tire and the Slime was just filling up inside the tire. I think the heat from running on the highway when the patch let go was the culprit.

Luckily I found a Suzuki dealer right by the highway who got working on replacing my tube. I was prepared to do it myself, but was on a time crunch to make it back to Chicago.

I finally got going around 3:30 pm and made it up to Little Rock five hours later. I wasn't too far behind schedule.

Day 18 / Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Start: Little Rock, AR, 7:30 am
End: Grayslake, IL, 9:30 pm
Mileage: 730

The last day of my journey. One mistake I made was to end the previous day just south of Little Rock as in the morning, I had to deal with heavy rush hour traffic as I was making my way through the city. I should've spent the night just north of the city. Oh well, besides that, it was an uneventful ride back home. I was truly surprised that I could it make it all the way across the US from Texas to Chicago with no number plate on the bike. They must be overrated.

As is customary with all my bike trips, the closer I got to home, the more I slowed down and did exactly the speed limit. No use tempting fate after not getting any speeding tickets while on the trip only to get nabbed a few miles from home. As I pulled into my garage, I let out a sigh of relief that I made it back safe and sound.

Next: Epilogue

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