Mexico

16 August – Day 25

Tucson, US to Hermasillo, Mexico
Distance: 392kms

We are in Mexico!

We got started early this morning to hopefully hit the border crossing at Noagles before the traffic got too bad. I’m not sure if it was our early morning start, but the crossing was surprisingly easy and fast – I’m hoping that bodes well for all the other border crossings we’ve got coming up! We literally just drove out of the US. No queue, no gate, no customs, no passport control. We then drove into Mexico, through a gate, but no customs or passport control – and we’d arrived!

Straight away, you could tell we were in a different country. Even though the border at Noagles is literally a big unfriendly wall – similar to the Berlin wall in some respects, although this wall is designed to keep Mexicans out rather than East Berliners in – it’s literally a wall across a road. So if you were crossing as a pedestrian, you’d take ten steps and everything would change: the people, language, money, smells, sights, sounds – everything. For most people, ten steps is the distance from the couch to the fridge. Here, it’s a journey between worlds.

We parked just across the border and found the customs office, got our passports stamped, paid the temporary entry fee and jumped on the bike to head to the ‘imported vehicles registration office’ 21kms down the road. We found it, got Beamsky registered and stickered, paid a refundable $400 ‘security deposit’ (which we’ll get back when we cross the border at the other end – I hope) and we were on our way! It was hot again today – not quite as hot as the two previous days in Tuscon, but still high 30s – and with humidity! Until today, we’d only really had dry heat.

Anyway, we were pretty keen to get away from the border area as quickly as possible, so we high tailed it to Hermasillo. Adrian did a great job navigating the road/cars/trucks/pot holes/gravel pits/hawkers – and topes. Topes are killer speed bumps that are made from a series of ‘silent policemen’ or raised moulded plastic cones too close together to weave a path through, yet not close enough to ride smoothly over. Basically, the bike skids all over the place. Adrian tries to balance and steer the bike over/through – and I hold my breath.

Hermasillo is.. sort of touristy but not really touristy at all. It is touristy because it’s the first major town across the border, so lots of travellers stop here on their way through and there are hotels lining the main drag. Yet it’s not touristy, because there’s nothing really to see/do/experience in the town. It’s very much a transit spot. So we found a hotel, went for a walk, had dinner, and called it a night.

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Last day in the US!!

15 August – Day 24

Tucson, Arizona
Distance: 0kms

We had a lovely day in Tucson, café-surfing in the morning, browsing through an organic grocery store (ok, so that was probably more fun for me than for Adrian) and just generally enjoying our last day in the US before crossing over into Mexico. Which we’re doing tomorrow!!

The day concluded with the strangest taxi ride I’ve ever had.

First, the vehicle itself looked like it could fall apart at any moment. Admittedly, in and of itself a rickety taxi is not all that unusual…  I’ve been in some pretty dogey looking cabs in Melbourne! However the state of the vehicle was just the beginning…the real quirkiness got going once we were inside the cab: the cabbie was driving/working with his wife comfortably ensconced in the front passenger seat! Maybe it’s a Tucson thing?! When he first pulled up, we thought he must have been dropping someone off… but he got out of the cab to greet us and tell us to get in… and the woman in the front seat wasn’t going anywhere. He then introduced us to her – she was his wife. He even introduced us to her by name.

Not only was the cabbie’s wife in the front seat; they were having dinner together – Dairy Queen (kind of like McDonalds) – while driving us into town. Literally hoeing into their chips while we were on the go.

Also, it was raining (which is why we were in a cab in the first place) and the driver couldn’t see out of his front windscreen. He (a) nearly hit a pedestrian and (b) practically turned onto the wrong side of the road at a set of traffic lights and (c) had his wife turn on the demister for him.

Finally, neither of the back doors could open from the inside, so the driver got out to let me out, and his wife had to get out to let Adrian out.

It was very strange!

Also – Adrian has now uploaded pictures from Canada and from the USA to our photos page.

Mercury rising…

Lauren, Adrian and the owner of BMW Tucson

With John Cartwright, owner of Ironhorse BMW Tucson

14 August – Day 23

Flagstaff, Arizona to Tucson, Arizona
Distance: 481 kms

It was hot today. Really hot.

Imagine going outside in the middle of one of Sydney’s sweltering summer heat waves. You’re wearing socks, pulled up to mid-calf. Jeans – really heavy, Kevlar-lined jeans. A tshirt. A solid black jacket with inbuilt armour at your back, elbows and forearms. Feet encircled in calf-length leather boots. Head encircled by a full face helmet. Hands being smothered in gloves. Now, while outside, stand in front of a blow heater switched to the hottest possible temperature, on high fan.

That’s pretty much what riding today was like. The mercury topped 44.5 degrees C (that’s just over 112 degF) and riding on the bike meant we were also dealing with ‘wind heat factor’ (not sure if that’s a real thing – the opposite of wind chill?!).

At every stop, I poured cold water down my back, doing the ‘ooh it’s cold’ dance while icecubs shimmied down my spine. I then started to pour water down both of our jackets while riding… which was great, at first, while the water was still cold. It didn’t take long for the water in my drink bottle to become so warm it was more like someone was peeing down the front of my shirt rather than anything remotely cooling.

It was so hot, that Adrian was only half-joking when he said he hoped Beamsky’s* tyres wouldn’t melt on the asphalt.

And – it’s going to get hotter from here!

The heat meant it was a pretty slow day of riding – or at least, it felt that way. There was some lovely scenery south of Flagstaff, through Oak Gorge and a couple of other smaller towns… and then it was mostly highway riding to Tuscon. It was the first day that I’ve seen cacti in the desert – so it definitely felt like we were in Arizona. Some of the cacti we rode past were taller than telegraph poles, with long skinny cacti fingers. A few looked like they were flipping us the bird – in a ‘ha ha – take-that-Aussies-with-all-your-protective-gear-on-riding-through-the-desert-in-summer-ha-ha-in-YOUR-face!’ kind of way.

Anyway.. we made it into town and went straight to Ironhorse BMW dealership (http://www.ironhorsemotorcycles.com/) where Adrian was planning on getting new tyres and also needed to replace the globe in the front headlight, which had been out for a few days. Although we hadn’t booked or called ahead, they were able to sort us out on the spot which was just great.  All of the staff were super friendly and helpful – down to even googling and printing out local restaurant recommendations for us while we were waiting for the bike!

And then it was time for dinner at a fantastic vegetarian/vegan restaurant close to where we are staying. Wow – so good! 75% of all food they serve is from local, organic farms. Definitely my kind of food. And meat-eating Adrian also really enjoyed it… you know veggo food is good when a meat-eater is into it.

We’re in Tucson for two nights and have a heap of things to do tomorrow before we cross the border into Mexico and continue heading south… it’s hard to believe that the North American part of the trip is nearly over!

*Note that the use of the name ‘Beamsky’ to refer to the bike, a BMW, has not in any way been endorsed by Adrian.

The US medical system – a first hand experience!

Adrian poking out his tongue with a burn mark on it

Adrian’s cauterised tongue

13 August – Day 22

Flagstaff, Arizona
Distance: 0kms

So – we did decide to stay in Flagstaff for another day and I’m very happy we did! After an excellent coffee this morning (the crema even had that little leaf pattern on it – yay for good baristas!), we moseyed around the town. It was also – slightly less fortunately – an opportunity for us to experience firsthand the US medical system…

Adrian’s had an ulcer/lesion thingo on his tongue for the past three or so weeks that just hadn’t healed – and was getting bigger. A visit to a medical centre here in Flagstaff had both a Nurse Practitioner and GP puzzled, and they referred us to an ENT specialist.

Not only did nurse and GP see Adrian, without an appointment, they only charged $50 for the consult and got us squeezed in to the ENT later in the afternoon even though there’s usually quite a wait – and they also negotiated with the ENT to give us a discount as we were out of towners without US medical insurance. So impressive – and it just kept getting better from there. The ENT was fabulous, said that it looked like something he sees all the time and he could cut it out there and then and send it to pathology. He also had one of his nurse practitioner assistants call pathology to see if they could do a deal for us – and the pathologist said yup, she’d take a look for $50. Even the ENT himself couldn’t believe it!! So – for the bargain basement price of $300, Adrian has seen a nurse practitioner, a GP and an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, had a lesion cut out of his tongue and had it cauterised. And everyone we saw was fantastic – friendly, and they all really went out of their way to help. And now? He looks like someone has extinguished a cigarette on his tongue! The main thing is he’s ok – and we’ll be on our way to Tucson tomorrow as planned.

12 August – Day 21

The Grand Canyon - wow!

The Grand Canyon – wow!

Monument Valley, Arizona to Flagstaff, Arizona – via the Grand Canyon
Distance: 448kms

Today’s riding took us past and through the Grand Canyon… wow! It is just massive… much, much bigger than I was expecting. It’s kind of hard to describe really… on one hand, it almost looks like a massive open cut mine… and on the other hand, it’s just – well, wow! Nature can do things that we – with our best engineering minds – would struggle to achieve, that’s for sure. The Grand Canyon is a gorge of the Colorado River and is often considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

After spending several hours in the park, we rode south to Flagstaff. We like Flagstaff! It’s a cute university town with a good vibe, nice restaurants, excellent coffee and lovely weather. We went for an explore once we’d found a motel (tonight’s ‘let’s not camp’ excuse was that we needed a decent shower after the dust storm yesterday..) and are seriously considering staying another day here. Our motorbike insurance coverage for Mexico doesn’t start for another couple of days, so we’ve got an unexpected day off the bike either here or in Tucson… which will be our last stop in the US before crossing the border! Yikes.

Monument Valley and a desert storm

very windy road along a cliff face

If Harley riders can do it…

Monumnet Valley

Monument Valley

delicate arch in arches national park

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

11 August – Day 20

Moab, Utah to Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona
Distance: 240kms

We started the day with an early morning ride back into Arches National Park to see the delicate arch. It was in a part of the park we’d missed over the past couple of days; and we’d heard great things about it. It was impressive – although I don’t think it was necessarily the most impressive thing in the park. It’s the whole national park that’s just so special, so amazing. If you’re ever in the area, I really recommend a visit. The system in many of the national parks over here seems to be that your entry fee is valid for 7 days, which means you have lots of time to go in and out and explore the park.

From Arches, we headed to Monument Valley via a back road that some Harley riders had told Adrian about. Gravel, multiple severe hairpoint turns, very rapid descent…

I wasn’t sure about revisiting gravel roads, but as Adrian said, if Harley riders can do it, well – so can we! I’m glad we did… it was amazing! Up there with the Beartooth Highway and several other bendy roads we’ve been on. The pictures don’t do it justice really… the turns were literally on a hairpin, on a cliff edge, next to a 300m drop, with no safety barrier. Now it was my turn for white knuckles – and Adrian couldn’t  wipe the smile off his face!

And then we got to Monument Valley. Approaching it as we did, I felt a little bit like someone stumbling across an ancient civilisation. The stones rose up from the earth in a seemingly random yet structured pattern, and looked as if they could or would be home to an ancient people – in caves, temples, cliff homes.

clothes  and a tent floor covered in red dust

Inside our tent after a desert dust storm!

We camped again tonight and it was… interesting.  A few days ago, I talked about how I scooped up a handful of Moab desert sand and let it run through my fingers – just to feel it. Tonight, obviously, the desert wanted to get a feel of me.. We experienced our first desert dust storm – wow! We had just finished setting up the tent and I was sitting inside when Adrian called me out to look at the horizon. It was strange – the horizon was starting to blur. It was as if it had been drawn in graphite pencil, and someone had gently smudged it with a rubber. And then the smudge got bigger. And bigger. And closer! All of a sudden, we – and the campers gawking at the impending dust storm around us – realised that we had about 5 seconds before we’d be hit. So everyone hightailed it into their tents to batten down the hatches… to no avail! The wind was filling my ears with sound, as if I had two giant conch shells glued to my ears and all I could hear was the rushing of the sea in the shells. Inside the tent, it was raining red dust. Literally. Although all zippers etc were firmly closed, the dust was so fine that it was just pouring through the mesh of our tent, coating us – and everything inside – in a film of desert sand. A desert storm – it was incredible!

Moab – wow!

Lauren standing next to an off road vehicle

Off-road vehicle-ing in Moab

10 August – Day 19

Moab
Distance: 0 kms

I have never, ever seen Adrian’s knuckles look as white as they did today!! He was sitting in the front passenger seat while I was driving an off road vehicle (a souped up ATV) up and down rocks (read: cliffs) in Arches National Park that were, in places, multiple storeys high and as steep as my legs are skinny. And if you know me, you know – despite my best efforts to get some tone etc running around Lake Burley Griffin – that I’ve got some pretty skinny legs!!

It was a bit of a change for Adrian, being in the passenger seat.. and I’m not sure he liked it! To be fair, being in the passenger seat was scary at times… Being in the driver’s seat though – wow! It was fantastic. The off road vehicle we were in is illegal in Australia; we have smaller/less powerful ATVs instead. For a few moments, I did have my ‘Captain Safety’ hat on… but hey, we were wearing seat belts and the ORVs had roll over protection, so I figured we ‘d be fine. And… I’m not at all a rev head, but it was excellent!! I can really understand why people like them.

Speaking of Captain Safety – I noticed some very nice, completely cordless roman blinds in a hotel a few nights ago. A much better option than the cordless variety.

Anyway, back to the ORVs: we were on them for a couple of hours, including our second sunset in the desert. It really is just breathtaking how the colours change. It was also a great opportunity to see parts of the desert that are inaccessible to cars/motorbikes. The fossilised dinosaur footprints were pretty cool.

Earlier in the day, Adrian mountainbiked ‘Slick Rock’ – which is one of the more famous mountain bike trails in the world – and I did yoga.

All in all, it was an excellent day off the bike!

inside a quadbike going down a rock face

Quadbiking in Moab

Muffin flavoured muffins – and a (mountain) ‘bike killer’

Loz and Adie's shadow with Arches National Park in the background

Bikers on tour in Arches National Park, Moab!

9 August – Day 18

Vernal, Utah to Moab, Utah
Distance: 331kms

There was nothing to see in Vernal – so we were out on the road by 8.30am. Good to see that we’re reclaiming the morning! Adrian did his research in terms of the best biking road into Moab and it paid off big time… we had an absolutely spectacular ride through the desert. The stark, barren landscape, the red soil and yellow desert sand, the clumps of green – it was just so raw in its beauty, it was breathtaking. For me, the mountains of the trip so far have nothing on the awesome, vast power of the desert. Dead straight roads gave way to tight corners and windy climbs up and over desert mountains, where chipmunks risked death by darting across the road in front of the bike and eagles soared high overhead. Moab. Wow. The town itself isn’t up there with my favourites – but the desert gets under your skin and just draws you in.
The early start meant we arrived in Moab by lunchtime, which was good given how hot it was. For the first time this trip, I had to take all liners out of my jacket and open all vents… and I was still hot. I’m thinking I’ll need (read: wish for) vented shoes/motorbike jeans as we continue further south!!

We walked the main street and tried to find a mountain bike hire place with XXL bikes available for Adrian to hire… preferably also with size 48 clip in bike shoes. Yeah – no. Nowhere had bikes or shoes in that size, and a guy at one place actually said to Adrian ‘we don’t hire bikes to guys your size. You’re a bike killer’… which Adrian had to concede… Apparently, because the available bikes aren’t big enough, he’s got to put the seat up as high as it can go, which places significant extra strain on the seat post and bike frame which is weaker at maximum extension. Anyway, we eventually found a bike that was only a bit too small, so that’s what Adrian’s got to ride ‘Slick rock trail’ tomorrow.

We then headed out into Arches National Park to watch the sun set over the desert. The rock formations, the arches, the red and yellow desert soil – it truly is a special place. At one point, I just picked up some of the rich, ochre red sand and let it run through my fingers, hand under hand, watching as it danced in the wind back to the earth, settling with the millions of other grains of sand, millions of years old.

We climbed up to the hollows of one of the arches and sat 15m above the desert, encircled by rock as if we were sitting inside a giant, ancient hula hoop. In front of us, the sun was setting – with the landscape seeming to change colour, shape and texture with each change in the light. The rocks got darker, a rich earthy red as the sun disappeared behind one of the few, scattered clouds on the horizon. Then the sun reappeared to illuminate the rocks, glowing a bright ruby red. And as the clouds started to gather around us, the rocks changed again. And again. And again. A spectacular light show; nature at her finest.

The day was topped off with dinner at a local restaurant with live music – a guitar and cello. It was excellent! A Texan musican, Amanda Mora. Check her out: http://www.amandamora.com.

Oh and the muffin flavoured muffin? That was in the town of Rangely, Colarado, where we stopped for a break on the way to Moab. We got (very average – no surprises there) coffees and a muffin. Through the gladwrap, it looked like it might have been an apple muffin. Post-purchase, and on closer inspection, the ‘apple’ looked more like melted chocolate. And on tasting… it was impossible to tell what sort of muffin we were eating. It had no discernible flavour, leading Adrian to declare that it was a ‘muffin-flavoured muffin.’

Arches National Park, Moab

Arches National Park, Moab

Sunset, Arches National Park, Moab

Sunset, Arches National Park, Moab