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Month January 2013

Loneliness and the long distance rider

He asked me

* Do you ever get lonely? *

I said

* No *

Probably because I’ve only been gone 4 months.

He looked into my eyes intently. It made me feel sad.

He’s from a country a long way away, had previously never left it and has been on the road for seven months. He’s crashed three times, hurt himself once. He rides a KTM 990.
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He’s collected a few things and zip tied them to his bike. Driftwood
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A bird skull
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Vertibra
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I asked him where his favourite place has been so far. He says

* British Columbia *

Suddenly I sense a small dark cloud. It passes.

Track: central and southern Mexico

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Track: Baja

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Antigua

We’ve settled in and had our first day of school.

Antigua’s in the shadow of a volcano. It’s huge and lies to the south. With any luck it’ll blow while I’m here. There are 36 in the area and nearly all have the potential to do something spectacular

A brief overview. The volcano
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Mountains to the north
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The town of 40,000 is mostly single storey and walled. All the streets are cobblestone
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The main square
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The junction of the two main streets
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Guatemalans are beautiful
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My first day of school. In fact the first five minutes. This is Merle. She’s hilarious. I was totally hooked when we were at Buenos noches Senorita within seconds. I could definitely remember that.
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OK, enough culture. This is a bike blog.

This is where Lucinda lives, until she gets picked up for repair. A locked courtyard. I put the cover on her after a couple of days of her getting bombed by avocados from the tree above her
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This is an Antiguan pothole. Technically they don’t seem to be a problem as I haven’t seen one more than a few inches deep.
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There are more bikes in Antigua than cars. There are two types of bikes – very cheap and very expensive. Nothing in between because the people are either dirt poor or fabulously rich. Here is one of the endless line-ups of cheap bikes. The assortment is interesting and I’ll do a post on this subject after careful study
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The rich kids have larger, newer bikes, but they’re rare. Based on what I’ve seen, maybe one in 100. In fact this is the only cafe I’ve seen where they hang out and I’ve walked most of the town core.
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Then there’s this guy. I’ve seen him twice. In fact when I saw him, the whole town saw him twice, because everyone stops to watch him. White leathers, matching sport bike. He’s totally the man here, a bike town. It’s super important not to laugh because the whole town goes silent as he goes by blipping the throttle. He shifts every few seconds.
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Another shot of the endless bikes
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And here’s a very pretty gas station
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Down at N16 45.094 W96 20.079

We’re a day and a half from the Guatemalan border and leave at 7:00 sharp from Oaxaca for Tehuatepac.

The group’s fairly split up, with Peter and Fred out in front. I’m a few minutes behind them, followed by Dan, Helge, Marty and Bill in the sidecar, and David. About an hour out of Oaxaca we’re into hills and nice twisties.

At about 9:30 we pull over for a photo. I push the shutter at the wrong moment because a truck ends up in the pic. Hum, wonder what that means

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Five minutes later Peter and Fred are stopped at a pullout and I stop to chat for a few minutes. As usual I prefer to ride by myself so when it’s time to go I don’t join them and hang out for a bit.

Ten minutes later I’m going into a corner and the bike goes both loose and solid underneath me. I think I’m run over something and have lost the rear end but at the same time I feel like I’ve dropped an anchor, slowing suddenly. This feeling is completely new and I haven’t got any idea what’s going on. Lucinda veers a bit left then for a fraction of a second we’re straight, and i think ‘OK, no problem’ then another fraction of a second later Lucinda dives right and I’m high-sided off her.

Something’s blown in the right cylinder due to the overheating, we’ve been in a skid and I didn’t have the wherewithal to pull in the clutch, because I hadn’t figured it out in the partial second of time I had to prevent the crash.

As I’m flying I’m thinking, as I’ve been in this situation before, oh boy, this is really going to hurt.

So here’s the video. Riders will find this a bit nasty. I trimmed the video at the precise moment the high-side started because the flying and landing bit is too gross to watch.

video

Holy shit it’s a long flight. I land hard on my back. The impact is brutal. Way worse than any of my bone breaks. Worse even than when I broke part of my pelvis. I’ve been completely hammered and fighting for air. For a while it doesn’t come and I’m worried. A scary half minute later I can suck in enough that the panic subsides and I crawl to the side of the road. I know where I am is deadly should a car come around the corner. Up against the guard rail I look back at Lucinda. She looks fine, but down and in the middle of the road. I’m scared stiff that a car comes around now and hits her but I can’t move anymore and watch her helplessly. I’m done. I know this isn’t a standard ‘off ‘, it’s another big one.

A pick-up comes around and slows just in time. The driver jumps out and runs over to me. I guess because I’m against the rail and look normal enough when I point to the bike he runs back to it, get’s her on her feet (a rider, what luck) and wheels her over beside me.

While this is going on there are two huge thoughts messed together in my mind at the same time, fighting for control.

“Oh no. I’ve really hurt myself this time”

and

” Oh no. My tour is over”

The second thought loses the argument. Somehow I know it’s not over, that I can recover from nearly anything. I have before. I become intensely curious about what’s wrong with me, because it feels huge.

Then, as luck would have it, Dan comes around the corner. The trained medic in our group. He quickly parks and is at my side almost instantly. God what a relief I think. Off with my jacket and he goes to work. Asking questions while he checks me over, a bit at a time. It takes forever because there’a lot to check. There comes a point after maybe five minutes of this that the focus narrows. It’s my left side, front and back, from lower rib cage to top. Somehow I know that nothing inside is screwed. I have no idea how I know this. I say so. He believes me, or says he does.

To put this in perspective, in previous accidents, where things have been serious and bystanders worried, I’ve not made a fuss about it. I just shut down and wait. This time, for the first time, I was worried. What do they call it? Blunt force trauma? Now I know what that means, I think.

While this has been going on, the group that was behind is now in action. Helge’s getting Lucinda in a pick-up and co-ordinating everyone. Dan’s monitoring me. David’s on traffic control from the north, Marty from the south. The rest were ahead and of course enjoying the day, which I’ve screwed up for the present group. Damn.

There are a ton of details about the rest of the day. The short form is I go back to Oaxaca by ambulance, get XRayed, shot full of drugs, put in the Mexican chase car, driven and entertained by Mac, where I spend the next day and a half getting to Antigua. Where fortunately I had planned to spend six weeks learning Spanish and touring the countryside. So as it happens, it couldn’t have happened in a better place. The XRay checked out. I’ve just been beaten up hard and it’ll be a few weeks before I can ride again.

I’m mystified by what happened in the right cylinder. We tried to start it the following morning and it was all explosive smoke and oil being fired out. We’ll find out more when we take her apart. Poor Lucinda. She has a bent rear subframe and a shot engine. Getting her back in fighting shape is going to be the next adventure.

Once in a lifetime

In the province of Oaxaca, Monte Alban is a pre-Columbian city ruin dating to 500 BC. 30,000 people lived here, high on a mountain top
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I’ve got a ton of great photos, and the story of Monte Alban is a good one, but blogs are boring so I’ll go (almost) straight to the punch line.

The city is extensive. Buildings rise off the high plain like tombs. Words are tough to come up with for this. It’s impressive.

There’s one depression in the landscape. You see it coming
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Then you’re on top of it. It’s not large. Small compared to everything else
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This is a game court. The game they played was apparently like handball. And here’s the thing: The game is played only once every 52 years. On this day, everything in the city is ‘renewed’. The fires are all put out, food is destroyed, everything starts from scratch, once in a lifetime.

The arena only sits a few hundred people, so only the elite get to watch the final match.The tension after a 52 year wait must be toxic. You can imagine the fury the finalists must play with. And then, in an act of renewal that’s close to perfection, they kill the winner.

Trouble ahead

The first crash of the tour was crossing a creek in Texas hill country in mid-November. It was one of those fun crashes. When I do all the back posts I’ll write a bunch about this beautiful part of the South that I’d never heard of but turned into the first major stop since the few day stop in Ottawa. In the interim, for your pleasure, here’s a video of my first crash back then. Luckily I had the GoPro on

video

The second crash was doing a u-ey in sand. Low speed and unspectacular. The good news is no one saw either of them.

I have a feeling there’s another one coming.

Anyway, Lucinda’s been overheating. Not in a good way. For the last few days I’ve been looking nervously at the guage. The heat bars are at the maximum but not into the red zone. This isn’t entirely unexpected. The HPN gas tank modification includes a relocated oil cooler that runs uncomfortably hot. All the HP2 owners who’ve gone with the mod have cut off the rear of the mud guard to expose it to more breeze, so I did too.

Not exactly imposing is it? But we’re not sure it’s the problem
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I’ve never actually met another HP2 owner, let alone someone with the mod, so I have no one to email and ask if what’s happening is normal or excessive. I talk to the group about it. Helge talks about the mod and says that’s probably it. We talk about keeping the cooler cleaner and alternate possibilities – filters, hoses, etc. No-one’s sure what’s going on or whether I’m in the danger zone or not.  I decide I’ll not stop and strip the bike unless the bar goes one tick over the current high mark.

So I’m not worrying too much as we ride towards Oaxaca, but it’s on my mind.

Into the countryside. the deeper you get, the more basic the farming. Here a farmer plows his field with oxen. His horse follows him around
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Through these beautiful towns
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Stopping to eat at the typical roadside stands. The food is always excellent and costs a buck or so
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They’re harvesting sugar cane everywhere
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Loading the cane onto trucks
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And on to Oaxaca, where the story’s really strange
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Xinantecatl

( Once again I have to apologize for the lack of photos and accompanying narrative. The group’s moving quickly)

After a rest day in SM Allende, we push to Oaxaca through agricultural land into the heart of Mexico. It’s repetitive long stretches with occasional climbs into the hills. A representative view
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This is where they get the hotel lobby plants
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It’s not often that the places I’ve stayed have been remarkable, but Rodavento in Valle de Bravo was spooky. Set in a gulley, with cabins on a steep hillside above it, the lush quietness, the carp as big as dogs that patrol the lake and  the mist were unworldly . Put this on your list
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Leaving Valle de Bravo, the group splits into two. Helge, Fred and I head for Xinantecatl. Stopping for a coffee, we meet up with two local riders from Mexico City. Arturo and Victor are busting with enthusiasm to ride with the legendary Helge Pedersen. I quietly tell myself they’re in for a bit of a disappointment because the thing about Helge is that you don’t notice he’s there. I’ve taken to calling him The Ghost. You kindof know where everyone is, ahead, behind, stopped, when you’re riding with the group. But not Helge. He appears from behind when you thought he was ahead and you pass him gassing up when you could have sworn he was behind. He took a picture of me from a building or a bridge ten days ago and up until that moment I thought I knew for a fact I was way ahead of everyone. Wrong. Like anyone at the cutting edge of the art, his style is immaculate and he has no technical mannerisms. Or conceits.

Talking about visual conceits, most of us have carefully cultivated theatrics that say ‘ hey, I’m really really really good ‘. Like the launch-with-a-trailing-foot thing that my good friend DR does. It looks cool and says ‘I’m so on my game that I’ll bring my foot up when I damn well feel like it’. Or the launch-while-looking-calmly-over-the-shoulder-even-into-traffic. It looks cool and says ‘I’m so on my game that I have an innate sense of my surroundings as I launch’. Or the glove or visor adjustment while launching. It looks cool and says ‘I’m so on my game that I can fine tune various details while I launch’. It’s important to have one or more of these visuals mastered unless, actually, you’re really really good.

Mainly this is a sport bike thing, where appearance is everything. Doing one or more of them on a dual-sport bike says ‘In my extensive inventory of past and present skills, i used to be a very very fast sport bike rider. Godlike, actually’.

But dual-sport and sport bike behaviours differ when it comes to the message. The general message you need to get across on a sport bike is ‘ this machine is lethally powerful. It would kill you instantly but to me it’s nothing. Danger is my currency. I’m a Master of the Universe’. The dual-sport message is ‘ I have seen things in far-away places that you will never see and faced dangers you will never face. Cannibals and cliffs. You are city dwelling and soft. I’m immortal, hundreds of years old, and the son of Zoltan’.

Another critical difference is that the sport bike message is broadcast to other riders but the dual-sport message is directed at women.

The sport bike message is actually reasonably honest. The dual-sport message is often a big lie. You can’t fake it on a fast sport bike. You can, to an extent, on a dual-sport.

But if you’re really good you don’t do or broadcast anything. You just ride. If truth be told, very few of us are that good. Helge’s one of the few.

So our awestruck local riders, looking for something that Helge does to talk about over cervezas are not going to find it today. But they’re young and as keen as puppies so it’s going to be a fine day. I check out their bikes, 800 GS’s, and I’m impressed at their no-bullshit setup. No doubt they can ride.

Here’s Helge schooling the puppies. As they walked away they left little pee puddles
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So off we go. The climb up the volcano is 17 miles long.  Low down on the flanks
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At about 7000′ Lucinda stops to check out the view
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Me following Fred. The track is narrow and in places icy with dramatic drop-offs. No falling allowed here.  Actually Arturo does crash, but fortunately in a safe place. See the post “cobblestones and ice’ for video taken at 10,000 feet
Motorcycle tour in Mexcico

I guess the only thing I can say about this ride is it’s one of the best I’ve ever done, and maybe the best. Worth shipping your bike to Mexico City specifically to do. I wish I’d taken more photographs but the memory will be vivid for years. Riding it with Helge and Fred is icing on the cake.

The conditions are perfect. Cold, clear and the climb so fast and dramatic that we felt the air thinning as we approached the pass into the caldera at what Helge says was 14,500 feet, about 1000 feet below the ultimate peak.

The caldera was breathtaking. We rode down to the edge of the lake. The customary shot – from the left Victor, Fred, Arturo and Helge
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Me cruising the shoreline before nearly burying Lucinda in one of the pools of quicksand
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