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Alegria

A quick note, as this written a day late.

We’re headed for this, Volcan Tecapa, and a small town that sits just several hundred meters from the top, on a shelf, Alegria.
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But first we head across the lowlands, crisscrossed by rivers coming down from the highlands, on our left and we ride south, to the sea, close-by, on our right. Every one is beautiful.

First a quick picture tour of the lowlands
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The war ended only 19 years ago, so there’s plenty of this about. A feature of wartime construction is metal doors in brick walls and it looks damn grim. I’ll remember to get a photo. Lots of grim things in El Salvador from that era.
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A huge river, Rio Jiboa
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A typical town on the way
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Then, after maybe 50 miles, there’s a road heading up to volcano and Alegria. There was just about nowhere to stop for photos on the switchbacks, but here’s the thing: it’s maybe the best 20 miles of asphalt I’ve ridden on this tour, if not ever1st and 2nd gear for most of it! Better, for it’s distance than Dragon’s Tail in North Carolina, better than Devils Spine, Mexico. Unphotographable because it’s narrow, no shoulders, precipitous drops occasionally, blind corners, steep, everything, but i’ll try. A track of a section – what this doesn’t show is it’s steep
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Once you start you can’t stop, and to add to the beauty, one side’s a jungle. But what I’ll remember it most for, other than the crazy view, is the half dozen brilliant chicanes, just flip-flopping into perfectly cambered and perfect -radius bends. Pictures of the view, from another road down to the plains, in the following post.

Into beautiful Alegria
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Last day at school and two bus trips

Friday was the last day of school.

I got a diploma, haha

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But I dodged the ceremony, against the wishes of WBD #2. I pulled this off by asking my teacher Merle to go on a bus trip to a nearby Mayan village I hadn’t been to. San Antonio is about a half hour trip and I reckoned by the time we were back the grad ceremony would be over. This worked perfectly and was totally OK with Merle.

We swopped gifts. After some consultation I was told cash is king and gave Merle some Quetzales in a Mayan-made card and envelope. Merle made me a strange card and gave me what I wanted, a back-up Mayan textile wallet.

The card she made me’s crazy since I show up in sweat-stained T-shirts

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I’ll miss Merle – sharp as a whip, zany in a good way. A devout Catholic, she raises two boys with her husband in the largely Mayan village of San Andreas.

I took a short video of her yesterday to remember her by. Here she’s scolding me, haha

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So off we go and here she’s being zany asking where the San Antonio bus waits. Notice how the lady is thinking, whoa

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Here she asks the bus driver when he leaves.

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On we go and the bus waits while a fellow stands up front and does an interesting thing (see the video below). The fellow stood in front of us, introduced himself. He was carrying a large pot of candies. He then walked up the isle and gave us each two. Everyone (except me) knew what was coming and despite that graciously accepted them.

He then returned to the front and explained that he was once a robber (ladrone) which is the main thing here outside of not being a robber. He explained at great length that he saw how terrible he had been, but now he saw the terribleness of himself and how industriously he’s working to live a righteous life and we should buy the candies.

Here’s the guy on the bus doing his thing

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Here’s the interesting thing:

1) everyone accepted the candies, before he started in on us

2) the Mayan passengers have all heard this before, maybe everyday

3) they listened politely and intently, no dissenters

4) they all bought the candies when he came around to either collect them, or accept 1 Quetzal.

5) Merle say the Mayans go along with this because it’s not a heist, it’s a philosophy and the immediate picture isn’t the point.

The Mayans keep their ways a secret, but here’s an example of their thoughtfulness. When they graft onto rootstock, they apply the new graft under a new moon at perigee because, obviously, the most important thing is that moisture from the root stock flows with maximum advantage into the new growth, and the greater gravitational attraction of a that moon gives it a very small edge. They know it’s tiny, but tiny still helps.

Arriving at San Antonio, off the tourist map, the bus stop. Anything not very old is cinder block construction. Same as Mexico, but done best by the Hopi of Arizona, who’ve taken cider block to a higher place altogether. As usual, they don’t clip the rebar when they’ve finished the build.

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Then a walk into town

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Past a washing tank

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From the second story of a market there was a loudspeaker instructing school girls how to get organized for the procession, among other things

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Down in the church square the girls were lining up, being measured for shoulder height with a pole across their shoulders. The following two photos are intentionally shot from behind. The Mayans don’t like to be photographed and you generally have to ask

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The young boys had already started up a street with their anda

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Yesterday Claudia and I went to San Felipe to see the display

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So ends a busy week.

This morning I downloaded more software for Basecamp. I’ve found that no two maps have all the answers. One GPS map is strong in one area, another in another. It makes route building a little more complicated but as of now I have a series of route options plugged in and we’ll see which way the wind takes me.

The final parts come into Guatemala City Tuesday. Then a couple of days of re-building.

Everything else is ready for a quick shakedown.

Saludos
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Sinners

The highlight of Holy Week in Antigua is the Procession. Preceding it are 5 Processions over 5 weeks.

Briefly the Procession is two groups of men carrying andas over a route between churches that winds through the streets of Antigua, over (and destroying) the beautiful flower and dyed sawdust carpets for a few miles.

The carpets
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An anda
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Tens of thousands of people watch from the sides of the streets, it’s the event of the year, and it’s a good idea to pick a spot a couple of hours in advance. If you’re tall you’re in luck. I’ve a few not-so-tall friends so out of tact I’ve avoided mentioning the most glaring truth about Guatemaltecas other than their good nature when unarmed. The average height is 1.65 meters. This is about .17 meters short of less than, er, a fair deal. This explains why I have to take the pictures of the militia at a bit of a distance and crop the photo hard. If I crouched down for a shot of a guy with a shotgun that might not end well. But a bit of height’s a huge advantage in a crowd so I had a great view and Claudia’s (shortish) studying for an English exam the next day so no problem.

Basically the Procession’s an opportunity for Antiguans, who’ve sinned in the preceding year, to shoulder the load of an anda, as Jesus (if you like) did with the cross. They have to pay some money. For this, they’re totally absolved of their sins. Piece of cake.

It may not look like it but 86 men carry two andas, a few hundred yards apart, total 172 men. They switch men every block or so because there are more than 172 sinning men in Antigua. This is interesting to know because then you can do the math given Antigua has a population of 35,000 and let’s guess 40 change-overs. It’s a whopping percentage of sinners. But it’s all relative. Hopefully the sins here are, on average, no greater than forgetting to take out the garbage. But if this was home, West Van, it would be the entire male population out there the percentage might be a bit higher.

So I have my spot in the crowd – it’s a great spot because the street here is narrow.
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Here are a few photo’s and some short videos.

Walking early downtown
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It gets crazier as various groups and camps position themselves
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And
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Views are at a premium. This kid was almost the only gringo I saw all day. The tourists for some reason avoided all this. Maybe because it was fairly intense. Their loss.
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So, rather than pics, a few short videos of what happens next. The sounds and movement are much more impressive.

First, the incense
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then the anda comes into view
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and closer
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and then it’s here
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After, the Guatemaltecas hung around the various parks
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Last to leave are the beautiful, thoughtful, Mayans
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I wondered about the chaotic mess that used to be wonderful carpets but soon that was dealt with too
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I could try to describe all the activities but it would fall far short of doing this day justice, so best to not try.

Saludos
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A song, a dance and a crash

Antigua’s gearing up. The festivities and processions for Lent are the most spectacular in the western world, a week or so away. The town is filling up.

They’re laying carpets of petals and dyed sawdust down the roads. This Sunday or Monday I’ll show you how, why and when they destroy them.

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So, three videos

Firstly, a song. The band is Mayan. Like the Guatemalan Latinos they’re diminutive, shy (unless armed) and charming. A little bit of body movement is an extravagance here. I’ve listened to many musicians in Antigua and this is at the cutting edge of letting loose. I’ve kept the clip short.

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A dance. Today school kids were dancing in the streets all over town. If this doesn’t win for you, you have a heart of stone

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A crash. Recently Taz here repaired a 1200 GS for a Russian rider who went down near Tikal, a few hundred miles north. Here’s his video. I’ll be through there after the mountains to the northwest. I sent this video to someone recently who felt it was rider error. What do you think? Oh, and another thing you’re thinking: porque no gloves ? There’s a very interesting second part to this story I’ll offer up if anyone has a decent comment on rider fault/no fault here…

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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.

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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.

Dual sport and destinations

Today, like many others on this strange trip, will be total in my memory, mile by mile and for some of it corner by corner. Whooping! in my helmet almost gave me a sore throat. Today was a short day to Canyon de Chelly, only 164 miles, dirt included, so the satisfaction of every yard had plenty of space to be lived and re-lived as it was happening.

The route took Indian Service Road 13, maybe twenty miles from Farmington into the Navajo Reserve to Lukachukai, then ISR 12, then ISR 64. The map shows half of 13 as unpaved (my GPS couldn’t even find it until we were on top of it) but when we got that far it had been newly paved, unfortunately. If it had still been unpaved, that section would have been maybe too interesting, as the new sign where the ‘plunge’ happens says it’s 14% grade, then a ten mile stretch out of the mountains. See below.

The desolate ride through the desert at first takes you past Ship Rock, about four miles off the road. The desert sand is golden at this point. Taking the dirt road through this flat, surreal colour to the Rock was a fine start to the day. This picture doesn’t capture it because I’m using a barely adequate camera, the video does better.  Here’s Lucinda at the base.
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Here’s a short section of video. It’s hard to describe how it felt to be in the middle of nothing for many miles around, except this rock and an escarpment beside it, and riding to it, alone. This is one reason I’m doing this – to have these experiences in as many places as I can find.

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Then, later, still on 13 and beside the road, odd formations began to appear, usually with a reservation home or two in near sight.
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Abruptly, the desert stopped and the mountains started. Within twenty minutes we were above the snow line. I thought of home.
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The twisties were open on the way up and tight on the way down.
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Further down, snow gone, it was OK to put her on the kickstand without a fall over and take a pic. Look at the tree angle directly away from the camera.
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And then at the bottom of the mountain, it started doing this
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Then back to the plains. Pic looks back over the town of Lukachukai.
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Gas and a meal at the first Navajo town we’ve passed on the reserve. Meal = map, minitacos, milk.
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Then, Canyon de Chelly.  I’m stumped here because arriving at 3:00 the light was dull behind gathering clouds, and every minute that passed made for worse pics. So you have to imagine. TH had told me this was a must and it was. I’ll write about it another time, but I think the point is that de Chelly is an enormous no-gaps artifact combining a near perfect view of the physical living experiences of a tribe, the Anasazi, condensed in an oasis of creative opportunity, and the beyond belief structure of the place, all of which you can see. It’s a huge, and with some visually informed imagination, a near complete story in one shot, and that didn’t come by ever, I didn’t think. Enough on this, words don’t do it. TH didn’t even try hard, and he’s good with them. I actually don’t have one good shot compared to all the one’s you’ve seen, but here’s one of a  cliff home.
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The land they farmed and lived on, surrounded by the huge enclosing walls made me want to live it
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So we stayed until the sun went down
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Until dark
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Then on to Chinle.

Sand

First, for the riders, a little suspension history.

Back in BC, the rear Continental air shock was swapped for Ohlins. The front forks were swapped for WP 48mm’s, plus a new big lower clamp and (in Atlanta) the springs were swapped for progressives.  I detoured my route specifically to see Bobby at BMW Atlanta, owner of two (!) HP2s and perhaps the most respected mind, according to ADV, on the HP2 subject in the States. He de-bugged the hardware and gave me adjustment instructions to think about. The real work had to be done by riding it, obviously.

So I’ve been trying to dial it in. Even by Texas things were still not close, with a dead front end feel, and me pretty much blaming myself for not showing the confidence needed since my injury in the spring. But I also knew that I was having to make serious allowances, airing down to an extreme, shedding all weight, picking off-topic lines, jacking rear preload, whatever, to get the front to bite. But really I know nothing and needed help, bad. So I called Bobby again a few days ago with tales of woe. We ran through everything. Finally he left me with two things to check and one thing to change, patiently walking me through the theory, and I did as instructed.

As I rolled into Farmington yesterday there were dirt roads, ungated, leading off into the hills that looked perfect. As in sand. My recent, but not in the past, enemy.

Today, despite the promise of what’s just a day or two ahead, down the road, I took the day off to ride the roads I’d seen coming in. And things couldn’t have been better. Fixed – I have a front wheel again.

The roads I picked were packed and, on the larger ones to the BP oil/gas works all around here, graded flat, like snow, with berms off to the sides. But sand. My nerves were a bit tattered after something as straightforward as the Oldore sand washes making me feel a bit of an idiot. Off we went. And guess what, the ride was Velcro, as it should be. It was the rear rebound causing the problem with the front, exactly as Bobby said.
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Softer graded sand after an hour or so and still as easy as pavement on this very pretty road in the hills
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So we went sightseeing. Over this bridge
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And beside this bridge – ATV tracks led me out on a scenic river bed and back to it. I was expecting quicksand to China.

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Beside some deep cuts
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A good day.

Plains of Agustin

The temperature’s been dropping daily and we’re off to a cold start to the Cibola Forests. About 50 miles from Socorro, it’s a climb up and over hills to the Plains of Agustin (correct spelling) which is vast and beautiful, 50 miles by 20 at 7000′. Antelope, hare/rabbit things, very bloody cold and flat. Smack in the middle of this enormous plain is the Very Large Array.

There were also some dirt roads.

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After leaving the Plains it’s through more hills and into the Cibola forests. Not so much a forest, but trees where there have been none for days.

Looking back towards the Plains.

And into Pie Town. More a tiny village and named after the apple pies they made in the 20’s. Yup, another oddball name, like Truth Or Consequences, NM. The cafe where they originally made the pies still sells them as they were.

Down the road a bit, a more typical building. There’s no-one to be seen. As usual.

And then a 100 miles down, past a sandstone escarpment to San Raphael and Grant’s.

Ride notes: Stop and add insulation and winter gloves when I first need them, not later.