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Peregrinations Mexico and Central America on Motorcycle: Open road, open heart, open mind.

Two months in the saddle

MEXICO | Monday, 2 May 2011 | Views [832] | Comments [2]

As I write this, the moon is rising over the end of day fifty-two. Fifty-two days I’ve been doing this? It doesn’t seem like that long, when I think about it. But then I look at the map, and that long red line leading from Albuquerque, New Mexico, all the way down through Baja California, over the Sea of Cortez, down the coast to Mazatlan, then inland over the Devil’s Backbone to Durango…okay, yeah, fifty-two days makes sense.


And, with that realization, I figured it was high time to write something about how I’m doing instead of just what I’m doing. With three thousand miles behind me, I ought to have something worthwhile to say.


First of all, I need to admit two huge truths.  1) I am in way over my head, and 2) I love it.


I think I can explain the first one pretty easily. Back in 2006, when I was 21 years old, I travelled to Africa by myself. (Getting in over my head has been a pattern with me for quite some time now). While in Kenya, I met a guy, Paul, who was travelling around on his motorcycle, a Yamaha Tenere 600. I hopped on the back for two months, and experienced a type of freedom I’d never before known. When I returned home, I got my license. Five years later I bought a motorcycle, a Yamana XT225, the little sister of the bike I was on in Africa. Five months after buying that bike, I drove it away from Albuquerque, on my way south for an independent trip of many thousands of miles.


I had never changed a tire on it. I didn’t know how fast it could really go. I couldn’t keep it upright if I started to drop it. I didn’t know what condition my chain was in. I was terrified to drive in traffic, on highways, around sharp corners, and on anything remotely less stable than pavement. Over my head? Little bit.


But I love not always knowing what I’m doing. It’s exhilarating, it keeps me on my toes, keeps me guessing. Every day I climb a little bit further up the learning curve, drive with a little bit more savvy, and feel the tiniest bit better and stronger and smarter than the day before. Who wouldn’t love that?


But there’s more to it than those two blanket statements, so here are some specifics:


The bike: She has been dubbed Burrito by the guys, the little mule. She may be small and slow, but she be stubborn and steadfast, and she’ll get you there in the end.  However, I must admit that I’m experiencing a little bit of power-envy when I compare my bike to the bikes the guys are writing. When I first began this trip, I was the limiting factor, not the bike. Now it’s the other way around: I have the driving ability, and the lack of chutzpah in the bike holds me back a bit. But despite that, I know that this is the bike that is good for me right now, the one that will get me to wherever it is that I’m going. (I’m dreaming of my next bike already, but don’t tell Burrito!)


Mechanically, she’s doing quite well. The oil leaks a bit, but I’ve been driving her really hard. My open-highway cruising speed is 65 mph now, up from the 55 mph I started at. The engine never seems to get hot any more, and the oil doesn’t leak as much as it used to, which I take to mean that she’s broken in. Yesterday was my first day at elevation (about 9,000 ft), and I noticed some hesitation under full throttle, so it’ll be time to learn about carburetors soon.


One thing that surprised me at first, is how much time I spend thinking about the bike, worrying about the bike, fixing the bike, maintaining the bike…she’s really very needy. A lot of it is my own inexperience; when I notice the bike do something slightly odd, like hesitate under full throttle or make a weird noise when climbing hills, I don’t know what it means, and my mind starts running all over the place, jumping to dire conclusions and fearing my bike is dying. In reality, it’s an XT225, so nothing should go wrong, and if it does it will be totally fixable. I just have a hard time remembering that when I’m in the middle of BFN Mexico, on a desolate stretch of road, with no one in sight and a new sound coming from the bike.


The maintenance aspect is something I’ve already come to grips with, although it’s more time intensive that I’d expected. For instance, the other morning I cleaned and lubed the chain, adjusted the drive chain slack, checked and topped off the oil, checked the tire pressure, and checked the tires for thorns and glass, and that was all before breakfast. That’s a pretty average bike checkup.


The gear: All of my gear is awesome. I love my Kevlar-lined Shift riding jeans, because they work so well as casual out-on-the-town jeans as well. I still dig my nerdy dayglo Fieldsheer jacket, my Vega riding boots, and my Sparx helmet. The Five-Fingers I picked up in Tucson have been awesome, and an excellent conversation starter as well. I’ve already spent fifteen nights in my Hennessey Hyperlight Hammock, which means it has already paid for itself. My butt never hurts even though I forwent the custom Corbin seat for a thick sheepskin instead. And everything I own still fits into two Happy Trails aluminium panniers, which are quite possibly my favorite piece of gear of all. When the guys are worrying about their soft, unsecured luggage, or are spending half an hour lugging six bags each to and from the hotel room, I’m enjoying a cup of tea and a chapter of a book. Lovely.


The riding: I’ve gotten considerably better. The guys always laugh when I say that, though, because I still have so far to go. If only they’d seen me when I was in New Mexico! My reaction time is much quicker, my ability to control the bike has improved immensely, I have a much better grasp on what the bike is capable of, and I’m much more comfortable driving the bike at speed. Looking back at my starting skill set and comparing it to what I know now, I’m very excited to discover how much better things will get over the next three thousand miles. I haven’t ridden offroad since Ensenada, but am excited to get out there and do it more. After all, that is why I bought an enduro in the first place.


The body: I had no idea this was going to be such a work out! I’m noticing my body adapting to riding in very odd ways. For instance, whenever I shave my legs I notice how burly my calves have gotten. Yes, burly, not shapely. Oh well. But the reason for it is all the tip-toeing as I move the bike around, and supporting the bike when stopped at lights. It makes sense, but wow, I never had thought about it before. My shoulders and biceps are becoming much more toned from holding myself off the handlebars all the time, and my core strength has skyrocketed: I can now catch my bike if it starts to topple.


I get sore after long days of riding, but after a mere five minutes off the bike, most of the aches and pressure points are gone. Mostly I get sore when I get tense, and I get tense whenever I get worried, and I get worried whenever I don’t know everything that’s going on with the bike…so I’m sore pretty often. But that’s my own fault, and I know it will improve.


Keeping my hair in line is tricky. If I ride at speed for any length of time without my hair in braids, I have to spend ages brushing out the knots that night. A haircut might be in the works eventually, but not just yet.


The mind: I’m doing very well. The whole experience is so fun and exhilarating and freeing, I can’t imagine not loving it. There are worries though, of course, and not just about the bike. Whenever I’m riding completely by myself, little insecurities creep in and put a strain on my day. But that too will improve, as I gain confidence in my abilities as a motorcyclist. I know how to travel, but the bike definitely adds another dimension.


The future: I didn’t leave on this trip expecting to go to South America. I was supposed to hit Panama, turn around, and come home. But, as described in an earlier entry, that’s not the case anymore. In fact, I have booked myself on a boat crossing from Panama to Columbia on July 27th. Which means I’m going to South America, which has mountains and snow and wind and cold weather and serious altitude…so I’m going to have to make some adjustments to my kit and my bike. I don’t have to worry about that just yet, but the thought is there.


Another future-oriented thought is about funding. I saved money for a comfortable five-month trip, not a multi-year trip. At some point down the road, maybe five months from now, I’m going to have to figure out how to get more money. Find work? Sell my car at home? Sell an investment? I don’t yet know. Just another aspect of the whole in-over-my-head thing.


Alright, I think I explained a sufficient amount of the how. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the what in the next entry! After all, I still have to tell everyone about the motorcycle rally in Mazatlan and the glorious ride along the Espinosa del Diablo!


Until next time,




Alas, I can't foresee a way in which you'll catch up to me while I'm still on the continent this year. You got some serious miles ahead of you! I'll be way WAY south of you by the time you get on board. But I think what you're doing is so incredibly awesome, you're already planting ideas in my head for my next odyssey. And who knows, you might still be in South America when I make my *second* journey down there. :)

  Eric D May 6, 2011 7:49 AM


longtime ago , I start a 1 month vacation trip in Tunis , and finish two years later in Congo
dream ..............everything its posible , just do it , it's the most important part of your life .
your not shure to do it again . take your time , enjoy the freedom

  xavier chavane May 18, 2011 9:56 AM

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