With my new shock installed and meeting new friends in La Paz, I load the bike on the huge ferry bound for Los Mochi’s, a mid-sized town between Mazatlan and Ciudad Obregon on the coast of the Sea of Cortez.
I noticed a line of bikes tied with frayed rope and leaning against a rail on the ships second deck. I was pointed to a rail nearby and advised to tie my bike there. With more than 10 bikes tied up there was no longer any rope for me, fortunately I packed tie-downs and secured the bike.
The boat has two passenger decks and three vehicle decks. There were everything from gas tankers, container trucks, pick-ups, vans, cars and our motorcycles. On the fourth deck there’s a restaurant at one end and a lounge and bar at the other. stairways on either side lead to small observation decks and to the upper deck where airline seats in neat rows all face televisions playing American movies with Spanish subtitles.
I settled into the lounge where I found a group of 15 os so motorcyclists. All were on an adventure ride coordinated by Jim Hyde of RawHyde Adventures. If you have a hankering to do some adventure riding and would like training or to go on an organized tour, check out Jim’s website. He’s very knowledgeable and been doing this for years. They’re riding to attend the annual Horizons Unlimited meeting for adventure motorcycle travelers held in Creel every fall. I attended this meeting in 2003 as a warm up for my world tour
Oddly enough as the only gringos on the ship we clustered to one end of the lounge while the locals, truck drivers and families scattered themselves throughout the ship. Walking in I spotted cans of Tecate on nearly every table. And the ship wouldn’t leave for another hour. By the time we docked in Los Mochis one group of 3 or 4 Mexicans had accumulated a collection of empty cans that exceed a case or two. I just hope they weren’t the truck drivers.
Arriving in the ark about 9pm after the 5 hour ride across the Sea of Cortez, I decided to follow Jim’s group to their hotel in Los Mochis. It’s very difficult navigating through city streets at night without a sense of orientation. Maps in my Lonely Planet guidebook are excellent, but since a guide was meeting Jim Hyde’s group, I decided just to follow them through the maze of another Mexican city.
It’s Saturday night in Los Mochis and all along the divided road heading out of town were large groups of people, some young others slightly older. Lovers embraced and making out while leaning on the hoods of their cars. Young girls dressed in tight revealing clothing clustered around young men eager to impress and conquer. Making our way through the center of town our motorcycle convey drew hoots, hollers and whistles from passing cars and girls walking along the streets.
Tomorrow I’d hope to catch the infamous tourists train that winds its way to Creel in the Mexican state of Chihuahua and through the largest canyon in the world. One of the guys in Jim’s group, Ramsey, had torn his ACL a few days before when riding Baja, decided to join me. We woke at 4:30am to get to the train station and organize our tickets and how to get the bikes on and off the train. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the station we learned that it’s not as simple as the ferry. We’d have to come back later in the day and organize our “cargo” and then bring the bikes back on Monday and we would be able to retrieve them on Wednesday in Creel. This meant we’d ride a different train than our motorcycles. Not gonna happen.
The streets of Los Mochis were flooded from massive rains overnight. Getting lost in the city on our way back to the hotel we cruised down boulevards in water 3 feet deep. I wasn’t dressed in my usual riding garb because I was prepared for a 3 mile ride to the station and a 6 hour ride on the train. The bottom of my pants and boots were soaked by the time we found the hotel.
Jim asked if I wanted to join his group on a guided ride through dirt roads, over the Batapillas river and down into Copper Canyon to the small settlement of Batapillas. The ride sounded great, perhaps slightly challenging with one river crossing. But I declined for several reasons. First, each of the guys in his group had paid good money to take this trip. There was a chase/sweep truck that could carry the gear through the rougher days of riding. The truck was stocked with food, water and soft drinks and beers for the end of the day. Even though Jim told me not to worry there were other reasons. With a load of gear and still a bit road shocked from my broken shock experience in the desert, I didn’t want to be the guy that either had a problem on the road or held up the faster riders not riding with such a laden load. These guys paid. I didn’t and I didn’t want to risk riding on questionable roads after a flash flood rain from the night before. I decided to take a scenic route but on potential more proven roads. Ramsey decided to join me.
Jim’s guide from Creel brought a 4WD truck would act as sweep on the off-road ride to Batopillas, while the RawHyde sweep truck carrying a good-sized trailer was advised not to take that road. So this truck followed us.
Leaving the hotel at around 9am our route was simple. We’d wade our way through the flooded streets of Los Mochis and find the road to Ciudad Obregon, then connect to a small road that winds up through the Sierra Madre flanking many of the Canyons that make up the Copper Canyon, connect with route 16 which is a major road connecting Hermasillo with Chihuahua and then take a dirt road through Baseachi Park and into San Juanito then finally rolling into Creel.
Sounded great. They told us it would take 10-12 hours, but we figured everyone exaaggerates a bit and we bet we could do the ride in less than 10 hours. Not exactly.
For the first 5 hours the ride to Yecora was a winding, twisting ride through reasonable roads and through panoramas that reminded me of the southern Canadian Rockies. We were treated to a recently gravel and oil treated road that had all of us including Jim, the truck driver, a little scare. Rounding a corner we found a bunch of cars stopped and a large pickup pulling another truck off the road. My guess is he was driving too fast on the recently oiled road and slid right off the road.
The road from Creel to Yecora would turn out to be our time eater. Just hours before we arrived a massive rain storm pounded the pavement and the cliffs of this two lane road that hugs mountains, crosses rivers, switch-backs and up and down and then again. There were perhaps a 500 hair pin turns for several hundred miles. Someone later told me the number was more than 1,000. I wasn’t counting. But to make matters worse, rocks had tumbled onto the road everywhere. Not just a few pebbles, rather large pointed sharp bolders. Many times these would cover the entire inside lane forcing me to ride around the corner into the opposite lane. There was no way to make any time because each turn was blind and had to be taken with extreme caution because I just had not idea what I’d find around the corner.
In fact, around one corner I saw a blue compact car that had its driver side peeled off like a banana. Standing next to it was a boulder three times the size of my bike. The poor driver was okay but stood next to his car dismayed and tired. I wanted to take a picture but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Oh well, next time? All I could think of is what if that was me.
If the rocks weren’t enough to drive me insane, several large tractor-trailer trucks would round these hairpin turns. While their cabs would appear to be using their own lane, by the time the rear of the truck cut the corner it was nearly taking my entire lane. Leaving only an small opening about the size of a doorway for me to squeeze by. Many times these trucks would simply come round the corner wide and in my lane. Frightening and tiring.
This went on for miles. The clouds were dark and ominous exuding a threatening aura, but fortunately we never hit any rain. But at about 7pm as the sun dipped behind the mountains we new there was no way to make it to our hotel in Creel. We were at least 2 or 3 hours away. A small handwritten sign after the military check point near the turn off to Baseachi was the sign we were looking for: HOTEL 7km. It was nearly 8pm when we pulled into a rocky dirt parking lot around an old abandoned building. A sign “restaurant” indicated its former glory. Down a rocky hill there were several cabins and a small light gave a clue to some habitation. We talked about just setting up camp in the parking lot. But Ramsey came back from his scouting trip below and gave the thumbs up. Soon we were served tacos, rice and beans and were settling into a tiny cabin in the small settlement (one house) of Villa Alpina.
Next morning the road to Creel was a dream. Nice twisty and winding. A few trucks. But no rocks. Just a great motorcycle road.
As for the group that took the off-road trek to Batopilas? They were supposed to camp last night in Batopilas. But when they got to the river it was too high and they had to turn around and take an alternate route. The local guides from Tres Amigo’s in Creel who were leading the gang in their truck got a bit turned around. They ended up riding through rain and fog and didn’t get to a place to sleep until midnight. One of the riders, Jim McMichael took his F650 airborne out of a rut and ended up going off the side of the road. He hung onto a tree while the bike slid down to another tree. Both he and the bike are fine. And while the adventure ride they had sounded fun, they’ll all be heading home the end of this week. But with Central and South America on the near horizon for me, I am glad I didn’t join them this time.