Spending Christmas in Death Valley and the New Year in Urique, Mexico

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by jfman, Jan 29, 2015.

  1. jfman

    jfman Long timer

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    Hello all riders! This Christmas season I was blessed with some vacation time and with my bike being stored in Vancouver I decided to make good use of it. The plan of the ride is to go down to Death Valley, then head into Mexico to visit Copper Canyon, ride further to Southern Mexico then ride back into the US to fly home to Montreal. However not everything went as planned.

    DAY 1 and DAY 2 (Montreal to Vancouver)

    After a 2.5 hour drive I fly early out of Quebec City to Toronto then to Vancouver on one of these.

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    With my Givi Maxia E52 in hand I board the plane. The top case it too big to be a carry on so I have to have it checked. I did not have this issue with WestJet last summer but with AirCanada it was a no go. The Givi case did not fare well in the belly of the plane and comes back with busted reflectors.

    Lucie picked me up at the airport in Vancouver.

    Before I go any further you must meet Lucie and Pol.

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    Lucie and Pol are some of the best people you will ever meet. I consider myself extremely lucky to have met them last summer in Anchorage, Alaska. We ran into each other twice in Alaska and they very generously offered a parking spot for my Versys in Vancouver. This allowed me to spend more time in Alaska and fly home to Montreal at the end of my trip. But this was only the beginning of their generosity towards me.
    After they picked me up from the airport I was reunited with the Versys.

    Needless to say, after many months, I needed some alone time with my bike(can't you hear the Marvin Gaye music?)

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    Along with a nice and new much needed Center Stand, I had two new tires shipped to their place. The front I would carry for a while but my rear tire was done I installed it in Pol and Lucie's garage.

    I also installed a new rear chain I brought with me on the plane. Funny fact about air travel and chains. If you travel with a chain in your carry on luggage, it is considered a weapon. However if you tell the Xray operator that it is a drive "belt" then all is well and you can bring it with you. I am not so sure this explanation will work in the states.

    Bike all ready to go, or is it?

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    While I was doing the maintenance on the bike its battery was hooked up to a charger in Pol's garage. Unfortunately the battery would not hold a charge anymore so Pol and I went to Wal-Mart to buy another one as the dealers would not open until Monday.

    I have secretly named Pol and Lucie's house is the house of wisdom.

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    We can all agree on this one.

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    The next day, the weather was pretty darn nice for December in Vancouver (9 and no rain) so Pol and I decided it was time to go check out the city. One thing I learned about pol that afternoon is that the man can ride and that Vancouver is his playground. On cold and damp pavement I was finding myself riding below Pol's pace on occasions.

    My Versys had a German companion that day.

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    Looking west at the Downtown area.

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    I asked Pol if there was a high spot in Vacouver that you can ride to and have a nice view of the whole the downtown area. Not too long after that request, at every red light in downtown Vancouver, he started gesturing the motorists to roll down their windows and in his accent proceeded to yell at drivers the word "CYPRESS!!!" "How do I get to CYPRESS!!!" His efforts were rewarded and we found ourselves riding through Stanley Park and across the Lions Gate Bridge to Cypress Bowl Road. At the overlook we met a local rider and chatted with him for a bit while darkness fell.

    Shot of Vancouver from the overlook at Cypress

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    After that we rode back into town and into the Gastown District.

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    We then went back to Stanley Park and while Pol patiently waited I took too many pictures of the Lion's Gate Bridge.

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    During my stay in Vancouver, while being fed many great home cooked meals, I spent hours discussing travels and motorcycle trips with Pol and Lucie. They are quite an adventurous couple. For instance I learned that they crossed the Atlantic by sailboat in the 1970's and I also learned and was amazed that Pol only started to ride motorcycles in his 60's. So there you go folks: proof that you can learn and start to ride in your retirements years and then ride far!.. all the way to Alaska and back!.. and on a big bike, two up at that! Live life folks and never let people or you own thoughts discourage you or tell you that you cannot do something.
    #1
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  2. sandgroper

    sandgroper Long timer

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    I'm in. Vancouver looks great

    Ed
    #2
  3. * SHAG *

    * SHAG * Unstable

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    I'm in also. I just looked out the window and it's still snowing :D
    #3
  4. mikegc

    mikegc Long timer Super Supporter

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    I'm heading to Death Valley in a few weeks myself.

    Mike
    #4
  5. Sunday Rider

    Sunday Rider Adventurer Wanabe

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    Beautiful pictures and a great start jfman, your Vancouver hosts are awesome. Love the night shots.
    #5
  6. jfman

    jfman Long timer

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    Thank you for the comments!


    DAY 3 AND DAY 4 (Napa Valley)

    On day 3 I relunctantly left Pol and Lucie's home at 1 pm to make my way south. This being December I was blessed with great riding weather through all of Washington and Oregon. No rain at all from Vancouver all the way to Redding California where I get a room at Motel 6. I stuck to I5 the whole day so I dont have any pictures to share.

    The following day when I left redding and the weather was California good. However Not even 20 miles into the day I ran into a problem, my riding pants came loose from the bike and I lost them on I5.

    I realized I had lost them about a mile after they flew off so I rode to the next exit and turned around to make my way back up the previous exit. When I passed the spot where the pants ran off I spotted a stopped Cal Trans truck and man walking along side the road with my pants in hand. I was obviously on the wrong side of the highway and the traffic was fast and very dense so I did not want stop right there. I turned around at the next exit but by the time I got to the same area the truck was gone and so were my pants. I never really liked that pant anyway but I was pretty bummed about not having riding pants on day 3 of a 22 day ride.

    Looking east as I get off I5 and onto highway 20

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    Highway 20 just after crossing the first hills.

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    A little further west I stopped at an overlook and spotted this nice canyon road wich turned out to be Bear Valley Road

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    Lets go check it out

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    In this shot you can see HW20 above on the left

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    Just a few curves ahead

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    At this bridge there was a sign showing that Bear Valley Road was closed so I checked out this other road instead.

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    This road ended at a spa resort just after that curve.

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    I then got back on HW20 then turned south on 53 to get to 29.

    Theres a stretch of 29 that is fun to ride.

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    Unfortunately the road was too busy to pull over and take pictures. Also when I rolled through this area they were fishing a wrecked car out of a creek with a wrecker.

    At the bottom of the hills I finally had sight on some vineyards

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    And these trees caught my attention as well

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    When I rolled thru Calistoga, I stopped at this "shop".

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    Time to sample the local crops.

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    The bartender told me that they opened just a few months ago. It's a brand new place that also has a speakeasy type room for special events.

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    I am more of a wine "consommateur" than a wine "connaisseur" but the reds I sampled at the Tank Garage Winery were pretty good. Lots of sweetness like I expected from the California reds I buy back home and are my favourites.

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    After that I hung out in Calistoga a few hours for dinner and to let the effects of the wine wear off. As the sun was setting I left and checked out Oakville Grade Road on my way out.

    Pretty bad picture of Oakville Grade Road but you get the idea what the road is about.

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    Oakville Grade Road is pretty sweet and fun to ride. Pavement condition is crappy but the curves are just right and the traffic is light.

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    After this I decided to roll into San Francisco to listen to a bit of live Blues at The Saloon. I went there last year for the first time almost by accident and I really like the place.

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    After this I sent a call out on the ADV flea market to find some riding pants. Two days before Christmass I am not quite sure I will be able to find what I need in stores.

    Last picture of the day: a quick shot of Coit Tower before leaving town to go stay at a Motel 6 on the way back east.

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    #6
  7. jfman

    jfman Long timer

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    DAY 5 (Getting back into some pants)

    My ADV cry for help paid off, in spades! JR356 sent me a message saying he has got what I need and lives on my way to Death Valley. I hit the road and spent a few hours riding on this boring, flat and straight road numbered HW99 until I reached JR's home. He gave me a great deal on some Firstgear pants he had and saved the day.

    I also stopped at Cycle Gear to buy a few odd things I needed for the ride(IIRC spare chain master links and two new bungee nets).

    I will be the first one to admit that I love CycleGear, yep I'm a cheap bastard.

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    Not many pictures were taken that day because the roads I rode during the day were just meh... The fun stuff only started when I reached Bakersfield and turned onto 178 and followed the Kern River for a bit.

    At that point I was out of daylight and the only picture I have is from this spot where I set up the Camera on the tripod for a night shot.

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    I stopped near Isabella Lake to fill up and buy some whiskey then I made my way to 395 and headed North. The winds were blowing like crazy on 395. I do not know if these winds are usual for the region but I swear I had the bike in a full lean to avoid running off the road at times. Good thing the traffic was nonexistant because the bike would not stay in one place.

    I stopped for fuel and some Subway at a gas station off 395 as the rains were joining the party.

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    In there I met a local truck driver and we chatted for a while. He was one of those guys that I would guess listens to a lot of Coast to Coast radio and that will never quit hauling until they pry his CDL from his cold dead hands. We had a great time talking about this and that. He left me his contact info and I was supposed to check back with him to let him know that I survived Mexico but sadly I lost his info.

    As soon as the rains stopped, right around 10pm I made my way to 190 to reach the Death Valley area where I could setup camp.

    As I make a left onto Saline Valley Road, all hopes of camping in the hot Death Valley weather vanish.

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    The more I ride, the colder it gets and winds get worse and worse.

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    When I reached this point on my temp gauge I was done.

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    I pull over to try to setup camp. The wind was insane. Never before did I experience such strong winds while trying to set up my tent. Fishing the tent poles through the tent took forever because everything I was not holding onto wanted to fly away. After a while I threw a bunch of rocks in the tent and the darn thing was still running away from me. I was experiencing sailing rocks firsthand, even before reaching Racetrack Playa! The only way I could get the tent to stay put was to use a big a rock and the bike as a wind shield. I used every strap I had to anchor this baby down to the bike and that big rock.

    The wind howled all night as my tent made loud flapping, creaking and tearing noises. Fingers crossed hoping the tent will survive the night as I rub hands and feet to creat warmth. I have had better nights in a tent.

    The only source of heat and comfort I had that night.

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    #7
  8. borscht zanetti

    borscht zanetti Pura Vida ! ... eh?

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    Great stuff JF ! :clap
    #8
  9. jfman

    jfman Long timer

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    DAY 6 (Death Valley)

    After a long cold night in there.

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    I hoped the new day would bring me warmer temps.

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    My drinking water was frozen solid.

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    But the view of the sunrise off Saline Valley rd made me warm inside.

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    At least the winds are calmed down a whole lot so packing everything was much easier.

    Here is a picture of crap I saw all over Saline Valley rd the night before. I had no idea what it was but someone later told me it was probably from rams. I never saw a single ram on my ride but the crap was all over.

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    Turns out I was camped out just a few hundred feet away from the begining of Hunter Pass.

    Not even a kilometer in I start running into snow.

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    What's a couple inches of snow for a Canadian. I can do it.

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    400 feet later

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    The problem was not the thickess of the snow. The problem was that on a warmer day some trucks compacted the wet snow and it refroze into perfect ice.

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    I tried lifting the bike a few times but it kept sliding on the ice. I was out of breath and I decided to walk down the road to see if it was better a little further.

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    I had to turn the bike around and before I could lift it I had to break the ice apart with a rock.

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    15 minutes later I am upright but still stuck on ice.

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    Not being able to move up I ended up backing the bike up downslope to get to the edge of the road wich was rocky but free of compressed snow/ice. With both cases off I walked in the snow alongside the bike on the edge of the road hitting rocks but I managed to not drop the bike again. Thank god for traction control.

    I took a breather in this spot that was free of snow.

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    Here I am out of trouble but my cases still at the crash site. If you are not smart you better be fit.

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    On the way back out of Hunter Pass I had a good view of Saline Valley Road.

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    And Saline Valley

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    My plan is to make it to Racetrack Playa so I will have to take a longer way in thru Saline Valley rd and Lippincott rd.

    Heading north on Saline Valley rd

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    This pile of rocks marks the beginning of Lippincott rd.

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    It starts out pretty tame

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    Interesting rock formation

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    Arriving at the good stuff

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    Who in their right mind would abandon such a fine piece of firewood? It is mine.

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    Places where I wished for more ground clearance.

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    Victory shot at the top of the pass.

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    I aim the bike at the sailing stones.

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    Like most days on this trip my bike is so lonely at Racetrack Playa.

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    I go for a walk to see the sailing stones.

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    The cold weather makes my sensitive skin so dry.

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    Mysterious forces are clearly at work here.

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    I set my helmet down to take this shot.

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    And it got away...

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    No sailing stones were moved in the making of the previous shot btw.

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    I make a right at the World famous Tea Kettle Junction

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    My bike hates the washboard sections on this part of the road.

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    Whenever possible, I ride closer to the edge of the road where the washboards are not as nearly as bad.

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    Ubehebe Crater was where the winds were the worst. In this spot it was impossible to park the bike if the left side was against the wind; it wanted to throw the bike onto its right side. Insane winds.

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    Sandblasting on a large scale.

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    After that I went to Scotty's Castle to buy my pass (there is no toll gate at this park, you have to stop in to pay your due)

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    After this I went to Stovepipe Wells to buy gas for the bike, a sticker for my pannier and a 35$ burger and whiskey for my belly.

    I stuck around for an hour or so trying to decide what to do. I wanted to see other areas of the park but it was too windy and cold to camp two nights in a row. So I up and left and rode to Vegas and finally to Kingman where I stayed at the worst motel in America for 25$.

    My verdict on Death Valley: This place freaking rocks! This place was made for us! No crowds, no park rangers handing out tickets, no RV's on the dirt roads, countless roads that I have yet to ride. I will be back that is certain. Next time it will be for at least 5 days and it will not be in late December.
    #9
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  10. adventurebound9517

    adventurebound9517 Long timer

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    I don't envy your trip so far. :deal
    #10
    Mainecoons likes this.
  11. Salsa

    Salsa Long timer

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    Location:
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    The Saline Valley Road looks about the same as it did in 1961 when 3 of us on AJS's, a 1952,1953, and my 1954) rode in from Big Pine in late Jan or Feb.

    We rode up a mountain road and encountered snow where it had previously snowed melted and frozen with snow covering it.

    I had the same result on a frozen puddle. About the time I got the bike 6 inches off the ground my feet went somewhere else.

    On the way down we were skilled enough we were sliding the turns and having a ball.

    Don
    #11
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  12. MassiveLee

    MassiveLee Banned

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    Nice report. You were brave to get to this track with a Versys.

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    #12
  13. jfman

    jfman Long timer

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    In that case you would have loved a vehicule I saw on Saline Valley Rd. At around 10 am, a very nice 1960s VW love bus with a slight lift and some wider tires rolling thru. I wanted to take a picture but he was gon in a hurry.
    #13
  14. Wotsisname

    Wotsisname Banned

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    You're a brave or stupid man to do that trip by yourself on a Versys which isn't suited to that terrain.
    I'm not slating you, because when l lived in Vegas l used to go 50 miles out into the wilderness & up mountains by myself (even though it was on a DRZ400) & on several occasions l was lucky not to get stranded alone (no cell phone signal) due to accidents & on one unlucky trip out l managed to bust a couple of ribs when l fell off!!!

    Anyway, all the best on the rest of your trip & please don't take any more risks!
    #14
  15. MacG

    MacG Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
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    Ga.
    Another great report. Thanks for taking the time and doing it the way you do it. :beer
    #15
  16. Sunday Rider

    Sunday Rider Adventurer Wanabe

    Joined:
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    Location:
    GTA, ONT, CANADA
    Wow, what a way to start a day fighting the ice...glad you got things righted JFman. Beautiful pictures.
    #16
  17. jfman

    jfman Long timer

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    Thank you all for the comments.

    I like the road sign in you avatar. I remember seeing one like that on my way to Gatlinburg years ago. There is this one spot where the road loops over itself in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Makes me want to go back there.
    #17
  18. ronssito

    ronssito Been here awhile

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    703
    great dv and racetrack pics
    #18
  19. jfman

    jfman Long timer

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    DAY 7 (Run to the Border)

    The plan for that day was to ride to ride Four Peaks and Apache Trail then ride to the Mexican border.

    Heading east on I40 I started climbing a hill about 45 miles away from Flagstaff. There was accumulated snow on the highway in the shady areas. I had to stay in the car tracks to avoid rolling on snow at highway speeds. In the distance I could also see clouds making contact with the mountain ahead.

    I pulled off I40 in Williams to weigh out my options.

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    I found out that Williams is built off old Route 66

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    Some folks there told me there was snow falling all over the hills and I am better off going back west and downhill to catch 89 and then head to Phoenix and Tucson. HW89 runs in a valley and is much warmer.

    I decided to skip the ride I had planned to avoid crashing on pavement and I stuck to 89, I17, I10 and I19.

    I got a room at the Motel 6 in Nogales (50$). I needed good rest because the day after I would enter Mexico. I also purchased my Mexican insurance online (From Platinum) that evening.
    #19
  20. jfman

    jfman Long timer

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    DAY 8 (TVIP in Nogales then to Yecora)

    One thing that stressed me about coming to Mexico is the TVIP process. I had read this and that about the process but until I was actualy there getting it, I did not fully understand it.

    Here is a breakdown on the process at the Nogales crossing.

    First of all you need to get off at exit 4 on I19 (HW189) and take that route south into Mexico. I am told the crossing takes longer directly on I19.

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    You do not get the TVIP directly at the border. You have to ride 21 kilometers on 15D to Kilometro 21.

    About 7km from the border you will see this border office/station. Do not bother stopping here.

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    When you get to Kilometro 21 you will see this parking lot and array of unassuming buildings.

    This building is where you have to go first.

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    You have to get in line here until a lady gives you blank forms (one for TVIP and one for tourist visa) that you need to fill out here in that first building.

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    Once you have the forms filled out, you need to enter the plaza and go here to get copies of your forms. Pay a few pesos for your copies.

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    With your copies in hand you go here to pay for your tourist visa and TVIP. They will keep a copy for themselves and then give you back your forms and receipts.

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    After you paid for all that, you need to go back here to make more copies showing you paid for all of this. No need to tell him what you need, he will know.

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    Then you go back to the first building you came through and they stamp the TVIP IIRC and they also keep some copies you just got from the copy shop.

    The TVIP has a sticker on the back of it that you can peel and glue to your windscreen if you wish.

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    Now that I had paid for my TVIP... I saw that Mexico is colder than Canada: AND I WANT MY MONEY BACK!!!

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    I headed south to Hermosillo on the toll road then I turn east on HW16.

    For the first hour it kind of looks like this.

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    Looking west just as the road is about to turn into twisties.

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    Oh yeah I love this road!

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    It is a like a never ending California mountain road that has no traffic at all and the pavement is in superb condition.

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    In this spot I took a long break as the night fell. I setup the camera on a tripod as the sun was setting in the Sonoras and I made a gif of the sunset.

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    After this I rode into Yecora for fuel and a room.

    Hotel King in Yecora, my first experience in a Mexican Hotel: 250 pesos, no heat, not hot water, concrete walls, ceramic flooring, steel door.

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    At -5c and with no heat, I could have done without that 1/2 inch gap under the steel door.

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    #20