I’ve made it to Mazatlán, Mexico. The past few weeks have been incredibly trying for me in terms of morale. I have been persevering through one of the hardest times of this trip yet, questioning myself at every step. I’ll try and keep that narrative away from what I’ve been doing.
Since South Lake Tahoe, I headed on down south. On a bend overlooking Topaz Lake I stopped to photograph the beauty before me. A couple of Harley Davidsons and their respective couples riding them were doing similar. We chatted a while and they were blown away with my story, aside from shaking my hand firmly and thanking me (not sure what for) they suggested that after Bridgeport I should visit the abandoned mining town of Bodie. I thanked them and continued forward stopping for the night just off the road which was not many miles further south.
The following day, I woke up to a frozen dew. I was bitterly cold. Squats and jumping exercises were in order just to use my fingers enough to untie the hammock. Then after nearly being killed by Burning Man traffic heading back to L.A. I took the detour to connect with Bodie and after a fun ride up there on gravel track, I was greeted with a toll entrance, which I bypassed by saying I was travelling through, the sun was packing in a heck of a heat. I rode round the town and rode out again without stopping, taking a different gravel track out.
After a while of more Burning Man assassins being dodged, I managed to connect with the entrance to Yosemite National Park, it just happened to be of all days: Labour Day. After the 4-5,000 feet ascent I meet with a winding tail-back. I proceeded to wait in traffic the car in front persisted to waves me forward, I was conflicted between “is this traffic to enter the park?” and “is this a traffic incident up ahead?“. If the latter were the case, I’d not hesitate to filter the traffic to the front, usually emergency services wish motorcycles to slip through. I stayed in line to further assess the situation as we crept slowly round the next bend I could see the traffic preceded another mile or so up the winding road and disappear beyond line of sight, I also noticed no vehicles were driving in the opposite direction. I presumed that this could not possibly be a queue into the park. I decided to take the car in front’s suggestion and slip forward. The following car gestured the same after a few of these kind gestures I decided to tick on forward slowly, and after a while I slowly made my way to the front of the line some 2 miles up the mountain. Much to my disappointment, I had just jumping the queue into the park. I felt bad and merged into the line a few cars before the front. The ranger on road, started shouting and hurling abuse at me for jumping he queue, I guess the stress of the day he was having my placating story of the misunderstanding didn’t go down well at all. He ordered me to return to the back of the queue. I was not amused. Less amused when I returned to find the queue even longer than when I got in it, it had now grown over half a mile longer. Rationalizing my frustrations, I decided that if there were that many cars in the park, it wouldn’t be much fun to visit. I was very agitated by the situation I found myself in.
In true theme of my Neil’s in… America adventure, every “highlight” has been either disappointing or a no-show event. Yosemite was yet another thing I went to see, and didn’t. By this point, it’s just comical.
The carried on south, across the desert, the heat started to rise. the road turned into a free-way and was filled with dread. That evening I struggled to find somewhere to camp. The landscape was either agricultural or just desert. The RV parks I found were not only not suitable for hammocks but also extortionate. I couldn’t reason with it, so kept on pushing. I found after a while down a valley up a creek a little spot to hide for the night. Similar to the morning of the day before, I woke up frozen.
Sequoia National Forest
That day, nothing happened much, I kept on the same free-way for what seemed like a life prison sentence melting in the heat, thankfully I exited in direction of Kennedy Meadows to enter the Sequoia National Forest. The road was empty and beautifully windy and green and despite now only doing about 45 mph I felt like I was flying compared with the 55 mph straight free-way driving I had been doing. After 2-3 hours I had only seen 2 cars and 2 motorcycles all on-coming. With photographic stops on the way nothing passed me. It was bliss.
I found a beautiful place to camp that night a mile off the main road down a gravel track which lead to a staging area for equestrian camping (I presumed). I set up camp and then spent an hour or so cleaning up rubbish people had left there before me, annoying but satisfying. After that it was delightful, given the elevation I was now not sweating like I had been on the boring straight road, and was now very comfortable. I took a wash in the little creek nearby the water was perfect temperature just a little shallow and later used some of that water and cooked up some rice and took some great long exposure photos, with nobody nearby for tens of miles. It was heaven.
The next morning, I was not frozen, I was pleased by this. I rode on down via Isabella Lake, got breakfast and headed back to the boring straight road (I was limited on options you see). I hit the California 395 again now almost melting, the desert heat the barren landscape the aggressive cars and trucks. I was back filled with dread for the road ahead. Eventually I pulled into Adelanto. Frankly, I thought I had accidentally crossed the border, I was a minority, both english speaking and being of a fairer complexion… people driving with real bangers, the roads were just as ugly with sand drifts everywhere. I knew from researching the map earlier that day at this point at Adelanto, I could exit the highway and ride across a little on my way to Joshua Tree.
My wick at this point was wearing thin, day light was burning out fast, I had been constantly sweating for 5 hours and hadn’t had a break since breakfast. I stopped in a parking lot outside a McDonalds and I checked tripadvisor, google maps, AirBNB and various other forums for places in Joshua Tree to stay, there was nothing in my budget. I truly was about to snap. I found not far from where I was a hostel in Big Bear Lake (my trip radar had not picked up any news of such a place) It seemed cheap and only 30 miles from where I was, I figured “Tomorrow I can make it to Joshua Tree“.
I sent a picture of Ursula in front of the San Bernadino county line, to one of my instagram/facebook friends I have made since this trip: Hosanna, she rides a Honda CRF250L and lives in the county of San Bernadino. I had not planned on meeting, I was just aware of the area, figured it would be humorous.
The ride up to Big Bear Lake was dreamy, there were storm clouds on the windy road up, the temperature dropped with every 1,000 feet I climbed (7,000 feet total), thankfully the rain had just moved on and leaving that smell of wet dirt on the drive up. I found my way down to the hostel almost without needing to check my map, and before I knew it I was friends with the staff there and comfortable with the surroundings.
It was a surprise to me that the next after a few message exchanges, the next day I was out riding with Hosanna and her dad round Bear Lake, it was a great distraction from the heat I’d been riding, the trails were fun and I got to have conversations with people other than those I tend to have at fuelling stations.
That day I rang up the local Honda dealership down the mountain and ordered up some parts (filters, more filters, spark plug and some tyres).
After some chats with the folk in the hostel, I heard that Joshua Tree was not really that good a place to “visit” unless you had something specifically planned already like a yoga retreat or a climbing course. I was both disappointed but pleased to know this. Between waiting for the bike parts to come in, and activities offered by the hostel (hiking, boat trip and the like) I stayed almost a week there.
I headed south again, in order to pick up my bike bits stayed the night in the area and visited Palms Springs.
The following day aiming to stop just outside of the border, I was frustrated with the lack of availability of camping spots and after 2 hours I ended up just crossing the border in the hope of finding somewhere more positive to stay the night. Granted the border crossing was a little bit of a mix-up but after a couple of hours I was through and looking for a hotel. By this point it was dusk, I was hasty in my decision and chose a 750 peso ($42 USD) hotel for the night, a hotel that lacked windows, and the smoke detector had been removed. Air conditioning without remote which had been pre-set to shiver-degrees Celsius.
I slept with a blanket to warden off the cold, next morning, my shivers soon turned to sweat as I opened my room door to the outdoor sunshine. I bought an appalling breakfast in the OXXO (soon to be discovered as a convenience store chain that’s everywhere in Mexico), consisting of a coffee and a muffin. I hit the road and soon (before I knew it) was in Ensenada, the temperature dropped and I was comfortable again. I managed to get some cash out at an ATM and guessed an amount that would be suitable having no idea of the exchange rate still.
Presented with two options of heading out of Ensenada, head south along the pacific coast, or head east and cross the peninsula and cross the mountains. I opted for the “mountain” route. With no information of which would be best. Soon leaving Ensenada I was back in searing heat. As a mode of practice on this trip, I have always been assessing potential camp spots. The road I was on, offered me very little hope. One opportunity of hope left me dropping the bike going down a sandy slope trying to get to a river bed, after 15 minutes
I pushed on and on and soon by the time I hit the coast on the other side, I was now boiling. The humidity was overwhelming. I rode down to San Felipé and hesitant about my sleeping arrangements jumped at the first opportunity to stop at a camp site, the place was aimed at American tourists; prices all in dollars and an attitude that implied condescending disrespect from all the staff. I pitched under a “palapa” (a beach gazebo) back a few rows from the shore line. Other RVs were parked up with owners riding their quads and side-by-sides riding up and down the beach.
I fell asleep to the sound of Mariachi music, but was constantly woken up with headlights of quad bikes riding around the beach and the cheers and joining-ins at the chorus of the Mariachi music, this went on until 2-3 am. The hum of RV generators was consistent all through the night, powering the AC to these giant tin-boxes on wheels. In short. I had a bad night sleep.
That morning I headed out through San Felipé and got more money out, I also bought myself a SIM card for my phone. I headed south making it 100 miles before stopping for the day in Alfonsinas (I was suffering heat exhaustion) in just 2 hours of riding. It was scary! I figured I needed a good sleep and thought no hotel will be more expensive than the hotel at the border I stayed at. I pulled into the hotel at Alfonsinas, got quoted $75 USD night, I laughed told them they were deluded and marched out. Down the beach were some more palapas, I enquired and booked one price significantly cheaper than the camp the night before and far away from other people. I decided to take a dip in the water. It was toasty warm and beautiful in colour. I got waist deep before I started seeing dead (big) fish around me, as I looked further around me, I could see more debris and dead material in the water. I was a little disgusted and certainly no option to wash off. I stepped out again feeling defeated, dried off and went to bed.
That night, again disturbed by more mariachi music, sported by the happy campers some distance away from me who felt with the space they had they could crank the music a little bit louder. As you well know music gets better the louder it gets, especially mariachi (well that’s what they thought).
I woke up just before sunrise in an attempt to beat the heat and pack up. My thought process was if I could cover my miles before the day got too hot I could spend the afternoon in my destination, catch up on sleep and get some rest. However, fate had a different twist to it. I packed up and rode to the convenience store and then the fuel stop. Both were closed. I sat from 6:30 until just after 8am waiting for something to happen. Eventually by 9am I was on the road, and to my surprise I was informed that the road ends further down… my map showed something different so I continued forward.
Ten miles down the road the pavement ended, and 25 miles of gravel begun. I enjoyed it if not for the fierce heat. At one point, I meet an oncoming KTM rider (to this point, I’d not seen another “foreign” motorcycle since entering Mexico). The rider excitedly demands a 21 inch front inner tube for his friend further down the road, I had nothing to give him, I told him he’d struggle to find anything useful in Alfonsinas but he chooses to carry on. Some miles down he road, I find his friend loading his bike onto a pick-up we speak a while and I offer him some patches and gorilla tape, he declined. I headed on.
I don’t recall much of the road ahead, it was hot. Then it rained for about the last hour. Eventually, I make it to Guerrero Negro, I hadn’t had a decent breakfast, I was wet and exhausted. I stop for a real meal and enquire about a place to stay that is “economico” I take the cheap motel down the road the old lady gives me a room with a courtyard for me to park the bike outside my window. It’s humble but on the surface seemed good.
Unfortunately, I don’t sleep much either, the scuttle of cockroaches around my luggage all night the combined with the inability to use the ceiling fan due to the irritating knocking sound it made intermittently (beckoning the ceiling to fall with it ontop of me in clumps of plaster), left me sweating. Finally, let’s also not talk about the sink in my room that wafted the smell or rotten matter. Bliss!
I headed on to Mulegé the next day, it was an incredibly boring ride, mostly straight. Suffice to say, nothing to remark, I spent all day chasing rain-clouds that I never caught and yet it was hot, and therefore I was hot, I rode fast and finally got to some twisty bendy roads and soon I was near the sea again, the temperature dropped I rode through Santa Rosalía (post flooding) and stopped to check my map. A man named Francisco walking by stopped to talk to me and give me telephone numbers of contacts in various locations for me to stop in on. I was so flattered.
I pushed on to Mulegé suddenly at one point rounding a bend I was surrounded by palm trees, the river was wide and the vegetation around was abundant. I soon found myself in a camp site totally empty, cheap as chips and a swimming pool and wi-fi to boot! I like it that much I stay a couple of nights, spashing around in the pool and just unwinding. I slept very well.
From there I blinked and suddenly had ridden 300 miles and I found myself in La Paz, from what I recall, it was long straight and hot… understandably the days merge into one.
I spent four nights in La Paz, the days weren’t much to talk about, given it was too hot to go out, it was averaging 36-38°C with a humidity of 80%. I had not been functioning. I had had so many opportunities to see things, but no enthusiasm, no interest no drive to try. On Sunday I caught a ferry to the mainland (Mazatlán) where I currently am.
I aim to head to Mexico City. I aim to get myself an apartment and do some work and spend a month or so there to clear my head. I genuinely ladies and gentlemen lost the drive to carry on.