Mexico in a flash

November 18, 2010

So I have been in El Paso since Tuesday afternoon and have been staying with Alex and his family. I have to say that it has been bittersweet. Alex and his family are vibrant, kind and generous people and it made me miss my family more than ever. I will see my babies on the 14th of Dec but it will seem like a long wait. I love you guys… don’t forget that you are my whole world.

Alex had been rushing around trying to do all the last minute things that needed doing so instead of leaving today, we are leaving tomorrow. We went into Mexico yesterday with all our paperwork and got our entry visas and the bike import permits so tomorrow morning we are just going to breeze right through the border until we hit our first checkpoint. I was a little annoyed coming back into the US after an hour in Mexico because the US immigration officer made me fill out an I-94 even though the last 5 times into the US I haven’t had to do it. Apparently, they have different rules in Santa Teresa, where we were crossing. Then, to add insult to injury, the guy says “that will be $6 bucks”. I was irritated and told him so. I have been in and out of the US probably a 100 times and have never had to pay for the privilege. Bloody scam they have going on down at the Mexican border… the US government ripping off poor Mexicans who can least afford it. Anyway, I won’t have to deal with any officers tomorrow until our first traffic stop and bribe 🙂

Our route tomorrow is going to take us to Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) to ride in and around a set of canyons that are larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. Check out my blogroll for more info. I am excited to finally be hitting Central America on my bike although I am nervous about trying to tackle off-road in Copper Canyon on a heavily loaded GSA!!! Hopefully, we will avoid the drug cartels, the road bandits and the corrupt police and enjoy what truly makes Mexico and its people so wonderful. If that doesn’t pan out then the bullet-proof vest I am wearing may help 🙂 You think I am joking don’t you?


Sin City

November 15, 2010

So I arrived in Vegas and checked into my hotel which was a little timeshare place near the MGM. It was perfect because I hate the noise of staying in a strip hotel and this place was nice and quiet. I ended up staying 8 nights there which is kind of funny because I was in Vegas a year ago and swore that it was my last time. Every time I go to Vegas I seem to enjoy it less and less. I am glad to say that this time I enjoyed myself more than I ever have in Vegas. Why? I don’t really know but I am glad that I did 🙂

I won’t go into everything I did but I will touch on the highlights. I went to see the new Jason Alexander show at the MGM. Horrific!!!! Probably the worst show I have ever seen… I almost got up and left about 20 mins in. I went to see the body exhibit at the Luxor. Now that was really interesting. Basically, they took all these real corpses and body parts and made a very informative, entertaining and somewhat gross exhibit. Worth the trip. I spent one morning at Red Rock Canyon admiring the beautiful scenery and I was also fortunate enough to be in Vegas for the Nellis Air Show. I had never been to an air show before and this one was billed as the largest free event in Vegas. It certainly was interesting and I wished the kids were with me as they would have had a ball.

The majority of my time was spent playing 1-2 no limit Texas Holdem. I played in a regular monthly game at home and had been missing playing so I decided it was time to test my skills against new people. I had never played Holdem in a casino before so I took a lesson to understand any differences in etiquette or casino rules before I sat down. Sitting down for the first time at a table of 9 strangers who all immediately dislike you because you are trying to take their money is an interesting experience 🙂

By the time I left Vegas I had played over 40 hours of poker. That’s a normal work week and I can see how some people make poker their full time profession. Over the course of those 40 hours, I learned a great many things about Holdem. The game can be incredibly boring one minute and then instantly exciting. The most important lesson was that patience will win you money.

It really was an educational experience and I feel like I am a better player because of the experience. In the end, my chip stack went from a loss of $600 to a gain of $900 during the week so I paid for my trip to Vegas and had a blast doing it.

One funny story at the poker tables… nothing to do with poker though. It was Thursday night and I had been playing for about three hours at MGM with a fun bunch of guys. I had been patient and was up maybe $100 when I left the table to go grab a sandwich. I was sitting at a high table not far from the poker room when a very attractive girl walked by. She was all dolled up, short skirt, high heels, nice clothes, the works. She walked by me and went to sit at another table but stopped because it was dirty. She turned around and approached my table, asking if she could sit there for a minute. I said sure… DUH! She said she was waiting for a friend who was in the bathroom. My radar was on and I was contemplating if she was a pro or what the deal was. So, I struck up further conversation to ascertain her profession. She said she was a teacher from Canada… hmmm… wonder what subject she taught? Just as I was about to get up and leave, her “friend” walks up to the table. Now this girl is just as dressed up and even more beautiful than the first. Turns out that she is also a Canadian “teacher”. Now I am more than a little suspicious so I continue the conversation to extract more background. Apparently, they were both teachers from Vancouver Island, had come to Vegas to celebrate turning 21 and this was their last night.

Not wanting to leave these poor things unprotected in mean old Sin City I offered to join them later if they wanted but right now I had to go back to playing poker. I told them to come get me later if they wanted to go out. I went back to playing poker and the guys at the table just laughed at me for being dumb enough to believe the girls story. However, at about midnight, my stock at the table went legendary when two lovely Canadian teachers joined me at the table and begged me to come out dancing with them 🙂 You should have seen the look on the faces of the guys at my table. I bade them all farewell with a Cheshire cat grin on my face. What happened after that? This is a G rated show but I will say that their story turned out to be 100% true. They were the sweetest, most naive girls I had ever met. They were asking me all sorts of questions about Vegas, the clubs, etc and were completely in awe of the place. Sadly, I put them on a plane for Vancouver the next day.

On Sunday afternoon, I got a call from Alex, the guy I am riding through Central America with, and he said that his visas were in and we were ready to go. So, first thing Monday morning I began the trek to El Paso, Texas and my Thursday date with the Mexican border.

Images from Nellis Air Show, Vegas and Red Rock Canyon

Vietnam era jet fighter making pass

Acrobatic moves

Tiger cubs at MGM

On the Road Again

November 6, 2010

I got up fairly early today, excited to continue my trip. I has been almost 8 weeks since I first stopped in the Napa valley and I was ready to get back on “Juliette” and feel the wind in my hair… or hairy arms since I wear a helmet 🙂 My destination is El Paso, Texas where I am supposed to meet with a fellow rider named Alex who is also riding to the tip of South America. We are going to cross into Mexico around the 10th of Nov and hope to be in Panama City by Dec 12th.

As I rode east toward route 1, I thought about my trip and what kind of journey this was and will be. Is it a trip of redemption? Solitude? Growth? Escape? Panic? In the end, I decided it was, is and will always be a trip about forgiveness. Asking God for forgiveness for wasting a lot of the gifts he gave me and for not living my life as he wanted me to. Forgiving others for hurting me. Forgiving myself for hurting others and for the mess I made of my marriage and my kid’s lives. Yes, forgiveness is definitely what this trip is about. I’m finding forgiveness slowly but it is a day-by-day process that can be extremely lonely and tiring.

Fortunately, the beautiful California coast helped keep my spirits high and I was fortunate to have a friend to stay with near San Jose. The next day I had a longer haul down route 1 with my destination being Santa Barbara and dinner with Holly, whom I met on the top of Mount St. Helena some 6 weeks ago. Again, the beautiful coastal views kept me in good spirits and coming over the mountains and down into Santa Barbara was a good ride. Santa Barbara itself was very scenic and having dinner at the wharf made me miss Bermuda because the smell and sounds of the open ocean are hard to ignore.

Holly graciously put me up for an extra night and that allowed me to explore the city a bit. I visited the Santa Barbara Mission (see blogroll for details), rode around in the foothills, combed through the mall on State St. and then walked up and down the beach in the late afternoon sun. That night I had the most delicious turkey burger I have ever tasted and drank vodka straight up into the evening.

Unfortunately, I also got a call from Alex who informed me of a delay in getting his visas. It looks like I now don’t have to be in El Paso until Nov 18th. Hmmm… however shall I kill the time?

VEGAS BABY!!!!!!!!!

Please tell me this the top.

September 17, 2010

I’ve been enjoying my relaxation time here in St. Helena. In between shuttling Juliette to and from the airport, I have been going to the gym, eating too well and watching a few movies. I’m not studying as much Spanish as I should but I will buckle down now as I only have a little over a week before I leave for Mexico.

I did get to see my buddy Adam who had moved south from San Francisco to Morgan Hill. The last time I saw him he was single and living in San Fran and now he is married with a baby on the way and has a house in the burbs… so to speak. A huge change but he seems to be taking it all in stride and enjoying his life changes. His wife is considerably younger than he but they seem to have a great relationship and get along well. It reminded me of the sweet early days of my marriage and I had to smile when I thought of all the wonderful joys they are about to experience. I wish them well.

Juliette has traipsed off to India for ten days so yesterday I decided to try out a hike that she had done in her youth. I left the house before 8am and was at the 4,400 foot Mount St. Helena trailhead by 8:30. The mountain is the highest in the Napa Valley and one of the few Bay area mountains to get snow in the winter. I was the only car in the parking lot and the sign read 5.1 miles to the top of the mountain. What it didn’t say was that the vertical rise was over 2000 feet so my 5.1 miles felt like 10 miles on a POW death march in the desert!

By the time I realized that this was going to be a challenging hike, I was already a little tired and half my water was gone. I pushed on, putting one foot in front of the other and trying to convince myself the the burning in my hips actually felt good instead of serving as a reminder of what a fat bag of lard I am 🙂 After about 2 hours, I came to the saddle of the mountain. There were 5 peaks that I could see and chose from and after much debating I started up again headed for the highest peak. I won’t lie, it was a bit of struggle and as I rounded what I thought was the high point, I realized that the north peak was actually even higher. OMG… you mean this isn’t the top!!! The last 200 vertical feet were brutal but somehow I made it to the top, puffing and panting, and crashed out on the rocks to take in the magnificent views.

I took a few pictures and had a quick bite to eat while finishing my water. After about 20 mins at the peak, I started to head back down the mountain and on the very steep part near the top I passed a beautiful blond in running gear who cheerfully said, “Please tell me this is the top.” I assured her that she was close and proceeded to head down the mountain. Then I stopped in my tracks. What the heck am I doing, I thought. There is a beautiful blond at the top of this mountain and I’m walking away!!! So, I turned around and trudged back to the top, claiming to her that I was an idiot and forgot to take pictures… small white lie but fate had put her in my path and the long hike down was going to far more pleasant with her company.

We stuck up a conversation and spent the next hour and a half hiking down the mountain and chatting like a couple of old hens. Turns out that she was not only a very beautiful, smart and complex woman but that she also RAN up the mountain!!!! Ran… I was suitably impressed that a 45 year old woman, one, looked as good as she did and, two, ran up that mountain. Way to go Holly! The walk down was very pleasant and we seemed to click so about half-way down I asked her to join me for a bite to eat. We spent the rest of the day in St. Helena enjoying a good meal, excellent wine and an nice gelato at the local cafe while delving into the details of our lives. We called it a night fairly early but met for breakfast the next morning as she made her way back to Santa Barbara. I wussed out and didn’t ask her to stay the day and play with me… a decision I now regret because neither of us really had anything we had to do.

Will I ever see her again… maybe? She did invite me to stay with her on my way south but I couldn’t tell if she was being polite or if she actually wanted to see me again. Women… amazing creatures but who the hell can figure them out… not me 🙂

A nice rest home.

September 9, 2010

So I have been in the Napa Valley for a week and have been enjoying the downtime. I’ve been basically relaxing, watching movies, studying Spanish, going to the gym and working on my bike. I feel quite a sense of accomplishment with giving my bike its 24 thousand mile service. It’s hard to believe that I have covered 13,000 miles already. That’s like driving across the USA 4 times!! I was a little nervous being the first time I have done the servicing but I managed to change the oil, change the transmission fluid, change the brake fluid, change the spark plugs, change the air filter, change the final drive fluid, lube the final drive, adjust the valves and change the tires without too much hassle. All those years as a kid working on Peuguots, Mobylettes and Hondas came in handy 🙂 The only thing I couldn’t do was synch the throttle valve cables because I don’t have the right tool. I also gave Juliette a bath (my bike and not Rick’s wife) and she looks ready to tackle the road.

My plan over the next two weeks is to take in some wine tastings and get some photos of the region. I also plan to visit another friend of mine, continue to study Spanish, and to get into San Francisco to do some sight-seeing. I’ve yet to get to Alcatraz or walk across the Golden Gate Bridge! One cool thing, I bought a high def motorcycle camera to mount on my bike. Now I can take you with me… if it works at all 🙂 I think I may need a camera for my first encounter with the Mexican policia.

I am here until Sept 26 when I leave for my language immersion program in Puelba, Mexico. I finish my program on Oct 22 and then fly to Miami to meet my kids… YEAH!!!!! I get to spend 9 nights with my loves and then I head back to St. Helena to pick up my bike and start heading down into Central America.

Because of all this, I will only be updating my blog once a week until I hit the road again in November. Stay tuned 🙂

Vendi, vedi, vici… VINO!!!

September 3, 2010

Ahhh… California at last. It didn’t take me long to cross the state line and I was happy to be heading south into warmer weather. I had only been to northern California when visiting San Francisco so I was eager to see the famous wine region of Napa. The end of my day would see me in St. Helena, staying with Rick and Juliette (no relation to my bike) and enjoying the comforts of a real home.

I whizzed along the California coast, taking in some of its beauty before route 101 turned more inland. I took a small detour along the Avenue of the Giants which is a 31 mile road that runs through coast redwood forests. To see these giant old growth trees overshadowing the road is amazing… it makes you feel so small.

I also stopped to ride through the Chandelier Tree, a famous 315 foot tall coast redwood tree in Leggett, California. It has a 6 foot wide by 6 foot 9 inch high hole cut through its base to allow a car to drive through. The hole was carved in the 1930s. I’m not sure the hole is actually 6 foot 9 because as you can see from the picture below I was hitting my head on it! Much to my surprise, I also had some of the best vegetarian chili at the roadside stand near the tree. Sadly, the lady who owns the stand said this would be her last summer as business was just too slow with the economy still in the toilet. It made me realize how lucky I am to be able to take this trip of a lifetime.

I stopped for gas about 75 miles from St. Helena and made the mistake of checking my rear tire. I about had a heart attack. See the pic below and you will see why that last 75 miles had me very nervous. I won’t be doing that again. Fortunately, when I arrived at Rick and Juliette’s there was a nice glass (or two) of wine waiting for me 🙂

Coasting along

September 2, 2010

The next morning I left Astoria fairly early with the intention of getting as close to California as possible. I checked my tires before I left and noticed a small abrasion on the rear tread. Crap!!!! This was a problem. I had actually gotten many more miles out of the rear than I had expected… it had about 9000 miles on it by now. I had new tires waiting for me in California so it seemed like a huge waste to wait two days for a tire to be shipped to me and then go through the hassle of changing it on the road. I made the decision to just ride on as I would be at my destination in two days anyway.

As I started off, I was really looking forward to the Pacific Coast Hwy as I had heard so many good things about the Oregon portion. In reality, I was a bit disappointed. Yes, there were beautiful views of beaches, the shoreline and the Pacific but these only accounted for about 30% of the trip. I had expected a “coast” road to hug the coast a bit more and produce more consistent scenery. Still, the parts that were good were very good and the other parts I will easily forget.

By the end of a fairly long day I had made it to Brookings, Oregon which is just north of the California border and within driving distance of my friends in the Napa region. I decided that since it was to be my last night on the road for about two months, I would treat myself. I checked into a beautiful room about 100 feet from the water. It had a jacuzzi tub overlooking the beach and a balcony so I felt the need to take advantage of both. I hopped on my bike and headed to the liquor store for a six pack and a cigar. After having a nice meal, I spent the evening on the balcony enjoying my cigar, having a drink and watching the sunset before relaxing my aching shoulder in the jacuzzi.

At dinner I had met an older couple who later were walking on the beach in front of my room. The husband must have suffered some kind of stroke in past years because his right leg and arm were fairly useless and he used a walking cane to hobble around. Still, I admired him for trudging down to the beach to watch the sunset. His wife joined him later and I watched the two of them sit together and see the sun go down. I thought how lucky he was to have this woman in his life and how this was a perfect illustration of the frailty of life contrasted with the magic of love… a magic I’m not sure exists much anymore in our disposable culture.