An Amazing Day in the Sierra Madres

I sit outside a dirty motel I decide to crash at for the night. I watch a little girl rake leaves that are blown away in the winds I had been battling for the past eight hours. I don’t like wasting the sunlight. I ride as much as I can until sunset and had another hour and half of it but I was battered and bruised from the roads and could not carry on any longer. Walking suddenly feels foreign to me, unnatural. An familiar feeling that creeps up at gas stops after too much time in the saddle.

The mountain roads from Creel to Hermosillo were amazing and terrifying at the same time. For a couple hours the roads were as smooth as glass. I caught the sight of eagles hovering above and their shadows would criss cross against my path as if they were watching over me. I stopped a couple times to take in what I had become apart of that day. The Sierra Madres were the wildest mountains I had ever traveled through. Their ridges stretched endlessly to the horizon like a wrinkled blanket and I felt like I was in heaven.

I swung around the corner and a military checkpoint came into view and knocked me out of my dream-like state. I brought the bike to a grinding halt to avoid the topes (speed bumps). Boys with machine guns looked at me with mixed emotions. Some smiled at the sight of my bike, and other just looked at me confused. I was a stranger in a strange land, but to them I was just…strange. They searched me and my luggage and I was off on my way.

Half the day had passed and I didn’t stop for gas yet. It wasn’t a choice really, I hadn’t come across any stations in the past 4 hours. My fuel like blipped on and I started to sweat. I had another 40-50 miles before my tank would be dry. My GPS maps said the nearest station was 100 miles away, but my paper maps said one was 30 miles up the road. I had passed a small house 25 miles ago that had a sign advertising the sale of gas. It appeared they were storing it in old milk bottles. I can track back 25 miles and pin my hopes on what I thought to be gas in those milk bottles, or I can trust my paper maps. I continue forward hoping that my paper maps were accurate. A Pemex station appear in the distance 45 minutes later.

Then the roads became too narrow. Trucks negotiate curves by crossing into my lane. I position myself for every turn as if a truck were to invade my lane. For thousands of turns I did this meticulously only to find it happening every hour or so. I felt my precautions were going to waste. I never thought I would be happy to see a semi coming into my lane. Each deadly truck was physical confirmation of the threat I had imaged behind every corner. “Yes! That’s right! I knew you’d be coming!” Then the cycle of chasing ghosts continued.

Then the road disintegrated. I zig zagged through pot holes like it was a video game. I found myself doing it without even consciously noticing it, flipping on the auto pilot switch. Fallen rock was strewn about the road and I chose my lines through them carefully. I’ve never seen so much rock on a road. Typically traffic will push the rock to the side of the road. Another indication of how remote this area was. The picture to the right is an example of how coarse the road structure is. The photo leads you to believe that there are a bunch of small rocks leading up to my bike, but actually I placed my camera on the road and that’s what you are seeing.

Then the winds picked up. They were absolutely relentless… I’ve never experienced such persistent winds in a mountain range before. They usually break the winds, but now they seemed to be channeling them. They lasted for 300 miles. I spiraled up and down the mountains and couldn’t tell which direction I would be hit from next. The wind would hide as I dodged the trucks, holes and rocks. After they were gone and I breathed a sigh of relief the wind would kick back at me again to remind me that this wasn’t over.

Then the roads were toying with me. Giving me 80 KM/H speed signs and then throwing me into a set of 20 KM/H curves. Just when the surrounding landscape calmed I saw in the distance the silver lining of some clouds. I took a second glance and realized that these clouds were actually the tips of another mountain rage up ahead that looked higher than any other I’ve seen. After six hours of the most challenging and exhaustive roads of my life, more of the same loomed in the distance.

Then I completely lost it (like Lieutenant Dan lost it) I started talking to the mountain, screaming at him. My emotions were a mixture of frantic rage and inordinate caution. I wanted to throw the throttle wide open and leave a gash on the mountain, but obstacles peppered the road and steadied my hand. The inspirational eagles no longer appeared overhead. Instead vultures scavenged the roadkill and signaled a bad omen in my already rattled mind. I swept through the last 100 miles, maneuvering my motorcycle with the utmost precision. I fixated on every line I took through the coiling asphalt. Determined to beat the mountain I rode with a frenzied caution.

The wrinkles in the landscape flattened and my fuel light blipped on again. I was running on empty again but I didn’t concern me like it usually does. I would ride as far as I could. Should I run out of gas I would figure it out from there. There was nothing but present moment in my mind. A gas station appeared up ahead and the bike came to a slow stop as everything grew eerily quiet. It was all over. This was the most intense day of riding I’ve ever experienced and it had ended as trivially as it started, at some gas station in the middle of no where. I planted my kickstand on the ground and felt as if I was crossing the finish line of a race no one knew was taking place. I went through a private celebration in my head like I had done after riding 1000 miles from Phoenix to Dallas in under 24 hours. In eight hours and 300 miles I had not seen a single motorcyclist on those roads with me and felt the experience belonged to me and no one else. It was time to get some rest and see what the next day’s travel would bring.

  • Colin

    Very good story. Nice.

  • http://www.atlasrider.com Atlas

    Thanks for the call Colin. It was a nice morale boost for me. :)

  • Jonathan

    As far as getting a sponsorship, I would reach out to Kawasaki North America and see if you can work something out with them. You’re making the Ninja 650R look real good. I can say I enjoy mine thoroughly, but I’ve only put 1/10th the milage on mine that you have on yours. Write letters to Kawasaki, Bridgestone, to the manufacturers of the gear you’re using, to Apple (your iPod), to Garmin (your GPS is a Garmin right?). Reach out to everyone you can, because you’re giving all of their products a serious real world battering. Who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky. As far as the content, I’m loving it, but I’d like more commentary as to how much maintenance and repairs are running you, and how reliable the bike has been (obviously very reliable). Keep riding and vloging brother, you’re an inspiration.

  • http://www.atlasrider.com Atlas

    @Jonathan

    Maybe you’re right. I should start sending out letters and see what sticks.

    Regarding the maintenance and repairs, I keep a log of all these things. I’ll publish my maintenance log soon to give you an idea of the costs involved with the amount of mileage I put on.

    Thanks for the suggestions 😀

  • brotherblonde

    Hey Atlas,

    have you seriously considered publishing (in print) any of your travels? I think they would be a winner!

    If so, check out Trafford Publishers. My Father in Law has some fiction novels published with them. They do everything online/email, including all your transcripts etc. Might be worth looking into.

    The reason I mention it is, you have a great way of telling the story and I think you would have success in that area.

    Anyway, just my 2c worth.

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  • kfallscody

    I spent quite a while looking at the picture of the road surface picture. That is some ROUGH road for sure! I bet it gave your tires a bit of a beating, along with your suspension, seat and lower back!

    Reading through this I almost felt like I was there. You have a real gift at writing and telling a story. Thank you for telling it to us all.

  • http://www.atlasrider.com Atlas

    @kfallscody

    Thanks Cody! Before my trip I put a new rear tire on. I switched from a Michelin Pilot Power to a Michelin Pilot Road, which has more tread and is more durable (touring tire, but not a full blown stiff tire). Surprisingly enough my tires were in good condition. I checked them frequently and I saw no major signs of damage. I’m guessing the Pilot Powers would have gotten eaten up!

  • http://www.atlasrider.com Atlas

    @brotherblonde

    At this point I haven’t considered publishing my stories in print. My travels are fairly spread out and distinct so I’m unsure of how it would work in as a collective work. Were I be able to tour longer (crosses fingers) and have more experiences to write about I would really consider publishing then. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • fzr1000exup

    great stuff,keep up the good work..

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  • http://www.theoasisofmysoul.com Ara & Spirit

    I lost track of you! You know… being on the road full time as I hope some day “you” will experience, well… time gets lost.
    Very nice report… as always.
    We will be at the Overland Expo mid April… I know you are near by. Maybe we will “finally” get to meet…
    I also know eventually… maybe… you will switch to a dual sport bike… You know why I say that!
    Be well…
    Ara & Spirit

    PS: you have always my e mail on my front page

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