17: Guadalajara to Denver, Colorado

    Saturday evening of the 27th, I set out with Minerva and her boyfriend to a local bar where their friend is celebrating his birthday. The majority of the people here are dressed fancy. I come in a t-shirt and my worn riding pants. Most of the people here are young, and the setting isn't that upscale, so I don't feel under-dressed. The music has the bass turned way too high. Between the overplayed radio hits and distorted house music, the tracks I recognize and like are too unbalanced to enjoy. Their electrical system can't even handle how high it's turned up and the lights dim at every bass hit.
    Minerva and I are hungry, so we push for the exodus to taco-stand row. It's late, but this is the taco stands' busiest time. After devouring a few veggie street tacos, we cruise over to a house of couchsurfers that Minerva knows. As we pull to a spot on the side of the street, we can hear live music from the second story. A phone call is made, and someone quickly comes down to let us in. We climb the large staircase that leads to a room with a jam session in progress, with sax, guitar, and keyboard.

Late night jam (Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico 11/28/2010)

Jamin (Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico 11/28/2010)

Sax, Guitar, and Keys Jam (Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico 11/28/2010)

    It's a much more enjoyable atmosphere than the bar we were at. Most of the people here are college students my age, and know English. There's dancing, beer, mixed drinks, and cooking in the kitchen. We don't stay for too long, but it's enough time to hear some good jams and have a pleasant conversation with a girl, Consuela (in English means to console, or comfort). She learned all her English from television, and is actually well-spoken for having learned it that way. I'll add it to my short list of good that comes from TV.
    Sunday is a relaxing day, much like the whole weekend. I enjoy these breaks in riding. They allow my immune system to recuperate, by body to heal physically, and give me the opportunity to mentally prepare myself for the upcoming journey. I do sometimes feel mentally drained from riding, especially when it comes to fast-paced, technical riding, such as through the mountains. For my last day in Guadalajara, I explore the city a little more on foot and stop at Mariscos Pacifico (Pacific Seafood) for lunch.

Tacos pescados y mariscos, two fish and one shrimp tacos (Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico 11/28/2010)

    Even at 7am, Monday morning traffic in Guadalajara is ridiculously busy. I'm almost hit while leaving the city, when in two separate incidents, cars merge into my lane and force me to either brake or move to the next lane. I'm fed up the second time, and at a stop light, pull right up next to the guy in the driver seat and bang on his window, and tell him to watch his mirrors (mira sus espejos!). He's of course very apologetic, as most oblivious drivers are when approached by a motorcyclist at a stop, sitting on a bike that towers over the car and driver by at least a foot.
    It's a chilly morning. I made the decision not to wear my overpants nor put my insulated liner in my jacket. I even chose to wear my mesh gloves instead of my winter gloves. I don't make it past the first 100 km through the shaded, twisting mountains leaving Guadalajara to the north before my hands are too cold to continue. I replace my gloves and move on, knowing the sun is slowly warming everything.
    The drive to Durango, in Durango, Mexico, is very pleasant. The sun falls to my back after the leaving the mountains north of Guadalajara, and over the next 7 hours driving through the gusty desert, the terrain changes from large rock mountains, to soft grassy hills with wind-swept tumbleweeds, to sandy plateaus with dust storms in the distance. One such tumbleweed, without exaggeration, is the size of me and my bike combined. Luckily, it's just sitting (or stuck by the grass) on the roadside, taking up half my lane and left shoulder. There's a truck in the lane to the right as I pass, but there's just enough room to barely squeeze by without hitting it or the truck.
    I have no pictures of this leg, except after arriving in Durango. This is a large city, but no where near the size of Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico. I pass through 10 km in city traffic before arriving at my destination. The long ride has stirred quite an appetite, so first on my mind is to drop into the seafood restaurant near my couchsurfing hosts house. I enjoy a hot fish, shrimp, and octopus soup, with half an avocado, salsa and tortillas while I wait for Jacob to get home from work.

Filling lunch (Durango, Durango, Mexico 11/29/2010)

    I finish my meal and walk across the street to the park. While walking, looking at the chalk street art, I see a guy enter the building at the address I was given. It's easy to spot a gringo in Mexico- we're the minority. I walk over, knock, and Jocaob answers. I and my bike are soon invited into his gated apartment complex. He lives there with three other apartments with foreigners, which is why he calls this area gringolandia. We share an Indio ale, and when his neighbor comes over, and we sit and talk for a while before Jacob and I head out into town to experience the city beat.

Catedral Basllica Menor (Durango, Durango, Mexico 11/29/2010)

Catedral Basllica Menor (Durango, Durango, Mexico 11/29/2010)

    We drop in to one of his favorite bars, Modelo, where there is beer on tap, which until now has been unheard of in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. It's even a dark beer (ok, it's amber, but still darker than most. After a few brews, we take a walk to a restaurant and have a delicious mushrooms and cheese tortilla dinner, before heading back to his apartment.
    My tentative plan has been to stay in Durango for the next day, but Tuesday morning I check a few online weather forecasts for the north, and it appears a warm front is likely to make it's way into my path in the coming days, through New Mexico and Colorado. Jacob already gave me his keys and left for work this morning, but I manage to catch his neighbor as she's leaving, and hand them to her to return to Jacob. I, being foolish, don't put my liners in my jacket or overpants, but I do have the sense to put my overpants on for some protection.
    The soft hills near Durango quickly turn to grassy plains. A coyote strolls into the road ahead of me, and gracefully vanishes into the grass after seeing me approaching. Further along, I spook a horse on the roadside, that quickly runs off in the pasture. It was at closest 30 meters, but causes a surge of adrenaline none the less. This desert is immense. I feel brief apprehension driving alone, but quickly turn that into my empowerment. I have the overwhelming sense of freedom, but also feel this can be quite a lawless territory at times. But that's no different than many places I've been on this journey thus far.
    The morning starts warming up around 10. I begin to see trucks on the roadside, with people repairing their fences and tending to their land. The vast expanse of land in this desert is immense, and I think to myself that it could take a full tank of gas just to drive some of these fence perimeters. I pass caballeros on horseback, herding cattle. Others are on foot, moving goats and other small farm animals. I pass a few controlled burns. One is nearly controlled, blazing at least 3 meters into the air, extremely close to the roadside. The wind is blowing to the west, and I have to move entirely into the opposing traffic's lane to avoid the thick smoke and possibly getting scorched. What a rush!

Countryside (Durango, Mexico 11/30/2010)

Countryside (Durango, Mexico 11/30/2010)

Countryside (Durango, Mexico 11/30/2010)

Countryside (Durango, Mexico 11/30/2010)

Countryside (Chihuahua, Mexico 11/30/2010)

Countryside (Chihuahua, Mexico 11/30/2010)

Morphing bird flock (Chihuahua, Mexico 11/30/2010)

Welcomed warmth in my hotel, after walking to and from the grocery store at sunset (Chihuahua, Mexico 11/30/2010)

    I make my last gas fill up for the day outside the city of Chihuahua. The sun is very low in the sky, and it's now crunch time to find a place to sleep. After driving around looking for a hotel for half an hour, I'm disappointed to only find either very expensive rooms or dumps. These dumps are the kind of places that have rooms for rent by the 4-hour period. In my frustration, I start driving out of Chihuahua with hope I find a roadside hotel before sunset, or if it comes to it, setting my tent up. I don't realize how large Chihuahua is until I try to leave. It seems the main road goes through the center of the city. I drive for another 15 minutes, stopping at the occasional roadside hotel, checking the price, then driving off because it's too expensive.
    On the outskirts of the city, I stop at an autohotel that finally has a decent rate. An autohotel is basically a hotel that is in a walled or gated compound. Usually, you drive through the only entrance to a gate of some kind, and speak to the clerk in a room in the corridor. You get a number, the gate opens, and you drive to the private, one-car parking garage with that number. Sometimes there is a gate for your garage, which was the case at the only other autohotel I've stayed at, in Villahermosa, Mexico. The garage is connected to your hotel room. Usually someone comes around to collect payment. This place is one of the cheapest hotels I've come across and had a good location for leaving to the north in the morning. These are about the only qualities I'm interested in at this point. Unfortunately, the $200 peso price doesn't bring many amenities. This place has no gate, only an annoying motion alarm in the corridor that goes off at all times of the day and night. There's no booth to take money, or concrete driveway for that matter, only a small building where I walk up to meet the clerk. My garage doesn't have a gate (or any for that matter), only canvas curtains. The only redeeming quality about this place is the gas heater in my room. The bathroom has a leaks in the shower, which has no shower head, just a pipe coming out of the wall. The toilet and faucet also leak, which I hear dripping throughout the whole night.
    Asking the clerk where I can find a good seafood restaurant, I'm told a long distance away. After 7 hours of sitting, I'm eager for some physical activity, so I started walking in search of his recommendation, Mariscos Agua Chile. After quite a walk without finding this restaurant, I come upon a supermarket. I don't feel like continuing to walk into the setting sun, so I take the opportunity. I fill my arms with yogurt, a banana, pastries, orange juice, and a chocolate bar, for an energy boost mid-day tomorrow. I eat the yogurt on the walk back, then devour half my and a can of kippered herring before watching Lost Highway, a David Lynch film.

Mmm (Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico 12/1/2010)

    It's 2°C (35°F) this sunny Wednesday morning. I breakfast on my banana and pastry, then hit the road toward Cuidad Juárez. I made the smart decision to install my insulated liners into my overpants and jacket the night before, so I get a start at 7am, 30 minutes after sunrise. It's cold enough where my heated and grips do almost nothing. When riding in weather like this, it's so cold the heat is bound to be stripped from the extremities; it's just inevitable. I have my balaclava on, a second pair of socks, and thinner gloves under my winter gloves. My entire body is warm for the entire drive, except for my toes and fingers. My routine for driving in weather like this is as follows. After about 10 km, my fingers start to get numb, so I pull my left hand down near the engine, to catch the warmed air flowing off it to heat my glove and hand.
    This works much better when there's a throttle lock, which was the case when I drove from Florida to Arkansas the last week of November, 2006. At 3am, when I left Florida, it was 7°C (45°F). 21 hours and 1,100 miles later, after a welcomed warm mid-day, I arrive in chilly 2°C (35°F) Hot Springs, Arkansas, at night. This also was before I had the extensive cold-weather riding gear I have now. I may have been ill-prepared for the journey to Arkansas, but that didn't stop me from visiting a special lady one last time before I left for my travels through New Zealand.
    I don't have a throttle lock for this bike, so I hold the throttle with my left hand as I do the same to warm my right. I drive for a few km with each hand near the engine like this to get it warm. The warmth last for about 5-10 km before I have to repeat the process. This continues until about 10am, or until it's about 50°F; whichever comes first. It's then warm enough where my fingers no longer get cold enough to numb. My toes, on the other hand, are beyond help. I just hope they don't sustain tissue damage. I'll be looking into a set of electrified socks and gloves when I reach Denver.
    Twenty of so kilometers from Juárez, there's a military check point with mandatory searches. When it's my turn, I take a minute to properly position my bike on their sloping search platform, then dismount. They're satisfied after opening only a zippered pouch on my tank bag and my right saddle bag (and seeing only food), and I'm allowed to go. As I'm putting my glove back on, I suspect the guy who searched my bike pulls or presses on something on the right side of my bike, because it starts to come down on him. I'm on the left side, which is the worst place to try to stop a toppling bike. We both manage to stop it from hitting the ground, and in an instant, another officer runs over to help right it. I adjust my right mirror and hand guard that was shifted in the lift, and take off toward the border.

Cuidad Juárez (Chihuahua, Mexico 12/1/2010)

    My only stop in Juárez is at a casa de cambio (house of change), where I have my $371 pesos exchanged for ~$29.50 USD. Another 20 minutes driving and I see El Paso across the Rio Grande, through chain-linked fences and barbed wire. I find my way to the main street of downtown, which leads me to the top of the very busy bridge to the US. After paying $1.80 USD to use the bridge, I talk to a guy in a truck at the top of the bridge. He tells me sometimes it takes up to 2 hours to cross the border from this point. Wanting to save time, I use the skills I learned these past weeks and cut between everyone to the front. I wasted 15 minutes waiting in line behind everyone, but now I'm across the Rio Grande and next in line to talk to the border guard.

So many sensors at the border (El Paso, Texas, USA 12/1/2010)

Tight security (Es Paso, Texas, USA 12/1/2010)

    The security here is tight. The volume of traffic is equally impressive. It's a fast procedure, though. I, expectantly, am asked to remove my balaclava, after handing over my passport. The usual questions of where are you coming from and where are you going leads me into talking about my trip. This time, however, I'm able to speak in English instead of Spanish, as I've had to do with most of the military check points to the south (most military personnel who handle check points don't speak English). I hold up the line for a few minutes talking about my trip, but only because I can tell the border guard is sharing the excitement. He asks me if I'm going to continue my trip, and I tell him I plan to, but I may be needing a set of heated gloves and socks. He lets me pass without a search, and I'm now officially back in the US, in El Paso, Texas. There's a moment of hesitation to continue on into New Mexico, toward my couchsurfing host's house, but I think I can make it there by sunset and I have the strong desire not to spend money on an expensive US hotel if I don't have to. I'm 3 days early, and arriving with little notice, but I figure I can always find a hotel on the way if it turns out it's inopportune for me to stay.

Along highway 60 (New Mexico, USA 12/1/2010)

Along highway 60 (New Mexico, USA 12/1/2010)

    With my last stop for gas before sunset, I'm a little more than an hour from where my couchsurfing host, Taylor, lives. My phone calls to her cell phone go unanswered, and there's also no answer when I call her home phone. I leave messages and continue on toward her house with confidence I'll get a return call.
    When I reach Maountainair, NM, I stop at an old gas station to check my phone for messages. I have a text message from Taylor, letting me know she just got off work and I am welcome for the night. I don't get an answer when I call her cell phone for directions, but when I call her house, her mother picks up and gladly tells me detailed driving directions. Their address is far enough from paved roads that I see the path on my GPS change from a solid line, to a dashed line, then disappear. I mistakenly pass by their house and reach a dead end. I turn around and meet Taylor in the road on my way back. Their driveway is designed for coming from the main road, so my angle of attack coming from the other direction makes for a hairy slide down a slope, with my front wheel gently stopping at her gate post. I'm unable to pull my bike back by myself, but Taylor gives me a welcomed hand pulling be back and gets me going down her gravel driveway.
    After I get off my gloves and helmet, I properly introduce myself to Taylor and her parents. I'm pleased to see her mother is also a member of couchsurfing, and has couch surfed with Taylor. I enter their beautiful wooden home and they soon begin preparing dinner. The anticipation for the home-cooked meal rises over the next hour as the three of them prepare two large pizzas, with different ingredients for each. Over dinner, I have the first truly hoppy beer since leaving the US, a Sierra Nevada pale ale. The pizzas are amazing, and after dinner I'm given a tour of their home, before drifting into a very restful slumber.

Mushroom, olive (kalamata and green), red pesto, and onion pizza (Estancia, New Mexico, USA 12/1/2010)

2 cheese, tomato, green pesto, and onion pizza (Estancia, New Mexico, USA 12/1/2010)

    Thursday morning I'm up with the sun at 6:30am. It's a cool 5°C (40°F) out, and I'm outside with my camera. Taylor's father prepares breakfast, and her mother kindly packs me leftover pizza for my day's journey to Denver, Colorado. I sit down with them for egg and biscuit breakfast before suiting up. I tank them all, say goodbye, and head off down their dirt road.

Piñon pine (Genus Pinus) at sunrise (Estancia, New Mexico, USA 12/2/2010)

Juniper berries (Genus Juniperus); Juniper and Piñon pine are the predominant trees in this area (Estancia, New Mexico, USA 12/2/2010)

Agave parryi, or mescal agave (Estancia, New Mexico, USA 12/2/2010)

The katoom and the yellow submarine (Estancia, New Mexico, USA 12/2/2010)

    I tried staving off my hunger until it was closer to noon, but couldn't resist the temptation of the pizza taunting me from the saddle bag. I pull over at a rest area and finish off two slices on bench in the sun.

Brunch (New Mexico, USA 12/2/2010)

Tis the season (New Mexico, USA 12/2/2010)

    The scenery traveling to Denver is a lot different than I remember two years ago, during the summer, when I did my first Fly&Drive (taking a plane to buy this bike, then driving it back to Florida). It's now cold, dry, barren, and snow and ice sparsely covers the north face of the hills and roadside. I see many lakes and streams are also frozen.
    A good friend of mine, from High School, has been living in Denver for a few years, and while I was in Mexico, made plans to stay with her when I got here. I show up at the address I once knew her to live at, when I stopped in during my Fly&Drive, but I find she hasn't lived here in over a year. Sure enough, I have a text message on my phone from her, with the new address. I program my GPS for the hunt, and pull up to her front door a few minutes later. She doesn't get of work until later, so in the meantime, I meet her roommates Gabriel and Kayla. Dawn shows up a few hours later, and we catch up while making and eating dinner. Dawn, Gabe, and I enjoy a delicious, filling meal of vegetable soup, pita, and baked beets.
    With an early start to have an early delivery, I begin researching heated riding gear after dinner, and decide to purchase a dual-control heat troller, heated gloves, and heated socks from Warm&Safe. The gear they offer is designed and built by riders. Their attention to detail and electrical knowledge really shows in their products' designs. There's also a 20% discount because I'm a member of ADVRider. I make my order, and through email, am told my gear should go out Monday morning.
    Friday morning is surprisingly warm, with the day reaching a high of 19°C (66°F), which is a big change from the previous snow-filled two weeks. Because it's colder in the house than outside, I mistakenly overdress for my morning drive. After an egg, cabbage, and cornbread breakfast, I lead the way to Woody's Wheel Works, with Gabriel in pursuit. I took all my gear off the bike yesterday, so on this morning's drive the bike feels totally different. It's so responsive and light. I think something is wrong at first and look down to the front and back wheels at the first stop just to check everything is alright. It must just be me. It's a quick ride to the shop, but a fun one. While showing my cracked rim to the guy making my work order, I find the ride to Denver has taken the last bit of tread I had on my rear tire, leaving it smooth down the center. This Pirelli Scorpion I installed the day before I left Florida, September 1st. This damn fine tire has taken me 10,000 miles, through 10 US states, Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala; all without a puncture. However, while showing the cracks in the rim, I find a metal stud sticking out of the side of the tire about 2 cm, puncturing the little remaining tread knob on the edge. It must have pierced the side in a lean, but the angle into the tire was perfect enough to not puncture the tube. I'm told they have another excel rim in stock, but may have to order a tire. I leave my keys and return to the apartment with Gabriel.
    For lunch, I visit a place that I've been missing since leaving the US, a sushi restaurant. Go Fish is where I end up this afternoon. I ask about the uni (sea urchin) special on the board outside, and I'm excited to hear that 5 minutes before I walked in, they received their weekly delivery of uni. They only carry it Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, for freshness, and I'll be their first customer this week to have a bite. It's prepared in front of me, but I'm too busy enjoying my Odell's Cut Throat Porter. My lunch comes out looking amazingly fresh. The yellow-tail and white tune is delicious, but the uni is the best I've ever tried, of the probably dozen other places I've tried it. Hopefully I'm not just saying this because I've been deprived of sushi for so long.

Uni, shiro maguro, and hamachi (sea urchin, white tuna, and Pacific yellow-tail) (Denver, Colorado, USA 12/3/2010)

Yes, that raw, tongue-looking thing is delicious (Denver, Colorado, USA 12/3/2010)

    Gabriel has a 1 hour gig at 8 this evening, playing electronic music in the portable sound stage of a converted milk truck known as the Whomp Truck. We're fairly close to the location it's set up, so we ride bikes to the show on Santa Fe Drive and 7th Street, in the middle of Denver's art district. It's a slow start with only a small crowd, but as Gabriel's set is in full swing, and a pizza truck shows up, a large crowd of people show up to get down.

The Whomp Truck (Denver, Colorado, USA 12/3/2010)

    Dawn couldn't make it to the show tonight. Her job has had her extremely busy the last two weeks, and tonight she's working on toward midnight. This is her last night putting in long hours, and will soon be free enjoy the warm weather, while it lasts. As a aside, on Sunday the 5th at 9:45am (EST, -5 GMT), I will have my 25th birthday. We have plans that day to visit Denver's botanical gardens. My plans to stay in Denver will last at least until my rim is fixed, a new tire can be obtained, and my heated gear arrives. I've been entertaining the idea of reaching Portland, Oregon, but this is almost entirely dependent on the weather and if I want to try to cross the Rockies in mid winter on my bike. Greyhound is also an option, albeit a less-desirable one.

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