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Mex-16 gets seriously twisty east of Km 130.


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Mexico Trip: Voice Memo Transcriptions


I spent February of 2007 on a motorcycle trip in Mexico. The principal purpose of the trip was to locate and study conifers of Mexico that I had not previously seen in habitat. During the trip I took voice memos to record what I saw and thought about. Until I find some time to reduce those to a connected narrative of botanical discovery, here are my journals. Darwin it ain't, but still I found some interesting things.

Part 1: Seattle to Hermosillo

2007.02.04 06:24

I wake up at 0300 and open my eyes and realize that my dog is one inch away, breathing on me. She wants to be let out into the back yard. Probably there's a possum or a coon out there. I get up and let her out, and go back to bed, but I can't go to sleep because I know that this is the morning I head to Oaxaca. After a few minutes I realize that I'm going to be getting up and leaving now. I spend that few minutes savoring the last time that I'll sleep with Bonnie for awhile. Then I get up, make final preparations, and hit the road.

(Final preparations become routine for the next month. First I plug in and turn on the GPS, a Garmin eTrex, small but adequate for Mexico, where decent GPS maps are not yet available. Then I check the oil and tires, zip on the tank bag, bungee on the duffle, jack in my electric vest, don my Aerostich riding suit, put in my earplug/headphones, put on my full face helmet, and finally my gloves. Ready for ignition.)

At 04:25 I'm on the move. Its frosty, but not as frosty as the last few mornings in Seattle because it stayed more or less overcast through the night, though the nearly full moon still casts plenty of light. I'm glad of the light cast by the new PIAA driving lamps. It's cold, about freezing, and I'm wearing nearly all the clothing I bought on this trip - two polypro t-shirts and polywool longjohns under heavy jeans and cotton shirt, with a face fairing to keep my neck warm. I'm still cold but the highway is nearly empty and progress is fast. I cross the Columbia River at Vancouver at 07:01 and hit the Dennys in Jantzen Beach for a hearty breakfast and six cups of hot coffee. The rest of Oregon flies by almost as quickly (and slightly more warmly) and seven hours into the trip I leave I-5 behind at Grant's Pass. I'm struck, as I go along, by how much the world starts to resemble California as soon as you cross the Columbia. The oak woodlands of the northern Willamette Valley are very close to the same woodlands I ride through the next day near Ukiah and Healdsburg, and are not so different from those I see a month later near San Luis Obispo.

Highway 199 out of Grant's Pass finally starts to feel like real riding, not too twisty but rural, folks doing their weekend chores, forests and farms. I slow down and enjoy the trip. Here again the road is frosty in spots, reaching a bit over 2000 feet elevation, have to watch the traction. The highway goes through a tunnel right about at the California border, though, and its character quickly changes as it starts down the Smith River Canyon. The road drops quickly to 1300 feet, it warms up, and the snow and frost disappear. The road becomes very twisty but also very scenic, raising the pleasant dilemma of whether to focus on the riding or the countryside. I stop along the way for short hikes, once through a serpentine barren, another to visit a stand of the pitcher plant Darlingtonia, a couple more times to stroll through redwood (Sequoia) groves. I follow the scenic bypass thourgh Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, a gorgeous drive beneath 300 foot tall trees, and reach the seaside village of Trinidad at about 16:15. Here I visit and spend the night with friends Steve and Marie, tree climbers and canopy ecologists. We had a fabulous dinner and I talked science with Steve for hours. There's no other friend I can talk science with like Steve, we're always having great ideas the whole time. Should record it sometime. Then I slept, comfortably but fitfully with many vivid dreams in unfamiliar settings, dreams of new people and new places and new experiences. Now it's 06:30, I'm fully rested, Steve and Marie are getting up, and I'll be hitting the road shortly.

2007.02.05 04:22

It's the morning of day 3, about 04:30 I'd guess. I woke up a little after 04:00 and decided it was time to hit the road, because I've been here since 20:00. I'm at WP11, which is next to an irrigation ditch and a plowed field and a railroad that's been quiet all night; about 10 miles northwest of Visalia, California. There's a light haze hanging on the fields and a gibbous moon high in the sky, illuminating things pretty well.

Yesterday was a long day. I set off from Trinidad at about 06:45 and had a fine morning ride down US 101 to Mill Valley, a bit north of San Francisco. It was pretty foggy to about Garberville, and after that it cleared up and the road had pretty heavy frost in spots, so I had to be careful of black ice. Eventually it warmed up. I took the scenic loop through the trees - Avenue of the Giants? - ends at Philipsburg after about 30 miles. I stopped for a little hike near Bull Creek Flat in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home of the world's tallest tree canopy. Had a big breakfast at a decent restaurant in Ukiah and rolled into the Stolte Grove, which is up at the end of Fortson Street just outside Mill Valley. It's a xeric grove, a little grove of redwoods that transits to chaparral as you go up the hillside on all sides. Basically a riparian grove, with trees up to about 2 m in diameter. The trees are mostly growing in atolls with abundant stump sprouts, which probably indicates that the stand has been burned out a lot of times in the past. The folks who met me there, who are custodians of the land trust and all live right there, also are pretty sure that it was logged by the Spanish about 200 years ago and think those atolls may be related to the Spanish logging. There were about 10 people, 30 to 70 years old, led by Curt Oldenburg who contacted me about stopping by to see the grove. They were full of questions about forest ecology and redwoods and trees in general - roots and canopies and such - so we talked about those things until about 3:15. It was fun. I didn't get any pictures (but Curt later emailed me some). Then I rolled out of there, past San Quentin prison, and picked up I-580 across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, through San Jose and onward to I-5 in the desolation of the northern San Joaquin Valley. San Quentin is in a lovely spot, right on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. It's a lovely prison too, bearing a certain architectural similarity to a Spanish cathedral. I don't know if it was intentionally ironic, but maybe it was designed to look like a home for the penitent. I-580 was a terror, classic southern California freeway, 350 lanes wide, filled with cars driving erratically at 80 mph. At one point I got stuck in a traffic jam at a giant intersection where three major interstates come together. Not hard to find my way through but apparently it poses a problem for some people because there was a jam there. Meanwhile, in some distant stadium the Super Bowl was being fought, so traffic was probably lighter than it would have been otherwise. Anyway... 580 led to I-5, another fast road through a very boring landscape, and after about 40 minutes of that road I realized that facing another 300 miles of this only to encounter LA at the end, to the tune of Monday morning rush hour, was not a promising route to a pleasant vacation, and certainly wasn't worth saving a few minutes and miles en route to Sonora. So, I nipped off onto CA-140, a lean dusty 2-lane that led to Merced, where I picked up CA-99 toward Bakersfield. This route still was no picnic, but at least had some human culture such as the peculiar agro-industrial odors of the area. Traffic was pretty crazy, though, so a couple hours after dark I headed down a little agricultural road until I was out of sight and sound of the highway, and then off into a disused field for a half mile or so, where I spread my sleeping bag under a starry night sky and drifted off to sleep.

Today I head toward Nogales, probably not all the way but as far as I can get. I checked the Web this morning and Saltillo and Monterey are still in the grip of a major cold spell, so I think I'll reverse my planned route and head down the Pacific coast, returning via Saltillo at the trip's end. It's a chilly and clear morning, still pitch dark but for the moon. I'm outta here.

2007.02.05 18:37

There's a lot of cool stuff that happens on a motorcycle trip that you can't remember until later. Yesterday when I left it was cool and it was 100% humidity so my face shield fogged up instantly. I stopped off to look at an ornamental Pinus radiata and took a picture of its cone. Radiata seems to be planted pretty widely as an ornamental. From Trinidad to the junction between 101 and 1, which is kind of at the east side of the coast range, I was in fog pretty much the whole way, either patchy fog down in the lowlands or, after I got into the hills, continuous fog, sometimes with visibility of only a few hundred feet. It was kind of cool to experience the redwood forest in dense fog conditions, which are the norm but which I don't think I've seen before, except maybe when I visited the Lost Coast many years ago. Right there where 101 and 1 join, I came out of the fog - poof! - and then the problem was frost on the road, in places where the sun hadn't hit it yet. That went on for 20 miles or so and then the day was sunny and I was riding through a beautiful blue oak woodland, along the Eel River many times early in the day and then in a densely dissected landscape near the Russian River. I'm not sure when I finally got into the grey pines (Pinus sabininana) but I think it was north of Ukiah. I've always liked them. Those are the main things I remember of yesterday, along with the rather unpleasant trip down I-580.

Today, well, last night I spent the night in a field. Dawn found me at Tehachapi, the town, which is just east of the Summit. Riding up to Tehachapi there was starting to be enough light that I could appreciate the scenery. There are a few pines in there, by the way, some grey pines and I think also some ponderosa. I had a nice breakfast at Henry's Cafe in Tehachapi. I had breakfast while the sun rose, because I was going to be riding directly east, and then I headed into the east. I passed Mohave, which has been the site of a number of movies, it being a big place to fly fast and experimental planes as well as the gateway for Edwards Air Force Base. Test Pilot for one, and Terminator 3 for another. It's quite a striking desert landscape. Then Barstow struck me as the perfect place to film a postapocalyptic movie; the whole town just looks blasted. Anyway I road east through Barstow and just past town I picked up old Route 66, which is prominently signed on the Interstate - you can't miss it. I followed that, parallel to I-40, for 40 or 50 miles and took some pictures along the way. Then it breaks away southeast on something called the Old National Historic Road or something like that because of course US66 doesn't exist anymore, the number was decommissioned. I followed that old road down to the little town of Amboy, where I planned to get gas - there was a gas station/restaurant with a little historic plaque noting that the town had been there since 1858 and had long been a whistle stop on the transcontinental railroad - Southern Pacific, I suppose. There still seem to be more trains than cars down that way; at least that was the story during my ride. There was no gas in the tanks but there was an old hippie in the restaurant and he sold me a gallon of gas for $3 and told me how to find the dirt road cutoff that would take me to CA62 without having to go into 29 Palms. So I rode down that way - pretty busy road, lots of people take the cutoff from I-40 to 29 Palms - but then CA-62 was pretty empty, and went through totally empty country, vast spaces without any dirt roads or antennas or any other sign of man, now or ever, except for the highway itself. It was big country, too, the kind of landscape you can drop a freight train into and it looks like a millipede. Anyway, that road eventually took me down to Parker, Arizona, where I crossed the Colorado River, at about 14:00 California time or 15:00 Arizona time. From there I followed AZ-72 east to a town called Vicksburg, where I dropped down due south to I-10. I-10 in Arizona has a speed limit of 75 mph and everyone drives at least 85 mph, a lot of them drive 95 mph, so just keeping up with traffic on I-10 was pretty stressful, not least because I'd been riding continuously for 10 hours at that point. Anyway I got off I-10 here at AZ-85, which drops south to pick up I-8 at Gila Bend, allowing me to bypass Phoenix. The sun was pretty close to setting so I turned off AZ-85 to the west into this little area of rocky hills, a park called the Buckeye Hills, just 10 miles south of I-10 - I can still hear it. I don't know if they allow camping here - there are some other folks nearby in a trailer, and I didn't see any signs prohibiting it, but it looks more like a picnic area than a campground. Anyway here I sit. There was a gorgeous sunset and I've been waiting for my dinner of smoked baby clam noodle roni to cool down, and it's warm. It got very warm today. Starting about Parker the temperature got up to about 75 or 80 and I got quite hot and had to peel off a bunch of layers. Anyway those were the high points of the day. Time to eat my noodle glop.

Continue to Part 2