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shirazdrum 06-01-2010 08:15 PM

May, 24th. Las Vegas, Baby!

As we rode up the 25N, we felt a little bit like we were in the twilight zone, each of us privately musing over our recollection of US geography and wondering how in the world Las Vegas could be on our route. Hadn’t we left that back West, miles ago? But sure enough, sign after sign kept pointing towards Las Vegas. Turns out there is another Las Vegas, in New Mexico, although this one doesn’t come up in the first five pages of a Google search, if you just search for Las Vegas instead of Las Vegas, NM, but it should given its colorful and storied history.

Las Vegas was established in 1835 after a group of settlers received a land grant from the Mexican government. The town was laid out in the traditional Spanish Colonial style, with a central plaza surrounded by buildings which could serve as fortifications in case of attack. Las Vegas soon prospered as a stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Historian Ralph Emerson Twitchell once claimed, “Without exception there was no town which harbored a more disreputable gang of desperadoes and outlaws than did Las Vegas.” Among the notorious characters were such legends of the Old West as: dentist Doc Holliday and his girlfriend, Big Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Mysterious Dave Mather, Hoodoo Brown, Durango Kid and Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler. A number of films were made in this town, and Patrick Swayze, American actor, dancer and singer-songwriter, had a ranch in Las Vegas.

After grabbing some New Mexican grub in Vegas, we headed out into the fierce winds, like 2 bugs on a bull. The wind was blowing around 45-50 mph. and pushing us back and forth all over the highway. Sometime during the ride, the plastic cradle for the GPS which was mounted on the front left side of the bike broke off. Luckily, Chris was able to grab the GPS before it fell and smashed to bits on the highway. We pulled over at a rest stop to get a reprieve from riding in the winds. Chris latched his helmet onto the front left pannier as he had done hundreds of times before, and the rack supporting the pannier sheared completely off and fell to the ground with the pannier.

Thankfully a friendly family traveling in their RV came over to chat and gave us some rope to help strap the box to the rear left pannier. It’s important that the weight on the bike be properly be balanced and distributed so as to ensure the maximum safety while riding. We were already having trouble riding in the wind but after having to re-position the left front pannier to the back, we were wobbling back and forth in the wind.

With miles to go until Denver, Colorado, we were trying to make good time to reach our couch surfing host, Paul Cornelius, but had to ride between 45-65 miles per hour. This slower place made it easier to spot the antelope dotting the plains as we drove by. The sun set gloriously against the mountains, and we still were hours from Denver. We threw on more layers to help beat the wind-chill and pushed on until we arrived exhausted at Paul’s doorstep. Paul opened the door before we even dismounted from the bike and came out to welcome us. Although our stay with him was short, he took the time from his busy schedule to visit with us and share stories about life and travels around the world. He’s traveled all over Central and South America as well as lived in Europe and will be leaving shortly on a back-packing trip to Asia and Africa for the next 2 years. The next morning we lucked out and found the coolest guy on the planet with more tools that I could care for. We’ll be fixing the bike here in Denver and get on the road. Stay tuned!

shirazdrum 06-16-2010 01:43 PM

Rocky Mountain High

Early dawn found us packing the bike grateful for a few hours of shut-eye out of the wind. We said good-bye to Paul as he had to head to work and found a Wal-Mart to buy the replacement rack for the bike. Then we camped out at the Golden Arches as per usual, when we need Wi-Fi, to try to find some place to work on the bike. I posted an SOS on the GS Resources forum to see if anyone from the Denver area could help us out. After a few hours we were relieved to get a call from fellow GSer, Tom Kent, who invited us to his home in Littleton, CO. He met us with lemonade and invited us to his granddaughter, Amberlynn’s birthday party down the street where we met the rest of Tom’s family.

We love meeting new people on our trip. So many people have gone out of their way to help us or to make us feel welcome, and Tom’s family was no exception. Tom and his lovely wife, J’Amy, graciously welcomed us into their home, along with their son, Thomas, and cat, Tweak. They made us feel like part of the family while we were there. We were even able to attend Thomas’s graduation. Congratulations Thomas!

Tom is an airline pilot with a love of restoring old bikes. He has a fully-stocked garage and was even in the process of adding a shop to work on his projects. Soon we were swapping stories and chatting like old buddies. Two heads are often better than one, and as we parleyed ideas for the bike, the original project of fixing the rack for the pannier evolved into a multi-faceted task. A three hour job turned into a 4 days of fabrication.

The main problem with the hillbilly racks was that they were aluminum and were not designed to hold anything more than 10 pounds. They broke from the weld joint every time in the same spot leaving the whole rack useless. The cure to that came from a metal scrap yard where we bought aluminum stocks and sheets to make our braces. Two semi V shape brackets on sides, and two on the top did the job but the aluminum tube of the rack was so thin that you could barely put any force on the bolts. We cut aluminum tubes to go over the bolts and keep the main tube from crushing under the force. To make it even stronger, we fashioned four steel tube braces to go from the engine mounts to the boxes to keep the boxes from swinging left and right. To cap it off, we changed the oil and added two 55W Halogen fog lights to the front to fix the lighting problem.

I lived so long with the pain of the old and bent-up side-stand that I almost forgot what a good side stand would be like. Not any more. Tom is the master of fabrication, and all it took was two aluminum hockey pucks and two machine screws to put an end to that old pain. He even welded the backside of the stand to make it sturdier and now I have a fully functioning side stand. Tom promised me to burn that old block of 2x4 I hauled around for under the stand along with his Harbor Freight Sawzall!

We bid farewell to Denver in the late afternoon with plans to head to Laramie to stay with some couchsurfing hosts there. Taking a scenic route through the Colorado giants, we soon encountered breathtaking views and snow along the road. We entered into the Rocky Mountain National Park enjoying peaks at antelope and elk along the way. We had to go slowly in several sections of the road where there was gravel or there were workman taking down trees ravaged by the rampant beetle kill. The light started fading just as to our dismay, we reached a road barricade with no hope of passing through. There wasn’t a soul in site and the official campgrounds we passed on the way had all been closed. We would have to go a long ways back to make it out of the park and into a town, and at this point I was nervous about hitting an animal in the poor visibility. I’ve already had some close calls in the past in my Jeep and wasn’t eager to press my luck, as one wayward deer would likely make road kill out of us on a bike. We tried to call our couchsurfers in Laramie to let them know we can’t make it and soon realized that neither one of us had cell phone reception. We walked around the hillsides trying to get a signal but the cell phone gods were not on our side.

Deciding to forgo dinner as we were too cold and tired to cook, we pitched camp, making sure to hoist our food up a tree a good distance away in case a hungry bear came around. In the morning we met a couple from Germany who was also waiting for the road to open. They said that it was supposed to open that day with a ceremony to start the season. We are heading up north for Montana for a few days. It’s raining and snowing hard in Teton and Yellowstone so we have to make our call…

shirazdrum 06-20-2010 12:29 PM

First I would like to thank Frank Perreault of the GS Resources for his great support and generous donation.

As we stated earlier, we are still on the fundraising tour in the U.S. and also putting into place details for the charity rides. It helps to have a home base to work on the details and also looking to avoid tornados and flooding due south and east, we decide to keep riding north to my hometown of Helena, MT.

We continued on into Wyoming. The winds were with us again, a seemingly ever-present part of our trip by now. But each time they seemed to blow more viciously. When we would stop for breaks, it was difficult to walk in the wind. Sometimes Cynthia takes pictures as we whiz by some pretty scene on the bike, but the rabid winds hamper those photo-opt moments greatly, so mostly she just hangs on tight to my back. We have a very limited (close to non-existent) budget for hotel stays and try to camp, couchsurf, or get sponsored stays when we can. But with nightfall upon us, feeling exhausted and windblown, Cynthia put us up in a hotel with a free breakfast. After a good night’s rest and a hot breakfast in our bellies we headed for Teton and Yellowstone National Park.

The road through the park is kind of a shortcut but living in Montana has taught me a thing or two in the past; never trust the weatherman, and be ready for snow even in July! I was hesitant to take that route, but since Cynthia has never been to that part of the country and was really looking forward to it, I went for it anyway. After all it was sunny, and I didn’t want to chicken out prematurely.

The weather started out to be promising, but then all bet’s were off and we had the most intense, crazy riding day I’ve ever experienced: driving rain, sleet, snow, hail, poor visibility, freezing our assess off, you name it. The irony is that I was hoping to find “good” weather by heading north, and on this day, we happened to be riding in the coldest spot in the U.S. Unfortunately, due to the weather, all we could manage was a brief drive-by tour of Yellowstone, but Cynthia was elated nonetheless at each new mountain peak and animal we encountered. We actually were the only crazy motorcyclists on the road until we reached Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.

At times we rode on with maybe 25 feet of visibility in a complete whiteout. My face was frozen, thanks to my open face helmet. Snow kept plastering my goggles and every time I cleaned them with my wet gloves, it made it worse. I had to take off my goggles to actually see where I was going, and our speed dropped down to 20 mph. Every time we stopped Cynthia was more amazed at the scenery, and I was more apprehensive of the situation. As a matter of fact, it was so cold that I had icicles hanging from my knees, and my cheeks were almost frostbitten despite of my ski mask.

It was pitch black and pouring icy cold rain by the time we made it out of Yellowstone. At a gas station in West Yellowstone, we were told that it would take at least another 2 hours to reach our next couchsurfing destination in Bozeman by way of Hyalite Canyon, and that it would surely be snowing. We sought shelter and Wi-Fi at a McDonalds but couldn’t get a connection. We finally started calling hotels from my GPS and were soon finding out that almost every place in town was sold out! Several places even ran out of food, including McDonalds! We lucked out in getting a last available room at one joint which turned out to be reminiscent of a hotel that would be used in a thriller or horror movie, but at least it was a place to warm up.
The next day we suited up and started off in the rain anxious to get to Helena, MT. As the miles rolled by the sky cleared up, and we drank in the spacious skies of the state that is aptly named the Big Sky Country. I never imagined that I would be coming full-circle in such a short time since staring my trip, but life has a way of bringing the unexpected, and sometimes it works out better than any plan you could make! Stay tuned!

shirazdrum 07-14-2010 04:49 PM

July, 13th. Short way round

What I heard the most in past few weeks was the question: “Are you back already?!!!”

I never thought that I would see Montana again, at least not for a long, long time, but here we are, back to where I started a year ago. Since I started this journey on my motorcycle, I have covered Alberta, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alaska, British Colombia, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. It seems like forever ago but such a short distance, more like a shakedown ride to me.

I learned a lot about riding and more importantly living on the road. I met some amazing people, saw some beautiful places, and built a sophisticated touring machine out of a 1982 Suzuki. But my true discovery came in the form of a dawning comprehension of the struggles that go on every day on every corner of this planet: in particular, the travesty of extreme poverty and malnutrition.

Well actually that wasn’t it. I discovered that I’m not the only one, and there are hundreds if not thousands who share the passion to help bring relief to those suffering from hunger. This journey evolved beyond the scope of my one-man band, and eventually I founded and incorporated the Transcontinental Humanitarian Corp., a non-profit 501(C)(3) organization to bring together those with a similar passion and desire to give a helping hand to ordinary people during times of extraordinary tribulation.
This is not an impressive resume for a so-called adventurer. From the minute I got back to Montana, I had the itch to get back on the bike again and head out for the unknown. But you know how it goes, when the bike is ready, I’m not, and when I’m ready the bike is not. Since I had a warm dry garage, I figured to fix everything I could possibly fix and with that in mind, I tore up the bike to pieces again.

I had some problem with the steering head bearings (which turned out to be far more gone that I thought), the rear brake needed new pads, the headlight wiring had to be redone to fix the voltage drop, wire the new fog lights, add some reflectors to the boxes for more visibility, add more lights to the back to mark the width of the bike, hardwire my GPS, Install the new camera mount, sand and clear-coat the side covers (cosmetic only but they had been bothering me for a long time), fix the oil leak form the cam-chain tensioner, head gasket and oil pressure switch, Install an alarm system, change the gearbox and drive shaft oil and grease everything.

The bearing races were in awful shape; no wonder this bike wobbled a lot in low speed. I could run my fingernail across it and dig in deep in the grooves made by the roller bearings. The rear brake pads were almost to the metal, and they were so far down that I could barely see any brake fluid in the reservoir. After adding 5 relays, the electrical system is now in tiptop shape and the headlight is as bright as it can be. I also added a security system with a screaming siren to ward off bored and crazy kids in third world countries; it also gives me a peace of mind while sleeping as I know it will go off the second a bird lands on it.

By the time I was done with all these chores, the bike looked and felt so good that I didn’t want to ride it anymore! In the meantime, Cynthia went back to California to give her two week notice and quit her job for the long run. She has come a long way. To be honest I didn’t think that she would make it more than 3 days, but she braved the road for 3000 miles and 40 days and she was eager for more. She quit her job of seven years as a social worker to join a crazy expedition on a motorcycle around the world. I did the same thing, but this was my dream. She wasn’t a rider, nor had she ever camped out more than a couple of nights at a time in her whole life without being close to her familiar surroundings. That’s adventurous in my book.

I picked her up at the airport in Missoula, and we are packing again, this time even smaller. We’ll be on the road before you know it, and this time no return for at least five years…

shirazdrum 07-31-2010 12:08 AM

Hello friends! Our latest blog post comes to us courtesy of our organization’s Public Relations Director, Jared Williams. We are inspired by his recent trip to Haiti and his work there and hope you will be too. -Chris Sorbi

It’s been a week now since I returned home from an 8 day missionary trip to Haiti. What I saw in that time has clearly changed me and helped me to grow and coming home has been surprisingly hard. I long to be back in Haiti where I can see myself helping people directly and can see the faces of those receiving my gifts. However as I contemplate my trip and my contribution, I have wondered if that is truly the case, would I really help those in need more in Haiti or more back home?

I do not have that answer and perhaps it is not one answer for my entire life, but I will try to share with you some of what I experienced in Haiti. Each aspect perhaps reflects a lot on who I am and my personal story. For you to really fully understand the situation in Haiti and how it reflects on you and your life can not be done through my pictures, my videos or my stories. It would only happen with taking a trip to Haiti yourself and experiencing it in person.

My fulltime job involves large-scale planning and tracking for road and bridge projects for a 3 billion dollar 8 year program. I am used to looking at single projects and seeing how that interacts with hundreds of other projects working together as part of one large infrastructure program. My mind has been trained for years to break down huge construction projects to smaller and smaller pieces until they are manageable work activities then link them back together in a sequence and order to calculate how long it will take with a given effort to get to the eventual completion of the project. A simplification would be to say the greater the effort the less time it takes, and the smaller the effort the longer it takes.
While many on the trip saw the volume of destruction as insurmountable, I saw work activities that needed to be done. After temporary shelters, the road and transportation infrastructure immediately stood out as the first area needing focus in Haiti. This would help with the physical rebuilding of homes and businesses, but also aide the eventual economic rebuilding required to one day lift the country out of the immense poverty it is in. Unfortunately, throughout my stay I saw very little progress with a few curbs being made with hand-mixed mortar and stone and a stretch of roadway being placed with the only concrete mixer I saw, all ¼ yards of it. I even saw a single backhoe and loader along with a handful of dump trucks. The scale of reconstruction ahead of Haiti demands fleets of vehicles, massive transfer stations to break down the rubble into reusable aggregate, concrete mix plants and so much more that just isn’t present or available. Needless to say it was easy to see no end in sight for the cleanup let alone reconstruction with the current effort on the ground six months after the earthquake.

Once we got to the work sites, my trade experience as a carpenter kicked back in, and I felt good to be actively helping the people around me in a physical way. I got to meet the 26 children in Leogon using the orphanage we were putting walls up on; I got to see the 400 children in Laquil using the school that had no roof when we came benefit from finishing the roof over them, I got to see the 200 children in Foe Shea who would benefit from our trenching and wall building to keep their school above the flood level during the rainy season. It might be a postage stamp effort in a country that needs so much, but I could finally dig in and do work that was helping those in need.

Everyone we met in these villages was so thankful for us and our help but working alongside some Haitian workers I felt a sense of selfishness as what I spent to come to Haiti could pay for a crew of them to work for a month, helping both the schools in need and the workers and their families. This feeling was short-lived as they were so receptive and thankful, even the concrete crew I helped would say, “Merci Jared” after each pail of mortar I mixed and shoveled for them. The resounding message they all told me was simple, to not forget them and to share their story. They did not see me as taking their work but helping them as an equal and a brother that could take their story home to all of you reading this.

Now what touched me the most during my trip relates to my role as a father of three wonderful children. I saw so much faith and hope in these kids. They grew up in these surroundings and even with losing the little they had with the earthquake they retained a bright outlook on life when the rest of the world sees little to no hope for them. The faith they had reminded me of a Bible verse that has stuck with me for a while but came to new life in Haiti. In Mathew 18:1-6 it reads:

“1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

We can learn a lot from these children and I saw the schools MissionE4 run as a direct and real tool being used in God’s name to support and further the faith these children have for their future. My personal sponsorship of Falonne is not just helping to feed, educate, and clothe her but is helping her to remain a child just a bit longer. This little gift by my standards is everything to her and directly helps her maintain that humility and faith through giving her a chance at a future in a country with so little.

As I was in Haiti and even coming home, I have struggled with how I can help best: is it being in Haiti and doing work on the ground, is it “sacrificing” a few luxuries I really don’t need to give a onetime gift towards rebuilding homes, or is it making a longer commitment to one of the many children still in need of a $30 a month sponsor? So as I ponder how best can I help my brothers and sisters in Haiti, I simply ask you to consider the same question. Do not let guilt guide you but only give what and how you are comfortable with. Is it a commitment to come on a future trip, or to give a onetime donation to the rebuilding effort, or to sponsor a child, or maybe all of the above?

Now in closing I ask you to consider the many options of who to donate to and where the money goes when you donate. While millions of donations are filtering through the government and other large aid groups its use and impact is hard to see on the ground right now. I pray it will be seen and real change will come but as I pray for that, I see smaller groups like MissionE4 as a direct and immediate channel to help the people in the most need. My reason for choosing to continue supporting MissionE4 is that they were in Haiti helping before the earthquake, they have the people and infrastructure on the ground to immediately put your dollars to work now, and when the rebuilding is complete, the sponsorship program ensures they will be funded to continue helping long into the future. I urge you all to consider the options, pray about it, and give cheerfully where and how you feel God will best use the gifts he has bestowed upon you to share with those in need.

Information on going on a future trip to Haiti:
General information and rebuilding donations: home
Child Sponsorship information: Sponsor A Child
As a volunteer for the child sponsorship program you can also contact me directly at with questions or information on children looking for sponsors.

shirazdrum 08-29-2010 10:10 PM


The torrential tropical rain of Honduras abated for the first time in five hours and the pitch black darkness descended for yet another night on the road in Central America. The SRZero electric car was in front and the support van following closely as they decided to pass the semi-truck ahead of us on the continuous yellow line. Passing cars on curves has become our favorite and routine pastime, so we don’t even second guess our actions, but this time turned out to be the inevitable.

The SRZero passed with no problem and the van followed, so I swerved to the left, picking up speed when suddenly, there it was, a giant pot-hole (more like a crevasse, to be honest) the whole width of the lane and 8 to 10 inches deep. There was nowhere to go and as I hit the brakes frantically, we hit the hole with full force. The horrible noise of bottoming out was one thing and the realization that the bike wasn’t able to accelerate anymore because of jammed front brake was another. The low headlight beam went out, the brake jammed and a flat tire capped off the festivity.

Two weeks ago, Cynthia and I made a connection with Claudio Von Planta, the famous documentary filmmaker and producer, popularly known for his work with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman on BBC television series Long Way Round and Long Way Down, the motorcycle trips around the world on BMW GS’s.

Cynthia had been busy with doing social networking online to get the word out about Transcontinental Humanitarian Expedition and our ride around the world to raise awareness for world hunger. In the process of linking and spreading the word, she ran across the twitter profile for Claudio and within two days of following Claudio on twitter, she saw that he put out a tweet about needing to ride pillion to Mexico. It seemed like a great idea to join forces since we were going the same direction as we could help him out and in return we would benefit from his expertise with international travel and the margin of safety traveling with a group offers. We contacted him via email that night and by late afternoon of the next day, Friday, August 6, had settled that we would join him and a team of young Imperial College engineering students, Racing Green Endurance (or the RGE team for short), traveling from Mexico to Argentina with a Battery Electric Supercar, the SRZero, and filming a documentary series about the record-breaking journey of the electric supercar.

The plan was for me to ride the motorcycle while Claudio films the electric car on the back of the bike. Cynthia would ride in the support van and switch to the bike when Claudio isn’t filming and assist with Spanish translation and photography. The team had actually already started their journey on July 4, 2010 in Alaska as their mission is to take the car on the Pan-American Hwy from Alaska to Argentina.

It was such a short notice that I couldn’t even say goodbye to my closest friends in person and in 7 hours, we packed everything for the trip, did some last minute maintenance to the bike and by 6 a.m. Saturday morning, we left for a jaunt of 1800 miles from Helena, MT to the border town of Eagle Pass, TX to join the team in an exhausting two 900 miles days. Within the first five minutes of leaving, the clutch cable broke. As I had previously routed a second cable next to the original just for occasions like this, all I had to do was to connect it and continue on. Thankfully it broke close to my friends and expedition sponsors, Debbie and Tom Matte of Batteries Plus, and they provided the tools to fix the job along with fresh batteries for my camera.

We started our trip down to Mexico on Saturday, August 7 on pretty much no sleep which made the first day a challenge to cover ground as I was seriously sleepy. I kept having to stop to wake myself up and finally opted to try to get some sleep somewhere in Wyoming around 8 pm instead of pushing on. We were apparently the only motorcycle on the road NOT heading to Sturgis. We must have seen thousands of bikers on the road decked out in their leathers. Every gas station looked like a Harley Davidson showroom.

We were really hoping to make it to Eagle Pass, Texas for the border crossing with the team on Monday morning, but the miles were stretching endlessly before us. I was relieved when Claudio updated us that they delayed their crossing until Tuesday morning due to some breakdowns. He also assured us that we could meet up with them somewhere on the road in Mexico if we couldn’t make the border crossing, but I still wanted to try my best to cross the border with them.

Sunday morning we headed out on the road, but stopped to get more malaria medication and supplies. I desperately tried to order a set of tires to have an extra set in case of a flat. The tires on the bike already had a lot of miles and would need changing soon anyway. However, despite calling a million places, I had no luck getting anything en route or shipped in time to the border. We stopped before Denver to pick up a new camera for our trip, and then stopped again at Tom and J’Amy Kent’s house in Littleton, CO. Tom was my hero again and supplied me with a spare clutch cable and fed us sandwiches and drinks. We debated spending the night there, but I was still quite awake and knew that we needed to cover more ground. So we bid farewell to our pit-stop lifesavers again and headed towards Oklahoma.

With lightening dancing directly overhead we drove straight into a pouring rainstorm. I had only six hours of sleep in two days and there was nothing I could do to keep myself awake anymore. My eyelids closed every 5 seconds, and I honestly have no recollection of the scenery or the road for that section. My rescue came in the form of caffeine pills called NoDoz. These little pills are godsends as they made me jitter like a monkey on coke and bought us two more hours of riding before crashing like logs in Lamar, on the border of Oklahoma. Coming up next: Lamar, CO to Eagle Pass, TX in a heroic (Stupid if you ask me) push. Stay Tuned…

Here’s the trailer for RGE as a teaser. Visit Electric Adventures for more videos and to pre order the DVD.

shirazdrum 09-06-2010 09:00 PM


We eventually had to stop for a few hours of sleep from around 4 to 8 a.m on Monday morning. But this stop did little to refresh us as in an effort to get a cheap deal on a hotel, we ended up in a rather questionable establishment that had apparently never seen a vacuum cleaner. Not only was the floor beyond filthy, we had to spray the bed and ourselves with 100% deet bug spray as we were welcomed by some not too friendly pests. Apparently, we weren’t quick enough on the draw as we managed to acquire some bedbug bites as souvenirs.

As Monday dawned, we knew we were in for near-to iron butts with endless miles looming before us. We started out in a light drizzle and met up with every road construction roadblock possible in the state of Oklahoma which succeeded in delaying us for 30 minutes to an hour with each stop. Eventually we crossed Oklahoma into Texas where the bugs got bigger and the heat magnified.

The hours passed and we knew we had to keep riding on into the night. We were hoping against hope to find a sympathetic truck driver to haul us with him and that we could get a few hours of sleep while still pushing on, but to no avail. I kept taking energy shots and NoDoz until my heart felt like it was going a million beats a minute.

We debated stopping to sleep but knew there was simply no way we’d get to Eagle Pass by Tuesday morning if we stopped. Of course, we already realized that even if we did make it, we’d arrived completely shot due to not sleeping. Despite our massive effort, we only got to Del Rio, Texas by 6:30 a.m. We called Claudio to let him know to go ahead with the border crossing, and that we’d catch up later.

We decided to push on to Eagle Pass but finally stopped at a picnic table rest stop unable to stay awake anymore. While Cynthia watched the bike and our gear, I took an hour nap. We were out of water, exhausted and out of gas, but somehow we made it to Eagle Pass.

We tried to find a park to crash for a few hours but couldn’t find a spot in the shade without the ubiquitous red and black ants that dominate the Texas soil camping out as well. We figured we could cross the border and then find a place to crash and that would put us closer to the team. However it was late in the afternoon and in theory it is better to do the border crossing early and get away from the border. Our heads and ears had been filled with ominous warnings about the dangers of traveling in Mexico, especially around the border. What to do?! Find out how our border crossing went in the next post.

shirazdrum 09-09-2010 10:00 AM

Aug, 11th. Bienvenidos A Mexico

Despite not crossing into the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras until mid-afternoon, we had a remarkably uneventful border crossing. No passport check, no search and a big smile from the border patrol made our day. Wanting to keep things that way, I decided to get out of the border town straight away and do our customs and registration paperwork somewhere else but Cynthia kept yelling out of her full face helmet that we had to stop to do the paperwork in town. She was nervous and kept on relaying all the information she ever heard from anyone regarding Mexico and the dangers of travelling there and I was getting really annoyed. I was tired, hungry, and had virtually no sleep for 3 days, so I told her she can walk if she doesn’t calm down and stay quiet. That did the trick. We rode out of town without stopping for at least 20 miles and stopped to ask some policemen where to go and they joked that we actually came to them instead of them stopping us and gave us directions to La Garita, the custom and vehicle control office to take care of our paperwork.

From the very start of our time in Mexico we met friendly and helpful people. At the La Garita, a local, Dr. Luis Farias approached us to ask about our trip. He turned out to be a part of Amoden, one of the largest motorcycle clubs in Northern Mexico and kindly offered to arrange accommodations for us in Saltillo and show us around. We explained that we had to be on the same travel schedule as the rest of the Racing Green Endurance team, but were grateful for such a friendly welcome and his kind offer. We also met Rodolfo Velz and his family who recommended that due to the time, we would do better to shoot for Monclova instead of Saltillo to avoid traveling after dark. They also kindly offered to put us up for the night if we couldn’t find a place. There was no boogie man in México, no gun toting gang and no one who treated us with anything but respect and friendliness.

We knew that the team was planning to stop in Saltillo, Coahuila for the night but that stopping in Monclova by dark would be safer. Besides we were completely spent from being on the go for two days with no sleep and little water. The heat was killing us to boot. Temperatures were in 100’s and we were beyond dripping with sweat. It felt like we were shrink-wrapped and stuck in a sauna. All of our clothes and motorcycle gear were damp and sticking to us. Time to rest.

Mexico is a beautiful country. We decided to go on toll roads (Cuotas) as we were warned that the free roads (Libre) were ungodly dangerous and if we ever dared to go on them, we would suffer an agonizing death! So $8 later, we were cruising along on the toll road to Monclova but one gas stop and a drink later, somehow we ended up on the regular highways of Coahuila. To be frank, the toll roads are no different than the regular roads. They are all excellent and beside, venturing off the toll roads gives the opportunity to see the real México since it goes through the little town and villages along the way.

Speed bumps in México are legendary. They are called Topez and they are a mile high and hard hitting. They are mostly well signed or if there’s no sign, you can see them coming as everyone else slow down to a crawl to go over these giants. The biggest road problem is the potholes and they are not just native to free highways, they are on the toll roads as well with no warning. The Mexican drivers are excellent drivers. And courteous too. I don’t remember a time that a slow moving vehicle didn’t go out of his way to give us room to pass. Even the cars on the other lane would go to the shoulder to make room for us. I’m loving it here.

At 7:30 pm, we finally reached Monclova and wandered around trying to find a hotel where most importantly the bike would be safe. The first place we encountered was a ritzy hotel that was completely sold out. The manager, Gorge Carballal came out and helped us with some directions. In the meantime, some friendly guests started talking to us and taking pictures. We eventually settled into a hotel around the corner from the main strip which surprisingly had about every American brand store and restaurant you could imagine: Auto Zone, Burger King, Chili’s, you name it, it was there. I was starving and upon the recommendation of the hotel, was pleased to end up with one of the best burgers in my life. They assisted with ordering from one of the few places that was still open, and although I almost never get take-out, was so exhausted from riding for two days on no sleep, that this called for an exception. As I walked out of my room, I saw to Mexican guys hovering around the bike and long story short, we got to talk and drank beer out of a cooler in the back of their truck to cap of the amazing welcome. We like México. Don’t believe a word you hear on the news, it’s no Baghdad. Next: Monclova to Saltillo and meeting the rest of the gang.

shirazdrum 09-12-2010 05:37 PM

Aug, 12th. Monclova to San Luis Potosi, Mexico

We set the alarm clock to get out of Monclova early in the morning but my body wasn’t cooperating. Cynthia dragged me out of the bed around 10 am and when I called the guys, it turned out that a shock absorber on the SRzero electric car has broken off and so the team wasn’t leaving until around 2:00 p.m. from Mario’s Inn just outside of Saltillo. We packed up and set off down the road to find the team. Thankfully the weather was milder today but still hot, and the dry deserts of México were giving way to more tropical landscape. 200km later, we found the electric car and RGE guys waiting for us at the hotel. The RGE team is comprised of Claudio Von Planta (documentary filmmaker), Jonathan Richards (cameraman/editor) and the five engineering students from imperial college of London: Toby Schulz, Andy Hadland, Alex Schey, Clemens Lorf, and Nick Sauer. Two guys usually sit in the SRzero, Cynthia and Claudio would take turns riding with me, and the rest would follow in an E-350 Ford Van for support and to haul the rest of the gear and tools. You can see more about the RGE project at Racing Green Endurance - Home

We rode over 3200km from Northern Montana to middle of México to catch up with them and we succeeded at last. Introductions were made all around amidst video cameras filming our arrival, and then we loaded some of our gear into the van to make room for Claudio on back of the bike so he can start filming.

I could call myself an experienced motorcyclists after thousands of miles of riding in virtually any weather and road condition, but I was still quite apprehensive of the task ahead of me: riding an 800 pound motorcycle with 300+lbs of human cargo on it down the not-too motorcycle friendly roads of Latin America. Riding two-up is challenging at best but manageable as long as your pillion is not moving too much and follows the rhythm of the ride.

Riding with Claudio would automatically cancel out all the cardinal rules of riding as he planned to film the SRzero from the bike with a handheld video camera (5lb professional camera) mounted on a tripod. He would be hanging down from the side and back with no prior warning and my job was to ride close to the subject and maintain a steady speed while he filmed. No easy task by any means.

Without further ado, Claudio and I got set up on the bike and the whole convoy headed out for the 467 kilometer long journey to San Luis Potosi in the heart of México.

As I anticipated, riding two up and filming was hard work. I soon realized that I have to counterbalance every move and be ready for anything. It was scary at first seeing Claudio hanging down from the side on the curves but I learned not to look down and keep my eyes on the road. A couple of hours of practicing different methods finally put my mind at ease and the weird configuration soon became a natural rhythm.

The routine practice is that we pass the car and Claudio turns back as I slow down and let the car overtake us. Then I ride as close as possible and let him take the close-up shots on either side. Finally, we set off and leave the car behind to find a high section of the road or a bridge to take some tri-pod shots. Once we get all these shots, we look for interesting landscapes, people, dead animals…

Getting to know Claudio von Planta himself was worth the trip alone. At age 48 Claudio is arguably the most talented and respected adventure (for lack of better words) videographer and documentary filmmaker of our time. Educated in Zurich on Political Science, he has spent over 20 years pursuing his passion, investigative journalism and filming. From the mountains of Afghanistan to tropical rainforests of New Guinea, he has a story with footage to back it up.

He has spent most of his professional life in conflicts zones around the world, bringing hard-to-beat footage to major TV stations including the first ever televised interview with Osama Bin Laden, and producing many award-winning documentaries on global issues such as Rape Trade and Aids. He speaks German, French and English fluently, and other languages such as Brazilian Portuguese. The ever-popular TV series of Long Way Round and Long Way Down are excellent works, but to judge Claudio’s talent and determination based on these two series alone is an underestimation.

It took us all day to cover the miles and before we knew it, I had the firsthand experience of driving in México after dark. The highways are generally good, but what’s on the highways is the main concern. There are thousands of stray dogs everywhere with nothing better to do than to chase motorcycles. The locals tie up their livestock to the side of the road to graze on the green grass, and it’s not unusual for the cows and donkeys to be crossing the road unattended. Due to these circumstances, driving at night is not advisable, but we had no choice and had to make our destination at San Luis Potosi.

After getting lost a few times in the SLP city center, we finally reunited with the rest of the crew at the hotel. There was a bit of a problem getting the electric car into the parking garage as it didn’t have enough clearance for the grade of the entryway ramp. Despite multiple attempts at makeshift adjustments the car was not able to go down the steep ramp of the garage. Finally they found another parking garage to park in where they could charge the car overnight and we settled in for the night. Next: Journey to Mexico City, the second largest city in the world (at night of course)!

shirazdrum 09-21-2010 02:13 AM

Aug 14th. How not to travel in Mexico!

Today Mr. Murphy had another plan for us as everything that could go wrong, went wrong! We didn’t head out of San Luis Potosi until around 3 pm as the electric car apparently didn’t get fully charged as one of the circuit breakers had switched off at some point during the night so the car had to charge more during the day to make the trip to Mexico City. As we were caravanning out of the city, the support van made a left turn into an alley and indicated for the electric car and our motorcycle to do a U-turn. As I followed the electric car, I didn’t realize that there was a Federal Police sitting behind me at the stoplight. He turned on his lights and started to scream in the bullhorn in Spanish to pull me over (like I knew what the hell he was saying) and promptly started reading me the riot act! Thankfully Cynthia’s fast-talking in Spanish got me off with just an evil eye and stern warning to “Respect the signs!”

Afternoon rains came again without fail, and somehow when we stopped to put on rain gear and switch helmets so that I could wear Cynthia’s full-face helmet, we didn’t see whether or not the van and electric car passed us. We stayed by the roadside waiting a good 30 minutes and then decided to go on. By then it was dark. No sooner were we back on the road than we encountered another toll station. This is where things got interesting. When we crossed into México, I didn’t bother to bring any cash with me, and all I had was about a $100. I figured I would get money out of ATM in México but the past few days were so hectic that I completely forgot to do so. The toll was 5 dollars but all I had was $1.50 in cold hard cash. Cynthia begged for the guy to let us go through and promised we would wait by the road for the electric car and the van to come through so that they could pay for the rest of our toll. We pulled off by the roadside to wait as huge trucks careened on by. After another 30 minutes or so it was apparent that either the rest of the caravan had already gone on through or they were broken down somewhere behind us.

It was pitch black, cold, raining in sheets, and we were still about 100 miles from Mexico City. I wasn’t relishing driving aimlessly in the dark not knowing where we were going. My plan was to find the closest hotel and stop for the night, but first we had to pay the toll if we wanted to move another inch as they were watching us like hawks. We started digging in every pocket and every box to scrape up just enough change in US pennies, nickels and dimes to pay the rest of the toll but we were still short a full dollar. I have a lucky silver dollar that I’ve had for 17 years which I take with me everywhere. With much regret, I handed it to Cynthia to pay up the man as that was our only salvation. Cynthia paid the toll and we continued on our way. As we were running out of fuel, we stopped at the next gas station to find team hanging out there! Apparently, the electric car had run out of charge again and so for the next 4-6 hours we sat around in the gas station while the car charged up. Thankfully they had a deli counter where they made delicious Tortas (Mexican sandwich) to order. After a full belly and a beer or two at the station, Cynthia surprised me by procuring my lucky silver dollar. Somehow she managed to get us through without giving up my silver dollar after all. That was enough to put a smile on my face for the rest of the night.

At 3 a.m. the car was charged enough to continue so we packed up once more to enter the biggest city in the Americas in a torrential rain and pitch black skies. You can see the lights of México City from miles away and the traffic starts long before reaching the city itself. Struggling to stay awake, we rode into the city at 5 a.m. as the local food vendors were preparing breakfast on the roadside. The rain stopped, the sun started to come out and we were safe at last.

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