Category Archives: Be Gone

Day 6 – Ciudad Madero to El Tajin to Veracruz

We were supposed to get up early this morning but I don’t do well with 6am wake up calls and apparently neither does Joe.  We got ready, packed up and headed down for breakfast at about 9 or 10.  It wasn’t a spectacular breakfast but we rarely stop during the day so whatever you get for your first meal should last.  From the moment we got up today until we finished paying our check and said goodbye to the front desk folks, it has been drizzling pretty steadily.  I want to believe some of our lethargy was hanging around because neither of us was excited about the prospect of starting our riding day soaking wet.  We couldn’t wait any longer because our goal for the day is to make it all the way to Veracruz which is about 300 miles (7 hours) with a stop at El Tajin for whatever amount of time we want to spend there.

Rain or no rain, we have got to get out of here but we were really thankful for the covered garage where we could assemble the bikes and prep for leaving while remaining dry.  We left the city and it, again, had a totally different feel to it than the previous few times out and about.  The streets felt like they changed ambiance like a chameleon to fit the mood of the day and it is as temporary as a passing rain cloud.  We encountered a fresh obstacle as the water started streaking across the riding surface.  In some of the small towns we pass through, the road maintenance isn’t spectacular which leaves tons of potholes.  Normally, this isn’t much more than a slight nuisance as you just weave around them as you make your way down the road.  When it rains however these potholes fill up and become puddles that look an awful lot like every other puddle out here.  You can ride through one puddle spraying water to either side and follow it up with charging into the next only to have the front wheel hit a pothole that slams the handlebars backwards in a body jarring, nearly-rider-throwing jolt that will make your brain shake.

We have been traveling through areas with decent population but today we seem to be diving deeper into the jungle.  It is a very interesting change and I think mostly because I am used to the environments we have previously been riding through, cities, farmland, rural, desert.  The entrance into the jungle came on subtly with mountains and mist.  Before long it was all around us like it was trying to swallow us just as it had devoured the ancient ruins we were headed towards.  If you aren’t paying attention it can be a little unnerving and slightly claustrophobic.

Like almost every other day of our journey we had gotten a bit of a late start so we were pulling into El Tajin at around 3pm.  It was a welcome stop as the heat was oppressive.  We pulled in to see rows and rows of vendor huts with some occupied and some completely empty.  It was quiet and there seemed to be very few people milling about which makes sense as the park closes around 4:30.  We were waived over by a few gentlemen that appeared to have their own merchandise cube.  They pointed down one of the aisles making us aware of a perfect parking spot right near the only open eatery.  We dismounted and exchanged a couple of thank you head nods while a small group collected to admire the bikes.  They pointed at various different parts and we locked up what we could on the bikes so we didn’t have to carry as much.  We journeyed to the restaurant nearby and perused the plastic wrapped single page menu.  I ordered a combination dish with chicken tostada, taco, and rice and beans.  Joe ordered a plate of veggies with similar rice and beans. Mine arrived with shrimp and I opted to eat meatless as well.  I was happy just to get some food in because I was so hungry and I knew we had some exploring to do.  I ordered my first horchata of the trip and enjoyed the familiar taste.  We finished in a totally empty dining area and wondered if we might be the only people taking in the sights now.  The visitor’s center was the first thing we passed through and with a quick glance we got an idea of the general layout.  The ruins of El Tajin start rather small, growing out of the ground like little rock piles but as we progressed further the structures get impressively large.  We knew we had to move fast but we wanted to take in as much as possible.  This was the first time I had ever visited ruins so they seemed pretty incredible to me but Joe decided about halfway through our visit that we definitely had to stop at Tikal in Guatemala.  Honestly, I found a few elements of the landscape that were interesting like the sport courts and the main temple but our time was spent discussing the merits of travel as we have seen them so far.

Joe has done much more adventuring than I but we both recognized the uniqueness of this trip.  We were grasping just how far we had come from NC and how much still lay ahead of us.  We were slowly breaking down the barriers of culture and language we have built over years of comfort and ease in our home environment.  We discussed how we are more and more open to following our whims as we dispel the warnings and fears carried down with us after a billion voices collected to advise us against making such a dangerous trip.  We found our way to the very back of the ruins where the largest structure was found and we shot our daily video right there.  On our way out we marveled at making it all the way through this entire area without running into more than a couple of other patrons.  The park was closing as we geared up and rode out the front gate.

It wasn’t long on the road that we realized we wouldn’t be able to make our goal for the day in Veracruz.  We opted instead to stop at a little hotel right on the water called Hotel y Balneario Playa San Pablo.  It was a gorgeous place and we were lucky enough to arrive during daylight so we could see the view.

The restaurant downstairs served burgers and drinks which was enough to keep me happy for the night.  The TV in the room was showing bad Nicholas Cage movies (Vengeance: A Love Story) but they became so much more with the Spanish overdubbing.  We settled in to relax and prepare ourselves because tomorrow is going to be 400 miles to Villahermosa.

Day 5 – Tampico

We arrived late last night and were totally wiped out so let me take this moment to get really excited, WE ARE IN MEXICO!!!  Alright, now that we are done with that nonsense lets get down to it.
We had the opportunity to enjoy breakfast downstairs offered by the Hotel Mediterraneo because they offer room deals with and without breakfast (desayuno) included.  We opted to get the breakfast which worked out well for me with some eggs and meat.  Joe struggled a little bit more because of the whole vegan thing but eventually he and the waitress were able to settle on an acceptable meal of veggies, beans and rice.  It didn’t look great to me but very few of Joe’s meals so far have looked great to me.
We set out into the streets of Ciudad Madero with our first priority to find me an ATM where I could use the only credit card I brought (Discover).  We took a right out of the Hotel Mediterraneo and headed down the street.  During the day we were able to see a lot more of the life of the city.  We were pointed in the direction of a bank which turned out to be HSBC.  I tried the credit card and was again refused.  This is not good.
The weather was warm but I was wearing normal street clothes instead of my armored jeans and heavy motorcycle jacket.  I decided I wasn’t going to let my financial woes affect my experience and we left the vestibule to enjoy the rest of the area.  We crossed near a new Wal-Mart and I thought I would try my luck inside.  We got a couple of waters and I stepped up to the register with hope in my heart.  The cashier swiped my plastic and for a moment I felt time slow inside the store while everything got very quiet.  After what felt like hours passing, I heard the receipt machine start to spit out it’s printed acceptance letter.  I couldn’t believe it.  It worked.  I battled with the idea of trying run through the line again with the goal of adding cash back to the charge but we decided to just move on.  It felt like a little victory.
The sun was high in the sky and it was scorching even with the little activity we were doing.  We decided to head back to the hotel where Joe was excited to try out the pool and I was going to try to eliminate the clumsiness of my packing.  I knew if I could create a pannier filled with sometimes items and one of more regular items, I would only have to bring a single case to the room each time we stopped.  I moved all the tools and resort gear to one side of the bike while my daily use and electronics was moved to the opposite side.  The revised packing went much quicker than I thought so I started getting to work on some quick bike maintenance.  I figured after all the miles I had ridden, it might be about time to clean and lube the chain.  Luckily the bike was in the garage and under cover because it was still really warm.  The process went well and I had a chance to give the bike a quick wipe down to eliminate some of the grit I had picked up entering Mexico.  It felt really good to have my bike looking sharp and new again.
Before heading out to dinner we had a few moments to go over the past couple of days and our expectations for the coming weeks.  We were both excited to finally be experiencing Mexico.  We were still pretty tentative about trying out our Spanish but we knew the opportunities would be plentiful in the coming days.
Our dinner plans were based on the suggestion of the man behind the reservation desk so we took a right out of the hotel and walked about a quarter mile down the road to a very purple bar on the opposite side of the street.  We stepped inside after ordering what we thought were a few tacos from the man right next door at Papi Pollos.  It was surreal.  On all the walls were posters of iconic 80s and 90s metal bands like Pantera, Slayer, Metallica and Megadeath.  Pounding through the speakers was a constant barrage of fiery virtuosos shredding as various frontmen screamed lyrics of sex and speed and doom.  It was such a huge difference from everything we have seen and heard since we arrived in Mexico.  It was almost a shock when our bartend arrived with his full sleeves of deep ink running right up to his wrists with flames, wearing a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt and spoke Spanish to us.  We stared at him for a moment before replying in broken sentences that we had dinner coming from next door but would love a couple of drinks.  Joe opted for a regional beer in a brown bottle while I chose some fruity mango smoothie with alcohol added.  Joe reminded me the smoothie was likely made with ice, which was made with Mexican water and for just a moment I froze.  Then I decided to jump in with both feet.  If I was going to get sick, I was going to get sick but nothing was going to stop me from enjoying my Mexican mango smoothie.
Shortly afterwards our meal arrived in a white paper bag.  It was heavier than I expected and I started pulling out the paper wrapped “tacos” so we could eat.  I tore open the first one and knew we had a bit of an issue right away.  What we actually had ordered was essentially just ham and cheese sandwiches.  I was okay with the mix up but my vegan friend was going to have a little trouble with the order.  He pushed his one sandwich over to my side of the table where I already had my two sitting.  Joe ordered beans and rice from the bartend and I set about trying to finish three sandwiches when one would have sufficed.  I hate wasting and traveling with a vegan who consistently is delivered meals he can’t eat was starting to turn me into a glutton.
I hammered two and half sandwiches and two mango smoothies before we headed home with our ears ringing just a little bit.  The sun was setting when we exited the bar and we meandered our way home with full confidence of our safety on the streets.  We remarked how unlike all the stories we had heard these streets felt.  We never had any issues and were met with several head nods and “buenos noches” on our way back to our hotel.  The street was lively with almost a festival like atmosphere.  Food vendors were sizzling away throwing sweet smelling steam into the pathways of pedestrians while families and old ladies strolled up and down the street, enjoying the cooler late summer evening.  It was the perfect snapshot of our first full day in Mexico.  It simultaneously crushed every expectation I had while fulfilling my deepest hopes for this trip.  I knew this would be a place I would return to at some point, hopefully with my own family, someday.

Day 4 – Austin to Tampico (Part 2)

Day 4 – Austin to Tampico (Part 2)
I exited the vestibule and started my long extremely hot walk back in full motorcylce gear including a long sleeve shirt and kevlar lined and fully armored pants.  I was getting a little scared I wasn’t going to be able to get into the country because I couldn’t afford it.  The walk seemed three times as long on the way back but I got there and Joe must have seen the look of defeat on my face.  He offered to get the money out for me so we could at least progress beyond this border as the time was sliding by and from everything we read, we didn’t want to get stuck near the border after dark.  I thanked him sheepishly and worked out my final bill for insurance with the man in the glass office.  We finally had everything we needed to get into Mexico for real.
I got on the bike, sweating hard but thankful to be moving once again.  We were still close enough to the border that I could get cell signal so I called my wife one last time and talked to her for about three minutes before the signal dropped.  I can’t believe I made it.  Even though we started a few days ago it wasn’t until I saw signs with kilometers instead of miles per hour that it hit me, I am really in it now.  I also was reminded of how far we had to go.  We have another 10-11 days on the road before our reservation at the resort in Roatan.  Nothing before then was planned but we had a rough idea of how we wanted everything to go.  Ideally we were going to get to Tampico tonight but we still had about 6 hours to go and we had lost most of our initiative because I didn’t prepare properly for the border.
Initially, northern Mexico looks a lot like Southern Texas.  It is hot, barren and the horizon stretches out for miles ahead of you on stick straight roads blurry with the reflecting sun.  I was glad to hit higher speeds as we had been promised with no one paying attention to the speed limits.  Passing took on a new life too which made the riding on this side of the border far more interesting.  Instead of a two lane road, we had two lanes with what appeared to be a very large bike lane running on the outside of both sides of the road.  As we approached slower cars and trucks they would move to the right, straddling the line between the regular lane and the bike lane, providing us just enough room to pass without crossing into oncoming traffic.  This is made even more exciting by similar activity in the opposite lanes with their passing strategies occurring at the same time and speeds headed right by my left shoulder.
One of the most breathtaking changes in traffic and rules I experienced was how Mexican drivers use their turn signals compared to Americans.  We hadn’t been in Mexico long and were getting quite comfortable passing on this interior “lane” when all of a sudden I was passing a 18 wheeler truck who decided to turn on his left turn signal.  In America, this signal would mean I am about to get crushed or pushed into oncoming traffic at 80 mph.  It tends to make your whole body shake just a little but here in Mexico it just means the truck is letting you know it is safe to pass.  Once you get over the initial shock it is a really helpful tool, especially when you are passing at such high rates of speed.  It doesn’t take long to get used to this and almost rely on it for another set of eyes on the road ahead.
After about three hours we broke through the heat and started seeing more green as we climbed up into the hills and mountains near Soto la Marina.  It felt good to have some different terrain to look at plus after our long day I have been trying to keep awake with almost anything.  No one likes falling asleep on the road but it is even worse on two wheels.  The beauty of these hills is exactly what I was desiring on this trip.  Unfortunately, because of an error of leaving my GoPro on at the border, I have no battery left for these moments but it was really grand.  I am so glad to have seen it first hand and it gave me the power to push through.
Again, because of the late start we had to hurdle our first universal no-no of our Mexico trip.  At first it felt totally natural to be on the road as the sun set over the mountains to our right.  It wasn’t until traveling through a smaller town and seeing the flow of people on either side of the road that I remembered the warnings about being out too late into the night.  Joe and I talked about it and decided as darkness descended that we would continue into the abyss against the advice of the forums because we wanted to make Tampico.  We continued but I had my eyes peeled for road blocks created by banditos, or dogs laying in the road, or camouflaged speed humps (topes) or any of a number of other national treasures that could kill me at night.  Luckily, as we neared Tampico it started to look more and more like a big city with lights and cars everywhere so I felt right at home.  We made it all the way to the water when we realized we had passed the hotel we had been advised to visit by other motorcycle travelers to the area.
We doubled back about 15 minutes to Ciudad Madero and drove up to Hotel Mediterraneo.  We passed the hotel on our right and progressed to Calle 12.  We took a right to wrap around the block turning again at Calle 30.  As we came up Calle 13 on the fourth side of the box we just rode around the hotel, the garage appeared on our right just before we got back to the main drag.  We pulled in and over to the left so our bikes could be seen through the large glass doors next to the front desk.  It was already nearing 10 so we stepped inside asking for “una habitacion con dos camas” which they were happy to set us up with right away.  We took advantage of our first opportunity to utilize our Spanish with very little success.  Luckily, our attendant was far better with English than we were with Spanish.  We unloaded the bikes and took everything up to our room.  I hated how easy this process was for Joe while I struggled with two heavy cases and an overloaded pack on my back.  This wasn’t going to work for this whole trip.
attachFull1033616 attachFull1033617
We got out of all the heavy, wet with sweat gear we were wearing and put on some normal street clothes to see if we could find anything to eat this late at night.  The front desk was super helpful and told us if we made a left out the front door we could travel less than a block to get some food at one of the storefront restaurants right here.
We sat down to order but there weren’t any menus.  We fumbled and tripped over describing what we wanted which was complicated even further by Joe’s requests for vegan fare.  Eventually, the server took pity on us and grabbed a guy at a nearby table who spoke english and spanish well who was willing to help us through the entire menu.  We thanked him and he told us if we needed anything else, he was nearby.  Joe and I reveled in our extremely long day of travel and our first night in Mexico by enjoying a couple Fantas.  If you aren’t aware, there is nothing better on a ride or a hot day or after any achievement in life at all than a crisp, cold Fanta.  I never knew this truth but Joe has opened my eyes and with all the things I learned on this day of days, then the power of Fanta may be the most magnificent.

Day 4 – Austin to Tampico (Part 1)

We were up extremely early this morning to make it into Mexico. Up to this point in the trip we haven’t left any earlier than 1030 in the morning, generally after a pretty solid breakfast. Today was different. Today we were out the door and on the bikes just before 0500 because we knew it was going to be a long day under the best of circumstances. We were planning 5 hours to McAllen where we would cross over to Reynosa, Mexico. From there it would be another 6 hours to our final destination for the day, Tampico. That was the plan. Today, was a little different from the plan but that is what adventure is all about, right?

It was so amazing to be on the roads before the sun in Austin. The air wasn’t cold but it definitely wasn’t warm or hot yet. It was just a really nice cool as it flowed up my sleeves and around my neck as we left. Packing up the bikes, in the driveway, in the dark had left me a little overheated so the air was a welcome relief from the heat packed into my jacket. The black pavement blended perfectly into the inky blackness of the pre-dawn sky as we made our way out of the hills on our way to the main southern drag that would eventually take us across the border so it felt like I was gliding deeper into the farthest reaches of space as I split the two. By the time the sun started to peak out over the edge of the landscape we already had 2 hours and 140 miles into our trip. It felt really good to know we had beat the daylight by getting a big jumpstart on our mileage. It also felt really good to know that we wouldn’t have to go nearly as far in the incredible heat of South Texas. When we had left North Carolina I knew we were headed into warmer temps but I was not prepared for what that would feel like on a bike traveling 70+ mph. Every other time I had been traveling at speed on the bike the air rushing around me felt good. It felt cooler than sitting still on the bike which was always welcome during the summer months. As we neared the border something strange happened to the air around us. The heat persisted even at higher speeds which made it feel like riding in a sauna. Imagine one of those hand dryers from the men’s room blowing directly in your face and you will understand what south Texas heat can do to your ride. Initially it was interesting and remarkable but after a short time my dry mouth and crusty nostrils just wanted a tendril of relief to waft through my helmet.

The cell signal was spotty, so instead of making calls or listening to music, I used the time to just reflect on how I was feeling as I neared the beginnings of what I called, “the real trip.” Before we left we heard countless warnings from people that had been to Mexico and plenty who hadn’t. We read reports from the State Department and other travelers from the blogs. We poured over the most recent information we could find on Some of it was calming and insightful but some of it left me with anxiety and worry. I was told I was crazy to even attempt a trip down to Mexico. It is too dangerous and you just had a kid. The people on the forums were much more reserved but still carried tons of warnings and advice. I wondered why those warnings were never heeded and why I always took them with a grain of salt as we approached. Maybe it was because the border always seemed so far away. Maybe it was because it wasn’t real until today. I didn’t have to worry about the tales and the circumstances because I was still at home. All that was going to be changing today in just a few short hours. Worry started to enter my mind and my heart but I decided to push it away as best as I can because I was locked into making this trip now. I have always trusted my instincts to guide me away from danger and although I had heard a billion different terror stories my heart told me everything was going to be just fine. Is fear a reason to deny opportunity? Is danger enough of an excuse to walk away from experience? Do I have to change my mind now that I have a young son at home?

I find my answers to these type of questions really cloudy. It becomes far more clear when I think about how I hope my son eventually answers these types of questions. My hope for him is to look at fear as exactly what it is, a guide. Nothing more. When fear strikes, it shouldn’t paralyze you but allow you a chance to analyze the sources of that fear. I want him to use fear rather than being used by fear. When others back away, I want him to step forward and realize life isn’t always safe or comfortable. The best way to dispel fear is to journey into the darkness. Each step will show you there is nothing to fear and you will be able to live a bolder life. My excitement rose significantly as we neared the border because I knew just a year ago I wouldn’t have made this trip. Not only did I not have the bike but I wouldn’t have considered something this far outside of my comfort zone. I wouldn’t have internalized all the warnings and negativity until I simply assumed a trip beyond the borders of the USA wasn’t in the cards for me. I would have rationalized it as me being responsible or caring more about my family than the journey. What I realize now is this journey is all about my family and what kind of man I want to be in this family. Do I want to show my son that the best way to live life is inside a bubble where only other people’s stories get told or do I want to show him that sometimes prudence needs to take a backseat to action? I was proud of myself for taking a leap when countless reasons existed for why I shouldn’t. I want my son to look for reasons to say yes to challenge and experience because those are harder to find than the excuses we use to avoid all risk.

I know this seems like a pretty heavy mental activity for such a free and open area of the ride but Southern Texas in September heat can feel excruciatingly large. We eventually made our way to the border town of McAllen, TX and it was a little unnerving because there is an awful lot going on right there. For some reason, I felt like it would be a straight road directly across Mexico with no real hurdles but let me dispel that fantasy if any of you share my ignorance. There is a full blown city right there and more than a couple stop lights before you cross. We found our way to the right path thanks to Google Maps but got ourselves a little turned around as we passed into the Mexican side. We veered right instead of left and almost left the border area without a stamp, registration or insurance. Needless to say to anyone who has done even a little research about riding into Mexico, this oversight would have been very bad for the remainder of our trip. Luckily, a kind gentleman on his way back from lunch recognized our looks of dismay as we neared the exit and turned us around to head back to the very large building where we would eventually take care of all necessary items. We thanked him, in English, and made our way to what was going to be my most frustrating part of the day.

We entered at the far right door at Reynosa which brings the insurance office up first on our left as we step inside the cool air conditioned confines. There were four gentlemen on folding chairs outside the office spilling into the walkway ever so slightly as they laughed and shared chips while sipping from their individual sodas. Immediately after the insurance office comes the immigration office which had one gentleman sitting inside giving us a knowing glance as he beckoned us over. He asked for our passports and all the necessary paperwork in Spanish and once we figured out what we had and didn’t have he sent us all the way to the opposite end of the building to check in the bikes properly. We grabbed all our jackets, helmets and tank bags for the long walk to the opposite end of the building just happy that we were at least inside where it was much cooler than the midday sun beating down outside. I remember being vaguely aware that it wouldn’t have taken much to get my bike into the back of a pick up while I was in here and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. I pushed that fear to the back of my mind convincing myself that nothing would happen. We made it to the bike check in and registration section. They first asked to register the bikes which was a large $400 fee which I tried to pay with my credit card. A Discover card. She handed it back to me simply saying, “No.” I got this sick feeling in my stomach as I realized that card was the only one I had brought. Uh oh. I meekly looked at Joe and asked if he might be able to help as he was a stall over and well on his way through the process because he brought more than one card and something other than a Discover card. He handed me his still warm from use card, which I promptly handed to the attendant. She handed it back and told me the card had to have my name on it. Big uh oh. What was I going to do? Joe and I pooled our on hand cash (mostly Joe’s) and just barely got me over the $400 collateral registration. The remaining entry fee (~$50) was put on Joe’s card without any restrictions. We had passed the first window but I was already sweating pretty bad as I understood just how unprepared I was for this border.

I went to the immigration window again and he reviewed all of my paperwork, provided me with a stamp and told me my last window would be the insurance man just to my left where Joe was finishing up after paying a few dollars for five day insurance coverage. With a smile he told me he was all good but I was going to need to head into town to pull our cash because we were both empty and the insurance man only took dollars or pesos. Crap. I asked a few of the men outside the window if they could point me to the nearest bank and they motioned over there shoulder, into town and a few blocks over. I got the feeling this wasn’t going to be as easy as they made it sound. I asked Joe to hold everything he could of mine and I headed out the door, into the heat and into my first Mexican town to find a bank which was supposed to be about 10 minutes away.

The streets of Reynosa don’t run parallel to the border crossing but instead in a crisscross pattern offset about 45 degrees. Thinking about it now, this shouldn’t have affected me as much as it did but for some reason it felt like stepping off the curb onto Mars. My mind was really thrown. I was also terrified to ask for help from anyone I passed assuming they would recognize me as clueless and take me for everything I had which was next to nothing. I passed school children and women on their way back from the grocery store. I passed young gentlemen dressed in light colored suits and others in work pants and dirty t-shirts without saying a word. I tried to be a shadow. After about 20 minutes of searching I was starting to get worried because I didn’t want to return empty-handed and looking even more foolish than I already have while also being covered in new glistening sweat. Just as I was going to give up, I saw the sign. I was almost there. The vestibule was occupied when I arrived so I retrieved my Discover card and said a little wish to the universe that it would let me off with a warning this time so I could get some money and continue. The woman inside left holding the door open for me as I smiled slightly as if to say, “Don’t worry, I look like this all the time.” Once inside, I slid my card in the slot and was met with an unfortunate buzzing sound like the one you hear on Family Feud when someone receives their third strike. Not good for me. I called the number on the back of the card hoping it was just a small international unlock issue. The customer service person on the other end informed me of the rarity with which I was likely to be using this card while in Mexico. My heart and my head sank. So far Mexico is not really going my way.

Day 3  – Austin

We spent the last two days traveling more than 1300 miles and today we are just going to relax a bit before making a long trip from Austin through our border crossing at Reynosa and ending in Tampico if everything goes well.  My body is aching in some really unusual ways for me and I am excited to see if a day of walking around a city will alleviate some of the soreness.
First off, I am beginning to believe that my best hope of being up early to travel might not be a reality ever on this trip because even on days off we still don’t get out until around 10 or 11 in the morning.  I always knew I was a bit of a late riser and more of a night owl but I figured Joe would keep me on pace with a 5 am wake up or something.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case and our mutual allowance of “feet dragging” might just be a hurdle we will have to cover at some point.  Today though, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Since we rode in very late last night to our fiend’s house on the hill we didn’t realize the view that would be awaiting us in the morning.  I met Joe at the kitchen table and we marveled at the distant Austin skyline just beyond the pool and patio.  It was really incredible to hear about the recent expansion and new buildings popping up over the last 5-10 years.  Apparently Austin is the new hot tech home and people are flocking to the area in droves.  As we closed out our early morning conversation, Joe arranged for an Uber to take us into the city so we could let the bikes rest and we would be able to drink all we wanted without fear of riding “wobbly.”
Our first goal was to find a place to eat and with Joe being vegan, I figured it would be wise to let him pick lest I make a monumental error by taking him to a steakhouse.  We ended up at True Food where they say, “Eating well is always in season.”  I was just slightly apprehensive because I’ve never really eaten at a place designed around healthy options.  My worries were allayed quickly as we were handed truly solid drink menus to start our lunch off right.  I cannot remember exactly what I ordered or what Joe ordered but they were both really great drinks.  As I perused the menu I noticed at Grass-Fed Burger which seemed like the perfect mix of healthy to hearty that I love.  Ordered placed and my anticipation was piqued.  Joe opted to order a few different items including the Kale Guacamole which only seemed fitting as we were planning on heading to Mexico the following day.
One of the first things we noticed as we sat talking and people watching next to the large glass windows which let in tons of warm welcome sunlight, was just how attractive the people of this city are.  It is like watching an Abercrombie catalog walking around except everyone had really distinct looks.  We had various ethnicities and various cultures represented but beyond that people’s choice of dress and hairstyle and ink were all very unique.  Maybe instead of an Abercrombie catalog it would be more accurate to say the United Colors of Benneton catalog.  It was remarkable and I was all of a sudden very conscious of my “road” attire.  I decided after a few more strong drinks, I would probably lose any self-reflection anyway so I decided to proceed with abandon.
The food arrived and it was all really good.  It was filling and tasty and as unique as the countless waitresses streaming by to ask us what we thought of lunch.  Color me satisfied and if I was going to give out recommendations for Austin, True Food would be right on top.
This was Joe’s first time in Austin and I had spent a limited amount of time here a few years ago so we set out like a bunch of novices, trying to find the best bars to hang out in at 2pm on a Monday afternoon.  After another Uber ride we ventured into a bar called Lustre Pearl with an enormous moose head overlooking the bar.  One thing I can say about this bar is there is plenty to look at inside even with no other patrons present.  Also, you can generally get great service at Austin bars if you are wiling to drink at an illogically early hour on a Monday (pro tip).  We opted to take this moment to shoot our Austin Diary video with drinks in hand.
Once the business was done we called in our good friend from North Carolina who had moved to Austin just a year or so earlier, hoping he would be able to guide us as our senses were getting dulled by the glass.  When Greg arrived a few minutes later, we set off to find some other watering holes.  We were told by our Austin guide that tourists head out to Fifth Street but the locals are all about Rainey Street.  Apparently this entire street used to be old houses which were each bought and renovated in different styles.  Each provides a view of vintage Austin with a laid back vibe it would be easy to feel very comfortable in regardless of what you might be looking for.  It reminded me a bit of Halloween but instead of candy each house was offering a stocked menu of libations completely exclusive to their doorway.  If only it would have been free, I might have died there that day.  Be sure to check out Banger’s and Container for some “hit the spot” drinks and some cool atmosphere.
While we sat and discussed old days and home and the coming trip I was struck with just how lucky I was.  Maybe it was watching people just like me hustling to and from work meetings or picking up a quick bite before heading back to the office, but I realized it is Monday and I am embarking on a great journey.  I am drinking with friends in a brand new place on a weekday afternoon.  It took me a moment but I made sure to be grateful for this opportunity and to promise to make a point of sharing that gratitude with the people I was going to be surrounded with along the way.  In all of our lives we wash across people every day and often leave no mark or significant impression of any kind.  This can be strangers on the street or your taxi driver or any number of momentary collisions of two people in a universe of monotony.  Maybe it is our responsibility, all of our responsibility, to take time to find out about these brothers and sisters who slide in and out of our lives without notice.  Maybe it is on us to offer a smile, a handshake or a kind word to acknowledge we are all a lot closer than it may seem.  It is hard to think about but if I can just shift my mentality slightly to imagine the first hurdle of anonymity already crossed.  It reminded me of a sign I once saw over the door of a small town bar, “You are only a stranger here once.”  Why couldn’t I treat my life in a similar fashion?  We may not be friends forever, in fact we may never speak again but for today, I am going to do my best to see you.  I am going to do my best to recognize you.  I am going to do my best to leave a positive impression on you because that is what you have done for me.
Two more drinks quickly snapped me out of my hyper reflective fall down the rabbit hole but I did feel more resolved about my ultimate goal behind Be Gone For Good.  There are a billion options every day to do good in the world around us.  If I am going to be on the road and away from my family, it should be paramount on my priority list to do good.  Otherwise I am wasting precious time and resources to create vacant memories in the most selfish of ways.  It is my job to be an ambassador for good and I will not take that role lightly.
Or, I will wake up tomorrow and not remember any of these ramblings of a romantic drunkard as we careen towards the border.  Here is hoping for the former.

Day 2 – Mobile, AL to Austin, TX

We arrived in Mobile late last night and strangely slept in a little late today. We got down to breakfast and scrounged through what was left of a pretty weak continental breakfast which wasn’t a big problem for me because I only, usually, have cereal and yogurt. For Joe, however, it is a first hurdle of trying to maintain a pretty strict vegan diet as we head through Central America. I am a bit nervous about what places like Guatemala hold in terms of meatless options while remaining glad that I have precious few dietary restrictions short of eyeballs, brains and most guts.

We are preparing for a long day from Mobile, AL through to Austin, TX at about 650 miles. On our way down the elevators in the morning I realized very quickly that I need to find a better way to carry my gear as I have two very heavy panniers, one in each hand, and a Mosko Moto Backcountry 40 pack on my back. In order to carry all this stuff I need to have my jacket on already which is starting to heat me up before we’ve even hit the sun. By the time we get down to the bikes in the courtyard of the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel I have already started sweating quite heavily which wouldn’t be a problem but it definitely makes for awkward casual conversation with the people gathered near the bikes who think you may pass out at any moment.

We met a brother and sister who had arrived in Mobile from Florida to welcome their sister’s new baby girl. They were quite overjoyed with the newest arrival to the family and I took the opportunity to practice my goal of reaching out more while on the road. The conversation felt free and easy with their interest in our travels bounding with the same sincerity as their own joy. I got to hand out my first stickers of the trip which felt really great and a little like a necessary hurdle to get over before we got into Mexico. I was glad to have tackled it early. The pair wished us luck and we boarded the bikes with a little extra lightness from the positivity of the morning.

The mileage today wasn’t particularly fun or interesting but I loved watching the surrounding landscape morph from the familiar tree lined highways to raised concrete bridges spanning for miles over the watery bayous of Southern Louisiana. It brought back memories of reading Ted Simon’s journey around the world in Jupiter’s Travels where he spoke of the major difference between traveling by plane to a destination and by roadway because you had the opportunity on the road to view all the nuance change and similarities of neighboring communities. It struck me as a similar difference between flicking on a light in your bathroom and immediately being granted light so quickly that the dark is no longer evident as opposed to watching the night slowly fade moment to moment as the light conquers it with the sun rise. I was hopeful to see the changes in population as we traveled through countries I’ve only ever read about before.

There was another realization that washed over me as we cruised across Interstate 10 hovering over the water and it had me a little concerned. In all the head turning and gawking I was doing, I noticed my eyes and mind were spending less and less time on the road immediately ahead. This just would not do traveling 70-80 mph but it would almost certainly be a problem when I got into Mexico where the rules of the road are a bit more lax. It was time for my to buckle down and recognize my first priority is to complete this trip safely because if I died on the road my wife would never let me do this again. This is the great paradox of travel. We want to see everything but you can’t possibly view it all. I have to be okay getting bits and pieces and knowing there will always be a reason to come back because I have either missed something or the inevitable change has made the old, new again. Each new mile makes my life more full exactly because of the fleeting nature of the experience.

Joe and I were still well within our cell signal so we decided to practice using the bluetooth headsets in our helmets while we could still have a back up. It was fun being able to push a button and immediately get into Joe’s head while it was a little unnerving when the reverse happened. For some reason my main fear was he would click in and I wouldn’t catch it until he had already heard me singing a few bars of Abba’s Take a Chance On Me. For those that might share a similar concern, the headsets do a pretty good job of making you aware of the changeover so you can compose yourself appropriately. We soon found ourselves punching the buttons for all manners of attractions we passed to let the other guy know before it was nothing but a glimmering mirage a mile behind us. One of Joe’s best was letting me know from behind that he had spotted an alligator swimming in the canal just below where we were riding. As I didn’t see it, probably because of previously mentioned singing fit, I choose to believe he was simply lying about it.

We pulled into Austin pretty late that night and I made a phone call to my buddy who was putting us up for the night to apologize for arriving not at 5 or 6 pm but closer to 10 or 11 because we cannot bring ourselves to keep a tight schedule on this trip so far. He guided me through his neighborhood in the high hills overlooking downtown Austin on what amounted to a much more exciting ride than it should have been. Being relatively new on a bike I didn’t consider just how troubling steep hills could be on travel while on a bike if you didn’t think about your path beforehand and decided to stop. After a couple of close calls where I almost turned around and dropped/fell off the side of the mountain we finally rolled into his courtyard driveway to complete a long second day of riding.

Joe dismounted and was ready to step inside quickly because he didn’t pack like it was the end of the world. I, on the other hand, took a few minutes longer because arranging 40 pounds of gear is seldom easy but it is hampered even further by having a tank bag and helmet to contend with as well. I eventually made it inside to be greeted with a warm kitchen and a cold beer to celebrate the end of our USA-only travel days. We quickly decided that with our late arrival and a big day of travel to get all the way to Tampico, it might be best to spend an extra day in Austin to recover. It will be nice to see some of the life we have been blistering past over the past couple of days. Plus who doesn’t love spending time in Austin?

Day 1 – Continued

Our first day was a bit of a struggle because we had left so late and really wanted to make it all the way to Mobile, AL.  Truthfully, our plan was to cut through the States as quickly as we could to get to the “real” adventure south of the border.  The surprising part was just how much fun we had covering even the most mundane of miles.  There is a really special feeling I get when I am on the open road for any amount of time.  It is almost hypnotic or meditative.  There is a gentle, almost indiscernible shift in landscape as thought some grand hand is painting over everything around you the moment you look away.  When your eyes drift back to where they just were the world has altered in the slightest way but you can’t help to feel the motion of the earth.  It has the effect of making me feel insignificantly small and totally connected at the same time.

The first rains of our ride occurred late on day one as we neared our destination which is fitting for my first long trip because I also encountered rain when I first rode a motorcycle just ten months ago.  From that first day I have really enjoyed riding in the rain though I have never lost my respect for it.  I recognize the difference in how I must ride when the rains come and it is an attitude that will surely be very useful later in the trip (hint, hint).

Unfortunately, I was so concerned with churning up pavement on our first day I recorded almost nothing of our travels.  There was one bridge as we pulled into Mobile called the General W.K. Wilson Jr. Bridge but lovingly referred to as “Hello Dolly”, I presume because of the wonderfully ample dual humps rising out of the tree line as you approach.  We crossed the bridge at night which made for an exhilarating late night boost after a 12 hour and 700 mile day.

We pulled into the hotel where they told us to park the bikes in the front courtyard of the hotel which immediately made me feel incredibly cool.  We got VIP parking right up front so we could remove all our gear and luggage under the watchful eye of the partying patrons as it was nearly 11pm on Saturday night.  I wanted to believe I didn’t smell nearly as bad as I did after driving all day in what felt like near 100 degree heat but I don’t think my thoughts were enough as more than a few people allowed us to take our own elevator to our floor.

The first day was done and we had another big day planned for Day 2.  We wanted to get all the way to Austin where a family friend was going to put us up for the night so we could enjoy all the nightlife Austin could offer on a Sunday.  It was going to have to be an early day and 700 miles again to make everything work out.  With the first day down and the excitement of the trip slowly turning into focused anticipation, I settled in to get my body right and my mind rested because soon I was going to be traveling into Mexico for my first international ride.

Day 1 – Beginnings

I had planned on getting an early start and it should have been pretty easy because I got very little sleep last night which led to an early morning. My natural tendency is to procrastinate when it comes to packing which has made prepping for this trip a little dodgy. Unfortunately, with no practice or elimination rounds, I have way overpacked as I carried the bursting panniers down to the bike. The thoughts of, “Bring less and travel light” have given way to “Well, what if I might need it along the way” so I am bringing every tool I can think of and all my electronic equipment. These decision were swirling in my head all night as I contemplated the entire complex trip. As I snapped awake at 6am with just 4 fitful hours of sleep, I had a flurry of ideas about improving my rig. The next few hours were spent doing all the things I should have done months earlier. I do wonder though if these doubts and tribulations are just a natural part of departure regardless of how much prep is undertaken. No time to worry about that now…I have to get on the road.

My travel partner, Joe arrived at about 10 and we sat down for a quick moment at my house to go over last minute details over morning beverages. Once we were satisfied with our mutual inquiries, “Passport?” “Check.”, “Registration?”, “Check.”, “Title?”, “Check.”, we decided it was time to hit the road. I said my final goodbyes to my wife and kid desperately trying to push from my mind just how long it would be before I saw either of them again for fear I wouldn’t be able to get on the bike. After my last checks on all the straps and buckles, I put on my helmet for the beginnings of my first major trip. It wasn’t until I got to my gloves that I realized my hands were shaking just a bit. I chalked it up to nerves and excitement instead of the likely culprit of nearly five hours now without any food at all. It just never occurred to me to grab a meal before leaving.

The hum of the engine kicked up as I dropped my visor down to shield from the high sun. Joe’s KTM roared to life and I remember my first thought being, I am going to be chasing that 1200 all the way to Honduras. We rolled up to the makeshift starting line I had taped down the night before to boost the pomp and circumstance of the moment although now it seemed rather silly. My wife took a couple last pictures of us and I rolled on the throttle for the first of many times on this journey.

I heard the first directions from Google Maps in my ear as we made our way to the highway. The excitement became more focused but no less intense because I know I am in for a long ride but I cannot believe it has finally begun. This trip has been in the planning stages for close to 10 months and we are finally covering the very beginnings of our 3,000 mile journey. I have nothing but promise in front of me and i am completely filled with gratitude for this opportunity.

Tomorrow. Mexico.

I know we’ve already been putting in significant miles and I’ve seen parts of this country  I’ve never seen before but can we all agree traveling into Mexico is different?  It’s more exciting and frankly, I’m a little juiced to add the first stamp to my new passport. This is the first time I’ve crossed the Mexico border on land. It seems silly to say but I’m looking forward to seeing this border experience first hand. It may be great. It may be a struggle but it doesn’t really matter. Some would say we are defined by the hardships we endure more so than the happiness we enjoy. I believe there is certainly some truth to that notion but ultimately I’m just looking to collect stories. I want to know because I’ve seen it, felt it and tasted it. I want to know the visceral qualities that can only be gleaned from a walk along the path.

I recognize my ability to keep everyone updated may be greatly diminished as I travel beyond our ever present cell coverage but I’ll do my best to cobble together some means of disseminating info. Please keep track of our progress and feel free to send messages of encouragement or questions as we make our way down to Honduras.

Thank you for everyone wishing us well and all those checking out the website and blogs.