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Pulling into my garage after a successful two weeks out on the road, I patted sanDRina as I lubed up her chain and was pleased to see she made it through with no problems. Me, on the other hand came away with a sprained ankle, a minor hiccup in a truly enriching experience of traveling through beautiful remote lands.

Besides the fantastic time spent twistying up and down mountains and traversing deserts, I was thrilled to soak up all the historical artifacts of America's discovery of the West. Even with how well developed America is today, with interstates crisscrossing through remote lands, it's reassuring to know connections to the past are still strong if one ventures a few feet away from modern civilization.

I have to give big thanks to Mark Sampson for putting together the GPS route and pioneering the path for all us who have ridden the Continental Divide Ride. It truly is one of the great motorcycle rides in the world, taking you 2,000 miles from border to border, along the spine of America, bringing you in touch with beautiful natural environments where you can connect with your surroundings.

This ride was also a dry run before a bigger trip heading all the way south through the Americas. I had to make sure the bike would be a reliable and trustworthy companion, as she was. After my snafu up in Alaska last year, friends and strangers derided me for choosing a Suzuki DR650 for partaking in such trips and probably reveled in auDRey's demise. Against all their words, I picked an even older DR650 to show the trust I have in this motorcycle's design and I felt exonerated as I rolled up to my garage and turned off the key. sanDRina was setup very well by her previous owner and he was glad to know she would be riding to far away places.

I also tested new gear, such as my Catoma Twist tent, which worked flawlessly and met my requirements of being light-weight, easy to setup, free standing and providing shelter for all my belongings. My cold weather sleeping setup also got a check mark as I didn't shiver a single night through this trip, even though the temps dropped near freezing, unlike last year going to Alaska. The setup consists of my thin down sleeping bag, with a silk sleeping bag liner and an aluminum emergency blanket bag. I had to sleep with ear plugs in as it was quite noisy like a candy wrapper, but I was used to that from my previous trips.

My water filter, the LifeSaver bottle also worked great, filtering water from streams and questionable water sources, providing me adequate amounts of clean drinking water. I was glad to see that more ambitious cooking than simply heating up precooked food was possible and enjoyable.

Not on the test agenda, but glad I could accomplish it was being able to pick up my bike when she fell over. Weighing maybe close to 500 lbs loaded, it's good to know she can be roused up when she decides to take a nap.

With my injury, I guess I could say something always seems to go wrong on my trips, but that would be simply making a story out of unrelated incidents. I'm thankful it wasn't anything more serious and I attribute that to the safety gear of my torsion resistant and stiff motocross boots. They're bulky, but proved themselves valuable.

Of course, all my incidents are mistakes of my own doing, but hey, we're a fallible species and we wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for all those mistakes made by our ancestors as they discovered different aspects of life. With every mistake comes a lesson to be learned and I learned to always respect tricky downhill sections and use the rear brake liberally :)

Earlier in the year, lying in bed, with metal staples holding together the wounds from my ACL reconstruction surgery, the image of riding my bike through pristine wilderness was a driving force in my recovery. As I moved from two crutches to a cane, I knew in a few months I would be heading west, to the mountains. When I took my first un-aided step, learning how to walk again, I could imagine hiking through trees to get a magnificent view from a cliff. And when I finally swung my leg over a motorcycle and twisted the throttle, I was once again connected to my two wheels of freedom.

Ride on.

Ride Report Index

Ride Report: Day 16 - 17

Day 16-17 / Saturday-Sunday, September 12-13 2009

The journey back had begun, with 1,600 miles to cover over the next two days. Kerry led me out of town and pointed me in the right direction. I had hoped to visit White Sands National Monument with surreal scenery of white sand dunes, but it required at least half an hour and I had to keep up my overall average speed to make it through Texas and Oklahoma by the end of the day, so I skipped it. I went through Roswell, the famous UFO town, but didn't see that many alien references and it looked like any other small city.

Spending the night at Kerry's (from ADV's Tent Space List) south of Las Cruces, NM.

It's always good to connect with other ADVers. Kerry, riding a KLR650 is hoping to ride the CDR at some point. He escorted me to the correct highway leading out of town and northeast towards Chicago.

Crossing over the Sacramento Mountains and the Lincoln National Forest, the birthplace of Smokey Bear. These would be the last mountains I see as it was flat plains from here on east.

Passing through Roswell and this was all I could see of its alien fame. I didn't even find a welcome sign.

Trying to keep the journey interesting through the flat plains, I passed by Blackwater Draw, near the town of Clovis. This is an archeological site where evidence was found of early human tools that were used to hunt mammoth and sabertooth cat before the last Ice Age (Pleistocene) ended. This site is also considered a good model of Clovis Culture as cultural progression can be studied through the various sedimentary layers of the rock.

A bit further north, into the Texas Panhandle, I swung by Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo. Seeing the line of tailfin Caddys half-buried in the ground sure makes for an interesting picture. It was dreamed up as a fun art statement and ended up having a life of its own. The cars were entombed in concrete nose first at the same angle of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egpyt. They're meant to symbolize the great American Dream, evoking an image of driving a Cadillac on the open highways and being successful. And thanks be to these great roads of America, making motorcycle dreams come true.

As I entered Oklahoma, the ride turned wet and it didn't stop raining through the whole state. It was pretty heavy at times, but my rain gear was holding up. I had to get as close to the eastern edge of the state so that I could get to Chicago by the next evening. Approaching midnight, I made it near Fort Smith, Arkansas having covered 830 miles.

In the morning, the weather report showed the depression hanging over Arkansas, so I headed north into Missouri and made my way northeast to Chicago. My time spent in the wilderness and on the road had come to an end and it was time to head back into modern urban civilization.

Passing through Blackwater Draw near Clovis, NM, the archaeological site where Clovis remains are being dug up. These were the first people to inhabit North America, around 13,000 years ago, even before the Native Americans. Their disappearance is still a mystery and research is ongoing.

Swinging by Cadillac Ranch, west of Amarillo, TX on I-40. It's an art installation depicting tail fin Caddys from the 50's.

On the last leg of the journey, heading north to Chicago. A fantastic two weeks out on the road and in the forests of the Rocky Mountains along the Continental Divide. A superb ride.

Next: Epilogue

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Ride Report: Day 15

Day 15 / Friday, September 11, 2009

As I neared the Mexican border, I reflected on the fact that I had traveled from the Canadian border down the spine of the Rockies through beautiful wilderness and enjoyed a good ten days on the Continental Divide. After taking the obligatory picture at the border, I crossed into Mexico for lunch at Las Palomas.

Besides finding my favorite Mexican food, birria (stewed goat meat), my main purpose was to make sure that I could successfully temporarily import a motorcycle into Mexico. When I exited Mexico in 2007, after my two week trip around the country, I didn't manage to perform the required exit procedures for myself or my motorcycle. I'll blame it on confusion at the border and not understanding the severity of the situation. Without showing the Mexican customs officials that you've successfully departed their country with your temporarily imported vehicle, they'll presume it's still in Mexico and probably being illegally sold. This can prevent you from entering their country the next time with a vehicle, without jumping through some hoops and paying fines.

Since I was on a new motorcycle with a new passport, I didn't have any problems getting sanDRina through customs. The key to ensuring that I could re-enter Mexico in the future was to make sure I did all the exit procedures correctly this time.

From the Canadian border to the Mexican border along the Continental Divide of the USA. Done.

Crossing over into Mexico at Columbus / Las Palomas to make sure I could enter the country with no problems, as I didn't exit properly the last time in 2007.

My reward for having completed the ride - having some super tasty birria for lunch, which is stewed pulled goat meat soup. Mmm mmm good, my favorite dish from my first trip into Mexico.

What a nice array of condiments, just the kind of stuff I like to put on my food: cucumbers, avocado, cilantro, cabbage, salsa and hot sauce.

After a delicious lunch, I headed east to Ciudad Juárez to cross back into the US. I couldn't cross back where I had entered as I didn't want to rouse any suspicions with the customs officials. Not being a US citizen, my immigration matters are a bit more official with every country I enter.

I definitely knew about the drug cartel violence happening in Juarez with around 4,000 people being killed since the escalation in 2007, but I was hoping to make a beeline for the border and was counting on crossing the border before night fell. When I got to the border, I was informed that the vehicle importation offices, Banjercito, were 20 kms outside of the city towards the city of Chihuahua. Seeing the vast numbers of armed military and federal police roaming in the back of pickup trucks, I hoped the violence wouldn't flare up as I dashed in and out of the city.

After completing all the required paperwork and turning around to the border, I saw dark rain clouds hovering over the city and decided to wait it out as it was fast moving and I didn't want to be negotiating crazy traffic in the rain. I came across an abandoned Pemex gas station and set about swapping the main jet on the carburetor for the lower elevations that I was going to be riding through on the way back home.

Heading over to cross back into the US at Juarez.

At an abandoned Pemex gas station, changing out my main jet on the carb for the low elevations that I would be in from here back home to Chicago.

Wrenching on the easily accessible DR and the access to the main jet on the flat slide carb is very convenient for quick changes.

Dashing across the city to the border as night fell, I noticed stickers on many cars with the words "Amor Por Juarez" which appears to be a campaign hoping to spread peace across the city and heal some wounds. It's definitely a complicated problem, but the drug violence continues as people try to get hold of a bigger piece of the lucrative US drug market. And yes, the border region of Mexico can be a dangerous place, but this shouldn't tarnish your image of the beautiful country that starts 20 miles south of the border. Viva Mehico!

Crossing the border took about two hours, and I was randomly selected for a full inspection by US customs. I realized I had an apple in one of my panniers and saw signs that stated that fresh produce couldn't be brought across the border to limit spreading of diseases, but no fears, as the thorough search didn't find the apple. The border guards were more interested in the bike and my trip and I had to explain to one of them how the bike didn't fall over with all that stuff as I leaned through corners. Shortly, I was back in the good ole' US of A, crossing El Paso at night, in the rain heading to near Las Cruces, to stay with a friend from ADVrider for the night.

Crossing the city of Jaurez at dusk, making my way to the border. Drug related violence has escalated in recent times and the strong gun-wielding military presence around the city is trying to curb that. Jaurez's economy is currently growing at a fast rate and has a bright future, if only they can get a handle on the cartels.

Ahhh, los Estados Unidos, mi casa durante diez anos.

The bridge crossing the Rio Grande connecting Jaurez to El Paso.

I sent a message to Kerry from advrider.com as he had posted in the Tent Space list that he was willing to house passing travelers for the night. He rides a Kawasaki KLR650 along with other dirt bikes and is an avid off-roader in the New Mexican desert, along with his daughter who enjoys dirt bikes, as well. Kerry is retired from a career with the Border Patrol and along with his wife, is hoping to travel more in the future.

Next: Day 16 - 17, Riding back to Chicago

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Ride Report: Day 14

Day 14 / Thursday, September 10, 2009

It was a windy and loud night with heavy crashes of thunder. I tried to fall asleep on the picnic tables, but the wind was too strong, so I setup my tent between the tables and got some good rest. Packing up in the morning, I still didn't see anybody around and quietly left.

I spent the windy and thunderous night in this shed in an RV park close to the array site.

Entering the array site, which was built in the 70's.

Even with all the ex-military vehicles around, this is a non-defense site and is purely a science facility, thus being open to the public.

The VLA has a visitor center with a self-guided walking tour around the site. At the visitor center, an automatic video plays to explain about radio astronomy and the site's history. I thought I would be the one random person visiting the site, but there was actually a steady stream of visitors with license plates from many different states. Good to see radio astronomy being appreciated by many.

Being a science facility and not a military site, the public is free to wander the grounds with no guards around. The data from the antennas is analyzed at an operations center 50 miles away in Socorro, so the only people around were a few maintenance staff and visitors. As you walk around, signs warn visitors to seek shelter when they see dark clouds forming as lightning is a real danger on the open grounds.

Even though the site may look devoid of human contact, the antennas were actually constantly on the move by remote operators. The 82 ft dishes can swivel and rotate to track an object across the sky as the Earth spins on its axis. It was quite amazing to be right under one of the 230 ton dishes as it switched from looking at the horizon to straight up at the sky. It moved quite gracefully and it was quite a show of human technical achievement to see many of the closely spaced antennas moving in unison.

Taking a self-guided walking tour of the facility.

One of the 27 antennas that the public is allowed to walk up to. The dish is 82 ft (25 meters) in diameter and is fully mobile to point at any direction and to follow a radio source across the sky as the earth rotates. The antennas were constantly moving while I was there.

The primary purpose of these antenna is not to listen to radio sources from space but actually to capture the electromagnetic radiation (also known as light) and produce images of objects that emit radio waves, like the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

The base of the antenna, when unbolted, can be lifted and allows the antenna to be moved to different configurations across the site as all the antenna can act as one big radio antenna depending on what is being observed.

Sculpture depicting the Y-shape of the array site. The antenna are periodically moved back and forth on rails to provide different resolutions. At its widest configuration, the array can simulate a single dish that is 22 miles in diameter.

Detailed view of the underside of a dish, showing its rotating mechanism.

One of the rail transporters that is used to move the antennas around.

I rode up to the huge Antenna Assembly Building, where the antennas are serviced and where they were built when the site was commissioned in the 1970s for a cost of $78 million. This was as close as I was going to get to massive assembly buildings, as I really want to see the Space Shuttle's gargantuan Vehicle Assembly Building down at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

I guess my interest in radio astronomy started when I visited the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope near Bombay, India as part of a high school science field trip and I hope it continues with a visit to the next generation of radio telescopes at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in the Atacama Desert of Chile.

At the Antenna Assembly Building, where servicing and construction takes place. This is as close as I'll get to the Shuttle's Vehicle Assembly Building down in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Hoping to see a launch before the program ends.

Looking down the main rail line of the array with all the dishes pointed up.

I had good timing as the antenna were all bunched up closely making for some nice shots instead of being spread apart.

After getting my fill of space thrills, I headed back west on US-60 to catch NM-12 to US-180 down to Silver City. I was once again glad I was staying on pavement as I rode through a couple of fast-moving heavy downpours, which probably turned any off-road trails into mud. The views through Gila National Forest were nice, especially as the road twistied up beneath the San Francisco Mountains, named much before the city in California to honor St. Francis of Assisi. The forest area also houses the Gila Wilderness, being the first so designated place in 1924 in order to preserve natural environment from being modified by human activity.

Continuing on south on NM-12 heading to Silver City through the Gila National Forest.

Good thing I decided to stay on pavement as daily afternoon thunderstorms were becoming the norm and New Mexico is famous for its dirt roads that turn into mud when wet.

New Mexico's storms are also known to be fast moving. Heavy rain above, bright sunshine here...

And heavy rain again. Click image for high resolution image of the panorama.

Nice views riding through Gila National Forest.

Wee, fun twisties.

As I reached Silver City, obviously a town with mining at its core, the dark rain clouds I had ran through earlier had followed me south and since I wanted to camp once more before the end of the trip, I continued on south to Deming. South of the city, US-180 crosses a high altitude desert at 4,000 ft and is arrow-straight for 30 miles. Signs on the road warned of extreme cross-winds and possible dust storms causing zero visibility. I was more concerned with the lightning I saw in the fast moving clouds. The view was so clear that I could see a small mountain in Deming the whole way down US-180. I thought I could camp at Rockhound State Park, at the base of that mountain, but as I got near Deming, the rain clouds were closing in and just as I pulled up to a motel, the skies opened and a heavy intense storm ensued for the next two hours with a beautiful lightning show. There was too much water spray to get any photos, but it was quite entertaining to see the regular bright flashes of light dancing across the horizon.

Rainbow over Silver City with rain clouds hovering about.

I wanted to camp one last night before reaching the Mexican border tomorrow and seeing this black mass, I decided to head closer to the border to avoid the rains.

Zero visibility warning, that is during dust storms across the open US 180 heading south to Deming from Silver City.

They really psyche you out with all the warning signs, but with that dark clouds up ahead, it's probably appropriate.

Fast moving rain across the desert.

I was hoping to camp at Rock Hound State Park, south of Deming, at the base of the mountain at the bottom right in this picture. The road is so straight that I could see this mountain almost the whole way from Silver City.

But as I got closer, this cloud had settled in at the top and lightning was striking around the rainbow and the black mass of clouds had followed me all the way south. Just as I checked in to a motel, the skies opened and the deluge ensued with a beautiful lightning storm.

Next: Day 15, Into Mexico

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