Originally Published In The May 2014 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
When I left off last month, we were getting ready to board a ship and head to the Mazatlan motorcycle rally. We would be making the six hour trip, crossing the Sea of Cortez, with the Baja Bikers’ Mexican motorcycle club. The day of departure arrived. On vacation now, the Baja Bikers were in high spirits. As the 15 motorcycles traversed the ship’s rear gangplank, I noted how small the semi trucks already loaded aboard this metal monster looked. The ramps, leading far down into the beast’s belly, resembled any other huge multi-level parking structure. With the bikes secured into place, everyone ambled to the upper passenger decks. High spirits and laughter among the Mexican riders was contagious and I felt fortunate to be in their company.
Over the years, my old FL had been tied into the cargo holds of far more ships than I can remember, but each ship is so different, so intriguing, that again I took time for exploration. Last time I’d crossed this stretch of water it had been on a beat up antique freighter that had never been meant to carry passengers. That thing had bad stabilizers that allowed it to rock dramatically from side to side for the entire voyage as oily smoke from the leaky exhaust stack seeped heavily into the makeshift passenger lounge. But in contrast, the ship we rode today afforded all the amenities of any American passenger/vehicle carrier and seemed almost new. Excitement was at the boiling point as everyone unshackled their motorcycles then road up the ramp and onto the Mexican mainland. Following the others, we soon pulled into a wide open beachside parking lot. Mexican culture is uncommonly nocturnal and even at this time of night the lot bristled with lovers and partygoers. Harleys are not so common in this country and the startling appearance of so many caused quite a spectacle. It brought back memories of times past when our motorcycles were not yet common in the US either. As the Baja Bikers basked in the celebrity-hood of so many female eyes cast keenly in their direction, Michelle, myself and a few others stood at a taco stand stuffing our faces.
Eventually the riders mounted up as Michelle and I watched from the distance. “They’re taking off. We’d better get ready,” she said. ‘Let them go,’ I told her. ‘This is where we part ways.’ The club was heading for a hotel. Tomorrow they’d hit the toll roads for the 200 mile ride south and ultimately into Mazatlan. In addition to the hotel room, this road would cost each rider an additional $30 – $60. For me and Michelle, it wasn’t gonna happen. The Baja Bikers were on vacation with plenty of pesos saved up. We were not. After the last bike had gone, we moved off into the desert to make camp.
Morning brought warm weather, and after a cup of lukewarm coffee poured from a thermos, I spread the map. We were in the state of Sinaloa now — drug lord capital I’d been told. Although this country is full of ridiculously expensive toll highways, by law there’s always a free road available as well; although in some places these may be reduced to almost a chicken trail. We set out. The little free road ran inland from, yet parallel to, the toll highway and its pavement was surprisingly good. The air grew steadily hotter as our bikes passed through the rolling hills of sparsely populated countryside, green trees, and dry meadows. It was downright hot by the time we entered the town of Culiacan. I often take great pains to avoid traveling in excessive heat because sitting any length of time on sizzling blacktop when the air peaks 100 degrees is a truly miserable experience. To this end, I pulled into a downtown gas station to seek refuge in the shade for a while.
It was not long before I found the door leading to the station’s shower. Over Michelle’s protestations that we should ask permission, I grabbed our soap then bulldozed brazenly into the cool shower water. Free of sticky sweat now, we emerged refreshed to sit in the shade and drink soda for a couple of hours. Culiacan is well known as a town owned by drug lords so it seemed strange to see an American pull his Road King up to the pumps of this predominantly Mexican town. I struck a conversation. The story was that he’d broken down here the year before and some locals had taken him into their home then helped to get the motorcycle running. This guy was simply returning to visit his friends.
By late afternoon, Michelle and I resumed the journey south. By evening, camp was made just off the road and hidden in the trees. The following morning we pulled into Mazatlan. As usual, my first order of business was to locate land upon which we could call home for the duration of our stay. The north end of town offered just that. Tomorrow, daily showers would be hooked up by again joining a local gym, but today we’d simply mosey over to check out the rally scene.
The rally would be held on the pavement of a huge fenced lot, and in a chair beside the entrance gate, an old friend sat checking tickets. Alberto speaks perfect English and is somewhat of a Mexican yuppie/overachiever. I’d known this humble dude for quite some time before learning that he owns The Shrimp Factory (in my early visits to this restaurant he pretended to be only an employee) here in Mazatlan, one just like it in Cabo San Lucas, and another in Cancun. Alberto lives in a beautiful house on the ocean (I’ve been there), drives an Explorer, rides a late model Dyna, owns a local biker bar, is a very active member of a local motorcycle club and is one of the founders of this rally. After our reacquaintance he took us to the registration table and told the worker to give us both wrist bands — free of charge.
First time I’d attended this rally it had been a little thing held at a local campground. In town, one street had been blocked to serve as a makeshift dragstrip; strictly a “run-whatyou- brung” affair. That was gone now and in its place was a truly extravagant scene. The grounds were huge, most of the bikes beautiful, and vendors were everywhere. The stage was like something from a concert. Even the band that night would be from Colorado. Were it not for the fact that most were Mexican, I’d have thought us still back in the States. We were soon reacquainted with the Baja Bikers, but we also made many new friends too, and I personally ran into a few old ones. I think our stay lasted a few weeks, but eventually the road called our names. The byways that would lead high and across the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, through Coahuala and eventually into Texas, would also pass through the other drug lord state of Durango and we were warned not to go. But there was no way around these obstacles and it was beyond them that New Orleans and Daytona awaited us. And so, with bikes again packed, we set off into the mountains…but then that’s another story.