Saturday, January 12, 2019

Rocky Point And Into Mexico.

____ Destination Doha would be a bit of an ask for a first-timer to do on his maiden trip across the water and so would be a tour of Downtown Mexico City. Small steps first; Puerto Penasco aka Rocky Point. Just a short hop through the desert after a painless crossing at Lukeville. Mexican Customs wanted a look inside the living quarters and took some photographs of the truck, including the VIN plate on the inside of the driver’s door. It was less than 5 minutes to get through as we did not need to post a $200 bond for a Temporary Import Permit. A TIP is not needed for the top end of Sonora and the Baja California areas. The road to Puerto Penasco boasts that it is hassle-free for US plated Vehicles and there were no checkpoints.

____ Rocky Point is about as far from immersion in Mexican culture as it is possible to get. The ratio of spoken Spanish to spoken English is the same as most American towns that are in Mexico bordering states. Disappointing in some respects but reassuring in others; everything is geared to helping the southbound tourist have a relaxing and stress-free vacation. Even changing currency is not necessary; everything is priced in both Pesos and US Dollars. For me it diminished the sense of adventure but for Cheryl it was like One Great Step For Mankind. We decided to bite the bullet on the issue of free camping, choosing to stay at Concha Del Mar RV Park. Twelve dollars a night with water on-site, a dump station for waste water, a restroom block with hot-showers, 24 hour security, Wi-Fi available at the office but with no electrical hook-ups. It was dusty bit we were parked on the beach, on the front row, in fact, in the only row as there were less than a dozen units in the whole camp.

____ We found ourselves parked next to Karl and Kathy from Alberta; Karl originally from Lancashire. The gap between us was split when Greg arrived from Oregon; a teacher originally from Yorkshire. We immediately formed the camp’s British Sector that stayed intact into the New Year. The Brits just about out-numbered the Americans with everybody else being Canadian; mostly from British Columbia. Canada’s BC to Mexico’s BC; Baja California. We soon got to know everyone on-site which gave a good sense of safety and security; it also brought a wealth of tips and advice on what to do and where to go in Rocky Point as most were returning visitors. “Ley” was the best supermarket, fresh shrimp was best bought from the stalls at the port and the Malecon was the busy restaurant and souvenir shop area in the heart of the old town. Concha Del Mar was the nearest RV park to the port and town centre, affording a great view of all the shrimp boats leaving and entering the harbour. Pelicans were the other watchable event, squadrons of these large birds patrolled the surf and frequently had feeding-frenzies; dive-bombing the shoals of white-bait accompanied by hordes of gulls that milled around hoping for a free meal. Dolphins too, put in an appearance on a couple of occasions as the Sea of Cortez gave up it’s plentiful riches.

____ The days were spent taking long walks on the beach. The shoreline was a mixture of RV Parks and multi-storey apartment blocks, sadly with the ugly hulks of unfinished condominiums blotting the landscape. Remnants of the property crash of 2008 and reminiscent of Southern Spain and their boom and bust. The RV parks all had paved roads, concrete parking slabs, full hook-ups and prices to match; a lot of the beachfront spots were occupied by big A-class motor-coaches. It was good to see that some people had the guts to bring these expensive monsters in Mexico but I doubt if any went much further than the end of the Hassle-Free Highway from Lukeville. Most evenings, someone would have  camp-fire which most of the park would take their lawn chairs; early night-fall saw these finish by 8 o’clock when all the wood had been burnt. New Year’s Eve was no exception with the fire long gone and all campers back in their vehicles when the local fireworks announced the arrival of 2019.

Puerto Penasco, the nearest beach to those living in Arizona.

Parked on the front row at Concha Del Mar RV Park in Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico.

Sunset on the last day of 2018.

One of the many shrimp boats working out of Puerto Penasco.

A pelican led feeding-frenzy just off the beach in front of the truck.

Onto Arizona

____ The cycle touring gang disbanded at Austin; some going onto Florida with Rick while some returned to Manitoba and it’s winter. The SAG wagon retraced its way back across Texas using Interstate 10; refueling at Pilot/Flying J Truck stops in Junction, Fort Stockton and Van Horn before finally entering New Mexico on the western side of El Paso. Just a 180 miles more of Interstate 10 and we were in Arizona. By-passing New Mexico’s sites of interest in a quest to reach Casa Grande before Christmas. Cheryl’s sister and her husband have a winter retreat between Tucson and Phoenix; we had an invitation to visit for the festivities. We parked in their yard, alongside their motorhome and the partying began.

____ Casa Grande was big enough to have a selection of places selling truck tyres and I took the opportunity to get some quotes for a new set of drives. The old ones were starting to “cup” badly to the extent that you could hear it when driving with the windows open. The tread was still legal but I feared that the tyres were well past their use-by date. It turned out that they were 18 years old and the TA at Casa Grande couldn’t give me anything for the old casings. They did, however, give me a good discount on four new Roadmaster 11R22.5 tyres. It was a big hit to take half way through the trip but it was something that I knew would soon have to done and it good to the peace of mind that you are unlikely to get a blow-out. Once again it was nice to go to a place that was enthusiastic about the Mack; I felt they did a lot of effort into doing the best possible job for the lowest possible price.

____ Christmas over, new tyres installed and it was time to say Goodbye to Milo and Gail as we headed south on the next part of our winter adventure; Mexico. Our holiday hosts has been across the border on many occasions, on motor-cycles and in motorhomes, so armed with a wealth of helpful instructions, we pointed the Mack at a hole in Trump’s Wall and wondered what they would make of it. A few guidelines for travelers in vehicles going into Mexico: get vehicle insurance on-line before you go, [ the Mack was $125 for 6 months.] Plan on how far you are going to travel into Mexico, [there is no need for a Temporary Import Permit if you just intend to visit the Baja California peninsula.] Also, fill up with fuel before you cross as it is cheaper in the US and make sure you cross early enough in the day so you can reach your first night’s destination before dark, [night-time driving not recommended in Mexico.]

____ We reached the Arizona town called “Why” in early afternoon, about an hour North of the Lukeville crossing. I felt an affinity with the people of Why having once lived in the Hertfordshire town of Ware; it doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a fuel station called “Why-Not.” We spent the night on some BLM land, just south of the town. Bureau of Land Management has vast tracts of desert under it’s control in the USA and allows free-camping on a lot of it. Maximum stay is 14 days and the usual rules about leaving no trace apply. The Gunsite Wash area near Why was a huge area of scrubland with about half-a-dozen RVs scattered around on a network of criss-crossing dusty tracks. Our nearest neighbours trekked over to investigate the Mack and say “Hi.” They were from Canada and on their way to Mexico.

Nearly a thousand miles for a Christmas dinner.

The Mack parked beside our host's Coachman Motorhome at their place in Casa Grande, Arizona. 

The badly cupped 18 year-old drive tyres on the Mack.

Mack The SAG Wagon

____ SAG stands for Support and Gear; a term used for the vehicle that shadows a group of touring cyclists from one destination to another. I have done plenty of self-supported cycle tours and this was my first experience of SAG Wagons; added to which, I was the driver of the support vehicle. Although not built with the SAG job in mind; the Mack turned out to be perfectly suited to the job which was more than could be said about me. A day of cycling would cover about 50 to 70 miles, the Mack would do that in about an hour and a half at most. This means there was a lot of sitting about and waiting; waiting at the lunch location, waiting at the afternoon tea location and waiting for the intrepid adventurers at the night halt. I would set-up a table with food and drink at a suitable picnic spot, rest area or lay-by and wait. Sometimes they were grateful for the service, sometimes they had gone into a restaurant along the way and didn’t need what I had prepared and sometimes they changed their route on a whim and didn’t come past their feeding station. You can imagine how annoying that could be.

____ The tour started at El Paso and was scheduled to arrive in Austin on Day 14; about 600 miles away. Day One was to Fort Hancock and the hospitality of the local community church, who let the group overnight on the premises. Due to constant rain on Day Two, this stop turned into two nights. After that it never rained again on the whole trip. The kindness and generosity of a local church featured again at Sanderson; other nights were a mixture of hotel, motel and rental cabins. Some, good quality. Some expensive. Some dire. Some cozy and some were “Warm Showers”, which is a network of touring cyclists who offer hospitality to fellow touring cyclists on a reciprocal basis. But every night, Cheryl and I stayed in the truck; parked somewhere close by.

____ The Bicycle Boot Camp at El Paso did the world of good to Cheryl’s stamina. Daily trips of up to 40 miles in the week before the tour let her keep-up with ease. The group consisted of some very capable riders but she was never dropped and often led the way. Main man on the trip was Rick; in fact it was called “Ride with Rick for Parkinsons.” Bicycle riding is reckoned to help off-set the effects of Parkinson ’s disease and Rick has been out and about on his bike for the last six months. I didn’t have much time to judge for myself if it is an effective way of dealing with the mental and physical  symptoms of the disease but it seemed to have advantages for his carers. Instead of wandering-off and needing constant watching; Rick rode on the front of his recumbent tandem, peddling away all day with a variety of helpers doing the riding on the back. I never asked him if he was happy with his situation but I know that if it was me who had Parkinson’s then I wouldn’t want to be taken around the country on a bike. Just lock me up and let me fade away. But Rick’s carers really cared and were a happy bunch often riding into the darkness as the early night-fall of December cut down the daylight riding time.

____ The route started out on flat desert terrain; following Interstate 10 eastwards. Fort Hancock, Van Horn and Kent before cutting through the Davis Mountains and visiting the MacDonald Observatory on route to Alpine and US Highway 90. The SAG Wagon was essential on the long stretches of service-less road; near-ghost towns and a dry un-forgiving climate but with a tail-wind and gradual descent, all the way to Del Rio. The first week of riding gave the crew the fitness that they needed for the second; traversing the Texas Hill Country through the towns of Uvalde, Leakey, Hunt and Fredericksburg  before Johnson City, the terminus of the tour for Cheryl and I as we returned westwards across Texas. All in all; an experience that was sometimes enjoyable and sometimes frustrating but most of the time it was watching the road for the appearance of eight cycle tourers.

The Southern Tier Cycle Tourers Route from El Paso to Austin in Texas.

From right to left. Jill, Rick, Cheryl, John, Paul, Kristina, Anders, Leigh-Anne. At the start in El Paso.

At the double overnight stay in Fort Hancock.

Floods were no problem for the Mack but a detour for the bikers.

Rock-climbing as I waited in a picnic area beside Interstate 10 at Sierra Blanca.

Low cloud at a lunch break rest area.

More picnic tables on US Highway 90 on the way to Sanderson.

C R England wreck that was being recovered by Mike, our host  and pastor at the church were we had stayed the previous night. The rig had run so far off the road that it took them four days to get the site cleared.

At Rudy's in Del Rio, diesel for the truck and brisket sandwich for me.

Replica Stonehenge and Easter Island statues at Hunt in the Texas Hill Country.

Nimitz Hotel, Fredericksburg. Birth place of Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander of US Naval Forces in the Battle for the Pacific during World War Two. A Statue and Museum to a true hero and gentleman.