July 18, 2017 Robert Woodie

I haven’t written about my Pops’ for some time. After his passing in October of 2016 it was painful not to write about him or his influence on others. For nearly four months I lived out of my car, trying to make sense of his absence and plant a flag in my memory as to how painful losing him was. But with the passage of time healing patched enough holes in me that it was time to move on and begin my long-planned trip.

 

On July 8, 2017 a group of hikers meandering near Bishop Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains found my father’s body.

Pops’ picture on his found driver’s license.

The most important thing we learned from the discovery was that it was not a rockslide that killed my Pops. That had been my best guess after searching 6 days for him. The coroner and how he was found suggest that Pops actually froze to death. Furthermore, the equipment he carried suggested that he was the victim of  bad weather as much as poor preparation. Pops was found sheltering from fierce winds; some recorded as much as 100 miles per hour that day. His backpack was still on and the hastily-packed contents suggested he was “making a run” for the trailhead. This tells me he didn’t have confidence in his gear or supplies to shelter until the storm passed, which typically happens within 24 hours in October. Most frustrating for me was that Pops was wearing cotton jeans, and among his top layers was a cotton tee shirt and a cotton sweatshirt. For those who don’t know, cotton in the backcountry is a very poor choice as it is slow drying, heavy, and losses all insulating qualities when wet.

Pops and the two generations he leaves behind.

As a son is it ever possible to influence your father? It doesn’t matter how much sense you make, how compelling your case, or how gently you make it. I’m not sure this is the case with all father and son relationships but I would guess it might be. I spent at least a hundred days in the backcountry with my Pops spanning four decades. Admittedly, I can be obsessive about my gear, but that obsession has lead to a lot of knowledge about dressing and preparing for backpacking trips, especially in shoulder seasons. My Pops made a lifelong habit of not spending money on himself and when it came to backpacking he rarely sprang for new cloths or equipment. He didn’t own a pair of wool underwear. He only had a waterproof shell because I gave him a spare one of mine. Regularly he didn’t even bring gloves, saying he liked to feel his fingers even though they would often be numb. No amount of cajoling, lecturing, or example-setting had much impact on this preparation. Compounding this was that even when an item was given to him he would often forget it at home.

 

Pops was 74 at the time of his passing and he was showing signs of forgetfulness. He complained to me a number of times about how it was getting harder to remember where he put things. My guess is that on his last trip he forgot his synthetic hiking pants and had to hike in the jeans he brought for the drive.

 

I was very close to going with him on his last trip. Before we would leave his driveway on trips together I always went through a checklist with him to make sure he had the essentials. On one trip he forgot his hiking poles and I made him buy a new pair in route as the trip was going to be particularly rocky. I bring a bag of cold-weather cloths that I go through while in the weather at the trailhead to make last-minute tweaks to my equipment. I often loaned Pops key items he didn’t have or bring. I will forever live with the thought that we might both be here today if I was able to go with him on that last trip to supplement his preparation.

One of the hiking poles I had Pops buy on the way to Glacier National Park.

All this may raise the question as to why Pops would go in the first place? After all he was in an alpine location, well over 12,000 feet, in October and hiking off trail. While sounding ludicrous to most, those who regularly backpack will understand. The answer is simple; because he had to.

 

Backpackers do it for a rawness and beauty appreciated best after spending multiple nights in nature with only the gear on their back. The entire time your survival is based solely on your decision making and the supplies you brought with you. Combined with the physical challenge, the undertaking forces a presence of mind that is often cathartic and transformative. Said another way, the amalgam of the physical challenge, the sublime scenery, and the presence of mind it takes to make smart decisions in an unforgiving environment wash away the troubles and concerns of day-to-day life. Add to this the special thrill that comes from catching alpine trout and you have the ingredients for Pops’ annual trip. This past year’s trip was especially important to him. Pops had spent nearly two months in the constant care of his wife Joanne after her knee replacement. His job complete, it was time for his Sierras.

 

As the news of his passing disseminates most will feel how unfortunate Bob was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And those who know more of the details will lament his preparations for a summer trip when he should have been ready for a winter-like storm. But what most will miss was that while his timing was unfortunate, he was definately in the right place for him. The wild and rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains were essential to Pops’ being. While his preparations where wanting, his yearning and respect for nature was life-long and without doubt. He was complete in nature. You could feel burdens lift off Pops with each step on the trail. On our last trip together in Yellowstone in June, he came back to camp and told of the wolf he had just seen as if he were a kid describing his favorite flavor at Baskin Robbins. Age and luck factored against him on his last trip, but he was doing what he loved in a place that was very dear to him. While he was taken from us too soon, how fitting he should go while visiting the place that made him whole. ~rdw

Pops’ memorial, middle Barrett Lake, Sierra Nevada.
July 17, 2017 Robert Woodie

If you haven’t heard, thanks to the internet there is an awesome community called Couchsurfing. The concept is for travelers to help other travelers out when they come to their home towns. Help can be as simple as meeting up for a drink or extend to a “couch” to sleep on for the night. No money is exchanged.

Paloma, my awesome Couchsurfing host in Guadalajara.

I recently was hosted in Guadalajara by Paloma, a lifelong resident and true traveler. She had traveled extensively in the past but in recent years child raising and marriage had put a damper on her wonderings. But some recent life changes had her yearning to enguage with the travel community again. I was her first hosting experience and boy was I lucky. I arrived on a Sunday and she took half her day to show me around downtown. Later that evening, she spent a couple hours pointing out all the top spots in Mexico I was not to miss. I have spent much of my time since working my way down that insightful list. For someone traveling and most nights sleeping in my car, the experience was tremendous. Much more than the shower, bed, and cat, I had a true local show me the ropes of Mexico’s second largest city.

It is not often that you own a car capable of this.

Also of note is that I finally turned 300,000 miles on my 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser. I naturally stopped and memorialized the event. I have had recurring engine light issues that I believe are due to Mexican gas but I haven’t found the right recipe yet to solve them. I now have 2 tires that need air every coupled days. My radiator seems to be working fine but needs fluid every few days as well. I was on borrowed time with my battery and was finally forced to replace it a week ago in Querétaro. But other than those issues the car is doing fine. With all the early model Japanese cars on the road down here, undoubtedly with many more miles than mine, I have greater confidence my car will make it. And importantly, Pops and I spent a lot of time together in my vehicle and it’s going to take a major breakdown for me to give it up.  ~rdw

300,000 miles turned on my 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser near Xilitla, Mexico.
July 1, 2017 Robert Woodie
Perfect Pascuales. Don’t let the picture deceive you, it was still frightening out there.

Recently my girlfriend Amy from home visited for a long weekend in Puerto Vallarta and we had a good time exploring the old town and enjoying some classic Mexican beach fun. Almost anything goes in Mexico and the latest innovation to hit down here is the flyboard. It is a contraption that is like having water jets for boots. I was cool to the idea at first until Amy, recognizing a good laugh when she saw one, offered to pay if I did it.

Flyboard backflip attempt. Only in Mexico.

Well, I am a Woodie and when someone dares you AND offers to pays for it there is no saying no. The flyboard experience was like hover boarding as subtle movements of the arms, hips, and legs control the board. And being Mexico, when I mentioned I wanted to try a backflip they not only agreed but enthusiastically coached me through it. I landed one of three but the beating my head took cost us a night out on the town.

In Puerto Vallarta with Amy.

After Amy left is was time to get to some serious surf. I happened on an epic day at Pascuales, which is one of Surfer Magazine’s top 100 waves in the world. And it was showing why. While I was mostly trying to build confidence, guys that had been on it for a couple weeks were getting in and out barrels left and right. There were also plenty of beatings being handed out but the crew took them in due course.

Pascuales peak.

When Pascuales gets too much to handle my favorite spot in the area is a couple hours south at the river mouth/point break of La Ticla. This was my third time there and the vibe is still as tranquil as ever. The wave can get heavy but after the tenderizing up north it feels like Old Man’s. The swell was a little sectiony but still good enough for the left off the point to work. Love that place!  ~rdw

The combination river-mouth, point-break set up of La Ticla is hard to beat.
June 21, 2017 Robert Woodie
“Crux Brotherhood” celebrating their new Cruxidos. Manhattan Beach, CA, USA.

I have written about the loneliness that comes with traveling alone. While it is something I am still learning to live with it also helps give perspective to my long-term friendships back home. On my journey, I have come across three volleyball courts in the oddest of places. This has kept fresh in my mind my group of local buddies from Manhattan Beach that play volleyball together on a weekly basis. We play on a court in the south end of town named “Crux Court” after our favorite craft beer (and a buddy’s business).

Horse on! Crux court south, Urique, Copper Canyon National Park, Chihuahua, MX.

When I lost my father unexpectedly last October I was in a very dark place for many months and fell out of touch with most of the group. During the period the boys decided to spring for “Cruxidos”, sweatsuits in black and monogramed with each person’s court name and perfect for post game wear.

Volleyball courts appear in the most unexpected places in Mexico. This one is keeping good company, Satevo, Copper Canyon National Park, Chihuahua, Mexico.

When I finally made contact again with my buddies it was well after the unveiling of their Cruxidos. To my surprise, the crew had pitched in and purchased a Cruxido for me, already monogramed and ready to go. As I have traveled well into my second month now, with each volleyball court I discover I can’t help but think about the Crux Crew’s generosity. And as I forge south and deal with the challenges that come with extended travel, their friendship continues to strengthen me. I know my buddies are enjoying following my trip progress. They should know that their friendship and generosity won’t ever be forgotten and its memory fuels my progress.  ~rdw

Let your buddy fetch that one in the crocodile-infested lagoon. Crux court San Pancho, Nayarit, Mexico.
June 13, 2017 Robert Woodie

When I am through, I will have spent almost two weeks in Copper Canyons National Park, Mexico. This is nearly a third of my trip so far. And to think after my quick visit a year and a half ago I was initially on the fence about backtracking a couple hundred miles to give it a second look.

 

Sometimes you need to give a place a second look, Copper Canyons National Park, Chihuahua, Mexico.

Copper Canyons has great vistas but it reveals itself slowly and best by descending into one or two of its canyon-bottom pueblos. Unlike the Grand Canyon, Copper Canyons is actually made up of seven major canyons over an area four times that of its northern neighbor. So whereas with the Grand Canyon you can quickly take in a huge view, spend the night, hike a bit into the canyon the next day and feel you got most of the experience, Copper Canyons is quite different. Its views are subtler. Part of the experience is a world-class train ride. And to get the full experience, you need to take a crazy drive into its depths to experience the Tarahumara Indians and its lush rivers. The Tarahumara have called this area home for millennia and continue to live self sufficient lives here. Add to this the Mexican twist of a zip-line adventure complex right in the middle of the park and you have an experience that is hard to replicate.

 

A beautiful, friendly, and non-camera shy Tarahumara family braving a thunderstorm with me in Valley of the Monks, Copper Canyons, Mexico.

A year and a half ago I was on a blitzkrieg drive to get to Tulum for my buddy’s wedding and came through the northern town of Creel and drove the northeast edge of the park. Having spent much time exploring the Grand Canyon I was disappointed at what I saw but in the back of my mind I kept thinking that Copper Canyons might deserve a second look. This time I entered the park from the south. It meant a lot of dirt road driving but to watch the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains grow and then literally drive right up them was already a great improvement over my first go at the park.

 

Driving into the canyon bottoms is not common here but neither is the experience, Road to Urique, Chihuahua Mexico.

The town of Urique was my first stop and I highly recommend it. Though I drove, you can actually take a bus there. Australians Sam and Helen who I met at the hostel Entre Amigos told me the bus stops about halfway into the descent to cool its brakes! The drive is one of my recommended Awesome Drives. Once reached, gorgeous peaks, great hiking, Tarahumara culture, river swimming, and budget accommodations can be found here. The Tarahumara are famous for running long distances in their minimalistic sandals they call huaraches. Buy yourself a pair in town at Venturas and try them out. Once you get used to them you might love them.

 

The Tarahumara huarache sandals work great, just be ready for a couple sore spots on your feet during break in. Urique, Mexico.

The elevation at the bottom of the canyons runs around 2400 feet and the climate there stays sub-tropical year round. Climbing back up to the canyons’ rims around 7500 feet one encounters pine trees and cooler temperatures, with snow falling during the winter. The train station hamlet of Divisadero is a must visit as its views of the Copper Canyon proper will draw comparisons to its northern neighbor.

 

Where else can you enjoy national park quality canyon views while zip lining down them? Adventure Park, Divisadero, Copper Canyons, Mexico.

 

Within a couple kilometers of Divisadero is something else you won’t find in the Grand Canyon, an adventure park featuring a gondola and zip lines. I naturally had this on my must do list and it delivered. For the price of a restaurant meal back home you can buy a seven-line package, which includes the scenic zip line rides and the gondola ride back to the top. The setting is in a spectacular part of Copper Canyon proper and the views are incredible. Have lunch afterward in the restaurant with its partial glass floor and continue to test your bravery!

 

Valley of the Fungi, Creel, Mexico.

Further up the road is the town of Creel which is surrounded by Tarahumara settlements and features the Valley of the Fungi and the Valley of the Monks rock formations. These were surprisingly interesting and were a great way to wind down after the adventure park.

 

Tarahumara merchant lady at San Ignacio church, near Creel, Chihuahua Mexico.
Tarahumara man in traditional dress, Batopilas, Chihuahua Mexico.

I saved for last the must-do tourist attraction of riding the train through the park. The Chepe Line, which starts in Chihuahua, rises, and then descends through the park ending in Los Mochis, 25 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean. It has been called one of the great engineering marvels of the past century and took over 60 years to build.It features views of the park you can only get from the train. The pueblo of Temoris about midway is only accessable by train and its setting will take your breath away. Make sure you grab one of the open air spots between the cars for photos as the train twists its way out of the valley. The setting surrounded by towering valley walls reminded me of something out of Lord of the Rings. ~rdw

 

The famous Chepe train line makes several switchbacks to climb out of Temoris Valley, Copper Canyons, Mexico.

 

June 13, 2017 Robert Woodie

 

It was the night before I was to zip line in Copper Canyons National Park here in Chihuahua Mexico. I was on day six in the park after spending several hot nights in the bottom of Urique Canyon and was enjoying the tranquility and coolness of the spot I had decided to call home for the night. I had just finished dinner when a dog came trotting up with a big dog smile.

 

I had actually run into this dog when I first pulled into the outskirts of the train stop hamlet of Divisadero around midday. I had stopped to fix some coffee and this dog I think of as “Bueno” (as in bueno pero, good dog) approached me with the enthusiasm of a puppy and seemed to want to play more than beg something to eat. He was much more engaging than your average Mexican dog who is wary and pretty much just interested in food.

 

Divisadero is known as the best stop along the famous train line that runs from Chihuahua Mexico through the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains (and Copper Canyons National Park) and ends just 25 kilometers shy of the Pacific Ocean. While the train is a tourist must-do, this day I was driving and despite my GPS had made a couple wrong turns after meeting Bueno. Later that afternoon I regained my bearings and was backtracking when I saw him again escorting a traveler on his way to the train stop.

 

A lonely traveler is putty in the hands of an experienced tourist dog.

 

So when Bueno came trotting up in the tranquil last hour of my day I welcomed him as if meeting an old friend. He was very playful and we enjoyed a game of fetch and he demonstrated his particular love for chewing plastic Coke bottles. While he looked healthy and had the teeth of a young dog, he was a bit unkempt and I figured he might enjoy a can of tuna I could spare. He wolfed it down and we enjoyed each other’s company for an hour of so until sunset.

 

Bueno, my “adopted” Mexican dog for the night, in his element.

 

I figured he might move on after I bedded down for the night. I sent his picture to family back home and several replied that I should “adopt” him as my travel companion. I never gave the idea of bringing a dog along on my trip serious thought because I couldn’t reconcile a dog with the city time and border crossings to come. But with this perfect dog now bedded down for the night under my car I slept on the idea of possibly having a dog for a travel companion.

 

I was excited about the idea in the morning and sure enough Bueno was there at first light. Leaving the car parked, we went for a walk to check out the zip line park that was to be my morning activity. We hiked together for a half hour with Bueno covering three times the area I did but always back at my side when called or after a short amount of time had passed. I enjoyed his company and thought how cool it would be to have him on my journey.

 

We returned from the walk and both ate a breakfast of dry raisin bran and nut mix. I had about a mile drive to the park and thought that this was the time to see if Bueno would ride in the car. I made a space for him, but all the while in the back of my head a voice was screaming “really, are you sure about this?!” I tried to coax into the space I prepared for him but Bueno wouldn’t jump in until I got into the driver seat and called to him from there. He finally jumped in and I could easily pet him in his spot and thought wow, this might work. I closed his door and started the car.

 

With the engine running it was clear Bueno was not as happy in his spot as when it was quiet and I was petting him. He was still lying down but his head was turning in all directions. When I moved forward 10 feet he got up and paced a lap or two around the back of the cab, which included the top of my fragile surfboard. He clearly wasn’t happy so I opened the door and Bueno jumped out. I tried to coax him back in but he wouldn’t have it. My fantasy about having a full-time travel companion ended after ten feet of driving.

 

With a palpable sense of loss I drove off to the adventure park about a mile away. After arriving I am walking up to the ticket office and who do I see but Bueno trotting up, not following me but seemingly doing his morning rounds. He recognizes me and once again he is my close companion. He waits for me outside while I take ten minutes to complete the business of paying for the zip line and then waits with my group and me as we put on our equipment. I notice now that Bueno is working everyone as he did me, and that he is really good at the game of being an engaging tourist dog. And it occurs to me he is like the cute bartender who does a great job making you think she actually likes you when in actuality she is really good at getting you to tip well.

 

Bueno would make a great bartender!

I am gone for four hours zip lining and when I return all the dogs I saw at the park including Bueno are gone. It is nearing noon and it is getting hot on the canyon rim.

 

Later that day it hits me how selfish I was to attempt to take Bueno from his home. While a little disheveled by American standards, he was nevertheless very healthy, very well exercised and enjoyed the company of other dogs and humans on a daily basis. If I had “adopted” him he might have ate a bit better but all the other elements that make his dog life great would be gone. Shame on me, I thought.

 

It is later that afternoon and I am heading back to the train station hotel for its Internet when I see Bueno and his dog buddy from the adventure park. The two are escorting a tourist couple out for a walk. Bueno is having a grand old time doing his thing in his home on the edge of one of the prettiest places in Mexico. I can’t think of a better place or a better life for him. Live long and be well Bueno!  ~rdw

 

Bueno must run 5 miles a day, has numerous dog pals, and plenty to eat from tourists and the local Tarahumara merchants.

Post Script: Six day after writing this I was completing my Copper Canyons experience with a train trip and overnight stay near where I met Bueno. The next morning I have the door to my hotel room open packing to go when who shows up but Bueno! We shared some play time, another can of tuna, and a walk to the train station before he peeled off for his morning rounds of the adventure park.  ~rdw

 

Bueno, reappearing six days later at my hotel door.

 

 

June 12, 2017 Robert Woodie

 

If you have three days, a four-wheel drive, like the idea of starting in a colonial town and need a drive of 255 kilometers mostly on windy dirt roads please read further. The journey from Álamos to Urique, in Chihuahua Mexico, has all of this and culminates with a hair-raising serpentine trek down the deepest canyon in Mexico’s Copper Canyons National Park. The finish is the picturesque Tarahumara village of Urique, which is as fascinating as it is scenic. This is the best scenic adventure drive I have yet found in Mexico.

 

The church and plaza of Álamos as seen from its nearby lookout.
Water and mountain view on the morning drive out of Álamos, Mexico.

 

All great drives start somewhere interesting and Álamos delivers. An old mining town turned quaint colonial village, Álamos features an elaborate plaza and a big church with the entire town viewable from a nearby overlook. Spending the night here, the next morning you bump along a 30-kilometer stretch of dirt road with local mountain landscapes until the route turns paved while passing the massive the Miguel Hidalgo Reservoir. Here the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain Range begins to come into view and once you reach the town of Choix with 100 kilometers to go the Occidentals dominate and your excitement grows.

 

Hidalgo Reservoir.

 

Choix will be the last Pemex (gas) station and proper supermarket you will see on this drive so make sure to gas up and have supplies ready for several days. You never know what may happen on dirt roads and if you do this in late spring as I did you need to be ready for 100-degree temperatures. It so happened that I ended up suffering three flats the next day as I descended into the canyon bottom where temperatures were well over triple digits. If your tires are set at a high air pressure for paved roads make sure to back off the pressure 5 pounds or so at Choix when you gas up. This will make it easier for your tires to withstand the sharp rocks the rest of the way.

 

Sunset view, near Álamos, Chihuahua Mexico.

 

Besides enjoying the view and laying in supplies, Choix is also a great spot to have lunch. From its elevation of 1250 feet the next 25 kilometers climb to 4550 feet and the first pine trees appear. With 80 kilometers to go you should make camp on the rim of Fuente Canyon and enjoy your first view of the Copper Canyons National Park. The views are awesome and the park is often compared to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. In fact, in terms of depth and overall area Copper Canyons is actually larger than the Grand Canyon. But Copper Canyons is made up of seven different canyons and is subtler in its beauty than its northern neighbor. It demands that you spend some time climbing up and down its contours and experience its indigenous Tarahumara people. The experience is very different but overall just as rich. The Tarahumara have inhabited this area of Mexico for hundreds of years and still live mostly self-sufficient lives.

 

 

Campsite on the rim of Fuente Canyon, Copper Canyons National Park, Chihuahua, Mexico.

 

Descending into the canyon the next day you may want to drop down into 4wd low due to the grade. It will be the first of two times you will want to do this to save your brakes. At kilometer 55 the Rio Fuente appears along with the triple digit heat. You have just dropped from 7200 feet at the rim of this canyon down to 2400 feet. The temperature has changed from alpine to sub tropical over the coarse of an hour and a half. And after the dust of the drive a swim in the warm river is a must.

 

The road to Urique is not for the faint of heart.

 

After crossing the river you begin a beautiful climb out of the valley and at elevation 5750 you come to Piedras Verdes, a copper mine. The operation uses the road you are on so for a bit expect many trucks loaded with ore heading downhill to the processing area. If you need a tire fixed the garage here will patch it for you if you ask nicely. This was the only place within a couple hours that could properly patch a rock-punctured tires and they happily took time out of their workday to do so.

 

The road to the Rim of Urique Canyon

Beyond the garage the scenery gets prettier and with 20 kilometers to go you come to the rim of Urique Canyon at 7500 feet in elevation. You are about to descend into the deepest canyon in the national park and the drive is not for the distracted or faint of heart! The last part of your journey will be a smooth but hairpin dirt road with many switchbacks that in places that are blind, narrow, and completely without guardrails. I was in 4wd low for most of the decent and recommend slowing down and sounding your horn around the blind corners as the few locals who drive it do so like Baja 1000 racers!

 

Mirador Cerro del Gallego doing lookouts the Mexican way, with extra thrill!

 

Halfway there don’t miss the Mirador Cerro del Gallego with its glass bottom overlook and suspension bridge thrown in for kicks. The vistas continue to be spectacular and the entire time the river town of Urique is in view. With just 2.8 kilometers to go you may laugh out loud as I did to discover that the road suddenly becomes paved with guardrails for the trip into town.

 

View of GPS descending the road into Urique Canyon.
My favorite blind hairpin turn.

The town of Urique is set at the bottom of this awesome canyon right on the river. The views back up the canyon walls are part of every view from town. The temperature down here in June is in the low 100 degrees and if you arrive this time of the year you will be about a month and a half after the high season. And while the hills are browner than they will be after the late summer rains the town still has a charm born of the setting and its indigenous population. At this point a nice break is in order and I recommend you stay a few days at the hotel and hostel Entre Amigos. It was recommended by my guidebooks and its tasteful accommodations and tranquil setting amongst fruit trees with a multitude of hiking options is just what the doctor ordered.  ~rdw

 

Tarahumara mural with canyon wall views, Urique, Mexico.
Capillita in town being visited by one of the many cows that roam freely, Urique, Mexico.

 

 

 

 

June 6, 2017 Robert Woodie

 

I don’t know what it is about tempting fate by speaking out loud about your lack of concern. Case in point, I was speaking to my brother yesterday by the miracle of cell phones and free unlimited international calling from the rim of Urique Canyon in Mexico. He asked me about my tire preparation and I commented that I decided not to take a tire puncture kit and portable air compressor because “there are tire shops everywhere down here”. I should have know my card was about to be punched; and sure enough when I woke up I discovered the first flat I have had this trip.

 

The nights before the three flats.

 

My tires are about 40,000 miles into what was promised to be a 100,000 mile life. With my off-road driving I don’t expect to get that far with them but certainly hope to use them my whole trip which should be about another 30,000 miles or so.

 

Being a day into a two-day drive on bumpy dirt roads has me concerned but not distraught about not having a spare. I swap out the tire for my spare and note to myself that I will get it fixed the first chance I get. I just need to get to a town that is more than a few houses and a store where you order your groceries through a barred window.

 

About 11 AM I pull off the road near the Rio Uribe to enjoy a swim at the bottom of Copper Canyon in heat that now is easily over 100 degrees. I come around to the other side of the car and see than not one but both tires are completely flat.

 

You are 2 hours from the nearest town with few cars going by. What are the first words out of you mouth when you see this sight?

 

After repeating several times out load how screwed I am I take off two of the tires and before I can start on the third Pedro stops in his truck. He is a nice younger man but doesn’t know of any tire shops near by. He can see my situation and the desperation in my eyes and agrees to take me and two tires to the nearest town.

 

Visions of this ending are playing in my head.

 

Turns out the little town a half hour away hasn’t had a tire shop for some time. It is clear I have used about as much of his time as he can afford so he leaves me and my two tires on the main road where I can hopefully flag down a car that might know of the nearest tire shop. I wait with my tires for nearly an hour watching the kids nearby and the antics of nearby chickens.

 

Finally, three people in a compact double-cab truck full of stuff come by and stop because of my pleading. At first I don’t think they have the inclination or space to help me but then I pick up from understanding half of the man’s Spanish that he knows of a mining town about an hour from here that is on their way. He thinks they can repair my tires. It will mean riding in the truck-bed the size of a bath tub with my two tires but I readily accept his offer.

 

The ride is dusting and a very good practice in humility. But in the bizarreness that is often traveling, this hardship is accompanied by jaw dropping vistas of the canyon that I now take in uninterrupted, except for the occasional shifting of my position between the metal edges of the bed and my tires. Upon arrival the nice group refuses money for gas. They are happy because they have brought me to a place that indeed can fix my two tires.

 

I am at a mining operation called Piedras Verdes and have been dropped at the mechanics garage for the company, which mines copper and iron. I am in luck because compared to the equipment I am surrounded by a couple of flat car tires are easy work. The workers happily fix my tires and refuse any money. They also offer to fix my third tire if I bring it to them following morning. They seem to enjoy my story about traveling by car to South America solo. This operation is high up the canyon and I am likely the first gringo they have seen in a while.

 

View from the garage with Tarahumara fires getting the hills ready for the growing season

 

One of the two tires I brought appears to have been punctured by rocks. The worker tells me he is only going to put 30 pounds of air pressure in it because otherwise the patch won’t hold. And then the lesson from this trial hits me. I am traveling down in a canyon with the temperature reaching triple digits and I have kept the same high pressure in my tires I used back home to help my gas mileage. Just as it is easer to pop a balloon when it has more pressure in it, I realize that if I had reduced the pressure in my tires prior to traveling long distances over rocky roads in the heat I might have avoided spending my whole day at this.

 

Workers at the mining camp fixing my tires. If you didn’t know, these are what angles look like!

 

Tires fixed, it is now about 3:30 PM and I need to hitch a ride back to my car, about an hour and a half away. It turns out that the road I am on is not as well traveled as the one my car is on. There are several groups of the indigenous Tarahumara people that walk by. I ask to take their picture but in their traditional reclusive way they refuse. By 4:30 PM I have only seen one car and with the sun setting by 8 PM I am growing concerned about spending the night away from my car and supplies. I have not eaten since breakfast and the bottle of water I brought and refilled at the garage is nearing empty.

 

Tarahumara family.

 

Finally two young men in a Chevy Suburban come by and I practically throw myself on the hood. In my second grade Spanish I explain the situation and they agree to take me but it is clear that taking me the whole way to my car will be about an hour out their way. I see some grumbling between them but they help me load the tires and we are off. And after my dusty ride in the truck, being inside a cabin again makes me feel like royalty!

 

Copper Canyon is on the state department list that instructs all US governmental workers to defer all unnecessary travel. On top of this, my guidebooks note that marijuana and opium cultivation in the canyon is common and by the looks of the nice vehicle I begin to wonder if this journey will turn out like a Breaking Bad episode. A little more than half way we stop at the Virgin of Guadalupe kiosk where my companions light a candle. I think this will make for a great story if these two turn out to be bad guys.

 

My companions stopped here in route back to my car to light a candle to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

 

We come to the turn off for these guys and I think there is a 50 percent chance they will just leave me and my tires here. The sun is setting, and Breaking Bad scenes or not I plead in my best Spanish that my car is only about 20 minutes more. They keep going but after about 15 minutes in they ask again and I am pretty sure that after all this way I am about to be dumped roadside.

 

But we keep going and finally arrive at my car. I give the guys money for gas, the rest of my Tecates and a bunch of oranges I just bought as a token of my gratitude. To my surprise, they refuse to just drive off and insist on helping me get the tires back on the car. In the back of my mind I am thinking they still my want to steal my car but I am very appreciative for the help in the waning light. Only after all the work is done do they turn to leave. It appears they actually don’t want to steal my car and I use all the Spanish I can muster to thank them from the bottom of my heart. I am back with my car and it is ready to go again. Overcome with relief, I think back to all the people who helped me today and feel so lucky to be traveling through such a beautiful country with such wonderfully generous people. With the last light of the day I celebrate with the swim I intended to take ten hours earlier.

 

The Sunset never looked so good, Urique River, Mexico.
June 6, 2017 Robert Woodie

 

I am a day into a two-day drive into Mexico’s Copper Canyon and a passage from Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek has been playing in my head. His is one of three books I brought with me because when it came out in 2007 his way of approaching the world was awesome to read and fantasize about. While my efforts to replicate his success online never got off the ground, other wisdom from the book continued to stay with me.

 

Getting prepared for this trip I reread his work and my favorite part is fifty pages in where he takes on the age-old advice we give to young people starting out in their careers: “do what you want”” or “do what makes you happy.” A recent graduate himself at the time of his book, Ferriss points out that this advice is good but too ambiguous. Happiness, for example, can be bought with a bottle of wine.

 

The site of these trees always makes me happy, Álamos, MX.

 

He continues with the observation that most people would answer that the opposite of happiness is sadness. But Ferriss continues that just as love and hate are the two sides of the same coin, so are happiness and sadness. He offers crying out of sadness as an illustration of this. He then draws the conclusion that really sticks with me. He points out that the opposite of love is indifference and the opposite of happiness is boredom. Consequently, excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness and is what we should be striving for. Excitement is the goal in life and boredom is the enemy.

 

I was excited to see this combination of subjects, Urique, MX.

 

As I struggle with the challenges of traveling alone this thought has given me strength. I know that after a week of being back home I would want to return to doing exactly what I am now doing. Some of the loneliest nights so far have been followed by exciting days filled with meeting lots of new people. While a buddy pointed out to me that travel by nature is lonely business, I can feel that this craft of traveling will get less lonely the more time I am at it and as my Spanish improves. I know there are many folks following my progress and wishing they could be here. Know it is awesome and please don’t let the loss of a loved one be the catalyst for realizing that all we really have in life is time. You are always welcome to come join me for a leg of the trip. And remember the right question to constantly be asking yourself is not am I happy, but am I excited!

 

Definitely not a lonely way to travel.
May 30, 2017 Robert Woodie

I am discovering that extended traveling is full of the unexpected. After writing about homesickness and the loneliness that is part of traveling I had a great outpouring of support from home. A friend and client who has traveled extensively said it best. “Traveling is lonely business.” Indeed, and traveling by car is lonelier still.

With fellow dirt roader and snorkeler Jackie White.

The day ago after leaving San José del Cabo and my piece about homesickness I had the most social 24 hours of my trip so far. Cabo Pulmo is a top snorkeling area in South Baja but reaching it from the south is a rough couple hours on washboard dirt road. Long story short, I met the only other gringo willing to travel this route and we snorkeled together for the afternoon. Her name is Jackie White and of course she lives close to us back home in Hawthorne. She was a sweetheart and reminded me of my daughter Jessica. If her water shots come out I will be posting them here.

Ty and Spencer from Lake Tahoe going big at Cańon de la Zorra, BCS.

The next morning I am heading back to La Paz for the ferry to the mainland and decide to stop at a rare waterfall and swimming hole in south Baja called Cañon de la Zorra. I have been swimming for 20 minutes by myself when Spencer and Ty show up. They are college buddies from Lake Tahoe and have come to jump off the rock. Without much hesitation I have a front row seat to photograph their 40 foot jump into the pool. I would typically be right behind them but the thought of having to end my trip early because I broke something wins out. This thought surprises me because I have typically been the risk taker. But it is also reassuring that I am enjoying my adventure to the extent that I don’t want to mess it up! Needless to say Ty and Spencer are my heroes and two jumps each go flawlessly. My photo above might be my favorite of the trip so far!

How do you get to mainland Mexico without back tracking from Cabo? Here is your answer.