15 January, 2008

Dirt Bike Adventure up and over the Coast Range

For years I have wanted to follow the Quale River from PuertoVallarta into the coastal mountains and all the way up to Mascota in the interior plateau. Jerry Smith, who had done this route several times in the past, was organizing and leading a trip this January and I immediately asked to be included, along with Andy Doole, Ray Cawthorne, Bob White and Priest Kemper.

Words can not describe the awesome two-day trip we took, 444 miles long. For me it was the motorcycle trip of a lifetime - incredible vistas of deep canyons and craggy cliffs, rugged dirt trails that disintegrated into mountain ledges at times - a veritable carnival ride from humid jungle full of flowers and vines to arid high mountain country. It was repeatedly up one mountain side and down the other to the river bed and then up again. Unfortunately I only have pictures through the tame part of the country as the rest was so steep uphill and down that I couldn't find many flat and secure places to park my bike for picture taking. It was a wild ride at times without being able to stop for photographs or to admire the view. This was no laid back adventure poking around on a trail bike. On a group ride the highly experienced riders are often out front and out of sight, there, for the thrilling challenge of successfully negotiating each hairpin turn of which there were hundreds. When riding in the dirt, one has to pay the utmost attention to dodge the next rut, boulder or canyon-side washout, and stay on the trail, not hit a tree or the cliff face nor fly into the canyon below. And the scenery was an incredible distraction.

Four hours ride from Lake Chapala, the trip really started for me in Mascota, Jalisco, pictured below in the valley as seen from the lookout. We were to do a loop down to Puerto Vallarta, on the newly repaved mountain highway described in earlier posts, and then take a dirt road back following the Quale River. (Double-click on any of these photos to enlarge. Browser back arrow to continue.)

An interesting side trip for me along the way to PV has always been San Sebastian del Oueste, the centuries old centre of gold and silver mining. The 10 km dirt road that led to this village was now paved! As we entered the village, there were scores of tourists wandering around that had been flown in or brought in by the bus load over the newly paved highway from PV. Fortunately, they were mainly browsers and had not usurped our favourite restaurant.

After a delicious lunch we suited up and rolled out of town, back through the oxcart narrow streets and by picturesque dwellings to the through highway.

A few kilometers down the highway we crossed the brand new bridge straddling the canyon. It was immense and looked like it could easily withstand earthquakes. The view was magnificent up and down the canyon.

On earlier trips we had to wind our way down a dirt road all the way to the bottom and drive across the river, actually in the river, and climb back up the other side. Here you can see that abandoned old road hugging the cliffs.

And so we made it to PV where we checked into the Posada San Miguel. As on previous trips, the management allowed us to bring our bikes, caked in dirt, into their lobby and also their games room. It was fun riding up and down short flights of stairs to the possible bewilderment of other guests. Our bikes are quite loud! Then it was off to the beach where we enjoyed a few two-for-one drinks while relaxing under the spell of the waves. Dinner was at an excellent place at Priest's recommendation where we could sit and watch life go by. We didn't stay late enough to witness the real action this place was known for. Later we enjoyed swapping stories over ice cream to finish off the evening. Although I understand that for some of us the night was still young, I was totally exhausted and crashed.

The next morning we were off early for breakfast at Fredys Tucan Restaurant. Our bikes must have been quite a sight waiting to leave. Andy supplied the entertainment while our breakfasts cooked.

Finally we were on our way. I was surprised how far PV stretches up the Quale river and by the traffic jamb of people trying to get to work. There were huge boulders in the canyon, some room size, that had been ground smooth, and formed deep pools here and there. Everywhere was jungle, lush and vibrant green. As we rode up into the hills we had to share the road with seven piglets and their parents, a very cute sight.

The wide dirt road gradually split over and over, getting narrower and narrower. At one important split, the lefters and righters were evenly split as well. Eventually we went left.

The route took us down to a river crossing at the bottom of the canyon, through several switchbacks that were a portent of more to come, and the first of several wipeouts. This crossing didn't look familiar and so back across and up to the decision point split to take the right branch. No problem, this was supposed to be an adventure, not a guided tour.

Further along there was a major hill climb of hairpin switchbacks. The trick was to not loose momentum in the switchback and yet not go over the cliff. If stopped in a steep turn, it was all too possible to loose control of the bike as it slid backwards with all brakes on. With these high and heavy bikes, it's hard enough for some of us to reach the ground on the level! Unfortunately here another wipeout created torn ankle tendons as well as minor mechanical problems. Although his pain was severe at times, it was possible to ride on rather than head back. After having badly broken my leg out in the boonies near here a couple of years ago, I felt a great deal of sympathy.

We had been riding in wilderness much of the day, except for the occasional ranch. Finally we came across a red Coca Cola sign in a tiny village of a few houses and a very old crumbling church. We were parched and tired, so were very pleased to stop a while and drink.

This place certainly gave us the impression of a stage coach stop. Apparently a traveling preacher comes through here once a month!

Along the way there were various river crossings including a rickety old bridge and a slimy shelf. No stopping please!

However, we had often been told about the crux of the trip, a deep river crossing. Fortunately, the crossing was not all that deep at this time but still challenging. Only one bike had difficulty and got stuck. It required several people to pull it out, and not everybody was anxious to wade in again.

"Watch out for that boulder... oops, too late." But Priest makes it through safely.

"What way to San Jose?" The right route to take was not always obvious. Fortunately Ray, in black, used to race dirt bikes. He now was readily available to quickly check out various alternatives. He knows how to steer around switchbacks using power to slid the back end around to point in the right direction. When I tried to learn, it put a chill right through me, as it felt like I was losing control of the bike - maybe some day I'll master it after a lot of practice.

Dust is always a big problem when riding in fluffy dirt. It quickly covers one's face shield and of course reduces critical visibility, makes riding curves dangerous. We're forced to wipe the dust off with our gloves as we move, but that eventually causes a face shield to become finely scratched and reduces visibility permanently. Here Bob kicks up the dust.

And Priest eats it. We often switch places in the lineup to be fair but somehow we just can't catch the more experienced ones up front.

In one area in particular, the road was extremely rugged, just a steep decending ledge along the cliff face. It really looked like it had partially fallen into the canyon below. I know I couldn't get over it with my 4x4 and I wouldn't want to try. Unfortunately I have no photographs. However, across the canyon was a monster mountain with sheer cliffs and awesome crags.

Fortunately we didn't turn back when the road was worst as it was not very much further that we rode out of the mountains and into agricultural country. It was over and I had had another thrill of a lifetime.

Finally we were at the end of the loop and back in Mascota, just in time for a hearty late lunch. I was in recovery mode, but it was fun sharing our impressions of an adventure ride thoroughly enjoyed by all.


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