( A Tale of Two-wheeled Adventures in the Dark)
By Mike Hoppe
|As Phil sat motionless in the
darkness with his beam reflecting off the black depths of the water,
the wrestling match between fear and excitement was in full swing.
His world had been reduced to the narrow monochrome swath of light
that was barely enough to navigate by. Even the colors of his
machine seemed to have faded to nothing but shades of gray after
hours of navigating the deep, white silt earlier in the day. It
was this same dusting of silt that rose in the tress to heights of
50 feet, that in the darkness of night gave the landscape a
distinctly two dimensional feel…except for the blackness of the
water just feet from his front wheel.
Phil’s thoughts seemed to effortlessly
vacillate between the urgency of the situation at hand and the
realization of what had been only a dream in his first waking
moments after the doctor had held his heart in his hand 3 months
earlier. For Phil, it wasn’t about adrenaline, status, or
challenge, but quite simply, the sheer joy of living well. God had
blessed him with another round of life and he was making the best of
it; the love of his wife Susie, a few good friends, and an adventure
ride into the bowels of Chihuahua, Mexico.
The group of seven riders had begun
the descent into Baranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) later in the
afternoon than planned. After an hour of riding, they had spread
out over several miles with groups of two or 3 stopping periodically
for safety checks. The last gathering of the fast lead group of
Phil Curtis, Michael Bartz (Miguelito) and Michael Lansky (formerly
Gran Bandido aka Ignore Amos but best known by his compadres as “Pozer”)
had led to a group decision to send Phil off on point to secure the
groups lodgings for the night, supposedly some ten miles off into
the pending darkness.
What the lead group didn’t know was
what was happening back up the trail. Mike Hoppe (the Hopster) was
riding sweep and following Dan down a steep technical section when a
boulder buried in the 10 inch deep silt put Dan down hard on the
rocks. A damaged elbow and split boot (with matching foot) put
these two riders back on the trail with a conservative plan of
attack and now, deep in the canyon, in the blackest of night.
Within 20 minutes, the two, surprisingly, came upon 3 more of the
group that were having their own troubles.
Redington, on his 1200GS, had also been a victim of the camouflaged
rock strewn surface. Although he survived unscathed, his steed had
taken a shot from a knife like rock that had center punched his left
valve cover. Current status: Five riders, one injured and four
bikes. Brian Sterrett came up with the best of the possible
options: Pozer would ride with Dan up to where Miguelito was
waiting and the two of them (Dan and Miguelito) would slowly make
their way to the nights destination. Pozer would then take off in
romp mode on his KTM 950 Adventure race enduro machine to hook up
with Phil at the ranch, pull the valve cover off of Phil’s R1200GS
and then run it back the 10 miles (we thought) back up the trail to
Jim’s disabled bike.
Jim and the Hopster found a place to get comfortable knowing it
would be at least a couple of hours before Ignore Amos (Pozer) would
get back with the hardgoods to get Jim mobile again. With the
darkness, cold was not far behind, but the three were well prepared
with camp gear and supplies and it wasn’t long before the campfire
was pushing back the darkness. What the group was not prepared for
was the monster that snuck up the embankment behind them and the
deep growl that sent them scrambling! Seconds later the campfire
exploded a log that sounded like a rifle shot that sent the beast
scurrying back into the darkness. Coincidental timing or divine
having been at point during all of this, had no idea what was
happening with the rest of the group and was facing his first
unknown water crossing (there would be 3 more). With minimal
directions, a useless map, and only his GPS for a compass, he
continued to press on. Within the hour Ignore Amos had caught up
with him and the two covered the distance to the ranch…25 miles and
two hours from the stranded group.
at the ranch and conferring with Justin the owner, the plan was
revised and Justin would take his 4x4 pickup the 2 ½ hours back up
the trail to retrieve the stranded 12GS and repairs would be
attempted at the remote ranch. Just before midnight the pick-up
approached the light of the campfire, the disabled12GS, and the two
GS Adventures of Brian and the Hopster’s. Within minutes the broken
bike was loaded and the plan formulated. The two remaining riders
would depart and then wait at two more checkpoints along the 25 mile
route to the ranch. The most difficult and remote part of the
canyon trail would be a midnight ride for these two. With piaa’s
blazing, they launched into the darkness knowing they were about to
live a story that they would tell over and over for the rest of
stood still in the early hours of the morning as the big GS
Adventures’ tractored through the terrain as only the big twins do.
The half moon had finally popped up over the 3000 foot canyon walls
and when the trees periodically parted, it was surreal. The two
stopped periodically in their amazement and awe just to say, “Can
you believe this!!! This is so Cool! We are WAY out there on this
When the truck and
the two BMW’s arrived at the ranch, a full dinner was prepared
including fresh tortillas and guacamole, even though it was almost
2am. As Jim, Brian and the Hopster finished eating and grinning
about the ride, it was time to tackle the repair of the valve cover.
The JB weld required for the repairs was a 6 hour cure time and the
bikes had to be ready to roll in the morning, the day wasn’t over
yet!. At 4am, with a prayer that the patch on the punctured valve
cover would work, the three put their day to an end.
short nights sleep and lots of coffee were the order of the
morning. Dan and Miguel had limped into the ranch after a 4 hour
ride the night before so five of the seven men were still in
recovery mode from the previous days adventures. After breakfast
and a couple hours of additional repairs, the group was ready to
reverse course and make the climb out of the canyon. Even in the
daylight, the technical challenge was extreme for the big bikes and
a couple more unplanned get-offs made the going slow. The
celebration at the top of the canyon and the decision to ride the
twisties the 45 km to Creel, Mexico and make a short (7 hours of
riding) day of it, had everyone looking forward to an early dinner
and some relaxation.
following day most of the group elected to do a 70 mile stretch of
dirt in the high mountains heading north with a stop at the 800 foot
waterfall “La Cascada”. Back on the tarmac, the next 120 mile
section was nothing but curves…carving 6 to 8 corners per minute for
three hours straight... making Deals Gap look like a short course!
Ignore Amos who was riding in borrowed Savnnah pants (very
reluctantly from John Cartwright, owner of Ironhorse BMW in Tucson)
made good on his reputation and decided to slide them on the asphalt
when his knobbies and the freshly rained on asphalt decided to
disconnect. The best part of course, was that the sliding was done
on borrowed pants and confirmed Cartwrights’ concern about getting
them back in one piece!
Somewhere along mountain curves,
Miguelito (Michael Bartz) had his light relay go south, and of
course, the group was in the middle of nowhere, and it was getting
dark (again) with 100 kilometers of dirt & twisties to yet to go.
Fortunately Phil and Miguelito are expert dirt bike riders and have
thousands of miles of experience riding side by side (so both can
see in dusty conditions) in motocross like terrain. The two took
parallel lead positions navigating with the one set of lights of
Phil’s 12GS. The group followed and the pace was brisk…the 12 GS
lights are so much better than Miguelito’s stock 1150 GS lighting
that he actually rode FASTER! Another (unintentional) night ride
ended successfully in the town of Bamori and the group settled into
the dinner routine of having to roust the cook after hours to
prepare yet another “special” group meal.
last two days of riding found the group diminished to four as the
others had run out of time and were super-slabbing it back to
Arizona for business commitments. The remaining ride was a relaxing
one as Miguelito, Jim, Phil and the Hopster spent the next day and a
half exploring the “Ruta Rio de Sonora” and the missions along the
river route that were constructed in the early 1600’s before
crossing over to the last group stop in Bisbee, AZ.
know it’s a good ride when the images left in your mind are better
than the “Long Way Around” movie and the new Touratech Catalog you
find in your mailbox upon your return has profiled the route you
just did as their adventure of the year! Living well!