Night Moves

( 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.


Jim 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.


Brian, 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 intervention?


Phil, 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. 


Arriving 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 their lives.


Time 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 one!”. 

 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.


A 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.


The 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. 


The 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.  


You 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!

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