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Seven of us left Corpus Christi the Friday before Thanksgiving to ride to the Ruta del Desierto (Desert Route) rally in Monclova, Mexico. The group consisted of Grumpy's usual suspects; Sapo, Dale and Sandi, Lefty, my wife Mary and me, Rick and Lefty. All had been on bike trips to Mexico before, except Rick, the rider with the balky Harley who didn't make the trip last time. Rick concluded the biggest problem with his bike was water in the gas tank and had dumped in some Heet to take care of that. Though the bike was misfiring, he set out with us anyway. All of us are local Christian Motorcyclists Association (CMA) members, except Rick who belongs to another Christian motorcycle club in town.

I've posted an album on-line at http://picasaweb.google.com/andyc740/RutaDelDesiertoMonclova1108# if you want to see more pictures of the trip and some short videos.




Monclova is an industrial town of about 200,000 people in Northern Mexico, located in the desert on Highway 57 between Saltillo and the border towns of Piedras Negras/Eagle Pass. Forged in Steel on the logo refers to town's main industry, steel smelting. The direct route from Corpus Christi is to ride to Laredo, take the back road to Anahuac, then to Candela and on to Monclova. I didn't have much luck following the route on Google Earth, so decided to cross the border at Eagle Pass and go south from there. Longer trip, about the same travel time and better roads. It's about 250 miles from Corpus Christi to Eagle Pass and another 150 from there to Monclova, for a total distance of 400 miles. Lefty grew up in Eagle Pass so it had the advantage of having us on his home turf where we crossed the border. This turned out to be a good thing.

The rally was organized by Los Monarcas, a Monclova bike club we had met at the rally in Matehuala in July. They were a friendly bunch and the idea of going to their rally in Monclova appealed to us. It also turned out that Mario, the main organizer behind the rally is the fellow who runs the Amoden website, where I get the majority of my information on rallies in Mexico, making him a good guy to know.

For purposes of CMA ministry, we brought along 100 Spanish biker bibles to give away and a pocketful of bike blessing stickers. Lefty's trunk was bulging with a 2 HP air compressor, hoses and extension cord and I had packed several cans of chain lube, the idea being to offer free tire pressure checks and chain lubes to get to know the bikers better.


I decided to take FM-624 from Corpus Christi to Cotulla (on I-35 between San Antonio and Laredo), then go through Big Wells and Carrizo Springs to get to Eagle Pass, a route none of the Internet mapping sites would let me take. According to the Internet, you can't drive FM-624. Once past Orange Grove, about 20 miles west of Corpus Christi, there is no gas until Cotulla, 100 miles away. The only thing on the road is three highway crossings and a few ranches. Sapo wasn't sure his bike had a 100-mile range so I asked Dale to pack his siphon hose just in case.

The weather was cool (low 50's) and drizzly when we left, but we were dressed for it. Sapo made it to the Cotulla gas stop without any problems. In Eagle Pass, we gassed up and made a stop where Lefty's father used to have a bar years ago, Paul's Place. It opened in 1965 and closed in 1981. Lefty told about getting up early on Saturday's to help clean up the place. The bar was just the part of the building to the left of the balcony in the picture.


We had made good time and were ready to cross into Mexico about noon. Things were going to get a bit more complicated soon.
 

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Part II - Into Mexico

We changed dollars into pesos in Eagle Pass and got a pleasant shock when we found the rate was 13 pesos to the dollar. In September, it was 10.60, so the rate had moved more than 20% in our favor. We stopped at a trucker's cafe in Piedras Negras for lunch, one of those places with only 2 tables and the whole family working behind the counter. Getting lunch took an hour and half, but it was good food and the people there were cheerful and friendly.


Dale availed himself of the facilities out back. Dale always makes such a good picture.


When you cross the border at Piedras Negras, you don't do the paperwork at the border as at most of the other border crossings, but at the checkpoint on the highway, about 30 miles south of town. We got to the checkpoint about 3:00 and set about getting tourist papers and bike permits for everybody. My papers were still current, so I didn't have to do anything other than show them to the immigration officers. The next thing I know, Dale is telling me, "Andy, I have a problem. I don't have my birth certificate with me." Rick ran into a roadblock when the bank people wouldn't accept his temporary title papers (I had warned him that might be a problem, but he decided to go anyway) and Lefty was being asked for a copy of the sales contract on his Harley and the registration papers, neither of which he had with him. What a mess! Because everyone had been to Mexico with me before (except Rick), I had been lax about going over everybody's paperwork with them before we left (except Rick's) so I was blaming myself for the problems. And I didn't know Lefty needed the sales contract for the bike. Nobody asked for that before.

Seven of us hit the border. An hour later three of us made it through; Mary and I and Sapo. Dale and Sandi were going to get a hotel in Eagle Pass, then ride back home the next day. Lefty was going to see if he could get the sales contract sent to him by fax or email at a friend's place in Eagle Pass, then make another run at getting through the border and Rick wasn't sure what he was going to do. What a fiasco! Since Lefty's Spanish is better than mine, and he has friends and family in the area, we left the others with him to sort out what they were going to do, and Sapo, Mary and I headed on to Monclova.

We reached Monclova at 6:00, just as it was getting dark. Sapo said he wasn't sure which day it was because he saw the sun set behind the mountains three different times. We found our way across town to the baseball stadium where the rally was held, mostly due to the excellent maps on the Amoden site for the rally. I had given my copy to Manuel when we left, but managed to get there anyway. Sapo was less impressed when I told him the big green signs with arrows that said, "Estadio," meant "Stadium," where we were headed.


We made it to the rally, though our group had gone from seven to three.
 

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Part III - Friday night at the rally

Mary and I had preregistered for the rally over the Internet, so signing in was easy; sign the release, get our wristbands, T-shirts and pins and pay the 250 pesos for the rally. The rally had started Friday morning and a number of people were already there. We checked out some of the bikes; an old BMW and a nice Valkyrie from Monterrey. The Valkyrie seems to have a leaky final drive seal, dumping oil on the inside of the rear wheel.

I've seen pictures of this BMW at other rallies. I didn't meet whoever was riding it, but apparently they get around. I don't think the gas tank is original, but the rest of the bike seems to be.
Anna was happy to pose with her husband's Valkyrie.

We asked one fellow who'd been talking with us if he knew of any hotels of the type we liked; cheap, clean and quiet, and he said he could show us one nearby if we wanted to follow him. Another fellow came past, trying to sell a helmet and commented we shouldn't be so trusting of strangers. I thought, "Pretty good, from a guy trying to dump a probably stolen helmet." Anyway, we were led to the Comfort Inn on the main drag of Monclova. Posted room rate was 1000 pesos, but they said rooms for rally participants were $P750. Our guide said that was too high and managed to talk them down to $P675, tax and breakfast included. That made it a pretty good deal. Mary moved in and Sapo and I went back to the rally to leave word at registration for Lefty, telling him where we were in case he showed up later. We finished up the day with a pizza from the pizza parlor across the street from the hotel. Good stuff.

Staying at the Comfort Inn was nice. Their hot breakfasts were the best we'd had in Mexico.

There were a few other bikers also staying at the hotel.

Mexican bike rallies always have such a range of bike and bikers in attendance. Our local rallies in Texas are almost all Harleys, cruisers and touring bikes.
 

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Part IV - Saturday at the Rally

The next morning, back at the ballpark, bikers were showing up for the scheduled ride to La Madrid, west of Monclova, where they would have lunch then return to the rally. A bit farther west from La Madrid is the Cuatro Cienagas area, an area of hot and cold springs in the desert. Due to the isolation of the area, there are more endemic species (found only in that area, mostly fish, reptiles, amphibians) than in any other area on earth except the Galapagos Islands. I need to go visit it some day. Add one Grumpy to their species count.

Back to the rally. This trike shows up at a lot of rallies.

Miguel Angel was attending his first bike rally on his Korean-made 250. The banner advertises the gas station where he works.


We stayed at the ballpark, not realizing virtually everybody else was going on the ride. The rally was held not on the ballfield itself, but on the concourse around the outside of the stadium.

 

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Part V - The Cavalry Arrives

My phone rang and it was Lefty calling. He had managed to get a copy of his sales contract e-mailed to him, had talked his sister-in-law, Gloria, who lives in Piedras Negras, into coming to the rally for the weekend, and Lefty got his bike through customs without any further problems. Rick parked his bike at Lefty's brother's house and had ridden to Monclova with Gloria in her big sedan, so we had everybody there but Dale and Sandi. Since they didn't get word where we were staying, they just checked into another hotel for the night.

We put Rick to work right away hanging up our Bike Blessing banner. Since he was non-CMA, we decided he was the expendable one (no, really he volunteered for the job).


Then tried to make the air compressor work. Lefty finally figured out the problem was the tanks were pumped up with air and the pressure switch had the compressor off. I showed Rick and Sapo how to lube a bike chain without getting chain lube all over the bikes and we were ready for business when everybody came back from the ride.

Homar, one of the park maintenance workers, took me inside the stadium to show me the field. It is a really nice stadium, home to the Acereros (Steelers) of Monclova, a Triple-A baseball team in the Mexican League. Homar said the stadium seats 8,500 people. Apparently the team is pretty good. Their record this past season was 34-19, second in their division to Monterrey, though they've never won a pennant.




We admired the bikes as they pulled in. This guy must own a chrome-plating shop.

 

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Part VI - The CMA Garage, open for business

This bike had some strange finish on everything. Lefty and Rick knew what it was called, but I forget. Note the skull tail light.


Business was very slow at the CMA shop, so I made a sign to advertise our services. Obviously, I won't give any sign painters any serious competition.


"Taller" means "Garage" in Spanish, it's not saying anything about our height. Somebody asked how much we wanted for Mary's armored jacket, however, it wasn't for sale. We did get some business, airing up tires on 5 bikes, lubing 3 chains, I think.



This fellow was just about down to the cords on his rear tire.

 

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Part VII - The Bike Parade

We did give away all 100 bibles we brought. Some to the kids who were everywhere. Rick always seemed to have a crowd of kids around him.





The Monarcas ran their bike games in the very tight area of the concourse, then staged a bike parade through downtown Monclova. Lefty and Sapo went on the bike parade and came back all wound up. They had a great time blowing through town. Bikers were stunting and doing burnouts right alongside the police escorts.


The bike parade wound up in the plaza, where all the motorcycles drew some interested crowds.

 

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Part VIII - Bike parade continued

Motocycles, especially the big ones, always draw a lot of interest in Mexico. Though there's a lot that show up to a rally, they're really not seen every day. Manuel says he always feels like the hired gunslinger in an old Western movie riding into town, everybody watches you come down the street.


By 6:00 we were wiped out from being on our feet all day. Mary and Gloria had spent the afternoon at the hotel, but showed up in the evening.


We had supper at El Campanario restaurant downtown, known for its cabrito (BBQ'd baby goat), however, when we ordered, we were told they didn't have any cabrito. We had to settle for steaks (but they were good ones). Some of us returned to the rally in the evening for the bike raffle (a new H-D Sportster), but it got to be pretty late. Only Sapo and Lefty wound up toughing it out till the raffle was finally held about 12:45. Then Sapo ran out of gas on the way back to the hotel.

In the morning, we had another excellent Comfort Inn breakfast, then packed out for the return trip.

The group wanted to stop at some thermal baths at Las Hermanas, on the highway north, so we made time for that. This shot is typical of the scenery along the ride, flat and dry.

 

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Part IX - Thermal Baths, Las Hermanas

The thermal baths were rustic and cheap and hot! I declined the dunk, but most everybody else went.

Lefty spent a quiet moment at a chapel on the grounds.

Sapo had a different sort of visit to make.

From there, we rode back to Piedras Negras, stopped for lunch, went by Gloria's house to get Rick's bike and pack the air compressor back in Lefty's tour trunk. We also took the time to do a bike blessing for Gloria's scooter. I guess she's the terror of Piedras Negras when she is on it. We sure appreciated her help and her company over the weekend.

Recrossing the border was uneventful as the lines were very short. About 3:00, we were back across and heading for home. We gassed up again in Cotulla about 5:00. For the next 80 miles or so on FM-624, we saw more deer than cars. A last gas stop in Orange Grove and back to the house. I called this post a debacle, and for a while it seemed like it would turn into one, but it turned out to be a good trip. Everybody but Dale and Sandi made it to the rally, we had a good time, accomplished what we set out to do there, got to know Gloria and enjoyed ourselves a lot. With the cheap gas and the improved exchange rate, I even came home with some money in my pocket.

My speedometer quit working as we left Monclova. When I got to the house, unloaded the saddlebags and went to pull the bike into the garage, it just went "clunk" and went dead. No power. Upon later investigation, it turned out to be a loose battery connection at the positive terminal. Though easily fixed, I'm glad we weren't trying to do that in the dark in the middle of nowhere.

As usual, we're already planning our next several Mexico trips. I'm hoping to visit the Mexican CMA clubs on a week-long trip in January, work and finances permitting. The four Mexican CMA chapters are located further south than I have been on the bike, near Veracruz. In March, we're thinking about going to another bike rally in Ciudad Victoria. I'll be sure to keep you posted.
 

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I love your ride reports! Especially now that you've added the free Bibles and bike service. What a righteous endeavor! What a righteous trip! :thumbsup:
 

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Monclova Addendum

I just received an e-mail today from Mario, the Monclova rally organizer with a certificate attached recognizing Grumpy's Motorcycle Excursions for the Longest Distance travelled to the rally. Too cool! A copy of that is definitely going up on the wall at the house.:)

If the weather was warmer, I'm sure we wouldn't have gotten the recognition, but I'm more than happy to accept it.
 
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