It was the damnedest thing: I didn't set out to go to Mexico.
Oh, I'd thought about it a lot, even back when I had the GT380; riding a motorcycle to Mexico had been one of my long-time dreams. And now that I finally had myself a big fine long-legged road bike, I was definitely planning to make the trip some day. Maybe next year...but when I rode out of Little Rock in the fall of '85, all I had in mind was a quick ride down to the Texas Gulf coast, just to see what the Honda was like on a long highway run.
But then the weather went to hell. Hurricane Juan had moved in over the Gulf, sending great masses of rain clouds sweeping across east Texas. I made some hasty revisions to my route, swinging westward trying to put some miles between me and the coast: Cut and Shoot, Navasota, Brenham, riding grimly through pouring rain till I finally wound up at a lake halfway between Houston and Austin, nowhere near where I'd been trying to go.
In the morning the rain had stopped but it was chilly and overcast and obviously getting ready to rain some more. The hell with this, I said to myself, I bet I know where it's warm and dry...and by afternoon I was rolling southward in bright sunlight across the south Texas plain, and at the end of the day I was setting up camp on the banks of the Rio Grande near McAllen.
The campground itself was a fascinating place: green jays and great-tailed grackles in the trees, and flocks of weird prehistoric-looking chachalacas wandering across the roads. It felt good just to be dry and warm.
But of course I wasn't going to settle for that; and some hours later I was riding the streets of Reynosa. I could put in some perceptive and sensitive thoughts, here, but the embarrassing truth was that I was mostly thinking, like any stupid gringo tourist, how Mexican everything looked.
I did pause to sample some of the country's fine products, which definitely added to the enjoyment.
Back at the campground where I'd left my stuff (possibly not a very smart thing to do, but nothing was missing or disturbed) I heated up a can of green chili, wishing I'd had sense enough to grab dinner before coming back across the border, and decided to try something a little more ambitious.
I'd already seen enough of Reynosa; I went up the river instead and crossed at Roma. On the Mexican side a couple of smartly-uniformed young guys had to search for the appropriate book in which to log my entry; it had been, they said apologetically, a long time since anyone had come across on a moto. Legal at last, I turned down the highway toward Monterrey. The highway was in excellent condition, which I figured meant it didn't get a lot of traffic and therefore wouldn't be very heavily patrolled; and I didn't see a cop the whole way.
The country wasn't completely uninhabited, though. At a little roadside establishment I stopped to drink a Coke and discuss motorcycles with a fellow rider.
Monterrey, as any guidebook or any Mexican will tell you, is a very modern city; in fact many Old Mexico Hands assert disdainfully that it isn't really Mexico. Maybe not, but it sure as hell isn't Illinois, either. The locals do tend to affect a hustling go-for-it style, which probably annoys other Mexicans, and it shows in the traffic on the main thoroughfares; but these are easily avoided. Downtown I found it rather peaceful.
I went back north by a different route, Highway 40 to Reynosa. A good thing I did; about fifty miles from the border, out in the middle of a lot of nowhere, the 750 suddenly died on me. Just died, like that, sudden silence, no engine, no electrics, nothing. It was getting late; I had maybe an hour of daylight left at most.
A desperate examination suggested that the problem was in the ignition switch, which had chosen this of all times to expire. While I was scratching my head and informing the 750 that I obscenitied in the milk of its ignition switch, a truck stopped and a couple of Mexican guys came to see what was going on. With a bit of wire they had in the truck, the three of us managed to hotwire the Honda so that I at least had power, though the headlight remained dark. I thanked them profusely and jammed hard up the highway, trying to beat nightfall; but it was dark by the time I pulled into Reynosa. I worried a little about getting stopped for not having a headlight, but then I saw a Mexican cop sitting on a motorcycle watching me, and his wasn't working either.
At the US customs station there was a bit of a delay, especially after I explained why I couldn't turn off the engine. It looked like hell, but evidently they realized that a criminal type would hardly try to cross the border on a hot-wired bike with no headlight; and in the end they let me use one of their inspection sheds to work on the bike and get the headlight working again.
The following day, in Corpus Christi, I stopped at a Radio Shack and picked up a toggle switch and wired it in so I didn't have to keep twisting and untwisting wires, till I could get home and make a proper replacement. But the delay had allowed a bank of dark clouds to move in from the Gulf, and by the time I got out to Padre Island the rain was lashing down and the wind was trying to push me off the road. The light was very strange. At the information station the ranger told me I was just in time for Hurricane Juan, which had circled back and was about to hit. "I'm leaving," he said, "but I'll leave the men's room door unlocked and you can take shelter in there if you want."
So I sat out a hurricane in a toilet; and as it turned out that was a very good place to be, if you know what I mean and I think you do. After the storm had passed I went out and found the 750 on the far side of the parking lot, lying on her side. I stood her up and switched on and hit the button and she started right up, without so much as a hiccup.
I set up camp and dug out some dry clothes and changed. Next day, at a gas stop in Corpus Christi, a guy told me this had barely been a hurricane at all. "Just a Class I," he said. "Really more of a tropical storm." Well, I thought, thanks for that; Phyllis and I had been considering moving down here, but if they had anything any worse than this....
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