As we neared Laredo, Texas, it was eerily quiet and hot.

December 26, 2015 turned out to be Summer-like and dusty.  We veered to the left from I-35 and headed to a less-used border crossing south of Laredo.  I was following J.D.—a fellow rider from Austin who I met when I bought my used BMW GS 1200.  He was the previous owner and knew the motorcycle better than I did.

J.D. rode in Mexico every year for the past twenty-plus years and knows the country like the back of his hand.  The next two weeks would be my personal crash-course in cross country riding.

I knew nothing, but I had the courage to try.

As we approached the border, my anxiety rose as I kept an eye out for the drug cartel.  My family and friends were concerned for my safety, but J.D. was as cool as a cucumber. Didn’t seem like much traffic coming into the States that day, on the road anyway. It took twenty minutes to clear our paperwork and cross into Mexico.

No big deal, I sighed.

For the next hundred miles to Monterrey,  the roads were good, flat, and didn’t look much different than the Texas side. I felt comfortable following J.D.  He knew where to go and where to stay away from.

I was surprised at how big Mexico seemed. Outside of Monterrey the scenery changed and the mountains got bigger.  My first night in Mexico was spent in a hotel that J.D. had frequented for many years.  They treated him like family.  He knew the language, the towns, the roads, and the best spots to visit.

I knew nothing. There was much to learn.

He was surprised I took a perfectly good GPS system off the motorcycle before leaving. I did not have a good reason—just figured there was one road to Tierra Del Fuego (the tip of South America)  and it headed south.  If I found myself headed north, I’d turn around! 

A computer programmer by profession, J.D. gave me a puzzled look. But we got along, and he took me under his wing. He tried to teach me as much as he could about road conditions, speed, and spacing between traffic.

A year later he would admit a bit of concern about my going all the way to Argentina. Glad he didn’t tell me sooner.

Training wheels off

Every new day brought hope and optimism.  I have always been one to not look too far ahead, in riding and in life.  I only plan to the end of the road and worry about what’s around the bend later.

One road I really liked was the road to Xilita—a beautiful mountain village that reminded me of Costa Rica. In a hotel one night in Aramberri, near Xilita, I enjoyed some conversation with the proprietor.

“We are open for visitors, but the Americans no come.”  

We Americans tend to visit Cancun and a few beach locations in Mexico, but the rest of the country is unattended by tourists from the US.  Fear of the cartels, and fear of the unknown around the corner, has kept too many of us away.

But the people are wonderful, the roads are excellent, and the scenery magnificent.  I saw terrain from all over central and south america–all in Mexico!

Yes, Mexico is at war with itself.  It must heal itself from within.  It must solve its problems with the cartel’s and drugs.  It must solve it’s immigration problems from its north and south. But Mexico is looked up to as “big” brother by it’s neighbors from Central and South America, but often looked down to as a little brother by the USA.

What can we do? Give Mexico a chance. Get in the car and drive through the country.

In San Migel I met a couple, who were from Oregon. They own a home in San Migel and spend six months a year there.  Every year they drive from Oregon to Mexico. Family and friends think they’re crazy, but they’ve never had a problem. That was the recurring theme on my trip.

If you’re not involved with drugs, and if you listen to local reports of trouble, you should be fine.

J.D. had to get back to work and faced a three day ride back to the border.  That night over dinner he was gracious with praise of my improvement over the last two weeks. Then he paused and his expression shifted.

“You’ve really improved as a rider, Dirk. But it’s a long hard trip ahead. There is no shame in going back to Austin with me, Dirk.”

I considered his counsel and said I’d let him know the next morning.

Recounting the cost

That night I thought back on my life.

The time I climbed Kilimanjaro.  I wasn’t really ready.

When I started selling Long Term Care insurance.  I wasn’t really ready.

Selling Bibles door to door and going to college. You get the picture. Had I ever been completely ready?

We don’t wait till all the lights are green before we head to town.  I had a dream to go to Tierra Del Fuego, not the southern tip of Mexico.