Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Moving Through Mexico

Last Stop; Tucson

I was so excited the day I left the States that when I stopped at a Walmart to buy batteries I accidentally walked into the ladies room. I didn't see any urinals and just figured it was a handicapped bathroom. The ladies on either side of my stall must have been shocked to see my non pedicured feet facing the bowl. Maybe I was a little more rattled about embarking on this challenge than I was allowing myself to admit. Thank you Tucson!
Magdalena plaza


The Bones of Father Kino

It was an easy border crossing and there were no vehicles trying to run me off the road in order to carjack me. Fear mongering runs wild in my country. I parked that first night on the edge of a pueblo’s plaza in the shadow of its church. This was just about 2 hours south of the border in a charming little town called Magdalena.
I ate birria tacos and vanquished a couple of Pacificos. The man who served me told me that the place was secure and though it was not customary to live in your vehicle parked in the plaza, the cops wouldn't bother me since I was a turistico, and only passing through. The next day I reached San Carlos. These roads are worse than I thought.
San Carlos

The Coconut RV Run

I paid $24 per night and stayed 2 nights at an RV park. I’m pretty sure I hate RV parks. I was the youngest guy by 20 years. I tied on my new hiking boots and climbed the nearby peak to snap photos. I needed to get into character for my role of international adventurer. I’d had great times in San Carlos many years before on several occasions. But now it left me flat. I drove south to Los Mochis. Did I mention that these roads are freaking horrible?

I dodged pot holes all day but at one point there was a vehicle passing me and I couldn’t swerve to miss the sinkhole that was directly in my path. I slowed, but it was too little too late. Man that thing was wide and deep. I dropped the whole left side of the truck into the void in the road. I knew instantly I had a problem. I made it to Los Mochis and checked into another RV park. Ricardo was my helpful host and he immediately called a mechanic to help. Not only did that suspension murderer in the middle of the highway sheer 2 bolts on the mount for my airbag above my leaf springs on the rear axle, it also popped the airbag itself. We drove all around looking for a replacement. None could be found. Los Mochis was just too small of a town. 
The sheered bolt and popped bag

The consensus was that Mazatlan would be the place to find it, and, with greatly reduced speed, coupled with an eagle eye combined with catlike reflexes – I could get there in one piece. Now I felt like an adventurer! I bought beer and chicken for my 2 new friends and got to bed early.

I slowed it way down. I drove the whole 270 + miles with my hazards blinking. That metronome tick tock noise will drive a person insane. I averaged 32 mph and pulled into yet another RV park in Mazatlan around 5 pm. That was a tedious nerve wracking day. 

The new morning introduced me to Pablo; Mazatlan’s best mechanic, who had a Jimmy Smits air to him. He rummaged the city for a replacement bag. The only one he found was used and sunburned and way overpriced. But, it’s holding air and I’ve put another 1000 miles on the truck since then. Trust me; I’ve taken nothing but the toll roads. They are just poorly engineered and full of holes.

A final few words about Mazatlan and then I think I’m done with it forever. It holds the distinction of being the only city of which I can say the following: I have flown there. I have taken a train there (twice), I have sailed there, and now I have driven there.

Insert Google Pic Here

San Blas was my next stop. I remembered it from my Barraveigh days. I was looking forward to it. This time the rain and the sand fleas were so bad I only got out of the truck to get into the camper. Sorry, no pictures.

Puerto Vallarta – My Long Awaited Goal!

One more awful road and I arrived in Puerto Vallarta! My friends Dan and Ashley made it a very soft landing. Dan smooth talked a guard into issuing me a blank parking pass that I have milked for a week. They gave me the wi-fi passwords and a magnetic key to the showers. Their marina fee entitles them to all of the above plus the resort pools. It’s pretty nice here.
Dan and Ashley

One Problem

Dan noticed the crack. That $3200 cargo carrier that I paid to have fabricated back in San Diego was breaking. The man who welded it would make a great drinking buddy but I don’t think much of him as a structural engineer or a welder. Dan and I spent the whole first day of our reunion finding a welder to add pounds of reinforcing steel. I think I will eventually have to abandon it. But not just yet.

Banderas Bay – Where the tropics really start

North of here, and especially in the Sea of Cortez, the surroundings could be called “starkly beautiful” on a generous day, or “god forsaken” on any other. I prefer the tropics. It’s good to be back. Cassava grows next to bananas on the sides of the roads and papaya trees show off their intricate trunk patterns as they climb above the dense undergrowth.  

Great temps and heaps-o-beauty
San Sebastian Del Oeste

Ancient Euro Cobblestones Suck
Yes, eventually things all fall over
Dan and Ashley have been turning into little raisins during their 5 months in the tropics. I promised I would take them on a road trip and treat them to some high mountain air and cool evening pine scented forests. Their only job was to pick the spot. Boy did they choose a winner. We parked our first night in the only flat spot in the whole town, which was right next to the plaza that the Spanish had built in 1605 when this was a mining town. The next day we climbed a hairy road to camp on top of the mountain that overlooks the valley that holds San Sebastian. I love camping. Even saw a mountain lion rummaging through our trash one night. It was a splendid trip and I didn’t even break anything.





Coyote pulls away from the dock
The Big Salty

Coyote begins the crossing

Just a few hours ago I waved bon voyage to Dan and Ashley as they head 3000 + miles to Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas chain of islands in French Polynesia. Suzi and I did it. It wasn’t easy, and I was forced to reflect on that voyage vs. my current outing: Elsie is “consequence lite”. Barraveigh, and their little boat Coyote, not so much. They showed some brave faces and swallowed the butterflies that I know were fluttering. God that’s a long passage on the world’s biggest ocean. My hats off to them while I embark on my next leg …… 19 miles to Punta Mita to surf my arms off. Everything on land is SOO MUCH EASIER!

Your man on point,

~Blacktop Bobby~

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Adventure Is Dead - LONG LIVE THE ADVENTURE!

3 Years In America

On my way back to the USA I stopped in Tokyo and spent 4 days with my brother who is an expat, & has lived in Japan for 13 years. He had just spent 3 weeks back in the US visiting our mother and I asked him for some entertainment hints regarding cable TV. His advice was keenly accurate, “All channels from 1-100 are, “How I met your Mother”. All channels above 100 show either pawn shops or storage container auctions” I had no idea what he meant, until I parked myself on the couch at mom’s house. I’m back . . . .

For the first 6 months, I could stand in any cashier checkout line in any city in America and feel like a complete foreigner even though I have a perfect American accent and look like every other guy at Home Depot. I didn’t know the first thing about pop culture or any current events. The cover of the magazines held no familiar faces or names. I barely knew the politicians or the issues. During those 6 years in the 3rd world, nearly all of my transactions were conducted in a foreign country with a foreign currency in a foreign language. Now I swipe my debit card without even exchanging a smile with the cashier at Walmart. Too easy mate. Convenience gets boring.

This is a verbatim entry I wrote to myself last year: “Humans need to be challenged and I’m no different. I’m living in San Diego CA and it’s a very pleasant easy convenient life with consistently wonderful weather. But I feel bored. Why? I could find challenge in the business I’m creating but it’s not the challenge I want. I’m looking for something more base. Something more carnal. Something that I can feel hourly and that has more serious consequences. I don’t want to sleep walk through my days which is what I do here. It’s too easy. I want an existence that is closer to the bone. I want to wake up with a jolt and go to bed feeling fulfilled and that happens for me when I’m in motion. TRAVEL!!!”

Truck + Camper = Freedom

Mark Sessions is a childhood friend. When we were 19 we drove a motorcycle around the western US for a summer. It was a wonderful adventure and I credit it for kick starting my wanderlust. I floated my idea of an overland driving adventure to Mark and unknown to me; he began shopping for the rig. In Aug of this year he bought it and offered it to me at cost. I flew to Phx and fell in love. The truck is a 1999 Ford F250 4x4 Superduty 7.3 liter diesel. The camper is a 1998 Northstar 10.5 XL. Collectively I refer to them as a “She”, as in - “She’s got character, and I love her”. I call her one of 2 names: LC for Landcomber (pronounced “Elsie” cuz she’s a bit of a fat Guernsey), or “Freedom Machine”. My friends seem to have latched onto Freedom Machine since I turned it into a hit single that I’ve been known to sing in the late hours at the bar.
She's a work in progress

Mark and his whole family got behind the effort of readying her for the upcoming adventure. I’ve thanked them many times and now it’s on the Web. Another man I need to thank is Ben Kates. We met in Bali when we were sailors on our boats and by chance we both ended up back in San Diego. Ben let me park Elsie at his house and helped me put on the solar panel, wire it to the battery (he gave me for free!) and install the winch mounting bar that took more than 2 days. What a hero! Adventures take planning and lots of help.
Ben cleaning a fish in Baja

So what’s the plan?

Maybe this is the formula for creating an amazing experience: Do your due diligence. Make sure your airbags and safety belts are in place, check the weather reports, and then throw yourself off a cliff. In other words; improve your odds the best you can and then take huge chances. The plan is for me to drive this rig all the way to the farthest tip of South America and back.
It’s my intention to stay in RV parks for the first couple weeks until I learn the ropes and get south of the Cartel violence. Maybe I’ll adopt a dog as an added security measure. Maybe not. I’ll be on the lookout for like-minded "overlanders" (that's what I’m called now. no more "cruiser". i've been demoted;-) and a single gal who might want to travel with me. I'm a decade older than I was when I left 10 years ago on Barraveigh. My hair continues to thin and the sun damage has caught up with a vengeance, but I'm keeping hope alive that I can still land a cutey. Why wouldn't I - I got a 1998 camper that is at least 75 sq ft! That was a very funny joke. You aren't laughing. Why aren't you laughing?

The plan breaks down like this: I’ll spend the first year in Central America. The second on the west coast of South America and the third year on the east coast of South America and then drive back to SD.  The trip I just described is about 40,000 miles. Spread over 3 years, it’s a leisurely pace befitting of my new snail costume.

What took you so long?

It all happens by degree. It has been a slow surrender. My friends in S’Mish have said goodbye to me numerous times and then I’d stick around for one more party. Sometimes you have to paint yourself out of the picture to actually get yourself out the door. I leased out my top 2 floors and moved into the studio below. I threw away my SD library and Ralph’s reward cards. I sold my car. And lastly - I cleaned out the fridge/freezer and unplugged it, leaving the door open. That’s when it hit me. Nothing looks more final than an open empty fridge. Goodbye SD. You are the hardest lady I’ve ever had to break up with . . . twice.

Unlike Sammy Hagar - I Can Drive 55

The work is done. I have spent and fretted and raked my knuckles enough. I leave tomorrow morning. Everything else can be tackled on the fly. I got a white board and every tool I can carry. I'm trying to quickly get down to Puerto Vallarta to catch my sailing buddy Dan (https://sailordan.wordpress.com/) who is about to cross the Pacific.

Everyone needs a “Freedom Machine”. Barraveigh was a FM. But it doesn’t have to be so big that you can live in it. Whether it’s a surfboard or a bicycle or a skateboard – whatever it is that morphs into an escape pod when you choose it to – that’s a Freedom Machine. I got a Freedom Machine. What’s your Freedom Machine?

~Blacktop Bobby~

Saturday, March 7, 2015

THE FINALE

It’s been more than 3 years since I've updated this dispatch, and here, after 6 years of adventure, is the conclusion - for now .....


After The Philippines
We flew from Manila back to Bali, and rejoined our efforts at 3rd world comfort amidst the exotic world of the Indonesian Islands. The remainder of this year was to witness us sail over 3000 miles through the Indonesian archipelago, face a life altering disaster, and end the year back on the island of Bali.
By Jan 11th 2012, the trip would be officially over. Soon I would be standing on US soil, for the first time since Megan’s mom died in 2010.
Please, sit down, and witness the dissolution of a dream.

The Return of Reedy
If you’ve been reading this dispatch from its inception, then the name Colin Reedy might be familiar to you. He was one of the men who departed San Diego with me back in 2005. He left Barraveigh in Panama, in 2006 and in Jan of 2011, he returned to meet and sail with me in Bali on S/V Seacomber. It would be short-lived. Too much had changed. I was the captain of another man’s boat, and we both had different expectations. To complicate things further; we each had our girlfriends on board.
It’s impossible to replicate innocence. Colin and I were once a vibrant theory. We represented a commitment to adventure that was born of youth and forged through decades of actual fiascoes. If I’m honest, I think we each represented to the other Nietzsche’s ideal of a man in his element, at perfect flow with his challenge. The truth is always far short of perfection, and human frailty brought us up lacking in the title of “Ubermensch”; though it was our coveted target. Who can ever really attain it? I’ll forever love Colin Reedy for what he was to me in a given time line of self-discovery, and how he helped move my game piece across the board. I believe this dispatch is going to be a long admission of loss and sweet failure. I find no shame in that.

Back in Bali
After that friendship exploded, I worked the rock of Sisyphus that is life in Bali. The boat had a serious issue with the freezers and fridges, and I went through a parade of pretenders who lied about their expertise regarding refrigeration. On the hierarchy of mistruths, a fraudulent claim about your ability to make a small box cold is not the grand fib, but it sucks when your meats and cheeses rot due to flagrant misrepresentation. I spent an Asian fortune on dry ice trying to keep what we had barely frosty, while those hollow men conned me out of Freon money.
Seacomber was finally ready to sail the 1600 miles to Sarong where we would pick up the boss and his wife. Megan and I slipped the lines and headed to sea with our two new friends: Bruno the stinky Frenchman and Matt the Okie. These two were a constant comedy act who should be given their own cable access show.
Then it should be canceled for poor ratings, and then it should find a cult following and live in perpetuity. We made it to the Komodo islands and most systems were broken. I fixed what I could until the crew dubbed me “the pump whisperer” and then turned a shamed tail and headed the 400 miles back to Bali for some Dutch repair work. Matt and Bruno escaped, and I’ll forgive them since I want to drink with those guys again in their own countries (I did with Matt in SD. His cousin even hooked me up with lots of free Padres tickets! Yea Billy!).
Back in Bali I drafted Stefan our local boy who’s life we would change indelibly, and Jess Davies, the 7th English subject to go to sea with me. The Brits belong on boats.

The Hammer Falls
Somewhere around the north cost of Sumbawa I got the following call from my friend Eric Farber: “Hey, are you sitting down? I’ve got some good news and some bad news. First the good news: You're gonna get a brand new house.”
I waited for the punch line. He remained silent.
“Ok. Did my mom win the lottery?
“No, your house burned down.”
So that’s how I learned that my home in South Mission Beach (lovingly referred to as S’Mish – trademark pending) was no more.
Was I covered? Could I navigate this? How do I stay on this side of the planet and manage a rebuild? It was an added stress that wore on me until the house was finally rebuilt July 15th 2013 – over 1.5 years after it burned down.


The Final Cruise
We made it to Sarong. We met the boss and his wife. We sweated our butts off showing that bastard a good time and in the end he lied to me and screwed me when he had a relief captain sail the boat to Darwin Australia with all my belongings. Raja Ampat – the island chain that I took him to see is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever witnessed. Google it, click on images, cuz you’ll never go there, and you know it.
 I did get some of my things back with great thanks to Mark Haley and Liz Weirauch from S/V Scholarship fame, who sailed them all the way to Bali for me. I am so very grateful for true friends.

Back in the USA
Megan and I flew back to the US on Jan 12th 2012. We played house for a while in Tempe, AZ and then Oceanside, CA but eventually the relationship ended and that’s all I have to say about that. Pretty generous of me huh?
I rebuilt the house. I inserted myself back into American life at the beach. I made real friends, and I’ll miss them. But the transplant didn’t take. My body was rejecting my sutured status. I longed for more adventure. I can eat anything. I don’t get fat. Chili peppers don’t hurt, I still like strangers. Yes, I’m 10 years older than I was in 2005 when I left SD to sail around the world, but I still have some frontier spirit left.  I’m cautious, but I’m good with fear. We’ve made friends with each other over the years. What would I do without that dark shadow?
The sailing dream ended due to my 34 year old nemesis next door neighbor who burned both of our houses down (And he never once apologized. Can you imagine?). It was a giant waste of my life. I never wanted to spend 1.5 years choosing backsplash, or picking “comfort height toilets”, or selecting a designer light switch with dimmer (Thank you friends and family for not shooting me, cuz I think I demanded it weekly). I was once a man who braved the high seas. But I kept the fire lit.

"I have an idea"
And though it is a played out analogy, I can’t resist – the Phoenix rose from the ashes and a new dream emerged. I bought a truck, and a camper, and I stared south. I designed an adventure that would buoy my lust for freedom and force me out of this caged comfort that I had just nestled myself into. Nothing is more dangerous than a brand new house on the beach in San Diego. Mark my words. I traded a beautiful 3 bedroom, 3 bath home for a 75 sq ft box on the back of an old truck. In 2 days I will break the Mexican border and head south. “West, always west”, has been replaced with “South, always south . . . .”

Yes - I've lost a dream. I've failed at more than one relationship. And I've whined loudly. But put into perspective, I've come through a growth period and I'm about to relaunch.

Part 2 of this dispatch will be sent in 1 day.

Your man on point,

Bobby