The Doctor's Notes by Dr. Gregory Frazier

Text: Dr. Gregory W. Frazier • Photography: Dr. Gregory W. Frazier

Ride deep into Mexico, staying away from gringo tourists, paved roads, English and upscale beaches with touts flogging souvenirs, that was the plan. My riding pal was a newbie adventurer named John who had never ridden outside the USA. He had recently purchased a BMW GS to begin his adventure riding but was admittedly afraid to travel far from home alone.

In November he asked around at the local BMW shop if they knew of anyone who rode motorcycles in the winter, and the owner told him that I was planning a ride over Christmas and New Year's in Mexico.

John and I met several times during the next month. We had conversations about our respective touring styles, our eating and sleeping preferences, and generally getting used to each other enough to see if we could ham and egg it as riding pals for three to four weeks. I wanted to spend as much time on the road as I could for the money I had saved and ride the budget route. John's idea of budget travel and camping was a Motel 6. But he agreed to travel my way if I would let him go with me. I accepted him as a travel mate, thinking it would be fun watching a newbie get his feet wet outside the USA while sharing some costs.

The first day of fun for me occurred when we tried to enter Mexico. John did not have his original motorcycle title, only a copy, and no passport. The Mexican officials wanted to see faxes of his voter registration and a notarized copy of his original title, which took half a day to get processed. And so, while he made phone calls and waited by the fax machine in an insurance company office, I spent the delay making friends with a welder who improved my BMW's sub-frame and luggage mounting system.

That first night we stayed in a $ 12 room. John described his pillow, filled with hacked-up pieces of foam rubber, as a "tumor bag" and dourly complained that he couldn't read his book due to the poor lighting. In the morning I lent him toilet paper from my private supply, there being nothing softer provided by the management than the pages torn from a glossy magazine.

The second night we camped in a remote cove on the Gulf of California. It was Christmas Eve. John gave me a pelican skull he found on the beach as a gift. I gave him a bottle of vodka, knowing he drank little. I carried the stuff for medicinal purposes but figured gifting it would lighten my load. We shared the bottle by the fire. I laughed when he discovered sand crabs in his sleeping bag. While roaming the beach at dusk looking for my Christmas present, he had made the mistake of leaving his tent open and in crawled the crabs. It was a jolly Christmas Eve filled with our laughs about his steep camping learning curve and half a bottle of Russian swill. As I fell asleep I could hear him muttering curses over the sound of the waves, swearing about sand fleas and the stink of seaweed and creatures decomposing on the beach.

We had opted for deck sleeping on the overnight ferryboat from La Paz to Mazatlan, the cheapest passage. Halfway into the voyage a passenger became seasick and spewed four or five feet short of the railing and onto John's sleeping bag with him in it. The boots he had carefully placed at the end of his sleeping bag, to keep the odor far from his head, were partially filled at the same time.

One look at the American tourists in Mazatlan told us we were going to be staying in "Southern California" if we spent the night there. Instead, we rode several hours south until we found a $ 20 room on the beach, far away from the gringo tourists. The room was cinder-block construction, including the beds. A pipe poking out of the wall dripped a weak cool stream when John tried to take a shower before going to bed. He learned that night why it's best to take a shower in these climes soon after checking in. The water, heated during the day by the sun in a large tank on the roof, quickly runs out as others returning from the beach wash off all the brine and sand. And early in the morning neither hot nor cold water flows because the noisy generator that pumps it to the roof holding tank is turned off at night, so as not to disturb sleeping guests.

Another night, another $ 10 room, and as we start walking to a nearby restaurant John said, "Darn, I forgot to lock the door." "No worries," I replied, reaching through the unseen broken window next to the door to twist the lock from the inside. He said, "Maybe I'd better take my valuables with me." I asked him what he had that was valuable other than what he was already carrying. He said, "Well, my watch, most of my money and my wallet." I laughed, then said, "Jeez, go get them, and don't forget to lock the door when you come out."

Our month went by quickly and, believe it or not, we really did come to enjoy each other's company riding in remote areas of Mexico. Somewhere in Chiapas, with my money and our time together having come to the "turn-around" point, we started back to the USA.

We had a wide range of adventures too. We were stopped once by bandits, run off the road by buses and trucks, bad water or food tagged each of us for a couple of days, and a couple of small get-offs in sand and mud had bruised our bodies and egos. A minor fleecing by federal road police cleaned out our drop-down or fake wallets. Counting our change after eating and drinking became a contest between us to see who could catch the short-change "sting." Mechanical and electrical failures on our BMWs proved the wisdom of carrying spare coils, clutch cables, inner tubes and my small umbrella. An umbrella? For my pal to sit under in the hot sun while he watched me repair a flat tire.
A month after returning we found ourselves at a BMW club party where someone asked John if he would go back to Mexico with me again. He thought for a few seconds, then said, "Yes, I'd go, but next time I'm taking a large suitcase on the back. In it will be a light bulb for the lights that did not work and a showerhead for those missing from the spigots. I'd also take toilet paper, a toilet seat, and a toilet to put it on."

For Christmas that year I gave my new adventuring friend a gift-wrapped showerhead and a bell for our next adventure, this time to Alaska. He knew what the showerhead was for but looked at me quizzically while holding the bell. I said, "You'll need it for your morning ablutions in the bush to tell the bears you're coming." He laughed, and we went on to have a great time in Alaska, he no longer being a newbie