Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 18:55:53 -0700
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 960828.rpt
Sunday August 25 52244
After talking on the phone till late last night I overslept this morning.
Decided to take an off day today since I didn't have a chance last night to
look at the maps and guide books to decide which route I was going to take
into Mexico. Plus i could use the time to fix the pin-hole leaks in the
driveshaft boot, and check the driveshaft and final drive oil.
Found 2 pin-holes in the boot and after cleaning the surrounding areas,
covered the areas with Silicon Sealant. I think I know what caused the
leaks. A couple of times several weeks ago, even before I left on the trip,
I had noticed the boot bellows had partially "collapsed" inward. I think
that while the boot was collapsed like that, the driveshaft probably rubbed
gainst it, causing the holes. As to why the boot itself collapsed,
or got sucked in, like that, I have another theory. The only way for it to
get sucked in like that, was for a vacuum to have developed inside the
swingarm. The only way for that to happen, as far as I can think, is for th
volume of oil inside to drop, i.e., an oil leak. Since at the time the
bellows were collapsed, there was no visible external leak, the leak must be
at the final drive oil seal, from the swingarm back into the final drive.
The driveshaft oil did seem to be down a bit when I checked it's level, so
this seemed to confirm my theory.
Of all possible oil leaks, I guess a final drive/swingarm seal leak is one o
the "best" to have. The leak is generally very slow, the leak is internal s
that external mess is reduced, although ultimately it usually increases the
leakage out the final drive vent due to the increased levels in the final
drive. It just means you have to check the driveshaft oil level more often
and top it off. Now I was glad I brought the 16oz bottle of gear oil.
El Paso is having abnormally cool and rainy weather for this time of year.
It was overcast and in the 70s today,20 degrees below normal, with a couple
of showers thrown in. Of course that makes riding the bike in all my gear a
bit more tolerable.
In the evening a major funk set in, brought on by who knows what. Probably
combination of things; annoyance at myself for still not having looked at a
Mexican map to figure out where I would be heading the next day, annoyance a
having stayed a second night in a hotel here in El Paso, just being in El
Paso (nothing against El Paso in particular, just being in a large
metropolitan area tends to affect my moods), and ultimately, nervousness at
the prospect of crossing the border tomorrow and being the minority for the
I called Noemi and subjected her to my foul mood. Moreso because I had
promised her I would call that night, than to dump on her. Plus I knew my
mood would cause her additional anxiety and worry. Of course she insists sh
wants to share in my foul moods and to worry about me. Go figure. Went to
bed without looking further at any maps.
Monday August 26
Till I looked at the maps and packed the bike, it was 11am. So much for an
early start. Less than 1 mile after leaving the motel, my rear tire went
flat. With a tube-type rear tire and the heavy load I'm carrying, it lost
the air immediately. I was going about 35-40mph and it really gave the bike
a shake. I coasted over to the dirt shoulder, then slowly paddle-walked the
bike, under power, about 30 yards to a relatively flat paved area. Took the
Jesse bags and Givi top case off and pulled the rear wheel. Found the culpr
immediately - a 1" wire brad which had punctured the tire between the tread
Because I could easily buy a new spare rear tube here in El Paso, I elected
to install my spare rear tube, rather than patch the hole. There will be
times in the future when I won't have that luxury. About an hour later I'm
back on the road. I find a dealer who carries Metzeler Moose Heavy-Duty
Offroad tubes in the size I need. They're even more heavy-duty than the
Michilin Air-Stops I had been carrying.
Till I found the dealer, got the tube, had lunch, and was ready to leave El
Paso, it was 3pm. Looking at the map this morning, I decided, for a couple
of reasons, to go a bit further SE in Texas, to Del Rio or Eagle Pass, to
cross the border, rather than do it at El Paso. First, the Mexican roads
south from El Paso are predominantly toll all the way to Chihuahua, and even
some south of there. Secondly, the terrain seemed like it might be a bit
more interesting going south from Del Rio or Eagle Pass. From Ciudad Juarez,
across the border from El Paso,
south to Chihuahua was primarily desert and the road was pretty straight.
Thirdly, Noemi and I had already ridden the stretch from Chihuahua to El Pas
twice, during our Copper Canyon trip when we had to detour to El Paso to pic
up a new clutch plate for my bike which had died in Creel.
With my late start, the 460 miles to Del Rio were out of the question, so I
set my target to Alpine about 250 miles SE. Alpine, Texas seemed like it
should be an oxymoron, but I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt
until I could decide for myself. It was an oxymoron, though I guess by Texa
standards it could classify as alpine.
Most of this area was fenced rangeland, offering little opportunity to turn
off the main road onto a side road to look for a place to camp. What few
side roads there were were gated and posted "No Tresspassing". Halfway betwe
Alpine and Marathon, I found an unposted side road and took it. It quickly
petered out as it entered posted land, but it did offer some flat land
between some railroad tracks and the fence, and since it was rapidly becomin
dark (I had entered the Central Time Zone), I pitched my tent about 30 yds
from the tracks, figuring, "How many trains can come by between now (9pm) an
morning. 7 to be exact, though I had my earplugs in for the last 4, and was
barely jostled out of my sleep as they went by. The 1st 3 were interesting,
as my tent was pitched on the outside of a gradual curve and the train's
headlights would illuminate the upper third of the tent as they passed in
either direction. That plus the roar as the train passed only 30 yds away,
made it seem like the train was going to run right through my tent.
Tuesday August 27
Temp: 8pm 85F
Ride to Del Rio was uneventful, and again, like yesterday, had some rain
heavy enough to warrant stopping and switching to rain gloves and putting th
tankbag raincover on. This just after the truck driver at the gas station
said all the rain was west of here and it would be dry to the east.
There were stretches where the old, now abandoned, HW 90 could be seen as it
closely followed the curves of the low hills. The "new and improved" 90 cuts
straight swath SE ontop of huge landfills and through large cuts in the rock
hills. Progress. Looking at such old abandoned roads and the abandoned
homes and buildings along their route always gets my imagination working,
wondering about the stories they could tell about shattered dreams or dreams
made good. I had to resist the temptation to try to explore some of those
>From high above the Pecos River, where the "new" (built in '57, a year befor
I was born) bridge crosses some 1200 ft above the river, you could look down
and see the old road sweep down the other side of the canyon, before the roa
abruptly ended at the river's mud flats far below. That bridge had been
washed out in a flash flood in '53 or '54.
It was late enough in the afternoon that I decided to cross the border first
thing next morning, so I bought some things for dinner, gassed up, mailed
some film home, and found a campsite.
Once the wind dies down at this campsite,there are bunches of little knats
which land on you and fly around your face. Very annoying.
My driveshaft boot repair seems to have worked as there is no longer any oil
seepage in the area. However, the boot again wants to collapse inward, and
have to twice loosen the clamps to eliminate the vacuum.
Wednesday August 28 52744 miles
Temp: 6am 75F
Up before sunrise; heavily overcast, though didn't rain last night. In fact
was so hot last night I removed the rain fly on the tent. After breakfast in
DelRio on the way through, crossed the Rio Grande and the border at 8:30. A
half hour later I had my tourist card, and the permit for my vehicle and was
ready to head south as a steady rain began to fall. When applying for your
vehicle permit, it is important not to tell them you are travelling through
Mexico to Guatemala. That requires a transit permit, gives you only a very
limited number of days to get through Mexico, and forces you to travel
specific routes. Instead you give as your destination some point in the ver
south of the country. Chiapas and the ruins of Palenque were my
destinations, and in fact they were on my list of places to visit, though I
wasn't sure if I would visit them on the way south or on the way home.
In the parking lot as I was suiting up, a businessman who was
returning from Mexico stopped to chat. Turns out he works for RayChem in
Menlo Park, not far from where I used to work (that sounds kind of funny) at
SRI. [Trivia fact: it was an SRI employee, Paul Cook, who started RayChem].
He gave me the name and phone number of a friend in Buenos Aires, where I
might be able to stay. Small world.
Had rain for about an hour, but by noon the skies were clearing. Passed
through one immigration and two military checkpoints. Only the immigration
checkpoint asked for my papers. Everyone very courteous. In fact at the
immigration checkpoint, as I fumbled with my documents, I kept dropping my
gloves, and the officer picked them up for me each time. "Clumsy Gringo" I'
sure he thought. The young army recruits were particularly interested in th
bike, where I was headed, and the GPS receiver; not from an official point o
view, but clearly because of personal interest and sense of adventure. So I
tried my best in my rusty and limited Spanish to answer their questions. I'
not sure how successful I was. It was the 1st time, of I'm sure to be many,
in which it was clear how poor my Spanish was.
Picked up Mexico 57 south which conveniently bypassed the cities of Sabinas
and Monclova, but deposited me in Saltillo just as an armada of busses left
the GM plant at about 4pm. Continuing on my austerity theme, I followed 57
Libre (free), rather than 57 Cuota (toll), as it turned east and climbed
right towards one of the darkest, blackest clouds I have ever seen. Jagged
bolts of lightening seemingly split the cloud and the immediate thunderclap
told me I was going to be in the heart of the storm imminently. And then th
rain was upon me, a torrential downpour, that just like that had axle-deep
water rushing across the road carrying rocks with it. I decided to trust
my fates to the water-crossing gods, rather than risk being run over by the
armada of busses which seemed to enjoy seeing how close on my tail they coul
follow. I managed to avoid any large rocks in the two such water crossings
had to make, and then, just as suddenly, the rain had stopped and the sun wa
57 Libre headed SW out of the city and then, several miles out of the city,
cut eastward through some beautiful pine forrested mountains, dotted with
palm trees, to eventually join up with 57 Cuota and continue SSE. If I woul
have seen what looked like a good place to pull off the road and camp in
those mountains, I would have, however most of the land was fenced. 57 then
entered a wide lush agricultural valley for 10 miles or so.
The rest of the way S to Matehuala, the road was 2-lane and mostly straight
with the occasional curve thrown in. One had to be constantly on the alert,
as oncoming trucks, busses and cars wouldn't hesitate to pull out into my
lane to pass, expecting me, it seemed, to use the road shoulder which
surprisingly, for a Mexican highway, existed. In fact the shoulder was ofte
smoother than the rest of the road, and the ruckers consistently used as muc
of it as they could. The surface was almost washboard in places, though the
pavement wasn't broken, just ripppled. I was actually wishing I had a kidne
belt in places.
No ideal camping spots presented themselves, and I hadn't yet worked up the
gumption to just ride up to one of the small campisino's shacks which dotted
the roadside to ask permission to camp, so I found myself in Matehuala at
about 7:30pm and got a hotel room at the Palacio Real Hotel for 70 pesos
The proprietor had ridden a Harley from Chicago to Matahuala in '94. Severa
small boys were full of questions about the bike and my gear.