You’re nobody if haven’t been around the world on a motorbike these days but the grandfather of all the two-wheeled explorers, Nick Sanders MBE, is at it again. The 61-year old is currently on his eighth tour of the globe – and for this 100,000km expedition, he’s riding the new Yamaha Ténéré 700.
In previous circumnavigations the super adventurer has been all about speed, most notably in 2005 when he smashed the Guinness World record for the fastest lap of earth on a bike; 19 days and four hours to be exact. And this feat was made even more astonishing because he achieved it on a Yamaha YZF-R1.
This time though, Sanders is not so bothered about speed and instead looks to raise awareness for the Two Wheels for Life charity and take in the “interesting points of view about the world and its people as I ride on by,” so says the man himself.
Starting off by transporting the Ténéré 700 across the pond to New York, Sanders joins his steed in the Big Apple and heads west. We pick up his journey by sharing photos, comment and stories taken from his own blog as well as those which he shares with us on the occasions he’s got phone service.
The next day I started my trek across the southern border of the United States. A travel advisory had just been issued suggesting travellers ought not venture into the state of Sinaloa. This region is considered one of the most lawless areas in the whole Central American continent lying alongside the Gulf of California and below Mexico’s most northerly state, Sonora. Something had kicked off with drug cartel activity and it was now deemed unsafe. Drug sales from the Narco Trade in the whole of the country is estimated to range from $13.6 to $49.4 billion annually with 120,000 people killed up until the end of 2013, an especially bad year for homicides. In 2012 my friend Jim Wolfe was kidnapped during one of my client driven expeditions only to be released unharmed days later. At my hotel in Deming New Mexico, a couple I’d just met, Billy Cotton and his wife Trish had been camping with their motorbikes in Sinaloa and were approached by gunmen with AK47’s and told to move on. Billy was sanguine and said, “they were actually very polite but firm. There was no interest in theft or hurting us but we were not going to be allowed to stay where we were.”
I am always nervous entering this beautiful country and apart from our incident with Jim, mostly down to us being in the wrong place.The previous night I stood in line for my Wendy’s Baconator. A half pounder with bacon and fries. It was small but proved that size is not all that matters. It was delicious and filling. As I waited quietly a slim and very pretty woman hobbled in with a young lad who I presumed was her son. She surfed the menu oblivious to me until we both stood in line waiting for our order. Her eyes were immaculately manicured and her full lips masqueraded a little large and not unpleasantly on her impish face. “Fall off your motorbike,” I said gently, and she turned to me and smiled, “no, I can see you’re a biker, but I’m a dancer.”
“Oh,” and paused, “off your pole?” immediately biting my tongue for my cheek.
“You rascal, what a thing to say but actually yes,” and we both giggled, me with a flash of red to my face.
“Can I ask how?”
“Well, I was doing a basic invert, which is upside down and trying to do what’s called a Fireman Spin when this guy tried to put fifty bucks in my special place,” and she looked a little knowing. “How did you know it was a fifty?”
“Oh c’mon, you get to know your dollars even upside down, it’s the one with Grant on it and that stupid beard, you don’t get so many of those and as I lent over to help him I lost my footing and fell off the pole and got a sprain on the stage.”
“What happened to the money?”
“Oh that never slips out, we all know how to hang onto that when doing a pirouette,” and she laughed, “it was a good night until then, it was my Christmas money for presents.”
The cost of the Baconator worked out at about two dollars a mouthful for the smallest burger in the universe and as her order arrived she flashed me a smile which was the first time someone had noticed me other than old men on bikes.
The next day I left late and hit the ten and rode to my first Starbucks and got there about two in the afternoon. As a traveler on the road it’s obvious that where you started from has gone and the place you thought you’d get to doesn’t look anything like you thought it might. The retail industry understands the need for familiarity when you are far from everything you know. Starbucks are clever about this because their counter display is identical in every shop. Looking out through the window there is always a parking lot and a mall and sometimes you’re by the slipway of the road you’ve just exited, but nothing tells you where you are, the clues lie in the order of where things should be. In a similar matrix of scientifically applied structure the lollipop shaped cakes are always at the end of the display whilst the pink ones are furthest to the right because everything is about sequence. Starbucks know there is a mathematical logic to purchasing and as long as everything is in an order we understand then that purchase will be made. The heartbreak happens when the codification of order breaks down. When sadness starts without being understood, or being unhappy is part of waking up because the cleanest cuts kill you most when your losses happen out of sight.
That day, having re-crossed the States on the ten I turned south into Mexico mainland and entered at a quiet port of entry near Colombia in Texas. As usual I rode until the sun sank behind the mountains. As it goes dark at 5pm the lack of light when camping is limiting so I bought a room in accommodations in a dark and dusty place called Matehuala. It was Christmas Eve. Across the road at the Hotel Las Palmas, a more grander establishment, I went over for a coffee when I guy sat down next to me and introduced himself as Chris. “If you want to hear a story it’ll cost you a margarita,” I said jokingly and a moment later the cocktail turned up. “I’ve bought you a drink because I want you to listen to my story instead, I have bought a little time.”
Chris, I think he was called, although maybe we should give him an alias in case he’s hunted down for giving me his secrets so I called him Fernando. When I said I’d ridden around the world in 19 days he said, “my God, 19 days around the world, I’ve been depressed for the time it takes for you to do that my friend! I partied hard for whole periods like that, so many drugs, they were everywhere.” He was from Tijuana and had connections with the Sinaloa drug cartel, he said he knew the members and hung out with them. “You know in those days back then Tijuana was the Wild West but I tell you if anyone died it was between them. No innocents were harmed.” He paused, “If you look for trouble you will find it, and trust me I know.” Fernando was from a rich family, his father worked in customs and owned several bikes and frowned on his son whenever he showed interest in riding. “Maybe it’s a control thing but he would never lend me a bike.”
This young man was 34 and he said the one thing in common with everyone doing the drug game in the city was a sense of being alone. “We all shared the same sense of pointlessness. And my God I hated my family, I hated my life, we all did. There was a hole this big in our hearts,” and he held out his arms as far as his fingertips. “ The gang members were his friends, school friends who had migrated to crime because the money was so huge and they all wanted him to sell too. “My friends would earn $50,000 each month but most of them are now dead,” he said, “drug families are so rich, if the kids crash their BMW they go and get another one. There was so much money.” I sat quietly thinking I’d scored a drink without having to talk, it was quite the best thing I could do on Christmas Eve. “My best buddy was Tony,” he said arching eyebrows that met in the brow of his face, “and he said to me, Fernando, I have been bad, I’ve done bad things, I’ve tried to be different, I’ve tried every single way to do things in my life but all I know is that nothing beats love.”
“Interesting,” I said because, well, it was.
“It’s a lesson for life, and you know,” said Fernando, “this is where I am now before I get killed, and yea Tony got killed.”
He hugged me. People connect with people for fundamental reasons. Essential goodness? Essential differentness? Simply meeting someone who is diametrically the opposite of who you are and equally removed from whoever you might want to be. This man was holding onto an absence of feeling that is larger than the sum parts of his body, l guess this is also the kind of personality l am personally drawn to. If you have this hole, think of being a builder and you can build a wall, or paint it if you are an artist. For me, I fill it with words.
When I asked him what he really wanted to do in life, he curve balled me with his response, “flower arranging, yea, I’d really like to blog that and hustle up the numbers.” Instead he makes chocolate infused with magic mushrooms. “They’re not magic for nothing right? I grow them in my studio in TJ, I have a view of the sea, really close to the beach. You know there is a Buddhist chant for I use on a particular frequency that I play to my plants. I infuse them with love then bake them into chocolate.” He came over for another hug, God knows he’d hugged the goodness out of me, “l love your bike fella, l loved the MT-07, you sit up a bit right, is that how it is for you after the R1?.” The food he’d ordered arrived. “I have to go back to my girl, it’s been sweet.” And he left. I’d finished my drink and went to bed. The next day the Tropic of Cancer. Merry Xmas.