From the Road to Mexico City: Rattlesnakes, Hot Springs, and Bacanora with Ray Molina

Perhaps you remember Beau? That crazy fella who rode his bike from Boulder, Colorado to Mexico City in the middle of the summer that we profiled last year? Well, John reconnected with Beau after his tour and asked if he had any stories he’d like to share. Little did we know we’d get a tale like this… Also, Beau is doing another postcard project, so read on below for those details as well!

I first met Ray at the Crazy Cat bike shop in El Paso. I had ridden down from Colorado with the plan to cross over into Mexico. I thought it wise to stop in a local shop and talk to some of the fellas on the ground who had an idea about what it takes to cross over the border and what the heck to do. I had arrived the night before and checked myself into the Budget Lodge Motel on North Mesa Street.

I planned to stay a day or two so that I could gauge what I considered to be the crux of my trip: the border crossing. That night I wandered my way down to the local watering hole and caught an extravagant drag show with five or six tall, slender drag queens. Smoked a couple of joints and wandered my way back to my little square box to ponder my next move and to get some much-needed rest after the 90 miles of hot, flat desert riding from Alamogordo.

The next morning I was up early, and a couple of Google searches led me over to Crazy Cat Cyclery. I left most of my junk in the motel room even though the door was barely locked and rode over to chat with the lads at Crazy Cat. We talked about my plan to cross into Juarez and ride through Chihuahua, south into Mexico. I was met with some skepticism, but they were willing to oblige my wild ideas and gave me what they considered to be the safest route; Leave at 4 AM, cross the border in the dark, ride as fast as I could through the city before anyone was up, pass the airport and then ride the 80 or so miles to Villa Ahumada where there is one hotel that they recommended I stay at for the night. I said OK, bought a pair of socks, and was on my way. But the feeling just wasn’t quite right, so I decided to book another night at the Budget Lodge and mull over my plan. The next day I figured I needed to go back to Crazy Cat for a little bit more info, and this was when Ray decided to show up.

I was talking to the owner Rob when a guy in a wide brim hat and a neck protector walked in. Rob said, “Hey, this is the guy you need to speak with.” The first thing Ray said to me was, “Dude, they were murdering trees at the credit union, man! They were murdering them!“. He had his mom‘s pickup truck outside with a 10 or 12-foot tall tree strapped in the back.

Rob introduced us, and I told Ray that I wanted to head into Mexico to continue south on my bike to Mexico City. Ray goes, “Man, you’re going through J town, man? I don’t know about that man”. Then he said, “look, man, I’m going to Mexico, I need to get the heck out of town. Want to come along with me?” So I thought it over for a minute or two and decided why the hell not. The next thing I knew, I found myself and my bike strapped up in the back of Ray‘s mom’s truck. We headed out to the farmland west of El Paso to plant the tree.

The next two or three days were spent gathering gear, organizing Ray’s wild house, and prepping for our departure into Mexico.

I had originally wanted to ride through Juarez and through the desert, but after meeting Ray and getting to know him for a day and a half I decided to switch my plans and drive with him horizontally west to Douglas, Arizona, and across the border in a small town called Agua Prieta. Ray told me about some hot springs a few hour’s drive over the border in a little town called Aconchi. He then planned to continue on in the pickup truck through Hermosillo to a little beach town called Bahia Kino. I figured a little detour to the beach could be nice, so I told him, “sign me up.”

There’s strange energy about Ray, and I can only describe it as a mix between Hunter S Thompson and MacGyver. He kept talking about how he needed to get out of town, and because I was on a time crunch and a shoestring budget, I appreciated the urgency. He kept saying, “I gotta get out of town, man, I just gotta get out of town.”

Over the course of the next two days, I checked out of the Budget Lodge and brought my stuff over to Ray‘s place, where he showed me the first fat bike wheels he ever made for his Alaska expeditions. His homemade tires were stitched together with car seat belts, and a plethora of other historical bike parts and things he built were all strewn haphazardly around his dilapidated adobe of a residence.

After a quick moonlit fat bike ride in the desert arroyos next to his sister’s house, we planned for our departure the following morning. He kept saying, “look out for the virgin sand, man.” That was the good stuff that the four-wheelers hadn’t marred up and made uneven for our big fat bike tires.

In true Ray and Beau fashion, we didn’t leave until something around 5 or 6 PM the next evening. We loaded up the truck and headed west towards Arizona. Something like a 3-hour drive that we split between us. We pulled into Douglas, Arizona, as the sun was getting low in the sky. A speedy stop for gas right across the border with Mexico and I thought we were ready, but a brief check of the truck by Ray and we realized that we were leaking some sort of fluid. He tasted it and said, “oh yeah, that’s transmission fluid.” Luckily we were blocks from the local AutoZone, and a few handy turns of the wrench later, we were heading into Mexico around 8 PM.

We stopped for tacos and a couple of chats for directions and then Ray pulled out the Guia Roja, and we found ourselves weaving through canyon mountain roads late into the night. Passing through small towns every once in a while until we made it to Aconchi. Up a dusty and bumpy dirt road and we had made it to the hot springs that Ray knew about. It had to be midnight or later when we pulled into the campground and the first thing we did when we got there was strip down and hop into the burning hot water to relax after the long year of American sandpaper grinding on our minds.

Another dip in the morning, and we loaded up and headed into town to grab a bite to eat. We checked into the local spot and walked across the street for beans, rice, and salsa. Something I’d become really familiar with over the next month.

Ray was on the hunt for Bacanora, a bootleg moonshine tequila that could only be found around these parts. We cruised the town on our bikes, knocked on doors, and chatted with the locals until we got directions to a small house not too far away. Ray knocked on the door, and a woman answered, probably 40 or 50 years old. Ray asked about the Bacanora, and she called back into the house to grab her brother. He came out with a gallon jug of the stuff. A clear, sinister-looking liquid that’s absolute fire to the tongue. A fast transaction later, and Ray was filling up his bottles with enough to last him a month or two and hopefully, a bit more to bring to Alaska for his bicycle trip with a bunch of hot shots later in the summer.

I thought we were done when Ray started asking the guy about leather. You see, Ray makes his own sandals out of old car tires. He straps them to his feet with fine leather ropes. They’re called huaraches. The same sandals that the Tarahumara natives use to run through the Copper Canyons of northern Mexico.

With the leather and the Bacanora secured, it was time for another bike ride back up the dirt road to the hot springs. Even though it had to be 100 degrees out, we hopped into the near-boiling water fully clothed and met a family who offered us a couple of cold Tecates.

Another meal, another beer, a few sips of Bacanora, and that was that.

The next day we continued on through Hermosillo with a hurried stop at the embassy to try to get our visas because the guy at the border never recorded our entry or even seemed to care that we were heading into Mexico with an American vehicle and a couple of bikes. With the embassy closed and no hope of visas, we headed on towards Bahia Kino. A sleepy little beach fishing town where all the buildings were dilapidated, falling apart, and weathered by the relentless salt abrasion coming from the Sea of Cortez. Ray had been there before and knew about a little RV park that we could camp at for a night or two. We swam in the ocean, rode our bikes down to the local restaurant, and had a bite to eat. The next day we’d be parting ways.

We woke up as the sun rose, sleeping in the dirt right there on the bluff next to the beach. Packed up our stuff, and Ray said, “Hey I’ll ride with you to the next town.” A real rough and tumble cowboy town with narcos and all of the hard-working salt-of-the-earth people that a fine Mexican town had to offer, according to Ray. It was 20 or 30 miles of black, hot riding with one or two pit stops for water and weed before we made it to the first stop for a beer.

With a 32-ounce Tecate in hand and a couple of fruits on my end, we prepared to say our goodbyes. I sliced the mango and handed half to Ray. We ate them on the side of the road, and that was that. I was on to Guaymas. But of course, I didn’t make it that night and ended up sleeping on the side of the road after bumming a cigarette. The rest of the trip evolved into one of the greatest experiences of my life, but those stories are for another day. Thanks, Ray, ride on man…

To partake in Beau’s 35mm print postcard program:

Beau believes that simply scanning 35mm negatives and posting them online does the medium a disservice, for it’s the process of darkroom printing that truly brings life to the image. To live by this mantra, he’s bringing along a hundred or so darkroom print postcards on Kodak paper and is offering them via his Instagram account on a donation basis.

All you’ve gotta do is message him your address, send him whatever you can afford to his Venmo @userbeau and he’ll send you a random postcard from his his tour by dropping them in postal boxes at a random point along his route. Neat!