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  • Cody Rheault

Sisters motorcyclist rides deep into Mexico

The wind roars across the desert blowing sand 40 mph across an arid landscape. Billowing into rippled sand dunes the scene embodies the 102 degree heat. The sand hitting his face feels like one-hundred bee stings. Patrick Tougas squints into the distance dreaming of better days. But he’s only halfway across the Sonoran Desert aiding a friend ferrying two motorcycles to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. An adventure years in the making is leading them through Mexican states synonymous with the word cartel: Sonora and Sinaloa. A barren landscape notable for inhospitable conditions as well. Naysayers and doubters said it was a bad idea, friends said they shouldn’t do it at all. But for Patrick and his friend Cooper the adventure of a lifetime was too good to pass up.

Patrick’s love affair for the two wheels isn’t new. At 9 years old on a Honda XC125 dirt bike in the backwoods of Junction City, Colorado the experience ignited a passion in him. Trail riding was a love affair. “I would look into the mountains and wonder, ‘is there a trail system up there?’” he recalls.

Growing up along the Cascades Patrick respected the road but sought the trails. Seeking out what he calls helmet time and a flow state that comes with the blended sounds of combustion and rushing wind. The smell of gasoline and fresh pine were addictive yet soothing - an escape from work and life, a cathartic state he lived to feel again.

Patrick’s career in video game development kept him in Portland until 2017 when he and his business moved to Sisters. It didn’t take long for him to discover the offroad trails in Central Oregon. He clocked 137 rides between May and December of 2021. But for a fanatic like Patrick there was a deeper desire for the big adventure. Enter Patrick’s friend and business partner, Cooper. He approached Patrick with an idea, a bucket list dream of his to ride motorcycles to Mexico. Coincidentally, he had two bikes needing transported to his second home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. And Patrick was eager to help. Plans were made and a date was set.

On a cold morning in Portland, Oregon April 1, 2022 the wheels of two loaded BMW GS adventure motorcycles departed the city bound for the Oregon coastline. Freezing temperatures overtook them. Patrick found it mentally taxing and technically difficult as he adjusted to a new bike and the weight of the journey ahead. On day two they left Coos Bay, rode the coastline on Highway 101, entered California and dragged foot pegs on the twisty roads between Leggett and Rockport, California among towering redwoods. Smooth asphalt and views on California’s Highway 1 made what Patrick described as a visceral experience. “It’s a piece of engineering genius,” he said. “Sweeping turns, vistas, and just hypnotic and the reason we chose the coast.”

Under the blue skies of day three the burnt red hue of the Golden Gate Bridge arches graced the horizon as they left the Waldo Tunnel southbound to San Francisco. Looking over the Pacific Ocean Patrick described the moment as surreal and when the reality of the trip started to sink in. Big city traffic occupied their days and with epic views of Big Sur came epic fuel prices at $8.76 per gallon. Twisty roads and vistas became seven lanes of Los Angeles traffic and the hot landscape of Palm Springs. After a days rest they prepared to enter Mexico.

Entering Mexico meant accepting a new world for them. Patrick had never ridden out of the country but with a decent grasp of Spanish and a firm resolve to see this trip through they pushed on through Mexicalli. Their route would eventually take them through four Mexican states: Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, and Jalisco. Places with a reputation as cartel hot spots. “The potential dangers weren’t lost on us,” he said. “But we also knew the reality on the ground is often different.”

The Sonoran Desert is a 100,000 square mile expanse, a stretch of terrain Patrick described as the “surface of mars.”Mentally and physically the desert took it’s toll. “Riding through the desert was a no-joke moment,” he recalls. “We knew if something were to go wrong we would be in serious trouble. And alone.” As they battled the heat and ferocious winds they were welcomed in each town by friendly people overjoyed they didn’t succumb to the cartel fear mongering. For Patrick and Cooper the challenge was the point and the people a welcome surprise. “It was first class service in a third world country.”

South of Hermosillo the land began to change. Leaving behind 800 miles of barren desert the views morphed to rolling hills of corn fields and pig farms, the smell of dust replaced with green pastures and ocean breeze. The roads were smooth winding black asphalt punctuated with Mexican Police and military trucks mounted with 50-caliber machine guns. A presence Patrick admits made the journey feel much safer.

Entering the Mexican State of Nayarit on Day 10 the landscape morphed again into greener rolling hills of sugar cane and winding roads that graced the shoreline. Patrick described the experience as the best riding he has ever done. At the height of the annual Semana Santa celebrations they pulled into Mazatlan for the night. Parties and festivities echoed throughout the town. Mazatlan become a favorite, he called it “the gem of Sinaloa.”

On day 13 and the last they entered Jalisco State. South on highway 15D they passed through El Rosaria, Acaponeta, and the state capital Tepic. Roadside cuisine was the best he’s had and the landscape richer than ever if not overshadowed by the near end of a bucket list adventure. 

Rounding the corner in the final hours they arrived in Puerto Vallarta, 3900 miles and 13 days from Portland and what felt like a world away. “The feeling was elation,” he said. “It was surreal, a sense of camaraderie that we had accomplished something together.” They parked ocean side and jumped into the translucent blue waters of the Pacific and took in their accomplishment with deep breaths of salty air. Patrick recalls the moment, “my head had never been so clear.” The experience was transformative. The helmet time streamlined his life and re-prioritized. He discovered the joys of a decluttered mind, “there’s a lot of freedom in that." 

Looking back on an experience not so long ago yet fresh in the mind he hopes those weren’t the last of great adventures, he said “we’re actually working on preparations for the next trip.”

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