My brother, a friend and I have been talking about a trip to Mexico’s Copper Canyon for over a year. We’ve read Copper Canyon threads on ADVrider, past tour reviews in Rider as well as “Motorcycle Journeys through Texas and Northern Mexico” by Neal Davis and “God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre” by Richard Grant, but we’ve made more excuses than firm plans. One obstacle we face is strong pushback from our significant others due to concerns about drug cartel violence south of the border. Indeed, the U.S. State Department has issued statements advising Americans to avoid travel to Mexico.
I recently gotten the Copper Canyon bug again, after watching “Beyond the Border: Solo Riding in Mexico,” a film by Sterling Noren. Noren has made other adventure riding films, too. Previously I reviewed the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route Expedition Documentary DVD and Map. And he made the “BMW GS Off-Road Riding Skills Instructional DVD” and “GlobeRiders Africa Adventure DVD”.
Unlike these collaborative films, “Beyond The Border: Solo Riding in Mexico” is, as the title implies, a solo effort. Noren, who is based in Seattle, rode his BMW F650GS down the Pacific coast and crossed the border into Mexico at Tecate. His bike was laden with full aluminum panniers, camping gear and film equipment, and his route took him south on the Baja Peninsula to La Paz, and then via ferry to the mainland.
Noren’s expedition is an ambitious one. The movie opens with TV news clips about the escalating violence in Mexico, but the most pressing danger he faces is traveling alone, often in remote areas. Mechanical breakdowns, crashes, equipment failures—all very possible on a trip like this—but ones that Noren mostly avoids.
The production quality is very good, and so is Noren’s narration (though I kept wondering what the same footage would have been like with Werner Hertzog providing the voiceover). The film as won several awards, including the 2011 Mexico International Film Festival’s Golden Palm Award, the 2011 Mountain Film Festival’s Sir Edmund Hillary Award and the 2010 MarCom Awards’ Platinum Award. It’s hard work doing what he did, to not only ride the ride but also to constantly be on the look out for locations to shoot film. And when he found them, he’d stop, unload his camera, set up his tripod, turn on the camera, ride in and out of the frame, then return to gather his gear and resume his journey. As he says in the film, he repeated that exercise hundreds of times. There’s a tradeoff: one the one hand, by constantly scouting the landscape, Noren was hyper-aware of the sights and sounds of his journey; on the other hand, he had to constantly worry about whether he’d get good shots, and the ones he needed to piece together a story. His journey was not simply a joy ride.
Noren is fluent in Spanish, which is a real plus for a solo traveler in Mexico, and he had the courage to ask strangers for interviews on film. He visited landmarks like Mike’s Sky Ranch, Coco’s Corner and villages deep within Copper Canyon and the Sierra Madre. The human interest part of the film focuses on the Rarámuri or Tarahumara Indians, a traditional tribe that has received international attention for their trail-running prowess, and the 50-mile Copper Canyon UltraMarathon, where every finisher receives 500 pounds of corn.
Anyone with a desire to take the world’s less-traveled roads by motorcycle will enjoy “Beyond the Border.” Noren is honest about his struggles, especially dropping and picking up his heavily laden bike multiple times on tricky “roads,” as well as the singular pleasures of traveling alone, off-the-beaten path, experiencing new things and meeting new people. The hour-long “Beyond the Border: Solo Riding in Mexico” DVD is available through Touratech-USA for ($24.95).
Watch a trailer: