Leg 4 – Texas to Mexico
Leg 3 ended in mid-October, with us going our separate ways so that we could take the holidays off and be with our families. Our plan was to meet up after the new year in Houston, Texas and all ride together to Mexico and beyond. During the hiatus, Bob and Brian rode to South Carolina to attend a BMW motorcycle riding course. They sang the praises for days of how much fun it was and how much they learned from the course. As you might expect, BMW had the course down to a science and they knew exactly what to teach, how to teach and in a timeline that wasn’t too fatiguing. I was a bit sorry I didn’t go, but family obligations took me elsewhere.
My motorcycle was in Dallas at my brother’s condo in downtown. I was able to go back to Texas in December and the weather was gorgeous, so I decided to hop on and ride it to Houston at that time, and then my bike would be in position for the upcoming Leg 4 in January. Bob and Brian rode a couple of weeks before me from South Carolina to Texas, and their bikes were being serviced and stored at a local BMW dealer in Houston. I stored my bike at the same place to make things easier for the next month, when we would all rendezvous.
Justin had recently announced that not only was he going to join us on Leg 4, he was going to be joining us for the rest of the entire ride around the world. Now we have an additional full-time rider to add to our band of brothers that are setting out to take on the world. Justin was a welcome addition in many ways. He was one of our good friends that we worked with on Guam and we had shared many beers with him. Bob would say, “Brian and Justin both speak ‘Nerd’. That’s why they both get along so well.” We all got along, but I’d say that Justin and Brian spoke on a level that only the two of them could speak. They were both very intelligent and had to know all the details and intricacies with all things, whereas Bob and I are more “turn the key and go” kind of guys.
New Year’s Eve – Bob, Brian and myself went to Angeles City in the Philippines. It was a festive place and we have a few places in the Philippines that we have gotten to know well that serve as our vacation spots, and this is one of our favorites. It was only about a 3-hour flight for us, was a good retreat and good way to bring in the new year. Of course, we did a lot of talking about the upcoming trip and our excitement grew. Even though we had 18,000 miles of road under our tires, we felt like our trip was really just beginning, because now all of the weird international stuff is going to start happening.
Mid-January – Justin was back in Dallas, where he had been storing his motorcycle, and was going to be riding down with his wife, Lara, who was riding along on her own ADV motorcycle, to meet up with us in San Antonio. She would be seeing us off at the border.
Bob, Brian and myself met up in Houston and stayed at some of our very good friends’ house, Dave and Christy Wright. Dave and Christy live in Kingwood, and have 2 high-energy, young daughters. While, they were busy parenting, we were busy prepping our gear and getting ready for the ride to the Mexican border. It was a very festive vibe! We stayed for 2 days and ate our share of Mexican food, since we cannot get great Mexican food on Guam. The evenings were spent with beer and tequila flowing because a few years earlier, Dave had lost a bet that included the consequence of a Lifetime Supply of Booze. Needless to say, I’ve collected every time I see him, which is usually only once a year. This was our one time a year to renew our friendship and few people can make me laugh as hard as Dave and Christy. So, while their kids were sleeping, we were enjoying ourselves and laughing well into the night.
The following morning, we were set to leave and there was snow on the ground. Snow on the ground? In Houston? What?? It had melted by about mid-afternoon but there were still icy patches on the roads. We decided to stay an extra day. Justin had already arrived in San Antonio and the roads were fine, just really cold for their ride, but Houston had also been caught on the edge of this winter storm. The tequila flowed and my ribs literally hurt from laughing so hard, for so long. The evenings were so much fun and the days were still filled with getting our bikes ready, which continuously added to the anticipation of the ride that was coming. But the following morning, we went to lunch and the roads were still littered with icy patches. As eager as we were to get out on the road and start the trip, we weren’t going to press a marginal situation. So, we waited an extra day and the company was so good, it wasn’t a hard decision.
Justin and Lara had planned to wait for us in San Antonio but decided to press on to Laredo. We planned to ride all the way to Laredo in one day, since we were a bit behind schedule, but that’s not the way it went. It was 40 degrees outside and pouring rain. The roads were still a bit slick, but it was the wet and cold that we could have done without. It is part of riding, and we have cold weather gear, but it still sucked. We took a few breaks, but the breaks combined with our late start meant we only made it as far as San Antonio. We probably could have made it to Laredo, but this ride is about seeing and experiencing the world, it’s not about how fast we can make a lap around the world and pound our chest. It’s the experience we are after, nothing more.
We stayed in downtown San Antonio and walked to the River Walk area. It was a nice stop and we cruised around and checked out the city. The following morning it was still cold, but not as wet, which we were thankful for. On our way out of town we had to see the Alamo, which wasn’t far from our hotel. We pulled up next to all of the tourist buses and didn’t like the view. We thought we could do better. There were police everywhere and no shortage of people telling us where to go and where not to go/park. There is one street that goes right by the front of the Alamo and we pulled right up to enjoy the view for as long as we could before we were inevitably shooed off by the police. As soon as we stopped, this lady with a large camera starting taking pictures of us. She ran up and asked if she could take more. We said, “Of course! Can you send us a few of them?” and she agreed. Little did I know that this picture would be the last photo I would take with Brian on our motorcycles, and it would be the last picture of the 3 of us together. Remember the Alamo? I will never forget the Alamo!
Eventually the police did come over. I was surprised it took as long as it did. I think they gave us a little leeway since we were on motorcycles and pulled off to the side of the lane and didn’t block traffic. I appreciate they have a job to do and we milked it as long as we could.
We pulled over in between San Antonio and Laredo to get some gas and take a short break. While we were in the parking lot, a man had pulled over and was reading the stickers on our bikes. He was sitting in his truck watching our videos and reading our site. When we came out of the gas station, he had a lot of questions. He was Mexican-American and enjoyed riding his Harley. Like most riders, he appreciated seeing others on a riding adventure and he wanted to hear more. We sat and chatted for about 45 minutes, then made our way to Laredo, where Justin and Lara were waiting to greet us. Of course, we were late, and the day had gotten away from us, like they usually do, but Justin had been waiting patiently for a while.
After we arrived in Laredo, we all got a Mexican meal and came up with a plan. We had a few last-minute preparations to do before going to Mexico. I had a SENA camera/intercom on my helmet that had broken, and I wanted to replace it. It’s the second one I have had that has broken, so I needed some time to do some research and see what my options were. Brian wanted to put tape all around his crash bars so they weren’t so shiny and didn’t get any extra attention. All of us were going to put a temporary spray paint on our bikes to make them look more dingy, so they would be less appealing to those that might want to steal them. We were trying to dumb down our bikes and fly under the radar. With all of that to do, we decided to take an extra day in Laredo so that everyone could take a day for last minute preparations.
The weather cleared up and we all spent most of the day in the parking lot of our hotel working on our bikes. The music was going and there was never a shortage of conversation or laughter. It felt like the days of high school hanging with my friends and time seemed endless, without a care in the world. I certainly had many cares in the world yet time seemed to fly, so to get a day with a very slow pace with my friends, in those conditions, was very welcome. The next morning was the launch of it all and the ever-building anticipation was continuously growing. We made a plan to be in the parking lot ready to go at 5:30 AM the next morning. I would normally laugh at that because someone would surely be late and we would drag the morning out and time would start to slip away. So, we made a bet that whoever was last to show up, if it was after 5:30 AM, had to buy all the meals for the day, including beer in the evening. Everyone showed up on time!
At 5:30 AM on January 20th, 2018 we started our bikes to ride to the Mexican border, which was only a few short miles away. While we were in the hotel parking lot a guy came up and starting to chat us up. He worked for Halliburton and spends a lot of time in Laredo. He told a story of how he and some coworkers had left at 5 AM the previous morning and stopped to help a pregnant woman on the side of the road with the hood up on her car. As soon as they pulled over and walked up to the woman, they were ambushed by guys with guns and robbed of everything they had. He reminded us to not stop for anyone, and to be very careful. Our pucker factor was high and now it just increased a lot, but off we went toward the border.
We cruised through the US side of the border as the customs agent smirked at us with a “what are you guys doing?” kind of look. We then coasted up to the Mexican side of the border and were told to pull off to the side. Three customs officers surrounded us and asked politely to see our registration and insurance information. We had anticipated this question and we all had the info ready to go. As soon as we showed it to them, they waived us all through and it was over. The whole crossing took 5 minutes. I couldn’t believe how painless it was. It wasn’t over yet though. We still had to get a vehicle permit to allow us to drive our bikes in Mexico, and we needed to find the permit office. As soon as we crossed the border I took a wrong turn down a one-way street. There was conflicting information coming from all of our GPS’s and our individual info was telling us to go in different directions. We didn’t want to lose each other and we didn’t want to look too lost because of the inherent vulnerability in Mexico. I did a quick 180 to get on the right road and catch up with the other guys. After a few wrong turns from all of us, we found the permit office. It was about 6:30 AM and we were already at the permit office. We were all very happy about that and it looked like we had a chance to really get on the road early and make our way toward Zacatecas, which was our destination of the day and was about 410 miles away.
As we parked in the parking lot of the permit office we were getting stared down by everyone. It was uncomfortable. We made a plan that we would go in the building in pairs, so that 2 guys could watch our bikes and gear, while the other 2 got their permits. Bob and Justin went inside first, and Brian and I stayed in the parking lot. As soon as Bob and Justin got inside, a huge truck with an insane lift kit on it, pulled up next to us. A Mexican guy hops out with a look of exhaustion and stands next to me and says in perfect English, “Man, this place is something! I just got pulled over by these guys that wanted to steal my furniture (he had in the back of the truck) and then take money off of me.” He went on to explain that there was a police officer there watching the whole event. He lives in Texas and makes the drive to Nuevo Laredo on the Mexico side of the border often. He had so many stories. We talked for about a half-hour and we heard his many tales of dealing with the cartels and the gangs of Mexico. He was an avid motocross rider and he, like many others, had an appreciation for what we were doing and wanted to offer some friendly advice. He advised us to never stop for anyone, even the police, because they are all in business with the cartels to rob guys like us. Our pucker factor rose again.
It took Bob and Justin about 2 hours to get their permits, but they had learned the process and laid it all out for us, so we could avoid some of the pitfalls that they had just been through. Brian and I took our turn and went inside with Bob leading the way for the first few minutes so that he could explain the process. He then returned to the parking lot to help Justin guard the bikes and gear. Our process took about an hour. We had one more chat with our new friend, who offered a few additional pieces of advice for our survival and his last words were, “Remember, the cartels already know you are here, how many guys you have in your crew, how many bikes you have and what kind they are.” We waived goodbye to him, the permit office and started to make our way out of town.
There was a loop that went around the town and that’s the way we went. We had a few stop lights to go through but we always left enough room between the cars in front of us, in case we had to juke left or right around traffic from a stop, in case we got ambushed. Our mindset was that of being in a war zone. We were ready to always fall under attack. It was too early for the thugs to get out of bed, and the night shift was on their way to bed, I think apparently, because we cruised out of town with no problems.
As soon as we were about 5 miles out of town and it was apparent we were getting into a less populated area, Brian shouted in our intercoms, “END OF ALL ROADS!!!” Bob was in front, I was in the back and Brian and Justin were in the middle of the pack. Brian, at that moment, raised his right hand and slid over to Justin for a “High 5”. The two of them carefully converged and gave a good hard slap. Brian said, “End of All Roads, baby! This is the first time all of us have ridden together!” We then had a conversation about this being the first time all four of us had ridden together on the End Of All Roads trip. For different reasons, there had been different people absent or unable to ride at different times, and this was the first time that we all had been on our bikes together at the same time. Brian recognized that and celebrated it in that moment. I had my camera off to the side and my SENA helmet camera was still broken, so I missed that shot. I remember thinking how special that instant was at the time, and I couldn’t believe I didn’t catch it on any camera. I suppose some moments are just meant to be enjoyed and not to be documented.
The day was wonderful. The weather was good and the toll roads were in great conditions with no obstacles. We made a couple of pit stops for a snack and to give our butts a break, but we were on pace to make it to Zacatecas. There was very little traffic on the road so we felt like we had Mexico all to ourselves. We were beginning to talk about the things we wanted to see and do in Zacatecas, as we enjoyed the cactus fields and the beautiful landscapes.
Bob and Brian have always jokingly given me a hard time, saying that I have 2 speeds, 90 and Stop. I feel comfortable at 90 MPH and that’s my speed that I like to cruise at, and most of the time, the other guys do, too. Bob barked at us to slow down a tick so we could all get back together on the road. Brian pulled in front, probably to manage me from speeding up. Brian was out front, I was in the second position, and Bob and Justin were about a ¼ mile behind us. As Brian and I slowed to about 65 MPH, the gap was narrowing, and Bob and Justin were tightening up in our pack, so we were getting closer. I looked over the top of Brian to look at the scenery and Brian said, “What is this?”. His bike jockeyed from left-to-right violently a few times and then he slid off the right side of the road. As he approached the shoulder, his slide took him across a dirt patch and he was engulfed in a ball of dust. I was slamming on my brakes the entire time as Brian went off the side of the road, I just barely passed him by a few feet. Bob was shouting in the intercom in disbelief. I did the fastest U-turn imaginable and went back about 50’ to where I found Brian laying face down. Bob and I ran up to him at the same moment. It was evident very quickly, that everything had just changed in an instant. A few short seconds ago we were laughing and carrying on. Now we were reacting to a situation that we were trying to make sense of, and the shock and disbelief was starting to scream into our souls.
We had to get Brian in a position so that we could assess him. We got him face-up and we tried to stop his bleeding. He wasn’t breathing, so I tried to clear his airway to make sure he wasn’t choking. He did have a pulse, which gave us a brief sense of relief that we could still fight the battle. We were doing everything we could and monitoring his pulse. His pulse got weaker and weaker, until eventually it stopped. The feeling of peril in the deepest part of our beings is simply indescribable. I jumped on top of Brian and quickly began giving him chest compressions. After a very short period of time, I pretty much knew I was fighting a losing battle. I could not believe it and I couldn’t stop. Bob was talking to him pretty loudly and Justin was also. As I was in the heat of that moment with Brian, I heard a motorcycle roaring down the opposite side of the highway. The rider saw what was going on and he jumped over the median of the road and came to assist. There were also a few other cars that quickly stopped and were watching as everything unfolded. There was one car with 4 people in it, and they had a husband and wife couple, along with 2 adult men in their late twenties. Two other cars stopped, one had an elderly man and his grandson, and the other car was a man by himself that was driving from Zacatecas to New Braunfels, Texas. They all watched as I gave chest compression’s to Brian and listened to us talk to Brian.
Eventually there came the moment that we realized nothing was going to happen and Brian wasn’t going to come out of this. I had this slight realization as I was giving compressions and I pushed harder and faster. Then my tears began to come from a place that I didn’t know I had that was so deep. I was in complete and total disbelief. I slowly slid over to Brian’s left side, which was my right side, and as I did so, Bob let out a yelp realizing that it was over. As I slid to the side of Brian, I laid as close as I could to him and I grabbed his hand. I put my other hand over his heart and Bob held his other hand. We all talked to him and tried to convince him not to leave us. We pleaded with him not to go! Our tears were so full and our disbelief was off the scales. Only a few short minutes ago we were talking about the things we wanted to see and do in Zacatecas, now we are talking to our friend and trying to convince him to stay with us in this world. Not a conversation I had ever played in my head or one that I had ever contemplated as a possibility.
As the realization was beginning to set in, that our battle to try to save our friend was lost, the woman from the car that had stopped came over between us as we all laid there on the ground together. She came right in the middle of Bob and I and directly over Brian, she said a prayer in Spanish, made the sign of the cross and made another sign of the cross with her finger on Brian’s forehead and chin. She then took her palm and caressed him for a minute, saying something in Spanish. As she stood up, she asked if Brian had any children or a wife. We explained that he did not. There was a big language barrier, but we were able to get that out of each other. As she slowly walked away, I stood up to thank her and she gave me a hug as she was crying.
She was trying to say something to me, but I didn’t understand, so I pulled out my phone so we could use Google’s translator. We had a conversation via Google Translate. She explained that they would go down the road to call for help. There was no cell phone signal and the nearest signal could be more than an hour down the road, but they would go for help. Her family also explained that we needed to take everything off of Brian that we wanted to keep. They said the police and ambulance drivers would take everything off of him, so we needed to prepare for that. I wasn’t expecting that and now we had another odd moment. After all of this, we had to go through Brian’s belongings and salvage it from being stolen from the people that we were looking to for help. We did exactly that, and we went through Brian’s pockets and tried to salvage all that we could. After they left, the older guy and his grandson that had arrived on the scene early, had been gathering all of Brian’s belongings that had been slingshot out of his pannier suitcases on the side of his bike. They gathered all of his things and put them in a cardboard box, and they gave them to us with a look of just wanting to help. That was the only thing they could find to do and we certainly appreciated it.
As the shock grew, we looked around realizing that we were in the middle of nowhere, and our friend was gone. We were simply reacting to each moment since the first moment that it had all begun, and now we are on the side of the road and my emotions were beginning to get the better of me. I suddenly found myself on the highway cleaning up rocks. I was aimlessly cleaning up the remnants of Brian’s accident and I had no idea why or how long I had been doing it until I asked myself ‘What Am I doing??’. It was the only thing I could remotely control in an out-of-control situation. I eventually would make my way back over to where Bob and Justin were, still sitting with Brian, and I got back on the ground and we all laid there together. There were moments of silence, moments of tears, and moments of talking to Brian. This went on for a couple of hours and those hours are a time in my life that I will not only never forget, but a time that I felt a part of my heart die.
After about 4 hours, an ambulance showed up. They poked at Brian for a few minutes and they said, “There is nothing we can do, he is gone,” and they left. There we were on the side of the road again with no end in sight and we had no idea if anyone even knew that we were out there. Were the police coming? What’s next? What do we do? I didn’t want any of us to leave the scene and go for help by ourselves but we may have to. Do we go in pairs? Do I go by myself? I didn’t want to leave these guys, and don’t forget we were in Mexico and there is a level of vulnerability even when you are at the peak of your game, and we were far from our peak.
There was the guy from New Braunfels that was off to the side and he stayed and observed the whole time. I had been over to talk to him, he spoke perfect English, and he said he would stay for as long as he could. He explained that he had a nephew that was in a similar predicament recently and he felt obliged to help us. I would gain more and more appreciation for him as the day would wear on. The police eventually showed up, taped off the area and began to evaluate the scene. They were local police from the nearest town of Conception Del Oro. The Federal Police eventually showed up about an hour later. The local police gave all the info to the Federales and they took charge of the scene. They separated all of us and interrogated us, looking for wrong doing. We weren’t expecting that. I appreciate that they have a job to do, but I suppose in my grief, I hadn’t considered that as a possibility. They wanted to go though all of our cameras and they asked if Brian had a camera, which he did. I grabbed it and turned it on. I went through the last few videos on his GoPro with a Federale looking over my shoulder. I had a knot in my stomach, because I didn’t know if the last video on Brian’s camera had captured the accident, and frankly I didn’t want to see or hear it again. Thankfully, Brian’s camera was turned off at the time of the accident.
The morgue truck showed up from Zacatecas and they wanted to put Brian on-board. They asked us to step away while they did their job. The police talked for a while amongst themselves, told us that the morgue truck would be going to Zacatecas and we could follow them into town. They would arrange for a translator to meet us and fill us in on the process of whatever may be next. As the morgue truck was about ready to leave, the driver came to us and said, “Just take a few minutes to get your things together and follow us.” The guy from New Braunfels translated every conversation and he stayed with us for a little more than 7 hours total for the day. As we got our things together, and stacked all of Brian’s things on our bikes, we turned around and the morgue truck was gone. They had left us. We instinctively ripped out on the highway in a hurry and instantly were hitting high speeds. As soon as we reached a high speed, someone said “Why are we hauling ass after everything that just happened?” This made sense so we slowed down and hoped that we would catch up with the truck along the way. We had 130 miles to go. Needless to say, it was a very silent ride for 2 hours. We were all completely numb and in shock! I had never experienced emotions like that before in my life. I felt like I had a heartbeat and my eyes were blinking, but I felt like I was an observer in someone else’s body. It wasn’t mine and I wasn’t there. Even though feeling like that, we had to ride and still manage obstacles along the way.
Do you remember the rider that I mentioned, who had jumped the median to lend assistance? He was there for about 3-4 hours and before he left, he told us, “Do not stop for anyone no matter what! Be very careful of obstacles on the road like cows and chickens, but no matter what, do not stop for anyone!” Here was another warning and reminder that there are bad people around and we were still in an area where anything could happen. We were all still in shock, but we still had to play the game and be ready for anything. My soul hurt and my head was in a place it had never been. I’m afraid if someone would have challenged me along the way, I more than likely would have had no self-preservation feelings, and I would have probably punished the person for the loss of Brian, and there is no telling what I might have done to them. I was not myself, and I’m thankful in many ways that we were not challenged along the way. We did come across one police checkpoint but they were on snooze-y time and they popped up as we approached but they were not ready for anyone to roll into their checkpoint at midnight. When they saw it was 3 foreigners on motorcycles, they shined their lights on us but we didn’t stop. We just kept right on rolling at a steady pace and they didn’t try to stop us. After we rolled through, they went back to sit down. They were not interested in us.
As we approached Zacatecas, I got a cell signal and left the intercom system with my buddies and I tried to call my wife. I needed to hear her voice and I needed to tell her what happened. I had a short phone call with her as we rode down the highway and it was comforting to hear her. I returned to the intercom and the three of us approached the city of Zacatecas around 1 AM. We were going to go directly to the morgue where Brian was supposed to be, but when we got there, they said he was not there and they had no idea what we were talking about. We didn’t know if we were in a good part of town or a bad part of town, so we decided to get off the road and off-load all of our stuff. We had just driven by a Hampton Inn and we got a few rooms there and dropped our things. We got down to the lobby a few minutes later to get back on the bikes and the hotel personnel looked at us in disbelief that we were gonna go for a ride at almost 2 AM. We explained what was going on and that we needed to find the morgue that our friend was in. The van driver said he knew where they would take him and that he would drive us there. We were so thankful and we hopped in his van. We went to the morgue and they said that they didn’t know what we were asking about and they had never heard of Brian. My personal panic and worry was rapidly rising. I had heard stories from other parts of Mexico of bad things happening to people, even after they had passed away. For example, in Acapulco, families will not allow the authorities to take their dead, because of their bodies disappearing for reasons that I would rather not explain. So, I had all of this running through my mind and now we had been to two morgues and Brian was nowhere to be found. Our driver looked puzzled and he asked the people if there was another place Brian may have been taken to. We went to yet another morgue. Brian wasn’t at that one either! Now I was really starting to quietly freak out. I never mentioned anything to Bob or Justin, but my worry was escalating and I was now starting to think what if we aren’t able to locate him?? I don’t even know where to begin? The driver asked again if there was any other place Brian may have been taken to and we went there. Finally, the people at the gate had it documented that Brian had just arrived about one-hour prior, and that matched with our timing. I had a big sigh of relief that now I could tuck all of those bad thoughts away. The morgue would not allow us inside, because we were not family, so all that talk about getting us a translator and explaining whatever the next step in the process was going to be ended up not being the case. At least we knew where he was and that was enough for the moment.
We went back to the hotel and it was a little after 3 AM. It was the first time we really had a chance to sit and attempt to make sense of anything. After a few short minutes, we decided we needed to call Brian’s family. We had his phone and we opened it up and got the phone numbers. We dreaded these calls. We didn’t know what to say or how to say it. Do we wait until a normal hour or do we call them now at 4 AM? We decided to call his Mom, his Dad and his Uncle Scott. Brian’s Uncle Scott was the relative he was closest with and the two of them were soul brothers on a unique level. I took the first phone call which was to Uncle Scott. I woke him up and told him we had a problem and I needed help. He responded with a tone of anything you need, shoot. I had never met Scott before. We knew of each other but we had never met or spoken before. After I told him we had a problem, I explained there was an accident and that Brian was gone. I felt like I was a big ball of pain and now I had to spread it around for others to share. To listen to that pain come over him is a conversation I will never forget for the rest of my life. After we shared many tear-filled minutes on the phone with each other, discussing the accident, Scott took a deep breath and he said, “at least he went fast and surrounded by his best buddies. We can all only wish to go that way.” I hadn’t had a thought like that yet and he was right. It was the first moment of slight relief that I had felt. I knew Brian and I knew if he was sitting in front of me, that’s exactly the way he would’ve described it.
After that phone call with Scott, I was mentally spent and couldn’t take on another phone call. I would have made more calls, but Bob and Justin quickly stepped up and offered to make the others. They called Brian’s Mom, and his Dad, and then we called a couple of our close friends to let them know. We didn’t sleep much and had been up for well-over 24 hours.
The next day, we knew we had to get the family down to Mexico as fast as possible, to start the process of getting Brian out of the country. In Mexico, it is required by law that all accidental deaths require an autopsy. The autopsy process could not begin until 2 immediate family members were there to sign for it. We also learned that he could not be cremated and had to be taken out of Mexico not-cremated. We got the US Consulate involved and they were very helpful. They helped us with some of the conflicting information and they verified that he could be cremated there, and so we began the process. Brian’s mother decided to come to Mexico with her husband Chuck, once they learned that he had requested to be cremated. She wanted to see him one more time before he was gone. Everyone certainly understood and appreciated that, so we organized with a local funeral home to make that happen while we were waiting on family members to arrive in Mexico.
While we waited for the family to arrive, we met a taxi driver named Roy. Roy was a big character and he had lived in Chicago, so he spoke near-perfect English. He was also from the area of Zacatecas so he understood how things worked. He was a godsend. He helped us navigate the Mexican bureaucracy and shuttled us from place to place, taking care of a long list of logistics that had to be done in order to get Brian out of Mexico. He was absolutely instrumental in us making any kind of headway with the authorities. For example, we had heard that it could take up to 2 weeks to get an autopsy done, and the thought of being in Mexico for 2 weeks, just to wait on the first part of the process to be completed was not one that we wanted to do. Roy was able to negotiate, with no money exchanged, getting the autopsy done in one day. The morgue was full of families waiting for their turn and we somehow got it done in one day. I didn’t really ask many questions, I just said thanks and moved on to the next thing on the long list of things that needed to be done. At this point, I didn’t care how things were getting done, I was just ready to start knocking out the list as fast as possible so we could get Brian on his way home.
It took 3 days to get most of the things done that were needed to get Brian out of Mexico and he was now at a funeral home where we could have a viewing. Once his mother arrived the following day, on the same flight with Justin’s wife, we all went out to the funeral home to spend our last few hours with Brian. It was a very sad time and seeing Brian for the very last time was tough. We all said our goodbyes, one by one, and then we all joined arm-in-arm around him and said a silent goodbye together. I couldn’t help but visualize our excited conversations about this trip, and now I was saying goodbye. I wasn’t ready for that, nor was anyone else in that room.
That same night Brian went to be cremated. Roy drove us back to the funeral home the following morning and we picked up Brian’s ashes. Scott picked him up and we all walked out of the funeral home together. I was in the back of the pack but I could hear Scott crying under his breath as he carried his favorite relative under his arm. It made me lose it, and it was another sad moment stacked on top of a long list of sad moments.
The family made their travel arrangements home for the next day. We let them go ahead, and we stayed for a couple of days to deal with our motorcycles and try to figure what was next for us. We work for United Airlines and United had been very helpful with many things along the way. When the flight arrangements for Brian’s family had been confirmed, United had coordinated a water cannon salute for Brian and his family. This is where the airport Fire Department places their water cannons on either side of the plane as they pull into the gate and they create an arc of water that the plane rolls under. It is a tribute salute that is usually reserved for retiring pilots on their last flight, but this was a different sort of last flight. It was an amazing first impression on arriving back in America, and the family was touched and thankful. Water Salutes truly are a sight to behold, but it didn’t stop there. When the word got out within the pilot community, that Brian’s remains would be coming through Houston, there was a quick underground movement to have pilots line up outside of Customs to greet the family and salute Brian’s remains. At least 100 pilots showed up on short notice, in full uniform, to pay their respects to a fallen member of their community, loved by all that knew him. It was another touching moment and an absolute testament to who Brian was.
It didn’t stop there. United had also arranged a conference room for the family, with beverages and to have a place to rest and share stories of Brian. I was thankful for how our company handled everything and I was grateful for the pilots that showed up to show Brian how much he was loved. The outpouring of love is something we can all only hope to have in our final moments.
After the family was out of Mexico, we took 3 days to just try to catch our breath. I just wanted to sit for a day and not do much. We took a day in Zacatecas and we went to church. Those that know me, know that’s not a place I spend my time. But I couldn’t think of a better place to spend some time. My soul hurt and I needed to talk to God and tell him how pissed I was, and that I felt cheated that he took my friend, and that the world is a lesser place. In Zacatecas, there is a gorgeous cathedral that was built in the 1500’s and it is spectacular. I was happy to spend some time in there and I needed it. My phone had been ringing off the hook for days but there was only one person I wanted to talk to and I had to go to church to do it.
On Day Two after the family left, we decided that this leg of our journey was over, but we had several discussions about where to go from there, and we decided to continue on our ride around the world, but we would continue in another month or two. So, for now, we would need to find a place to secure our bikes and get out of Mexico. The Hotel Emporio, where we were staying in Zacatecas, agreed to store our bikes in their underground garage until we came back. It was very secure parking and we didn’t have to chase down parking so it was a quick decision. That night we raised many glasses of tequila to our friend Brian and took an evening to be filled with Brian stories. It was just us and it was another special moment.
My wife, Pascale had flown in from Guam to be with me during this time. Justin’s wife, Lara came directly to Mexico as well. On our last day, we were all walking around town and this girl stepped in front of Pascale and wouldn’t let her pass. There were 3 guys with this girl and they walked up to Bob, Justin, Lara and myself and they said, “you guys look like you could use a hug.” I’ve been fortunate to go around the world and I’ve seen my share of scams, so my first instinct was to hold on to my wallet. Pascale agreed to the hug and the lady gave her a long, big, squeezing hug. One of the guys asked me if he could have a hug and we all agreed. It was strange, but if I was ever in need of a hug from a stranger it was that day. We all needed a hug and we all accepted it. After the hugs, I asked what they were doing and their response was, “There are a lot of bad things going on in the world and we just want to spread some hugs and some love, and you guys look like you sure could have used a hug.” He was right! We were standing directly in front of the church, so I asked them if they were affiliated with the church and they explained that they had nothing to do with the church, but they just happen to be standing in front of it when they saw us and decided to dish out a hug. I took these pictures with them.
And it wasn’t until later that I realized that one of the guys was holding up 4 fingers, and then another guy and then all of them. What does that mean? I found myself looking for meaning in everything, but I found it odd, the whole progression of all of them holding up 4 fingers as if it was a signal to someone.
As we walked away, Pascale, who is not religious said, “I feel like those people were sent there for you guys. I really do. That was strange.” I agreed that it was strange but I kept walking and as I turned around to look at the 4 strangers, they were arm in arm looking, watching us walk away and smiling. I felt for my wallet which was still there, and I turned around again and they were still standing, staring at us and smiling. I walked a short 30 feet more and turned around, and they were gone. I looked for them the next day and never saw them again. As I write this, it is the middle of March and almost 2 months later, and I have been in Zacatecas for about a week. I have gone by that area by the church every day looking for them and have not seen them. It was very strange, to say the least.
So where do we go from Mexico, when we still had 3 weeks off from work and we were supposed to be on our ride? We didn’t want to go home to Guam, but where would we go? We didn’t really feel like being tourists and exploring new places like Cuba, which had been mentioned, and usually that would excite me, but now, nothing was exciting me. So where did we go? We decided to go to a place that Brian loved to go, Puerto Galera, in The Philippines. We made 2-3 trips a year there and we decided that would be a great place to go and try to escape for a few days before going back to Guam, where our friends had begun to organize a Celebration of Life for Brian. The party would be taking place shortly after we arrived back on Guam. As we got off of the ferry after arriving in Puerto Galera, a guy comes up behind us shouting “Hey Brian, Hey Brian!” and I said “We are not Brian”. He said, “Yes, but you are Brain’s friends. Where’s Brian?”. The guy was a boat captain that had taken us around before and he sure remembered Brian, like most people did, and I explained what happened. He followed us as we walked toward our hotel and he was in silence and disbelief. At times I get desensitized to people in The Philippines, because there is always someone chewing on your ear trying to sell you something or get money out of you somehow. I had to stop for a moment and remind myself that this guy knew Brian and he had just heard the news. I stopped for a few minutes and answered his questions. I took a moment of appreciation to admire how Brian affected everyone he came in contact with. He truly was a gift and he was blessed with many gifts. This boat captain was just one of many people that knew Brain and was looking forward to the next exchange with him. It was a short time later that the hotel receptionist would be asking the same questions, then the taxi drivers, and many more people. Brian was a bit of a celebrity in that little town. We realized there wouldn’t be much of an escape, but more of a reminder of how special our friend was, and we really were just going there to belly up to a bar for a few days and drown our sorrows, and that is exactly what we did.
We were in Puerto Galera for three days before going back to Guam. The night before we left we started to think about what waited for us on Guam. Guam is our home and it’s where our friends and co-workers are. We knew that we were going to be explaining what had happened and we were going to be shedding many more tears again, once we reconnected with the people in our lives. As much as we were looking forward to seeing all the people in our lives, we were already reliving what had happened in our own mind many times a day, and it was tragic. The thought of explaining time after time again was draining, but we also knew that there were going to be questions from our friends that needed to be answered, and we wanted to put them at ease. I don’t like gray areas and I also knew that some people would want to ask but wouldn’t. That’s the sole reason why I made this video. So, that it may answer some of the questions of what happened on that painful day.
We were continuously asked when we were coming back to Guam but we weren’t very specific. We had heard that many people wanted to meet us at the airport, but we really just wanted to quietly slip back into our lives on Guam. The truth of it is, we had sadness written all over our faces, and sometimes it didn’t take much of a trigger for the waterworks to start. I wanted to just get back to my wife and my life.
As we arrived on Guam, we spent one day before there was the Celebration of Life party that our friends had put together. It was an all-day affair starting at 2 PM on February 12th and going until at least 11 PM at the local Marianas Yacht Club. The weather was gorgeous and there were several hundred people that filtered in and out throughout the day. Several of Brian’s family members traveled to Guam for the celebration and they also wanted to see where Brian had lived and why he loved it so much. Thankfully, they had ideal conditions for their week on Guam to experience our lovely island. The event was catered, the beer flowed, and the stories of Brian were countless. I thought I had known most of the Brian stories but I was continuously reminded that there was so much more to Brian that I didn’t know.
After the festivities were over, it was time to help Brian’s family with his things and his estate. We referred them to a local attorney that facilitated the process. In the middle of the grief of it all, it’s odd to have to think about Brian’s things and do what must be done. It didn’t come naturally, I think, for anyone. I always felt shameful when I said I would like something of Brian’s, because I felt as if I was stealing from my friend, because those were HIS things, not mine. We all felt that way and that feeling never stopped. I suppose, eventually there was a feeling of making sure that his things went to the right place and that everything was appreciated. His family didn’t want to deal with it any more than we did, but again, it all had to be done.
We were able to spend a little bit of time with the family, but not as much as we would have liked. Everyone was being pulled in different directions and there was still the cloud of grief hanging over all of us. I for one, needed my alone moments, and I usually took them in the evenings. After a few days of sorting through Brian’s things, Brian’s family left and we tried to get back to our lives. I felt weird going to work because I usually talked to Brian every day on my drive to the airport. We would compare schedules and see when we could meet up over the coming days. This drive, there was no phone call. It was just me and my thoughts and almost instantly, the event would play through my head before I could repress it. It took several deep breaths in the parking lot to get ready to go into work. As I walked through the airport, I saw a flight attendant friend of mine and she came up to me, fighting back tears, and gave me a hug. I didn’t want to be the face of sadness and I certainly didn’t want to shed a tear at work. I was able to hold it together and we had a nice exchange. Everyone we work with operates more like a tight-knit family rather than co-workers. We have all felt the loss of Brian together and I know that everyone wanted to talk about it, so I prepared for that. I found that the more I talked about it, the better it got. It seemed to help after a while, but there were still those moments that if I was closer to someone, and they burst into tears, I might do the same. I am not normally one for tears, and I couldn’t tell you the last time a tear went down my cheek before any of this happened, but it had been many years. I just don’t cry and suddenly I’m constantly fighting back the tears because the hurt was so deep. I didn’t like it on so many levels.
After a couple of weeks of work, it was time for Bob, Justin and I to discuss what our next plan for our ride around the world would be. We had all avoided the conversation but eventually enough time went by, and we had to discuss what we wanted to do. Bob said he was reluctant to get back on the bike right away. Justin and I felt like the longer we waited, the more difficult it would be. So, we came up with a plan to go back to Zacatecas, Mexico in mid-March and pick up where we left off. About a week before leaving, Bob and I had a conversation and I realized that I might not be ready to go either. But Bob surprised me and said “Let’s get going! We need to have fun again and get out on the road”. So that’s what we did. I am now back in Zacatecas, writing this story of Leg 4 – Texas to Mexico, just before leaving on Leg 5 – Mexico to Costa Rica. I have stared at my computer countless times and couldn’t bring myself to sit and write out the story of what happened. I waited until the last minute and now it’s time to start writing Leg 5.
One last thing, Brian’s family has bestowed on us the kindest gift anyone could. They offered up some of Brian’s remains, so that we can take him around the world with us. And we intend to spread him around the 7 corners of the globe and many places in between. We are thankful to his family for that gift and it has given our trip around the planet an entirely different meaning. We already had a purpose, simply seeing the world, but now we have a whole new purpose that is far more significant!
Leg 5 – Mexico to Costa Rica – Coming soon!
Thanks for following!!