Bad Medicine: Baja October 2011
flyingwombat (me), weapon of choice: XR650L, la porcina grande roja
deathgrip, weapon of choice: CRF230F, little red riding hood
Cooler King, aka Batman, weapon of choice: XR650R, the batmobile
After 18 months of preparation we were finally headed to Baja for a 17 day adventure. We were a little nervous after reading some bad things about the gangs in Mexico, but Baja seemed to be a safe haven so we went. We got into Calexico at about 4pm and had time to test the new sea level jetting since 2 of the bikes were coming from 8500'. WOW the bike had some power!! I could do wheelies! I had become used to the lack of power riding up high in the Rocky Mountains.. the L and the 230 don't have that much power to begin with. Anyway, the jetting seemed spot on but we all had mega speed wobbles, probably due to the fact that our tires deflated a lot coming down from high altitude and also the high winds that were present.
In the morning we loaded up on the free hotel breakfast, filled our hydration packs with ice from the ice machine, and then dropped the tow rig off at Calexico Self Storage. The guy at the storage place said "Baja eh? You should check out Glamis while you're here... I don't know if those tires will work there though, you might need paddles." Yeah but we're riding Baja, dude. Baaa-haaa. We're going there. Mexico, baby. We're gonna get a liplock on some tacos pescados.
After unloading the bikes, we headed for the east border crossing, meaning we had to ride to the other side of town. There isn't much to Calexico... lots of agriculture, kind of a quirky little town. The wind was blowing furiously but at least the temperature was nice and cool.
There was very little traffic headed to Mexico at the border, just a couple of cars in front of us, who I copied because, well, I had no idea what I was doing. I saw some big fences and stuff that looked rather official. At the sign for customs, we took the "nothing to declare" lane. Why not? After rolling by the customs dudes, we stopped in a parking lot to the right.
"Hey, I think we're in Mexico."
"Shit, yeah, it looks like Mexico to me."
"Uhhh, nobody asked us for any passports or anything..."
"Yeah, what's up with that? You sure we're in Mexico?"
"Where do we get the tourist cards?"
"How good is your Spanish?"
"Not very good."
I wandered over to the bank, Banjercito, which was right in front of us. You can't see inside, the door and windows are all blacked out. So I strolled in and asked one of the tellers where to get the tourist card. He spoke great English and told me that the immigration building is just off to the right. So Cooler King and I go over there to get the cards while deathgrip stayed with the bikes. There was no line, and in a minute or so, the immigration guy came out, took our passports, and started filling out the paperwork for us. There were a few American and European business travelers behind us in line, dressed all nice and pretty for work; this was a stark contrast to us standing there like badasses in full body armor, squeaking when we walked. It seemed pretty funny. Not funny peculiar, but HA HA funny, like HA HA you guys have to go to work, and HA HA don't we look like characters from Mad Max? The immigration dude kept our passports while we went and paid at the bank. After a little confusion at the bank about number of days, we took the bank receipts back to immigration, where we got our tourist cards and passports. Then Cooler King stayed with the bikes while deathgrip and I repeated the whole process for her tourist card. It's a funny run-around, but not a big deal since everything is right there and the people are friendly and helpful. We probably could have left all the bikes and stuff no problem, but it would really suck to have some critical piece of gear stolen on the first day.
"So yeah, umm, we're in Mexico, on dirtbikes."
The bikes were running great. We left the border crossing and followed the big border fence to the right until we hit the funny roundabout with the pixie sticks in the middle and took a left there. Riding through Mexicali isn't much different than riding through some US city. Yeah, the streets are kind of bumpy in a couple of places, but it's not that different. For the most part, the roads were very good. I think the thing that hit me most was the smells- exhaust, occasional smoke from something, occasional shit smells. It was all new and fun. After making it to Mex 5, the city quickly faded to farmland. I should say at this point that we had decided not to break the speed limit, at least until we got to the middle of nowhere, in order to avoid run-ins with local law enforcement. Unfortunately, this meant that we were the slowest ones on the road. It became clear that the speed limits were just suggestions, but I wasn't feeling up to breaking them yet. Hey man, we're guests, putt putt putt...
I mentioned the wind earlier... now as we approached the dry lake bed of Laguna Salada, the wind really picked up, and it was a crosswind. It was strong but at least it was steady, because we were leaned into it hard just to keep going straight. Sand was blowing across the road. My goggles were doing a pretty good job but occasionally I would feel a little wind blast across my eyes. Here we started to run into some road repaving operations, which are a bit different than in the US. At one point, the traffic was diverted onto the lake bed, which they had graded into a small dirt road with one lane in either direction. I thought this was great fun since we were on dirtbikes and promptly began passing cars. I saw that deathgrip and Cooler King had not followed for some reason so I slowed down, and the next thing I saw was an 18-wheeler blowing right by me. I thought: you have got to be kidding me, I just got passed on the dirt by a huge truck? The cars were going pretty fast also- if this were the US, people would be crawling along at 5mph like a bunch of wussies.
We hit the oil slicks a little while after we got back onto the pavement. As part of repaving, they were oiling down sections of the road... but the road was still open. No problem, just ride right through that oil. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a problem, but on a motorcycle, leaning hard into the wind... well, it was interesting. The bike was getting loose and I felt like I was on the edge of what the tires could handle, any more and I was going down. So I would let the wind push me into the oncoming lane and then I would creep my way back when the wind let off a little. Luckily there were few vehicles on the road. Oncoming trucks looked completely wrong due to the wind: their tractors appeared to be steering at us, while the trailer wheels were not tracking directly behind the tractor and the trailers were all leaning to one side. The wind was whipping. I swore I saw a tornado in the lake bed to the left, either that or it was the largest dust devil ever. It was hard to tell because it generally looked like a huge dust storm over there and I wasn't stopping for a picture.
A little ways further, the wind let up a bit because we were going through some hilly stuff. I looked in my mirrors and nobody was behind me so I went back and saw CK and deathgrip on the side of the road. Deathgrip had ran out of gas on the 230, so we dumped her 1 gallon Rotopax into the main tank. I would like to take this opportunity to ask someone to build a larger tank for the CRF230. The Rotopax is a great product however, and we were on our way in no time. Deathgrip was in the lead since I wanted to keep an eye out for her running out of fuel. We came up behind some slower tractor trailers. I was next to Cooler King when I saw deathgrip's directional blink on and she goes for it! Cooler King and I glanced at each other, laughing, I dropped a couple gears and grabbed a fist full of throttle and we dusted that truck like a bundt cake. At this point, I knew this was going to be good.
Looming in the distance was a military checkpoint, our first, but we knew what to expect. I pulled past deathgrip since I had a cheatsheet of Spanish phrases on my tank bag, such as "que necesita wheelie grande?" and "Si, wheelie grande." It didn't matter because we got split up into different lanes anyway. A bunch of guys with camouflage uniforms and assault rifles blocked the road. I pulled in and they were asking me stuff before I had a chance to remove my helmet and earplugs. "Un momento!" After I was off the bike, one of the guys wanted to check my side bags, so I opened them up for and he peered inside... he pulled out a compression sack containing my clothes or my sleeping bag and squished it a little with his hands, then put it back in and indicated that I was all set. The action that I missed was Cooler King dropping his bike on the ground in front of the guys. I guess they said "OOOPSIE!" when that happened. It's kind of tricky when you pull in because you have to get your bike shut down, get your helmet off, juggle your helmet, talk to guys with big guns that you don't really understand, get off the bike, etc. There's a lot going on. We were out of there in a couple of minutes, no problema. They didn't ask for wheelies, and I didn't have the cojones to ask them if they wanted wheelies, so we didn't pull any wheelies.
We pulled into San Felipe like rock stars, right up to the pump of the first Pemex that we saw. "Premium, por favor." I hate being tied to fuel range- I need to invent a nuke powered dirtbike. Combined I think we took on 24 liters of that sweet sweet gasolina, which wasn't bad since the capacity of my tank is 22 liters. We cruised into downtown and headed for the malecón where we parked and watched fishermen loading their catch into pickup trucks on the beach. We crossed the street and bought some cold bottled water. We started talking with the guy at the store... he said Cooler King looked like Batman. He also said something about the road to Gonzaga Bay, pavement for 50 miles then 30 miles of dirt, or was that 30 miles until a Pemex and then 50 miles after that... who knows. We ate some snacks and drank some water and talked about whether we wanted to continue to Gonzaga today or not. People came up to us and tried to sell us crap. Uh yeah, that 10 gallon hat looks nice, where am I gonna put it? Seriously. I'm wearing a helmet already, I don't need a hat, much less a huge 10 gallon hat. Well I guess it's like fishing- sooner or later something will bite, you just have to keep plugging away.
We figured we had plenty of light left and wanted to get to the dirt, away from the tourism, further from the border, so we could relax. We shall rule the dirt.
On the malecón, some dirtbikes roll by in slow motion. The waves lazily rolled in on the beach. A wave, rolling for the shore... slowly... slowly... will it get there? We're in a time warp, senses heightened, soaking in all the sights and smells. Peaceful. A hand reaches down. A shiny piece of metal slowly rotates outward. The foot rises up. The thumb slowly reaches out. The foot comes down... steadily... metal touches metal... the wave crashes down! Controlled explosions... thump thump thump thump! Braaaap, off we go down the cobblestone streets. We leave San Felipe in our wake.
I knew there were Pemex(s) in Puertecitos but they would probably be closed. At this point there was very little traffic on the road and I was still mostly obeying the speed limit. This turned out to be a good thing, because as I was standing up stretching my legs, a police SUV went by going the other direction before I could have slowed. No problema. We made it to Puertecitos and found a Pemex, but it was closed. We somehow ended up going through some private community road and got back on the highway. The pavement got newer as we went- new bridges, new guardrails, so sad to see. The road snaked through areas where they had blasted out the rock and there were lots of rocks on the road, many of them were dangerously large. They were sometimes hard to see because the shadows had now grown very long. Deathgrip pulled up next to me as we were hauling ass down the road, man that 230 was revving. Uphill, downhill, curves, cliffs, what fun.
We got to some sections of road that were supposedly closed- blocked by rocks, dirt road off to the right. There was a car on one of those sections, driving right along. I went through the rocks onto the closed section. Some guys in the back of a pick-up seemed to find this funny or something. We finally ran out of pavement and took some road. It ended up being a 3D labyrinth. We came upon a crew drilling blasting holes and had to run over their hoses. They didn’t care. There was a huge dirt roadbed running right into a cliff. We couldn't piece it all together; it was like being in a surrealist painting as it was being painted.
We were finally on dirt. There were side tracks running alongside the main graded road. We rode on them. We screwed around. I went down a very steep downhill. Where's Cooler King? I go back, oh there he is, thumbs up.
"Is that bird shit rock?"
"Bird shit rock?"
"Yeah. It's white from all the bird shit."
"Get outta here!"
"Yeah, I think that's bird shit rock, I think that means we're close."
It was twilight, we were cruising at an easy pace. Suddenly there was a guy in front of me with a gun... he blended right in. Ok, military checkpoint. This guy wanted some answers. He was very calm but he clearly wasn't letting us go until he was satisfied... he didn't want to look at anything, he just wanted to know what we were doing. It took a minute to figure this out... the words campo and vacaciones were issued and he seemed happy... on we went.
A bit further up the road, the line on my GPS pointed due east. Cooler King was glancing down at his GPS- I yell "I think it's over there!" There was no way to get over there so we kept going. Then the glow of a Pemex illuminated the darkness. We promptly pulled right up to a pump and got some fuel while we figured out how to get to Alfonsinas.
"It's gotta be around here somewhere..."
"Oh look, there's a huge sign that says Alfonsinas on it right in front of our faces!"
The guy who filled our tanks wore a smile the whole time. We got the impression that the Pemex dudes were getting ready to close up for the night, so we were happy to have full tanks.
We took the road as indicated by the large Alfonsinas sign... it was very dusty at first, then it was clearly going through marshy areas. We saw a private aircraft next to a house. We kept going, past the sand airstrip until we got to something that looked like it could be a hotel. Cooler King asked if we could get food- I think the guy told him we could get food and stay there. We parked next to some quads... there were gringos eating. We walked in and got a table overlooking the beach, but it was too dark to see anything. We were in the process of stripping off all the body armor as the Pacificos rolled in, followed shortly by chips and the best salsa I have ever had in my life. Tacos pescados made their appearance shortly after that. We sucked down some more Pacificos. Everything was funny!! We were laughing and laughing, what a riot! We had such a great time sitting there recounting all the crazy stuff we had just ridden through, eating great food, and drinking great beer. So delicious. It was like when you're a kid doing something naughty and you have to be very quiet or else you're going to get caught... but that just makes it all the more funny and you end up cracking up and blowing your cover. "Boys, what are you doing?" "AHHH, RUN!! HAHAHA"
We got a hot hotel room but it cooled off quick once we opened the windows and got that sea breeze flowing through there. So nice. I had read that the rooms there weren't that great, but we thought it was great. Nice neat beds, clean room, a shower... ah, such luxury for people covered in dirt and sweat. We slept like babies and were up before sunrise. Cooler King got up first and went for a walk on the long crescent of a beach... I snuck outside shortly after while deathgrip slept. What an amazing place. It was a little chilly but the rising sun felt really good. I walked around a bit and watched the run rise over the bay. Cooler King walked over to his bike in a flipflop and the right side boot and checked the oil. I think this woke up deathgrip and everyone else. Deathgrip eventually came out and we grabbed a table and waited for breakfast. I ordered an omelet de camarones (shrimp omelet), I think Cooler King got huevos rancheros, and I think deathgrip got pancakes. We all got orange juice thinking that would be safe... but it came with ice. Cooler King dove right in as usual and slurped it up. There was NO WAY I was going to be spending my vacation riding the Hershey Highway or taking antibiotics so I didn't want to drink it. Deathgrip came up with the idea of scooping out the ice and I got the Steripen (which isn't designed for cloudy water, but whatever) and we stuck it in the OJ. About this time, the waitress came by and saw that we were steripenning the OJ. She looked kind of sad. I felt embarrassed but what the hell, there is NO WAY I'm riding the Hershey Highway. I've heard the stories.
It was a really good breakfast. We packed up and headed to the Pemex to buy some water, but they were completely closed- if we didn't have full tanks, it would have been another day at Gonzaga Bay- what a great place to be stuck. Note to travelers, apparently the Pemex at Gonzaga is closed on Wednesdays. Across the street from the Pemex was a market so we bought water- too much as it turned out, so we strapped the remainder to the bikes after filling our packs. What we didn't know at the time was that this surplus water wasn't actually surplus. A gringo at the store helped us ask about the next fuel availability- there wasn’t any for a long ways in any direction but we were headed to Bahia de Los Angeles and expected to find fuel there. We planned to go to Coco's and then to the Bay of LA, and we figured we had enough fuel for that trip, no problema. A race buggy rolled past.
We did the most awesome riding in our lives up to that point on the road to Coco's Corner. It just kept getting better. There was the main graded road, and then there were sandy two-track roads on both sides. Deathgrip was cruising up the middle of the graded road while I was on the left sandy track and Cooler King was on the right. We were moving pretty good- 50 or 60mph and it was fantastic. The bikes were doing great, proudly showing their desert racing heritage. I slowed for a blind downhill, but not quite enough and almost dumped it on some huge downhill whoops.
I passed a boat!
The fun continued for a while... at one point we were riding 3 abreast, everyone on their own road, the soft desert sand flowing under our tires. We passed many varieties of cactus, ocotillo, and other strange desert plants, including our first boojum trees. It's like Dr. Seuss invented the boojum and named it himself. I thought we were riding in a Dr. Seuss story.
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..."
- Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!
Ahead there was some strange and interesting shit. Beer cans strung across the road in a fantastic display, ropes used as topes... must be Coco's Corner. We pulled in and Coco greeted us in his wheelchair. We bought some Cokes- they tasted like the Cokes I remember as a kid, really good. Coco told us to keep our thumbs over the hole in the can so the bees don't get in there. There were bees all over the place and I guess they really like Coca Cola. We talked with Coco a bit and checked out his art exhibits. There's a lot to take in, and it's all very interesting and amusing. The cab-over truck gallery is off this way... the toilet TV room is over here... oh there's a gorilla in the pick-up truck. And check out the panties and worn out sprockets. Of course we had to sign The Book. This is The Eighth Book, but since some scumbag stole one, he only has seven now. We thought of some ridiculous things to write and we wrote them down... you can look them up if you visit, turn to October 5 2011- he mistakenly wrote 4 motos on the top right. It was an historic moment, making our marks in The Book as many travelers and the legends of Baja have done before us. This was our pilgrimage.
Man those Cokes tasted great. Coco instructed us to throw the cans on the ground away from his house because of the bees. We were admiring the panty collection when he asked deathgrip if she had any panties for him. Nope. I guess she didn't get the memo... bring panties for Coco. It's like a sacrifice to the gods of Baja. Coco was ok with not having fresh panties though.
Somehow he got to talking about dirtbikes sinking to the frame, getting sucked into bottomless sand. I guessed that he was talking about Calamajue Wash, which I was hoping to ride on the way to the Bay of LA. He had plenty of stories about the wash, it sounded too good to pass up. I noticed that the water I had strapped to the bike had flown off somewhere on the road to Coco's, so I had no extra water and I hate leaving detritus behind. Cooler King’s extra water was still securely strapped to his bike though.
We headed out of Cocos on the wrong road and it took us a minute to realize this. So back to Coco's Corner we went, and took the other road that heads to the east. This was another fun road, but it was made of harder stuff, no sand for a few miles. Then it started to go south and opened up into a wash, so we started riding in the wash instead of the road- this was fun but we had no idea where we were going other than generally the right direction. Eventually we could see the road headed east- obviously that was the wrong way, but we saw a trail through the wash headed south. We stopped there, pulled out the Baja Almanac and found our location on the map thanks to the coordinates on the GPS. A navigational screw-up out there could cause a big problem. We determined that the trail that headed south through the wash was the correct way to go, so off we went. It started out as very sandy two-track and was completely amazing.
The wash funneled down into a canyon with white rock and a tiny stream- it was really wonderful riding. I put the camera on the rear camera mount and started recording video. I slowly rode past deathgrip and then Cooler King so I could get video of them riding through this wash on the floor of the canyon. I came to some water and some thick green grass and made my way through it. My hydration pack wasn't working so I stopped to fix it just in case water was leaking out or something. It took me a few minutes to fix it- the hose wasn't connected quite right. Meanwhile I was wondering where the other guys were- there was a fork in the canyon that I passed and I wondered if they went the other way. Eventually I got myself sorted out and headed back. What I saw next is permanently burned into my mind.
Deathgrip was sitting on the ground looking... well, not very good. Cooler King was standing next to her and he looked at me with a look that's hard to describe. It said so much. I think it was a combination of "we're in big trouble" and "the trip is over." I got off the bike and asked the question: “what happened?”
We had a big problem. I said to Cooler King, "we have to ride her out." Deathgrip said this was not an option because she got dizzy just standing up, never mind riding double on the back of a dirtbike. She suggested calling Medjet, ”they have doctors available." Oh yeah, that was a great idea. I took out the satphone and the comprehensive first aid kit. The satphone was in a big Pelican case with a laminated copy of the emergency contact numbers that we had accumulated. I took it out of the case, turned it on... no signal. Damn canyon. I quickly climbed up to the top of the canyon with the satphone where I had great signal strength and set about calling Medjet. I typed in the number, ring ring... "hello?"
"Hi, is this Medjet?"
"No, who is this?"
I hang up.
I tried again.
"Who's calling? Don't call here no more!"
Damn. This lady on the other end of the phone had no idea that she was being called by someone on a satellite phone standing on top of a canyon literally in the middle of nowhere.
So I tried another number and failed again. Then I remembered that we had been very clever and added 1 to the last digit on all of the emergency numbers. We did this so that if the list was lost, nobody would be able to call and say we had been kidnapped and demand ransom. This happened to our Spanish teacher in Mexico City- some guy called her up and said her kids were kidnapped... but as it turned out they weren't, the guy just got her number from somewhere. Even though the chances of that happening were very remote, we didn't want anyone to get a call like that. Probably not the best idea for emergency numbers though- you don't want to have to think of stuff like that when you're in an emergency situation.
I soon figured it out and was connected to Medjet. They put a doctor on the phone who asked if we could get an ambulance. Ha ha. Not only would an ambulance (or helicopter for that matter) not make it to our location, there were none. He ended up telling me that we needed to splint it up and get to an emergency room. I nearly passed out because I had no idea how we were going to do that. I mean we had a splint, but riding out of there would be brutal with an injury like that. He did ask me some valuable questions, like whether there was a pulse in the wrist of the damaged arm and whether all fingers moved, and whether the fingers were turning white. Of course I couldn't answer those questions because I was on the top of the canyon. So I went back down and repeated what he said while I set about checking for a pulse, etc. Deathgrip had popped 4 Tylenol extra strength gelcaps by this time in a futile hope of helping with the pain.
The definition of tough: smiling with a dislocated elbow.
There was no way in hell deathgrip was riding out of the canyon and she was damn persistent in wanting to pop the elbow back in place. So deathgrip came up with the idea to call a certain doctor who we know personally. What a great idea. I guess my brain had been working out how to ride out of there but deathgrip was very focused on her injury. Now the satphone was working great in the bottom of the canyon. We had to get the number from her brother, so she called him up. She explained what happened and I heard an "oh shit!" on the other end. We got the doc on the line and deathgrip gave details of the arm problem. We listened to the instructions for reducing (re-locating) a dislocated elbow. I asked if there was anything we could do to make this worse or life threatening... you know, like rip an artery or something... nope, probably not. Maybe pinch a nerve. So I said that we're going for it, and we'll call back after.
We took deathgrip's pressure suit and laid it on the ground like a bed. By the way, I have no idea how she was able to remove it- it was already off when I arrived on the scene. We put down the backpack as a pillow and gently laid her back on it. Cooler King said he was ready. We shoved the elastic tourniquet strap bundle that we had brought with us in her mouth so she had something to bite down on because we knew it was going to hurt like hell. Then Cooler King grabbed her upper arm with both hands and I grabbed her forearm, near her wrist with both hands. We both pulled fairly hard but steady with the arm extended straight out. Sure enough, I saw the weird lump at the elbow disappear at the same instant I felt it pop back into place. That pretty much blew my mind. I hadn't been looking at deathgrip's face but I glanced and it looked like she was in lots of pain. We had been told that it would feel much better once it was back in the socket but since it wasn't feeling better we thought it might not be back in place properly. We gave it one more good steady pull... nothing changed, so we figured it was all set. I called back and said it looked like the elbow was back in place and we would be off to get some x-rays.
After a bit the elbow was feeling much better and deathgrip was on her feet. Suddenly things didn't seem so bad at all. I had been thinking of ditching deathgrip's bike but Cooler King came up with a plan to shuffle all 3 bikes out and I thought that was a good idea since the situation wasn't so bad anymore. Abandoning a bike isn't just a monetary loss, there's stuff on there that we need to survive out there, and ditching it would take a while because we would have to sort through all that stuff to get what we needed and re-pack everything, assuming it will all fit on the other bikes. We decided to continue through the wash because that was our original plan (we had the fuel to do it) and also the fastest way to get to Mex 1. Since we were in some muddy stuff at that moment, the plan was to send deathgrip off on foot while Cooler King and I rode 2 bikes up 5km or so, then we could come back 2-up on one bike to get the other bike... and repeat. We offloaded some stuff from my XRL onto deathgrip's bike but didn't take the time to secure it very well. Cooler King and I set off with deathgrip clomping along in her Sidi Crossfire boots behind us.
It was hard and tiring riding 2-up through that deep sand at first. We did this shuffle for about 15km... then decided to air the tires down a lot. After I made my tires just about flat it was easy riding double. Really easy. We stuffed all the gear back onto the XRL. I told Cooler King I was going to pick up deathgrip on the next relay leg, he said something like "yeah, just don't crash."
When we picked up the other bike, deathgrip was there walking through the shade off the trail. I called her over and got her set up on the bike. This is where the electric start really shined because I could start the bike with both of us seated on it. Now we could make really long relay jumps. CK set off first on the 230 and deathgrip and I shortly afterwards on the XRL. The gear hanging off the back of the 230 took a beating. We caught up to CK who was stopped in the middle of the trail with my blue sleeping bag wrapped around the rear tire and melting on the exhaust. It was all messed up, as was deathgrip's pressure suit and the compression sacks. We cleaned up the mess, ditched the mangled compression sacks, ditched my stickers (except for the Coco's Corner stickers- stickers are a form of currency in Baja), and got ready to go again. I started to take off and then decided I wanted my gloves- I had become separated from them somehow. Not finding my gloves on the bike, I walked back to check the compression sack that we ditched. Not in there... but what was that lump? I pulled a wad of pesos out of the compression sack. Wow, almost lost a bunch of money. See, you have to be really careful when you decide to ditch something. We were trying to move too fast.
We rode up and out of the canyon bottom, up and down some hills while the sun grew closer and closer to the horizon. We were riding up a steep hill with a rut to one side... I was going slow but I figured I could make it around the rut. Nope, I slid into the rut and BAM we hit the abrupt end of the rut and stopped, upright. My un-gloved hand slammed into the hand guards. Ouch. The front wheel had to make it over a step made out of very hard dirt that was over a foot tall. Deathgrip started getting off and I tell her to stay put. Cooler King came up behind and grabbed the rear of the bike and started pushing... we got the front wheel over... the rear wheel was spinning, clawing violently at the rocks and dirt. Cooler King was probably getting covered in dirt as he helped lift the rear up. We broke free, the bike looked fine, no knobs or chunks missing from the rear tire. Cooler King dusted himself off and we kept going. I can't say enough good things about Michelin Desert tires. They were aired down to 5psi on a heavy bike with 2 people on it, and took the occasional rock hit, etc. with no complaint. I was happy that we had good equipment, and good company. CK is always there pushing or helping pick up my bike before I even know it.
We were traveling now on flat sandy ground. I stopped when we were 5km from the highway so we could get the XRR and prepare for the last leg of the shuffle. The sun was setting so we had a little pow-wow and decided to camp at this spot so that we could be on the highway first thing in the morning. The idea of finding help and gasolina on a dark highway didn't sound so appealing. Deathgrip scouted a bike parking spot and a place for the tents while CK and I went back for the XRR. It was a long ways back, but we got there and back pretty quickly. I didn't want to leave deathgrip for too long since there were probably mountain lions and she only had one good arm to fight them off. We got back to the camp spot and deathgrip pointed where to park, a mini-wash. I pulled in there but CK decided it would be easier to ride around through the cacti. He pulled in behind me with a big clump of jumping cactus stuck in his front tire. I thought for sure that would be a flat, but we pulled it out and it looked fine.
There were spiny desert plants and boojum trees as far as the eye could see, but deathgrip had picked out a nice bare spot for setting up the tents. We finished setting everything up and chilled out with clif bars and water. We had to tap into my 1 liter reserve water bottle. The moon came up over the mountains like Mouse McCoy riding a 650R with a huge race light, shattering the silence and tearing ass through the pitch black night on a flat tire while being in 3rd place overall. The moon was bright enough to eliminate the need for flashlights. There was no wind and it wasn't very cold out. We could see distant headlights on Mex 1 but couldn't hear anything. You have not experienced quiet until you have experienced camping in the desert at night, it's truly wonderful.
We had a lovely sleep that night- I woke up early, put on my jacket, and took some pictures before the others got up. How many different shades of green are there anyway? It was cloudy, which was good- I thought that if it could stay like that for a while then we wouldn't need much water. We didn't have too much water left, but not to worry because we would be on the highway in no time. Gasolina on the other hand was questionable at that point. The XRL had burned up a bit riding the wash 3 times, 2/3rds of the time with 2 people on it, but no bike was on reserve yet, the 1 gallon rotopax was full, and CK had a couple liters stashed away. We figured we could make our original destination, Bahia de los Angeles, and hopefully they would have a decent medical facility there and some gasolina.
A breakfast of clif bars got us going, and we were soon packed, loaded, and ready to rip. I aired up my front tire because it looked like the ground would be hard ahead and I wanted to know if it was still able to hold air. It was able to hold air, but I was wrong about the hard terrain... soft soft sand and I could not steer. So I let all that air back out and we were cruising again. This section of trail was the most fun trail I've ever ridden- lucky me, I got to ride it 3 times. We went around a bend and there were cows. I slowed to a crawl and passed the cows. A lone rancher was there, so we waved, and he waved back. We put deathgrip and the 230 on the other side of his gate, close to the highway, then rode double back to the batmobile. After we got the batmobile, we had a really fun ride back to the highway on the narrow trail of soft flowing sand that spared us from the sharp, pointy, and alien landscape.
We used the Cyclepump to air up all 6 tires from 5psi to 25+psi with my engine off to save fuel. The Shorai LiFePO4 battery and Cyclepump delivered air to our tires like the UPS guy at the end of the shift on a Friday night. Faster than average. Deathgrip felt like she would be able to ride on the highway and she did. I went into super fuel conservo mode, tucking way down and going just fast enough for 5th gear. There were a couple of cars on the highway, no big deal. We eventually got to the turn off for Bay of LA and there was an abandoned gas station there. As we made the turn, I looked and looked and then saw it- a sign that said “gasolina” next to a trailer full of barrels in that gas station parking lot!! WOOHOO! We headed over there- nobody was in sight. I rocked the barrels a little to make sure there was gasolina inside them- there was. It only took a minute for the enterprising fellow who ran the operation to come out from his house across the road. He filled us all up and then we got to chatting about bikes. Between his limited English and our limited Spanish, we were communicating ok. He said he had new moto tires if we needed them, which we didn't. He wanted to know how big our engines were and how fast the bikes went. I pointed to the 230 and said "muy pequeño, jaja!" He wanted to sit on my bike so I told him to be my guest. He said it was heavy, much heavier than his XR400. Yup, sure is a pig, but a good pig and I love it. It just hauled us plus gear out of a wash, no sweat. After he got off and I paid him, he made the universal gesture for wheelies. CK took off first and ripped a nice fast wheelie, front wheel crossed up nicely. I went next and pulled a super high and smooth wheelie, it was awesome. Deathgrip went next, and she ripped the best wheelie of all, hooking all 6 gears before having to put the front wheel down. Haha, ok, you got me there- her elbow hurt too much to hook all 6 gears. I think the barrel gas dude was happy, and we were happy to have full tanks. Just a little Baja magic.
It would be worth the slab ride to the Bay of LA just for the view of the water and twisties as you descend down, down, down.
We pulled into the Bay of LA like rockstars, right up to the first Pemex pump we saw. The attendant was obviously pleased to have some bikes to check out. I don't know why, but Baja makes you feel like a rockstar when you roll into town on a dirtbike. It's not like being in the US where you might get a dirty look from some yuppie- they really like dirtbikes and dirtbike riders down there.
After filling up, we cruised the town to check out where to get food and stuff. The town wasn't nearly as big or as busy as we thought it would be. A lady was waving us into her hotel as we passed by, and after finding not too much else, we went back there. It turned out to be Victoria at Costa del Sol, and within minutes we had a great lunch in front of us. Guess what? Tacos pescados for me. What kind of homemade salsa is that? Big Kahuna Salsa? MMMM that IS a good salsa! Deathgrip survived the ride and was popping Tylenol like a junky. We got a room at the hotel. While I was doing something, Scooby took a piss on my front tire. Goddammit! Scooby was a Great Dane (I think) with really big, well, really big balls. Sorry, but if you want the full story, Scooby's balls were part of it. Unfortunately you couldn't miss seeing them and once they had been seen, they could not be unseen. BIG! SCOOBY! BALLS! Just be grateful I don't have a picture.
Some old timer gringo came by and said he just got back to his place down here and his stuff had been stolen- including his outboard motor so he couldn't go fishing. He said he really likes it here but he's had enough with the theft and he was going to sell the place. I think he said it was the 7th time in some large number of years his place had been sacked. He has another place in Ensenada that was in a gated community where he never had anything stolen. So we dumped water on the front tire of my bike to dilute the Scooby piss and moved all the bikes into the hotel room.
CK and I walked down the street to get some supplies. On the way we found the police station, the library, and the medical clinic. We went into the clinic and talked to a guy who was there. I asked if there was any doctor here because we had someone who was hurt. He said "I am a doctor." This was great- so after obtaining water and snacks, I brought deathgrip to the clinic. The doctor, Luciano, was very nice and had deathgrip come right in and he began checking out her arm immediately. No paperwork, no BS- you're hurt, let me have a look. He said that he thought it looked pretty good but there might be a tiny fracture, and he had no x-ray machine. He got some stuff and started wetting it down in the sink. Deathgrip realized it was material for a cast, to her great displeasure. I said it was just temporary until we got some x-rays. It turned out to be just a splint to support the arm with a sling, not so bad. The doc finished up wrapping the arm. I asked how much it cost. “Whatever you want” he said. I held out a couple of 500 peso notes, he somewhat reluctantly took one of them and said thanks. He said it was a donation, anyway I was happy that he took something and it was still an extremely cheap doctors visit.
We walked back to the hotel and CK said "well that looks kinda serious." I called Medjet on the satphone to see if they would transport deathgrip back, but it sounded like a no-go since their rule is that you have to be hospitalized. Still, they said they would talk to the treating doctor and then make the determination. I told them we could probably make that happen in the morning. Then we had some supper and some Pacificos; again, everything was just delicious. Scooby would start barking at something outside and Victoria would yell "Scooby!" but you know, in a Mexican accent "Escooby!" and he'd simmer down.
We worked out some plans for getting to the ER in San Diego. Dangerous plans. CK had this awesome idea of going to the welders down the street and fabricating a way to attach the front forks of the 230 to the rear axle of the 650R, and then deathgrip and I would ride 2-up on the XRL.
In the morning deathgrip and I went to the clinic to see Luciano again. He replaced her splint with a better one because it had been bothering her and we asked if he would mind talking to Medjet. He said no problema, but there is no phone at the clinic so we had to use the police station's phone. I went outside and called Medjet on the satphone and gave them the number to the police station. Luciano and I went into the police station to wait for their call. The police were really nice and got up out of their chairs so we could sit. They carry assault rifles. Since we were now behind the counter, there was a computer there and on screen was a game: "plantas vs. zombies." I pointed this out to Luciano, and he told me "the police don't have much to do here, we have small problems, but they have to carry these guns." We waited for a while... I studied the wires running across the ceiling. Medjet called and Luciano started talking to them- they got a Spanish interpreter on the line so he was able to speak in his native tongue, which was pretty cool. While this was going on, I shit you not, the computer on the desk in front of us was tuned into an internet radio station that was belting out Bon Jovi's "Bad Medicine."
"Your love is like baaaaad medicine
Bad medicine is what I need, whoa ho ho
Shake it up, just like baaaad medicine
There ain't no doctor that can cure my disease
Baaaaad, baaaad medicine..."
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It wasn't sounding good for the evac. Luciano got off the phone, I thanked him and the police, and we headed outside. Luciano said that they have an ambulance but they don't have anyone to drive it. Deathgrip and I headed over to the internet cafe where we mapped out some hospitals and a hotel in San Diego. Their internet connection at the cafe was through satellite and it was exceptionally slow, so we emailed deathgrip's brother for some hospital logistical assistance. There were a couple of older gringos in there on ETrade or something. We went back to the hotel and asked for some breakfast... BAM! There's breakfast, hot and tasty. I called Medjet and they said they would call back and let me know in half hour or so. We were sitting around waiting and the police rolled up and said I had a call. We're rockstars I tell you, rockstars. I called Medjet back and they said deathgrip did not qualify for transport but they would take her bike. I thanked them because that helped us out a lot and we knew exactly what to do next.
We dumped out all our supplies, spare parts, everything, on the beds in the hotel room and sorted through it. Anything we didn't need went into the saddle bags on the 230. Anything that didn't fit in there and was cheap was left on the table in the hotel room, and the rest packed into my Wolfman soft panniers. This took a while.
Then deathgrip and I walked to the police station again and asked if they knew of a place where we could store a dirtbike. They recommended that we ask Victoria because "she's a good person." We went to the internet cafe again where deathgrip's brother had emailed back with some hospital info, and then we stopped at the market across the street for water and snacks. We bought Chips Ahoy because we didn't want any surprises on the road tomorrow. I pointed out the many bottles of Pedialyte in the refrigerated section. I just love going into grocery stores in other countries... yeah you can go to the standard tourist attractions, boring statues and monuments, whatever. If you want to get a sense of a country, go into a market. I recommend this especially if you're from the USA where food is wrapped in a plastic bag, then wrapped in another plastic bag, then put into a big cardboard box with obnoxious marketing crap all over it, then you take the food out and it doesn't look anything remotely like what's on the outside of the box. Not so much in Mexico- this market had lots of bagged dried peppers, dried beans, rice, etc., all packed in clear bags and on display in bins. I like Mexico, you're not paying for a bunch of BS. There was plenty more fun stuff but we didn't have much time to check it all out.
We brought the supplies back to the hotel and asked Victoria if we could leave the bike there at Costa del Sol for a couple of weeks. She said it was no problema, just put it in one of the unfinished hotel rooms. We wheeled it over and put it in there, making sure we put some cardboard under the kickstand so as not to scratch her tile floors. We ate a really great supper, but without Pacificos because we had to leave at dawn and it was going to be a long ride. Scooby was up to his usual antics though.
The morning came and we were kickstands-up just before sunrise. It was cold out but we all had jackets. I had no buddy pegs, so deathgrip put her toes on my pegs and I put my feet on top of hers. This was ok since she had the hard toes on her boots, it just meant that I had to shift and brake with my heels. We screamed out of the Bay of LA and began climbing back up to the desert. The air temperature fluctuated greatly as we went through little bowls where the cold air had collected. We got to Mex 1 but our barrel gas buddy wasn't there so we kept going. We had plenty of gasolina anyway. There were few cars on the road and I was running wide open... at 65mph. No pinging though, because the XRL has a compression ratio of 8.3:1. CK said that the XRR was pinging- it’s a high performance machine, gotta put in premium. The big advantage that we had was being able to pass traffic on the dirt at the road construction sites because we had the suspension and tires for it, plus we could squeeze through things and lane split, so that's exactly what we did, we passed many slow moving vehicles in construction zones. It was Saturday but there was some road work going on. We pretty much obeyed the speed limits in the towns but otherwise we were making time.
When I needed more control, I would nudge deathgrip's feet and she would take them off the pegs- they were ok hanging in the air because the side panniers were good leg rests. Then when her legs got tired from that she would tap me and put her feet back on the pegs. She had it worse because the back of the seat doesn't have much padding and she couldn't stand up from time to time to stretch. Although my right wrist was mighty sore from holding that throttle wide open the whole way.
Cruising through Cataviña, I almost rode past the barrel gas. The dude filled us up while we stretched, and then we flew out of there. It was nice and warm by this time. 74 miles later we were in El Rosario and headed north along the coast. It seemed like there were Pemex stations every 10 feet. We came to a military checkpoint that was backed up with cars and trucks, but when the guys saw us, they waved us up the side, asked us where we were going and then we were out of there. Eventually we could see the Pacific and the waves rolling in to the rocky shore. We cruised through many small towns, some with stoplights. It started to get very agricultural, many greenhouses in San Quintin. We saw apple growers, berry growers, just about everything. At some point we rode past prickly pear cactus farms. There were smoky smells of burning stuff- some of the smells were burning wood, some of the smells were burning chairs. I know this because I saw an easy chair in a field fully engulfed in flame.
Somewhere south of Ensenada, we stopped at a nice quiet Pemex and filled up with Premium. The next thing I knew, my bike was doing 80mph and I no longer needed to keep it pinned. Man that barrel gas sucks. We hit Ensenada, a real city. We stopped once to figure out where we were going, and again to top off with fuel just before we hit the quota, or toll road. That fuel stop was going to be the last stop until we crossed the border.
At the first toll, there was another checkpoint- a guy was standing there in the road, and I felt like I was in a rocket on a launchpad, or he was the guy with the green flag at a race and I was on the starting line. I didn't turn off the engine- he yells "Tijuana?" We yell "San Diego!"
"Any guns? Any drugs?"
The flag dropped and we were gone.
The toll road was great- big and fast with not much traffic, and great views of the Pacific at the bottom of the cliffs. Eventually we needed to stop for a quick piss break.
We made it to Tijuana no problema, but getting through Tijuana was another story. We missed an exit for US interstate 5 and took the next exit that put us through a meat grinder roundabout. We pulled off to the side to figure out where to go and a guy on a bike told us and tried to sell us on some nutritional website he was working on. Back into the roundabout we went, there were cars coming in and out from every angle but it was slow. CK was looking to figure out where to get out and almost bumped in to the full size Chevy Blazer in front of him. We snaked through the cars and got back to the US 5 turn. We thought finding the border crossing would be easy. Just follow the signs. We could see the line for the border and we followed it for a bit, but it was on the other side of a barrier. Suddenly we went down and crossed under it and then we were going away from it again. We stopped at an intersection and all those cars that had been with us were gone. A random guy ran out into the middle of the road right in front of us, pointed and yelled "Diego!!" We went the way he pointed. We were very close, and only had to figure out which line to get in. CK wanted to get an exit stamp on his passport so we weren't sure if we could take the Sentri lane.
We tried to make a left into the really long line of cars, but after we were committed to the left turn we discovered the road had been blocked off with yellow caution tape. There was a motorcycle cop on the other side of the road and he waved us over. We thought – uhoh. He pointed to CK's GoPro camera and then pointed to his. He was smiling. We chatted a bit and found out that he was a Baja trophy truck driver. He said he raced through Calamajue wash... ah, Calamajue wash, we know that place. He told us to go right up the Sentri lane and cut over through the hole in the barriers... Deathgrip asked him to repeat the directions; instead he said "follow me." He flipped on his lights and took off. We followed close behind him, totally cracking up. We ended our trip with a police escort! He turned off and pointed at the hole in the barriers and we took it. CK asked the car we were about to cut off because there were hundreds of cars lined up waiting to cross- and we were allowed in with only 4 or so cars in front of us. Nice.
Cooler King said he would go to Calexico to get the Jeep and meet us at the hotel after we finished up at the Emergency Room. I scribbled his cell phone number on my hand since I didn't have my cell phone with me. The US border guard didn't give us the full probe, though he took a strong dislike to CK. We were across the border pretty quickly and rolling on those vast concrete California freeways. We got to I8 and CK split off east. I pulled into Sharp Memorial Hospital, got a dirty look from the security guard who had no intention of helping out with anything, found a spot in the garage, and we went inside. The waiting room had only a couple people in it and deathgrip got into triage fairly quickly, but we had a long wait after the triage. I went out for the satphone, to the roof of the parking garage next to the helipad, and left a message with CK. I went back inside and deathgrip had been seen by a doctor. Eventually a mobile x-ray machine was rolled in and pictures were taken. They said it looked great and we needed to follow up in a week with an Orthopedic specialist. They also supplied a nice new splint, a good sling, and the x-rays on a CD. This was excellent.
It was dark and we rode over to the hotel which was only a couple of miles, and I got some food at the burger joint next door- maximum calories! It had been a long day and that double bacon cheeseburger and chocolate shake were sooo good. Within an hour or so, CK came rolling in with the Jeep and trailer. YESSSS!
At this point, Dr. Seuss might say "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." However, we were only one week into our 3 week vacation. We weren't going back to Mexico on this trip, but we sure as hell were not done riding either...
The CRF230F was delivered to Boulder on November 9th, a little over a month after we left for this trip, in exactly the same condition as we had left it at Costa del Sol. Not one single thing was missing and it didn’t cost us anything. Thank you Victoria, Costa del Sol, and Medjet!! Just a little Baja magic.
WOW!!! What an adventure.....
Bummer about the trip getting cut short, but shit happens. Glad Deathgrip is O.K.:clap:clap
I travel solo off-road quite a bit....and have always worried about this scenario. Think I'll be investing in a sat phone.
Again, bummer that it happened....but very cool that you were able to re-set the arm in the field....kudo's to you guys and one tough chica:clap
I'm sure you'll return to complete the trip. Any chance you could post up some tracks? I'm thinking about a Baja trip myself.
Anyway, great RR and outcome.:freaky
We rented an Iridium satphone from these guys: http://www.satellitephonerentals.org/
They were good to deal with.
I haven't gone through my GPS logs yet but I think I have some that I could post.
Wow - Glad it all worked out, thanks for posting! :freaky
Really enjoyed your detailed ride report and pics.. and glad your riding partner will get better :thumb
Great ride report/ pics! Hope Deathgrip is healing well! Thanks for posting!
Great RR. Thanks for sharing!
Great adventure , hope death Grip is fine and you guys are thinking about new adventures already :D!!!
You guys inspire me. I need to live harder.
Glad things worked out for you as well as could be expected considering the circumstances. I have been traveling down to Baja for over 40 years and am very very familiar with the area you were in. Back in the day we use to drive from Mex 1 through the Calamajue Wash which usually took about 3-4 hours. Not sure if it can be done now.
Baja is indeed a magical place and the people are truly amazing. They are the primary reason I travel south.
Good luck with your future trips.
Great write up & Pix . . . . .
Just reaffirms the fact that I need to return to Baja (and other parts of) Mexico . . . . . .
Great place to travel and a place where you will find people who will help when you are needing help.
The doc says my elbow is doing great and should make a full recovery. I am very pleased.
Steve in So Cal
Thanks for all the great replies!
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