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Old 09-02-2006, 05:54 PM   #1
bcostell OP
Gnarly Adventurer
Joined: Jun 2005
Location: San Fran Bay Area
Oddometer: 192
Baja and Beyond, once the rain stops

It’s just before 4pm on Saturday. I’m sitting in the lobby of Hotel Flores, in Loreto, Baja, the power is down, there’s a deluge from Hurricane John outside the open door. Steam is rising off of my tired legs and my stomach is full of lobster. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, let me backtrack.

The plan was to ride up to Bellingham, catch the ferry to Haines, then ride to Deadhorse, dip a pinky in the Arctic ocean, say I’d done it I then take a couple of weeks seeing the sights of Alaska and the western part of Canada on my way down to Mexico for the second part of my jolly. Well, a week before I was due to go the weather was getting more and more marginal. I asked the wise old sage’s on Advrider what they thought. The general consensus was hat I’d be better off trying next year. The weather was crapola and becoming more so. Now this was wise advice, but I felt more than a little disappointed. The route had been planned, the electric condom acquired, the bike wired, tires sourced. But being the wimp I am I decided to head south instead.

Day 1, 29th Aug 2006

Headed to the Mexican consulate in San Fran to pick up a temporary import permit, I didn’t wan document hassles south of the border. I finally got out of San Fran in the afternoon and headed down Highway1, through Big Sur and beyond. As usual Monterey was fogged in, so on went the thermals. The newly fitted XM radio was blasting out some type of music that rhymes with crap….I hadn’t figured out how to change stations so was tortured for a couple of hours. The stop for gas allowed me to tune to something more fitting. After 480 miles my butt cried enough, and I stopped for the night at a Ramada in Irvine. The room which I’m sure does double duty as a sauna was as tiring as the days ride.

Day 2

Off bright and early and across the boarder by about 9am. Tijuana was as foul as usual. Within half a mile of the border I had to swerve around a policeman who was wresting some unfortunate to the ground. What made this a bit unusual is that it was on an elevated section of highway with no apparent way for either of these guys to get there. Maybe they’d both been dropped there by their supporters to duke it out mano-a-mano. Who knows? More fog, more thermals as I blasted south. When I finally got through Ensenada I started to relax a bit, the road would be pretty open and fast until San Quentin. The radio was playing some forgettable 90’s rock, but who cares, the sun was out the temperature was up, the adventure was on. The rest of the day was pretty lame, save for the stretch of road south of San Quentin. Fast, swoopy curves, good black-top, Ziggy Stardust playing. I finally pulled in to Bahia De Los Angeles at about 9pm. I had just gone on to my second reserve and the GPS was telling me I still had 20 miles to go. Last year I blew a tire about 50 miles from here and was stranded in a dive of a hotel for 4 days while I waited for a replacement to arrive on the bus from La Paz. I was starting to think there was some form of Baja Triangle thing going on. Whatever. 520 miles.

Day 3 R&R I figured that if 1000miles in one day qualifies for an iron butt award, then 1000 miles in two days must be an iron buttock. So I deserved a rest.

Day 4 Not very ambitious today, I just wanted to make it to Mulege. Do some washing then head for La Pas the next day to catch the ferry to Mazatlan. I picked up a voicemail from my eldest daughter who advised me that there was a Hurricane in Cabo and telling me to be careful. Well being a chauvinistic pig, and a geography God I sent her a message back telling her that Cabo was on the Gulf coast side and I was nowhere near that (note to self, listen to eldest daughter in future). Somehow the bable fish in my ear had heard Cabo and transmitted Cancun to my brain. Once I started chatting to a guy called Steve, an actor doing a shoot at the hotel, I figured I should get to an internet café and find out what was going on. Sure enough Hurricane John was in my neck of the woods. The chap in the café smiled and shook his head when I mentioned my planned destination, La Paz. ‘You loco’ he said…I’m not sure whether that was a general conclusion or simply a reflection on the short term idea. I then tried ‘Loreto’ with a hopeful look on my face. He shrugged and said maybe. Who needs a national weather service super computer when there’s a simple scale of ‘you loco to maybe to no-problemo’ to be freely had at your local internet café. Plus it was only 80miles south, that couldn’t be so tough could it? What a wanker!

Day 5 I decided against putting the rain liner on. It was hot as snot this morning, and a bit of rain to cool the body wouldn’t be too bad. I had a chat with an ex-pat living down here. Local knowledge is good; advice is only valuable if you heed it. This guy tells me about the rivers and basically says that if the first river I come to has the water coming over the bridge, then turn around, it’ll get worse. Alrighty then, I’m armed with local knowledge, no stinking hurricane is going to get in my way. I’m off. It starts to rain, a bit. Then a bit more, then some more in quantities that rhymes with bit. No probs, I’m warm, I have new gripsters on the bike, Chris Rea is singing Road to Hell, and the GPS was counting down the miles. Strange how there were no other vehicles on the roads. I went through one valley and saw the most extraordinary sight. A forest of densely packed giant cactus partially submerged in a soup of steam. A one in a lifetime photo-op. Did I stop? Did I hell! Onward, only 30 miles to go, the wind is whipping up. I figured if I keep my own speed up the wind component will have less impact. Good theory, painful execution. Then the landslides start to get more frequent and more severe. Both lanes blocked, mud rim deep, then axle deep in placed. Onward we charge (I’ve bonded with my bike now, so it's we from now on), all sanity has said bye-bye at this point.

Then the river. Was this the first river? I didn’t know. A bunch of farm laborer trucks were stopped, the occupants all staring at me. An ex-pat from a Landcruiser was walking back to his truck having surveyed the torrent. Another signal I ignored. Hey, I may be 47, the prostate may have grown a bit, but the testosterone is still in ample supply. I asked him what he thought. He estimated it was about 18 inches deep. As I looked across the river, the portion over the road was about 100yards wide and moving at quite a rate in the middle. Quick mental calculation (I think I used some low level function of the brain for this calculation coz it was totally stupid what I did next). In a fit of bravado I announced ‘I’d better go for it then, it’ll be a bit of a show’. Now, had I stepped back and analyzed what I had just said I would realize what a total plonker I was. I mean, did I think that if it didn’t work out I could just stop, put it in to reverse and try later. Or maybe I’d just park up in the middle. Water has a density of about 2 tons per cubic yard, and there were a few cubic yards passing by every, oh, millisecond. Plop into first. All eyes on the loco-gringo, off we go. Oh shit. Almost instantly the water is up to my boots. No sweat, the Oxtar Infinities are waterproof, says the A side of my brain, what a stud! But the bottoms of your boots are about six inches below your spark plugs (R100GS) says the B side of my clearly malfunctioning grey matter. Get thee behind me negative thoughts. The steering is getting much heavier; somehow I figured I didn’t have a flat. The water ahead of me was moving MUCH faster. The B side decided to go to happy place with a parting thought ‘I’m so screwed’. At this point I finally figured out that stopping was really not an option. The bike would go down the river; I would never be able to hold it up. Even if it wasn’t loaded, the force of the water would be too much. Then the right cylinder died. No problem says the A side of the brain, we have a spare on the other side. Keep looking ahead, don’t look down, keep the revs up, and keep the momentum. The steering is now VERY VERY heavy. The ‘spare’ starts to splutter. The cylinders are both almost totally submerged; well my boots were mid calf in the water at this point, so you get the picture. As if by a miracle we climb up and out of the water. Salvation. Another ex-pat is sitting on the other side in his Chevy Blazer. I am now clearly the water crossing God. He asks me if I think he could make it across in the Chevy. Of course I ponder the question and try to look wise when I’m clearly stupid. The B side of my brain comes back to life and poses the question ‘how many sets of underpants did you pack?”

Off we go again, both cylinders firing again. I’m only 17 miles from Loreto. I know I can’t turn around, there’s no way I’m going to get lucky twice on the same river. More mudslides. Then a semi stuck in a river, mud up to his axles, surrounded by heavy machinery trying to pull him out. The crew waves me through, clearly they have heard of my elevated torrent crossing status…word travels fast down hear you know. I’m tempted to say ‘um, nah, I’ll just sit here and wait for the river to drop’ but then I’m in the mud. Jim Hyde would be proud. Keep the momentum up, eyes ahead, disengage brain and we’re through. My reputation in intact. The legend of the Loco-BMW-Gringo will be passed down from father to son. Five miles to go, 4,3,2,1 Loreto. But what the hell, the road at the edge of town in blocked; mud, water, police…or maybe they’re all waiting for me.

I call up my hotel to get directions. The hotel is closed, the roads are impassable. Now what? Well I have my get out of jail card and so check in to the first place I find, they have a single room left. It starts to REALLY REALLY REALLY rain. Like REALLY hard. So, on with the shorts, put on my bush hat and go looking for a latte. What else is there to do? Everything is closed except a single restaurant that wants to close. Then the owner recognizes me and offers that he has no vegetables and can only serve me meat or fish. I suppose it’s a good time to be on the Atkins diet after all. Then the power goes out. At this time the eye of the hurricane is just south of the city and moving this way. Should be interesting.

bcostell screwed with this post 09-16-2006 at 06:54 PM
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Old 09-02-2006, 05:59 PM   #2
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a hard rain's gonna fall...

I hope your bike is high and dry!! I guess you'll be enjoying some margueritas and tequilas for the next few days... I hope you'll be updating your thread with some pics when things clear up or when you're back home. I can't get enough of Baja ride reports. Best of wishes for a safe journey!
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Old 09-02-2006, 08:47 PM   #3
Johnny Drunkard
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Great writeup.

Waiting to hear how you weather the storm. Pics would be a bonus.

Originally Posted by knary
I wish incompetence had an odor. "I'm sorry. We can't work with you. You've got the stench of squandered time and energy."
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Old 09-03-2006, 12:53 AM   #4
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Joined: Mar 2006
Location: Reno NV
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Let us know how it turns out.

We have a house in Mulege, and I have driven that road a hundred times. - once in nearly identical conditions. We got turned around in our Range Rover by a small vado (wash) with over three feet of water in it, and rocks the size of basketballs zooming by. The next day, we saw a big Chevy 4x4 truck that ended up about 300ft down stream. Upside down!

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Old 09-03-2006, 01:23 AM   #5
team ftb
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It always amazes me that we humans supposedly at the top of the evolutionary scale, can so frequently ignore what mother nature gave us to ensure our survival. We look at the problem, in this case a dangerous river crossing, and say "aw f_ck it, lets try it anyway" ignoring all rational thought.

I love being a biker.

Great story and looking forward to more.
Team FTB
Team "Fingering The Bean"

Looking for the woman that takes the wheel when I'm seeing double.
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Old 09-03-2006, 06:30 AM   #6
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excellent writing. Waiting to see the pictures. Keep the words coming.
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Old 09-03-2006, 08:34 AM   #7
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that was a cool story, water crossing god.
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Old 09-03-2006, 11:22 AM   #8
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Nicely done. Please keep the stories and pics coming.
'15 RX3 CSC Cyclone (An Awesome Motorcycle!)
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Old 09-03-2006, 06:41 PM   #9
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I can hardly wait for the next writeup. The local news reported last nites rain/flood stories (In Mexico).

'02 BMW R1150R now
'04 BMW R1150RS/// Gone, but not forgotten
'07 HD XR 883R Sportster "Widow Maker"///Gone!
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Old 09-05-2006, 12:33 PM   #10
bcostell OP
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Joined: Jun 2005
Location: San Fran Bay Area
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The rain came pretty hard on Saturday night. The restaurant in the hotel was closed, some of the rooms became swamped and the power was off more than it was on. The management had arranged for its guests to be fed at a nearby hotel, a limited menu, but when I heard about how other people went for a day or more without any food at all I felt like royalty. I spoke to a couple of girls who had hightailed out of La Paz, who only had an apple for the whole day. Mind you they did spend their storm time in the pool with a bunch of sports fishermen drinking tequilas, so I didn’t feel too bad for them. During dinner, spent in the company of a dozen stranded Italian tourists I started to think of Vera Lynn songs, you know, the blitz spirit and all that. But I figured that my Italian compdres wouldn’t appreciate the spirit of the moment.

In the morning I went for a wander to survey the damage, and maybe get some coffee (no chance!). There was a fair bit of storm damage in town, more at the beach front. What I didn’t know about was the carnage outside of Loreto, I’d see that later. My main priority for the day was to check out the bike, and change the engine and diff oil. I knew that the rear end had done a Captain Nemo, and assumed I’d got water in there somewhere. I’d fitted a quick drain plug on the engine so its oil was changed in 5 mins flat. As expected the diff oil was milky. It was fresh about 1500 dry miles ago, so I’m sure no damage had been done from the recent water ingress.

But the bike was safe...ahhhhh

The town was cut off in both directions. Roads were washed out and phone lines were down. I went for a short ride to check out the roads, cars and semi’s had been swept away, roads and bridges had disappeared. Loreto is one of the bigger towns in Baja and stood up pretty well to the storm. I resolved to head out next morning and get to La Paz and catch the ferry to Mazatlan. The best laid plans of……….

Next morning up bright and early. Hop on to the bike without any of the luggage to see if I can get over the river. The road is out but downstream there’s a crossing. I went over and back to check it out then back to the hotel to load up. The Tequila girls came wandering by, took my photo and wished me luck. Of course I had only thought about the first river crossing, hadn’t really thought about the other few dozen or the mudslides or the crazy donkeys or the crazy other drivers. It’s an adventure. Game on!

Now, up to this point I’ve never dropped this bike. It’s never been submerged; it’s never had a fracas with a pick-up truck. All of that changed today. Over the river I went, bouncing over the submerged rocks, keep the momentum going, breathing a huge sigh of relied once I’m over. Then along the river bank to the Mex1 and I’m off. No problemo, I’ve got it made! Well as it turned out I didn’t quite have it made. For the next three hours I went through a succession of landslides, destroyed roads and slick mud tracks. Trucks were stuck up to their axles. Where bridges had washed out a few made it though by going round downstream. In the mountains south of Loreto whole sections ceased to exist. At one crossing I stopped to walk it first and the bike instantly sank. I couldn’t lift it, even if I had a can of spinach to hand. So I just pushed it over on to its side and dragged it out. Of course the temperature was rising all of the time, so the water intake was constant.

Glad I missed these when they came down....

The GS striking an artistic pose next to the beached phone truck...

After a few hours of this I came to a bridge, about 20miles from Constitucione. It ‘was’ a major bridge. Now there was a big hole in the ground. The river was very deep and wide. Nothing was getting over. A couple of hundred people stood looking at each other over the chasm-kind of a Mexican Berlin moment. I got out the map and tried to select the best track around the problem. Backtracking a bit and then going in land I kept coming across rivers in full flow. With more fuel I would have tried a bit longer but I figured that I was at my point of no return to Loreto. So I figured I’d taken enough risks for the day, I’d turn around, head back up to Santa Rosalia and catch the ferry there.

Oh the joy of re-conquering the earlier crossings! Not. Anyway, I got back to Loreto, refueled and met the first adventurers I’d seen since starting into Baja. A German couple on African Twins, heading down to Ecuador. We compared notes, ignored each others advice and headed in opposite directions. The road north to Mulege was pretty bad, more washed out roads, a couple more offs. I had a couple of ‘incidents’. At one crossing I followed a pick-up over a slide, lots of mud and soft sand. We’re three quarters of the way through and the pick up spots a mate of his coming in the opposite direction. Well, the tosser stops and starts to have a chat! What the frigging hell am I supposed to do? You guessed it, I tasted the mud. Later on, I’m on the pegs going over some rocks and a pickup starts to pull a clapped out Nissan through the crud. He’s taking up the middle of the road. I swerve around him, and then go down. But I fell down on the Nissan, top box whacking his rear fender. Jesse top box 1, clapped out Nissan 0. Nice big dent in the fender, another purple heart for the bike. I throw the guy some green backs – didn’t want any Polizei knocking on my door at 2 in the morning. Finally I made it in to Mulege. Now I know there are a lot of riders who are fond of Mulege. I have some pretty bad news for you.

The town had been devastated. The river through the middle has had the biggest flood in 50 years. The trailer park was mostly washed away; holiday homes and homes of locals have been destroyed. The water was almost up to the road level of the bridge – for those who know the bridge you’ll appreciate how bad that was. All power and water had been out for two days when I arrived. I found a place to eat-the only restaurant with a generator. I spoke to a couple from San Diego who that morning had helped make a coffin and bury an English guy who’d been killed in the flood. They hadn’t been able to call his family as all lines were down. I offered up my sat phone, but they didn’t have his info. I’d have made the call if they’d given me a number. Mexican law says that if a body isn’t claimed in 48hrs it has to be buried. So someone someplace is going to get a double dose of bad news in the next few days. Still, the couple was able to call their family and let them know they were ok. When I came to leave I found that they’d paid for my lunch. You meet nice people down here.

Off from Mulege to Santa Rosalia. More washed out roads and mudslides. A couple more off, but after a couple of hours I finally made it in. Straight to the ferry terminal to book my berth. Then to a parts store to get more diff oil, then to find a hotel to get my stinking clothes off. The town has been hit, but nothing like Mulege. Power is out in places. Maybe tomorrow I can find a coffee?

Portrait of a River God

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Old 09-05-2006, 05:15 PM   #11
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Keep it coming....

'02 BMW R1150R now
'04 BMW R1150RS/// Gone, but not forgotten
'07 HD XR 883R Sportster "Widow Maker"///Gone!
IBA #17225
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Old 09-06-2006, 10:18 AM   #12
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Bruce, good luck on your journey, I never thought last time I saw you powder-coating your pannier carriers that you would test them out in a hurricane. Keep the posts and pictures coming.
Simon C - UK
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Old 09-06-2006, 11:40 AM   #13
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quote: Anyway, I got back to Loreto, refueled and met the first adventurers I’d seen since starting into Baja. A German couple on African Twins, heading down to Ecuador. We compared notes, ignored each others advice and headed in opposite directions.

It takes two
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Old 09-06-2006, 12:52 PM   #14
Mr. Huero
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Thumb keep it coming...

Classic storytelling... my favorite parts of Baja sorry to see them in ruins. Please continue the tales.
If you're going to walk on thin ice... You might as well dance
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Old 09-06-2006, 01:48 PM   #15
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now that's an adventure!

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