A Baja Misadventure: Best Practices for Minor Motorcycle Disasters

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Rex Nemo, Apr 15, 2013.

  1. Rex Nemo

    Rex Nemo horizon calling

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2008
    Oddometer:
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    Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim...
    (Endure and persevere; someday this pain will be of use to you...)
    --Ovid, Elegy XI


    *Bear with me...this is an attempt, however long and circuitous and overanalytical, to make sense of an adventure ride that went sideways, and to prevent it from happening again. If this information ends up being of use to me or anyone else, it was worth it. Heck, it was worth it anyway.*

    Ever since hearing of a co-worker's adventures riding in Baja, I'd wanted to head south on the DR650s. I was envisioning endless blue ocean and white beaches, fish tacos, and copious beer under a palm-leaf palapa with my sweetheart. We'd packed tools, supplies, food and clothes carefully, gotten Mexican insurance from Baja Bound, photocopied maps and important documents, secured our passports, prepped the bikes with fresh knobbies and oil, and loaded everything into the truck in the pouring rain for the long trip south.

    The weather in Oakland was less than tropical as T and I, my sweetie and riding partner, loaded the truck.
    [​IMG]

    A couple of days spending Christmas with my family made us even more eager to head out into the desert for some beauty, adventure and solitude. Especially solitude.

    I'd made reservations for the first couple of nights at a hot springs campground recommended by a couple of folks I know and trust—it seemed to be far enough south of the border to be safe, as well as a beautiful and peaceful spot on the edge of the desert.

    When morning broke on the 26th, though, it was iron grey, miserably cold, and pissing rain. I groaned and turned over, unable to will myself to get up for another half an hour to face loading the truck in yet another downpour. We dropped our Christmas clothes and extra gear at my folks' house, then continued south to my uncle's ranch (can't get there before 10, he's never awake before then, of course), where we unloaded and staged.

    Finally, it's time to unload and ride! My uncle's place, Escondido
    [​IMG]

    I'd taped over our ignitions and gas tanks, but got some water in my tank anyhow; the bike sputtered and bucked and died until I cleared the float bowl, and finally, we were off. Essentially, the morning was consumed by small delays, and our start time was later than planned. Hwy 94 to Tecate was nice and twisty, but slower than expected, and heavy with traffic. On our knobbies and loaded with camping gear, it took time.

    In Tecate, it took a bit longer to show our passports, get our tourist cards signed off and paid for, and get on the road than I'd hoped for—you park, go into the immigration office, fill out your forms, parade out to the cashier in the conveniently-located booth outside to pay your $25, then back into the office where the stern official stamps your cards, and off you go. The immigration officer was curious about us, and asked lots of questions. Then, shaking a little with anticipation, we were off in the rundown streets of Tecate, out onto the road, and onto the Mexican highway. It was T's first international border crossing by motorcycle.

    The weather, too, was pretty cold, and we hadn't taken time for more than snacks all day. Up on the Sierra Juarez plateau in the village of Rumorosa, we stopped for gas and downed energy bars in the freezing wind, and I was glad I'd taken the time to put on those heated grips on both bikes. We fascinated a local ranching couple, who got out of their pickup to chat with us. We learned that their son was a motocross racer, and they asked how far we'd come, wished us luck, and snapped photos of us, posing with Mama. We were small-time motorcycle stars already!

    The afternoon was getting long, now. But Rumorosa was unappealing as well as cold, and I didn't want to take the time for a meal, which would force us to ride in the dark down the notoriously dangerous section of Mexico's Highway 2D that twists like a coiled snake down the steep escarpment of Baja's Sierra Juarez mountains. And after all, I'd read plenty about getting as far south of the riskier Baja border zone as possible before dark. These winter days are so short! So, we chewed our cold, stiff energy bars in the Pemex gas station parking lot, shivered, laughed, and swung stiff legs over cold saddles.

    After a bit of confusion at the tollbooth, demonstrating once again that bureaucracy is confusing and arbitrary in any language, the barrier was raised, we were over the tooth-shaking topes (think rumble strips on steroids, and a big thing to watch out for in Baja), and on to the scenic highway.

    It was pretty exhilarating zooming down the canyon, lit up with warning signs—Curva Peligrosa!—and an almost-full moon was rising over the ruddy, tumbled granite boulders of the mountain range. The knobbies hummed around the turns. The air warmed as the road flattened out into low desert at last, the soldiers at the military checkpoint on the road waved us through, and our turnoff onto the dirt road towards Cañon Guadalupe and the hot springs was well marked, wide and flat, although marked private on both sides for the first stretch. Still, after a couple of miles of standing up over washboard, it was time to stop and check in.

    Never ride at night in Baja, they say. And yet here we were.
    [​IMG]
    #1
  2. Rex Nemo

    Rex Nemo horizon calling

    Joined:
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    324
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    SF Bay
    T exclaims over the moonrise--having fun in the middle of nowhere

    [​IMG]

    A bright, nearly full moon rose over the desert, and the low scrub stretched away on one side to the dry lakebed, and up the astonishing escarpment of the mountains on the other. Hmmmm....should we camp? I hated to lose out on our reservation money, but it was getting dark, and I knew well the travelers' rule—never ride at night in Baja. I talked to T, and she felt as if it was worth trying to get where we were going; we could camp wherever we pleased on this desert's edge, it seemed, if we ran into tough going. The moon rode high over the pale and lovely desert, I felt the pull of our campground, out there somewhere, and the road was wide, flat, and straight. I took a deep breath and decided to continue on. We whooped and hollered at the gorgeous expanse and the huge moon rising above it, plumes of dust rising behind us.

    As we rode, though, the road got bumpier and more washboarded, yet softer and sandier. The bike started to squirm and get squirrely over soft spots, and I throttled out of a couple of alarmingly sandy places. I stopped again and asked T, “do you want to air down?” Perhaps it would give us better traction? But we were cold, and eager to get to our destination, and the hardpack beneath the sand seemed to be the wrong surface for lower tire pressures. Still, this was the exact situation I'd claimed I wanted to avoid. We were on a dirt road after sunset, on the hardest riding yet of the day.
    And not knowing how far we actually still had to go was frustrating. Nobody wants to find out by morning's light that they gave up and camped all night a bare couple of miles from their destination! Besides, the lure of hot springs was calling...

    Hoping to float over the sandy spots, I swapped places with T into the lead, and kept up the pace to what felt like a reasonable 30-40 mph, staying within sightlines in the moonlight but keeping us moving. I wasn't exactly sure how far off the pavement we were going to end up, but it seemed like something in the range of 35 miles, and I wanted to cover ground. The road continued, gradually, to get worse, and an intermittent stiff breeze picked up; and as we passed a ramshackle farmhouse, a big dog came roaring out of the darkness, all flying paws and bared teeth, making straight for my leg; and I nearly went down smacking open the throttle and fishtailing as I roosted him in a cloud of sand. Now I REALLY didn't want to stop, but I was getting that grim, teeth set, “now we're in it” feeling.

    And then, I looked back and saw no headlight, only darkness, in my rearview mirror. No T following me. My heart jumped right up into the back of my throat, hammering. Shaking a little, I turned around. I hauled it back a quarter-mile or so, and saw nothing but the faint glow of a taillight, next to the ground. Oh, fuck. She's down. She's down. NO. My pulse was throbbing in my ears, now. But wait, all's not too lost—I could see her standing, but with an unmistakable posture that meant she was trying to shrug off a great deal of pain. I jumped off the bike, saying,

    “Are you all right?! What happened?”
    “Went down in the sand.”
    She took in a sharp breath, fighting for control.

    “We're camping here. Slipped in a soft spot, bike came down on my leg. The ankle's bad.”

    She found a place to sit on a small dune, and decided to keep the big motocross boot (Sidi Crossfires, FYI) buckled on to control the swelling that was fast coming.

    “Think it's broken?”
    “I don't want it to be, but it might be. Fuck. I'm sorry.”
    “No, I'm sorry...I got us into this.”
    “Can you ride on the back of my bike?”

    She tried to stand and walk, but it was too much.

    “If you go down with me on board, we'll just be in a worse way. My weight's going to make it a lot harder, and I don't think I can trust myself to hold on. ”

    We had no idea how far we were from either our destination or a hospital, anyway. It seemed right to make a stand where we were.

    Hands shaking, I picked up her bike, lights still on in case another truck came flying down the road in the dark, and rolled it off the road's edge, then my bike, fighting to find a place in the soft sand. They kept wanting to fall onto me, sidestands sinking away, as I struggled and cussed, and T crawled around, fetching a sidestand plate and rocks to shove under it.

    Well, at least the bikes are up--fuzzy shot of our wreck/camp site.

    [​IMG]

    Then we sat in the dark, arms around each other, just trying to deal with the shock and pain of it for a little while. Then it was time to find headlamps, pull out camping gear, and bivouac here, no matter how inhospitable this windswept edge between mountain and dry lakebed might be. As I stumbled around, stupid with shock, cold and hunger, looking for a flat spot for the tent, the wind started whistling. By the time I unrolled the fabric and tried to fit the poles together, the wind was pouring off the mountains, full of cold and stinging sand that glittered in the moonlight. I couldn't hang on to the tent enough to get it staked out or set up before the wind twisted it out of my hands. I was growling curses, then yelling them, in vain.

    This was gonna be one of those nights.

    T, broken ankle and all, helped by rolling onto the tent and holding it down, spread-eagled, while I tried, like a demented Sisyphus, to hammer stakes into the deep sand that spat them right out again. I tied guy lines, desperately, to scavenged rocks. At this point she burst out laughing, as the wind bowed the tent poles all the way down onto her face—the situation was so bad that it had become hilarious. That laughter was the extra push we needed; we finally managed to wrestle the poles into the clips and get the whole thing up. There was no way the tent fly was going on, and I'd already used every stake in the bag. When we finally crawled in with food, water, painkiller and sleeping bags, the wind howled and shook the tent, and sand sifted through the mesh with each gust. Nothing like a good howler of a windstorm when you've broken a bone and are anticipating a night groaning in pain in the gorgeous moonlit middle of nowhere. And nothing, too, like hearing the howl of the gale tearing at the tent fabric, seeing the desert sparkling venomously in the moonlight, knowing you've led someone you love into pain and damage; and on top of all that, how are you going to get selves and bikes out of there, and to a hospital?

    At last, T got our sleeping bags set up, took some ibuprofen, and taking a deep breath, unbuckled the boot and worked it off. The swelling was disturbing, and that sock was going to stay right where it was, thank you, but an Ace bandage rolled snugly around the joint to prevent as much swelling as we could was a help. I found some big rocks to help stake out the tent more firmly in the shifting sand, and we ate the Christmas cookies and ham sandwiches from a world away, and started to formulate a plan.

    The ankle, just wrapped, before it swelled to the size of a softball. You'll have to imagine the sound of the desert wind.

    [​IMG]

    By the time we fell into exhausted, restless sleep, we had one: I'd ride out at first light to the campground at Canon Guadalupe, and see if I could find someone to get her back to the camp. Then I'd ride back with our hoped-for helpers, put her in their car, and ride her bike back to the campground. After that, I'd take a few essentials and make a fast, hard run for the border, get back into the US, pick up the truck, and come right back down again to pick up her and the bike. Since her ankle was painful and swollen but there was no bleeding, compound fracture or serious shock, this seemed like a reasonable plan.
    #2
  3. Geobeemer

    Geobeemer Extra Pieces?

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2006
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    32
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    Northern Illinois
    :lurk
    #3
  4. Supernaut1985

    Supernaut1985 n00b

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2013
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    Alberta, Canada
    I second this!

    Sounds like a hell of an experience.:1drink
    #4
  5. _Magoo_

    _Magoo_ master of disaster....

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2009
    Oddometer:
    6,169
    Location:
    nuevo mexico
    :lurk Have heard good things about Canon de Guadalupe, sorry to hear about the ankle......(subscribed)...:thumb
    #5
  6. Rex Nemo

    Rex Nemo horizon calling

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2008
    Oddometer:
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    SF Bay
    What quarrel, what harshness, what unbelief in each other can subsist in the presence of a great calamity, when all the artificial vesture of our life is gone, and we are all one with each other in primitive mortal needs? --George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss


    In the morning cold, I shuddered awake before the sun peeked over the mountain's edge, and prepped myself. I wasn't sure how far it was to the campground, or what surprises the road had in store for me.

    The sunrise was breathtaking--raw and paradoxical in its beauty. Whatever might be happening to us, the world was going on its majestic way.

    Our camp at dawn

    [​IMG]

    We tried to brush some of the pounds of sand out of the tent, our eyes, ears, and noses. Grimly, we talked about our backup plan: If I went down and couldn't get to her, she'd have no way of knowing, so if I wasn't back by late afternoon, she should crawl out to the roadside and hope for a passing car she could flag down and ask for help. I agreed to hit SOS on my SPOT tracker if anything happened to me, and hope that help would come. I left T with the tent, food, and almost all the water, and ran light.
    (Not knowing what the road had in store for Nemo made triaging gear for her next bit feel very fraught, she says.)

    Looking at T's bike in the morning light revealed that it was completely undamaged--not so much as a turn signal was broken.

    [​IMG]

    We had one last kiss in the morning sunlight, knowing that it (no, don't even think that, it's not that bad, it's not) just might be the last. Time to swing a leg over and ride into the unknown.

    My bike, waiting for whatever may come

    [​IMG]

    I tried not to look back at the lonely tent and bike and T, waiting by the road, terribly vulnerable.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    In daylight, I could see more of the sandy spots coming. I stood up, letting the bone-shaking washboard rattle the bike under me, refusing to let the hunting and slithering of the front wheel get in my way. Several miles in and past an empty rancho surrounded by olive orchards, I saw the hand-lettered sign that marked the turnoff for Canon Guadalupe. Here the road was broad, but sandy and washboarded all to hell.

    The road to Canon Guadalupe

    [​IMG]


    For someone with little skill and a big bike, and a lover left behind in pain, this was rather intimidating

    [​IMG]

    As the road headed up the canyon, the occasional cholla cactus became thickets of spiny virility, rock formations studded the landscape, and the road began to alternate between sandy and rocky. I scooted far back on the seat and tried to throttle and posthole through a section that was 6-8 inches deep in sand, and lined with chollas; don't fall! I picked my way through some tooth-rattling rock sections, over short steep hills, over a treacherous rattling bent cattleguard, through a water crossing...and came out into a grove of palm trees. I'd reached the hot springs.

    Canon Guadalupe--I'd reached the oasis

    [​IMG]
    #6
  7. SFMCjohn

    SFMCjohn 13

    Joined:
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    1,031
    Location:
    San Francisco, CA, 94102
    Hi Rex Nemo,

    Fantasitic writing, great photos, drama ... wonderful ride report! (except for T's injury, of course!)
    Thanks for taking us along ... :ricky

    see you around the campfire,
    -- SFMCjohn
    #7
  8. Supernaut1985

    Supernaut1985 n00b

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2013
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    4
    Location:
    Alberta, Canada
    Those are some beautiful crisp and clear photos. What sort of camera do you use?
    #8
  9. Dusty_Bottoms

    Dusty_Bottoms Adventurer Ordinaire

    Joined:
    May 8, 2011
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    Fort Collins, CO
    Good stuff this.
    #9
  10. JRose

    JRose Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2011
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    649
    Location:
    Birmingham, 'Murica
    Subbbbbbbbbbbbb-skribed...:lurk
    #10
  11. Markaso del Norte

    Markaso del Norte Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2012
    Oddometer:
    45
    Location:
    Victoria BC Canada
    Wow, great story, this should be in ride reports! I cant wait to read the rest of the story.:lurk
    #11
  12. Rex Nemo

    Rex Nemo horizon calling

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2008
    Oddometer:
    324
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    SF Bay
    Hi John! You're one of the heroes of the next part of the story...:clap

    The camera is a Canon S95. I don't know much about photography; that terrible dawn simply had some of the most amazing light I have ever seen in my life. And those Sierra Juarez mountains floored me with their fierce austere beauty.

    And yes, T is in physical therapy still, but her cast is off, and she's back to doing gentle rides and hiking up to 9 miles at a stretch. She's tough.
    #12
  13. keninpcfl

    keninpcfl Adventurer

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    20
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    Florida
    Great writing....can't wait for more!
    #13
  14. Rex Nemo

    Rex Nemo horizon calling

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2008
    Oddometer:
    324
    Location:
    SF Bay
    It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.
    –Marquis de Sade, Philosophy in the Bedroom


    Wobbling a bit, I walked into the campground—and to my surprise, the first people I saw were John and Cary from San Francisco, packing up their bikes. Last I'd seen them was in the shop at Werkstatt, prepping their rides for this trip. Somehow it was a tremendous relief to see friendly and familiar faces.

    John and Cary heading out of Canon Guadalupe. Boy am I glad to see you guys!

    [​IMG]

    We greeted each other, I told 'em what had happened; and though they were headed to San Felipe that night, they agreed to take the washboard route out and keep T company until I could get someone with a car or truck to help. John also told me that one of the other campsites at the springs contained some Bay Area riders who would likely be pretty helpful. I asked around the campground and found them—a group of Bay Area party people, queer/Burning Man folks, no less. JD, one of the camp founders, turned out to be a V-Strom rider, and her sweetheart Heron had an SUV she was willing to use for the rescue. They agreed to bring me back to our doleful campsite and bring the wounded one back, so I hopped in, surprised and grateful, for the bumpy ride out.

    Gosh, it was a much less scary ride in a 4WD with air conditioning, and lovely women to talk with. When we at last reached T, she was in the good company of John and Cary, who kept her company, helped boost her spirits, and packed up camp. A good deed, and deeply appreciated. And oh, man, was it ever good to see T again. The wash of joy was intense.

    Party at the crash site!

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    JD and Heron helped them load our gear and T into the SUV, and John and Cary continued on their bumpy, sandy, adventuresome way to San Felipe and beyond. It was tough on her and I to watch them go, knowing that we weren't getting much farther, but the gratitude and relief wiped that up easily enough.

    The frightening, sandy road into Canon Guadalupe was easier the second time on T's bike.

    Gotta watch out for feral jackasses sleeping in the road, though

    [​IMG]

    Even the particularly exciting deep sand section lined with cactus was a little easier than before, and sliding my weight way back on the bike, keeping a steady throttle, and steering with my feet helped tremendously. When I did bog down on the big porky bike, I was able to post-hole myself out of it. I blasted through the water crossing, up into the campground, and waited for the rescue party.

    The campground owner, Ernesto, didn't speak too much English, and our Spanish was pretty minimal. Nonetheless, he gave us an easier-access campsite, then walked over and left us a set of battered old crutches for T to borrow. We set up camp (T considers broken bones no excuse for not helping with camp chores), and realized that, after all, we'd reached a place with hot springs and a palapa of our own. T managed her pain with ibuprofen and courage as best she could. Heron and JD, too, came over to offer us a gourmet late breakfast of fresh scrambled eggs topped with parmesan, home-cured bacon, and fresh orange slices. Holy cow—we had met the right people. I washed their dishes, not sure what else I could do in return.

    Our camp palapa

    [​IMG]

    I readied myself to ride out to get our truck, figuring I might be able to get back by morning if all went well. I'd have to ride at night again, of course, and alone. T stopped me, though.
    “Why leave now,” she reasoned, “when you're already pretty wiped? The ankle isn't getting any worse, we have food, water, our own hot spring, and help. Honestly I'd rather have your company tonight, and you can head out first thing in the morning.”

    Well, fair enough.

    So, there was this broken bone and fear and pain business, but there was also our own private hot tub camp, a nice palm-thatched palapa, our tent (which we did manage to get most of the sand out of. Eventually.), the gorgeous desert canyon, really great people as camp neighbors, and most importantly, each other.

    Well, we made it after all...

    [​IMG]


    T discovered that her dirtbike knee guards were just the thing for crawling around the campground when crutches were too hard to use. She did, though, appreciate the ADA back in the US...bathrooms in Mexico are NOT set up to deal with gimpy folks. There were some pretty hilarious wrestling sessions getting into the bathroom with her busted ankle, and in the end she ended up reaching up to the ceiling and swinging herself to the stall from strut to strut, as if she were on monkey bars. There's always a way.

    Dirtbike knee guards--more useful than I realized

    [​IMG]

    We spent the afternoon and evening lolling about in the hot spring, reading, talking, and relaxing. The doves in the camp cooed softly, and the palms leaned over the steaming water under the rising full moon. This night, unlike the previous night and its windstorm, was chilly, but lovely and still. Our buddies invited us over for company and a gourmet pasta dinner, complete with pomegranate-infused vodka. I was, by now, completely astonished at the kindness of others in this situation, and all I could do was be grateful, wash the dishes, and resolve to be good to others in the future. Kindness to folks in need makes such a difference—for the heart as well as the body. And a little hedonism in the face of pain and fear...why not?

    Full moon over the palms and steaming water

    [​IMG]
    #14
  15. Sutherngintelmen

    Sutherngintelmen around the bend

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    :lurk
    #15
  16. Scubalong

    Scubalong Long timer

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    So Cal
    Thanks for sharing
    Great write up and pictures even with all the dramars:clap
    #16
  17. seJ LeFrew

    seJ LeFrew Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2012
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    Middle Tennessee
    just fantastic writing...thanks for sharing and i'm glad you guys have tasted some real adventure.
    #17
  18. NSFW

    NSFW basecamp4adv

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2007
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    Burbank CA
    hope T is on her way to full recovery by now.

    nice RR and thanks.
    #18
  19. MasterMarine

    MasterMarine Long timer

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    Jan 22, 2007
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    Now serving just Snohomish County
    Great writing! :D

    Get well T!
    #19
  20. Rex Nemo

    Rex Nemo horizon calling

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2008
    Oddometer:
    324
    Location:
    SF Bay
    Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness.
    --Mark Jenkins, The Ghost Road


    The mountains behind Canon Guadalupe, early morning

    [​IMG]


    Up before dawn again. In my comfortable cave at home, I moan and pull the covers over myself, trying to shut out the unwelcome morning light. In the desert, my eyes open of their own accord, and my body tenses with an animal expectation. I'm hungry to see the sun come up over the wasteland.

    It was time to reach down a little deeper, to scrape down past the comfortable surface of normality, and get in touch with my will. T, taking her wreck and her broken bone straight up, already had.

    It was a do-able ride back to Escondido, if I kept on the throttle consistently. I brought water, a couple of energy bars, shoes to drive home in, a few tools and spare tubes (with the sincere hope I wouldn't need 'em), and warm clothes. T and I said another hard goodbye, and I pushed the bike out to the end of the campground in the morning chill, and she fired right up.

    Time to do that road a third time. No room for anything but getting it right.
    Pace yourself, meet your needs at their bare minimum, stay alert, keep moving. Don't let the parade of worst case scenarios crowd your head, making you get go too fast; but don't hesitate, either.

    Why stay alert?

    [​IMG]


    More jackasses. Later, another herd darted out of the brush and into the road at a gallop. All you can do is stay aware, let there be no surprises.

    [​IMG]

    This time, the knobbies dug into the sand and grabbed what they needed to grab, rolled and deflected off the rocks predictably while I breathed and climbed and dropped, light on the bars, skimmed the top of the washboard as I kept eyes up and throttle steady. The good heavy old DR650 will tractor along through a lot, if guided by a confident hand.
    I stopped only for a drink, a pee, and a quickly-gobbled energy bar near a makeshift shrine.

    Roadside grave, looking out across the dry lake. Was he a rancher? An unlucky driver?

    [​IMG]


    In a strange way, despite the urgency of my ride, I was kinda sad when the dirt ended and the pavement began. It was the last dirt riding I'd be doing in Baja for a little while.

    [​IMG]

    Back up onto the paved road, I ducked into the wind and moved fast. But soon enough, there was that military checkpoint again. This time, instead of smiling soldiers who waved me by, there were scowling faces waving me aside. Pull the hell over, traveler, we've got the gloves on for you. Oh, no. I have a rather important errand, gentlemen...but when I pulled up and said “Hola,” the scowls deepened. They wanted to see my paperwork, easy enough, sure, but then the questions began. In a mix of their minimal English and my shreds of Spanish, we tried to communicate. Why was I alone, and just where was I going, all alone on a motocicleta? They'd thought I was a man, they said, until I flipped up my visor and spoke. Now they wanted it off. Now get off the bike. Where was my novio, my esposito, my boyfriend? I figured I'd better invent one, and fast.

    He was back up the canyon, camping, with an injured leg (pierna roto), I said. They clearly didn't believe me. Then they searched my bags—untying everything, examining the camera and GPS critically, pulling out every item inside of every bag, inside the toolkit. Asking, all the while, where was my boyfriend, where was my husband, or maybe I had a girlfriend?
    It was not friendly questioning. The young soldier had a hard set to his jaw and the older officer had a suspicious, implacable stare. It is not good to present irregularities to those in power.

    “These are not the droids you're looking for,” I kept saying to myself, silently.

    Finally, having searched through everything and asked themselves dry, it was over; the young soldier even tied the knots on my bags exactly as he'd found them, and they stepped back.

    Relief.

    In retrospect I was probably being shaken down, but didn't realize it, and need to learn the skill of discreetly offering money when needed.

    And I was off, not daring to whoop my relief until I was way out of their hearing. And then, the race to California was back on in earnest—coming into the turns hard as I dared on knobby tires, passing slow-moving trucks and cars on the serpentine mountain road up the rocky face of the Sierra Juarez...and being passed in turn by even more breakneck drivers. We whipped past the roadside crosses, each marking a grave or five of unlucky drivers, and then I paid my toll and was back onto the Cuota, making time, making the knobbies hum. Stopping once on the cold plateau for gas in El Hongo, the town that supports the local prison, I was into Tecate soon enough.

    There, I knew, would be the long, slow line of cars and trucks getting inspected and searched and slowly allowed back into the US. Soon enough, there it was...a line at least half a mile long. Well, not as bad as the Tijuana crossing, I told myself, trying to calm my agitation and wait in patience. But then, the driver in the car ahead of me turned his head to look at me as if I were a bit crazy, and motioned forward with his hand. So did the next car. I rolled beside them, cautiously. They WANTED me to lanesplit? The tamale seller in his cart, selling food to those stuck in line, rolled his cart back and motioned me by. The guitar player, belting out “Mi Corazon” for spare change from his captive audience, stepped aside and made room for me to pass, trilling his guitar as I rolled past. Hell, even the one-legged beggar hopped aside and motioned me past with a bow and a courtly gesture. It was as if everyone knew I was on a mission, and I rode past the line almost up to the gate, opened my bag and took my questioning from the stern border guard in stride, and headed into the California hills.

    By the time I made it to Uncle Chuck's ranch, I was missing directions from the GPS—a sure sign of fatigue. But man was I glad to see the truck again. I called Baja Bound, and quickly cancelled the bike insurance and insured the truck (they were great and flexible about it). But just as I left the bike cooling, peeled off my sweaty boots and got ready to start the truck, my eccentric aunt emerged from her trailer, looking worried. I gave her the briefest of sketches of what had happened, and explained that I REALLY needed to get back to T as soon as possible. Being a devout Christian of a particularly odd variety, she called after me, “I'll pray for her! It would be better for me to lay hands on her here, but I'll pray! God heals the lame every day!”

    “Thanks, I appreciate the love,” I called back, “I'm sure she'll be, um, glad to hear it.”

    And I was off. I stopped in briefly at a grocery store to grab some more bandages, painkiller, a bit of food, and a bunch of beer and vodka for our benefactors at the campground. I raced back down to the border, crossed without questions (hey, that tourist card and passport were still good, I'm sure), and headed back down the now-familiar highway once more. I flew down the crazy Rumorosa pass in the darkness, turned off onto the dirt road, and hammered over the bumps and slid around in the sand, then climbed rocks, plowed through the water crossing, navigated in the darkness, and, no way, I was back. In 12 hours. I staggered out, tired and hungry, to see T's glad face greeting me. Oh, yes. The next-door campers took their beer happily, and Heron gave me an expansive hug, asking how I'd made it so fast.

    “I was on fire.”

    To be used, and used hard, for someone else's good is no burden.

    I ate like a starving dog, had a good soak under the stars with T, and fell asleep. There was going to be plenty more tomorrow, but we were through the worst of it.
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