Baja day 3

Just about all the other blogs are done by region. This “Baja day 3” simply follows the exploits of a single 24 hour period, because we covered more ground and experienced more than we did in some weeks that followed.

We woke up on the beach, all our stealable valuables huddled between our sleeping bags. I was damp. Aaron’s Camelbak had just sprung a leak and it found its way over to my side of the tarp, so that was unpleasant. It was already quite hot, though, so it wasn’t such a big deal.

We packed up and left before the camping family next to us woke up.

 

vado1Earlier, on other highways, we came to understand that just because a road is paved doesn’t always mean that it’s safer than unpaved roads. For a while, on Highway 5, we were introduced to vados. Instead of placing tunnels underneath the roads to allow water to cross without hindering traffic, they’ve paved something like a halfpipe in the road. This way, when there’s rain, it passes through this one area of the road and leaves sand and debris there. The first few snuck up on us, though, as we didn’t know what the sign “vado” meant. Soon after we learned, we were enjoying the quick descent and springing in the air. But you can tell the ones that are more dangerous than others by the gauges on the far side of the vado indicating that vehicles have destroyed their undercarriages. On one such vado, Aaron and I did not slow down, as it was unmarked. The DR nearly toppled. Aaron landed laughing. I was launched with the KLR in a way that brought my feet above my handlebars. Had I not been holding on tight, I’d have been ejected and KLR would have ghost rode into the desert.

DCIM100GOPROThe road we started on this morning, however, was great. We had about an hour of really easy, relaxed riding.

Then, a little later, we ran out of paved road and we were riding on a rocky dirt road that went parallel to the new road that was so new, it was still in the process of being built. It was here that the wild-eyed gas attendant was taken at his word and we found him to be wrong. Aaron mentioned to me that he was a perfect living representation of Wario, the evil brother of Mario, and I had to agree,

He said we’d make great time if we went all the way down the Cortez side of Baja. He threw out crazy numbers regarding how it’d be a shorter trip and we’d save hours and hours by doing it that way. In actuality, we made acceptable time and almost got lost when the road forked and we had to ask the construction workers which way to go. They pointed down the way we were already moving and said we weren’t far from gas. This was very comforting, because we’d gone a decent way that morning and still hadn’t passed a station.

We reached a military checkpoint and had a familiar conversation. Baja is littered with military checkpoints. If you don’t open any bags when they approach you, they ask to open every bag. If you open an easily accessible bag immediatly to show that you are compliant, they seem to care a lot less. They ask a few questions about where we’re from and where we’re going, but from the variance in the responses we’ve had (almost none, regardless of what we’ve said), I don’t know if that really matters. The soldiers just sort of feel you out, decide if they care to keep you around for a bit or send you off, and do so.

Later on we had reason to be unhappy with how lax the checkpoints were, but during the ride down, it was great.

dirtroad

The soldiers sent us on and said we were only 3km from the gas station. We filled up there and refilled our water supply. As we sat at the pump, we met a gringo. We talked for a while about motorcycles and the Baja and he confirmed the ludicris nature of the wild-eyed man’s advice. He said we really had no option but to cut back to Highway 1. Basically, we could either spend 25 hours crawling across dirt roads along the Cortez or have a comfortable 15 hour ride once we hit Highway 1. He also said there was no way we were making it to Cabo that day. Aaron, being Aaron, took this as a challenge.

 

caterpillersSo we headed towards Highway 1, but to get there we had another hour and a half of dirt roads. It was a nice stretch of road, though. There were huge cacti and perfectly desert appropriate scenery as well as about a kilometer of dirt crawling with caterpillars. The things were everywhere; little yellow, brown, and green 2.5″ things that moved towards us whenever we stayed still.

After chilling with the caterpillars, we road on-wards. We kept seeing markers on the side of the trails that we assumed were for the Baja 1000. Then we reached a very large Baja 1000 marker: Coco’s Corner.

 

Coco’s Corner is another Mad Max-esque looking establishment. I know by this point, if you’ve been reading my posts from the beginning, you might be getting tired of my post-apocalyptic imagery tendencies, but promise you, I make no exaggerations and am working with what I’ve got.

Picture a perimeter marked off with a fence adorned heavily with beer cans that dangle and clank together in the breeze (when there is one, and that’s not often). Just within that perimeter is what one might call a parking lot or perhaps a junkyard. Old frames of cars are lined up along the one side and on the other side is a shack. In the distance, you can make out sheds that we guessed were outhouses.

 

CocoWhen one sees that Coco’s Corner appears on a map, they might assume that it is a city, town, or something of reasonable size. In fact, unless I missed something significant, it is only what I have described above. The entirety of it is about a football field in size and we encountered only two people there.

 

Aaron entered the shack looking for the one person we figured had to be there, as it’s named after him and everyone we met told us we were bound to meet him.

 

When Aaron asked the man sitting behind the counter if Coco was around, the man said, “No.” He asked where he was and the man said he didn’t know. When Aaron told him that he was pretty sure that he was Coco, the man laughed and acknowledged this was true.

 

the next thing he asked was how much further to Highway 1. He told us it was 30km back the way we came. We were confused, but confident that he was wrong. Again, he laughed. Coco is a joker.

Coco lost both his legs, from what we could gather, not from accidents. He still gets around well enough. He came out from behind the counter and we had a drink with him. He mentioned how loud Aaron’s bike was and asked if it was diesel. When we said, “No, that’s just the aftermarket muffler that the guy before Aaron put on there,” he pulled out a notebook and told us about a guy a few years back who had a diesel moto. He opened the book up, flipped through the pages, and found the guy in almost no time at all. He could impressively flip through the book and find any number of interesting people that had stopped by during the years and years that he’d set up shop there.

He told us that only a couple people a week make there unless it’s the Baja 1000. It’s not so much a checkpoint as it is a landmark.

As we sat and talked about the road ahead of us and our plans, I couldn’t help but look around at the decor. On the ceiling dangled hundreds of pairs of underwear. I have to believe that some of them were novelty, as I refuse to accept that there is a woman large enough to fit one or two of them there. There were also old pictures of bikers and baja buggies and a giant map of the Baja in the back.

 

As all people along the trip had thus far, he gave his advice and we gladly accepted. He told us to be careful around puddles (big ones), as they are sometimes electrified and people have died by carelessly driving through them. He also warned against rockslides that come after the rains. He told us these things because it was starting to rain down South, which we didn’t know at this point, and he was going through all the relevant advice we might not have heard yet.morning drive

 

We thanked Coco and signed his book; adding our names and vehicles to his legacy.

 

back to highway1A few more miles on the sandy road brought us back to Highway 1 and we started making better time and found gas stations at reasonable intervals again.

 

Monotony set in again and the scenery grew old, but we were still moving.

 

Later on, in frequent conversations with those who had traveled down the Baja, there is one area in particular people seem to agree is the worst. This is Guerrero Negro, Mexico. It’s that part of the desert that comes just when you’re positive you don’t want to see any more desert.

As we passed through this arid wasteland, we stopped for gas and saw a large, shiny truck. After a quick conversation with the driver we met Johnny Campbell and his team. Johnny Campbell’s won the Baja 1000 eleven times (that’s the most anyone’s every won it).

Johnny offered us some advice and burritos and asked if we needed any parts for the ride. He’d just finished his ride and was heading back North, so we parted ways.

From there we just continued riding. It’s about 800 miles from where we started to Cabo, but we were just short of halfway at this point.

 

storm ridingJust a little bit further, we found when it had rained. There were rivers running through the highway and we had to wait in line to wade across it with the cars and semis. The water was about 2.5 feet deep and it didn’t really smell too bad.

 

Then the scenery began to change and we were no longer in a classic desert. There was grass and flora beside cacti. There were hills and mountains to drive up and curve around and more rain to drive through.

mini river crossing

more rain

We stopped briefly as the sun began to descend for some fish tacos at a street-side restaurant in Rosario*.

 

At this point, we were riding in the dark. Most people that we spoke to regarding the dangers of Mexican travel told us that the idea of being kidnapped or beheaded in Baja California was laughable and that we were totally safe to ride at night (at least as far as banditos are concerned). The same people would also immediately tell us that there are other dangers of driving at night that we definitely need to take into consideration: rocks, vados, speed bumps, unexpected obstacles, drunk drivers (especially because we were riding on Mexican independence day), etc.

It was decided that we would continue driving regardless of the warnings and just try to be careful.

Things went well until, late at night, when we stopped for gas, I went to check my oil and bumped Aaron’s bike. This knocked the bike over and drove the handlebar through the inside of Aaron’s helmet, as the helmet was resting there before the accident.

My only defense is that I was very tired, it was very late, and Aaron’s bike loves to fall over and does it all the time for no apparent reason. This did not please Aaron.

A good deal later, about an hour and a half north of La Paz, Aaron’s bike died. The lights had been flickering and fading on and off for about and hour preceding this, but at this point it just stopped altogether.

We were stopped near the top of a larger, winding hill. I had my light on for a while to make us more visible. With headlamps and a flashlight we tore the bike apart looking for the short or disconnection that could have caused this problem.

We found the fuse that was burnt out, but simply replacing it wasn’t working, as it was immediately snapping the next fuse.

Just when we were down to our final fuse, a car slowed as it passed us. There had been plenty of traffic whizzing by us during this electrical failure, but most of it was large trucks making awful noises with bright, flashing lights. This car was small and full of young people.

We had this moment where Aaron and I looked at each other as the car passed us, slowed down, and quickly backed up to our position. We briefly joked that we had finally met up with some banditos, but Aaron looked as if we really wanted them to be hostile, as he was extremely frustrated with the DR at this point and just wanted something to punch.

He was disappointed, however, as the car opened and 3 young men came out and offered us help. In the end, after pointing and mimicking (they didn’t speak English), they gave us a bag of fuses and a bottle of Powerade and went on their way.

Soon after they left, we found where the ground wire was having issues at the negative terminal, secured it a bit, put the new fuse in, and we were on our way… into the night.

Soon after that it was 3am. I was exhausted, but still riding. A few times I found myself waking up and couldn’t remember falling asleep. One such time, I was off the road and narrowly avoided hitting the guard rail as I steered back.

About 30 minutes after that, Aaron stopped and told me that he was seeing castles in the distance. Because of these hallucinations, he thought it would be good to take a quick rest. The place we chose to stop had Coke and potato chips available, so we briefly dined and went back to the bikes.

The DR again had electric issues, so Aaron opened it up and Gorilla taped the negative terminal together and then it mostly worked fine.

We drove for another hour and again we had to stop. We figured there was about an hour until the sun came up and we probably couldn’t ride much further without seriously injuring ourselves. Taking this into consideration, we slept on the gravel shoulder next to our bikes for 45 minutes, woke up, and rode on.

The rest of the ride took place in the early morning. We were surrounded by beautiful tropic scenery that we couldn’t appreciate earlier, as it was dark then.

As we rode into the morning, thankful just to be moving, we started seeing butterflies everywhere. What began asmorning of long drive something wonderful and beautiful quickly became awful and morbid, as we mowed them down in mass. When we stopped later that morning we had to take a few minutes to remove butterfly carcasses from our bikes and helmets.

The rest of the ride into Cabo was uneventful and we found the resort with ease.

Aaron’s veteran status gave us a great rate at one of the resorts and the reserved week had already started. This was really the only reason we rode 800 miles in one 24 hour period When we arrived, we checked in and slept. That’s all we did that first day at Cabo. We slept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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