Mechanical Difficulties – Natures Rewards
The day I decided to set out after 2 wonderful weeks in Ensenada, I discovered my bike was leaking gas. As horrible as it was to find out yet another thing had gone wrong, at least I was in good company. A little research revealed that there was something stuck in the carb – probably a grain of sand from one of the times I had dropped Georgia in the mountains. With no other choice Fabricio and I got to work taking the bike apart. As usual nothing went smoothly: from not having the right size tools, to parts not fitting correctly. Eventually we prevailed in removing the carb, taking it apart, cleaning it, putting it back together and putting Georgia back into one piece. It took only a few hours all together, but it was already too late for me to leave that day. Delayed again.
It seems from the very start of this journey there has been something keeping me from leaving when I wanted to, and always something going on with the bike. For a machine that is so highly reviewed as the standard for long distance adventure travel, it has surely behaved like a finicky little bitch from day one. To say nothing of the fact that she is too tall for me – a confidence shattering reminder every time I drop her (7 times now). The weight is not helping, and yet I am not sure what I could possibly remove from my luggage. I need the mechanical extras and tools. I have few clothes. The camping and hiking gear does way a ton, but I cannot be sure to always have a place to stay, nor can I afford to rent things every time I want to go up a mountain. At the same time the weight is killing me. To top it all off, this thumper (my first) vibrates so much that my hands feel as though I am still riding hours after I have dismounted.
But that was all during the day. That night, however, I was rewarded with a beautiful spot along the coast on which to set up my tent. I was riding by as the sun was starting to set and noticed a truck with a camper top parked far down by the shore. There was something “Rocinante-esque” about the way it looked, so I turned around and headed into a development site (with a few model houses and a sales office). There was a sign which read “Beach Access, which I followed away from the homes and towards the truck. The guy standing in the sales office booth came out hopefully, but we just exchanged waves and I drove on. I spent the night in the pleasant company of a guy from Alaska, who comes down to the Baja every year to surf and escape the perpetual dark of the northern winter. He offered to share his food, and I my tea, and we passed a pleasant evening chatting, eating, listening to the waves and watching a billion stars slowly emerge around the grand arch of the Milky Way.
I stayed up for a few hours after dark and received the gift of a shooting star. The weather was perfect, the ocean was calm and
steady, the stars bright and cheerful. And I was lulled to sleep by the sound of lapping waves.
The good omen of the shooting star, however, was only good for the night…
In the Middle of Nowhere
I woke up to the sound of the ocean; herons migrating south, pelicans surfing the waves. It was an easy morning of waiting for the dew to dry off the tent. I set off on Highway 1 by 10:30am to a bright day, with a thick marine layer to the west and a wispy fog to the east. Exactly 15 minutes later the day turned gray when I ran out of gas in the middle of the desert. My so called 10 gallon expedition tank with internal pump which is supposed to bring up all the gas from the nether reaches of its hold, decided it would not bring up said gas and I puttered to a stop in the middle of nowhere. I could see gas in the tank! It was far from empty, but the pump was not bringing the gas up. I pulled onto a flat, sandy patch on the side of the road. The GPS, in a rare moment of accuracy, said there was a gas station just 18 kilometers to the south.
The first 10 cars did not stop for me. Considering there is not much traffic, this was very disheartening, and the clock on daylight was ticking. Finally a nice man pulled over and took me down through the military checkpoint and onto the gas station. There, they wanted 100 pesos for a 1 gallon jerry can, but when I looked doubtful the attendant went over to the trash pile and found an old anti-freeze jug to use instead. Another reason to love Mexico!
Finding a ride back to my bike proved even more difficult. Miguel was trying to do the same, so we decided to combine our fortunes and share a ride – if anyone would ever stop. Dozens of trucks and cars drove past as my concern began to grow: not only was daylight slipping away, but Georgia was sitting on the side of the road with no one watching her or my stuff strapped to the back. It is not hard to get a motorcycle onto the back of a truck and make it disappear forever.
Miguel and I eventually found a ride, he to San Quintin, and I to KM 37 south of the town. By the time I gave Georgia a drink and crossed the military check point for the 3rd time, it was past 1pm. That left me very little time to ride the 350 km I needed to get to the next big town.
The way to Guerrero Negro, along Highway 1, lies through a national park of surreal constitution. A dozen varieties of cactus grow here, in some places so many that it looks like a forest. One beautiful variety looks like a long wispy stalk, from which delicate, thyme looking, stems and petals grow. Another is the grand Cardon cactus which rises to over 60 ft. Add to that about 500 more varieties of bush, tree, shrub and weed, as well as a plethora of wild life. The surreal ride turned majestic as the western sky lit up, as if ignited, while the eastern took on a mellow pink hue with a complete double rainbow. The cacti became silhouettes as the sun broke through the clouds to cast its burning beam over the expanse of the desert. And so, captivated by the fierce glow of the west, the gentle pink fluffies of the east with the rainbow frame, and boulder strewn cactus forests, I ran out of light before making it to Guerrero Negro.
I made my way to the nearest pueblito and began looking for a place for my tent. I found a lot on which stood a tiny house, attached to what could have been a motel, with some trees and bushes closed in by a fence. It did not look like anyone was home, and I was too tired too look any further, so I pitched my tent there and then.
I laid in my tent for a long time, praying that the proprietor did not have vicious dogs and that no snake or scorpion would find its way into one of Georgia’s crevasses or a briefly unattended article of clothing.
I awoke in the desert no worse for wear, but lacking of sleep. Butterflies and vultures; a lizard doing push-ups in the sun; rustling palms in the wind which was fiercely blowing away the night’s rain. And then a fluttering ball of bright orange singing in the baby blue of the morning. In the night it rained and my tent decided to longer be waterproof; the fear of the family dog and of being disturbed for camping on someone’s property did not let me rest either. I fell asleep only at day break, but within a couple of hours the rain had turned to high wind, and sand was whipping the tent and covering everything inside and out.
Packing in a sandstorm is not fun, neither is driving through one. By the time I got to Guerrero Negro it was clear that rain was coming again to replace the blowing sand. I was stuck with a choice of whether to stay in a town in which I have nothing to do and have no place to stay (since I cannot afford a hotel on my own), or to brave the tropical storm and ride east through the desert.
I decided on the latter.
Though I do not recommend anyone do this, and though I was in the middle of nowhere, mostly alone, so if anything went wrong I would be quite fucked, I was gifted vistas that come to the desert only once every few years:
Silhouetted monoliths floating through misty cactus forests. A green desert – almost lush, with endless bushes and cacti rising off beyond the horizon. At one point flat and dry and empty, then all at once, mountainous with an endless sea of cacti where a minute before there was nothing. The stitch of the road running to the end of the earth, at times flat, at others a wavy ribbon of black in a sea of brown and yellow.
Cacti posing as candelabras, or vases with full bouquets; giant single pricks and motherly stalks with tiny offspring clinging to their cores; gesticulating human-like figures – at times exclaiming or dancing, waving and trying desperately to be understood without words, at others bowed with shame or sinking to rest after a valiant battle against the unforgiving sun; young and vibrant green; grey and dying – limb or whole, dry like their home, waiting to become dust again.
From the dust and sand, to the whipping rain of the tropical storm, from the dry and mutinous desert to an endless oasis of green grasses and palms, to the calm lapping of the Sea of Cortez: A ride I will not soon forget.