Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mexican Ironbutt part 1

Mexican Ironbutt - Part 1
(or?  What I shouldn’t have done on my summer vacation)

Every year, for the past 28+ years, a group of friends has gone to Loreto, Baja, Mexico for a guys fishing trip.  It’s a small town, built on tourism, fishing and vacationing.  I’ve been going on this trip for 9 years.

My pal Brad came up with the BRILLIANT idea, “lets ride motorcycles this year.”   But not just ride,  lets do it IronButt style, 1000 miles in < 24 hours.   Ironbutt

With 20/20 hindsight, I should have kicked him square in the package, and kept on with my business.   In a few weeks, when the pain has worn away, I am sure I will remember it as a much more epic adventure.

Our PLAN™ was to leave San Jose at 11:59pm on Thursday, August 7th.   Make San Diego by 6am, cross the border, and make it to La Mision Hotel by 10pm Friday night.  -   the best laid plans…..

2 guys
2 bikes
1200 miles
less than 24 hours

John Ryan was one of the great distance riders.  I only met him once, for about 4 hours.  It is amazing how easy it is to fall into conversation when you meet someone with so much in common.   My pal Melissa Holbrook Piersonwrote a book mostly about John.      I met him when they were out here on tour.   Over dinner, the common theme?  “the clock is ticking”.   We shared the same view.  When you decide to DO something,  the clock begins ticking down, until you are done.  Your brain is constantly calculating, measuring, and checking against the clock.

Another thing about John.    He knew about Murphy’s law. -   and he would have laughed and laughed about our trip,  our personal Operation Hawaiian Clusterfuck.

We left Brad’s house on time, after his lovely girlfriend Naomi signed all our starting paperwork
Topped up fuel, pulled receipts and off we went, south on Hwy 101.

The KEY to a good distance ride? Is not speed, it is consistency.  Consistency and few, quick and short fuel stops.

10 mins south of San Jose, on 101, before we even got to Morgan Hill, CA,  less than 10 mins into our ~ 24 hour ride?   Brad slows down,  stops, and tells me something is wrong with his bike.   A bunch of the warning lights are on, his fuel gauge stopped working, and he has no speedometer.  

We decide to pull into next lighted parking lot and check.   We cannot tell what is wrong,  however, we notice the two RotoPax fuel jugs he had strapped to his top box, were no longer sitting on his back seat.     Okay, lets keep going.  The clock is ticking, we are losing time.

A few miles past Morgan Hill, he wants to pull over again.  Something is wrong.  We stop in a closed gas station, and by the weak security light, we can see part of the strap that held the gas jugs,  wrapped up in the shaft drive of his rear wheel.   I use my Motion Pro spring puller tool, and fish out about two feet of web strap.    We are losing time,  the clock is ticking.    

1:25am - Our first real gas stop in Salinas, CA.  I fuel, Brad looks over his bike.   The strap had broken the sensor mount that controls ABS, Speedo, etc, clean off.   No, we cannot glue it here.   I’ll ride lead.  Use the GPS as a speedometer.       I’ll duct tape and zip tie the sensor to the bike.   As I try to cut the zip tie?  I cut the pad of my left pointer finger .    Blood.  Great!    The clock?  Still ticking.   Duct tape is our pal here.

We continue south on 101.  It is cold, the wind and fog coming off the pacific ocean?   Is cold.    We know once we get to Baja in the heat of the day?  We will miss this cold,  but we push on.

3:25am - Next stop, San Luis Obispo.  we need to eat some.   Helmets off, gloves off, potty break, gas, eating – Clock is ticking.  We realize Brad’s spot tracker has fallen off his top box.    It is somewhere in the last 60 miles,  but we are not riding back to look for it.

5:20am – Santa Barbara, CA.  We are on a schedule, each stop seems to be at 25mins past the hour.   We’d hoped to be in San Diego by 6am?   We now know, this will not happen.

LA – Lane splitting.   Harrowing.  Traffic speeds up, slows down, people zip in and out of the carpool lane,   Bikes are passing us as if we are amateurs.  I dislike LA.

7:55am - Laguna Hills, CA  gas stop.   Police arresting some guy for what appears to be?  Driving an older Honda economy car in a very chi-chi neighborhood.  We get gas and take a bathroom stop.  The sun is up, we are two hours behind our schedule, but at least we can make fun of it

9:25am -San Diego, CA.   We stop at a home depot to buy new gas can for brad’s bike.  We still have an unknown 250 miles in Baja without fuel.   I tie it on his bike using a Rok Strap   and some rope.  It is not going anywhere.

10:05am – San Diego – top up fuel, fill reserve cans, prepare to cross border.

10:30am - Cross border.  Four and a half hours after our target time, we have cleared customs and crossed the border.  Note of importance here.  The Mexican official  at immigration was pleasant.  He explained what paperwork we needed to do.  Had a smile the whole time,  very helpful, very nice.

We cross over, and get onto Mex Hwy 1D.   a beautiful eight lane, well paved toll road.  We are cruising a little faster than the speed limit,  but not much faster than traffic,  trying to make some clean, consistent, better time.

Until we get to Ensenada

12:05pm – Ensenada, Mex – total mess.  The Mexican Airforce has 2 or 3 large planes dive bombing the center of town.  There are tanker trucks  blocking the street, it appears we have arrived in the middle of some military training exercise.  All traffic is being diverted onto a 2 lane residential street.    We consider riding around the tanker trucks, through the square and on our way,  but we realize,  next to the tankers?  Are young men in sailor and army uniforms, holding M-16s.   this is not good.

We finally clear out of Ensenada  to find Mex 1D is closed for repair, and we have to take Mex 1.   A two- lane, twisty, windey, through the hills  road, also under construction.

Side Note:  in California, when the state does roadwork by closing one lane, and diverting traffic to the other lane.    Then when primary lane is repaired, they flip the traffic to drive on the new part,  while repairing the old part.

In Mexico?  They close the road.  All four lanes.   And run a bulldozer on the side of the road, to make a one and a half lane dirt road next to the repair work.   And all traffic is pushed onto this dirt road.   I’m not sure if it is more efficient, but it is definitely more dusty.

2:45pm – Camalu, Mex – quick fuel stop.  This has been one of the longer stretches; we were able to cover some miles.  The sun is up, but we are still getting nice cooling effect from the Pacific

4:15pm – El Rosario, Mex – this is our last stop before the “unknown fuel, take your own” stretch.   Still on the Pacific side, but we are going to get halfway across the peninsula in our next stretch.   We refill water, fuel, and get ready.

Approx 6:00pm – did not actually get receipt, this was a manual fuel stop.  We refilled from our fuel cans .   On this stretch, the roads were curvy and beautiful as we went though the  “Valle de Los Cirios Area Natural Protegida   It was beautiful, miles and miles of cactus, desert, and places it looks like we could die at any moment.  But we did not.   We actually let a guy in a red ford truck pass us,  then we followed them at amazing rates of speed through the roads and passes.    It was like having a personal road guide, and they were moving a good 20mph faster than we would have.

8:05pm – Villa de Jesus y Maria, Mex – Just south of the natural parks, still on the pacific side,  we are realizing, we will not make the hotel in our 24 hour time period.  We have decided at the next fuel stop, we will check time, and possibly get a signature there.    We refuel,  sun is still up,  but we know our daylight is limited.

9:20pm (PST)  technically 10:20pm, as we have crossed a date line – Lazaro Cardenas Manzana, Mex.   It is dark.  We stop for fuel.   We realize, with at least 200 more miles, we will not make Loreto by midnight.  In either time zone.   We ask the Pemex Station attendants if they can sign and certify our odometer statements.    AND?   No one speaks English well enough to understand.   Finally one of the mechanics comes out,   he spent some time in Arizona, and is able to understand what we are doing.  And signs our forms.

Technically?   Our Ironbutt ride is complete.  

12:01am – Friday, August 8th, San Jose, CA – Mile 0
9:20pm – Friday, August 8th, Cardenas Manzana, MEX – Mile 1103

21 hours, 19 minutes – 1103 miles.

Just because our Ironbutt is over?  Does not mean we are done.  We still have to get TO the hotel in Loreto.  By our calculations? About 100 miles.   One and a half hours, tops!  

This is a good point to discuss the Mexican army, and military checkpoints.   If you live in a three wall adobe hut with a dirt floor and your 4 brothers and sisters?   At 16?  The Army may seem like a better life.  Definitely  three hot meals and a cot to sleep on.   What happens when you sign 16 yr old boys up for the army?   You CERTAINLY do not send them into big cities or metropolitan areas.    You “Train” them by sending them to the Baja Peninsula.   There is not much to do.  Not many narco gangs to join.    Just Army training.   

And the Mexican Army trains its new recruits by putting them along the highway at Military Checkpoints.   A vehicle approaches, and seven or so young men in full battle dress uniforms, vests, jackets, helmets, goggles, and M16, are stopping all traffic, and asking?  “where are you coming from”  “where are you going”  “are you carrying anything illegal”  and “will you sign this form”

So they learn to stop traffic, deal with the public, look for bad guys, and not get into too much trouble.

At EVERY single checkpoint? They were nothing but nice and polite to us.

Road Dots – in Mex, are made of steel, and are about 6” diameter, 4” high.   

As we are leaving the last checkpoint,  at a walking pace, I turn too sharply to the right, over a line of road dots,  and drop the bike   The engine guards did what they should.   I did not.  I landed on my right arm, and felt pain in my chest.    Hours of riding, adrenaline, etc,  Brad helped pick up my bike, and we keep going.  A few days later, I realize I cracked some ribs.

How foolish we are.   NO,  as we get closer and closer to our next fuel stop?  The road is twistier, and scarier, and much much darker.

We were not tracking time anymore, but we stopped in Mulege, Baja, Mex about 1:45am.   Refuel, and press onward.

There is a delivery truck in front of us, so we lickety-split follow the taillights.  I check my rear view every few minutes to make sure Brad is behind me, and away we go.

Until I look and he is NOT behind me.   I pull over.  I wait a few seconds.  No,  he is not there.  I U-turn and head back.   Less than a quarter mile,  I see a huge cloud of dust, a bike on the side of the road, and Brad standing in a ditch wearing profusely.

A dog crossed his path, and instinct took over.  He swerved to miss the dog,  and put his bike in a ditch.  It is amazing he is still alive,  we were not going slow when this happened.

The front rim is broken  I don’t mean cracked, I mean broken.  It is no longer a round ring of metal.    The fork tubes are bent both from left-to-right, as well as front-to-back.  The top box is scuffed and beaten,  at some point the bike must have flipped.  The engine guards are bashed and scraped.  There are little bits of plastic everywhere.  The fairing brackets are all broken, the front fairing and headlight pod is hanging off the bike.  This is a DONE motorcycle.

We try to move the bike, and succeed in picking it up, rolling it about 3 inches, then dropping it.

Brad has and international calling plan.  I do not.   Fortunately, we are just outside of Mulege, and have solid cell signal.

Brad calls the Mexican travel insurance company we had to buy insurance from.  The lady asks him if he understands Spanish.  Then when he says no, there will be some issues.   He asks for a taxi and a tow truck.  She tells us an adjuster can be there at 10am.   No, it is 2am, we cannot sit for 8 hours beside the Mexican desert outside Mulege Storage, before El Tiburon.     She will get him the number of a tow truck service, and?  Disconnected.

We call a few people – we are trying to get through to La Mision Hotel, they will have solutions.  We have been on the road almost 24 hours, our brains are not working.

It is now time to make decisions.  
Do we ride two-up on my bike?
Does Brad keep trying to call the hotel?
Do I ride to the hotel and send a van back?

We opt for the last.  I will ride, Brad will keep calling.

I ride on for some of the darkest, twistiest, scariest desert road I’ve ever been on.  I do NOT arrive in an hour.    I think I get to Loreto and the hotel at about 3am.

As I walk in, I tell the night clerk Alan (a great guy) “we have a problem”   He says “no Charles, Brad got through to us, we are sending a van for him”

No sweeter words have I heard.

If you EVER need a nice weekend getaway?  I cannot recommend the All Inclusive package at La Mision nearly enough!   They are awesome, spectacular, wonderful, and you get my point.  They treat us like family and friends,  not just customers.

I then did what any sensible man would.    I moved all my gear to the room, took a shower, and went to sleep.

Maybe Brad came in the room, maybe not, I am fuzzy on what happened.  At some point, I got out of bed, and saw all the guys we were meeting leave to go fishing.  This may have been at 5:30am.  I went back to sleep,  and faintly remember Brad waking me at 10am to get breakfast.

My bike in front of La Mision in Baja

 (note RoadRider sticker?  support your sponsors!)

We mostly slept and ate and rested on Saturday.  Just not enough energy for anything.

Charles & Raul!  King of the Moustache!

Sunday morning was for fishing.  As usual, I slept on the boats.

i would rest, then wake up and catch a yellowtail, then rest.

Justin caught a delicious bass

and a moray eel

and we had yellowtail sashimi

(coming up next?  My route home) 

What an adventure. But, yes, this is what airplanes are for.
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