Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Flatistan Tour of Duty* (Bears vs. Alligators: YOU decide!)

It was so still, so improbably and artistically placed, so… statuesque… that I very nearly removed my helmet and took a self-portrait with it, my lips pursed upon the sculpture’s snout**.

It blinked.

Everglades National Park Shark Valley Bicycle Ride 046

If you happen to be riding your two wheeled machine through the everglades, your front wheel won’t turn five times before you have to swerve. One, two, three…  there they lay, sunning themselves like lazy (or stealthy?) beagles right next to, or even on, the narrow stretch of asphalt.  I had the opportunity to poke any number of alligators in the eye with my naked toe*** as I rode past, had I been so inclined.  I was not.  So inclined.  Instead, I was unreasonably longing for my boots.

I’ve said it before; fear is a funny thing.  Take, for example, this recent scene: a gated community in south Florida, accessible only by vehicle RFID tag, secret handshake with a Cuban guard, or [cue ominous melody in the cello section], a canal that slithers unnoticed under the wall…  You sit, over-nourished once again by Mom’s Best, and ponder a late night run.  What, do you suppose,  does mom caution you against?  And when you are abruptly assailed in the dark by the sharp, watery bite of a well timed irrigation system, what does your mind cry out?


Seriously, my mom will unthinkingly garden with her back turned to the long, reptile concealing grasses at the edge of the canal (“Pffft, all they do is sleep.”), but will not walk outside after dark, lest she be attacked by a bear****.  You can decide for yourself, but I stand steadfastly, proudly, even, next to my fear of alligators over that of bears, at least in this environment.

All concern for my personal safety aside, the everglades, like so many of the places I ride through, unleash in me a rush of gratitude and humility, that I might get to experience yet another wondrous and strangely beautiful land in what feels to be such an intimate fashion.

Everglades National Park Shark Valley Bicycle Ride 010-Edit

But for the first time in my two-wheeling life, I experienced a novel celebration of the straight road. An unusual reverence for the flat road.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park 033-Edit

I was, of course, riding a bicycle.    Ding ding!

* This is The Year of the Big Commute. I'm working in AZ and FL this season.
** No kidding, I thought for sure that first one was clever national park artwork.
*** Yes, flip flops.  I’ll ‘splain in a minute.
****Okay, to be fair, there was something on the news last night about another bear attack.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Burros in the Sand

Today I had just enough time for a quick jaunt to Ironwood Forest National Monument, which, incidentally, not being staffed in the first place, isn’t affected by the government shutdown.  This time, Li’l Burro, ever curious, chose a new point of access - Manville Road.  It was a test ride of sorts, I with new pants*, he with new shoes.

Yamaha XT225 meets burros
Li'l Burro contemplates his cousins.

Manville Road Burro sighting 006
Yes, they even sang their sprightly, squeaky song for us.

Manville Road Burro sighting 013
Around here, grass is a photographable event.  Grainy, artsy style no extra charge.

Funny how the very moment you find yourself wallowing about in sand deep enough to make walking difficult, much less riding, or dragging your motorcycle out of it, is the same moment you realize you should be headed back home getting ready for your gig.

When I have a successful fall, I like to spring up, hands in air**, legs together, back arched, like a 15 year old gymnast – front!, left!, right! – just to emphasize the cleverness of my little trick.  Ten!

*I’d been putting off buying a pair of riding pants better suited for Li’l Burro, because I’d been hoping Olympia Moto Sports would make their X Moto suit for women.  “Are ya gonna make it for 2013?  Huh? Huh?  How ‘bout 2014?”  The answer remains a steadfast, “No.”  But since I seem to be putting my street leathers at risk in the dirt and mud, I broke down and bought a pair of Firstgear TPG Escape Pants (what a name!) on clearance.  Not quite what I wanted, but they work, and fit perfectly.  I’m pretty sure I got the last pair of size 6 in the universe.
** I totally stole Pilot Guy's moves here.  And I'm keepin' 'em.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Play Date: Li’l Burro meets Half Pint on Redington Pass

Half Pint and KamperBob invited Li’l Burro on a play date last March.  Our RSVP: Yes, please!
First, an aerial reconnaissance run.  Because I can.  Thanks, Pilot Guy!

Little sporty Super Viking aircraft can lean a good 60 degrees and flip flop left and right, just like little sporty motorcycles, if one is so inclined. We are.  Another comforting similarity to motorcycles: splats in the field of view.
Redington Pass Area Bellanca Recon Mission (1)

I don’t know how to drive Pilot Guy’s camera or aeroplane. Yet.

Redington Pass Area Bellanca Recon Mission

Li’l Burro’s play date isn’t starting off too well.  Operator error with the alarm clock.  Forgotten sunglasses.  The meet up-fuel up spot was hard to find. That happens when it’s been freshly renovated.  With a wrecking ball.  Oops.

It’s been a long time since Li’l Burro and I have gotten our hooves dirty.  Work has been just too… workish.  I’m a little unsure, but Redington pass is easy and Li’l Burro remembers his moves. Just what we need.

The shooting ranges in the area have been cleaned up. It’s a lot more pleasant out here than last time we visited.

Prompt Blogger KamperBob is on a hunt for crested saguaros.  Why not?  I have my own cactus finds.

Saguaro Ribs Redington Pass

Photography fun burns time.   There’s snow up in them thar hills.  Li’l Burro is afraid of the dark and  - ouch! – his rubbery hooves are shedding knobs.  Hm.  Tomorrow is another day, says Half Pint.  Control Road up the back side of Mount Lemmon can wait, agrees Li’l Burro.  Pizza, beer, a lazy walk with canine friends console.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I just thought you ought to know…

… that after after nine months, one chain catastrophe, a wrecked rear brake bracket (twice!), one leaking slave cylinder gasket, one valve adjustment/belt replacement, multiple tensioner pulley failures, and (pardon me, but WTF, as they say) one bent valve repair, there's an operational Ducati back in my life.

Welcome Home, Ducati
The Beagle is overcome with emotion.

Welcome home, my little Italian Princess.
What's that? Track Day tomorrow? Don't mind if we do!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Three Wheels (Two Wings)

It’s not often you wake up on your morning off in Tucson, AZ only to find an inch of snow and ice coating your motorcycle* and hear on the radio that even humble Gates Pass is closed, but when the unthinkable happens, well, what’s a girl to do?

Leave the snow behind and go riding in the air, that’s what!

Pilot Chris** does Important Stuff while I stay out of the way and document the day.

Piper Cherokee

Piper Cherokee Cockpit
My seat!

The pre-flight check feels remarkably similar to a motorcycle pre-flight check.  There are other familiar tasks, too…

... like grabbing the keys on your way out the door...

… man powered reverse out of the parking spot...

Piper Cherokee Reverse

… and fueling up. 

Fueling the Piper Cherokee
Okay, yeah, surely the price of this part of the day bears no similarity at all to motorcycle riding.

By this point, I am hopping up and down with excitement.  And I really do hop up and down (and clap, too!) if I’m excited enough.

Piper Cherokee Pilot
Hm, now what?

We’re ready to roll!  I’m a little nervous, but as we pick up speed and the nose of this little Piper Cherokee levitates into the air, it’s nearly impossible not to joyously cry out the obvious:  “We’re flying!”
There’s a lump in my throat.  It’s so, so beautiful.

Snow on Tucson Mountains

The lump goes away, but I am still speechless.  I even decline the chance to fly the plane myself. There's simply too much magic outside my window today for that.

Snow in Tucson Santa Catalinas

And only now does the obvious question occur to me.  Could a small motorcycle fit into a small plane?  The answer, it appears, is a definite maybe

Can a Burro Fly
Li'l Burro and I contemplate entry into a Bellanca Super Viking.  Thanks to Pilot Guy for this shot.

Imagine the long weekend possibilities, oh my!

*Really happened!
**Not to be confused with "Pilot Guy."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine’s Day 2013

Homemade marshmallows offer a titillating array of contradictory sensations for the mouth: unparalleled sexy, silky, softness; silly, sproingy, springiness, and (in this case), a breathtaking blast of peppermint.
 Peppermint Marshmallows and Cocoa

Have a marshmallow fight with someone you love today!  What follows is up to you.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Wind Delay and a Basque Dinner

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Twenty-One, Saturday June 23

I’ve packed up, fueled up, checked my tire pressure, re-loaded my grocery supplies, and am ready for a 200 mile sporting run of the Sierra Nevadas.  Yesterday’s survey of Lake Tahoe was lovely, but  a proper motorcycle tour always balances sightseeing with aggressive riding, and I’m looking forward to what I know will be one of the highlights of my summer.

But I'm disappointed to quickly discover that this blustery day is not just going to make for some cold riding.  I’m blown off my line on a 10 mile an hour switchback, and 60 miles into my ride, I already know what I’ll be writing:  200 miles of glorious, twisty road, and I spent the day fighting to keep my Ducati on the pavement. The wind, if anything, is picking up, and I can’t bear the thought of the lost opportunity.  Sporting run postponed, I spend the day holed up along with seemingly every other motorcyclist on the road, catching up on business, instead.  I need to check the weather, and since tomorrow looks promising, line up another night of camping in the area, for Sierra Run Take Two.  I shrug and face reality. I am going to have to traverse the desert again, and I might as well use this lost day to come up with the least painful strategy to do so.   It takes quite a bit of time, checking routes, distances, and weather reports with my slow phone and now well worn maps, but I formulate a plan.  It's almost too good to be true, but the forecast for Death Valley looks shockingly mild for the end of June – barely 100 degrees! – so I opt to avoid some of the boring freeways and cross through the national park instead.  Ironically, I’ll likely be able to cool off in the rain projected to fall in  northern Arizona at about the time I roll into Flagstaff.

While it may have brought a halt to my sporting day, I’ve got inside intel on the Tahoe area, and the wind won’t keep me from my planned dinner destination of JT Basque in Garderville, NV.

I have a passerby take a photo with my phone, so I can email it to friends who I know have shared many lively, convivial repasts here.  It will surely make them smile.

JT Basque Entry

I quickly see the attraction of this place.  While I choose my main course from just a few items, all manner of extras (including wine if I could have indulged) come to the table freely, each one a more delightful surprise than the next.

I’ve ordered rabbit, but first comes bread and a big bowl from which I ladle as much hot soup as I’d like.  Soup is good food.  Especially after my breezy ride.

JT Basque Dinner (3)

Now – what’s this? – a beef stew, beans, a green salad, all surprises to me.

JT Basque Dinner

Finally my rabbit arrives, with a healthy serving of fries.  Is this all for me?

JT Basque Dinner (1)

They must be reading my mind, because after a good meal, I like a little sweet bite.

JT Basque Dinner (2)

This isn’t the very best food I’ve ever eaten, but it’s comforting, rustic, and tasty, and the merry, vibrant, genial feel of it all makes this a place I’d like to return to, with a warm circle of friends sharing the bounty of this good table.

I ride back to my home for the evening.  The waves and clouds on Fallen Leaf Lake belie the windy day.

Fallen Leaf Campground

Tonight it’s my turn to be the friendly, helpful camp neighbor. The cheerful trio of campers next to me is not equipped for the cold, and I help them cover the screens and holes in their awkward piecemeal tent with blankets and zip ties. I am rewarded with songs around the camp fire, and a pleasant bedtime snack of wine and s’mores.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Circumnavigation (Lake Tahoe)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Twenty, Friday June 22

It’s taken over two hours, a walk to the drip coffee bar and barely functional computers at Vicky’s Cyber Cafe, lengthy consultation with my camp hosts, and the shuffling of my possessions across the campground, but I have tent space secured for the next two nights.  Today I’ll be at Tahoe State Recreation Area again, but in a different slot, and tomorrow I’ll move to Fallen Leaf Campground on the south end of the lake.  So while I am not free to change my plans on a whim, I can set aside the worry of where I’ll spend the next few nights, and simply enjoy my activities.  Around the lake I go!

I make my way toward the north end of sparkling, blue Tahoe.  A detour on the far side of King’s Beach has me wandering through wealthy neighborhoods, and as I finally make my way down the steep hill to the main road, my bike makes one brief, loud “clunk.” Hm. Perhaps I was sloppy in shifting?*

It seems wrong not to explore the twisty line on the map called NV 431/Mount Rose Scenic Byway, so I oblige. I chose wisely -  aside from good riding, there’s a fabulous vista of the lake.

Lake Tahoe from NV 431
Okay, yeah, I cheated and showed you this photo yesterday, but I actually took it today. Love the time warp that is the blogosphere!

I return back down NV 431 and head south on the Lake Tahoe Eastshore Drive National Scenic Byway.  I can see why it’s a candidate for “the most beautiful drive in America, ” and, as is so often the case, I suffer with the ever present question of whether to stop and take photos, or just sit back and enjoy the moment.  I may regret it later, but it seems for so much of this journey, I am choosing the latter.
Memorial Point Lake Tahoe
Memorial Point

Crash!  It's physically startling how the majestic beauty of Lake Tahoe is abruptly shattered by the city of South Lake Tahoe, with its traffic and casinos, but it’s not long before I reach Emerald Bay. Inspiration Point is crowded, for good reason.

Tahoe - Emerald Bay View at Inspiration Point
It’s hard to get the camera to peek through the trees at the lovely view beneath me.

Vikingsholm Castle is down below, but I know if I stop at every point of interest I’ll lose my flow.  There are just too many for one day.

DL Bliss State Park Tahoe
Tahoe’s waters run clear, deep, and dangerously cold.

DL Bliss State Park Tahoe (2)
A short walk on the Rubicon Trail at DL Bliss State Park.

DL Bliss State Park Tahoe Lighthouse
Rubicon Lighthouse: While it looks more like an outhouse than anything else, turns out it's the highest lighthouse in the world.

After my two-wheeled circumnavigation is complete, I decide to tackle it on two feet, or at least as much of the 165 mile Tahoe Rim Trail as I can manage before nightfall.

The few miles I do hike through tall trees is pleasant, although not remarkable. Even so, the physical exertion feels fantastic after having butt in seat all day.
 Tahoe Rim Trail

My short trek may lack wide vistas, but I feel like a Girl Scout while discovering all the interesting items littering the forest floor.  I find these usual large red sprouts…

Tahoe Rim Trail (1)

… and sticky pine cones the size of footballs.

Tahoe Rim Trail Pinecones

After a short time, I reach what may or may not be the Paige Meadow hinted at by the trail markers. In any case, the meadow and the two mile marker feel like a destination, and my stomach is beginning to gently inquire about tonight’s dinner menu, so I turn around.    My discontent of yesterday has long faded, and I’m more than happy to take advantage of the benefits of urban camping tonight, sipping wine, eating pasta, charging my phone, and having light in which to write.
Zia Lina Tahoe City
Zia Lina.  Pasta with caramelized onion, arugula and sausage.

*Yes, you will be hearing about this again.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Baja Unadventure

Flying in the face of convention, I'm posting "Baja Unadventure" before I've completed my "Sort of Sabbatical" series. It only seems polite to be prompt, since there were other riders involved, one of whom so graciously provided me with exceptional writing material.

I make my final departure preparations – swig some coffee, close up my house, pile on my gear, pack the remaining few items, drag my motorcycle out from the back yard – with my customary pre-tour blend of excitement and jumpiness.    I am glad the expected rain arrived and departed 12 hours early, and that I won’t be riding today’s 300 miles in the wet. It’s chilly but pretty out, and before I’ve even rolled off the sidewalk, jumpiness gives way to joy and grin so big it's barely contained by my helmet.  It’s real. I am riding to Baja!

My original plan was to spend my entire Christmas break riding to Cabo San Lucas and back, simply because the weather would be warmest if I headed south.  During the course of my research, a group contacted me and asked if I’d like to join them.  Normally I prefer to ride by myself, but with the combination of getting my feet wet riding in a foreign country, and my inexperience on substrates other than asphalt, it seemed a good compromise to travel in a pack, even if it meant starting my tour a week later and having the more modest turn around point of Bahia de Los Angeles, rather than riding the entire Baja peninsula.

December had been beyond hectic. The number of concerts I had to prepare for and perform was astounding, and there were Christmas presents and an important thank you gift to make or buy, wrap and ship.  I had two years worth of veterinary continuing education to complete and submit*, and the audacity to throw a Mayan End of the World dinner party at the same time. I had to research Mexican immigration requirements, vehicle requirements, international driving permits, Mexican auto insurance, and health coverage while riding in Mexico, and had pored over maps and ride reports in the wee hours many nights after work.  I had to figure out and test a way to carry extra fuel, decide how to best set up my SPOT GPS Messenger/emergency transponder for an international venture, weigh options for having safe drinking water, consider whether or not I wanted phone service while in Baja, make counterfeit copies of my documents for the suggested “dummy wallet,” type out volumes of information for my emergency contacts,  and prepare batches of granola, granola bars and beef jerky for the trip.  And, somewhere along the line, I decided it was imperative I make a teeny tiny gingerbread house.

After all that, the dull, mindless, straight line 300 mile leg today seems like just the thing.  I’m headed to Yuma, albeit the “long way” via Ajo, to ring in the New Year with two other riders I’ve never met. I hope we all like each other or this could be a very long week. And I truly hope they believe me when I say I can not, will not ride at night.  Even though we’ve decided to stay in hotels for the trip, my tent and sleeping bag are coming with me, just in case.

I’ve not even reached Ajo yet, and both my phone and bike run out of gas.  I hit reserve about 25 miles before I expect to, and my phone battery is dead.  There is no real issue, since I can flip a switch and be on my way, and charge my phone on the bike if need be, but the less than expected gas mileage concerns me because of the long stretches between gas stations we’ll experience when we make our way further south down the Baja peninsula. I’m glad I bought the Rotopax fuel container, but wonder if it will be enough.

I’m the first to arrive in Yuma, and already, I’m taking apart my bike. There seems to be an oil leak, and I can’t tell where it’s coming from.  The bash plate is an icky, dirty, greasy mess, most of which I tell myself is chain fling and dirt, but I know this is not the only explanation. Still, the engine oil level seems unchanged, so I hope for the best, thank myself for carrying extra, and resolve to check the level more often than not.  I refit the bash plate, after digging out some rocks that have lodged here and there (and may very well be the culprit for the leak), and heave the heavy tool kit back into my luggage. I’m glad I brought them along, too.

When my two riding companions arrive, I quickly see that they are traveling in style.  Adrian is riding a 2009 Versys 650 that I quickly take an eye to.  It’s fitted with rugged locking Pelican cases and roomy top box, GPS, a mount for his SPOT tracker, and who knows what else.  It’s a beautiful metallic green and silver, and in showroom condition, as far as I can tell . Phil has an enormous, spotless touring BMW – the K1200RT - again with locking BMW luggage, GPS, blue tooth, and satellite radio, among, no doubt, many other things.  My XT (“Li’l Burro”) looks, by comparison, dull, small, and tired, with its worn down tires, taped up seat, oil leak, inexpensive canvas luggage, small orange top box with cheap plastic locks, and its tiny, 225 cc sized engine.  Even so, I don’t care one bit. It’s my motorcycle, it’s got two wheels, and I adore it. Plus, of the three vehicles, it’s probably the most appropriate for parts of our trip.  The other riders accept my little XT - indeed it has its own strong points - and we get to know each other a bit over drinks and dinner.  I'm grateful and relieved that it seems I'll be in good and competent company on this trip.  I can tell it's going to be a good fit.

Our plan is to cross the border in the morning and then get away from it. All reports say three things: don’t ride at night (fine with me), look out for unexpected and vicious “topes” (speedbumps), and cross the border early and immediately proceed south, since much of the crime tourists are concerned about involves illegal smuggling, and happens in the border zones.  So launching from the Lettuce Capital of the World is a good plan.  We ride by fields and fields of cauliflowers and lettuces -  "Yuma Grown Romaine Hearts," "Yuma Grown Iceberg," the signs declare - before we reach the border community of San Luis.  Our crossing is uneventful, as is the necessary immigration paperwork, and I am surprised that my Spanish is coming back to me as easily as it is.  It’s been a few years since I left the US, and I am instantly reminded how much I love to do so.  Everything is different here! I love the unusual-to-my-eye look of things, the colorful pesos, deciphering the hand painted signs everywhere, the hustle-bustle of unusual vehicles and traffic, and communicating in a language that seems to bring out a new aspect of my own personality.  How fitting to begin the New Year by crossing into a new country!

We clumsily manage our first international gas stop (I am worried I might inadvertently put diesel in the tank, since the PeMex regular unleaded pump handle is colored US Diesel Green), fumble a toll booth or two (I need to find a more convenient way to get at my cash),  and head south on Mex 5 toward San Felipe, our planned stopping point for the day.  The road has the feel of a highway – it’s straight, flat, and, I have to admit, aside from the military check point, where our bags are cursorily searched by bored young men wielding machine guns, a little dull. So far this trip is feeling very tame and I find myself hoping the road gets more interesting than what I’ve seen so far.

XT Arrives San Felipe Baja
San Felipe arrival.

Taco Factory San Felipe
Taco Trimmings

Taco Factory San Felipe Ceviche
The ceviche at The Taco Factory was a hit, as was the Shrimp and Chipotle Taco (not shown).

Our little trio is still getting to know each other, so we’re awkward about agreeing upon a hotel. We are all simply too polite to be effective decision makers. “This one is fine with me, but I’m happy to look at the other if you like,” is about as far as we get for a bit, but finally settle upon “El Capitán” for the night.  It’s quite humble and inexpensive, my portion would cost me less than what I paid to camp in CA this past summer, but perfectly serviceable, with wireless internet and hair dryer, even!  It’s also a short walk to the Malecón (boardwalk), restaurants, and “La Taza Express,” the only real coffee shop I will see our entire trip.  We enjoy a stroll around town, but we are not here at the time of year to see what I think would probably be the most interesting aspects, the San Felipe 250, and the San Felipe Shrimp Festival.

San Felipe Malecon Area (1)

San Felipe Malecon Area (2)

San Felipe Malecon Area (3)

San Felipe Malecon Area

Our room has two beds, and we are three, but I happily volunteer to nest up in my cozy, familiar, and warm camping gear.  It’s comforting to me in some way, perhaps because this is how I always sleep when touring.  As I snuggle down for the night, I again find myself thinking that while I am enjoying myself, so far this trip is feeling decidedly unadventurous.**  Maybe the month of December has sapped me of energy and creativity, but I have no real words to write in my little spiral bound notebook.  We’ve only just started our journey, of course, but so far I am referring to this trip as “The Baja Unadventure.”  We shall see what tomorrow brings.

As I sleep, I am haunted by dreams of someone I have not seen for over 20 years, and when dawn breaks, I struggle to remain in the warm and loving space gifted to me by those visions.

San Felipe Av Mar de Cortez (1)

San Felipe Av Mar de Cortez
... and more curiosities.

After packing up, we continue down Mex 5, setting Bahia de los Angeles as our goal for the day, and in the following days, we will cross to the Pacific side and explore this way and that, as we zig zag lazily back north.  I am looking ahead to this New Year with more optimism and hope than I have in over a decade, but, for whatever reason, there is some emotional hairball I need to cough up first, and suddenly I am crying and riding, not just a few tears, but great, heaving, sobs.  I don't try to figure it out - it’s inexplicable -  instead just letting them take their course, and as suddenly as they came, they are gone.   Finally words come to me. Words, words, and words. I will have things to write in my little notebook tonight.

Just a few miles south of the populated area, things take a decidedly different feel.  The road is narrow, with gentle dips and turns, and an Irish mist of sand blows across the asphalt, not at all unlike the dry-ice mist that floats into the orchestra pit during certain opera scenes.  There are crumpled mountains to my right – cocoa colored, cinnamon, bricky red, some striated with yellows and browns. The sand flats bristle with ocotillo, creosote and the world's largest cacti, cousin to my familiar saguaro, the Cardón.  The landscape is a cross between Death Valley and the Sonoran Desert, but with the surreal juxtaposition of, on my right - oh my!- the glimmering aqua of the Sea of Cortez. For 50 miles we ride, and I quietly consider the remarkable and strange world around me.  I simply do not know how I will capture the beauty, the desolation, the stark contrast of desert next to sparkling sea with my camera.

We stop for gas in the tiny area of Puertecitos, and the attendant tells us that the next station (in Gonzaga Bay) is closed on Wednesdays.  Yes, he’s closed on Tuesdays, and he’s pretty sure she’s closed on Wednesdays.  Hm.  Even with my Rotopax, I’m not positive I’ll comfortably make the distance from here to Bahia de los Angeles, but Adrian has a few spare liters which he will not need, and the math pans out, even if it is tight, and at our relaxed pace I’m getting better mileage than my first day, so we continue riding south, riding past the blue sea, through small mountain passes, further on into this peculiar and breathtaking land.

It’s not long before I snap out of the landscape induced hypnotic state and realize I need to stop ogling and start photographing.  Adrian is able to grab a few while riding and I am mentally kicking myself for not buying the clever camera harness that would allow me to do the same before this trip.  With surprising timing, there is a small scenic view point and we pull over.  I snap a few preliminary photos, but we are discussing lunch, and it seems to make more sense to concentrate on one thing at a time.  We think there’s a restaurant down the hill on the beach right where we’ve stopped.  Adrian points out that now it’s my turn to shine, since the road down the hill is not paved. I pat Li’l Burro smugly, but am quick to point out that his assessment is likely a generous one. Although the XT is definitely the tool for the job, my off-road skills are still in their infancy. 

But the road is not challenging – it’s well packed, and the rocks are easily avoided or ridden over.  When I’m not busy thinking it’s something even I could handle with a street bike if pressed, I’m distracted by my new Tusk fender pack, kindly donated to me by Adrian that morning, since it doesn’t fit his new Versys.  On the bumpier sections of the road, it’s making a startling commotion and rattle, bouncing the front fender violently, and I wonder if the fender will survive such treatment and if it’s making contact with my front tire.  My remaining thought capacity is on Phil behind me, and I am impressed he’s willing to take his huge touring BMW down this road.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, since we were headed down to the beach, after all, but the hard packed road surface changes abruptly, and before I can stand up on the pegs and say to myself “I can do this,” – baf! – Li’l Burro and I are on our side in the deep, soft Baja sand.

XT 225 Naps on Playa La Costilla
Li’l Burro reclines lazily, enjoying the sun, sand and surf at Playa La Costilla.

I’m quite sure both the motorcycle and I are no worse for the wear, but as I lay there quietly assessing the situation, I do immediately realize I am really rather stuck beneath the XT.  Unless my proprioception has been inadvertently disconnected, my foot does seem to be facing, for the most part, the anatomically correct direction, a point for which I am extraordinarily grateful.  (Everyone is not always so lucky.) I can, after a bit of work, use my arms to drag myself out from under my laden motorcycle and as soon as I do so, I leap up, fists in air, and cry “Vittoria!” in a voice an opera singer would surely envy. For 16 months I’ve been trying to drop this bike. Mission accomplished!

Phil had wisely decided to stop before reaching the sand, not having the appropriate vehicle for such antics, and we learn that the restaurant is closed anyway, so we get ourselves turned around and continue south on the main road, seeking nourishment.  We come across the plywood shack in the Cinco Islas area that is "Imelda's Mexican Food."

One of these friendly dogs would soon prove to be our undoing.

Imelda (I presume) serves up some mean huevos rancheros. I have extremely high tortillas standards, and hers met the test.  We ordered by answering the question, "Well, what would you like?"

Imelda's son (again I presume) peels potatoes after we place our order.  That's fresh.  So is his reading material, which you can see in the corner of the photo.

Lunch has been fun, but we’re burning daylight, and we’re soon to run out of pavement.  It’s time to get moving. Adrian takes the lead, as he has been, but the chase gene in one of those friendly dogs acts up. She’s after Adrian and the Versys, running hard, and won’t let up.  I can read Adrian’s mind as he drifts to the right of his lane. He has no interest in getting bit by a likely unvaccinated dog in the middle of nowhere, Baja.  But by the time he hits the throttle to escape, he’s nearly on the shoulder of the road, which happens to be covered in full layer gravel.  Before I can finish rolling my eyes and thinking that I’ll be the next target for this stupid dog, Adrian goes down.  Hard.

This, my friends, is Not A Drill.

Phil and I act quickly, but rationally, assessing and securing the scene.  While the Versys, except for one torn off Pelican case, is nearly untouched, Adrian, even though conscious and moving, is clearly hurt.   The first order of business is to get everyone and everything off the road.

Adrian, despite his severe pain, wants to get moving.  Phil appeases him by putting a new lock on the Pelican case and reattaching it to the Versys, which gives me time to watch Adrian closely.  I have a stethoscope at home – why, oh why didn't I toss it in my topbox?  It seems so obvious, now, when it becomes clear that the main area in question is his chest.  I’m no doctor, and I can’t think nearly as quickly or completely as a paramedic, nor do I presume to be qualified in any way***, but abnormal lung sounds are the same in a dog or a human, and if there’s any fluid accumulating in his thoracic cavity, I want to know about it.

Adrian is hurting significantly, but he doesn’t look shocky, his color is good, he’s speaking and moving under his own power, his pupils are normal, his pulse and breathing are normal, if painful.  We have, if nothing else, the freedom of a moment or two decide on what our next actions should be.  He’s reluctant to use his SPOT device, for fear of alarming his family, and we are not able to use it to send a message to any of my  own contacts. Phone service is out, not surprisingly.  He wants to ride north before he starts hurting more.  While there is a certain logic to this – injuries always seem to hurt more the next day – I don’t like it. Making judgments under the influence of adrenalin probably won’t serve him right now, and I point out that there are other ways to get both him and his motorcycle to safety, aside from having him ride. He has purchased insurance policies for just this very sort of event, and even without the limited assistance we may or may not gain from either of our SPOT devices****, we have options, but he will have none of it.  He wants to get up and go, and get both himself and his bike to the border, STAT.  I don’t know him well enough to judge his reactions to all of this, and I can't say I blame him, but I really want to put my foot down and call a veto on the whole idea.  But somehow he’s on his bike, and the best I can do is to convince him to try to push the grips before he starts rolling, rather than find out he can’t after he’s moving. He’s going to give it a try, and before I can attempt talk him out of it, he’s off and not stopping.  Phil and I have got to follow.

This is no longer the Baja Unadventure.

I am glad, at least, to take note that Adrian is riding normally. He’s obviously uncomfortable, sporting a funny posture, but he’s cornering as he was before, and making all the right moment by moment riding “decisions.”  And although he’s riding at a reasonable pace given the situation, it’s a challenging one for my little XT225. What’s more, there’s a brisk headwind and Li’l Burro is carrying more weight in luggage than ever before.  It doesn’t matter, we’ve got to keep up, and there’s no time to run out of gas, figure out how to operate the eco-friendly spout on my as of yet unused Rotopax fuel container, or even stop to fumble with my reserve switch.  We’ve simply got to make it.

I’m trying to give Li’l Burro every advantage I can think of.  Every single part of my body, but for my forehead and right elbow is glued to the surface of this little motorbike, and I’ve got the throttle jammed as far as it will go.  With this headwind and heavy load, we’re probably barely cracking 65mph, but it feels like 150. Without my usual headphones or earplugs, and with my head on the tank, I can hear the lone cylinder thumping, bumping, braying loudly, every horse hoof pounding and clattering.  We ride and ride, right on past the little gas station in Puertecitos,  and ride some more  – nearly 100 miles in all - and in what feels like a fishes and loaves miracle, the Li’l Burro takes me, at a dead run, all the way back to San Felipe without asking me for fuel. We stop at the first gas station we see, and Adrian declares he is done with being on the bike.  I am grateful he doesn’t want to continue on to the border today.  Medical attention in town is in order, and I’m not sure we’d make Mexicali by nightfall.

There is a small clinic in San Felipe, and Doctor Abasolo examines Adrian.  While all he has at his disposal is simple palpation and auscultation, he thinks that Adrian’s ribs and lungs are intact.  He gives him one injection of dexamethasone, (a strong anti-inflammatory) and another of some sort of NSAID, (a Mexican brand name that I don’t recognize), and emphasizes that rest is of utmost importance.  If his severe pain continues tomorrow, he should seek radiographs.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the doctor who performs them in San Felipe is currently out of the area.

In the morning, again we discuss the multiple ways that we can get both the Versys and Adrian to the US border, but again he wants to get up and go under his own power.  I understand his instinctive desire to make progress, to get back the US as soon as possible, but I still don’t like the idea of him riding in this condition.  Like yesterday, all we can do is follow.

For every cc it lacks in engine displacement, Li’l Burro makes up for tenfold in heart and toughness and again we are racing -  sides lathered, neck stretched out, nostrils flared - racing across the Baja desert, past great expanses of sand unpunctuated by even the slightest trace of plant life, around mountains, past the salty Colorado River Delta and towards the US.  For 100 miles we go, and I am reminded that for motorcyclists, our bikes are not simply machines, but beloved pets, the most trusted of companions and confidantes, and perhaps even, at times, extensions of our very selves.  It’s crazy, I know, but right now I feel toward this machine the same gratitude an owner might feel towards his dog, after it pulls him out of a house fire. We stop for gas – Adrian stays on his bike, Phil pumps, and I pay – and we go again, nearly 100 miles more to the border.  We punch through immigration and – pow! – we are in the Land of the Free, Adrian’s family is there, and Adrian is admitted to the hospital in Yuma, sporting 5 ribs with multiple fractures and one punctured lung.

Li’l Burro***** and I rest.  300 miles to go tomorrow, and we’ll be home.

*It’s been years since I’ve practiced as a Certified Veterinary Technician, but I do the leg work to keep my credentials. And yes, I left it all to the last minute.
**Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
***I keep toying with the idea of getting my EMT.  This may push the thought into reality.
****It's not magic, folks.  Don't delude yourself into thinking otherwise.
*****He deserves a Kentucky Derby Garland of Roses, if you ask me.  And Adrian should at least get an ADV sticker, don't you think?