On the map, the road from San Felipe to Puerto is indicated as dirt and gravel. Though the first 30 miles or so are paved. The night that Al and I poured over maps of Mexico and Guatemala he made special note about this road that cruised along the east coast of Baja along the Sea of Cortex.
It cruises through the desert for about 100 miles to Coco’s Corner. Legendary for his hospitality and remoteness, its namesake Coco has become a legend amongst fans and riders of the Legendary Baja 1000 off-road race. Adjacent to Coco’s Corner is a checkpoint when the race makes its biannual trip to La Paz.
Looking at the map we figured we could make the trip in 3 or 4 hours. We’d stop at Coco’s and then make the turn and head an additional 15 miles on dirt to Route 1, and then head a couple hours south and make camp at Bahia de Los Angeles, where I stayed during my last trip to Baja in November 2003.
The road started off okay. Slightly washboard with large rocks and some loose gravel. We traveled along the cost and were feted with deep aquamarine blue water, scenic desert islands and a coastal road the winded around cliffs and classic desert scapes as we passed through the Huerfanito Grade.
We continued through small rocky canyons, through washes and dred out rocky river beds. The road kept getting worse. Relentless pounding of rocks and washboard. Rains had washed dirt revealing boulders and bedrock. Daggers or rocks with sharp arrowhead like points reaching for the sky — and our tires. My bike pounded and shook. It felt like every nut would come loose. My GPS shook faster than the waist of a Hawaiin Hula Girl – which is what as I was dreaming as the sun beat down and beat me up mile after mile after mile.
My speed averaged 15-25 miles per hour. Sometimes Sacha on his big 1200 GS would zoom ahead until he no longer could take the constant hammering of the rocks and washboard. Did Al really think this road was worthy of its legendary status he gave it?
In only three hours we hadn’t racked up 25 miles – no where close to the halfway point. We were isolated in a vast desert. Even in the arctic tundra north of the Arctic Circle I could always spot nearby or on the horizon the massive Alaskan Pipeline. Here there was nothing. Nada.
Sacha pulls over at a deserted Cow Paddy rest stop and suggested we let air out of our tires. This might give us the illusion of a bit smoother ride.
As we pressed on parallel side roads through sand and over debriis offered some relief from the relentless pounding of rock, washboard and more rock. But after a couple close calls in losing in the sand, I decide to stick to the more solid ground. Sacha takes his chances and rides the parallel track from time to time.
Any signs on this road are weather beaten warped plywood and point toward the cost. Unwilling to venture away from this desolate road, we blew past them. The latest I remember was Mirarmar. Then it happened. After cresting over a rocky and beaten incline I hear an unsettling noise from my bike and feel the suspension give a bit. After a hundred yards more it just doesn’t feel right so I pull over. A quarter mile back Sacha was ahead of me and took a side parallel road through the sand. I figured he was way ahead of me by now.
I cut the engine and got off the bike and was greeted with the most dreadful image you can imagine when you’re in the middle of the Baja desert at 12 noon with less than a liter of water and another car, truck or bike in 4 hours. The oil kept pouring out leaving a nice black pond beneath my bike.
Then like a mirage appearing out of nowhere an old blue Ford pickup drove by and then disappeared into the horizon just as quick as it appeared. Gone.
My quick diagnosis led me to believe the shock blew. I surveyed the engine. A tad of oil here and there. Was there more damage? Pushing on the rear of my bike with my 150lb load and there was no rebound dampening. None. Gone. Kaput. And wonderful.
Glancing around there was no sign of anything. Then a roadrunner darted across the road ahead of me. I felt the lizards, rabbits, snakes and other critters were all crawling to see my show on the side of the road. Sacha was miles ahead by now, I was sure.
Curious if the engine leaked. I started the engine and watched carefullly. Nope. Nothing else. Just a few more drips from the shock. I cut the engine again to consider my options.
“Hey Allan!” I heard the voice and then saw Sacha sliding down on his ass and the heels of his boots over one of the dunes that obscured the view of the sandy side track he’d been brave to take.
Perhaps too brave.
“I‘m stuck a foot or more deep in the sand,” he shouts to me with a pile of dust following him down the dune. “I can’t get out. I thought you were long gone.”
“I just blew my shock,” I yelled back at him.
This damn road had beat us both. But the serendipitous moment when Sacha heard my engine start sent him bolting through sand, sage and over dunes to catch my attention before I sped off again. He apparantly had tried to capture my attention waving his arms frantically as I cruised by in the seconds before my shock blew.
Why did my shock blow at that exact moment at a location precisely perpendicular to where Sacha rode his GS off the road and into deep sand. So deep the bike just sat straight up, without the aid of a kickstand. Stuck.
The only water we had was the dreggs of the Camelback hydration bag. It was 12:30 and we were still 50 miles or more from civilization. Me with a blown shock and Sacha stock in the sand past his up to his axle. As we walked to the bike our boots would crack the illusotry packed surface and then sunk into the sand. It was soft and deep. Everywhere.
We pushed the bike on the side, filled the hole he’d dug himself into and tried rock the bike back, feathering the clutch and pushing. No good. Just dug into a hole again. We took the luggage of his bike and threw it over on the other side and repeated the drill. Nothing. We then gathered stoned and put them under the wheel. AT this point I was exhausted. Without a hat and the heat of the sun beating down on my head, I still wore my riding jacket. What a fool. I threw the jacket off and had at that 1200 GS again. This time we both pushed and pushed and got the bike in 25 feet to solid ground when Sacha fired the engine up and rolled it over the dunes and back down to the road. Yeah, that road.
I was nearly in full heat stroke or worse – exhausted and dehydrated. And then what was I to do? I sat on my bike and it just bounced up and down like a pogo stick — or a trampoline. I rode the bike another 10 miles hrough shale, river beds, protruding bedrock, dirt, dust and sand. Up steep rocky cliffs and winding through sandy dunes while the heat cranked up and I bounced on. Then like an Oasis appeared — Rancho Grande.
This tiny settlement somewhere between Puertocitos and Coco’s provided us the much needed refueling for gas, water and food. A group of guys from LA were headed on dirt bikes the direction we came. Sympathising for my blown shock they suggested we camp out there and convince some guy who flies his plane into the airstrip near Alfonsina’s Resort – an isolated haven that attracts the desert dirt bike crowd. He flies in there once a week. Maybe he’d get me to an airport where I could fly back to the states for a new shock.
I didn’t like that idea.
I continued to bounce like a pogo down the road. My average speed barely 15 mph. Hours flew by. And so did Sacha. I just bounced and bounced and bounced. I knew Coco’s Corner – a legendary desert Oasis founded by Coco a one-legged former Ensenada laborer fed up with the system and the governments lack of support and business unwillingness to hire a one-legged man. – was about 25 miles from Rancho Grande, but as the miles clicked on it didn’t seem to add up. Sacha had been gone for a long time. I passed through a scene of rusted out old cars that could have lost a copyrigth infringement suit with Cadillac Ranch in Texas. Where was Coco’s. Did I miss the turn? The sun beat on and the clock and fractions of miles clicked on. I thought it’d never end. Until I thought it was the end. I approached a sandy wash with deep white sand. Bouncing I headed into it maintaining speeed. Perhaps not fast enough. My front wheel just slid around like a salmon out of water and then I simply tumbled into the sand. I felt beaten worse than ever. I was hot. There was no water. My foot was stuck under the bike. I wrenched it out and stood up and just stared. They I shouted. There was nobody around. I tried to lift the bike. My energy was drained from my long slow ride. Thank god I had some more water. I knew the only way I’d get that bike up was to pull everything off it. Even then I’d have to draw on inner strength. Just hope I had some.
So I waited. Maybe someone will drive by. Yeah right. The ludricousness of my delusional thought didn’t really hit me until later. I shouted again. The I looked at my GPS. I couldn’t be that far from Coco’s Corner. This would be a major milestone for me. Once I rounded that corner I’d only have 15 miles over a mountain pass and a supposedly smoother dirt road to highway 1.
15 minutes passed.
I started to unload my bike. But I couldn’t get the last Jesse bag off as it was buried in the sand and under the weight of the bike making it difficult to pull off. I listened. Nothing but the stillness of the desert. My mind started playing tricks. Thinking I heard sounds. Maybe a distant plane. Maybe not. I wish I had more strength, but this day beat me up bad. I tried every trick in the book for picking up my bike and failed. I felt helpless and wondered what would happen in the jungle of Madagascar, let alone the baja desert.
Then I heard an engine. And a flickering of red coming toward me. As it got closer I could see a Mexican flag on top of an old red pickup truck. I stood there, sweat beading up on my forehead. Waving down the truck I was so relieved. Two people can lift that bike with ease.
The red truck had “Coco’s Corner” painted on the side.
I walked up to the passenger window and sitting behind the wheel was Sacha with his head wrapped in a blue bandana.
“You have problem, Gringo,” he says to me sporting a huge grin.
Sacha wanted nothing to do with that road and even though he was worried about where I might be, he divulged that he thought I might have crashed on this steep incline upover rocks. It was one of his scariest moments riding that road. And that incline was another 5 miles back. Thinking that perhaps my bike would need to be “towed” back, Coco let him use the truck in the event my bike wouldn’t make it.
Sacha helped lift the bike and he followed me as a bobbed on my GS Pogo stick a shant two miles to Coco’s Corner. I was that close.