Broken – 3: Turbulence

Neil and Glenn, Safely in Vancouver
“We’ve canceled beverage service for this flight due to turbulence”, the pilot announces, “please remain seated for our flight from Seattle to Vancouver.” For the duration of the flight the twin-turbo prop is batted around by the wind like a cat toying with a mouse. In my chest I feel my broken left clavicle moving in ways that are wrong; occasionally an end grates, or something pokes disturbingly at my skin from the inside. I should have made a more concerted effort to find the painkillers back in SeaTac.

IMG_20130411_110016Form San Diego to Seattle my in flight entertainment included jostling by a frail, slightly senile super-annuated temptress complete with leather coat, headband and silver-headed walking stick. No matter how good my mexican party favours, I can’t freak on someone’s grandma. The problem now is during my two hour layover in Seattle the little blue and white boxs of SupraDol eluded me; they burrowed deep into the dirty laundry at the bottom of the TraX Bag Liner I was using as carry. The painkillers remained missing for two days, leading to question my lucidity.

The plane drops suddenly, a motion that runs a close second to acceleration for grating. Obviously, this hasn’t been our best Baja adventure, the nut of it is, I had an inclination this was a mean one early on.

Three weeks before we were scheduled to depart, only moments after confirming flight plans with photographer Glenn Simmons, Kevin tore up his shoulder in a fall skiing in a freak whiteout fog at Whistler. Enter a course of aggressive physiotherapy, and much discussion over whether to call the Baja trip off or not. While my day job was running full tilt in un-prioritized screaming panic, evenings and weekends were happily full of outdoor winter sports, and for the first time in years I wasn’t feeling the adventure bug’s mid-winter bite. Heck, I wasn’t feeling the adventure period, complete with having “a bad feeling about this one.”

A sideways jar… the right ones aren’t too bad – they don’t cause as much grating or poking. The plane bounces to the left in a recovery, and I get slight insight into the chest-burster scene from Alien.

Distracted by work, I wasn’t able to find a hook or theme for the media we needed to justify the trip as an online publication. Nature abhors even a thematic vacuum, and rather than settling on “Directionless”, it settled on “Broken”.

The day of our arrival in Palm Springs, the trailer, loaded with bikes, is T-boned on the way back from picking Glenn up at the airport by an uninsured, and emotionally unstable motorist. Luckily, our friend and past contributor Mic, builds an exceptionally robust trailer, and the unit is unharmed save for a slightly bent fender. The Volvo, not so much – the front end is apparently detachable. It’s an inauspicious start, followed by days of repacking and debating routes while staying with our friends Joe and Flora Lloyd of Curbside Productions.

We nearly fall prey to the adventure trap of “bring it all” contingency planning the bikes into bloated unmanageability. We snap at the last minute and ditch the camping gear, before bolting into the Baja, making to Kiki’s in San Felipe for a first day.

The Baja is redemptive, working our way down the coast of the Sea of Cortez, there is a sense of relief only blue skies, beach views and sunshine can offer. We ride through to Coco’s Corner and are astounded to see the pavement end only five kilometers short of Gonzaga Bay/Rancho Grande. Stopping at the Pemex to top up, the man behind the till is realistic about the road paving that is scheduled to push through to the Mex 1 starting in May, “The budget has been approved. It will bring business, but also more problems — drugs.”

This in a way is a last chance to ride; Coco’s Corner, that venerable dual-sport, adventure and dirt outpost, will lose its outpost status. One wonders if Coco’s will become just another roadside curiosity on a highway south, when the challenge of getting there is destroyed and its stock and trade remote feel paved over? Will the tradition of stopping for a beer served by a now double amputee live on among the contingent of desert rats riding the area? Will they bypass the highway, or simply follow other more challenging routes to Coco’s? Shake the magic eight-ball and “the future is uncertain”, the survival of tradition in this case relies on context, entertainment value and kindliness. For myself it’s not a trip to the Baja without an uneasy visit to this blue-tongued devil tearing around on his Taz bedecked quad — wheelchairs don’t do sand after all.

Back in the air, reflection is intermittent for me. Riding out turbulence is proving more difficult than the Ambulance ride, there is no predictability to it; just random gusts and air pockets. I concentrate on using my core muscles to keep everything as stable internally as I can. There’s no way I can make it to my bag to dig for painkillers, so I’m drawing on diminishing reserves of Norwegian-Dutch stoic. Somewhere in my genetic pool there has to be the bloody minded ability simply to tough out a sword wound; at the very least I don’t get seasick.

We roll into Bahía de los Angeles for our second night on the road. There are a couple hotels here, but our standby is Costa del Sol on the Malecón. We pull in at night and the lot is full of dirtbikes, quads and 4x4s, the owner, Victoria, spots us and opens up a couple rooms for us to select from. All are clean, the beds comfortable, and the selection point boils down to which has the least odor of fresh paint and cleaners — these are comforting odors to find when traveling the Baja.

The languid breakfast service gives us a chance to visit with 91 year old local prospector and minor celebrity Herman Hill, a group of riders heading south with a support vehicle, and plot our next stop. The support vehicle driver from the other group of riders is pushing hard for us to come south, at some point it transitions from being friendly to slightly suspicious. Their route is typical Baja dirtbiking fare; depending on who you talk to you could drive a semi through it, it is “ok” or it’s utterly impassible on our 990s. Instead we opt for Mission San Borja, a site founded in 1762 by the Jesuit clergy and restored by the Monteón family who live on the Ranchero surrounding the site.

The mission is a lovely place to spend an afternoon, which fits because that’s how long it takes to repair Kevin’s flat rear tire. A small nail evades us, requiring three patches. Two after the tire has been remounted. Through the entire process, Gerardo, the caretaker, displays near infinite patience and generosity; including topping off our water supply from the spring that attracted the Jesuits to this site initially.

Eventually we get underway again, but the cadence of the morning has been lost. The romp of a ride has been replaced by periodic sections of deep sand, the big KTM 990 Adventures slewing through. Glenn is uncomfortable in sand, with no amount of “keep your weight way back and roll on the throttle” advice easing his stress, maybe the Baja wasn’t the best choice.

We pass a small ranchero, followed by a treed section of deep fine white turns. A black bay bolts across my path, Kevin gets one too, the Interphone pipes up, “Did you see the horses back there?” Like there was a choice?

Then it all goes very wrong.

Kevin heads into a stretch of the deep and loose sand, the front end begins to wash, his track slews right then left towards a cactus and he abandons ship. In sand you will have downs, the key is a graceful throwing the bike out from under you once you’ve burnt off enough speed and if there is a need — like say heading directly for a cactus.

Glenn is ahead of me. I’ve stopped to give both him and Kevin some room, and film them riding by. On the Interphone I hear Kevin ahead, “I’m down. Glenn’s down. I think he’s hurt.”

Where Kevin abandoned ship, Glenn attempted to ride out the sand. Following close, he aims for the right side of the road. Losing the bike, he and the 950 Adventure have hit a rock that’s conservatively the size of his torso. The impact has been enough to move the rock a good six inches; Glenn has not fared as well.

“I think my sternum is broken, and probably my ankle.” If anyone would know, it’s Glenn, the one of us with medical training. We’re in a bad spot; ahead the road is an unknown. Behind us is the Ranchero and possibly help, and a lot of sand.

Glenn though is tough in that something to prove sort of way. We have serious painkillers in the first aid kit, that he refuses. He also refuses, without coercion, to just sit and rest. We get the bike upright, use straps and zip-ties to re-mount the KTM Gobi bag which has torn off its mounts, and ensure things are generally operable.

We make a judgment call; Glenn figures we can ride out. We discuss a strategy; Kevin in front scouting difficult patches and relaying them to me on the Interphones, with dangerous or technical stretches, namely deep sand, signaled to Glenn. Hard-headed, the plan is laid to waste then he simply charges off into a near blinding sunset.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived in Vancouver.” There’s something about taxi-ing, and keeping your seatbelts on until the plane is at a complete stop, but it’s just verbal gloss. I’m home, just one more border to go.

The customs officer looks at me, “Anything to declare… Jeeze what happened?”
“Broke my collarbone in the Baja. I’m headed to emerg.”

In the arrivals area, Glenn texts, his wife Leanne is coming to meet me. I spot her as she comes through the doors, and she takes my bag. At the car, Glenn, who had ridden back from our trip’s south most point of Guerrero Negro in the Baja, to Palm Springs, before taking a flight to Vancouver, is waiting at the car. Resplendent in an aircast for his ankle, there is nothing to be done for the broken sternum except time.

I’m home, but not home. Glenn and Lee both work at the same hospital, putting me in good hands. The Emergency room is waiting, and unlike most I’m arriving with my own novelty keepsake — X-rays from a Mexican Clinic.


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