A Little Bit of Baja, 1997

Carl Tyler writes:

If you are ever challenged by tough luck in Baja, Dave Gallegos is the guy you want on your team. Let me set the scene. We were one day deep into Baja. Having spent the night in Catavina, we had been on the road about an hour. An overcast sky left a chill in the air. The roads were typical Baja … twists, turns, ups and downs, with all manner of potholes to keep your interest.

As opposed to American roads, Baja Hyway 1 makes no attempt to cut through the landscape. Instead, it follows the terrain. In the mountains it is steep up followed by steep down. The trough, or Vados, is generally a sharp dip that nicely accommodates the occasional flash flood. These sections of road often test the full travel of your suspension. Bottoming on full dressers is an easy task.

As we hit the bottom of one particularly treacherous vados, Bill Nelson’s bike (‘75 Goldwing) made a bad sound. Sort of a grinding, crunching thud, with a lingering growl that causes a sick feeling deep in the pit of your stomach. Especially when you are 1,500 miles from home, and the nearest Honda dealer is in another country. Bill nursed his bike another five miles to a roadside way station. Dirt parking with His and Hers outhouses ‘round back. A welcome oasis in an empty desert. Heuvos Rancherous was the bill of fare for breakfast, as we discussed our options.

The unanimous decision was to disassemble and diagnose, prior to making any further decisions. We pushed the bike to a rear parking area under a thatched roof car port. Luckily it was on a raised cement slab, which allowed the bike to be perched with the rear wheel hang over the edge. Using large rocks and scrap lumber, Dave Gallegos and Bill managed to prop the rear end while they pulled the rear axle, and dropped the wheel. When they opened the drive housing, the universal joint was found in pieces. Dave’s reply to this dismal situation:

“We’ll find a machine shop and get it fixed.”

Yeah, right. This, in a land of outhouses and gates hinged with old tire tread.

“No, I’ve seen it. These people can fix anything.”

Okay. Now we were on a mission. Dave and Bill pulled the entire swing arm, including drive shaft and what used to be a u-joint, and bungied it to the back of another bike. Bill’s luggage was distributed among the other bikes, and Bill climbed on the back of Dave Gilbert’s ‘88 Wing (affectionately dubbed the Motor Home, or minibego). Once again, we were off … Dave Gallegos in search of a master machinist in the land dirt roads and ox carts, Bill Nelson as co-pilot to Dave Gilbert, and the rest of us shaking our heads and thinking “thank God it wasn’t me.” In our rear view mirror was Bill’s bike, left somewhere between Catavina and Guerrero Negro, with the assurance of strangers in a strange land that the bike would be there when we returned.

The trip continued with many phone calls to the states, contingency plans and Dave’s ever present faith that somehow we would prevail. Guerrero Negro, Santa Rosalia, Mulege, Loreto, Ciudad Constitucion … nothing. Not that we weren’t having fun, however. Somehow Dave’s optimism was infectious. We all began to believe that one way or another, we would prevail … so why not enjoy ourselves as the adventure unfolded. And then it happened … La Paz. On their eternal quest for repair or replacement, Dave and Bill found a motorcycle salvage shop with a complete ‘79 Wing. Check the parts book, yep it matches with the ‘75. Check the parts with the swing arm they’ve been carrying for the last 600 miles, yep they match too. A parts swap, snap ring pliers, an Allen wrench and $177 (American) later we were in business. Amazing!

We completed our loop through Cabo San Lucas and Todos Santos, and headed back the way we came. We had fun. We had faith. This is Baja. Somehow, you just work through the challenges. Buying gas a gallon at a time from 55 gallon drums, running road blockades … no problem.

And when we made it back to the bike, it was almost a disappointment. Things went too easily. The ‘79 parts slipped right into the ‘75 bike. We shook hands, had lunch, paid Senora with a bottle of Tequila, and hit the road. We were all happy to have Bill out front, leading us home. Bill was happy to have his bike back, and all his things we had been packing around for him throughout the trip. Well … almost all his things. Somewhere between Loreto and Mulege some lucky local found Bill’s nearly new chaps by the side of the road. How they got there … well, that’s another story. After all this is Baja. Funny things happen here.