When we last left our heroes, they were musing about how well they were progressing………..
Towards the bottom we got back on a faint goat path. Compared to what we had come down, this was relatively easy and not too steep. Heck, we could even get back on the bikes and ride. Firing my 525 up, I got a huge cloud of smoke out the exhaust. With so much time pointed straight downhill, oil had pushed up the breather and into the carb. It took a couple of minutes of revving to get it cleared out. I was praying for the plug to not foul. This is the last place I wanted to work on bikes.
Considering how much we had pushed and pulled, all the bikes held up great. There was one spot were we literally had to just lay them on the side to drag each down off a rock. This was not a place for anyone with concerns for scrapes and scratches. But as far as I could tell, we had not even broke a turn signal yet.
The last section off the mountain was a narrow side hill goat track. It was a literal goat track, not even the cattle would use it. It was rideable, but needed the utmost of caution not to fall off the side. I took one wrong line and found myself on the low side and unable to get back up on the good part of the trail. I called for Mark and John to come assist. As I got moving again, I caught something and lost my balance. I was starting to fall and had no place to catch myself. Fortunately Mark was standing in just the right spot and was able to catch me before I went over.
This was the exact spot where Jimmy and I came to the painful realization that we were going to spend the night in the desert. Dark, sitting on the side of a mountain, exhausted and out of water. We barely had a flat spot to sit, let alone spend the night. We would hike down lower to find a sheltered spot with some flat ground to make our bed and fire. It would be a long night.
I certainly felt better with the sun high and the bottom in sight. The very last section coming off the mountain was a big sand dune. This is the route that Jimmy Sones and I had not been able to find in the dark on the first trip. All around are steep ravines and the dune was the easy way out.
Once to the bottom we regrouped and took a short break. We still had plenty of daylight. Having completed the most difficult part of the trip we were in good spirits. None the less, we were tired and ready for a rest. We found a small bush for cover from the sun. The day had not been too hot, but now down in the bottom of a canyon, there was no breeze and the sun beat down strong.
Almost But Not Quite…
The terrain from the top had been nothing but rock and cactus. Now at the bottom, it seemed even more so. There was a wide variety of cactus, all looked menacing. In some places they were so thick that it would be impossible to ride through, almost like a small forest. We all had a few needles stuck in us already. It took careful aiming to keep out of them.
I pointed the way down the canyon bottom to the others. We would ride along a finger plateau that stretched down the canyon. Once it ran out we had to drop down the middle of the sandwash for a bit and then cross to the north side where we could eventually pick up the end of the road. The road comes to a stop at a field of cactus, so we could not make the cross over too soon.
Working our way down the plateau was a bit difficult, a constant meander to clear as much of the rock and cactus as possible. Compared to what we had just finished, it was simple. I had stashed my GPS when we came down the mountain, for fear of loosing it but I was confident of the direction.
After 20 minutes of picking our way, our plateau came to an end. The going got much more difficult than I remembered. We were making headway and going the correct direction, so I pushed on. I finally came to the realization that we were on the wrong finger. We needed to be on the next one to the south, just 100 yards away. But there were two shear walls between us and that path. The choice was to turn back or continue on our course. I judged that we could not be more than a mile from the road head.
Pushing ahead would mean that we would drop right into a small vein of the sandwash and ride down it. While often prudent, turning back always feels like a kind of failure. So I decided we should just push ahead. The first part in the sand was brutal. The wash was just a few feet wide and heavily overgrown with brush.
After beating our way through the deep sand and rocks, the route started to open a bit. Now we were faced with what seemed like endless boulder fields. My 525 and one of the 350’s were geared way too high for this kind of work. As it turned out, mine had old 1.4 radiator cap and was boiling constantly.
A full hour had now passed since we had entered the canyon. Yet it seemed like we were making little headway and the work was exhausting. Often it was easier to stop and walk a section to determine the best line. There were little fingers of the wash that would separate and come back together. Keeping to the main line was important as to not waste time and mileage.
We were a full ten hours into our day. The sun was still high and beating down. At each little rest we took our helmets off and sought shade. I knew I was just about out of water and I don’t typically drink much. I knew the others would be low or out already too. The little caution buzzer was starting to ding in the back of my head. At this point, everything was still under control, but we were just one mishap away from things turning for the worse.
I had been so preoccupied with our fuel supply that I had miss calculated the water ration. We had already added an extra hour to the ride from my mistake in direction. But we were close too, we would be out in just a little while. Of course “out” simply meant getting to the road. It would still be two full hours from there to San Felipe. But the riding would be easy.
On a brighter note, my 525 had stopped boiling. Out of sight, out of mind (out of water) I say. It was just the desire to be done that was starting to get to me. I was hot and tired, the others were too. Sam seemed the least bothered by any of this. Apparently death marches are a common Sunday afternoon practice in Hawaii.
We pushed on, made one bad line choice and we had to double back. I finally spotted a line I liked. It was time to cut north and look for the road. We had to first find a line to get down off one finger and cross the wash. I could see an obvious cow trail leading up the far side of the wash to the north. Once across, I took it and it was smooth going. After waiting to make sure the others found this line, I continued on.
There it was, the road! What a big sense of relief I felt. Even though I had always known just where it was, when stuck between the walls of a canyon that seems to go forever, it was a nice sight. Time to put my jacket back on and make tracks. The road had lots of winding smooth sand curves and was loads of fun.
A few miles later we passed the first water well. The water was flowing and the cattle were gathered around. At 20 miles we came to the first Rancho. I decided to stop as I knew my bike was completely out of water. With a quick greeting we passed through the gate and went in. The rancher got us water. I inquired about drinking water and he pointed to a big blue barrel.
Time to get the filter straw out. Between us we consumed well over a gallon of water while hanging out with the ranchers under their palapa. We talked and they told us a bit about their life out in the desert. I asked about their foods, mostly beans and meat. We unloaded our packs and gave them everything we were carrying. A nice variety of snacks and treats. It was a nice evening and we were all glad we took the chance to stop in and meet these fellows.
But the sun was starting to get low and we still had a solid hour ahead of us. I later realized that when the group had asked me how far to Felipe, I had replied in mileage, not mentioning that it was mostly 60 mile an hour road. So they had thought we had many miles of trail still to cross!
The sun was just setting on the mountains when we came to the highway in San Felipe. It was 7:30. Thirteen hours since we had left the west coast. I suggested we go straight to dinner. If I found a bed, I might not get back up. We were as dirty and ragged as you can imagine, but no one in Felipe much cares anyway.
We ate well. I don’t think any of us really tasted much of the food. It was just food and that was the important part. We had hit the pavement just in time to take some last of daylight photos and it was a beautiful evening. With dinner complete it was off to bed. We grabbed a couple of gallons of water and headed to George’s Hotel.
While there was nothing more I wanted than sleep. I wasn’t quite ready. We sat around and talked of the day. Now that is was behind us, the difficulty of the moment was already passing. We all agreed, having arrived safe and sound, the extra credit portion of the ride was the key factor to making the day absolutely epic. While the mountain was very hard, it was only the last section that took us towards our limits. Considering that we had added a number of hours to the trip from the first time around and we completed it all before dark, it was indeed an epic day.
I did not sleep well that night. I think I had dipped into my adrenaline reserves and was too pumped up to relax and sleep. It was late in the morning before we got started the next day. Breakfast tasted amazingly good and I was ready for lunch just and hour or so later. As you might imagine, no one was moving terribly fast and all seemed anxious for an relaxing day. We still had a few days of riding in front of us. There were a few more adventures ahead of us also.