Sunday morning found me hung-over from the fall party at Alasdair and Laurenís. Not too bad though, I took painkillers before suffering too much. The main feeling was not being very with it to play croquet; I buggered up every shot I took just about. My game did improve a bit towards the end, after having a couple of beers. Last night I pretty much drank continuously, didnít feel so pissed though, which continues to be the case really. I can be drinking and it doesnít seem to get me staggering, or being incoherent. I did find myself being morose when Susan, jonnyís girlfriend, wanted to talk about Cai and offer support if I ever need it. Different views of people reflect how they are, obviously; the view that we canít deal with this trauma alone is a dodgey one. Eventually it must be us, ourselves, who actually deal with such emotional turmoil. Iím not saying support and guidance has no place in this, a shoulder to cry on, an attentive ear, a caring hug, they all have their benefits and they ease the pain and loneliness. Itís not solving anything though, it doesnít exorcise the demons. OK, having someone there to hold you, while you let the tears flow, can be nice. It can also make you feel weaker within yourself, uncomfortable with your dependence on others to help you through. And no, I do not think people should be pushed aside, I donít think isolation is the whole answer either. For me isolation could easily lead to a deep inversion of my emotions and sentiments, I need people I am comfortable enough with, to express my grief.
I do need to be able to talk, but this doesnít always need to be a close friend, or even a person I know. Talking about Cai can be enough, the person doesnít have to know heís dead, enthusing about his virtues is therapy anyway. Relating memories of our lives together, letting the world know how special my son was is a wonderful therapy; it neednít be a sorrowful one either. More and more I find myself talking about him to people, without telling them he died, or merely mentioning that fact without elaborating. It can feel strange acting as if Cai isnít here, as if he doesnít exist, chatting as if I didnít have a care in the world. The simple fact is though, he isnít here, but accepting that and acting accordingly hurts! I know Iíve got to get on with doing things, without constant thoughts of Cai, too many thoughts become unbearable. Frequent tears do nothing to improve life, I wonder how much of the grief is self perpetuating, how much more it hurts to retell of the pain; does it still have a lot of meaning or is it just becoming a vicious circle. I know that isnít the case, fortunately, so I can discard that notion immediately. I also know I shouldnít feel guilty about getting on with life, enjoying myself; itís so important to start acting as if I am alone. Fuck it, I am, whether I like it or not! So I shouldnít feel crap by acting that way, letís hope putting it into words will help that sink in.
On the subject of the bike, I dropped it wheeling backwards on Saturday. My foot slipped in the gravel and down we went, bloody embarrassing! There was a definite positive side to it though, it was so easy to pick up. Despite it falling over down slope, the boxes made it a doddle, there was so much to grab hold of, wherever you wanted! Under motion the balance is exceptional, no hesitation leaning over, right over! Fully laden tonight I gave it a decent trial, I couldnít tell any difference than the boxes empty. The tight bends on the mountain roads were a breeze, I gently lay the bike right down and throttled nicely out of every bend; getting lower and faster with each one. All I can say is there is nigh perfect distribution of weight, and no shifting of luggage no matter how hard I try to crank it round bends. What can I say but, BBBBBBBBBrrrrrrilllllllllliaaaaaaaaantt? I got enough food to last a few days and chose a nice rich coffee to use in my new, unbreakable, cafetiere. Arenít I the bloody luxury biker now, eh?
Tuesdayís route was fairly straight forward, route 150 from Upper Ojai to Santa Paula, then interstate 126 onto the 118. I used this as a shortcut through the edge of Oxenard, onto the Interstate 101, which took me to LA and the Interstate 405. A slight detour was made into Thousand Oaks, to the Kawasaki dealer, for my leaner pilot jet. Another detour was made before leaving the 405, I managed to buy a spare visor from another parts supplier, one of the few who sell Vox helmets. Once clear of LA I joined Interstate 5 heading south. This would have taken me all the way to Tijuana, but I didn't want to use this border crossing, itís very busy and difficult to find all the places to pay tourist tax and import tax. Tacate is supposed to be much less hassle, so I took the 125 to highway 94, which goes straight down to Tacate.
Not long after clearing greater LA the sky became heavy with smoke, almost blocking out the moon. It was really dense and got thicker quickly. It was so surreal, thick smoke making it dark and spooky, ash highlighted in my headlight and as it got darker the glow of fires could be seen behind the hills. By the time I got near Spring Valley signs declared Highway 94 closed, bollocks! What the frigging hell am I going to do, apart from going via Tijuana, which I really didnít want to do. I stopped at a retail park; the fires were in full view on the hillside, only a few miles ahead of me. I hadnít realised the extent or seriousness of the wildfires, the car park was full of RVís and campers of people whoíd been evacuated. It appeared more like a community outing, people with chairs in their pickups watching the progress of the fires. They were jostling for good views for photos, and the flaming hillside did look fairly impressive, I couldnít be arsed to get out the camera. More importantly, I was desperate to find a way around the fires. Finding out highway 8 had been re-opened was all I needed, motorcycles had only just had a restriction lifted, the wind had dropped so was deemed passable. OK, it was passable, because I got along it! But great care was vital and it had to be done at slow speed. If I went any faster than 55mph the stability was risky, below 50mph and I didnít have enough speed to make a straight line against the wind. There was no foretelling which direction the next gust would come from, nor how strong it would be. I rode for an hour, then chatted to a couple of border guards, who told me the 94 east end, to circle round the blockages, was in fact closed also. Holy shit, what choice do I have left? Take a breather and give myself time to calm down, and consider my options.
Iíd already overshot the S1, the short cut to the east end of the 94, but there I sat at the intersection of Interstate 8 and route 94, only half an hour from Tecate. I woke early and getting ready was quick and simple, on the road by 9.30. As there was no road block at the end of the 94 I thought it was a good start. It didnít last more than about twenty miles, up popped a sign, ďroad closedĒ, bollocks! There wasnít a police blockade so I decided to ask how far I could get, hoping to reach Tecate and cross the border. At first it was disappointing, only two miles along the road there was a road block; luckily I meet two local guys. Their first question was, ďwhat sort of bike are your riding, is it a street bike?Ē Once we established my bikeís type, and basic layout, they came to the point. Simple, continue to the road block, turn left and go along to the end of the tarmac. Continue on the dirt track until reaching the border fence, turn right and just follow the fence all the way to Tacate border crossing. Wow, what a treasure; what a great chance meeting. How lovely it was to come along to the police road block, indicate left and just turn off, not even giving them a chance to say a word or signal for me to stop.
It turned out to be a reasonable track, not too loose, and not too much gravel. There was a constant presence of sand, some sections were very steep with rocky outcrops, and there were some really steep downhill sections; they made me ride with the utmost caution. Having passed a couple of border patrols I didnít think there was a problem, the third one stopped me and asked where I was going. It posed no problem for him; he wished me luck and let me on my way. I was only a few miles away from Tacate. And then who should come along, Mr Officious! Twenty question time ensued, he wasnít impressed, and claimed the border was closed. Well, I really didnít believe him, so assured him plenty of people had seen me and said it was fine to be using the track. He wasnít going to believe me, I just said clearly Iíd have to ride back out from Tacate, after he stated very clearly there was nowhere to stay at the border. Well he let me go anyway, and as he drove off the other one had come along. I couldnít believe it, he told me to find a hole in the barrier and go through. And Iíd only just turned around when Mr O came back, shit! Then along came the helpful one, is this going to get complicated or what? Actually no, a note was taken of my name etc, Mr O turned round and just advised me to get across the border anyway I could. Well fuck it then, off I go, next stop Mexico!
Oh, how I wish it had been that easy! Whilst trying to find a suitable place a Mexican border guard saw me riding along the barrier and started watching me. No way was I going to risk Mexican jail, which I felt sure would happen if I was picked up by them. So on to Tacate, which was closed, and involved a check on my credentials. It wasnít actually any problem and the guys were friendly enough, they were actually apologetic about having to check my ID, along with being perplexed at my attempts to get to the border.
Despite the 94 being closed, I had to use it to get away from the border; the eastern route was used as the other way went up into Jamul, which is the worst area of the wildfires. On the way back to Interstate 8 I had to go right past a fire front. No, it wasnít a large one; in fact it looked very insignificant. It was pleasant to be stopped to talk to a cop, he was a real KLR fan, he wished me well and bade me farewell. But what a bore, I had to ride up to the 8, all the way back to San Diago and then down to the border, I didnít go to the Tijuana crossing though. There is a truck crossing about five miles east of it which I went through instead, I didnít stop at all which worries me. I donít have an import document and I havenít paid tourist tax. Maybe I can try and get these tomorrow, Iím sure someone said at one time I could get these in Ensanada. Iíll have to see tomorrow, I passed the tourist information kiosk so Iíll find it in the morning and sort out what I need.
The end of the day really surprised me; an awful panic attack gripped me once I stopped in Ensanada. I felt desperate to turn around and go straight back to Ojai, ETS was needed in a double dose. All I could think was what the hell am I doing, how could I possibly manage this trip, how can I cope with being alone. I felt so cut off, by language alone. Thatís what induced the fear, the anxiety attack! Oh fuck, I felt so alone, consumed with a desperate need to talk or be with someone; someone I knew and could trust. It was so hard not to break down completely, I felt so strongly like bursting into tears; I made do with a couple of tears rolling down my cheek.
Before leaving Ensanada I had to find where to pay my tourist tax for Mexico, it could be more hassle than it's worth to be stopped and not have it. It would certainly involve a fine, and I don't know if I'd have to return to Ensanada to get one then. Better get it sorted, then I've no cause for concern. As It happens, I got fined anyway, for not getting said tax at the land crossing; a whole $5. Cheapskates, you'd have thought they could make it a decent fine, that wasn't even enough to piss me off. Not even the fact I was made to go to the other end of town, at least I got directions to the bank, so I could use the ATM. So, temper intact, I left the sprawling metropolis and headed south.
A dead simple route this time, follow Mex 1 south; with a few detours and lots of desperate tears. I took one detour to the coast, following a signpost declaring camping at a beach. Actually it ended with the name ďDel merĒ, which I thought meant over, or of, the sea. The other detour was a much longer one, taking me 100km off the road to the Parc Nationale San Pedro Martin (recommended by the tourist office).
Boy is it hot, or what? No gloves, jacket open and still sweating at 60+mph. I had to leave my visor open to stop my face and lips getting fried through the perspex. Only an hour of riding brought me to a stop, I just had to get a cool drink and sit in the shade. This is hotter than California, in fact hotter than I can remember being on a bike before. Being nearer the sea seemed a good idea; hence the first detour, a forty mile round trip to a glitzy tourist pad on top the cliff, with no sign of sand or beach. Of course anyone who knows me will also know there is virtually no chance I would stay at such a place, so around I turned and set off for Mex 1 again. I didn't mind really, one road is as good as another, it's still riding!
Actually, the riding has not been able to take my mind off troubling thoughts, every ounce of my being has been screaming for me to turn around and return to Ojai. My greatest desire to be amongst those I know, respect and trust, again a strong pull to return home. I found it impossible to imagine completing this journey, no way do I feel like being alone anymore. The feelings from my night in Ensanada have taken root and multiplied. How I have kept riding south I do not know, uncontrollable tears accompanied me most of Thursday. I've called out for Cai, almost pleaded for the strength to make a decision, let alone to continue. I can only express my deepest thanks to those I spoke to on the phone, whose words consoled me, allowed me to bolster my reserves, and keep heading south. Whether it's only for one more day I can not say, the important thing being I do what I feel is right for me. I still feel unable to continue long term, alone. I know I am alone in the purest sense where ever I am, but i do not want to be isolated, desperate to seek out anyone I can speak to, any other travellers to linger around, to ease my pain and loneliness.
After a night sleeping out in the open I did meet another traveller, another who felt lonely, who delighted in the thought of some company. This, at least, will give me a chance to settle into this new culture, maybe to pick up a bit more Spanish. It hasn't made me feel more like continuing after we go our own separate ways, but it delays having to decide way or the other. It gives me a couple of weeks, if I don't settle in that time, if I still cry out for friends I will return to Ojai, if not home. David is a reasonable guy, an old Aussie, well travelled but had enough of travelling solo, after his six months alone I can understand that.
Now we're back north, 150 miles or so south of Ensanada, at San Vicente; we're staying at a contact David had. A guy Larry who runs off-road bike tours of the Baja Peninsula, him and the others have a great time running these bike rides. If you turn up at their place they'll do a days riding, if you want picking up it'll have to be a few days package. It sounds hard work, definitely not for the faint hearted. Maybe worth contacting, if you're simply passing by, or want a serious adventure for a few days, no harm in taking a look at their site and giving them a ring.
Phew! I almost expected a torrent of comments after my last blog entry, I'm glad there wasn't. It was so good to be reminded how hard I found it when I first set out from Ojai. There were days of enormous insecurity, miles of tear laden road, and an overwhelming desire to turn back and be with loved ones. I guess some things will take a long time to change, my grief over losing Cai will never change; I'm sure it will become more bearable though, as it has for much of the time already. For the support I received I am eternally grateful, all points made rang so true. I would feel a failure not to continue at this stage, the only reason being emotional desperation. I realised, to stop now could well mean an inability to continue at a later date. I need this for myself, to feel capable, competent and strong. I have no desire to punish myself, but that is only a state of mind; which I should be capable of controlling!
As there is only one main highway down through Baja that's been the route taken, we've had our little detours, as always; nothing is straight forward with me, eh? Since leaving San Vicente we've stayed three of the four nights at beaches, each has had it's distinctive points. Our first night away we travelled a dirt road, the intention to reach a beach with gorgeous sand dunes and miles of empty sand. We made it to the sand, no problem; it was getting through the sand that proved difficult. David got stuck in his camper, sunk up to the wheelbase. When signalled not to follow him I promptly got stuck myself, I bit of a push was all I needed; poor David had to jack the slug bus up and repack underneath the wheels. At least by the time he'd finished I had supper on the go, we made an impromptu camp in the dark and settled down for the night. Whilst I tried sleeping I suffered the scourge of the tropics, known here as, "el poquito mosquito bastado". Hence how I ended up looking like elephant man, bitten on both bloody eyelids and below the eyes. Gaddamn!
Our mileage has been fairly low, our travel quite slow. I'm content to follow the slug at about 50-55mph, slower for problematic occasions. we needed to blow the bus tyres back up after reducing the pressure after the beach episode, all the way back into San Quintin; at least we refuelled at the same time. Only got about ten miles though before an unscheduled stop, David could smell petrol in the cab, a fuel pipe had given up the ghost. No problem, gallant Sir Les to the rescue! I rode to the next town, 25 miles away to get a replacement. Why the next town? Simple I would have been too embarrassed to return, yet again, to S.Q. The ride forward was brilliant, lovely curvy roads, gorgeous views and a chance to spot another good campsite. We stayed a mere ten miles further on, atop a small cliff, overlooking a lively stretch of coast.
One of the most relaxing sounds is that of crashing surf. To sit and watch a myriad of birds is delightful, it doesn't matter whether you know what the hell they are; the pleasure is still immense for me. And what pleasure, the sun setting, Pelicans gliding mere inches above the surf, waders feeding at the water's edge and hot stew cooking on the camp stove. I think there is little that could have settled my mind better than this combination, it does take some beating; it certainly made me glad of the experience.
Isn't it strange, after so many experiences of wildlife in North America the sight of very common birds can still enthuse me with so much joy. But to watch these Pelicans in flight and feeding was truly delightful. In the morning I watched them flying in formation, synchronised, skimming the ocean. As the lead bird ceased flapping so did those behind, as he started to flap his wings again they would follow suit. Amazing how such simple observations can fill me with delight, bring on a tranquility to carry throughout the day.
The whole of the Baja peninsula is desert really, but by no means is it even vaguely boring. No two area are quite the same, each day has seen a vastly different landscape; even from one hour to the next. For some reason when we think of desert we think sand, maybe some rocks and cacti, the odd snake or lizard. Pah, it's incredible just how much variety there is to be found. We had a long stretch of scrubby desert, tinder dry,blowing as tumbleweed along the highway. The earth was a browny mud/sand mixture, very course, interspersed with the odd cactus. As we travelled the number of cacti increased, and the soil disappeared, replaced by a jumble of rocks for as far as the eye could see. And today we were treated to the most amazingly beautiful soft sand, and jungle of immense cacti. This had a back drop and mountains, large and crystal clear on the horizon. Yes, I am alive, and very glad of it too.
The size of the cacti increased with the numbers, and the variety. The height of some were magnificent, easily 40 feet of more, and the girth was incredible. They are bigger than the average tree at home, how old they are is beyond my imagination. Cultured areas I thought were maybe for export, then discovered it is part of the local staple diet; though there are none on the menus I've seen in the restaurants. Its been a shame there are so few places to stop at the roadside, most edges have a drop of at least six inches, into steeply sloping loose sand. It's too dodgy to stop on the road itself, the first truck will flatten you, they don't stop for anything, except the Federales.
Here is yet another geodesic dome, it was a desert museum showing the flora and fauna of the local desert. It made for a brief respite while wondering what was wrong with the camper, it would appear they are more common than I would have thought. This one was a bit tatty from the Santa Anna winds, the struts were preformed metal bolted together. Hopefully our donations will help them recover the damage, though in Mexico it will always be, "manana" before anything is done.
The morning after my last blog I awoke to the sight of four vultures, perched above me, watching me. Iím sure it was with no innocent intent, without succumbing to paranoia it could only be dealt with in the best of humour. Iíd love to say it filled me with foreboding, but they were powerless to deliver anything worse than whatís already happened. It was enlightening, Iíd not seen them up close before; in flight they look almost majestic, soaring effortlessly for hours on end. They really are the ugliest bitches you can imagine, scraggy, bald heads and necks with cumbersome movement. Sitting atop cacti they can be seen early morning, wings outstretched, warming themselves in the sun. Hmmm, glad I didnít sleep in late that day!
Iíd been advised not to ride a certain desert trail by one person; however, another had ridden it and claimed it wasnít anything serious. Confirmation was gotten from a local American, so we decided to follow a dirt road across the desert to take in a 300 year old mission and some rock paintings in a canyon; which was a slight detour, of a couple of km (or so we were told by the same kind guy). As it turned out the detour was a 12 mile round trip, through deep sand, which I did not appreciate in the slightest. Anyway, the trail started about 10 miles outside Bahia de Los Angeles, the mission was 20 miles into the desert; there was another ride out of 20 miles. Weíd left early, so had the whole day to do it; I also had back up, in case it proved too problematic for me. But hey, the longest distance to walk out could only be twenty miles, so what could go wrong? And before you pessimists get any ideas, nothing went wrong; well not really wrong anyway.
Leaving the highway saw us being really sensible, for the first time this trip I reduced the pressure in my tyres; a recognised necessity for off road riding. One Iíve been too lazy to bother with before, could never feel it was worthwhile for my little jaunts into the dirt; besides, it would have meant having to blow them up again when I got to the highway. So with only 17 psi of pressure, off I went into the lead. There was some amount of corrugations, no problem, keep the speed to a minimum of 30mph and the bike skims over the top of them. I was taking it steady, allowing myself time to get used to the conditions, gaining confidence; it has been a while since riding any distance off road, a few weeks at least! It took shape pretty fast, I felt OK, fairly relaxed, a bit excited about riding through the desert; mixed with a bit of awe about taking the plunge into a hostile environment. We thought weíd missed the turn for the paintings, a couple of miles on a signpost showed we hadnít. Wow, how civilised is that? With signposts you canít really feel it to be that hostile, so with a nod of agreement I turned off, with David hot on my heels. Jeeezusss! My front wheel was all over the place, Iíd been advised to paddle through soft sand, to cope with the massive weight of my bike. All this seemed to achieve was to keep my balance swaying from one side to the other, never quite getting it under control. I crawled along, doing about 10mph, trying to keep in the tyre tracks of the last 4x4, where the sand was shallower. Every time my wheel hit the deeper sand to the side it slewed off track, I had to put a foot down then, which meant swaying from side to side until I regained my balance. This went on for 6 frigging miles, I was gripped, totally!
It was such a relief to stop for a quick look at the paintings, not that they were very impressive; the setting was worth it though, and a break from the sand trail was a blessing. Only having whole coffee beans meant Davo had to turn Abo and get to grips with grinding them with rocks, ain't it nice to get back to nature? If it's good enough for generations of caffeine addicts, it's good enough for us!refuelled, we set off for the main event; the 300 year old mission, Santa Borja. The ride out the canyon was tackled in a more relaxed way, slightly faster and a couple of falls; surprise, surprise! Ain't I just glad Dave was there as backup; no sweating and heaving for half an hour on my own. Once back on the main track I could relax completely, pure bliss! For sure it was loose and rough, there were some very rocky sections, lots of steep rises and steeper drops; there was certainly no such thing as straight sections, it was really twisty, snaking around the forest of cacti.
How beautiful, what a difference the lower tyre pressure made. After the dreaded sand it was delightful, so what is a man supposed to do? Open the damn throttle, that's what! So that's what I did, it was such a surprise to look down and see the speedo reading 50mph. Cobbles? No problem! Sharp bends? Ease off the throttle a touch, until I could see what was there, and gun the little beauty. I was aware of sharp rocks jutting out the ground, easy, weave around them. Oh boy, how delightful! I was in hog heaven, dust fishtailing behind, David nowhere in sight; all I was aware of was the amazing view of trail and desert. Each time I stopped for David I greeted him with a huge grin, such fun. This was definitely the most difficult track ridden so far, and I loved every minute of it. I was amazed at how well I coped, in fact it wasn't a matter of coping, I relished every second spent riding through the desert. It was almost a disappointment when we finally reached the mission, I was just keen to get going again.
When Dave suggested we camped out in the open desert I readily agreed, what a great idea. Something I've never done independently, only as part of an organised tour. The idea of prolonging the desert riding experience was too good to resist, we had food, water and plenty of fuel. Travelling half the distance out seemed the best idea, this ensured we were far away form any other signs of habitation. With a fire lit, carefully, we settled down to a pretty awful meal of fish, pasta, salsa and sweetcorn. To be honest, it wouldn't have mattered what we ate, the experience was amazing. There was not the slightest sound from anything, there was no source of light other than our campfire; once dark the only view was a hundred million stars. The intensity of the night sky was unbelievable, I lay awake for much of the night, marvelling at the sight.
so there I sat staring at the night sky, and behold, another falling star. My only wish is that Cai did not die, a wish that can never come true. I also think of parallel universes, I hope there are such things; maybe another Cai will survive, and go on to achieve the greatness my son could have, if still alive. When I think of the future it is still with thoughts of Cai; as thoughts come to mind I need to remind myself, I canít share these with him. I must look forward to what I can do myself, relying on myself for my hopes and dreams. If that means a lonely life, then so be it; it doesnít have to be though, I can allow others in to share with me. I can, and should, open up to the possibility of sharing my life with others. Maybe I shouldnít rely on that, to do so could mean living with false hope. But to ignore the possibility, is to deny myself so much.
I personally never found the deserts I encountered boring, they have seemed varied and interesting. For sure they've induced torpor and sleep, only due to the extreme heat while travelling through them. Even on a motorcycle this can be a potential problem, keeping hydrated is vital. Also concentration can waver easily, mind you mine can at any time. This morning I nearly ran off the road, while looking at a lovely tree lined river going into town. My wheels were half off the tarmac edge, with a drop of a couple of inches and soft, sandy gravel below it would have been nasty. With only a low barrier for protection I would have plummeted a fair way; the bike would have stayed at the roadside though. So at least I wouldn't have gotten crushed by that as well, but I'd rather not think about that: now where was I?
Riding highways through the desert! With long mileage to cover and little traffic I tend to keep my interest active by noticing what there is and how it changes. Once we got off the dirt road the other day there were many miles of hot arid riding to do. For a long time the scenery was devoid of any interest, flat barren plain for as far as the eye could see; dead scrub was the only addition to featureless plain. There was a backdrop of mountains, they were very distant, only vague shadows on the horizon. Having just noted these things it suddenly changed, and I do mean suddenly. With no apparent change in altitude or topography cacti appeared, a whole multitude of them, dominated by the tall branching type; they formed so many strange shapes. Many had only one branch growing from their lower extremes, they were upthrust protuberances; the only way to describe them is like erect penisí. Most unfair really, there were no female equivalents; try as I might I saw nothing that resembled pert, or even saggy, breasts or buttocks. Soon another cactus took dominance, this was more like a shrub, actually it looked more like a coral than a cactus, even up close. At one stage it was so numerous there was no room for anything else between the giants.
The mountain range in Baja seems to hug the coast for so much of the time. Our route invariably swings back into the hills as we near the coast, for so long they have been a far distant view, only vaguely visible. But each time we've swung inland, and returned to the coast, we've encountered a delightful stretch of road. Hugging the hillside it will twist and turn at the precipitous edge, rising steeply and plunging again out of sight, round the next bend. Each bend holds the promise of my first sight of the sea, when it comes I can feel my heart lift, as more is exposed the joy intensifies. These are the times I look forward to, knowing what will great me as I near the coast. Even if the reality doesn't hold true, the initial pleasure is still intense.
I'm now at Playa El Coyote, just south of Mulege, on the east coast of Baja. By the time I leave I'll have been here for a week, it's great, a beach to relax on. You could say it's paradise, but a shower at least once would be nice, as would some fresh water within walking distance. But listen to me, a spoilt brat of the western world, expecting everything layed on, with no effort on my behalf. Wow, what a hardship! Today I've had to start my bike and ride into town to fetch some water, what a drag! As you can see from the photo's, the beach looks great, its virtually deserted and cost next to nothing. Of course, being in a place frequented by hoards of USA citizens, it gives very little in return. As the economists say, "there's no such thing as a free lunch", rich hoards ensure holiday destinations adhere to this philosophy.
So Iíve been dossing on the beach for three days so far. Having such a relaxed time hasnĎt induced me to write anything, all Iíve really done is to lay in the sun and read. Each day I go to the end of the beach, strip off, and enjoy some time alone. Yes, my vanity still urges me to get an all over tan; why I donít know! Is it habit, or do I actually enjoy the total exposure to the sun? A bit of both really, I do actually l like being tanned all over. I enjoy feeling the sun on my whole body, I like the feeling of being naked, I love the sense of freedom it gives me. There is nothing exhibitionist in this (I claim anyway); inevitably I ensure Iím alone, not to give offence to those who feel uncomfortable with my nakedness. The last couple of days people have been within sight of me, but if Iíve gone to the effort to be secluded can they really object? Well they can, but whether they are justified in that is another matter. Live and let live i say!
What better way to finish a nice chilled out time on the beach than to get completely plastered on the last day! Tequila and lashings of beer does the job nicely, a 300 mile ride tends to work it out the system too. I must be mad, whatever possessed me to get so faceless the day before leaving. I so wish I could blame the others I was with, unfortunately the tequila was my idea, my treat to the group. None of us could even remember getting back to our beach, miraculously the camera I left out for hours stayed put, and I'm sure Errol will find his teeth again.
It would have been easy to stay for another week, no effort what so ever, but I wouldn't achieve anything. My tan is topped up nicely, as I'm sure you can appreciate; in one of those rare photos of yours truly. I've put this in to show folks there is no permanent disfigurement from the mozzie bites, after people showed so much concern. Please put your worries aside, I am alive and well, fit and healthy.
I've really enjoyed watching the various birds along this stretch of coast, shame the best shots were missed. Isn't it amazing how the batteries always choose the worst time to run out. But here is a Pelican just hitting the water, rather than wings folded back falling from the sky. The osprey would have made another good photo, as would the dolphins. Actually the dolphins stood no chance of getting photographed, I was straight in the water, swimming out to them. But they were too busy eating fish to play with me, I didn't get nearer than ten metres or so.
The nicest thing at present is the ability to wash myself and some clothes. There were no showers on the beach, any water had to be fetched, that was purified and was not to be wasted on washing. The outcome of this was 10 days without soap contaminating my body, I wondered why I lost five shades of tan in the shower. So, I've succumbed to the luxury of a hotel again. I'm in La Paz, about to cross the sea of Cortez. My accommodation is the Hotel Yeneka, a lovely quirky hotel that is filled with all manner of weird and wonderful junk. I rode the bike up a few steps, through the entrance hall and into the courtyard. I was worried about wrecking the place, there are so many bits and pieces everywhere.
What a plonker I am! One of the most basic things to teach new riders is the necessity of making "life saver" observations every time you adjust your position on the road. Shame I didn't do that today, If I had I wouldn't be hobbling around with a bent and buckled bike to fix. I got hit in the side as I went to overtake this morning, great hey? I was going to continue to the mainland, but decided to stay in La Paz. There's enough facilities to sort it out here, and an English speaking worker at the hotel, it makes fixing us both so much easier.
Once hit I didn't know how bad it was going to get, I saw myself careening into the back of a truck, then felt us both go down. My only thought was, "this is the end of my trip," I was amazed at the lack of damage to us both. Trying to stand, my knee gave way, I had to roll up my trousers and check it. With no sign of damage I could accept it was only pain, nothing serious! What a relief! The young girls in the car were really upset, crying and convinced I must be badly hurt. I don't know how fast they were going, they weren't there before i put my indicator on, my fault for not checking again before pulling out. A stupid local idiosycracy is the use of the left indicator, they use it to mean it's safe to overtake. Of course the problem is how can the other drivers know whether you mean this, or that you are about to overtake, or even turn left.
The bracket for the headlight assembly is bent, so easy to fix. The worst damage has been done to my nice new boxes, the rack on one side has been torn apart and the mounting components knackered. The standard rear rack has broken, some bracing will sort that out. The actual ali boxes should bend back into shape, they aren't as bad as they look. All in all I've been very lucky; son of a bitch, could have done with that sort of luck four months ago!
I've recently been given information concerning Cai's bike. There was found to be a gelatinous substance blocking the fuel jets in the Carb, so it seems reasonable to see this as the cause of the loss of power Cai experienced, which caused his accident and subsequent death. If I've learnt nothing else in the course of the journey, shit happens, whether by your own omission or someone elses, it is unavoidable in life. We have to accept it and carry on the best we can, it's no good allowing it to effect the rest of your life. sooner or later you have to pick up the pieces and start again. Nothing can alter what has happened, however desperate we may be, and it may take some time to have the strength to continue; but continue we must!
Maybe, for those people who don't live their lives with excitement and risk, it sounds strange for me to be so carefree about having an accident, it could easily have seen my permanent downfall. Riding bikes for so many years has seen me have a number of accidents, maybe I'm a poor rider, maybe I take unnecessary risks. There are too many maybe's in life; I, for one, can't live my life by maybe's alone. Riding a motorcycle creates a cascade of maybe's, whenever you straddle that machine and pull away. If you don't recognise that,or aren't prepared to take that risk, you have no right to be riding. If, however, the thrill and joy of riding, of melding, man and machine, battling the elements, is greater than the risk, then you will soar the heights of delight.
Mad or not, I delight in riding motorcycles. I'll ride in the most atrocious weather, for long miles, and still enjoy it. It makes me feel alive! It had the same effect on Cai, even on some really awful days he still rode into college. Seeing him bump starting his bike everyday for months, was proof of his devotion, his enjoyment of riding; he was what I would describe as a true motorcyclist. He relished the art of motorcycling, being at one with his machine; even if it was only a crappy Chinese 125. However distraught I am over losing Cai, I can't deny the gladness I've felt over his delight in riding. We shared some wonderous times ridng, and enthusing over rides, both individually and shared experiences. What sort of a fool would I be to reject all this, just because he got killed on a bike. He was at the height of his enjoyment when he died, a better bike than he ever thought of having, embarking on a great adventure. What better way to die. Where he was meant so much to him, he was more than ready for it, he was desperate for it. Desperate for the biggest adventure of his life yet; of which he'd had more than most, even those three or even four times his age.
And so I come back to me, my own accident; only the latest in my life of riding; another injury of many. Has it put me off, don't be silly; it's reinforced my determination. At a time where I've been so close to packing it all in, nearly ready to go home, feeling a failure. I actually felt ashamed at my thoughts and feelings at the scene of this accident. A thought popped into my mind, "now I can just go home", an excuse to give up was all it was. If I have had my fill I shouldn't need an excuse, I should be man enough to go home gracefully.
After the drastic news a couple of days ago I've decided to bring you all up to date. Immediately after the accident I took a few very strong painkillers, my stash for just such emergencies. I'd had no breakfast, so I had to hobble into town to find a restuarant. OK, people were worried at the hotel, "Senor Les, you are alright?" Of course I was, I was dosed up to my eyeballs with Codeine and Paracetamol. I even pushed the bike up two curbs, into the hotel courtyard; that was Tuesday night. By wednesday morning it had swelled and stiffened a lot; so, I expected it to stiffen over night. What I didn't expect was for it to carry on swelling and stiffening, by mid-day my calf was swollen and throbbing like hell as well. My knee was as tight as a drum, I had no movement in my leg and I was starting to worry; might this be a lot worse than first thought? I still blamed my stupidity of walking so far the day before, a normal sort of thing for me to do; a painful injury, pop some painkillers and do what I want.
Paulo, from the hotel, saw how swollen it was and called El Patron, the doctor of the house. The decision was unaminous, I should see a doctor, so it was arranged to see El Patron's sister, a specialist in trauma injuries. As it turned out I saw a collegue of her's, I was also lucky to be accompanied by Paulo, as a translator. And I was lucky, if I hadn't had someone to explain what was going on, I would have objected severely to the pain I was subjected to, as the specialist manipulated my knee. This was even more the case when the doctor wanted to stick a needle into my knee joint, to drain out the fluid trapped around the kneecap. Boy was that painful, but hey, pain lets you know you're still alive. He was really chuffed to extract 45cc of fluid, Paulo looked like he'd faint any second; I don't think he realised what he was letting himself in for.
It may well have hurt, whilst the fluid was pushed and squeezed to where the needle was located, but the effect was apparent as soon as he finished: or was it just the relief of him stopping? There was no pain, as soon as I got to my feet a smile sprang across my face. No throbbing, pain free hobbling; a new lease of life. I didn't blink when a bill of $150 was presented, the relief was so intense. The x-ray showed no bone damage, so hopefully it will be fine, only four days of complete rest. I'm sure that will be a real hardship, and I kid you not. How easy do you think it will be for me to stay resting for that length of time, without a beach to hang my bits out on? Believe me, it will be torture, I detest sitting around doing nothing. So while being debilitated I'm learning some Spanish, I guess it might come in handy some day,eh?
Nearly a week has gone by since I saw the trauma specialist, so howís it gone? I obeyed his masterís voice, actually rested for a full four days, took my medication as prescribed; oh, I forgot the hot and cold compresses, and went for a short walk each day. But that couldnít be helped as stated before, I had to eat! My knee is much better, there is still a bit of swelling but mobility is so good in comparison. Iíve been exercising it regularly, bending it to the point of pain, then a bit beyond. Remember, pain is good, if you can feel it, you know youíre alive.
The fifth day after the doc, I could be found frantically stripping off the damaged items from the bike, at least trying to. Polo, he would be out every half an hour, chastising me for doing too much too soon. Now, Iím sure itís better to do too much too soon, than too little too late; but I wonít start a philosophical debate on that point. He was right in this case! The next morning I woke up stiff, in the knee joint, and decided to take it easy again. It allowed me time to do gradual stretching exercises, by the evening I felt fine for a walk around town.
The sunsets here are amazing; riding through mountains hasnít done a lot for seeing many such sights. Even the desert regions Iíve been in have tended to have the horizons obscured by mountains, great at the time; but boy, have I missed those sunsets. Not that it felt so at the time, I was grateful for the immediate darkness and the complete lack of any reflection into the sky. I guess itís all about being grateful for what youíve got, when youíve got it. How well do we generally manage that one?
I like La Paz, a typical small Mexican city, with a hint of tourism. Different form the towns along the peninsula, there is more than one tar macadam road, and no sign of those dry dusty tracks, the only thoroughfares once off the main road. Tonight I walked far and wide, couldnít find a single unpaved road; shame the pavements arenít in as good condition. Theyíre a nightmare for the casual cripples like myself, not that I could see a lot in the areas I was walking. Luckily Iím not limping too much; a cripple with a camera hanging off the shoulder could be a bit of a liability. But I love these type of walks, go one way, talk a few turns into ever darker sections of the city, and after an hour or so start following your nose and find the way back. Itís a guaranteed way of discovering unseen areas of the city, confidence and a dash of stupidity go a long way to keeping safe.
I didnít take out my camera in the dark dismal places, Iím not that stupid, but tried to capture a bit of night time La Paz. Iím not sure what the business, ďUrreaĒ was; but I think they were taking the piss. I did appreciate the Cathedral, it makes a lovely setting for the city square; itís bland, even ugly, at daytime. The promenade is the cityís nicest feature, though only in a modern western type of way, the wonky pavements and pot holed roads are the real character of this place. If youíre really unfortunate you even find the odd restaurant on these darkened streets, I did and it charged $40 a meal; rather than the 40 pesos I have been paying. At 10 pesos to $1 thatís some difference!
With my knee seizing up it was imperative to exercise it, to keep mobility. And exercise it I did. At least once an hour, despite it's reluctance to cooperate, I put it through it's paces; bending it backwards and forwards. Pain is relative, more pain, more gain; actually not necessarily! Fate sent a German paramedic to the hotel, he expressed his concern over my knee, bastard! The swelling was coming back, seems to indicate the muscle not healed, maybe re-torn; what, more rest, ice, jeezus christ. Just when I was thinking I'd be out of here in a few days!
If I'd have taken the full advice given by the doctor, my knee may have seen ice in the first place, it may have healed enough to initiate a regime of exercise. Never mind, my bike bits haven't arrived from Mexican customs yet, so I need something to occupy my mind. I've run out of English books, can't get any more, so boredom is kicking in. Being able to concentrate on healing gracefully will keep me busy. As well as random photo's caught on the street outside the hotel.
One thing that's taken a considerable amount of time is looking back at Cai's life, and death. The memories, both good and bad; allowing the grief free reign, giving time to release some pain. One night I went through the entire photobucket selection of his photo's. Boy did it ever make me cry! I can't get Internet in my room, so it happened in the courtyard shelter of the hotel. There were only a few people around, I wouldn't have given a shit anyway; why should I?
For about an hour I cried like a baby teething, nothing could have stopped it; or so I thought. I didn't think I could look at a photo of Cai without breaking down; but then it started happening! Seeing that gorgeous smile, that happy face; who couldn't smile when faced with that miracle. And the tears went, to be replaced with a smile, to bring a happy feeling into my heart. Much as it breaks my heart to have lost such an amazing son, it makes me feel so privileged to have had such an amazing son.
Even though writing this see's me in tears, its no longer purely grief, I've a smile on my face as I cry. If eighteen years was the longest I was to enjoy life with Cai, then I'm eternally grateful to have had that time. To have shared what we had was the most phenomenal experience I could ever have wished for. It brought more joy into my life than I could have imagined. It may well have left a void, beyond my ability to see past; but those precious years mean more than any loss ever could.
And so I leave you with the smile that could have conquered the world, one in millions! He may barely have reached manhood, but what a man. Bright, sensitive, sensible, caring, adventurous, fun, loving; the list is infinite. Its a poor world indeed, that won't get to see this person reach his peak. Yet I have a feeling, actually more than just a feeling, that his memory will bring forward many a good deed. The world will still benefit, it's the legacy left behind, the goodness he filled people with. In his memory, from his family and friends, I hope many will follow suite and help those in need, all over the world. Let Christmas be a time of giving, to those who most need it.
Nothing is permanent, not life, not incarceration, and not my injury! I do feel as though Iíve been shut up here, against my will, forced to relax and take life slow. Maybe I needed to, I sure as hell didnít want to, but bide my time I did; with grace and patience. But that is about to come to an end, I now have a reconstructed rack for my bike and the new parts from the states. Phew, about bloody time! Is it Murphyís Law that dictates when you arrange an alternative to compensate for one screw up, they will both come good together? A bit like three buses turning up after thereís been none for hours! And so, I now have a new rack and an old repaired version. Can you guess which Iíll use?
And so my departure is imminent, my bike ready for completion and myself raring to go. I took the bike out yesterday, for my first ride since my accident. The trial ride went well enough, maybe the engine felt somewhat lumpy, maybe that was just me. More than likely it was getting used to the new gearing Iíve fitted. Iíve geared it up to give more efficient fuel economy, about 500rpm less at cruising speed, hopefully it will give 10% better economy. I ended up stripping many parts to ensure there were no further problems, I suspected bent forks or handlebars so took them off to check, they seemed fine! Still, when riding, something doesnít line up straight, tough, itíll have to do; it doesnít seem to affect the handling.
Thereís been concern about the fitness of my knee, is it ready for travel? Getting on and off the bike is a bit uncomfortable, it doesnít bend quite how Iíd like. Using due caution and it shouldnít be a problem; as long as I donít need to dismount quickly Iíll be fine. Applying the rear brake gave a twinge of pain, it was only for the initial few attempts; afterwards it seemed to ease off. Iím content this will rapidly improve, stiffness can be worked out every hour or so whilst riding. When lurching over a large lump in the road there was no pain at all, thatís a relief! Hey, Iíll not tackle any off road sections until fully fit, easy!
With me and the bike sorted, its full steam ahead; Honduras next stop. An estimated 3,000 miles before Christmas; it only sounds a lot. I rode about 800 miles, in little more than ten hours, from the Grand Canyon back to Ojai. I have about 18 days to get to Utila, off the Honduran coast; so in my uniquely blasť manner, no sweat! Iíll most likely bypass the flooded area of Tabasco, to save time and a mud bath. And Iím not going to spend any time in Guatemala, a swift ride through, only stopping at the border, to view the Mayan ruins at Copan.
Re-reading emails brought me to this poem, I donít know who wrote it, it was sent by a friend when Cai died. It struck a chord, it sums up so succinctly how my mind and emotions have been through my ordeal. I realise physically Iíve ostracised myself from you all, but in my heart youíve all been with me, through the written word. Donít ever let anyone kid you otherwise, facing such loss is unbearably confusing. Please donít forget though, life goes on! It may take a long time for those closest to Caiís heart. Support and understanding shouldnít be a flash in the pan, and I donít state that on my own behalf! Consider how close to their hearts some keep their grief, not wanting to seem unable to cope, keeping a brave face, a facade!
Hold me close and go away
Please visit me and please don't stay
Talk to me but please don't speak
I need you now - come back next week.
Emotions muddled, needs unknown
To be with others, or on my own?
To scream out loud? To rant and shout?
Or hideaway and push you out?
I smile at you - "he's not that bad"
I shout at you "he's going mad"
I speak to you - "What do I say"
I show my tears - "quick walk away"
Itís not catching, the grief I feel
I can't pretend that itís not real
I carry on as best I know
But this pain inside just won't go.
So, true friends, please accept the lot
I shout, I cry, I lose the plot
I don't know what I need today
So hold me close and go away.
Iíd like to share photos of the natty dread kid with you this time, it was so nice to see Cai rise to the bait and grow dreads. A delight to see him put to shame those around him, who so desperately wanted to grow them naturally. I personally thought theyíd be frowned upon by the idiots at American immigration, and bless him, he combed them out before we left home. How I wish I could still be disgusted by picking his mankey hair out the bath plug hole. And ainít I ever glad I never bothered him about it! Such is life, and such are the memories we can smile at.
Back on the road at last, it was a fifteen hour ferry journey but the time passed fast enough, itīs amazing how a belly of beer can help you settle down and sleep on such a boring journey. There was doubt about getting a ticket, I didnīt worry; very few ships are too short on room to fit in a motorcycle. I only had to wait for six hours at the ferry port, a good lesson in patience! Why is it that whenever I leave my camera packed I see something great to photo. As we pulled out of port I missed a superb chance! An Osprey swooped down, grabbed a fish and shook itself free of water in midair, a bit like your friendly Labrador. It then flew within two metres of where I stood on deck! How lovely was that?
The ride from Mazatlan was tremendous, incredible gain in altitude, and phenomenal numbers of bends. OK, so the road is called the road of 1000 bends, that really is an understatement. I fail to believe there is only an average of three bends per kilometre, it was a wonderful ride. The bike is as good as ever, my enjoyment riding has not diminished in the slightest, not that I expected it to! I meet up with another rider, on a 1200cc BMW, shame his big heavy beast meant the ride was a touch slower than I would have liked. I felt sorry for Mike having to heave the beast around, I definitely feel Iīve got the perfect bike for me. I couldn't pick up anything heavier, and couldn't afford anything else new!
After Baja the mainland feels massively different, no hot desert so far for a start. High, lush hills with deep verdant valleys abound. The amount of domestic agriculture is considerably more than I ever witnessed riding through Baja. The only domestic planting I saw there was plantations of Cacti, I believe these were for consumption, they looked like prickly pear. But the people here are as friendly as ever, forever smiling, wishing us well. whenever parked up the passing drivers would be waving out their windows, big smiles and lovely attitudes. It made us feel like celebrities! I have to admit though, the city of Durango is a nightmare riding around at least compared to La Paz. It took ages to find a hotel, the first few were auto hotels. But with names like Viagra we thought they were not your run of the mill hotels, really did look more like knocking shops too. Oh well, it worked out fine eventually! We got a nice hotel, secure parking and twin beds; phew!
So far all the roads have been in good condition, well tarmaced and not overcrowded, except the city, of course. In fact we ended riding off road round some squalid part of the city, trying to find our way back onto the road weīd arrived on. I know I wasnīt going to ride off road yet, but felt obliged to follow the other guy, he had GPS and was leading the way. They do tend to make you lazy though, push a button and rely on that. It got us lost in Mazatlan, not badly though, and I also got us lost; or did I just find our way back to the dock? So in the end common sense prevailed and we followed the coast until finding the correct road sign. It was only a short spell trying to orientate ourselves, and it was all done in good humour. I felt glad to be riding again, it would have been difficult to feel otherwise.
I quickly found myself in a relaxed mood, content, relieved even; I was surprised not to be overly excited! The feeling pervaded almost straight away, which is why I didnīt mind getting lost in the city. Each time I stopped, I felt relieved, peaceful; the only time I felt really buzzing was reaching the Tropic of Cancer. This brought out a bubbling enthusiasm, a photo session at the sign ensued, a sense of achievement flooded through me. And when we pulled away, I was awash with grief! Cai should have been here to share this, that would have made it right. I donīt think there was any guilt at feeling full of excitement, it was purely how deeply I would have liked to share this with him. I cried for miles, couldnīt stop myself, didnīt want to! It feels the depth of grief will never go away, not that I want such deep feelings for Cai to diminish, in fact I donīt know what I want. It means so much to feel the depth of grief I have, isn't it purely a mark of the love I hold for Cai!
But my mood has taken a nose dive, I lost the power supply for my laptop, so this is using the last 20% of available power. I'm going to be lost without it, I've grown so used to it in my weeks on confinement. It's been a lifeline to everyone, and now I feel so distant, so isolated. I keep reminding myself that I'd planned the trip without a computer, that I'd intended to use Internet cafes. Another lesson in how much you take things for granted, only when you lose it do you really appreciate what you had. So take heed, cherish those things that bring you joy, don't take them for granted. And I course it's obvious, I don't really mean material possessions; it was the contact with all those who mean so much to me.
Excuse the length of time with no entry on this blog. I have been continuing with my travel, please see:
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