The Trip - San Juanico to San Ignacio via the rough roads

Sometime at the party I vaguely remember some of the locals telling me to beware of the "huecos" when leaving town. "Hueco" meaning "hole" is simply that, a big hole in the road. They told me that these were left from the Baja 2000 race and that they had destroyed many a motorcycle and car.

I asked if these were marked and they said that indeed that they were. I was supposed to watch for some concrete markers at the side of the road that would clearly indicate where these holes were. It sounded simple, I reverified this on my way out of town as I knew the road ahead was going to be a fairly tough ride.

I was expecting more of the silt and some soft mushy sand - now I had to be aware of the "huecos" as well. Starting out first thing in the morning I wanted to give myself time to get used to the bike again before really pushing it hard.

I started out on the road headed north and got stuck behind a pickup truck. This meant that I was eating his dust plume and smoke - visibility was bad and I was worried that I would fall into a hueco. In the initial 5 km out of town I stood back and took it. Finally though my patience wore thin and I decided that it would be better to be in front so as to be aware of the huecos.

The consistency of the road was soft sand and gravel, the color a pure white made seeing any kind of terrain features very difficult. I paced my speed at about 40 mph to smooth out the bumps and washboard. Revving the engine up to pass the truck I flew by at about 50 mph.

Standing on the pegs I looked at the driver and gave him a wave. He appeared to wave back and was gesticulating widly a bit. I wasn't sure if he was mad at me for passing him or what. Nevermind! I passed the first of a series of hueco markers and saw that the holes in the road were indeed big and deserved due caution.

Then it hit me. Crossing over a small hill at speed I noticed a change in the depth of the road. It was a hueco! But where was the marker? Swearing in my helmet in spanish I knew that I was going in this hueco at full speed.

Photo - hueco, or hole in the road leaving San Juanico
This picture is taken from the position of the bike looking back up
the slope to the top of the hill. Notice how BIG the hole is..

My only thoughts was to get the front end up and out so as not to collapse it against the front of the hole thus damaging the suspension and making for a very long walk back to the border. My intention was to be able to ride the bike in and out of the hole if possible - then recover my balance and move on.

Of course, all of this was transpiring at 50 mph as I dropped into the hole. With my weight a bit back on the bike I managed to get the front end in and out of the hole. The back end of the bike bit and I clipped the bottom edge of the left pannier when coming out of the hole. The force of this collision (the side of the bag against the hole) spun the bike sideways and soon I was slidding on the left side of the bike along the road making for a huge dust cloud.

Photo - closeup of the hueco that ate my bike, see how hard it is to
see the difference in depth and this is taken at 0 mph standing still!

First thoughts as this was going on was "I hope the bike is alright". I was primarily worried about suspension and alignment. But then the second thought came very quickly which was "I guess that I'm going to be hit!". Right after I hit and came to a stop about 2 feet from the bike, I jumped up and ran back to the hill to try to wave the truck down so that they didn't drive into the dust cloud and run into my bike (and me!).

Apparently, they knew about this hueco and this was what they were trying to signal me about as I was passing them at speed. They saw the dust cloud from the other side of the hill and stopped at the top of the hill to see if I was alive.

They were very amazed that I was in one piece and that the bike was as well. The only damage was that the left pannier case was completely destroyed. It was torn away from the mounting brackets and deformed throughout. Getting it back on the bike in some fashion was a 30 minute excerise. We decided to put it back on and to fasten it with straps. It was at this point that I ran out of duct tape. (note * always bring the BIG roll!)

As long as I didn't have another major accident I figured that it would last the shaking over the washboards and highways back to the USA.

Photo - Destroyed Bag (the mud is from the silt, read on!)

After this major accident I rode cautiously checking the bag every five minutes. It wasn't on the bike 100% but it didn't look like it was going to fall off either. I was very mad as today's ride promised to be one of the toughest and with the bike in such shape any fall was guaranteed to complicate matters worse.

Sure enough the road ahead was what the guidebooks promised. Lots of washboard, rutted roads, and navigational hazards. Making at left at Ballena Del Raymundo I followed the road to the coast. This area is mainly salt flats and sand dunes. You can't see the road from one area to the next and need to rely heavily on the GPS and your sense of direction to maintain a course.

Photo - navigating the dunes north of San Juanico

It's easy to get lost in this area and make circular tracks as the course goes in and out over many dunes that look the same. There is little or no reference on the horizon, only a glimmering light reflecting off of distant water which can be distracting as it interferes with ones sense of distance.

At times I really wasn't sure if I was headed in the right direction. Because the Baja 2000 had come through here there were a ton of routes some of which looked to be in deep sand and others which looked to come and go from nowhere in particular.

I tried to stay to the main piste and was glad when I emerged into the salt flats where I could gain speed a bit. The salt flats are caused by low tides evaporating over the desert leaving salt deposits. It was tempting to speed through this area and while I did hammer it a bit I tried to keep it down lest I overrun navigational features that I needed.

Eventually, the salt flats looked like they were ending and the road led to a big field colored a dark brown. Was this the dreaded silt that I was warned about back in Todos Santos? I could see in the far distance the tracks continuing after this brown crud and remembered some alternate paths a few km back that might lead around this goop.

However I was tired and thought that I could make it through. As you may recall from my adventure trying to find El Marmol when confronted with the unknown, most of the time I take it as a learning experience and continue on the path. While not afraid sometimes to backtrack and find other routes, I tested the soil and felt that I could make it through.

After all, there were some good tracks leading completely through this mud field. If they made it through then so could I. As I was soon to find out though, the existence of tracks doesn't tell the whole story as it doesn't show if they got stuck and for how long...

Photo - Stuck in the silt beds north of San Juanico
(notice that you can't see anything on the horizon)

About 10 meters into this stuff I realized that I had made the wrong decision. If I stopped now and tried to turn around I would be just as stuck as if I tried to make it through. My decision was to drop into one of the tracks which I hoped would be drier and harder and to follow it though this silt field to the end.

This turned out to be a horrible decision as the rut had collected whatever water there happened to be and traction was terrible. The rear end of the bike slide all over the place and I fought to keep the front end on line and in the rut.

The further I went into this pit of slime the worse it got as the rut got deeper and deeper. I tried to power out once or twice and almost lost it so I was delegated to hanging on and trying to get through the field alive.

The big hole in the middle of the field got closer and closer. I figured that this was just where someone got stuck and that it would be easy to ride in and out of this hole. Again, I guessed wrong, from the second that the front wheel got free of the rut and dropped into this hole, I was sideways all over the place and had a nice soft crash in the muck.

Photo - "the pit", silt bed slime hole 

This stuff was terrible! I was in my second hueco of the day this one being a slippery slimy mess. I looked back at the aluminum pannier which was attached to the bike with straps and noticed that it was lying in the mud a few feet back from where I cratered the bike.

Okay, now I had two problems. Not only was I stuck in a big mud field miles from any civilization and help - but the make-shift bag repair that I did was now totally destroyed and beyond repair.

I decided to triage the situation. First problem - I'm stuck in the mud. Second problem - I've got to figure out some way to get this bag on the bike. Using some extra straps I tied the bag back on again. I knew that if I hit the ground again (a very likely proposition given that I was in some tough stuff) that the bag would be knocked off again - so I wasn't trying for the permanent fix just something so that I wouldn't have to walk back in the mud to get the bag.

Then I got down on my knees and tried to get underneath the bike to get it standing up straight. This was much harder than doing it in the sand at Cabo San Lucas as there was absolutely no footing to be had whatsoever. Eventually I got the bike upright without taking off any of the bags (thus saving time) and rode it out of the mudhole.

Being in the mud it was easy to stand it upright even without a kickstand. That's how thick and muddy this place was. Looking further downfield I saw that there were tracks and another hole. I had not yet figured out that the ruts and the holes from previous victims were not where I wanted to ride so within a minute of getting the bike out of the first hole I preceded to drop it into the second hole and was in the same predicament all over again.

This time getting the bike upright was an even bigger challenge as I was getting more tired from the ordeal and didn't have as much leverage. A good bit of screaming and swearing (think bulgarian weightlifters exhortations) later - and I got the bike upright and rode out of the second hole.

Standing the bike up in fresh muck I made the determination that it was better to make my own fresh tracks in the search for traction and escape. I started the bike and got standing on the left footpegs as I revved the engine in first.

Slippery traction at first, I hopped on the bike and tried the bike between first and second gear. I was afraid of bogging and digging the rear wheel in like I did once in the sand at Cabo. Eventually, I found that first gear offered the best traction and I just let the bike fly through the revs feeling out when I had forward traction - which was at about 6,500 to 7,000 rpm. Mud was flying everywhere and I had little directional control but I was inching forward and that was all that mattered.

Screaming, "c'mon you can make it" in my helmet until I crossed this sinkhole I was really glad to make it out of the silt beds in one piece. Again, I was glad that I had the lighter single which revved so freely and was easier to lift about in the mud. 

After resting a bit and taking some water, I decided that it would only be possible to continue if the damaged bag was on top of the bike. I took some time to repack things putting the tent and sleeping bag on the back and the roll-bag on top of the right pannier. The left pannier was then put on the custom rack which meant that sitting on the bike because uncomfortable - and the bike was too heavy on the right side - but this was the only way that I could see getting back with all of the equipment without stopping for major repairs.

At this point we were just about at La Fridera which is a fisherman's camp on Laguna San Ignacio. I followed some cars back on the road to San Ignacio which was washboard and dusty. The bike felt different due to the weight imbalance but I stood up the whole way nonetheless for better balance and vision due to the dusty and hazy conditions.

Arriving into San Ignacio again via the back way I parked the bike again in front of the mission and proceeded to collapse for a half-hours rest. It was a long hard rode from San Juanico and two huecos had definitely gotten the best of me.

I bought a bit of water at the local store and rode sidesaddle through town to the Pemex station located at Mex 1. Filling up the tank I headed north.

Author's Note:

Crashing in the silt beds after destroying the left pannier leaving San Juanico was not a lot of fun. Reaching the silt beds itself is a major challenge as navigation in this area is difficult. At one point once I was moving again I was sure that I would get stuck.

As I was traveling alone if I got stuck here I would have had to wait it out for some help which was not likely to come for several days. Overall, this day starting from San Juanico and ending in San Ignacio was very challenging with the hueco, sand, silt, and rocky roads - definitely everything the Baja can serve up was tasted here.

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