Adventure begins with…
Somewhere half an hour south of Catavina, I bumped through one of the smaller potholes rather than zigging around like a thousand others. Seconds later, Raja’s motor cut out.
No problem. I hit the starter to get it running while still coasting. Nada. Again? Nada. Damn.
So I signaled to the riders behind me that I was stopping. We don’t ride with intercoms, so the two ahead of me would eventually notice our absence and wait, then circle back. Adventure riding always means watching out for the one behind you as well as moving forward.
I coasted to a stop at the top of a rise, where I could almost get off the pavement. Three motorcycles pulled in and motors went off. I got off and looked for liquids on the ground – clean. Obvious things hanging down broken? Nope. Loose wires? Nothing visible.
By then the guys were off their bikes and the best thing for me to do was stand back. I love riding, but really know nothing about wrenching. Don, Jim, and Steve, on the other hand, are real motorcycle lovers – inside and out. Before I could say, “Here’s my toolkit” they had the bike open and were checking wires, eliminating common culprits, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Nothing obvious. The engine would catch, then immediately cut out. I’d had mornings like that, but didn’t think another cup of coffee was going to help Raja.
Richard and Jan circled back to see what had happened, relieved there was no accident and no injury!
So they turned Raja around and tried to roll-start him down the hill. No luck. But it did position us all off the road on this wash. That’s when they really got to work – the manual came out and everything! But after an hour or more, (I tried to make shade. I wasn’t watching the clock.) it was clear the bike wasn’t going to run. Forward progress for the day was done and I needed a tow truck.
We hadn’t had any cell signal when we lunched back in Catavina, and there sure as hell wasn’t any out here. But at least the hotel where we’d eaten had a landline… So Richard gave me a ride back so I could call my Mexican insurance for roadside assistance. Riding pillion is not my favorite thing (scares the heck outta me!), even with a rider as skilled as Richard. I kept telling myself to relax my muscles to absorb the movements better and to take the next breath. That ride was probably my biggest personal challenge of the whole trip! Sit there, in the terror, with no escape and stay with the fear, stay in my body, and don’t piss off my knight! I sent out a call to my guardian angel that this would be really good time for some Divine Intervention.
Hotel. Landline. Simple right? Except that no one in our group is proficient in Spanish. I showed the sweet receptionist the number on my insurance paper and she dialed… “Occupado.” Except with her speed and lovely lilt, it took me 3 tries to grasp that one word. I never did figure out whether the line was busy on the near end or the far end or some transit in between.
Nor did I need to… because it was at this point that Divine Intervention arrived in the form of a 30-something surfer-dude with a huge smile asking if we needed a tow. Seriously. I hope he didn’t think I was laughing at him as the uncontrollable grin spread across my face. I said, “Yes.”
Turns out Angel Jamey was doing a sag-wagon gig for a group of adventure riders out of San Diego, and he had the truck and trailer and the day to himself while they were out in the back country. One doesn’t second-guess Divine Intervention. One grabs one’s bags and hops in!
Riding to pick up the bike and back with Jamey will be a story in itself – stay tuned for later chapters! Suffice to say we will all be encouraging him to get HIS stories published!
We all regrouped at the hotel in Catavina and went ahead and checked in for the night before the guys got serious about diagnosing Raja’s fatigue. Other travelers showed up with more tools. With no cell service, I bought wifi access an hour at a time so we could download the Tiger service manual and check the forums for advice. I say we… truth is, I just handed my laptop over. THAT’s how much trust I have in these guys!
Parts were opened, disassembled, bypassed. Heads would shake. Dark came with no real progress. Still the bike would start then immediately stop itself. We would sleep on it.
At least I hope someone slept. Me, not so much. I hate holding people back, being a “burden.” I “should” be fully self-sufficient at all times. (Yes, we’re all laughing now.) Now these guys are experienced adventure riders, and the truth is, they were in their element diving into the challenge. They are mostly retired with all the time they need for whatever appears. The guilt was only in MY head. But I knew what the next milestone was supposed to have been that day, and my FOMO for them was in full gear.
My plan: tomorrow I would call my roadside assistance and start moving the bike back where a shop with the right electrical diagnostics could swap out whatever was short-circuited in there. People kept saying to just get it back to Ensenada and find a motorcycle mechanic to fix it, but with modern bike computers, it’s not that simple. You have to have the diagnostic reader for the right manufacturer, and Triumph is pretty stingy with that. There are precisely two (2) Triumph places in Mexico – both over on the mainland. The nearest diagnostic reader would be San Diego.
Morning finally came and the guys had a few more ideas to try out. Meanwhile with no cell service and the landline unusable, I bought another hour of wifi and used Skype to dial roadside assistance. I was so happy they had someone who spoke English! He took my information and said to call back in 30 minutes so he could line up a carrier. I did. He hadn’t. I should call back in another 30 minutes.
Richard had gone over and talked to the local auto mechanic, and if need be he could take me to Ensenada. I thought the tow truck was probably a more reliable solution, so I chose to stick with that.
I went out to check with the guys and found them regretfully re-assembling Raja’s starter switch. They had well and truly exhausted all accessible possibilities. I would be heading north while they continued south. (The insurance required the owner to stay with the bike, so I couldn’t just ride on the back to continue with the group.) While I was sad to be missing the whale watching expedition, I was VERY glad they would still get to go! And THAT was the honest smile on my face as I waved when they left.
Back in my room, I skyped roadside assistance again and got a real answer. They couldn’t find a carrier willing to come this far south and take me to Ensenada. As a compensation, they would wire me half what a carrier quoted them. Half. Also half what the insurance policy had said it would pay. And… a wire would happen after I got back to the States. They washed their hands of the whole thing. I hung up and said some bad words.
I also skyped the hotel we’d stayed in Ensenada on the way down, where I knew they had English-speaking staff, a restaurant, and a gated property. I would be safe and well-fed.
Meanwhile, plan B had already been set up by Richard. The local auto mechanic would take my bike to Ensenada for less than $300. Enter Angel Francisco, a graying barrel-chested, earnest man. I walked up to his shop and asked if he could still take me to Ensenada. He said he’d pick me up in an hour. I packed up and had my bags ready by the bike when he rolled up in his little red Ford Ranger. With the tailgate removed.
By the time I checked out, the bike was in the truck. I can barely roll the 600 lb beast on my own and they seemed to have levitated it. Divine Intervention indeed.
We went back to the shop to wait for Francisco’s son to come watch while he was gone. By the way, would it be ok for us to pick up Senora Francisco in the next town? She could sit in the middle. They have a son (or two?) in school in Ensenada and the visit would make the tow more than worth it. Suuuuure! All in the name of adventure, eh?
Fifteen minutes turned out to be a couple hours, and still Son had not arrived when we finally headed north. Some way along the road, Francisco honked the horn and pulled over. He’d seen Son heading down and they were able to swap keys. And on we went. I asked some questions about things I saw. He asked some questions … subtly about how I came to be riding a motorcycle with a group and no husband in sight. When we got to his other home and picked up Senora Francisco, I saw the art on the wall that said it was a Catholic household and understood the questions about divorce better.
All told, it was about a 6 hour drive back to the hotel in Ensenada. I listened to the musical Spanish of Senora Francisco talking with her children on the phone and discussing Matters of Importance with Francisco. We had a brief stop for food and just kept rolling.
At the hotel, Francisco and the Ensenada-Son undid the thousand ropes holding the bike in the little truck in the dark and backed it down the ramp. I gave him a quick hug (which is apparently not customary in Mexico) with his payment, and waved them on their way before going up to the beautiful suite that was the only available room. Unwilling to go a step further, I had a protein bar from my stash and went to bed wondering how I was going to get that bike across the border.
By this time I realized that I would arrive in San Diego after 5pm on a Saturday. Moto dealers would have closed for the day. And moto dealers take Sunday and Monday off. I would be sitting in San Diego until at least Tuesday to even find out when someone could schedule my maintenance.
I needed to also find a way to just get back to Fresno.
A beautiful sunrise greeted me from panoramic windows to the bay. Seriously, this was a damn soft landing for an adventure. I found an international tow company on the web, but when I phoned them they asked me to go to the receptionist for translation. Easy enough! After the transaction was completed, the receptionist told me I should have come to him first. This tow company was coming from Tijuana and would charge that mileage as well, whereas he could have found someone local. Gulp. Lesson learned. Go with the locals FIRST!
The transit time for the tow gave me time to walk to the water, journal, and enjoy an exquisite breakfast. (Truly sorry I hadn’t carried my camera for that one!)
Finally it was time to check out and Angel Danny arrived to carry Raja on a huge flatbed tow truck. Danny is younger – tomorrow is his 39th birthday! – and has a daughter nearly 5. His wife runs a dog rescue (only 16 at the moment), so they cannot travel much. We soar along the coast, crawl through the artist district where tourists come for pottery and furniture, snake through the Tijuana border crossing (which seems to be an eternal festival food court atmosphere), go to the San Diego airport for cash, and end at a little motel in El Cajon where my friend would pick me up with a U-Haul trailer and get me back to Fresno.
I didn’t have the adventure I’d planned, but I did have an Adventure. Unexpected challenges that called forth more resilience and fortitude than I’d mustered in … over a year, at least. What I found was that I could handle it again. I didn’t go blank or get exhausted. I found solutions and followed each next step. I asked for help and welcomed it fully.
I’m back in the saddle. NOW I’m ready for the next Adventure!