Synchronizing Art, Travel and Exchange.
Synchronizing Art, Travel and Exchange.

Lost in a Landslide

Category : Travel
Date : September 14, 2018

I’ve been riding motorcycles for about 5 years now. I have ridden solo across America twice (northern and southern routes). Three of the years I have been riding were spent on my DR on all types of terrain. I really wanted to become good at off-road riding from the beginning so I took two major backcountry trips in the Southwest and Northwest. There I did the AZBDR, NVBDR, UTBDR (including Lockhart Basin), OBDR, WABDR, IDBDR and a bunch off road riding in Montana and California. I have taken my fair share of off-road crashes and I never underestimate how many times my bike and me take a tumble. I can however say that the only major injury I have ever had was one caused solely by someone else. I was hit by a taxi in San Francisco a few years back, while I was parked sitting on my bike on the side of the road, and broke my back.

A few years ago on some dirt trails in Death Valley, CA

When I was planning out the route for Mexico I became fixated on these particular roads in the Sierras. The route was from Creel to Urique to Batopilas to Guachochi on solely off-road trails far off into the wilderness. My favorite kind. All of the previous trips I had done that involved serious off-road trails I had done with my partner at the time so we always had each other’s backs and distributed the weight between our bags to make the load easier. Since now I am solo, I carry all the weight and my decisions must be made with the thought in mind that, I am alone, with my entire life on my bike and whatever trouble I get into is mine and mine alone. I knew this, I reminded myself of this, as others never failed to do. But I guess there was something inside me that was still subconsciously in a place where I wasn’t alone, so in turn, for reasons both in and out of my control, I got myself into a bit of a situation. Here goes.

I ride out of Batopilas and head on the southern road to the mountain trail leading to Guachochi. First problem, I reach the river crossing and it is totally impassable. The water is so high no cars or trucks will even attempt to pass. My eyes shift to the rickety pedestrian bridge swaying over the rushing river below it. I chat with the fellows who are in the process of building a fancy new modern bridge that I was told will be done in two months and ask them about the ped bridge. They assure me that motorcycles cross it and if I go slow it should be fine. In my mind I’m thinking about all the videos I’ve seen online showing motorcyclist crossing similarly rickety bridges in Thailand and China and South America and I decide that, yea, I can do that too! To I unload my bags off my bike and slowly make my way across the bridge. I make it! (Don’t get too excited yet! I’m sure you were thinking I was going to say I fell into the river. Nope! The fun part is coming later)

After crossing and getting an audience of hoorays from the bridge crew I carry my luggage across the bridge and by that time I am so very hot since its well over 100 there. I make my way down to the river and give myself the opportunity to test out my full water treatment system. After much research I went with the Sawyer squeeze for filtration of bacteria and Protozoa, and a Steripen for the viruses. The Sawyer squeeze is awesome, if you maintain the filter it will last you your lifetime. By that I mean you need to back purge the system after multiple uses, which is quite easy. It’s a bit slower than other systems like the fancy MSR Guardian but really nothing to complain about. It’s also $30, which for a filter that will last you forever that’s pretty damn good. It doesn’t however do viruses, so its great for nearly everything except for cases like this river which is flowing with god knows what types of things. The Red Cross Steripen is good for 8,000 liters on one bulb and is the most compact UV option I have found and its $60. It works on bacteria, Protozoa and viruses but I usually only use it for situation that need virus cleansing. The process goes, filter with the sawyer into my 32oz nalgene, cleanse with Steripen, pour into rotopack, repeat. I fill up all my vessels and make my way back to the bike, relatively cooled off by now but also far later in the day than I thought it would be. Just as I am about to leave a man who looks like he is one of the people in charge of the bridge construction waves me down. His workers are loading material into his truck and he tells me that if I want to stay on his ranch with his family I am more than welcome. He marks on my map where it is and I tell him, I will probably see him there due to the lateness of the day.

I ride on and it turns out to be pretty challenging. The ruts in the trail are deep and treacherous, rocks are very loose and the cliffs are very high. But I am thoroughly enjoying myself, it reminds me a lot of Lockhart canyon which was one of the best and most challenging rides I have ever done. About 40 miles in I come to the fork in the road where the Ranch lies. I take a siesta under a tree until the work truck shows up and ride down to the ranch with Jose. The ranch was humble, surrounded by a herd of goats and cattle being harassed by the many dogs that litter the countryside. They feed me with a delicious meal of soup and tortillas, set a cot out for me and we sipped Tecates into the night until the inevitable rains began to fall, sending up to our dreams.

The rooster woke us at daybreak, things move slowly on the ranch. Breakfast came in time and I steadily packed up my bike again for the days ride. The family told me that the rains shouldn’t come until evening. At about 9 I set off on the trail, I went almost halfway the day before in a few hours so I didn’t see any reason why the same wouldn’t be for today. It was a bit more challenging right off the bat and then suddenly it started drizzling out of nowhere, clouds that were hidden behind a mountain peak revealed themselves and it didn’t look promising. Thinking back I should have stopped, maybe gone back to the families home or just set up camp. But I didn’t, I kept going and the rains kept coming. The next mistake, which I didn’t know was a mistake at the time, was going down this particular section of road. I guess it was the “old road” but the map did not show the new road so I didn’t even know it was there. So I went down and it was challenging, a serious downhill but I could manage, until the ground above me started falling towards me. Landslide. I saw the rocks tumbling towards me and suddenly the ground was moving from underneath my bike taking us down the mountain. I bailed. Jumping off my bike, my bike crashed to the ground and slid down the hill until it got lodged in a ditch which stopped it.

Somehow I was totally uninjured, I brushed off the debris that covered me and went over to my bike. I turned the gas off, as it was flowing freely out of my carb but still it leaked due to the intense angle the bike was in. Then the rain started pouring. I took the bags off that I could and tried to lift the bike from the ditch but I couldn’t move it alone. I tried to figure a way to use my straps to hoist it but there were no trees within useful distance. And even if I would get it out I would have no gas left anyway. I didn’t bring my extra gallon rotopack since I would have had far more than I needed with my full tank and I was trying to limit weight. So here I was standing in the pouring rain, soaked from sweat and adrenaline, standing over the ditch where my bike lay with no gas left, at least 50 miles from civilization in the wild mountains of Mexico. I had to think carefully for I knew at that moment that my life was under threat.

In my mind it was most similar to a mathematical puzzle. Each choice I had when deciding what course of action to take would have the potential of adding and/or subtracting something from the outcome, the outcome being my potential for survival. If I was to focus on getting the bike out fast enough, I would surly run out of water exerting myself, perhaps injury myself, maybe the bike wouldn’t work or maybe it would, maybe I would find it was not possible after wasting all of those resources. I did know that dehydration was dangerous, I knew that I was in a state of panic, and panic will kill you. Number one rule for survival as to stay calm. So I worked towards that. I grabbed my tent, water, tank bag and a few other items and hiked back up the hill to the last fork in the road that I saw thinking that would double my chances of running into someone. The hike was hard, by the end I drank almost 32oz of water and that was being conservative. I set up the tent and sat dead-eyed, being eaten alive by hoards of thirsty mosquitos, and enjoy the beautiful view. I figured someone must come by these road, right?

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Before I left for this trip I decided to buy one of those Garmin InReach satellite two-way communicators. This my friends, was by far the best gear decision I have ever made. If you are going on a trip anything close to this one, do yourself a favor a buy one. Also after many, many months of research I decided on GEOS Search and Rescue (SAR) 100 coverage as well as GEOS Medevac Global and IMG Patriot International Health insurance. So I am all insuranced up for a situation like this and all I would really need to do was press that little SOS button on the side of the Garmin and help should technically come. But I told myself this option would be reserved for near death accidents. I wasn’t hurt in this situation, things were bad but asides from the slight dehydration and mosquito wounds, I was of sound health. I had time before I would have to press that button and I wanted to try and figure it out an alternate way. You can’t use that button very many times in one year, and this was only the beginning! I had to conserve that option! I did however send my family a message saying what had happened and they responded with “Wow what an adventure!”, one thing you have to understand about my parents is that they are the last people to worry about me, we are a very close and loving family but they really just don’t worry. Throughout my life no matter what ridiculous things I get myself into, they always find a way to lighten up situations even I find myself worrying about. It’s pretty amazing.

I told them I would just wait and hope someone would come by. So I waited for hours and hours, until the day was nearly over, not a soul in sight. There was however the very curious cow that came to visit me frequently and moo very loudly in my general direction. I am convinced he was trying to help. As darkness fell, I wrote my family again, my dad speaks spanish so I asked him to contact the Martin at Hotel Mary and ask him to see if he knew anyone up in the mountains. My Dad couldn’t get ahold of him so he tried another hotel, the Copper Canyon Lodge and spoke with a women named Sonia who spoke very good English. Sonia was immediately far more concerned than either my father or I, knowing how infrequent people actually ride the road I was stranded on so she reached out to Martin who she knew personally. Martin then reached to the local police. By this time it is late into the night, raining again, I haven’t heard any updates in many hours. I realize I didn’t have my food bag with me so I trek down the mountain again and return with my can of beans, rice and a very tired Chelsea. I actually had considered leaving my food bag a few days before in Creel but decided otherwise thankfully! I will now always carry at least some food with me at all times. I eat my beans by headlamp and play the mosquito game, where I attempt to snatch mosquitos from mid air to cleanse my tent of its invaders. I am quite good at it, as mosquitos love me. I get all 47 or so mosquitos that I find trapped in my tent, I had to leave the tent flap slightly open in order to get a good Garmin signal, then I realize that I could have just put the device in my waterproof food bag and left it outside the then…sigh.

No news, only a few liters of water left so I try and get some sleep. I didn’t bring my tent or sleeping pad up from the bike below but the armor in my gear helps pad out the rocky surface. I end up sleeping for a few hours, the rain stops early morning and the waiting continues. I read and distract myself as best I can, I keep thinking I hear a car but nothing. As the sun comes it begins to get very hot again, at least 100 degrees. The tent becomes unbearable so I make my way to the shade. Throughout this whole time I have been weighing my options. I could hike back of the house I stayed in the other night, it maybe 10 miles. It would be a very difficult hike and I have little water so it would be a risk, I would have to start early morning just as the rains stop, so I consider that for the next day if help does not come. And I could always press that button, but I don’t. At one point I swear I heard a baby crying, I started walking in the direction of the cry. Was it real? I really don’t know, I stopped following it knowing that it may very well be that I am just suffering from dehydration, so I stand and yell for help for a while. My voice rang through the mountains but all I get back are it’s echoes.

The day was getting late and I get news that they sent someone to find me but were unsuccessful and turned back, my Garmin gives my exact GPS location but the people in this area don’t use technology so it was of no use to them and the google map was totally alien to them. Then Sonia, the real savior in this story was able to get ahold of a friend in Polanco, a nearby town who radioed the locals. Another car joined the search and thankfully this one was successful. This time the car sound was actually real! A man, two women and their young daughter pull up. I explain to them what happened and they tell about the past accidents that have happened on the stretch of road my bike is on, understanding very well why it happened. I take them to the bike and they radio their friends my location and a squad of about 10 guys show up. They eye up my bike and ask me a bunch of questions about it, joking around about how they think I should just leave it with them. I laugh it off and try not to think about the possibility that they could just take the bike and encourage the group to help me with lifting the bike out. Thankfully they do. Sorry no pictures of this part. I was a bit preoccupied.

Getting it out of this section of the canyon was tricky. They wouldn’t bring their truck down the trail, I’m pretty out of it and not very confident with my driving skills at this point. I start the bike up and like magic, it turns over on the first crank, gotta love those DRs! I tell one of the guys to drive it up be he just keeps stalling it, it’s far more powerful than anything he has ridden. So with what little gas is left in the tank, I hop on and ride it out myself! I meet them where I camped out and another truck pulls up. Was load in the bike and ride back to civilization. Police meet us at the Batopilas river and take me back to Hotel Mary where I rest and recover for the next two days, thanking everyone on the team profusely for the rescue.

This experience was important, it is clear I was meant to have it and at the beginning of my trip as well. Going forward I will have better judgement as to what is realistic and safe for me to do solo. And whenever possible I will find ways to link up with other riders and dump my bags for some more serious off-road adventures. And as they say, I survived! So it was a good adventure! Asides from a broken mirror and windscreen both my bike and myself we completely unharmed. So much thanks to Garmin for your amazing technology, my family, Sonia and Martin, the Batopilas police, the locals in the mountains. I might not be writing this if it weren’t for all of you. Pretty amazing.

And the journey continues!