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ADV RidesRescue Mission in Guadalupe Canyon

Rescue Mission in Guadalupe Canyon

 Mud and Snow Riding in Baja Mexico - Final Day

Published on 01.26.2014
In this moment you realize your ride has turned into a rescue mission.

We awoke to a perfectly sunny day in Valle Trinidad, a town about 70 miles west of San Felipe. There was still a chill in the air, but there would be no more freezing rain, mud or snow like we experienced on day one and day two. The first two days of our journey had been challenging, as we toured the Sierra de Juárez mountain range just south of the U.S. border. We were now in a more familiar looking Baja, with picturesque desert landscapes that stretched for miles in every direction.

We had a lot of challenges on our first two days, so we hoped our luck would change now on the toughest section of the trip. Our goal was to reach the Guadalupe Canyon Hot Springs from the southern route. If we could navigate a path to the hot springs, we would make this a regular destination for all of our future Baja rides.

We would be traveling through some of the most rugged sections of northern Baja. It’s an extremely remote area that people rarely travel through, except during Baja race weekends. We had heard it was possible to get there from the southern route, but I could only find a few tracks in the vicinity and no tracks showed a path all the way through to the hot springs. The best I could do was prepare a rough GPS track that we would use as a general guide. We would have to rely heavily on our navigation skills to achieve our goal of making it to the Guadalupe Canyon Hot Springs.


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When camping at the hot springs, you need to bring everything you will use with you, including food, water and fuel. Fuel was definitely a concern on my mind. We had about 200 miles to travel before our next gas stop, so we could easily run out if we had trouble navigating.

Leaving Valle Trinidad, we had 80 miles to travel on the highway before turning off on a dirt road toward Guadalupe Canyon. As we traveled east on highway 3, we could see the snow capped peak of Picacho del Diablo come into view. This is the highest mountain in Baja, towering 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) over the desert floor. Turning north on Highway 5, we got glimpses of the Sea of Cortez to the East and we could see an active gold mine off in the hills to the West.

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My excitement grew as we turned off Highway 5 onto a dirt road. The road we traveled on was in excellent condition and the soil was still damp from yesterday’s rain, allowing us to ride in close formation without creating dust clouds. We made good progress through the desolate landscape and I could see the Hot Springs appear closer on my GPS screen with every passing minute. The tough conditions of the previous two days now seemed a distant memory.

As we stopped for a break, I noticed movement off to my left. There I could see a pack of wild donkeys staring at us through the brush. They seemed curious and surprised to see people in this remote area. As we continued deeper into the canyon, we could see high cliff walls off to the West. My GPS told me that we were just below Laguna Hansen and the National Park we had traveled through the previous day.

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Our progress began to slow when we reached a sandy section. Martin and I stopped to give Vladi (an off-road newbie) some tips for dealing with the deep sand. We explained, “You have to go fast, or your front tire will dive down. Staying on top of the sand will make it easier. Don’t try to control your steering too much. Just steer in a general direction and let the bike float around.”

Vladi took our advice and was doing well at keeping the big GS rolling through the sand. But the sand continued relentlessly for miles and grew deeper the farther we traveled. At one point we didn’t see Vladi for awhile as we waited by the side of the road. He finally came around the turn and told us he had taken a fall and hit his head pretty hard. He seemed tired and a little disoriented, so we took a short break. We told Vladi to just go at a comfortable pace and don’t worry about holding us up, there was no need to hurry since we were getting close.

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On my GPS it looked as though we only had about 15 miles from the entrance road to the Guadalupe Canyon Hot Springs. Feeling confident that our goal was in reach, Martin and I picked up the pace for a bit. We were having fun now riding fast, perfecting our sand technique. We rode the banked turns aggressively, reliving the memories of our Baja 1000 race days.

After a short time, Martin and I stopped in the shade to wait for Vladi. I estimated we would arrive at about 4:30 pm, just enough time to set up camp in daylight. Vladi seemed to be taking longer than usual though, so I doubled back to go check on him. Riding for several miles, I wondered if Vladi had stopped to rest again, but my gut was telling me that he had a problem.

As I came around a turn, my eyes grew wide as I looked upon every rider’s worst nightmare… your friend down on the ground not moving. I quickly got off the bike and yelled, “Vladi are you alright?” No response. He seemed to be just regaining consciousness. Eventually, he spoke and explained that he had fallen hard on his shoulder and was in a lot of pain. We peeled away his jacket to inspect his injury. That was the moment when I realized our ride had just turned into a rescue mission. It was clear that Vladi had a badly broken clavicle and was not riding anywhere.

The accident couldn’t have happened in a worse location. We were 80 miles away from the nearest town of Mexicali. I ran through many ideas in my head of how we could get Vladi to safety. There was no way he could ride or be a passenger. It was too far to walk. There was no signal for our mobile phones in the canyon to call for help. We had discussed the idea of buying a SPOT GPS Communicator before the trip, but no one had pulled the trigger on the idea. With a SPOT, we could have gotten Vladi air-rescued with a push of a button.

Martin arrived and we discussed our options. We decided that the best thing to do would be for Martin to ride north all the way to his house in San Diego where he could pick up his truck and return immediately to retrieve Vladi. I would stay behind with Vladi to keep him comfortable.

It would be a dangerous mission for Martin. He would have to cover 50 miles of dirt before reaching the highway, then another 90 miles to his house in San Diego. He would be traveling alone in a remote canyon at night with a questionable GPS track.

Unfortunately, it was our only choice. Vladi needed to get to a hospital ASAP. We got Martin prepared for a long night ride and set a GPS waypoint of our location so he could find us on his return. Martin calculated that he’d be back no later than midnight and off he went into the setting sun.

I found a comfortable place for us to camp off the side of the road. We hadn’t seen a single vehicle in the area the entire time we were riding to Guadalupe Canyon, but we wanted to be close by the road just in case somebody happened to pass through. I built a nice campfire to help keep the chill away and gave Vladi a few pain killers to make him more comfortable. I fired up the Jetboil stove and prepared a quick dinner of Teriyaki Chicken and Rice, which was surprisingly tasty.

We passed the time looking up at the stars, talking about the universe and the recent discovery of the Higgs Particle. It was an idyllic camping spot and the stars were spectacular without any ambient light to dull their brightness. It was a strange sensation to have nothing to do. Usually, during my daily life, I feel like I’m constantly rushing to get to the next task that needs my attention.

Vladi soon dozed off and I was left alone with my concerns. It was now 12:30 am and Martin said he’d be back by midnight at the latest. My thoughts moved from concern for Vladi to wondering about Martin’s safety. Maybe he ran into trouble. Maybe he got lost? There was nothing I could do about it, so I tried to push those thoughts from my mind.

In the middle of the night, we were startled by the sounds of howling coyotes. They seemed to be all around us but I couldn’t see them. Then they were gone and we were left with silence. The pure silence reminded me of how alone we were in this canyon. Vladi asked me for the time and looked concerned when I told him it was 3 am. The pain and stiffness were really setting in now and and he was starting to get cold. I gave him an extra blanket and worked on building up the fire. To pass the time, I began to pack up camp in preparation for Martin’s return.

At around 3:30 am, I thought I heard a noise off in the distance and then it was gone. I listened closely for some time and heard it again. It was the sound of a vehicle far off in the distance. We could hear the sound echoing off the canyon walls as it came toward us for 10 minutes or so. Soon we could see headlights come into view. We were elated to see it was Martin’s truck, and with him was our friend Carlos who originally had to cancel coming on our trip due to work obligations. Carlos had finished work and offered to help drive since Martin had been on the road for nearly 17 hours.

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Martin told us the story of his journey and how he had been chased by mad cows in the middle of the night. The GPS tracks I gave him led to a marsh area and he had to ride a cow trail through mud and brush to make it out to the main road. It was a great story and we were relieved that everyone was now safe, but we still had a long road ahead of us.

Eight hours later we were back in San Diego and Vladi got to the hospital. Vladi had surgery and eventually made a full recovery. Several months later, Vladi had put the experience behind him and was ready to join us on our next trip.

Adventure Riding always provides ample opportunity for us to test our ingenuity and determination in the face of challenges. We deal with uncertainty and lack of control over situations in nearly every ride. But the skills we gain make us better prepared to overcome obstacles in our daily lives.
 
 

GPS Tracks
Download Here: Mud&Snow-Riding-in-Baja.gpx
 

Days one through three of our Baja trip

View Larger Map
 

Other Stories in the Series:

Mud and Snow Riding in Mexico – Day One
 This was definitely not your typical hot and dusty Baja Adventure Tour

Mud and Snow Riding in Mexico – Day Two
 It doesn’t usually rain in Baja, but when it does it gets sticky and slick

Author: Rob Dabney
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5 thoughts on “Rescue Mission in Guadalupe Canyon

  1. Pingback: Mud and Snow Riding in Baja Mexico - Day One » ADV Pulse

  2. Pingback: Mud and Snow Riding in Baja Mexico – Day Two » ADV Pulse

  3. Pingback: Every Adventure Rider's Worst Nightmare - Fileflee.com