The Unimog Wherehaus

E-mail Dirk Rautenberg



Baja 98 Part II

Continuation day 3
We back tracked along a power line "road" and since unfamiliar with the trail, trusting our GPS, we had made an exact 180. Back to the main road it was and regroup. Coming down on Hwy 3 we could see a track leading into the hills, so that was the new goal; to find that trail. It took some zig zagging, but eventually we ended up at another military road block and while the vehicles were inspected, the small talk with the GIs gave us the info we needed for the desired trail. They claimed to cut across that way in their hummers. Wrong word to use with us! Boy, Hummers can do it, we can do it !! We followed another power line trail and actually did cross the one we were on earlier. Across sandy washes and bumpy tracks we were finally acquainted with deep sand. John and Dan did not have to slow down, but Jack had to put in four wheel right away. The skinny tires tried to dig deep instead of staying on top of the soft grounds. Reaching the foot hills it became rocky again. We crested the summit and could see the blue water of the gulf on the horizon. Miller time for us. By now it was about 4.30 pm and we descended down the rocky gorge. The trail became a boulder cluttered, narrow, windy "thing". John was in the lead and he stopped at a big drop off rock to get out and have a look. We walked down the path with difficulty (typical ankle twister) and tried to decide what line to take. Some areas had to be improved on and it was time to spot the trucks through the tough sections. John's truck didn't idle anymore, so he had to use starter power a lot to ease over obstacles. One by one the trucks came down and we reached a big enough flat spot to call it a day and make camp.

The ankle twister trail. The ankle twister trail.

The sun had already set by now and twilight colored the canyon in the romantic red seen in movies and on postcards. Bats were busy catching breakfast and a hawk soared above. Jack and I got settled and unpacked while the other guys ventured further down the trail to inspect the remaining portion of the canyon. The news wasn't encouraging: part of the trail was gone, leaving only an narrow gap to squeeze by and a really big rock was right in the center of the path. Concern was definitely on everybody's face. The smart thing would have been, to walk the whole trail first and then decide, whether it was passable. Well, live and learn. We gathered some tumble weed and dry branches and Kelly was in charge of the camp fire. After giving him hell for the initial "pile" he constructed, a new approach seemed much better suited to start the Eucalyptus wood Jack brought along. The wood is hard to get going, but once lit up it burns for a long time. It turned out great and we actually backed off with the chairs after a while. On the menue was burgers and beers, chips and salsa. John (nickname Cookie) put an extra patty on the grill for me, since I eat a lot. (Thanks John!!) The rest of the evening was the usual banter, picking on the little guy (me). The night was windy, the canyon acted as a big venturi, but the early hours showed blue sky again.

More Rocks More Rocks

I finally walked down the trail also, to see what was ahead. The drop off to the left side was about 25 feet and the hole to fill was of significant size. Not wasting much time, we made a plan and gathered the necessary tools to improve the situation. Moving rocks and digging into the hill side was a chore, but a couple hours later and a solid base was made. John had cleaned his non-idling carburetor and was again in the lead to test our construction. We had deliberately dug a deep groove on the hill side to keep the tire in there and have a lesser chance of sliding south. It worked perfectly. The other trucks were spotted through and next stop was the big boulder. The best decision seemed to move it across the path. We estimated its weight at about 4 tons. With a hi-lift and hyd. floor jacks positioned on one side, we were able to tilt it enough to rock it over and slowly reached the other side and actually filled the hole on the left side of the trail we would have fallen in otherwise. Some "minor" washouts were straddled further down and even a tight turn around a rock next to a gully were mastered beautifully by the drivers. So after about five hours of scrape, sweat and tears we finally made it to the sandy brush covered flats again. The GPS showed a quarter mile in 5 hours. Almost normal Unimog speed, right?! Back on the power line track, the woopdy-doo's became unbearable, so the first chance we got, at Zoo Road, we hung a sharp left and followed the wash board until we hit pavement: Highway Cinco, ten miles left to San Felipe!

.25 miles in 5 hours .25 miles in 5 hours

We made it.... I think everybody was glad to see civilization again and we were starving. Jack knew a place along the water and shrimps it was. We asked for a good place to camp and got a local map with directions to an RV park just down the bay. We arrived at the camp ground and I negotiated with the hombre about the price and space requirements. We settled on $20 for all of us and proceeded to the camp spots. Well, what followed was a typical Unimog "event". Many North Americans, of course, snow bird south and this place was occupied as well with motor homes and trailers. The Attention getters got immediate attention and we found ourselves answering common questions right away while unpacking and getting settled. A beer run is necessary and three of us crammed into Dan's cab to "run errands". Dinner was at the nearby restaurant and John made margaritas afterwards. Boy, did I sleep well. The sound of the waves made it easy to go to dreamland, didn't even have to count sheep. Breakfast was right after the hot shower and it sucked. I don't think anybody liked it, wish we would have made Cookie prep the most important meal of the day. Dan and I went shopping. It was the first time I rode in his truck, the combo of a high compression head and big swamper tires. It worked well and was smooth to ride in. We bought blankets and haggled hard with the local shop, pretty much the only one that was open. We met up with the others and the gas stop was next and guess what: it was prepay !! At a Seven Eleven !! We headed back for the hills, though this time it was to run the dry lake bed Laguna Diablo back to Hwy three.

Dry lake scenery. Dry lake scenery.

Since we spent too much time in the canyon, we couldn't follow the coast further south as initially intended. Soft sand got us back into Baja Mille mode and when we hit the lake it was fast moving with big dust clouds behind the trucks. The sierras to the north were pretty so we used the potty break to take some action shots and of course the drivers had too much fun goofing around in the soft dirt. We back tracked past the spot of the last road block and had lunch in Valle de Trinidad again. The plan was to cut across the mountains to hit the Pacific side of Baja and spend the night near Ensenada. With a little luck and asking we eventually ended up on the right trail and weaved through the mountains. I was still riding with Dan and the only traffic we had was a horseman with two calves and a pick up, and all that at the same time. Weird, eh? Odd things happen in odd places, especially in the middle of nowhere. We hit Hwy 1 just south of Santo Tomas and another road block on the way north to Ensenada was pretty much expected. The patrol guard spoke good English and waved us through. It was getting colder and the first gray sky shimmered through the dusty windshield. We put the top back up and played catch up with the rest of the group. John had a place in mind he stayed at before and checking in was a snap. Setting up camp was a quick routine by now and "Cookie", as so often before, took care of our growling tummies.

Fun on the lakebed. Fun on the lakebed.

The glow of Ensenada was on one side of the camp and the water fowl chirping bay on the other. We killed a lot of Corona that night, and the mosquitoes weren't that plentiful either. A cozy spot, I must say. Breakfast was in a typical Mexican place, quite crowded. It was pouring, our first rain since we entered Baja. I had french toast and everybody else went with the traditional dishes. Kelly had some hot peppers in his ranchero omelets and was burning up. John and I tried them too, but couldn't really taste what the fuss was all about. Must be a Midwestern thing, so we teased him a lot. We drove to town and wanted to do some shopping. Most of the stores just opened up and the choices were limited. I needed a poncho for a friend in Germany and was looking for a couple of wool blankets myself. Eventually the right things were found and we agreed on the price. The rest of the guys were waiting impatiently under cover watching the rain. We hit the road again and since there was no better weather in close proximity indicated by our GPS, we decided to cut it a day short and headed north-east on Hwy 3 to Tecate and crossed back to the States. Our eggs and lemons were confiscated on the American side, but other than that, it was smooth sailing.

Goodbye Baja. Goodbye Baja.

Pizza was on the lunch menue and the plate was huge. Five guys couldn't finish it! The airport was just another 45 minutes down the road we said "Goodbye". I had to wait a couple of hours for the next flight, but was finally in my cozy bed again, though I would always trade again for a corner in Cookies kitchen wagon. The kitchen wagon (green) owned by John "Cookie" Wessels of Merced, CA. It's a '55 frenchie with super swamper tires and DynoMatted cab, which helps the noise level a lot. The perfectly adjusted valves sound like a sewing machine. The yellow sinker owned by Jack "Guide us all" Easby of Merced, CA, a modified (low profile top) mid-60's Swiss with a high compression head, but still stock tires. The white boulevard racer owned by "Doc" Dan Johnson of Crawfordsville, IN with co-pilot "Can't eat hot stuff" Kelly "please nail the GPS to my forehead". High comp head, swampers, ex German, custom bed and canvas. Thanks again for the great time, guys, see you at REUNImOggiNg '98. And don't forget, I don't drink cheap beer and need coffee with cream in the morning!!

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