Returning to the US: Who Doesn’t Love a 1,000 Mile Detour?

If you think this series is tedious, you should have been on the road with us! Let’s fast-forward a bit:

Aaron somehow forgot to order the tire and then delivery was delayed twice due to a winter storm so we were stuck in the RV with the dogs for a total of 9 ½ days. That was awesome. We left Ocotillo Wells on January 28 and I had another blowout (driver’s rear) just east of Twentynine Palms. A normal person would wonder what the hell kind of shape they were in for this to keep happening. The tread was still good on the remaining three. AARON CHECKED THEM. So back on the donut I went.

We just happened to need fuel when we made our way to Amboy, California. This place has an amazing history and an ongoing lack of potable water. As such, the café is only a gift shop and there are no working restrooms. This is exactly the kind of place I could spend an entire day exploring so it really sucked that we were so pressed for time. Here are a few pics I was able to grab while we tried to get the dogs to potty.

Kelso is another town I would have loved to photograph but we just couldn’t stop.

Kelso Depot courtesy Andrew Stack

We spent the night at a hotel adjacent to a casino in Mesquite, Nevada and hoo-boy, was that an experience. We’ve all seen some sad walks of shame but these were like rock bottom. I had all three tires replaced the next morning and the bf asked the tire guy his thoughts about whether the Mighty Dodge would make it all the way to Idaho with its four bald, mismatched tires. I think he gave it 50-50 odds.

We then attempted to power through Utah but were stopped by heavy, wet snow in Nephi. The truck was hydroplaning on basically anything wet for obvious reasons so we thought it best to take no chances. The place we stayed looked normal on the outside but our first assigned room had water dripping through the ceiling. I guess the pet annex doesn’t get the same level of maintenance.

So we FINALLY made it to our destination in Southeast Idaho on Saturday, January 30…more than two weeks after leaving Todos Santos. We had driven more than 2,000 miles and I rolled about 520 of them on that stupid donut. The dogs and I were so happy to get out of the Jeep and finally get settled again…but were we???

Click the links below to see how we got to this point.

Returning to the US: Motocross Heaven and the Tow of Shame

Returning to the US: He Literally Thought I Was Dead

Returning to the US: Sherman, I Just Really Need You to Poop

Returning to the US: Leaving Todos Santos

Returning to the US: First the Why

Returning to the US: Motocross Heaven and the Tow of Shame

We finally crossed the border at Mexicali East on Monday, January 18, 2021 at about 11:15 am. The dogs and I were waved right through without even being asked for their health certificates. The Joad Family truck was obviously referred for secondary inspection so I drove to a gas station adjacent to the crossing and waited. The bf was allowed to drive through the X-ray machine, which saved a ton of time. He fully expected to unload the entire truck.

We brought a laptop up from Mexico for some friends so we stopped in El Centro to ship the package and grab lunch. I wasn’t prepared for such a culture shock. It didn’t seem like I had been gone that long or maybe it was just being in California but I definitely felt out of place.

The same friends have an RV in the desert near Ocotillo Wells so we headed there to take a breather and hang out while my tire was replaced. By this point, I had driven approximately 350 miles on my spare. Totally fine, y’all. Our friends have a terrific fenced area for their very large dogs allowing Sherman to finally, literally, take a load off.

The RV park has a motocross track and it’s surrounded by trails. Lulu was predictably unimpressed by the off-road engines, but she was especially annoyed by a woman riding an old Honda two-stroke three-wheeler. The bf, who used to race motocross, thinks two-strokes sound like music but I only hear chainsaws on wheels. The track was deserted during the week so we used it to walk the dogs.

The next day, we drove both vehicles to Borrego Springs to fuel up and then dropped off my tire. We went to a coffee shop for lunch and Wi-Fi since there was no connection at the RV.

The coffee was good but not *that* good.

My Jeep died when we tried to leave and it made a weird electrical sound when I tried to restart it. I called the shop where we dropped the tire to see if they could send someone over but I was told they don’t do anything offsite. He gave me the number for a tow truck but that’s how people who haven’t lived in Mexico handle things.

Because the fence at the RV is short and the ground is soft, the dogs were with us when all of this was going down. There wasn’t anything in the truck that we could use to tow my Jeep back to the shop so we walked the dogs over to a NAPA and bought a tow strap. The way things had been going, I figured we would probably run into this type of situation again.

We stumbled on to a bank of chargers during our walk. All of them were out of service.

After completing the tow of shame back to the shop, we had to move a bunch of shit from the front seat of the truck into the backseat of the Jeep so there would be room for the dogs and me. We never imagined the Mighty Dodge would survive the trip, let alone save the day once again.

Wednesday morning, Aaron at the shop called to say he had to order a tire and it would arrive the next day. My alternator had failed (hence the electrical sound) so that also had to be ordered. We settled in and awaited his call to let us know it was ready.

Click the links below to see how we got to this point.

Returning to the US: He Literally Thought I Was Dead

Returning to the US: Sherman, I Just Really Need You to Poop

Returning to the US: Leaving Todos Santos

Returning to the US: First the Why

Returning to the US: He Literally Thought I Was Dead

We woke up Sunday morning in Guerrero Negro feeling better all the way around. The little place with the kickass breakfast burritos on Highway 1 just north of the Baja California state line was closed (Sunday!) but no matter. We were, as they say, cooking with gas.
Here’s the thing about roads in Mexico: Conditions vary wildly. For example, Highway 19 between Cabo and La Paz could easily be in Arizona, minus the phenomenal ocean views. In addition to being four lanes, it’s smooth and constantly maintained with wide lanes and shoulders. Hwy 1 is not like that. You can’t just set the cruise and enjoy the drive because it crisscrosses the peninsula a few times to get around the mountains. It’s a very narrow road without any shoulders (or guardrails) at all in most spots. There are quite a few very steep grades so you’ll be tooling along and then have a semi truck come barreling around a curve halfway in your lane with nowhere to go. There’s an area just like that a few miles before the junction with Highway 5, the newly completed road running along the Sea of Cortez. The windows were cracked for the dogs to sniff unfamiliar air. We were making good time and I was listening to The Very Best of The Cars. We had just cleared a very sharp curve with an extremely steep drop-off and two big ‘ole trucks across the center line and descended into a valley when my Jeep dinged at me. Initially, I thought it was the check engine light that was upset again but no…it was a low tire. The tire pressure system in my Jeep soothes my OCD because it shows the exact pressure in each tire and chimes at 25 PSI. I looked down and saw the rear passenger tire pressure dropping quickly so I hollered at the bf on the radio but got no response. As I slowed down, I was honking and flashing my brights but he just kept driving. Somehow, this happened at the perfect spot with a wide area for me to pull over away from the road. I knew we were very close to the Hwy 5 turn off and figured he would notice I was no longer behind him by the time he got there. My phone had zero bars of service but I sent a quick message to my mom, thinking it would send eventually. The tire was toast and my only option was to wait. It seemed like a good time to let the dogs stretch their legs and grab some water. A few minutes later, I saw the Mighty Dodge hauling ass in our direction. His first words were “I thought you were dead!” He went on to describe the scenario he imagined: My dogs and I were dead at the bottom of a canyon after being forced off the road by one of those trucks. There may have been some bargaining with a higher power. After realizing I was gone, he noticed his radio was turned off. It seems the battery drained because the USB port in the Mighty Dodge failed to charge it. So he really had no idea where he had lost me. Accessing the spare tire in this particular Jeep model is a giant pain in the ass when it’s loaded. Remember the Cherokees that had the FULL SIZE spare on the driver’s side of the cargo area? Ahhh…the good ‘ole days.  After unloading everything I had masterfully fit in the back, he changed the tire and we were back in action. I sent my mom another message to let her know we were on the move.
Photo courtesy Andrew Stack
So there I was rolling through Baja on a donut with the check engine light flashing and beeping at me at random intervals. There was no chance of dealing with the tire in Mexico because it was Sunday and we didn’t want my battery to get stolen. Yep…that’s a thing. We stopped in San Felipe for fuel and food. The gas station attendant actually complimented my Spanish, which was hilarious because my Spanish is virtually nonexistent. Despite the delay, we still felt like we could cross the border that night.
We passed through a final military checkpoint without any issues and made good time the rest of the way to Mexicali.
We arrived in Mexicali before dark and stopped at McDonald’s to double check directions to the border crossings. As I watched the Mighty Dodge make the left turn, I noticed the front driver’s side tire was flat. Are you fucking kidding me right now? Initially, the truck only needed to make it to Baja where it was to be discarded. That it had survived to this point was a fucking miracle. It has needed an alignment for, I dunno, forever so the tires are being directly worn. A failure like this was obviously only a matter of when but it had already been a long day.
Photo courtesy Andrew Stack
We parked across the street from McD’s in a residential area and discussed our next move. It was pretty obvious we wouldn’t be crossing the border until Monday. We saw a sign that looked like it could be a hotel so I stayed with the dogs and vehicles while the bf took a walk to size up our options. He chatted up a couple ladies outside a pizza/barbecue place and one of them called her nephew or whatever who said he could be at our location in a few minutes. He showed up shortly after with his girlfriend and advised he had a guy who could help. He called the guy who said he would be there in 45 minutes. We grabbed some food and right on time, this 20-something dude rolled up in an S-10 pickup with all kinds of tools and equipment in the back. He took one look at that tire and we knew it was jacked even by Mexican standards. It was clear he would have to remove the tire and take it to his shop to switch it out. He wasn’t sure if he had a tire that would fit and the bf told him it could be a used one and it really only needed to make it across the border. The kid seemed dubious, which is always concerning in Mexico. Usually, it’s the other way around. About another hour later, he came back with a different tire on the rim. It doesn’t even come close to matching the other (also mismatched) tires and wasn’t even technically the correct size but it worked. Fifty bucks later, we went in search of lodging since the Mexicali East border crossing had closed for the night. It may have made sense to just use the main crossing but those guys were dicks when we crossed southbound so we decided to get a room and use the East crossing in the morning. Mexicali is confusing in the dark but we only drove around for an extra hour or so…it was totally fine. Click the links below to see how we got to this point. Returning to the US: Sherman, I Just Really Need You to Poop Returning to the US: Leaving Todos Santos Returning to the US: First the Why

Returning to the US: Sherman, I Just Really Need You to Poop

The dogs are amazingly adept at keeping me on a tight schedule. I began imploring them to take care of what I considered urgent business before first light.

While their lack of concern for my agenda did allow me to catch a beautiful sunrise, I was extremely worried about the status of Sherman’s colon. Dog moms know the poops occur shortly after each meal. He hadn’t done anything in nearly 24 hours and we had a long day ahead of us. Anyone who has had a dog do a whoopsie in a vehicle prefers to avoid any such emergency going forward.

Both dogs were still afraid of getting too close to the water. There were also other people walking dogs, which is always a distraction and they both wanted that stupid dead mouse. I wasn’t having a lot of luck.

As promised, the hot water was restored by the time we returned to the room. While I waited for the bf to finish showering, I noticed a Loreto Municipal Police truck on the beach.

I had forgotten the beach was supposed to be closed again due to the COVID numbers. It appeared the police took canine constitutionals much more seriously than violent crime because they were very quick to clear the area. I’m not saying Mexican police are corrupt but…wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Mission-focused as always, I skipped breakfast to continue pleading for potties because I could always have a protein bar from my lunch pail on the road.

Not far from the hotel, I asked on the radio if the bf could check his mirrors for anything wobbly on my Jeep because it felt like the wheels were going to fall off at low speed. He said everything looked fine. We inspected all four wheels when we stopped for fuel and they really did look okay. I have a history of breaking shocks and struts on this vehicle so I thought maybe the Baja roads had finished wrecking my suspension.

The truck was pulled aside at the second military checkpoint for a cursory inspection. I was asked to step out of the Jeep and a guy just took a quick peek in the back after seeing the dogs. While the truck was being looked at, I parked near a restroom where some entrepreneurs were charging five pesos per person and *once again* tried to get Sherman’s bowels moving. There was a Belgian Malinois barking in a checkpoint kennel and my boy had no intention of relaxing any part of his body.

In order to avoid additional night driving, back pain, and stress we decided to stay at the Halfway Inn just outside Guerrero Negro again. They’re super accommodating with regard to both people and pets. The food is good and I had luck getting the dogs to do their potties during our previous stay. It’s not the nicest place but it’s cheap and clean.

We grabbed dinner at the hotel bar and crashed out early. The idea was to make the next day a marathon and cross at Mexicali Sunday night. Little did we know…

Click the links below to see how we got to this point.

Returning to the US: Leaving Todos Santos

Returning to the US: First the Why

Returning to the US: Leaving Todos Santos

We finally rolled through the gate leaving the house we rented in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur at about 1:30 pm local time on Friday, January 15, 2021. The check engine light in my Jeep had recently lit up again and pretty much every light on the dash of the boyfriend’s truck had been on since forever.

A few miles south of Ciudad Constitución, traffic came to a complete stop. Apparently, the protests over workers not being paid and general corruption were still closing the highway for hours at a time. After a couple minutes, some random guy rolled up and said he could lead us on a detour around the barricades. We would have to go back about half a mile and then on some dirt roads that we were assured our vehicles could manage. Since this was supposed to be an adventure, we were totally game but I should note that Americans and Mexicans have vastly different ideas about what constitutes a viable roadway. I had already shared my location with my mom and I’m not even a little bit ashamed to admit I sent her a message to let her know what was happening in the event our charred bodies were found without identification.

As we turned onto a dusty trail with very deep sand, I considered the weirdness I had recently experienced with my four-wheel drive and just really hoped I wouldn’t need it. There was a PT Cruiser stuck in the oncoming “lane” with a guy trying to dig it out with a shovel and I mentally willed the traffic ahead of me to keep moving.

Things started to get weird when the “road” became one lane. Driving in Mexico means being prepared to do things that would give your high school Drivers Ed teacher an aneurysm. Once the road curved back to the west, I was completely blinded by a combination of dust and bright sunlight.

At one point, I was barely crawling because I couldn’t see the boyfriend’s truck in front of me or whether I was about to drive off into the trash dump we were passing.

I don’t really know how much time this funny little detour cost us but we finally rolled into Ciudad Constitución at about 5:45 pm and I was already over it. We had planned to avoid driving at night but once again, we were breaking our own rules. We arrived in Loreto at 8:00 pm and got a room at a pet friendly hotel right on the malecón.

So about this hotel. Like, I understand it is literally *right* on the beach but US $150 is a fucking ripoff. But they know they have you. It’s dark outside and you’re not fiddle fucking around trying to find a more reasonable place. So whatever…I just wanted to take a shower and go to bed. Hahahahahahahaha….no hot water and the office had closed for the night right after we checked in. The remote for the heat also wasn’t working. This room wasn’t even nice and my patience was gone. Thank goodness for Facebook pages. I was able to send messages to management and they sent over a maintenance man, who quickly deduced the hot water was out in the whole building. I was told they would fix the electrical problem when the office opened at 7:00 am. He switched out the remote for the heater and I began trying to get the dogs to go potty next to the Sea of Cortez.

My dogs strongly prefer that water never touch their bodies. Or their paws. They have a serious problem with the Pacific Ocean but I thought the calm waves on the gulf side would be okay. I was wrong. After a long and frustrating day, walking around for what felt like hours with dogs afraid to do their business really was the cherry on top. But Sherman putting a dead mouse in his mouth on the beach was *chef’s kiss*. I went to bed pissed off and exhausted.

Click here to see why we decided to return to the United States.

Returning to the US: First the Why

I moved to Mexico for reasons that probably didn’t make sense to anyone who knows me. It was a rough year and three months which can be summed up in three words: Filth and sadness.

My experience was undoubtedly worsened by the COVID pandemic and the social circle I intended to cultivate never fully materialized. Some of that is totally on me. Unfortunately, I was dealing with other shit that just didn’t allow me the mental fortitude to venture out into the world.

We did not live in a gringo neighborhood. I initially tried to interact with people at mercados and along my walks but had difficulty getting people to even make eye contact with me. Locals tended to only acknowledge me if I was with the boyfriend and sometimes not even then. After a while, I just let that be. As 2020 wore on, I began resenting the locals and their dual price system. Their resentment for gringos was palpable. It was obvious they only tolerated us for our money and many merchants took full advantage whenever they saw an opportunity. There were a few exceptions but mostly it was constant financial fuckery.

FB groups were endless streams of locals complaining about Americans ruining Baja or “The Enlightened Ones” complaining about how Mexicans should keep their dogs on leashes, stop burning their trash, and wear helmets on bicycles. Some Mexicans saw dollar signs and charged outrageous rent but then other Mexicans complained they couldn’t afford to live in their own neighborhoods. Gentrification had finally arrived in Baja. It was just too much.

I developed a system, though. Mostly, I spent every day just trying to get through the day and a lot of that revolved around laundry and dishes. The dogs were on a schedule. The trash pickup was (mostly) on a schedule. I never knew what I was supposed to be doing so I basically just retreated to the things I knew how to do and when to do them. I certainly couldn’t take my dogs for walks because they would just be attacked by street dogs running amok. They say if you don’t like it, leave. I thought that sounded like a fine plan.

We spent much of 2020 watching Argentina to see if they would open their borders to foreigners. South America is a bit of a shitshow but Argentines are accustomed to financial meltdowns and they handle it pretty well. In the fourth quarter, it became clear that Argentina was not a viable option in the near term and a local murder in the middle of the day caused me to lose all patience with Mexico. Burglaries were a constant problem in the area but suddenly foreign women were being robbed at mercados and in front of banks on busy streets in the afternoon. That murder, though, was the thing that made me demand we get the fuck out of there. It wasn’t that there was a murder. It was the circumstances and the people who were threatened if they talked. Common sense says if you stay away from cartel shit, you won’t get involved in cartel shit. That’s difficult when it flows into a busy street and affects people just going about their day.

We then began daily debates (I’m being kind here) about when we were leaving Mexico and where we were going, which was fun. In the midst of that, we made dental appointments and got health certificates for the dogs. We sold our surfboards and his motorcycle (tagged in Baja California Sur). Both of our vehicles had fallen prey to the harsh conditions on the peninsula so we did what we could to prepare them for the 20-hour drive, which was only the first leg of our road trip. After a series of intense negotiations, we departed Todos Santos on January 15, 2021.

The next few posts will document our travels and the challenges we have faced along the way. As I’m posting this, we’re still on the road more than three weeks later. And still working on a destination.

Is Perception the New Reality?

People often say that perception is reality. This is true, in that people generally possess limited imagination. Binary choices seem to be the default settings. For example, government bureaucracy must be either full of hyper-intelligent evil masterminds OR incompetent oafs with room temperature IQs. The truth is far more complex and far more boring.

I’ve had a fair amount of first-person exposure to newsworthy situations which have been contorted into sensational conspiracies. Every single time, basic facts were disregarded because facts are boring. Now that we’re in the clickbait era of news monetization, it’s becoming harder and harder to discern even the simplest facts. Throw deepfakes into the mix and the disinformation opportunities become endless. Human brains just aren’t wired to process all of the data being thrown at them in the information age and no one has the resources to fact check every “news” source.

If you follow the news, you likely believe the border between the US and Mexico is closed. Even official government websites confirm this “fact.” I still see people arguing online about how it’s just the land crossings which have been stopped; air travel has been unaffected. The reality is tourists have been coming and going freely between the US and Mexico via land and air since the lockdowns supposedly began. Yes, flights to and from Cabo had been drastically reduced for a while but they never stopped…even when Baja California Sur was at Level 5 and hotels were supposedly closed. The BCS economy depends on tourism and that’s pretty much the end of the story.

The truth is that you have options but options can be overwhelming. Obstacles are overwhelming. There’s generally a solution to every problem but analysis paralysis is an easy excuse for sticking to your old patterns. You’ve already decided why that thing you would like to do won’t work. You don’t have to live in your current location. You don’t have to compete with your relatives or neighbors. You can expand your social circle to include people outside your political affiliation. You can have your own opinions. You can believe multiple things are true simultaneously. You can feel conflicted over complicated subjects. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.

The most important thing to remember is we’re easier to control when we’re divided and confused.

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