April 21, 2014
Told in the collective first person, jointly from Stu and Janell Clarke's perspective.
Narrated Audio Blog
Janell lay there upside-down calling for help, head resting on a concrete beam which ran along the bottom of the deep gutter, her legs sticking up the steep incline holding up 250kg of bike. The bike was also upside-down with fuel pouring out of the breathing tube. Stuart quickly pulled his bike up and ran to her assistance. He took the weight, enough for Janell to slip out from under the bike and then allow it to fall about 1.5m to the bottom of the gutter. Luckily there was no signs of injury, although Janell was in a bit of shock, holding her broken rear-view mirror and cursing Skyla who was the reason for the emergency stop.
So what had lead to this situation?
Our stayed in Oaxaca had extended two nights longer than initially intended; this time of course is never wasted as there is always more to see. The reason however, for this delay was slightly complicated, but was essentially caused by not having Janell's motorbike title. We'd waited around long enough in Texas and decided that having it mailed to a hotel in Oaxaca was a better option than waiting any longer. But again it had us waiting around and we wanted to get to Cancun by the Friday to meet Greg, Stu's brother who was flying in to spend some time with The Pack Track. By Wednesday morning it was apparent that the title was not going to arrive before the weekend, we tossed up ideas about riding to Cancun and then back for the title (which was all important for the Guatemalan border crossing) but it finally occurred to us that a simple return flight for Janell would be all that would be required to solve our dilemma, a reminder that you need to keep thinking outside the box while travelling.
So having come up with this solution at about 10am on Wednesday, we quickly packed up and set off. But not before checking the mail at the hotel one more time. This involved a trip into the town centre to a hotel where the paperwork had been addressed. It was after lunch by the time we left but we had been held up too long and needed to make some progress for the day. We punched the destination into the GPS and started on our way. The initial GPS route was taking us well around the mountains which would add an extra 400km to the trip compared to the much shorter mountain pass. We realised this as we entered the motorway we had come into Oaxaca on and felt we were heading in the wrong direction. We pulled over to rectify and manually changed the route to take us over the mountain but since we had already entered the motorway we would need to perform a u turn, an opportunity that wouldn't present itself for another 30km. Roughly an hour later we returned back to Oaxaca, needing to cross the city centre to connect up with the road out to the mountain pass. By this stage we still hadn't had lunch, so decided to find somewhere to stop and recharge before heading off on what we knew would be a challenging road ahead.
At roughly 4pm we got back on the road after having had a late lunch and we quickly discovered that the streets of Oaxaca had become the site of a protest. Taxi's had blocked roads all over Oaxaca, for most parts we could squeeze through but in other areas there were police redirecting us and massive traffic jams. We followed the police directions as given and rode around the cars as far as we could but found the most concentrated blockage to be at the intersection with the main road out of town and over the mountain pass. The traffic was unbelievable, cars were lined up every which way only to be turning around and coming back. We squeezed through to the front, but found that the width of our bikes was too much to fit where most other bikes could. We only had to cross 6 lanes of traffic and we would be free, so we dismounted and looked for a way through. A taxi driver approached us and advised us on a possible way, but it involved riding over the medium strip and with Janell only just reaching the ground on her tiptoes, was not an ideal situation. However, we had little choice, so over Stu's bike went and clear of the taxi blockade. He dismounted and came back to help Janell. Janell was very hesitant about proceeding, Stuart offered to ride over for her but she wanted to do it herself and there was no reason she shouldn't be able to, she was a good rider and it was only misguided lack of confidence that was stopping her. So with Stu standing alongside and a few of the taxi drivers ready to catch Janell if her bike were to fall, Janell went for it. She powered up and got her front tyre onto the medium strip. Now with the shorter distance to the medium strip she was able to get both feet firmly on the ground, she quickly attempted to get the rear wheel over, but lost traction as the tyre began to slip, before anyone could lend a hand, she rolled back just enough and let it rip. Up she went and over the other side without a problem and very much to her surprise, proof of just how far she had come as a rider of these bigger bikes in the past few months.
But had this all been a sign not to leave Oaxaca??
Up the mountain we headed, Oaxaca had been a pleasant 35˚C and we were riding without any liners in our pants or jackets. Heading up the mountain the weather quickly changed and the temperature dropped. Before long if was raining and our thermometer was reading 9˚C; we were all wet, cold and miserable. Now, Skyla being the little princess she is, wouldn't put up with discomfort for long before letting the whole world know. From within her Pillion Pooch Stu heard the most distressing sound, not being a sound he had heard before, he quickly let Janell know (who was riding in front) that he needed to stop to check on her. The roads were twisty and undulating, a safe spot was hard to find. Janell was getting anxious and decided to stop on a slight bend which seemed to have good visibility in both directions. The road was narrow with a cliff on the far side of the road and a deep gutter to the right. Janell pulled up as close to the edge as she deemed safe and put her foot down. Although sealed, this section of road was covered in light gravel that was not clearly visible with the setting sun. Janell planted her foot and slipped on the loose surface and over she went, bike and all, down the steep slope and into the gutter, leading with her head which bounced on the concrete beam. The bike quickly following and came to rest being held up by Janell's inverted legs. Stuart at this point had a very important decision to make, run straight to her aid or grab the camera, not sure of Janell's true condition, he decided to get to her first, was this the right decision??
With Janell's safety assured, we set about getting the bike back on the road. Stuart's bike was still up on the road with hazard lights on, and within minutes a passing truck stopped to assist. Two men jumped out and among the four of us, we dragged Janell's bike back onto the road. Once on the road we turned the key and pressed the ignition, not expecting too much after what the bike had been through, but very much to our surprise the bike started first time. Stu threw around some ideas of how we could continue without Janell having to ride any more for the day but Janell being Janell jumped straight back on the bike and said "lets go, we have a lot of riding to do before Friday".
About 10 minutes up the road we found a well placed coffee shop at the point that claimed to be the highest point along the pass. We stopped in for a hot drink and a light meal and as we sat down Janell started laughing about the incident and her initial reaction. There was no way this girl was going home!!
While enjoying our coffee we spoke to a few of the locals, before knowing the route we had taken, they warned us about the road we had just taken, after hearing our story they warned that the rest was still very challenging but in a different way. The road we had come up had gradually climbed from 1,500m to 3,000m but the rest of the road (only 30km or so) would drop very quickly from 3,000m to sea level making for some very steep roads.
We did indeed find this for the first few kms, which probably brought us down a couple of thousand meters, but after that it plateaued out, but this brought us to a section of road covered in fog. The sun had set by this stage and the fog was thick and consistent, we were still in the hills with drop offs next to the roads of hundreds of meters at times. For the most part we could not see more than a few meters in front and so judged everything off the roads edge by looked to the sides, this meant we were riding no more than 15km/hr and made for a very slow decent. We had already decided to stop at the first town we found, but we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
We kept descending and the fog began to clear, although small patches returned from time to time, this allowed us to increase our speed a little but we were still winding through the hills so played it safe. Then coming around a corner we saw what looked to be a log lying partially across our lane, as we got closer it became clear it was a man, his eye's wide open and staring at us, Stuart was riding up front and made clear eye contact with him, he made no signs of distress and his eye's followed as Stu rode past, Janell was freaked by this encounter and said over the comms "don't stop" thinking it could be some kind of hijack or kidnapping situation. Convinced that no distress was shown, Stu agreed and we rode on.
We had covered a little over 100km in 5 hours, so going even by our standards! Around 9pm we eventually found a town and immediately started looking for a hotel. We quickly found a gem with hot water, secure parking, breakfast offered and an English speaking host (although she played along with our appalling Spanish for a while before saying clearly in English that we needed to work on our Spanish). She explained our encounter with the man as a drunk finding somewhere to sleep, he certainly could have found somewhere safer, for him and the road users.
Janell and Skyla settled into the lovely hotel room for the night while Stu went for a walk to find food. That night we all slept very well, and even after the events of that day, we were still able to rise for dawn on ANZAC day, possibly the only ones awake at that time but we still did our bit to commemorate.
After a very long 1,400km ride, including a late night stop in the rough industrial town of Ciudad del Carmen, we finally reached Cancun, and with plenty of time to spare. Greg would arrive that night at 11pm. For the next few days we could relax and enjoy the beaches and nightlife that Cancun had to offer, all while catching up with Greg.
Janell did end up getting her much needed title after taking a flight from Cancun to Oaxaca. Unfortunately the return flight could not be made on the same day and so after a night in the Oaxaca hostel she returned to the pack via Mexico City. Nothing simple when it comes to The Pack Track.
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