Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019
“We are the Champions!”*
Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Magdalena Bay warming up for Fall

Bye Bye RoadTrek
You may be aware of my monumental decision to stop driving Mex 1.

It’s been over 46 years since a couple of my buddies – David Lewis, Jim Sipman and I – crossed the border in a “sixty-something van” beginning what became a lifetime of adventure for me driving.

Even then, I turned my trips into a business venture. I was a founding partner selling Mexican auto insurance at the Visitor Information Center in Mission Bay – Tour-Insure. In 1973, my partners assigned me the task of creating a Mex 1 Guidebook for the recently-completed highway once it was connected at Punta Prieta with all its government pomp and circumstance. The monument stands there, boasting of the accomplishment that many said couldn’t be done.

BYE BYE, RoadTrek. Look for me at the airport.

On that first trip, my buddies and I audio taped each leg of the journey – describing every wonder, mountain, desert and scene that astounded us, but we also included the gas stations, the hotels and even the vados and dangerous curves for everyone who might be traveling that road after us.

Recently, I ran across one of our tapes from the trip. On the first day, we made it to El Rosario. Mamá Espinoza’s Restaurant was already an established “must-visit” attraction. When we meandered in, Mamá Espinoza herself showed us to a table. This dignified lady filled us with awe as she shared stories of the days her husband, the anthropologist, had scoured the mountains and the ravines for prehistoric artifacts. What a fascinating time we had as she served us and we gorged on lobster tacos with all the trimmings and drank too much cerveza into the late afternoon. Our first day on the road had already put us in that “Baja state of mind.”

The tape I mentioned described our afternoon spent searching dirt roads for Punta Baja. Frankly, now as I listen to the slurring of our words on the tape, I can recall all the laughter and fun, but at the time, it didn’t seem like we were slurring our words at all.

Back to business – my “Goodby to my Mex 1” story.” My last drive on Mex 1 was November 2017 when, as usual, I was driving alone, my trek home for the year.

Late the first day, I stopped in Punta Prieta at dusk and paid a farmer 10 bucks to park in his yard. Exhausted, I was soon sound asleep. I woke up about 1:00 a.m. to a beautifully bright full moon.

Since the Laguna Chapala turnoff wasn’t far, where speeds were around 20 mph max, and there was very little traffic, I shot some great sunrise photos. Alone with my thoughts, I remembered the hundreds and hundreds of times I had traveled this road, many times with family – my large family – hanging out windows with luggage everywhere we could tie it down. I thought of the kids, now older adults themselves, who had been teens and younger, and then their babies who had driven many times on the road with us, stopping to camp on the beach or heading dead ahead to our home. We even carried a potty chair or two for the two-year-old emergencies!

Time and miles passed, and the Google maps on my cell directed me to the Sentri Line in Mexicali; I crossed the line in 15 minutes or so. EASY PEASY.

Then, I was on the freeway headed for Lake Elsinore. In Escondido, I decided to top off my fuel. I pulled off the freeway, slowing for a red light. Almost immediately, the engine warning lights come on and the overheating alarm wailed. Sure enough, I opened the hood to find that fluid was dripping from both the radiator and water pump. Fortunately, several blocks farther a service station attendant recommended a shop less than a block away. I nursed the van that final block. The owner spoke little English, but we managed to work it out. Soon Yvonne arrived to give me a ride the rest of the way home.

Although you may have heard this story when we have run into each other, and interestingly, the question almost always seems to be: Did I quit driving because of being afraid to drive the road?

The answer is “no!” It’s a matter of convenience and economy. I had given the trips a lot of thought over the past few years. My 1998 Dodge Van is 20 years old and has131,000 miles on it.

The days are long gone when we packed a van of family and friends and drove to our home or camped along the way. In recent years I drove the Road Trek back and forth on Mex 1, nearly 80,000 miles alone. There are many factors, primarily scheduling and my inclination to wander off the main road and explore, which is not very easy to schedule trips around.

As a salute to my partner – my van: during the 12 years, it has never stranded me, driving alone with all the stuff I carry – tackle, cameras, computers, and more. I wouldn’t trade those thousands of miles driven back and forth from the border for anything. The adventures, the stories and the extraordinary times I have shared with family and friends will remain with me for the rest of my life. It has been my home away from home my office, and an easy way to explore and rest.

But there is the economic factor as well. It’s cheaper and easier to fly and then rent a car to drive to my destination. With lower airfares and CBX access through Tijuana and with the convenience of clearing customs before boarding the plane, flying has become an economical alternative. Lastly, when I began driving, gas was under 50 cents a gallon — today, it’s approaching $4.00 in Baja.

I have continued to find new places and new ways to explore my Baja, which has played such an essential role in my family’s and my life.

Bye bye, RoadTrek. Look for me at the airport.

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