Mr Seck’s California Adventure

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With Mr Seck’s recent return to CMG via his Pakistan adventure, it reminded us of his 2005 California adventure … only California wasn’t so easy.

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Words: Richard Seck. Photos: Richard Seck and Vic


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“When you follow the path of your desire and enthusiasm and emotion, keep your mind in control, and don’t let it pull you compulsively into disaster”

Joseph Campbell on the myth of Daedalus and Icarus.

AN XT600 WITH WINGS

Although it was early February, it was twenty-five degrees and the Southern California sun beat down onton the desolate landscape of the Anza-Borrego desert.

Below me an aged ’89 XT600 Yamaha dual-sport roosted a satisfying arc through a sandy corner, as I veered off the main trail and onto what I hoped would be a good shortcut.

“This is going to fun”, I thought, as I moved into a standing position to help my winterized body soak up the rougher terrain. At the same time the bike momentarily hiccupped.

Hmmm, maybe it’s not a good idea to be this far out in the desert on an old bike with questionable reliability?

I glanced behind me and was surprised to see my colleague, VistaCruiser (that’s a CMG Soapbox handle BTW, not the GM product he got the name from), was keeping pace.

map_check_bg.jpgVistaCruiser takes time to check the route.

I also noted that my XT600 was doing an admirable job of soaking up the irregularities of the progressively gnarlier trail. Inevitably, thoughts of concern evaporated and were replaced with ones of the “YEE HAH!” variety.

I was sensing that this rather mint old Yamaha had never had fun like this in its entire life span, and it was begging for more! And who better to fulfill this request than yours truly? Since the section of whoops that I was in was proving to be no problem for the big XT, I wicked it up a bit more.

Bad move. The whoops became so big and deep that they quickly became more like a series of jumps.

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And then it went very CMG …
I could no longer see what was over the next crest, and as fate would have it, the next dip that followed was filled with baby-head-sized rocks. Although I managed to avoid the rocks, the XT got out of shape in the process. It all happened so fast that I don’t remember the exact chain of events, but I must have done the old “if you’re out of shape, giv-er” routine.

The next thing I knew I was in the air, with the bike floating ominously over me. I’m not sure why I didn’t let go of it — maybe because it wasn’t my bike — but it was clear that the wax had finally melted off the wings of this three hundred pound Icarus.

In a matter of seconds our flight of fancy was over and the XT fell heavily back to earth – its crash on the hard-packed desert floor softened only slightly by its fleshy companion underneath it.

On impact, I heard — and felt — the familiar sounds and sensations of breaking bones. A new experience, though, was the total inability to breathe – well-beyond any post-crash winding I’d experienced before…

FUN IN THE SUN

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What’snot to like at Chez VistaCruiser?
My trip to Southern California was supposed to have been a temporary reprieve from the Canadian winter and from the usual chaos of my life.
An old high-school friend, VistaCruiser* (I’ll call him Vic to keep things simple) had been living in So Cal for several years, and I had an open invitation to visit, so why not?

From the time I landed in San Diego, I couldn’t stop saying, fuck! The experience is beyond words (except for expletives): gorgeous sunlight, twenty-five degrees and no humidity – the ocean on one side, mountains on the other. And over those mountains? An awe-inspiring desert! Nirvana.

When I arrived at Vic’s house in Oceanside, he opened the garage doors and presented me with the reason he’d suggested that I bring my riding gear – two vintage Yamaha XT600s.

Vic is a street-rider, but had always been interested in trying off-road riding and my visit seemed like a perfect opportunity to give it a whirl.

*Who wishes to retain the anonymity of his Soapbox handle, for fear of having his US  working visa rejected because of being associated with a bunch of ijits.

TEST FLIGHT AT ANZA-BORREGO

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Vic and Ric pull over to shed some joyous tears at what awaits (little did they know).
The drive inland through the mountains on Highway 76 with a GM truck loaded with XTs had me exclaiming expletives again. The way this road winds through stunning scenery towards the desert will reduce any motorcyclist to tears of joy.
Vic’s friend had recommended Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area  for our day’s ride. This 40,000-acre area is at the east end of the Anza-Borrego Park and it sports a variety of terrain to challenge all levels of off-road riders.
We settled on what was supposed to be an entertaining “three-hour tour” (does this have a familiar ring to sitcom TV watchers of the ‘70s?). We figured this was pretty safe, as all the trails listed were supposed to be easy four-wheel-drive trails. Worst case scenario, if one of the bikes died, one of us could simply ride back to get Vic’s truck, and Bob’s your editor.

No problem.

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Signage is generally pretty crap.
Of course, this all would have gone swimmingly, had the trails been marked as well as they seem to indicate in our guide book. Arriving in a clearing and having four or five unmarked trail options available — with no signs — was not uncommon.
Our default was to take the biggest looking trail, under the assumption that this must be the main one.

Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way, and before long we were well and truly lost.

Fortunately, we had that guidebook and were able to figure out that by taking a shortcut we could not only make up the time we’d lost, but still arrive at the planned turn-around point of our route – a big dot on the map called ‘Artesian Well’.

Sounds nice.

RETURN OF THE CMG CURSE

carp.jpgVic tries to help Mr Seck …

If you didn’t come into this story somewhere in the middle, you will know by now that the so-called ‘shortcut‘ didn’t work out so well.

When Vic caught up and found me buried under his now not-so-mint XT, he was shaking his head and trying not to laugh. “Are you all right?”. My response was something to the effect of “gasp-gasp-gasp-gasp-gassssppppp….” and then a barely audible “no”. I must have looked and sounded like a freshly-landed carp.

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The x-ray tells a familiar story.

Photo: Pioneer’s Hospital

I was fighting for air and the pain was so intense, I couldn’t get up. Vic pulled the bike off me and dragged me unceremoniously off the trail.

I knew my ribs were broken, as I had landed with my left arm tucked into the side of my chest, as the full weight of the bike hammered me into the ground like a pile driver. The point of least resistance had been the rack of ribs on the left side of my back, which snapped like dry branches.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that one of the ribs had added insult to injury by poking a hole in my left lung. Optimistically, we kept thinking that I had been badly winded, but after twenty minutes of little improvement we realized that we’d have to take some emergency action.

Vic — with his minimal off-road experience — would have to ride out and get the truck to get me out of there.

He hopped back on the XT that he’d been riding, and tried to spark it back into life. Nothing! Apparently it had been acting up just prior to stopping and now was refusing to start. So he switched to my newer, but slightly beaten ’89, got it going and headed off precariously back down the trail.

The plan was for him to get the truck and come back via Artesian Well. If I felt up to it, I could make my own way there to meet him, thus saving him trying to negotiate this gnarly trail with the truck

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Luckily the bike faired better than Mr. Seck.
So there I sat — a crumpled, wheezing mass — watching the sun drop lower and lower towards the horizon. The more it dropped, the colder it got. Then the wind started to blow.
I spent the next hour trying to find any sort of body position that would give me some relief or allow me to breath easier, while I waited for Vic’s triumphant return.

Hmhhh, shouldn’t he be here by now? I began to contemplate that Vic — a newbie to dirt riding on poorly marked trails — may have run into some trouble himself.

The gaining wind was telling me that I wasn’t going to get any more comfortable and the setting sun was indicating that I had about an hour of daylight left.

Oh dear. What to do?

ESCAPING THE LABYRINTH

ride_it_out_bg.jpgStart you bitch!

I looked over at Vic’s dead ’86 XT, about forty feet away. Okay, I can sit here and freeze while waiting for my would-be rescuer — one that may not show up — or I can try to ride out.

It seemed like a no-brainer.

With every ounce of strength and pain-blocking ability I could muster, I somehow managed to get to my feet, and with the smallest of steps, hobble over to the bike. Once there, two new challenges awaited:

The first was just getting on. I think I did the ‘ripping-the-band-aid-off-quickly‘ approach and simply hurled myself into the saddle. If there were any coyote’s around waiting for dinner, the scream that I emitted with whatever breath I still had left surely must have scared them off.

And there I sat, arms propped up on the bars, gasping for air, staring at the switchgear that contained no button with a happy rotating-arrow symbol.

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“I hurt this much”.

That’s right, good reader, mid-eighties XTs are kick-start only. Please also remember, this is the bike my healthy friend (albeit inexperienced in the subtleties of kick-starting a big single) could not start.

There’s no point attempting to describe the amount of pain experienced in the three kicks it took to finally light the Yamaha, suffice to say that when I finally managed to hit the trail it was with the mantra, “don’t stall, don’t stall, pleeeeease don’t stall… ”.

You’d think the bumps would be the most painful part of my journey, but rather it was the sand washes that nearly did me in. In normal conditions, these are best taken on the gas and at a good clip.

Instead, I was fanning the clutch in first gear, trying to go as slow as possible while maintaining some momentum. This, of course, caused the front wheel to dig in and the bars to wag back and forth, transmitting the jerkiness directly to my shattered rib cage.

My mantra switched to “don’t crash, don’t crash, pleeease don’t crash”…

THANK GOD FOR ILLEGAL ALIENS

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Unfortunately the map taken did not show the exact location of ‘Artesian Well’.

I rode for about  twenty minutes and experienced the familiar confusion of not knowing where the actual trail was. However, I must have made some good choices as I was eventually rewarded with what looked like a fenced in area at the top of a hill. That had to be Artesian Well. Hmhh, maybe Vic was already there?

By some miracle, and a whole new dose of pain, I made it to the top of the hill, only to experience the disappointment of what I was presented with – a fenced area surrounding some goopy mud holes. Not only did it not look like an artesian well, but nobody was there either.

Yikes! I was lost again, but now I was also no longer where my friend was expecting me to be, and the ball of the sun was now sitting on the horizon.

What to do?

Strangely, up until this point, optimism had prevailed, but just as it was starting to fade with the last rays of light, a giant vehicle appeared on the horizon – a border-patrol Hummer! I’m saved!

After some explanation and discussion with the officers, it was clear that I had two options:

A) Ride out of the desert in the cage at the back of the Hummer (where I couldn’t communicate with the officers to let them know that I’m about to die and could they possibly slow down?). Or …

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Hummer to the rescue.
Photo: www.hummer.com 

B) Wait while they went to get the Park Rangers.

I chose option B) and watched as the last saffron rays of the sun bounced off the shrinking Hummer.

As the sun set, the wind started blowing so hard and cold that I had to seek some kind of shelter. I hobbled for some distance, plunked myself behind a hill and curled up into a fetal position.

This is where Vic and the Rangers eventually found me.

WHAT HAPPENED TO VIC?

Good question. After riding out down the trail, not surprisingly he quickly got lost and ended up in some nasty sand washes (which are hard enough to ride even
when you have proper knobby tires and actually know what you’re doing).

vc_xt_found_bg.jpgVic eventually did find his XT.
So after crashing and picking up the three-hundred pound behemoth three times, he realized he’d probably make better progress walking…
So he abandoned the bike and did exactly that.

It turned out to be a good idea as after a short time he started to hear the sound of cars on a highway, and walked in that direction (it was dark by then). He was so ecstatic at the fact that he wasn’t going to die that he wasn’t bothered by having to crawl through a barbed-wire fence to reach the road.

He wasn’t even that disheartened by the fact that nobody stopped to pick him up when he attempted to flag cars down on said highway (they probably thought that he’d just snuck across the border).

Finally a state trooper vehicle pulled over. After being frisked and heavily questioned, the officer realized he was legit, and proceeded to call the park rangers to organize a drop off. Interestingly, this was the same time that my border patrol guys had contacted the rangers.

FLYING THE MIDDLE PATH

icarus_bg.jpgThe flight of Seckarus was not to be all shits and giggles.
I was loaded into the Rangers’ 4×4 and slowly taken down the trail to where an ambulance awaited. The
adrenaline must have worn off by this point, as every bump seemed worse than the last.
Thankfully, when I was transferred to the ambulance the paramedics were able to shoot me up with morphine, and we bounced our way down the rest of the trail in a state of slightly muted pain.

The good news is that I didn’t do as badly as the mythical Icarus, and I will live to fly again. It’s now been six weeks since the crash, I feel great, and am looking forward to an entertaining summer of riding.

Additionally, I was having such a good time on Vic’s Yamaha (prior to the crash) that I’m thinking about getting my beaten ice-racer XT600 back into dual-sport trim. No problem with throwing this one away if I get out of shape!

I’ve also been offered the use of an airbag suit. Hopefully I won’t need it, as I’m starting to realize that Daedalus* might have had the right approach to flying. He actually made it to the other shore, whilst watching his manic son plummet to his death …

* Most people don’t know that Daedalus (Icarus’s father) flew out of the labyrinth with him. He however heeded his own advice of flying the middle path: “ Don’t fly too high, or the sun will melt the wax on your wings, and you will fall. Don’t fly too low, or the tides of the sea will catch you.”

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Who’d have thunk that you’d get into so much grief with two XTs?

Live large,

Mr. Seck



THANKS TO:

VistaCruiser (Vic) for putting up with my antics. The cheque’s in the mail for the bike repairs, BTW … Oh, and can I come again next year

The Octotillo Wells Park Rangers, and the California Border patrol guards who saved my ass!

The excellent staff at Pioneer’s Memorial Hospital in Brawley, California.

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