How Not to Celebrate Your 30th Wedding Anniversary

Editor’s note: Pauline Read has just written her first article for Top Gun. She reminisces
about a motorcycle trip she and Elden made in 2010.

As a long time member of Vida Nueva Baja Ministries, I have offered my help by transporting much needed funds to various churches and orphanages that help the poor of northern Baja, Mexico. In years past Elden and I joined southbound caravans of campers, motor homes and truck drawn trailers loaded with food, clothes and other resources for people in need. After the death of our group’s leader Paul Jones, his widow Tina decided to concentrate on using monetary donations to fund our missions directly. In mid-March 2010 Tina asked Elden and me to deliver funds to three different locations south of the border. The total mileage for the trip would be 320 miles which we planned to
do in two days with an overnighter in Ensenada, a wonderful city with some great restaurants.

I suggested to Elden that we take our motorcycle and celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in Ensenada, one of our favorite destinations south of the border. Not surprisingly Elden liked the idea so we prepped our KLR650 on/off road big single with the correct suspension settings and tires to carry us over the twisty and sometimes bumpy Baja pavement.

On the morning of March 21 we crossed the border at Tijuana, followed the fence west to the ocean and then headed south on Highway 1 along what has been called Baja’s Gold Coast. They say gold doesn’t tarnish, but by this time in 2010 most real estate development had come to a halt, leaving half-finished condo towers as a stark reminder of the economic downturn the U.S. was experiencing.

Elden and I have ridden two-up on our KLR650 on almost every dirt and paved road in Baja, including much of the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 courses and never have we had a problem of any kind. Read on and you will discover the astounding goodwill we experienced when we did finally need help in Baja.

Mexican Highway 1 runs all the way from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas, and though it is paved, in places it can be pretty rough. Elden always makes sure the KLR is equipped with good tires, heavy duty tubes and correct suspension and tire pressure settings. The 60 mile ride down the coast from Tijuana to Ensenada is always scenic and enjoyable. One of the unique sights is a giant statue of Jesus that is tall enough to require one of those flashing airplane warning lights on the top of the Lord’s head.

After we rented a room at the Motel Balboa, we headed out on foot for an evening on the town. Strolling around Ensenada is always fun and a good way to work up an appetite for a great seafood dinner. Fresh seafood arrives all day from the ocean to the Mercado Negro fish market in the harbor and then on to the restaurant to be prepared for your plate. We awakened the next morning to a beautiful sunny day that was just perfect for a long motorcycle ride. We dressed, packed our gear, loaded the KLR and headed for las Casuelas de Kiki, our favorite place to eat breakfast in Ensenada.

Back on our bike we began what was supposed to be a 220 mile trip from Ensenada south to San Vicente and then back north to our home in La Mesa. Our first stop was at the Nazarine Church in Maneadero. After our visit with the pastor there we continued our journey south, enjoying every uphill, downhill and curve on this challenging section of Highway 1. As we rode down the winding curves into the broad Santo Tomas valley, we were greeted with hills and fields in full springtime splendor. We rode mile after mile through a green landscape dotted with native wildflowers.

In San Vicente we made our final contact with Bill and Kay at Rancho Santa Marta. This American couple has given up much to care for and educate underprivileged and orphaned Mexican children. Their well-planned facility was built by and is operated with donations from church groups and individuals from the U.S. If you are ever southbound from San Vicente on highway one, drop by and visit Rancho Santa Marta about 5 miles south of town.

After saying goodbye to Bill and Kay, Elden and I headed north filled with the anticipation that comes with knowing how beautiful the scenery will be ahead except this time from a northbound perspective. All went well until shortly after leaving the military checkpoint just north of the Santo Tomas Valley. As we entered a canyon that leads toward the coast, the sky began to darken, and as we climbed out of the canyon a light rain began to fall. Since there had been no forecast of rain, we did not have rain tires nor had we packed rain gear. Over the next 10 miles to Maneadero, the light rain dampened our clothes, the bike and the road. As we entered Maneadero the traffic got heavier and the pavement was becoming covered in mud, as cars pulled onto the highway from all the muddy side streets.

As we approached a stop sign in the right lane, we slowed behind some vehicles and prepared to stop. At this point, and moving very slowly (about 6 mph), Elden decided to move into the left lane which was clear at the stop sign. After a mirror check Elden turned casually left out of the right lane, and as he attempted to turn right into the adjoining lane, the front tire ran through something so slippery that the KLR dropped instantly onto its right side.

The motorcycle had almost no damage, only some light scratches on the front fender, right hand guard and the tip of the handlebar. Unfortunately Elden and I were not so lucky. Elden landed on his right shoulder, instantly fracturing his right collarbone and shoulder blade. At the same time, the motorcycle landed on my right foot, breaking 9 bones, and my hand hit the ground so hard that one bone was broken on the back of my hand.

No sooner had we hit the ground than some good Mexican folks went into action. The cars that had been slowly following us on the approach to the stop sign simply stopped and parked, blocking both northbound lanes. A couple of men jumped out of their cars, stood the motorcycle up and rolled it to the side of the road and parked it. At the same time an older woman who had been walking by dropped her grocery bags and helped me get up and over to a safe place at the side of the road where she sat me down.

Soon the police arrived and got traffic moving again. One of the officers took our names and asked Elden if we had been hit by a car. We assured him there was no car involved and that we had simply turned into something slippery in the street. As soon as the police left, the Mexican Cruz Roja arrived, and Jose Coulzin Nunez Soberanes introduced himself and examined me. He told me I had broken my foot and then gave me this advice, “Don’t let anyone remove your boot from your broken foot until you see a doctor at the hospital. And you need to go to a hospital right now.” Even though Elden wanted to go back to California where we could use our medical insurance, Jose told him, “But you both have multiple broken bones and will soon go into shock.” Elden replied, “We have to try to get home. Can you help us?” Jose told us he would.

But first Elden had to do something with the motorcycle, but what? Mary, a Mexican woman from Bakersfield, California, had a suggestion. If we could get the bike up the muddy street about 1⁄2 mile, she was sure her nephew Agustin Alvarado would store it for us in his automotive paint shop. As I was wondering how we would do that, amazingly Elden was able to get on the KLR, start the engine and then managed to maneuver it up the muddy street, despite his own injuries. Jose and I followed him in Jose’s car, and after the bike was safely stored, we thanked Mary and Agustin for their help and consideration.

Jose gave us a ride to the Ensenada bus station, about 12 miles from Maneadero. This kind man then helped us out of the car to a bench in
the station, purchased 2 tickets to Tijuana for us, and finally he helped each of us board the bus with our gear. He really was our
angel!

The bus ride to Tijuana’s downtown station was only 65 miles, but took over two hours due to heavy traffic and road work. By this time Elden and I were beginning to suffer the effects of shock, but it seemed every time we had to move ourselves and our gear, someone was there to help us. Fortunately our wait for the shuttle bus from the bus station to the border was not long, and with the help of an Australian tourist who was headed north as well, we made it to the Immigration and Customs inspection area at the border.

There had been so many kind and helpful Mexican people but here at the entrance to our own country, we had a different kind of experience. When Elden informed one of the Immigration officers that I had a broken foot and needed a chair, the officer responded, “This is no lounge, You’ll have to wait your turn in line like everyone else.” I managed to survive the 15 minutes standing in line and another 10 minutes outside waiting for the trolley, but shock was beginning to take its toll.

By the time we had passed the second northbound trolley station, I was feeling much worse, and Elden, who had been a Navy Hospital Corpsman, recognized that I needed to be in the hospital immediately. A fellow passenger quickly used his cell phone to call for an ambulance to meet us at the downtown trolley station. When we arrived, we were helped down off the trolley by a very nice man, “Maxie” Gray, and his lady friend. As they helped me to a bench, I started to shiver. By now it was dark, breezy and cold and already 6 hours since the tip over. A pretty young girl came over to me, removed her sweater and covered my upper body, carefully tucking the already warm garment in around my neck and shoulders. She must have been cold herself but she stayed with me, stroking my head and comforting me until the ambulance arrived a few minutes later.

I was put on a stretcher and loaded into the ambulance. When they attempted to do the same for Elden, he declined. “I’m just going along for the ride with my wife. And please don’t bill my insurance company.” The ambulance driver said, “But aren’t you going to be treated for your injuries?” “Not until I see my doctor tomorrow,” he replied.

Upon arriving at the emergency room in Mercy Hospital, the doctor checked me over, gave me some pain medication and ordered x-rays of my right foot and right hand. Not satisfied with the x-ray images of my foot, she decided to order an MRI as well. She told me that I had broken 9 metatarsals in my foot and had fractured one of the metacarpals in my hand. The decision was made to cast my foot and then have me stay overnight in the orthopedic ward for observation. I would then be seen by the duty orthopedic surgeon in the morning. Elden was taken home by his son.

The following day Dr. Bangiovani looked over the reports and imaging and told us that if my foot bones stayed aligned I might be able to avoid surgery. About 8 weeks later I returned to an orthopedic surgeon for x-rays and cast removal. Lo and behold my nine broken foot bones had healed perfectly, as had my hand. Elden’s scapula and collarbone had also healed well.

When I think back about that motorcycle accident in Maneadero, I don’t dwell on the attendant miseries of the ordeal. Instead I focus on all the wonderful people who helped us. I’m especially thankful to Jose of the Mexican Red Cross who ordered us to “not” remove the boot from my broken right foot until we saw a doctor. That advice as well as his help in getting us to the Ensenada bus station made the whole thing work.

I thank the Lord for the kindness of strangers. I would also like to say to those who fear Mexico, that in our 35 years of traveling through Baja, Sonora and Chihuahua we have always found the people of Mexico to be generous, kind and helpful.

Viva Mexico!!

Pauline and Elden with Dona Anita Espinosa of El Rosario, one of many recipients of
church donations in Baja