Altar 2004 Day 1: 11-11-2004

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Leaving the US for Sonora

This trip to the Altar was somewhat different in that there were a number of Altar Virgins and that there were a number of vehicles coming from very long distances. Dan had intended to come with his 1550L, but the motor toasted so he brought his 2450L instead. Rob Pickering came all the way from Denver, taking Jay and his bike with him and picking up folks along the way (Dave Lopez in Albq, Erin in Phoenix). Roberto Espinoza was coming from Celaya, Mexico with his 1450. Sadly for Roberto, he had some problems along the way. To wit the following email from Roberto:

Hi Altar team:

The short version:
I have just arrived from Mexico -by plane. The bad news is that I had transmission problems, the top bearing cooked and seized, still not bad for unning 600 miles with no oil. The good news is that the truck is now rolling from Culiacan to Tijuana and it should arrive on Tuesday night to TJ -if nothing happens.

The detailed version:
I departed Celaya on Saturday midnight, after passing Gauadalajra going toward Puerto Vallarta we got pulled over, we lost the rear license plate, it was not properly bolted, gave explanation to the officer, showed other documents and was let go. We had to stop later to fix the front license. We were doing 89.2 kph steady at 2450 governed rpm´s, on a looooong downgrade we did 134 kph checked by GPS, on neutral, of course, we even went on neutral like for 7-8 minutes on another downgrade going toward the beach. That terrain is very hilly, going up and down 3,000 at a time. Our first tank lasted 740 km, at a good 5 km/l (11.1 mpg). Then we had an air leak, yes, from one of all the plastic tubing lines that we had to replace thanks to my good idea of washing "sparkling clean" the truck with the high pressure water washer. It puncture almost every line. So, one of the line broke loose from the fitting, we stopped and notice that the gear box was steaming from the incoming shaft from the engine. We just stood there. We started stopping people so they could notify the police to send a wrecker, then a patrol arrived with 3 policemen armed with UZI´s, they stayed there until we left 5 hours later, "marihuanero" country they said, you can be assaulted here for sure, so they baby-sited us. The first wrecker arrived, not the right type so then they requested another one, a wheel-lift type. While waiting for the wrecker Elga and Werner from Germany (they were at Calico) stopped with us when they noticed the U-1450, they did not recognize me until I told them about my talibans and Adriana, so that means that instead of being Roberto now I need to reference myself to my children and wife.... to be continued.

Well, if I write everything then I will have less to talk about during the trip.... let´s hope my truck makes it here.

Roberto's problems were just getting started. As his truck went through Sonoita, Sonora, it was impounded by the Mexican customs officials. While it was clearly a shakedown, not only did they impound the truck, but they jailed the driver as well. It took several days for him to resolve the problems and we were not sure that he would actually join us. As we headed to the trailhead, we were getting text messages from him stating that he was on his way. Since there had been so many delays up to that point, we were not sure that he would succeed, so in the end we went into the dunes without him. This decision, combined with a strong will on Roberto's part, will generate problems as you will see later.

As with the previous trips, the team met at the Sans End RV Park in Winterhaven, CA. We all arrived the night before and had dinner in our favorite Mexican resturant to start the trip in the right way. Next morning, we got up bright and early to make a run for the border. We skipped breakfast and prepared to hit the road. Below, team members help unload Jay's motorcycle from Rob Pickering's 1300 DOKA.

Below, is Caid's 1300L. This rig is a multi-time Altar veteran and has been to Mexico many times.

This is Dave Clark's ultra-clean 1300 DOKA with fresh paint.

This is Dan Johnson's monster 2450L.  Dan came all the way from Indiana and was joined by his buddy Dick Lane (also an orthopedic surgeon) from Prescott, AZ.

Below, Mark Mitchell's 1300L. This truck is an Altar veteran.

Below is Rob Pickering's tricked-out 1300 DOKA. He has the same XM-47 tires that most of us had, but had bead locks on the rims.

Kathleen puts the finishing touches on packing her bag from the previous night.

It did not take long before the problems started.  Jay's bike had tire problems and we had not even left the blacktop in the US. Below, we assist him in replacing the wheel.

We crossed the border with minimal hassle and proceeded to get insurance. Some of us elected to get tacos at a stand next to the insurance office. Dan was unfortunate enough to have his tacos stolen when he turned his back on the food to pay the bill. I can only assume that whoever stole them needed them a whole lot more that Dan. Once we obtained insurance, we headed east on Mexican Highway 2 for diesel. Below, Kathleen considers the meaning of life at the Pemex.

Now that we have several women who are Altar-proven, I am considering publishing a calendar "Babes of the Altar". Below is Erin from Chicago. She is a financial attorney.

Here is the turnoff. This sign is new since last year. We never did find the ejido, I think it is just a sign. The turnoff is just before Cesar's truck stop.  Cesar's is about 17 miles east of the border crossing on Highway 2.  We turn south and then air down and unload the quads and get dressed for the trail.

Below is Bill's 1300L in the quad loading position with rear tires dug in to reduce the loading height.

Kathleen is considering getting dressed to ride, but in the end she opted for a beer cruise rather than a quad ride.

Below is the trail leading south from the air-down point to the dunes. This terrain is flat, featureless and dusty.

A couple of beers and I am into "dune mode".

This is the view looking north toward the Gila Mountains in the US from our first beer stop. The Gila range is on the horizon.

OK, so last year Dan got the honor of being first stuck, this year it was me. It was, however, an easy out.

Dan is digging ditches, note the rooster tails of sand. He is nearly up to his frame in the soft sand.

Yikes, this sand was soft! We all got up OK, but we dug ditches doing it. The good news is that the wind will erase our tracks in only hours. As we will see later, that will impact our ability to find one of our group who was stuck. Below, Bill gives the thumbs up after getting up the dune face.

Given the softness of the sand, Dan went ahead to scout out the situation. Below, he returns back to the group. Note the size of the dunes relative to his huge 2450L. We were concerned that we would get into a "death bowl" that we could not get out of. This as it turns out, was a reasonable fear as we did get into trouble.

Below, Russell rips and shreds up the face of the soft sand.

Below, is a shot of one of the many sphincter-tightening downgrades. This was shot through the windshield. Note the size of the truck in the distance to give you a feel for the height of the dune. Turns out that we were driving into a "death bowl" where exit would be very challenging and a return back up this face would be impossible.

Here, we got into a "death bowl" and Dan attempts to get out. Note the winch cable on the bumper. Only Kai and Dave Clark were able to get up the hill unassisted as they were the first trucks through. Once they disturbed the sand, we had to take the winch. Gladly, the winch on Kai's truck is very powerful and therefore capabable of pulling even the 2450 up the dune face.

Here Mark Mitchell sets up to winch out of the death bowl. There was NO WAY we could go back the way we came.

I had to take the cable too. I tried a number of routes to get out, but to no avail.

So, here we are working out asses off winching out of the bowl and Dave Lopez decides to use his snow board down the face.

The view looking to the southwest from the crest of the death bowl. These dunes are huge. We would revisit this path tomorrow as Roberto would attempt to follow our tracks in the dark and get stuck in the death bowl.

Dan's digging ditches again. Side-hilling in the 2450 is very challenging.

Dan (left) and Dave Clark work through the dunes.

We got to Camp Gumbo with only minutes to spare before sundown. The Altar serves up good sunsets as well as high adventure. Other than getting stuck a few times, the day was mostly uneventful. The only major disaster was that a full box of wine broke in the back of my 1300, making a big mess and making the truck smell like a dive bar.


We had a great dinner that night. Mike Nayoski prepared a huge pot of chicken and shrimp gumbo, rice and finished the meal with a dutch oven dessert. The wind was kind to us, and some of the team decided to say hello to Don Julio (premium tequila) while we were sitting around the camp fire.

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