Off-Road Adventure In Baja California
By Eli Mirandon
For California surfers, deep Baja is the closest place to get away from the crowds, traffic, and cold water. Most of my life I’ve been going to Baja to get surf, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I had my most memorable trip there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because of the waves.
A few summers ago I was checking one of the surf forecasting sites and saw a big hurricane combined with another south swell I knew was going to create some incredible surf down there. I watched the hurricane strengthen and move into the ideal swell window, so I called my friend Erik and we decided to pack up my truck and leave later that night.
We packed our stuff, got a few hours of sleep, woke up a few hours before dawn, and drove through the afternoon without a hitch. Shortly past noon we stopped for lunch and changed drivers. After a couple of fish tacos and cold drinks, it was my turn to drive. As soon as we set off, Erik’s head fell against the window. He was sound asleep, sawing logs. I was tired, too. We’d only slept a few hours the night before, and the two-lane stretch of road we were on was perfectly straight as far the eye could see. The midday heat was relaxing, and the desert scenery was monotonous. I felt like I was being hypnotized by the passing cactus, and my eyelids were getting heavy. I tried to psych up and think about all the epic surf we were about to get, but my mind wanted badly to rest and my eyelids began blinking shut for a split second at a time. At some point, my eyes shut for longer than that.
I can’t say how long I was out before I lifted my head to see that I was driving the truck down the center of both lanes. Before my mind could even process what was going on, I saw a red SUV coming the opposite direction about to hit us head on. The other driver swerved right. He flew off the paved road and down a slope of soft sand and cactus, sending up a massive plume of dust. My heart stopped. I took my foot off the gas and we coasted. I was about to turn around and go back to check on the SUV, when I saw it pull back up onto the paved road and continue northbound in my rearview mirror.
My hands were shaking on the steering wheel. I looked over and Erik was oblivious, still fast asleep. A cloud of guilt flashed over me. That, mixed with the rush of adrenalin, had jolted me wide awake, so I kept driving.
A few minutes later I looked in my rearview mirror again and saw a red speck coming up fast from behind. I knew it was the same car. My mind froze for a moment, then I started thinking through all the possible outcomes of this situation-none of them were good.
We were in the middle of nowhere, miles from any towns or houses. I decided to slow down and see what the driver wanted. He passed us on the left then swerved in front of our truck and hit the brakes, forcing me to stop. Erik was still asleep so I shook him and sputtered the partial story of what had just happened. The other car’s door opened, and a man in jeans and a yellow windbreaker got out and stormed towards our car. I tried to see if he was carrying a gun or knife, but I couldn’t tell, and I kept the truck running and in gear just in case. I was ready to take responsibility for any damage or injury, but I also didn’t want to wind up in a ditch in the desert.
The man approached the driver’s side window, his face splotched red with rage. He reached into his jacket for something, and I got ready to pop the clutch and get out of there. But a small radio emerged from his jacket, which was a bit of a relief. But the sense of relief wouldn’t last long; he used the radio to call the local police and then ordered me to follow him to the next town. I tried in broken Spanish and sign language to explain it was an accident, that I’d just fallen asleep. He showed me his wife was in his car and he told me they were lucky to be alive. There wasn’t any damage to his vvehicle, but he wanted something done. The last thing we wanted was to involve the police, but he had already called them so we had to go.
We got to town and I pulled up in front of a small, crowded store. Two police cars pulled up behind us, and the man in the yellow jacket started yelling at them and pointing towards me. Two of the federales came over to talk with me. As I told them what happened, they were frighteningly calm about it.
He and the police talked for about fifteen minutes, and the man was clearly still in a rage. As luck would have it, he turned out to be an important government official. All we could do was sit on the curb and try to guess what they were going to do with us. After a heated discussion with the police, the man in the red SUV got in his car and drove off.
One of the federales came back over to us and asked me again, “You were sleeping?” I told him that was the case and hoped he would see the honesty and regret in my face. He went back and talked with the other police. Erik and I sat silent for a few minutes while they decided our fate. It felt like we were on trial for murder, waiting for our sentence.
After what felt like an eternity, one police officer returned and told me, “Okay, no more driving for you.” He pointed at Erik and asked if he could drive. Erik looked around, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Yeah.” My heartbeat almost went back to its normal pattern. It seemed too good to be true, but that was the end of it. The police took off, and we stood around for a few moments trying to comprehend everything that had just happened.
A few minutes later Erik jumped behind the wheel and we drove south. I thanked God we were all still alive and well, and I made a vow to never drive tired. Just before dark, we made it to our surf spot feeling like the two luckiest guys in the world. And to cap it off, the next day we were greeted with head-high golden-lit tubes spinning flawlessly down a sixty-yard reef. We got incredible waves that trip, but the memory of the red SUV and the man in the yellow jacket will always be burned much deeper in my memory.