Drivin’ a Big Rig

We’ve made it to the Guerrero Negro, birth place of gray whales. That was my main motivation in coming to Baja in the winter, to see whales. We drove through a salt mine that had an apocalyptic air to it, following hand made whale signs with arrows pointing a la derecha or a la izquierda depending. As we came to the lagoon we saw blows immediately. The gate attendant collected our 100 pesos for parking overnight and we headed out to find a campsite. We chose one that was slightly elevated and big enough for both of our rigs, but later that evening realized that we should have gone on down the road to the sites that were on the inlet. They are trying to revegetate the marsh area, and don’t want people walking on the plants between the campsites and the lagoons. This may not seem like too big of a deal, but with five kids between the ages of twelve and four, we needed a bigger playground.

That evening what seemed like droves of people came into the camping area and when we woke up the next morning, we saw that the site we wanted was taken by a group of five Raptor trucks. To the south of us there were lifted cars with numbers on them and to the north a group of Westfalia vans. I felt like moving so put my running shoes on and headed north. I wanted to check out the inlet and see how far it went, but I haven’t been running much and knew I wasn’t going to put in a lot of miles. As I gained a bit of elevation, I could see that the inlet was long, and I wouldn’t be able to run to the end of it. I slowed my run to a walk and listened to more than my own breathing. Just then, I heard a rush of air coming from the water. I did not imagine that the inlet was deep enough for the whales, but sure enough, there she was. She was moving slow and I couldn’t tell for sure if she was alone, but I was so excited that she was there. This gave us an up close and personal opportunity to see the whales without being on a boat.

I took my time walking back to our campsite, and all but the Raptor guys were more than happy to stop and chat. It turned out that the majority of the people who had come into the campground that night had been turned around by the federales from a race called the Baja XL. It wasn’t clear if it was because of Covid or the organizer not getting the appropriate permission. The group to the south of us all traveled in cars in the spirit class of the race. One was a tricked-out limousine with a three-man tent on the top, margaritas, gas and water on the side, and reinforced steel bars on the bottom. They called themselves the Voodoo off road and had a voodoo doll strapped to the grill of the limo.  They happily shared their adventures and stories with us. Apparently, they had been up partying with “El Capitan”, one of the whale boat captains or the bartender or maybe both, until 1 am the night before and we all slept right through it. One of the other guys in that group told us about a “Gambler’s run 500” in which you race 500 miles in a $500 vehicle. It sounded like a great homeschool project for a 15-year-old to start on.

As the racers cleared out, our campsite became quiet and desolate again. I did some yoga. The boys went fishing. The girls painted their faces and toenails. We watched the many blows out in the bay. The sky is huge and we were all just slowing down and taking it in. Time always seems to move slower in nature.

We knew we’d be happier at the site down the road, so we packed up our rig to move close to the inlet. The sand was soft in that site, but I thought my truck could circle through it to position us where we had a view. Before I knew it, we sunk. With a little back and forth driving, a lot of digging sand out, and a solid dose of frustration, we were out. I turned the rig around and backed it into the spot we wanted. Done. Thankfully, we had friends that could have helped if I couldn’t have gotten us out, but it was good learning.

Driving the rig has been stressful, but mostly good. We used to have a Volkswagen Westfalia and I never drove it because the clutch was weird, and it made me nervous that the windshield was six inches from my nose. It made me uncomfortable that I “couldn’t” drive it. I felt dependent. I knew when we bought this truck and trailer, I wanted to be able to drive it. I didn’t think that I’d necessarily park it, but I knew I wanted to feel confident in it. I asked a friend with his CDL if he would teach me so that I didn’t have to learn from Jay. (I prefer to avoid playing the student role with my husband.) This same friend had taught me a lot about crack climbing and trad gear placing 20 years ago, and I knew he’d be patient and kind even if I was stressed out and irrational. He helped me to park it in our driveway and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I proudly called Jay at work to let Jay know that the rig was in the driveway.

Driving a big rig (ours is about 50 ft with truck and trailer) on the freeway or even on paved roads in towns in the US is not that big of a deal. What gets crazy is when you need to get gas at a station that isn’t set up for semi- trucks, or if you pull in somewhere that doesn’t have enough room to turn around. Even something as simple as parking on the side of the road can get crazy if you have to back up at all. Once the trailer starts to go one way you need to move the truck the other way to correct and it can seem impossible to get yourself straightened out again and where you want to be. When we found our first camp site in Arizona, I was the one who tucked the rig into the little space between the trees. I’ve been the main driver since the trip started.  I made a rule after one long day (when I lost my phone) that we don’t drive more than six hours a day. At one point I took the kids on my own to a friend’s house and I detached the trailer and leveled it all by myself. I reattached it and got it ready to go too. I feel mostly completely confident with driving it. I hope I’m teaching the kids that anyone who wants to drive a big rig can do it.

Last night we sat out and watched the whale blows and the occasional breach. The stars were incredible. The quiet is intense. I don’t know if there’s anyone within a mile of us, but it doesn’t feel like it. I think today we’ll go whale watching. I am 100% living my best life.