Back in the US of A…

It had been enjoyable in San Felipe, but now it was time to head back north as the weather changed. It was averaging mid 70’s in SF and though still comfortable, I wanted to take a meandering trip north to stay in the moderate temp zone. I also really wanted to get the car’s transmission issues taken care of and wanted more nearby resources. Either I was going to work on it or I wanted to find a shop where they spoke English. There’s lots of great mechanics in Mexico but I wanted to take a more hands on approach with nearby parts or easily available parts via eBay or Amazon, and hiring a mechanic I could direct on the work was a backup plan. BTW, San Felipe has a newer Autozone store and they can get practically anything.

My friend Dawn was having a bit of trouble with the people she’d hired to watch her B&B for her up in Vermont so she’d planned on leaving SF on March 27th and sort of asked if we could caravan because she’d never traveled that route alone before. That date suited me fine and since we were heading the same direction, seemed like a good idea. The last couple days I was in SF I was busy with the various necessary preparations, and had a visit by a couple of blog readers, as detailed in my last post, but eventually the day came.

Did get an early start, but before I even left the RV park, at 6:30 AM, I had to stop and spray lubricant on one of the front jacks to get it to retract all the way. Usually a sticky jack will eventually get to the stored position due to vibrations caused by the engine but this time it hadn’t budged by the time I reached the exit so I had to stop and work on it. After I sprayed and levered it to the top of its travel, that silences the alarm and I can drive on in peace.

Many of you readers probably haven’t driven in a Mexican town, but if you do you’ll find that many streets are narrow, potholed, unsigned, so leaving early in the morning in my big RV towing a car was a bit of an anxiety reducer for me. Though nearly all Mexicans are tolerant of RVs on their roads, still, I like to be polite by getting out of town quickly. The light traffic of early morning helped.

Fifteen minutes later and I’m parked along the road opposite her hacienda waiting for her to join me. Weather was very nice. The trip up to the border takes about 2 hours. We’d decided, after considering 3 other crossings, that the best one for us would be at Mexicali East. It’s a straight shot from here, and the route bypasses most of the Mexicali downtown area. And there were mechanical things to consider on Dawn’s rig and she wanted to cross the border as quickly as possible for the available RV services in the US if needed.

She was late. I saw some movement of an RV over that direction and took this telephoto shot trying to catch a picture of her rig, but missed it. 

Eventually, she showed up. You can see her RV is a spitting image of mine. It’s 2 years newer. She’d had some trouble getting her Honda toad all hooked up or she took a dip in the roadway too aggressively so that’s what the delay was about, can’t remember the details. We got that all situated and the safety cables rearranged, didn’t take long.

Anyway, off we go along one of my favorite drives. I grew up in desert country so I find them interesting. The Baja desert, being right between two oceans, is very unique and interesting in both the geology, and flora.

After a leisurely couple hours, we arrive in Mexicali. I’m following the GPS and as you know it can lead you astray sometimes and I made a wrong turn once. But the loop back to the main road was short and easy, but even than I almost screwed up again but caught my mistake at the last moment so I did make the turn I was suppose to.

A few miles on, following a local delivery truck, the driver waved me to stop. So, I did. He comes back and tried to help me find my way, because he thought I was lost. I wasn’t, I have the GPS I’m following and I have a printed map of the area so I’m pretty sure I’m on course. Show the guy my paper map, and another citizen crosses the roadway to come over and help me find my way. Mexicans are almost always helpful, ready to go out of their way to give you a hand.

After some animated discussion and a few chuckles, we all decide I’m on the right road, and off we go. And after 20 minutes we’re in line at the border crossing. We are at the Mexicali East crossing and I’d been warned to stay out of the far right lane until you’re at the border but all three of the five lanes (two lanes were blocked off) were choked with traffic when we arrived so I just sort of stayed in the right lane as I tried to remember the details I’d heard about this part of crossing. Besides, it didn’t look bad from where I was at the time.

It takes more than an hour to cross here on average, due to traffic and this day it was to take us nearly two hours, inching along in a crowd of vehicles, nearly all cars. And the road isn’t straight. It waggles back and forth, up and down. And it soon became apparent why I was warned about not being in the far right lane. There are curbs, barriers, metal light posts, signs, all along the right side of the right lane squeezing big rigs far too tightly. Big rigs are damaged too easily because of the narrowness of the lanes, and the crowding by the traffic forcing you towards the right side of your lane, along with discourteous American drivers. There was one area where I could not safely stay all the way to the right in my lane without damage to my rig, so I inched over to the left. Still in my lane, mind you, but crowding the other lane. But right there was a lady in a SUV with California plates that was 1 foot over into my lane. So I waited for her to drift back into her own lane. Ten minutes later she’s still there, and since I can’t pass her, there’s a large opening free of cars right in front of me now. A window washer guy tries to wave me forward and I point to the SUV. He goes and talks to her and she says NO, that she’s not going to move over into her own lane to give me all of mine to me. WTF! Eventually, the lanes widened and I pull up even with her and what she was doing was cradling a stupid dog in her driving arms and didn’t want to disturb the damn dog by turning the steering wheel too far. I really should have used my air horns on her.

Meanwhile, behind me, Dawn lost focus for a few seconds and slowly ripped the rear end section of her RV off on one of the obstructions along the roadway. She couldn’t hear it because of a noisy engine nearby. Some Mexicans jumped out of their cars and stopped her, and than stowed the section of rear cover (as wide as her RV) inside her RV for her. She had also scraped the rear section of her rig along the passenger side. After she got back home to Vermont, the insurance estimate was $11,000. Yikes!

I didn’t see that happen but did see people running back to help her. I was busy nervously trying to negotiate the narrow lane without damaging my RV, when I could I went back and talked to her. I did make it through the Mexican side OK without damage, it was the narrow posts on the US side that got me. First, I whacked my drivers side mirror on a sign that sort of overhangs the roadway. While trying to squeeze through that area, the border guard ignored my pleas that he come help guide me through. OK, so be it. I backed up a few feet and tried again, this time I was still too close to a cement filled post that wasn’t very tall that I couldn’t even see since it was too low! But I could hear it scraping the front of my RV well enough. Quickly stopped, backed up again, and turned a bit to the right after evaluating the narrow opening. FINALLY made it through that area with no help from the border guards other than having one tell me I’d hit a pillar (yeah, thanks, dummy), was quickly inspected and sent on my way. Didn’t take more than 10 minutes. These crossings are designed for CARS. And the Mexican side is even worse. There are separate crossings for trucks but they haven’t made allowances for RVs yet. After 70-80 years of RV’ers crossing you’d think they would have by now. Funny, but I was too distracted by trying to cross safely that I didn’t get a single picture.

Back in the USA finally after several months in Mexico. Drove just a couple miles and stopped at a large truck stop to take stock. My fuel is still good so we decide to keep driving, meanwhile, Dawn goes into the store for something. A fancy coffee or a drink of some kind. We’d discussed where we’d stop for fuel and I had the impression, (wrong it turns out) that we’d just decide whether or not to stop in Yuma when we passed that area. If I still had enough fuel there, we’d keep going. She, on the other hand, thought we’d definitely stop in Yuma for fuel. So a bit of confusion. And I misinterpreted her text later (I don’t grasp the concept of hints well). Turned out alright in the end, as neither of us ran out of fuel on the road, and we did find a nice large truck stop type place where we could both fill up easily and not impede other drivers. And the price wasn’t that bad either. Shell station in Wellton, Arizona is where we stopped. I only needed 2/3’s of a tank and she was close to that so we could have made it to our destination of Gila Bend if necessary. Gotta love those big tanks on RVs.

And soon enough we are in Gila Bend. We stopped at a Shell station in town, they have a nice RV park but they were not the Holt’s Shell RV Park. So we just get directions. That Shell wanted $30 per night, whereas Holt’s only wants $15 as they are a Passport America park. And a couple miles later, we’re parked and hooked up for the night, time to pull out the lawn chairs.

Still early enough to hang out, and commiserate about the damage to Dawn’s RV. As you can see here, she hooked something alongside the roadway on the passenger side and pulled the bottom cover right off. That’s the piece the helpful Mexicans put inside her RV.

I took several pictures for myself so if I need to do any work in that area, I’ll know what to expect under that cover.

Here I am all set up. The sites are so large, I had my choice of where to park my car; front, back, side.

Next morning got some shots of the damage to the side of Dawn’s RV:

Dawn’s Honda wasn’t damaged, but you can see the scrape along the side of the RV. I helped her move the rear fender from inside her RV into the Honda. It made the trip back home wedged between the back window and the front window. Bungee corded in place. Just fit.

So, that’s the end of an eventful one day trip from San Felipe, Mexico to Gila Bend, Arizona. Wish we’d both escaped that border torture area and the damage, but, things happen in these big rigs. Gotta roll with the punches. Seems though that even with all the checking I did about the several different border crossings available to us, I still damaged my RV. The Nogales crossing (too far out of the way for us to use this trip) does have crossing lanes specifically for RVs but the roadway lanes leading there are still pretty tight. Most of the other crossings I’ve used, RVs are not accommodated with specifically designed RV lanes. Or they are poorly designed. Well, someday…

Thanks for reading!


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3 Responses to Back in the US of A…

  1. Jeff says:

    Two to three hours seems to be the norm for us at Mexicali West, which is indeed NOT big rig friendly. Did you consider crossing in Yuma at San Luis? Up in Tecate I’ve seen Customs pull the big rigs into the truck crossing for a quick exit. But that’s a long hill climb and no promise you’ll get that special treatment.

    Yes, I considered all the crossings. And used Google Earth to view them from space too. The problem with the San Luis crossing is I would have had to make two 180 degree turns in order to get to that crossing. Both in Mexico, one in Mexicali the other in San Luis. There’s an on ramp onto the MX2 highway off of MX5 but it’s for southbound traffic, and when I passed it heading north, I could not find a turning place to get to it that gave me the 60 feet I’d need to turn my rig around safely. The last thing I wanted was to be blocking two lanes of traffic while I uncoupled my car so I could back up the RV to make a sharp turn. I’m sure there’s somewhere to turn around but I couldn’t find it, and I researched it in person and online. None of the RV’ers at the park I was at use the San Luis crossing so they were no help. The 180 degree turn I’m talking about is for getting from MX5 to MX2. There’s no on ramp directly onto MX2 from MX5 heading north. You have to turn around a 180 and head back south to get onto MX2, which takes you to San Luis. Then there’s another, easier, 180 degree turn in San Luis to get to the access road for the border crossing.

    Wonder if it was the same rude driver that pushed Dawn a bit to close to the curb ???

    I have a strong suspicion about that…

  2. Hafcanadian says:

    You said there were truck lanes. Would Customs have griped had you just gotten into one of those?

    Those lanes are remote from the East crossing…and they were packed with semis when we passed them. And I’ve been turned away from ‘truck’ crossings before so I wasn’t about to try that without knowing beforehand if it were allowed.

    We took the old Pace Arrow across the Canadian border a few times, eastern Washington and Montana’s Hwy 93 north of Kalispell, with no problems, and the larger Beaver across the 93 route southbound easily. But when we took the Beaver north out of Malta, MT, on county 242, at the crossing they had huge yellow pipes on either side of the American-side lanes that I just barely got my mirrors past. I don’t know why such constraints are necessary, even for “security” reasons when one thinks about it. Sure took me by surprise when I got up to the posts, but once you commit to a lane with a big rig and toad you can’t back up, your only way out is forward. But the Canadian Customs questioned us briefly and waved us through.

    At least at these Montana and eastern Washington crossings there’s rarely been even one other vehicle and certainly no waiting in line. One Beaver Club member had an issue once at an Eastern crossing when asked about carrying any weapons. He said he had none, but for whatever reason Canadian Customs pulled them aside and searched the coach. They were either fined or refused entry, or both, I don’t recall, when the officer found bear spray.

    Bear spray is a no-no when crossing into Canada?…sounds familiar. I’ll try to remember that next time I cross.

    • Hafcanadian says:

      Wow. I’ll have to ask where snowbirding Beavers cross without risk to their infrastructures. I’ve not even much urge to go as far south as Calif., much less Mexico, but it’s interesting to read about all the good and not-so-good aspects others encounter.

      I wonder if better lanes could be chosen, or truck lanes possibly allowed sans long lines, if one made the effort to cross at 3 a.m.?

      I haven’t been to each and every crossing, but I have asked around, and I’m told they’re all pretty much the same. Difficult for RVs to cross. Narrow lanes and poorly positioned defensive abutments are the issues. I have heard that early morning crossings can make a difference in crowds but who wants to get up that early?

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