BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR, Mex.
“We’re done,” he said. “We’re done.” I was livid. The hot sun beating down on my sweat-soaked body only served to worsen the anger, as I desperately tried to bite my tongue. Because I knew, I just knew I’d say something unhelpful as the rage and hopelessness set in.
Dr. John Snow, the proprietor of the website www.mexican-fish.com, had responded to my email weeks before, and now here I was, stranded hours from civilization with the man. I had asked if he wanted to get together and fish for a day, never expecting his invitation to fish the better part of a week with him.
His breadth of knowledge of Baja California Sur had put me on dozens of new species of fish. His generosity had let me accompany him on several private charters. His insistence that we leave the car visible from the beach, however, had left us stranded.
Well, that’s not entirely fair. I knew it was a bad idea, so I hadn’t left it visible from the beach. I knew the limits of the Ford Bronco I’d rented and been gouged for at the airport. I knew that despite paying almost three times the price of my original rental for that poor-handling, boxy tank of a car, it was far too heavy to drive in loose sand or gravel.
Yet, when he asked me to pull the car down to the gravel bar atop the beach so we could see it from our distant fishing spot, I only put up minor resistance before relenting. I realized my mistake and backed it up to the hard-packed sand and told him it wouldn’t be visible while we fished. Out of sight, but I thought it was safe, and we hiked the long coastline to our fishing destination.
Its staggering beauty marked one of the most untouched stretches of coastline I’ve ever experienced. We caught dozens of fish as devil rays leaped five, six, seven feet out of the aquamarine waters.
I fiddled with gear as the nearly 80-year-old John set off for our perch along the pebbly beach. up some 15 minutes later, I hit the rock, ‘roca’ in Spanish, right as he did. The car was not visible from where we stood on the Roca de Ian, christened thus by John after a friend who’d first shown him the spot years earlier, but I didn’t think much of it.
We’d seen exactly one other car all day, a Jeep heading to one of the multimillion dollar casitas overlooking the Sea of Cortez that didn’t have its own, private helipad. We saw a couple of cyclists who appeared to be setting up camp between where we fished and where we’d parked. Otherwise, we had miles of coast- line to ourselves.
After a productive haul, John decided to call it a day and set off for the car. Just as I prepared to number my casts, I observed a large goatfish swim up to where I’d been fishing. I sightfished what would be the new world record Mexican goatfish before snapping a few pictures, taking measurements and being genuinely happy to finally have a world record gamefish, however niche it was. I then began hoofing it back to the car, leaving the roca in my wake.
THE HARD PLACE
John beat me to the car by about 200 yards. My heart sank faster than the SUV as I watched him pull it forward. It was probably stuck where I’d left it parked before he moved it, but it was definitely stuck afterwards.
As a guy who makes lots of bad decisions, ranging from where I fish to whom I date, it was routine but also surprising to me that it wasn’t entirely my fault this time. We tried everything that would normally get a car unstuck, but the steep angle of the beach, soft sand, loose gravel at least two feet deep and the giant rocks pockmarking the landscape were a recipe for disaster.
We pulled out the floor mats for traction, dug out the sand and did everything else I’d successfully used dozens of times I’d gotten myself stuck over the years, but it wouldn’t budge. Twice over the years, I’d needed to call in help, and it looked like that was the case this time, too. We were caught between a giant rock high-centered on the rear axle and soft, shifting sand and gravel in front.
After an hour of fruitless digging, profanity, self-loathing and failed telekinesis, John asked me to look at the abandoned home-stead nearby. At first, I was looking for tools to dig us out. I salvaged an old piece of plywood, warped and fragile, that I figured might be a ramp to get us out. Alas, it was too narrow.
Figuring we’d need a winch to get free and tow trucks weren’t exactly just a phone call away, I went to ask for help. The long walk to the cyclists half a mile down the beach was an exercise in futility, as they had nothing to offer but sympathy.
I returned to find John jacking up one side of the car. He’d dug out one wheel, shoved the ply- wood underneath and was attempting to do the same with the tilted rear wheel. His ingenuity sparked new hope.
We rooted around for more brittle wood, using fishing pliers to tear out rusty nails and then carefully sliding the wood under each tire, supporting each piece by a bed of rocks to prevent it from immediately cracking under the weight of the car.
Miraculously, slowly, it worked. The rock-backed wood served as the hard place the car needed to escape, and we were able to get each tire onto a solid surface before gunning it and then making a 10- or 12- or 20-point turn that finally saw us back on the road.
“I really thought we were gonna be spending the night out there,” John confessed as we plowed towards civilization. “Same here,” I mused, shaking that miserable eventuality from my mind. “…but since we didn’t, this was a good day. Thanks for bringing me out here. This was truly an incredible place despite how it almost added us to the landscape.”
The long drive back over steep hillsides and rocky washes reinforced the notion that I was out of place given that Roca de Ian is the realm of goats.