The Devils Spine almost claims another victim!

Posted: July 24, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel

After driving down the Devils Spine from Durango to Mazatlan, just at the bottom of the last mountain I started smelling burning brakes. The Devils Spine is rural route 40 that runs across Mexico east to west, through the mountains and down to the Pacific Coast of Mexico. It’s normally about a 5 hour trip that really tests your vehicles’, brakes, transmission, suspension and driving skills. We dodged a few bad accidents, animals on the road, zipped around very slow moving 18 wheelers, and jockeyed for position with crazy motor cycle drivers. Also, there where mountain bikers, falling rocks, and huge speed bumps (topes) through every little sleepy village we entered and lots of construction. This is not the ideal driving situation for a fully equipped 7,500 pound expedition vehicle. At first, I thought the smell was from other trucks, but no it was me. How could this be? I had put new brake pads on all the way around, new rotors on the rear and flushed the system before we hit the road. Well, that’s just the way the Devil’s Spine claims its victims. No matter what you do to prepare, you just have to take it slow and stop every few hundred kilometers to let your braking system cool down. In addition to the smell of burning brakes, I also noticed that it was getting harder to brake and my foot was almost going to the floor. As we descended the last bit of twisty, curvy mountain roads, now my foot was to floor and I knew I would have to do an emergency stop somewhere soon. With the brakes smoking, and the smoke and smell of burning brakes filling the cabin, I was frantically pumping the brake pedal not making any difference in performance, “Scott” I yelled over the radio in panic mode! I was hoping that he heard me as the radios were losing battery power and all I heard back from Scott was some squelch and crackling. I hope and thought he got the message, “I have no brakes!” Finally, I saw that Scott did get the message and I somehow managed to stop the truck just before running into someone’s house. There was an old lady sitting on her front porch, plucking a chicken and I’m sure she was quite amused by the spectacle of two expedition vehicles doing an emergency stop in her front yard, smoking brakes and all. I was just glad that I didn’t plow into her house.
We then popped the hood and determined that I still had brake fluid, but my foot was going all the way to the floor. After inspecting everything and letting the brakes cool, we decided to keep on pushing through and just slow it way down, and I would start using the transmission, emergency brake, and braking very lightly to slow myself down. We still had over 40 kilometers to go to Mazatlan. Very slowly, we made it into the beach town of Mazatlan. Yeah! But this was the start of another problem!
Once we arrived into Mazatlan, its Sunday traffic at its worse. Everybody and his brother, sister, uncle, mother, aunt, and cousin are out driving around. Traffic is horrendous and I’m still worried about having limited braking. Then, to add fuel to the fire we get lost in Mazatlan looking for a way to get to Stone Island. We had read in our Mexico camping guide that Stone Island, which is a little island across from Mazatlan was the place to be. A much laid back island with a cool beach town atmosphere where the locals go. After riding around Mazatlan for what seemed like hours we finally found our way. We had to go back out of town and head towards the airport. Then, we had to take a very bad back road through Mango fields.
While driving through the Mango fields, it had to have been the most jarring drive I’ve ever made, but it did smell good. With all the bumping, jarring and navigating super mud holes I began to think to myself any moment now the check engine light is going to come on and I will be stuck back here. I look in my rear view mirror and can barely see the headlights on the Discovery, the dust is so thick. Plus all the dust, mud, sink holes and bumping around was not helping the braking situation, and now it was getting dark. Here we go, driving at night in Mexico is a no-no, as there are many animals, cars with little or no lights, people walking on the road, limited signage, topes, and many other hazards. Just as my mind starts to wander about the no driving at night thing I see in the distance what I think is a stamped of horses coming right at me. With the radio communication totally out now, all I could do was pump the brake a few times to kinda give Scott the signal that trouble lie ahead. More braking, just what I needed. Quickly, I flip on all of the lights, driving lights, high beams, fog lights and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Here they come, a stampede coming right at me, with now where to turn off. Nothing but Mango trees on either side. So what hurts less, horses or Mango trees I though. Don’t panic I say to myself, what’s the worst that can happen. My Land Cruiser is up armored with a bull bar, but a horse is a little taller than a bull and I could end up with a hoof in my mouth I thought. Just as I begin to almost come to a complete stop to navigate my way through the horses I see a cowboy in the back and he is coming fast up to the front of the wild heard and making them give way so we can continue. Phew, dodged a bullet on that one.
Finally we make it to Stone Island, in complete darkness and we park right on the beach to try and figure out where we are going to camp for the night. We started asking a few locals for directions and if there is a place to tent camp on the beach with our vehicles. Surprisingly most of the locals here speak some English and they tell me to go down this road, take a left at a big tree, but don’t pass the speed bump and there is a lady there that will let you camp at her place on the beach. It’s now very dark and there are animals in the road, people walking, ATV’s and mopeds all zipping around us, and no street lights or signs. We go about a block, and I stop and ask again, and we are told we just passed the place again. Augh! In my attempt to find the camp ground, I see this small hotel and I decide to go in there and ask for directions for the 5th time now in 2 blocks. Then, Scott shouts out the window “Angela has got to go to the bathroom!” So, now the pressure is on to find this place even faster. When I walk into this hotel to ask for directions, A couple are sitting there and the guy breaks out in perfect English and says “ I will show you, follow me !” “The camping place is right around the corner.” How many times have I heard that tonight? He goes to get his ATV but it is blocked in the hotel parking lot, so he gets in my truck and we started talking about Land Cruisers and he tells me has a 2000 model year Land Cruiser. “Cool” I say, a fellow Land Cruiser enthusiast. Then he says how he has been on the island for 20 years, and he’s from Wisconsin and wanted to get away from those harsh winters, plus after Desert Shield/Desert Storm he decided he would move to Mexico looking for a slower pace of life and a warmer climate. Now, I am totally in disbelief to find out this information. When we finally get to the camp ground on the beach, we get out of my truck and I tell him to check out my license place. In disbelief, Gary is standing there looking at my Desert Storm license plate and we become instant friends. He says there is no such thing as coincidence and I know for a fact that he is right.
Now Gary and I are at the camping place and we can’t find the lady that runs it. We are parked right on the beach and I didn’t notice the tide is coming, because it’s dark. We’ve only been walking around for a few minutes looking for the camping lady, and now I we get back to the truck and I’m looking at the ocean water slapping against my wheels. Panic sets in again! I start thinking my truck is going to start sinking any moment now. A sinking Land Cruiser on the beach at night is not the kind of scenario I want to think about right now even if the brakes are bad. Meanwhile, Scott and Angela are sitting in their truck waiting for Gary and I to find the camping lady. I run over to them and holler “We gotta get outta here now! The tide is coming!” To make matters worse we have pulled in, in such a way that we have to make u-turns in order to get off the beach. We didn’t air down our tires or anything for traction, so this situation could turn out bad. Just how many ATV’s would it take to pull out two expedition vehicles out of the sucking sand? I don’t know and don’t want to find out! Finally, somehow we manage in the dark to make u-turns around on the beach with the tide slapping at out wheels and not get stuck! Thank you Lord!
Then Gary says, “My wife Ana and I own a Hotel and Restaurant and why don’t you guys just stay here tonight and camp on the beach tomorrow.” What? I say in disbelief. I was just about ready to throw a sleeping bag down on a sand dune and go to sleep, as this has been the most hectic day so far, just about everything that could go wrong did. Getting lost, loosing brakes, driving at night into a heard of horses on a desolate back road, almost getting stuck in the high tide on the beach at night, who would have thought expeditioning could have been so hard?
Once we get back to the hotel, Ana and Gary go into hyper mode showing us where to park the trucks, our rooms, pointing us towards a restaurant to get something to eat, and telling us “ Get some rest, we will see you guys in the morning.” They know we are tired. Gary says he has driven the Devils Spine a lot of times and he knows what we are feeling. Oh, and then Gary says we could have drove 8 minutes right down the beach to the island and have not taken the back road!
Well all I can say is the good man upstairs is really looking out for us! Somehow, someway we ended up at a fantastic hotel on an island with great people looking after us!

For the next few days we will be staying put to catch up on some maintenance, rest, and relaxation. For me, more than three panic attacks a day makes me want to find the nearest Corona stand!
Thanks for following us along as we start out travels down the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and if you have any truly trying and harrowing travel experiences we’d love to hear them.

  1. ted bourque says:

    Again you guys are having all the fun. I know you must have had a good nights sleep and hit the beach in the morning. Isn’t traveling to another country exciting? Aieee!

  2. Juan Carlos says:

    Hey guys, reading your posts not sure I gave you all the information you needed for your trip but I’m sure you are going to have one of the best experiences of your lives. Monterrey’s traffic is nothing compare with the one you will find on mexico city!!! Meanwhile if you are on Mazatlan try the Coctel de camaron con pulpo (octopus and shrimp cocktail) with a corona.
    Let me know where are going to be your next stops an I can suggest some food that you have to try.
    Buena suerte!!!

  3. Kendi says:

    A map of your travels sure would be a fun addition. And maybe a little timeline of where you hope to be when. Love you guys!!

  4. This is great source of information, I read this twice and come to learn many new and interested things, you have great writing skill.

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