Dodging Death During The El Diablo Motorcycle Run 2019

Breaking down, crashing, and not getting shot during the 2019 EDR.

Custom Harley-Davidson Sportster in parking lot.
My custom Sportster loaded up before crossing the border into Mexicali.Morgan Gales

Head on the highway, I watched through my visor as raindrops filled the roadside grooves intended to wake sleepy drivers. My hands were cuffed behind my back and I heard one of the Border Patrol officers throwing my buddy Spenser on the ground behind his cruiser. We had made it out of Mexico and home on American soil, but with a gun aimed at my back I'd never felt further from home.

Spenser’s bike on the lift in Ramona, California.
Spenser’s bike on the lift in Ramona, California, after his crash on the way down.Morgan Gales

Four of us had ridden to San Felipe, Mexico, for the El Diablo Run—a wild biennial biker party for riders of custom motorcycles. It’s a celebration of gorgeous beaches and flexible law south of the border. The ride down was hectic, and only mildly terrifying. One crash, a split oil line, a flat tire, overbuilt motors sucking fuel relentlessly on long, gas station-less highways. But we made it. We rode around Baja and partied our asses off.

Motorcyclists look out on desert.
Letting Andy’s ole lady take a break from his chopper’s torturous seat in the middle of the desert.Morgan Gales

Out to the massive cacti of the Valley of the Giants and to some beaches around the gulf, we soaked it in and had a hell of a time. A little bit of electrical issues, some batteries rattling loose, but nothing serious. We thought that was the story and headed home as the event ended, none of us prepared for the s—tstorm we were heading straight into.

Motorcyclists stand in front of San Felipe sign with coconuts.
The group posing with our “coco locos” in front of the iconic San Felipe sign.Morgan Gales

Our spare gas cans did their jobs and got us through the stretch from San Felipe to Mexicali, again without any stress aside from having to keep speeds under 60 mph so Andy’s Shovel didn’t explode. A flat tire in Mexicali got a new tube in Calexico and we were back on the road. About 40 miles into California, climbing in elevation, we hit rain and cold coming in hard and fast. Pulled over on the side of the highway, we tossed a couple of fireworks Andy had smuggled over the border at each other, joking around while we tried to take a quick piss in the bushes. None of us were prepared for the rain or the cold, so we put on all the clothes we had and mounted our bikes again. I cut a pair of socks to try to hold my sleeves shut—we were grasping at straws.

Custom Harley-Davidson Sportster in desert.
My Sportster in the Valley of the Giants, about a half hour’s ride outside of San Felipe.Morgan Gales

Spenser, who had crashed on the first leg of the journey, had never spent time riding in the rain, which made us all nervous—Spenser especially. The rain and fog had grown so thick we could only see about 60 feet in any direction and Andy and I had lost Spenser, so we pulled over in hopes of seeing him winding down the road behind us. Two Border Patrol cars came speeding down the winding hill behind us, sirens on, sliding to a stop feet behind our bikes. Scared that Spenser had gone down and assuming they were coming to tell us to follow them to a hospital, I approached the cars.

The beach outside of Kiki’s, the main hub of the El Diablo Run.
The beach outside of Kiki’s, the main hub of the El Diablo Run.Morgan Gales

“Did our friend go down? Is he all right?” I said.

“Hands in the air! Get on the ground! Where are the guns?” the Border Patrol officer shouted back. I had two guns in my face as I was thrust to the ground and had my hands cuffed behind my back. I could hear Andy getting the same treatment as Spenser’s bike pulled up. He thought one of us had crashed and was trying to get answers to the same question as he was detained and handcuffed as well.

“We didn’t do anything, we don’t have any guns. Why do you have a gun in my face? Why are we being handcuffed?” I asked.

“It’s for your safety and mine,” the officer replied. “Keep your face down, don’t look at me.” It’s a morally weak man who doesn’t want to be looked in the face by those he’s reigning over.

Shovelhead choppers parked in downtown San Felipe.
Shovelhead choppers parked in downtown San Felipe.Morgan Gales

We laid on the ground without explanation for an infinite, untraceable amount of time. It’s a strange feeling being scared to death of someone sworn to protect you. Eventually local cops showed up and they were much more human. They picked us up and sat us on the curb, getting us out of the rain puddles we had been set in. Our gear soaked through, we gave them our IDs and they searched our records one by one, asking each of us about the circumstances and histories of our arrests. Some traffic stuff, some weed, a DUI… We were s—theads but not criminals.

“Was one of you wearing a poncho?” One of the older cops asked Andy, who sat there in his poncho. “Uh, yeah,” Andy said. “We got a call that some guys on motorcycles, one in a poncho, were shooting off some guns on the side of the road.”

It was the fireworks.

Someone had not only called and reported that we were shooting guns we didn’t have, they had texted the cops a picture of Andy as well. What we considered a little harmless fun in the desert made someone feel threatened, then inadvertently put us in harm’s way. The cops told us we were lucky that we weren’t being charged for the fireworks and sent us back on the road.

Back of motorcycle.
Andy’s engine wasn’t the only thing we feared exploding. This tire was all chord by the time we got home.Morgan Gales

Shook but more eager to get home than ever, we took back to the road. A few miles from home, tired and beaten down, now late at night, I was jumped by a couch on the highway and it kissed my shift lever—inches from taking me out and folding my bike up. Just one more brush with death before we got to rest.

Balaklava over the author's face and socks keeping his sleeves shut.
Balaklava over the face and socks keeping my sleeves shut—we were ill-prepared for inclement weather.Morgan Gales

We pulled into a gas station near my house and didn’t really speak. The last few miles would just be silence and waves as we peeled off to go home. The day’s events were still sinking in. We would have drinks a week later to decompress and talk more about it, still laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Police officers stop motorcyclists on road.
Roughly 15 officers in 10 vehicles came to answer the false call against us.Morgan Gales

People talked about Mexico like it was where everything was likely to go wrong, but I never felt like I was in danger until we got back to the US. Laying with my face on the highway I kept thinking, “None of this would have happened in Mexico.”

Bent footpeg on motorcycle.
My footpeg, bent after a brush with a mid-highway La-Z-Boy.Morgan Gales