A Trip To Baja
This winter, well before the world changed for us here in the US, I was presented an opportunity. It was something I had been wanting to do for many years but never had made it happen. It was the chance to ride for a few days around Baja, Mexico by motorcycle.
The adventure began on February 20th when I happened across a post by an old acquaintance on Facebook. His name is Tim. I knew him from racing some years ago and we bump into each other from time to time. His post was looking for a 6th member to partake on a Baja adventure. I don’t know what possessed me to chime in and say “I’ll go”, but I did. Tim made sure I was truly committed, rightfully so as I’m sure my response was a surprise to him as well.
I was committed. The only challenge was getting my bike ready between February 20th and March 11th, our departure day. It wasn’t a big issue, but I did have to change tires, mount luggage, mirrors, lights, and other items needed to make the bike rideable on the road. That took more time that I thought it would, but worked out fine.
Next was to decide what gear I would need. Having ridden motorcycles for over 40 years, I’ve got gear for days. But I had no real idea what to bring….then as the days passed and we got closer to departure I saw the forecast. Rain, lots of rain. I decided I’ll try a new Aether Apparel adventure suit I bought last year. I cannot stress how excellent of a decision this was. I’ll explain more later, but I can tell you I was warm and dry when most the others were, let’s say, not.
With all of that handled, the day came to roll out and meet the crew at a truck stop in Otay Mesa, CA. It’s a few miles from the Mexico border in Tijuana and a safe place to leave our vehicles. We all met up, did intros to everyone who didn’t know each other, unloaded bikes and we were ready to roll. Tim, Jeremy, Paxton, Phil, Jason, and I were now in this thing together.
We made our way across the border mostly trouble free…one little stop for questioning and away we went. Tim, being the excellent tour guide that he is, got us right into the heart of TJ. Like…right in. If you know what that means, then you understand. If you don’t, then it’s impossible to understand without experiencing it. We went down backstreets, up stairs, down hills, through mud, and then down railroad tracks. Miles and miles of railroad tracks, where we saw people, gravesites, burnt buildings, cars, a pig on a string, and a lot of natural beauty and great weather.
In the midst of all that, we had a little downtime as Jason “repaired” the charging system on his DRZ400. That word is in quotation marks because that issue will rear its ugly head again in the most inopportune place on the planet.
At this point, COVID-19 to us was still just a “make sure you wash your hands” type of scenario. I’m pretty certain not one of us gave it much of a thought at this point.
Eventually we made our way across the northern part of the Baja and ended up in La Rumorosa. We had not made great time due to the DRZ issue and by the time we arrived in La Rumorosa it was cold and dark. We had to do highway miles just to make sure we had a place to stay that night. It was so dark that the exit ramp we took to head into town looked like we were driving into a black sea of tar. A few miles later we ended up at a small restaurant and hotel that was very popular with all the racers of the legendary Baja events. There were decals everywhere in the restaurant of companies and racers that had been there. The hotel rooms were warm and clean and the food was good. We were happy and ready for the real adventure to begin.
This day ended up being one of my favorites. As we started the day, it became clear to me that the forecast was correct. We set out in a cold, rainy climate. This was a day of a lot of miles…close to 200. We left the hotel and headed to a state park that was beautiful but cold and wet. There was some challenging riding simply because the terrain always changed. Deep mud to fast hardpack, quickly changing dirt kept us on our toes. And the rain. A lot of rain. Here I have to say I was not the most well liked person of the group. I was the only one who had decided on adventure riding gear versus motocross style gear. I was dry, warm, and well-protected. I may even have been envied. A huge shout out to Aerther.
We stopped to warm up at a little place called OXXXO in the Parque Nacional Constitucion de 1857 and met Alberto, a wonderful man that made us all hot chocolate and coffee as well as provided heat. The crew dried out somewhat, and warmed up somewhat more. Alberto and his compadre were very accommodating and it was a nice place to be.,
But, this is the first time in my recollection that COVID-19 became more of a topic. Alberto was not interested in shaking hands or being too close to us. It was later in the day on March 12, the news had begun to come in.
After leaving the coziness of Alberto’s establishment, we tried in vain to find a connecting trail to our next destination. It didn’t exactly work out, but I don’t think anyone cared because the further we traveled, the better the weather was getting. We stopped for lunch at a great little joint called Mi Pueblita and were feeling pretty good. Still chilly, but overall good. The rain had quit at least.
Remember I mentored the DRZ’s charging issue and would show up again? After leaving Mi Pueblita, we traveled by road for a few miles until we arrived at a well known dry lake bed. We were to cross the lake bed and make our way to San Filipe for the night. By now the sun was shining and the temps were rising…everyone was happy. Let’s get across the lakebed.
It started well. Sandy in the beginning and as we got further out the sand turned to damp sand. This was an incredible riding experience. I’ve never felt a dirt bike have traction like a streetbike. It was incredibly fun and we killed some time pretty much in the dead center of the lake. After a while, it was time to move on and make our way to town. We headed the appropriate direction as a group. Interestingly, as we traversed the lakebed, the sand became wetter, tackier, muckier. By the time we got near terra firma, the bikes would hardly move in the muck. I got to about 15 feet from the edge and fell over, and many others suffered a similar fate. It was so difficult to pick the bike back up because it was like a huge suction cup stuck to the ground. But it was fine and I worked it out.
In the meantime most everyone else had struggled their way across…but one was missing. A good ways out we saw Jason on his DRZ. Well, near his DRZ. Apparently, he had tipped over in one of the worst spots and was rightfully struggling to get it back upright. After seeing him launch his helmet about 30 feet in the air, a couple of guys realized that he may need a hand. So they went out and righted the bike. But the charging system. That dastardly charging system. The bike wouldn’t start. Now we had another problem. We had to push the bike through the muck, which was nearly impossible and then bump start it.
It took some time to work through it all, but we did. Got the DRZ fired up and the tempers calmed down and nobody was really the worse for wear. On to San Filipe for a much needed break.
San Filipe is an easy town to be in, with many American’s driving a nice tourism economy. We had a nice meal, clean room, and hot shower at El Capitan. I was also serenaded with a Marty Robbins song sung by a man who must have been at least 150 playing an even older guitar. It was heaven.
Up and at ‘em early we ate a good breakfast and hit the road. We couldn’t resist taking a short ride along the beach. We finished our beach ride and left San Filipe, backtracking to the dry lake bed. Everyone had learned their lesson and wanted nothing to do with the mucky end. That forced us to take some side trails that were clearly not trails. It also allowed us to run across an industrious fellow who was laying under the front of his truck working on some sort of electrical connection. Mind you, this was miles from anything. But also mind you, why not make the repair there. He wanted to be sure we understood that we were invited to his ranch. But alas, as tempting as that sounded, we didn’t have the time budget to allow it.
Working our way out of the lakebed, we were still backtracking for a bit. The weather was excellent and the spirits high. We fueled up and then back-backtracked a few miles to the road to Mike’s Sky Ranch.,
I have known of and wanted to visit Mike’s for a long time. On our way in, there was yet another sign covered in stickers. Paxton, our resident Gray Area KTM owner was surprised and delighted to see a decal for his shop on the sign. That was pretty awesome.
The road to Mike’s was considerably more challenging than I expected. Easy enough on a KTM 500, but I was wondering how anyone gets there on larger adventure bikes like a BMW GS? Still, it was a nice ride until we got to Mike’s. No one mentioned the river between us and Mike’s. Oh well, I guess we’ll get a little wet. Tim decided to go for it and got about 15 feet across, of a total of probably 75 feet, before he realized he wasn’t moving another inch. He dismounted and pushed his bike the rest of the way.
Around the same time the people who live at Mike’s surely didn’t want to miss the show of 5 more motorcycles trying to cross the river. Try as I might, I could not find an alternative route that looked better. A few other guys had crossed and Tim was kind enough to help us all, but my days of bragging about being dry were now long done.
Eventually we all safely navigate across the river and the show for the locals wrapped up. I like to think they enjoyed it. We ascended quite a few miles away from Mike’s over what was the most technical terrain we had ridden yet. It was a nice workout and great riding. Somewhere around this time, Jason realized that if he unplugged the headlight of the DRZ he might be able to get a charge. Turns out it did.
Quite a few miles later we ended up a beautiful ranch called Melling Ranch. The staff took great care of us, fed us well, gave us coffee, and overall it was a splendid place. The one local ranch dog was not a fan of us, but everyone else tolerated us.
I don’t recall COVID-19 being a big topic for us this day, perhaps the others have a different recollection.
The ranch dog didn’t seem to like us any more in the morning than he did the evening before, but no matter, it was time to ride. We ate a great breakfast, and while we felt well rested, the journey was taking its toll.
Each day our destination wasn’t entirely clear. Tim would make a great vagabond because he just doesn’t seem to care where he ends up as long as it’s somewhere. And that’s perfect by me. Today we decided to possibly head to Coyote Cal’s. But we were going to take a roundabout way near the Pacific. Unfortunately we ran into some mishaps along the way. A few guys were struggling on some terrain that was not nearly as challenging as what we had ridden previously. A few crashes later and it was becoming clear that we needed some rest. We made our way to a town for lunch and decided Coyote Cal’s was the correct choice. By this time we had some people hurting and it was not productive to push on.
Coyote Cal’s is an oasis in Baja. Sparkling clean, right on the ocean, delicious food and good company. It was a splendid place to reminisce on the trip to date. The staff at Cal’s are fantastic hosts and we all were happy to settle into some margaritas and good food.
A couple of us took another short ride down the beach…again, the natural terrain is exceptionally beautiful.
This was the point where we all realized that we were not going back to the same world that we had left. We now had access to the internet and learned that COVID-19 was changing our reality with terrifying speed. Jason wasn’t sure if the school where he’s employed would be open. Paxton’s shop was open but practicing the new way of life known as “social distancing”. Tim and Jeremy work together and were clearly concerned about cancellations and the unknown. Phil may have had the least concern in the moment regarding his employment, but there was an uncertainty and confusion running through all of us that was undeniable. And we didn’t know what crossing the border might look like the following day.
We stayed up late and talked that night. It was a philosophical conversation on survival, business, empathy, friendship and more. Long rides have a way of doing that, the margaritas also don’t hurt.
By now we were pretty much relegated to riding the roads home. We left Cal’s and headed north through Ensenda to Roserita. It was an uneventful chunk of miles and I think it’s what everyone wished for at that point. We had put ourselves through a tough few days and it was time to wind down. And who knew what the next day was going to bring.
We rolled into Roserita pretty early, found a hotel and decided we needed to feed. The next series of events are best left undocumented. But they went well and for the 6 of us will always be great memories. And for one of us, possibly even more than that. Regardless, it was a fun night that was capped for me with a wonderful conversation with my trip bunky, Phil.
The final day of the trip was time to cross the border and re-integrate into the US way of life. Except, what did that mean now? The border crossing went fine. Being on a motorcycle is a huge timesaver at the border since we get to move to the front of the line. A few questions later, and one secondary check and we were back in the US.
It wasn’t immediately apparent that much had changed. We loaded up and said our goodbyes. I dropped Paxton, Phil, and Jason off at the airport and that’s around the time it became apparent that there was less traffic and less people around.
I made my way back to Los Angeles with zero traffic. If you know SoCal you know that doesn’t exist. I stopped at a Starbucks only to find chairs on the table and signage saying I can’t stay. Now it was weird. I called loved ones and let them know I was safe and sound and heading home.
Baja 2020 was one the most fun trips I’ve ever done in my life while simultaneously being one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had. I met a group of guys that I’m happy to call my friends and I hope they all want to do it again. I saw things I can never describe and rode places I could have previously only dreamt of.
But I also realized how fragile society is and life can be. How quickly the world can change. It makes me think of past trials and tribulations and how they can change a society. I hope if you’re reading this you are from the safety of your home with people you love.