(me), weapon of choice: XR650L
, la porcina grande roja
, weapon of choice: CRF230F
, little red riding hood
, aka Batman, weapon of choice: XR650R
, the batmobile
After 18 months of preparation we were finally headed to Baja for a 17 day adventure. We were a little nervous after reading some bad things about the gangs in Mexico, but Baja seemed to be a safe haven so we went. We got into Calexico at about 4pm and had time to test the new sea level jetting since 2 of the bikes were coming from 8500'. WOW the bike had some power!! I could do wheelies! I had become used to the lack of power riding up high in the Rocky Mountains.. the L and the 230 don't have that much power to begin with. Anyway, the jetting seemed spot on but we all had mega speed wobbles, probably due to the fact that our tires deflated a lot coming down from high altitude and also the high winds that were present.
In the morning we loaded up on the free hotel breakfast, filled our hydration packs with ice from the ice machine, and then dropped the tow rig off at Calexico Self Storage. The guy at the storage place said "Baja eh? You should check out Glamis while you're here... I don't know if those tires will work there though, you might need paddles." Yeah but we're riding Baja, dude. Baaa-haaa. We're going there. Mexico, baby. We're gonna get a liplock on some tacos pescados.
After unloading the bikes, we headed for the east border crossing, meaning we had to ride to the other side of town. There isn't much to Calexico... lots of agriculture, kind of a quirky little town. The wind was blowing furiously but at least the temperature was nice and cool.
There was very little traffic headed to Mexico at the border, just a couple of cars in front of us, who I copied because, well, I had no idea what I was doing. I saw some big fences and stuff that looked rather official. At the sign for customs, we took the "nothing to declare" lane. Why not? After rolling by the customs dudes, we stopped in a parking lot to the right.
"Hey, I think we're in Mexico."
"Shit, yeah, it looks like Mexico to me."
"Uhhh, nobody asked us for any passports or anything..."
"Yeah, what's up with that? You sure we're in Mexico?"
"Where do we get the tourist cards?"
"How good is your Spanish?"
"Not very good."
I wandered over to the bank, Banjercito, which was right in front of us. You can't see inside, the door and windows are all blacked out. So I strolled in and asked one of the tellers where to get the tourist card. He spoke great English and told me that the immigration building is just off to the right. So Cooler King and I go over there to get the cards while deathgrip stayed with the bikes. There was no line, and in a minute or so, the immigration guy came out, took our passports, and started filling out the paperwork for us. There were a few American and European business travelers behind us in line, dressed all nice and pretty for work; this was a stark contrast to us standing there like badasses in full body armor, squeaking when we walked. It seemed pretty funny. Not funny peculiar, but HA HA funny, like HA HA you guys have to go to work, and HA HA don't we look like characters from Mad Max? The immigration dude kept our passports while we went and paid at the bank. After a little confusion at the bank about number of days, we took the bank receipts back to immigration, where we got our tourist cards and passports. Then Cooler King stayed with the bikes while deathgrip and I repeated the whole process for her tourist card. It's a funny run-around, but not a big deal since everything is right there and the people are friendly and helpful. We probably could have left all the bikes and stuff no problem, but it would really suck to have some critical piece of gear stolen on the first day.
"So yeah, umm, we're in Mexico, on dirtbikes."
The bikes were running great. We left the border crossing and followed the big border fence to the right until we hit the funny roundabout with the pixie sticks in the middle and took a left there. Riding through Mexicali isn't much different than riding through some US city. Yeah, the streets are kind of bumpy in a couple of places, but it's not that different. For the most part, the roads were very good. I think the thing that hit me most was the smells- exhaust, occasional smoke from something, occasional shit smells. It was all new and fun. After making it to Mex 5, the city quickly faded to farmland. I should say at this point that we had decided not to break the speed limit, at least until we got to the middle of nowhere, in order to avoid run-ins with local law enforcement. Unfortunately, this meant that we were the slowest ones on the road. It became clear that the speed limits were just suggestions, but I wasn't feeling up to breaking them yet. Hey man, we're guests, putt putt putt...
I mentioned the wind earlier... now as we approached the dry lake bed of Laguna Salada, the wind really picked up, and it was a crosswind. It was strong but at least it was steady, because we were leaned into it hard just to keep going straight. Sand was blowing across the road. My goggles were doing a pretty good job but occasionally I would feel a little wind blast across my eyes. Here we started to run into some road repaving operations, which are a bit different than in the US. At one point, the traffic was diverted onto the lake bed, which they had graded into a small dirt road with one lane in either direction. I thought this was great fun since we were on dirtbikes and promptly began passing cars. I saw that deathgrip and Cooler King had not followed for some reason so I slowed down, and the next thing I saw was an 18-wheeler blowing right by me. I thought: you have got to be kidding me, I just got passed on the dirt by a huge truck? The cars were going pretty fast also- if this were the US, people would be crawling along at 5mph like a bunch of wussies.
We hit the oil slicks a little while after we got back onto the pavement. As part of repaving, they were oiling down sections of the road... but the road was still open. No problem, just ride right through that oil. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a problem, but on a motorcycle, leaning hard into the wind... well, it was interesting. The bike was getting loose and I felt like I was on the edge of what the tires could handle, any more and I was going down. So I would let the wind push me into the oncoming lane and then I would creep my way back when the wind let off a little. Luckily there were few vehicles on the road. Oncoming trucks looked completely wrong due to the wind: their tractors appeared to be steering at us, while the trailer wheels were not tracking directly behind the tractor and the trailers were all leaning to one side. The wind was whipping. I swore I saw a tornado in the lake bed to the left, either that or it was the largest dust devil ever. It was hard to tell because it generally looked like a huge dust storm over there and I wasn't stopping for a picture.
A little ways further, the wind let up a bit because we were going through some hilly stuff. I looked in my mirrors and nobody was behind me so I went back and saw CK and deathgrip on the side of the road. Deathgrip had ran out of gas on the 230, so we dumped her 1 gallon Rotopax into the main tank. I would like to take this opportunity to ask someone to build a larger tank for the CRF230. The Rotopax is a great product however, and we were on our way in no time. Deathgrip was in the lead since I wanted to keep an eye out for her running out of fuel. We came up behind some slower tractor trailers. I was next to Cooler King when I saw deathgrip's directional blink on and she goes for it! Cooler King and I glanced at each other, laughing, I dropped a couple gears and grabbed a fist full of throttle and we dusted that truck like a bundt cake. At this point, I knew this was going to be good.
Looming in the distance was a military checkpoint, our first, but we knew what to expect. I pulled past deathgrip since I had a cheatsheet of Spanish phrases on my tank bag, such as "que necesita wheelie grande?" and "Si, wheelie grande." It didn't matter because we got split up into different lanes anyway. A bunch of guys with camouflage uniforms and assault rifles blocked the road. I pulled in and they were asking me stuff before I had a chance to remove my helmet and earplugs. "Un momento!" After I was off the bike, one of the guys wanted to check my side bags, so I opened them up for and he peered inside... he pulled out a compression sack containing my clothes or my sleeping bag and squished it a little with his hands, then put it back in and indicated that I was all set. The action that I missed was Cooler King dropping his bike on the ground in front of the guys. I guess they said "OOOPSIE!" when that happened. It's kind of tricky when you pull in because you have to get your bike shut down, get your helmet off, juggle your helmet, talk to guys with big guns that you don't really understand, get off the bike, etc. There's a lot going on. We were out of there in a couple of minutes, no problema. They didn't ask for wheelies, and I didn't have the cojones to ask them if they wanted wheelies, so we didn't pull any wheelies.
We pulled into San Felipe like rock stars, right up to the pump of the first Pemex that we saw. "Premium, por favor." I hate being tied to fuel range- I need to invent a nuke powered dirtbike. Combined I think we took on 24 liters of that sweet sweet gasolina, which wasn't bad since the capacity of my tank is 22 liters. We cruised into downtown and headed for the malecón where we parked and watched fishermen loading their catch into pickup trucks on the beach. We crossed the street and bought some cold bottled water. We started talking with the guy at the store... he said Cooler King looked like Batman. He also said something about the road to Gonzaga Bay, pavement for 50 miles then 30 miles of dirt, or was that 30 miles until a Pemex and then 50 miles after that... who knows. We ate some snacks and drank some water and talked about whether we wanted to continue to Gonzaga today or not. People came up to us and tried to sell us crap. Uh yeah, that 10 gallon hat looks nice, where am I gonna put it? Seriously. I'm wearing a helmet already, I don't need a hat, much less a huge 10 gallon hat. Well I guess it's like fishing- sooner or later something will bite, you just have to keep plugging away.
We figured we had plenty of light left and wanted to get to the dirt, away from the tourism, further from the border, so we could relax. We shall rule the dirt.
On the malecón, some dirtbikes roll by in slow motion. The waves lazily rolled in on the beach. A wave, rolling for the shore... slowly... slowly... will it get there? We're in a time warp, senses heightened, soaking in all the sights and smells. Peaceful. A hand reaches down. A shiny piece of metal slowly rotates outward. The foot rises up. The thumb slowly reaches out. The foot comes down... steadily... metal touches metal... the wave crashes down! Controlled explosions... thump thump thump thump! Braaaap, off we go down the cobblestone streets. We leave San Felipe in our wake.
I knew there were Pemex(s) in Puertecitos but they would probably be closed. At this point there was very little traffic on the road and I was still mostly obeying the speed limit. This turned out to be a good thing, because as I was standing up stretching my legs, a police SUV went by going the other direction before I could have slowed. No problema. We made it to Puertecitos and found a Pemex, but it was closed. We somehow ended up going through some private community road and got back on the highway. The pavement got newer as we went- new bridges, new guardrails, so sad to see. The road snaked through areas where they had blasted out the rock and there were lots of rocks on the road, many of them were dangerously large. They were sometimes hard to see because the shadows had now grown very long. Deathgrip pulled up next to me as we were hauling ass down the road, man that 230 was revving. Uphill, downhill, curves, cliffs, what fun.
We got to some sections of road that were supposedly closed- blocked by rocks, dirt road off to the right. There was a car on one of those sections, driving right along. I went through the rocks onto the closed section. Some guys in the back of a pick-up seemed to find this funny or something. We finally ran out of pavement and took some road. It ended up being a 3D labyrinth. We came upon a crew drilling blasting holes and had to run over their hoses. They didn’t care. There was a huge dirt roadbed running right into a cliff. We couldn't piece it all together; it was like being in a surrealist painting as it was being painted.
We were finally on dirt. There were side tracks running alongside the main graded road. We rode on them. We screwed around. I went down a very steep downhill. Where's Cooler King? I go back, oh there he is, thumbs up.
"Is that bird shit rock?"
"Bird shit rock?"
"Yeah. It's white from all the bird shit."
"Get outta here!"
"Yeah, I think that's bird shit rock, I think that means we're close."
It was twilight, we were cruising at an easy pace. Suddenly there was a guy in front of me with a gun... he blended right in. Ok, military checkpoint. This guy wanted some answers. He was very calm but he clearly wasn't letting us go until he was satisfied... he didn't want to look at anything, he just wanted to know what we were doing. It took a minute to figure this out... the words campo and vacaciones were issued and he seemed happy... on we went.
A bit further up the road, the line on my GPS pointed due east. Cooler King was glancing down at his GPS- I yell "I think it's over there!" There was no way to get over there so we kept going. Then the glow of a Pemex illuminated the darkness. We promptly pulled right up to a pump and got some fuel while we figured out how to get to Alfonsinas.
"It's gotta be around here somewhere..."
"Oh look, there's a huge sign that says Alfonsinas on it right in front of our faces!"
The guy who filled our tanks wore a smile the whole time. We got the impression that the Pemex dudes were getting ready to close up for the night, so we were happy to have full tanks.
We took the road as indicated by the large Alfonsinas sign... it was very dusty at first, then it was clearly going through marshy areas. We saw a private aircraft next to a house. We kept going, past the sand airstrip until we got to something that looked like it could be a hotel. Cooler King asked if we could get food- I think the guy told him we could get food and stay there. We parked next to some quads... there were gringos eating. We walked in and got a table overlooking the beach, but it was too dark to see anything. We were in the process of stripping off all the body armor as the Pacificos rolled in, followed shortly by chips and the best salsa I have ever had in my life. Tacos pescados made their appearance shortly after that. We sucked down some more Pacificos. Everything was funny!! We were laughing and laughing, what a riot! We had such a great time sitting there recounting all the crazy stuff we had just ridden through, eating great food, and drinking great beer. So delicious. It was like when you're a kid doing something naughty and you have to be very quiet or else you're going to get caught... but that just makes it all the more funny and you end up cracking up and blowing your cover. "Boys, what are you doing?" "AHHH, RUN!! HAHAHA"
We got a hot hotel room but it cooled off quick once we opened the windows and got that sea breeze flowing through there. So nice. I had read that the rooms there weren't that great, but we thought it was great. Nice neat beds, clean room, a shower... ah, such luxury for people covered in dirt and sweat. We slept like babies and were up before sunrise. Cooler King got up first and went for a walk on the long crescent of a beach... I snuck outside shortly after while deathgrip slept. What an amazing place. It was a little chilly but the rising sun felt really good. I walked around a bit and watched the run rise over the bay. Cooler King walked over to his bike in a flipflop and the right side boot and checked the oil. I think this woke up deathgrip and everyone else. Deathgrip eventually came out and we grabbed a table and waited for breakfast. I ordered an omelet de camarones (shrimp omelet), I think Cooler King got huevos rancheros, and I think deathgrip got pancakes. We all got orange juice thinking that would be safe... but it came with ice. Cooler King dove right in as usual and slurped it up. There was NO WAY I was going to be spending my vacation riding the Hershey Highway or taking antibiotics so I didn't want to drink it. Deathgrip came up with the idea of scooping out the ice and I got the Steripen (which isn't designed for cloudy water, but whatever) and we stuck it in the OJ. About this time, the waitress came by and saw that we were steripenning the OJ. She looked kind of sad. I felt embarrassed but what the hell, there is NO WAY I'm riding the Hershey Highway. I've heard the stories.
It was a really good breakfast. We packed up and headed to the Pemex to buy some water, but they were completely closed- if we didn't have full tanks, it would have been another day at Gonzaga Bay- what a great place to be stuck. Note to travelers, apparently the Pemex at Gonzaga is closed on Wednesdays. Across the street from the Pemex was a market so we bought water- too much as it turned out, so we strapped the remainder to the bikes after filling our packs. What we didn't know at the time was that this surplus water wasn't actually surplus. A gringo at the store helped us ask about the next fuel availability- there wasn’t any for a long ways in any direction but we were headed to Bahia de Los Angeles and expected to find fuel there. We planned to go to Coco's and then to the Bay of LA, and we figured we had enough fuel for that trip, no problema. A race buggy rolled past.
We did the most awesome riding in our lives up to that point on the road to Coco's Corner. It just kept getting better. There was the main graded road, and then there were sandy two-track roads on both sides. Deathgrip was cruising up the middle of the graded road while I was on the left sandy track and Cooler King was on the right. We were moving pretty good- 50 or 60mph and it was fantastic. The bikes were doing great, proudly showing their desert racing heritage. I slowed for a blind downhill, but not quite enough and almost dumped it on some huge downhill whoops.
I passed a boat!
The fun continued for a while... at one point we were riding 3 abreast, everyone on their own road, the soft desert sand flowing under our tires. We passed many varieties of cactus, ocotillo, and other strange desert plants, including our first boojum trees. It's like Dr. Seuss invented the boojum and named it himself. I thought we were riding in a Dr. Seuss story.
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..."
- Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!
Ahead there was some strange and interesting shit. Beer cans strung across the road in a fantastic display, ropes used as topes... must be Coco's Corner. We pulled in and Coco greeted us in his wheelchair. We bought some Cokes- they tasted like the Cokes I remember as a kid, really good. Coco told us to keep our thumbs over the hole in the can so the bees don't get in there. There were bees all over the place and I guess they really like Coca Cola. We talked with Coco a bit and checked out his art exhibits. There's a lot to take in, and it's all very interesting and amusing. The cab-over truck gallery is off this way... the toilet TV room is over here... oh there's a gorilla in the pick-up truck. And check out the panties and worn out sprockets. Of course we had to sign The Book. This is The Eighth Book, but since some scumbag stole one, he only has seven now. We thought of some ridiculous things to write and we wrote them down... you can look them up if you visit, turn to October 5 2011- he mistakenly wrote 4 motos on the top right. It was an historic moment, making our marks in The Book as many travelers and the legends of Baja have done before us. This was our pilgrimage.
Man those Cokes tasted great. Coco instructed us to throw the cans on the ground away from his house because of the bees. We were admiring the panty collection when he asked deathgrip if she had any panties for him. Nope. I guess she didn't get the memo... bring panties for Coco. It's like a sacrifice to the gods of Baja. Coco was ok with not having fresh panties though.
Somehow he got to talking about dirtbikes sinking to the frame, getting sucked into bottomless sand. I guessed that he was talking about Calamajue Wash, which I was hoping to ride on the way to the Bay of LA. He had plenty of stories about the wash, it sounded too good to pass up. I noticed that the water I had strapped to the bike had flown off somewhere on the road to Coco's, so I had no extra water and I hate leaving detritus behind. Cooler King’s extra water was still securely strapped to his bike though.
We headed out of Cocos on the wrong road and it took us a minute to realize this. So back to Coco's Corner we went, and took the other road that heads to the east. This was another fun road, but it was made of harder stuff, no sand for a few miles. Then it started to go south and opened up into a wash, so we started riding in the wash instead of the road- this was fun but we had no idea where we were going other than generally the right direction. Eventually we could see the road headed east- obviously that was the wrong way, but we saw a trail through the wash headed south. We stopped there, pulled out the Baja Almanac and found our location on the map thanks to the coordinates on the GPS. A navigational screw-up out there could cause a big problem. We determined that the trail that headed south through the wash was the correct way to go, so off we went. It started out as very sandy two-track and was completely amazing.
The wash funneled down into a canyon with white rock and a tiny stream- it was really wonderful riding. I put the camera on the rear camera mount and started recording video. I slowly rode past deathgrip and then Cooler King so I could get video of them riding through this wash on the floor of the canyon. I came to some water and some thick green grass and made my way through it. My hydration pack wasn't working so I stopped to fix it just in case water was leaking out or something. It took me a few minutes to fix it- the hose wasn't connected quite right. Meanwhile I was wondering where the other guys were- there was a fork in the canyon that I passed and I wondered if they went the other way. Eventually I got myself sorted out and headed back. What I saw next is permanently burned into my mind.