Why do we do this? Why do we ride motorcycles on long trips, freezing, sweating, sleeping on the ground? And think we're doing something that makes us feel alive and...happy?
Why do we get philosophical over something that amounts to a big vacation?
I do know that for almost 45 years I've had the dream...to be goin' down that long lonesome highway
, on two wheels, carrying what I need to live from day to day. Up until a couple months ago, the closest I've come was a one night trip from home into the Sierra and back. Had a great time, but it wasn't easy to arrange everything so that I could just disappear, by myself.
Well, sometimes things do just work out...
My son graduated from college last June and found a job he really enjoys, working as a guide for the Santa Barbara Adventure Company.
One nice benefit is that while they work very hard during the spring, fall and summer, there isn't much guiding to be done during winter so the guides are able to travel and explore on their own during the cold months.
I have evolved my work into a business that I allows me some freedom of scheduling and it didn't take much discussion before the idea of a motorcycling trip came bubbling up, strangely enough spearheaded by my patient and loving wife. I think she figured that she'd worry too much if I was touring by myself, and she'd worry too much if our son was traveling by himself, but together we'd be safer. She's pretty smart.
So, where to go, in the winter? There's only one answer--south.
I started planning, learning about Baja, talking to Adam--one of SBACo's guides who has traveled in Baja, and BigDog (Mark Sampson) who published the tracks and a video of his trip there, and began making lists of gear and the multitude of things to do. I think I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between planning every mile of every day of a trip, and just filling up the tank and heading out. First on the list was for my son to get a dualsport. He found what seemed a Baja-worthy ride--a 2007 DR650 with 4800 miles with a 5 gal IMS tank and a skid plate, seemingly well-cared for--and I have my well-loved WR250R for the trip. Son has ridden the WRR it a few times but just didn't think a little 250 was going to be enough for him, and the power of the DR had him pretty pleased. Anyway, while dealing with the usual Christmas holiday extravaganza around our house we somehow managed to get ready for what we hoped would be a 6 week mostly off-road tour of Baja, with the possibility of extending into mainland Mexico and even beyond...Guatemala...Ushuaia, quien sabe?
Why off-road? My son grew up riding off-road motorcycles, and we both love it. Pavement is fine, but there's just something about riding off-road that commands all your senses and focus, it just makes me feel alive in the best sense. That's was really our only goal in this trip; the destinations weren't important, it's mostly about riding, and seeing what we find.
Once the Christmas celebration was over we were dealing with some last minute stuff, and looking for a decent weather window for our departure. The winter had started off pretty wet but the rains had lessened, leaving us with some dry but cold days in the forecast for December 31. We got packed up on the 30th
and woke up the next morning to a solid coating of frost on everything. Neither of us slept much that night, wondering what we were getting into, would we survive? would the bandidos get us? would our bikes hold up? Would we freeze to death before we even got to Baja? WE'RE GONNA DIE!!!!
Yes, No, Kinda Sorta, Almost, and..........NO!!!!
We ran around, getting dressed, thinking about the warm beds, hot showers, and loved ones we were leaving behind, thinking about the most amazing trip we were about to embark on, and waited until the sun melted the ice from the roads. Finally, it was time.
I had planned on us taking the long way to Baja for a couple reasons--first, there were some favorite places I wanted to show my son and some places he wanted to show me as well--and second, I wanted a chance to shake the bugs out before we crossed the border. We did find a few bugs, so, despite the cold weather we endured it was worth it to take the long way.
The plan for the first day was to ride from our house in the east SF Bay Area on a long and winding route along Mines Road, over Mt. Hamilton, skirt the edge of San Jose and then ride some dirt through New Idria and spend the night at Clear Creek. That was the plan, and right away day 1 required some on-the-fly adjustments. We started late, about 10 am, because of the ice. By the time we got to the Junction we were pretty cold, so we stopped outside the gate (the cafe was closed) and warmed up a bit and then continued on to Mt. Hamilton.
It was clear but cold and there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground.
We continued on down the west side and into the outskirts of San Jose when the first problem cropped up. I had prepared the first 12 days of our trip as gps routes using BaseCamp, and then transferred them to my 60CSx... Not
recommended, as I discovered when we were navigating through the city streets. Apparently the handheld gps will re-route according to its own whims when you import a route from BaseCamp. I haven't figured out exactly what's going on, but all I know is that instead of directing us south towards Clear Creek it was determined to lead us back....HOME!??? Grrr.
edit 4/1/13: I now realize I'd built the routes in Base Camp using City Navigator 2013
maps, but my 60CSx uses CN 2010. I'm pretty sure that caused the confusion...
So as we sat in a mall parking lot with me red-faced and punching buttons on the gps trying to figure what the heck was going on, we both realized that we only had about 3 hours of daylight left, and my route through New Idria was going to take us probably another 5 hours. So, all the routing prep was thrown out the window along with my promise to stay off the freeways, and we headed for 101 southbound, got onto 152 through Hollister, filled up the gas tanks and got a couple Togo's sandwiches and then headed south on 25 to Pinnacles campground. The last 5 miles into Pinnacles were...torture. It was cold. I'm guessing mid-30's and dropping by the minute. We got our campsite, wolfed down the sandwiches, set up camp, made hot tea and crawled into our sleeping bags just as it was completely dark, about 6 pm.
The sky was clear, a nearly full moon, and we settled in for the last night of 2012 each in our tents. I remember feeling happy, nervous, wondering if our gear was going to keep us warm, trying not to think about my warm and half-empty bed at home.