Our goal today was the bustling metropolis of El Centro where we were going to spend a night in a motel, get a hot shower, and tune up for our crossing into Baja. We headed south through Joshua Tree National Park, climbed over Cottonwood Pass through the Orocopia Mountains, and dropped down towards I-10.
Once again, amazingly beautiful desert country crossed with stark and rugged rocky mountain ranges. Our route took us along a road named Box Canyon, a fun and twisty section that was a two-lane paved road that follows a sand wash. I guess they aren't worried about flooding------the road is built level with the wash, oh well, what do I know about road construction. I'd hoped to find a cafe in Mecca, a small farm town just north of the Salton Sea, but other than a gas station and mini-mart never did see anything that resembled a cafe. Ate a Kind bar, and kept going.
We had to choose whether to go east or west around the Salton Sea--the west route looked faster, dreams of a hot shower were calling--I chose west and highway 86. Out of our entire trip, this was the one stretch of road I'd not care to repeat again. Long, straight, drab slab with nothing remarkable to break up the miles; the kind of road that is made just to get from point A to point B. The only thing that was even slightly interesting was that for some reason, probably because the road builders were just as bored as we were, EVERY single drainage ditch and and sand wash that goes under the highway has been named and memorialized with a road sign. Every few hundred yards, another ditch and another sign. You could tell they were struggling to come up with unique names...Dry Wash...Arid Wash...Parched Wash...Desiccated Wash...Tedious Wash... I'm not sure if those were the exact names or not, but you get the idea.
We survived Highway 86 and made our way down the center of El Centro, the biggest city we'd been in since we left the SF Bay area 8 days ago.
We found a decent/cheap looking motel, checked in, and collapsed. BEDS! SHOWERS!! HD TELEVISION!!! Ah who needs all that, anyway.
We were living like kings.
The motel stop turned out to be better than we expected, mostly because it was so centrally located. We were within walking distance of a great motorcycle dealership, a Von's grocery store, a Big 5 outdoor gear store, plenty of restaurants and our bank and the post office were less than a mile away. By the time we got over the shock of real beds etc. we quickly agreed that we were going to need a full day to get all our final Baja preparations completed and decided to stay another night. Living like kings is addictive...
First thing to take care of was our tires. I'd ordered new tires for our bikes before I had finished the route planning, assuming we'd start the trip with new rubber but once I'd added up the mileage of the first week I realized we were looking at a trip that was more than one rear knobby could survive. I'd contacted Imperial Valley Cycle Center
and got their permission to ship our tires to them, allowing us to get the first 1000 miles on our old tires, and then go in to Mexico with new D606's on the rear and a new MT21 on the front of the DR. I rode back to the dealership and my contact (the Parts Dept. manager) was out to lunch...and nobody there knew anything about my tires.
While standing there talking I looked back into the parts shelves and I could see my tires leaned up against a shelf, still in the shrink wrap I'd forwarded them in. Problem solved, I decided to have the shop mount them--both to save time for us and to allow the dealership to make some money on the favor they'd done us by accepting our tires. Other than the momentary scare of not having our tires, they were very easy to work with and I highly recommend them for bike stuff on your way in to Baja.
They carry an extensive line of bikes and parts--they're dealers for Yamaha, Suzuki, KTM, Beta, Kawasaki and Honda, and were very willing to work with us on things that I've seen a lot of dealers in the Bay Area turn their nose up at. I will say that next time I'd just call ahead and buy the tires directly from IV Cycle Center, it would've made things a lot simpler but I'd jumped the gun a bit and already had the tires sitting in my garage.
They also helped me out by accepting a shipment from Wolfman Luggage; gear issue number 4. One of the bugs worked out during this week-long+ shakedown portion of our trip was that I didn't have enough luggage capacity. What I should have done is buy a rack system to support decent sized saddlebags but somehow between the holiday crunch and trying to keep the budget for this trip under control I decided to use a cheap set of dog packs. They fit fine but were just too small and awkward to use (not to mention, an ugly lime green color
I realized it about the time we were stuck along the Kern River and called Wolfman from our campsite, ordered a set of E-12 Enduro bags, and had them shipped ahead to Imperial Valley Cycle. They were waiting for me and I brought them back to the motel, installed them, and then took the dog packs to the post office and mailed them home. (Gotta love REI's guarantee...they gave me full credit when I returned them once we returned home.)
The E-12's are great, but for a trip like this I'd highly recommend a rack system and full sized saddlebags of some sort. Even 24 liters of saddlebag storage, plus the dry duffel, was too cramped. I had to keep most of my gear in the dry duffel which creates a very high center of gravity for the load; being able to keep more gear below seat height would have been much better.
The next day was spent getting the tires mounted, buying a replacement water bladder and some more stove fuel from Big 5, getting my debit/atm card PIN changed to 4 digits, washing clothes, stocking up on food, water and 3 dozen energy bars, and in general living like kings. We got a roasted chicken and salad from Von's and sat on our beds feasting and watching Ironman in HD, but in our minds we were both anxious about tomorrow's border crossing and entering Mexico.
WE'RE GONNA DIE!!!
We woke up early, packed up, and headed to Carrow's for our last meal.
We made sure to fill up our bellies.