I got an early start and enjoyed the cool morning air. The highway starts climbing into the central highlands just north of town. I glanced over my left shoulder passing the pullout high above Santa Rosalia where I'd stopped for a pic of the city and ocean almost two weeks before. It would be my last view of the Sea of Cortez.
I rode through San Ignacio and started preparing myself for the bland, boring emptiness of the Desierto de Vizcaino. 20 minutes later it was in full effect. I stopped for gas at the same Pemex in the town of Vizcaino I'd filled up in on the way down. I also used the same ATM across the street to get a little more money for one more day's gas, lunches, dinner, and hotel. I was hungry but wanted to keep moving.
I stopped for a late breakfast in Guerro Negro. I'd eaten at Don Gus previously and it was on the highway side of town. I was happy to see the friendly waitstaff again and sit in their cheerful dining room. My phone still had their wifi info and connected automatically.
I could have sat there all morning drinking coffee and messing around on the internet. I wasn't particularly looking forward to the rest of the day's ride. But I pushed on. I needed gas and was going to fill up in town, but I remembered passing a gas station north of Guerro Negro. I also remembered there weren't anymore on the way to the turn off to Coco's - a couple hours ride. That was where I first got on Highway 1 on my way down. It never occurred to me there may not be gas stations north of that intersection. That chance conversation I had with Bill last night in the parking lot turned out to be very serendipitous. Had he not asked me about my bike's fuel range for that area, I'd never given it a second thought. Since he had, I didn't fill up in Guerro Negro, but Villa Jesus Maria - 10 miles north. My National Geographic maps show no gas for 200 miles between Villa Jesus Maria and Rosario de Arriba.
The 115 miles from Guerro Negro to Chapala (Coco's turnoff) is so boring. I passed the intersection that leads to Coco's Corner and Gonzaga Bay and kept going north on Highway 1. I thought to myself I would at least see all new terrain, even if it was boring. It was, for a while. In less than hour the scenery started to change. Greener vegetation returned and huge boulders started to appear everywhere. Soon after I dipped into a beautiful boulder and cactus strewn wash and then up a small hill into the tiny town of Catavina. I guy was selling gas from a drum on the side of the road. I did the math and thought I could probably make Rosario de Arriba, but I bought two gallons anyway. Plus, I thought it was cool buying gas from a guy on the side of the road.
The area north of Catavina is seriously beautiful. It is quintessential Baja 1000 promo photo landscape. There are millions of giant white boulders in the sand with giant cacti growing everywhere. Between it all are dozens of criss-crossing two tracks leading to who knows where. The Canadian couple on the KLR I'd met in Guerro Negro two weeks prior said they were camping in an area full of boulders. I'm sure this was the place. I wanted to stop for a pic but just kept riding. This would be the theme for the rest of the trip. I should have stopped.
The boulders disappeared but eventually I was on top of this ridge line with killer views. The highway pretty much follows the ridge for miles of twisty fun but the usual lack of shoulder or guardrails. I took in what I could but kept up my quick pace. This is another spot I should have taken a photo or two.
I finally rode into Rosario de Arriba and got gas. A military convoy was fueling when I arrived. At first I didn't know if I could enter. The gas station was guarded on all sides by about a dozen soldiers with machine guns. I saw other cars so proceeded. I saw that a Suburban was just finishing filling up and an officer signaled to his men to mount up. He got in the SUV and the men jumped into the back of the Hummer-type troop transport vehicles and they drove away. I wondered who else must have been in that Suburban.
The highway hugged the Pacific Coast for a while after Rosario. Unfortunately, it also went through several towns. Traffic and stop lights made progress painfully slow. After 30 minutes or so it finally opens up and you get some nice views of the coastal plain, farms, the oceans, surfers, and beautiful fields covered in millions of tiny red flowers. It looks like they're carpeted. The whole area looks like southern California and felt a lot more modern than the rest of Baja. I felt like I was already back in the States. The highway winds through some pretty hills and then descends into Ensenada. Ensenada is a good size city and it too was very American-like. I detoured through the tourist district and was surprised to see a beautiful waterfront and a giant cruise ship docked in the harbor. It was sunset so I rode to the north side of town and found a cheap motel close to food, gas, and an Oxxo. Had it been earlier, I would have ridden around a little more and found a motel on the beach-side of the highway. Mine was fine though and cost $450 pesos.
I unpacked and rode up a few blocks to the taco stand on the corner. It was hopping and I ate awesome tacos standing at the counter. I ordered seconds. I went to the Oxxo next door and bought tequila for my house/dog sitter and five pack of Faros. Finally, I filled up at the Pemex across from my hotel. This was the only time I was aware of someone trying to rip me off on my trip. Someone whistled as I rode in which I don't know had any significance. My attendant was pretty friendly in a "Hey Bro!" sort of way. He made way too big a deal showing me the pump was zeroed before he started pumping. Then, when he gave me change for my 500 note, he short changed me 50 pesos. Having gotten into the habit of counting my change when using 500 and 200 pesos bills, I paused and counted a couple more times. I looked up and before I said anything he said, "Oh, yeah, I owe you one more 50." He pulled a 50 out of his wad which was also full of dozens of 100s. He could have easily given me a 100 initially instead of the eventual two 50 notes I ended up with. It was such an obvious ploy. I didn't tip him like I did most Pemex attendants and we looked at each other as I rode out. His look seemed to say, "I don't care if you know I tried to rip you off." Dick.
The lessons and upside to this incident were: 1) It was the only time I felt someone tried to cheat me on the whole trip, 2) The border areas and maybe downtown Cabo are the places you're most likely to be taken advantage of, 3) $5 (less, actually) is hardly going to ruin anyones trip, 4) Baja is honest and you should readily tip and pay asking price in almost all circumstances.
The next morning I was riding by 8:00. I wasn't in too big a hurry since I knew I could ride to the front of the line at the border and it didn't matter too much how far I made it that night. I could ride any distance the next day required to make Denver since riding at night was not a big deal.
The ride to Tecate is gorgeous (again, no pics). It's mountainous and perfect (wide!) pavement. It even has shoulders. The road winds through the wine country and some pretty nice homes. I passed numerous cyclists, some on teams with support vehicles, as I rode through the mountains. I was happy my last hour of riding in Baja was pretty. Tecate came too soon and it too was a cute little town. I rode up to the border area and stopped at a nice town park surrounded by dozens of shops and businesses. You could see the 20 foot border fences two blocks away. I changed my pesos to dollars and should have had one last Mexican breakfast. Instead, I rode to the back of the line of cars waiting to cross into the U.S. They were in a single line in the far right lane for at least a mile. Traffic attendants and peddlers walked up and down the middle lane. I didn't even hesitate and rode up the left lane, dodging a peddler here and there. Cutting in line worked on my last trip to Mexico and I hoped it would work again. I confidently rode up to and stopped at a row of red cones and three Federales with H&K assault rifles. Before I could say anything, one of the soldiers moved a cone out of the way and waved me to the back of the shortest of two lanes leading to the U.S. Customs booths. Within three minutes I was talking to the Customs officer and then riding off. Motorcycles are great!
I parked a couple blocks north of the border, stowed my stuff, and walked back across the border. I returned my tourist card at the Oficina de Imigracion and got another stamp in my passport. I was feeling confident about finally returning my previous vehicle permit which would allow me to again travel by bike in mainland Mexico. I was directed to another building and handed the man at the counter my old permit. He didn't speak English and I described very generally what I wanted in Spanish. He said someone in the back could help me and disappeared. I waited and was feeling great. I guy finally came out who spoke English and asked to see my bike. I told him I sold that bike but I had proof it was sold in the U.S. He said again he needed to see the bike. I told him it was gone. He handed back my paperwork and said I could not cancel the permit. I said there must be a way. He said no. I asked if I could speak to someone else. He said there was no else I could talk to. I told him I would find a way. He laughed and said, "You do whatever you want." I said, "Thanks for your help, asshole," and walked away. I was bummed. I crossed back to the U.S. and started my ride home dejected.
Within an hour I felt better. It was still a great trip and the weather in southern California was perfect. I rode the rest of the day to Phoenix and finally ended up in Flagstaff. The only tough part of that ride was going from riding in a t-shirt in Phoenix rush hour to 35 degree weather just south of Flagstaff. The temperature went from 85 degree to 35 degrees in half an hour once the sun set and I started ascending toward Flagstaff. I should have stayed on the low road through Tucson - I-10.
The next two days kind of sucked. I froze riding across Arizona on I-40 to Albuquerque. I stopped for the night in Santa Fe. I had doubts the current weather system that was dumping snow on Colorado was going to blow east by tomorrow. I was right. CDOT said I-25 was snowy or icy starting at the southern border with New Mexico. My guess was I probably could have made it, but I wasn't willing to risk ending my trip with a crash. I walked around the historic part of Santa Fe all afternoon. It was Monday, so the three museums I really wanted to go to were closed. I went to the Georgia O'Keefe museum instead, ate lunch, and hung out at the library reading magazines.
The next day was chilly but the roads were dry. A couple hours later I was in Colorado. Even at the truck stop in Trinidad, CO, people still approached me curious about the bike and where I'd been. When I said I was riding home from Cabo they were stunned. I think it never occurs to most people that there is continuous road from the Arctic Ocean to the Panama Canal - 10 countries.
Three hours later my big Baja trip was over. I was happy to be home but sad my adventure had come to an end. But it was so perfect: I'd returned to the mountains from the tropics. There was snow on the ground, but it was 55 degrees and sunny. In a way, it was Colorado's first day of Spring!
My final thoughts of Baja and my equipment to come in my Trip Post Mortem
One of the longer military checkpoints
Buying gas in Catavina
Last dinner - Ensenada