I can say with some experience that riding along I-10 at 80mph with 40mph crosswinds among long haul truckers is something to be avoided if possible.
After a late start on Monday, in no part due to meeting my friend Jameson and Russell the previous evening it was time to get on up out of Austin. I had to repack and pare down my belongings (again) as the panniers weren’t closing up, so clearly I have too much crap. Shedding of gear is an absolute must at this point, but I’m just not sure what to get rid of; do I ditch one of my jackets? Workout clothes? Do I need all those tools? I’ll struggle on for now, until it becomes unbearable. It’s getting damn close.
Out of Austin I took 290W, passing through Fredricksburg and Junction before hopping on I-10. Fredricksburg was pretty for the short time I jolted through it, and of course I-10 was straight miserable. It was a straight shot though, and I was pretty sure I could make my destination. Then the winds really picked up. Those “Strong Cross Wind” signs are no joke.
The DR gets insanely “buzzy” above 70MPH, and extremely touchy in a terrifying way; add some strong cross winds and, well, let’s just say it’s exciting. At one point, immediately after leaving Junction I ran out of gas, the GPS indicating I was a mere 6.3 miles away from the nearest Phillips-Conoco fill-up station. With a quick prayer and flick of the petcock to the reserve setting, I coasted into the station on fumes and then proceeded on towards Balmorhea.
Which was not to be. The light was dying fast, the wind had picked up heavily but I was determined to make it, until I couldn’t. Sadly I have no pictures of these moments as I left my camera on by accident and drained the battery, and my grip was far too tight as I battled sudden crosswinds almost forcing me into the other lane to turn on the GoPro. Every few minutes I’d hold my hand up to horizon to estimate how much daylight I had left. Sonora whizzed by and I had 45 minutes left, and I definitely wasn’t riding at night on my first night out.
Exhausted, I pulled into a small town called Ozona, and rented a decent (if not pricey) room at the Travelodge by a bearded woman (no shit) with the largest German shepherd I have ever seen, proceeded to eat the largest chicken fried steak I’ve ever seen at the Hitchin’ Post and passed out, 230 miles under my belt.
The next day I put on my pants, ate some free rehydrated eggs and headed towards Alpine TX.
I-10 again, and mostly boring. After about an hour I saw my first wind farm. Oh shit. Luckily, due to the time of day, the crosswinds were manageable, but I did have a few dicey moments. Again, I ran out of gas, but this time on purpose; I wanted to see how far I could go on one tank. The answer? 169 miles, give or take. Far below the 350-400 I had initially estimated, though perhaps I was confused and meant kilometers? Who knows. Add on about 10 more miles for the reserve and I have around a 180 mile range. Not bad I suppose, not great either.
Anyway. Pulled into Alpine, had a late lunch and checked the town out, before heading to Marfa, where I am staying the night at a little place called El Cosmico. The staff is super nice, they have teepees, and you can camp out for $15 bucks a night, so what’s not too like? I’ll try and check out the Marfa Lights tonight as well, and then tomorrow it’s off to Big Bend.
So, there I am in Marfa, eating some Italian food (because, I mean, why wouldn’t there be an Italian joint in Marfa, population 2,000) and planning on a pretty early night, maybe a beer or two at Lost Horse, as was recommended by the lovely Lauren at El Cosmico (who incidentally was also from Austin).
Out of no where, headlights flash in front of the restaurant. A bunch of Harley’s I think, and pretty soon they are gone. So I pay out, suit up, and head back to the glampsite.
There is quite a bit of commotion at El Cosmico, and as I pull into the gravel parking lot I can see why; eight Vespas are parked, festooned with all manners of banners and camping gear on their tiny frames. I’m parking when the guys come out of the office.
“What are you guys, riding these things across America?” I ask.
“Hell yeah! That your bike?” the mid-twenties Vespa rider says.
“Where you going, east?”
“No, I’m going to South America.”
“Holy shit, really? Where?”
“All of it man.”
“No way. Hey Sean! We gotta interview this guy! Come here man, sit down and let me ask you some questions.”
And that is how I’m introduced to 4K The Hard Way, eight friends riding Vespas from L.A. to Key West over the course of three weeks. There’s a few rules, as there always are; no highways, you can’t pay for lodging, and of course you must ride a Vespa.
Alex Westmore is the man asking questions, and his buddy Sean Hill mans the camera. They mostly just want to know why anyone would go on such a trip (for the same reason they are, we come to find out, obviously, because you can) and are making a documentary (maybe) about their journey. These lucky bastards are sponsored by Vespa, Alpinestars and have a chase truck, so I’m a bit envious.
Also riding, and apparently the ring leaders of these merry madmen are Armie Hammer and Tyler Ramsey, which meant nothing to me until we actually left Marfa the next day, when a local asks Armie, “You’re in the movies right?”, and he whispers “Yeah.” Seriously, I thought it was a bit pompous to nick name yourself after the branch of the military you served in when I first met the guy. What’s that they say about assumptions?
Anyway, they went to dinner, came back, we drank some beer, and partied until about 3AM, the only people camping out in 22° weather there in Marfa. It was as good as times can get!
The next day, we wake up early (11AM) and decide to grab some breakfast. The 4K guys somehow order 24 burritos for the eight of them, I’m good with my one; either way they were delicious, thanks Mama.
Alright, so it was finally time to go, but not before stopping at Wrong Marfa, a local art gallery/shop. Check out these amazing pieces:
Big Bend, the jewel of the west. Ok, I may have made that part up.
Either way, I’ve always heard great things about this national park, but being a 10 hour drive from Austin it’s not something you just up and decide to visit on a Friday after work. I rolled into the park right as the sun started to set, and managed to snap a few photos (though Ansel Adams I’m not while wearing motorcycle gloves).
Spent the night in Chiso’s Basin, not much to report, but luckily it was 30+ degrees that night. Unluckily I spilled water all over my sleeping bag, so, yeah.
Luna’s Jacal, a house made of dirt, stone and plants this guy built and raised 18 kids in. How many kids do you think I could have if I can convince a woman to live with me on a motorcycle?
So yeah, Big Bend was beautiful but my bike was not really happy with me. Remember that cam chain tensioner issue I mentioned? I was sure this was the cause of oil leaking all over the engine, and I was keen to push it to El Paso and get some repairs done at the Suzuki dealership there in town.
I hauled ass out of Big Bend and headed north on 118, before realizing I had zero power left on my gadgets. Not a huge deal, but I would have no way of finding the damn dealership since I didn’t have a map of Texas (who needs maps of the state they live in, am I right?). Luckily I have a 12v cigarette charger, so while gassing up in Terlingua, I plugged in my USB charger and my phone and…nothing. Damn thing must have been broken. Well this wouldn’t do, so I pulled off to the side, ripped off the front fairing and set out to repair it, but, alas it was fried. While doing so, a friendly dude with a southern drawl asked me if I needed any help, and, while I didn’t, I explained my concern about the CCT bolt and what not. He ran a dual sport rental shop right next to the gas station, said his name was Dan Dickie, and if I needed anything else to come find him. Of course I didn’t though, right? I mean, I was going to El Paso to get some repairs.
And that’s when the wheels fell off.
As you go north on 118 from the Alon gas station there, you climb a pretty steep hill, with Bee Mountain to your left. POP POP POP and the bike dies as I barely climb the hill. Startled, I start it up again (reluctantly), nudge it into second, hit about 30 mph and POP POP dead. Oh man, I am fucked I thought. There was no way I could make it to El Paso, every time I hit some higher RPMs the bike would backfire insanely and then die. After a few minutes of cursing and generally behaving insanely (why wouldn’t I expect the 6th time to be different), I turned around and coasted down the hill to get Dan’s help.
The man was a saint and, while he couldn’t do anything for me, he knew a guy in town who he said was a “motorcycle genius, and he’s only 5 miles away, but he knocks off at 3:30 sharp so get moving,” and off I went. I eventually found the entrance Dan had described, crawled up a few dirt roads and ended up at Cycletek, where a man in shorts impatiently motioned me over, and as I pulled up, exclaimed “God damn your bike sounds loud as shit.”
This was how I met Ralph Delmar.
It was immediately apparent to me that Ralph knew what the fuck he was talking about, and had zero time for games, bullshit, and general malarkey, so we got to work. Or rather, he and his employee Darren got to work, while I sat around feeling generally useless snapping a few photos.
Ralph determined that the CCT, while not broken, had no more threads left so the bolt had popped loose, so he installed a helicoil and a replacement seal and reset the cam chain.
The leaking oil was due to a missing washer on each banjo bolt on the oil line. Yeah, not sure how I missed that one. And the noise? Well, that was due to the exhaust valves being insanely out of adjustment, so much so (yet so exact) that the local shop I took it to must have confused inches and millimeters when setting the clearances. Luckily, no major damage (so far).
Everything was finally sorted, and Ralph offered to let me camp out at his place that night, as there was no way I was getting out of Terlingua that night. The amount of stars you can see on his property is ridiculous, I’ve never seen that many, and sadly my poor astrophotograpy skills do not do the sight justice.
But, let’s back up a bit, because Ralph suggested a local place called La Kiva, which turned out to be a bar/restaurant built into the dirt, decorated with fossils and local knickknacks, and a giant copper kettle to piss in. It was, and is, completely awesome, and I know a number of friends back in Austin who would absolutely love the place and make it their local. And of course, the beers were on me.
And so, while finishing up my brisket calzone (it’s no Franklin’s) and a Big Bend Porter, I meet these two dudes, Curt and Bob a.k.a. Waldo and we get to chatting about Riding, specifically, Riding In Big Bend.
Bob’s from Illinois (an Illinoisian?) and comes down to Big Bend every winter, and this is Curt’s second (maybe third?) time in the area, but he rode with Bob last year. He’s a farmer from Iowa who has a badass Harley he uses for Iron Butt Association challenges when he’s not getting dirty in Big Bend.
Bob’s a bit of a local legend in the area, and has a motorcycle related story for every possible situation. He also rides something like 30,000 miles a year. Yeah, that’s a shit ton of miles.
They like my trip, and Curt was even down in Ushuaia many years ago, but rode north to Santiago. I tell them all about my plans, and my fears, about Baja and how I’m a bit nervous offroad and right then and there it’s decided that Bob and Curt are taking me riding the very next day, and damnit if we’re not doing River Road west to east (and some other roads I have forgotten the name of).
Anyway, not to ramble on, but here’s the GoPro outcome of my first forays into off-roading under the tutelage of Waldo, with Curt riding sweeper and generally helping me pick up my bike.
I could write a lot more about my new found love for Big Bend, Terlingua, and it’s residents, but we’re over 1200 words here on this blog post and most of you probably have skimmed past. If you’re ever in the area and need someone to ride with, find Waldo (he rides a KLX250). If you need to rent a bike, find the gracious Mr. Dan Dickie (and find him in Tennessee when it’s not winter). And if you need an honest and smart mechanic who also knows the backroads, talk to Ralph Delmar at Cycletek.
Thank you gentlemen, I still owe you one, and I surely can not wait to get back to that area of Texas again.
I’m currently in Yuma, and tomorrow I’ll be headed to Calexico/Mexicali to cross over into Baja. I’ve been living in the lap of hotel luxury here and taking care of a few maintenance issues as well. Seriously, the hotel gives you free beer at 5PM every day. But I suppose I owe a bit of an update for the last week, however boring it might be.
So, following Big Bend, Curt and I decided to ride together to El Paso, via Route 170 (a.k.a. “River Road”), which is easily one of the best motorcycling roads out there. Turn after turn greets you as you ride along the Rio Grande, encountering elevation drops as you pass through Lajitas and Presidio, eventually turning north to meet I-10, or, continuing on to Mexico. Curt was headed to San Diego to attempt an Iron Butt challenge, entitled “50cc,” whereby you ride coast to coast in 50 hours or less. If it sounds insane, that’s because it is; hopefully he’s made it! Anyway, a few photos from River Road:
Great ride, but we couldn’t take it all the way so headed north on 67, back to Marfa. Somehow I just can’t escape that town. On the way towards the highway, we passed a random Prada store, in the middle of nowhere. Pretty wild, and apparently an art installation.
Other than that, a pretty uneventful (and longish, ~340 miles) ride to El Paso where we crashed for the night in a Red Roof Inn. And I finally got to take a glorious shower.
The next day, I was keen to check out White Sands, for god knows what reason, and Curt figured he’d ride along too, having never been. The ride into New Mexico was extremely boring, just the straightest flattest road you’ve ever seen, the only saving grace being the extreme cold I experienced. An hour in I could barely feel my hands, the temperatures having dropped 20 degrees and the wind picking up as we approached the Sacramento mountains. I eventually had to stop at some random gas station, warm up my frozen digits over a hot dog warming machine and put on my winter gloves for the first time. Curt, being from Iowa, had his handy electric heated vest, and was quite content. Bastard.
Anyway, we eventually made it to White Sands, and wow, it’s fairly incredible. You ride in to the Tularoa basin, and in the middle are these massive gypsum dunes, the largest in the world. It’s very fine stuff, and can probably damage your electrical equipment, though, not as dangerous to cameras as Whitehaven Beach sand (p.s. I miss Australia).
After an hour or so of riding around, Curt and I split up. He wanted to see Death Valley before attempting his ride, and I decided to go see Roswell, NM.
How silly of me.
The ride to Roswell, while only 140 miles or so (and scenic), crawls through the Sierra Blanca mountains, passing by a number of Native American owned casinos. This is Apache land, and I find it odd that, while you pass by Tribal Bureau’s, you see scores of churches jutting up from the mountainsides. The worst part is the wind, and the cold. The wind races down the mountains, and as I ride from valley to valley the little DR650 is constantly subjected to gusts; the “strong crosswinds” signs are (again) no joke.
I eventually make it to Roswell, and…everything is closed. MLK day of course, even proprietors of alien artifacts take the day off. Cursing my poor decision I rent a decent room at a very affordable rate, debate my windy ride out the next day, and pass out. Skip Roswell if you’re ever in the neighborhood, that’s my advice. I did grab a nice breakfast at the Cowboy Cafe, and spotted this sweet truck.
The next day I’m determined to make some time and head to Tucson, non-stop. I rode and rode and rode, maybe some 500 miles or so, it was fairly uneventful. I will mention that I have never driven or ridden through so many Border Patrol checkpoints. At one point I turned off the highway (my GPS was set to avoid them) right before a checkpoint and was greeted not less than a mile down the road by two Border Patrol trucks, one blocking my lane and one on the shoulder. The agent put out his hand, and I guess I’ll never know if he was waving to me as a greeting, or to pull me over, because I was ~350 miles into my trip, the sun was setting, and I just blasted right by them. Maybe I’m on some list now?
Eventually ended up in Tucson, where I spent a day or two just sleeping, I hadn’t been feeling well as it was. I really contemplated going north to see the Grand Canyon, then through Vegas and Pahrump to Death Valley to see the stars, but, damnit, I was so tired of the cold so I decided to put on my new tires and head towards Yuma before crossing into Mexico.
I found a place a few miles north of my hotel, on the way towards Yuma who would spoon the tires on, and waited around a few hours for the task to be completed.
When it was done, well, they had a bit of surprise for me.
Apparently I had lost both rear caliper pins. These hold the brake pads in place, and would explain the sponginess I had been feeling the last day or two. I have no idea how they were lost; maybe they were never installed? Maybe someone took them (why)? Who knows. Ride Now wasn’t going to be able to get them ordered until Tuesday though (it being a Friday), so, I was out of luck.
Except. I had noticed a brand new DR650 out front, and after a few minutes and some cajoling asked, perhaps they could let me have those pins, and just add the new ones to my bill? Surely you don’t sell that many (they had just sold one last week). Well, an hour later, after going through the chain of command, the answer was yes, and they didn’t even charge me overnight shipping! Fantastic!
A few minutes later I was on my way, and then a few hours later, I’m in Yuma. I booked a room at the Clarion Suites, and grabbed a meal. Seriously though, this hotel is amazing. They give you two free adult beverages at 5PM everyday, the rooms are huge and only $70. What a country.
A quick note on Yuma, and southwest Arizona in general though. Never have I felt more unsafe riding around than in this city, and in this general area. The roads are filled with AARP members and Canadians, all hell-bent on driving their trucks in the slowest and most erratic manner possible, often just cutting across lanes, or pulling out of side streets with nary a glance to surrounding traffic. It must be the heat. It’s enough to a drive a man insane, and I’ve thrown curses from behind my matte black helmet multiple times a day. I spoke with my mom (hi mom) and she mentioned that apparently, as a youth, it was a possibility we would have perhaps lived in this god awful place. Can you imagine? I’m certain I would have shot someone due to road rage by now. Seriously, I’m sure some anti-Arabic jingoistic zealots may disagree with me, but the next time you’re in a conversation and someone offers up the “nuke ’em into glass” argument towards some Middle Eastern country, consider proffering Yuma as an alternative. We could easily relocate everyone who’s visiting and living here first, perhaps to Oman.
Tomorrow I go to Baja.
Satphone is activated.
I’ve got a handy card for the amazing people I’m going to meet.
And I just saw “Lone Survivor,” so I’m feeling pretty pumped up about this whole adventure.
My god, the septuagenarians are here for their free beer. It’s about time to wrap this post up, it’s going to get rowdy.
I crossed over into Baja through a border town whose name changes depending on what side of the border you’re on; in the U.S.A. it’s Calexico, south of the border it’s Mexicali. Either way, it’s what I imagine your typical border town is like; auto parts store and mini marts abound, and on the U.S. side multiple insurance companies dot the road leading to the crossing, a reminder that a policy is required lest you kill some poor sap.
Crossing the border couldn’t have been easier, the Mexican migración officers just wave you on by and then there you are, in Mexico. Immediately you’re greeted by rows and rows of farmacias on either side of the street (clearly for the medical vacationing gringo, and probably with gringo prices to boot), with the occasional drug addict (or maybe just a drunk) sat down on a street curb as taxi fleets consisting of what appears to be 1998 Mitsubishi Galants flit by, ever honking their horns in an attempt to pick up pedestrians.
I however, have other plans; in my prior research I found that, while you don’t need a tourist visa to hang out in Baja, you do need one should you cross to the mainland, and it’s a bit of a hassle to get one in La Paz (where the ferry departs from) so one may as well get one here, in Mexicali. I drive around the block a few times looking for some sort of “Migración” sign but, nada, and eventually stop at what appears to be a government building to ask where I can get my TVIP. Sadly, my naiveté has already gotten the better of me, as the four government employees have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. Eventually I get out of them that I need to head to the airport, which is about 20 miles away.
Of course, once I get to the airport, I quickly realize I have misunderstood these hombres; what I meant to understand was that the bureaucratic office I need was on the way to the airport, so I turn back around and head back towards Mexicali. There’s another border crossing east of the city, with scores of eighteen wheelers waiting to enter into the U.S. I ride past them, find the correct office, and begin the process of getting a tourist visa, which goes something like this:
Go to a small building for vehicle importations, and learn that you need a tourist visa.
Go to another building that handles tourist visas, and get your passport stamped, and a bill.
Go back to the first building and pay for your visa.
Return to the tourist visa office, and retrieve your passport.
Go back to the first building that issues temporary vehicle importation passes, pay a refundable $400 deposit and receive your papers, and you’re on your way!
Marvel at the efficiency of the Mexican bureaucracy, and ponder how many more steps there will be the further south you go.
This happened as well:
“Is Philip ******* ******* your name?”, the female officer asked me.
“Oh that won’t do”, she said, smiling, ” you are in Mexico now, you need a Mexican name.”
“No like Felipe, or Feliverte”, she giggled.
“Ahh si, Felipe. Wait, Feliverte? I never heard of that name before. Why is that funny?”
“It’s just funny”
I still have no idea why.
Anyway, paperwork was in order, and it was time to mosey down to San Felipe, a desert town on the Sea of Cortez. Not sure what to expect, I took the MEX 5 south, a two hour journey through increasingly rural areas. The roads are well-paved, if not boringly straight. There were some sights, though I didn’t manage to get as many pictures as I wanted as I was still struggling with all my camera gear.
Eventually I wearily pulled into San Felipe, and scouted for hotels. With names like El Capitan and El Cortez, I settled on a particularlyMexican joint named Caribe Hotel, that had a courtyard where I could secure my motorcycle.
I sadly did not spend a lot of time in San Felipe, and in hindsight I should have spent a day exploring. You ride into town through the main road, with small grocery stores and mechanic shops lining the streets until you reach the Malecon (boardwalk), and the Sea of Cortez. On the Malecon are the majority of restaurants, and when I say majority I mean maybe ten to fifteen; so far I’ve had to reevaluate what I believe “a lot” or “large city” mean with regards to my worldview.
Anyway, here’s a typical room you’ll get for 500 pesos.
I crashed pretty hard, had some huevos rancheros the next morning, and headed towards Puertocitos.
Eager to see the ‘real’ Baja, I awoke at a blisteringly early 10AM, shoveled some huevos rancheros into my mouth and hopped onto the MEX5 south towards Puertocitos.
MEX5 is littered with good ideas shot dead by the recession. Worn billboards line the roads, their sun-faded lettering extolling the latest and greatest parcels of land for sale, or a new hotel opening up last spring.
The road, as well, quickly becomes a bit rougher, ever present sand dunes continuing their steady march more and more inland. It’s still completely drivable of course (and easily), I mention it merely because some Americans more used to the highways of our country might be in for a bit of surprise.
The ride is mostly uneventful, though I have my first experience with vados, the Mexican solution to road floods. While Baja is extremely arid, it does rain at times, and the area is known to flood during high rainfall (as was the case in 2012 with Hurricane Paulie Cicero). So what the Mexicans have done, is create dips in the road that allow the water to flow towards lower elevations.
These can be properly terrifying when they are not marked, and they are often not (though more times they are on major thoroughfares), and will work your suspension over like a fat man on a pogo stick. Luckily, local gringos will often take matters into their own hands to warn fellow travelers of upcoming vados.
I continued on, through the desert scrub that makes up this land. The mind can play tricks on you at times, as the road is very straight and the surrounding area begins to look a bit alien to a traveller, but a quick glance towards the coastline and, sanity regained, you’ll see many homes that have been built by locals and gringos.
Eventually I made it to Puertocitos, well, at least the outskirts, and came across this sign, and, while taking pictures, was stopped by a gringo curious about my motorcycle.
“You long distance riders are crazy man, where are you going?” I told him my short story so far, and he mentioned I should stop at a place called Cowpatty’s for a “beer and hotdog.” Only in Baja. Feeling peckish, I decided, what the hell. A mile later, I’m at the cow shit bar.
There’s a lot to look at it, and judging by the race team stickers appears to be a pretty popular place on the Baja 1000 circuit.
I find the owner (Richard), tending bar, order a beer and a dog and we start conversating. He tells me that there’s not much to see in Puertocitos, and I should keep riding as it’s only 1PM and I can easily make it to Gonzaga Bay, a much prettier place with a store (a store!). He also tells me a bit about the place, how he’s planning on having a Super Bowl party here and that I should definitely not stay here because everyone is an old gringo. As if on cue, they start filtering in from their surrounding beach homes for a mid-day beer and some conversation.
One thing I have noticed is that these transplants are a tight knit group and not keen on carrying on conversations with travellers, unlike the locals. I’m not sure if it’s due to a generational divide or the climate, or perhaps something else, but it reminds me of the Portland Freeze. Anyway, I pay Richard, leave him a tip, and head out towards Gonzaga Bay, passing through Puertocitos for some gas. He was right, there really is not much there (apparently some hot springs but those are everywhere), but it’d be nice for a day trip I’m sure.
The road to Gonzaga Bay is much more interesting.
While paved, it begins to snake through the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir Peninsular Range, a feature I was not expecting when I first rode into Baja. Along the way volcanic rocks jut through the Sea of Cortez, defiant through the ages as always.
Excitingly, my friend Mr. High Brown Pants Moment Crosswinds has decided to join me as well, so I don’t have too many pictures of the ride towards the Bay. The sun was setting as well, and I was not relishing the possibility of riding at night in high wind traffic. No sir.
As luck would have it, the road ends, due to construction. It turns out, the MEX5 is still under construction, and past Gonzaga Bay it’s all offroad until you rejoin with the MEX1 further central to Baja. It’s also here that there exists a military checkpoint. Because why wouldn’t there be a checkpoint on a dirt road?
I eventually get to Gonzaga Bay, which is nothing more than a crescent of sand, a Pemex gas station, and a store/restaurant. Numerous fishing vessels sit offshore, as Gonzaga is a small fishing village, though these are clearly commercial and I’m not sure where they dock.
On the beach I camp under a palapa, which has the exorbitant price of 250 pesos for wind protection, or 120 without. I opt for with, and damn, I sure am glad I do.
It’s been a long day, so I eat some tacos at the store, head back to the beach with few cervezas, and am treated to a nice sunset over the bay.
And then the wind picks up to about 50mph.
I huddle in my tent as the sand begins to pile up inside the palapa and around the tent, finishing off my cervezas and listening to some tunes. I’m pretty thankful I went for the wind barrier, I can’t imagine what my night would have been like in that weather without it.
Coco’s Corner sits in the middle of nowhere, Baja, but at the center of every road. It’s a cartographic oddity that such a place would be so famous when it’s so far off the beaten track, but perhaps that’s why it is so famous.
Rocks are spray painted with black lettering and a simple arrow on your way towards Coco’s along the gravel and sand road at random intervals. When you arrive you’re greeted by a fenced camp, decorated with thousands of beer cans that clink softly in the desert wind.
Other decorations abound as well, some junk, some handpicked mementos of other travelers.
If you’d like to stay a while, some abandoned campers are also available to spend the night in; while there I spoke with a guy who was pedaling a three-wheeled bicycle around Baja with his two cats and three dogs. He had been there three days, as, you can imagine, it’s not very easy to tricycle your way through sand and gravel.
The man himself, Coco, is actually named Jorge Enrique Corral Sandez, however in Mexico it’s common for people named Enrique (Henry) to go by Coco. Coco is a man of bawdy language and no legs, and will gladly invite you into his home for a beer or two. He’s been a staple of Baja for many years, having first opened up this place in 1990. It’s now a required (well, pretty much) stop for all Baja racers doing their pre-running, and all travelers as well.
When you arrive, he asks you what kind of beer you want, whips out his signature book and starts filling in the details; your name, where you’re from, a message, and a hand-drawn picture of the vehicle you arrived in. There must be thousands of signatures in the book by now.
While chatting with Coco, a Mexican family showed up and joined me. You see, the inside of the restaurant/lounge area is decorated as well.
Panties, panties everywhere. Among the myriad of dirt bike stickers, photos of racers and Coco are the underwear of many a female traveler and racer, all signed and dated of course.
I bring up the family because we all started enjoying our cervezas while Coco bantered back in forth in Spanish, and I grinned and laughed along like a silly gringo. I understood a bit, and while Coco kept it up the matriarch and I got to talking, and pretty soon I realized she was trying to pawn her daughter off on me, the great white motorcycle adventurer. “She loves motos,” she said. This was to be my first (but not last) marriage offering.
Anyway, Coco eventually convinced the daughter to staple up a pair of her underwear to the ceiling of the room, much to our amusement.
Coco grabbed his trusty Panty Ladder and had one of the other guys help him stand it up, while the daughter proceeded to climb to the top and do the deed.
I checked my watch and decided I needed to head out, so I said goodbye to my new friends and my potential new wife (her mother told me they’d be staying at a hotel behind the market in Guerrero Negro, so of course come find them when I arrived), and headed towards Bahia de Los Angeles.
Coco let me know I would have problems finding lodging, as the Baja 200 was underway, but I was fairly certain I could find a spot. Sadly I wouldn’t arrive until too late so I was unable to view the race.
The ride was fairly straight most of the way, though as you approached the bay and dipped through the mountains the ride got much more twisty and exciting. There’s even a salt flat as you approach the town, but sadly I was having way too much fun riding and didn’t take too many photos.
Bahia de Los Angeles is laid out like any other beach town, with hotels and restaurants lining the street and facing the ocean, and the locals living a bit further off. I rode a bit further out and found a campground about 1 km from the town, an easy walk and easier ride if needed.
I pulled into a small campground, lined with palapas and a few RVs, with a house on the other end.
There I met who I can only assume was Daggett, a larger Mexican man fast asleep on a kitchen table and his pleasant wife who took my 130 pesos and gave me a place to set up my tent.
Then I headed into town to grab a bite to eat.
Eventually I made it back, stared at the vast expanse that is the visible galaxy (and it truly is visible compared to most places in the U.S.) and fell asleep.
Not before attempting to use the bathroom, and high-tailing it out of there once I met the current occupant.
Eager to move on from Bahia de Concepcion, I woke up fairly early-ish, ate a quick bite of something I can’t remember and went to gas up. I was wanting to do a bit more off road riding and noticed a nice long dirt road that would take me through the mountains along the coast, eventually swinging west towards Guerrero Negro, my ultimate endpoint for the day.
I should mention that this lovely AAA map was donated by a grand couple who stayed in the camp site next to me at Daggett’s. They had an extra one, and though it was 10 years old were very happy to give it to me. Sadly I don’t remember their names, but I do remember being quite stunned by how happy this elderly couple seemed to be after all these years. Then off they went to go kayak across the bay. Those crazy Boomers.
Pulling into the Pemex station, I saw this technological marvel.
Anyway, after fueling up I talked to this guy, Donnie Williamson, and asked him about the route.
As you can see, Donnie is also from Austin, TX and a huge Longhorns fan. He even provided my bike with some much needed Austin bling.
Donnie mentioned that the road was pretty torn up after the previous days Baja 200 race, and it would take me most of the day to get through heavy deep sand, the kind of stuff that makes professional Baja riders cry. I should mention that Donnie was hoppin’ around madly, as I found out he was late to return back to Austin by a few days. So we parted ways and I started back whence I came towards MEX1. About 20 minutes in I noticed a sign to some mission called San Borja, flipped around on the road and stopped at the sign.
Well damn it, I have this amazing map, let me actually look at it and see if I can cut across the desert, and what do you know I surely could. It would be a few miles but it would be fun as all hell, I knew that much. So off I charged down a road made of rocks and Baja dirt. I don’t have many pictures of this time, but I did meet some Gaucho’s headed towards the highway. At this time I stopped and turned on the GoPro, to record an epic ride.
One of a few signs pointing the way.
Here’s video of the ride, including me crashing after I hit some rocks. Which was actually pretty fun, and I imagine it always is whenever you don’t get hurt (thanks Alpinestars!).
Eventually I got to the mission.
Of course it was closed for renovations.
I’ll spare you all the rest of the details but needless to say I enjoyed a very boring and straight ride before ending up in Guerrero Negro.
So, I arrive in Guerrero Negro on Sunday, February 2nd. For those of you keeping track, that is (or was) Superbowl Sunday. The game hadn’t started yet so I was keen to find a decent hotel and clean up before finding some poor bartender and badgering him to change the channel; luckily things worked out. Initially I tried to book a room at the Malarrimo Motel, but they were full up; so I went across the street to Hotel Los Caracoles, which I believe means Hotel of the Snail People. Either way, score, because they accepted credit cards.
Anytime I can save some pesos and not have to go hit an ATM I jump at the chance. Mostly because my Chase Sapphire card is the bees knees when it comes for travel rewards, things like hotels, restaurants, etcs.
Before unpacking it was time to do a bit of maintenance. Most don’t tell you about this boring part of the adventure but it’s key to keep your gear in tip top shape, and it’s much easier to sort out problems in larger cities like Guerrero Negro than it is in the middle of the Baja desert. The bike was fine, but in my haste I broke off a key in one of the pannier locks. I freaked out for a minute but managed but managed to fish it out with some needle nose pliers on my Leatherman.
Sadly, my Geigerrig bag melded with the exhaust tank at some point during the ride to Guerrero Negro (I thought I smelled burning plastic but figured my wreck had merely caused a small stroke). Still worked though!
Cleaning up, I headed over to the Malarrimo to catch the game.
There, I practiced my Spanish with Ricardo, because someone needs to help this poor gringo translate “how surreal is it to watch NFL in Spanish” or “what a beatdown!”
They have excellent ceviche by the way.
Those poor Broncos never had a chance against that Seahawk defense. Anyway, a few beers later, I went back to the hotel and fell asleep. I had a big day planned the next morning; whale watching!
The tour was set up by the hotel, and it seems most do this sort of thing in Guerrero Negro; price was around $650 pesos ($48USD at the time of this post) for those of you who are curious.
A van showed up, myself and three Mexicans hopped in and off we headed out to the bay to check out some whales.
To get there you have to drive through a massive saltworks operation, which was dutifully explained by the guide.
Fifteen minutes of this and we eventually arrive at the docks, and board a panga. While the van guide was able to speak some English, I was on my own on the water, but no big deal as we were just watching the whales.
Turns out there were about 1500 whales in the bay, mostly mothers and their calves but also some adult whales. And man, they were everywhere. You could look in any direction and see at least two or three at any time. Mostly they just surfaced to breathe, but at times they would slap their tales and sometimes even fully breach the water. You can read more about whale surface behavior here.
Sadly, it turns out that the grey whale is a bit of jerk when posing for photographs. Of the 200 photos I took, most look like this:
I didn manage to capture this little guy right by our panga though! Too far to touch him though, but others have pet whales. Not, as pets, mind you, but physically pet them. I suppose you could have an actual pet whale, you’d need a big aquarium though.
And some, decent video of a mother and her calf grabbing some fresh air.
After four hours though, you get it: they’re whales, and baby whales. We headed back and stopped by a sea lion colony for a few moments as well. A word of caution: sea lions reek. Go stand at a fish market in the blazing sun for a few hours and multiply this stench by 1037.4, and you’ll get the general idea of what my olfactory senses went through.
Back on land, we docked, boarded the van and headed back to the hotel. I ate some excellent shrimp.
Did some shopping.
And kept in contact with some friends back at home before calling it a night.
The following day was going to be a lot of highway riding.
Guerrero Negro was fun, but I was ready to check out what Baja Sur has to offer. For those that are unaware, Baja is divided into two states (and contrary to the gentleman on the jet ski in Bahia de Los Angeles, both are Mexican states). Baja Norte is generally a bit more mountainous and colder (and wetter, as far as the peninsula goes), whereas Baja Sur is the beach party that most AARP members and spring breakers go to visit.
I jumped back on the MEX1 and headed southeast, eventually ending up in San Ignacio. It’s an oasis in the middle of the Baja desert, surrounded by palm trees that the Jesuit missionaries planted many moons ago. People mostly come to visit the mission and watch the whales, but during race season there is one place they stop: Rice & Beans.
Had I wanted to stay longer I probably would have rented a room, as the owner, another Ricardo runs a tight ship, and you could seriously do a lot worse from what I’ve heard. There’s a ton of Baja race schwag around the place as well.
Anyhoozle, I wolfed down some fish tacos, my staple meal so far, chatted for a while and then continued on.
You’ll have to excuse me as I’m writing this a week or two after it happened, and have forgotten much of what happened in the interim. I do recall the ride from San Ignacio to Santa Rosalia was pretty enjoyable, with eleveation changes and some switchback turns around, but alas I have but one picture. It was from a gas up I made outside of Santa Rosalia where I ran into a British couple driving this MAN monstrosity. These things are so cool, the Mad Max versions of RV campers world wide!
We chatted for a few, they were in search of an ATM and I mentioned I was on my way to Mulegé and there was certainly one there. Then, off I blasted, eventually finding my way into the town, and, after a few minutes driving around booked a room at the La Hacienda hotel for 250 pesos a night. That’s $18 kids.
The best part? They let you pull the bike into the courtyard, so it’s pretty secure, not that there is any crime in Mulegé, or most of Baja as I have found so far.
All in all, I spent 3 days in Mulegé? Maybe 2, I don’t recall. Most of the time was spent updating this blog and walking the streets, as Mulegé is a beautiful town of about 4,000 in the Baja, and only 10 miles from the beautiful Bahía de Concepción. This explains the large elderly gringo population as well, both snowbirds and residents.
I made a few friends while there.
Though at times, those friends didn’t get along so well with others.
Saw some nice views while jogging around (gotta keep in shape!)
And even managed to eat some ribs at El Cantil, a bar owned by an Oregonian named Scotty who has been in Mulegé since 1995. Sometimes, you’re just kind of done with fish tacos.
At El Cantil, I managed to meet the lovely Bell couple, who live in Mexico and travel around in their VW Westfalia (as many seem to do here). Originally from Canada, Bill and Dorothy run a website dedicated driving around Mexico, updating members of road conditions, potential issues, and any number of other snafus one might encounter south of the border. We shared a beer together and I absorbed all their recommendations of places to visit once I hit the mainland. Great folk those two.
Sorry this is so short, but all in all it was a much needed relaxing time to keep the blog up to date, and I don’t really recall too much else during this time.