Sunday, April 20, 2014

Baja April 2014

The Riders



The Bikes

Lew - 2013 KTM 690 Enduro R

Charlie - 2001 Honda XR650R

The Gear

We both were running with Giant Loops, full camping gear, tools, food, extra water, oil, etc. My full pack is listed here:

The Route

Link -


1464.9 Miles
8 Days
0 Flats

Getting There

We headed out late Friday for an unknown hotel in the border town of Jamul. Charlie having just gotten back the night before at 1am barely had a chance to pack or prepare. We threw his rushed preparations in the back of the truck. Actual packing would have to wait until morning. Bikes loaded up. We get on the road. 

There were two other guys with similar plans to ours that we were hoping to meet up with later that night and head over the border with the next morning. Those two guys were Nico and Ken riding a brand new KTM 690 and a KTM 640 Adventure.

All was going well until we hit the hills going into LA and the truck started to lose power. It was due for a fuel filter and luckily Charlie brought one. We swapped in the new filter but with no change. We could still however go 55 miles per hour so we pushed on.

We got to the hotel late, after 2am. Charlie, having not slept long the night before, needed some extra sleep. We slept until 9:30 and let the other guys go ahead about 30 mins or so, hoping to catch up with them at the border or some point on day 1.

As the road started to get narrower and windier towards the border we were becoming less certain the truck would make it with power continually decreasing. We stopped at a RV park 18 miles from the border just south of Jamul. We were told on the phone we could park our truck there but when we arrived we were told that we'd have to come back tomorrow. 

We googled some solutions and tried to remove air from the fuel lines but that just exacerbated the problem. We also tried to bypass a fuel filter near the gas tank thinking that might be clogged. After our "fixes" the truck could barely hit 10 mph.

Eventually we gave in and called AAA. We dropped the bikes, loaded the truck and trailer on the flatbed and headed off to find a diesel mechanic.

The mechanic was closed so we said, "fuck it". Charlie packed his gear. We left a note for the mechanic, got dressed, we left the keys under the mat and tucked the trailer in front of the truck and headed for the border. 

After crossing the border a little after 4pm we headed into the office to get our visas. I asked the guy if my visa from last time was still valid. He pretended that it was an issue that I didn't "return" my last visa and that I wasn't going to be allowed in. He ask me for $27 to make the problem go away. Eventually I handed him a 10 dollar bill. He kept repeating, "no problem" and "man to man". Pretty sure he'd get in a lot more trouble than me for that little maneuver. 

Then we headed east of Tecate to Ojos Negro's, a dirt road that runs south toward route 3 between Ensenada and Valle de Trinidad. It became pretty clear that with our late start we were going to make it to our first planned stop in San Felipe. Ojos Negro's isn't far enough off the beaten path to camp and it was rapidly getting dark. I knew of a decent hotel in Valle de Trinidad so we decided to try and do some night riding and push on to there. I was really enjoying the night dirt riding along this fast flowing dirt road that is part of the Baja 1000. 

Ojos Negro's dumped us out into a little town that was having some sort of farmers market. Was hopping for a little village and we got some tacos. 

We bombed the last 30 miles on highway to the hotel in Valle de Trinidad. Safe to say Charlie was pretty happy to see a bed.

Catching Up

Next we went into catchup mode. Original plan, which didn't even make it to Mexico, was to be in San Felipe night 1 and then Bahia de LA night 2. So we were determined to make it to Bahia today. However, I didn't want to skip the dry lake bed, shorten the route or ride on the highway. We were in for a long day. 

Valle de Trinidad to San Felipe via Dry Lake Bed

We headed west to the dry lake bed just east of San Felipe. We dropped in from the highway to the north. And before lunch we were in the lake bed.

In the middle of this lake bed, which is in the middle of nowhere, is a house. Living in this house is a guy named Jose. Jose has a cooler and he sells cold beers and sodas. Of course we had to stop and say hi and get a cold drink!

We then went out through a sandy road to San Felipe. Made it into San Felipe before 1pm. However, our day was just getting started. We barely waved to San Felipe as we flew by on the highway south. Next stop, Coco's Corner, about 140 miles south of San Felipe. After we gassed up and Charlie found a unique way to cool off, we pushed on. 

San Felipe to Coco’s

The ride down to Coco's was uneventful. We gassed up in Gonzaga and then did the 30 mile dirt stretch to Coco's. 

When we got there Coco already had a log entry for us in his famous book, it simply said, "14-04-2014 2 Motos". The date was wrong, it was the 13th and Coco was drunk. He asked me to get him a coke because he said, "I have no legs." He then poured a healthy amount of rum into it, gave us some bad directions and told us to slow down if we wanted to see our mothers again.

Coco's to Bahia de LA

We headed north out of Coco's at around 5:30 for the more difficult and fun route out. Coco said that we could make it to the road in 1.5hrs. He overestimated us. The wash turned out to be very difficult for us and the first very deep sand of the trip, plus we were starting to get tired. However, the terrain was very cool and varied. Some green sections, some sand, some dessert, some river bed, some cactuses, a bit of everything. Due to our tight schedule we didn't stop too often to take pictures.

Then we started crashing. Charlie was the first to discover how fun it is. And in the process he found a mud hole and also managed to get pinned under his bike until I was able to lift it off of him. If gas wasn't spewing out of his tank I would have taken a picture because it was hilarious.

I decided to follow in Charlie's footsteps not but moments after he had taken off. I too got stuck under my bike. But I had to wait until Charlie noticed I wasn't behind him because we lost comms. 

We continued on through deep deep sand. It was very challenging and tiring and we were both getting tired. Then we hit a trail split and chose to go left the same way we make all of our choices on which way to go, complete guess. About a mile later we ran into a sign that said Federal Land - Prohibited. The sign was rather large. There were a few more off-shoot trails and after spending a lot of time and energy turning around and trying them all we started to run out of light. We decided that the easiest and shortest way out was probably through the federal land so we decided just to go for it. To make matters worse, during all this turning around in deep sand Charlie dropped his bike starter side causing his starter to be intermittent the rest of the trip...lucky it's also a kickstart!

Another 45mins to an hour was spent riding through dusk to complete darkness through a narrow, sandy, whoopee trail with a fair amount of hills and turns. Charlie employed a few unplanned dismounts to test out how deep the sand was. Turns out it was still deep. Eventually we were approaching the main road to take us into Bahia de LA and I think for the first time in my life but not the last time on this trip I was praying for pavement. Luckily for us it was paved all the way to Bahia.

After we entered Bahia we took a quick pass of the town looking for Nico and Ken. After not finding them we went to Guillermo's, a popular moto hotel/restaurant. We got ourselves fed and then we tucked our bikes in for bed.

Borja with Kasia and Marcin

Bahia to Borja

At Guillermo's we met a group of Baja racers...ex winners and solo-ers of the Baja 1000. They said they were heading out west through Borja and then further west to the coast before heading back to Santa Rosalia on the east coast. That seemed ambitious for us, seeing as they were pro's on light bikes. I was considering taking a southern route through San Francisquito and then down to Santa Rosalia. Either way was a good 200 mile day. The dirt bikers headed out before 8am, half of my group took their sweet time getting ready and we weren't going to get on the road until closer to 11. 

While I waited I took some photo's of Guillermo's:

While waiting for Charlie to get ready I decided to take another sweep of the town looking for Nico and Ken. I didn't find them but I met a pair of two up riders on a DR from Poland named Kasia and Marcin. They said they were going through Borja. So then I thought, "how hard could it be if a two up bike is going through it." I met back up with Charlie and we decided to go through Borja. 

We quickly caught up to the DR on the trail and waived on our way by but barely slowed down as we were in rip it mode. For some reason we decided to charge down this rocky narrow 2 track barely wide enough for a truck. I started having a bit too much fun and then I hit a rock which sent my rear end bouncing to the right. It proved too much of a shunt for me to recover from and I went down after only being able to scrub 10 mph or so. Luckily I got thrown clear and walked away with only a bruised shoulder. Unfortunately, I broke off my GPS and heated grip switch on my left handlebar. After that we continued on to Borja at a slightly slower pace.

We got to Borja and fixed my bike by cannibalizing Charlie's cell phone mount to mount my GPS and rerouting my heated grip switch. I also straightened out my front end and adjusted my suspension and pulled my giant loop forward a little to try to avoid any future unwanted tail whips. 

As I was sorting my bike charlie was messing with his gear when he noticed that he lost a shoe. Then he noticed he lost his u-lock. Then he noticed he lost his water bottle. The shoe would be a motif for the rest of the trip!

After I got my bike sorted. The very nice owner of the ranch that is now what remains of this old mission took us around for a tour.

Charlie and I made a taco bet about how long it would take our DR friends to make it to Borja. They made it not too long after we finished our tour, we chatted a bit about their trip before we headed off. You can read about their travels here: They have been traveling for over 2 years and have just completed 5k miles through the US!

Borja to the West Coast

We then headed west toward Rosalita through more rocky 2 track. 

After Rosalita went tucked back into the woods until popping out 30 miles north of Guerrero Negro at a beach. When we got over the small dunes on the back of the beach we were greeted by this view and this gentle fellow.

Charlie - "Is that a dead whale?!?"

Me - "Get pictures of me wheeling around it!"

I then tried to take a picture with my bike in front of it and just before I snapped the pic my kickstand dug in and the bike fell over. Funny enough it looks as though my bike was trying to imitate the whale. Even more hilarious is the fact that the impact into soft sand bent my hand guard into my clutch lever rendering the bike useless until I readjusted everything. 

We then goofed off for the next hour ripping up down the beach looking for a way back inland further south. We headed a good 10-15 miles down the beach before we realized we couldn't get out that way and had to back track back up the beach with a rapidly incoming tide.

It was now mid afternoon and we had yet to eat. Santa Rosalia, back over on the east coast, seemed like a haul so we decided to stop for lunch and plan it out. We decided to just head to Guerrero Negro for the night and then back to the east coast the following day. Then who walks in the little taco shop we stopped at? Kasia and Marcin. 

We ate lunch with them and then we rode together to Guerrero Nego where they were also staying. We all got cleaned up and then hit the town for some beers and tacos!

Guerrero Negro to San Francisquito

In the morning we met up with Kasia and Marcin for breakfast.

Then went to the bank to pay our visas where armed guards escorted rich people to and from the bank. Also, their banks are like our DMV's, crowded and you have to take a number and there are seats until you get called. Everything seemed like a hassle for them.

For this day I mapped out a route completely dirt from Guerrero Negro to San Rafael (a tiny fishing village) where we planned to camp for the night. We were going to be doing over 180 miles before we got back to Bahia for fuel. In theory our bikes should get over 200 miles on easy dirt. Almost immediately we ended up in this deer conservation area where it was clear we couldn't get out. 

By the time we got back to the road to go around I figured we were down 30 miles or so. But we'd have to go 80 miles out of our way to get gas to start all over so we decided to push on. Luckily for us, the riding was easy and fast all day. We proceeded to ride mile after mile of washboard dirt road until we go to the turn off for San Francisquito. 

Then just before heading out to San Francisquito we decided to pull up at the intersection of two trails to see if Nico and Ken where going to be coming through. 

And then wild burrows appeared...

And then a wild Nico appeared...

We all rode into San Francisquito for lunch and to trade stories. We ate amazing fish tacos and Charlie and I were considering staying the night there but the flies were just too much.

The mystery of how we missed Nico and Ken on our way down was now revealed. Turns out we had passed them in San Felipe were they chose to take a dirt road running parallel to the pavement into Gonzaga bay. They got to Gonzaga bay maybe 15 mins after had left for Coco's when we were still trying to "catchup" and get to Bahia.

We split a gallon of gas we bought from a guy who lived there just to be sure we had no problems getting to Bahia as we had already done over 150 miles on our tanks.

San Francisquito back to Guillermo's

We headed out at around 4pm still with the goal of getting to San Rafael to camp. Mostly uneventful ride there with some cool canyons/mountains to ride through. We got there by 5pm and the little fishing village was neat but neither of us felt like pitching our tents there and we decided that we'd head back to Bahia for the night. 

On our way through the fishing village we rode down on the beach. With Charlie in the lead, he rode toward the flock of birds that were taking up the entire width of the beach. Fully expecting the birds to fly away before we got close we barely scrubbed any speed. The birds flew away, or at least most of them, the small ones. Then there was Pete the Pelican hidden among the smaller white birds...he panicked, tried to take flight but Pete was not a nimble bird. Upon realizing that he wasn't going to make it he dodged to Charlie's left right into my path, I tossed my bike hard right and hoped for the sand to grip. About to run over Pete's left wing as he stared straight at me he tucked it in at the last second. I raised my leg as it soared just centimeters above his head. Close call!

After that near hit we were treated with a nice sunset over the mountains as we meandered the rest of the way to Bahia. We also saw a number of coyote's just off the trail doing their thing.

We hit Bahia de LA just after dark with over 200 miles on our odometers for the day!

After searching around for a camping spot neither of us could think of a good reason to pitch a tent after a 200 mile day with a perfectly good hotel room right next to us. So we checked back into Guillermo's, got cleaned up and headed into town for some food. Charlie was pretty excited about some food and mine came in a duck!

Back West

In the morning we sent our clothes to be washed and charlie made coffee from unground beans.

We spent some time that morning going over our bikes. Cleaning our chains, tightening down bolts. Charlie had already lost the bolt that holds his seat and after 100+ miles of washboard the day earlier I was sure things were rattled loose. I found a number of bolts that needed re-lock-tight-ing and torquing. I also adjusted my forks and worked on my suspension more. A curious cat hung out the entire time.

We headed back towards Borja but this time to find a different trail that ran west further to the north. We would take this difficult, overgrown 2 track all the way to the coast. 

About a mile into the road to Borja we came across a car, it was a regular sedan type deal. Then about a half mile later we came across two well tanned american guys in flip flops walking away from the car and deeper into the rocky road toward Borja. I stopped and asked them what they were doing. They said, quite confidently, "Borja is just a mile up this road. Our car couldn't make it any further so we are just going to walk the rest of the way." The tone of his voice made it seem to me like he was giving me directions. I told him that I stopped to make sure they were ok. I then explained to them that Borja was at least another 15 miles and it took us over 30 mins on our bikes. He then complained to me, "Well they don't tell you how far anything is. I guess we will go back then." I got a kick out of that but I think ultimately they got really lucky. They might have been in for a miserable afternoon complete with some nice dehydration issues as they didn't have water with them.

Shortly after that we turned off the used road onto the trail that would take us to the coast. It proved to be pretty difficult, winding through the desert with cactuses encroaching on the unused trail. I caught one firmly on my right leg, knocking my foot off my peg and back into my rear side rack with the cactus exploring green goo all over my leg and pack. Charlie was fortunate enough to hit the same cactus, fortunately for him I think I weakened it with my first blow.

A few turns later I found a rock buried in sand that caused me to go down at speed and sent me over the handlebars ripping my pants and bruising my inner thigh. Charlie, who wasn't too far behind me, too focused on my crash also lost it in the same sand and maybe just for solidarity he crashed too. Also, somehow I crashed a flower into my plastics.

Eventually the trail yielded to a nice big graded road north of Bahia Blanca with views of the ocean.

The graded road ran across the coast and off in the distance we saw some pretty cool looking sand dunes. We went to go check them out but not before chasing some burrows. 

Our next detour would be to do some more beach riding!

And then more talco and deep sand before getting to Punta Blanca. I rode into a ditch but didn't fall over myself so it doesn't count as a crash. Meanwhile, Charlie discovered that going down in the silt is a great way to get dirty!

Then Charlie wanted to demonstrate the proper way to get through silty washes.

When we got to Punta Blanca I was a little underwhelmed. It was a small fishing camp. However, there was a single house on the hill above the beach. Living there were two retired americans who built a little vacation house up there. They told us about another beach and cove just a little further north. As we were talking we noticed dolphins out swimming in the cove. 

When we got further north to the cove the couple recommended us I think it is safe to say we were overwhelmed! 

After quickly making camp we went for a walk along the beach to check out the anhinga's.

Camped, cooked food but couldn't have a fire because there was nothing around to burn. Early to bed and an early start tomorrow...we were going to need it.

Back East and The Gas Incident

The next morning I was greeted by dolphins swimming in the bay! I got up early, made a hot breakfast and tea before repacking my pack. The night before we realized how bad things were getting beat up in our packs. Not to mention a cactus had punctured Charlie's sleeping pad. Oh and by the way Charlie is still missing a shoe at this point...I'm not sure if 20 mins went by where I wasn't reminded of that fact.

A little shoutout to the provider of the music the night before.

On our way out and back northeast we took yet another detour to some sand dunes.

Our plan was to take the northern pass out to Cataviña to get gas and then figure it out from there. So far we have just over 100 miles on our tanks. The way out I have calculated at under 70 miles. We were both looking for a lower key day so I tried to stick to the truck tracks and go out the way the fisherman go. I also knew gas was going to be a little tight because the riding the day before was fairly hard so I wanted to find the shortest route out. 

In the beginning everything was going super easy. Nice, well used, single lane truck road albeit sometimes sandy we were making good progress, at least for a while. Then before I even really noticed the path was getting much more difficult and I realized all the truck tracks were gone. We thought about turning around but we didn't know how far we'd have to back track and gas was going to be tight. Seeing as there still were moto tracks we decided to just tough it out. How hard could it be? At most it was another 35 miles.

The going started to get rocky?

And steep.

And worse the trail kept switchbacking onto itself. Quickly realized that we weren't making any progress on our remaining 45 miles to the road. Every 10 miles we'd go and the GPS might say we'd gone 5. We pushed on hoping it would ease up. 

How long could it last? Looking at the GPS closer I started to think that we weren't going to get through this anytime soon. But now it was far too late to turn around. 

Then my fuel light comes on. But that can't be right...I had only gone 145 miles so far. Charlie is yet to switch over to his reserve but he doesn't think he has much gas left. Mercifully the rocks let up but unfortunately it immediately turned to deep sand which is even worse for fuel milage. It's also now getting hot and we are getting fatigued from mile after mile of rocks and sand. 

We are starting to consider options like pooling all the gas into one bike and going off to get gas but I worry that even that bike might not make it, the trail is dangerous to go alone and getting back to the bike left behind might not happen until the next day. We decide to run both bikes for a bit longer, there are some ranches (or so we think) coming up...maybe they will have gas. 

First ranch is deserted. We take a break. Charlie finds a left O'Neil surf bootie that he takes in case we have to hike out. We check Charlie's gas, I estimate he has a gallon left. I figure I have under a gallon now with my fuel light being on for a while. We decide to push on to the next ranch.

The next ranch is more of the same thing. Now I am starting to really worry. We have over 30 miles until the road still as the crow flies. That's a multiday hike. And it still feels like mile after miles goes by and we aren't making any progress. 

Finally we hit a stretch of open desert and a little harder packed trail. Its short lived though and soon after Charlie has to switch over to his reserve. I'm now well into my reserve and Charlie doesn't know how big his reserve is. At least now it seems we have made some progress. I estimate we are only 10 miles away from intersecting the fisherman route and then another 10 miles to the road. We figure if we can get both bikes to the fisherman road then we might get lucky and be able to flag someone down.

More rocks.

More and more deep sand and then more rocks and then finally it happens. We crash. Charlie this time and as always his bike leaks gas on its side. It was a miracle we had gone that many miles over this stuff without an off. We decide to take a good breather. 

The cactuses there were really cool. 

We go about another 5 or 6 miles through a deep sandy wash when we spot a Caterpillar excavator, we both say, "damn, diesel", but we figure it's probably a good sign. Just around the next corner we spot a truck, trailer and a tent. I thought I might be dreaming. The timing couldn't have been any better. The two of us might have been able to go another 10 miles max and we still had over 25 to gas.

Turns out they were out there for the past 2 days and that they'd be there for the next 3 weeks working on the road. The road had been used in the past to access mines but it hadn't been used in a very long time. We told them about our predicament and at first they were hesitant to help but ultimately they agreed to give us a gallon of gas. They asked for cigarettes, which we didn't have but I offered them $10. They said $5 was fine but we made them take the 10 as they saved us 2 days of hiking. Note to self, bring cigarettes to barter with next time.

This is Raul, and he saved our asses!

They offered us water, beer and ice as well. Very nice guys and yet again I am overwhelmed by the generosity and how far people in Baja will go to try and help you! Instead of a beer Charlie asked for Raul's signature.

We continue on, the final 25 miles to Cataviña. And lucky for us the road ahead of us has been recently fixed!

The rest of the way to Cataviña went smoothly except I hit a hawk. He was in the trail and he took off in the direction of the trail and took too long to get up to speed so I bumped him with my clutch hand a bit. He was fine though and flew off. 

We get to Cataviña with me having gone 52 miles on my reserve plus the half a gallon I got from the road workers. 

Charlie was pretty happy to take a break!

We then hit up the gas the town has to offer which is a guy on the side of the road with 1 gallon jugs. We buy enough gas to safely get us through Coco's back to Gonzaga where we decided to make camp for the night. 

We waived to Coco on the way by but didn't feel like stopping again. Then we grabbed gas in Gonzaga but due to the holiday down there all the hotel/camping spots in Gonzaga were full up. We were told of one 15 km north so we headed there.

For $5 they let us pitch a tent up on the beach and use their single bathroom. 

Time for a swim!

That night we shared a fire with our beach camping neighbors which was an entire extended family from Ensenada who were all very kind and we had a lot of fun goofing off, dancing, listening to the jambox and setting off Charlie's garage sale flare!

Dry Lake Part 2

In the morning we packed up in the light rain and got ready to head out back through the dry lake bed and back to Valle de Trinidad where we could check up on Charlie's truck and get cleaned up before heading back into the US. 

We said goodbye to Francisco who was extremely worried about us. But not before giving the girls moto rides up and down the beach with them screaming their heads off! 

We took a different route out to the dry lake bed that took us closer to the mountains and by some ranches. Then we fooled around in the lake bed again before heading out a different way than how we came in. A much sandier and whoopeeier route that was an absolute blast!

Coming out of the dry lake bed it started to down pour and hail out of nowhere. It only rained in a very small part but man did it come down. Cleaned our bikes!

All this riding started to take its toll on Charlie's bum that he started to ride side saddle. 

We get settled into our hotel in Valle de Trinidad and then decide to spend some time on our bikes. After cleaning my chain and checking my oil I notice that my oil bottle that had been in pack the whole time had its paint worn of and was dented to all hell. It's metal and was brand new at the start of the trip!

Back Home

Keeping with the theme of the trip we had an ambitious plan laid out for the day. Back to the border via Ojos Negro's, get the truck and drive all the way back to SF that day! 

Ride through Ojos Negros was mostly uneventful but a ton of fun. Charlie decided to endo into a huge wash and have his bike completely change directions. All in this slow motion dance which ended with Charlie on his butt. Avoided injury so all is good. 

Final taco's at the border!

Back across the border we get ahold of the mechanic who is nice enough to come out and meet us. Luckily for us he put the trailer and the truck in his garage. Fixed it all up and shortly after giving him some money we were on our way!

Our joy is short lived. At the first gas stop I noticed diesel leaking underneath the car in the area of the gas tank. We thought we noticed a loose pipe clamp to the fuel filler spout so we tightened it up. Another 5 miles down the road it was clear that we were spraying diesel out of the back, all over the car and bikes. Not very fuel efficient we thought so Charlie crawls back under his truck.

Charlie noticed that a small hose coming off the gas tank was completely disconnected. Maybe some sort of breather tube or overflow. He plugged that back in and we were on our way. The fix held the rest of the trip. 

You might have noticed that this blog contains mainly pictures of Charlie and/or my bike but not too many of me. That's because on the drive home Charlie's iPhone decided to play the big ace and completed crapped out losing all of his pictures and videos from the trip!

We took turns at the wheel and shortly after 3am we made it home safe and sound. A little tired and worse for the wear but we made it!

All in all I'd say that it was an epic trip and definitely in the running for most memorable thus far! Thanks Charlie!!!