Baja, the Long Way

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by HardWorkingDog, Feb 19, 2013.

  1. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Walnut Crick, Cal.
    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?

    Dunno.

    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.

    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/qMsAMh5vlIQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    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.

    Baja.

    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

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    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.

    [​IMG]

    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.

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    It was clear but cold and there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground.

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    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.

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    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.
    #1
  2. Bob

    Bob Formerly H20Pumper

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    Subscribed.
    Gotta love Garmin and Routes :lol3
    #2
  3. DaFoole

    DaFoole Erudite inchoate...

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    In!
    #3
  4. gsstampeder

    gsstampeder Long timer

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    keep it coming! so far....so good :thumb

    Love reading Baja RR's
    #4
  5. SFMCjohn

    SFMCjohn 13

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    931
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    San Francisco, CA, 94102
    Hi HWD,

    Wonderful so far, looking forward to hearing all about the father 'n' son adventure! :clap

    see you under the palapa,
    -- SFMCjohn
    #5
  6. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Great intro, thanks for taking us a long :thumb

    :lurk
    #6
  7. WoodsChick

    WoodsChick Long timer

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    In! Oh, boy! Looking forward to my daily installments! :clap




    WoodsChick
    #7
  8. Cabrito

    Cabrito Terminal Lurker

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    I'm in.
    #8
  9. slackmeyer

    slackmeyer Don't mean sheeit. .

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    Berzerkeley, CA
    Great start, can't wait to see the rest. I think I've camped in that exact campsite at pinnacles (also in december), I can attest that it gets cold there. . . .
    #9
  10. chrish4ku

    chrish4ku Been here awhile

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    San Leandro, CA
    Sounds fun!
    #10
  11. BigNastybrp

    BigNastybrp Big Nasty

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    high speed boogie land, Sunny Ca.
    IN:lurk
    #11
  12. Kevan Garrett

    Kevan Garrett Been here awhile

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    Benicia, CA
    Just had dinner with HWD and Brin (forgive my spelling). Looking forward to the whole RR. Glad you are back safe. Cant wait to hear more details!

    Cheers

    Kevan
    #12
  13. jnyrav

    jnyrav Been here awhile

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    Newport Beach
    this is gonna b good....:)
    #13
  14. Jimbones

    Jimbones Adventurer

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    Halfway to Heaven and Just A Mile Out Of Hell
    Subscribed! And looking forward to it.
    #14
  15. Roadracer_Al

    Roadracer_Al louder, louder, louder!

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    In!
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  16. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    1,886
    Location:
    Walnut Crick, Cal.
    Yeah, I still don't know what was going on. I rechecked those saved routes last night, and everything looks just the way I'd layed it out in BaseCamp.

    Hey DaFoole, gsstampeder, GB, WoodsChick, Cabrito, slackmeyer, chrish4ku, Kevan, BigNastybrp, jnyrav, jimbones, Roadracer Al--good to have you along. Dang, that means the pressure is ON now, I've got to keep up with the report. :huh

    And SFMCjohn--I should have included you as a big help my route planning--you contributed a lot of valuable insight to get us down to Baja my long way. Thanks!

    DISCLAIMER

    I've read some amazing reports here, from BigDog & GasPipe to LionBR, DockingPilot & Cannonshot, the absolute zaniness from LittleWan, and the downright lyrical art from larryboy.

    This is nowhere near these masters...I missed ALL the good shots...but I'll keep plodding along until the plodding is done. Hope you find it worth the heartbeats.




    ps, did anyone click that first link, to the Bronson clip? I was going to make it a link to Michael Parks singing Lonesome Highway, but found that classic piece from the pilot film...apologies to LittleWan
    #16
  17. rockydog

    rockydog just a guy

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2007
    Oddometer:
    909
    Location:
    okieland
    hey dog, I miss ya'lls nonsense at the monthly meets, being sequestered in Okieland. Out my window is 6" of fresh snow, first of the year and I am really really looking forward to your upcoming posts about Baja.

    To compensate for the envy factor I have for you Cali-wankers I bought an el cheapo Transalp in Cork, Ireland recently thru WheatWacker on here, and just now booked my rt ticket for 5 months starting in late May so i can woof around the Isles and who knows where else? Anybody up for the Mann Gran Prix?

    Big smile from Stephen
    #17
  18. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Walnut Crick, Cal.
    Ya missed some good nonsense last night. Good to hear from you, a Transalp is one of the few Honda's I wouldn't mind riding--cool stuff, and good luck!
    #18
  19. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    1,886
    Location:
    Walnut Crick, Cal.
    I'd set up tracking service with my Spot device, and set it up to follow me on Spot's service and something an inmate here had set up--WhereAmIRiding.com. Unfortunately they both only show tracks from the last 7 days, and I knew most of the stuff would be gone by the time I got back. Strega is working feverishly to be able to show past tracks but as of now still hasn't got it working--I'm sure he'll get it. But at the very last minute I'd learned about spotwalla which keeps all tracking data, set it up literally hours before we left and somehow missed the last verification step. It wasn't until 10 days into our trip that I was able to go back and fix it, so the first week, so far, is lost in cyberspace as far as tracking goes. So here's a BaseCamp map of Day 1's track.

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    The track is orange, and you can see the magenta route I'd prepared. Notice how as we neared San Jose, the track heads northwest instead of south? That's when the gps seemed to lose its mind...I pulled over and paged through the route step by step...it was trying to get us back home. No idea what went wrong, but from this point on I never used routing again. :puke1

    OK, enough on technology failures...



    The night was cold, and I was just barely warm enough. First night sleeping in this combination of gear, and it took a few days to dial everything in. We had done a lot of research and chose the tent and sleeping stuff based mostly on compactness and quality. Son had already tested it a few weeks earlier during a climbing trip to Joshua Tree and we knew the bags were going to be the weak link. We had chosen synthetic Marmot Cloudbreak 30's--Marmot has a great reputation for quality, the synthetic fill seemed the right choice because of our exposure to damp conditions (and budget), and the bags stuff down to a package that's about an 8 inch cube. They make a 0 degree bag, but it's about 50% larger when compressed.

    The test had shown it was barely warm enough in freezing temps, so we added a Thermolite Reactor bag liner. While we knew we'd be camping in freezing temps the first week, the majority of the trip was going to be in semi-tropical weather and the only thing worse than a bag that's not warm enough is a bag that's too warm. It worked out very well. This way we'd be able to add the liner when cold and remove it when warmer--just like the layering approach to staying warm.The bag liners are very thin--we just left them in the bags when packing--and don't look like they'd make a difference but they do.

    For comfort we used Big Agnes insulated air mattresses. I've never been able to sleep comfortably on ensolite pads or thermarests, and they are incredibly bulky. The BA air mattresses solve all the issues: comfortable as a bed, insulated, and they pack down to a package about the size of a roll of tp. Perfect.

    This photo from backcountry.com shows the relative sizes of our bags and pads...

    [​IMG]

    Anyway, we woke up early New Year's morning to a clear and cold day. Our water was frozen, our bikes were covered with frost, and we decided to quickly pack up and get going to our next destination--the promise of our first hot springs of the trip. We made coffee (Peet's of course), ate a clif bar, and packed. I think it took no more 30 minutes and we were back on the road, faceshields frosting over, mirrors coated with ice, and smiles on our faces. We rode south on 25 heading for Clear Creek. This lonely stretch of road is one of my favorite places--green fields, rolling hills, low mountains, a few scattered ranches, and more or less deserted. Of course, no photos. Gear lesson number 1--a GoPro type of mounted camera would've been really nice to have. I'm not a big fan of videos in ride reports, but a few stills as you're riding would be a great addition. For some reason once I get going it's really hard to stop, pull out the camera, click, put the camera away, and start up again.

    As we roll down the grade and slow for the Clear Creek intersection a HUGE bobcat sprang across the road directly in front of me. It was a beautiful animal, clearly a bobcat, but looked like it weighed close to 50 or 60 pounds. I could see the unique face and bobbed tail...really wish I could've got a photo of that.

    We stopped for a few minutes at the entrance to Clear Creek.

    [​IMG]

    Son and I have great memories of riding enduros at Clear Creek, and it's very frustrating that it's been closed to off-road riding. There's simply no good reason for it, and I'm hopeful the closure can be overturned...

    We continued on south, towards Coalinga. As we wound out of the mountains and onto the edge of the Central Valley through the oil fields we noticed what looked like the Eye of Sauron (via google image search)

    [​IMG]

    Chevron has built a 100 acre array of mirrors that focus the sun onto a small area high up in a tower to generate steam that is then used to help recover oil. (photo via google image search)

    [​IMG]

    The photo doesn't give any sense of how bright the collector is--it is painfully bright, and as you approach it your eyes can't help but look at it...weird stuff out here.

    We made it to Coalinga, hoping to find a cafe, worried that being New Year's day nothing would be open. Whew, Perko's was open. We pulled in, frozen, and tromped inside. Slowly thawed out, ordered big breakfasts, and drained cup after cup of hot coffee. As we headed out to the bikes to move on it started to rain. And then hail. Crap. Oh well, let's ride. By the time we'd made it out of town the rain stopped and as we headed south and east it gradually warmed up. In order to save time we cut south down I-5 for a few miles and then headed east towards Bakersfield and Lake Isabella, our destination for the day. The little 250 did just fine, holding a steady 70+ mph in 6th gear despite the 50 tooth rear sprocket.

    Stats for the day:
    [​IMG]

    We made it to the hot springs area and set up camp.

    [​IMG]

    Rock climbers were nearby and Bryn joined in while I talked to the locals to get the lowdown on exactly where these mythical springs were located. It's kind of a sensitive issue, so I'll just say it is close to Miracle Hot Springs, on a dirt road along the south side of the Kern River.

    Here's a couple clues, and a thank you to the Stewards of the Sequoia.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Not too hard to find if you keep your eyes open. We made dinner--chicken/garlic sausage with sauteed peppers and onions on french rolls, some oranges and cookies, and hot tea. Nothing could beat that meal...put on our headlamps and headed down the trail for the pools.

    No photos again, but it was a pretty magical place. Pools were built into the edge of the river fed by the natural hot springs. You're sitting in the hot water, hearing the Kern river rushing by your feet, watching the stars fade as the moon rises. We met an amazing assortment of people while we were there, everyone full of stories and experiences from the oil derrick worker showing us iPhone photos of his beautiful Columbian bride (just hadn't quite figured out how to get her to the US) that first evening to a very thoughtful and gracious Native American couple who were traveling nurses and had lived some fascinating experiences who we met the next morning. It was a great time. We felt very lucky.
    #19
  20. DingWeed

    DingWeed Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2009
    Oddometer:
    542
    Location:
    4 Corners
    Ahhh......2 blue and white bikes to Baja!!!:clap

    I am in!!!............watch out for those Pesky donkeys!!!

    Scott
    #20