Baja, the Long Way

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

  1. Holaday

    Holaday Man of Leisure

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    Looking forward to more. I gotta get back down to the Baja. :D
    #61
  2. Butcho

    Butcho Been here awhile

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    After the snow camping pics. you deserved 2 nights in a warm bed. Thanks for the info on the sleeping bag liners, we have the same problem with our lite weight bags, they arent enough when its cold out.
    #62
  3. akaDigger

    akaDigger Amateur Adventurer

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    I'm not sure that running a red light in Baja is considered either clumsy or stupid.
    #63
  4. dano619

    dano619 Been here awhile

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    sunny san diego
    All caught up, so much for gettin ready for work at 5:30.....readin these ride reports is alot more enjoyable than work any day, thanks for takin us along!! :D
    #64
  5. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

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    My pleasure!

    Good, should have another post here shortly.

    OK, how about dense, or slow, or boneheaded...:rofl (I edited that tipover post to emphasize the laughter was caused by me tipping over while stopped, btw.)

    Yeah, definitely worthwhile. At first I was pretty sceptical--they're so thin you can see through them--how's THIS going to make a difference.? But they do. Once we got into above freezing weather :clap we discovered the most comfortable way to sleep was in the liner with the bag unzipped and used like a blanket on top...perfect.
    #65
  6. akaDigger

    akaDigger Amateur Adventurer

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    Evansville, Indiana
    When in Mexico you get a smile and a wave instead of the cussing and finger you would get had you pulled the same stunt in the US.
    #66
  7. joenuclear

    joenuclear Planning.....

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    Thanks for the wonderful read.
    #67
  8. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

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    Yeah, it's a completely different way of driving--and attitude--agreed with that.
    #68
  9. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

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    It had been 9 days on the road self-supported and looking back this part of the trip alone would have been awesome, but it was just the beginning and despite some nerves about the unknown ahead we were both pretty amped to know we had Baja waiting. Today's goal: Canon de Guadalupe. I'd seen photos and read the description by BigDog on his trip there in 2007 and was always a little puzzled why they hadn't spent the night there--it looked and sounded like a very cool place. It was only about 75 miles away from El Centro but I figured that would be a safe destination, not knowing how long the border crossing would take us.

    We headed out 86 through Heber, onto 111 south which led us straight to the border. We'd been advised by the bank in El Centro to just use a Casa de Cambio (money changing business) near the border to get some pesos as they would give us a better rate than the bank so we took their advice and got about $200 worth of pesos each, at 12.5 pesos to the dollar. There were dozens of Casa de Cambios near the border on each side, most advertising their rates--we saw from 12.3 to 12.7 so 12.5 seemed OK. As it turned out, virtually all business in Baja including Pemex stations used 12 pesos/1 dollar despite the daily fluctuations.

    We reached the border at Calexico/Mexicali about 10 am and there was no lineup at all. I wasn't expecting this and before I had time to process everything we were waved through by a Mexican official and BLAM--we're riding in Mexico!

    It was almost sensory overload, immediately. Yeah, everything is just-----different. Signs, colors, traffic lights, lane markings....everything has changed. Colors are brighter, people are yelling, taxis are honking. Bike messengers are zipping through traffic, and beat up Corollas are cruising along with 4-sided megaphones on top, blasting away audio commercials at about 110 dB's. And yeah, I managed to roll through my first red light in Mexico. Oops.

    I had an excuse though, of course. The one last trip preparation item on our list was to get our Tourist Visas. You can do that online if you start the process about a month ahead, but all the info I'd read told me it is easy enough to get one in person when you cross the border. Just look for the "Inmigracion" sign, pay your $20, and you're good. That was the plan so once we'd crossed the border I was determined to find that Inmigracion sign, and kinda sorta forgot about looking for traffic lights...

    Looking, looking, looking...nothing. What the....? I'll be danged, we simply couldn't find Inmigracion, we circled around a couple times near the border...nothing. It's warm, we're starting to cook, traffic is whizzing by everywhere...a discussion...screw it. Let's keep going, we tried and just couldn't find it. I knew the rules: more than 72 hours, or travel beyond the border zone you must have a Tourist Visa; if not you're subject to a fine, the amount seems to be "negotiable." Well, maybe we'll be able to get a visa somewhere else...

    I don't recommend doing what we did; get the Visa-----I know where it is now, see the link below. We were very lucky and were never asked for proof of our Tourist Visa, but we talked to several long-time visitors who had done what we'd done and wound up having to pay fines of between 300 and 500 USD... As it turned out, the reason I never saw the Inmigracion sign is that the building is AT the border crossing.



    We went through so quickly that I didn't even start looking until we'd passed the canopy of the inspection station and we were far beyond it at that point. BigDog can vouch for me at least--he and Dingweed had some trouble finding it too--but they were smart enough to flag down policia and got a lights and siren escort back to the oficina.

    We threaded our way through Mexicali, following BigDog's tracks, and made it out to Mex 2 heading west to our first dirt stretch in Baja. We got our own escort-----as we turned onto 2 a Mexican motorcyclist spotted us, gave us a big thumbs-up and stayed on our wing for a good 10 miles. He had his small son on the back and riding a cool pale green painted chopper, complete with hand-shifter. We'd only been in Baja about 30 minutes and already gotten a taste of what was in store. The Mexican people we met were always friendly, helpful and interesting. My biggest regret on this trip was that I couldn't speak better Spanish. That's a big goal of both of us now--learn Spanish, so we can converse freely with the people we meet.

    Found the exit and headed south. Dirt! Baja! Woo-hoo!

    [​IMG]


    It was a fun dirt road and we were cruising, having a great time. Blue sky, warm temperatures, beautiful desert.

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    At some point we realized the desert wasn't so deserted...we are riding alongside a huge olive orchard.

    [​IMG]


    Olives? In Baja? There must be water nearby--oh yeah, Canon de Guadalupe, our next hot springs. We were still following BigDog's tracks, but the road is well-signed and we made the turn west that would take us up into the Sierra de Juarez mountains.

    [​IMG]


    I'd read SFMCJohn's report just before we'd left about someone breaking a leg in the deep sand approach to the Canon so I was cautious as we rode, but the sand was damp and damp sand is just about the finest riding surface you can ask for and we made it through grinning in our helmets.

    As we worked our way through the twisty and rocky last bit it got a little confusing--there were 2 signs for Canon de Guadalupe, one left and one right. Huh? The road to the right was gated so we went left, dropped down across a stream, hairpinned in front of a rock face, and found another closed gate. Hmmm. Parked our bikes, and checked the gate--it wasn't locked, just a loop of wire holding what seemed more like a cattle gate than anything, so I opened it and we walked the last couple hundred yards. The place was deserted.

    [​IMG]


    It was an oasis--palm trees, birds singing, the stream warbling, we could see little palapas and campsites, but absolutely deserted.

    [​IMG]


    I didn't really have a great second option at this point but as we gave up and were walking back to our bikes two men in a 4-wheel drive van drove up. Yes, we're open, yes you can camp here! Yesssss.

    Turned out they'd been working on the other side of the Canon. They showed us the site, complete with soaking pool fed from the hot springs. We moved in and hit the pool.

    [​IMG]


    We were living like kings again.

    I've since heard claims that the left and right sides are owned by different brothers, and some say the right side is "way better."

    [​IMG]


    I don't know; the driver of the van was actually born in Santa Barbara (can't remember his name) and was doing maintenance work in exchange for lodging there, and while his Canon home was on the left side he spent all afternoon working on the right side of the Canon. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay on the left side; one of the better perks is that toilets that are fed by a continuous flow of hot spring water...the seats are WARM, warmed by the hot springs. That was a surprise to say the least, and very welcome. As far as one side being better than the other--------one thing we noticed is that wherever in Baja we traveled, the people we met always were convinced that the place they were staying was the best possible spot in all of Baja. We knew it was coming...almost verbatim, they'd say "Yeah, we've been ALL over Baja, and (fill-in-the-blank) is without a doubt the finest place to stay...you really ought to stay here for awhile..." We'd nod our heads, head off the next day to a new place, and hear the exact same statement!

    Made dinner,

    [​IMG]


    soaked under the stars, and went to sleep; what a start to our Baja trip.

    That night the winds picked up pretty strongly, had to get up and put away our pots that had blown off the table, waking me with a start. I was convinced El Chupacabra had been eating our leftovers at first...

    We woke up to windy but clear skies. Made breakfast, packed and rolled out, looking forward to more dirt, our destination: Mike's Sky Rancho.
    #69
  10. BigDogAdventures

    BigDogAdventures Fart Letter

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    Oh no ---your pots weren't blown off !!!! :D

    [​IMG]
    #70
  11. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

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    We saw plenty of donkeys, but none there. It was kind of funny, that first night. We had decided to sleep in the enclosure without tents, just on ground cloths but discovered the cucarachas love the nice warm hot springs of Canon de Guadalupe as much as we do...so tents went up pretty quickly. The wind picked up strongly around 2 am. The enclosure was swaying and buckling pretty good-----don't know if you noticed the roof structure------it had separated pretty good down the middle, perfectly place to dump any rain right in the middle of the pad and making lots of noise. I finally heard the unmistakable sound of our cooking pots hitting the ground, so I put my headlamp on and got up. Towels had blown off the clothesline, cooking stuff was on the ground, and then when I turned my lamp on the table my heart started racing...

    I'd left a little bit of food in the pot----our habit was to clean dishes in the morning------and carefully covered it with the lid to keep bugs out. My headlamp revealed the lid had been carefully removed and placed right next to the pot, right side up :eek1

    I knew there was no way that the wind could've blown it off like that, and no known animal would either...what could've done it???? Someone had to have snuck in to our little site and was hungry. It's dark, my heart's pounding...I crawled back to bed...senses on alert.

    After a few minutes I got tired of being on alert, said heck with it, relaxed and fell back asleep.

    Turns out I was right------someone HAD taken the lid off and had a late night snack----------


    my son--right before he went to sleep.

    :lol3
    #71
  12. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Spoiler nuked... :lurk
    #72
  13. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

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    :augie
    #73
  14. rnrdozer

    rnrdozer Been here awhile

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    Chico, ca.
    Sorry!! enjoying your report!
    #74
  15. 250Keith

    250Keith Been here awhile

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    Sonoma Co CA.
    I'm in!! sounds like fun! :clap
    #75
  16. Bgunn

    Bgunn Mucha distancia

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    Rockford Wa

    The nightly meal looks good..:dg

    Curious about what way you will go when you leave the hotsprings.
    That area seems to be a bit of a Bermuda triangle for some.

    Being spoiled with some good Baja reports these days.
    #76
  17. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

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    Yeah, we got our camp cooking down. We both like to eat well. Notice the insulated travel mugs? Those were a last minute addition by my son--I've always used a little plastic camp mug or a sierra cup--the travel mugs beat those all to heck, never going back. They keep your tea or coffee hot, hold way more, have a lid to keep bugs and dirt out, work just fine for 2BuckChuck or El Jimador...the ONLY way to fly :wink:

    Funny you should say that. Stay tuned...:hmmmmm
    #77
  18. jnyrav

    jnyrav Been here awhile

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    Newport Beach
    you guys are doing great, thanks for taking us along!
    #78
  19. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

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    My pleasure! More in a bit...
    #79
  20. HardWorkingDog

    HardWorkingDog Harvey Mushman

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    Location:
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    The first day in Baja, day 10 of our trip, had been a great start. We got a tour of the facilities from the caretaker, found out there are many things to do in the area--climbing, petroglyphs, waterfalls--but we were itching to ride so off we went. The sand road leading back east towards Laguna Salada was a blast. A couple inches down it was still wet, and there were some berms at the turns where you could rail it, I roosted Bryn pretty well a couple of times, he was laughing.

    The plan was to follow BigDog's track from 2007 where he went across Laguna Salada and then connected with Mex 5--the paved 2-lane road that runs south from Mexicali to San Felipe--then turn west on Mex 3 at El Chinero and then take the dirt road to Mikes, a trip of about 145 miles. We were stoked.

    We had no idea that this day would be, in many ways, the decisive day of our journey.

    The day was warm--probably upper 60's--but cloudy as we followed the dirt road lined out by the track. It was helpful having the track because it gets a little maze-like in places. As we continued to head south we felt like this is the Baja experience we'd been dreaming of. Beautiful desert, cactus, occasionally we'd pass by a little rancho and wave to the residents. There was a small herd of wild horses who'd run with us alongside the road and then peeled off to the side. We came across a military training compound, apparently deserted--but wondered if we were being watched. The road was a mix of medium sand, sometimes harder washboard, sometimes rocky, but we were maintaining about 35-40 mph on my lead, a speed nowhere near the fastest we could do, but heck, we had 5 more weeks ahead of us and I wanted to make sure we lasted 5 more weeks...

    As we continued south I realized that our road had started to diverge from BigDog's track. We were heading southwest on the road, but the track was headed southeast in order to intersect with Mex 5. I wasn't too concerned, saved tracks are fairly coarse and often there will be sections of the track that are off the road where some points have been filtered out, but eventually within a half-mile at the most the track will rejoin the road or trail you're following.

    The track and our road continued to diverge and after 3 or 4 miles I stopped to try and figure out whether to keep going along the road, or go back and follow the track. I had no idea how important this decision was to be.

    Decisions like this are based in part on information-----and the information I had was far from adequate. For navigating in Baja I was relying on: BigDog's tracks and waypoints from 2007, my 60CSx gps with Open Street Maps topo & routable gps maps, a 2010 edition of the AAA paper map of Baja, and the Nat. Geo paper maps of Baja. As I quickly learned, this was Gear Issue #5--none of my gps maps showed the road we were on nor did they show a road or trail where BigDog's track led; the Nat Geo map showed nothing as well, and although the AAA paper map did have a road shown the scale makes it difficult (not impossible, just difficult) to accurately correlate where you are on the map from the gps coordinates.

    Next time I will have the very best paper and gps maps I can find. Period. I'd read that the E32 gps map is very detailed and accurate, and the same with the Baja Almanac paper maps. But figured I could save $100 by going with the "good enough" free OSM gps maps, and the Baja Almanac was out of print and I could only find it selling used on amazon for $85. Good enough isn't, by a long shot. (The Nat Geo maps were a waste of money--not accurate, and poorly edited. The AAA map was surprisingly good, thankfully, and I'd take it to Baja again-----along with the Almanac AND the E32 gps maps.)

    So, the information I had was that our road should be trending to the southeast--the AAA map shows a fork right about where we were, the southwest fork heads up into the Sierra Juarez, while the southeast fork heads to Mex 5; and BigDog's track led southeast as well, meeting up with Mex 5.

    [​IMG]


    At this point I assumed we'd passed the fork and taken the wrong side, and that the track on my gps was the road on the AAA map. I decided we should head across the desert and reconnect with the track.


    I'd just turned into Michael Scott, and was about to follow my gps into Lake Scranton, with Dwight in tow...


    We headed across the sandy desert, feeling like JN Roberts in On Any Sunday dodging the pucker bushes. About a mile or so later we found the "road" that the gps track marked. Eureka! That was easy, and away we continued. This Baja stuff is COOL. As we continued along we could see we were on a track that had been used for a race--there were occasional race markers, cast off parts, water bottles and oil containers were marking the course as well.

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    We were out on the bed of Laguna Salada and occasionally we would come across mud sections. The first deep section was a surprise--you'd suddenly find the back end sliding and trying swap with the front, but it the trail would dry up pretty quickly and continue through a dry section. Bryn went down in one muddy section, I stopped and helped him up, and a little while later it was my turn to drop the bike.

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    We were laughing, having fun, not worried at all. Heck, we've both ridden and raced in mud, it's just part of riding offroad. Eventually we stopped for a break and could see the mud was building up heavily on the fenders and swingarm. We spent a few minutes cleaning it off with some sticks found nearby. We could see Mex 5 off in the distance with Mexican truckers and Canadian RV's crossing north and south. We ate an Odwalla bar, it was only about 11 am but we'd worked up an appetite.

    [​IMG]



    Back to it, a muddy section, then some drier sand, then some mud. We finally hit a stretch where the mud didn't stop. It didn't take long-----no more than 2-300 yards, and suddenly I'm in first gear, clutch siipping, and barely moving. I look back and Bryn's completely stopped. I get off my bike and look down to see that the forks, chain, chain guide, swingarm, linkage and shock is PACKED with mud, so much that it's actually extruding out the sides of the subframe about 6 inches to each side, looking like a play-doh extrusion.

    [​IMG]


    Remembering a ride report where a WR250R rider had fried his clutch in mud like this...I had a sinking feeling. Went back to Bryn, his bike was even more packed with mud than mine, and the clutch was gone. Crap.

    We fooled around, trying some adjustments to see if we could get it back. Nope. Let it cool off some, no difference. Ohhh Kayyy. Time for plan B. We could see the highway clearly now, using my gps I estimated it was about 3 miles away from us. OK, let's put the bikes in neutral and push them out--it's flat, only 3 miles, no problem.

    Hah. The bikes were completely locked up with mud, our boots had even less traction in the mud than a mud-packed D606. Impossible.

    OK, new plan. We could spend the night here, but camping in the mud would not be easy, and we'd be just postponing the inevitable--we needed help to get these bikes out of here, and one of them was broken. We decided to take our gear, and, gulp, abandon the bikes while we hiked out to Mex 5 and try to get some help. It was only 1 pm or so at this point, 3 miles, no big deal right?

    Wrong again. Hiking out through that mud, in mx boots, carrying 60-80 pounds of luggage and gear, with 30-40 mph winds screaming across Laguna Salada was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

    [​IMG]


    The pictures (of course) give no clue as to what the mud was like. I know it looks like a dry surface with all those cracks and fissures, but stepping off the track into the surrounding terrain you'd sink a good 6-8 inches into gooey mud-cement, and the track itself while only about 3-4 inches deep with mud was slicker than gorilla snot. I'd made it perhaps halfway, a mile and a half, and I just had to stop. I couldn't go any further.

    This is where I get grateful. Grateful to have a son like Bryn, that he was with me on this trip and that he's grown into the fine young man he is. He is stong and resilient, and part of his job requires him to schlep awkward and heavy gear for hours at a time. He never panicked, never got angry for my role in navigating us into this mess. Our only concern was how best to deal with our situation. He suggested that I drop my gear and luggage, and I hiked out unladen while he carried his gear out, dropped it at the edge of Mex 5, and then went back for mine. While he was making the extra 3 mile trip I rested, ate a clif bar, and was very, very grateful.

    [​IMG]


    By the time he returned the sun was dropping behind the Sierra Juarez mountains and it was getting dark and cold by the minute. We had to laugh-------our second day in Mexico and we'd done just about everything you're NOT supposed to do in Mexico: broke and abandoned our bikes, 50 miles from Mexicali, 65 miles from San Felipe, it's getting dark, and we're trying to hitchhike. The Americans tried not to look as they drove by, the Canadians looked aghast at us two dirty scruffy scoundrels standing with their thumbs out. After about a dozen cars and trucks had passed us, we were starting to get really worried when suddenly I realized the stakebed pickup that had just blown by was slowing...they've stopped about a 1/4 mile beyond and their backup lights are on. We take off running down the shoulder. A chance!

    They didn't speak English, we knew a few words of Spanish, but they let us know it was dangerous out here! Peligro! We told them we know!, our bikes are stuck in the mud, could we get a ride to San Felipe? They were heading there, yes, we could ride in the bed along with the boxes of pvc fittlings and sewer pipe--they worked for a plumber. We grabbed our gear, piled in amongst the fittings, and were extremely thankful.

    [​IMG]


    These two men were sent from heaven, I think. They gave us their coffees they'd bought for the ride home (we tried to refuse, but they set them beside us on the bed and went back to the cab)--forced us to take them--tried to give us their cookies (we won that battle), when we got to San Felipe asked us where we wanted to go-----we had no idea------they took us to the El Cortez, a very nice place, and then returned the next day to see if they could help us extract the bikes.

    We rode 65 miles facing backwards in that stakebed,

    [​IMG]


    went through our first military checkpoint, through a sandstorm, sliding tires as we went through the sand drifts on the road, and arrived at the El Cortez in the dark, cold and windy, dumped our gear in the room, and collapsed. I called my ace in the hole, WoodsChick, explained our predicament, asked if she could scrounge us up some Robby Gordon type in San Felipe to extract our bikes, and fell asleep fitfully.

    [​IMG]


    I was embarrassed, to say the least. And more than a bit worried this could be the end of our journey.
    #80