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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Oblio, Mar 8, 2013.
pretty darn awesome 4th date! Glad it all worked out for you both.
I live in Virginia, but my son lives in Denver. I have been thinking about trucking my KLR out to Denver and heading south to do Baja to La Paz. I would like to stay in La Paz for maybe a week, then head back home. The only reservations I have are safety in Mexico, as I really would like to get home alive. Having read a number of ride reports, my sense is that concerns about safety for americans in Mexico are all hype and in reality it is probably safer to travel the baja coast than to visit most urban areas of the US. Can you comment on this subject? Other then petty theft, I am not reading any horror stories about traveling in Mexico.
My experience of riding in Baja as well as the majority of mainland Mexico is you are safe. Avoid flashing money around, especially after dark in drinking establishments or where prostitution is happening (strip bars, clubs) and don't travel after dark (riding conditions and more bad guys out).
Don't brag about your riding exploits/destinations. Don't be a loud and "ugly American" type traveler. Be respectful to locals serving you and don't complain unduly about service, food, etc.
Stay away from resort areas or at least the bar scene.....if you want to get drunk, do it at your hotel/ motel rather than at local bars.....you become such an easy target in those circumstances.
A current ride report re: Copper Canyon points out that some areas have Citizen Patrols that are armed locals keeping a watchful eye for strangers passing through.....you may not notice them, but they sure have noticed you (not Baja so much....more mainland).
Baja outback rancheros keep in touch frequently and actively by cell phone and 2-way radio.....they are your friends....they know you are there. While the kids like stickers, gifts that are useful might be a better idea if you feel the need to "hand out trinkets to the natives".
If you buy gas from an outback location (barrel gas), pay whatever they ask and don't try to "get a deal"....they may not accept payment sometimes, nor a tip (propina)....in which case you DO offer them some money "por los ninos", a gesture they will likely appreciate.
Do NOT expect US dollars to be the currency you use....you are in Mexico....use their money.....you local 7-11 doesn't accept pesos, so realize you are in THEIR country....be respectful.
If you are 4:20 friendly, be VERY careful who you enjoy that with.
Get south of the US/Mex border by 2-300 miles as quickly as possible....more bad guys and desperate folks in the northern part of Mexico.
Learn some Spanish....be respectful....have a great time....ignore the State Dep't....it is an instrument of fear mongering.
Ya that freaking awesome! This is a great ride report. I'm loving the pictures. Keep them coming.
I made it home this afternoon! I will finish my trip report and add lots more photos.
Regarding our 4th date: that is exactly what Erika said when we were getting on the bike at the airport!
Regarding safety: Baja is as safe as a big bike trip in the less populated parts of the states - maybe safer. The dangers are the same as the states - the usual motorcycle risks, having mechanical issues far from home, wildlife/nature, petty crime, stupidity. Unfortunately, a lot of the hype is true in parts of Mexico. The only parts in Baja this hype pertains to is the border. That being said, the border areas I saw in Mexicali and Tecate were nice, friendly, and inviting.
The biggest danger I was aware of on my travels was Highway 1. It has new pavement in many areas, but it can change to crap with little warning. The lanes are narrower than an average two-lane highway in the States and there is only a single yellow line dividing the lanes. There are often no guardrails or shoulders, and the road usually drops off into gnarly terrain on the sides. Going off the road because you're looking at the scenery could be fatal. Finally, some people drive like lunatics. Big trucks usually have skilled drivers, but even they like to swing wide before right-hand turns. I noticed a lot of men in SUVs did this too. I had a few "Oh Shit" moments because of this.
But the bottom line is if you're thinking about a moto trip to Baja, absolutely go!
THIRD DATE!!! My wife and i had our first date-- a 12 hour canoe trip. our second date was a 4 day motorcycle/camping/white water trip up in the smokey mountains, 4 days later. i've been showing her these mexican rr's for a couple years now. may be a fly and ride for her.
I got an early start and enjoyed the cool morning air. The highway starts climbing into the central highlands just north of town. I glanced over my left shoulder passing the pullout high above Santa Rosalia where I'd stopped for a pic of the city and ocean almost two weeks before. It would be my last view of the Sea of Cortez.
I rode through San Ignacio and started preparing myself for the bland, boring emptiness of the Desierto de Vizcaino. 20 minutes later it was in full effect. I stopped for gas at the same Pemex in the town of Vizcaino I'd filled up in on the way down. I also used the same ATM across the street to get a little more money for one more day's gas, lunches, dinner, and hotel. I was hungry but wanted to keep moving.
I stopped for a late breakfast in Guerro Negro. I'd eaten at Don Gus previously and it was on the highway side of town. I was happy to see the friendly waitstaff again and sit in their cheerful dining room. My phone still had their wifi info and connected automatically.
I could have sat there all morning drinking coffee and messing around on the internet. I wasn't particularly looking forward to the rest of the day's ride. But I pushed on. I needed gas and was going to fill up in town, but I remembered passing a gas station north of Guerro Negro. I also remembered there weren't anymore on the way to the turn off to Coco's - a couple hours ride. That was where I first got on Highway 1 on my way down. It never occurred to me there may not be gas stations north of that intersection. That chance conversation I had with Bill last night in the parking lot turned out to be very serendipitous. Had he not asked me about my bike's fuel range for that area, I'd never given it a second thought. Since he had, I didn't fill up in Guerro Negro, but Villa Jesus Maria - 10 miles north. My National Geographic maps show no gas for 200 miles between Villa Jesus Maria and Rosario de Arriba.
The 115 miles from Guerro Negro to Chapala (Coco's turnoff) is so boring. I passed the intersection that leads to Coco's Corner and Gonzaga Bay and kept going north on Highway 1. I thought to myself I would at least see all new terrain, even if it was boring. It was, for a while. In less than hour the scenery started to change. Greener vegetation returned and huge boulders started to appear everywhere. Soon after I dipped into a beautiful boulder and cactus strewn wash and then up a small hill into the tiny town of Catavina. I guy was selling gas from a drum on the side of the road. I did the math and thought I could probably make Rosario de Arriba, but I bought two gallons anyway. Plus, I thought it was cool buying gas from a guy on the side of the road.
The area north of Catavina is seriously beautiful. It is quintessential Baja 1000 promo photo landscape. There are millions of giant white boulders in the sand with giant cacti growing everywhere. Between it all are dozens of criss-crossing two tracks leading to who knows where. The Canadian couple on the KLR I'd met in Guerro Negro two weeks prior said they were camping in an area full of boulders. I'm sure this was the place. I wanted to stop for a pic but just kept riding. This would be the theme for the rest of the trip. I should have stopped.
The boulders disappeared but eventually I was on top of this ridge line with killer views. The highway pretty much follows the ridge for miles of twisty fun but the usual lack of shoulder or guardrails. I took in what I could but kept up my quick pace. This is another spot I should have taken a photo or two.
I finally rode into Rosario de Arriba and got gas. A military convoy was fueling when I arrived. At first I didn't know if I could enter. The gas station was guarded on all sides by about a dozen soldiers with machine guns. I saw other cars so proceeded. I saw that a Suburban was just finishing filling up and an officer signaled to his men to mount up. He got in the SUV and the men jumped into the back of the Hummer-type troop transport vehicles and they drove away. I wondered who else must have been in that Suburban.
The highway hugged the Pacific Coast for a while after Rosario. Unfortunately, it also went through several towns. Traffic and stop lights made progress painfully slow. After 30 minutes or so it finally opens up and you get some nice views of the coastal plain, farms, the oceans, surfers, and beautiful fields covered in millions of tiny red flowers. It looks like they're carpeted. The whole area looks like southern California and felt a lot more modern than the rest of Baja. I felt like I was already back in the States. The highway winds through some pretty hills and then descends into Ensenada. Ensenada is a good size city and it too was very American-like. I detoured through the tourist district and was surprised to see a beautiful waterfront and a giant cruise ship docked in the harbor. It was sunset so I rode to the north side of town and found a cheap motel close to food, gas, and an Oxxo. Had it been earlier, I would have ridden around a little more and found a motel on the beach-side of the highway. Mine was fine though and cost $450 pesos.
I unpacked and rode up a few blocks to the taco stand on the corner. It was hopping and I ate awesome tacos standing at the counter. I ordered seconds. I went to the Oxxo next door and bought tequila for my house/dog sitter and five pack of Faros. Finally, I filled up at the Pemex across from my hotel. This was the only time I was aware of someone trying to rip me off on my trip. Someone whistled as I rode in which I don't know had any significance. My attendant was pretty friendly in a "Hey Bro!" sort of way. He made way too big a deal showing me the pump was zeroed before he started pumping. Then, when he gave me change for my 500 note, he short changed me 50 pesos. Having gotten into the habit of counting my change when using 500 and 200 pesos bills, I paused and counted a couple more times. I looked up and before I said anything he said, "Oh, yeah, I owe you one more 50." He pulled a 50 out of his wad which was also full of dozens of 100s. He could have easily given me a 100 initially instead of the eventual two 50 notes I ended up with. It was such an obvious ploy. I didn't tip him like I did most Pemex attendants and we looked at each other as I rode out. His look seemed to say, "I don't care if you know I tried to rip you off." Dick.
The lessons and upside to this incident were: 1) It was the only time I felt someone tried to cheat me on the whole trip, 2) The border areas and maybe downtown Cabo are the places you're most likely to be taken advantage of, 3) $5 (less, actually) is hardly going to ruin anyones trip, 4) Baja is honest and you should readily tip and pay asking price in almost all circumstances.
The next morning I was riding by 8:00. I wasn't in too big a hurry since I knew I could ride to the front of the line at the border and it didn't matter too much how far I made it that night. I could ride any distance the next day required to make Denver since riding at night was not a big deal.
The ride to Tecate is gorgeous (again, no pics). It's mountainous and perfect (wide!) pavement. It even has shoulders. The road winds through the wine country and some pretty nice homes. I passed numerous cyclists, some on teams with support vehicles, as I rode through the mountains. I was happy my last hour of riding in Baja was pretty. Tecate came too soon and it too was a cute little town. I rode up to the border area and stopped at a nice town park surrounded by dozens of shops and businesses. You could see the 20 foot border fences two blocks away. I changed my pesos to dollars and should have had one last Mexican breakfast. Instead, I rode to the back of the line of cars waiting to cross into the U.S. They were in a single line in the far right lane for at least a mile. Traffic attendants and peddlers walked up and down the middle lane. I didn't even hesitate and rode up the left lane, dodging a peddler here and there. Cutting in line worked on my last trip to Mexico and I hoped it would work again. I confidently rode up to and stopped at a row of red cones and three Federales with H&K assault rifles. Before I could say anything, one of the soldiers moved a cone out of the way and waved me to the back of the shortest of two lanes leading to the U.S. Customs booths. Within three minutes I was talking to the Customs officer and then riding off. Motorcycles are great!
I parked a couple blocks north of the border, stowed my stuff, and walked back across the border. I returned my tourist card at the Oficina de Imigracion and got another stamp in my passport. I was feeling confident about finally returning my previous vehicle permit which would allow me to again travel by bike in mainland Mexico. I was directed to another building and handed the man at the counter my old permit. He didn't speak English and I described very generally what I wanted in Spanish. He said someone in the back could help me and disappeared. I waited and was feeling great. I guy finally came out who spoke English and asked to see my bike. I told him I sold that bike but I had proof it was sold in the U.S. He said again he needed to see the bike. I told him it was gone. He handed back my paperwork and said I could not cancel the permit. I said there must be a way. He said no. I asked if I could speak to someone else. He said there was no else I could talk to. I told him I would find a way. He laughed and said, "You do whatever you want." I said, "Thanks for your help, asshole," and walked away. I was bummed. I crossed back to the U.S. and started my ride home dejected.
Within an hour I felt better. It was still a great trip and the weather in southern California was perfect. I rode the rest of the day to Phoenix and finally ended up in Flagstaff. The only tough part of that ride was going from riding in a t-shirt in Phoenix rush hour to 35 degree weather just south of Flagstaff. The temperature went from 85 degree to 35 degrees in half an hour once the sun set and I started ascending toward Flagstaff. I should have stayed on the low road through Tucson - I-10.
The next two days kind of sucked. I froze riding across Arizona on I-40 to Albuquerque. I stopped for the night in Santa Fe. I had doubts the current weather system that was dumping snow on Colorado was going to blow east by tomorrow. I was right. CDOT said I-25 was snowy or icy starting at the southern border with New Mexico. My guess was I probably could have made it, but I wasn't willing to risk ending my trip with a crash. I walked around the historic part of Santa Fe all afternoon. It was Monday, so the three museums I really wanted to go to were closed. I went to the Georgia O'Keefe museum instead, ate lunch, and hung out at the library reading magazines.
The next day was chilly but the roads were dry. A couple hours later I was in Colorado. Even at the truck stop in Trinidad, CO, people still approached me curious about the bike and where I'd been. When I said I was riding home from Cabo they were stunned. I think it never occurs to most people that there is continuous road from the Arctic Ocean to the Panama Canal - 10 countries.
Three hours later my big Baja trip was over. I was happy to be home but sad my adventure had come to an end. But it was so perfect: I'd returned to the mountains from the tropics. There was snow on the ground, but it was 55 degrees and sunny. In a way, it was Colorado's first day of Spring!
My final thoughts of Baja and my equipment to come in my Trip Post Mortem.
One of the longer military checkpoints
Buying gas in Catavina
Last dinner - Ensenada
Guess you'll have to go back and make another trip sometime to get the pictures!
nice to have the details about the border crossing etc
Thanks for the ride report, Sat here for the past hour reading and checking out your photos. Makes me dream of doing that trip myself.
Good luck at the new job.
Overall, I was very happy with my 2008 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS. I had no mechanical issues in 5,300 miles (or the rest of its 28,000 miles). It never overheated, was hard to start, or acted strangely. The bike averaged about 40 mpg the entire trip. Considering my average highway speed in Mexico was 85-90 mph, the Givi 52 top case, square 40 liter Caribou Cases, and full crash protection, I think that is very respectable fuel mileage. No doubt, my one-tooth higher 16t front sprocket helped. I consistently got 200 comfortable miles between fill ups. The only time I worried about a 200 mile range was when riding in very windy conditions. In heavy wind (side or head) the bike would average about 37 mpg (at 80-90 mph, of course).
The 650 was also very comfortable. I did several 500+ mile days and even a 750 miler. Other than the bars being a touch too far forward, it is well suited to highway touring. My bike is equipped with heated grips, an outlet for a heated vest, a Madstad windshield bracket, bar risers, enduro hand guards, Sargent saddle, and Happy Trails highway pegs. The 16t counter sprocket adds to highway comfort as well. Worth noting is my size: 5'10.5", 190 lbs., 31 inch inseam.
Finally, the V-Strom is a fun bike to ride - especially when unloaded. It's nimble once in motion, and loves darting in and out of cars in congested city traffic. At sea level, the 650 twin has plenty of power in any situation as long as you keep the revs in the 4000-6000 range. Its midrange is surprising sometimes. Touring two-up was not an issue as long as you took a little extra care when overtaking. I never felt like the bike was overwhelmed.
The only real complaint I have is the suspension. It's crap. The settings are either too soft or too hard. For my size, I could probably benefit greatly from an aftermarket shock and heavier progressive springs on the front. I have a fork brace, which I feel makes a noticeable improvement in the handling.
In conclusion, it's my opinion the V-Strom 650 is a fantastic budget do-everything motorcycle. I imagine the 2012 and later models are even better - lighter, slimmer, more powerful, higher mpg, and better dash.
Give 52 Top Case - 5 Stars. I've had this on the bike almost since it was new (28,000+ miles ago). This case is great and I'd give up my side luggage before I gave it up. It holds and unbelievable amount of stuff. It's well made and durable. I have optional LED running/brake lights installed. They are very bright and make the bike much safer.
Caribou 40 Liter Cases - 3 Stars. I put these on right before the trip. They are high quality and durable (I tipped over on them in the sand and nothing happened). Mine are mounted on Hepco Becker Lock It Side Racks. They were a pain to install. Since the cases open side-ways, you HAVE to have a gear management system. It took one night of camping to realize I should have bought the optional liner bags (I ordered them yesterday). Having all my random stuff sacks and mid-sized items in one bag would have made a huge difference on the trip. Instead, I was constantly figuring out how to get everything to stay in place as I opened and closed the cases. I would even forego getting something out I wanted just because it was too much of a pain. I think I would have camped more if I had the liner bags. Hotels were easier because everything I needed was in the top case. Camping gear and extra clothing was in the side cases.
Wolfman Explorer Tank Bag - 4 Stars. This thing is great. It's big and can be expanded. It's like the Givi trunk - you can always cram one more thing in it. It unhooks quickly and has a shoulder strap. This made it easy to take it into a store or bathroom. I kept most of my valuables in it since it was always with me or locked in a hotel room. The clear map case on top is a huge plus.
Sargent Saddle - 3 Stars. I put this on the bike soon after I bought it. It's better than the mushy stock saddle, but not stellar. My previous bike was a 2007 KLR 650. I put a Corbin on that with a leather top. That saddle was amazing. It transformed the bike. That's the standard by which I rate all other saddles now.
Michelin Anakee II Tires - 4 Stars. The Anakees are great on the road and in the rain. They wear very well. They're not great in soft conditions, as expected. When the bike wasn't fully loaded, they did surprisingly well in everything but sand or mud. For this trip the Heidenau K60 Scouts would have been perfect.
Happy Trails Highway Pegs - 3 Stars.
Bike Protection - Essential. Although I didn't do any serious off-roading, the skid plate, crash bars, hand guards, etc. are cheap insurance. The skid plate often scraped the hundreds of speed bumps (topes) I encountered, which are everywhere in Mexico. The V-Strom's exhaust runs along the bottom of the bike.
Center Stand - Essential. It allows a truly full tank of gas and servicing the rear wheel and chain much easier. At the end of each day of riding I would put the bike on the center stand while it was still running and lube the chain. I would put it in first gear, lube the chain and let it run for a minute. It also made loading the left pannier much easier.
Fenda Extenda - 5 Stars. Keeps the engine area so much cleaner. It's totally worth $30.
Garmin GPS IV - Old school and way out of date. Still, a GPS is handy in a lot of ways, not the least of which is letting you know where you are! Since my GPS is basically worthless, I never worried when I left it on the bike.
I took too much. If I had the Caribou Cases bag liners, it may not have been as critical. Still, while I was there and in retrospect, I realized I could have been just as comfortable with much less.
Items I appreciated:
REI Flash 18 Backpack - 4 Stars. It folds or rolls up into almost nothing. It's perfect for walking around town, going to the beach, on the boat, etc.
REI Flex Lite Chair - 5 Stars. This may seem like a luxury item but it I'm glad I had it. It too folds up very compactly. Plus it's well made and light. Not sitting on the ground when you're camping makes a huge difference.
Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Pad - 4 Stars. I bought this pad specifically because it folds so small, yet is thick when inflated. This allowed me to forego the waterproof duffel bag on the passenger seat, since I was picking up a passenger. The only downside is this pad is not self inflating. It takes about 25 breathes to inflate. It's very comfortable.
Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Charger - 5 Stars. This item will keep your phone, iPod, iPad, and AA and AAA batteries charged indefinitely. The unit folds up compactly. It's durable and it really works.
Gerber Folding Shovel - 4 Stars. This probably seems overkill too, but Baja is sandy! It's useful for digging your bike out. But it's best use is pounding in and removing tent stakes. You'd be surprised how hard those beaches are from decades of car camping.
Black Diamond Orbit Lantern - 5 Stars. It's bright, it's light, it's compact, it's durable. The batteries last a long time too. Plus it has a dimming feature.
Petzl Zipka Headlamp - 5 Stars. I have the old one and it's lasted for years. The new versions are probably even better. This lamp has a retractable wire instead of a headband. It sounds uncomfortable but it's not. It's so compact. The batteries last forever.
LifeProof iPhone and iPad Cases - 5 Stars.
Below is a photo of all the items I could have survived without. I realized I could have easily eaten most of my meals at restaurants. Little shacks selling tacos were almost everywhere. You could often eat several tacos and a beer for less than $5. The rest of the time I could have made do with various snacks.
What I took
What I didn't need
All I really needed
I also took too much clothing. Below are photos.
All I needed
What I could have left home
Aerostich Darien Jacket and Pants - 3 Stars. I bought these in 2007. The pants are comfortable and durable. They could really benefit from zippered vents and maybe a thigh pocket or two. I've never loved the jacket. It is tough, waterproof, and has plenty of pockets. The two hand pockets on the outside are useless though. The collar will eat your neck until the jacket breaks in. I washed it several times to speed up the process. The laminated velcro tab inside the jacket holding the top of the back pad in place pulled off within the first year. The sleeves seem too short for a size large. The jacket length is too far below the waist. The extra length offers no benefit since it blows upward when riding. My biggest complaint with the jacket, and most Aerostich clothing, is how unattractive it is. The jacket is boxy and dorky. For the price, it should look better. BMW, Klim, Rev'It, among others, make high quality riding gear that also looks good. I would not buy Aerostich riding gear again.
Drayko Drift Riding Jeans - 2 Stars. I bought these right before my trip. They are a little over-styled, but still look good. They are a slim cut, which I like. They have a 36 inseam so you can hem to your preferred length. I normally wear a 34 in riding jeans, but the 36 was not bothersome since the jeans are not baggy. The front pockets are shallow, but I got used to them. I like them because they double as regular jeans when you arrive at your destination. I give them two stars because after less than three weeks of use the button pulled through (yes, they were sized correctly!). I emailed Drayko asking about warranty but never heard back. I've owned many pairs of $25 Levi's for years that never had this problem. A pair of jeans costing close to $200 should not have this problem.
:eek1 wow this is an awesome trip post mortem! Very detailed and helpful, and with links!! thanks!
Good report I agree on Asuncion, I spent 45 min there about 30 min too long kind of a cold pit, even in summer
Great report. It is always fun to read someone else's take on Baja, and discover something that I might have missed, looks like you checked most of the box's. Any contact info on the guy's with the condo & 690 KTM's in Cabo, I need more riding buddies down their.