Monday, July 1, 2013

Intro to Baja (Part II): The KLR Ride Report: June 29-30, 2013

The SPOT satellite GPS Tracker message stated, “Well, it appears I'm experiencing a bit of trouble. I'm OK, but my bike is not. Here's my location: 32.51614 latitude, -117.10866 longitude.” *

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You want to hear how our ride down the Baja coast went.

As you might know, I have been conducting a series of weekend rides to explore the off-road trails along the Pacific coast of the Baja peninsula and thought I’d ask others to join me in some "Baja lite" riding, mainly limited off-road riding (80/20) with beach camping and challenging but not extremely difficult terrain.

I threw down the gauntlet and there was some interest from other KLRistas. Alan drove down on Friday from Mojave, about 200 miles away. Now THAT is dedication! We linked up with Shane in El Cajon, who couldn’t make the ride due to conflicts with his work schedule. You know, protecting America’s liberty and all that. Thanks for your service, brother.

Alan and I set off on Saturday morning with a rough schedule planned. Our main goal was to locate and ride a somewhat hidden route from Santo Tomas to the old lighthouse at Punta San Jose. The reason it’s hidden is that surfers want to keep the spot “off the map” from non-locals. I understand that.

By 8am, we had arrived to Tecate, California; by 8:05, we were in Tecate, Mexico. How was I to know that in a few short minutes I would be taking the first of two dirt naps? Ah, but Baja dirt is softer than US dirt.

In short, I leaned over to pick up something I’d dropped and a 400+ pound bike toppled over. After I picked it up, I looked over my shoulder to see if Alan had witnessed by fall. I guess I leaned too much because I fell over again, to the amusement of everyone at the Pemex gas station. No worries, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it…

Temperatures hit 105 but traffic was light on Mexico Highway 3 and we were in Ensenada by 10:15 to meet with fellow KLRista Damaso (and his daughter) at the Starbucks.

We swapped stories and were back on the road by 11am. After gassing up, we stopped by Tacos Poblano in Maneadero for some pretty tasty carne asada tacos and were back fighting the crazy traffic by noon.

Driving along the coast was a lot cooler than inland and we saw a 20 degree temperature drop.

In no time flat we were at the Santo Tomas cut-off. I said to Alan, “Now it gets interesting.” I was fairly confident that I could locate the secret turn-off, allegedly 12.6 miles down a dirt road from Highway 1. At 12.7 miles I’d seen nothing resembling a road so I spoke with a local who advised me to “go back to the highway and take the ‘easy’ road…like the rest of the turistas.” Oh, the humanity! After I explained that I really was going to ride my loaded-down motorbike up those hills and to Punta San Jose, the local man pointed to a cow trail partially covered by bamboo that led up into the mountains. “Vaya por alli,” he said. And we did. For those interested, the GPS coordinates to that turn-off are: Latitude: 31.55337, Longitude: -116.59511 (N31 33.202 W116 35.707).

The rocky trail zigzagged up into the hills and through ranchlands. Some of the trails were best traversed by 4-wheel drives or goats, but our trusty KLRs did fine. At the bottom of one steep trail, Alan told me that skill—not luck—got him through unscathed. Yes, skill…

At the top of a hill, we finally saw the beautiful coast—we made it! We finally came out to the coast road about two miles from the lighthouse and rode up to take a look.

It was a popular surf spot and other than a few shacks, there was nothing there but an old lighthouse. After a quick break, we continued south toward the fishing/farming village of Ejido Erendira.

A few miles later, we hit some deep sand as we approached La Calavera fish camp. Looking back, I saw Alan was standing over his napping KLR.

I should mention that we’d seen no vehicles in the past two hours. Then, in the middle of nowhere, a truckload of surfers drives up to witness Alan’s dirt nap.

The marine layer was so thick we couldn’t see the big religious complex near San Juan de las Pulgas. We snapped photos at Rancho Tampico’s infamous chupacabra warning sign then pushed on to Punta Cabras and Castro's fish camp.

You can see the thick fog of the marine layer settling on everything.

Ironically, a coyote ran out in front of me just before we reached Coyote Cal’s. We stopped in for a well-earned beer and spoke with the surfers we’d seen on the road. They mentioned the seafood restaurant was closing soon so we saddled up and rode off to eat. That ice-cold Pacifico went down so well that another would’ve been great. But dinner called.

We sat overlooking crashing waves and ate a fish dinner at the small fishing village. Good stuff.

We rode along the coast looking for camp sites before it got dark. We found a few good spots and selected a nice one near the volcano at the southern end of Erendira. While out looking for driftwood for the bonfire, I looked back to see…Alan standing over his napping KLR! What? That was four dirt naps between us in one day.

Here are some photos of us beach camping at the south end of Erendira.

We set up our tents and brought our bikes down to the sand…hoping we were above the high tide line. I enjoyed some cigars and whisky I’d brought along as I listened to Alan tell of his Alaska via KLR adventure. We hit the sack at about 9:30 to the sound of crashing waves.

We were up before 7am and packed up before 7:30. We explored the area a bit and rode through the volcano a bit before riding into town for breakfast and coffee at Gloria’s restaurant. Eggs, coffee, homemade tortillas and a juice concocted on pineapple, cactus and cucumber. Take that, Denny’s!

We left Erendira at about 9:30 and filled up at the Santo Tomas Pemex.

We arrived to Ensenada by 11am after witnessing some interesting driving in Maneadero. We had a couple fish tacos at El Fenix and kept rolling to Tijuana on the toll road. At the first toll booth/military checkpoint, I watched as Alan carried on an animated conversation with the soldier. I’ll have to let him tell you about that.

We bypassed the Mirador (overlook) because the marine layer was so thick that we could only see the tops of the Coronado Islands. There usually is an incredible ocean view.

At about 1pm, somewhere between the second and third toll plaza, my front end started wobbling, a little at first then uncomfortably so. We were moving between 65-75 MPH, so I let off on the throttle and guided my KLR to the side.

Yup, that front tire was about as flat as they get. We had it changed in about 20 minutes and were back on the road, but not before two helpful locals—both motorcycle enthusiasts—stopped to render assistance. One guy ahd owned two KLRs and was thinking about buying another one. Nice folks.

We arrived to the Tijuana border crossing at about 2pm, and it was busy! The lines told me that it was a 3-4 hour wait. For cars. Not us.

By the way, I’ve gotta mention this: Alan rides his bike like a true Mexican. I was impressed with his offensive driving technique. Perfect riding skills for that environment. Way to go, amigo. Anyhow, he was a champ as we negotiated the lines of traffic. In less than 10 minutes we were at the front of the line, through immigration and b-b-b-b-back in the USA. Piece of cake.

We stopped somewhere just across the border to gas up and grab a bite to eat before Alan headed home. He made it home a little after 5:30 that afternoon…not too shabby.

So, getting back to the “I'm experiencing a bit of trouble” message: I realized when I got home that the “help” message my SPOT device had sent was repeated every 10 minutes for the past hour or so. My wife had organized the cavalry and was en route to Mexico to get me. Luckily I caught my brother before he went to rescue me in his pick-up. I subsequently learned that I need to re-set the device after using the “help” feature. I was never in danger or in need of help; I just botched the whole situation by not knowing how to use the SPOT GPS Tracking device. I thought I did! I didn't realize I had to cancel the SPOT help request. I had pressed the "I have a mechanical issue but I'm OK" button when I realized I had a flat tire. When I was back on the road about 25 minutes later, I pressed the "I'm OK and on the road" button but it didn't work as I had not canceled the help message or reset the device. Well, it was a good test, anyhow.

* To Cancel a HELP Message: Press and hold the HELP button for 5 seconds. The Help light will blink RED to indicate that you are cancelling the Help message. Then, the light will stay RED for 5 seconds, indicating the message has been sent. The following message will appear on the SPOT Shared Page.

All’s well that ends well…

Quick stats:

· Total ride miles for me: 360

· Total miles in Mexico: 325

· Dirt naps: 4 (but they were little ones!)

· Flat tires: 1

· Distance from shoreline to tent: 64 feet.

· Fish tacos consumed (each): 5

· Mexican police officers/soldiers interested in “acquiring” Alan’s KLR: 2

· Happy KLRistas: 2

We'll be back, Baja!

Here is the link to view the Spot Adventures track: