Up to now I have explained how to prepare for a Baja California peninnsula trip and some useful tips while down there. I have also taken you along for the first two days of my trip from Orange County, CA to San Felipe in Baja California. This post will take it from there.
As intended we arose early on Day 3 in San Felipe, before sun break. We wanted to beat the impending heat the day would bring so by about 5:30 am we were mounted on our bikes and headed for the nearest Pemex. From there we made for the water and began riding south along the beach for miles and miles and miles.
It's quite an experience, growing up in the land restricted counties of Southern California, to come down to Baja where almost everything is open for riding. There is enough coast to ride it until you're sick of riding it, and then some. At one point we reached an impasse that required us to take a quick stint into the ocean itself to get around, or else head inward. We opted for the former option (or at least to attempt it). Quickly it became apparent that the waters were a bit too deep for our 650s, and we turned back. Not before I could snap a couple pictures of my riding partner floundering in the water trying to get his flogged bike to start again (fortunately the XR650Rs are beasts, and with a few compression released kicks the cylinder was cleared and the bike running again).
Josh trying to get his bike back to land
We found our way back to solid ground and kept on south, passing through plenty of washouts and sand dunes. Eventually we reached a fairly prominent marsh that went about an eigth mile inland. Josh, my riding partner, quickly grew impatient of following the thing around so he attempted to cut through it. Almost immediately his bike sank in.
It may not look that deep, but consider that the entire rear fender and wheel are submerged
The next two hours or so Josh and I would spend attempting to pull his bike out of this swamp to allow us back underway. It was a very trying ordeal, eventually we would be forced to flip the bike end over end until we were out of the stuff. Once it was all said and dne we were both soaked in stagnant mud and what I suspect was partially sewage…not to mention all the creepy crawlies that lived in the stuff which surfaced everytime we'd make a new footprint (often getting our boots stuck in the sludge). It wasn't exactly fun at the time, but looking back it's one of those experiences I'm glad to have had.
A 300 lbs bike with rider, gear and a bald tire are not exactly ideal equipment for navigating dunes
Once free we booked it for Gonzaga. We had grown somewhat weary of the day's ride after our last ordeal, so once we got to Puertocitos we stayed on the highway until Gonzaga. Ever ridden Old Puertocito's road? Washboard for miles if you were wondering. So much washerboard that even on bikes made for racing the Baja 1000 you'll find bolts and clamps loosening, and suddenly parts that had stayed in place for years and years of desert riding working there way from the bike. In the blistering heat, Old Puertocito's road blows. It's not just me, ask anyone. These days there is a new paved road that makes the jaunt much nicer, but in a way removes some of the Baja grit from the experience. For the masocists, old Puertocitos Road remains as an alternative.
A common sight when riding in Baja, lots of open coast for winding out your bike
After what seemed like hours of vibrating ourselves to death, we made it to Gonzaga Bay. It was a beautiful sight, though I'm not sure it was the relief from Old Puertocito's Road, or the incredible display of coastal Baja landscape (a bit of both, I'm sure). We spent the rest of our day in Gonzaga wallowing in the waters, washing our clothes and trying to keep the crabs away from our feet. At dusk there were a school of whale sharks in the bay. Had I been a diver at the time I would have swam out with them, but being green to underwater excursions I enjoyed their frolicing from the shore. Next time I'll be sure to at least bring a mask and snorkel. We eventually made it to bed where AC was turned on after about 9pm, not that it was all that fruitful in cooling the room.
Gonzaga Bay, I'm in the background doing laundry
Awakening on day 4 in Gonzaga Bay was, like the previous morning in San Felipe, hot. Rising from a deep slumber to an impending heatwave and more miles of washboard, I wasn't exactly excited for it, BUT I was fully prepared to make it back to the cooler Pacific side of the peninsula.
We hopped back on our bikes around 7:00 am and kept on Old Puertocitos road. The road detached some gear from Josh's pack and it was lost on the road somewhere not to be found despite our efforts. We pressed on undeterred, it was a gift to Baja. We took a stop in Coco's Corner but he wasn't around. Instead we talked with his good friend, signed his book and moved on.
Coco's Corner, a well known location for taking a break between Gonzaga Bay and the Bay of LA or Hwy 1
There was a very distinguishable point when we began to hit the Pacific breeze. Like night and day we suddenly found the hot humidity turn to the cool ocean breeze I've grown up with on the Orange County coasts. I could have been in heaven…we hit some silt beds but I didn't care, I could breathe again.
As you can see I was the mule for this ride. Josh didn't have any luggage of his own so I allocated him one of my bags
We decided to make the jaunt all the way from the Gulf coast to the Pacific coast, and then head to Catavina once we touched water. There were times during our trek that we could have been lost, and that we began questioning our fuel reserves, but as luck would have it we eventually popped out onto Hwy 1 just north of Catavina. Not knowing this was the case, we took a guess that the town was to the south, so we took off in that direction and turned out to be correct. We ate some good food, were outraged by the cost of rooms, resolved to sleep somewhere to the north, fueled up and off we went again, this time in the direction of Santo Tomas. During our ride north I noticed a leak from Josh's bike, and inspection revealed that it had developed a leak at the countershaft seal. The outlook on repair was bleak (I had forgot my spare at home unfortunately). So we kept on north checking and adding oil ocassionally until finally arriving in Santo Tomas.
We got a room there for a much more reasonable price than Catavina, and were anticlimactically afforded rest for the night. In the morning we would attempt (and succeed quite well) at sealing the countershaft seal with nothing more than RTV sealant, but decided to stick with our plan of heading back home just in case. We pushed off and made our way home via Ensenada to Tecate, through San Diego where I left Josh and finally back to Orange County for myself.
Josh's bike bent over for work in Santo Tomas
Riding in Baja is an incredible journey, sometimes frustrating as it's a matter of generality that things don't go according to plan, but this offers more to the mystique and adventure. In Baja you'll find riding like no other place in the world, and right in our backyard nonetheless. A lot of people will talk about safety issues in Mexico, but in 20 odd years of traveling to the country, I have never had more hassle than paying a cop off with a twenty dollar bill. Watch your equipment, ride with caution and stay with at least one buddy, you'll be just fine.
Enjoy the ride