First Offroad Trip Into Baja

I’ve been wanting to do this trip for a long time. For a couple of years now I’ve been doing my best to find a couple of friends that would be willing to come down and do a baja run. Last summer we drove all the way to Cabo in our 4WD, so I’ve got some experience in Baja, and I’ve been working on my Spanish over the last two years in my car as much as possible.

This October, the stars aligned. For my birthday, I planned to go on an annual trip to Tecate with Baja Build Ministries and build a couple of homes for needy families, then set out from there to do a 4 or 5 day ride to Gonzaga bay and back. I decided that I wanted to take my son (River) on this trip too. At first, I wanted to find a couple of experienced guys to tag along with, but this trip seemed like a great opportunity to spend with him and he is strong and mature enough to handle it. I talked my friend Brad Goostree into hauling his KLR 250 down from the bay area. We did a sailing trip a few years back and I knew he would be perfect for this trip. It was a great decision. I acquired a CRF230F for River and we began the laborious process of outfitting our bikes for the trip. I would be riding my DRZ400.

Early Saturday we went down with a group of about 25 friends (Mostly from Malibu Presbyterian) and worked alongside the wonderful people from Baja Build to construct two houses. It was a great way to kick off the week. Many people in the neighborhood we build in live in tiny shacks, often constructed from garage doors, boxes or whatever can be found. They are often shy and don’t know how to handle a large number of gringos descending on their neighborhood to build a couple of houses. But it’s a huge blessing for us and them to give and receive a sturdy dwelling that has a real roof with shingles, windows and even drywall. We also built an outhouse next to the main structure.

Working on framing. That's River on the left.
Working on framing. That’s River on the left.
Baja Build - Raising the wall!
Baja Build – Raising the wall!

Day 1: Tecate to San Felipe.

We stayed at a place called Rancho Tecate the night before our first day. It is probably the closest hotel I could find to the trail head. They are trying to become a high end resort, complete with horseback riding, wine tasting and a very sad looking driving range. It’s grossly overpriced for what it is, but I wanted to leave my trailer somewhere secure for the week and have plenty of room to stage the bikes the night before. This place fit the bill.

Planning to go 200 miles on our first day was definitely optimistic. I did as much research as I could, but I didn’t realize that there are lots of places to stay before San Felipe. In hindsight, we should have stayed at Lazaro Cardenas or Mikes Sky Ranch. Here is the planned route for day 1.

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We set out pretty early Monday morning. It was awesome to finally be on the trail after weeks of preparation.

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After a couple of hours, I got a flat on the front. Not a huge deal but took about 40 min to fix.

Flat in Baja
Flat in Baja

I don’t have a ton of pics of our first day, but it was a beautiful  drive, especially through the pine forest in the Parque Nacional Constitución and Leguna Juraz. We hit the Sawmill gas checkpoint late in the afternoon. Just in time for a cloudburst.

Typical Homemade Baja Gate.
Typical Homemade Baja Gate.

It was getting late and we found an easy path to Baja Rt3 and headed straight for San Felipe. I wish we had planned to stay at Mikes Sky Ranch or somewhere more north. Next time!

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We gotta get moving
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Getting in late in San Felipe

Day 2: San Felipe to San Felipe.

The plan was to ride an easy 100 miles to Gonzaga bay.

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Sunrise in San Felipe

 

Morning Coffee
Morning Coffee

After getting the bikes ready for day two, I noticed that my back tire was bulging on one side. The week prior, I had re-mounted an old Dunlop I had laying around with only a couple hundred miles on it. I had quite a difficult time getting it onto the rim and I must have damaged it, but we came this far, so I decided to re-set the bead and press on. Bad idea.

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We rode south and towards the beach. We found several miles or wide salt flats along the water and had a blast riding along the open terrain. We stopped under a tree for shade and a snack and took some glamour shots of the bikes..day-2-drz

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Unfortunately the tide was too high to ride on the beach, so we headed south on the new paved road. A few miles in, my rear tire came fully off the rim. Thankfully we were going very slow offroad looking for trails. We walked to the nearest house and knocked. The old man that answered runs a fishing operation and has several boats. Long story short, we hung at his place for a good part of the afternoon while we waited for a ride back to San Felipe. It was awesome to see these guys pull their trucks right into the water to launch and retrieve their boats.

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Scallops! YUM!
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Waiting for a ride.

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Getting a ride with River and Brad following.
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I definitely damaged this Dunlop. Thank God no one was hurt. We found a little shop (Jamies) in San Felipe where I was able to buy a brand new used tire! Basically we lost a day. So we had to do a little re-planning of our route at a local Coffeeshop/Internet Cafe in San Felipe.. No worries, it’s not an adventure if everything goes as expected.

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Street Tacos!
Street Tacos!

Day 3: Gonzaga Bay

Day 3 was epic. We made it out of San Felipe early and headed towards Gonzaga Bay. Again out on the salt flats south of San Felipe.

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We found the end the road. It’s in Baja!

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The tide was low enough to ride on the beach! We probably went 10 miles or so on the playa.

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After poking around looking for dirt trails here and there, we arrived at Alfonsinas. It’s the only little hotel in Gonzaga bay, and they have been catering to offroaders and adventurers for decades. The bay itself is magic. The sand bar that separates the two bays comes and goes away with the tide. The water is full of life and at night you can see the milky way above and experience the brilliant bioluminescence in the water. I’ve never been to a place like this. The simplicity and raw beauty was stunning and I was glad to share it with my son.

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The water was warm, even in late October.

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While we were eating dinner, we watched a guy walking around in the water doing something funny with his feet and pulling up loads of chocolate clams. I knew that the beaches on the sea of Cortez are full of clams, but I’ve never successfully found any. We gave it a try and Brad found a giant clam. The biggest I’ve ever seen! We gave it to a family that was cooking clams at the hotel.

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The back bay at low tide and sunset. Pictures don’t do it justice.

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Day 4: Gonzaga to Lázaro Cárdenas

Beautiful sunrise on Gonzaga. Was hard to leave. Snapped this sunrise pic with the moon still up from our room.

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Breakfast at Alfonsinas

 

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Gassing up at Puertecitos

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The best meal we had the entire trip was when we quickly passed through San Felipe and stopped at a seafood taco stand on the main street. It was delicious and the owner brought out all kinds of extras for us to try. The salsa was incredible and I have no idea what was in it. We felt like celebrities on this trip. People always wanted to talk to us, ask us where we had been and where we were headed. Several people sincerely invited us to stay in their homes next time we come down!

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The beer comes with a free shrimp. YES! Delicious!
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I have no idea what was in this salsa, but it was incredible. Gotta go back.

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After lunch we continued north and found another amazing dry lake. Very wide and it went on for miles.

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We arrived in Lázaro Cárdenas with no hotel reservations.. but no problem! We stayed at a little place called Mi Pueblo. Made a few small repairs and then dinner!

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The little cafe didn’t have any adult beverages, so we had to make our own. I ended up making gringo-ritas for the entire staff… including the chef! They were pretty much terrible but everyone wanted one!

Day 5: Lázaro Cárdenas to Tecate

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We took an easier route back to Tecate, thanks to the great guys at the http://dualsport-sd.com forum. We woke up at 5 and waited for light. Someone near the hotel treated us to fireworks just before light. Must have been a late party!

This is my favorite pic of the trip. You could smell the flowers in the desert.

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Brunch in Ojos Negros. Sorry for all the salsa pics, but this one was made of ground chilies in oil, similar to some Asian sauces. SOOOO GOOD!

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We got on the Los Compadres road and made great time. We found this little empty camp with several beautiful finished houses (rare in this area!) and an awesome cable bridge.

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We got off the main Compadre road and came across this amazing abandon building. I think it’s known as The Estrella de David Centro de Rehabilitación. We rode right up the giant ramp and had a look.img_20161028_130753

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I spoke with a neighbor about this. Apparently it was built in 2010 and never used. My Spanish is not that great but I think the guy was telling me that the man who funded the project was murdered. Crazy! It’s a HUGE building that could be a really cool hotel. If anyone reading this knows the story, please contact me. The internet yielded nothing except a few observations in passing.day-5-sod-10 day-5-sod-8

We made it back to our trailer parked at Rancho Tecate and safety home.

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It was a lifetime opportunity to take this trip, and I’m already planning on going back to Baja as soon as possible. Lots of great conversations with River and my good friend Brad along the way. Lots of time to think. Stuff like this opens the mind and heart. The cognitive load of biking in unknown terrain is just enough distraction to keep the worried and busy parts of my mind occupied, while allowing time for fresh observations and new ideas to flow in. I’ve got a strong need for exploration, adventure and friendship, and this trip was everything I had hoped for and more.

Lessons learned:

  • Make the first day as short as possible. Even though we had all done shakedown runs with our equipment, a lot of little issues cropped up that slowed us down. 200 miles on day 1 was too much. We should have planned to go to Mikes sky ranch.
  • If anything at all looks mechanically wrong, (especially critical things like tires bulging), take care of it while in civilization, even at the cost of a day of riding. Having a tire come off the rim in the middle of nowhere could have been disastrous.
  • In established small towns, you can usually find a room cheaper than if you scour the internet.
  • Any plastic that says HDPE (High Density PolyEthylene) and has a Triangle with a 2 on in will hold gas. I cleaned and used 5 oil bottles for a total of 1.25 gallons of spare gas for the 230. We brought a small funnel for easy filling. Plastic bottles are not without risk though. I did crush one in a fall and soaked my saddlebag, but overall I would do it again.

Equipment that was amazing:

  • Brad’s slime brand electric battery tender pump.
  • River’s ebay special headlight on the CRF230F.
  • My Nelson Saddle Bags. They held up really well.
  • Locus Map for Android. I used Locus on my phone with a an iKross Universal Smartphone holder and USB battery tender adapter. I would 100% use this method again, as Locus is extremely customizable. I also liked using the phone because it was easy to pull a track off the internet and instantly load it in the program. No fooling with computers mid trip. I brought an old backup phone just in case.

I wouldn’t  want to do this trip with more than 4 or 5 bikes without a support truck of some type. I think the likelihood of breakdowns would outweigh the benefits of strength in numbers. Plus having to stay in multiple rooms would mean a lot more planning.

I can’t wait to return!

 

 

 

One Comment

  1. That’s a fine ride report and photos. You experienced Baja pretty much the way you’re supposed to. Nicely done, guys!

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