Motorcycle trip to Baja California
Motorcycle Escape Magazine
Article by Joe Colombero
"Be honest with me," said Jay.
"Are we going to die out here today?"
The question left me speechless. True, it was hot, we were low on gas and water, Jay had a flat tire (which was taking me forever to fix) and technically we were lost. But die in Baja? Not in this movie. I started to laugh.
Personally I was having a great time. We were in Baja, Mexico, a place that most off-roaders consider a dirtbike paradise.
At this point in our ride we had already climbed to over 4000 feet, eaten the most awesome Mexican Tacos, then descended into the desert for some high-speed virgin trailblazing. So far, it was one of those City Slickers "best days ever" ride.
Jay took my laughing as some kind of sinister response. "You are not planning to eat me or anything like that, are you?" he asked, "You know, for my moisture?"
"We just ate an hour and a half ago and I am still full," I said. "Now quit asking stupid questions before I really decide to kill you. And if you are going to hover over me, at least stand up-sun so I can get a little shade".
What's So Great About Baja?
The Baja peninsula stretches southward from the U.S. border for nearly 800 miles. The deep blue Pacific Ocean surrounds it on the west and the emerald green waters of the Sea of Cortez on the east. Along Baja's 2000+ miles of coast are deserted coves with pristine beaches and picturesque fishing villages. At the southern tip of Baja, at Cabo San Lucas, the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez meet. Rugged mountains form the spine of the peninsula, creating some of the most challengingly beautiful riding spots in the world. The Baja climate varies from a cool climate similar to Southern California in the northwest, semi-arid mountainous regions in the interior and semi-tropical area along the southwestern coast. Baja is geographically isolated from the rest of Mexico, which graces the area with unique variety of plants found no place else on earth. The giant cordon cacti, cirio and date palms that the Jesuits planted in the 17th century, and the mangrove thickets are just a few of the varieties found in Baja. The temperature can vary from summer highs topping 100 degrees F to balmy winter temperatures in the 70s and 80s. The ideal time to travel to Baja is from late September to mid-June. You can ride your off-road motorcycle through the towns and cities. Be polite, smart and obey the laws, and Baja is a paradise for off-road riders.
OUR TEAM: TWO ACTORS, AN ARGENTINIAN AND ME.
We had a good mix for this ride. Perry King (yes, the actor from Rip Tide, Lord of the Flatbush, Melrose Place, Spin City, etc.) is a competent off-road rider and a hard core desert rat who actually likes to go camping in places like Death Valley. Perry's friend Emilio Bole is another solid rider. Emilio had some previous Baja experience and he grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina; his fluent Spanish would be an asset in getting fuel, food and directions. Also his previous military survival training made him a valuable companion.
Emilio Bole, Jay Acovone & Perry King At the Rancho Santa Veronica.
Perry and Emilio are very honest about their skills. "We're slow," admits Perry, "but we will get there." Perry was right he and Emilio tackled everything that Baja hat to throw at them and easily, if patiently, made it through. Jay Acovone was the third member of out group, another actor you may have seen in shows like JAG, Castaway, or his Emmy-caliber role in NYPD Blue. This was Jay's first trip to Mexico. In fact this was Jay's first trip to a third world country and apparently his first camping trip. Jay is a decent rider, but having grown up in New York City, an outdoorsman he is not. Then there was me J.C.- the writer who was supposed to lead this quartet on our ideal little vacation in the third world. Some people think I can ride, but those are people who don't really know anything about riding and are easily impressed by a stoppie (which I can't do).
We crossed the border from California into Tecate, Mexico, and then drove 45 minutes to Rancho Santa Veronica were we spent our first night. Rancho Santa Veronica is one of those places that caters to motorcyclists and is a perfect starting and finishing point for any Baja ride. The hotel has nice rooms with hot showers and the restaurant serves outstanding Mexican food. Plus, riders are allowed to store their trucks there for $5 per day while they go off on two wheels down the Baja Peninsula. Rancho Santa Veronica was our only night in a hotel....(auch).
The plan for "dia uno" was to tackle 135 miles of trail with a lunch and gas stop at Lalo's Tacos in La Rumorosa. Sixty five miles was pushing the range for a tank of gas. We were all riding four-strokes with oversize IMS tanks, but still figured on a safe range of about 75 miles. So, 65 miles on the first leg left us only with about 10 miles for getting lost or other sightseeing side trips. Fortunately, we didn't get lost on the first leg.
The riding was amazing. Baja is full of sand washes, open desert, dry lakes, hills and mountains; there are even forests and rivers if you know where to find them.
At one point Perry had a little trouble with a rocky uphill. He decided to help the rest of us by standig in the best line and directing (actors always want to direct) everyone onto the worst line. It's a good strategy if you want to irritate your buddies, but payback looms forever after like the Sword of Damocles.
we made into la Rumorosa with a little trouble but very hungry and went straight to Lalo's Tacos to fill up. Lalo's is one of those little joints in Mexico that you wouldn't eat at if you were paranoid about food. Too bad, because it's these iffy spots that offer some of the best Mexican food in the world.
From there we descended 4000 feet to sea level were the temperatures reached well over 100 degrees!
The plan was to ride along the Sierra de Juarez Mountains heading due south to the campground - Canyon de Guadalupe. We would take a detour at about 50 miles to go to the shores of Laguna Salada to gas up one more time, before heading to our camp.
This is when things went a little wrong with my navigation and we burned up a few extra miles (and fuel) with what I'll call an "unplanned scenic detour". It was so hot we were sucking the water out of our hydration packs like vampires. Then Jay got a flat and started wondering if he was going to die in Baja without cell phone service.
Three mayor highways traverse the peninsula, Highway 1 runs down the western coast from Tijuana to El Rosario where it crosses to the center and goes all the way down to the southern tip. Highway 3 crosses the mountainous peninsula from Ensenada over to the eastern coast to get to San Felipe. Highway 5 runs down the eastern coast from Mexicali to San Felipe. If you get lost off-road, just head east or west (depending on which side of the mountains you're on) and you will eventually find one of these highways or a major road leading to the highway.
Baja California - La cuesta de Sierra Juarez.
So that's what we did. We went to the highway, found a gas station, got our bearings and headed to Canyon de Guadalupe. Upon arrival we were greeted with the sight of a lush and remote pal oasis with a myriad of natural hot springs. This campground is a paradise nestled in a hostile desert environment set in the base of the mountains. Each camp site has its own private hot pool with a palapa or pal shaded sleeping area. After 135 miles of mountains and desert the hot pools were a welcome sight. No one complained about sleeping on the ground for the next two nights because the soaking in the hot pools made all the kinks and saddle sores vanish.
The campground was full with other Baja adventurers and we spent the next two nights swapping stories, lies, food and beer. For day two we choose to lounge in the hot pools, and hike the canyons to cool pools and waterfalls for impromptu cliff diving. We also took a 10 mile loop at the base of the mountain. So, basically we were playing cowboys but with motorcycles instead of horses. Baja is like the Wild West, we camped under the stars.