by Sam Lepore
Date: Friday, February 14th, 1997
Some things – even good things – sometimes take longer than one expects… this is my trip report from the Death Valley Days trip and my sojourn into Mexico in January. A little late, but it’s probably still interesting reading for snowbound presidents in the East. (Sunny and 70+ in SF today 🙂
2,970 miles in 6 days of travel. This story would have been MORE compete if I hadn’t left 5 pages of notes on the boat in Baja – but I get ahead of myself.
Pre-story: 4 pm, Thursday afternoon, just before I’m ready to go home from work and pack for the early Friday departure, the new senior manager drops by and delivers the news I expected to hear in July (the place is being closed and moved to Southern California, I was part of the project to do the move): poof. Change in plans, we don’t need you. More specifically, we don’t need you as of Now. After a bit of discussion about timing of departure and severance pay, etc, I suggested that this could wait until I returned from my ride. Graciously, they agreed. “Happy vacation”. Yeah. Looks like it’s going to be a permanent vacation. Now if this HAD been July, I would have planned a very long trip, but most of the rest of the country is, shall we say, not pleasant for motorcycle travel at this time?
Friday. Day 1.
Agreed to meet new President Dave at a coffee shop in Lafayette. Beautiful sunrise, clear and cool in SF, low 50’s. Simple packing done in minutes, the K75RT looks eager to roll, and I’m across the bridge, through the tunnel, and into ‘the burbs’ to wait for Dave. What is it about Starbucks? Do they give away coupons you save up for free Ford Explorers? It seems you can’t park in their lot if you drive anything else. Dammit. I am a motorcyclist. Don’t need no steekin lot. I park on the sidewalk in front of the place. Dave’s a few minutes late … but since he lives closer I figured it would take him longer.
Isn’t it strange how when you’re waiting for someone you’ve never met it is so easy to recognize them? That’s one of the odd things about the IBMWR that seems so ‘right’, as I later commented in Death Valley. This group, and the Internet in general, has restored some of my faith in society. How is it we can so readily trust people we know so little about, but are so sure of? We go through the rest of our business and social events inherently suspicious of people, but expect and find compatibility between our net friends. Maybe positive thoughts make positive experiences.
It was the second BMW rider that came off the freeway who I ‘recognized’ as Dave. Ice green R11RT, tankbag piled to his chin, the “oh boy what’s next?” look on his face. Yup, the adventure has begun.
Handshakes, coffee, pastries, and life stories in 20 minutes, then we’re rolling out to Marsh Creek Road, down the Byron highway to Tracy, heading for 120 to take 99 south. Passing what used to be grazing fields east of Tracy, we were both surprised to see lakes from the big floods. Lakes with houses in the middle of them. Houses with water up to the tops of the windows. Houses with cars still beside them, and in one case laundry still on a line … dipping into the water in the wind. Startling images to remind us we are only visitors on the land; nature owns it, not us.
There’s never much to say about the central valley of California. It is flat whether you take 99 or I5. I5 is faster, but bump more bump boring bump and bump not bump quite bump as bump smooth. (Bump) We had considered going down some well known 2-lane roads, but given the recent rains and the 500+ miles we wanted to cover before sunset, 99 was the better choice. Seeing some of the rivers we crossed (San Joaquin, Mokelumne, Merced) right up to the bottom of the bridges, I was glad we wimped out. It wasn’t until that night, however, that I found out this was Dave’s *first* long trip. More glad we didn’t push the limits.
We exited at Bakersfield and found a diner for lunch, then decided to chance CA 178 and Walker Pass rather than more freeway over Tehachapi. It was still clear and warm enough that the high country shouldn’t be icy (Walker is 1,500 feet higher than Tehachapi). It got noticeably cooler as we rose in the hills and I asked about road conditions when we stopped for gas at Lake Elsinore. “Well, yesterday the plow had a slippery time, but today there’s only a little sand at the summit.” Never assume about weather in the Siera Nevada. Always ask. (faint announcement in the background … ‘now seating the Donner party …’ 🙂
The pass was clear, but there was plenty of snow on the roadside. Good ride. As we came down the other side, another R11RT caught up. He stayed with us until Wildrose where he took the “shortcut”. We stuck to the paved route. Nothing significant to report about the rest … Dave finally had enough of my 72 mph locked throttle and blew past me over the Panamints. What a sight – a R11 at full tilt devouring a mountain slope like a hungry wolf on a fresh kill. This guy and this bike were in their element. We met again in Stovepipe just at dusk and rode the last 25 miles to the Ranch in a starkly vivid eerie waning luminescence that seemed to make the desert 4 dimensional, with the 4th dimension being timelessness.
525 miles today.
Enough others have talked about DVD itself, so I’ll skip to…
Sunday. Day 3.
None of the other Presidents who had been interested in going to Baja were able to make it except for Duner, who decided he wanted to go ‘down’ Baja. So I headed out by myself aiming toward Tucson and Nogales. I waved to Duner as I left and joked “Maybe I’ll pass you in Baja.” When I got to Baker, just as I entered the ramp to I15, another BMW came to the light. We rode east together until the Searchlight exit where he waved, peeled off, and was surprised when I followed. Quick intro at the bottom of the ramp … he is Bryan from Tucson and was planning on going home by following the Colorado for a bit. That’s one of the great things about being a motorcycle traveler. You can make destination decisions based on the terrain, almost at whim. So on a whim, I scrapped my route plans and said let’s ride together! He was happy to do so because he hadn’t done a lot of long trips alone either. Great day for riding. Getting gas in Searchlight, I noticed an ‘extra’ hose at the filling station … it was labeled 100 octane _leaded_ “racing fuel”. Now WHO uses that enough for it to be in a roadside pump? Is this UFO country or what?
When we gassed up in Parker, I told Bryan about a neat 2-lane I found from Hope to the Interstate just outside of Phoenix when I came back from Alpine in November. He looked at my map and ‘accused’ me of drawing the road myself since he had never seen it and he was familiar with this part of his state. What can I say? I also ‘found’ a road in New Mexico that the famous group of riders from Tucson who have a global positioning sensing device on their handlebar didn’t know about. But hey. That’s the adventure part of my travels. We took it and he had a blast. Well, it must have been, because he sure blasted away from me!
We didn’t quite make Tucson by nightfall as I hoped, so while we were on I8 during “deer time”, we rode side by side in two lanes with our bucktail toasters on high. What a light two bikes can throw! Eventually, he peeled off to go home and I found a cheap Patel, uh, I mean Motel. BTW, did you know there really is a “NoTell Motel” in Tucson? It is only a few blocks from where you can find someone to share the room ‘by the hour’ as their rates indicate. (No, I didn’t stay there.)
About 725 miles today.
Monday. Day 4.
Up early and … Damn. I forgot. It is a holiday. Triple-A was closed. I HAVE to get insurance before Mexico and I don’t really want to vamp another day in Tucson, nice as it is. This was supposed to be a _riding_vacation. Bummer. So what do you do when you hit a snag? I throw donuts at it. Dunkin Donuts, in this case. Got in all four of the food groups in one sitting, too! Grease, Sugar, Caffeine, and Chocolate. Ah, now I think I’ll burn it off by riding down to Nogales and get ready for tomorrow.
Road signs as soon as you exit I10 south to Nogales: This Highway Is Signed In Metric. All *distances* were in kilometers, but it was very misleading that the speed limits were still in miles per hour. You could tell the Mexican drivers – they would see 65 as the speed (thinking kph) and be going 40 (mph). So I compensated … I saw 65 (mph), translated it to 100 (kph), and went 100 mph. Seemed appropriate, no? Nogales in Notime! And hey! Nogales (being metric) hadn’t heard there was a holiday ‘up there’ in the rest of Arizona. Everything was wide open! Yeah, except there is no AAA there.
Then I remembered what Richard told me in DVD about Sanborn’s Insurance as his vendor of choice. Yes, I have to agree. Sanborn’s was helpful in explaining everything I needed to know, answered a boatload of ‘stupid’ questions, exchanged money at very reasonable rates, and gave a great guide book for the trip (although it is intended to be read by a car-seat passenger, not a motorcyclist. $40 for a week of insurance, including legal assistance support if needed, translator assistance available, info on making phone calls, good city street maps in the travel book, shortcut info to customs, do it. It is worth it.
Mexico! First impression. Bus breath. I’d only been ‘way south’ once before when I flew into Mexico City. After a day, I had a headache from the acrid unburned aromatic hydrocarbons (translation: thick black smoke that just hangs in the air). Well, that part of Mexico hasn’t changed. After a while you get used to the smell of the exhaust, but again after a day I had a dull sinus headache again. Anyway, immediate change in driving habits. Anybody parks anywhere they want. Traffic is dense as sardines and rolling mere inches from each other. Ok. Just think “L.A.”. Zoom. Lane split, and Do Not make eye contact. And certainly do not stare at those senoritas! What is it about the way Latin women dress? They are downright sexy in close fitting, how-can-anyone-sit-down-in-something-that-short, very exposing clothing. Their ‘normal’ street attire is mighty suggestive compared to even what I see in SF. Luckily, I kept my eyes on the road. Mostly 🙂
When you cross the border, the Federal customs officers barely notice Americans. I stopped, waiting to at least be asked a question. After about 2 minutes of no one giving me a second glance, I rode off somehow expecting to be chased at any minute. Then I remembered I was supposed to get a vehicle permit ‘after I crossed the border’, so I turned around on a side street and headed back to the border. Of course, at this point all the traffic is funneled toward American customs – and now I’m trying to NOT cross the border. (Why do I always seem to end up swimming upstream?) I pulled up behind the Federal officers and caught their attention. No, I didn’t get permits there … there is another checkpoint at Kilo 21 south of the city. Ok, thanks, uh, how do I get back to the other side without double-crossing the border.
The Mexican answer to traffic flow: What traffic? The Federale just pointed backward against the oncoming stream of 4 lanes of traffic and said “Vaya ayi”. “Go this way.” Sure. Why not split oncoming traffic on a $12,000 motorcycle in a country where an accident – even a scratched bumper – is a criminal offense that YOU have to prove was not your fault. Ah. When in Rome (or Mexico) … I shrugged, rode up on the sidewalk, tapped my horn to ask the 3 Federal police with automatic weapons to move aside, and rode a block through the center of a “no vehiculos” park … leaving with no gunshots and one laughing customs officer in my wake.
Kilo 21. Lots of signs in Spanish and English for “prepare to stop” “you must stop” “do not proceed without stopping”. So, when you do stop, there are NO signs for what to do after you stop. Since there weren’t any other tourists there at the time, no one I asked knew about permits. Especially for motorcycles. What do you do when faced with three buildings: Banjercito Cambios Immigracion ? I figured money is what makes it all happen, so I went to Cambios. They told me to go to Banjercito. They told me to go to “the first building”. They told me to go to Cambios. So, I went to Immigracion. 🙂
One thing I can suggest if you want to travel in Mexico – take LOTS of time with you. Luckily, I had that. The ‘migra officer gave me a form to fill out, said “Take your time.”, and picked up a newspaper. I filled out a couple of lines and asked a question. Without looking up from the paper he said “You are there already? Not taking enough time.” When I finished the form, I left it on the counter and just turned to look out the window. Hmm. It did seem everyone was stopping. It did not seem anyone was going. The parking lot was filling up. It was a full five minutes later he put the paper down and said “Ah, you must be done!” Then he gave me the explicit instructions about the 5 other steps I would have to do to get the permit, sparing me what probably would have been a lot longer if I was in a hurry. Take lots of time with you … and use it.
One more note, one of the clerks picked up my System3 helmet to try it on, but didn’t notice the gloves I had stuffed into it. What silly hand movements we both went through to get the gloves off his head! He eventually said it was ‘too quiet’ in the helmet and he wouldn’t be able to hear cars sneaking up on him. In Mexico I can understand that. I wore the helmet anyway.
Everyone who saw the bike had the same question – how fast can it go. I gather that most Mexicans do not get a chance to really speed even though absolutely no on pays attention to the speed limits. 200 kph wowed them. So. After all that time and a now very full lot of stop-don’t-go … who did they give the first permit to? Yes, thank you. He who has the most time loses the least.
The rest of the day was, well, a bit of a disappointment. MX 15 down the west coast of the mainland is just like an Interstate – 2 sets of double lanes divided by a median. And the west coast is just like west Texas. Straight. Flat. Cactus scrub to the horizon. The Sonora desert is lovely, but as a motorcycle road it is, well, boring. Except for the occasional moments of terror.
Two words I came to love seeing on a sign: Curvos Peligrosos. After the first set, which I entered cautiously, I realized they really meant it, and those Dangerous Curves were likely to be off camber, reducing radius, narrow, and blind – all at the same time. But fun.
Two words I came to hate seeing on a sign: Gravella Suelta. Luckily I was alert while trying to process this translation in my head at 62 mph, sorry, 100 kph, because the OH SHIT reaction factor would not have had enough time to respond. The Loose Gravel sign was about 10 feet, sorry, 3 meters, before the road dissolved into (I kid you not) marble sized gravel 3 to 6 inches, ok,ok, 7.5 to 15 cm deep. They just oil the road (with what looks like all the used motor oil we recycle in the US), then dump a truck load of rocks and wait for the following traffic to press it down! You do not want to follow a truck through this … but you do not want to be in front of traffic either. You do not want to be here at all! I waited for a break in traffic and ‘snowplowed’ the K75 through the drifts to an exit about a kilometer away.
It was too easy to travel on the divided road, but it was too difficult to travel on the side streets through and between the towns. Passing through even a small town could take half an hour to cover barely 2 miles. I decided the toll road was the lesser of evils, though boring. 400 miles of west Texas south of the border in a day. Not bad, but not fun. The tolls were reasonable for a motorcycle … about $14 total. One interesting side event – when you pay the toll you get a raffle ticket for a drawing of a Chevrolet. It was some benefit that you can also buy tickets for, I don’t remember the cause. But anyway, since I wasn’t going to be present to win, I saved my 3 or 4 tickets until my last toll on the road. Then while taking a short break, I walked toward a family lounging in and around a van in the parking area. Motorcyclists are rare thereabouts, and those local motorbike riders do not wear helmets or leathers. I must have looked like a space alien coming to take a specimen back to my planet. As I homed in on one boy the family crowd grew quiet and a couple shrank into the van … I handed him the tickets, said “Por usted” and walked away. Geez. You would have thought I had given him the grand prize itself (Maybe I did?). They were jumping and screaming and waving and lined up to wave again as I rode past them out of the lot. Sometimes a little thing means a lot more than you though it would.
Everybody says DO NOT travel in Mexico after nightfall. They are not kidding. If the vacas don’t get you, the topes will. Vacas, the cows, lay down on the warm pavement after dark. Even a GS has difficulty with that large a bump. Topes, speed bumps that may be a foot high!, are not marked. Nor are potholes that may be the mirror image of where the topes came from. So, I timed my day’s travel to get me to Guaymas at sundown. “Timed” is a euphemism for aligning my throttle wrist with the angle of the sun in the sky. The more one went down, so did the other. Even so, a topes nearly got me. I bottomed out the K and threw 3 curses before the airborne front end landed. All appeared to be ok, rim check was fine – thankfully I do not have the 3 spoke wheels, or they both would have been goners.
Guaymas itself is a pure Mexican port town. A couple of miles away is a for-rich-Americans marina and resort. It had been suggested to me as a place to stay but was too ‘familiar’ for this adventure. I found a wonderful enclosed courtyard motel with a nice restaurant attached, right on the main street. Room for one: equivalent of $17. Called home that night using the special Mexican 800 number that directly connects to AT&T for credit cards. Unless you speak fluent Spanish, good luck on Latatel (normal long distance). About every 2 minutes while I was on the phone, another local bus would come by unmuffled BLADA BLADA BLADA BLADA BLADA leaving that trail of visible air sewage (black exhaust) hanging like wires just above the street. Man, I can imagine what it would be like to decarbonize one of those engines.
Vicinity of 600 miles today.
Tuesday. Day 5.
Looking at various maps and thinking about the muted pleasure of 300 more miles to the next ferry port, combined with 400 miles of return for that segment of Baja, I decided to save those two travel days for elsewhere and try to get on the ferry from Guaymas to Santa Rosalia. Reservations a week in advance? Nah. Motorcycles don’t need no steenkin reservations. But since the ferry was due to leave at 9 am and tickets would be sold at 8 am, I decided to get there at 7 am. What a plan. (Remember: Mexico. Time. Lots of it.)
When I first walked out the motel room door, I thought geez, all the bus fumes from last night collapsed into a butt. Nope, it was a heavy moist fog that made the air quiet. The fog was so well defined that you could play with it with your hands – like stirring cream into very strong coffee and watching it mix. I packed and left for the ferry dock. Big thanks to Sanborn’s here again. There were no signs. Without the Sanborn map I would have gotten lost. Truth is, even WITH the map I got lost … but pulled up at 7 am to find a line of people already at the window. (And not another vehicle in sight.) Well, when in traffic WITH a moto, you just go to the head of the line. Everyone expects that. So, in (people) traffic with moto gear, I just went to the head of the line – and no one objected.
Yes, it was possible to get on the ferry today, that is, if it runs today. You see, the schedule is printed because a schedule is supposed to be printed. The schedule is not what the ferry uses to decide when to go … I don’t know WHAT the ferry uses! But they sold me a ticket. Great! I got in line – scratch that – being the only vehicle there I formed the line at the loading dock. The transportation officer who helped me so far came over again and said “Retonarse a nueve!” Return at 9? I thought it left at 9? No, it leaves at 11. (Schedule? They don’t need no steenkin schedule.)
Back into town to find a coffee shop. Nope. Too early, so I sat in the city center park, played with the fog and finally got to read *my* copy of the 60 CityBike newspapers I took to DV. Precisely at 9 there I was at the gate again. And at 9:02 there were two more motorcycles behind me. Both BMWs. Both GSs. Two brothers from Colorado about to spend a week in Baja. It occurred to me much later that the entire time I was in Mexico I saw only 7 other motorcycles (not counting mopeds in towns), and 6 of the 7 were BMWs. Says something about the ‘adventure touring’ moniker.
Ken and Dave both spoke Spanish well, which was a good thing. When the customs officer came through to check papers (aside: each Mexican state, i.e. Sonora, Baja Sur, Baja Norte, has its own customs and border guards just like crossing into another country), he smiled at me and asked ‘how fast can this go?’. When he got to theirs, he looked front, looked back, looked front again, looked at MY bike again …obviously something was not obvious. Ken said “Hay una problema?” Customs said SI! and that was the last I understood for 20 minutes. Turns out the brothers had trucked their bikes from home and left the pickup at the fancy American hotel resort. When they crossed the border they got a vehicle permit for the truck but not the bikes (each).
Customs here at the ferry thought all three of us were trying to use MY permit. Arggg. Good thing the ferry does not follow a schedule. Oh, yeah, by the way, the transport officer said the ferry might not go today at all because of the fog.
Well eventually Ken worked it out, though I don’t know how. No gratuity changed hands – that I do know because Ken was surprised his offer for some ‘appreciation’ was declined. Ready for the next hurdle … and it was: Federales. Out of a barracks comes 6 Marines in full combat dress (with M16s that I can see are not for parade use). They take up clear fire positions on high points of the dock and walkways. Then 4 more marines come escorting a blue beret escorting a black labrador retriever. As they approach each car or truck, the locals open all doors, get out, and step away. The dog goes in, under, around, and in one case up on the hood. Nada. What interested the dog most was the nerf football the brothers were tossing around the lot. But these marines were very serious. Three times they passed us. Three times they ignored us. Not even ‘how fast …’.
Fog. Fog. Fog. Suddenly everybody scrambles, the gates open, we are rushed on board. Hurry up, tie the bikes, hurry up, get off the ramp, hurry up, go up the walkway. Of course it would be another hour before we sailed … but Mexico. Time.
One more note about the serious marines. I was walking down the ramp to get on the boat when one marine suddenly stepped ‘in my face’ to stop me. Looking me in the eye he asked “Militarista?” I could see another marine tense a bit. Hey, I’m just dressed in jeans, flannel shirt, and a leather bomber jacket. Sorry, sir, I don’t understand. “You military?” No, I am not military. Still looking in my eyes he said “Your boots.” Oops. Indeed I was wearing a pair of old paratrooper boots, the style that CIA operatives had been fond of, and not exactly ‘current issue’. No, no, not military – motorcycle! Si, passo! Whew.
Oh yeah, the ‘scheduled’ 9 am ferry left the dock at 12:30. Mexican math also dictated that the ‘scheduled’ 8 hour trip would now actually only take 6 hours. Nonetheless, we docked at 5:30. Go figure.
Santa Rosalia is a different state of Mexico, so the whole sniff search routine had to happen again. (So tell me, where is the contraband supposed to come from if you are sniffed before the ferry and after the ferry? Does anyone every sniff the ferry itself?) After all the vehicles unloaded, they lined up. Ken decided he wasn’t going to wait to be ignored, so he just drove over the curb and out the gate. I waited for the click of the safety lock on the carbines … Dave gassed his bike a little too much and spit a little rooster tail as he jumped the curb. I waited for the snick of the switch from single round to full-automatic … Nada. So I rode the long way around the lot and out between the tire spikes on the entrance ramp. The dog wagged as I went by. I waved back. No one mentioned my boots.
The brothers wanted to camp. I wanted to find a motel. We made one pass of the town as the sun just set, then they headed south. I found an old hotel that could have been in any western movie and took a room for the equivalent of $11.
About 5 miles today.
Wednesday. Day 6.
Baja is about 1,000 miles from top to tip. I was half way. After chatting last night with two just-out-of-college guys who said it took 3 days of hard travel in their car to drive down from Tijuana, I decided to push hard today. Up at 6 to be ready to roll at sunrise 7 am. Santa Rosalia Baja Sur is not far from the Sur/Norte border where the time
zone changes to Pacific, so I would regain an extra hour to travel. Again, no coffee shops or restaurants open that early, so I got settled into my privation-travel mindset. Unfortunately when that happens, I sometimes overdo the ride/gas/pee ride/gas/pee cycle a bit. Today would be such.
One of the nicest things about BMW motorcycles is that their tank size is perfectly matched to my bladder size. One empties at the same rate the other fills, seemingly in perfect unison. Kinda gives new meaning to that warning light on the K … and I have been tempted to call the FuelPlus gauge by another four letter word that … never mind. As I crossed the Sur/Norte border, the road was blocked by traffic cones. A couple of trucks were by the side of the road near an empty guard shack. I rolled over to them, but no one spoke English and I didn’t really know what to ask anyway – so I drove through the cones and on ahead. Around the next corner, there’s another set of cones, and another shack. This one is NOT empty, but it does empty fast … 5 army soldiers carrying Russian made automatic weapons (didn’t recognize the model) motion me to stop in the middle of the circle they just formed. One walks toward me, I flip up the System3 chinbar (great for open face greeting!) and say (English) “Good morning! What a great day for a ride.” He looks me up and down and asks “How fast can this motorcycle go?”. (Despite the guns I’ve mentioned, I never felt worried about the troops. Treat them with respect and treat them like airport security – no joking about guns in the gas tank – and they are happy to share with you.) When I asked about the other checkpoint behind me, the soldier laughed. It was a truck weighing station that only works once a day – but the locals can’t proceed without it. Mexico. Time.
So now I’ve been riding about 4 hours, and I recognize that last town is the place the college guys said they stayed one night. That’s hard driving? Yeah, perhaps if they never passed anyone. Come to think of it, they did say they were upset at Mexican drivers, especially trucks, because it seemed every time they started to pass a truck, the driver would put on his left blinker and they would have to drop back. In case you don’t know, drivers in Mexico usually signal you when it is safe for YOU to pass … they put on their left blinker. 🙂 Then of course, the car the guys were in probably didn’t take the curvos at 70 mph, and they had to stop for gas every 100-120 miles. So at this rate, my normal riding was going to put me in Ensenada by dark. Not Bad. That’s less than 100 miles from the border.
There is only one road through Baja. It is almost a two lane road. It is two lanes if you think that 2 or 3 inches between trucks passing each other (with one wheel at the edge of the pavement) is a full lane. There may be an inch or more of ‘runoff’ beyond the white edge line. Then there is anywhere from flat sand to 20 feet drop off for a shoulder. The road surface is generally good, but you do not take your eyes off the pavement if you are travelling at anything other than walking speed! (Not kidding about the drop. When the road goes through a town it is often elevated like a levee road.) Even on a GS you MUST pay attention to where you want/have to pull off for quick escape if someone runs wide on a corner or even just to wipe a bug off your shield. Concentrating on this road is a drain. I enjoyed the ride, but like the mainland the geography was a bit disappointing. The more southern passage is in the center of the peninsula. The terrain looks a lot like Arizona. A lot of the northern passage was just inland so you could see the ocean, but not the coast. It was on flat rolling terrain a lot like New Mexico. And unless you are on a GS, there are no other roads.
The miles flowed easily. The K75 loved the constant speed. With the throttle lock screw on, it gave a steady contented purr, reminding me of a turbine at speed under load. After a while it seemed I could hear the change in elevation of the road by how the tires sang feedback going up and down the gentle hills. About 20 miles south of Rosario where the road meets the coast, I crested a small hill on a curve and suddenly passed a R11GS headed south. I recognized the rider – it was Duner who I ‘might pass’. I waved energetically to try to catch his attention. He casually return the wave and blasted on. Later in email he said he remembered my waving but just thought it was someone happy to see another BMW.
Ride/gas/pee ride/gas/pee. I was surprised to see my day total already at 500 miles. Ensenada was going to be easy, maybe I’d try for the border. I started calculating time/distance/map scenarios. It is always when you distract yourself that something happens you could have avoided … rounding a corner just south of Ensenada, I suddenly came upon a checkpoint blocking the road. These guys had set up what was almost a blind corner. Not a problem for average vehicles, but I was humming. Now I wasn’t going “too fast” but fast enough so that in the split second of getting my attention back from the numbers, I had to grab the brakes fairly hard. The front tire skipped a couple of pebbles. It was something I could have handled, but the ABS kicked in. The whine of a K bike dropping out of warp speed and the damn-is-it-loud chattering of the ABS perked up the Federales the way deer are supposed to react to deer whistles. Heads up and running. Hands were pointed at me. So far, guns were not in those hands. I stopped and was directed to pull off the road. These guys were part of what I guess is the Mexican counterpart to US Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. They had three questions: Do you have any guns? Why are you wearing military boots? How fast can this motorcycle go?
Now here’s why I say don’t joke around. It had turned a little cool in the afternoon near the coast, so at the last gas stop I put on my Gerbing jacket with the variable thermostat clipped to my jeans pocket. At the checkpoint, as I was chatting about the bike with the English speaking officer who had interrogated me, the squad captain came over with a curious look, pointed to the thermostat with the coiled wire hanging into the power socket, and said in a firm voice “Que es esto?” (What is that?) Instantly, two rifles were leveled at me. Kinda takes your breath away … but I explained ‘Electric heat, like a blanket.’ When the interrogator translated, the captain didn’t believe so he just reached out, unzipped my jacket and stuck his hand inside to feel. That made the rifles even more nervous because they had no idea what he was looking for. It all turned out ok. El Captain was impressed and the rifles went on rest again, but I didn’t need the electrics on to keep warm for a while after that …
Ensenada reminded me too much of somewhere-just-south-of-LA, and I wasn’t looking forward to a night in Tijuana, so I decided to squeeze the last 75 miles out before sundown and head for Tecate. What a wonderful surprise the MX 3 road is from El Sauzal on MX 1 (just north of Ensenada) to Tecate! A real two lane in excellent condition that rises from the sea into the mountains through two graceful passes. If you are ever in this area of Mexico, don’t miss this road! It wasn’t until I was in Tecate Mexico that I even realized there is a Tecate California. Maybe it is on the map, but other than a convenience store and a gas station, Tecate CA is just a border crossing. I passed through customs to look for a motel, found nothing, and re-entered Mexico. Both crossings surprised me. Other than US Customs running my license plate through the computer, no questions were asked at all (not even “how fast …” 🙂 Geez, do I look that clean, stable, and sober that no one even suspects my intentions? I guess BMW touring bikes in full regalia don’t evoke the ‘biker image’. Back to Tecate BC to find a motel – which turned out to be the only place in Mexico that tried to cheat me. They pulled the old scam about not having change for my room payment (come back in the morning for your change … but the morning clerk knows nothing about giving change).
About 650 miles today.
Thursday. Day 7.
Open the motel door to poring rain. Suit up, pack up, fill up (gas), stop at the Mexican National Bank to sell the remaining pesos … space alien descends on normal people again. When I walked through the door of this pristine marble lobby in my scotchbrite rainsuit, iridescent rain gloves, flopping rain boots, heater cord dangling to the floor, helmet flipped – the bank guard decided to follow me to the counter. Nice to have an escort 🙂
Finally back in “sunny Southern California”. Actually, the sun did come out by the time I got out of the mountains and down to San Diego. Like the earlier dynamic rerouting in Arizona, I scrapped plans to visit Alpine California. The idea was to scope out next year’s entry in the Alpine Lunch series started by Rob Lentini, but given the rain and Alpine’s, uh, alpine elevation, I didn’t want to ‘snowplow’ the K again. So, Bienvenidos a California – and try not to translate all the ‘spanish’ road signs into english (El Cajon, San Diego, La Jolla, Ciudad de Los Angeles de la Madonna de la Assencion … oh, didn’t you know LA’s real name is Madonna? 🙂
Freeways to LA. Freeways around LA. Freeways through LA. Freeways ARE LA. Eventually, Santa Monica, then I scrapped a few canyons, came out of the woods in Oxnard, took the gorgeous, curvaceous, sensuous sinew of a road (CA 33) from Ojai to Cayuma, then back out toward the coast. A motel in Paso Robles.
About 300 miles today.
Friday. Day 8.
After touring the fairgrounds where our club rally will be this year (Central Cal Beemer Bash, September, y’all come!), it is 200 miles to home. Never being one to take the convenient way, I headed across Jolon Road, then the back way into Carmel Valley, and up CA 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, from Monterey. Most of us like where we live or we probably would move somewhere else. Seeing so much of this land in so short a time reminds me why and how much I like living in the west. I grew up in Connecticut and lived in the Boston area for a few years, but being able to ride all year round in varying terrain (sorry, Florida) and in varying but not oppressive weather (sorry, Washington) is something I didn’t know I missed before having it. Despite all the fruits and nuts, California is a special place.
The week after the trip, I cleaned out my office and was released on January 31. It’s taken until now for me to get resettled in my semi-retirement and collect my thoughts for this story. I forget who it was that signs his mail “This work thing gets in the way of my riding.” But I don’t have that problem any more!
Good riding to you all.