A Bare Bones Meandering Motorcycle Journey Down Baja Way
There’s something about waking up to rain on a tent that makes it difficult to find motivation for the day ahead. It’s a simple peacefulness that I don’t often appreciate until long after I’m sitting at home with only my memories. But it’s also one of the many small moments that contribute to an insatiable wanderlust. My friend Bailey, however, had a different motivation and was always up early. This had become the norm for our mornings in Baja and, energized by the rain, he was busily hiking up and down the rocky coast, its beaches filled with broken shells of all shapes and sizes.
Taking advantage of the perfectly flat shoreline, Bailey was able to throw full, powerful fly-fishing casts, launching flies far and deep into the light blue waters of Laguna San Ignacio. Working the coastline, he striped the line, coaxing the fluorescent clouser fly back toward shore, giddy with anticipation of a strong and sudden strike. Our morning progressed this way for hours as we enjoyed a lingering drizzle, black coffee, and fly fishing. Later, we found a beached dolphin and spent a long while watching a young pack of coyotes inspecting the carcass.
All the while looming in the back of our minds was our continued struggle south along the largest peninsula on Earth. This was a motorcycle journey after all, and our bikes sat nearby, patiently awaiting another day of abuse. By late morning the drizzle and fog were dissipating, so we loaded our tired and beaten bikes, a 2007 Honda XR 650l and a 2001 Kawasaki KLR 650, as rainbows broke over our camp, encouraging us for the day ahead.
Today, there would be no pavement, and it would turn out to be one of our most difficult, both physically and mentally. Within the first hour the deep, cold fog had returned and, with the perfectly flat desert landscape before us and no GPS, we quickly became lost. Tracks and trails crisscrossed the desert like dropped spaghetti, beginning and ending for no apparent reason. We found ourselves bogged down, struggling for purchase in the deep salt flats around the lagoon. The gravity of a potential catastrophic gear failure, riding in circles for miles forever, or a major injury, weighed heavily in our thoughts. After some time, out of the fog appeared the small fishing village of El Cardon.
As we entered the town we passed a small school from which poured dozens of young children. Suddenly we were surrounded by the little mob, screaming and cheering, chasing along as we rode through the dusty streets. We were like rock stars amid the screams of our adoring fans. Unfortunately, we were also hopelessly lost, so we humbled ourselves and asked for directions. Many hand gestures and a crudely drawn map in the dirt later, a local teen assured us that there was only one way, and as long as we headed toward the coast we should find it. Or maybe he was trying to warn us of the deep soft sand and thick fog that would make it almost impossible to navigate? Unsure of our fate we rode out of town amongst the cheers of the schoolchildren, soon muffled by the engulfing mist. Again, we struggled through salt flats, again we encountered deep sand, and again we felt lost and alone....
Bolstered only by the direction of our compass we struggled on, having to keep our speed up and our stops to a minimum, otherwise risking getting stuck in the soft sand. Noticing the spaghetti trails finally coming together into one cohesive trail gave us an extreme sense of pride in our ability to navigate through this difficult place.
Passing through a tiny oceanside village we found a group of men inside a fish cleaning shack waiting for the fog to lift. “Donde es El Datil?” I asked with broken, unsure words.
“Aqui,” said an old man with a grizzled beard.
“Bueno, donde es San Juanico?” I said, asking for the way to our night’s destination. The man lifted a skinny arm and pointed through the fog to a faint trail disappearing back into the desert.
Now feeling sure of our correct path, we left the village and immediately found fast riding through firm sand washes, still slightly damp from the day’s rain and fog. We raced through tight corners, kicking up sand and weaving our way through the dunes. Then, while ripping through one of the hundreds of blind banked corners, we suddenly came to a stop.
Around the trail’s bend we came upon two trucks that had run head-on into each other at high speed. The trucks, both badly damaged, were stranded deep in the desert. Five men standing around had clearly been waiting for a while. There were no villages within 20 miles, yet one of the stranded men assured us there was a small rancho about three miles up the trail. Ranchos dot the desert and are welcome oases for travelers during times of need.
Baja hospitality runs deep in the culture and throughout the peninsula there’s a sense of duty to help one another. No one could possibly survive in such a place without the help of strangers, and because of the harsh desert reality of Baja you rarely meet a true stranger. After deliberating options with the marooned travelers, we slowly worked our bikes off the trail, through cacti and around the broken vehicles. Armed with a list of needed parts and tools, we rode down to the tiny rancho. We were greeted by two young children who didn’t speak English, but after handing them the note and fumbling through our best broken Spanish, they managed to pack up some supplies and take off into the fog. Two young children, in the heart of the desert, were ready and willing to save the day!
Feeling energized by the kindness of others we continued toward the surfing town of San Juanico. Crossing several rivers, we slowly climbed our way out of the deep sand, salt flats and dunes, topping out onto a sharp rocky mesa. Bailey and I imagined that the views of the Pacific must be beautiful, if not for the fog. Completely soaked, and mentally and physically spent, we rode into town and quickly found a little taco stand on a bluff high above a beautiful Pacific Ocean surfing beach.
San Juanico is a friendly little expat surfing community where we rapidly made friends with some locals. Taking over the taco stand, we used every available inch under the porous, palm-thatched roof to air out our wet riding gear. Late in the afternoon, the skies cleared and we found ourselves dry and warming up with new friends, drinking Baja Fogs and happy to see the horizon again.
With our new companions, we decided to set up camp and cook a large one-pot meal together on the beach. Throughout the early evening the beach filled up with camping families, surfers, riders, and locals. We made a large seafood boil and filled ourselves on food, beer, tequila and some wonderful companionship.
Late into the night, Bailey and I found ourselves around a small fire with two surfers from Argentina who were on a long journey north in search of perfect waves. As local fishermen readied their skiffs for another early day in Baja, and with morning light barely visible in the sky, we staggered back to our camp, happy and feeling immense satisfaction for the privilege of spending another day in our self-inflicted paradise.