Baja Chronicles Continued
Group Leader Report
I leave Los Osos early Friday morning, March 13, and drive 3 hours south to pick up Peter York in Malibu. It takes us 4 hours to go 80 miles on the 10 freeway! We reach Calexico well after dark. There, in the process of checking into the Best Western, I bump into several people in my group whom I have not met on past rides.
Saturday morning after a typical motel cuisine breakfast, we caravan south to San Felipe, stopping only for gas and pesos. The afternoon is filled with unloading and unpacking along with a few beers and greeting old friends. There is a paella festival in full swing at the north side of the El Cortez hotel. I take the opportunity to ride and fly the ultra-light aircraft taking off and landing on the beach. This is my second flight with the same owner/pilot in 2 years.
Later in the afternoon all members of our group walk across the street (from the El Cortez) to my favorite eatery in San Felipe. It is really the first real opportunity to properly make acquaintances and begin to associate names and faces together.
I now list our members. It is my very good fortune to have such an excellent group to lead. Everyone later proves to possess the most important assets; a good attitude and good skill sets.
Cory Chapman, Pleasant Grove, UT; KTM
Brandon Davis, Sandy, UT; Yamaha
Mark Leppard, SLC, UT; Honda
Tony Terry, Sandy, UT; Yamaha
Mike Weilmuenster, Midvale, UT; Yamaha
Peter York, Malibu, CA; Honda
The evening consists of helping with the charity project and a meeting of the 115 plus participants. Afterwards, each group meets in separate locations for detailed group instructions. I focus on safety, trail expectations, communication, and a broad outline of our planned route. I can see the excitement and uncertainty in the eyes of those new to this ride. I tell everyone that I will not knowingly leave anyone in a lurch if they follow the protocol. Almost without exception, everyone did follow protocol with good results. I also discuss the issue of accumulated fatigue and how to recognize it and make decisions accordingly, again with good results.
The next morning before the riding actually begins, our first minor injury occurs during the charity project distribution. A rider (with a Recluse clutch) is giving rides to children just as Cory is moving his bike (in front of and at right angles) when the child turns the throttle! The bike with the rider and child shoots forward and slams into Cory. Very, very fortunately, no one is hurt other than a bad bruise for Cory. This incident could have had very bad consequences, but good luck remains on our side. Embedded in this situation is a message for the future regarding liability.
Now for a quick look at the big picture of the route (see exhibit 1). My odometer shows 981 miles total for this ride … not bad! Our group members experience one bike failure, 2 flats, one nagging partial failure of “no-fail” tube system, one “on the trail” injury, and considerable “monkey butt” sores. In the process of all this, we travel the actual GPS route shown. All of you should give yourselves a hand for accomplishing this feat. The blue line is the route my GPS created and it is the same path that most of you rode. Well done!
I will now fill in some of the remaining day-to-day details. Not everyone did everything, but collectively we made every high point on my list except for one trail because of gas and time (to be continued next year). Through all this navigation, I cost us about 10 miles of doubling back.
Sunday morning, following the charity project and police station hat ceremony,
our group is rolling on the Zoo Road by 10:45 AM. For the next 50 miles we are on part of a traditional SCORE race course. Across Diablo dry lake we start to get a feel for the scale of this ride. The destinations for the day are Mike’s Sky Ranch (one of the most well known locations in Baja racing) and El Coyote Ranch where we spend the night. El Coyote is my personal favorite as a place to lodge because of its isolation, clean air and water, and excellent ranch style food.
While waiting for diner, Alfredo, the ranch manager, tells me I have a call on the 2-way radio from Meling Ranch located 5 miles away (where 4 other groups are staying). It is from Paul Edmunds saying Tony Terry has to become a 2-man group with Londel (Tony’s brother). Londel, while capable, is simply too slow and prevents his assigned group from maintaining schedule. Tony and I quickly discuss a plan that will allow the Terry brothers a riding route, but at a slower pace. I use my GPS wireless feature to transfer some suitable tracks to Tony’s GPS. Further, I decide that all of our group will go to Meling Ranch in the morning, therefore, giving everyone a chance to see yet another well known location. Also for this day, in addition to hooking up Terry with his brother, Cory (on a one day basis) joins the group doing the Estebon single track trail. I deem that trail potentially too risky for our group at this time. There is no good “bail-out” or “recovery” option should equipment fail or someone get hurt. Given what happens later in the day, this is one of the better decisions I make.
Now down to a group size of 5, we take an old SCORE 2-track which starts in back of El Coyote and ends on HWY 1 just north of Camalu. This is a fun route of about 76 miles with many vistas and several fairly deep water crossings. About half way through, Peter’s battery fails and he has to use his kick starter to get his 450 Honda running. About 20 miles from the HWY, Peter experiences a serious starting problem with his bike. In the process, he breaks off his kick starter. Repair efforts fail, as does towing and bump starting. About an hour into this drama, a pick-up truck full of Mexican citizens drives up towing a horse trailer! With much language effort, we explain our dilemma and they agree to return later and transport Peter and his bike to Colonet. They do return in about 20 minutes with a chest of cold beer which they freely share … what good fortune for all of us! Should this bike failure occur on the Estebon trail … the bike and several riders might be spending the night and maybe several days getting out!
The Mexicans haul Peter and his bike to Colonet and we follow. After filling their gas tank and giving payment of some cash, Peter is dropped off at Hotel Paraiso Colonet, 2 miles south of the very small town center.
What we are not aware of is that there is a wave of farm labor unrest sweeping south from Colonet and eventually ends up around San Quintin. The strike results in the complete closure of HWY 1 with burning tires and blockades. I get a report of this at the Mission Santa Maria Hotel later that night. It is my hope that the farm workers achieve success in their effort. Peter is left to experience much of this first hand. He is savvy enough to deal with this and get his bike running enough to limp back to San Felipe several days later (leaking gas and oil all the way).
My group has been culled down to 4 riders half way through day 2. Its beach riding time after we gas up. We do about 40 miles of fast beach and bluff riding. We arrive at the Santa Maria Hotel in good stead. I confer with Paul and get the name and location of a decent mechanic in Colonet. I talk the hotel clerk into making a call to Peter’s hotel, and with some more favorable luck, I get to talk with him, pass along the information, and wish him well. He asked me to buy a round for rest of our group and thank them for all their effort, time, and patience. We do drink heartily using his money.
It is day 3, Tuesday, and Cory rejoins our group so that we are now 5 strong. I lead an 80 mile horseshoe shaped loop from the Santa Maria Hotel east, then south, then west back to El Rosario for gas and lunch. From a track last year, I have selected a route of what should be a 105 mile loop with about 50 miles of single track. All goes well until we get to a closed hard metal gate! This situation results in about a 20 mile work-a-round to get back on track. Time and gas are now on my mind but I gamble and we hit the single track. Our group members have been asking, ”When do we get some good single track?” OK, here you are. About half way through, Brandon gets a flat. By the time we are rolling again, we are on lights with about 25 miles to go and low on gas! This is the adventure part? By the time we get 10 miles from our destination of Catavina, all bikes except Cory’s (with a 5 gallon tank) are out of gas. Cory has less than ½ gallon left after he has shared and got everyone this far. We are out of options, so Cory is sent on to Catavina hoping to get gas as it is 9:30 PM and pitch dark. We all sit or lie down in place and talk about the meaning of adventure, etc. I get questioning looks … think we may spend the night here? After about 30 minutes Cory shows up with Gas! One of the RZR guys takes pity on our situation and loans our group 4 precious gallons. At 10:30 PM our group gets to the hotel. The restaurant is closed but again the staff takes pity on us and puts together a decent box meal. More importantly, the bar is open.
Next day, Wednesday, we sleep in an extra hour and it is 9:00 AM before we are ready to roll. I select (by accident actually) what is perhaps the most technical single track in Baja. It starts due south from Catavina in a wash of about 5 miles of deep powder sand, followed by about 20 miles of steep rocky cactus mountainous trail. Cory likes this section the best and he calls it a “world class trail.” We continue south almost to Bahia Blanco and then turn north east on the steepest most rocky graded road possible (heading toward Chapala junction). Did I mention that we ran into Tony and Londel somewhere in this remote area? There is considerable fatigue by the time we reach the east Chapala dry lake. Fortunately for me, the lake is dry as I suspect mutiny is on some minds. Back on HWY 1, we head down the highway, again marginal on gas with one bike running out. We all get to the BOLA junction and the gas vendor is there … I get to breath again. It is 4:00 PM and I “call the ball.” We will take the pavement to BOLA … no more drama today.
The Hotel Costa del Sol is great little place to stay with good rooms, good food and drinks. Everyone is tired and 2 riders are talking about not riding tomorrow. After a good meal and several drinks, Brandon and Mike reconsider but wisely elect to do a short ride with Paul to Mission San Borja (built by the Jesuits around 1700 and restored as a historical landmark). I use the term “wisely” because pushing too hard or long is a good way to get injured. Good judgment means recognizing when to back off a bit. They have a great time and dine with the family that runs the mission.
Cory, Mark and I (group size now 3) ride the east side of the 22-day trail backwards. I use the term “backwards” because it is more technical going east to west. We reach HWY 1 and pick up a little used and mostly unknown 2-track that traverses 40 miles almost to Rosarito. In Rosarito, we get gas from a pick-up truck vendor. It is a fast run to the San Borja Mission and we take a brief tour. The upper end of the mission property has some hot springs which feed the olive, grape, and limited vegetable gardens. Cory and I decide to take turns soaking in one of the hot springs. It appears to me that the springs are slowly drying up because there is almost no water visibly flowing out into field. The “3 musket beers” make it back to BOLA before dark … yea.
The last riding day, Friday, is also the longest and most boring because of the pavement and graded roads which are the only reasonable options going north. At dinner, Thursday night, it comes to light that many people have not been to Window Rock, another well known land mark. I agree to take as many riders as would like to ride there the next morning. Paul normally wants to keep going via the shortest possible distance at this stage of the ride.
It is Friday and most of Paul’s group and my group join up and head to Window Rock. Somehow, I get the idea that Paul changed his mind this morning and would go the Window Rock (which was not the case). Paul leaves early and I follow his tracks 5 miles out of the way before I realize his intention. While buzzing through this nondescript section, Mark takes a hard tumble and damages the foot/ankle. Brandon also gets another flat which gives everyone a break. This is my 10 mile navigation error … fatigue gets to me also. We double back and everyone gets their Window Rock photo. Several riders, including me are now low on gas again, and so we go to Chapala Junction and talk an open air garage operator into selling us 2 gallons of gas. We rip to Coco’s corner and do the tourist thing there. Unfortunately, the legendary Coco is not here today. It is now time for the bumpy grind to the pavement (which is almost to Coco’ Corner) and then on to Gonzaga Bay for gas. From there it is 125 mile miserable ride on pavement to San Felipe. There is no enthusiasm for attempting Matomi wash except for Cory who is an “A” level rider.
There were several seized bikes from other groups on the HWY … bummer. Valves out of adjustment and constant high speed will do that.
Friday night we all went to Soshe’s (sic) for dinner. Our group paid for my dinner and drinks. Thank you all very much. Your words of gratitude were greatly appreciated. I feel very fortunate to have been given such a good group. Watching your smiles and listening to your personal stories was a thrilling new riding experience for me. You are now Baja veterans. In the future, hopefully some or all of you will become a group leader. Hopefully, you will benefit from my shortcomings and make an even better experience.
I have benefitted from good group leaders in my past and I simply built on that. Your task at some future time is to extend and improve on what you saw and experienced.
This essay contains my recollection of names and events. Hopefully there are not too many errors or omissions. There really is a lot of movement and events packed into six days of hard riding. Please consider putting your own stories and perspectives into words. Doing so will make your experience more vivid and permanent and it will be different from mine. Writing will bring to life our shared adventure and preserve the details. Don’t forget to share your photos and movies with me. Unfortunately, my camera was intermittent … too many bumpy trips with me. The other group stories and photos are beginning to trickle in. The RZR fire and total destruction is by far the most “hair ball.”
And don’t forget, “Everything will be OK in the end, and if it is not OK, it is not the end.” Now, let us go do some of that riding stuff I keep hearing about. It is an adventure above all else.