Baja 2008, Interrupted...


In the winter of 2008, my friends Phil Kopp and Mark Alpen and I planned what was to be a 10-day dirtbike trip to southern Baja, Mexico. My first such trip was back in 2004, with almost the same cast of characters. We documented our planned itinerary this time, though as is so often the case, it didn't work out quite as we'd anticipated. I lasted only 2+ days, and Phil & Mark returned after 9 days.

The adventure began for Phil and me in Spokane, WA, where we loaded our bikes into my Toyota Tundra and took the easy "one turn" way south. That is, drive east on I-90 to Butte, MT, then turn south on I-15, and exit I-15 in Escondido 2 days later. Roughly 1400+ miles in two days driving.

The bad luck for me started the afternoon of the first day, when my prostate started hurting as I was driving. By bedtime, it was bad enough that I couldn't sleep but a couple fitful hours. I have chronic Prostadynia (which I think is Latin for "my damn prostate hurts!"), which has landed me in the E.R. in the past. The cause is unknown (a popular medical community guess is that it is stress-related), and thus there is no treatment. On the stress front I was definitely worried about having it flare up somewhere way south in Baja and leaving me unable to sit on the bike (or anything else for that matter). Understandably, it's worsened by the pressure of sitting on a motorcycle, or prolonged sitting in general.

I'm not always smart, but I always love riding motorcycles. So we continued driving south.

We planned a rest day before entering Mexico, and that worked to my benefit, reducing the pain substantially, though I was still pretty worried. Monday morning at 8am we headed to Tecate to cross into Mexico, and get our Tourist Visas (required for visits longer than 7 days). We'd already gotten our Mexican motorcycle insurance from a few days earlier. I figured I'd try to at least make it to Mike's Sky Rancho, a famous checkpoint on the Baja 1000 race, and our destination for the first night.

This was the Mexican part of the route recorded by my Garmin 276C GPS. We rode from Escondido, CA to Mike's Sky Rancho the first day (roughly 220 miles, about half of which was dirt roads).

Oh, I forgot to mention the 2nd bit of my bad luck. The night before we departed I took a shot of the sunset from Mark and Ellen's house (aka "Sunfire") and my Canon SD1000 got wedged. It said "Lens error, restart camera". 20 minutes of messing with it produced no positive results, so I let Phil try. He's the camera expert, and while he was also having no luck with it, I googled the error message and discovered it is a common problem with my model Canon.

So all the photos here are courtesy of Phil Kopp, or Mark Alpen. Thanks, guys — for once I get to be *in* the photos I publish!

Parked at the Federal building at the Tecate border crossing. The border agents told us we could park here, and it was very convenient. The immigration office was just inside, and the bank (needed to pay for the visa) was just across the street. Took just 10 minutes, unlike the hour and a half it took us last time in Ensenada to do the same thing.

Typical stretch of the road between Hwy 20 and Hwy 3 in Baja, looking to the north. Mark and I rode Honda XR650L models, and Phil was on a Suzuki DRZ400. We each had a tail bag with a little over a cubic foot of luggage. "Credit card camping" to be sure! We did about 80+ miles on this road, and I don't recall seeing another vehicle. Here's a short (9mb with a lot of wind noise) Quicktime movie Phil shot of me along another part of this road.

We stopped for lunch about 2pm at this restaurant in Valle de la Trinidad (another frequent checkpoint on the Baja 1000 race course). I had some pretty tasty enchiladas, beans, salad and some orange juice for about $3.50. The exchange rate was hovering around 10 Pesos to the Dollar, which made currency conversion pretty simple. Virtually everywhere we paid in US Dollars, and got change in Dollars and Pesos.

The first part of the 20 mile dirt road into Mike's Sky Rancho, looking south towards the Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir, which it adjoins. The first 10 miles are easy, the last 10 get progressively rougher. No sweat on our dirt-oriented dual-sport singles, but it would be a handful on my BMW R1200GS. And I wouldn't tackle it without knobbies and low tire pressures.

A moderate section of the road into Mike's. Phil and Mark didn't stop to take many photos (other than this one of Mark's).

We made it! Got there about 5pm or so and discovered we were the only guests for the night. The deal was $60US each for the night, which included separate beds, a steak dinner, and chorizo & eggs for breakfast. The beer was extra...

Lots of stickers and decals on most vertical surfaces. I left a couple MicaPeak ones myself.

They told us to park the bikes under the roof near the pool. Mike's is at about 4000' elevation and in March it cools off pretty good in the evening. Considering the narrow, steep and rough road in, it's amazing they were able to bring in everything necessary to set up a 40-odd room motel, pool, restaurant, etc.

Relaxing by the pool, which hadn't been cleaned yet. Not that we had room to bring bathing suits, mind you. Phil had brought a box with a dozen fine cigars in it, but the constant vibration of the dirt roads turned them into dust, literally.

About 6pm they turned on the generator, then we could see in the room. I had a nice hot shower and washed that dirt off my face. We had to have the handyman come fix our oil stove after dinner (it got cold at night). Mark and Phil were zzzz'd out when they turned the power off about 10pm — I was trying unsuccessfully to ignore my "discomfort". Looking up just outside the room revealed a crystal clear night sky super bright with stars. Awesome!

Tuesday morning we headed out, and Phil let me use his camera to take this shot of him crossing the creek just below Mike's. I had already decided it would be wise for me to return to Escondido, as the day's ride was a long one, roughly 360 miles. Mark & Phil arrived in Guerrero Negro about 8pm (a 12hr ride) after some drama with lack of fuel where they expected it. Fortunately, they were able to buy 5 gallons from an enterprising local for $30.

I enjoyed wicking it up a bit on the way out, and waited here for about 5 minutes for Phil and Mark to catch up. Good spot for a break and to start drinking water, too. It's very easy to get dehydrated doing this, even in moderate temperatures.

We saw several variations on "Mike's Sky Rancho", this being one of the more entertaining ones.

Only your true friends will photograph your mistakes. Mark had major lower back surgery some years ago and still has no feeling in his feet or legs below about mid-thigh. Makes it tough for him to stand while riding, or to know for sure when his foot is on the ground. He got it a bit wrong here, and tumbled off.

Mark just laughed it off. In fact, I was telling Phil, you just never see Mark when he isn't smiling. I suppose I should have asked him for the traditional ADVRider salute, it would have been the perfect time!

Bailing out...

At the pavement (Hwy 3) we parted, and I headed back. Rather than risk a breakdown or mishap on the lonely dirt road we came down on, I elected to stay on the pavement and return via Ensenada. Even though it meant more discomfort for me. On dirt roads I stand up a lot, and move around on the seat shifting my weight for corners and obstacles.

My 3rd bit of bad luck occured about an hour later. While shifting down for slow traffic in the hills above Ensenada, my clutch cable broke. Damn! My stress levels went up a notch or two as I contemplated riding through town (not small at 260,000 population) without benefit of a clutch. True, motorcycles have "constant mesh" transmissions that can pretty easily be shifted without a clutch, but stop signs and stop lights present a problem.

My original plan to look for a Honda (or any other brand) motorcycle shop went out the window when I realized how intently I had to concentrate on stop signs, stop lights, traffic and pedestrians. I became a Very Rude Gringo, I'm sorry to say. Ran a lot of stop signs though I was certainly not alone in doing that.

My GPS seemed to be in league with el Diablo and routed me through what seemed like dozens of unnecessary turns, about 30 stop signs, and almost a dozen stop lights. I dreaded a stop on an uphill slope, but never had to deal with one, thankfully. My technique was to snick it into neutral as I approached the stop, jump off the bike to the left, which was a trick due to the tall tail bag mounted on the back.

Then, as the light changed, or traffic permitted, I ran along side the bike pushing it up to "launch" speed, then mounted with my left foot, swung my right foot over the tail back, stomped it into gear, and grabbed a handful of throttle. A couple times that resulted in a small wheelie 1/2 way across the intersection. Once, as I was about to jump on, a car/truck bumped into me from the left. Traffic gets a bit tight in Ensenada.

Once I got to the Pemex station at the north end of downtown, I sighed in relief as I knew there were only a couple lights left to negotiate. After dispatching those, I relaxed and looked around for the first time since entering town 1/2 hour earlier. What do I see to my right but a tiny Honda shop, with a scooter, ATV and generator sitting in the gravel lot in front of it.

I whipped a couple U-turns, and lurched to a stop near the service entrance in the alley. The mechanic spoke far better English than I speak Spanish, and quickly determined that he could help me. I was doubtful, as I'm sure I have more Honda parts in my garage than they had in total, but nevertheless he came out with a new cable — just the cable, not the housing. And a screw-on ferrule for one end. He whipped out the broken cable, lubed the sheath, and inserted and fit the new cable. A cable-tie served to hold the clutch end of the cable in place. Just like I would have done it myself.

Total charge? $16. Total repair time? 10 minutes. And he noticed my chain was dry and lubed that for me also. What a relief! The 3 of us had divided the tools we carried, and I had the air pump, spare tube, wrenches and tire irons, etc. All the big stuff, nothing of use in changing a cable.

As I relaxed, I realized I could ride back into Ensenada to buy my wife Wanda the silver bracelet she asked me to pick up if I could. I found a nice one, had a cup of coffee, and as it was then 2pm decided to spend the night there in a nice hotel with a Brazilian restaurant right next door. I love to them Caipirinhas! (my daughter Jennie, who speaks fluent Brazilian Portuguese, introduced me to the traditional drink, and Brazilian sentence structure).

Wednesday morning, after coffee and some Mexican pastries, I headed up Hwy 3 and back to the border crossing at Tecate. Got back to Sunfire about 12:30 and jumped in the hot tub.

A day later I replenished my dwindling Ibuprofen supply and then drove the truck up to San Luis Obispo for a few days to visit my friends Paul & Linda, but that's another story...


Like I said, sometimes I'm not as quick as I should be. While visiting my friends in SLO, a light went on in my head. Six weeks ago I asked my urologist to let me try Avodart™, a drug which is supposed to shrink enlarged prostates over a period of months. He was reluctant, 'cause my prostate isn't enlarged, but he conceded that it probably wouldn't hurt and *might* reduce my chronic pain. My epiphany was that the Avodart might be causing this new additional and slightly different pain.

I went back to the urologist yesterday and he was smiling as he looked at my chart and listened to my story. As I finished with "and so I decided (about a week ago) to stop taking the Avodart", he jumped in and said he was going to interrupt me to suggest that very thing.

So now I'm hoping that the over the next 5 weeks things will go back to normal, for my definition thereof. Which means I can sit comfortably in a chair, in my truck or on a motorbike, and don't need the big 2" chuck of foam with the hole cut in it which I used when Phil and I drove back from Escondido, and which I'm sitting on as I write this.

The Rest of the Story...

Phil did a nice writeup of the rest of the trip that I didn't do. Here's a link to it. You'll recognize some of the photos, but there are some new good ones, plus Phil's version of the full-length trip.

Copyright © 2008, by H. Marc Lewis.
Photos © 2008 by Phil Kopp & Mark Alpen. All rights reserved.