Baja California Sur loop – 26 Jan – 4 Feb 2017
Growing up in France in the 80’s, the Paris-Dakar stood at the acme of extreme motor adventure. Every year, during the Christmas holidays, the national TV channels would broadcast images of surreal landscapes, endless expanses of sand and dunes undulating their backs under the burning sun of inhospitable deserts. But what marked the imagination the most were these apocalyptic machines and the hirsute humans that manned them. Perched on the saddle of my Honda 80cc MTX, I dreamed of my older self, a respectable beard on my chin, crossing the Sahara on a mighty Yamaha 600 Tenere or on a Honda Africa Twin.
As for many things in life, good things come to those who wait…or those rabid enough to pursue them.
This side of the Atlantic, the closest thing to the Sahara is Baja. Stretching some 1200km South of the US Border, the Baja peninsula is a narrow stretch of land best known to harbor wandering surfers, overweight tourists and…kilometers of rugged sand tracks. A mere 12 hours drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, I figured that sooner or later I would load my bike on a pick up truck and finally carve those sweet sand dunes. History would prove me wrong as it wasn’t until our epic overland adventure that I finally got a taste of Baja. Naturally, riding in deep sand with an overloaded 650 DR was not ideal and I promised myself that I would be back.
The call came in July 2017, when my buddy Felipe asked me whether I would be game to join the Bay Area Riders Forum crew for their yearly Baja extravaganza. Loosely organized by CJ and a small crew of volunteers, Baja’s Barf is a 6 day, 1600kms loop, from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific, and back. Hotels are booked in a different town every night, giving the crew a chance to clean-up, rest and get the bikes ready for the next day. This sounded about perfect and after securing the blessing of my then pregnant Zebra wife, I agreed.
First in the order of priority was securing a ride. My regular off-road bike is a 2001 Yamaha YZ 250. Despite its 3.1gal “Desert” tank it is a MX machine, only slightly tamed to handle single track trails. A big 4 stroke is better suited to the higher speed average and the greater distance. After scouring the local classifieds, I scored a sweet 2005 Yamaha WR 450F with its original tires, leaky fork seals and a missing front brake lever. Nothing a bit of Wolfy love would not fix.
After a shake-off run in Mojave, the WR450F, aptly baptized “Ace” by the Zebra, was declared desert ready. Riding gear, spare parts and minimalistic tool kit got packed in a sturdy duffel bag. Begun the countdown to D-Day. Friday, January 27th arrived without fanfare, Felipe showed up at my door, his XR400 nicely made room for Ace in the bed of his pick-up truck, and with a huge grin on our faces we set sail for Baja. We reached San Diego just shy of midnight and after a short night at a local motel, we were amongst the first at the San Ysidro border. Bikes were inspected, insurance and Vin# checked, documents stamped, we were in Mexico!
It is another 9 hours from the border to Bahia de Los Angeles, our base camp for this adventure. Nine hours during which the landscape slowly sheds its civilized finery to reveal a more rural and rugged self. An early lunch break at Mama Espinoza in El Rosario allows us to bid our farewell to the Atlantic coast before diving inland toward the Sea of Cortez. As our little convoy makes it way toward the hills, sand replaces earth and with him the majestic cactuses, at ease, extend their stems and sharpened spines into a vivid blue sky. We reach our destination at 6pm, most of the Barf crew is already there, busy unpacking trucks, slinging wrenches and emptying beer bottles. Spirits are high, the adventure has begun, in less than 12 hours we will finally be riding.
Day 1- Bahia de Los Angeles to Punta San Francisquito: 140km
The Barf crew comprised 25 riders this year, and while all of us were headed to the same towns day after day, the routes taken would vary wildly. Through forum messages, get togethers and preparatory rides a natural selection had taken place. The new riders, or squids in Barf lingo, had found chaperons willing to keep them away from the most arduous trails, the fast guys formed small groups intent on tackling the gnarliest tracks while maintaining a pace susceptible of keeping their adrenaline going, and finally the tourers agreed on the most scenic routes and the best places to enjoy fish tacos. In what might have appeared to the outsider as a well organized process, groups slowly assembled, engines got warmed up and the veins and arteries of Baja began slowly pulsing to the rhythm of big thumpers kicking dust.
Our group that day included Felipe, Daniel, Phil, Scott and myself. Since the main road to Punta San Francisquito is a broad washboarded highway of packed dirt, we had agreed to wander off-road an explore some of the donkey trails leading to watering holes. Frequent breaks give us chances to take pictures, bake under the sun and indulge in friendly banter focused on the riding skills or lack of them, of members of our party. Punta San Francisquito is a pretty beach at the end of what used to be a dirt runway. Slabs of concrete, crumbing walls and rusting construction equipment hint at what might have been once a nice resort or the last stop of a drug route into the US. Our crew had called ahead to negotiate a preferential rate to let us let us lay our sleeping bags inside the decaying, roofless cabins, $20/night/person. Undeniably the best tourist rate Felipe and I had seen in a while, at the risk of appearing asocial we declined and headed for the nearest dune where we ended up spending a wonderful night under the kind of clear sky city dwellers don’t see very often.
Day 2- Punta San Francisquito to Mulege: 370km
With 370km to cover until our next stop in Mulege, Day 2 felt pretty serious. On the plus side, the first 120km
Tom joins, Daniel and Scott leave. Felipe, Phil, Tom and I
Day 3- Mulege to Mulege: 76km
Anticipating many riders might have been left sore with Day 2, our organizers had wisely made Day 3 a rest day. Finding the premise of not riding while in Baja utterly ridiculous, Phil and I teamed up to explore the hills West of town.