Friday, July 17, 2009

Reality Check-Crossing into Mexico (Baja)

Chris wrote:

As we entered Mexico through Tecate the first order of business was a 5 mile traffic jam on a single lane dusty road in 100 degree weather; for those of you in celsius, it was one helluva hot day.

Guess which lane we took-- Tijuana is where all the Cartel problems are.

This is the local athletes' tool of choice, the "Baja Racer" they come in all shapes and sizes.

This is my tool of choice; I'm speaking FOR THE BIKE.

When the bags are off the bike and the tool is checking the map on a dirt road with no civilization in sight, then you know problems are around the corner.

Yep, here come the problems, notice the sticks under the back wheel, a good idea but nowhere near enough.

As you can see, so this is where it gets ugly and I did what any defeated tool does,

pushed the bike on its side and nearly killed myself dragging it to a different spot of really soft beach sand, hoping and praying I didn't need a 6 lane freeway of sticks.
I will say this, this was a serious challenge, for me a bit but for my ever so dedicated wife even more so, she didn't stand around taking pics all the time or we would have a lot more to share, she rolled up her sleeves and got all sandy and sweaty with me and she seemed to love every minute of it, honest truth!!

Finally we found this littel hotel on the edge of the ocean and checked in to a tiny sticky room with a fantastic view.

Yea, now she's all smiles, the bike that is.

When we arrived here the first order of business was 2 double Tequilas and 2 cold cervezas, EACH and a good laugh.

A couple of views from our room.

The unfinished hotel, alot of potential.

The following day we rode south towards the Sea of Cortez and on the way we stopped at this spot in the middle of the desert for a break as we were riding in 110 degree weather, the air bone dry. This place was right in the middle of the desert with nothing 40 miles either side, I ask myself, why would anyone want to live in a place like this, I'll never figure it out.

The other direction.

We finally found a hotel called, the Desert Inn, how appropriate, they had a pool which we abused and a good A/C. 9pm In the resturant, which didnt have A/C, the temp was still 100 degrees F. Early in the morning at its coldest point, the temp got down to a whopping 95.

From Melissa: We began this leg of the journey with a lot of excitement and a healthy amount of fear. Countless bikers that we have met have regaled us with stories of their friends and friends-of-friends who have ridden through Mexico, Central and South America and encountered a myriad of mishaps…robberies, bikers left bloodied by the side of the road, victims of drunk drivers (for which they have been hauled off to jail, asked for insurance, forced to hand over vast amounts of dollars) etc. If one more person tells us about the book “Two Wheels of Terror”, by the guy who was motorcycling though Colombia and was kidnapped for 4 months, I’ll run. I really would like to read this book, only AFTER I get home from this journey. With all of this input, we have tried to stay positive and not get hysterical about the amount of danger ranging from swine flu to drug lords. However, today when we crossed into Mexico, I have to say that our anxiety was at an all-time high. We crossed from San Diego to Tecate with much anticipation………however, the border guards just waved us through, didn’t even leave the shady area where they were hanging out to stamp our passports (which we hope won’t be a problem later.) We came into Tecate and headed down the Baja coast road to Ensenada, stopping for lunch at a small town called San Vicente.We passed through the MexicanWine Route but did not stop as we were concerned about timing and where to stay the night. There is quite a distance between stops with hotels in this part of Mexico and no signs…very little is also visible on a map, and the GPS has been off-track, not lining up with the actual roads (even though we purchased the Garmin Mexico map system.) Having lived in Mexico, I have a real love for this country, but...traffic was a nightmare, and a good amount of the road was under construction, where we were diverted off onto a dirt road, stuck behind buses spewing fumes into our faces. We had stopped at the tourist office in Ensenada and were told that there was a hotel a few hours south in a town called Colonet, just off of a road near San Telmo, near the beach. We arrived at Colonet at about 4pm, and the town was basically a few buildings along the side of the road. We asked some police officers where the hotel was and they directed us to a dirt road which supposedly went to the beach. We went down this road and it got worse, worse, and turned into a maze of dirt and sand roads which went alongside farms and led nowhere. By this time the sun was going down and we were getting nervous. We hit some soft sand and the bike went over. With all of the bags, etc. the motorcycle is very heavy; even with the new tires that Chris had put on in San Diego it was very unstable. Chris and I had to pick the bike up and try to get it out of the sand, which was interesting….picture this..the two of us, hot and sweating, mosquitoes beginning to swarm, trying to pick up 500 plus pounds of motorcycle from the soft sand, with the bike sliding all over the place. Back on the bike, onto the road, still looking for the hotel. MORE soft sand and we went over again. Only this time we could not get the bike out of the trees, and the back wheel was WAY buried. Chris put sticks under the back tire and we tried to create traction and get it out but no way. He finally said “Babe, take off your jacket, this is going to get ugly.” We then proceeded to drag the bike along the sand and get it out of the hole and turned it around. The sun was getting lower and lower and I could picture us stuck in this maze in the dark being shot by ticked-off cattle ranchers. We found a new, dirt road with the now useless GPS which can’t recognize any of these Mexican roads and went uphill on a road filled with big rocks and dirt. We almost went over the cliff. When we were on our last nerve we came upon a farm and asked a guy where to go and he pointed us to a road towards town. By then it was almost dark. We stopped at a gas station and ended up going south to the next town called Camalu and were directed up a hill (another dirt road!! Thank god for the GSA!)where a hotel called “La Cueva del Pirata” appeared like a mirage in the distance. We immediately had a Don Julio Tequila and just got our bearings.
I must say that we have done some planning in this regard: we have gotten a satellite phone and a personal tracker, which is the size of an Ipod or a little larger, called a Spot Tracker. This allows you to send emails to a specific set of friends and family to let them know that you are OK. It also (for about $90 per year) has a service that is 911—this is a button you press and anywhere you are in the world, they can locate you on Google Earth and send help in the form of truck, helicopter, etc to rescue you. The Spot Tracker can be purchased at any REI store. Alex, a biker that we met in Ferndale, California told us about this and it was a great tip. We also got Mexico Motorcycle Insurance through a company called Mexpro which can be purchased online. They provide quotes from a variety of Mexican Insurance companies.
Our first day in Mexico…… on to the next adventure!! (photos for this post to come when we get a stronger signal...out here in the middle of the desert right now...)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gear---What to Wear and Bring?

Some people have asked us about clothing, gear, packing, etc. The gear that we have chosen worked great in the cold weather, but as we have gotten into the hot weather we decided to switch some things out. Here's what we have learned: We researched a LOT of places and types of gear. The absolute best, hands down place to buy clothing, helmets, etc. is motorcycle superstore ( have free shipping, a liberal return policy (it is only $6.99 to return anything) and have the widest selection and lowest prices of all of the gear that we have seen. After much angst, shopping and advice, we are really happy so far with what we chose. For me: Sidi Jasmine waterproof boots, Tourmaster Flex Pants—these are great….they are a mesh pant zip-in panels to cover the mesh and block out the wind, and they also have a thermal waterproof liner. Great, versatile pants. Jacket: The Tourmaster Transition series jacket which is waterproof and has lots of pockets; best of all it has zippered vents all over for hot weather. It also has a zip-in thermal liner. Dan Gibbons recommended a heated vest for really cold weather…….it actually plugs into the bike. I used that on the coldest part of the trip and it worked great. Socks- since the motorcycle boots are a bit heavy, blisters sometimes result. I got some great socks called 'Tech Sox' which are padded in all of the right places, wick away moisture...very comfortable. Those I found on a website called ''. Helmet—went a bit wrong here. I got the Shark Evoline helmet, which is a great, versatile modular helmet. The jaw-piece folds up so that you can wear just the plastic face shield. The face shield also folds up, and it has a built-in sunshield. This can be either a full-face or open face helmet which is great. Only problem is it is built for a perfectly round head shape, and if your head is slightly oval it just doesn’t work. I found this out on a previous trip we did along the Blue Ridge Parkway and I got a big goose egg on my forehead, so I sold that helmet and got the HJC Sy-Max II modular helmet, which I love (the only thing is---in cold weather I would recommend that you use a chin curtain as a lot of air gets up inside this helmet.) Chris also has Sidi waterproof boots which have worked great for the just-completed part of our trip. He of the round head shape loves his Shark helmet. He has Firstgear Kilimjaro Pants and jacket.
After riding from Mammoth through the heat, we decided to switch out some of our gear, especially with the trip to Baja and rainy, humid Central America coming up. We went to, a retail store in Fullerton, and found great mesh jackets, Joe Rocket Brand, on sale for $75.00...can't go wrong there. They have a removable waterproof liner, and work great in the hot weather. We also shipped our motorcycle boots home as they were very, very hot in the summer weather and are now using Gore-Tex hiking boots. Chris did get his mesh pants so we are good to go to leave for Baja on Wednesday.
Tomorrow the bike goes in for service, and Chris will change the back tire to get us through the rough roads of Baja.
Regarding packing--- many of my women friends have asked about this, and are aghast that I can pack in my Zega bag that goes into the pannier, and the BMW duffel we each have, which is basically full of sleeping bags, etc. I got the small zip cubes from Eagle Creek and pack my different types of clothes---shorts and t-shirts in one, sox etc in another, etc. They compress your clothes and you can organize by color so you don't have to root through your duffel looking for something. Chris has his own system: he rolls everything and puts rubber bands around them to compress them. A pain in the neck but his bag is much thinner than mine!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mammoth to LA

When we left Mammoth we took the scenic route 203, nice and windy up to the 395 and then another scenic route on the 158 where we took this pic. We had hoped to go to Yosemite for the 4th of July, but finding a hotel there was impossible. We opted to head to the small town of Lee Vining, which is very near to the east entrance of Yosemite. Located right near Lee Vining is Mono Lake, which has "tufa towers"rising from the surface. These are actually limestone deposits formed by underground springs. We stayed at the Lake View Inn right in town, and met 2 guys who were lifelong friends from Kansas, and they were riding through that area for a few days. Great guys...Steve was an aeronautical engineer for Lockheed and his friend was a physicist and inventor from Dallas.....bikers are a diverse crowd!

We came upon a waterfall in the background near June Lake close to Yosemite. This place was a trout fisherman's paradise.

One of the tufa towers in Mono Lake. This lake is 3 times saltier than the ocean...has beautiful colors but nothing lives in the water except brine shrimp and a type of fly. Strange but beautiful.

High salt content means easy paddling. We rented some kayaks from Calderra Kayak Company and had a great time with some spectacular views.

Bodie is a ghost town close to Mammoth and Mono Lake. It used to be a thriving gold town and in 1870 more than 10,000 people lived there, mining over $32 million in gold. A series of fires and the bust of the mine made Bodie a ghost town: now it is part of the National Park System. A great place to visit, particularly if you have a bike that can go off-road, as the asphalt ends and the last 3 miles into Bodie is on a bumpy dirt road.

The gas station in Bodie.

For the 4th of July we drove about 25 minutes from Lee Vining to the town of Bridgeport, a cowboy town and a great little place. Lots of bikers, lots of revelry. A very cute, small All-American town with a victorian courthouse on Main Street---they had a Johnny Cash tribute band set up on the courthouse lawn, with benches to sit on, and the cowboys dancing in front. Since Chris just became a U.S. Citizen a few months ago, it seemed a very fitting place to celebrate America's birthday.

Bikers were lined up in front of the local hotel in Bridgeport.

A local tradition is the Mud Volleyball championship.....looked like a good time.

No 4th of July is complete without a visit from "The King."

The Lake View Inn in Lee Vining, California. A great little find, close to Mono Lake and very close to the East entrance of Yosemite.

We left Lee Vining on July 5th and headed into Yosemite. There were some wildfires burning in the mountains there so everything was a bit hazy. We found a great place to stay right inside the park...Curry Village, a village of white canvas tents, each with army-style cots. They provide sheets and scratchy wool blankets with a bear box outside. What was interesting for us, never having been exposed to camping with bears, is that you have to put everything out in the metal bear box..toothpaste, any food of course, anything with a scent..but even your water. The bears forage around the campsites at night, which made it interesting to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Chris and I, pitch black outside, with a little flashlight, walking quite a ways...a but jumpy to say the least. Curry Village is very affordable, has some little food places, has rafting rentals right on premises, and was a friendly, down-to-earth place, walking distance from some great hikes. We loved it.

Rafting on the Merced River in Yosemite. Or shoul I say floating? Let's put it this way...we had a bottle of wine....

Our 'home' in Yosemite. Bear box to my right.

Heading back to the coast towards Carmel. Very windy, cold but beautiful. Chris was loving the curves and twists of the road.

A rest stop in beautiful Carmel. Great town, beautiful beaches. I loved it. There were a few places so far that I have left grudgingly, with a heavy heart. Seattle, Napa, Yosemite and Carmel. Definitely places that I would like to return to. This trip has been kind of like being on a cruise...brief stops, just a tease...too short but just enough to whet your appetite to return.

Bill Piggot, my friend Tim's dad. He invited us for drinks at Mission Ranch, a hotel and restaurant complex owned by Clint Eastwood. Clint used to be the Mayor of Carmel, and he owned The Hog's Breath...he sold that, and when the marsh/beach area of Mission Ranch was going to be developed into houses, he bought it instead, preserved the land and opened the hotel and this great restaurant and bar with great views. Bill is testament to the fact that living a good life of golf, volunteering and daily mass keep you a VERY young 70-something.

Beautiful views along the California coast. We stayed one night in Cambria, an art-colony type of town very close to San Simeon, where the Hearst Castle is located. Highly recommend this place, beautiful, quiet and charming. Stay at The Fogcatcher Inn, across from the beach with a long boardwalk for running or walking, cozy places with fireplaces in all of the rooms and reasonably priced.

Seals on the rocks in Cambria.

Stopping at a litte farm stand near Los Olivos, California. Driving through farmland, so beautiful. One thing about being on a motorcycle is the smells you experience. Flowers, eucalyptus, evergreen.........cow patties.

Enjoying home-grown strawberries and cherries.

The pool at the Hearst Castle.

The indoor pool at the Hearst Castle..why have just one?

We stopped at Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos, California. Sad to see all of the tributes and cards, candles, memorabilia. We were parked in front and struck up a conversation with a local bicyclist, John. Turns out he has ridden his BMW through Mexico many times, and is a real lover of motorcycles. He invited us to his home nearby where he and his wife, both retired, raise llamas on their ranch.

Dianne, John's wife. She raises llamas, shears them herself, and spins and weaves the wool. Other than that she uses the llamas as pack animals when she goes back-country hiking in the Sierras. Really interesting and cool lady.

John's garage. A real 'man-heaven'....Ducatis, Moto Guzzis, BMWs Suzukis....Chris was speechless. John gave us some maps of Mexico and also a book called 'Riding South: Mexico, Central America and South America by Motorcycle' by Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. Great book so far, and John and Dianne were super people.