Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Reflections on my Baja Adventure

Here is a list that came to mind as I was reflecting on the trip. Of course, many things could have made this list but distilling it down to some really memorable moments, I came up with these:

Locale of best wreck: Middle of nowhere, Laguna San Ignatio

Best almost crash: the entire way to Mike's Sky Rancho

Best piece of equipment other than bike: Aerostitch Roadcrafter Suit

Second best piece of equipment: tie: sleeping bag and handkerchief

Most creative tool used: oyster shell

Most used tool in tool roll: torx bits

Total Miles: 2947

Top speed: 125 mph

Longest ride in same gear: Coco's Corner to Peurtecitos (Mex 5) - 65 miles in 1st gear = 4.5 hours

Longest one day ride: San Quintin to Santa Rosalia: 619 km (384 mi)

Best tacos de carne asada: taqueria next to Hotel Urupan in San Quintin

Best tacos de pescado: taqueria "Marilyn" in Mulege

Worst night(s) of sleep: Hotel San Victor, Santa Rosalia

Funniest moment: Brian coming home at 4am yelling about his jello shots and table dancing, Cabo.

Saddest moment: hearing Grandma died - January 17

Coolest travel moment: running into Ian again on the highway out of La Paz and being able to say our final goodbyes

Coolest overall moment: spending time with my cousins, uncle and aunts, and especially grandpa.

Best unexpected windfall: time with Jim and Sherrol Lambert

Best compliment: "You're the only gringo I've ever met who knows how to dance!"

Best communing as travelers moment: dinner with Brian and Sabine in Loreto

Biggest thing missed: nightly talks and prayer with Heather

Biggest thing not missed: TV

San Filepe to Palm Springs to Santa Barbara to San Francisco

I left San Filepe relatively late in the morning, knowing I had just about a five hour journey to Palm Springs. I went by a panadaria and sat on the beach, watching shrimpers fix their nexts for a morning of fishing. I packed up and headed out - looking forward to seeing family from near and far, but saddened for the reason we were all gathering together.

I got into Palm Springs and met up with grandpa and the aunts and uncle, stayed around for a bit at grandma and grandpa's place, and came across this classic family photo. My mom is the daydreamer in the front, center.
I then headed to the 7 Springs Hotel - a hotel sporting a contemporary architectural feel with a good vibe. Later that night Jen and Justin rolled in from L.A. and soon we fell fast asleep.

The next day, after getting woefully lost in Palm Springs, I got to the funeral to celebrate grandma's life and her place in all of ours. We then headed to grandpa's place and spent time together catching up. A number of these cousins I hadn't seen since grandma and grandpa's 50th anniversary - and they celebrated their 71st not too long ago! So after some 21 years, we reconnected and shared numerous stories of our times together as kids. One being - and most legendary - was when grandpa took us boys out on a camping trip and thinking he was buying tuna, brought cans of cat food instead. Classic.

It was great to be with my wider, extended family and I was surprised to hear that they had been following me via my blog. So if any of them are reading this: you rock!

I so greatly enjoy spending time with my mom and sisters (brother too, but he couldn't make it), and it is certainly true for me: the older I get, the more I enjoy and want to be connected to my family. I haven't always had this heart-draw, but I deeply feel it now. So it was a gift to be with them for a couple of days and to just hang out and catch up on life.

I headed out the next morning for Santa Barbara and encountered some rain on the way but really liked it. There is something deeply gratifying about facing mother nature openly and honestly, and doing it on a motorcycle feels that way. Driving through rain in a protected, climate-controlled environment is profoundly different than out in the open as you are on a bike. And this becomes a completely different psychological space. There is something basic about this, some degree of "man vs. the elements" that is incredibly gratifying. So I rode on, and felt incredibly alive.

I got into Santa Barbara and landed at the Askews - my "Santa Barbara parents" - and what I have called home for many years now. I got up the next morning and in checking discovered that another storm was due the next day, and my best bet was to head out soon. So I packed up and headed out to some of my favorite spots around SB.

Mount Calvary Monastery is a spiritual retreat house and my spiritual home. Staffed by monks of the Order of the Holy Cross, I have been going to Mt. Calvary for many years now and am grateful to have come to know some of the brothers there. Every Friday morning is a service followed by breakfast and I have had some wonderful conversations around the breakfast tables. The day I rode up there was the brother's sabbath day, so I snapped a picture or two before heading on. I would have loved to have had a picture of Brother Robert on the bike!

Of course before heading out I wanted to get a pic with Tony and Barbara (Askew) so I rode down to Westmont College to say my goodbyes and get the pics.

While blowing through San Luis Obispo, I stopped in to see my buddy Andy. And since he doesn't really work at his job, he obliged me for this picture. He jumped right on the bike and became, at the end of my trip, the first person to actually get on the bike for a picture the entire trip.
I arrived back in San Francisco without incident, cold and tired but grateful. It was a great journey through many landscapes and experiences, adventures unlooked for and adventures unplanned. My Baja adventure was a gift, and as I return to "normal life" (whatever that means) I carry with me people, places and things that all reflect the goodness of my life and the Giver of such good gifts.

The road goes ever on. And I will keep traveling it, in grace and gratitude, and hope that it takes me to Baja many times to come.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Coco’s Corner to San Felipe

January 24, 2008

The little sleep I did get last night was interspersed with praise for my sleeping bag. That sleeping bag has saved me numerous times and became my comforter in virtually every motel I slept in, and for this night, my saving grace. Almost all of the budget (and you know or can imagine what budget means in Mexico) motels I stayed in had thin blankets for covers. And of course they would: it’s usually hot even at night. But this winter has been a cold one and my bag has been a key, key addition to my gear list.

Everyone stayed at Coco’s last night and I awoke to Coco saying something about the gringo – obviously ribbing the fore-mentioned daughter about me. Everyone by night’s end last night was rolling their eyes, “Oh, Coco loco…” This guy really is loved by many people and his colorful personality (those who have met him know what I’m talking about) only adds to the warmth.

It was a dark morning, threatening of rain but no rain came. So after sitting back in Coco’s trailer and sharing coffee, I took some pictures and headed out. I didn’t know what was awaiting me on the 65 mile section remaining of the dirt highway to Peurtecitos. So I got a jump on it and headed out a little before 8am.To go into any detail about the next 4.5 hours of my life, or describe the ecstasy and pain I experienced, would be pointless. Cascading mountains of lava rock pouring into azure seas and the relentless – relentless – beating of large rocks and washboards, all fused into a single experience of the Mex 5. It was a brain-schlosher, and a sense-filler. The road just spilled on and on, and I rode into it. How, or when, I finally got to Peurtecitos, I don’t remember. But when I had the strange sensation of smoothness under my tires, I knew I had to pull over and inflate my tires to road pressure. To go above 1st gear was a weird sensation.Heading up the paved road from Peurtecitos I passed many playas and “for sale” signs, beaconing gringos to buy a little piece of paradise. I noticed little else of that section, save for the radical “vados” – dips in the road, usually to allow creeks to run during a rain. But in this section, the first 20 kilometers north of Peurtecitos, the vados were deeper and shorter than usual. So much so that I had to significantly slow down and even then they fully compressed my suspension and I could see that drivers unaware had lost suspensions, transmissions, etc. It got so bad that some gringo had painted in front of one in large, white letters, “Oh Shit, Dip!”

I got into San Felipe in no time and tiredly waited outside the oficina of the Posada de Sol Hotel. Finally checked in, I off loaded the bike and took a hose to it, finally, for it had collected days of dirt, sand, dust and grime. Having rediscovered – or uncovered – my bike, I went for a stroll through San Felipe and enjoyed some tacos de pescado in this seaside, tourist town.
Since coming here, I have really felt my proximity to the States. Much of the signage is in English, there are many more gringos walking the streets, and most people speak English. I am coming to accept that it is an unavoidable necessity – that my time in Baja is coming to a close and I will have to re-enter my North American country, culture, life. Not that this is bad. I love my country and my life in the States. It is simply the sadness that naturally comes with any ending, particularly one that has been this stupendous. And the loss of a way of life I have come to greatly appreciate. This traveler's life is compelling and I understand it much more now than ever before - what draws so many people to take up a lifestyle of transitoriness. There is a wonderful, open life in it. And my taste of it has been a good one.

San Ignatio to Coco’s Corner

January 23, 2008

I was awakened early to the scuffling and snorting of the racers as well as the sound of rain dripping outside my window. It was a very cloudy day and the rain I missed in Bahia Concepcion apparently caught up with me in San Ignatio. I watched the Wide Open guys head out, finished loading up the bike, and headed on to Coco’s Corner.
Passing Guerrero Negro I crossed the line separating Baja California Sul and Norte, as well as re-entered Pacific Standard Time – for some reason that still stokes me I make that switch going north/south. I also rode through the Vizcaino Desert, the only place on earth where the cirios tree grows. To ride through this pin-prick point on the globe and experience these unique creatures was a great feeling. And I also discovered another benefit to enduring all this cold and wet - wildflowers in the desert. Flowers carpeted acres and acres of desert in a blanket of purple and gold. A very cool sight to take in.Of the entire ride, the only difficulty I encountered was the cold. I had planned on a warm – or at least nice – month in Baja, not anticipating one of the coldest and windiest. The cold air began to cut through my suit and the minimal warm layers I had on underneath, and not for my handgrip warmers I would have really frozen solid.

I had considered going to Bahia de Los Angeles for the night but decided to go farther up the road and head to Coco’s Corner on the famous Mex 5 – a devastatingly rocky and turbulent stretch that spans about 70 miles from Mex 1 (Trans) to Puertocitos on the Cortez coast. Coco’s is one key stop I wanted to make on this trip not only because his two acres of desert is famous, but also because my Latin American nickname (from a service project in Honduras back in college) is Coco too. I had to meet him and get a picture of us. How many Cocos do YOU know? So I chose to go for it and I’m really glad I did.

After averting some real potential for adventure (read: ran out of gas), I headed north on the Mex 5 and experienced first-hand all the reports of the bone rattling rocks and washboards of the last unpaved highway in Mexico. It wasn’t as hardcore as the road to Mike’s Sky Rancho but came close in spots. The experience of Mike’s helped however, and Coco tells me that’s the hardest section of the highway.

As I rounded a bend I saw a car coming the other way and it was Coco. I recognized him from pictures I’ve seen of him and we stopped to talk. He asked me where I was headed and I said, “to see you!” He then gave me a rack of keys, told me which trailer I would be staying in (I didn’t realize he had trailers – I had planned on tenting it), to feel free to hit the cantina/storeroom, and that he’d be back in a bit. And then he drove off. So here I am, someone he’s never met before, and I have the keys to his place. Amazing. So I rode to his “compound” and read for a bit after taking a bunch of pictures of this amazing place in the middle of the desert.Coco came back after a couple of hours and we sat in his trailer and talked for a good bit. He told me the story of how he got out here and I was enthralled. Ask me about it sometime if you haven’t heard it before. Let’s just say he used a lot of imagination and gumption, and when first moving out here was in a wheelchair and was pulling hundreds of pounds of supplies and tools! So he had me sign his registry and I read through a few pages of statements from people from all over the world who have stopped in and chatted with him. If you’re ever by here, look me up on January 23, 2008. I was the only visitor/camper that day – at least the only gringo.Later in the afternoon one of Coco’s friends (Chico) came by and we sat and chatted for a bit. Then as night began to fall, a family of four from San Felipe – and obviously friends of Coco’s – swung in too. So here we are, huddled in Coco’s tiny trailer, and I can catch a few words they are saying. What I do catch – and it’s reaffirmed when Coco winks at me – is that there’s a lot of joking going on at my expense in regards to the young daughter of the family that’s there. They all have a good laugh, many times throughout the night, and I’m content to let it be. Where else and when else will I be in Coco’s trailer with five of his local friends on a cold and windy January night? This is pure Baja, and I’m basking in it.

It’s supposed to rain tonight, or tomorrow, but Coco says I won’t have a problem on the road. Now having been on it I can see that had I come this way at the beginning of the trip I would have been fine. But my trip would have been different. I probably wouldn’t have met the people I did, in the way I did, and while I certainly would have met other interesting people, I know it was the way it was supposed to be. I am grateful to my heavenly Father for all the serendipitous happenings on this trip. And tonight with Coco and friends is just another one of those gifts to me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bahia Magdalena to San Ignatio

January 22, 2008

I got up pretty early and headed to the beach, but no whales. I did see some dolphins swimming by and lots of fish jumping (the pelicans were happy) but no ballenas gris (gray whales). It was a nice morning nonetheless and I enjoyed some quiet time overlooking the bay.

I hightailed it out of there because it started to sprinkle and dark clouds loomed out west, being brought in by on-shore breezes. It started to sprinkle a bit – and so I wanted to get to the other coast asap, in hopes that the Sea of Cortez was better than the Pacific.

I made it through a couple military check-points with minimal unpacking and reached Loreto – and the Sea of Cortez – in great time. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t much better but it was less dark and a little warmer. I made my way to Playa Santispac where I swung by to see the Lamberts and ended up meeting the group of friends Jim and Sherrol had been waiting for, and with whom they were going to travel the rest of Mexico with. So I said my goodbyes until May (Jim and Sherrol are volunteering at a camping ground near Klamath Falls, OR the month of May and we plan to connect then) and headed to Mulege.

I swung into Mulege to gas up, get more cash, and hit the internet cafĂ© to check emails and update my blog a bit. And of course to grab a couple tacos de pescado…

On my way to San Ignatio I passed Santa Rosalia and had warm fuzzies remembering my few days there. That was one of the key points of the trip and I longed to get some tacos de carne from my amigo taco stand guy, but he wasn’t cooking yet and I had to get to San Ignatio before it got dark. I will say that on driving by on the Trans Santa Rosalia doesn’t seem like much and not worth a few days for sure. But this is true for most of Baja, at least in my experience, and it makes me want to explore those places the guidebook DIDN’T cover. There is so much to Baja and a three week trip merely scratches the surface. For those of you who are English majors or writers you can hear mucho foreshadowing here.

Before settling down at Rice and Beans, the classic stop for motorcyclists, I rode into San Ignatio and visited the museum there. I had heard that they had a life-size replica of Cochimi cave paintings that looked incredibly realistic, so since I wasn’t able to see the real thing I wanted to see it. It was impressive.

Now I’m settled into my huge room at Rice and Beans, living the luxurious life compared to most places I’ve stayed at. Hot water, electricity, large and airy bathroom – it’s amazing what I take for granted at home but really appreciate here. There is no different between here and home really, except for my sense of entitlement. I hope to gently reshape that in my life. Traveling internationally to Developing Countries helps mature my perspective on those things, and this Baja adventure contributes to that evolution in me. Thankfully.

I went to dinner and chatted with Jack Murrey – he and his wife have been on an 18 month around the world adventure on their motorcycle. Starting in China and circumnavigating the globe westerly, they’ve completed their trip here in Baja, and I had a great time asking Jack questions like, “What are the top three things you brought with you on the trip?” and “What would you do over again, and what would you skip?” He’s obviously a huge source of knowledge on traveling by motorcycle.

I also ran into a group of men who are with a company that rides the Baja 1000 route in modified trucks. These trips are about $7K and last a week or so. They’re rowdy (as expected) and now arguing the opposing sides of the gay debate. Lively, for sure. Rice and Beans is a necessary stop for Baja racers, so it’s no surprise they’re here. Like with traveling in Baja – you never know who you’ll run into and why they’re here.

La Paz to Bahia Magdalena/Puerto Lopez Mateos

January 21, 2008

After chatting with Sabine and exchanging our best wishes over breakfast, I loaded up and headed north. My plan was to get to the Bahia Magdalena – a premier whale watching area – on the Pacific. The Bahia Magdalena is one of the main calving grounds for California gray whales in Baja and Puerto Lopez Mateo is at the northern end of the Bahia in a narrow straight – a great spot to see whales migrating up the coast. Not wanting to spend a lot of money for a one-hour boat ride, I wanted to watch from the shore and PLM seemed the best place for that. Plus it is a small town and I was ready to be back in the smallness I had gotten used to in Baja.

The trip up the Trans was very uneventful in a particular way that, I guess, you could say was eventful: there was no wind. For the first time in a number of days I rode without fighting to keep my bike on the road against gusts of wind. I can’t tell you how much of a difference that makes.

As I rode along the highway towards Puerto Lopez Mateo I noticed a huge nest atop one of the power lines. Then as I went along, I noticed that every half-mile there was a nest and a wood perch was built on each pole, giving the hawk/eagle a good platform for their nest. It was obviously a state funded program to facilitate the habitat for the birds of prey. I even watched a hawk swoop from its nest with a big fish hanging from its claws. Way to go, Mexico!I got into Puerto, got settled, wrote a bunch of blog posts (this being one of them), took a shower and hit the beach to watch the sunset. Soon after I hit the sack. My plan was to get up early the next morning to watch any whales swim by.

Cabo San Lucas to La Paz

January 20, 2008

Brian finally got up around nine, shook off the night before, and joined me for breakfast before I headed out. It was a good time to chat about our respective trips, share more about our lives with each other, and just be human beings (if that makes any sense to you). I enjoyed sharing some of my Baja journey with Brian and while I expected I might catch up with other riders on the way, I didn’t know who that will be or how it would go. And so I am thankful for connecting with another man who has similar stories as mine, and the mutual encouragement we gave each other on the larger journey of life. We got back to the Inn, I rolled the bike out of the lobby, I loaded it up and headed out.

That’s the thing with traveling like this: your life intersects with another person’s for a brief moment, then your paths diverge. You have your journey and they have theirs. And I am coming to accept that this is simply the way life is. And while it brings with it a degree of sadness, a deeper gratitude exists there. I am grateful to have met these people who are a part of this experience of mine, and in that are indelibly affixed into my life. I feel the same about Ian, the Lamberts, Sabine, and others I have met. It is a gift to be grateful for the moments I share with others on this journey of life, no matter how long or short these shared times are to be.

As I left Cabo I drove to the southern most point I could get to – “Land’s End” – took this picture for posterity, and headed to La Paz.I stopped into Todos Santos on the way to take some pictures of the mission there. Todos Santos is a quaint little town just off the Pacific and near the Tropic of Cancer. It has a really good vibe there and having more time (next time…), TS is a place I’d like to stay for a couple days.
Moving on from there I arrived into La Paz and immediately felt the largesse of the place. Cabo, La Paz – so different from the rest of my trip in Baja but Baja nonetheless. At first I didn’t want to spend much time in large cities – small towns and villages seem more “Baja.” But after some thought I decided: had I not gone to Cabo and La Paz I wouldn’t have had the full Baja experience. So, grateful to be in the capital city of Baja, I found my hotel and headed down to the malecon – the very popular beach boardwalk in La Paz.I sat for a long time near the big gazebo in the plaza attached to the malecon reading Rumi, journaling, people watching and enjoying the sunset. The malecon is the heartbeat of the city and on this Sunday night, many came to walk the boardwalk and cruise their cars along the boulevard. All the cruising made it feel small town and reminded me of my younger days “cruising chicks.” Ha!

So as I walked around, wouldn’t you know it but I ran into Sabine. She was staying in the same hotel as I was, so we grabbed dinner at a local taqueria near the hotel and after went back to the malecon and walked and talked until late. I retired to my room and after talking with Heather for a few minutes (I so miss our evening talks/prayers), feel asleep to the cries of a baby next door. Obviously I was tired!