Mud and Snow Riding in Baja Mexico – Day One
This was definitely not your typical hot and dusty Baja Adventure Tour
“I’m on my way,” I typed in an email to our riding group as I ran out the door, kissing my wife good bye. I fired up the fully loaded KTM 990 Adventure R and hit the road. Last minute work details had me delayed and it was now 3:15pm on a Friday. Traffic was getting thicker by the minute. I had a two-hour drive from Los Angeles to San Diego under normal circumstances. Now I had rush hour traffic through Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties to contend with.
We had planned a four-day winter trip riding in Baja California, Mexico. Today we would cross the Tecate border and spend the night at Martin’s family cabin in the mountains. Day two we would ride through the Sierra de Juárez Mountain Range passing Laguna Hansen, then down the hill to the Sea of Cortez. We planned to camp just south of San Felipe in Puertecitos and check out the hot springs on the beach. On Day three we would head north toward Mexicali, then veer west on a dirt track that would take us to the Guadalupe Canyon Hot Springs campground for the evening. Day four we would enjoy the hot springs, eat lunch and then head back 50 miles to the Tecate border crossing.
After lane splitting on highway 5 for two hours, my brain was going numb. It was now getting dark and I was still not close to Martin’s house. Suddenly, the sprinkles started to hit my visor. I had heard about a storm coming and that conditions would not be ideal. But rain is uncommon in the dry deserts of Baja California, Mexico, so I was optimistic that it would clear up as we traveled south. Canceling the trip was not an option. We had been planning this Adventure Ride to Baja for months now and this was the only weekend we could make it work with our busy schedules.
I arrived at our meeting spot after a three-hour journey and was greeted by Martin, “Hey man did you hear it’s going to rain hard?” Sensing that there may have been some talk about cancelling the trip, I responded confidently… “Well, it’s going to be an adventure!” Vladi was there making final preparations to his BMW R1200GS. Our other friend Carlos had to cancel going on the ride due to work obligations, but he was there to send us off.
After a final check of our bikes, documents and insurance, we were finally ready to depart. The rain and wind had picked up now and it felt as if we were going into battle as we drove out onto the street. Looking back, I could see Carlos smiling as he waved goodbye. You could tell from the look on his face he wasn’t too sorry he was missing this trip. Luckily, we didn’t have far to go that night. It was just 80 miles from San Diego to the cabin. The trip under normal circumstances takes two hours. We were finally on our way and our adventure had begun, but conditions continued to worsen as we traveled through the mountain pass.
Crossing the border into Mexico was as easy as crossing an intersection. Entering the town of Tecate at night in the rain had me on full alert, though. It was Vladi’s first time riding in Baja, so over the Scala Rider intercom I told him, “follow me closely. You have to drive aggressively in Mexico, or people will cut you off.” We rode at a steady pace keeping an ever vigilant eye out for bad drivers. Suddenly, I felt my front tire dive down into a hole and the bike began to shake. I must have been looking too much at traffic and not at the road surface. My front tire had been captured by a deep rut in the pavement the exact width of a motorcycle tire. On slippery wet pavement this was not a good thing.
As my front wheel came out of the rut, my back wheel kicked out violently. I could feel the steering lock out to the right and then to the left. My heart rate immediately spiked as the adrenaline flowed and time slowed down. We had only been in Mexico two minutes and I was already on the verge of a nasty fall. Somehow I was able to counter the swapping rear end and I was able to get the bike straightened out. Vladi had a front row seat of the show behind me. Over the intercom I heard, “I’m definitely not following you now, Rob.”
We continued on to the edge of town on the way to the highway when we saw police lights flashing behind us. It’s not unusual to see the police driving down the street with their lights on for no apparent reason in Mexico. At first we didn’t think there was a problem, but eventually we realized that we were being pulled over. Since Martin is originally from Mexico, we let him do the talking. We learned from the police officer that we had failed to stop at a stop sign. In my previous experience riding in Baja, I had never seen people stop at stop signs; they usually just slow down. Maybe a group of gringos on expensive motorcycles looks like a good opportunity to extort money? After confirming that Martin’s GoPro helmet cam was not on, the Policeman agreed to a sum of $50 to settle the whole thing. At least the cop warned us that it was snowing in the mountains where we were heading.
At this point the rain was really starting to soak in, even with our rain gear. We stopped at a gas station to clean our visors and reapply anti-fog. I had bought a product called Blaze Anti Fog at the U.S. MotoGP weekend in Monterrey, California after a convincing booth demonstration. Now, under these conditions, my visor was fogging up worse than ever and I could tell the product was worthless. I went back to using my old Scott Anti Fog that had always given me decent results.
We had another 20 miles of highway before reaching the dirt road that would take us to Martin’s cabin. The toll road from Tecate to Mexicali was full of trucks moving slowly at 30 mph and the visibility was terrible as we climbed in elevation. The road looked incredibly dark and I was blind to any imperfections in the surface. The temperature had now dropped to the Low 30’s and we expected to see snow any minute. Even with the heated grips on high, I was feeling pretty miserable. These were dangerous conditions, so we decided to stay behind the trucks and just ride slowly and stay focused. We just needed to get there and avoid taking risks.
We finally reached the top of the mountain pass. Now we had only 13 more miles to go on a dirt road to get to the cabin. I am always weary of riding in Baja on the roads at night, so I was relieved to be finally off-road. Normally, this would be a quick 30 minute drive to the cabin on a smooth (for Mexico) dirt road. It was already 10 pm and we hadn’t even eaten dinner yet, so we were eager to arrive and call it a night. Martin had just installed a new auxiliary HID lighting kit on his BMW F800GS, so he was excited to finally try it out once we got on the dirt. Our lighting was great, but the rain continued to poor as we traveled through the soupy mud.
Stopping to air down our tires was an annoyance in the rain, but a necessity to improve our traction in the mud. After airing down all of our tires, Martin tried to start his bike. We could hear a clicking noise but the bike would not turn over. We turned off the auxiliary lights, heated grips, iPhone charger and all other accessories but the battery was completely drained. It appeared that Martin’s new auxiliary lights were too powerful to run with all his other accessories at the same time and he had drained his battery.
We didn’t want to spend more time than we had to sitting in the rain, so we decided the quickest solution was to bump start the bike. Luckily we had a small hill to get the bike rolling, but it would be a challenge getting enough traction in the mud. With a strong push from Vladi and I, we were able to get the bike rolling and Martin bump started the bike without a problem. We continued on through countless mud puddles and began to see patches of snow on the side of the road. Traction was difficult on the hills, but we pushed on knowing that a warm fireplace, homemade steak and beans and a cold beer would be waiting for us at the cabin.
Just a few miles from the cabin, anxiety began to dissipate. I was even starting to enjoy the ride, playing in the mud. Then, Martin’s bike stalled again and it still didn’t have enough charge to turn over the engine. We were now on a flat surface and it would be incredibly difficult to bump start the big BMW in the mud. We were so close to our destination, but we had one more hurdle to cross. Vladi and I decided we would push the bike with everything we had, to ensure there would be no repeats. We got the bike rolling at a good pace through the mud by exerting ourselves to the maximum. Martin put it in gear and the bike fired right up, to our delight.
Nothing looked more enticing than that first glimpse of the cabin as it came into view around the last corner. I was relieved to take off my wet riding gear and warm up by the fire. My brain was fried after 6 hours of riding in treacherous conditions. Finally, we could relax and enjoy a few laughs over a beer as we recounted all the things that had just happened in our short ride over the border.
Soon we were off to bed with hopes for better conditions tomorrow. We had a lot of miles to cover the next day, having planned the trip for dry conditions. I was a little worried about the continuous rainfall overnight and how that might affect the trail. But for now I was enjoying my last night in a real bed. The next two nights of our journey we would be camping. Hopefully, the bad weather would become a distant memory after enjoying the hot springs of Puertecitos tomorrow.
Stay tuned for the continuation of the “Mud and Snow Riding in Baja Mexico” ride report. Full GPS tracks (.gpx format) of the tour will be included in the final installment of the series.
Day one of our journey from San Diego to the mountains above Tecate
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Other Stories in the Series:
• Mud and Snow Riding in Mexico – Day Two
It doesn’t usually rain in Baja, but when it does it gets sticky and slick
• Mud and Snow Riding in Baja Mexico – Final Day
Rescue Mission in Guadalupe Canyon