Getting Away From 2020
It should come as no surprise that I was more than happy to see the back end of 2020.
The year that bought us Covid-19 and all the associated terrors of death, unemployment, financial distress and social distrust was the most stressful of my life, so I could think of no better way to see those 12 months go up in smoke by gathering a few friends, putting on our socially distanced adventure helmets, and heading south across the border.
Mexico is a country still pretty foreign to me. Growing up in Australia, the most contact I had with the country was the occasional El Paso taco night in the family house—not exactly the most authentic experience, I grant you.
Later in life, I discovered the brilliant Dust To Glory film and so came my first exposure to the Baja 1000. However, I still didn’t really appreciate just how full-on that race really is. I remember talking to Johnny Campbell when we were teammates at the Vegas-to-Reno desert race in 2016 about the event, and the way his eyes lit up about a race he so dominated left an impression on me. I had to see the terrain for myself. Obviously, at a much, much slower pace.
Meeting at Chris Fillmore’s place at 6 a.m. on December 29, we set off an hour and a half late after Jon Beck slept straight through his alarm. We finally got moving and crossed the world’s easiest border crossing at Tecate, immediately hit with the wonderful scent of the finest cuts of meat from the big spinning stick. The longing for tacos fills your brain until you finally relent and satisfy the demand.
We rolled on Highway 2 for about half an hour, then it was straight onto the dirt for a three-hour taste of what was to come. Open two-way dirt roads with next to no one on them, you’re suddenly in the world’s biggest adventure playground. It’s hard to convey the sense of freedom this gives a rider as the endorphins flood your system and the wheels beneath you take you further into the unknown.
Following a few days of heavy rain, the roads were flooded for much of the way to our first taco stop in Ojos Negros, a tiny town about 25 miles from Ensenada.
Four of some of the finest (certainly fattiest) tacos I’ve ever digested later, we were back on the road to our night stop in Guadalupe, charging north across our first real sections of the Baja 1000 course. It’s hard not to get visions of Johnny Campbell on the world’s baddest Honda XR650R sending it at full speed between the fence posts when you ride through this section of Baja.
It’s equally hard to keep your eyes on the road as the ever-evolving scenery invites your stares, the road climbing higher and higher until you reach what is supposedly a dead-end.
Here, we met a local farmer named Eric who invited us through his property for 100 pesos, assuring us it would take us straight into Guadalupe. The road was about 30 miles away, but it took us close to two hours to cover the distance.
This was about as gnarly a route as I personally could take an adventure bike on. Massive rocks, washouts, ultra-slim ruts that can catch you out in a millisecond and more jagged edges that munch tire sidewalls than you can possibly remember. Chris crashed twice on his KTM 790 Adventure R, while Jon, on his KTM 1090 Adventure R, took it all in his stride. Somehow, myself and the Yamaha Tenere 700, stayed right-side up, and we got to our overnighter at the Quinta Monasterio in Guadalupe unscathed—bar the blasted nail I picked up on the ride through town—where we met the fourth rider in our group, Adam Waheed.
That night, we dined at the quite delightful Fuego Cocina del Valle vineyard for what can only be described as a pittance for the grade of the food and many, many drinks we consumed. A meal anywhere near this quality in the U.S. would have cost five times the price.
The next day, heads slightly ringing, we changed the Tenere’s rear tube and we were back in the game, this time headed west to the coast. We cruised through Ensenada, Maneadero and Benito Garcia, getting onto the dirt at Santo Tomas. This took us to the utterly breathtaking west coast of Baja, where the Pacific Ocean consumes the landscape, and you feel like you’re riding through a water painting. This is what SoCal was like 150 years ago. There are very few buildings and only a few dirt roads—it is, for the most part, completely unspoiled.
Lead rider Jon took us to the idyllic Baja 1000 hotspot of Coyote Cals for mid-afternoon refreshments, then we headed up into the mountains for an overnighter at Rancho Coyote Meling, where we were looked after beautifully with home-cooked meals, a roaring outdoor fire and plenty of cervezas.
The final day of New Year’s Eve meant we had to rip back to the border, but we got in one last dose of proper hardcore Baja 1000 racecourse action leaving Coyote Meling. The race often ran right out of the Meling, and it took us right into some pretty desolate country where I was extremely glad both tires on the Yamaha stayed inflated. You would not want to break down out there—even though it was only about 20 miles to Punta Colonet, it felt like 200.
With daylight and indeed 2020 running out, we legged it back to the border, enjoyed a few last authentic tacos and crossed back into familiar territory at Tijuana. Covered head to toe in mud, it was one of most thoroughly enjoyable trips I’ve ever done on a motorcycle, and not just for the route. The Yamaha Tenere never missed a beat and took a proper pounding (although thankfully, no crashes); the company was superb and my love for Baja and its riding joys thoroughly ignited.
It also hammered home something I’ve always known—riding to new areas with mates is the single best stress relief I can think of. Whether its Mexico, our own wonderful backyard in the United States or somewhere else, make it your mission to get your buddies together and do a quick two-wheel trip in 2021. I promise, you won’t regret it. CN