It’s Thursday night, and I’m blazing towards Mexico in my F-150 with my son Alex, friend/photographer Kent Crowley, our gear and our bikes. All stressed out from a hectic week at work, we are tired and numb… and late (as usual).
We gas up just before the border, and cross at Tijuana. Traveling at night, we use the toll road (safer and less prone to incident than the “free” road) and blast towards Ensenada. As we get deeper into Baja, we start to decompress and think about 3 days of riding, eating, and drinking margaritas (Alex, of course, is excluded from this last activity).
Our hosts are Trail Boss Tours (Chris and Nancy Steward). In the brief, first installment of this story I described Chris’ riding background. Nancy’s maiden name is Emde (there is more than one Daytona 200 victory in her family). Both great riders, they are equally great hosts and planners. This is a 3-day professionally run tour of Northern Baja California for riders of varying skill levels. The Stewards and their staff handle everything (food, accommodations, gas, flat tires, etc., even bike rental . . .).
We finally arrive in Ensenada and begin looking for the La Pinta hotel. It turns out the La Pinta is a luxurious (by Mexico standards – comfortable by American) hotel that has hosted many famous Baja racers, such as Ivan Stewart. The next morning, we truck the bikes to the nearby town of Santo Tomas, where we unload and have a big Mexican breakfast (Machaca or Huevos Rancheros, with fresh-squeezed orange juice). After a lecture on safety and general rules of the ride, the riders were divided into two groups based on skill level. The faster riders are led by Chris, and the novice/beginner riders by Nancy. Each group is “chased” by a skilled rider on the Trail Boss staff. Kent, Alex and I join Chris’ group.
The terrain ridden on Day One was incredibly diverse. We started on fire road-style (these are real roads in Mexico), relatively high speed stuff. Surrounded by vegetation that looked remarkably like Southern California, we soon dove into a single-track trail. Now moving fairly briskly through relatively technical trail (the word “trail” is used loosely, as it occasionally disappeared altogether), we began to climb some lush, green hills where, out of nowhere, a herd of wild horses crossed our path. This is one of the most mesmerizing experiences I have ever had – the pack was led by a white stallion and it literally split our group.
Soon, we emerged onto a plateau overlooking the Pacific, and stopped to relax and take photos.
The riders in our group were primarily from Oregon. Trail Boss has loyal customers living all over the United States, and even in Europe. I found out why.
We then proceeded on down to the beach, and through some small, coastal villages. We even bought some gasoline in a seaside village from a small stand (dispensed in gallon milk containers) for the two, thirsty two-strokes in the group (ridden by Kent and Alex).
After sandwiches, drinks, and a good rest, we set off for Mike’s Sky Ranch in the Middle of Nowhere, Baja California. At this point, I was already tired. After a stressful week of work and very little sleep the first night in Ensenada (my own fault, not Trail Boss’), I was ready to get to the oasis known as Mike’s, where we would park our bikes by the pool, shower, swim, and drink margaritas in the bar. The trip to Mike’s was over fast, sandy roads that became more undulating and whooped-out the closer we got to the ranch.
Your arrival at Mike’s is signaled by a fairly deep water crossing. You pull your bikes up next to the pool in the courtyard, park and put your bags in your rooms. With no phones, and electricity provided only by Mike’s generator system, you can’t help but relax and forget the rat race you left behind. A nice shower, a few drinks at the bar, and a steak dinner top it all off. At ten o’clock sharp, Mike throws the switch and turns off his generators. You’ve never seen more stars than you will on a clear night at Mike’s.
Either read awhile by the light of the kerosene lamp provided to each room, or go right to sleep and get ready for tomorrow’s ride. Kent, Alex and I did the latter. Before the lights went out, however, some drunken revelry played itself out in Mike’s well stocked bar. Although the Trail Boss group predominated, three employees of American Honda (who will remain nameless) and a “17th century English literature” professor from UCSB did their best to stand out.
Saturday morning we took a different route out of Mike’s, climbing some rocky trails and then traversing a wooded valley through some great, hard-packed, single track. Working our way back towards the ocean, we had lunch at a taco stand in Camalu. The fish and beef tacos were excellent (personally tested and vouched for by Chris and his staff, who are frequent Baja travelers). The highlight of lunch was watching one of our group entertain some local women crowded in a bus headed for work in the fields. The guy was certainly no Brad Pitt, but the bus nearly tipped over when the women crowded to one side to watch his “gringo fandango” dance. The women good naturedly shouted “I love you” and “I want to marry you” in their broken English (actually, they had mastered these phrases fairly well). The bus eventually pulled away, leaving both sides of the encounter laughing uproariously.
Riding on the sand next to the Pacific Ocean, we then gathered the group at the site of a wrecked tugboat, where we did our best impression of the beach riding scene in On Any Sunday… powersliding, wheelieing and generally playriding before eventually heading back to a comfortable, American-owned hotel up the beach for a big feast and more margaritas.
By now, our third night in Mexico, the stress had washed away, and thoughts like . . . “I wonder if I could make a living in a seaside village down here, like some of the American businessmen . . . this place is paradise” entered my mind. Of course, it isn’t necessarily paradise, but the fact that you are thinking these thoughts is a sign of a great vacation.
After another relaxing night, we had a half day ride planned with the group eventually arriving back at the vehicles in Santo Tomas mid-afternoon (giving everyone time to drive back to the United States, or catch a flight).
The morning ride was more blasting through sandy berms on the hills overlooking the Pacific, and eventually dropping down onto the beach for more playriding and a trip down the coast to a new destination. It was at this point that Kent’s 1996 KTM 300EXC broke a ring and wouldn’t start. With a broken bike on the beach near Camalu, we had a decision to make. Although Trail Boss would have handled this situation (allowing Alex and I to ride the rest of the day with the group), I decided to handle Kent’s situation myself (with Alex along with us), and work our way back to my truck in Santo Tomas.
Armed with a tow rope provided by Trail Boss, I towed Kent and his bike to the nearby town of Camalu (my DRZ400E had more than enough torque to do the job), and we parked at the gas station near the taco stand where we had lunch the prior day. I then towed Kent a short way up toward Santo Tomas where we met with one of the chase trucks. Swapping Kent’s injured KTM for a Honda XR650, we completed our trip back to my truck, where we took a nice cold shower and then returned to Southern California.
There are several things about this trip that I won’t forget. The diverse riding, with a great group of guys, is only one part of it. After getting well past Tijuana, and riding our bikes through the countryside of Baja California, Mexico, the Mexican people we came across were friendly and polite. I’ll never forget the kids on the beach watching us roar past, and urging us to pull wheelies for their entertainment. Their innocent, ecstatic reaction when I obliged (jumping up and down and screaming with their arms in the air) is now a priceless memory. Just one of many from this trip.
I highly recommend Trail Boss Tours. The one caveat concerns your skill level. One “pure” beginner on our trip had a frustratingly difficult time with some of the terrain. Just make sure you check with Chris and Nancy about the particular ride you want to attend (there is quite a variety — check their web site for details). They can make sure your riding ability matches up with the difficulty of the ride. For further information, click here to go to Trail Boss Tours’ web site.
For $900.00 (with your own bike — make sure it is Baja-worthy) or $1,499.00 (with a late-model Honda XR400 provided to you), this trip was a relative bargain.