Category Archives: 2011 Baja Mexico

The Baja is hard… really hard. Two friends embark on a solo off-road adventure down some of the most rugged terrain in the world. This adventure has is all, solitude, friendship, quiet beaches and crazy military checkpoints. A trip of a lifetime.

fj cruiser dried river bed baja mexico

Baja Mexico Taking It At Our Pace (note on the road)

USA Mexico border crossingWe must be on Mexico time.  No matter how hard we try to get started…  We are just late!

Have I mentioned Joe, a reporter from the AP?  He gave us a call a while back and did a little interview.  Joe also gave his buddies a call who know the Baja and passed on some insights that have really helped with our route finding (or lack of finding and some dumb luck).  He also warned us about washouts in the north, more on that in a minute and explained ranch protocol in the south.  Joe shared a couple of phone numbers with us in case we run into trouble as well which hopefully we wont need.tijuana mexico

It’s amazing how on all of our adventures we keep running into great people like Joe who offer a helping hand.  The world is filled with great folks if you just look.

Crossing the boarder is a simple affair.  You get in line, drive through and head out.  But don’t forget to stop at the immigration office to get your visa if you will be going south past Ensenada.  road side bull baja mexicoDriving in Tijuana is a full contact sport where the weak are pushed out by the taxis, buses and locals.  Focusing on defending our space in traffic, trying to read the street signs, dodging stray dogs and maneuvering through the five car wide round abouts where the concept of lanes is ambiguous at best had us halfway out of town before realizing we didn’t pick up our tourist visas.  An hour and half later, through a couple of back alleys and again through the round abouts from hell had us at the official office to get our visas approved.

mikes sky ranch signGovernment workers the world around seem to have one thing in common, They seem to find joy in hassling the foreigners.  But after an hour or so of pointing out just how stupid we were, we left holding our newly stamped visas and heading for Ensenada.

The first rule of Baja…  Never drive after dark.  Our late start, detours and lack of Spanish linguistic skills had us taking the turn off to Mike’s Sky Ranch just as the sun dipped below the mountains.  The dirt road to the ranch is 22 miles climbing up into the hills.  In the dark it is 22 miles of dodging cattle and low flying bats as you come around the corners not knowing where it drops off.  With no reservations, we just showed up and hoped for a bed and hot meal.  We drank, ate northern baja 1000 traildinner and chatted about the day with the other 30 or so guests calling Mike’s home for the weekend.  After a dinner of what was most likely one of the cows we had just driven past, Brad and I sat pool side contemplating life, the adventure ahead of us and searching the night skies for intelligent life.

At the ranch you head to bed at 10:00 because that is when they turn off the generator and you hope you remembered to stick you head lamp in your pocket.

Navigation maps and GPSThe course leaves the ranch and heads west through the hills.  This part of the Baja 1,000 race course can only have been planned by Satin and made worse by Mother Nature who over the years washed away chunks of the road.  Two hours of driving and we were less than tree miles from where we began the day.  The course may have once been over a “road” but with the rains exposing large chucks of rock and removing entire sections of the course, we were driving 100 yards, getting out to scout ahead, driving another section, backing up to find a way around a washout and spotting trough the boulders that collect in the stream beds.

fj cruiser washed out roadMaking our way through this section was mostly hold on tight and hope the shoulder will hold the weight of the truck as we crawled tentatively over and through the gullies.  Somewhere around mile eight, we climbed back onto terra firma that would take us the rest of the way.   At least if we could keep finding the route.  And although the road no longer disappear from under us, it still managed to be filled with endless ruts and gouges.

Second rule of Baja… Hydrate, pee, hydrate some more.  While back home they are stuck in 40 degrees, overcast and rainy, we are enjoying 78 degree days, blue skies and light breeze.  And since we did not see speeds over 30 km/h we have plenty of time to count the cows and sheep as we crisscrossed the ranches.  We wonder what the ranchers think of us as we drive by.

fj cruiser hydration break in mexicoOur plan to approach this adventure may not have been full proof and we are getting by with the aid of some dumb luck.  The International AT&T plan Brad set up on his phone is not letting him call or send text but we are able to get face book posts out and Google Maps is working when we can find a cell signal.  Visa in their infinite wisdom decided someone must have stolen my credit card and shut it off until I was able to reach out to them and explain we really were in Mexico.  Unfortunately the little Pemex stations we are using in the middle of nowhere don’t take credit cards.  And when it comes to route finding, we have managed to get turned around, a lot.  But all the dirt roads seem to lead back to the course and our GPS keeps pointing us down the right road which miraculously comes out right next to a Pemex station.  I guess the prayer flags we put out last night are paying fj cruiser side of Baja mexico dirt road

Check the last great road trip face book page.  We are putting updates there when we can but were are never sure where the signal will come in….  But when it does, Brad’s phone starts lighting up like Día de los Muertos.

LA traffic day and night

Drive All The Way To LA (note from the road)

man hat closeup baja off road adventure navigatorHow do I start to tell you about this epic off-road adventure through the Baja?  Two days into the adventure and we haven’t left the blacktop or even the country yet.

We left Portland several hours later than planned.  We always leave later than planned, but we still managed to make it down to Sacramento, 580 miles and 10 hours later.  I would like to describe to you the beautiful Willamette valley, Mt. Shasta’s majestic snow capped peaks, wooded lakes, and star filled clear skies.  I would like to describe these to you with the clarity of a diamond flashing in the sunlight.  But the truth is that it rained buckets the entire way with fog and cloud cover that limited our views to 10 feet either side of the white line that droned in front of us mile after mile.  After dragging our bags into the hotel room and settling in, sleep took us before the lights even dimmed from flicking off the switch.

Our late starts continued into day two after confusing PM & AM when setting the alarm at three in the morning the night before.  Sacramento to Carlsbad is 475 miles straight down I5 and I do mean straight!  The drive from Sacrament to LA put the majority down the majority of the miles.  Driving from LA to Carlsbad, a mire 88 miles, took about same amount of time.  Crossing into LA at 4:00 PM on a Friday managed to embed us in traffic that we slogged threw for the next four hours.  But out of the ashes of city grid lock our spirits were raised as we were welcomed into Bernie and Tammy’s casa.

There are no two people more wonderful in the world.  With nothing more than a phone call to Bernie that we would be in the area soon, they opened up their house, killed the fatted calf and cracked open the good stuff.  Over an amazing meal that Bernie prepared for us we chatted until the 1,000 plus miles of the last two days were washed off.  We talked about Mexico, family, how boys grow up to be men and the influences of Italian cathedral architecture on garden gates.  Tammy and Bernie brought us into their home and gave us a glimpse of how true friendship was meant to be expressed.

42 miles from Mexico to Carlsbad and still a world away.  Tomorrow we’ll cross the boarder and find the desert solitude we seek.  But tonight we were rewarded with company that will forever fill the endless empty spaces.

man driving fj cruiser on highway

Baja Adventure The Start (note on the road)

The outside temperature in Seattle read 29 degrees.  The temperature reading in Cabo San Lucas was 67 degrees.  We are definitely headed the right direction.

The plan for the first day was simple enough…  Take the ferry into Seattle, grab the sat phone, head to Portland and stop by Metal Tech.

The day didn’t get off to the best start.  Arriving at the ferry terminal I handed over my pre-paid trip pass to get scanned.  She was polite and very sympathetic but that didn’t take the sting out when the woman in the booth said “your pass has expired” and I still had two unused trips that were no longer valid.  Big breath, count to ten and hand over $14.95.  After all this is the first hour of the first day of the Baja off-road adventure.  It’s going to be great.

The satellite phone guys require you to set a time with them when you’re going to pick up your rental phone.  Its not like the cable company where you tell them some time between 9:00 am and noon.  No, they want to know exactly when you will be there.  Evidently that doesn’t mean they will be there…   We agreed on 9:30 a.m.  I was there waiting since 9:10.  At 9:45…  Apparently my call to the sat phone guy woke him from a deep, restful sleep.  He was sincerely apologetic and agreed to ship it over night to Portland where I was headed.  Strike two.

The warm greeting I received when arriving at Metal Tech washed away all the bad  karma of the morning.  They were set to help me swap out a half shaft that had a leaky boot.  They also let me use their bay to finish up last minute adjustments on the rig.  I think I died and went to heaven.  heated, well lit, dry space out of the elements to work on my rig.  What a treat.  LT and I swapped out the half shaft.  I re-torqued the bead locks and wheel lugs, topped off the diff oil, Ian laid down a few tack welds to secure the winch from would-be thieves and I took a final look over everything.  The day was definitely improving.

Today may not have been the epic beginning and tomorrow looks like a little last minute shopping for me, as my copilot, Brad tries to wind up things at work.

baja cactus fj cruiser

Baja Off-Road Adventure… Finally

baja mexico off road adventure posterWe’ve been trying to get down to “The” Baja for two years now… Our Baja off-road adventure has started, stumbled, been shut down, picked back up and now it looks like it is a reality.

When I was growing up the Baja 1000 was the place where legends were made and any one could give it a try. Guys like James Garner (Mr. Rockford Files himself), Steve McQueen, Ted Nugent, and Paul Newman raced the Baja in buggies competing against Average Joe who’s kids doubled as pit crew with friends helping out. No multimillion dollar sponsors, just back yard mechanics who could build a solid buggy or bike. This was the peoples’ race… at least for people crazy enough to endure 1,000 plus miles of desert hell and non-stop driving for 48 hours over what has to be the harshest course in the world. It always struck me that at the finish line all the racers said it was the most amazing experience… ever! Our goal isn’t to win any race (that was back in November) but to follow the course more or less (after all we need to sneak off to get a little beach time along way) from Ensenada down to Cabo San Lucas.

Sitting here the night before we leave, my mind is racing. Did I pack enough? Did I pack too much? What haven’t I check and double checked on the rig? Was the clutch feeling a little loose or was that my imagination? Did I let the folks who helped us get here like Metal Tech, Discount Tire and Beau Jaramillo from Amsoil know how grateful we are?  Why didn’t I learn to speak more Spanish? Where are the maps, I want to look at them one more time. What happens if we run into trouble, it is just us. No support team, no caravan of rigs, no chase vehicles are going to follow up to tow us back. It’s just us! But, that is the adventure.  We don’t want to sit on the sidelines and watch.  We want to experience life.

I know tonight I wont sleep much, even if the first leg of this off-road adventure is only 250 miles from Seattle to Portland straight down I5. Tomorrow we start what I’ve been waiting a life time to experience. The Baja! I can’t wait.

baja off road adventure satellite map route

Baja Off Road Adventure Track

Yes the Baja Off-Road Adventure is under way!  We’re driving from Seattle, Washington to the tip of Baja, Mexico.  There is a lot of highway down to the boarder but after that we’ll be following the 2007 Baja 1000 race course which will take us back and forth across the peninsula several times until we reach Cabo San Lucas.

Throughout this off-road adventure we’ll be posting on Facebook and Twitter.  You can follow us in real time thanks to satellite tracing. To see where Hula Betty is as she rides on the dash south through the Baja click on off-road adventure live satellite tracking.

Follow up: This Baja Off-Road Adventure was hella hard.  Harder than we ever imagined.   Now you can read the stories and see the pictures of it all.

baja mexico desert hills and mountains

Never Say Never, Baja 20??

vulture on cactus in bajaThe best laid off-road adventure plans of mice and men still depends on luck and it looks like ours is running a little short.  Based on the US State Departments Travel alert and some conflicts with team members’ scheduling we are putting our Baja trip on the back burner

Hopefully as things settle down we can get this trip back on track.  In the mean time we are working to fill the travel calendar with NW adventures and club runs.

——– follow up ——–

No the situation did not change in Baja.  But we threw caution to the wind anyway and decided it was a good day to die.  We took off on our Baja Off-Road Adventure.  It was so worth it…  don’t ever let fear of the unknown hold you back. Be cautious but move forward.

USA Mexico border crossing

Danger is My Middle Name

Off-road adventures are filled with dangers. Mechanical breakdowns, lost in the cold and wet, broken bones, hypothermia and heat exposure are all real dangers.  We prepare for these risk with spare parts, extra water and clothing, first aid kits, communication equipment, maps and a host of recovery equipment.

We don’t usually prepare for drug gangs, kidnapping or violent criminal activities. However, this is exactly the situation in north Mexico. Unfortunately the LA Times story Border drug violence sparks travel alert for Mexico reported “The U.S. State Department in Mexico issued a travel alert yesterday, prompted by drug violence in the north of Mexico.”

This drug war presents a danger beyond the usual off-road adventure risks and has us watching the Department of State Travel site for the latest information. So we sit and we worry if this will escalate into a situation that keeps us from traveling the Baja. It’s not like we’re going to Mexico for spring break!