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Month December 2012

Baja, day 2

Up at dawn in the morning and the sun’s shining.

The routine is the same each day: get the bike ready and rigged before breakfast, eat fast  and go.

Today we’re headed inland to central Baja and then due south to Guerrero Negro. Off we go
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Towards some hills
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And into the cactuses. It was cold. Actually I was thinking that the best measure of the cold is how often I’ve not worn my thick winter gloves. Three days since September 30. Oh well
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Whoa!
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More and more beautiful by the mile. This is Baja as I imagined it
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Baja’s big and there’s about a 400K stretch down the middle with no gas. So you buy it at the side of the road. If you’re on a KTM you’re screwed as the octane is about the same number as your heart beat. But if you’re not riding a hysterical little orange thing it works fine
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Fill ‘er up says Lucinda
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And the village
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David, our Baja 14-bike-owning horticultural expert, tells us that this site is the only place in the world were palm and cactus grow together
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The road riding was good. Twisties through cactussy hills, drops, walls, all good. The first opportunity to ride fast and we do. I’ve written *slow down * with a fat Sharpie across my tank bag window. It works in a subtle way. More on this later.

The road kill here is big. Here’s a cow. As I rode by there were big red-headed (yeh, I know, typical) vultures parked on it. We did a u-ey and they’d only moved a grudging dozen feet away
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Another village. No gas
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A full days riding brought us back to the coast, into Guerrero Negro
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Helge got this vanity shot of us from a bridge or something coming into town
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Baja, day 1

( So I’m sitting in a bar in La Paz with Helge Pedersen, Dan Townsley plus the rest of the group, and we all have our laptops out. Time to catch up on some posts. We’re a bit baked after four days through storms and desert from Anaheim to here )

I signed up to join the group (who are doing a three month ride to Ushuaia) because the word is Helge is the best long distance rider in the world. He wrote Ten Years on Two Wheels and was the first man to get a bike through the swamps of Panama. Dan is his right hand man.

But the main reason to join them for a couple of weeks is to get babysat to Guatemala City as quickly as possible to learn some Spanish in nearby Antigua for a month or so.

Then I’ll return to Mexico and start again properly.

I thought that Helge and Dan would be leagues ahead of the rest of us in miles and talent but I was was wrong. They’re all pro’s at this.

‘ Rockasaurus ‘ is from Silverdale, Washington and is an ex submariner. He’s hard as hell. His best stories come from crossing Russia.

Fred is an architect and developer from Germany. He’s very probably the fastest rider here. Last night he was showing us video from Hockenheim – him racing his 1000RR. Impressive from a guy almost exactly the same age as as me. Fred’s also funny.

Marty and Bill are from Delaware and ride as a team. They ride an industrial looking hopped-up sidecar. I thought this was as funny as hell until I saw them lob it into into the first corner of the ride like it was the Isle of Mann TT. Awesome.

Peter’s a gear junky, he’s got the latest and greatest of everything.  Both his riding and set-up are sorted. Somehow, for laughs, gets driving time on 747-400’s because they’re really big and fun. He primarily owns and runs a global ceramics company. He’s doing this tour because he needs a rest he says.

David, from Santa Cruz, has the most miles of any of us and has done 5 trips with Helge and zillions alone. He rides his own adventures and occasionally will blast down through Baja for a few days for laughs on his sport bike. Very quiet and clearly very smart. Owns 14 bikes and rides them all.

What a group. I’m sure I’m going to miss them when we split in ten days. They go for another 100.

They’re all riding 1200 GS’s or GSA’s. Lucinda is definitely the wild girl of the bunch.

The bikes have come from all over – flown or driven in, and we meet in Anaheim. Dan downloads files to our GPS’s and Helge talks about everything except what I what to hear. All these guys have big international miles and Helge’s skipping what I think are critical things! I feel like an idiot and keep my head low. No wonder the application process for this trip with him was so arduous. I wonder how I passed. I’m learning so fast I’m dizzy.

Here’s Helge
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We tear off to the Mexican border at first light. We’ve got our, visas, insurance and bike importation permit in advance so we’re only there for an hour.

The way this group works is this: ride your own ride and meet at the destination. Buddy up if you like but no need.

So after the border I tear off ahead of the group. I love the feeling of riding into a new place with no-one in front. The exhilaration of riding through Tijuana and into the country get’s me whooping again and life feels very good.

I stop for lunch after a while in a beach town and do what I’ve read is the standard thing to do: have fish taco’s at a roadside stand. About three life first’s all happen at once and it’s fun. They’re laughing at me, not with me
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And the first pic of Lucinda outside of CDA/US. Nice pose sweetheart
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It’s been raining off and on for the last couple of hours. As we start off again it starts raining seriously. We have another 200 miles or so this afternoon to San Quintin so it’s time for more speed. No stopping for lots of pictures.

I’m ahead of the others when all of a sudden, high in some hills the sky opens and I’m going * Holy shit, a hail storm * as I’m in a chaotic whiteout. I look for a way off the road in a panic and as I slow down I realize it’s rain, not hail, but coming down so hard the wall of drops are enormous and they’re bouncing off the ground in explosions. Incredible.

I find shelter and wait it out, wondering where everybody else is. Finally, it’s just flooding
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As I wait Helge shows up, checks in and keeps going. Later we ride through a couple of towns together, sliding on the mud covered roads. Confirmation: Heidenau K60 Scouts are completely useless. The three of us running them have all been sliding, Helge included. I can’t wait to stop using these damn tires, but for dual sport distances there’s little choice.

We arrive in San Quintin and the Pacific. My first day in Mexico and it’s been 500K of angry weather, super talented riders for company, dodgy traction and two fish tacos. Magical.
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LAX

I left Lucinda at the bike dealer for a major service before Central America. There’s a good service shop in Guatemala City apparently (edit: this turned out not to be true) so if something isn’t quite right there’s a second chance at the next tire change.P1030027

The list of mods included a new custom kickstand support we had shipped from Woody’s, a permanent fix for the bogus seat fastener, re-wiring the headlights since we’re getting bored of electrical fires and upgrading to a ceramic clutch, although this change may be overkill.

I dumped all my gear with the shop and set off for LAX.

The arrivals building’s super dull
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The Air France check-in is madness which was a cheery sight
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Compared to Air Canada.
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Looking outside, this airline’s branding department is an equal opportunity employer
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Ditto this restaurant chain
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With this sign above. Hey, don’t sweat it guys, neither can we
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Then through security. Very quiet
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Then it’s time to go, settling into the idea of being home for a few days in the City of Glass.

Wind power

P1020925The city of Mojave, CA is not the prettiest place. But on the east side of town is America’s largest wind farm. 290 turbines produce 3 gigawatts of electricity. The windmills vary in size from, say, 80 feet in height to a couple of hundred. For scale look at the steps at the base of this guy on the right

For some reason security was non-existant and we could ride right up to them.

The wind was blowing hard and watching them rotate in apparent unison was mesmerizing. It brought back memories of the vast solo windmill at Pinscher Creek that stood apart from the others and seemed to stand sentinel to the Rockies. They’re so white, wow.

Sorry there’s a rainbow in the next one, we’re not going all Californian down here, it was an unfortunate accident
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Then into the San Gabriel Mountains
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We picked a small mountain road, the Hughes Lake road, up and over the hills, until we hit a ‘closed road’ sign and had to reverse back to the crest and a good road further south. We passed Elizabeth Lake, ignored the Park signs and went for a ride in the sand. Here’s Lucinda wagging her hips. She’s such a bad girl
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Another perfect sport bike road, smaller cc’s though as it was very tight in places
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Then down to meet highway 126 through a citrus valley into Ventura as the light failed
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Then sunset over Santa Cruz Island
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Furnace Creek and back

My small notebook is getting full of  tasks before a flash trip back to Vancouver and rendezvousing for Mexico and south.

Lucinda’s needs are regular service related jobs and small changes/modifications. I’ll leave her at the shop in LA while I’m away. I’ll miss being on the road with her and leaving her behind for a few days is going to be difficult – I can’t imagine getting out of the groove we’re in. Getting on the plane is going to feel like betrayal. You may think this is over-the-top but if you’ve lived a system with a good bike for long enough, well, the feeling is very real. Sailors often feel the same way and whatever ‘bug’ it is, we’ve got it. Going home, despite being homesick for Family and City, is a rough break in the continuity of whatever this is that doesn’t feel right.

There’s gear to be sorted – It’s been a cold few months, now we’re shifting to heat. I have two years of clothes and equipment in four boxes/bags totalling maybe 90 litres and having everything layered precisely can defy the constant aggravation of digging and re-packing.

There are things to be bought, or previously bought and dumped in Vancouver for the next leg. Drugs, maps, security stuff.

Plus furnishing a new place for rental while I’m away, Christmas Dinner for the family to be prepared, people to meet, it goes on. All in a few days. Oh well, we’ll be back on the road soon enough.

So to pre-burn off some energy we plot a 500 mile route From Twentynine Palms to Furnace Creek to Mojave (the town) for the next two days.

Off due north into the Mojave
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If you look at a map you’ll see the Mojave is enormous. By comparison, Death Valley is relatively small. Crossing the Mojave on the short side is still a 150 mile ride across an almost perfect wasteland. It had a rare and solid rain in the days previously so in areas it was green.
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Through some salt flats
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And at one point a very strange man-made trench. The mineral solution was as clear as diamond and blue as sky
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Then, very oddly we pass into the town (if you can call ten buildings a town) of Amboy, which is on the old Route 66, which follows the railroad. The middle of nowhere again. The main, er, only event is this brilliant motel
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Lucinda insisted on this next shot, just to show to her friends
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Then off again
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There was a high pass with granite outcroppings quite similar to Joshua Tree with some Joshua trees. L and I had a helmet discussion (more on this later) and we have a strong belief that Joshua trees outside of Joshua Tree National Monument are alien and should be cut down.
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A dramatic mountain in the distance
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Into Death Valley. Doesn’t look so bad, does it?
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We were surprised, after weeks of huge Texan, New Mexican, Arizonan desert, how small this valley was. About 15 miles wide by about 100.
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But a 100 miles is 100 miles and the GPS said hussle, we’d been stopping too often and would be arriving after dark, so don’t stop, shoot from the saddle and see it better in the morning. As the sun set, it lit up the eastern ridge
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Then it was darkening and we were still 50 miles from Furnace Creek
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This is a great time of day to ride fast. The visual input is limited and other senses are accentuated
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The next morning
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And
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And out
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Because of the speed we went through the northern Mojave and Death Valley, it’s poor blog material. But also this maybe reflects the way we felt about it. We much preferred the desperate distances of southern Texas and the exoticness of the Reserves of New Mexico and Arizona that engaged much more of us.

Nearly Heaven

If you were a stockbroker at the time of the market crash in October 1987, you might head here immediately. I was, and did.
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Joshua Tree
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Water

A huge storm passed in the night. As we set off towards the only dirt road out towards to Twentynine Palms, we passed large scale fields and orchards
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The air was crisp and clear. Pools of water on the road. What a beautiful day!
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Then onto the dirt, and more pools of water. Lucinda having a bath
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Gravel, haven’t seen that in 5000 miles or so
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More great puddles. Hey, this is the first water we’ve seen in a month. A bit slick at times. It’ll be a while before I forget the big crash we had crossing a algae slicked stream in Texas.
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The desert looked pristine
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Eventually, the beginnings of the San Bernardino hills
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Fast bikes

Hum, this bad boy’s all carbon
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Then saw the registration decal. Cool
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