Baja California—Monkey Business

Baja California—Monkey Business

With the picnic tables dotted among the ponderosa trees of Arizona long gone, we rode onto what looks like a nose-diving dragon—775 miles in body and 200 miles in girth—from Mexicali in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south. The Baja peninsula, or Baja California, is part of Mexico, but feels more like an extended arm of lower California. It dips its horns into the bracing Pacific on the west side and its underbelly into the enticing Sea of Cortez along the east coast. Regardless of where on the 2,000 miles of sun-bleached coastline, we decide to sink the side stands each day. I’m always in need of firsts, warm sand to contour my back, and tasty street food.

Part of a big jaunt of the Americas—traveling from Antarctica to Alaska over more than four years in the saddle—we had dipped our big toe on the peninsula earlier on the trip. During a crucifying spell in September, it cremated the mind, body, and soul for the longest sleep-deprived week of our lives. Not this time: at a friend’s recommendation we revisited in February, primarily to discover a special little mission he had in mind for us, but also to make time and see the real Baja along the way.

With nothing to lose except gallons of sweat and everything to gain, we pulled what we hoped was a well-timed U-turn from riding northward at full tilt in Arizona. Aptly, it would also buy us some time for the weather to improve stateside because if all things were equal, June would see us reach the northernmost tip of Alaska, which seemed a million miles off. Places tended to get under our skin—heck, it took us nine months to leave Argentina. With tentative hopes, a personal quest to devour the best fish tacos in town, and vigor in need of renewal, right now I was on a mission to reacquaint myself with the fire-breathing beast they call the Baja.

Bedding down beneath a cozy palapa, overlooking a glittering sea on the shores of sleep is all I could have asked for on this evening.

Sand Demons

Anyone who knows me well knows that the thought of sand riding, despite the searing temperatures one often finds on such terrain, sends cold shivers down my spine. It penetrates my every cell and seems to scatter molecules beyond the boundaries of my own skin. In the dark depths of my mind, I wanted to think my sand days were safely behind me in South America, buried like nuclear waste in airtight containers.

“Why, pray tell, can’t I stay in first gear?” I enquired hopefully, en route to the Misión San Francisco Borja, a Spanish mission located in Baja California. “I like first gear, we get on, and I feel a lot more in control,” I pleaded, conscious of concealing any “princess tendencies” in my argument. My partner Jason’s expression told me he wasn’t buying what I was selling. “Second gear is a tad too fast for me, and I can’t give it handfuls of gas in first,” I persevered, instantly regretting not having voiced my thoughts in the safety of my head first.

Jason had countered with razor-sharp rationale tens of times already and did so again. Namely, over-revving the engine in snatchy first gear prevented me from going a notch faster on the sand when I needed to regain balance. Of course, he was right, and the subsequent silence hung in space.