Baja Trip – Day 9 of 9
🗓: 30 Apr | 🌍: San Felipe, Baja to San Diego, CA

Day 9 – 242 miles paved + 0 miles dirt = 242 total miles (389 km)

I am definitely not an early riser – normally. Something changes when I’m motorcycle camping. Perhaps it’s because I go to bed earlier? Perhaps I don’t sleep as comfortably on an inflatable camping pad? Whatever the reason, I usually wake up around sunrise. This morning I was up and walking around the beach well before anyone was awake. I also collected a bucket load of trash from the campsite and beach area. Why do I do this? Because my mantra in life is “make the world a better place”. I’m also OCD and trash just doesn’t seem to belong on a beach – even if it’s Mexico.

San Felipe beaches
Campos Los Amigos
Beach camping on the Sea of Cortez

This morning was also a bit somber for me because it was going to be our last day in Baja. I think Chantil felt the same way because we both seemed to take our time packing the tent, sleeping bags, and mules. I was grateful that my mule started up, although you could tell the battery was straining. Once packed, we rode back to Highway 5, then north towards Mexicali.

Sign marking Los Amigos

What was going to be one of our least adventurous days suddenly became the most “adventurous”…

As Chantil rolled on the throttle to pass me on the highway she noticed that her mule had no power. We both gently eased off to the shoulder and the side of the road. I rode her mule for 100 yards down the road and noticed the same problem – no power. I suspected a clogged air filter. In addition, the engine RPM would stick even when the throttle was released. We went to task of pulling apart the bike next to the side of the road while cars and trucks sped past without stopping. After about 30 minutes, we had the air inlet and air filter sections removed. The filter ended up being fairly clean and we didn’t see any other issues. We still had the same problem. What to do now?

We decided that our best option was to go back into town and see if we could find a hotel and then find a mechanic the next day. While Chantil put her bike back together I set up the rope and webbing system that we would use to tow her mule back to San Felipe. I also took a moment to kneel down on one knee and offer a sincere prayer for inspiration, guidance, and help with our situation.

Chantil wasn’t too excited about being towed, especially because we had not practiced. Lesson learned – practice before you actually need to use a skill. It turns out we didn’t need to tow Chantil because she was able to ride along the shoulder while idling along in third gear. Before long we had made it to a hotel that looked like it might have WiFi.

I remember thinking that I wanted to ask the hotel receptionist if I could use her WiFi to get some help with finding a mechanic. What I wrote on Google Translate was “My motorcycle broke down and I am in need of a mechanic”. I then intended to follow with “Could I use you WiFi to find one?” Before I had a chance to follow with the question about using the WiFi, she motioned over a teenage boy to help. I showed him the message about needing a mechanic. He motioned me to follow him to the parking lot. It appeared he wanted me to load Chantil’s mule into the truck. I did my best to explain that the motorcycle was ridable as long as the mechanic wasn’t too far away. He seemed to understand. We then followed the truck about five blocks to a house that had clearly belonged to a mechanic – it was surrounded by cars, bikes, and ATVs in all levels of disrepair. The mechanic motioned us to park Chantil’s mule under a covered awning where we went to task of explaining what the problem was. Google Translate saved the day once again; helping to identify the problem as well as introducing us to Charley, the mechanic.

In ten minutes we had the seat and air inlet off the motorcycle. Charley noticed a broken wire on top of the fuel pump and tank. He quickly stripped a new wire and replacing the connector. I was impressed that he found it so quickly and assumed this was the problem. Unfortunately, the low-power problem continued. It turns out the broken wire was to the low-fuel indicator.

After playing with the throttle and noticing that it was sticking open, Charley motioned for us to remove the entire air inlet section from above the throttle housing. Once removed the problem was immediately apparent…

…There was a two inch by two inch piece of foam stuck in the throttle housing!! How it got in there is a mystery but I’m pretty sure it was our fault. I’ll try and explain… Before we left for the trip we cleaned and oiled the air filter. Getting to the air filter requires that the panel covering the battery is removed. The battery on Chantil mule is a smaller lithium battery so foam padding was placed around the battery to keep it from bouncing around. Apparently, we failed to notice that a piece of foam ended up inside the intake muffler during the air filter cleaning. What’s even more amazing is that piece of foam vibrated around inside the intake muffler for nearly 1,300 miles of bouncy Baja roads and didn’t get lodged into the throttle housing until the very last day of our trip. ¡Loco!

Charley the mechanic

While leaving Charley’s, a pair of stupid dogs began chasing us on the motorcycles. The larger dog ended up bitting her pant leg and nearly knocking her off balance. Fortunately, the dog let go before she crashed. Mean dogs!

Highway 5 was easy traveling allowing us to cover a lot of miles without any incident. Just before reaching Mexicali we turned west onto Mexican Federal Highway 2D. This toll road is a well maintained four-lane highway with wide shoulders. The highlight of the day was the winding canyon section over the Sierra de Juárez.

Mexican Federal Highway 2D
Riding over the Sierra de Juárez

We decided to return to the small town of Tecate for entry back into the USA. We were hoping for minimal traffic at the border crossing; boy were we wrong! Once we reached the border fence we quickly realized that it was going to be a long afternoon of waiting behind two lanes of cars that stretched for as far as we could see.

In California we have a beautiful thing for motorcyclists called “lane-splitting”. Why is it so beautiful you ask? Because it allowed motorcycles to avoid traffic congestion by riding in the free space between the cars that clog our freeways. Since I regularly commute on my motorcycle, I am more conformable with lane-splitting than Chantil is. In fact, Chantil will generally avoid lane-splitting. So here we sat behind the choking exhaust of hundreds and hundreds of cars and trucks all while baking in the afternoon sun.

It only took about 10 minutes of nauseating slow progress before Chantil decided to give lane-spotting a shot. I’m so glad she did!! Before long we were at the front of the line and just minutes away to returning to the United States.

Lane-splitting through traffic to the border

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We rolled into our parking lot just after sunset having completed our first motorcycle trip outside the comforts of the United States! ¡Viva México

Video – Baja Para Dos

After we returned from Baja, I organized the photos and videos in the hopes of producing a short YouTube video in order to capture our Baja experience. The files sat for months because I just coudn’t find a decent song that seemed to capture the feeling of Baja. Months rolled on and I still didn’t have any music despite listening to nearly 100 different tunes.

Finally I found something that was perfect! It captured the slow and relaxed feeling of a laid-back Baja but also had some exciting sections that I could use to describe our feelings of riding in a new country for the first time.

Post-Trip Summery

This ride report has allowed me to contemplate on our short nine-day adventure in Baja. I have the following comments to share:

  • Baja was not as scary as I imagined. I recently came across a quote by an unknown author… Fear: False Evidence Appearing Real. How often do we let fear keep up from letting us reach our true potential? I nearly let fear keep me from having a memory of a life-time.
  • There is a very different vibe the further south you travel in Baja. Border towns like Tecate and Tijuana are a melting pot of US and Mexican cultures. Because of this I feel that prices are inflated and local folks tend to be less patient with tourists. The further south we traveled the happier the locals seemed to be; they were interested in our journey and went out of their way to welcome us into their country.
  • Baja can be pretty inexpensive. We spent a total of about $900 USD for our nine-day trip. The largest single expenses were the insurance on the bikes ($119 USD each) and the whale watching trip ($48 USD each). Food was incredible cheap (and delicious). Hotels were also very reasonable. Gas was a bit more expensive than what we pay in California. Considering that a Baja motorcycle tour package can go for $3,500 each person (not including bike rental), a couple can save themselves a substantial amount of money by planning and supporting their own trip.
  • I still dislike deep sand!
  • Baja California Sur is calling… We would like to give ourselves at least three weeks to properly explore it. On second though, three weeks isn’t enough – perhaps three months?

Until the next adventure…