What happened to the road?
It was the second challenge of our trip. The first was the sand of the central mountains. This second one had a reputation for destroying all but the most solid of vehicles, by rattling them to pieces.
We had spent a couple of nights in our first Baja beach town. San Felipe is at the northernmost tip of the Sea of Cortez. The plan was to ride down this eastern coast of Baja to a little place called Bahia Gonzaga.
We knew the road would be paved for the first half, and rough for the second. This area, because of its proximity to the U.S. border, is known as a playground for dirt riders – including those running the Baja 1000, North America’s answer to the Paris-Dakar Rally.
The maps were right: the first 90 kilometres was paved; slick new blacktop, in fact. Then it ended.
It didn’t end the way we expected, with the little sign graphically indicating a change from pavement to gravel. It seriously just ended.
It went from finished pavement, to nothing – not even a road. There were seven or eight big boulders painted with tar and placed across the last couple of feet of asphalt, and then even the roadbed disappeared.
The rough gravel dropped down about 25 feet, at a 25-degree slope into a gravel pit, with a construction road going to where we’d just come from.
We’d seen some construction workers a ways back, but not one sign.
A bit of scouting (on foot) and I found the old road a few hundred metres east on the other side of a couple of small hills. We were back on track.
Have you ever ridden 85 kilometres in first gear? It takes a long time.
I am talking BIG gravel – baseball- and football-sized sharp rocks littering the inclines and hairpin corners, and total washboard on the flats.
I had to brake all the way down half the hills in order to dodge them. On the steep uphills, all I could do was pray because I didn’t have any choice but to keep speed to avoid a stall.
As it was, I stalled at least a couple of times and bottomed out once or twice as well.
At the end of the day, exhausted from the tension and heat and dust, we spent our first night at Gonzaga, at Alphonsina’s Hotel. The room was plain; the food and sunsets were fantastic and the beer was, under the circumstances, ambrosia.
Unlike in the Baja 1000 (or any of those other organized adventure motorcycling events), we could not rely on a well-equipped support van with an onboard mechanic. We were travelling on our own in the middle of a desert with nothing but our own ability and equipment.
We encountered another group of four motorcyclists, the next day, after we’d given up the hotel room for a palapa on the beach. Even they had a support vehicle, fully equipped with a trailer to carry extra gas and beer and, if necessary, a wounded bike.
Knowing we had done the trip, on our own, made me feel like the ultimate Über riding chick; well, at least as close to that as I could be, having not gotten out of first gear.