Picture desert backcountry …

There are cacti and scrub brush and even a couple of cowboys herding reluctant stray cattle along a sandy road.

Each time we stop to rest, or to try and get our directions at a fork in the road, it is so hot that our helmets and jackets come off to find our T-shirts drenched in sweat.

Our first dirt road in Mexico was 32 kilometres of hardpan interspersed with stretches of sand. We rode it on a day that topped out above 30 Celsius.

The sweat was not only from the heat. This road was my first time riding sand and I found it challenging.

The sand tugs at your front wheel unpredictably. The only way to deal with it is to keep your weight back and increase speed so that the bike planes across the sand instead of ploughing through it.

The goal is to surf (or, if you are from a colder planet like we are, to ski) the bike through the sand. Rigid control and over-steering – fear, in other words – resulted in my almost losing control more times than I want to say.

By the time we reached El Parque de la Constitutión, it was late in the day and we had just enough time to cook and eat dinner before it got dark. A chill had displaced the daytime heat and we crawled into our light sleeping bags early with an extra layer of warm clothing.

Sleep comes early after a day of riding, but it didn’t last long. It was only a couple of hours before we both awoke, cold, looking for a solution. Soon we had on every piece of clothing we had with us and we were starting to shiver uncontrollably.

The only thing we could do was get up and start moving. An energy bar and a long, quick walk took the chill away, warming blood with pumping muscles.

When we got back to camp, I boiled a pot of water and filled up the Nalgenes to use as hot water bottles and we crawled back into our now-zipped-together sleeping bags in an effort to maintain the warmth we’d gained and get at least a little sleep.

As search-and-rescue volunteers, we’ve taken all the training. I’ve even led training sessions on the prevention of hypothermia.

We were caught off guard in Mexico. When we arrived in San Diego, the 35 Celsius days lulled us into thinking we were on a hot-weather holiday.

One of my requirements for winter vacations is that there be no need for socks. I knew that riding motorcycles meant that this winter I would need them, but, I thought, “It’s Mexico; I won’t need socks all the time.”

The desert, however, is a place of extremes. We were reminded of that when the night-time temperature dropped well below 0C in, of all places, Baja, California.

We had traded in our heavier (warmer) sleeping bags for small compact-down ones and our tried-and-true Northern tent for a more-ventilated version, worried about being unable to sleep because of heat.

Big mistake.

It was so cold, that night, that when we got up in the morning, the lake, Laguna Hanson, had ice on it. The next time we decided to camp out, our gear included a couple of very warm and cozy Mexican blankets.

And we also had our big fluffy socks handy.