I‘ve alluded to this elusive illusion many times and here I am, in the actual conundrum. Am I in constant eminent peril or is this as easy as child’s play?
I’m alone, 20 km from any traveled road and it could be a month or two before another vehicle reaches this abandoned fishing camp. There was a massive hurricane 8 weeks earlier that decimated any semblance of a pathway to this estuary guarding a sheltered bay on the Gulf of California. Reaching this beach meant following a pair of double tracks and plowing back and forth across a 500 meter-wide, freshly washed out arroyo of deep sand. The pair of diverging tracks are all I have to navigate East, between two mountain ranges from the lightly traveled route I’ve left behind. There’s a dotted line on a map and GPX file, both rendered useless after the hurricane. It’s truly rugged, wild and not even close to your average Baja ride. This isn’t something that money can buy. This is a methodical and calculated search for wild beach paradise.
A large dark shadow shifts slowly in the shallows of emerald blue waters while smaller rays dash deeper as I shuffle my feet, a hazard in and of itself.
The margin of error is tiny, especially being solo. There is no cushion here and you’ll expire quickly if something goes wrong. The reward could be high. You are focused on trying not to make mistakes and are constantly getting more proficient each day. The risk of losing the bike could mean life or death. You’re determined to keep the bike going.
Upon reaching the target on day 2, the evidence is clear. There’s no sign of any vehicle being here since well before the storms. Later I learn that the pair of tracks I followed to get here belonged to a single vehicle that probably turned back about 1 mile before reaching the sea. From years earlier, an abandoned white van, stripped bare, tells the story that the only 2-wheel drive vehicle here took a one way trip to its final resting place. A highly skilled driver in a well-equipped 4×4 can make the trip to this fish camp, but for whatever reason, they don’t. This one’s off the beaten path but eventually a decent track will get burned in.
I have 10 liters of reserve water and could walk out if the bike fails to start or gets marooned. I am ready to flip the switch from total proficiency into survival mode. Each morning, I treat a minor foot wound from a broken seashell on beach 1. Still, I form the habit of daily plunges into the sea, just to kill time. A large dark shadow shifts slowly in the shallows of emerald blue waters while smaller rays dash deeper as I shuffle my feet, a hazard in and of itself. I hear coyotes howling on both coasts each night. Unrelenting vultures pester me incessantly on the Cortez for 3 days until I deduce the sensible deterrent and fashion a makeshift scarecrow with a drift wood post and my helmet. It works perfectly.
Being alone and having a week to spend led me to explore and deviate from my initial destination of Turtle Bay in Baja Sur. This was a great investment in time-savings and led me to take an impromptu left turn that was purely intuitive. I knew I was going to score!
This is the exact vision of grand adventure gleaming in the eye of anyone who has ever ridden away from a BMW dealership with a new GS.
On this 4th morning, I discovered and conquered a remote cove on the Cortez that was absolute paradise, seemingly desolate and hard to reach. Once I saw it from a distance, it was worth the dedication and persistence to reach it. This is the exact vision of grand adventure gleaming in the eye of anyone who has ever ridden away from a BMW dealership with a new GS. It took about an hour of hiking off the bike to survey possible pathways to this oasis, an activity I would ultimately use to save the bike from ditching in the Pacific dunes.
Vulture beach is all about the dream. There is nothing more you can ask for and nobody can resist this kind of perfection. I swam at least 20 times in one afternoon and built a makeshift awning from my tent and a scarecrow to deter the vultures. As the sun began to set, I heated a branch of driftwood with the MSR stove and dropped it in some beach kindling. It smoldered while I started dinner and then erupted into a perfect campfire. There’s more than enough fuel for the night.
I’m up before sunrise everyday with coffee and oats before packing camp. On the 5th day I transferred to the Pacific side and manage swims on both coasts, with a full day’s worth of riding. The Pacific Coast of Baja CA is something to see and, while you can get into all kinds of trouble out there, you don’t have to be a consummate pro to check out some of the easier spots.
Once ready to attack, I was regrouped and loaded up for bush time. This was my 6th expedition on this coast in 11 months, so my target was set. But that didn’t stop me from exploring point after point and dashing out onto tributary trails on any whim. This is something I’d been daydreaming about since my first trip.
My target point bears a precariously ominous name and I spent hours reaching her. Getting myself out of this zone on the final day proved extremely challenging and cost at least 3 hours. Super-low tide is perhaps the only easy way in and out so I went over land, and ended up finding a faint 2 track into deep sand before being sacrificed entirely to the dunes. With the track gone, I was off-piste and in a 1/2 square mile dune field with enough vegetation to make it interesting. The secret would be winding correctly and not burying the bike in a hole. The key to that was getting off the bike and hiking through prospective paths from point to point. On my first “walkabout”, I learned the wind would sweep my boot prints away and I was scared for a moment it might lose the bike for a while. I was nearly struggling at this point and I did this 10 times getting in and out, carrying my GPS each time.
ON that final morning it got very sketchy, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it out with the bike and, even though it was an insured loaner, I needed my horse to get me out the desert. The America song “Horse with No Name” plays in my head. Upon reaching the end of the dunes I let out a scream and took a moment to hit the “OK” button on my SPOT tracker. I know my support crew is watching my debacle unfold live on monitors in San Quintin, L.A. and San Diego. I took the next 85 miles at a brisk pace and managed to peek at some remote points heading north until finally reaching the false sense of security at the paved highway.
This trip was a one-off, extreme solo-expedition not to be attempted by amateurs. On the other hand, variations of this exact trip with more traveled targets are very doable and to some extent may be attempted on stock bikes (even 1200’s). There’s a tremendous amount of ground to cover when you’re zipping all over the state in search for your next wild beach in Baja CA’s backcountry.
Unrelenting vultures pester me incessantly on the Cortez for 3 days until I deduce the sensible deterrent and fashion a makeshift scarecrow with a drift wood post and my helmet. It works perfectly.
Off the Beaten Path:
For nearly 50 years, dirt bikers and off roaders have beaten several of Baja CA’s common pathways into virtual obsolescence. Group trips to the iconic Mike’s Sky Ranch in the San Pedro de Martir, Alfonsina’s Resort at Gonzaga Bay, and San Quintin’s Old Mill are all prerequisites for anything else more adventurous on the northern peninsula. Stopping at Coco Corner en route to Bahia De Los Angeles is a must do for anyone looking to earn their Baja wings. All of these destinations are qualifiers for something more wild, such as following the entire BAJA 1000 course the week before the annual race, which seems like a death wish but actually quite tame in the global scheme of things.
Eventually, proficient Baja CA travelers may need to graduate from the mild, faux adventures of bunking in overpriced beds at the ends of graded dirt roads in exchange for wild beach camping. But for, others who are less aggressive and just “taking it easy”, being served food and drink in a controlled environment may be habit forming and an easy way to get a hall pass from their spouse. This trip and others like it are not suggested for these types.
Pushing it to the Extreme: Your stock parts will break out here.
Stock bikes are designed for price competitive engineering. In other words, they are built as strong as they need to be to balance supply and demand for typical use. Thus we have the ever-important utility of the aftermarket industry: companies who make parts, components and accessories that enable showroom bikes to withstand the rigors of off-highway punishment. If the 10% rule holds true, an extreme solo expedition to wild Baja CA beaches on a 600lb loaded bike is reserved for the top 1% of ADV riders who have their bikes retrofitted for abuse. Not only does the rider need to have all of their shit together, the bike must be Baja-proofed with a minimum of wheels and suspension.
2014 BMW F800 GS Adventure with $10,000 of modifications. In a collaboration with BMW Motorcycles of Escondido, we took a brand new F800GSA and decked it out with custom wheel assemblies from Woody’s, $2,000 worth of fork work (“The Works”) from Konflict Motorsports and an $1800 Extreme Shock from Touratech. Along with re-gearing the countershaft sprocket down one tooth, the wheel and suspension mods are absolute requirements for reaching remote beaches. Skipping any of these essential mods deems the bike incapable of completing this trip as I followed it. The lower-gearing was a literal life saver for the bike when needing to traverse the wild sand dunes. The downside of lower gearing is minimal and reduces the top highway speed to a max of 105 and comfortable cruising speed of 90MPH. Tire selection and pressure management was critical: Maxxis Maxx-Cross SX in front with Continental TwinDuro on the rear. I was astonished there were no punctures. This is truly an epic machine that turned 9000 miles old as it pounded through the rocky outback without a single issue.
BMW Motorad of Escondido: 2014 BMW F800GS
Konflict Motorsports Fork Rebuild
Touratech Extreme Shock
Touratech Countershaft Sprocket
Giant Loop Luggage Siskiyou Panniers, Fandango Pro Tank Bag & Rogue Dry Bags.
Fasstco Flexx Handlebars
GPR Stabilizer Sub-mount Kit
Nite Rider 3600 Pro Auxilary Lights
Renazco Racing Custom Suede Rally Seat
Remus Slip on Exhaust System
Black Dog Aluminum Billet Pegs
AltRider Skidplate and Lexan light cover
BRP’s CYCRA Handguard Adaptors for Flexx Handlebars
A Word About Luggage: Hard or Soft Bags for the 1%’er? Choose Wisely
The ever-expanding after market for ADV parts and accessories leads to many new choices for lighting, armor and luggage, so deciding between hard and soft bags for the wild Baja CA adventure comes down to a simple question? What task do you need the luggage to perform? If you are delivering pizzas, go with hard boxes. Otherwise, the right choice is GIANT LOOP’s Siskiyou Panniers in combination with a Fandango Pro tank bag, Zig Zag and Rogue dry bags. Considering capacity, durability, collapsibility and ease of repair (everything breaks in Baja CA), soft bags helped Germany beat Mexico on this solo expedition. The rickety-rackety nature of bulky and rigid box luggage is unwelcomed and unnecessary while bouncing around rocky and rutted jeep trails needed to reach Baja CA’s wild beaches. Also, a swift drop of the bike in 2nd gear or above and you run the risk of a hard-box appendage breaking whatever it’s been attached to. The Siskiyou system on the other hand, broke cleanly off the bike when I crashed, sheering the nylon webbing straps at the stress point. With a pair of light tie-downs coiled just outside my trusty tool bag (which never once saw the light of day), I had the Siskiyou Panniers repaired and functional within 2 minutes. Down here, hard luggage is not to be taken seriously off the beaten path.
This expedition might as well have been called: Trying to Break Things In Baja.
I might as well spend my time in a controlled laboratory trying to break, bend and destroy all of my gear with an anvil, vice, blowtorch and sledge hammer. A big part of Germany’s victory over Mexico was keeping up a high average speed between beach destinations and tire management played a huge role. Amazingly, the bike suffered no punctures or leaks and I still can’t figure it out. On day five, just 3 hours before getting “out” of the bush. A lone surf camper, asked me what parts had broken on my bike during the first 9000 miles? I stretched and could not identify one failure in the F800’s relatively rough childhood, save a punctured front tube on an earlier trip. In my years of riding and racing in Baja CA, I’ve broken a lot of stuff so I was totally impressed and frankly surprised with this bike. Not only did Germany win against Mexico, it also beat Baja CA badly.
What to Bring and What Not to Bring
I used everything I brought except my tools and spare tubes. Next time, I’ll pack some swim goggles and surf booties, maybe a collapsible sling spear. Some folks like the notion of sleeping directly on the dirt or sand under the stars. Don’t do this here, as I learned earlier this year, its pure ignorance. Scorpions and rattlers are everywhere and can kill you. If I were to bring another human being, it would be a real photographer if I had enough luck persuading them.
Known for its rugged and dynamic landscapes, Baja CA is truly a great testing ground for off road gear and I can’t see riding in light ADV or hybrid boots out here (tried that). Anything other than full moto boots (like the Alpine Stars Tech 8 Enduro) is a joke and, like hard-boxed luggage, is not to be taken seriously down here.
With the help from the crew at BMW Motorcycles of Escondido, we were able to test an already great BMW in a destructive environment while racing against time everyday to find 5 previously unknown (to us) beaches. We pushed everything to the limit on the bike and took her where 99% of owners won’t make it. All the while we’ve uncovered some new opportunities for “next time” with a few new ideas for another rugged adventure conquering Baja CA’s wild beaches, maybe next time on the new Africa Twin From HONDA?