Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Coco's Corner

Coco is an absolute legend to all that travel these parts. As George W. would say, "use the Google", and you will find pages and pages on this guy. Short story is that many years ago the Mexican government offered free land in these remote areas to those that would homestead it. Coco staked his claim where two dirt roads converged, and nothing else much else happens. (The junction to Hwy 1 lies about fifteen miles west.) For years he has been welcoming tourist and guests to his self-decorated corner, offering "tourista information", selling a Cokes or beer, and offering space to camp. 

As soon as I cut the engine in his dirt lot, I heard a, "Hey, Amigo!", like an old friend would call out. "Hey Coco, mind if I come in?" "Si, come on in amigo." He was working on the rear brakes of a Jeep Eagle that someone had given him. As hard as it must be to live out in this area, I can't even remotely imagine how difficult it must be as a double amputee - both legs are gone below the knee. I believe he lost his first leg as a result of an accident, and just recently the second due to poor circulation. With all that, I promise that you will never meet someone with a better attitude or disposition than Coco! It's impossible not to fall in love with the guy within five minutes of being in his presence. 

I had the privilege of signing his famous guest book (he gets visitors almost daily), and was given a couple of his decals for my bike. I gave him a couple of our Write Around the World stickers for the book as well. 

Coco is one in a million, and there will never be another like him. Same goes for this region of Baja. The paved road from Puertecitos should reach Gonzaga Bay within two years, and Coco's soon after. It will probably make Coco, and a lot others, very wealthy, but will forever change this part of Baja. 

Road to Gonzaga Bay

Saturday, the 28th, was the Baja that I have been waiting for, it was a near perfect day. 

I didn't get out of San Felipe until about 11:00, my usual early start time. The first 40-miles of riding would be on paved road, but south of Puertecitos, the pavement would end and the remaining 40-miles would be on dirt. 

The rocky road required constant attention in order to avoid the larger and/or sharper "protrusions". Many people have blown out their rear suspension on this road and I didn't want to be another. There were numerous detours due to all the new road construction (more on that later). The route hugged the coast and was absolutely beautiful! The weather was perfect. The beaches were dotted with palapas enticing one to stop and pitch the tent under the palm frond huts and stay for a week. This day was the perfect cure for whatever funk I was in the last two days. 

During the course of the ride, I ran into several groups of riders coming from the road ahead, and was able to get a sense of what was coming up. I was comforted knowing that others were on the road with me. 

I had received two different recommendations to stay at Alfonsina's in Gonzaga Bay, and that was the day's destination. It was accessed by this road, local dirt airstrip, or by boat. The turnoff was easily located and I rolled in about 4:30. I was exhausted! I was welcomed with a, "Corona or Pacifico?" Easy enough question. I agreed on the $50 a night price, and parked the bike by the hotel entrance, and sat on the beach with my beer. 

I fell in love with the place right away. Unpretentious and basic, it sat 20-yards from the water's edge and offered picturesque views of the entire bay. The perfect reward after a hard day of "work".

The next morning after breakfast, I set out for long walk to the other end of the bay. I felt silly asking, but thought I should try and lock my room's door before heading out. I saw the owner and told him I had never been given a key. "We do not have any keys. The only bad one here is me, and you are with me, amigo!" I didn't give it a second thought, this place was so remote, and the staff is like a big family, I felt like I was staying in someone's home - which I was. 

The walk in the sun and sand was a good stretch for the legs and to get my long dormant vitamin D production process back in gear. It was another great day, and I could feel myself getting more and more into the trip. After the two hour walk and brief siesta, Joaquin, the owner asked if I wanted to ride with him to deliver a cooler of beer to some workers at the opposite end of the bay. They had gotten their bulldozer stuck on the beach, and had been trying to pull it out all morning. We made the delivery, and afterwards he gave me a tour of the bay through the network of desert trails in his 4WD truck. We drove over a set of hills on a road that had just recently been built - before that it had be almost entirely untouched. It was one of the most serene and private spots I had ever seen, truly special. 

It was here that we decided to lock the keys in the truck. With no one to call, no cell reception, and miles to walk, there was only one option - I smashed what we guessed would be the least expensive window to replace. It was worth a few laughs, and the cooler wasn't entirely empty yet, so not a terrible ride back. 

Back at the hotel I had some of the freshest and best tasting ceviche I have ever had, and then called it quits. I was hoping for an early start in the morning. I was going to hopefully meet the famous Coco of Coco's Corner. 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mike's to San Felipe

The day alone at Mike's should've been relaxing, but I couldn't sit still. I missed my friends and my girlfriend Erin. I played with the GPS functions, got out my Spanish phrase book and patched up the broken auxiliary light and tank saddlebag. The staff prepared a substantial and tasty dinner and breakfast included in the $60 per night fee. 

The following morning on I got back on the road. Felt good to be on the bike, my attitude was much better. I was fresh and handled the road much better. I had deflated both tires to 25 psi and turned off my ABS (two things I failed to do on the way in). It was a beautiful day. Again, I did not see a soul on this road, maybe a rabbit or two. I was standing on my pegs concentrating on the path ahead when I suddenly heard a loud exhaust right behind my left ear! When I sat back down in the saddle, I was face to face with a soldier sitting in the passenger seat of a truck loaded with other soldiers and their automatic weapons. Startled for sure. Where did they come from?  I gave them my "No hablo Espanol", and I was waved on. They later turned off another dirt road. 

I am getting use to the strong military presence here. They are all really nice young men in their 20's doing their mandatory service. No attitude at all. They have been considerate and return my wave. Of course, they are interested in the bike, and I have been waved through almost all checkpoints. Guess I am glad they are out there. 

I followed Hwy 3 east and took the Hwy 5 junction south. There was a bit of road construction, with dirt road detours paralleling the highway - no sand thank goodness.  

Stayed at the lovely El Capitan hotel a block from the beach in San Felipe for $30. It is suppose to be a hang out for more desert riders, but was virtually empty. No worries.  I guess I just missed the Baja 250 race that started and in ended here. Otherwise, nothing really here for me. 

Tonight I plan on making it to Gonzaga Bay (40 of the 80-miles will be on dirt) and maybe camp on the beach(?) Next night, hopefully Bay of Los Angeles. Then I will high-tail it to Loreto. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

Carlsbad, CA to Mike's Sky Ranch

On 11:30 AM on Wednesday, March 25th I crossed into Baja, Mexico at the Tecate border crossing. Honestly, emotionally I was a wreck - tighter than a drum. It felt like I was jumping off a cliff. I have been waiting for this moment for two years, and I wanted it so badly, but it felt like I was crossing "the point of no return". Anyway, a lot of mixed emotions. Not to mention, the words "bloodbath" and "Mexico"have been used in the same sentence too frequently as of late.

I digress - a year ago I started following the blog of Allan Karl (worldrider.com) when he was somewhere in Africa on this bike trip. His story is amazing! Like a kid contacting his favorite TV star, I emailed him. He answered. Fast forward, and the night before crossing the border, I stayed at his place in Carlsbad, CA. What a plethora of information! It was like talking to a PhD the day before I was to start kindergarten, on what school was like. We went shopping for the Canon SLR I was looking for, and other last minute necessities. He and Angie made us a great dinner, and the wine flowed. Didn't get to bed until about 1:00. The next morning All had offered to ride to the border with me - sort of like walking me to the bus stop on that first day of school.

Back at the border, I was waved through without stopping. I found the proper office to get my Tourista Card, went to pay for it at the bank two blocks down the street, and returned the receipt to "proper office". I would be able to get my temporary vehicle importation permit in LaPaz before catching the ferry to the mainland. It was 1:00 and I had a lot of driving to do before nightfall. Rule #1, NO night riding - anywhere! Not to mention the previously mentioned "bloodbath" thing was on my mind and I wanted to get away from the border as fast as I could. 

I hit Hwy 3 and headed to Ensenada, where I would head southeast to the turn-off to Mike's Sky Rancho. 

As a kid, I was a big fan of off-road racing, and knew all the names of all the top players of the time. Mike's Ranch is actually on the Baja 1000 course and a Mecca for racers and enthusiasts for almost three decades. The turn-off is in the middle of the peninsula and a 20-mile dirt road ride from the main road. 

Per road construction and getting lost in Ensenada, I didn't reach the turn-off until 6:00. Home free, or so I thought. (I realized then that I hadn't eaten a thing all day.) Anyway, tired and fatigued I was elated to get to Mike's and celebrate with all the other cyclists that were no doubt ending their day of riding and now enjoying a "cold one" by the pool. 

The road proved a bit difficult, with patches of thick soft sand. This is not good for an overloaded heavy bike - muy pesado! Not fun at all. About 16-miles in I dumped the bike in the sand, which was the last thing I needed. It was getting dark. I was sure "narcos" would be coming out of the bush at any second, like zombies after the sun goes down. However, now I could finally find out if I could pick up the bike by myself. Nope. I had to take off the two duffle bags before I could get it up. Soon after I finally came across a guy on a tricked out MX bike with an oversized Acerbis tank. He had just come from Mike's buying bottled water. "No one is there." What!? What do you mean no one is there? "Not a single guest is there, just staff." Completely deflated, I pulled into Mike's about 30-minutes later in the dark. I crawled off the bike and yelled out for someone. I was it, the only guest for two nights. They don't even turn on the generator during the week, so no electricity. Apparently, it's a weekend Mecca. 

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree March 20-23rd.

Two hours out of L.A. via Hwy 10 and I was experiencing the kind of heat that I haven't felt in, what feels like a lifetime. I was having lunch in Palm Springs in temperatures that must have been in the 90's!

Mark and Christa have been great friends of mine since I moved to Seattle in '93. They settled in Joshua Tree four years ago after being "free" for eight years. They sold everything they had in Seattle and bought an RV - loaded up their animals and hit the road. I always respected their independence and lack of conformity. 

I really liked Joshua Tree. It is a beautiful place, but the people make it truly "unique". Its proximity to L.A., it's beauty, and mystic background seem to attract a lot of talented musicians and artists (one in the same, I guess).

Noted Activities: flea market, party at the Ingretron, a tour of Noah Purfoy's sculpture park, tour of artist Bobby Furst's studio, and hearing the Thrift Store Allstars. 

Shameless Plug: If you have been reading this blog, you have noticed an odd entry with an ESN# that gives my current location. This is the result of a device called SPOT. It is a GPS transponder of sorts. Everyday when I am finished riding I push the "OK" button on the battery powered unit and it relays my location and my pre-programmed emails to my selected email list. Anyway, I met a guy in Joshua Tree, still in a cast, that broke his leg while up in the mountains on his dirt bike. He was helicoptered  out two hours after pushing his 911 button. His $8 policy covered the $18,000 bill. It's comforting to know it does what it says. For more info, check out findmespot.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

California, part 2

I always love coming to Venice. It's probably why I decided to drive straight through from Los Gatos (on Hwy 1). (I did take a little scenic road short cut Santa Barbara that I would recommend, State Rd. 54 I think(?)) I rolled in about 8:30 completely wired!

Adam, my best mate and Director of Technology and Gadgetery for the trip resides in Venice, and he put me up as usual. He and his wife have been the best of friends, since..."forever". Adam and I "kept it local" biking and walking to the neighbor restaurants (and bars). Paddle tennis in the morning...and then it seemed to all fall apart after that, but no complaints. When my "little buddy" Ingrid (another Seattle transplant) and her significant other, Geoff, got involved it "fell apart" even faster. It was apparent that I would be leaving a few pounds heavier. Joking aside, it was great spending time with such close friends before heading out. So far, its been a great California vacation. The real trip starts when I cross the Baja border by myself. 

Shameless Plug:  J.R. at Angel City Cycles (BMW only garage) did the 12,000 service on the bike and mounted the Conti TKC 80's (knobby tires) that I had been lugging around with me since Seattle. J.R. was able to get me in the day after calling him, and had the bike ready in time - as promised. He made some helpful and welcomed suggestions. He was very thorough, and extremely passionate about his craft. The bike has run great since!

California, part 1

I left Crescent City, CA and drove down the 101 in the long awaited sun, and started shedding the layers.  When I took the turn-off to catch Hwy 1, I started putting the layers back on. Still a beautiful day, and the road was all mine - and the high floating Turkey Vultures above me. Not an RV in sight!

I rode into San Francisco and made my way to Los Gatos, east of Santa Cruz. Kai, a patient of mine, had invited me to stay at his home (he recently relocated from Seattle).  Brad and Kai took great care of me with their excellent cooking and fine Rioja (I owe you guys a bottle of Malbec down south, but you have to come and  get it!) I really appreciated their hospitality and friendship. Staying in their Eichler designed home was a real bonus.


Day three into the trip and I have already surpassed my personal record for longest motorcycle trip. Hopefully "experience" is overrated (at least I am hoping so).

Today was absolutely beautiful! The weather was cool but very comfortable. I was able to remove my Gore-Tex suit liner, the extra pair of socks, and unplugged my electric vest. What a difference a day makes. 

Leaving Washington

YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNqWB013WKI

Finally, the day of departure was here, and so was a Northwest snowstorm. It would have been dangerous and very uncomfortable to ride out, so we postponed the departure date for two days. We would leave March 10th. "We", being my Aussie buddy, Ian, and myself. 

Ian had generously volunteered to ride out the first day with me, which turned out to be a great emotional "crutch" in terms of me getting out of town. I was very grateful. 

The plan was to ride together, him on an Aprilia, me on my BMW. We would ride to the very beginning of Highway 101, since I was taking it much of the way to Los Angles (as well as Hwy 1 in California). We would stay the night at his "surf cabin" up north on the Olympic Peninsula, near Lake Crescent with a couple other buddies of his. 

Highway 101 runs north to south along the Pacific coast. I am not absolutely positive, but I believe the only place that it runs east to west is at its origin in Washington. 

Now I know that riding a motorcycle in the freezing cold is just plain wrong, but please don't ask me to explain Northwest surfing. I just don't get it-wetsuits or not. Question their logic, but definitely not their passion. They love it! Anyway, these blokes were pretty righteous and followed me in their truck through some pretty icy roads. They turned off to surf the coast and I headed south on own. Ian is a good mate, and I hope to meet him somewhere along the route. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Final Prep

The week before my March 8th departure was the “storm before the calm”. I had just returned from a relaxing weeklong visit with my family in the Midwest, and hit the ground running once back in Seattle with last minute preparations and scheduled good-byes. During the day, I was running around finalizing paperwork, insurances, and buying things that I was sure I wouldn’t be able to live without (but in reality will probably be sending back within two weeks), and in the evenings meeting with friends for dinner or drinks to say our “final” good-byes. I wasn’t sleeping well, and the week got quite emotional for me. For the past two years the days could not go by fast enough, now I was praying for them to please slow down. I have had a comfortable life in Seattle with wonderful people to call my friends, and I was walking away from it all - To be alone, or so it felt.

As short as the days were, I did find time to give a “talk” to a bunch a three and four year old lil’ buggers at the Baker Languages & Learning Center. Impressively, they were learning about maps and had gotten word of my trip, and our non-profit project Write Around the World. I accepted, and showed up promptly before nap time with the bike. 

I don’t know what they got out of my talk, but I did get some quality advice during the Q and A session: Why put the bike on an airplane to get across the oceans? Why not use a submarine? And, the motorcycle is nice, but it would be way-cool if I would do the trip in a cement truck. Both excellent points.

Going Public

December was when everything came together. For me anyway, the rest of the world seemed to be spiral ling out of control with more momentum each day.  The office space sold and I was able to announce my plans to patients and colleagues – I was going public!  This also meant that I was entering the “point of no return”, and losing my job.  It was a bittersweet month.

During this whole process, my mind would wander at times, but I always tried to limit my focus to the task at hand, chipping away at my endless checklist.  One thing that caused me a bit of stress was announcing my departure to my patients. I knew some would appreciate what I was trying to do, but I was concerned what the others would think; that I was somehow being selfish, irresponsible, or just a flat out FLAKE! I had built these relationships over the past fifteen years, and it had become my identity as an adult. I had taken on a responsibility when I became their physician, some had been with me during my entire career, and I had planned another 10-15-years of the same – it really mattered to me what they would think

The response could not have been more encouraging and supportive.  I received phone calls, cards, emails, and hugs. I heard from people that I hadn’t seen in years.  It was absolutely wonderful! If I have ever had any reservations about my decision, they were swept away by the overwhelming support that I received from almost everyone. People were genuinely happy for me. It appears that most people have their own “closet adventure”- of selling it all and taking off.  I could finally relax.

My Bike | My Gear

The bike I will be taking a 2002 BMW R1150 GS Adventure with the following modifications:

  • Ohlins suspension to withstand the terrain with a fully loaded bike.
  • Remus exhaust.
  • Hardwired Garmin 60csx
  • GPS unit.
  • Rich’s custom leather seat.
  • Touratech aluminum pannier system.
  • Touratech tank saddlebags
  • Various protective bolt-on items.



  • Rukka All-Road riding suit.
  • Sidi Crossfire boots.
  • Aerostitch electric vest.
  • Arai XD-3 helmet.
  • BMW riding gloves.


The majority of camping gear came through the generous help of Seattle’s Cascade Design.                                    

  • MSR Whisperlite camp stove
  • MSR Hubba-Hubba HP tent
  • Seal Line waterproof duffles (2)
  • Seal Line Computer Sleeve
  • Seal Line Storm Sacks (various sizes)
  • Thermarest Prolite mattress
  • ..... and more

The crew at Seattle’s ExOfficio generously outfitted me with some of their tried-and-true expedition gear: convertible pants and shirts treated with insect repellent and sun guard.