For almost two years I’ve been wanting to do the trip I have dubbed ‘Taco Rally’ and I finally made it happen when I reached a hell or high water frame of mind about it.
At the start of Autopista End, Nathaniel and I rode directly south through California and crossed into baja through Tijuana. We spent about a week riding across the sun baked peninsula to La Paz and through the entirety of Autopista End the fish tacos in Ensenada held up as one of the best things we ate on the whole damned trip!
I tried for nearly two years to get either a posse of crazy taco loving friends or Nathaniel to blast down to Ensenada with me for the sole purpose of eating as many fish tacos as humanly possible upon arrival, but 12 hours each way on a bike is a tough sell.
Though I consider Mexico a second home I was nervous when I got on my bike at approximately 6am and again when I approached the Tijuana border 10 hours later. I’ve traveled alone a lot and I’ve ridden my bike alone plenty – but crossing a border on a motorcycle for the first time by myself was still a hallmark to give me pause. Everything in between those butterfly moments was a 60-80mph grind for hours on end. I only stopped twice to gulp water and top-off my gas take before heading up over the grape vine and into Los Angeles.
It was so hot my jacket was sticking to me like a second skin and I couldn’t begin to imagine how I smelled as I wove my way through that infamous Los Angeles traffic.
I was so thankful on the way down I had taken plenty of ear plugs. I’m very old fashioned (lazy) in the respect that if something is okay I rarely seek a way to improve on it. I would have likely never purchased ear plugs on my own but once Nathaniel handed me a pair I couldn’t imagine how we managed to ride hours a day for nearly 8 months without them.
On trips where you have to grind out 3, 5, 10 hours on a freeway you absolutely need them. I make the argument not based on saving your hearing but because it helps you stay strong under the psychological struggle of freeway riding. Freeway riding is awful, earplugs make it less awful.
All told it took me 11.5 hours to get from my home in Burlingame California to Ensenada Mexico.
I arrived to Ensenada just as the sun was starting to fall out of the sky. The road between the border and the city limits was beautiful in the late afternoon light and I made frequent stops to take in the view and snap photos for instagram delighting in the fact it was the first international trip I’ve been on since I was 12 that I wasn’t lugging an SLR camera around with me.
I hadn’t been to Ensenada for three years but after zig-zagging downtown for a few minutes I was able to make my back to the fish taco stand Nathaniel and I had originally stuffed ourselves at. I felt so victorious and content standing on a street corner in Mexico eating the worlds best fish tacos surrounded by locals with night falling and my bike ticking slowly as it cooled… I refer to moments like that as ‘peak travel’, you want nothing, need nothing and are wholly content in the beautiful moment. Times like that don’t happen very often but they are one of the things I live for.
After four tacos and a coke it was time to find my way to Motel Coronado and put the bike away for the night. My room and as many fish tacos as I could eat cost me less than $25 all told. Truthfully, Motel Coronado is a little worn but it’s clean, has great hot showers and the bed was comfortable. It had everything I want in a road trip motel so I’m sure I’ll stay there again.
Getting unpacked and locking the bike up was pretty simple but to really complete my journey I felt like I needed a beer to end the day. Being in for the night by 7:30pm just seemed like something I wouldn’t want to admit to anybody even if I was exhausted.
A five minute walk from Motel Coronado is the main tourist area of Ensenada so it’s full of souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. It’s very nice in manufactured sort of way but a tourist restaurant isn’t really the kind of place I want to spend a lot of time at by myself so after a beer I headed back to the motel to maybe actually plan day two.
Looking at my maps I couldn’t face how boring re-tracing my route completely would be if I went straight back home the next morning. The idea of sweating my way over the exact same stretches of freeway seemed torturous so I decided after a brief sight-seeing trip to the bufadora just south of Ensenada I would cut across the peninsula east to see more of the desert and cross the border in Mexicali instead of Tijuana.
The bufadora is spot on the sea cliffs where the water funnels into a crevice of rock and shoots up like a whale spout even when the water is calm. You might wait through 10-15 minutes worth of normal waves in between spouts but it was a nice little detour to satisfy my curiosity of what the bufadora is.
In October the weather was a bit gray and cool with no traffic or crush of people trying to sell you things. But in the summer I imagine the area surrounding the bufadora would be baking hot and crammed full of traffic, tourists and souvenir vendors so prepare yourself for that if you go in peak season.
After satisfying my curiosity and eating a few baked oysters I made one last stop at Tacos Floresta and headed east.
Part of the attraction of ADV riding is that anything can happen. Your bike could break down or it can rain on your or you could have days on end of perfect riding with no complaints or problems. For me, those hiccups are the best part. They are the things that keeps it interesting and in the few hours it took me to cross the peninsula, Baja was determined to keep me entertained.
Crossing the peninsula along route 3 between Ensenada and San Felipe I fell in love with the ride. The pavement is in fantastic condition, there were very few cars and not enough civilization to warrant speed bumps (topes are the devil). I was really getting into the ride when the first sprinkle of water hit my face mask, a warning of the soggy sad day ahead of me before the clouds really let loose.
When the rain really starts coming down visibility on a motorcycle becomes much more obscured than when you are in a car which a lot of non-motorcyclists don’t realize. I don’t have a windscreen collecting rain but the face mask on my helmet is only about an inch in front of my eyes making it hard to see through the droplets.
When I ride in rain I have to reach up and manually wipe my mask off with my left hand every minute or so which soaks the palm of my left glove making riding even more uncomfortable. Ride long enough and you start to feel the squish of water in your boots and water finding the seams in your not-quite waterproof pants. I tucked in behind a large van for about an hour till the rain let up and I thought I was going to be in the clear for a while.
I was totally dumbfounded as I crested a series of small hills and the vantage point l had looking out across a small valley showed me I was about to ride through my first sand storm! I immediately pulled over onto the shoulder, shut my bike off and mouth probably hanging open took it in… I had never seen a sand storm before but I classified this one as small, riding through it would probably only take about 10 minutes but from where I sat I had no idea of knowing how strong the wind actually was.
I considered the situation: my air filter was brand new, I’ve ridden in strong wind before and my headband was wide enough to act as a buff. I covered my face and adjusted my gear a bit and then headed for it with my stomach churning, wondering how bad the wind would be.
In reality riding through the sandstorm wasn’t worse than riding through a bad rain storm. My visibility was obscured but I didn’t have to continuously wipe my visor going through it and the wind was not the strongest I’ve ridden in. There was a military checkpoint in the middle of it all and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor guys standing out in the swirling grit an hour from any real city but duty bound to stand at attention.
It continued to rain on me off and on as I made my way to the border crossing in Mexicali and apart from getting in the wrong line to cross the border getting back into the USA was easy. I spent the night at an overpriced hotel in Brawley California and ate a lunchable for dinner.
The third and final day of the trip was just as rainy as the second. To be soaked on a motorcycle in the rain with 10 hours of highway in front of you is a special kind of torture that gave birth to my rain ride Starbucks drink of choice (small hot chocolate with two shots of espresso and whipped cream). I got home exhausted and cold but very happy around sunset of the third day excited to tell Nathaniel all about it and ready to go back to work the following day.
(Now that I’ve proved the Taco Rally can be done in a three day weekend I am hoping to organize an official rally in 2017 with similarly taco-obsessed people. Let me know if you want to go.)