Baja Uno: DiscoverMoto Rally

I’ve wanted to ride an Asphalt Rats event for years. Mexico is one of our two neighbors and while I’ve done a substantial amount of riding throughout Canada, I’ve done comparatively little in Mexico. The timing just never seemed to work out, until now. With our temporary home base located in San Diego in order to help my mom recover from her transplant, I was finally in a prime jumping off point. With my mom on the very tail end of her intensive recovery period and healthier than any of her doctors had anticipated, I was able to sneak away for a week of adventure. Not one to take the easy way on any task, I rode my FZ1 (amazing, but not rally-ready) from sunny SoCal to snowy SoDak in order to swap out for my FJR (amazing, and always rally-ready). You can read my write up on that frosty ride in the blog post “It’s Been A While…”

Optimal bike procured, I proceeded on to legal requirements. Mexico insurance is a must because most US companies don’t extend coverage into Mexico like they do into Canada. It was cheap and easy to find good coverage for my well-loved motorcycle – $300K Combined Single Limit liability coverage with theft, partial theft, vandalism, fire, uninsured motorist, the works, all for under $225 for six months. Baja California is something of a “free zone” with regards to tourist visas (Forma Migratoria Multiple, or FMM) and vehicle Temporary Import Permits (TIP). If you are only traveling within Baja, you are not required to have a TIP at all and you can get a free seven-day FMM. The free seven-day FMM is actually good beyond Baja, but things are a little fuzzy with regards to Baja travel specifically; you’re supposed to get the FMM stamped on your way in to Mexico, which I did, but there are actually no provisions made for getting it cancelled on the way out if you are exiting Baja traveling by land. It’s a bit unnerving to just wander out, but both Mexican and US immigration authorities, along with countless internet pseudo-authorities, assured me that there was no way to cancel my FMM in Baja even if it was something I insisted upon. The other American riders didn’t bother with the FMM paperwork at all and that was clearly a perfectly acceptable way to go. I will be going back to Mexico in a couple weeks and have opted for the 6-month visa, which only cost about $35US, just so I don’t have to worry about overstaying my legal welcome regardless of where in Mexico our adventures take us.

One of three rally shirts, all equally as cool

The border crossing into Mexico is a snap, as always, and I made my way the short distance to the starting hotel in Mexicali. I always find riding in the border cities to be especially chaotic in a New York City meets Thailand kind of way – tons of motorists, different road configurations, and an extremely lax adherence to road rules. It takes me a few miles of riding to regain my sea legs (or would that be si legs?), then it all becomes part of the fun. The Araiza Calafia Mexicali hotel was lovely and did a great job of playing host to a whole slew of excited riders. The bike demographics were interesting in this event: Almost entirely BMWs with a good showing from Harley, with only one each of Ducati, KTM, Victory and Yamaha. That’s right, I piloted the only Japanese bike in the event. No sweat; I knew she’d be up to the task. Most of the riders were Mexican, with six of us coming down from the United States. Even with my laughable Spanish skills, I quickly felt right at home with the group. The event itself was more of a checkpoint-to-checkpoint rally than a scavenger hunt-style rally. I think there are enough variables with a 1,000-mile day through Mexico to make it a fun challenge even without the bonus hunting element. The route was actually designed by Ioram Abolnik of DiscoverMoto Tours and was being certified at the finish line by Marco and Ellen of the Asphalt Rats and Iron Butt Association: Mexico. Ioram was at the starting line and did an excellent job during the riders meeting of letting us all know what to expect, in both English and Spanish. Road conditions, terrain, weather, animal activity, sections without fuel or cell service – he was extremely knowledgeable about the route and what we would encounter along the way. Ioram would be riding down to La Paz along with the rest of us, and a chase truck would be taking up the rear in case of emergency.

We hit the road at 2am on Saturday morning, which set us up to be out of Mexicali, through our checkpoint in Tijuana, and on a beeline away from the border and into more rural parts of the coast before crazy traffic started building. My GPS supposedly did not include Mexico maps and had not been impressively functional during recent trips to Tijuana, but I was surprised to find it was totally functional throughout most of the trip. I had planned on routing using my phone and Google Maps, and had downloaded the relevant map sectors so they would be available offline. Even having taken those steps, there were a few sections which were devoid of cell service for long enough that it would scramble my route if anything needed to be recalculated. It wasn’t a huge deal since these sections didn’t require any sort of complicated riding directions (“Stay on Mexico 1 for 665km”) but it was good to have my GPS operational in those areas, just in case. Getting out of Mexicali, I hit the first couple turns as dictated by Google, then stuck tight to a group of Mexican riders who seemed to know what they were doing. Google is great, but there is just no replacement for local knowledge. With the usual excitement and fanfare of the start of a rally, we bombed our way out of town and each settled into our own pace. Once out of the buzz of Mexicali, the next order of business was to summit La Rumerosa. There was some light rain and there had been talk of snowy conditions over this rugged mountain a few weeks back, but luckily the temps were in the mid-40sF and the rain wasn’t heavy enough to be a nuisance. It was a wonderfully twisty ride on a well maintained toll road, and with the traffic at that hour being very light we were able to maintain a brisk pace. I bunched up with other riders a few times at toll booths and inspection stations, so obviously we weren’t too far apart from each other, but for the most part I was happily enjoying having the road to myself.

Once we hit Tecate and Tijuana, I made more of an effort to stick with some Mexican riders once again as we navigated the busier roads. Again, with the adherence to road rules being somewhat… “fluid”… I felt comfortable sticking with riders who were well versed in the local road rules. When I’ve ridden in Mexico in the past, it was as a solo tourist who stuck strictly to the posted rules of the road so as not to draw undue attention to myself. During a rally, however, I tend to give myself a bit more leeway to ride like the locals. Not just with our riders but with traffic in general, I found red lights to be more like… loose suggestions of caution. Stop signs were barely a rolling pause to check for cross traffic. Turn signals were not really a thing, as any and all lanes were free for the taking at any given time. Where turn signals were regularly used was to signal to a vehicle behind you (ie, antsy motorcyclists) that the road ahead was clear to pass, regardless of whether or not you were in a passing zone. I actually rather enjoyed it, once I got into the swing of things. How many times have we sat endlessly at a red light that refused to change for motorcycles? Sat twiddling our thumbs behind a big rig going 1/3 the speed limit up a hill when we totally had the line of sight and power to zip by? I found it to be an unexpectedly courteous, mellow way of interacting with other road users. The only time things got a little hairy was when someone threw up that left hand turn signal and it wasn’t actually clear whether they were signaling for you to pass or they were the one-in-a-thousand drivers actually signaling their intention to turn. Out in the country it generally wasn’t a problem since there was really nowhere TO turn. But it happened to me twice – once was in town with a car turning left, once in the country with a big rig signaling his intention to pass the rig in front of him. Luckily for me, I’m still leery enough with the system that I didn’t get bit. However, there was one rider who was involved in a rather serious accident on his was to the starting line in exactly this scenario. It’s not a perfect system, but I like it none the less.

The Tijuana checkpoint was an OXXO (basically like a 7-11) near the northern tip of Mexico Highway 1. Water procured, receipt in hand, odo picture snapped, ride log filled out, back on the road. Being the first checkpoint there were quite a few riders and a lot of general excitement, but it would be a good haul before Checkpoint #2 and riders would do a good job of relaxing into their own speed and enjoying the ride. I had made my way through the beach communities of Rosarito and Ensenada and into the interior of Baja by the time the sun began to creep up. I didn’t have any twinge of safety concerns riding through the night; there were plenty of well-lit 24-hour gas stations along this portion of the route, very few animals in the road aside from the odd coyote here and there, and all the people I dealt with were very pleasant. I found the gas situation to be interesting and different from the last time I traveled down into Baja; I didn’t find any pay-at-the-pump, but instead almost every station had attendants who would assist you with your fill and run your card on a handheld card reader. You could also pay cash to the attendant, which was often the faster option as the more rural stations seemed to be a bit hit-and-miss with regards to the speed and functionality of the handheld readers. It was actually really nice, and it meant I didn’t ever have to go into a station unless I really needed to. Just for your information, since I didn’t know and had to ask: We are not expected to tip the gas attendant. There were a couple times when the attendant rounded off my cash change to the tune of maybe 3.5 pesos (about $0.17US) but they would also round up my change when I only had large bills. As with so many things in Mexico, it seemed to be handled with a very easy going attitude.

I was excited to make my way to Checkpoint #2 in El Rosario, right on the edge of Baja California Norte and Baja California Sur. I’d never been that far into Baja before, and with the sun coming up I was finally able to enjoy some of the beautiful scenery. It reminded me quite a bit of Central California, with serene twisties interspersed with farm fields, cacti and small communities. This event wasn’t a monotonous grind down the interstate; it was the whole gamut, from flawless high speed toll roads to rural dirt segments and everything in between, which really made the experience far more enjoyable. The rain dried up with the sunrise and the rest of the ride saw clear skies and warm weather. Checkpoint #2: Gas receipt, odo pic snapped, ride log filled out, back on the road. I saw two other riders at this checkpoint, but nothing like the dozen milling about at Checkpoint #1. South from El Rosario, we headed into a long ride with no cell and no fuel. Around the midway point across this dry section, there were enterprising folks set up with truck loads of jerry cans, selling fuel to tourists at a steep premium. Several riders had to utilize this service, to the tune of roughly $25 for two gallons of gas, but luckily with the aux fuel on the FJR I was able to easily make it between checkpoints without stopping. The scenery was stunning, full of desolate beauty similar to what is found in the American deserts: not simply droning along through an empty featureless landscape, but enjoying a varied and spirited ride through the gorgeous vastness of the inner peninsula. Interesting, massive cacti varieties I haven’t seen elsewhere; wildflowers of all different colors sprinkled throughout the rocky terrain; wild burros, free range horses & cattle, and smaller critters to include dogs, bunnies & humans, milling about the road; peak-a-boo views of the Pacific Ocean or the Sea of Cortez here and there between sleepy little towns. My very favorite views were in the areas where an army of giant cacti stood shoulder to shoulder, all the way to the crashing crystal blue waves in an empty yet impossibly gorgeous tropical beach. It seemed so stunningly contradictory, the juxtaposition of these two visuals, I’d almost wonder if it wasn’t photoshopped if I hadn’t been looking at it with my own eyes. For a period of time just after crossing into Baja California Sur I was actually at the very front of the pack. I know for a fact that this was only because many of the Mexican riders stopped for lunch, because I saw them pulled off at a little restaurant near Guerrero Negro. The event wasn’t a race and no distinction was made based on finishing time or order, but that’s ok – I’ll take it where I can get it J

By and large the road conditions were better than expected, especially on the toll roads, but there were also sections that randomly turned to dirt for a bit or had man-eating potholes, but no worse than you find in most areas of the Midwest. The topes were fun too, designed to slow everyone way down before entering a town. You hit a couple dozen speed bumps of increasing frequency until they toss you up onto a massive mountain of a speed bump. Sometimes they were smooth and mellow, no big deal when taken at an appropriate speed; sometimes they were shaped more like a pyramid and you’d be certain, based on the hideous crunch of metal on concrete, that you’d just tacoed your exhaust; sometimes they were just painted lines designed to look like a tope. You never really knew which one you’d get, which is obviously the whole point. Somehow I managed to make it through the ride without puncturing my exhaust or blowing my fork seals, so I consider that a solid win, although I did say some things loudly enough and in such a tone that I’m sure most people understood exactly what I was saying, in intent if not in the actual language.

Checkpoint #3 came late in the afternoon just south of Mulege, BCS. Lots of friends & customers from Kernville talked fondly of visiting Mulege, so I was excited to see it even if it was just a quick trip through. It definitely had an ex-pat/touristy feel, but still in a good small town way as opposed to the gross sanitized feel of the bigger tourist towns. I’ll look forward to giving it a more thorough visit next time through. I had a couple more hours of daylight as I worked my way south before being left to finish up my ride on a deep, moonless night. I was grateful that I didn’t have too much riding to do after sundown, because the dark totally consumed my high-powered LED lights which made it tough to see the copious number of cows & horses milling about the road. By this point I was also confident that my snowy ride to swap out the FZ1 for the FJR had been well worth it; it’s not that the ride couldn’t have been done on the FZ1, but between the aux fuel and aux lights, it was just far more enjoyable on the FJR. The giant windshield and heated gear provisions on the FJR just made it that much more pleasant in the wee hours of the damp and chilly morning. Cows dodged, closed roads circumvented, the bustling city of La Paz navigated, and I was thrilled to find myself at the finish line Araiza Palmera hotel some 18 hours after kickstands up. I arrived to an enthusiastic crowd of spectators and volunteers, which made for a fun finale. It was easy to navigate the final odo check and paperwork confirmation, so it didn’t take long before I was relaxed in with the group of spectators welcoming in the new arrivals. Once again, Araiza was an excellent host to all of group and it was a wonderful place to stay. We gathered up on Sunday afternoon for a general awards ceremony hosted by Iron Butt Association Mexico. After that, we were presented with our finishers certificates, incredible swag, and new Asphalt Rats/IBA Mexico member numbers. I am extremely proud to have earned IBA Mexico Rider number 1000, which I can now display alongside my IBA #376.

I made it! LOL!

I cannot say enough good things about this event. From the time I signed up many weeks before the event, there was an active group chat where we were able to share information, receive updates, and build excitement. This made it especially easy to work with my limited Spanish because I could easily translate anything I didn’t immediately understand, although everything important was also posted in English. This was a lot of fun and was a great way to build camaraderie with fellow riders before we even met. The structure was a perfect balance, in my opinion: Straightforward enough to entice new riders who are perhaps riding in Mexico for the first time, but fun and interesting enough to attract seasoned riders as well. It didn’t require any special bikes (you didn’t need a dual sport to navigate the easy dirt sections, for example) and you didn’t need a rally-prepped bike to finish successfully, although many riders carried at least a small can of spare fuel. The swag is cool almost beyond description. Logo products unique to IBA Mexico, super cool Asphalt Rats and Discovermoto goodies: plate backers, patches, pins, stickers and shirts, all different from the Saddlesore swag we get from the IBA in the US. The after party was the stuff of legend. I showed up at the starting line knowing people only from our online interactions, and I arrived in La Paz with a whole slew of awesome new friends.

After the Sunday afternoon awards ceremony, we had another fun post-ride event: The Asphalt Rats, old and new, rode in the front of the La Paz Carnivale parade. I’ll be honest, I waffled about joining in the ride. I know what parade riding looks like: Do I let my bike grenade from sitting at idle endlessly, or do I kill my battery from turning it off & on every 35 yards? One other rider did end up killing his battery, but that aside, it was SO worth it!!! What an absolute blast!! First, I really loved the town of La Paz. It was big enough, but not too big. It was fun and comfortable without being overly touristy or sanitized. This wasn’t a tourist event, it was a wonderfully vibrant local affair. There were announcer stands every so often throughout the route, and although my Spanish isn’t great I was able to understand them describing our ride and thanking the riders who came all the way down from the United States to join their parade. The children were as joyful as they are anywhere in the world, incredibly enthusiastic about the motorcycles, running out for fistbumps and photo opps whenever the parade stopped its forward progress. There was confetti and loud music and beer in squirt guns, unbelievably good smells and bright colors and cheering crowds. Of an entire amazing week this was absolutely one of the highlights, partly because it’s something I wouldn’t normally seek out to take part in and partly because the atmosphere was so different from the parades I’ve seen outside of possibly New Orleans. The pure joy of the kids, the relaxed atmosphere and blurry lines between the spectators and participants, and the camaraderie of our group all made this a really fun way to cap off the DiscoverMoto rally.

On Monday morning (or, for those of us who found mas cervezas than just the odd squirt gun shot full, Monday afternoon) we all began trickling back out into the world. For a full write up on the rest of my Baja travels, complete with my more standard inane color commentary, walk your way on over to Part Dos of my ride report. For those of you who were just looking for a review of riding a rally in Mexico: DO IT! I had such an absolute blast and will absolutely do it again. In fact, I’m already planning to return to Mexico in just a couple weeks. The Asphalt Rats really know how to put on a top-notch event and take good care of their riders, so head on over to their fun-filled ride calendar and see what calls your name. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

~ Wendy

Baja Dos: The Full Monty

This is Part Two of my Baja road trip; Part One specifically covers my Asphalt Rats/DiscoverMoto Rally, so feel free to cruise over and check that one out here. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

No rush. We’re on Baja time now.

Ah, great! You’re back! Let us proceed… The pre-ride activities for the Asphalt Rats rally took place in Mexicali on February 21st, so being a paltry 115 miles or so from our temporary SoCal headquarters we decided to meander on down on the morning of the 21st. Mike and Monty accompanied me in the sidecar so as not to miss the excitement of the festivities, but also as not to miss the opportunity to swim in a pool I’d probably never set a toe in and sleep in a bed I’d be lucky to see for a couple hours prior to my 2am rally departure. As I mentioned in Part One, the ride into Mexico is almost always a piece of cake. I’ve never experienced much of a backup, and this time was no different. We breezed through the border crossing, got our tourist visas stamped with little fanfare, and made our way a few miles into Mexicali to the Hotel Araiza Calafia. There were a lot of hugs and handshakes, meeting riders who I’d been chatting with for weeks in our group chats, and reintroducing myself to riders who I’d apparently met immediately post-Iron Butt Rally. In my defense, I was most likely actively asleep on my feet at the time. J But they were quite gracious about my embarrassing face blindness, and we have all now bonded over Baja which is an experience none of us are likely to forget!

After the technicalities were handled – riders meeting, odo check, safety inspection, paperwork, pre-ride swag, the works – we were released into the wild until it was time to reconvene in the parking lot at 1:30am. We did a little interweb sleuthing, as the kids do nowadays, and found a really well reviewed little hole-in-the-wall restaurant just across the street. My first order of business, however, was to figure out why I couldn’t get my hands on some pesos after I’d reported my trip to all my credit card companies like a good little citizen. Phone calls made, problem rectified, and we decided to make the short walk to the nearest bank to see if my luck had changed. Bank one had a busted ATM… I think. My Spanish is… I’m gonna say, a work in progress. But I THINK the other customer was telling me it was busted, so I’m gonna stick with that. No problemo (see, that was Spanish right there!), we just moseyed another couple blocks to the next bank and pulled out a massive wad of cash. It’s easy to feel rich in Mexico, where right now $1US is worth about $20 pesos, especially when, with little effort, you can find a decent hotel, some good grub, and a couple full loads of fuel (including aux tank) all for under $75. Mission Primero accomplished, we couldn’t help but notice that about a block back we’d passed a Honda shop. Not one (or three) to miss a good opportunity to ogle bikes, we made that our next stop. I’d just recently learned about Italika motorcycles (engineered and built in Mexico) but there are just tons and tons of awesome small displacement bikes just crawling all over this country. A 150cc sport bike with a kick start that weighs about 18 kilos? Sign me right the heck up for that!

After we wore out our welcome at Honda (c’mon, it was like an adorable baby Africa Twin! Who WOULDN’T squeal like a little girl?), we made our way back to the restaurant we’d scoped out. They seemed to be mostly about the aguas frescas, but we ordered a mixed grill plate to share as well. A good heaping plate of meat, enough to feed three people with leftovers, plus a couple tasty fruit waters, and we were still out of there for about $10US. At this point it was about 4:40pm and I had a couple of options: I could hit the hay and potentially get a full night sleep before I had to be up at 1am, I could aim for a short nap around my normal bedtime and hope it didn’t leave me worse for the wear, or I could commit to keeping myself up for the duration. I really could have gone either way; I’m not much of a napper and it usually leaves me feeling worse than forgoing sleep all together, but I’m such a light sleeper that trying to grab just a couple hours of sleep often leaves me feeling groggy if I wasn’t feeling super tired to begin with. On paper I’d been leaning towards just staying up; from arising in San Diego to hitting the hay in La Paz, we’d only be talking about 40, maybe 42 hours max. That’s comfortably doable in my book. But with all of the excitement of the day, I was actually feeling like I might be able to grab some zzzzs. Mike & Monty hit the pool while I did some solid dozing. I was awake but relaxing again after a few hours, then down again for a couple more, but all in all I think it actually worked out great because I was able to queue up on the starting line at 1:30am feeling great and carried that with me through the ride. Mike & Monty, on the other hand, happily snoozed the morning away then made their way back to San Diego once they’d squeezed every bit of enjoyment out of the fun night out in a hotel.

Flash Forward: Awesome ride, amazing roads, fantastic people, incredible event. Two solid days of nonstop frivolity and happiness, but then you already know that because you just read Part One. So what happens after such an epic party, when one finds oneself at the distal end of a nearly 1,000 mile peninsula? One plans an epic return trip adventure, obviously. Some of the guys grabbed the ferry from La Paz to mainland Mexico; some rode back to Mexicali or Tijuana and shipped their bikes home from there; some joined Ioram and DiscoverMoto for a guided tour back up the coast. I, along with the rest of the American guys, planned to take our time and enjoy the ride home. We were heading in roughly the same direction post-rally, down towards Cabo San Lucas, but the rest of the guys were hitting the Harley shop down there for some tires and brakes while I intended to push on another hour or so to the village of Todos Santos. I don’t particularly enjoy the Disneyland-esque, sanitized touristy facades one tends to find in cruise ship ports around the world, but I also wanted to ride across the Tropic of Cancer and to the far southern tip of the peninsula. Cabo was a fine spot for a layover, I just planned to keep it brief. There were some really beautiful little communities along the way, ranging from tiny artisan colonies to busy ex-pat enclaves to the modern metropolis of Cabo. There are a few areas which I’d like to revisit, like Los Barriles; I usually like to play it a little more by ear when I travel, but I hadn’t come prepared to camp so the fact that I prefer smaller towns meant that I’d be up a creek if I hit town late and found the inn was full. Next time around I think I’ll feel a little more confident about flying by the seat of my pants.

I hit Cabo in the late afternoon and found it to be chaos. Not like enjoyable chaos, just entitled narcissistic unpleasant chaos. I looped around for maybe an hour or so trying to locate the Harley shop where I was slated to meet up with the other American riders, but it didn’t actually seem to exist in this universe. I finally sussed out that it was in a mall complex with no vehicle access, at which point I decided to pull the plug. Of all the places I traveled in Baja, 98% of it solo, including walking and riding extensively at night, the LEAST safe I felt was in Cabo during the middle of the afternoon. I just felt like I was going to park my bike in BFE and return with a $75 t-shirt to find $750 worth of stuff pilfered off my bike. Meh. Hard pass, thanks. Mind you, I base this feeling on nothing other than my personal preference for fewer people and more space, along with that general level of streets smarts which would make one leery of leaving a bike full of easily pilfered goodies sitting open and unprotected in pretty much any major city anywhere in the world. I sent the guys a message, for all the good that did since my reception seemed to have taken leave as soon as I hit the Cabo region, and I pointed myself north.

Todos Santos was definitely more my speed. I’d found a wonderful little boutique hotel for the equivalent of about $20, so I proceeded to knock the dirt off myself and set out to wander the town. I got a giant serving of incredibly fresh molcajete with all the accoutrements and a few bottles of water for about $6. I’d planned to stay a couple days in Todos Santos, so I actually had time to unload the bike and take a nice hike and check out the community the next day as well. The original plan had me meeting up with a few Asphalt Rats in Todos Santos, but they’d ended up staying in Cabo instead so I wound up riding back down to Cabo on Tuesday night to meet up with the group for dinner. In fact, I had a couple other rally riders message me who had intended to stay in Todos Santos as well, but they’d been unable to find a room and were asking me to check availability at my hotel. So while it was a bit of a bummer to miss the opportunity to more in-depth exploration of some of the little towns as they caught my eye, it was also good that I didn’t find myself a solo adventurer in a somewhat isolated town without a place to bed down.

I’d passed a sign for Tropic of Cancer on my way to Cabo the previous day, but it kind of popped up out of nowhere and didn’t have an immediate area to turn around, so I’d blown it off thinking I’d most likely have another opportunity as I crossed the Tropic again going north. No such luck. I’d mulled over the idea of riding back to the original sign, about two hours ride from my hotel and an hour beyond Cabo, then backtracking into Cabo for dinner, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care that much. I was actually having fun relaxing, checking out art galleries and back roads and local markets, and I just couldn’t be bothered to spend hours backtracking for a single picture. Maybe next time.

When I did make my way back down to Cabo, it had a different feel somehow than it had the previous day. Less frenetic, perhaps. I’d expected there to be worse traffic and general chaos given I’d arrived around what I’d guess to be rush hour, but it was quite light and generally more pleasant. Maybe it was the fact that I’d been hot, or anxious to keep rolling, or without a solid reason why I needed to be there. Maybe the full day of R&R in a sleepy village had calmed my brain. Whatever the case, I was happy to find the atmosphere a little more palatable, if still notably Disney-esque. I met up with a pretty big crew – two of the Americans, Bill and Todd (the other three – Ksolo, Reef, and David – had pushed on up the coast), plus Marco and Ellen from IBA Mexico, rally volunteer Carol, and a few established Rat Riders – for dinner at a lovely restaurant where the tables were literally set right on the sandy beach. It was very touristy, but I’m not going to lie – the food was amazing. And Bill was generous enough to cover the… well, bill, which was an incredible gesture from a cool new friend. We talked late, told lies, and those of us who didn’t have to ride back up the coast had plenty of Coronas to add to the fun. I figured I might cross paths with some of the guys again as we all ping-ponged our way north, but this turned out to be our last time hanging out of the trip. It was great fun & I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again some time soon!

American Asphalt Riders with IBA:MX family

The next day was going to be a fairly big mile ride – not Iron Butt big, but big by the measure of a fairly solid distance over slower speed roads to reach a remote village whose hotel clerk only works until 3pm, after which you need to rouse her from her home. Sounded outstanding to me, so I bid farewell to Cabo and all my friends so I could return to Todos Santos and hit the hay at a semi-reasonable hour. I was up at 5am and moving not long after, aiming to knock out my 1,040km ride by 3pm. Part of my battle plan hinged upon the fact that I would be gaining an hour by crossing time zones as I headed north; alas, it seems that adherence to time zones is as lax as pretty much everything else I’d experienced in Mexico. While Bahia de los Angeles is located quite solidly within the Pacific Time Zone, I arrived to find the town operated on Mountain Time like Baja California Sur. Or at least the hotel operated on MST. No matter; it was a lovely ride in, warm (if a bit windy) weather with stunning views, and the hotel owner was not only present but exceptionally accommodating when I did finally arrive. In fact, he gave me a free room upgrade to an oceanfront villa. I could step out my door and directly onto the sand; a few more steps and I could wiggle my toes in the topaz blue Sea of Cortez. Pretty hard to take, that kind of luck. 😉

The only downer on my ride in was a little close encounter with a very big vulture. Heck, it quite possibly could have been a condor for how big it was. It was one of those moments where I saw him swooping down from my right and I’m moving further and further towards my left, thinking, “He’s not, he’s NOT, HE’S NOT!!” But he did. Right about the same moment where I was doing evasive maneuvers into the thankfully empty oncoming traffic lane, he did a brief touch-and-go directly into my path. I braced myself for impact but we met for only a brief kiss before he presumably pooped himself a little and set off to update his will. I was fine, probably suffering the most pain simply from the act of tensing up in anticipation of impact. My windshield, however, didn’t get off quite so easily. Since the impact was glancing it didn’t break the screen itself, but the windshield had slammed to the full-down position and would no longer raise up. Given my time constraints I hadn’t taken the time to troubleshoot the problem on the road, but once I hit Bahia de los Angeles I gave it a good once over. I have limited ability to assess the windscreen motor components without major, arduous, hateful, soul-wrenching disassembly, so taking into consideration that the only other guests in the hotel complex were about 15 adventure riders from all around the western US, and in the interest of not having a bunch of cool motorcycle guys see me cry, I decided to forgo that route. Instead, I confirmed that the motor itself was operational (which is good, since it costs $750) and there was no visible damage to the brackets. With a little luck, I figured, maybe the shoulder bolts had sheared off; this would still mean an unholy amount of disassembly, but only require about $20 in parts. But in the meantime…

If I was about a foot shorter, having my windshield in the full-down position wouldn’t bother me in the least. Alas, taking a foot off the bottom wouldn’t really help in this situation and taking a foot off the top would render me no longer concerned about taking full wind blast directly in the mug as I would no longer have a mug with which to take wind blast. Having ruled out self-modification, I was left to concoct a Plan B. I still had many miles in my planned ride home, so I needed to come up with some way to wedge my screen against the spring pressure on the retention arms to hold it in the upright position. After trying and eliminating a number of options (I don’t care how uncomfortable I am, I’m not going to risk a SnapOn tool going skittering down the road even it is my only viably sized rigging option) I finally came up with a solution. I was able to wedge a 6mm allen key through the forward brace of my dash panel, then twist it around under the main windscreen bracket. This held the bracket solidly in place without impacting the windscreen material itself. It was about as Trail Fix as trail fixes come, but I tell ya what – it was impressively solid, it lasted the entire rest of my trip, it accomplished exactly what I needed to accomplish, and it was free because everything I used I had on hand. Plus I had several fun conversations with the other riders who wanted to see the crazy solo lady rider disassembling her bike in the dirt, so that’s always a good way to make new friends. I was surprisingly torched by the time the sun went down. It had been a long day of riding, so with the added excitement of the strong winds and wayward vulture, I was ready to relax. Luckily there was a great restaurant not 50 feet down the sand from my door, so I was able to have a fresh caught fish filet with salsa & veggies and make my way back to my room where I fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing right outside my door.

The next morning dawned warm and substantially less windy, and I was well-rested and ready for my day’s paltry 200km jaunt. All of my plans may seem a little haphazard on my return trip, but in addition to the aforementioned desire to have confirmed accommodations, there were a few factors at play: First, as mentioned in Part One, the orchestrator of the rally route is also the Big Queso over at DiscoverMoto Tours. As Ioram and I chatted over the weekend, he kept dropping tidbits like, “Oh, and you HAVE to go to Bahia de los Angeles! Freshest seafood on the peninsula!” Lots of places, like Todos Santos, had already been on my radar as they received glowing reviews from pretty much everyone, everywhere you go. But Ioram also kept dangling more interesting little options out there for me, even after I’d started making hotel reservations for the return trip. There was also the little factor of Leap Day. Obviously. J The Iron Butt Association was offering a special certificate for any ride executed primarily on Leap Day, and although I’d been pondering it for a few weeks I just wasn’t feeling inspired. I’ve done some pretty awesome weird fun unique big mile rides recently, so it was going to require something extra special to goad me into another certificate ride. In the pre-planning stages it had looked like I needed to be out of Baja by 2/27, which would mean an odd day of kicking around home before leaving again. Not exactly a deal killer, but setting out for a run-of-the-mill cert ride doesn’t hold the same appeal as executing something cool while I’m out in the wild. So as my week in Baja progressed and it became evident that while the 7 Day Free Tourist Card is pretty hard-and-fast on the mainland, it’s really more of a very, very lose suggestion in Baja. They actually don’t even make any provisions to get an exit stamp on your tourist card when leaving Baja by land. So this got me thinking, if I squeezed an extra day out of my Baja adventure, I could conceivably execute a really interesting cert ride that would extend into Leap Day and tick all the right boxes. So this became a critical ride planning factor as well: Setting myself up for a nice, relaxing day on 2/27 so I could depart on 2/28 and complete a ride which would take me through the day on Leap Day 2020. As convoluted as it sounds, I finally had a plan.

In order to ensure a solid computer generated receipt to document my cert ride start time, I actually opted to backtrack 200km to the town of Guerrero Negro, BCS. North of Guerrero Negro I was looking at a vast distance with little to no cell service, with a smattering of tiny towns which maybe might have one or two possible options for a decent receipt. It was too much of a gamble, to set out hoping to find a good receipt in a little town when failure to secure a good receipt would mean having to potentially ride hundreds of miles without being able to properly document them. The safer bet was to backtrack to a good sized town with multiple documentation options and plenty of interesting things for me to do and see while I waited for Go Time. I got a good night sleep in BdlA, lingered around chatting with the other riders well into the morning, and made my way down to Guerrero Negro at an impressively casual pace. I crunched some numbers and decided that my target start time would be between 2pm and 3pm Mountain Standard Time on 2/28. There were several reasons for this: First, the Leap Day ride had to see more than half of the planned ride executed on 2/29. With a 2pm departure time I was assured that no matter how my planned ride panned out, more than half of it would take place on Leap Day. Second, I hoped this would help me avoid serious congestion in the bigger cities I would encounter as I moved north and as I rode along the border back to Mexicali. Third, it would have me crossing the border back into the US close to midnight, which hopefully would mean a shorter wait at customs. I chose to return to Mexicali because it allowed me to maximize my ride distance within Mexico without leaving Baja, and also helped me avoid the perpetually clogged border crossing in Tijuana and, to a slightly lesser extent, Otay Mesa. It all looked good on paper and I had some hours to fill, so I set out on foot to explore the town.

I spent about 10 miles wandering in and out of little shops and shacks, smelling racks full of freshly baked goodies at the panaderias, seeing the whale watching boats come into the port at the end of the day, and enjoying some hiking trails through a local preserve. I was even enticed into a shoe store when I noticed a selection of Vento motorcycles prominently displayed in the middle of the sales floor. A brand new 150cc bike could be purchased for the equivalent of about $900US. I’m pretty sure I need two. I’d scoped out all of my potential dinner options, and while there were many incredible looking places with al pastor beckoning to me from it’s spit or seafood so fresh it was practically still swimming, I just found I wasn’t hungry. I passed on dinner and just enjoyed walking around the community, finally retiring to my room late in the evening.

I had plenty of time to kill the next morning too, even after it was time to relinquish my room, so I made my way to a fish taco truck which every overlander resource said was THE fish taco truck in Baja. They weren’t kidding! A fresh-off-the-boat fish taco with a full spread salsa and toppings bar set me back about $1. I meandered around shops again for a bit, looked at my watch a lot, and generally felt antsy to get on the road. Around 2:45pm local time I decided to put myself out of my misery and get the show on the road. Receipt procured, odo picture snapped, kickstands up.

Here is what my ride vision entailed: If all went perfectly I would be executing a Bun Burner Gold, which is 1500+ miles in under 24 hours. That would require the stars to align just right, because a BBG is a reasonably rigorous ride on the best of days. Add in some random sections of dirt road, half a dozen toll booths, half a dozen military and agricultural checkpoints, plus an international border crossing and things could get real fuzzy real quick. That factored in to my timing: If I had to extend the ride out to a standard Bun Burner (1500+ miles in 36 hours) I could easily do so without upsetting the Leap-Day-to-non-Leap-Day balance, whereas if I’d started my ride on the 29th any serious delays could have spelled the end of my special cert quest. Things started going sideways almost immediately. At the first military checkpoint, I got to do a full luggage teardown. No big deal – all the guys are generally very nice and professional except when they’re laughing at the skirtless hula girl on my dash – it just didn’t bode well for efficiency. Second checkpoint, same procedure (except this time they were laughing at my Zombie Rosie the Riveter). Tick, tock, tick, tock. On cert rides you need to document fuel at least every 350 miles, so I aimed for a gas station in El Rosario which had been a checkpoint in the rally. Alas, the receipt didn’t show an easily identifiable location; it had a mile marker along the Carretera Transpeninsular within the Zona Ensenada. While I was busy trying to document my exact location with GPS pictures and whatnot, I neglected to take a picture of the pump to show my fuel purchase, which was important because the receipt didn’t show the gallons purchased either. Oh, and remember the lax adherence to time zones? The time was an hour off, even if one assumed they were operating on MST in stead of PST. But this type of issue was precisely why I’d opted against planning my ride start in a small town. El Rosario actually was the other town I’d played with for a starting point, so it would have posed a much bigger issue if it was my critical start time receipt that was questionable as opposed to just a fuel receipt.

However, once I was back on the road and my mind needed something entertaining to do, I started crunching numbers again. IF the El Rosario receipt is deemed no good, I need to do something to salvage my ride. My next planned receipt wasn’t for over 300 miles and even just the next available fuel would be a good haul, so the potential was there to lose as much as ¼ of my planned ride due to funky documentation. The obvious course of action, then, would be to extend my ride in such a way that SOMETHING would be documentable regardless of how I ultimately chopped it up. I settled on adding a spur to my planned route which would put my total ride miles at over 1800 which would still allow me to tick all my boxes. As I continued north, I found myself at a long dirt construction zone which had been little more than a blip in my southerly progress. I found myself there after taking the rider’s prerogative of sailing past the eight miles of stopped vehicles and making my way up to the flagger, where I proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. No lie, I probably sat there for a solid half hour while no traffic moved in either direction. Eventually a car zipped up to the front and pulled in next to me, whereupon the passengers engaged in a heated exchange complete with grand gesticulating with the flagger who was impeding our progress. Eventually the flagger literally just threw up his hands, said something which quite clearly translated into “Fine, do whatever the hell you want” and just started waving everyone through. It was nice to be making progress once again until we started encountering oncoming traffic on the washboard marbly one-lane dirt track, but that was really more of a problem for the dual-track vehicles than it was for me. But it really begged the question, why bother delaying 8+ miles of vehicles for an indeterminate period of time if you’re ultimately willing to set us loose with little more than an eye roll and a “Good luck”? It was silly, it was fun and I’m glad I was at the front of the line.

The rest of the ride through Baja was fairly uneventful, although I was truly surprised at just how much congestion I encountered even given the late hour at which I was passing through many of these towns. Time and again I found myself impressed with the timing of the Asphalt Rats rally, where we really didn’t have to deal with any noteworthy areas of congestion. That is a really impressive feat of scheduling over so many towns and such a great distance, especially when you again consider than these mostly aren’t US Interstate type roads, but rather small two-lane highways which slog through the surface streets of big towns and tiny villages alike. My hats off to the organizers once again; 2am may seem like an odd rally start time, but the subsequent timing along the whole route just worked out perfectly. I reached Mexicali just before 1am PST on Leap Day and picked up my final Mexican “exit receipt”. This might be a good time to give you a better overview of my ride plan, because a Bun Burner Gold just isn’t interesting enough for my taste. After hemming and hawing, I’d actually decided against doing a Leap Day ride until a post-rally conversation sparked my interest. You see, as Asphalt Rats we are eligible to receive special recognition for any big mile rides completed outside of Mexico. The fact that I am from the United States doesn’t preclude me from earning this special recognition within the United States. I definitely wanted a solid chunk of my ride to take place within Mexico, but I also wanted this ride to fulfill two other criteria: travel at least 500km into another country (not skirting along the border, but actually into the interior) and travel at least 2000km within another country. With the extended spur added after my first gas receipt hiccup, my route would accomplish both goals. I had to stop just before crossing the border to obtain a receipt verifying my time and location, then again once I crossed the border to mark the start of my ride in the new country.

The two-country twist was a fun one for me, but here is another one: I hit six states and changed time zones six times. I started in Baja California Sur (MST), hit Baja California Norte (PST), crossed back into the United States in California (PST), then off to Arizona (MST), Nevada (PST), Arizona Strip and Utah (MST), the back to Nevada and finally California (PST). Talk about fun record keeping! I’d been playing with keeping certified ride records in Greenwich Mean Time recently just to help simplify complicated scenarios such as this, and I toyed with the idea of doing it on this ride as well. Ultimately though, since I was just repeatedly switching between the same two time zones, I decided to leave my bike clock in PST and note all my times in both MST and PST regardless of which time zone I was in (or in the case of Mexico, whatever random time zone they chose to observe in any given village). By the time I slogged my way across the border, made my triumphant return to the States by way of Calexico, and procured my New Country Receipt it was pushing 2am. I’d been slowly embracing the fact that a BBG would be nearly unachievable my this point; I hadn’t totally thrown in the towel, but by the time I hit Casa Grande I was about 150 miles behind BBG pace. That’s not an entirely insurmountable deficit, especially on the more predictable roads of the States, but it’s not far off. Besides, I have nothing to prove. This was supposed to be a fun ride and an interesting achievement, not a miserable chore requiring an uncomfortably high average speed. I hit Tucson and actually turned back south for about 55 miles; my original plan had me traveling really, really close to the 500km minimum, so I’d planned to head a bit south to document a more southerly point before making my final run north. Even after adding the more northern spur extension, I opted to keep the Tucson jog in place as originally planned as cheap insurance.

I aimed for my pre-selected gas station, only to find a forlorn canopy surrounded by construction fencing in an otherwise empty lot. No problem; there appeared to be another station just across the freeway. Gassed up, receipt…. Receipt?? No receipt. No problem; I’d run inside, take a quick bathroom break and grab my receipt. As an aside, I ponder how many people in the world attempt a potty break at a gas stop only to find that no restroom is available for whatever reason, and think “Well, I guess I’ll try again in 350 miles.” It’s gotta be a pretty small club, I reckon, although that is precisely how my Calexico gas stop played out. Not for the first time, I can assure you, and almost certainly not for the last time. And so I decided to make lemonade… yeah, you see where this is going. J So I made my way inside and the clerk said “That’ll take seven to 10 minutes. That pump is being really slow talking to the computer.” Holy… mother… of… So off I went to make lemonade. No receipt. Fill my snacks. Wash my faceshield. Check my windscreen pseudo-repair. No Receipt. Sigh. A second employee wandered in and had a conversation with the first regarding why this one solitary pump was causing such a ruckus. I mean, god forbid one throw up a sign saying “Use another pump if you want a receipt in a timely fashion” or, I dunno, LOAD PAPER IN THE PUMP?!?! This is truly the cause of such irrational rage across the I’ll-pee-in-350-mile set, but at this point it just became humorous. It really seemed like the cosmos were telling me to slow down and enjoy the ride, so I made the decision to do just that. Finally, eventually, arduously, the receipt was procured, odo pic snapped, kickstand up.

Another day, another 10k

I made my way north back across Tucson with the intention of avoiding rush hour traffic, not remembering that it was Saturday until I was well on my way to Phoenix. Regardless, I staged myself at a truck stop beyond the north edge of Tucson and had myself a lovely little coffee break. Stretch, scratch, warm up & watch the sunrise as I sipped. It was kind of my official release of the BBG plan and embracing of the slower Bun Burner pace. The trip to Kingman, AZ was uneventful, as was the trip through to Las Vegas, NV. I continued beyond my original planned pivot point to visit St. George, UT. This put my total ingress at more than 500 miles, or just over 800km. Confident that this part of the mission had been accomplished, I did a quick gas up and turn around for my final descent into my temporary home. One more quick jog off I-15 out to Kramer Junction, CA would give me a comfortable 32 mile buffer over my successfully executed 1,800 mile ride. It was just after 9pm when I made my final fuel stop. I’d wrapped up another recent cert ride at a local Chevron, but while the receipt was good the station itself was congested and not super motorcycle friendly. I made the last minute decision to pick a newer, bigger gas station in town, which predictably on this hilariously unpredictable ride, resulted in a terrible final receipt. One block away, CVS, new receipt, odo pics snapped, kickstand up for the final time. I received a hero’s welcome, or at least the closest thing to a hero’s welcome that a perpetually wandering soul could hope to receive: a big plate of BBQ lamb from the best local BBQ joint around. (Not as good as JRs Rhodehouse BBQ by a long shot, but still… that’s not a fair comparison, because NOTHING is as good as JRs.) I kept my eyes open long enough to eat about half my dinner before crawling into bed for a good, long, hard-earned rest.

As a post-script, my windshield trail fix was rock solid for the entire ride. If it didn’t look like a glaringly hideous black eye on the bike of a mechanic, I might have kept it. Heck, I seriously considered keeping it anyways. But my good ol’ girl has enough structural gorilla tape at this point, I need to fix the things that can be fixed. The job was no less of a nightmare than indicated above; there is simply an offensive amount of teardown required, with the worst of it being entirely my own doing what with all the farkles and nonsense added to the stock machine. I’d special ordered the windshield mount shoulder bolts with guarded optimism, figuring they’d arrive right around the time I’d returned home and fully assessed the problem. Spoiler Alert: She chose not to break in a cheap and easy way. It was a bracket sub-assembly, available only as part of the complete $750 windscreen motor assembly. So that’s a solid nope, obviously. However, having gone through the indignity of digging into the bowels of my head fairing, and being doomed to suffer the further indignity of reassembly, I refused to admit defeat and reinstall my structural allen key. A dozen phone calls later, I found a shop not far away that was able to weld aluminum and was willing to do it that day. Badda bing, badda boom, I returned home with my previously ordered OEM parts (including all new bushings for all the windshield pivots), one very tidily welded sub-bracket, and $700 that I was not forced to spend on replacing an otherwise functional motor. I replaced all the bushings, rebuilt my motor, and restored everything to fully operational condition. While I was in there, I knocked another handful of things off my Rally Prep To-Do List, which I’d been putting off doing since it is such a miserably hateful nightmare to get in there. Making lemonade, right? Odds & ends ticked off, I got her reassembled an knocked out a good 100 miles just to be sure everything was really and truly working. Goodness knows one can’t fully assess windscreen motor operation in the driveway, right?

What a wonderful ride through a couple beautiful countries! I am ecstatic to finally have earned my IBA: Mexico membership, and had a blast executing my successful-but-not-quite-as-envisioned Leap Day ride. It was such a convoluted ride, I suspect it’s going to be a while before I hear how my bid for certification pans out. In fact, I KNOW it’s going to be a while, because not one hour ago I received an email which basically said “This dumpster fire of a ride submission is going to take a while.” It’s all good; I’m patient, I’m confident I’m good for at least a Bun Burner Silver (1,500 miles in under 30 hours) or standard Bun Burner, but even if it has to get chopped down further than that for some reason, I had a ton of fun doing it. In fact I had such a blast that we’re up here furiously gearing up for our next round: Monty and I will be making a little loop to visit family and friends in CenCal before heading back down to Mexico together in the sidecar. Thanks for following along & stay tuned for more exciting updates in the near future!

~ Wendy

It’s Been A While…

It’s been a while. It’s been a while since the last time I started a blog post lamenting that it’d been a while. It’s been a while since we took a serious 180 from our travel plans in order to take part in something far more important: Helping my mom go through, and recover from, a kidney transplant. As many of you know, one of my fellow Iron Butt Rally vets was the incredible human being who had a perfectly good kidney lopped out and gave my mom the gift of a whole new life. That’s not an exaggeration; one of my mom’s dialysis nurses confided in me that my mom likely would not have lived to see another Christmas if not for the transplant. After a whole lot of nail biting and hand wringing, the transplant finally went through on December 18, 2019. Within hours my mom had the blood work of a healthy individual, and within a few weeks it was determined that she was progressing far faster than the average transplant recipient. This truly was a stellar organ donated by a stellar individual.

Making new friends wherever we go!

So that’s the recap; what about an update? We’ve been staying in the San Diego area, helping mom make it back and forth to half a dozen doctors appointments each week, a schedule which was quickly pared down due to her incredible rate of recovery. An intensive post-transplant care regimen which typically extends for three month has been scaled back to just over two. Mom is getting stronger every day and is extremely excited about building a whole new future for herself. In our free time, we’ve been working on finding adventure whenever life puts us. Between homeschooling and becoming a regular at the local library, Monty has been enjoying some of the great museums around the area. She is a big fan of Nick, our neighbor’s horse, and makes a point to bring him a carrot or an apple most days. Malarkey (or Mlark for short) has been stuck to Monty’s side like glue; he has been left in the rain, dropped in the mud, been tossed down slides and launched off swings, stuffed in squirrel holes, and generally been loved to within an inch of his precious little life. He did contract a particularly severe case of tail-biting germs a few weeks back, but Monty was extra careful to keep him tucked away so Grandma didn’t catch his germs and she was able to nurse him back to health with plenty of rest and some good power foods. We went to a wonderfully entertaining and informative presentation just down the road focusing on local raptors and reptiles, and she was the first to volunteer to have a falcon snatch a hunk of meat off her arm. That’s my kid!

In keeping with our wish to give her experiences rather than things, we’d been trying to decide how to best allocate Monty’s Christmas funds. In a stroke of inspiration (pun intended) I enrolled her is swim lessons three days per week. She absolutely loves it! She’s practically a fish already and will spend as much time in the water as possible, she has just never slowed down enough for us to impart the important tidbits required to transform wild flapping through liquid into actual swimming. It’s probably a good thing that her lesson is the last of the day because her poor teach inevitably goes away exhausted, but her exuberance is not a necessarily a bad thing. We were told that her first lesson would involve wading in the shallow end and sprinkling a little water on her head to build trust; that approach was abandoned the moment she executed a grand cannonball entrance by launching herself halfway across the pool. She counts the days between classes and has to be physically removed from the pool at the end of each session so that everyone else can go home, so all in all I think this has turned out to be a great application of Experience Over Things.

I’ve been averaging over 115 miles each week on the local hiking trails, making the most of these warm days and sunny skies. I am also super excited to be riding in an upcoming Asphalt Rats Discovermoto endurance event in Mexico in a couple weeks. I’ve been wanting to take part in an AREM ride for the past few years, but it’s tough to plan and execute a mid-winter escape from South Dakota with any level of confidence. This is going to be a 1,000-mile, 24-hour event with set checkpoints, culminating with a great party in La Paz, so if you’ve ever been interested in riding Baja and earning membership into IBA:Mexico, I definitely recommend checking it out!

Speaking of South Dakota in the middle of winter… I began to ponder. The Discovermoto will involve riding across Baja at night, a situation which would really benefit by an almost comically excessive amount of additional lumens. The FZ1s stock headlights are just so… 2001. The route involves mandatory checkpoints at gas stations, but the distance between the gas stations hovers around 250 miles. With the FZ1s fuel range maxing out right around the 200 mile mark, I would definitely be left sourcing fuel at odd intervals all across Baja. What might be better, I thought, would be some auxiliary fuel and a range in the mid-300s. Also heated gear would be great for those high mountain regions. Redundant GPS units. Lots of plush comfort upgrades, as though I were going to be living on the bike for weeks on end. You know. Like my FJR. Alas, my trusty steed was bedded down for the winter up in snowbound SoDak. Not much one could do about that.

Warm SoCal evening from the comfort of our patio.
Who needs to suffer like this when you can be out on the road, freezing your goody bits off?

Unless… Unless one has impressively minimal comfort requirements and an almost comically excessive level of risk acceptance. I started keeping an eye on the 10-day forecasts until it finally looked like I was going to have a solidly tolerable weather window. Finally, on January 28th (which I believe to be the technical date of Deep Dark Winter) I hit the jackpot. I identified The Opportunity at 7am and by noon I was hurtling across the SoCal desert, assured that things would be getting substantially worse before they got any better. The FZ1 has no provisions for powering heated gear, which is just fine because I’d brought no heated gear. Why would I? We were supposed to be enjoying balmy summer days in the Southern Hemisphere. I’d even sent most of my meager cold weather provisions back home to SD before we knew we’d be wintering in California, so my best defense against the elements involved 7 layers up top and 4 layers on the bottom. And my trademark fingerless gloves. Don’t judge me.

Critical road trip elements in place…

The plan was simple: Jam up to South Dakota in one shot, ducking south below one snow storm and dancing east just ahead of another, arriving frozen but dry. Perform a little mid-winter/pre-season service on the FJR, then depart in the anticipated and unseasonably warm mid-60s temps, arriving back in San Diego just ahead of the impressive blizzard conditions projected to be blanketing roughly 2/3 of the country by trips end. I labeled my Spotwalla “SD>SD>SD Insanity”. It wasn’t going to be a pleasure cruise, but with just a little luck I’d be able to pull it off. I was traveling light: I carried only the layers I planned to wear (consisting of nearly every article of clothing I had with me in San Diego, along with a few graciously donated by my mom) and a small bag of things to jettison in SoDak. The sun was far past the horizon by the time I crossed the middle of Arizona, so I stopped to don the few remaining layers I’d packed away. By the time I hit Albuquerque, I was staring down dry roads and plummeting mercury. I finally acquiesced to the siren song of full-fingered gloves ahead of Santa Fe, where I saw temps hovering around 12*F before windchill. I seriously thought about pulling the plug and getting a motel room, but the timing was just too tight. If I stopped for more than a couple hours I would be in the direct path of the oncoming snowstorm. Even if I stopped for only a couple hours, I would be too far outside of the Black Hills before night fell on Wednesday, leaving me mired down in a dangerously icy storm in sub-freezing temps. In other words, stopping for one night would mean I’d be stuck for at least two, possibly more. I would rather deal with cold but dry, I decided, so I soldiered on.

It seemed like a reasonable idea on paper.

By the time I hit Raton, I was in need of some serious thawing out. I did something I rarely do on a road trip, which is eat a real breakfast. I was the only customer in the Denny’s ahead of sunrise and as I dragged myself into a booth, too cold to remove even my jacket, I was treated to a wall of gaping stares which practically spelled out “W. T. A. F…” I nursed a nice sizzling veggie skillet – enough to warm me up without dragging me down – and more than a few good, hot cups of decaf. Decaf because I saw no sense in condemning myself to hourly bathroom breaks, since my frozen fingers sure as heck weren’t up to the task of rapidly extricating me from many cumbersome layers of gear in any sort of hurry. Warm was good enough for me. Reaching around the table, even after sitting in a warm restaurant for over an hour, I could feel noticeably frigid tendrils of trapped air puffing out of my coat. When the time finally came to saddle up, the FZ1 was sporting a solid layer of heavy frost. Sigh. It was going to get worse before it got better.

Aw, c’mon… It wasn’t THAT cold…

From Raton things were actually fairly tolerable for a while. The temps crept up into the mid-30s as I peeled off onto smaller back roads, allowing me to relax into the ride a little more. It was just shy of the Nebraska border when the slushy sleet started to fall. The last 300 miles of my 1,700 mile route were all wet, windy, salty and generally less-than-ideal. Three hundred miles of head shakes, double-takes, and looks of mixed astonishment and pity as I made my final decent into Rapid City. I hadn’t seen another motorcycle since western Arizona, and I’m pretty sure nobody else up there had seen a bike on the road in months. The amount of road salt and general mung I uncovered in my MotoJug at the end of this leg of the ride actually made me incredibly grateful that it was just too darn cold to worry about proper hydration.

<shudder>

I had indulged visions of soaking for hours in a near-molten bath, alternately sipping hot soup and a hot tottie until my core temperature once again approached that of the living. Unfortunately I had a to-do list as long as my arm and a very limited amount of time to accomplish it all if I hoped to hit that predicted glorious weather on my way out of town. Stuff to shuffle into and out of our storage facility, not the least of which included every bit of heated gear I own. If you’ll recall, back in October my FJR and I wrapped up a trip to Ohio one afternoon and the FZ1 and I departed for Nevada the next, leaving me no time to properly assess or prep the FJR for this scenario, even if I had anticipated a mid-winter retrieval. This being the case, I’d asked my buddy Eric to lay eyeballs on the FJR for me so I could have any and all required service parts ordered in and awaiting my arrival. I was already aware of a small water pump leak following the Iron Butt Rally, so I’d ordered in everything to do that job back in October so they’d be waiting for me when we returned home. There had been several items on backorder for months, so it was just a stroke of luck that the full parts order had been delivered just a few weeks ago. It was just a minor leak, but with all the parts in hand, smart money was on doing the repair now, at home, while I had resources at my disposal, rather than waiting until Minor inevitably became Major on the side of some desolate highway.

RIP, impeller. You have served me well.

I’d left SoCal mid-day Tuesday and arrived in SoDak on Wednesday evening. The following two days were a flurry of fine mechanical work in an unheated carport with temps stubbornly refusing to leave the 30s; my long-enduring 265,000-mile water pump was rebuilt without incident; engine & final drive oils changed; installation of a new battery and correction of niggling electrical accessory issues; delivering fancy beers to one buddy for bike eyeballing services rendered and introducing another the world’s best smoked short ribs. (Seriously, if you EVER have a chance to hit JR’s Rhodehouse BBQ in Black Hawk, SD, DO IT! And by “a chance” I mean if you’re passing anywhere closer than Chicago, DO IT! If you like meat, trust me when I say you won’t be disappointed.) I also had to source a couple obscure cables which had gone missing from my long-disregarding heated gloves because, although I’m a fingerless kinda girl, I was forced that concede that if kept it up much longer I was going to be a literally fingerless girl. With an incredible stroke of luck, the cable I needed happened to match a style used by Harley Davidson brand gear in 2004. What were the odds? It was with great enthusiasm and a bit of lingering numbness in my phalanges that I purchased the two required cables, cables whose battered packages told the tale of dozens upon dozens of hopeful unstaplings followed by unceremonious returns to their distant corner of the peg wall. Trophies in hand, the chores continued: Tax paperwork gathered, downloaded, copied, collated. Annual physical because, hey – as long as I’m this close to my regular doc, I may as well. Ensuring that tools and service items packed for the FZ1 were exchanged for those required for the FJR. Tires inflated, fresh TPMS batteries installed, test ride, and ready to rock.

World’s Best Meat Lollipop: No sides or utensils required.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, as my slushy synapses began to regain full firepower, I started mulling over how close I was to the Canadian border. I was in a state that is touching a state that is touching Canada. By that standard, I was practically already in the Great White North. I would be returning to my home-away-from-home within spitting distance of Mexico, and with the unseasonably warm weather being predicted… Hmmm… An Iron Butt Border-to-Border ride on an impressively inefficient route in the middle of winter would be an entertainingly absurd way to approach my return trip. Why not? I did some poking around in my free time, but I just couldn’t quite make it work. I would still have to plan around a very tight weather window if I hoped for a clean escape. The nearest Canadian border crossing had very limited operating hours in the winter and the town closest to the border offered very little hope of sourcing the requisite witnesses and computer-generated starting receipt. The nearest 24-hour border crossing was just far enough in the wrong direction to render an already difficult ride attempt into something that would be darn near impossible. I wasn’t on a mission specifically to execute a B2B, after all; I’d just been hoping to shoehorn a B2B somewhere into my existing ride plans. Not to be deterred, a new idea was concocted which was arguably just as silly, twice as fun, and substantially warmer. I’m not quite ready to divulge the details just yet, but it was executed successfully as envisioned and is likely just the start of a series of related endeavors.

Thank you, road-weary FZ1. You have served me well.

Ah, the FJR. Like an old glove, she is just the perfect fit. What an incredible feeling to be reunited with my great old friend. After 1,700 sub-freezing, naked-bike miles, my ginormous V-Stream windscreen was like heaven. After four months with a cable-clutch bike as my only form of transportation, a hydraulic clutch made me feel like She-Ra. Feeling the joy of full stereo audio at a reasonable volume. Wired for heated gear and big miles and maximum comfort. Just… perfect. Ready for anything. I departed Rapid City on Saturday morning, lamenting that the high 60-degree weather had not quite materialized but grateful for the relatively tolerable temps in the low 50s. I was going to be staging my certified ride out of Colorado Springs and I’d looked at a few possible routes for getting from here to there. One path looked compelling simply because I didn’t already know it like the back of my hand, but it included a good $20 in toll roads. Nah, pass. That left I-25 down through Wyoming or essentially retracing the path I’d taken into town three days earlier. Facing the potential for icy, twisty mountain roads and other non-moto-friendly conditions, I opted for the devil I knew and pointed myself due south across Nebraska. I began regretting the choice less than 40 miles out of town when ferocious winds made the ride difficult and dangerous, even on my most faithful steed. It didn’t subside until well into Colorado, but it turned out that the winds along I-25 and I-80 were violent enough to flip quite a few tractor trailers, so all things considered I think I fared pretty well.

Totally worth it.

Sunday in Colorado Springs finally hit the low 70s, the glorious t-shirt weather rendering the ride up an oddly distant memory. I didn’t leave right away though, instead enjoying a relaxing afternoon in the warm sun before finally departing for points south later that evening. Two days later, Colorado Springs was several degrees below zero. Many schools and roads saw closures in my wake. Even El Paso saw 2” of snow just after I passed through. Yet somehow, I arrived back in San Diego after what turned our to be a relatively pleasant ride. My careful choreography allowed me to scoot south and west around the encroaching storm. Even the small but apparently unavoidable patch of rain didn’t amount to any noteworthy discomfort. A bit of a sandstorm around Imperial Dunes, heated gear optimistically removed at 60 degrees only to have temps dip back down to the 30s; really nothing out of the ordinary. A gloriously uneventful end to a ridiculously entertaining 3,700-mile winter bike swap.

Best seat in the house 🙂

With that out of the way, what’s next? My immediate future, now that I’ve regained the requisite dexterity in my fingers, involves a valve inspection on the FJR and, after winding up with a crankcase full of gas, tearing into the carbs on the Bandit. I’m just a couple weeks away from the Asphalt Rats Discovermoto Rally, and you could be too if you head on over to their website and sign up now!

Hands down, the most adorable way to lose tools.

The irony is not lost on me that I just rode the FZ1 1,700+ miles through the night with stock headlights, battered by freezing sleet in less-than-appropriate gear, and battling frustratingly lackluster fuel range across large expanses with limited gas, with the express goal of not having to spend 1,000 miles riding through the night with stock headlights, facing cold weather without appropriate winter gear, or struggling with lackluster fuel range. It made perfect sense on paper. We are helping mom come up with a game plan for her new life, likely to involve lots of travel, adventure, catching up with old friends and making new ones. We are still regrouping to see what our post-SoCal ride is going to entail. We’re tossing around the idea of exploring Central America, but we’ll see how our timeline and budget looks by the time all is said and done. In the meantime, no matter what happens, we’ll continue to tackle life’s hurdles and surprises head-on and seek adventure wherever we find ourselves.

Yes indeed. What fun is it to do things the easy way?

-Wendy

Where are we now?

It’s been a month since our last update, and it’s been quite the interesting ride. In summary, we’re still in Southern California. It’s interesting, sitting here two months into our projected travel window and nowhere near where we envisioned ourselves being. A year ago I sat writing blog posts pondering how people managed to embark on protracted journeys, how “they” – all these smiling adventurers we see on our computer screens – put their real lives on pause and plan, fund, and execute their meanderings. The more entrenched we are in living The Script, the more difficult it becomes to pry ourselves away and take on something incredible. Sometimes though, it’s not sticking to The Script that throws a wrench in the adventure activation plan, but those wildly unpredictable plot twists that keep you on your toes.

We knew we were going to have a bit of a layover in California for a few reasons. Of course, we had a ton of friends and family to visit back in our old stomping grounds. Mike had some work obligations in Hollywood, and I was finally able to make it to the famous annual NoPolio fundraiser event in Folsom. Montessa turned 5 in October and we’ve been encouraging friends and family to think “experiences” rather than “things” when giving gifts, especially since we have an extremely finite amount of space in the sidecar for things. And what experience is more SoCal for a 5 year old girl than Disneyland? Yes, we did it. We bit the bullet and took our fearless, princess-obsessed daughter, along with her two favorite people in the world – her cousins – to Disneyland for a day. We kept our plans secret from Monty, so right up until we arrived at the front entrance to the park, she thought we were just giving her cousins a ride home. We hit the park on a weekday in the off-season, so it actually was a fairly pleasant experience for everyone. Talk about polar extremes of trip experiences: from bare-bones, basic-necessities-only to the epitome of material excess. Thank you to everyone who pitched in to give Monty an amazing day that will stick with her for years to come.

How to know when you’ve had a successful day at Disneyland

But Disneyland is just a single day out of the six weeks that we’ve been milling about the region. Subtract time for hiking, visiting, speaking, wandering, working, and so on, and we still have a good few weeks of travel time to account for. It’s not especially glamorous, but we have been spending most of that time helping my parents get ready for a big move. They’ve lived in their giant house for 20 years, but life has dictated that it’s time to downsize. They have many years of accumulated things to sort, pack, sell, donate, toss, and otherwise process. We’ve all been there. When we moved from Kernville to South Dakota, we were leaving a house we’d lived in for 14 years as well as paring down and packing up a business we’d operated for nearly as long. We can handle the logistics and manpower of moving, which is especially important because my mom’s health prevents her from contributing significantly in the manpower department.

Cousins: Best kind of manpower, best kind of buddies!

As many of you know, my mom’s kidneys failed a few years ago and she has been struggling to maintain on dialysis. To add injury to insult, a recent fall resulted in three broken vertebrae and even further diminished her ability to even exist comfortably, let alone function normally day-to-day. We don’t have any viable kidney donors in our immediate family, so while she has been on the National Donor Registry our real hope has been to find a living donor. We’ve had an amazing number of selfless individuals come forward for testing – many have reached out to me, and I’m sure there are many who have gone through the process anonymously – all of whom are heroes of the highest order in my book. To be willing to give away an organ for a relative stranger, even to be willing to go through the lengthy and sometimes arduous matching process, knowing the odds of a match are slim; it’s hard to put that kind of selflessness into words. And from one of those indescribably selfless individuals, we have received some unexpectedly incredible news: A match. An “ideal match” according to the test results, a perfect kidney. The gift of life. My mind is swirling, especially having watched my mom suffer and deteriorate over the past few years. Needless to say, Mom is absolutely over the moon. It tentatively looks like mid-December might be the transplant date, the beginning of her road to recovery.

So this brings me back to a year ago, pondering how people manage to release themselves from the “real” lives and take their personal show on the road. The answer I’ve found is, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes “real” life, the people you love and the exceptional situations that present themselves, must take precedent. There are very few things that are important enough to send us on a detour from our planned adventure, but you only have one mom. I feel lucky to be in a position to help, lucky to be able to support her in this life-changing circumstance. And so we put our adventure life on hold temporarily while we navigate this fantastic (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime situation. The great part of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants travel is that we’re not actually giving up anything, we’re not missing anything, we’re just open to life’s road and seeing what happens next. If that means our travels only take us through Central America on this round, so be it. We will make another opportunity to travel further south and when that time comes, with a little luck, my mom will be the first person to warn us that we’re going to be eaten by headhunters. Love you Mom!

-Wendy

When Does The Adventure Begin?

“When is your trip starting?” It’s the question I’ve been hearing several times a day. Great news: Our trip has already begun! Sort of… Let me explain our messy, convoluted exit from Normal and how life has a way of muddying up the best laid plans.

As many of you know, I did a little ride over the summer and won a thing. OK, I did a BIG ride and won THE thing. The Gerlach Winnemucca’s Revenge Mini Rally! I did win that rally, and I am quite proud of the fact that two of my three First Place finishes have been in George Zelenz-engineered events, but that’s not the only win to which I’m referring. I also won first place in the Iron Butt Rally.

It still feels weird to say out loud, I’m still grappling with imposter syndrome, but there it is. Some days I’m wading through some mundane bit of life when it hits me: I stop for a second and say to myself, “Holy crap. I WON the Iron Butt Rally!” I’ve used the word “surreal” in a lot of interviews – and there have been many – but there really isn’t a better word. It has been very surreal, very unexpected, and a wonderfully chaotic series of related events that had to get shuffled into our exit strategy. But I excel at shuffling, organizing, shimmying, juggling and coordinating. We can do it all!

Then, life. Death is a part of life, and it waits for no man, woman, or beloved pet. Most of us think our pets are the best, and Golden Retriever owners are right. Our Sprocket was among the best of the best. Sprocket, aka Skeeter, Sprockokeet, Sprocko Noches, and anything else we could think of on a whim, had 14 wonderful years full of adventure and easy living. She wasn’t exactly streetwise, although she did know better than to trust that weird-smelling people puppy we brought home 5 years ago. She enjoyed all the copious benefits of having a messy little critter throwing food all over the floor, without any of the gratuitous eye-poking or tail-grabbing that her brother Edison has endured.

She’d been slowing down, quite precipitously in the last few months especially, and we’d been mentally preparing ourselves for a while. I’d been away with Yamaha at the AIM Expo in Ohio and had bee-lined home just in time for Montessa’s birthday. Poor Sprocket had a rapid decline over the days I was gone, and by the time I arrived home we knew that tomorrow would be the day. The day after Monty’s Big 5, no less. We showered her with love and praise for being the most wonderful little dog and making our lives immeasurably richer and more entertaining, then waved her over the Rainbow Bridge. All I can say is that I’m glad my wonderful girl waited for me to get home.

Bonneville Salt Flats

I had to leave home again mere hours after leaving the vet because I needed to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a giant freak October blizzard. I was making my way to Nevada for, in an odd coincidence of sadness, a memorial event for the endurance rider community. I had temps into the mid 20s on my way over the Rockies, but made it to Nevada otherwise unscathed. Mike took a more northerly/frosty/snowy route in the SUV the following day and caught up with me in Wendover. The event was a blast, but it is not something to be discussed in polite company so you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

After the memorial event, Mike headed back to South Dakota to handle some final wind down procedures. I had an appearance to make at a fantastic NoPolio fundraiser the following weekend, so I opted to head south towards the sunnier skies and old friends of the Kern River Valley. From there, my riding buddy Kelly joined me on a lengthy backroads excursion back up to Folsom, California. The fundraiser was a huge success, I won more raffle prizes than I could haul back to CenCal, we had wonderful weather, a spirited ride, and tons of good company, so all in all it was a great weekend. Meanwhile, Mike was packing up Montessa and Edison and making a long trek east to Maryland, where our amazing friend Lisa had offered to spend the next 9 months spoiling two elderly Goldens absolutely rotten. It was with great sadness that we had to deliver Mr. Ed as a single gentleman, but we know he is going to be well loved and have a great time.

On the return trip, Mike and Monty hadn’t yet made it out of the Washington DC metroplex before life threw another little curveball: They were rear-ended rather enthusiastically by another car. Our hitch took the brunt of the impact, although our SUV did sustain a moderate amount of damage. The other car was pretty well totaled and barely made it to the shoulder. Information was exchanged and Mike pushed on, but the following morning both he and Monty were in pain so the better part of a day was spent in urgent care getting checked out. No major injuries, it would appear, just the standard whiplash damage typical of such events. So now they’re running a good deal behind schedule, in pain and in a somewhat compromised vehicle, heading into another blizzard scenario and having to juggle the vehicle repair situation before he and Monty can mount up and head south.

Just as a cherry on top of all of this craziness, lets toss in ailing family members in multiple states, a union meeting in Hollywood, doctors appointments for Mike’s various injuries, a kid who would love to spend Halloween with all her old buddies from way back in her preschool days, and a birthday girl who’s big surprise present is going to be her first trip to Disneyland (shhhhhhhh!). Did I mention that I got stung by a bee on my lip and half my head swelled up like some sort of hideous Macy’s parade balloon? Yeah, that happened. So the question remains: When does the real adventure begin? I’ve gotta say, if this wild and unpredictable life isn’t a real adventure, I don’t know what is! Stay tuned as that adventure meanders (slowly but surely) south.

-Wendy

IBR Acceptance Speech

What I should have said:

This event was truly one for the ages. Deceptive in its simplicity, diabolical in its execution. There wasn’t a single correct solution, with constantly shifting variables such that even the most skilled player ultimately had to leave a large part of their success in the hands of Lady Luck. Every single one of us rode a different ride, and nearly every one of them had the potential to be the winning solution. One construction zone here, one wandering Winnebago there, and the outcome would be totally different. That’s on top of the added retro twist, providing waypoints that were just within the (100 mile or so) vicinity along with written directions to the actual location, plus the potential for time-consuming tasks involved in order to actually secure the points.

I LOVED it. Absolutely loved it. What an amazing way to pull everybody’s collective heads back out of the spreadsheets and make us pay attention to the puzzle. Like I said, deceptive in its simplicity, diabolical in its execution. I’d considered taking 2019 off, spending my vacation with the family, but I lost my resolve as soon as I saw that Jeff Earls would once again be the rally master. I am SO glad I threw my name in. I have never had more fun in a rally, hands down. From beginning to end, from the roads to the bonus locations, twisty bits of asphalt to twists in the game, I was hooked.

I can’t say enough to thank Jeff for this absolutely stunning event. And even the best rally idea couldn’t be executed without the indefatigable Lisa Landry, Michael Kneebone, and an army of amazing volunteers. The Iron Butt family truly makes this event what it is. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing us together every two years, then flinging us violently apart, then bringing us all back together for this amazing celebration of the fringe of motorcycle exploration. Without you, we’d just be a bunch of weirdos bumbling about the continent.

What I actually said:

I heard there were people online saying they’d win the rally by finding the winner, following her around for 11 days, then picking up one more bonus. Well, only Ian McPhee had the cajones to try and it killed his final drive. Thank you and goodnight. 😂

In my defense, I did previously attempt to recruit Tyler Risk to be my wing lady so she could help me make good words come out of my face. Unfortunately she couldn’t be at the finish line and I was tragically left to my own devices. Thank you to everyone who had more faith in me than I had in myself, and thank you to everyone who understands that I had no actual expectation of winning and was left at a nearly complete loss for words when the big moment came. This was a huge rally filled with amazing riders and determined in large part by luck. It really was anyone’s game to win, and it still seems quite surreal that my exhilarating adventure was enough to bring home the win. I will truly never forget the feeling of that moment, and I thank each and every one of you who helped celebrate the amazing rides and incredible adventures of all 109 riders.

-Wendy

Why I Rally

Endurance riding isn’t for everyone. We’re the 1% of the 1%, and even that is probably a pretty generous figure. Not everyone understands why we do what we do; some people don’t care at all, some are intrigued while acknowledging that it’s not something they’d personally pursue, and some are quite vocal in declaring that this is NOT the right way to be riding a motorcycle. No one is obligated to condone or participate in endurance riding, but I thought I might shed a little light on why I personally love this type of riding in the context of the 2019 Iron Butt Rally rally.

In the course of these 11 days I watched the sun rise over the vast, rugged Nevada desert. I watched the sun set from the lush beauty of the Gaspe Penninsula. I felt the weight of a deep, moonless night in one of the most distant corners of the Everglades. I felt the buzz of humanity in a traffic jam in Washington DC at 1am on a Friday morning. You can do any one those things right now, should you desire. Load up, head out, and be confident that you can have those experiences at your leisure.

I also rode some roads that you almost certainly will never ride, because there is absolutely no good reason to be there. I rode nearly 100 miles north of an already far-flung town on virtually flawless asphalt to reach a small informational sign overlooking a remote dam. Aside from being a dam employee, there is no logical reason to travel this road. And yet there I was, with beautiful blacktop unfurling along the shores of a stunningly beautiful reservoir, beams of sunlight stabbing through silver skies to highlight the perimeter of rugged, verdant cliffs deep in the Canadian Rockies, and I had it all to myself. I reached the terminus of this quest, snapped a quick picture, and saddled up for the return journey. In what seemed like only minutes, I reached a sign indicating that I would be intersecting the main highway in 20kms, and I was legitimately disappointed. I was in the middle of nowhere, with no practical reason to be there, and I was disappointed that this amazing bit of moto-perfection was coming to an end.

But you could go there. If you’d like to go to Mica Dam, you certainly can put that on your bucket list. But there’s more to it than that. At some point – I couldn’t tell you exactly where  – I was riding in the rain in the middle of the night when the wind shifted just so, such that the only sound, the only sensation in the world, was the quite pull of my tires against wet pavement. I was riding through a misty dawn when I came upon a moose in a field of wild flowers – tall, willowy flowers in every imaginable shade of red, pink, orange, purple, and white – simply enjoying her breakfast and regarding me with the same fascination with which I regarded her. I’ve had just exactly the right song show up on my playlist at just exactly the right minute, as though the cosmos was telling me that this is exactly where I was intended to be at this very moment in time. I’ve watch the breathtaking symphony of distant thunderstorms, powerful and beautiful and nearly impossible to capture in all of its majesty; it simply must be experienced and absorbed. I’ve had moments where the sky is so blue, the air so calm and warm, the ride so fluid and so effortless, that the entire world melts away and I’m left with a calm focus that I can only imagine must rival the most ardent practitioners of meditation. I have formed connections with people who, outside of this pursuit, I never would have had occasion to meet, people who make my life richer, fuller, more complete.

This is my zen. This is my release. This is my connection with that which is both greater than myself and deep within myself. You can’t put those moments into your gps. You can’t plot a trip to the place where your soul will heal or grow or quiet or shout for joy. You just have to put yourself out there. Your place may come through hiking or biking. Sailing or soaring. Brushing the dog or holding your new grandchild. I hope you all have a space in the world where you find your best self; this is mine. On two wheels, exploring, experiencing, looking for any opportunity to avail myself of the majesty of the universe. The more you’re out there, the greater the likelihood that these moments will find you. Rally riding is not for everyone, but its right for me. Any excuse to be out there, leaning, twisting, seeing, smelling, feeling, focusing, absorbing; any opportunity to be so overwhelmed by the majesty of it all that I have no choice but to hone in and thoroughly experience the precise splendor of this solitary moment. This is why I rally.

Wendy