We had a plan. A plan to ride with some friends to Baja California Mexico in March 2020 just as the world wide pandemic was starting to spread in the United States. One of the first US viral hot spots? Seattle, our city of departure.
Deby and I have ridden the Baja peninsula many times over the past 10 years and have become pretty familiar with the roads, hotels, restaurants and tourist stops. We have a list of our favorite places and easily fall into a familiar routine whenever we visit. In November of 2019 we joined our friend GPS Kevin on his Baja “Lucky Explorer Ralley.” (If you’re interested, click on the link to learn more and check out some pictures of the trip.) On the way home from that trip Deby suggested it would be fun to return to Baja on the big bikes and invite some friends to join us. We have a group of friends we frequently ride with from the Northwest Norton Owners who have expressed an interest in riding in Mexico so we immediately thought of inviting them.
In December I started planning the trip and we invited five club members who had “Adventure” style motorcycles suitable for the trip, were extremely competent riders and easy going friends,that we knew could all get along for two weeks travelling the back roads of Mexico. Almost randomly I picked two weeks in March an put together a ride plan. Everyone in the group worked out their home and work schedules and the trip details fell into place.
Wednesday March 11, 2020
President Trump speaking about the virus on March 10: “We’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
Reassured, Deby and I calmly loaded up the truck with her BMW F750GS and my Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sport motorcycles. The news about the virus was getting more frequent and disconcerting. We could wait for the virus to go away or, I figured, we could go away. The same day, the governor of Washington banned gatherings of 250 people or more and 5 more deaths were reported bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 29. It seemed like a good time to stay calm… and leave the state.
One of the club members, Kris, recently moved to the California mountains near Yosemite National Park. Six of us from the Seattle area would truck our bikes to Kris’ house and we would ride from there. This meant we could avoid riding motorcycles on the boring stretch of Interstate 5 and avoid potential snow in the mountains. On Thursday March 12, we all convened at the luxurious Super 8 Hotel in Redding CA.
These would be our riding partners for the next two weeks plus Kris when we got to his house. As is usual, when we dropped out of the mountains into Redding, CA, the weather warmed drastically and the sun warmed our bodies and souls. We spent some time sitting around the pool but decided not to go for a swim after seeing this sign.
Ok, sure, it’s California but is this sign really necessary? Maybe it’s been a problem in the past… who knows?
Friday March 13, 2020
The governor of Washington state orders all public and private schools closed for six weeks.
We weren’t too worried and frankly, weren’t really paying too much attention. We arrived at the beautiful mountain home of Kim and Kris and got to work unloading the bikes. That’s Kris on the right instructing John and Garry on the proper use of Kris’ bike ramps.
We spent the rest of the evening getting the bikes unloaded, ready and quenching our thirst with a few cold beers. That’s Kim talking to Gary next to the truck.
Saturday March 14, 2020
San Luis Obispo County has confirmed its first coronavirus case a day after the county has both declared a public health emergency and closed down its schools.
We decided to dedicate the day to making final preparations on the bikes and going for a short shake-down ride. The video below shows the route:
We ended the day at the Wagon Wheel restaurant where all things were normal, no virus worries here in the small town of Ahwahnee, CA. Food, beer, people, we had a great evening and were looking forward to the ride south the next morning! Gary won the biggest hamburger prize.
Sunday March 15, 2020
Washington’s governor Inslee bans dining in restaurants and limits all public gatherings.
This is it, we ride south for the border. With nearly 700 miles to ride before the border crossing in Tecate we decided to break it up into two days of riding. Kris had a friend who planned an excellent route to Barstow, CA along the western edge of the Sierra National Forest.
We were too busy riding the nice twisty mountain roads to take too many pictures. The weather was unusually cool and I was glad for my heated liner and heated grips. We arrive in Barstow and walk around town for a while looking for a restaurant… everything is closed. What? Virus? No, restaurants in Barstow are closed on Sundays. Deby, Kris and I split from the group and ended up getting “dinner” at an iHop. It just didn’t seem right. Here is the Relive video of this leg:
Monday March 16, 2020
From Wikipedia: As of 16 March, President López Obrador (Mexico) continued to downplay the impact of coronavirus. “Pandemics … won’t do anything to us,” and accused the press and the opposition for its reportage.
The plan is to cross the border late afternoon and stay at a hotel in the Mexico side of Tecate for the night. We weren’t thinking much about the virus situation and were glad to continue our ride south in search of warmer weather and sunshine.
The ride was cool with lots of wind… soon, soon, we could take off our winter riding gear. I was beginning to wonder…. my buddies didn’t seem very convinced either.
Here is the route south from Barstow to Yucca Valley and through the resort towns of Palm Springs and Palm Desert where we exited the cities up an incredible winding road up the mountains to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. Here is a picture of the road from the top.
We crossed the border at 3:30 PM with almost no issues…. Garry didn’t have the receipt proving he paid for his tourist card and was holding things up in the office. Evidently, these kind of mistakes can be fixed for $10.00 US dollars. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of this but as these things go, it was easier to pay the $10.00 “fine” than argue. We arrived at the Estancia Inn at 4:00 eager for food in the bar in restaurant. Or not…. they were closed. Why? The virus? Not enough people staying at the hotel? No…. in Tecate, restaurants are closed on Mondays! Geesh, we walked down the street to a sports bar and managed to get some relatively good Mexican food and beer so all ended well.
Here is the day’s video:
Ok, I’m going to wrap up here for Part 1. Next starts the Mexico part of the trip. Thanks for following.
Donn and Deby