Baja Virus Run – Part 3

March 20, 2020

From The Hill March 20, 2020: The State Department on Thursday also advised all Americans to avoid international travel or arrange for prompt return to the U.S. unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an extended period of time. Pompeo warned Friday that individuals who do decide to travel abroad could see their plans significantly disrupted.

(Note: This is a long post, just trying to wrap up the trip. Hope you enjoy.)

By March 20th we were halfway into our trip and the limited news we were receiving was getting more and more disturbing. As we rode south we had been noticing large caravans of trucks, vans and campers driving north while we were on mostly deserted roads riding south. At one of our stops I asked a Canadian travelling north about it and he said the Canadian government was warning their citizens to return home or risk not having their medical bills covered if they became ill abroad. Wow.

We rode 285 miles from Loreto to Los Barriles in six hours. I checked my iPhone and camera and couldn’t find any pictures from the ride. In my notebook I wrote, “nice ride, good weather.” So there it is….

Los Barriles is a very touristy town that is popular with the kite surfing crowd in spring and anglers in summer. Every time I’ve been there in the past the narrow main street is packed with cars and every kind of off road vehicle from quads, to side by sides to dirt bikes and adventure bikes. We were just there in November with our friend GPSKevin on his Lucky Explorer Ride (Info HERE) and the party was in full swing. Here is a picture I took of Deby from that trip in front of one of our favorite restaurants.

We rode into town mid afternoon and the city looked abandoned. The above mentioned restaurant was closed and the street was empty. We checked into Hotel Playa del Sol and were almost the only guests. I’m sure they were ecstatic to see nine motorcycles arriving with paying customers.

Deby was glad for a few days off the bikes

One advantage of being the only guests is that we were placed in poolside rooms. The view couldn’t be beat from our hotel room door.

We walked into town in search of food and there was only one restaurant open, Smokey’s Grill. We new something was up when the owner saw us coming and guided us to the side entrance were we were required to wash our hands in an outside sink before being allowed in. He watched to make sure we all complied and then showed us to our table. I did manage to get a good picture of Kris and the worlds largest nacho platter.

Here was our route for the day.


Saturday March 21

This was a planned day off. A couple of us went out for a short day ride and the rest, including Deby enjoyed a well deserved rest around the pool.


Sunday March 22

This was the highlight of the trip. As a group we were all going to visit our friend Doug at Doug’s Baja Nortons. Doug is well known in the small world of Norton Motorcycle enthusiasts as a restorer of award winning Nortons, mechanical wizard for anything Norton and just an all around nice guy. He has been living in the very small town of Aqua Caliente just outside the only slightly bigger town of Santiago for over a decade. Doug doesn’t get many visitors so when I started planning this trip in December he said he was excited to host us.

After a day off we were ready to ride so we decided to get an early start and do some sightseeing along the way. Gary read about a waterfall near Doug’s house and we decided to check it our on our way. We only had vague directions and soon decided we would have to ask for help finding our way. Santiago was the last city before the pavement ended on the way to Doug’s. Turn left at the end of town for Doug’s and turn right down another gravel road for the waterfall. I remembered the small hotel and restaurant in town and stopped to ask directions. A group of nine motorcycles following in a line is tricky to get everyone to stop along the road and then have to explain why we were stopping. Plus, I didn’t want to admit I didn’t know where I was going so I waved to everyone to stay put and walked to the hotel. It was closed. Hmmm, now what. Just then somebody came out with a broom (to shoo me away?) and looked at the line of bikes and then me. Umm, time to put the ole espanol to good use… Hola, donde esta la cascada?

The problem with asking a question in Spanish is that you have to be prepared for an answer in Spanish. I received a long explanation with lots of hand waving and pointing in rapid Spanish. He noticed my blank expression and asked in perfect English, “are you friends of Doug’s?” Of course, he knew Doug… We had a good laugh and he told me to wait while he got a map for us.

Well, what can I say. Even with this map, verbal directions and a highlighted route, we got lost. As we rode out of Santiago the road became worse and worse. Soon we were on a rough washboard road before it turned into deep sand. I stopped to check the map and GPS and only Gary was behind me. Now I lost the rest of the group. I was told they gave up and went back to town. Ok, I would ride ahead a few more miles and see if this road went anywhere… I rode into the upcoming hills and the road improved greatly but it became clear from the dry surroundings there was no waterfall to be found.

I turned around and one by one picked up the people that had dropped off and turned onto the other long gravel road to Doug’s “Moto Oasis”.

Doug had the outside bar (which doubles as his kitchen) all set-up with a bartender and all.

Doug lives a great life in this small house that doubles as his motorcycle shop.

Our buddy Art Bone from the mainland (left) with Kris and Garry.

Doug arranged for a local woman to provide fresh tamales for lunch, they were fantastic.

Doug and Gary admiring the rooftop view

Social distancing wasn’t a thing yet in Baja. This was probably the last group meal I’ve had since….

L to R: Gary, Donn, Doug, Kris, John, Garry, Charlie, Art (in the shadow), Greg, Richard

To those involved with the International Norton Owners Association (INOA) or the Northwest Norton Owners (NWNO), this was a big deal getting this group together in Mexico. I was glad to be there to experience it.

Here is the video of the route with special thanks to my friend Ric McArdel for the original music!

March 23, 2020

The news from home was getting more and more ominous. As we officially started the ride towards home we received word that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide “stay home” order, telling residents they must stay home unless they are “pursuing an essential activity.”

This was the day we would loop around the bottom of the Baja peninsula and check off a quick stop at Cabo san Lucas from the bucket list before turning north for the last time. First we needed to say goodbye to our friends Art and Charlie who rode from the mainland. They would spend another day at the beach and then take the ferry from LaPaz to Mazatlan.

On the way south to Cabo we made arrangements to meet Richard along the road so he could be “tour guide” of sorts for the day. Richard is another Norton club member and lives part of the year in San Jose del Cabo. The city is North and East of Cabo san Lucas and is smaller and quaint compared to it’s more famous neighbor.

On the way down we passed over the Tropic of Cancer. There was a roadside marker and rest area so of course, we had to stop. For those who weren’t paying attention to such matters in high school, like me, here is the explanation from Wikipedia.

The Tropic of Cancer, which is also referred to as the Northern Tropic, is the most northerly circle of latitude on Earth at which the Sun can be directly overhead. This occurs on the June solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun to its maximum extent. It is currently 23.43665° north of the Equator.

So, in other words… if you want the sun to be directly over your head you have to ride at least this far south. Here are is a fun fact: The Tropic of Cancer’s position is not fixed, but varies in a complicated manner over time. Currently, it gradually drifts south almost 15 metres, per year.

The gang on the actual line for the Tropic of Cancer

Going the other direction the line passes through a nice sculpture

There were a number of small shops selling trinkets to the tourists. The only thing missing was… the tourists. Word was getting around about the virus and most people were staying home. We didn’t buy anything and the vendors seemed to be uncharacteristically keeping their distance from us. It was a little odd so we didn’t stay long.

The next stop was the village of San Jose del Cabo. Richard guided us to the main square where we took a few pictures and looked around. It was like a ghost town. The square was filled with shops that were all open but we were the only customers. I bought a hat.

Our fearless guide – Richard

It was a half hour ride to the big city of Cabo san Lucas. Normally the roads are jam packed with cars, buses, taxis and motorcycles. Not this time. The ride couldn’t be better, beautiful warm weather, almost no traffic to worry about and outstanding scenery as we rounded the southern tip of Baja. We rode to a view point on the coast in the heart of town and we felt like we had the city to ourselves. This time, it looked like many of the shops and restaurants were closed. We found out later that the only two confirmed cases of the virus in Baja were in Cabo thanks to some spring break tourists from the US.

Only a few locals on the normally crowded beaches.

In true Mexico fashion we parked the bikes on the sidewalk to take a look around. Not a problem with no pedestrians around.

It was early afternoon when we were on our way north along the Pacific coast. Again, the views, weather and riding was world class as we hugged the coastline towards Todos Santos for lunch.

Or we thought….. our first stop was Hotel California. Deby and I had stayed there before (in the penthouse suite!) and we stop on every trip because they have a nice outdoor restaurant and good food. The hotel is not really affiliated with the famous song but that doesn’t stop them from capitalizing on the name and selling related trinkets and constantly playing the song in the gift shop. It’s one of those places you just have to visit and I wanted to show it to our friends. It was closed. Well, I knew a few other restaurants in this usually busy tourist town but soon learned they were all closed.

John in front of the now-closed Hotel California

Here is a picture of the main street which is normally jam packed with cars and people….. nothing.

We really didn’t expect this, plus we were all really hungry. I asked someone about restaurants, in my now passable Spanish, and was told they were all closed. Dang, was it going to be gas station food? Anything? I was randomly riding through the deserted streets with six other motorcycles following behind when I saw a restaurant with an open door and someone waving to me. They were open but we would have to sit on the outdoor tables. Worked for us!

While we were there this guy pulls up in his van.

“Eric?” I yelled out as he slowly drove past looking at the bikes. “Donn?” Ha, small world. This is Eric Lang of Ride Adventures. If you follow this blog you may remember that this is the company that our friend Michael won the Patagonia motorcycle trip from and we joined him the previous year. You can read about that trip here: https://advdonnh.com/2019/01/january-2019-were-back/

Eric runs a Baja tour and the South to North part of the trip was cancelled so he was down collecting the motorcycles and trying to decide what’s next. His whole business was shut down indefinably. With nowhere really to go he sat and joined us for lunch. We traded stories of what we’ve seen, what’s open and closed. He offered that if we needed anything he had a truck, tools, spare parts and a bunch of extra motorcycles. Good to know…

La Paz

We were getting uneasy about the trip north. Could we get gas? What about the hotels? Do we still have reservations? Are ALL the restaurants closed in this part of Mexico? Some of our hotel reservations were at smaller hotels in small towns so I made arrangements for Kris’ wife Kim to call them. Kim was raised in Mexico and is fluent in Spanish so I was relieved when she called me back to say she contacted the hotels and they were expecting us.

La Paz was not empty but almost. We were booked in a modern hotel on the malecon (waterfront). We like this hotel because it is close and we can securely park the bikes in the basement garage.

As is usual, the first order of business is to look for a restaurant for a meal and something to quench the big thirst built up from the long day riding in the sun. Here, in the capital of Baja Sur the restaurants were open. Nice! We stopped at a rooftop place we’ve been to before with a beautiful view of the bay. I ordered a beer and … “no es possible senor!” Por que! In LaPaz the restaurants were open but they weren’t allowed to sell alcohol. This could be a big problem with this crew…. Now, I wasn’t part of what happened next, but Deby was. They literally found a back-alley tienda that would sell them beer for cash if they didn’t tell anyone. Seriously? We congregated on the beach to watch the sunset while we clandestinely consumed our beer shielding our drinking from the occasional passerby and the local police. I felt like I was in high school again. Here are a few pictures of us scofflaws.

On the beach, our hotel in the background.
A beautiful sunset
Not a bad way to spend the evening

Here is the flying view of the days ride:

Tuesday March 24, 2020

From the Mexico news media: At his morning news conference on March 24, President López Obrador announced that Mexico entered Phase 2 of the coronavirus pandemic, in effect until April 30. Gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited. Four deaths, 367 confirmed cases, and 826 suspected cases of COVID-19 have been reported. The first Mexican woman died from COVID-19 on March 24, raising the total to 5 reported deaths in the country. On the same day 405 total cases of COVID-19 were confirmed.

Clearly, the Mexican population was fully aware of the situation by this point and were taking action. The tourists were all gone except for this hodge-podge group of motorcycle stragglers who didn’t have the sense to turn around and follow the Canadians home when they had the chance.

Our plan for the day was a 304 mile ride north to Mulege. It would be another long day on the bikes. We weren’t sure if we should be in a hurry to get home or not and decided to just enjoy the beautiful weather and riding an take what came along. As usual the views of the Sea of Cortez are stunning along this route.

We stopped in Loreto for gas and took advantage of the lack of people to ride our motorcycle right onto the main square for some pictures.

We were going past the Playa Santispac on the way, the same beach we stopped at on the way down. Being a familiar place, we decided to see if the restaurant was open for lunch. We were glad it was…

It’s a fantastic place and I hope we can visit again, maybe with the camper?

Typical terrain

Our hotel for the night was the famous (really) Hotel Serenidad. Click on the link for the history. The restaurant was closed but we could order food for “take-out”. Funny, because there were tables just feet from the restaurant door so as a practical matter we just sat outside and placed our orders. It was a pleasant evening and we might have sat outside nevertheless.

Kris ordered the largest margarita of the trip.

Here is the daily fly-over video for the day.

Wednesday March 25, 2020

March 25 news: In Baja California, PROFECO closed two businesses in Tijuana for price-gouging. The same day it was reported that one man died from COVID-19 in San Luis Potosí, raising the total to 6 reported deaths in Mexico and 475 confirmed cases. Governor Miguel Barbosa Huerta (Morena) claimed that only the wealthy were at risk, since the poor are immune to COVID-19.

This would be our last day riding as a group, we just didn’t know it. We had another long day planned from Mulege to Gonzaga Bay, 321 miles.

The day started with promise with a beautiful sunrise over the hotel pool.

The next picture I took was at Alfonsins’s on Gonzaga Bay. Not that there wasn’t beautiful scenery along the way but more because we seemed to be getting cases of “get-there-itus.” An affliction that is known to occur towards the end of trips. We did get to ride the brand new highway Mex-5 the last 30 miles to Alfonsina’s. The first time Deby and I rode that route almost 10 years ago it was a gravel road so rough that it took us all day to traverse. Now we blasted through in a couple of hours. It didn’t seem right in a way but it also didn’t seem right how much I enjoyed the new pavement.

If anyone is interested here is the link to my first ever blog post when it was on ADVrider.com https://advrider.com/f/threads/deby-and-donn-do-baja.751501/

This was Deby riding the old road in 2011
Gonzaga Bay

Alfonsina’s hotel used to be a favorite of ours. The first time we stayed there was before the road from either direction was paved and there was no water or electricity. The whole place was off the grid with a small solar system to power one light bulb per room. Now… with the paved highway and a power line they are trying to call it a fancy eco-hotel and have jacked up the prices. When we arrived we were told they were only accepting cash. It would have been nice to have a heads-up because the nearest ATM was probably about 100 miles away. Oh, they prefer US dollars. We had two nights booked so we scrounged all our hidden dollars and managed to have enough for our rooms. When we got to the rooms we were doubly disappointed. In the last 10 years they had been somewhat upgraded but not much. There was still a single light bulb in the main room and one in the bathroom and NO outlets anywhere to recharge phones. I suppose that is the “eco” part of the hotel. I could go on, but the rooms and hotel were not what we expected and trust me, this was not a very demanding bunch. At least we had a nice sunset.

When I planned the trip I sort of kept the last few days flexible in case we ran into delays or problems. Gonzaga bay was still a very long ride to the border but that was an option. We originally planned on going to Mike’s Sky Rancho but decided to skip the rough dirt road on our loaded bikes. Besides, was it even open? They don’t have a phone or internet. We discussed staying at Gonzaga bay for two nights but for the cost and the accommodations a decision was made to stay one night and move on.

Deby and I had a dilemma. We weren’t in a hurry to get home and were considering a few more days in Baja hoping the pandemic north of the border would settle down, which of course it didn’t. In the end we decided Deby and I would spend a second night at Gonzaga Bay and the rest of the gang would ride north to San Felipe for the night and then take the toll road to Tecate to begin the trip north to Kris’ house.

As usual, here is the flying route.

Thursday March 26, 2020

March 26: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says Washingtonians should expect his stay-at-home order to be extended beyond the originally slated April 8 lift.

The ride to San Felipe is only about 100 miles so we had a leisurely start to our day before Gary, Garry, Greg, Kris and John packed up their bikes for the ride.

Being further north the mornings were cooler and they were back to wearing the warmer riding gear. I took a few pictures as the rode the dirt road back to the main highway.

It was an amazing two weeks riding with these guys. It’s a sign of true friendship and the nature of the group that we always got along and didn’t have any arguments. Of course we have been friends for years and been on many adventures together but never anything like this. Thanks mi amigos for coming along on this trip. I hope we can return together when things are normal.

Our motorcycles seemed kind of lonely parked by themselves outside the hotel. Almost like they were feeling left behind.

Donn’s 2018 Honda Africa Twin
Deby’s 2020 BMW F750GS

But it was nice to have some alone time… very alone since we were the only guests at the hotel.

And another stunning sunset to wrap up the day.

I’m going to stop here and then when I get a chance do another “epilogue” post. Spoiler alert…. we all made it home safe and so-far are healthy and doing well.

Thanks for following.

Donn and Deby