Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mike's Sky Rancho #1

Tuesday, January 8

Wow. What a day.

I left the McCormacks in La Mesa (San Diego) and crossed the border in Tecate. It was incredibly easy; there wasn’t even a line. I did, however, get my first check by Mexican authorities so I’m 1 for 1. I then paid my immigration fee and headed off for Ensenada via Mex 3.

Mex (Highway) 3 is a two-lane highway that connects Tecate and Ensenada, snaking through high ridges and wide, open valleys. One of those valleys is the Valle de Guadelupe – Baja’s Napa Valley. Vineyards spread throughout the valley and climb up nearby hillsides. I didn’t stop into any wineries, as I wanted to get to Mike’s Sky Rancho in plenty of time before it got dark. So I took this picture and continued on.

When I got into Ensenada, I knew instantly I was in a tourist city. Huge road signs in English selling waterfront condos and other billboards offering Americans a taste of home. I got into Ensenada and looking at my GPS saw there were two Mex 1s, so I opted for the “road less traveled” and soon after got a bit “misplaced.” After riding around a bit – but getting gas and exchanging dollars for pesos – I found my way to Mex 3 again, as it lazily wound its way out of Ensenada towards San Filepe.

This road really got me into the rural stretches of Baja, where I would go for many miles without seeing another vehicle or human being. On the long, straight stretches of good highway I’d open it up a bit, making sure the speedometer worked at 100. Speaking of the highway condition, apart from a few spots that got beaten up from the recent rains, the paved roads are in good shape particularly for a motorcycle: the grooves made by cars can be rough but it’s smooth in the middle!

I snuck up on the turn off for Mike’s Sky Rancho before I realized I had gotten that far. I saw the sign on the side of the road and headed down a long, straight dirt road.

I remember hearing from many people to deflate your tires way down when on dirt, so I got out my tire kit and broke it in by taking the front down to 22psi and the rear to 28psi. That’s a little bit more than suggested but I am running pretty heavy so I kept a few more psi in for good measure. So I headed on down the road in 1st gear, letting the bike slide around a bit in the soft sand. I had been warned that this big, heavy bike would do that, so I did my best to keep it on two wheels. The first few miles of the road was pretty level and had just a few large ponds standing in the middle of the road. I was able to navigate around them fine and thought to myself, “hey, this isn’t so bad.”

That’s when everything changed (as it tends to do). The road began to wind up into the hills and the road became soggy, rocky, completely washed out, covered in mud, blanketed with water, steep, filled with huge ruts, and at times all the above. It would have been really tough with a motocross bike but instead I was on a 700 pound dual sport bike. Numerous times I slid into the ruts and the bike bucked underneath me, and I came VERY close to stacking it more times than I can remember. Then, as I was heading up a steep hill on what looked like solid dirt, the bike just instantly came out from underneath me. It went down low side (thankfully) and as you can see from the picture I had to unload it completely to spin it so it would be facing uphill so I could lift it up. It really wasn’t that hard to get up but a bear to get out of that muddy slope. I am learning that the 1200GS does not have a very tight 1st gear: to go from stopped to clutch release is too long. Needless to say I could smell my clutch a few times.

I finally got it up and rode to a level spot so I could kickstand it and go back to the gear and reload it. To keep the kickstand from burying in the sand/mud I found a flat piece of metal and set it on that (a smashed Tecate can works well too). So after loading the bike back up I headed off. But there was a glitch: the “brake failure” light wouldn’t go off and it was tough to brake. Then I looked down and saw that my foot brake pedal was twisted up and away from the bike. Apparently when I dumped it I hit a rock and/or when spinning the bike the brake got caught on a rock and twisted up. Either way, my brake pedal is tweaked and the whole braking system is out of whack. That’s technical terminology for my integrated and salvo assisted braking system is not working properly. I can ride it but the breaks don’t work nearly as well. And obviously I need to remedy that before continuing on.

I finally made it to Mike’s and am the only visitor here right now. It’s strange and lonely feeling, being here in this high desert oasis by myself. There’s the staff of course, but they keep busy and to themselves, so my time is pretty much on my own. It is nice in a way. And I miss the connectedness of being around other human beings.

So tomorrow I’m going to take the day to let the road dry up a bit more and try to bend my brake pedal back to where it needs to be. I can see that there is a metal strip that gets engaged when the brake pedal is in its rest position, and opens when the foot brake is applied. I am assuming this is why things are all messed up, so if I can bend it back to where it needs to be, I might be golden. If not, the only thing I can think of is getting it back to a BMW dealer/mechanic and having them fix it.

What this also does is make me realize that the rains that hammered the West Coast a few days ago also hit hard down here and made a mess of dirt roads (and some sections of paved roads). So it is that my original plan to ride from Puerticitos to Coco’s Corner is probably better scratched. And that I should stay on paved roads or at the most, graded dirt roads. So I’m re-evaluating my route somewhat and certainly if I need to go back to the States to fix the bike, that changes things a bit. Had I come down to Mike’s a few weeks ago, I’m sure it would have been a good workout but not as harsh as it was. And I have to think that long stretches of dirt roads elsewhere will have similar challenges.

Thus is the nature of adventure. Things unlooked for, need for re-evaluation and flexibility, and self-sufficiency when it’s called for.

Today was exhausting now that I reflect back on it. Tomorrow is a rest day, road dry-out day, bike fix day. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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