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Mexico Motorcycles Ride South Travel

Ride South: Baja California, Part 2

After coffee with Coco, we zipped up our jackets and got on the bikes to ride… the road. The Road We Were Warned About.

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The road was certainly rough. Parts were sandy and gravely, but by far the greatest annoyance and danger was large rocks and rocky sections that were very bumpy.

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We made it over fine, and it wasn’t a very easy track, but it certainly wasn’t too hard either. I’d say it’s a stretch to say it was ‘the worst road’ — we’d seen far worse in Alaska in roadworks, and it’s not a jeep trail by any means.

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Having crossed the ridge of mountains separating the Sea of Cortez from inland Baja, we started encountering more plant life again. Cacti, Boojum trees and shrubs popped up with increasing frequency and before we knew it we were muttering ‘whoa’ into our headsets as a cactus forest revealed itself after a turn.

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We were in for a long day. We really had to make miles now, to compensate for our playing in the dirt which eats time in exchange for adrenaline and sheer joy. And miles we made: we actually left Baja del Norte, and saw a whole host of landscapes.

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The road was straight for long stretches but there were some fun turns, too. On top of a particular windy hill we took some awesome shots of the landscape. I was almost blown over by the wind.

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Hello, Baja California Sur!

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So many beautiful landscapes, and so many cacti gave way for some sheer vast emptiness for a brief moment.

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Roosting vultures only accentuated the desolate area.

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Entering Baja California Sur at Guerrero Negro, the temperature went way up. Finally we got the hot desert we’d been expecting.

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We also reveled in the many plentiful open and functional Pemex stations everywhere. The Mex-1 is clearly one of the main (if not the main) road through Baja, and it shows.

Our goal that day was San Ignacio, a historical mountain town but we made it even further, into Santa Rosaliá.

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We stopped to take photos of the volcano that popped up on the Horizon…

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And proceeded to find it.

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The final drive from San Ignacio to Santa Rosaliá is insanely beautiful. It goes by the huge Volans de les Tres Virgenes and subsequent twisty, mountain roads, dipping down to the coast. Much appreciated after the straight roads inland, and gorgeous around the golden hour.

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We rolled into Santa Rosaliá tired and intensely satisfied after 260+ miles on the odometer for the day, about 20 of which were rocky dirt.

Fun fact: we’d started the day essentially on the coast of the Sea of Cortez, had ridden all the way to the Pacific Coast, went over 150 miles South and then went all the way back to the coast of the Sea of Cortez. What a day.

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Great hotel, too!

A quick lunch and maintenance in the morning. Chain lubing for Stuart, mostly, as the dirt roads get the chain nice and dirty — no such issue on the BMW shaft drive. I practiced my packing, which is getting better (slightly) by the day. Washboarded and rutty dirt roads rocked my fuel cans so loose they were on my seat, so I was now tying them down much more directly.

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It wasn’t quite as necessary today.

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The road from Santa Rosaliá to Loreto was an increidble road, easily in my favorite rides of all time. The beautiful coastal road reveals cactus forests, deciduous patches of trees and incredible views of rocky coastlines and beaches with vivid blue waters.

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Perfect pavement made it highly enjoyable.

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We stopped a few times to shoot photos.

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This always tends to add an hour or more to our estimated travel time: stopping to take photos, riding, stopping… more photos, more riding. It’s worth it, though.

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The road eventually turned inland, snaking through an interesting rough mountain landscape of low, eroded peaks covered in vegetation rising up from an epic prehistoric looking forest. Baja had turned lush.

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Astonishing.

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Despite being over 150 miles away, we were in Loreto before we knew it.

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Loreto is a nice, friendly beach town, but we weren’t sticking around. The first few days of December, the nearby mountain town of San Javier has an immense festival where thousands of local ranchers go to celebrate the local patron saint and dance, sing and get massively drunk.

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The road to San Javier was only fairly recently paved, but was incredibly beautiful.

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We stopped just kilometers in for this view.

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It only got better from there, with beautifully windy roads leading into a dense canyon-like landscape.

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A small portion of it was still dirt, but this was quickly washed off the bikes in the many slippery water crossings. At many places in Baja we’d seen the sign for dips in the road possibly being waterlogged, but here they actually were. Some were slippery enough to make the bike slide around quite a bit, but we kept them upright and (more or less) dry.

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Arriving in San Javier, we immediately stood out like a sore thumb. As the only non-Mexicans there, the locals looked at us with a combination of awe, confusion and interest. I immediately built a fan base:

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These boys (and one cool girl!) were all interested in the bike, us, our clothes, our story… and were incredibly polite and patient through all of it. I only speak a bit of Spanish, but the pack leader (Guillermo, red shirt) was extremely patient with me and broke down his questions in words he knew I understood.

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After we set up our tent — everybody camps at the town, which is essentially just an old Mission — he offered me a tour around the entire fiesta and I couldn’t turn it down.

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Fantastic local music, arts, delicious food and lots of good times were had. I learned a lot speaking with the kids (… the mountains were so eroded due to their soft, pumice like volcanic rock!) and talking to the locals, and we got great photos.

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We turned in somewhat early but the party went deep into the early hours. As I was shivering in my sleeping bag in the cold mountain night at 3 AM the music was still going strong, even after the generator was turned off.

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It was time to say goodbye in the morning, and I gave the boys some stickers. They promptly surprised me by returning with a silver piece of jewelry their family had made, insisting I have it.

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Incredible people. Really, it was such an experience to see how these people live. A profound sense of frontier-like mentality and living permeates their culture, and they still proudly live on the land here. Many rode up on their horses, as is tradition.

On the way out the air was chilly, and I got myself pretty wet in some of the water crossings.

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Beautiful views of the valley and Loreto ahead on the way out.

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Quick lunch in Loreto (beef head — Cabezas — tacos). Fantastic food.

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After Loreto, we rode out through some of the few mountain curves and got on some of the perfectly straight, rather boring roads out to Cuidad Insurgentes and Cuidad Constitucion to the South Cape of Baja Sur, where we’d stop at La Paz to catch a ferry to the mainland of Mexico.

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And that’s where I’ll leave this report – as I am writing this, the ferry is rocking gently on the waves and we are well on the way to Mazatlan. Baja treated us incredibly well, and we’re sad to leave with so much yet to see. La Paz (and the incredible hotel Yneka) was a great way to say goodbye.

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I spent an extra day exploring La Paz, and Stuart spent his day riding around the South Cape (famously known for Cabo San Lucas and other well-visited tourist towns). Mexico has far more to show us.

We’ll update you when we get to Mexico City. For now: Adios!

Categories
Mexico Motorcycles Photography Ride South Travel

Ride South: Baja California, Part 1

It was a warm San Diego morning next morning, and after some of the previously mentioned maintenance work we headed to the border crossing at Tecate.

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The ride there is a beautiful, twisty road, opening up to views of green pastures and rolling hills.

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Lovely.The border came up quickly.

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I stayed with the bikes while Stuart and his friend Tristan did their paperwork. At the border, you can typically just roll through (no checks of documents done whatsoever!) but in our case, we wanted the tourist card. The Mexican tourist card, or ‘FMM’ is required for longer stays in Mexico and any trip to the mainland. It costs about $20 (US).

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We were losing light fast, and after all the border paperwork we headed down the Mex-2 to find our turnoff to the first dirt trail we could find. Out of light, we opted to camp at a campground instead of riding the dirt South more.

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I know deserts can be cold, but this night surprised us. The wind was already whipping us and as the sun dropped and we ate some roadside tacos and drank Tecate tall boys (of course) the temperature dropped from the low 50s to about 45, and kept dropping.

We approaching freezing temperatures that night. It was really something. With no real fire pits we just turned in for the night and slept.

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The next morning we finally got up to do what most motorcyclists come to Baja for: trails and off-road fun. Our campground was mere miles from the turnoff to the nice and fairly easy Compadres trail, which connects the roadside town of El Hongo to Ojos Negros, on the Mex-3. It’s a perfect way to connect from Tecate to Ojos Negros and get further South towards the Mex-5 on the coast of the Sea of Cortez.

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The Compadres Trail is an immediate showcase of the diversity of biomes in Baja California. Many think (– myself included) of a place full of stereotypical cacti*, plain desert and many rocks.

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In reality, the variety of landscapes is astounding. As we crossed the 100-or so kilometers of the trail we saw high desert, steppe-like plains, deciduous and pine forest and many zones in between. It was beautiful.

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* (in Baja, this would be the Cardon cactus. They get huge, as they are the tallest cactus species in the world! I hugged one.)

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And an incredibly fun ride, too! Some somewhat gnarly parts involved sandy washes, roots and rocks but nothing incredibly challenging. A perfect introduction to Baja dirt riding.

We came upon an entirely burnt down area, too, which made for otherworldly landscapes.

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Ojos Negros was reached and we had some (incredibly great — probably my best ever) roadside al pastor tacos before slabbing it on the highway to Valle de Trinidad. Light was essentially gone by the time we rolled in into a dusty road to the hotel where we happily charged our devices and showered some dust off.

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Still hungry for more dirt, the next day we set off to head to the motorcyclist staple spot in the nearby mountains known as Mike’s Sky Ranch.

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The road to Mike’s famous rancho is about 31 kilometers of pure unadulterated dirt fun (unless it’s wet, in which case it can be a bit of a nightmare).

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While may rip on it with much lighter bikes at higher speeds, we still ripped it up pretty good.

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Stuart got off his bike to take a photo and his bike promptly took a nap in the sand. Whoops.

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Deep ruts of sand, rocky turnouts, downhills, and even a little creek crossing at the end. We were pulsing with adrenaline. It was awesome, even on our huge, heavy loaded bikes. Mike’s was sadly completely empty save for us.

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We put some stickers with its new (and plentiful) companions…and ate some lunch and had a beer before heading back the same way, now even faster.

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From the highway, we made it to San Felipe before we lost all the light, which is a cool if somewhat touristy beach town with a beautiful lighthouse.

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After stopping I broke out some tools to ensure all bolts were still properly torqued after all the bumpy dirt roads. I’d lost one bolt in my bash plate already!

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San Felipe is on the Mex-5, a road that isn’t yet fully paved. It runs by the coast of the Sea of Cortez and eventually connects with the Mex-1, and was a significant leg of the old Baja 1000 off-road race track.

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We had some great fish tacos (Baja is made of great, fresh fish tacos) and toured town taking photos. It seemed really apocalyptic with boats on dry land and many derelict buildings.

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The next day we rode down the Mex-5, treated by incredible views of the Sea of Cortez from the volcanic landscape.

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Incredible landscapes.

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It’s unreal how some parts of this coast harbor absolutely no life, just sharded rock and pumice from long-dead volcanoes. Some beach spots (Puertecitos, for instance) still have hot springs that you can dip into at low tide, emanating that classic sulfuric smell.

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Incredible turn after turn on this freshly (and excellently) paved road. We stopped at the oft-visited Alfonsina’s at Gonzaga Bay. Gonzaga Bay seems to be a quirky community, complete with its own security guard, runway and airplane.

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We met a few other travelers, including a Canadian couple driving this beautiful 1953 car up and down from Canada to Baja and back.

Great fish tacos here, too (no surprise there).

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The Pemex gas station (Pemex is the state-run and only gas station company in Mexico) at Gonzaga Bay was completely out of gas, and we decided to just push our luck and head down the road.

We’d heard some horror stories of the unpaved section of this road connecting with the Mex-1. Some people at Alfonsina’s called it bad — so bad, in fact, one man told a story of a girl traveling North from Argentina who supposedly called it the worst road she’d ridden, ever. We did find the spot the road ran out, and gave way to dirt:

Mexico’s working very hard on it, it seems; I’d be surprised if it isn’t all paved by next year. It was a pleasure riding some of it on dirt.

We made it to the turnoff for the connector to the Mex-1, and right there it was:

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Coco’s Corner. A famous stop of the Baja 1000 and of many trough-travelers. Coco has lived here for 26 years and is an incredibly friendly, generous man. We lost most of our light and really loved the desert scenery… and started debating if we should make it over the worst part of the road.

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Coco chimed in and said we could stay in one of his trailers for free. Incredibly cool. Thanks, Coco.

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It gave us a chance to shoot desert sunset…

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… and the crisp, clear desert night.

And we even recorded some time-lapses. Coco seemed to really enjoy the company so we watched a movie with him — the hilarious 90s erotic thriller ‘Fear’. We ate some ramen he offered and turned in early.

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(Coco also collects underwear and other garments. Yup)

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At the crack of dawn Coco invited us inside to drink some coffee. We paid him some cash for the beers, water and hospitality to reward his generosity and chatted a while. He offered another movie but we had to be on our way… the rest of Baja awaited!

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Until next time, where we go over the pass and explore Baja California Sur.

Categories
Motorcycles Photography Ride South Travel

Ride South: The Beginning

We’ve finally set off on our journey South. After riding North to the Arctic last year, we’d been talking at lengths about riding South. And so it began. In late November, we packed up the bikes and rode out.

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Day 1, we were joined by our friends Jason, Michael, Tristan, Jake, and Alex, as well as my girlfriend who would accompany us to our first campground in Big Sur. After day 1, my girlfriend would come down to Santa Barbara / Los Angeles and bus back while we continued on to Baja, Mexico.

We all gathered at Four Barrel coffee. Stu and I looked like serious spacemen with our new Rev’It suits, pristinely clean and attention-grabbing bright white/grey color scheme. They’d soon lose their pristine shine, fortunately.

A diverse ride out, much like our ride out last year: a Harley-Davidson, a Triumph, a V-Strom, a KLR 650 and Stu and I’s bikes completed the set. Jake and my girlfriend rode pillion.

I discovered pretty early that my kickstand is too long with the bike is all loaded up, letting me not kick it down when the bike is on an incline a certain way. It’s… still that way as of my writing this in La Paz, Mexico. I’ll see if I can find a welder on mainland Mexico. Stuart’s is a bit too short. We also forgot a few things but all in all, our planned departure time was only exceeded by about an hour or so.

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Wasting no time, we rode 280 to the Pacific Coast Highway, following beautiful curves to some lunch in Santa Cruz. We stopped at Burger, a place off the highway where you can get a burger sandwiched between two grilled cheeses. Yup.

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The bikes were holding up great. Load-wise, I think we were a bit lighter than last year, and I had no problem riding with my girlfriend on the back.

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After an absolutely superb ride on the twisties of the highway, we stopped near the Bixby Bridge for some photos around sunset.

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This is a great place to view a superb section of the Big Sur coastline.

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It was getting dark quick — unlike last year, winter means shorter riding hours, and so we found a nearby campground where we drank, grilled and exchanged stories at our campfire huddled between towering redwoods.

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We had a brief ride to the Esalen Institute the next day (to drop off Jake, who was hitching a ride with us to there) and said our goodbyes to our riding partners. We were on our own now.

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We had an absolutely perfect ride down the coast that day. Some of the best riding in California is the Big Sur stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway (the ‘1’) when traffic is mild, and traffic was surprisingly mild for most of it.

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Hitting Morro Bay, we pushed on until twilight when we pulled over to take off our sun-visors and sunglasses and find a route to Stu’s family in Santa Barbara.

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We took the mountain pass there and arrived well into the night. It was a bit dicey on the curvy road and it’d been a long day riding, so we happily ate dinner and drank a few beers and slept in the next day.

Santa Barbara was a major stop for us — not just to spend Thanksgiving, but also to test our setup so far and fix some minor issues.

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Stuart spent some time tearing down his bike and I mostly tweaked the loading setup, attempted to mount new locks to my side cases (unsuccessfully, I might add) and did other minor modifications.

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(also, who knew there’s some great Nepalese food to be found there?)

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Lovely town to be ‘stuck in’.

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It also helped us plan the road ahead. I rode my girlfriend to LA and back — a nice test of the bike unloaded — and we left shortly after Thanksgiving.

We spent Thanksgiving with Stuart’s lovely sister Lena, basking in our last bit of California sun.

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And we were off for San Diego! Had to stop for lunch at, where else:

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A brief stop in San Diego and we caught up somewhat unexpectedly with Tristan, who’d previously accompanied us on the first day. He would ride through some of Baja with us.

I indulged in the local speciality, the California burrito (a burrito with french fries inside). Crazy American food! We’d miss it. Or would we?

The next morning, we spent some time adding some to the thumper bikes and mounting some new hand guards on my HP2 Enduro from a local Powersports store we headed to the border at Tecate… to México!

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Categories
Gear Ride South

Our Gear

A hot topic in the world of adventure travel is often the gear people use on the road. We’ve had many requests to put up a detailed breakdown of ours, so here you go!

We’ll update this page to reflect our impressions of the gear, whether positive or negative.

Motorcycles

Kawasaki KLR650 and BMW HP2 Enduro. More info here.

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The KLR650 uses a set of customized Pelican cases and a custom top box for loading, along with various tie-down straps and a SeaLine Baja dry bag.

It’s also outfitted with a set of Happy Trails crash bars and a Happy Trails skid plate.

The HP2 Enduro has a set of Holan Nomada Pro panniers and a mixture of ROK straps and tie-down straps for packing, as well as also using a SeaLine Baja dry bag.

Riding gear

We’re proudly outfitted by Rev’It! Both Stuart and Sebastiaan ride in full Rev’It Dominator GTX jackets, pants and gloves.

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Decorated with our one and only adventure patch!

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The Rev’It Dominator GTX uses advanced Gore-Tex and superfabrics to make one very safe riding suit. It features complete armor, is watertight but also allows for venting on hot, dry days.

Since we both love to hike and pack light, we’re rocking stiff, thick work/hiking boots with plenty of ankle protection as opposed to riding boots.

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We use SENA SMH-20 headsets in our helmets to communicate and listen to music… and podcasts.

   

Photo gear

Camera bodies: Leica M (typ 240), Sony A7RII, Sony A7S

Lenses: Leica 75mm f/1.4, Leica 35mm f/1.4, Zeiss 21mm f/2.8, Zeiss 25mm f/2.8, Voigtländer 12mm f/5.6, Konica Minolta (Leica) 40mm f/2.0, Sony 16-35mm f/4.0, Sony 70-200mm f/4.0.

(We’ll likely send a few lenses back – we had a few redundancies we weren’t aware of)

Video: GoPro cameras; two GoPro Hero 3+ Blacks with a variety of mounts and extra batteries. We use Brunton battery backpacks to record all day, using the ‘looping recording’ feature to capture any cool jumps, tricks, and bad mistakes alike.

Induro CT-214 tripod with a RRS ball head and a set of plates for all cameras.

Accessories: RRS Grip for Sony A7S
Leica EVF for Leica M (typ 240)
 
 

Camping gear

Tent: NEMO Losi 3P (previously used in the Ride North)
Hammock: ENO Double Nest w/ Kammok mosquito net
Travel pillow: NEMO Fillo

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Stove: MSR Whisperlite mixed-fuel stove (excellent stove that takes many fuels)
Water filter: Katadyn Water Filter
 
 

Tools

We have a complete toolkit which we’ll detail at some point.

 
 

Paperwork

Blank paper and pens
Passports
International Driver’s License (this can be bought at AAA)
Copies of all cards and documents
Document pouch (waterproof)

 
 

Misc. gear:

Maps: AAA Map (Baja California), National Geographic Adventure Maps
Multi-tool: Victorinox Swiss Army knife, Leatherman
Portable battery and compressor
Rotopax 2-gallon spare gas can (two)
and some actual, honest-to-god paper books