On Oct. 4 a group of 24 determined dirt bikers and their 20-person strong support crew embarked on what, for many of them, was the adventure of a lifetime. Over the course of eight grueling days they zigzagged across the Baja California peninsula in an attempt to ride from the U.S.-Mexican border all the way to Land’s End in Cabo San Lucas. Here’s a play by play of what happened on the third and fourth days of the trip.
El Rosario to Punta San Carlos
Total Rip Miles: 315
Riding a dirt bike the entire length of the Baja peninsula–nearly 1,500 miles–requires many things, and perseverance may be the most important. But as we pulled out of our camp at El Rosario, I was reminded of another word that sums up much of the Rip to Cabo experience: attrition. We had lost the dune buggy (one of two chase vehicles that can actually cover 90 percent of the terrain the bikes traverse) and it would not be the last participant to break down–mechanical or otherwise.
Leaving El Rosario we turned west towards the coast, venturing up a normally bone dry arroyo that appeared to have been flooded a short time before. The Baja had seen once-in-a-decade amounts of rain recently, making the desert as verdant as I’d ever witnessed it. Standing water lurked everywhere, as did pockets of soggy river sand the consistency of cement, which waited patiently for their next victim.
Unexpectedly, a relatively benign stretch of graded dirt road claimed the day’s first victim, Trigger Gumm, one of the most talented riders on the trip. The ex-world record holding distance jumper leaned back too far on a wheelie, relaxed, let go of the bars at 50 mph and watched in horror as his bike cartwheeled away. But like a cat, he walked away unscathed.
His bike was not so lucky. Chase mechanics spent hours replacing his bent tailpipe, rear fender, and other items that night. “That guy’s used up more than his nine lives,” cracked one stunned Fresh Fish who witnessed the incident. “A chupacabra jumped out and bit me,” joked Trig when asked to explain what happened. He sounded more embarrassed than shocked.
There’s an old saying in Baja that goes: “Bad roads bring good people.” The roads leading into and out of Punta San Carlos are tedious, kidney-rattling goat trails only real off-roaders can love. They terminate at a rugged, windswept outpost housing every watersports toy imaginable. San Carlos is something of a windsurfing mecca, and when our group arrived the place was bustling with visiting sailboarders soaking up every ounce of its notorious afternoon breezes.
The owner, an American expat from Orange County, California, named Kevin, happily tended bar in his tiny cantina, serving up the local concoction–the Baja Fog–to his thirsty patrons. After the short day’s ride, many of the dusty bikers enjoyed the long, hazy afternoon with the lingering feeling that the toughest part of the ride was still to come.
Beach cruising, Baja style; photo courtesy K. Ward
Punta San Carlos to Bahia de Los Angeles
Total Rip Miles: 530
The Baja does not discriminate–it is an equal opportunity foil. There are few truths in Baja that resonate more deeply. A ride as intrepid and audacious as the Rip is full of trials and tribulations, frustrations, and failures. The goal is to overcome the setbacks, rise above. Take the tales of nine-time Rip vet Mark Moss and “Fresh Fish” Allen Kandelman as examples.
First, Mark Moss’ story:
Moss is an original member of the group of riders who created the Rip rides. He’s completed the ride every year for nearly a decade, top to bottom, start to finish. He knows what it takes to finish the Rip as well as anyone, and yet, his 2012 trip was nearly ruined by a chunk of sea weed.
The kelp got wrapped around his rear tire and ripped off a key part of his drivetrain. It was a small, easily replaceable, but crucial part. More critically, it needed a weld and there were no welders on the trip. Not only that, because the part was attached to his rear suspension, it required a special aluminum weld. It’s no secret that problems on the Rip tend to expand exponentially.
Luckily for Moss, there happened to be a welder in El Rosario, his bike was fixed, and he jumped back on the ride after missing only half a day.
Now, Kandelman’s thorny story:
Despite his Fresh Fish status, Kandelman was merely trying to do the right thing and yet was still punished. He was navigating a silty, two-track trail trying his best to find good visibility and stay out of the dust coming from the rider immediately in front of him.
Despite his best efforts, he washed out in a silty rut and was unceremoniously dumped into a Cholla cactus plant. The “jumping Cholla,” as it is often called in Baja, consists of a tangled growth of spiny segments that are easily separated from the host bush, hence its nickname.
Even the slighted brush against one of these devilish cacti can end up in a painful pod of needles imbedded in your flesh. More insidious is your natural instinct to grab and remove the thorns from your body, obviously not a good idea. Now covered in jumping Cholla, it was up to some of Kandelman’s riding brothers to take out their pliers and quickly remove the spiney pods.
Once he was Cholla-free, he carried on eastward toward the Sea of Cortez, on to Bahia de Los Angeles and its offshore islands, following the dipping sun and a pastel-tinted sunset.
A human pin cushion courtesy of a jumping Cholla plant; photo courtesy K. Ward