|The Malecon in LaPaz|
On a rainy Sunday in January of 1997, I rode out of Bakersfield to meet up with a group in San Ysidro. Our 12-day excursion riding the Baja was billed as a “Women’s Tour with a Few Good Men.” Never before had I taken off in a downpour, but I had no choice. Straight down I-5, through Los Angeles, the rain did not let up. Since motorcycles are allowed in the freeway diamond lane, I rode there, feeling safer, exposed to only one lane of traffic on my right.
Heavy rain flooded my windscreen. I stood on Big Red’s floor boards for miles so I could see over it and at the same time let the wind blow the stream off my face shield. Though I wore rain gear, water seeped in and everything was damp. My boots and feet were soaked from passing vehicles causing pools of water to fantail over the floorboards. I arrived at San Ysidro wet to the bone but ready for my new adventure.
At our orientation meeting, the organizers provided us with maps, breakfast vouchers, and information about riding in Mexico and how our “friends tour” would work. We’d arrive at each day’s destination before dark to avoid hazards like potholes and wild animals, and we’d chain our bikes together at night in sets of three for security.
I roomed with Tammy, a woman from Arizona who rode a white Harley Davidson “dresser.” Neither of us had been on a tour like this before. The next morning, we discovered leaving our boots on the heater overnight didn’t dry them out. Undaunted, we plunged our feet into plastic bags then put on our boots and headed out to face a drizzle that would turn into two more days of wet riding.
|Crossing at Tijuana|
Before this trip, I had only been to Tijuana. Now I would see the real country. In those first miles, the juxtaposition of Mexico’s natural beauty and the poverty -- the mountains of litter and tiny, dilapidated shacks -- overwhelmed me with sadness. Yet, there was hope. I saw women bustling about, sweeping their dirt yards and hanging their laundry and men at work on the roadsides.
Our little band of riders with one of the men driving the chase vehicle made our way down to the tip and back. On winding roads, never too far from an ocean view, we ticked off the towns: San QuintÍn, Rosarita, Guerrero Negro, Mulegé, La Paz, Cabo San Lucas.
|Cabo San Lucas|
The Baja trip is where I grew as a rider. Previously squeamish about riding on gravel or dirt, I got over it after the first few times we fueled up at the Pemex stations. From the road, we’d cross a large expanse of gravel to get to the pumps. With a dozen bikes in our entourage, we often had to wait on the gravel, moving up to the cement platforms as other bikes finished fueling. Then we’d move forward onto gravel to wait while the others fueled their bikes.
I learned a lot about safety in group riding. Using a CB radio, the last rider warned the rest about cars attempting to overtake us. When we were ready to pass vehicles on a two-lane road, the leaders stayed in the left lane to signal a clear roadway to the riders who were behind.
One new friend schooled me on my first complete Spanish sentence: “Un Pacifico, por favor, con limón!” Sampling tortilla soup up and down the peninsula, I discovered the large variety of recipes.
And, I learned that I took the safety and freedoms I felt at home for granted. Several times we rode by young men, who looked more like the 14-year-olds I taught, wearing military style clothing and standing by with big guns in their hands or strapped over their shoulders.
On our last leg, a number of miles from the border crossing at Tecate, we came to a roadblock. These militaristic boys ordered us to stop. A humorless, ramrod-stiff woman patted me down and rifled through Big Red’s trunk and saddlebags. “No drugs?”
I tried to lighten the moment with “Oh, no. No drugs. I’m a teacher.” She never cracked a smile or gave any indication that she understood. And I realized I just needed to be quiet and try to stay out of trouble.
Too soon, having landed in the U.S. at Tecate, we all pulled over. From there, everyone would split off in many directions. New friends, bound together by our adventure and our love for motorcycling, we hugged, saddled up, and rode off for home.
~ xoA ~
All photos from the Internet