Southbound & Down in San Felipe

All great adventures begin with something going wrong. A few things in this case, but I’ll tell you more about that in a moment.

Editor Surj has mentioned Motobird Adventures and the careful reader may have noticed an ad or two in these pages. But just in case, Motobird Adventures is a motorcycle tour company for women, run by yours truly. This April, I led a group of eager, excited women to Baja California.

These women were new to touring: none had crossed borders on their motorcycles and a few had never even done a 200-mile day on a bike.

Day one found us heading south toward San Felipe, a fishing town on the Sea of Cortez favored over larger tourist cities like Ensenada or Rosarito, for its smaller crowds and—thanks to its location on the east coast of the Baja peninsula—warmer climate and cleaner, more welcoming beaches.

For a while, San Felipe was a haven for fugitives and those without proper US Visas, and in the past few years has become a destination for the chopper crowd. Up until the mid-2000s it was the last town before the pavement ended and truly roughing it began.

We weren’t headed there for a typical large group ride or chopper festival, mostly because none of us had beards. No, we were on our way to the San Felipe 250, to see the motorcyclists taking off from the malecón (Español for a promenade along the waterfront) in the opener of 2018 SCORE World Desert Championship series.

With over 250 entries from nine countries, competitors had 319 miles to cover, which is 69 miles more than 250 and the most miles in the history of this race. The fastest vehicles were expected to complete the brutal course in just over five hours.

We were there for the two-wheelers, but there were quite a variety of vehicles vying to place in 51 different classes: 43 Pro and eight Sportsman. You’ve got your motorcycles, quads, cars, trucks, UTVs, and don’t forget buggies. Some racers compete by themselves and others in teams.

The town was packed, the was energy high, and obviously all accommodations were booked months in advance. Our ride down was taking a little longer than planned and I had to get to media registration before they closed, plus make sure our “reservations” were still there. I may have briefly abandoned my group at a gas station outside of town in hopes of handling business.

With my media badge proudly around my neck I made my way toward our “reserved” campsite. A young security guard posted at the entrance informed me there was no space and that Gabriel, who’d sworn up and down he’d hold our spot, wasn’t going to be back for a while.

I had work to do finding us a place to stay in this overflowing town. I powered my loaded BMW through the soft sandy road and made it a block to pavement before it stalled. I hopped off and tried to push the bike to the side of the road, but it wouldn’t budge.

I’ve been riding many years and have somehow never ridden over a nail, but got my first one the day before this tour’s departure date. Luckily, I had planned to trailer the bike to the border—yes you can tow-shame me all you’d like—and stopped at a local shop for a new tube and tire and then headed South.

Two hundred miles later, the end cap on my swingarm came loose and wedged itself between my swingarm and sprocket, bending the chain tensioning bolt, destroying the endcap and definitely messing up my swingarm. Someone (not me) forgot to tighten everything up.

Luckily, there were millions of dollars of tools and parts within throwing distance of where I stood, stranded and cursing in the middle of the road. It didn’t take long before Robert Sims, Brian Irick, Robbie DeCorse and Jeff Catlin, a former pit crew, walked by and started borrowing some of said tools from Potts Racing’s trophy truck. I contacted the riders on my tour and told them to look for the yard sale a few blocks down from the malecón. The pit crew bandaged my bike together well enough to hold up the rest of the tour (700 miles) and I found what had to have been the last available palapa in San Felipe, even closer to the action than our original reservation.

After the chaos transformed into perfect adventure travel solutions, the tour group made its way to the insanely packed malecón for tacos and margaritas. As we worked our way down the closed-off streets there were mariachi bands every twenty feet, almost battling one another, everyone was dancing, and there was more than enough booze, snacks and t-shirts to keep the whole town happy for at least a week.

If there’s one thing you should do right now, it’s go read about Liz Karcz. I’ll give you the long and short of it: Liz is a trauma, surgical, open heart, and burn ICU nurse in New Mexico. She took up riding four years ago, at age 29, and just competed in the San Felipe 250 Ironman class, which is to say she rode the whole thing herself. She placed 118 out of 142 total, and in her Pro Moto Ironman class, she placed 6th out of 12.

Liz is planning to compete in the Ironman class for all four of the SCORE International races, and she’ll be the first woman to do so. I feel the need to re-emphasize this Ironman part—she will be riding all of it solo.

The Motobird Adventures tour group instantly became groupies and discussions have started surrounding getting back down to Baja and being her loudest cheerleaders.

Waking up before sunrise to stand on the stone embankment at the edge of the calm sea of Cortez, while riders lined up and pit crews zipped around, kindled a slow burn buildup of tension and excitement. Watching the riders take off one by one as the sun and temperatures slowly rose left you wondering who would finish and what would they be met with in those dry lake beds, twisty rock-strewn canyons, dirt trails, sandy roads, and multiple washes. I didn’t even consider who might come out on top, because if you are taking this challenge on, you’re already there.

My luggage rack lost a bolt on one of the rougher roads on our way back north, causing the bottom bracket to snap about 40 miles south of the border, but the swingarm fix held. Somehow none of our novice off-roaders dropped their bikes as we powered through the dirt, rocks, sand and water crossings in our own version of the Baja 250. Even with the challenges and deviations from plans, everyone had a blast in Baja.

This story originally appeared in our June 2018 issue.

Join the Independent-Moto-Journalism-Revolution!

Sign up for the CityBike Dispatch and we’ll tell you about cool stuff.

We promise not to spam you!