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Sometimes You Have to Say

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Sometimes you just have to say “I’m in.” It’s not an option.

Steven D.

As an LA kid raised on dirt bikes my favorite film was On Any Sunday. I wanted to be Steve McQueen and race the Baja 1000. That never happened and at 60 those prospects were forgotten and buried. Then came the call. “Dad, we’re going to Baja over Christmas and you and Mom are invited. Are you in?” I put my hand over the phone and asked Joelle, my wife of 39 years, “What do you think- three weeks in Baja-off road - no showers - deserted beaches and desert?” She didn’t hesitate nor did I. “We’re in”. Lucky man I am!

Uh Oh! Wait a second. How are we going to get away for three weeks? Who is going to take care of Kuna? How can I possibly get the van ready for that kind of trip?

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Needless to say, we worked it out. It wasn’t an option. Kuna, the 10 year old black lab, was easy when we discovered that everyone was bringing their dogs, including Scout who is 14, mostly deaf and blind, and a miniature poodle with a pink house. The business would just have to wait and the van; well, as you probably have guessed, was a different story.

So, with that not so brief intro here’s what went down. I cashed in all the favors, bugged the heck out of Brady and Jim, and got the Ztec installed. At the crack of dawn on December 8th three Syncros crossed the border at Tecate to avoid being beheaded in Tijuana and loaded down with kayaks, motorcycles, surfboards, kiteboards, fishing gear and all manner of toys we looked pretty darn cool.

The first stop was the Mexican version of 7 Eleven where we stocked up on Ballenas (translation-REALLY BIG BEERS), tequila and tortillas. Heading for La Rumarosa we actually climbed to about 4-5,000 feet and had our first lunch at Tacos Lallos. Great place with stickers and banners from race teams and clubs all over the world. The place was packed and a lot of fun. As we pulled out a light rain was just beginning to fall and instead of heading back to the highway we turned left down a dirt path between two houses and didn’t see pavement again for a long time.
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The first week was a surprising lesson as to how diverse the topography can get. Laguna Hanson, an alpine lake, is surrounded by pine trees that will get snow. That first night we stuffed the vans into a teeny slot between two huge boulders to avoid the wind and the campfire did its magic as it reflected welcome heat off the granite walls. The next day we dropped down to the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula, the whether warmed up, and we began meandering from deserted beach to beach. Our only navigation was a well worn Baja Almanac backed up by GPS coordinates guiding us from dirt track to river bed to dry lake. To my delight I discovered that at times we were on the Baja 1000 course which had just been run. The course markers were still up and I bagged a great souvenir that I had everyone sign at the end of the trip. Never say never! On Christmas Eve my son, Eric, caught a nice size grouper that was big enough for a fish taco pig out. The only problem was that it wasn’t Christmas Eve. Ah yes Baja time!

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Week two was quite different as we rendezvoused with the rest of the group and started heading west to the Pacific side. Now we were seven vans, six Syncros and one two wheeler. Again the topography changed dramatically and we were driving through huge forests of massive Cardone cactus that were the size of old grove redwoods. I was actually impressed by how well the two wheeler did given the terrain we encountered but I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing this on their own. It actually had a locker but even with that we probably pulled him out of at least three hopelessly buried situations. As you would expect the dynamics of the group changed and became a different fun. The Pacific side was stunningly beautiful with dramatic views of miles of surf breaks as far as you could see. All the toys came out, the fishing was laughably easy and the days melded together doing not much of anything. One night a lobster fisherman broke down near our camp and we were able to get him back on the road with a gas can strapped to the top of his cab, gravity feeding fuel into the carburetor. He, in turn, made Our New Years Eve celebration superb by giving us 25 lobsters from his catch that day. On a sadder note, while traveling to his fish camp to pick up the lobsters some of the group happened upon a Canadian couple who were actually shipwrecked. Their beautiful teak sailboat had broken loose during the night and destroyed itself on the rocks. It was a total loss and all we could do was loan them a satellite phone to call for help. One wonders about people who take those kinds of chances by traveling alone.

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The third week began around January 3rd or so and we had to start thinking about the possibility of planning the plan to start the process of beginning to start to begin to knock down camp and head north. Of all the available options the final choice was to head for Guadalupe Canyon. After multiple days of camping with absolutely no facilities of any kind I was quite impressed with how well I adapted but completely astounded by how well my wife adapted. She cannot stop talking about how much fun she had and how she can’t wait to do it again BUT the idea of a natural hot springs oasis was irresistible. So the last couple of days we soaked in our own private tubs high up in this stunning canyon with views of the desert below.

Crossing the border at Mexicali was a congested mess. Rather than search the vans, thank goodness, they brought out the dogs to sniff us out and finally we were back in the USofA. First stop IN N OUT Burger and there you have it.

On a side note Damon Ristau, a film maker from Missoula Montana, rode with us and filmed the trip. He is a van owner and is making a movie about the life style these “terrariums” we drive provide. It covers all of the eras from the old hippie buses up to the Syncros. Take a look at the trailer on his Facebook page or find it at www.busmovie.com. He needs some help with financing and if you like what you see you can help out at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/busmovie/the-bus . Sorry for the ad but I sure would like to see myself in a movie.