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The Press

BEATING THE WINTER BLUES

By Sue Murphey
Backroads Magazine

If you enjoy road riding and are anxious for warmer weather to return, there is an adventure waiting for you while you wait for spring: A three day trail riding tour in Baja California. Baja is THE premier worldwide destination for off-road bike touring. There is no better way to experience Mexico than from the saddle of a motorcycle.

Baja Off-Road Tours is run by Chris Haines, 1996 winner of the Baja 1000 over 30 class, with tours from September through June. There is no more knowledgeable guide. And he has thought of everything.

The tour begins and ends in San Diego, California with Chris providing ground transportation to and from Baja for you and up to 15 likeminded spirited souls. The weather in Baja is warmer and sunnier than San Diego. With less than 10 inches of rain annually, winter is the perfect time to visit Baja. The lush beauty of the terrain will surprise you.

Many think Baja and think desert. While there is plenty of desert, you also ride through a mountain forest full of pines and meadows, vineyards, rolling hills, a few stream crossings, and a dry lake bed where a sign painted on the side of a refrigerator points the way to San Felipe.

My favorite part is riding along the Gulf of California and, on the opposite coast, the Pacific Ocean. The sparsely populated Mexican countryside means fewer rules. You can ride off-road bikes right on the beach and through small friendly Mexican villages. (Think Steve McQueen in "On Any Sunday.") You will not need a motorcycle license or any permits.

The first day you arrive in Ensenada, pick out your bike and take a test ride around the parking lot. Then you settle into the San Nicholas Hotel for the night. This hotel is featured on Lyle Lovetts' new CD "Road to Ensenada." Hearing his songs, Lyle's inspiration must have come from his rides in the Baja with Chris (with several female encounters adding to the inspiration).

Chris selects a great restaurant for dinner in Ensenada, and there is a general briefing session before the riding begins in the morning. After a hearty breakfast, you're on your way!

Over the next three days you ride 500 miles with overnight stops at Mike's Sky Rancho and San Felipe. Mike's is a remote mountain hotel that operates on a generator, has a dirt driveway about 30 miles long, and a bar that defies description. Bring a business card or bumper sticker to leave behind on the wall at Mike's bar - staple gun provided. In contrast, San Felipe is a tranquil fishing village on the Gulf of California. You won't believe the sunrise and sunset.

In San Felipe and Mike's Sky Rancho, there is night life for those with energy to spare and plenty of Margaritas and cold Pacifico Beer to drink. At Mike's Sky Rancho, you provide your own evening entertainment (apart from the lone pool table) spending the evening swapping stories with others on the tour. You are 30 miles from any other sign of civilization - which means the stars at night are magnificent. The sky looks like a big city traffic jam.

In San Felipe, there are plenty of bars and stores open well into the wee hours. In case you want to pick up a little something for someone you left at home - this is you last chance.

The tour is about 80% dirt miles using paved roads to get you to the next town or off into another part of Baja terrain. This ride requires less motorcycle expertise, and more good physical condition. So if you have been remiss about hitting the gym, this tour should be your inspiration before you get to Baja!

While most participants are guys, gals do show up to ride - and from as far away as Japan!! Our group included a 38 year old woman who had passed the MSF Beginner Course and ridded about 300 miles on New Jersey backroads. She did just fine and had a great time. Everyone cheered her arrival with the sweep rider when she was 40 minutes late to lunch day one.

Chris Haines has been running these tours long enough to know how to pick trails to match the skill level of the group. Frequently, riders are spilt into two groups so that the great and the not-so-great riders all have a good time. As a multi-time Golden Wrench recipient, Chris can get you out of whatever trouble you can get a Kawasaki into. As a 10 year veteran in the tour business, he has seen it all.

The tour includes first class Baja hotels and 3 meals a day with lunch out on the trail. Lunch is served under a pop-up canopy with more food than you could possibly eat - including fresh fruit and  vegetables. Don't expect Mexican food to resemble Taco Bell. Baja food is delicious. A combination is served: steaks at Mike's, fresh-caught seafood at San Felipe, and anything you could want in Ensanada. But do not pass up the opportunity to try a fish Taco in San Felipe - a local specialty that Gringos love.

The tour also includes your choice of bikes from a fleet of impeccably maintained, late model KLX650s, 250, and KDX200s, and off-road gear, if you do not have your own. So pack your toothbrush, shorts and a sweatshirt and leave your worries behind.

If this is the break you have been looking for, call Barbara Haines, Baja Off-Road Tours, at 949-830-6569 for more information. When you get back home, you may be surprised to find that your street skills have improved. And spring is just around the corner.


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