People usually end up in the motocross industry because they love the sport. At the onset, it seems like the perfect opportunity to fuse your passion and your profession into one. It works in theory, but by the time you throw in stacks of paperwork, conference calls, travel time, deadlines, budgets, and and endless list of to-do’s, you realize that every chance to ride is to be cherished. When the call came down to attend the 3rd annual Baja Bonanza, I quickly cleared my schedule and got to work preparing for the most epic trip of the year. Since I have never been to Baja before I found myself pretty nervous, especially in the company of some of our sport’s greatest heroes.
The FMF Baja Bonanza is the brainchild of Little D from FMF, Travis Clarke, and Cameron Steele. It’s an opportunity for everyone to take a break from working, training or racing and kick back riding dirtbikes. This year’s head count included the likes of Kurt Caselli, Kyle Redmond, Kendall Norman, Geoff Aaron, Danny LaPorte, Cameron Steele, Jeremy McGrath, Michael Lapaglia, super agents, industry guys, media nerds, etc, coming to a grand total of 42 riders plus 7 guys on the chase crew. When I was 12 years old, I stood in line for an hour at the 1997 Southwick National to score MC's autograph. In the same year, my dad and I went to the FIM Trials World Championships where Geoff Aaron dominated. And now I'm riding with these guys? It's a pretty surreal experience. Anyhow, Cameron Steele, flanked by the Desert Assassins(his Baja team and group of hardcore Baja riders) headed up this ride and clearly it wasn’t their first rodeo. They came loaded down with 2 chase trucks, a chase truggy for on-trail support, food, supplies, parts, and tools...everything you need for Baja success. Our group rendezvoused just north of the border and finalized all last-minute preparations to cross the border. By 4:00 that afternoon, we arrived at the famed Horsepower Ranch in Ensenada. Our group was warmly received with plenty of house salsa, cervezas, and Peligroso Tequilla, a new sponsor of the trip this year. That evening we covered a number of details about the trip and received our coveted Baja Bonanza jerseys. A few more Pacificos and double shots of tequilla later, we packed it in for an early start.
“Wheels turning at 8:00” was the subtle warning to keep late night festivities in check. 6:30 AM still came early, but thankfully, we had a fantastic hot breakfast waiting for us. If the hot coffee wasn’t enough to squash a lingering headache, the first crack of the KTM 300 EX/C did the trick. It had been almost 6 months since I had been on a bike, and the adrenaline rush was as instantaneous as ever. Day 1 took us over 130 miles and joined up with the Baja 1000 course for some late-morning hammering. It was rough and my fresh forearms quickly turned to rubber. I practically had to start over, reminding myself to stay relaxed, let the bike do the work, stay centered..etc. It was like my dad coaching me back in the motocross days all over again. By the time we arrived at Mikes Sky Rancho on the northern edge of the Sierra De San Pedro Martir National Forest, I was still grinning ear to ear. We set off for a little bonus trip along the creek. The trail got continually narrower as we criss-crossed the creek until it was virtually non-existent. For guys like Kurt Caselli it was no big deal. For me, it was a bit of a struggle to keep it out of the drink! it was absolutely worth the trek though as we eventually ended up on a beach. Though plain enough, there was a tree with a forked trunk I noticed was catching Kyle Redmond's attention. At first I thought I would lean my bike against it, but he had other plans. After carefully adjusting the rock at it’s base, he wheelied up the rock and splatted the crux of the tree. He endoed the first time but quickly circled back to stick it. Geoff Aaron followed behind him and made it look so easy, I was starting to think I could do it. Common sense prevailed and I headed back for a good ol’ Mexican steak, compliments of Mike Jr. himself. One thing I learned quickly about Baja is an overall sense of community. Everyone helps each other out. Places like Mike’s Sky Rancho are a legendary beacon of what motorcycle riding is. The entire bar/restaurant is covered in business cards, stickers, dollar bills, and more than a handful of lace panties from people that have only gotten there by motorcycle. Mike Jr. is a soft spoken older man who recounted the early days of the business when his father owned it. “And even today,” he tells us, “I teach the business to my daughters. I won’t be here forever I tell them, and when it’s there time to take it over, they will already know everything there is to know about the business”. Something about Baja makes it a place unlike any other. Perhaps it’s the remote destinations, the epic scenery, or the people you meet along the way. But more than anything else, Baja instills a sense of connection to all of the people who have been there before you.
Oh yes...one final detail from the first half of the Baja Bonanza. I’m not going to say much, but I will leave you with this image. All I can say is a whole bunch of shenanigans went down at Mike's Sky Rancho. Check back next week for Part 2!