It feels great to hit the road again, this time by motorcycle!
Eric has been riding for a while, but it wasn’t until our motorcycle trip to British Columbia and the Haida Gwaii islands (Canada) in 2016 that we realized how much we love it as a means for long-distance travel. That trip exceeded our expectations so much that we planned another motorcycle trip shortly after we got back. Then, for many good reasons, we postponed it over and over. Until now!
Our first day went smoothly. It was really cold in the morning (under 40F or 4C when we left the house), which feels even colder with the wind-chill factor at highway speeds. But the thick layers we were wearing coupled with the promise of warmer weather in the days ahead kept us comfortable. We stopped in Portland for lunch, at the Prost Marketplace food truck pod, and got great food from Fried Egg I’m in Love (an old favorite of ours) and Teppanyaki Hut (a new discovery). Food truck pods are such an obvious idea — why aren’t they everywhere? We’re now staying in Grants Pass, which we imagine has lots of bears, judging by the signs by the roadside and the decor in our cute and comfy Airbnb cabin.
When we departed Grants Pass this morning, the temperature was just below freezing and there was a thick layer of fog limiting our visibility. It was tough to get going in those conditions. But it wasn’t long before the sun came out and started to warm us up (we noticed a high of 75F or 24C today). As we rode south, the evergreen trees slowly gave way to farmland, and eventually to palm trees. We’ve followed this stretch of I-5 many times before, but always by car (or camper van). Going by motorcycle makes a world of difference — we notice every single detail of this beautiful landscape!
We must look like we’re on an adventure, because during rest stops, other motorcyclists always park next to us and ask us lots of questions. “Where are you riding to?” “How long will you be on the road?” Maybe it’s the fully loaded bike, or the millions of dead bugs plastered to our motorcycle gear that give it away. Whatever it is, we’ve enjoyed the small talk. People are so friendly, and we’ve received plenty of helpful tips about the road ahead.
We arrived in San Jose this evening, and checked into our Airbnb. We’re staying right across the street from a supermarket and walking distance to several restaurants, which is just what we needed.
This is our second day on the road, and we’ve ridden 845 miles (1360 km) so far. We’re averaging 45 miles per gallon, and we’ve been getting roughly 170 miles (290 km) per tank of gas on our BMW F700 GS.
Today we were joined by our friend Ward, who lives in San Jose. Ward is Eric’s best friend from college and luckily for us, also loves to ride. A few years ago Ward came to visit us in Seattle and we had a fantastic time riding together, in central Washington state and the San Juan islands. (This was back in the days when we had two motorcycles, and could easily lend one.) Since then, we often talked about going on another trip with Ward. Well, this is it.
Ward rides a new all-black BMW F750 GS, which is an evolution of our 7-year-old blue BMW F700 GS. It’s nice and we want one — there’s really no other way of putting it! We especially love the large built-in dashboard display, the integrated cruise-control, and the overall design of the bike. We also like his redesigned Touratech side cases, which unlike ours wrap around the exhaust and as a result have more space. We could always use more space!
After two solid days of highway riding on I-5, today we decided to take route 101 for a change. We had lunch at Taste, a restaurant and bar in the quaint town of Paso Robles, with a nice outdoor space and awesome sliders and salads. We then rode by the Pacific ocean for a while, and ended up in Ventura, where we’re staying for the night. We picked up dinner from VenTiki, a restaurant and lounge with pretty good Hawaiian food.
So far, we’ve ridden 1152 miles (1854 km) in 3 days. We’ve been covering a lot of ground in these first few days because we want to leave more time to explore areas that are new to us. Today the bike’s thermometer hit a low of 48F (9C), and a high of 75F (24C) — quite a wide range, but a welcome increase in morning temperature!
We are in Mexico! Yay! 😀
We had an early start today, and rode along route 101 to LA, where we endured quintessential LA traffic for a while. That’s an experience we could do without. We then switched back to I-5, and reached San Diego, where we met friends Adam and Alex for a fun lunch. We headed east from San Diego, bypassing the larger border crossing at Tijuana, and crossed at Tecate instead.
The border crossing was mostly smooth. The online system for ordering FMM visitor permits had only worked for one of us, so the other two had to fill out the forms and pay in person. But all told it only took us 20 minutes. We then headed south into Baja’s wine country. Highway 3 from Tecate to Guadalupe was in excellent condition, and we made good time. Once we got to town, we had to navigate narrow dirt roads that were rutted and muddy from today’s rain showers — which was perfect for our adventure bikes, and so much fun!
Arriving at our Airbnb, we were greeted by Athena, the friendliest dog ever. She toured the property with us as we explored the villa we’re staying in, the vineyards right next to it, and the orchard in the back. Our villa is perfect in every way — it’s charming and comfortable, and every room has views of gently rolling hills covered in vineyards!
Today was a bit colder than yesterday, and it was our first rainy day on this trip. Thankfully all our gear is waterproof, so a few rain showers don’t bother us. It’s raining harder now that we settled in for the evening, which might make the dirt roads even more interesting tomorrow… we’ll see. We’re so glad to be in Mexico now, and super excited about the days ahead!
Made it to our villa in the Guadalupe wine valley.
We both woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of pouring rain and thunder, feeling thankful that we weren’t riding in a downpour. We took our time getting ready in the morning because the Airbnb was so pleasant, but eventually we got hungry enough that we had to get on the bikes to go for breakfast (well, brunch, by the time we left). That meant we had to tackle the 2.5 mile (4 km) dirt road from our villa back to the main road, which was now even more muddy than yesterday. We’ve gotten pretty good at riding two-up on dirt roads, with both of us standing up to absorb the bumps, so it wasn’t too tough.
We did, however, get pretty muddy from riding through sections of the road that were flooded. When we arrived at the restaurant, we had mud splattered all over our riding gear. Our waitress took one good look at us, smiled uncomfortably, and escorted us to a table in the far corner of the back room of the restaurant. Quite understandable.
The road from Guadalupe to San Quintin was great once we got through busy Ensenada. Highway 1 wound through forested hills and along the coast — it was pure perfection! We arrived at our next Airbnb in plenty of time to unload the bikes and head out to a local taco stand. After that meal, we decided we’re going to be on a fish taco diet from here on… they were that good!
Arriving at our Airbnb in San Quintin.
While we were planning this trip, we often dreamed of an idyllic moment: motorcycling on a warm sunny day along a smoothly paved road that winds through rolling hills populated with cacti of all shapes and sizes. Well, that was most of the day today. The desert plants are downright exotic for us, after living so long among the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest!
Filling up on gas was an interesting experience. We knew that neither Ward’s motorcycle nor ours has a big enough gas tank to make it 200 miles, which is the longest distance between gas stations on our route for today. But there are enterprising individuals who set up road-side stands to sell gasoline where the large fuel companies do not. We bought a few liters of gas from one of these vendors in Cataviña — a fellow in cowboy boots and cowboy hat who happily funneled jugs of (supposedly) premium gas into our bikes for extra-premium prices. Anyway, it did the trick and we made it out of the desert alive.
We’ve covered a lot of ground — we’ve ridden 1839 miles (2960 km) so far. We’ve decided to take a day off from riding tomorrow and explore the area.
Buying more gas to get across the desert.
Pulling into our Airbnb in Guerrero Negro.
Our minds are blown from our whale watching tour today! We actually touched a gray whale! And Bea even got to kiss it (with Eric’s permission, of course)!
Nearly all the gray whales in the world migrate from their summer feeding waters near Alaska to the lagoons of Baja during the winter to mate and give birth to their babies. Today we visited one of these lagoons, where there are so many gray whales that at times our little boat was surrounded by 5 or 6 of these huge animals. The juvenile whales were especially curious and repeatedly nudged our boat and surfaced alongside it to interact with us. It was amazing to reach out and touch such huge animals! Whenever they opened their mouths, we got a close-up view of the baleens they use to filter food from the mud and silt of the ocean floor. At one point, a whale exhaled from its blowhole right in our faces, and we were drenched by the spray… but we didn’t mind a bit.
When we returned to town, we visited Tacos El Muelle, a legendary taco truck known for its fish and shrimp tacos. What an awesome way to wrap up a great day!
A friendly juvenile gray whale.
A gray whale shows off its baleen.
Today we got back on the motorcycles to cross the Baja Peninsula from west to east. Along the way, we stopped at San Ignacio, a cute little town with an ancient Spanish mission church overlooking the central plaza. The town maintains its charm despite being a stop for big tour buses, and it was a great place to take a quick break. We pressed on, eager to get our first glimpse of the Gulf of California that separates Baja from the rest of Mexico.
As we rode south along the coast, we saw one beautiful beach after another, with white sand stretching to the deep blue sea. Many of the beaches are populated with RVs, and we’ve heard that you can survive and thrive quite nicely there — vendors regularly come around selling food, water, and anything else that’s needed. We’re not really prepared to camp on the beach during this trip, but we’d love to come back with a camper van on another trip and spend some time relaxing at one of these beaches.
Playa Santispac near Mulegé.
Playa Los Cocos.
Arriving at our place in Loreto.
This was the first day of our trip that we didn’t have to put on our “super suits” (our nickname for our motorcycle gear), and instead got to wear our “civilian clothes” all day. We left the bikes at our Airbnb and walked to the historic center of Loreto, where we met Juve, our guide for the day. After a bit of historical context, we piled into a van and headed into the hills along a winding road that leads to San Javier. This tiny town of about 300 people is known for its Jesuit mission church, which was completed in 1757. The Jesuit missionaries (and later, Franciscan and Dominican missionaries) came from Spain to convert the local indigenous tribes to Catholicism. They left behind a legacy of churches that are roughly one day’s walking distance apart along El Camino Real, a trail that once stretched from here in Loreto to the San Francisco area in California. The San Javier mission is particularly well-preserved, and it’s surrounded by orchards and farms. Its carved stone exterior illustrates a unique blend of baroque European style with local Mexican symbols.
As much as we like to ride, it was nice to take a full-day break after 2098 miles (3376 km) of riding. We’re refreshed and ready to do some more riding tomorrow.
San Javier Mission.
A gnarly old olive tree in the San Javier orchards.
We’re back on the road. On the way out of Loreto, we made a quick stop at Mirador Frida, 13 miles (21 km) south of town, for its beautiful view of the Gulf of California and nearby islands. Soon after that, the highway veers inland, and we traded coastal views for endless plains of dormant desert plants and forests of cardon cactus. The cardon variety of cactus is the tallest in the world, and though they look a bit like the saguaro cacti found in the Sonora desert, cardon cacti grow more branches and hold them closer to the main trunk.
We rode 230 miles today, stopping only to get gas and eat our snacks. We arrived at our very nice Airbnb in La Paz by mid-afternoon, with plenty of time to unload the bikes and go out for tacos in town.
Let’s talk tacos. We’re becoming taco connoisseurs, if we may say so ourselves. We started with the omni-present fish tacos, but have since branched out to shrimp, scallop, octopus, marlin, and stingray tacos. There are still so many different kinds that we want to try! All the tacos we’ve had so far have been outstanding, but the stingray ones are our favorites. We’re inspired to add some new flavors to our own Taco Tuesdays (which sometimes happen on Wednesdays or Thursdays) back home.
Mirador Frida, just south of Loreto.
Octopus, stingray, and shrimp tacos.
We started the day with a short motorcycle ride along the coast of the peninsula that juts out north of La Paz into the Gulf of California, headed for a remote beach called Playa Balandra. We enjoyed getting away from the bustling tourism of the city and visiting a pristine natural environment, but mainly we went for the colors — the bright white of the sand, the aquamarine of the shallow water, and the navy blue of the deeper water. They didn’t disappoint!
In the afternoon, we went out in a small boat to find and swim with whale sharks. These animals are the biggest sharks (and the biggest fish) in the world, and can grow to 60 feet (18 m) in length. The one we swam with near La Paz was a juvenile, and though it was “only” 15 feet (4.6 m) long, it still seemed huge when we were right next to it! It swam quickly, and we had to kick hard to keep up. We learned from our biologist guide that each individual can be identified by its unique pattern of spots and stripes, and she recognized the one we swam with as a male named Santiago.
We finished the day with a pleasant walk along the waterfront, stopping for tacos and margaritas at our new favorite restaurant.
Playa Balandra, just north of La Paz.
Sunset view from our Airbnb in La Paz.
We did it! We made it from Seattle to Cabo San Lucas by motorcycle! 2 bikes, 3 people, more than 2500 miles (4000 km) on the road, and so many memorable experiences! Zero incidents as well, which is just as important. We are so proud of our achievement!
Cabo San Lucas is the polar opposite of everything we’ve seen of Baja so far: our broken Spanish isn’t needed here; Uber is available to take us where we want to go; and there’s non-stop traffic everywhere in town. Despite that, we found interesting things to do. We took a cooking class, where we learned how to make fish tacos, including homemade tortillas, guacamole, and salsa. And we went out in a small boat at sunset to see El Arco de Cabo — the natural arch rock formation at the tip of the Baja peninsula. From the boat, we spotted several groups of humpback whales, including some of them breaching. Our marine biologist guide explained that these groups consist of a mother, a baby, and an unrelated “escort” whale that accompanies them. This escort isn’t necessarily the baby’s father, it’s simply another whale, male or female, that helps the mother raise and defend the child. We also learned that males compose songs that are used to attract a mate, and these songs can be as long as 20 minutes, and repeated over and over for many hours. To illustrate this, our guide dropped a hydrophone into the water, and we got to hear the mating song of a male humpback whale! How cool!
Today’s ride was a short one, as we moved from the bustling tourist city of Cabo San Lucas to the quaint town of Todos Santos. We stopped along the way at Same Same But Different Cafe, which turned out to be a hidden gem in the middle of nowhere.
We arrived at our Airbnb in the early afternoon, and immediately fell in love with the place. It’s got great modern design with local rustic touches, and beautiful decor. It’s probably our favorite stay so far. We changed into civilian clothes and headed for the beach on foot. We spent most of the afternoon walking along the shore, spotting whales in the distance, and enjoying the relaxing sound of waves crashing on the beach.
We timed our walk to end up around sunset at Tortugueros Las Playitas, a sanctuary for baby turtles. Volunteers there collect sea turtle eggs from the beach and incubate them in a protected shelter, so they won’t get scavenged by predators. After about eight weeks, baby turtles emerge from the eggs, and the staff releases the hatchlings near the ocean at sunset. We watched as several tiny Olive Ridley turtles were released into the wild, and they scrambled across the sand to reach the water. Only a small percentage of baby turtles survive to adulthood, so every little bit of help makes a difference. We hope the turtles we saw will survive and thrive!
Eric and Ward relaxing at the Same Same But Different Cafe.
Our Airbnb on the outskirts of Todos Santos.
On today’s agenda: walk into town, wander the streets of Todos Santos, check out the art galleries, have some street food, and generally enjoy a relaxing day. Mission accomplished!
Todos Santos has a long history, first as a Catholic mission, later as a center for sugar cane exports, and more recently as a home to many artists and a destination for surfers. There are certainly plenty of tourists here, but it has a better vibe than Cabo San Lucas. We walked up and down several streets of quaint colonial-era buildings filled with restaurants, art galleries, and souvenir shops. Every art gallery was a welcome break from the glaring heat of the sun, and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the photography, ceramics, graphic art, paintings, and jewelry made by local artists. We also stopped for a look inside the Hotel California — rumored to be the inspiration for the song of the same name by the Eagles, though both the band and the hotel deny any such connection.
Today we started the long journey north toward home. Though we love to explore new places, in some ways it’s comforting to return along the same route — we get to ride along a familiar road, eat at a restaurant where we’ve already had great food, and stay in the same Airbnb as before. As we rode through the interior of the Baja peninsula, we got a hint of the punishing heat of the desert, with temperatures climbing to 94F (34C). But soon enough, the road began to twist and turn on its way through the mountains just before reaching the east coast. We descended along a winding road to the deep blue waters of the Gulf of California, and followed the coast a short distance to our destination of Loreto.
Walking around Loreto this afternoon, we discovered cute parts of town that we didn’t get a chance to see when we were here earlier. It’s a great little seaside town, and we would love to return sometime for a longer stay!
A church in the historic center of Loreto.
Loreto’s gateway to the Gulf of California.
We really enjoyed today’s ride. The route treated us to spectacular scenery, winding through cactus-covered foothills and then hugging the coast of Bahia Concepción. Along this bay we saw so many perfect white sand beaches with crystal clear water. It’s easy to understand why there were so many RVs parked on the beaches. We stopped in the adorable town of Mulegé for a lunch of delicious shrimp tacos, and went to see the old mission church. The rest of the ride was scenic too, crossing seemingly endless plains sprinkled with cardon cacti. We arrived in Guerrero Negro just as the sun was setting, giving us a dramatic sky as a reward for all our riding.
Stopping to enjoy the view of Bahia Concepción.
More shrimp tacos, of course!
The mission church in Mulegé.
We experienced more stunning scenery today, riding through cardon cactus fields that extend as far as the eye can see. Near the town of Cataviña, the vegetation becomes incredibly lush, if that’s a word that can be used to describe a desert landscape. There are so many varieties of cacti, short and tall, in all shades of green, thriving and growing out of every bit of parched soil. It’s beautiful, in its own thorny way.
This stretch of Baja is pretty remote, and just like on the way south, there aren’t enough gas stations to keep our bikes going. So once again we got our tanks filled at an unofficial “gasolina” by our entrepreneurial Mexican friend — the one with the cowboy hat and cowboy boots. Our northward journey up the Baja peninsula seems much easier than the southbound direction — we know exactly where to stop for gas, where to find bathrooms, and where there’s shade for a snack stop.
In the afternoon, we stopped for a late lunch at Mamá Espinosa, a popular hangout spot for anyone exploring Baja by motorcycle. We had been warned by other motorcycle riders that “our bike would never let us live it down” if we missed it, so we had to give it a go. And we’re glad we did! The food was great, and the motorcycle memorabilia on the wall made us feel welcome. By now our motorcycle “super suits” have all turned into shades of dusty beige, and we know that our scruffy appearance isn’t ideal for most restaurants. So the fact that Mamá Espinosa was so welcoming to us is very appreciated.
So that’s a Boojum tree?
We had a short ride today, taking us through the busy traffic of Ensenada and back to the Guadalupe wine valley that we enjoyed so much on the way south. Because we started early, we had plenty of time to try one of the excellent restaurants of this area. We absolutely loved our lunch at Finca Altozano, where we had a fabulous farm-to-table meal on a patio overlooking the surrounding vineyards. It was so pleasant that we ended up staying several hours!
After our long and relaxing lunch, we rode along the rough dirt roads of the town to get to the same Airbnb that we stayed in two weeks ago. Athena, the ultra-friendly dog, greeted us again as we arrived at the cottage nestled in the middle of a vineyard. It feels good to be back in this tranquil spot.
Back in Guadalupe.
Our last evening in Baja.
We’re back in the United States! We were a bit sad to leave Mexico, especially because we spent last night in a beautiful Airbnb surrounded by a stunning landscape. But it certainly feels comforting to be back in our own country.
The border crossing couldn’t have gone smoother. There was a long line of cars waiting to go through, but motorcycles are allowed to go to the front, so we didn’t have to wait. We’re sure it helped that we crossed on a weekday, and that we went through Tecate rather than Tijuana. As an additional plus, the road from Tecate to San Diego is a fun winding road with beautiful scenery.
The rest of the ride also went well. We managed to get through Los Angeles without getting stuck in terrible rush hour traffic — the carpool lanes definitely helped a lot. And once we got past LA, we enjoyed riding the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1) along the beaches from Santa Monica to Ventura, where we’re staying tonight.
California is big… really big. We rode all day and covered less than half the length of the state. But we made good time, and got to San Jose well before sunset. The weather was overcast and quite windy today, which made for more challenging and chilly riding. It’s a big change from Baja!
We had two memorable meals today. Mid-morning we stopped in Paso Robles, and had an excellent brunch at a place called (appropriately enough) Brunch. And once we arrived in San Jose, we went to Pizza Bocca Lupo at the hip and crowded San Pedro Square Market, where we celebrated our riding accomplishment with Ward. Ward lives in San Jose, so his ride is complete, while we will keep riding a couple more days to get back to Seattle.
The riding was tough today. The temperatures hovered between 35F (2C) and 45F (7C) most of the day, and there was snow by the roadside near a couple of mountain passes. We knew we’d be riding in the cold, so we wore lots of warm and windproof layers — so many that we felt like stuffed sausages. Even with all those layers, we got cold after an hour or two of riding at highway speeds. We stopped more frequently than the bike needed for gas, just so we could warm up by doing some jumping jacks and other exercises. (There’s nothing odd about two people in supersuits jumping up and down by the side of the road, right?)
In any case, the cold didn’t stop us from enjoying the landscape, and we felt accomplished when we reached our Airbnb in Grants Pass before sunset. All in all, it was a good day.
Mission accomplished! We motorcycled from Seattle to Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, and all the way back to Seattle!
Our original plan included just over 5000 miles (8000 km) of riding, but when we include all our side trips, we actually rode more than 5400 miles (8700 km) in total. If we had done a one-way trip, our riding distance would be equivalent to riding from London to Ulaanbaatar, the capital on Mongolia! Or to look at it another way, it’s the same mileage from Prudhoe Bay (the northermost town you can drive to in Alaska) to Key West (the southernmost town you can drive to in Florida). It was a long ride.
We feel extremely proud of ourselves for overcoming all the challenges involved in planning and executing this trip. There are a million things that could have gone wrong. Happily, the first aid kit and the tool kit were among the very few things we packed but never used. We’re thankful that Eric’s friend Ward could join us for most of the journey, and so glad the trip went according to plan.
Here are some of the questions we’ve been asked while on the road. Of course there are many ways to travel by motorcycle, so these are just the things that seem to work for us. Your mileage may vary. 🙂
We’ve outfitted our 2015 BMW F700 GS with the following accessories:
We encountered temperatures from 30F (-1C) to 94F (34C), so we brought lots of different layers. For example, in the coldest weather, Eric wore a wicking base layer, SmartWool long underwear, a Gore windproof layer, a wind-blocking fleece jacket, and his BMW riding suit (which has a removable GoreTex waterproof liner). In warmer weather, he peeled off some of these layers and packed them away, and opened the vents in his riding suit.
We brought our DJI Mavic Pro drone and our phones. It would have been nice to have our full-frame mirrorless camera, but we couldn’t really afford the space.
Bea’s stuff goes in the larger side case (of course). Eric’s stuff goes in the smaller side case, along with a small laptop, all our chargers and cables, and a fairly complete pharmacy in case of illness. We put motorcycle tools in the bottom of both side cases, to keep the weight distributed low. In addition to our riding gear, we bring just one outfit of civilian clothes and sneakers. Synthetic fabrics are easy to wash and dry overnight. The top case is reserved for our drone, first aid kit, water, food, and any layers we shed during the day. Valuables and items we need to access often go in the tank bag, which we can easily remove and carry with us.
We’ve heard stories of petty theft in Baja, so we made sure to keep our top case and side cases locked and bring our tank bag with us wherever we went. And we don’t strap or attach anything else to the bike. When parked in a safe place, we occasionally locked our helmets and jackets to the bike with a cable lock, but more often we took them with us as well. We chose Airbnb properties that had secure parking — either a garage or a gated yard — so we didn’t have to worry about the bikes at night or during days off.
We averaged around 46 miles per gallon (19.5 km per liter). With a 4 gallon (15 liter) gas tank, our theoretical range was about 180 miles (290 km). To play things safe, we always aimed to refill within 160 miles or so.