Uh, this is one day after my last post right?
I’d meant to write this ages ago but as everyone who has ever went anywhere knows, there’s way too much to do when you get home.
The main reason I’m writing this post is to reflect on what I learned and answer some of those questions that I’ve been asked already… would I do it again, etc etc.
Before I get to that though I want to start with stuff. The kind you bring with you or leave at home. The things I wished I’d had or seriously considered mailing back. And the things I was told I was stupid for taking. So frankly, let’s start there…
GPS. Short of what bike you ride I’m not sure there’s anything more controversial in the adventure motorcycling community then this little device. So many people told me not to take one and at least a few were willing to tell me I should maybe decide to have one if I think I can. Too many people seem to almost apologize for their decision to use one and frankly I think that’s silly. Yup, I took one. Yup I’d take one again and yes, without question I’m really, really friggin glad I had it. Did it tell me where to go and what to do? Rarely, and never in Mexico as my maps outside of the US weren’t routable. But it did give me a good idea how much more riding I needed to do before I got to the next town. With the GPS waypoints from my friend Laura it told me where the next gas was (that alone is invaluable in Baja) and where I could get cash since virtually nowhere would take a credit card. It told me some good places to eat and stay (again thanks to Laura) and helped me find places I never would have found without it. In Loreto I was able to do a tiny bit of offroading, knowing that I’d either run into the highway or the main road as long as I was heading towards the two lines I’d drawn with breadcrumbs. And even more importantly, it saved me from wasted time in San Diego, a place I didn’t want to explore or get lost in. I was able to get to the BMW shop just before it closed for the weekend thanks to this little tool, thus allowing me to ride home and not wait on parts or have to meet up with Joe later. There just wasn’t time to check a map.
It didn’t keep me from making wrong turns. It didn’t keep me from interacting with people. It did get some interesting conversation (in charades) at military checkpoints. And if I were to go off the beaten path more than I did it would have proven to be even more invaluable. Do you have to have one? Of course not. You don’t have to have a cell phone or a computer either. But should you choose to take one with you you’ll have full blessings from me. And no, I will not apologise or keep my mouth shut when people say that they are stupid. You ride your ride and I’ll ride mine tyvm. I suppose somewhere out there I get less credit for taking one, as if somehow it make the riding itself easier. That’s fine with me as the people making that sort of stupid judgement are either a) armchair adventurers or b) arrogant jackasses who think everyone should do things the way they do. Bully for them but leave me out of that nonsense.
And that brings me to the first thing I wish I would have had with me. Yet another friggin ridiculous electronic device. A small laptop. While there are still occasional computer places with actual computers to use, in this day and age it’s less and less common. What is everywhere is Wifi and while it helped me with my iPhone (another thing I’m glad I had… virtually free Skype calls, the ability to update friends and family quickly, searching for cheap hotels and other information while in either the US or Mexico? Yes please!), it didn’t help me with the two huge reasons I’d have liked to have a small laptop… pictures and posts. See, most of the time I had to wait to post until I found a computer. While I posted regularly it was sometimes much later then I would have liked in terms of either writing or just thinking. Sure, I could record this info on pen and paper, like we as people have for years before the advent of this here computer thing, but being a computer worker I almost can’t write anymore. Not without my hand wanting to fall off. And certainly not even close to as fast as I can type, which is almost stream of consciousness fast thanks to instant messaging. So yeah, having a computer (wifi or no) to record daily if I wanted to would have been lovely. And not having to pay for computer time (wifi is free most anywhere if you buy a coffee or something) would have allowed me to search for better hotel deals, etc, something I didn’t do much on painfully slow pay by the minute computers.
Moreover, having a computer would have allowed me better ability to upload, save and edit my pictures. Most computers took so long to even access the internet or open a picture that if I wanted to post anything at all it made more sense to just post everything then try to edit anything. That’s not how I’d like to do it, and not what I’d want someone else to do. Far too often I took plenty of the same picture to get a better shot (usually without success!) but which one was the best? I’d have no idea on any computer I was using to upload.
Again, could I live without it… well duh. Of course I could and did. But for how little these cost and how little space a tiny Dell would take, next time I will definitely bring one… maybe with a movie or two loaded for those nights when I can’t sleep but also can’t move.
Some other bits and pieces that I learned about stuff…. Smaller stuff sacks and compression bags would have worked better. Having a medium sized compression bag is stupid when you have hard metal square cases. Bag is round, panniers are sq uare. Sort of like that shapes game we all played when we were kids. Compression sacks just make stuff less able to fit between other stuffs so they are really only useful for things that really need them… otherwise a stuff sack would probably do. One for clean clothes, one for dirties, one for the long underwear you don’t think you’ll need but bring anyway cause the desert can be cold. You get the point.
Another thing- a tank bag. I’m not fond of the things but having absolutely everything behind me meant that anything I wanted to see without getting off the bike was in my pockets. Not only was I occasionally worried that this stuff would fall out but it was just a lot of junk to have on me all the time. Wallet, coins, camera, phone, etc etc. A small tank bag would have helped with that. And if done right it might have held my next item (in a separate pouch away from the camera, phone etc)…
A camel back. I had left mine at home for some stupid reason and then realized that I needed one and purchased one in San Diego. Trouble was that it tasted horrible, being brand new, and didn’t have a good way to put it anywhere useful so I wound up just using my water bottles. The huge problem with this is that Baja isn’t a place of rest stops and view turn offs. It’s a place where the road ends at the white line marking the lane and there’s no place to go from there. Even the road turn offs were often pretty big drops into sand pits of dubious depth. So, obviously, being able to drink water without stopping would be dreamy. And safer. Camel back with long hose attached to your bike or back, or one in a tank bag in front of you would make life happier and easier by a long mile in a place like Baja.
Finally as for stuffs I’d like… if I were to get ultra plush I’d love to replace the dry bags I have with a dry duffel. Sure, my bags work just fine and really now we’re just talking if I were rich and needed to blow $150 but still, something like that would have been easier to pack up for sure. So yes, when I win the lottery I will be buying one of them there lovely waterproof dufflebags. Zippers RULE!
So what wouldn’t I have brought? For the trip I took I would have left the camping gear at home. The water bottle, the stove, the tent, sleeping bag and thermarest. Sure, I could have used it more than I did had I made that effort. And if that was what my trip was about then certainly camping gear is useful. But considering the longer days, the condition of the roads, my riding skills, being solo, blah blah, I would have just as easily left that stuff at home and spent the money on a hotel room. It’s not like things are horribly expensive in Mexico. $26 for a ludicrously nice place at the end of a long riding day is well worth it, if not for the clean sheets and comfortable bed then for the hot shower. Certainly at this time of the year I should have left the water filter at home. There was no water anywhere to filter and I never had issues with the water bottles I bought, despite the reports of refilling water bottles. I know my friend Colin ran into tap water only in Aqua Verde so maybe if I were going off the beaten path more this would be relevant, but if you’re not then just don’t bother. Of course apparently the water didn’t make him sick so?
And then I suppose that gets me to would I do it again?
If I hadn’t done it before I’d DEFINITELY do it again. It was a great first experience out of the country solo for me. Not terribly scary, not incredibly difficult, learning a lot but not challenged beyond what I could do. Like I said, I would have just left the camping gear at home and enjoyed a bed here and there instead, but I’d definitely do it. If nothing else being lighter loaded might have even made exploring more of an option.
But would I do it again having already done it? Honestly I don’t know that I would. See, there’s a lot of places to travel in the world and a lot of things to see. I’d love to go explore the rest of Mexico and obviously there are plenty of other countries that still haven’t been checked off my list, but spending too much more time in Baja isn’t really on my short list of things to do. There isn’t a huge ton of variety to those things closest to the main road. Not a lot of quaint towns, crazy cities or drastic changes in scenery to explore. Not a huge amount of history available right off the road either. And certainly without knowing more of the language there’s really only so much cultural exchange one can do. I will say that with someone else I would do it again. With a back up I’d be more willing to explore down a few roads and not worry quite so much about getting stuck someplace with no one to help. But really, mainland Mexico would probably come before Baja again… you know that or Europe, South America, Central America, Russia, Mongolia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Cuba……. I’ll stop now 🙂