Friday, October 31, 2008

The Easy Side of Baja...

For me, just thinking about The Baja Peninsula of Mexico and the mystique that goes with it is just so engaging. As of 8 days ago I was among those that found this peninsula to be mysterious, rugged and exciting. It is no longer a mystery to me but it is still very rugged and exciting, perhaps in the extreme. 

It comes as no surprise to all those that have seen any or parts of the Baja 1000 that this would be the setting for the grueling and dangerous road race. Perhaps it is better to state that it is no wonder that someone picked this place to stage an endurance race pitting dune buggies (on steroids), dirt bikes, trucks, VW Bugs and Jeeps all on a series of dirt roads and river beds. Each rider or driver vying for some trophy that says you are one "bad ass individual". 

I'll say a few things about the race... First off, I have no idea how they can do this in 11-14 hours. Perhaps having a map of the area is key. Perhaps being on smaller bikes than mine (125cc - 250cc compared to my 1200 cc monster - by comparison) makes it easier to navigate some of the spots of "talcum powder" that appear out of nowhere and bog a larger bike down or pot holes that seem like they could swallow Winnebagos. Perhaps they just know how to ride in dirt better than I do, or perhaps all of them REALLY are the "bad asses" that they think they are. I kinda think that it is that these guys and gals are really hard core and all of the above apply.

From San Diego you cross the border into Mexico and, if you are planning on traveling past Baja and have your own vehicle, the first thing you need to do is get a vehicle permit for the amount of time you plan to spend in Mexico (I got 6 months to cover the return trip) and insurance. This process surprisingly didn't take as much time as I would have thought. 
(pardon the washed out photo - couldn't change settings while I was moving)

Tijauna is not what it was 24 years ago when I was here last. Although, this time, I was not looking for the alley wih the "donkey show" (no, I have never seen the "donkey show") or the "live sex show" or whatever alley that would get me into trouble back then.  Just reading this paragraph makes me shiver at how ridiculous it is for me to say that. (to clear the air here - the only time I was in TJ was with my uncle, aunt and a friend - there was none of the above shenanigans, but it sure does make things more colorful when someone says, "Wanna go see the Donkey Show?")
Crossing into Baja is relatively easy. If you are staying in Northern Baja for less than 72 hours you don't need any papers for your vehicle or person, but you do if you are going to be traveling into Baja Sud or the mainland of Mexico, so I took care of my permits at the border in Tijuana. When you cross the border you don't have to check in, you don't have to show ID, you can just keep going. There is an area where you can do all of this, but it is not directly in front of you and you could easily pass it by. As I did any insurance agency that might have existed in that area... I am still looking for insurance (I think it is mandatory). 

I did find one thing... Hussongs. Hussongs is the oldest Cantina in Mexico, boasting the #002 license to sell alcohol. It opened the doors in 1892 and has been serving tequila and cerveza since.
At the border I met an Australian rider named Ian, who I rode with from Tijuana to Ensenada. He was about the snootiest person that I have ever run across. Sure, we shared a few drinks and a meal, but he really wouldn't be someone that I would sit down with on a regular basis to share beers. The only thing we shared in common was our ride, our desire to be riding and our sense of adventure. Of all the Aussies I have met in my travels, I have to say he is not among those whom I would number as friend. I do feel good that I was able to help him clean out his fuel and get him back on the road. It felt good that I could sort out his issues even though he is almost done with his 2nd time around the world... makes you wonder...
The only two reasons to be on this side of Baja are Hussongs and La Buffadora (the blow hole). The spout of marine water (occurring every minute or so to varying degrees of height) is created when ocean waves and air are drawn into an underwater cave located in the cliffside, and the trapped air and water then explode upwards. This interaction not only creates the upward-shooting spout, but a thunderous noise as well. I snagged a video off youtube... it is passable;-) 
I missed a turn that would take me over to the Sea of Cortez side of Baja from Ensenada and tried to make up for it by cutting across some of the roads that, on my map, appeared to continue all the way to Route 3. This is where Baja got interesting... in a masochistic sort of way. More on that next.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Post Turtles

I had to make a detour to Texas this week to catch up on a few things and found myself sitting next to a rancher at a bar last night during the debate and he struck up a conversation about Obama, McCain and Palin. To my utter shock, I found myself listening intently to what he had to say. I was surprised that I wasn't getting agitated. After all I am in Texas and figured that I would be in for an earful of ultra conservative rhetoric, which, when it is "preachy" can be quite irritating. Like I said, I found myself following along with him on his perspective and how he "cottoned to the negro-fella". While I found this to be offensive, I also excused it as being his advanced age (around 65 - 70 if I were to guess).

You may be wondering, where am I going with this and what is a "post turtle". As Jerry and I were sitting there talking politics, ranching, motorcycles, love, women and more politics (all the while tipping back a few frothy brews), Jerry says to me, "You know what Sarah Palin is? She is a Post Turtle". I sat there for a few minutes trying to sort out what a "post turtle" was and finally had to ask him. His response had me blowing beer out of my nose...

Imagine a slow talking, deep voiced-Texas drawl explaining, "When you are driving down a country road and come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle. You know it didn't get up there by herself, she doesn't belong up there, she doesn't know what to do while she is up there and you just wonder what kind of dumb ass put her up there to begin with."

So, I couldn't quite recall the joke when I got home, so I Googled it hoping to find a reference. Apparently this joke is common... there were several listings of various politicians. Then I wondered if there was a picture of a Post Turtle and was rewarded for my efforts...

Cyrus the Virus

Mike and Kiev (the atomic viral boy)
He doesn't look like much, but one sneeze from this kid and 8 hours later I was already on my 5th Sudafed and 2nd Tylenol Cold tablets, not to mention a whole box of kleenex. There is nothing like being closed in a car with a toddler and turning around just in time for a violent mucus filled sneeze in my face! Nice, wet and... well, you get where I am going with this. I can't wait until he is 21 so I can go out drinking with him and his dad until he pukes (by that time I will be drinking metamucel, so it probably won't be as much fun). Holding his head above the toilet might be payment enough for the past week of this cold, but I doubt it.
A Bird of Paradise and a...
... bird (a Night Heron) and...
... Paradise. I really need to find a palm tree or umbrella for these sunset shots... at least something to add a little contrast.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Loss of history and the lack of depth in our culture

George Stienbeck would barely recognize the town he made famous in Cannery Row. Every cannery has been converted (perverted) into gift shops or tourist restaurants and Starbucks. I have a hard time believing that any real canning goes on in this effete town of Monterey. The "working man" image of Steinbeck's novels has been drained from this town by the coffee sipping, trinket buying, snapshot taking tourist looking for that "truth of character" that he brought out in his writings. I believe he would say that Monterey experienced a loss of integrity amongst members of society and a subsequent decay of the town he was fond of. What is missing is Lee Chong's flower store or the Chinaman wandering in and out of everyone's life in Cannery Row.
While the town has experienced growth via the commercialism that haunts every great place, the surrounding coastline is still shrouded in fog that rolls in and out on its own schedule. Things along the coast haven't changed since Steinbeck wrote of the jobless local Mexicans in his book Tortilla Flats.  

This picture makes me think of an Obama - McCain debate...
I wonder what Doc (the Marine biologist from Cannery Row) would have thought about this sea lion dodging a wave. It was as if this little dude was scared of the water. I can see how easy it was for Steinbeck to create the character of Doc and fleshing him out in a way that would encourage thousands of high school students to become marine biologists after reading that book.

Big Sur

Everything you have heard about Big Sur does not do justice to the reality. The reality is crisp, cool mornings, foggy mid-mornings and sharp, winding roads that hug the rugged coast. I always envisioned this drive in a convertible Porsche or Mustang, but (now) that, to me, would not provide the exhilaration of each lean into the turn, each sweeping arc of the tires, the total concentration that goes into each curve of the road. The unfortunate part of the ride is that I miss a large portion of the scenery. I find that I spend a good bit of time double backing on this road to catch something that I glimpsed or thought I glimpsed. On those occasions I usually find myself face to face with scenes like below... If you look close enough, you can see the road spanning the cliffside. 
With the erosion along the coast...
...I find it hard to imagine that anyone would want to build their house so close to the edge of impermanence. Actually, if I think on it some more, what an amazing place to live and watch the world. The sunsets you could talk about, the weather at your back door and the solitude allowing you to soak it all in...
... and if all that wasn't enough, they had their own private beach.
An hour down the road I met up with what I perceive to be the inspiration for one of Dr. Theodor Geisel's characters.
I suppose it was easier to say, "Cat in the Hat" than, "Sea Lion in the Hat".  It is also much easier to envision a walking cat than one of these beach slugs on two legs. You just can't deny the facial similarities.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Defining San Francisco

What are the things that we think of when we picture San Francisco? Here are some of mine - 

The Love Festival - what a fun parade! If you look closely you will find something that might please both sexes. I didn't notice until after I had downloaded these.
Loud, raucous and thumping. Plenty of good tunes, warm sunlight and grooving people.
"Bunny robs bank, News at eleven"
THAT'S a tatoo!
Here is my trolly...
Who doesn't define SF by the Rice a Roni jingle?
I suppose some might define SF by the some of the major architecture, but I will always think of the San Francisco treat. Oh, I suppose that Karl Malden will come to mind when I think of the "mean streets of San Francisco". He was a pretty serious dude!
Lombard Street gets plenty of tourists to zig and zag all the way down. It was pretty anti-climatic!
China Town. It would take months to explore this place properly... I did it in 1 hour 45 minutes.
The swim doesn't seem like much to me...

Old friends and some new ones

Wow! I can't say enough about how nice it has been to reconnect with an old friend the other day.

I felt the same way when I was in Portland, Maine in July or August, in Houston in June, Charlottesville in July, Seattle last month or Haines, AK in August. There is nothing better than sliding back into a comfortable place where you know each other so well that there is just a little bit of catching up to do before everything is exactly as it was when you last spent time together.

Here is to Chris and Jack and Curtis and Aaron and Chris and Kelly. Thanks for remaining who you all are, and thanks for allowing me to rehash the memories of bookstores in Denver, weathering the rockets and mortars in Iraq while instilling discipline in our employees by stabbing them in the eye-socket if they didn't do what we (you) asked, spending $90 on two pints of Guinness in Hong Kong, mohawks and boas in Greenland, "Why walk when you can ride" and holding Barbie hostage at the South Pole.

Thanks to all of you (and all of you back in Denver who have kept up and followed along) for allowing me into your homes for pancakes, a cup of tea or a sandwich. Thanks for catching me up on your lives and allowing me to blither on mercilessly about what I have been doing the past 3-8 years and what I am doing now. 
I wish I had pulled out my camera for everyone along the way, but it seems like I just have a few of Kelly and Ellie (Kelly's oldest girl) and Annabelle (Kelly's youngest). I'll let the reader determine who is who:-) Gawd, they are adorable! The spitting image of their mother.

Before I just log this entry, I feel a need to come clean about a few things... one - I am not as mechanically inclined as I would like to think I am, two - my right leg is not as long as it was required to be when I had to make a very immediate stop, three - I am not strong enough to keep my motorcycle upright when I realize # two.

In a much shorter version of the above paragraph... I set the bike down a few blocks from Kelly's house. Yeah, that happens sometimes. What has never happened before is not starting right up. For over an hour I tried everything (almost) to start the bike. I was so determined to pretend that I was not in the city and close to help that I wouldn't just walk to get help.  

The bike was running when it went down and when I set it upright I checked the fuel gauge, opened the cap on the tank and could hear fuel slosh around and thus determined that I had fuel. I checked the plugs, an oxygen sensor, the side-stand cutoff and several other things that I though might be wrong. I was out of answers. It was about this time when I called AAA for a tow to the dealer where I had a service the next day. While I was waiting for AAA to get back to me, Kelly drove past while running errands and stopped. Her suggestion... "Is there gas in it?" I had done everything I could up until this point and what could it hurt to get a small bit of gas from the filling station? Besides, it wasn't as if I hadn't checked that off the list! Minutes later I was filling the two liter container with gas and spilling more on the canister than inside. Once again, Kelly comes to my rescue and puts a diaper on the gas can to prevent it from leaks. 

Back at the bike I add the fuel and turn the key... 

Kelly, do I really have to tell the rest of the story? Aggh! I am not at all good at diagnosing a problem because as stated in the theory of Occam's Razor, shortly - "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.", I should have looked at the miles I had already ridden and used that to tell me that it was just a few drops at the bottom of the tank. Mikey would be shaking his head and saying, "Tater, Tater, Tater" if we were in Greenland.