We were somewhere on the edge of Barstow when the drama began to take hold. Words: Ano Mac. Images: Harry Mark.
Can’t remember where the idea originated. One day it was there and the next, well, much like a fart at a party it just appeared out of nowhere. You just remember thinking, damn, that hit fast, man that hit hard … and didn’t that linger for longer than we wanted?
First, there was a pair and then a trio who quickly became a quartet, onto a quintet and finally, we stuck on a sextet. We came in from far flung and beyond, our little convoy of rogues and rascals. With no time at all spent dawdling in LA, we drove out of town on the 15 heading towards Vegas. In Barstow we hung a right and headed out into a land where the life had been sucked out of it, and then we continued on for another hour. Then at a spot, much like every other spot for as far as the eye could see, a spot only a few souls on this earth could remember, he slowed his truck and with two concerted pulls on the steering wheel, hauled us to the left. Off onto an unsealed road where we plunged into a plague of Joshua trees that loitered from here to the horizon.
Forrest Minchinton and Micah Davis were the locals amongst this flush of fellows. Harrison Roach, Matt Cuddihy, Zye Norris and Lewie Dunn had flown in and now they were headed on to his dad’s place out behind yonder called The Compound. We drove past the fertile plains that turned to sand and in the distance we could see where their friend, the wind, had plied a whole lot of its convincing coaxing and piled mountains of it upon itself to make dunes. And the sky, the sky had no clouds. I knew that wasn’t always the case. But when we were there, the absence of any kind of cloud was frankly disconcerting.
The plan was we’d amass before heading south. He’d scrounged around and managed to get four bikes together as well as a ‘63 Chevy panel van that was heavy on patina both inside and out. First light we packed up our kit at the desert compound and transferred to the caravan and headed out. We wanted to stay away from built-up areas. Taking a route that meandered south past places with names like Bagdad Lake and Old Woman’s Mountain, we’d head towards Calexico, a town well east of San Diego and some distance west of Yuma. Where we’d cross the border. We’d blaze our own track down the Baja peninsula seeking the less ridden(and what would turn out to be much, much harder) road and hopefully discover that eureka moment it promised. But enough about the route, you’ll find a billion stories out there about this well-trodden path. Since the 1940s people have been heading to Baja to ride motorcycles. In the ’60s and ’70s people were going down there to surf. Fast forward to now and here we were heading down the same road … to do both.
You really get to know people when you remove the noise from around them. Six friends spread across four bikes and a rust bucket Chevy panel wagon prone to breaking down and loaded to the gunnels with tents, boards, supplies and plastic bins full of ice and beer. This was a quest, you know, like some modern-day search for the Holy Grail. But we weren’t searching for an Eldorado, what we wanted was more like a motor nirvana. We wanted to hit the bike and board equivalent of enlightenment marinated in cold beer after a hot day, against a backdrop of dunes with a sky so full of stars that it looked like someone had sprayed silver paint across the entire canopy.
Well, things don’t always go to plan. Brakes break, as do cables, tires, tubes, shocks, carbs and a scorecard of other bits and bobs that followed us south. Rerouting, two-up and towing became par for the course. Breakdowns and beer fuelled it. The Chevy stopped inexplicably in the middle of nowhere and smack bang atop of a bed of scorpions. Harry and Lewie we’re locked in the car for the better part of a night with just cold beer and the thought of death by a thousand stings to keep them warm.
To get where we were going we had to put in at least five to six hours a day in the saddle, quickly developing sores and discomforts we each wore like boy scouts wear their merit badges. The four on the bikes were, for the most part, Forrest, Zye, Micah, and Matty. Harry and Lewie were in the Chevy. Ride, breakdown, beers … repeat. The days melted together and our minds drifted and unintentionally we started to give in to a collective id. Pack mentality. Up until then, we’d all been cutting our own routes, albeit in a planned direction and then by some unseen, unspoken command or snap of the fingers, we’d close rank and slip into this hive mind. Tempered under the relentless heat and the daily routine of ride, breakdown, beers … repeat.
It got to the point that everyone looked forward to when the sun hit that position along its sweep across the sky telling us it was time to look for a place to make camp. We’d learnt the hard way it’s better to set up early than to leave it late. Now nearly 10 days in we wore bodies that continually ached yet we still had enough clarity in our sandblown minds to circle up quickly and efficiently. Once the food was sorted and done that buzz of energy had us hankered into conversations that became barrage after an onslaught of different personal and logistical problems that we’d each been holding court with that day just past. As they petered out we got to opportunities and musings. They all needed input or output and remember this is that time after you feel you have just finished the day, so most responses were neither helpful nor entirely civil … then it is done and you’re necking the last out of the beer and heading to bed. Tomorrow we’ll do it all again.
There were many times along our route that one or all of us was seduced by the sirens’ call of some such thing that appeared on an otherwise spotless horizon. Someone was bound to fly off towards a new-found jump, attraction, person, food stall or distraction whipping us into a frenzied dalliance by this or that, and of course in the risk of missing out, the rest would follow.
And that’s pretty much what happened on that last day when the coast came back and the desert turned to sea. What was built broke apart. The one was gone and the individuals returned. Renewed vigour trod tall through each of the six. The road hugged the barren coast for the next 50 miles and we were already totally intoxicated in her when finally … the waves came into view. The very idea that we’d come together as one now seemed so distant and ludicrous that it was dropped like a hot tamale in the dust.
We parked the bikes, grabbed the boards and started to make for the water. We waded out to our knees and then as a wave passed, made that initial dive in. The cool waters washed away the fatigue we’d been carrying for the past two weeks and the first waves we caught made us forget about the tortuous repetition we’d needed to endure to get here. Now we had, it was all worthwhile.