Baja Ride Day One 2020: The battle begins
The parking lot at Estero Beach Hotel in Ensenada

The 2020 Baja Ride Day One started out, as usual, with the riders gathering on a Saturday afternoon in Ensenada, Mexico. But this year it was with a set of mixed emotions. The excitement and anticipation of the upcoming journey were preeminent. But underlying those emotions were some new and unusual concerns. The world was falling into chaos due to the COVID virus, and although no limitations or restrictions had been put in place yet, there was a feeling that being away from home was maybe not the best idea.

In addition to those concerns, the Baja Ride had lost one of its own on the previous ride a year ago. An accident on a paved section of road had claimed the life of Jim Libby. Jim had ridden and raced in Baja for years. He was an excellent rider and an amazing friend to the Baja Ride group. Every one of us missed having his company as we prepared to start our journey.

On the morning of Day One, the riders set out on their journey.

The riders approached the strange tension at the beginning of the 2020 Baja Ride in different ways, but each compartmentalized the negativity and moved forward toward our common goal. We planned to ride over 1500 miles off-road from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas. In 7 days.

The recent rains had turned Northern Baja a bright green.

Day One of the 2020 Baja Ride started out cool and crisp, with a bright, sunny sky. This year's large group of riders were up well before dawn and waiting for the restaurant at the Estero Beach Resort to open for breakfast. It's an unusual group of men that will pay to go on a vacation that demands that they get up at 5:00 am.

We ride some of the most remote trails imaginable on the Baja Ride.

The big group of over 55 riders broke up into smaller riding teams. Usually, two or three riders would stick together for the entire journey. They would watch out for each other and help each other along the way. As usual, Luke and Rick teamed up, both eager to begin the semi-organized chaos that was their typical Baja Ride.

"Epic" barely serves to describe the conditions of the morning on Day One.

They headed south from Ensenada and turned off the main highway near Uruapan and then headed into the backcountry away from the pavement and the settlements. The dirt was wet and the traction was abundant, and even though it was only day one, the pace of Luke and Rick steadily increased. Both were smiling as they motored around corners and blasted down the straights of the tacky green trails.

While Luke and Rick began their week-long battle, some of the riders that were closest to Jim Libby headed to his crash site where a memorial had been placed. They honored his memory and all of his contributions to the ride, not to mention the charitable work he had done worldwide.

Memorial to Jim Libby.

The morning of Day One was crisp and cool.

Every rider that had known Jim was thinking of him that morning and the deep, lush green of the surrounding hills and the golden sunlight of the morning seemed a fitting tribute to a brother who loved Baja. As the morning wore on, the mood lightened and the big group of riders began to enjoy themselves.

This area is home to a few hardy cattle ranchers.

Luke and Rick have an understanding as far as their riding goes; it's always a race. The 2020 Baja Ride is over 1500 miles and racing every mile of it would be close to impossible, so the two riders go at it off and on all day, every day. When the mood strikes, they pick up the pace and start passing each other in every corner.

Look for our review of the 2020 Husqvarna FE501s soon!

As the morning grew late on Day One of the 2020 Baja Ride, Luke and Rick leave most of the other riders behind as the level of competition, and stupidity, increases. After some time, both riders realize that they need to take a little break to get things back under control. They park the bikes and chew on a few trail snacks, laughing and carrying on about who passed who. No one comes along behind them while they take their break.

Mi Pueblito in Valle de Trinidad offers amazing food.

The common GPS track that each of the riders is following leads them through some remote countryside and along the path of the Baja 1000 racecourse from years gone by. They press on and roll into the town of Valle de Trinidad. Lunch is found at Mi Pueblito, a family-owned restaurant that serves amazing food. If you're ever in the area, check it out. We highly recommend it!

By early afternoon, things are already starting to look a little less lush.

After lunch, the riders headed south towards Mike's Sky Ranch. Having just eaten lunch, they bypassed Mike's and stayed on the trail. More often than not, there is a little water flowing across the main road into Mike's, but this year the road was under almost a foot of water.

Dr. Joe and Mucho Bill crossing the water on the road into Mike's.

Rick and Luke were out in front of the group at this point. They crossed the stream at Mike's easily. The roadbed underneath was solid and made crossing a simple task. They followed the GPS track southeast of Mike's and headed up the mountain canyon. Soon, they came upon another water crossing, and there was no solid roadbed at the bottom of this one. They struggled through it, only to have to cross back over again almost immediately.

An unusual site in Baja.

There was a new river flowing up near Mike's.

The two riders soldiered on, eventually finding that the trail led them up onto higher ground. They motored along thinking the worst of it was behind them. Then they dropped down a short steep rock face onto a sandy plateau and faced another water crossing.

This one was narrower and faster moving than the previous crossings. Luke and Rick each took a turn stepping out into the flow of the stream and found that within a couple of steps the water level was up to their waists. Not willing to ingest water into the engines of their bikes, they started hunting for an alternate way around the torrent of water.

With precious time ticking away, they explored on foot but eventually accepted that there was no practical way across the flowing water. They headed back down the way they had come, and began crossing the water again, but this time from the opposite direction. They came face to face with a large number of riders who were still working on going up the canyon.

This one was waist-deep two steps from the dirt.

The whole group eventually got turned around and an alternative plan was conceived. They looped around the southwest side of Mike's and quickly up into the high country. The selected a number of trails that would eventually lead them back to their original track above the troublesome water crossings.

The group was struggling with the soft bottom of the wash.

With a large group of riders all heading in the same direction, the pace quickly increased. Smarter riders let others pass, but several got caught up in the moment. A handful of riders got whittled down to three as Luke and Rick were joined by Victor in a three-way duel in the narrow, twisting mountain two tracks. The 2020 Baja Ride was Victor's second trip with the group and the former fighter pilot instructor was right at home in the high-speed battle on the steep, loose and rocky trails with Luke and Rick.

A 24-mile extra credit loop of rocks, ruts, and other nastiness.

After an hour or so, the riders eventually dropped onto some lonely pavement. They followed the GPS track but then missed a turn. They rode several miles along the road before they realized their mistake and headed back the way they had come. They found the correct path and headed off the pavement again. Some of the guys wished they had stayed on the smooth pavement as the track led them onto a primitive two-track littered with hidden rocks and ruts.

The pounding of the trail went on and on for over 24 miles and was a test of stamina. The loop they were on was "extra credit" since the pavement would have taken them where they needed to go, but that was the whole point of the 2020 Baja Ride for most of them. To challenge themselves and to explore hidden parts of Baja.

Late in the day, we made our way back to the Pacific Coast.

The trail improved as they headed west and closed back in on the coastal communities. They eventually got on a dirt road and rode into the town of Emiliano Zapata, then onto Vicente Guererro. They purchased fuel in town and headed for the dirt roads along the Pacific coast.

Luke was feeling it and pushed his way to the front of the group. He quickly missed a navigation point and was headed back towards the main highway. Victor, who was still riding with them, had no power to his GPS and had to follow another rider to stay on course. With Luke motoring off in the distance, Rick and Victor waited for him briefly to realize his mistake, and when he didn't, they headed off on the correct track.

They moved along quickly through the twisting turning roads in the low lying areas west of San Quintin. Rick kept the pace high, and Victor stayed glued to him capitalizing on the small delays that Rick had navigating through the many different trails. Eventually, they popped out of the marshland and onto the beach not too far from the hotel for the night. They circled around behind the hotel, and around a fence into the parking lot.

Each rider checked in by signing in on a board with all the rider's names on it. They toggled the button on their tracking devices alerting loved ones that they were in for the night. Then they got busy doing the maintenance on their bikes and sipped a cold beer as they watched the sun go down. Day One of the 2020 Baja Ride was over.

Sunset in San Quintin.

Total Daily Distance: 204 miles

Total Trip Distance: 204 miles

Approximate route on Day One of the 2020 Baja Ride.

Follow this link to continue reading Baja Ride 2020 Day Two.

If you want to join us for the epic journey next year, check out Malcolm Smith Adventures website.

Check out the ride report from the 2018 Baja Ride!

Ride on, Jim.