Saturday. Doing Time In San Quintin.

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I absorbed the sunrise over the Sea of Cortez this morning. Radiant orange and brilliant red framing a tranquil silhouette of both Isla Angel de la Guarda and Isla Coronado and several others that provide the intrigue and wonder of Bahia de los Angeles. I shuffled my feet and got back under the covers.

Later packing my bike a group of Mexicans were chattering under the umbrellas outside my room and the motel’s restaurant. I thought why not. So before getting on the road I decided to have breakfast. When I didn’t finish my entire Huevos Machaca both Victoria and her husband, a stocky man with wiry grey hair framing a weathered face with a warm smile and rotting teeth. “No te gusta?” I had already filled three tortillas and my plate still looked fill. Concerned and showing strained emotion on their faces the best I could do in my broken Espanglish was to convince them that by downing three tortillas full I had enjoyed my comida immensely.

I continued my journey North through the Baja desert. Passing through Catavina then rolling toward El Rosario the landscape again changed and I felt a slight chill to the air, quite a contrast from the desert heat. The desert transformed into a fertile valley. My first clue to the vast agricultural efforts here was rounding a corner and seeing what looked like a Red River. As I descended and slowed to see this amazing site I discovered a farm worker, his wife and son scattering red chiles on the side of rhe road to dry. Soon after the road dumped downward and my heart was thrilled to gaze once again onto the grand Pacific Ocean. Cruising along the beach headed for San Quintin (pronounced kin teen) I had to refrain from pulling down dozens of dirt roads that headed directly to the ocean over grass strewn bluffs.

The road to The Old Mill Motel and Restaurant stretches nearly 4 miles from the dusty settlement of San Quintin. Rock, dirt and sand blown from the bluffs made for a simple, fun and at times taxing ride to the Bahia Santo Maria. Anytime a two wheeled machine comes into contact with sand more than a couple inches deep it can throw the bike and your senses into a squirrely and trying state. The key is to maintain speed, yet not go to fast. The rear wheel spins and gains and loses traction as it zigs and zags behind the front wheel which provides the traction and maintains the bike’s direction. Soon I was in my zen mode of the end of day riding ritual and unpacking my bike sipping a Pacifico provided free of charge at check-in.

I watched the Mexican fisherman perched and sitting comfortably on their boat watch the two Gringo boats lined up to use the boat loading ramp. They smiled and giggled as it took one man three attempts and getting on his trailer. Later this group of fisherman played loud blues music and exchanged fish stories right next to my room. Still later three guys from Orange County pulled up on Cagiva Ducati motorcycles.

People come to San Quintin for one thing. Fish. Or, like the mixed race couple slumbering on the second floor balcony reading, you might come for peace and quiet. At least when the fisherman are at sea. But this weekend was different. In about two weeks Baja California will be invaded by thousands of fossil fuel burning endurance and off-road vehicles for what is perhaps one of the most grueling motorsport races in the world: The Baja 1,000. The race is held every couple years. On off years it is simply the Baja 500. Hundreds of wannabees take over the small dusty towns of Northern Baja in the weeks prior to the official race to test and pre-run the actual race course. Once the course is laid out and made public off-road enthusiasts tear up the dunes, dig out the silt beds and fly across rocks and cacti. By the time sun fell the parking lot of the hotel was filled with macho pick-up trucks toting trailers with dune fearing vehicles. Or the even braver with their dual-sport pickups cradling a spare tire in the bed of the truck.

In fitting contrast I met Sara and Karen in the restaurant during dinner. From Outside Toronto they are at the tail end of a three week odyssey combing the coastal dunes of the Pacific from Oregon to Baja. Why? They are trying to understand why two plants that make these dunes their home only grow as far south and the bluffs and dunes of San Quintin. The Sand Verbena is a purple plant with white center while the Beach Evening Primrose features a soft yellow flower. The restaurant noise level increased as tables filled with Baja 1,000 pre-runners.

Photos: (1) Desert roads take you through the real Baja. (2) Desert transforms to fertile agricultral region. (3) On the Pacific side, sunset lighting makes for a tranquil scene, save the noisy fisherman and Baja 1,000 pre-runners.