The Adventure Begins


The highway from Ensenada to Catavina, just miles of rolling desert. (Photo: Alex Washburn)

We got up early on Friday, hugged a good friend goodbye, and set off into the sunrise…at one mile an hour for four blocks to get onto the on-ramp of the 405. One of the great aspects of being on a bike (I think these exist to make up for the ever present danger of death by riding) is that you can use the carpool lane, and we buzzed on down to San Diego to pick up parts and a last list of tools and supplies (thanks for the suggestion John!) before heading to the border.

In San Diego we stopped for lunch, and it was there that I really started to freak out about this trip. If someone would have asked me a month ago if I thought I would be scared to go on this trip I would have said no. All of the platitues about fear (nothing to fear but fear itself, you should do something every day that scares you, fear of the unknown) came to my mind, but channeling those did nothing to make me feel better. Finally I just had to turn it over, the fear was going to be there, but I had to admit not going on this trip would haunt me for the rest of my life. The dream was about to be real.

From San Diego, the border is maybe 13 miles (something absurd) and the process for crossing was even more bizarre. After entering the border crossing, Alex and I were put into corrals to wait to be processed. The gate came up and I inched forward, waiting for someone to flag me down and start searching the motorcycle. That never happened and before I knew it I was back on the freeway in Mexico. I pulled over to the side to wait for Alex, and she came cruising along a couple seconds later, that was our border crossing into Mexico.

As a side note, I later read in the AAA map we brought with us that we should have gotten an FTM card at the border becuase we are staying longer then three days and are going beyond Ensenada. It’s going to make leaving Mexico interesting.

After a quick stop at Santander (they are linked with BofA and will not charge you international banking fees!) it was off down Mexico 1 on our way to Esenada. We arrived at 4:30 and Alex’s hand drawn map was all we needed to make our way to the backpacker’s hostel. Our first question was if they had a place to stash the bikes and of course they did!

With a little help from the main desk, we backed the bikes into the alley on the side of the hostel, locked them up and went for fish tacos (way better then the ones Alex had in Santa Monica, and signifficantly cheaper). A short stroll around town after dinner was nice, good to stretch the legs a bit.

After all the driving and the early morning, we had to call it an early night, and the sun was coming for us for another long ride, to Catavina.

The Road to Farmersville

The view from the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier was a 180 from the previous 24 hours' worth of events.

The view from the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier was a 180 from the previous 24 hours’ worth of events.(Photo: Alex Washburn)

The silver lining of Wednesday, was my AAA premium service kicking in before the quoted 48-hour time frame and I received free towing to Farmersville California from Coalinga (score!).  We got to 360 Motorsports by opening time and proceeded to hangout with the mechanic and his Dad (the John’s) for the next seven hours.

John proceeded to go through the the bike step by step to see what the source of the stuttering could be, without much success. At one point, John suggested digging into Alex’s bike to swap out the CDI (Capacitor Discharged Ignition) which controls all the electronics for the bike and if that didn’t work he was stumped (this is one reason Alex and I have the same bike, so that we can use one as a reference for the other).

Alex and I meandered over to the one of only two food options close by to discuss the situation and our options.  I even called the former owner of the bike to see if he ever had the sputtering problem as he was familiar with the bike.  This was the lowest point of Wednesday- where our hope was running thin.

Re-fueled with coffee and a plan we headed back to the shop without much certainty that there would be a solution.  The CDI swap hadn’t yielded anything, and John’s last idea was the check the readings of all the individual electric components against the manufacturers suggested readings.

This is where we struck gold.

The ignition coil is supposed to read .4 and mine was at 1.8.  He swapped in the ignition coil from Alex’s bike, took mine for a spin, and came back triumphant.  The bike ran like a champ, with no sputtering at all.

The next issue, could we find a spare ignition coil locally….the answer was no.  Luckily John has a bunch of spare motorcycles around, and sourced a spare ignition coil from a 50cc Honda moped (they have the same electrical output).

Alex: “Like with organ transplants, there is a theory that the recipient sometimes takes on characteristics of the donor”

Me: “So my bike is now going to think it is a 50cc?”

Alex: “Yep.”

John threw it in the bike, took another ride, and the bike was ready to push on.  It took another thirty minutes for Alex and I to get all of the gear back on the bikes and get ourselves ready to go.

Alex wanted us to get to LA.  With the sun setting and the temperature dropping, we made our way down 99 towards LA.

It took us three and a half hours and two stops, but the bike held up and ran perfectly.  The one heralding challenge was riding the Grapevine at night, but we both stayed confident and vigilant, and before we knew it we were in the valley and in a warm house of a good college friend (shout out to Mac).

I ordered a spare ignition coil which will arrive in San Diego by Friday and give us one free day in Santa Monica!

Mac is in Los Angeles attending the MBA program at UCLA. Watching him iron his shirt before class was how we started our delightful day in Santa Monica.

Mac is in Los Angeles attending the MBA program at UCLA. Watching him iron his shirt before class was how we started our delightful day in Santa Monica.(Photo: Alex Washburn)

Nathaniel on the Ferris Wheel at the Santa Monica Pier.

Our second night in Santa Monica gave us enough time to hang out with Mac and Cristina!

Our second night in Santa Monica gave us enough time to hang out with Mac and Cristina!(Photo: Alex Washburn)

As a good friend commented on our Facebook page:

“Its good to earn those stripes early, on home soil, so when the real adventure begins you’ve got a few calluses.”

Tomorrow (Friday) we should be picking up my ignition coil at 9 AM in San Diego and heading to Mexico as soon as they install it.

Coalinga California

Welcome to Coalinga.

Welcome to Coalinga. (Photo: Alex Washburn)

In the last few days leading up to, what in our minds was, the glorious start of Autopista End Nathaniel and I have had some bad luck with our bikes.

It started when he took his bike to a mechanic in Sacramento and had them do a complete overhaul to get it ready for the trip. New air filter, new tires, new chain, they made everything new and shiny and perfect so of course it had to malfunction.

Less then two miles from the mechanic’s at 7:30 at night the bike started sputtering and eventually ceased to be ridable. Good piece of advice, AAA will only tow motorcycles if you have the premium service, so make sure and plan ahead if you have a motorcycle.

Nathaniel took the KLR back to the mechanic the following day and eventually the guy told him a piece of hay had somehow gotten into the intake valve – they removed it, flushed out the system, and it seemed to ride fine.

The day he got his bike “fixed fixed” (Saturday) my chain snapped on the freeway just hours after someone told me it was too loose.

I was told that a chain breaking while you are riding can be really dangerous but thankful nothing happened and a Kawasaki dealership near my house had an extra chain.

We are not mechanics. Before a month ago we had never taken any type of tool to a motorcycle.  However, Sunday we replaced my chain and sprockets in my garage with some tools donated by my wonderful neighbors.

Donnie fixed some of my wires that were severed when my chain snapped... and thankfully babysat us as we spent 6 hours replacing my chain and sprockets.

Donnie fixed some of my wires that were severed when my chain snapped… and thankfully babysat us as we spent 6 hours replacing my chain and sprockets.(Photo: Alex Washburn)

One of them is actually a mechanic by trade and he was awesome babysitting us through the process!

Anyways – these issues kicked our departure date back from the 7th of October to the 8th.

This morning we got on the road around 9:30 and started cruising south on I-5. Our goal was to take a break and get something to eat after hitting 150 miles.

Somewhere around the 60 mile mark Nathaniel’s bike started sputtering again while cruising at 70 mph. After a brief stop to discuss the situation and have our first bike tip-over of the trip (Nathaniel) we decided to try and hit the 150 mile mark and assess our options.

We ended up on a beat up patch of asphalt just off I-5 called Coalinga. After talking on the phone to the mechanic who had worked on Nathaniel’s bike in Sacramento we decided to try a few fixes ourselves.

We spent about an hour and a half next to Denny’s disconnecting the tachometer and playing with a few other things before calling it quits and heading to the nearest Motel 6 (which happened to be just a block away).

By this time the winds had shifted and the smell of cow was strong in the air.

After some fruit loops for dinner (thanks Chevron!) our spirits are a little higher and we have plans to take Nathaniel’s bike to a mechanic first thing in the morning.

“I didn’t know where I thought I would be spending tonight – but I didn’t think it was going to be a Motel 6 in Coalinga.” -Nathaniel

Sorry for the blandness of this post… Hopefully we will be eating fish tacos within 48 hours!  And always remember, even if its not part of the plan, it’s always part of the adventure.


Before we began planning Autopista End Nathaniel and I were already very well traveled. It was one of the things that first attracted us to one another.

Before we began planning Autopista End Nathaniel and I were already very well traveled. It was one of the things that first attracted us to one another. Before leaving on Autopista End Nathaniel had traveled 11 countries and I had traveled 24. (Photo: Alex Washburn)

Several Months ago Nathaniel and I were lying side by side staring at the ceiling of our nice apartment and mentally preparing to go back to our nice jobs the following day. Jobs- made possible by our nice college educations, stable lives and generally agreeable existence.

Despite all of this we had this overwhelming sense of being overwhelmed and sad. As I write this I realize it could be called bored housewife syndrome. There’s no particular thing that should be causing you to feel helpless or depressed but you do.

This is the ultimate #firstworldproblem.

Staring up into the dark Nathaniel inhaled a slightly deeper breath and in the form of a question said “We should just get some motorcycles and ride to Tierra Del Fuego.”

In our relationship and in life Nathaniel is very much an accountant and I am very much a photographer. When he is the one to come up with a nutty idea like taking up running, loosing insane amounts of weight or riding to Tierra Del Fuego there is no backstop for the idea to bounce off of. The idea just keeps going.

I laid there thinking… I inhaled deeply a few times to respond with “But we…” and realized there was no truly logical reason why we couldn’t make this happen.

We could afford it.
I speak spanish.
Our apartment was month to month.
My Mom could watch the cat.

“Yeah, okay. We can do that.” And we went to sleep.

The next day I presented Nathaniel with a logical departure date based on weather patterns and life events and a list of entry requirements for every South American country. I began bombarding him with travel concerns and logistics and his wide-eyed look usually reserved for my most frustrating and insane plans started to get bigger and bigger.

We had to have at least one more discussion about the trip before that look of his disappeared but it really didn’t take that long.

After our decision was truly made the path to actually leaving was made up of a relatively basic but long check list.

First: We needed motorcycles.