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Ripping Baja on Bikes

Documentary filmmaker Dana Brown returned to the Baja Peninsula for a DIY adventure of sand, cactus, and a few Tecates.

by Will Grant
Feb 16 2016, 9:25pm

Courtesy Yeti Coolers

You could argue that the first adventure narrative to come out of the Baja Peninsula of Mexico was John Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez, a lazy, have-a-few-beers-on-deck account of a 1940 marine biology expedition to what's also known as the Gulf of California. The book was published in 1951, and soon enough gringos, mostly Californians, were carving out a dusty land of adventure south of the border.

Dirt bikes were a good way to travel the desert country, and in 1962 a pair of hardy men made the first timed ride on bikes between Tijuana and La Paz: 958 miles of arroyos, dry lake beds, dunes, and a lot of sand. The trip took 39 hours, 56 minutes, and it inspired the first Baja 1000 race, in 1967.

The following year, Bruce Brown, the Endless Summer filmmaker, shot the race for Wide World of Sports. Brown had already toured Baja on bike in 1965, and would later go on to make an acclaimed motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday (1971). In 2005, Bruce's son, Dana, wrote, directed, filmed, and edited Dust to Glory, a more modern look at the Baja 1000.

READ MORE: Remembering Dave Mirra

Given he and his family's deep involvement in both documentary filmmaking and ripping bikes down Baja, Dana was recently approached by Yeti Coolers about making a short film of a Baja trip—not the actual race but the kind of experience that inspired it.

When Dana called fellow Southern Californian and longtime Baja rider Carlin Dunne to round up some guys for the occasion, Dunne told him he was already planning just such a trip. Dunne and three other riders wound up spending a week last October navigating from Ensenada, just south of San Diego, to Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the peninsula, using maps and GPS. Dana caught the whole thing on camera.

Along with a few wipeouts and a lot of cactus, the film shows how doable a trip like this can be. Dunne was the only professional rider of the group. Though the logistics of the route required some heavy lifting and a chase vehicle, and maps, often handed down by riders of previous expeditions, could be borderline hearsay, Baja very much lends itself to this form of adventure.

"The Baja 1000 is basically the national sport of the peninsula, so everyone's super nice and accommodating," said Dana. "Every cantina you go in has race photos and race stickers on the wall. They've been doing it so long down there that the people totally embrace it."