October 18, 2016
Our friend Richard is the hardy soul who runs the place, and he’s lived off the grid for decades. Richard can cook a mean lobster dinner, wire up his own solar array and out-surf anyone depending on his motivation and workload at the time of day.The crew we assembled for this adventure was a motley and experienced bunch. Matt Frick—chase driver on every El Diablo Run since 2007—came along to pilot our van. Frick runs a Baja off-road tour company called Camp4Lo and knows Mexico goat trails like the back of his hand—most of them at least. My son Flynn aka “B-roll” is the one-man army who creates Biltwell’s extensive video collection, so he piled his gear in the van and happily came along for the footy and good times. Nelson’s crew included Sandon the photographer who just got back from shooting for Subaru in Cambodia; Phil, Trek Bicycle’s mountain-bike suspension engineer who also shreds on a dirt bike; and Kelly, the only supermodel who’s sweeter than she is hot. Not a bad posse to chill with under any circumstances. We met up with Juan Carlos from Baja Voyager in Ensenada. JC is easily the most fun and knowledgeable amigo a crew could ask for. Cuatro Casas is a surf hostel situated on a bluff above a super-fun point break about 175 miles south of the San Diego/TJ border. Not only does the place include enough beds to house a platoon of surfers, it has the “Showbowl”; a perfectly skateable kidney-shaped pool. Hot showers and a well-stocked kitchen complete the list of amenities at this famous destination. Our friend Richard is the hardy soul who runs the place, and he’s lived off the grid for decades. Richard can cook a mean lobster dinner, wire up his own solar array and out-surf anyone depending on his motivation and workload at the time of day. Richard hosted one of the most memorable events in our company’s history back in 2010. The Biltwell 500 was our first foray into the surf/chopper PLT formula, and it was a life-changer. At Cuatro Casas the coffee is hot and black, the beer is cold and the food and conversations are always top-notch. As an old South Bay surfer from back in the day, sitting under Cuatro’s cliffside palapa on a gritty old couch, shooting fireworks into the cold Pacific night is as fun and life-affirming as good times get. From our base camp at Cuatros we rode north on ever-changing trails to Rancho San Antonio Del Mar where I have a small, deteriorating shack that’s been sacked by banditos so many times I’ve just about given up. It’s roughly 20 miles of sandy washes, used-up Baja 1000 course and maze-like, cross-fenced cattle ranches. After about an hour of dodging cows and barbed-wire, we dumped onto the beach around Campo Corona and enjoyed the cool weather and deserted dunes while we waited for the Honda Ridgeline and the rest of our crew.
If about half of America admitted what they actually used their trucks for, the Ridgeline would probably be the smartest choice they could make.So, about that Ridgeline. Admittedly, I’m used to the security of my extremely capable, slightly modified 4x4 Toyota Tacoma. I’ve thrashed a variety of vehicles in the unfriendly terrain of northern Mexico’s trails: legit race cars, capable pre-runners, beat-up Baja bugs, old Samurais, burly Broncos full-sized, kitted-out rigs, you name it. At the end of the day, I prefer my Baja Taco. Watching Chris bury the Ridgeline up to its doors in sugar sand was not only satisfying, it showed the limits of what Honda engineers probably had in mind when they designed this “truck.” OK, it’s not a gnarly off-roader. But that’s not what I think it’s meant for. If about half of America admitted what they actually used their trucks for, the Ridgeline would probably be the smartest choice they could make. I drove it for less than two hours, through shallow sand washes, typical Baja washboard and a little highway action. It performed in those conditions with confidence with just enough ground clearance and ruggedness to avoid polishing the undercarriage, all while providing us with a world-class interior, plenty of power, and some ingenious features out back. The tailgate that swings from the bottom or the side (like ‘70s station wagons) is something the rest of truck manufacturers should copy immediately. The gear-swallowing compartment under the rear portion of the bed doubles as a cooler (complete with drain) or clever dry storage device. I didn’t even notice the bed-mount speakers, but that’s kind of cool too, especially if you are using that tailgate for a party. Chris has way more modern automotive knowledge and spills all the science and specs in his story here for you spoke sniffers. The fact that it hauled the Automobile magazine crew, two full-size dirt bikes and all their gear over some fairly challenging terrain proved to me that the Ridgeline is a pretty capable unit while still maintaining the poise and reliability that Hondas are known for. If you need something gnarlier, get a proper body-on-frame truck and be prepared for a less composed rig on the street. The next day Otto and I crossed the peninsula on XR’s while the rest of the crew took the long way to Baja’s northeast coast through Ensenada and across Highway 3. The short cut through the grape vineyards and back country wasn’t particularly challenging on dirt bikes, but it was fun, and we stopped for warm Cokes at a fly-infested shack complete with a pitbull-mix puppy that we desperately wanted to stuff in a CamelBak and take home. Some experiences are very Baja-specific. We met up with the crew at the entrance to the Diablo Dry Lake. Few things are more satisfying than ripping across a hard-packed dry lake bed on a dirt bike or in a four-wheeled chariot. Phil showcased his skill with high-speed wheelies in the 100+ degree baked wasteland. I’d never been through this route, and navigating out was challenging to say the least. We found course markers left over from past Baja 1000 races, but there was no way the Honda or the team van would make it through the deep washes. We did however find two military patrols; one a little pissed that we had blown past them, and another that helped our dumb gringos asses find our way to the mildest escape route to Highway 5. After the relentless heat of the all-day ride, I enjoyed the cold shower that greeted me at our base camp on Baja’s east coast at Kiki’s Campo. While I took a long nap, the younger members of our posse frolicked in the Sea of Cortez. We met up later for margaritas and gorged on San Felipe seafood, recounting the good times and enjoying the camaraderie. Back at the van, Frick and I polished off the last of the Pacificos and started planning the next excursion. Otto, Flynn, Matt and I hauled ass out of town early the next day while the Automobile Mag crew stayed behind to blast some berms and get humbled by the local quad track. The Pro Leisure Tour sounds like it is should be an easy time, but “easy” really isn’t the point. By the time we got home from this trip, everyone was seriously worn out. The PLT ain’t for everyone. It’s not an umbrella-drink kind of experience; it’s a little more work, and I’m totally OK with that. Thanks, Otto! Muchas Gracias to our buddy JC from Baja Voyager, everyone at Automobile magazine, Richard at Cuatro Casas, Kiki’s Campo, Camp4Lo and all the hardy, friendly people of Baja California we’ve met along the way for making another meaningful trip possible. Thanks to Sandon Voelker at Automobile mag for the awesome photos.