Stephen Smith Takes Baja by Moto

In early December of 2015, field agent and photographer Stephen Smith and his compadre, Adam McCarty, took their motorcycles south down the California coast headed for the Baja peninsula. Over the course of a week, the duo thrashed through over a thousand miles of sand, saltwater, and cactus in search of freedom, perspective, and delicious cervezas. The Mountain Standard crew caught up with Stephen after the trip to get all the details on this dream excursion.

Let's start with the basics. For those who don't know, what's your deal? Who are you? What do you do? Where are you located?

I'm based between Colorado and California, but find myself living out of a suitcase or off of my motorcycle following work and adventure most of the time. I make a living taking photographs focusing on agrarian lifestyles and adventure travel subject matter. 

What was the inspiration behind this particular trip? Why Baja? Why on a motorcycle?

The motorcycle is almost always my preferred mode of transport when exploring new terrain. It exposes me to the elements, keeps the senses piqued, and offers an unparalleled sense of freedom. Baja jives with that freedom. It's like a remnant of the old wild (south) west--sparsely populated and rugged as hell. Having explored most of the the American west, I wanted to see what Baja was all about. Turns out, it's legendary!

Give us a brief timeline for the trip.

We went from Los Angeles to San Felipe, then down the Sea of Cortez even further to Alfonsinas. We spent a solid chunk of the trip romping around Valle de los Cirios, from Bahia de los Angeles across the peninsula to Santa Rosalita. We then sped north along the Pacific coast to Ensenada, and finally on back to L.A.!

What was, hands down, the best meal you ate while cruising the coast?

The night before my birthday we cooked veggies in the coals of a beach fire and seared some carne asada on hot stones in the fire. Rustic tacos + cold cerveza = heaven.

Was there ever a time on the trip that you considered turning around?

Absolutely! We both went down several times along the trip. My buddy wrecked, cracked a few ribs, sprained his ankle, and broke his windshield. We were about 30 miles from a village that MIGHT have had gas, in the middle of a remote valley, with the only road a section of the famed Baja 1000 course. We met a rancher who told us that if we kept going the road would be nearly impassible. The sun was getting low, and we were very tired. We made the decision to try to make it through the valley to the highway, 20 miles ahead. The road was filled with ruts and deep silt surrounded by huge cactuses. With the sun below the horizon, I went down in the silt. Beaten, exhausted, and discouraged, I decided that this is where we needed to stay for the night. Also, it was my birthday. Happy birthday to me!

What's the most challenging part of taking on a stretch of land like this via motorcycle?

The most challenging part of a trip like this in an area like this is the lack of resources in the event of an accident. We have to haul a lot our food, water, and gear, and be conscious of how to handle an extreme situation. A lack of planning can turn a bad situation deadly.

Adventures of this scale can spur reflective contemplation. Do you think this trip changed you in any profound way? How so?

Being in challenging situations that could have severe consequences often makes me feel the most alive and alert. There's also a point where if you cross that line and something terrible happens you question whether or not the activity is really worth it. Every motorcycle trip like this changes me for the better. It's raw, wild, and free.

As beautiful as the landscapes are, on trips like this I'm always struck by the variety of people. Did anyone in particular leave a lasting impression on you?

We met a very charismatic and interesting gentleman named Guillermo who spends his time between his family's rustic desert ranch and their small hotel/restaurant on the Sea of Cortez. We met him in the village at the bay of Los Angeles and serendipitously saw him in front of his ranch house while crossing the desert. His life seemed a bit slower, more rustic, and in touch with another era. 

Obviously, this trip occurred within the "Ocean" section of our four #RIMBY landscapes, but if you had to choose: Mountains, Oceans, Rivers, or Deserts?

Ah, I can't! That's why I'm so nomadic. Life is too short to only enjoy one landscape. That said, you will never catch me in the flatlands of the Midwest.

I think a lot of people would classify this trip as a "dream" adventure. What advice would you give to someone toying with a grand-scale adventure like this?

I've sacrificed financial stability, personal security, and possibly personal relationships  to be free enough to take these trips. I'd say it's all about priorities. Save up, block out time, do a lot of research, and go explore with an open heart and mind!

Where to next?

Well, I'm currently at the Jameson distillery in Ireland on a photo work trip, and then I'm flying to Oaxaca, Mexico tomorrow for a short film, and then on to Morocco at the end of the month. On a roll!!

For more awesome content from Stephen Smith and his compadre's moto trip, and other adventures, check out the website and Instagram accounts below! Power on.

Stephen Smith

Adam McCarty

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