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Backcountry to Baja

Otay Mountain, Tecate, T.J.: four-hour day trip adventure.

Our bike on the Otay Mountain truck trail.
Our bike on the Otay Mountain truck trail.

Awhile back we traveled to Nicaragua. Much of the country’s road systems are inaccessible by car, and if you wanted to explore the interior you were forced to walk, ride a bike or rent a motorcycle. We chose the latter and had so much fun we decided to purchase a two-wheeler when we got back to the U.S.

After weeks of scouring Craigslist, I finally found a 2007 BMW F 650 GS that fit our requirements perfectly. It's a single-engine bike and easy to maintain. The engine is large enough to maintain 75 mph on the freeway, and the weight is light enough to man handle if you get into trouble off road.

Otay exploring

For our first outing we chose the Otay Mountain Truck Trail in southern San Diego County. The entrance to the road is a bit difficult to find, but if you follow the signs to the Donovan State Prison you will find the paved road ends just after the incarceration center. It is here that the truck trail begins. Or at least it did for us.

The 17-mile road is a mixture of dirt and gravel and used primarily by the U.S. Border Patrol. We were told that the area is typically streaming with rangers; however, we spotted only a couple of empty trucks parked strategically in hopes that they might act as a deterrent to those illegally crossing the border. There is certainly the feeling of isolation in the backcountry, even as you look down on the major cities that straddle our border.

Many opportunities present themselves to explore other trails as you traverse the border road. Some are flat dirt tracts while others would challenge the best motocross riders.

Backcounty route to Baja

As for us, we were satisfied with staying on the steep and winding main route where my bike performed far superior to the driver. Nonetheless, I did manage to keep us upright and we navigated – albeit slowly – up and down the mountainous tract before emerging just short of the Mexican border.

Enjoying the festivities in Tecate's central plaza.

Back on the much welcomed pavement we turned south, passed through Campo and crossed into Baja in less than 15 minutes.

Tecate is a small border town. The biggest draw for me is its central plaza. Here you can sit at a sidewalk cafe and sip on a cold drink while listening to the many mariachi bands. On this Sunday afternoon the park was alive with families and art displays. It was a wonderful opportunity to experience the friendliness and simplicity of the country.

Onward to T.J.

After downing a couple of tacos and a Coke, we donned our helmets and headed out for Tijuana. Mexican Highway 2 runs parallel to the U.S.; it’s well maintained and easy to follow. In no time we had entered the outskirts of Baja’s largest city.

Tijuana is everything that Tecate is not. It's sprawling, busy, polluted and congested. Driving becomes more difficult as one nears the city center as the traffic bottlenecks. We made only a couple of stops as I wanted to purchase some mezcal I had enjoyed on previous trips to Baja. Unfortunately the brand was nowhere to be found. Always the good sport when it comes to alcohol I found a bottle that would do, and we headed for the U.S. Border.

To our dismay the lines stretched backward for miles – however, another good thing about having a motorcycle is being able to cut through the lanes. Other than one motorist, everyone was courteous and allowed for our passage. Even so, we still had to dodge vendors and their carts, and it ended up taking about an hour to snake our way to the inspection point.

Once there, we were quickly waived through and crossed back into the good ol' U.S. of A. Our total travel time was less than four hours.

If you go

Riding a motorcycle added to the fun of this trip, but it can be also made in a car or truck. I have read of two-wheel cars driving the Otay Mountain Truck Trail, but no doubt a four-wheel drive vehicle would be preferable.

It's not what you drive, but that you go. Within the day we experienced wilderness, small towns, large cities and two countries. Further evidence we live in America’s Finest City!

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Our bike on the Otay Mountain truck trail.
Our bike on the Otay Mountain truck trail.

Awhile back we traveled to Nicaragua. Much of the country’s road systems are inaccessible by car, and if you wanted to explore the interior you were forced to walk, ride a bike or rent a motorcycle. We chose the latter and had so much fun we decided to purchase a two-wheeler when we got back to the U.S.

After weeks of scouring Craigslist, I finally found a 2007 BMW F 650 GS that fit our requirements perfectly. It's a single-engine bike and easy to maintain. The engine is large enough to maintain 75 mph on the freeway, and the weight is light enough to man handle if you get into trouble off road.

Otay exploring

For our first outing we chose the Otay Mountain Truck Trail in southern San Diego County. The entrance to the road is a bit difficult to find, but if you follow the signs to the Donovan State Prison you will find the paved road ends just after the incarceration center. It is here that the truck trail begins. Or at least it did for us.

The 17-mile road is a mixture of dirt and gravel and used primarily by the U.S. Border Patrol. We were told that the area is typically streaming with rangers; however, we spotted only a couple of empty trucks parked strategically in hopes that they might act as a deterrent to those illegally crossing the border. There is certainly the feeling of isolation in the backcountry, even as you look down on the major cities that straddle our border.

Many opportunities present themselves to explore other trails as you traverse the border road. Some are flat dirt tracts while others would challenge the best motocross riders.

Backcounty route to Baja

As for us, we were satisfied with staying on the steep and winding main route where my bike performed far superior to the driver. Nonetheless, I did manage to keep us upright and we navigated – albeit slowly – up and down the mountainous tract before emerging just short of the Mexican border.

Enjoying the festivities in Tecate's central plaza.

Back on the much welcomed pavement we turned south, passed through Campo and crossed into Baja in less than 15 minutes.

Tecate is a small border town. The biggest draw for me is its central plaza. Here you can sit at a sidewalk cafe and sip on a cold drink while listening to the many mariachi bands. On this Sunday afternoon the park was alive with families and art displays. It was a wonderful opportunity to experience the friendliness and simplicity of the country.

Onward to T.J.

After downing a couple of tacos and a Coke, we donned our helmets and headed out for Tijuana. Mexican Highway 2 runs parallel to the U.S.; it’s well maintained and easy to follow. In no time we had entered the outskirts of Baja’s largest city.

Tijuana is everything that Tecate is not. It's sprawling, busy, polluted and congested. Driving becomes more difficult as one nears the city center as the traffic bottlenecks. We made only a couple of stops as I wanted to purchase some mezcal I had enjoyed on previous trips to Baja. Unfortunately the brand was nowhere to be found. Always the good sport when it comes to alcohol I found a bottle that would do, and we headed for the U.S. Border.

To our dismay the lines stretched backward for miles – however, another good thing about having a motorcycle is being able to cut through the lanes. Other than one motorist, everyone was courteous and allowed for our passage. Even so, we still had to dodge vendors and their carts, and it ended up taking about an hour to snake our way to the inspection point.

Once there, we were quickly waived through and crossed back into the good ol' U.S. of A. Our total travel time was less than four hours.

If you go

Riding a motorcycle added to the fun of this trip, but it can be also made in a car or truck. I have read of two-wheel cars driving the Otay Mountain Truck Trail, but no doubt a four-wheel drive vehicle would be preferable.

It's not what you drive, but that you go. Within the day we experienced wilderness, small towns, large cities and two countries. Further evidence we live in America’s Finest City!

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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