“I live a life of fucking dreams.” So says Chris McIntyre, co-founder of Eagle Rider, the world’s biggest motorcycle tourism company. In fairness, McIntyre is not a profane man. But we’ve just had a couple margaritas at the place they were allegedly invented in Ensenada, Baja California, so the curse word is not out of place. And quite frankly, McIntyre speaks the truth.
To understand what I mean, though, we’ll have to back up a bit. See, earlier this winter, Eagle Rider invited me on a motorcycle trip from San Diego down into Mexico, and even knowing little about the company—and possessing even less moto riding experience—I jumped at the chance.
And over the course of the epic four-day adventure, I never regretted that decision once. OK, maybe for a moment, but more on that later. The point is, McIntyre and co-founder Jeff Brown do make dreams possible for those with a passion for flying down the highway on two wheels. And here are just a few of the lessons I picked up down Mexico way…
I was so amped to be rolling into another country on a big-ass Harley that I didn’t really sweat the tears streaking down my cheeks or feeling like my helmet could be blown off at any moment… too much.
1. The best way to cross the border might be on the back of a Low Rider…
As I mentioned, I’m hardly a seasoned motorcyclist. While I got my license a few years ago, I did not become an actual bike owner until late last year, when I found a beautiful 2014 Triumph Bonneville T-100 Black on Craigslist. It’s compact and nimble and perfect for New York City. However, as a Sons of Anarchy fan, I knew the open roads of California demanded nothing less than a roaring Harley. Thankfully, the guys at Eagle Rider delivered, lining up a badass Dyna Low Rider for the trip. With a heavier body, a lower seat and a much bigger engine than my Bonnie (1690cc vs. 865), it’s a whole different ride. And from the moment I swung a leg over the seat, I fucking loved it.
2. …But you’d better embrace the experience.
I probably should have thought twice about opting for the classic Harley half-shell helmet when the vast majority of my fellow riders—journalists and various Eagle Rider employees, all simultaneously awesome and way more experienced—opted for full-face brain buckets. But I had this daydream about riding into the wind wearing black shades and a black bandanna and I was gonna see it through, dammit. Once he hit the highway and started hauling ass toward the border at a solid 75 miles an hour, I began to recognize the wisdom of a more substantial helmet or, you know, a windshield. But I was so amped to be rolling into another country on a big-ass Harley that I didn’t really sweat the tears streaking down my cheeks or feeling like my helmet could be blown off at any moment… too much.
3. Margaritas may have originated in Ensenada.
According to Wikipedia, the margarita has a plethora of origin stories. And according to a sign outside Bar Andaluz in Ensenada, this laidback bar that smells of popcorn (they serve a lot of it) is where it all began. I’d be lying if I said their margs are the best I’ve ever had, but at least the portions are generous. After a couple cocktails, our crew was ready to move on to a real Ensenada institution called Hussong’s Cantina. And here’s where things get a bit weird. Because Wikipedia—which makes no mention of Bar Andaluz—does reference “a commonly accepted origin story” that Hussong’s bartender Don Carlos Orozco first concocted the drink for the German ambassador’s daughter in October of 1941. Her name? Margarita Henkel. But I didn’t know all that at the time, so I didn’t have any margs at Hussong’s. Just tequila. Way too much tequila.
4. Mexican cover bands can really jam.
The real highlight of Hussong’s turned out to be the seemingly nonstop parade of bands (mariachi and otherwise) that rotated through every half hour or so. Some were good, some were bad, and one had this drummer who did more with less better than any musician besides Jack White at the beginning of It Might Get Loud…
5. Some of the best tacos come from taco stands.
In New York, even the best Mexican food isn’t that great. Out west, average Mexican food is still pretty good. And in actual Mexico, pretty good Mexican food is fuckin’ phenomenal. We had a lot of great meals on this trip, but my favorite was the simplest, a couple of fresh carnitas tacos and an ice-cold bottle of Mexican Coke (the kind with real sugar cane) at Ensenada’s Taqueria El Trailero. Fast, hot and cheap, it’s definitely worth a stop below the border.
6. Some bikes handle off-roading better than others.
Toward the end of our trip, we stayed at a beautiful ranch in the wine region called Valle de Guadalupe. Getting there over some seriously rocky roads proved to be a challenge on the Low Rider. Meanwhile, bumps and mud were a fiesta for photographer Justin W. Coffey, who was riding this burly BMW bike. The result was shots like this one: equal parts awe inspiring and jealousy inducing…
7. Tecate may be known for beer, but their popsicles are great too.
On the way home from our adventure, we hit the border town for maybe half an hour. Just enough time to pick up a fridge magnet and sample the local popsicles. I got one that was kind of a dulce de leche deal, and it was damn delicious.
8. Twisty roads are equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.
The final stretch back to San Diego, through winding passes in the Laguna Mountains and Otay County Open Space Preserve, delivered my one pang of momentary regret, or at least semi-panic. When our crew put the pedal to the metal to get home before sunset, my skills were really put to the test. I was definitely lagging early on, but as I watched how much braking the riders in front of me were doing, I remembered reading somewhere that at high speeds, it helps to push down on the handlebars to force yourself to really lean into turns. Once I did that I got much quicker, which was gratifying. Still, I’ll never forget one stretch where we were going maybe 80 miles per hour, uphill, into a right-hand curve, with the sun blasting straight into our eyes. All I could think was, “What the fuck am I doing??” Which was definitely a rush.
9. Every safe ride is a good ride.
As we cruised back into San Diego, my mind filled with a couple different things: indelible memories of an epic trip, and considerable gratitude that we all returned with nary a scratch. The possibility of disaster does, of course, add to the thrill of motorcycling, but on the flip side I always find a bit of relief when I ease into a parking space in one piece. And now that the adventure is over, one phrase that Chris McIntyre joyfully uttered— at least 10 different times, amidst raucous bar scenes and breathtaking scenery—has stuck with me. It’s a good way to look at life, and an even better way to end a piece that started with his words: “Our journey has only just begun…”
Fantastic moto photos by Todd Williams. Everything else by author.