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The Cold Start – A Baja Experience

The Cold Start – A Baja Experience

Baja Through Denizen Eyes

A story of how a crash set in motion a chain of events that would lead to amazing riding, interesting cultural exchanges, and delectable food and drinks on the Baja peninsula.  
Kyra Sacdalan
WORDS by Kyra Sacdalan“I Can’t Breathe”

I saw it coming. Just not the severity of it. Or at least not until I was already swan diving over the handlebars, heading straight for the immoveable rock I’d just failed to conquer. Up to that moment, I’d actually been having the best ride of my life. Pride had welled up – the kind that comes before the fall – and poured through cracks in my calculated-cool demeanor.

It abruptly ended my streak of luck in a ‘scorpion-pose’ – coupled with shocking pain and breathlessness like I’d never felt before. By the time, my partner in crime, Justin, reached me, I still couldn’t hear anything but gasping and a faint, irritated voice yelling, “Inhale goddammit!” Audibly shaken, Justin’s words finally cut through my inner monologue begging myself not to move. My only response was, “I can’t breathe.“

Maybe it’s strange the first substantial thought I had when the panic subsided, was of Donni Reddington. By then Justin had been long-gone, riding – likely faster than he should – into the nearest town to find help. I had plenty of time to consider how much of an ass I was. And what I could do about it. It was high time I took a class at Skool of Moto – Donni’s off-road school.

She’d been inviting me for years, but our schedules never aligned. That and she lived at the tip-top of Washington State. With winter fast upon us, I’d have to wait another six months before we could consider a session in the Pacific Northwest. At the thought, a second of dread came and went, before the answer clicked in my head. Bring Donni across the Mexican border to host an intimate motorcycle clinic presenting guests a glimpse of Baja through denizen eyes.

“Pride had welled up – the kind that comes before the fall.“
From A Local Perspective

For years, Justin and I have been plotting ways to show everyone we know just how unique and enriching this peninsula is. Many visitors just come to Tijuana, Rosarito, or Ensenada for a few days at most. They might watch the exciting races or peruse popular city blocks before heading back to their cruise ship. It’s worse when they border hop for the weekend to party, litter, and disappear. 

Even with droves of humans making the journey down Mex 1, I’m always surprised about how little folks actually know about Baja’s distinctive culture. Its burgeoning culinary, beer, wine, and booze scenes are all spectacular. With few exceptions, as with any major metros, Ensenada is remarkably safe. And its standout residents are down-to-earth, respectful, and endlessly courteous – natural and expat. 

It had always made sense to combine our love of motorcycles with our love of Mexico, and to do it in a way we hadn’t seen many events try before: from a local perspective. Thanks to our many great friends and colleagues in Baja – including Mau and Abby – this was very much an achievable dream. 

They were the perfect advisors for where to go, what to see, how to eat, drink, and be merry, while we scoured routes and volunteered our local favorites. A plan was set in motion with only a few grains of sand left in the hourglass. It was going to be The Cold Start or bust!

Donni Reddington 
Connecting The Dots

I’ve known Donni “Red Bones” Reddington for years, working side-by-side with her in the wilds of Baja. We first met when Justin and I ran media for a rally raid, and Donni – a trauma nurse and a REV’IT! DIRT Series rider from Mazama, Washington – wrote in asking if her level of off-road competence would be enough to finish the race. 

Unfamiliar with her, I couldn’t answer this question confidently, but I’d spotted that she photographed heli-skiing, among other things, when I did my due diligence and peeped her Instagram. Always trying to connect the dots, we offered her a spot on the team as an extra hired lens, and history was made. 

We were aware Donni had ridden her entire life, but mostly on Harleys – only wandering onto the dirt in her late 30’s. Admittedly, when she decided to chase the rally aboard her Husky 501, I was surprised at how proficient a rider she was in a variety of landscapes. But Red Bones goes big. Skier, mountain biker, Bobcat operator… The Great Outdoors is quite clearly her playground of choice. 

Donni had been running her school for a few years already, when she popped into my head that afternoon I was sprawled out on my back. The light came on in an instant: I’ve been riding motorcycles for a decade, but something is still missing. Bad habits formed over the years eclipsed all the good advice I’d ever received. 

In that moment of clarity, I realized what I needed: deliberate, intense off-road instruction from an expert. And Donni was the only instructor whom I trusted with my well-being. Plus, I’ll try anything. So, our bright idea to host an interesting affair, gathering folks at Baja for a marathon of motos, mescal, and fancy meals – with only three months to prepare – seemed like a Hail Mary play. 

“A Humble Off-Road Competition You Might’ve Heard Of…”
A Powersports, ADV, And Dirt Bike Mecca 

Why Ensenada? For one, it’s the heart of the region. A sleepy fishing village-come-port-town, Baja’s third largest city is fixed against the Pacific as a gateway to the resources and riches that lay just yonder – above and below sea level. To this day, exportation of goods from tuna to cotton to scrap metal flow along the current into Asian countries like Japan, China, and South Korea, who’ve been tapping this southern sliver of land for over a century. 

But in 1967, it was a humble off-road competition that garnered international acclaim. It’s since become a powersports, ADV, and dirt bike Mecca. Arguably, this little 1,000-kilometer race started Ensenada, Rosarito, and Tijuana’s cultural revolution. You might even have heard of it. Does Baja 1000 ring a bell?

Few other factors affected my choice to premiere The Cold Start Off-Road Clinic and Culinary Experience in Ensenada, aside from the area’s own pure brilliance. Plus, some of my favorite people live within its borders. And the food may range in its pricing, elegance, and design, but hardly in its delectable impact. More often than not, you leave a restaurant, an open-air market, or a tiny taco stand satisfied and free of any remorse. 

There are also multiple wineries surrounding the city, and suds of every hue pouring from taps deep in the recessed corners of the valley. You can’t sit so close to San Diego and not become infected by the outbreak of craft beer. 

Why I Came Here

I could keep going on about the gastronomic circus you can enjoy in Mexico, and it is a very real and cherished distraction. And while it’s a major attraction for visitors, it sometimes takes my mind away from the real motivator for why I came here… fear. Fear in and of itself is a roadblock to success. 

If left unattended, fear can grow like a weed and engulf everything that makes you human: the curiosities, the risks, the choices, and standing room. It’s an obstacle for most people. But it’s not insurmountable. Perhaps this was the true catalyst for this event. My self-doubt – maybe really being hurt this time or the possibility I may never become the rider I wanted to be – is exactly why I needed The Cold Start. 

With nearly five months forbidden from riding due to injury and a pending surgery, I’d lost a lot of confidence in my ability to ride off-road. If I hadn’t given myself something to look forward to, an excuse to leave the pity party I’d thrown for myself and finally jump back on my XT225, I was afraid I might talk myself out of ever trying again. That was more terrifying than anything else.

Yes, I initially called up Donni for selfish reasons. I wanted to spend time with my good friend in a place I love. I wanted her to rain her expertise down on me. And I wanted to make it worth her while. 

Donni’s obvious passion for sharing her knowledge melted my ego-driven motives into an epiphany. If someone like myself, who has been riding for upwards of a decade, can still feel apprehensive taking on dual-sport or dirt bike challenges, then surely others could benefit from this sort of clinic. Better still if they’re offered a mini adventure where they can test their newly acquired – or refined – skills in real-life scenarios. 

To give anyone who wants it, even myself, the opportunity to step outside of their comfort zone, just a few incredible memories at a time. As it turned out, a comrade of Donni’s – another REV’IT! ambassador named Odessa Winter – had very similar ideas about pushing boundaries and continuing education.

She rolled through Tecate about a week before the event with her boyfriend Scott and his trusty riding companion, Surak the Dog, perched confidently aboard the KTM 1290 sporting a tinted pair of Rex Specs. A beer maker by trade, Odessa had been invited – purely by coincidence – to guest brew at The Cold Start’s sole beer sponsor. 

They’d been traveling across the US, with a brief stint in Southern California, before making their first tracks into foreign territory, after which they’d head towards Tierra del Fuego for the next… Who knows how long? Their decision to join us added another intriguing perspective to the mix and even more value to an already star-studded line-up. Everyone had something special to bring to the table. Not just in their abilities but in their sincerely positive, playful attitudes.

Exhausted, But No Less Enthusiastic

We only had three months to put together all the pieces, but the machine wouldn’t have moved a single step without an incredible cast of partners, volunteers, creators, and community liaisons. We pulled it off by a hair and managed to stick with our underlying intention to present guests with a truly unforgettable Ensenada experience. 

The breathtaking back roads in the Valle de Guadalupe, the steep, rocky hill climbs behind the city, and anxiety-inducing goat trails five minutes from The Cold Start headquarters turned wheels and pumped blood to the heart all the way to the dinner table. Exhausted, but no less enthusiastic, we were treated by the many local chefs and craftsman who elevate the region with their world-class provisions.

Day One, Chef “Chido” Garcia weaved his way between laughter and cheers to unveil dish after amazing dish. Small noshes from specialty dips – think burnt eggplant puree with cauliflower and cucumber topped by a roasted garlic lemonette – to a reimagination of tacos with ingredients I usually associate with fine dining. The following meal was designed for bonding. A family-style wood-fired pizza party in a private room nestled between several hip establishments at a local open-air booze ‘n bites compound. 

Resident celebrity, Roberto Alcocer, warmly welcomed us to his joint after a long dirt expedition and the staff truly offered the royal treatment. When darkness arrived after our final ride, we’d gone from birria tacos under a blistering sun to a five-star prefixed dining under a luxury palapa at Roberto’s claim to fame restaurant in the Valle.

It’s here that you really see the chef’s artistry come to life. A rotating menu keeps the meals fresh, and a quirky sense of humor keeps the inventive dishes fun. Every meal, all the libations, offered the perfect closure to a battle well fought. And no dish tastes sweeter than after a bitter and grueling day of riding. 

The End Came Far Too Fast

Waking at the crack of dawn, guests would be swept from their lodging and shuttled to TCS headquarters at Mauricio’s compound for Abby’s grand “desayuno” and cans of cold coffee. The first day, we had to travel a whopping 100 meters to the adjacent dirt parking lot overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was a magical setting for a briefing, drills, and picking up our motorbikes. 

We practiced that last one plenty, as well as clutch control, balance, counterbalancing, and whatever else Donni felt would add insight to our coming joyride. When the time finally came to exit the premises for the big wide world, we refilled our hydration bladders and stuffed our packs full of energy bars for the ride. 

What lay ahead was demanding yet achievable. Our paths varied from wide manicured byways to two-track, single-track, and those goat trails I mentioned earlier. The second day’s class took us through 300 kilometers of slippery waves of sand, which altered rhythms after each crossroad. A brief lunch break allowed me to catch up on the XT before we journeyed into the lush, green mountains of wine country. Donni said it looked like the rolling hills of Ireland. Although I’ve never been, I had no doubt she was right.

The end came far too fast for everyone’s tastes. And that flavor was bittersweet. Off-bike for good, we’d had a whirlwind tour, sampling all styles of fermented grape production from the humble family owned “vincola” to the eco-hip wine cave built in a capsized hull and finishing at a corporate Baja powerhouse. 

It was an amazing experience haunted, just a little, by our impending departures. We drowned our sorrows in Nebbiolo, unfiltered Sauvignon Blanc, octopus ceviche, pork belly, and delicate salads. We really let our hair down at the intimate tamale and Mezcal get-together put on by Abby at her oceanside Airbnb compound. This was home. 

Every morning, Abby served up hearty, clean meals like your Mexican mama might make. If your mama was a hip, millennial biology major that grew up in Baja agriculture and viticulture, owns three businesses, and makes her own jams. In the same setting where we were welcomed by Chido’s tacos as relative strangers, we concluded The Cold Start as old friends with promises not to let too much time lapse before we’d see each other again. 

Chance To Make A Change

The Cold Start, as anyone with a carbureted bike might know, is the ten to thirty minutes spent using any number of mathematic formulas to warm up a completely cooled engine. Press the ignition button, then turn on the gas; press and hold it again for three seconds, not four or two or you might as well start from the beginning. Now, pull out the choke – but only three-quarters of the way – hit that button again. 

If it doesn’t work, try a new combination. This dance, to me, represents a reawakening – an exercise in patience. No matter how well my XT ran the day before, every morning we start from the top. This clinic and the experience were opportunities to start a new chapter, whether you’re new to riding or need a refresher, this was a conscious chance to make a change.

Thinking back, laying there – splayed out on the side of that desolate seaside road in October – I promised myself I’d do whatever it took to train with Donni. In the middle of internally coaching myself through what I initially thought could be a broken neck – turned out to be an injured diaphragm, a few cracked ribs, and a traumatically bruised ego – I never could’ve guessed then, what kind of impact this little scheme would have. 

A proverbial exhale, when it felt like all of humanity has had lungs bursting with air during the pandemic years. So much satisfaction came from witnessing the many accomplishments among the group as they overcame hurdle after hurdle with ear-to-ear grins plastered on their faces. 

Stand, Steady, And Commit

We’d stood up to our fears and made it out only a little bit scathed. But we were alive and intact, and that’s a healthy reminder of our resilience as individuals, and as a community. If we keep our focus on the horizon, we’ll make it through. Just stand up on the pegs, steady your throttle hand, and commit to success.    

WORDS BYKyra Sacdalan

Don’t let her small stature fool you, or the fact that she overconfidently crashes mere syllables into the Journal; Kyra Sacdalan is as passionate as motorcyclists get and a through and through storyteller to boot. Together with her partner in crime and fellow #revitrider Justin W. Coffey – who’s in charge of the Journal’s photography – they’ve covered rallies like the Baja 1000 and have been featured in such a large spread of bike mags, they’ve earnt the bragging rights.

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