"Product Testing" In Baja.

Posted by Austin Britts on

I made what has been unanimously described as "the up sell of the century" when I convinced my wife Lauren to marry me in September. Last April we were knee deep in wedding planning when I announced (with what was probably too much enthusiasm) our plans for the bachelor party.

TWO WEEKS IN BAJA! She wasn't nearly as excited as I was.

To be fair, my good friend Steve and I had been dreaming of a Baja trip for years. Steve had taken a camping trip through Baja a decade ago and has been wanting to get back ever since. He planted the seed in my head many years ago with tails of adventure, surf, kayak fishing, off roading, camping, and mind-explodingly good fish tacos. 

When my best man (and zealios co-founder) Kevin Fuller began his planning for the bachelor party he happened to called Steve to toss around some ideas. It didn't take long for the two to put together the idea for Baja.... and it took even less time for them to get 10 immediate commitments (and one reluctant "yes" nod from Lauren). It was settled. Baja was a go. 

One of the things I struggle with as I get older is my ability to spend quality time with close friends. Having spent significant years of my life in Seattle, Scotland, Chicago, and Berkeley it gets harder and harder to truly connect with one another. Technology helps, of course, but it is certainly limited. Life just starts to move faster. People are getting married, their careers are blossoming and kids are entering the picture. All amazing and wonderful things to be sure, but it certainly makes it hard to get a group guys together in one place for some quality time. 

Quality time is what I wanted above all else. I wanted to unplug, slow down, and really get to connect with the guys that I have lost touch with in so many ways. It truly is difficult unless you put a trip like this on the calendar and commit to it. The bachelor party angle was a little extra motivator for everyone so we could get to critical mass.  So, we decided to make it happen. We set our sights on a 10 day camping/surfing trip down the Baja peninsula. Once we had a core group committed things really started to take shape.

We leaned heavily on Steve for the packing list because he had done it before. It also must be said that we relied on Kevin's organization skills and ability to herd cats. The fact that were able to assemble 22 dudes in San Diego for two days is by itself amazing. Follow it up with a 12 day trip in Baja where nobody came away with significant bodily, emotional, or financial injury and you have yourself a miracle. Kevin was the very personification of the term "Best Man". 

We wanted to be fully self contained so we could get deep off the beaten path. That meant carrying a lot of our own water, gasoline, firewood, food, medical supplies, and whatever else we would need to be comfortable in the desert in the middle of August.  Lauren stumbled upon our first packing list and couldn't contain the laughter. She actually put a picture of it on instagram for the entertainment of her friends. Here is only a part of it.:

My favorite excerpts are:

- "$$ for bribes"

- "Lots of firewood - cactus doesn't burn for shit"

- "comfy camp chairs and a few recliners. not the telescoping kind - these are uncomfortable and lame."  (he was right on this one).

 

Loaded to the gills with gear, we headed to San Diego where we had two nights on the town with the guys who couldn’t make the Baja trip. Sunday morning we gathered ourselves together (i.e. ran around town picking up lost debit cards, drivers licenses, and various bits of pride) and made our final loading adjustments in our friend Tony's driveway. His wife Lacey was kind enough to snap a quick photo and send us on our way.

Baja or bust. Kevin, Scott, Will, Tim, Austin, Rich, Steve, and Tony

 

The plan was to get across the boarder and rally at our good friend (and zealios ambassador!) Rich Grey’s surf pad right off of K55. We relaxed a little on his back porch that over looks the pacific ocean and watched a California surf film on a projector screen. It was the perfect way to get excited for the adventure ahead. We spent the next day gathering tourist visas in Encinada and rallied south. The target was Punta Santa Rosalalita where there was rumor of good waves and fish.

 

Recovering from San Diego on Rich's deck. Tony proved this trip he can sleep anywhere.

 

After some exciting road miscues and a couple wrong turns down dirt roads we managed to find a completely secluded sand-bottomed beach with decent looking waves. After the couple nights on the town in San Diego we were all itching for a little time in the surf tuckered in and ended up having a great afternoon in the waves. It was our first night truly camping in Baja and we were all eager to do our own favorite activities. Chef Tim took to kitchen duties, Tony and Steve took turns fishing in the Kayak, and the rest of us went surfing. We spent a night under the stars with everyone feeling happy that we were finally under way. We ate well, and turned in early...excited to get the next day started.

 

 

 A view of our first camping spot in Punta Rosalalita.We had a great day in the waves. You can just make up the caravan up ahead.

 

We continued to make our way South. We stopped in San Quentin at a restaurant/hotel called Don and Eddie's which was owned by one of Rich's old friends, a lively and wonderfully friendly ex-pat named Bev. We were greeted with warm hugs and a massive plate of yellow tail sushi fresh off that days fishing boat. We were in heaven. We ended up staying a few nights in order to indulge in the local sport fishing and wold famous San Quintin oysters. While hanging out at Bev's place, we met a crew of recent graduates from Montana State who were driving all the way to Ecuador in their loyal VW Van named "Sandy". They were photographers by trade and had raised a fair amount of money on kickstarter to fund their trip. They wanted to make the drive South while documenting the whole thing on their website and blog. They also carried with them a full stock of polaroid film and a photo printer so that they could give people in very rural communities some amazing portraits. While sitting around the campfire and watching Rick shuck almost 200 oysters we invited them along for the next leg of our trip.  For our next destination, we wanted to be someplace very remote. We wanted to set up camp for 4-5 days, get our shelter assembled, and really relax in total isolation. We made our way to a location known to die hard surfers as simply "the wall". It was everything we wanted it to be. Disconnected, great surf, abundant spear and kayak fishing, and not a soul as far as the eye could see. We were excited to deploy our elaborate tent structure (designed by Steve) and really get "in the baja mood". The vanajeros were dying to see this structure after all our boasting and were kind enough to lend us a hand in setting it up. Check out the time lapse they took of this mild fiasco:

  

 

Check them out at www.vanajeros.com. They made this webisode entry about their time in Baja. If you look closely between 3:00-3:45 you can catch a glimpse of our crew. 

   

 

We spent four amazing nights out at the wall. We caught fish everyday, got plenty of surf. We found local shrines built by visiting surfers most likely built on flat days or when the wind was up. Some of them were incredibly intricate and truly inspiring. We had long chats over the fire, under the stars, and over morning coffee. We reveled in the complete solitude of our situation. We read books, explored, and at sometimes did nothing. We took the opportunity to test a few new zealios sunscreen formulas we have in the hopper and put the current sun barrier to the ultimate test. What better way to test a sunscreen than in the middle of Baja in August? In some ways it's unnerving being so far from civilization. You become keenly aware that a stubbed toe, twisted ankle, or simple cut can mean an large fiasco. You find yourself looking after one another a little more, being extra careful where you put your feet, and constantly reminding yourself to drink enough water.

Without a doubt, my favorite part of everyday was dusk. Day after day we would find ourselves getting a little slap happy when the sun began to descend. We began to call it the "witching hour". I remember all of us just screaming at the top of our lungs towards the horizon. I mean, when was the last time you were able to take in a sunset and scream at the top of your lungs at how amazing it was? When's the last time you were able to scream at the top of your lungs for no good reason at all? Just because?

It was during these moments everyday when the beauty of life just completely overwhelmed me. It's an experience that you can only get in the outdoors. One that makes you feel so small, but also makes you feel so grateful to be alive. Here I was, a month away from marrying the love of my life, sitting with my best friends on a beach in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and the only thing I had to do was enjoy it. Those moments at dusk were completely intoxicating. They make you reflect on your life and stir up some inner encouragement that urges you to accomplish epic things. I remember feeling a peaceful draw towards the future of zealios, and envisioning the company going to the next level. If we wanted to grow zealios into the company of our dreams, we would have to dream bigger and work harder.

Some of my favorite pics from "the wall"

 

Camp Zealios from afar. Note the Zealios flag flying high.

 

the "witching hour" in full effect. 

 

 Trying my luck. I may or may not have lost one of Steve's lures on my first cast.

 

 morning coffee

 

prepping the fire for dinner.

 

the boys found a compass mosaic and were inspired.

 

trying to pull off a strange pyramid during the witching hour.

enjoying one of many amazing sunsets.

 

A view of the desert at dusk.

 

pack it in pack it out. We were pretty proud of getting everything back on the truck.

 

After 3-4 days at the wall the campfire conversations began to shift toward our next plans for the next destination. We basically had two options: head farther South into Baja Sur, or head East towards the Sea of Cortez. Heading South meant getting deeper into Baja, but also meant we would eventually have to drive all the way back at some point. The Sea of Cortez was rumored to be amazing, but also as Steve noted before the trip, it was "Satan's a$%hole hot". 

We eventually decided that we couldn't come this far and not see the Sea of Cortez. The idea of a warm shower sounded great, and we had a boatload of the best sunscreen on the planet. We set the sites for Playa De Los Angeles.  

The best description I heard of the Playa De Los Angeles and the Sea of Cortez was "this must be what it would look like if Mars had a Sea". When we crested the final ridge and first set eyes on the water, there was a crazy greenish light in the much like what it looks like in the Midwest during Tornado season just before things get lively. 

We ended up crashing a local divers camping run by a guy named Don. We threw all of our gear into one tiny bedroom (AC!) and hit the palapa (straw hut in local tongue) for an evening beer. Within the 5 minutes a pod of about 30-40 dolphins came ripping into the bay about 100 meters off shore. They were chasing a massive bait ball and displaying some great aerobatics throughout their hunt. It was surreal. The water was so calm, but there were signs of life EVERYWHERE. Things were constantly poking their heads out of the water to look at you, things underneath the service would cause the water above to swirl this way and that. Giant frigate birds (direct descendants of pterodactyls and very similar in look) soared far above us while we tried to take it all in.

During the communal dinner that night we learned that whale sharks were currently feeding in the bay. For roughly $40/head we could hire a local guide to take us out to swim with them. This was on Kevin's top ten bucket list items so we booked it immediately. We met an awesome couple from San Luis Obispo at dinner who decided to come along. Rich and Sue were out adventuring much like us and just couldn't resist the idea of jumping in the water with a whale shark. 

It's hard to describe the feeling of being in the water next to something that big that is alive. I guess there really isn't much in the human experience to prepare you for it. They are so docile (Steve equated them to giant sea cows) and harmless. I spent most of the time trying to battle fog in my goggles but was thoroughly satisfied with the experience of looking down a mouth that is 5 feet in diameter.

We rented a panga and a guide the next day and went out fishing for the Dorado. We heard they were biting something fierce and Steve, who is an avid angler, had never before landed one. We spent most of the time that day trying to wedge ourselves into tiny slivers of shade on the boat. Steve, Kevin, and Tim all managed to land a Dorado. Epic! It was insanely hot on the boat and were grateful to finally get off and find some cold drinks. 

First sunset on the Sea of Cortez. It was like being seaside on Mars.

 

A pod of dolphins putting on a show.

 

Swimming with the Whale Sharks. "They are like giant Sea Cows" - Steve.

 

Hanging out in the palapa looking at the Sea of Cortez. The author had nothing to do with the broken swinging chair in the foreground.

Chatting with our new friends Rich and Sue from San Luis Obispo 

Without a doubt the most thirsty I have ever been. Not catching Dorado is thirsty work. 

 

We decided it was time to start making a run for the border. We packed up Ulysses (the new name for the Tundra) and made a run for the border. We had one final night just South of San Quentin. There was nothing particularly special about the camp spot other than it was at the end of what looked to be a giant abandoned land development. We were sitting around the fire discussing our favorite parts of the trip. Tim summed it up the best when he said "My favorite part is that we did it".  

He was so right. As we get older it is easier and easier to make excuses as to why you can't do something. Life speeds up and it gets harder to make trips like Baja happen. But it IS possible. Whether it be a bachelor party, a wedding, or simply a trip that you put far out on the horizon it is imperative that we keep exploring. Tim was right: we did it. It was the trip of a lifetime and has inspired me to try to make time for at least one epic trip a year. 

The trip surpassed everything I wanted it to be. I felt that we were able to truly disconnect and were able to be present in the adventure at hand. As fun as the trip was, the joys and comfort of home began to make their presence known. Every mile driven was a mile I was closer to Lauren, our home, and our adopted pit bull "Hunk". It was somewhere along the grapevine late at night that I realized how lucky we were. Lucky to be alive, to be healthy, to be able to take adventures, to take part in a company we believe in, and how lucky we were to have wonderful things to come home to.

The trick is to not take any of those things for granted. Exploring is good at putting things in perspective. That is why we need to all do it more when we can.

-Austin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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