2024 Wellness Guide


Sand, Sweat, and Gears

Dirt biking Baja California Sur is a loud, explosive thrill ride. Completing the trek with moto racing champion Kirk Russell shifts it to full speed—with a rest stop at Mexico’s newest concept hotel.


To crawl up Baja California’s least forgiving steep, rocky, rutted obstacles you need a championship-bred KTM 450 XC-F, which delivers enough tractor-like torque and arm-pumping power with a twist of the throttle. It’s no wonder the Mexican peninsula famously hosts two major motorsport races, SCORE Baja 1000 and the NORRA Mexican 1000. No other location of equal off-road racing heritage or caliber exists. But you don’t have to be a racer to experience blasting past hundreds of elephant cacti on a high-desert double-track in sixth gear with a wide-open throttle—you have to be following one. In particular, Kirk Russell, a Baja moto racing champion and proprietor of Captain Baja Adventure Tours (captain-baja.com). Captain Baja specializes in crafting custom off-road trips throughout Baja California Sur (BCS)—primarily on customized, Ready-to-Race KTM four-stroke enduro dirt bikes, but also on RZR side-by-side all-terrain vehicles. Riding high-performance machines definitely sets the experience apart from most others—and that’s even before considering the symphonic routing and the man leading the pack.

Russell’s passion for riding motorcycles spans more than 40 years and covers a multi-disciplined racing pedigree. He knows bikes. He’s spent most of his life making trips south of the border; and the past 10 years living in the windsurfing mecca of Los Barriles, BCS, learning every off-road nook and cranny in Baja. He routes Captain Baja experiences through the mountains, across high desert, and along the coast—linking up the best BCS has to offer while frequenting hidden lagoons, stunning vistas, and culturally significant sites.

A ride with Russell from Los Barriles starts on an immaculately maintained orange scalpel of a KTM motorcycle that over five days will develop an amorous symbiosis with its rider. When it’s time to suit up, base layers go on first. Then, like a knight donning armor, it’s protective gear next: padded shorts, knee and shin guards, and a chest and back protector with a kidney belt and elbow guards. Motocross pants and a jersey provide additional protection, pockets, and ventilation. Buckling up a pair of motocross boots feels like wearing shoes for walking on the moon.
Strap on a hydration pack (it is the desert, after all), before donning a helmet, goggles, and gloves. This battle gear protects against the five elements of Baja for which Russell issues a strong warning: cattle, cars, cacti, concrete, cattle guards.

While the armor does offer protection from inevitable spills in sandy washes, bike drops on rutted roads, and various other unknown obstacles, the Five Cs are best avoided at all costs.

A demo ride around Los Barriles initiates assimilation with the machine, and equally important, allows Russell to assess riders’ skills and adapt his route plan accordingly. After that, it’s off to the races. Or at least, it may feel like it at times, while trying to imitate the leader’s impeccable lines.

A respectful braaap! through town (don’t upset the expatriates too much) quickly leads to open country; with Baja’s vast swaths of desert double track, an open throttle soon follows. A quick climb to higher elevation, and a gaze out across expansive perspectives of the Sea of Cortez. The path tightly wraps along its edge like a Crotalus enyo—the Lower California rattlesnake.

The caliente sol casts rays of golden light, which refract continually through clouds of dust—but with the sea breeze coursing through your helmet and jersey, it never feels too hot. The soundtrack is a symphony of moto mania: engine revs and rumbles. Gravel crunches. Sand sprays. Adrenaline courses through your veins; heartbeats thump inside your head. Muffled screams of joy filter through your helmet. Eruptions sound as loud as you like, but with everyone else’s engine noise, it’s a world all to yourself.

Russell is the conductor on an allegro movement through sandy washes. Power is key. Keep momentum. It feels counter-intuitive, but to slow down here invites a struggle. The andante tempo follows: a slow, technical trail through the mountains, over rocks and ruts. Next is the scherzo. Russell finds his humor in expertly mixing technical riding with flowy sections, just to keep riders on their toes. Finally, the sonata of the masterpiece day. A jaunt up a cobblestone mountain road, through rustic towns and across high-desert tracks punctuated by sand dune whoops.

The journey leads to great reward: Paradero Todos Santos (paraderohotels.com)—an experience-inclusive resort opened in January an hour or so north of Cabo San Lucas. From its atrium to its accommodations, the property incorporates all of Baja’s geographic elements: open-concept terra firma grounds, the surrounding Sierra de la Laguna, the distant Las Palmas beach, and adjacent active farmland. Garden suites open up to the fields; rooftop suites feature outdoor loft nets for star gazing. Venture beyond the property to taste what are arguably the best fish tacos in all of Baja at Barracuda Cantina; learn how to ride a wave with Mario Surf School at Los Cerritos beach; and discover local art and culture with a tour of Todos Santos.

This year’s addition of Paradero has been a welcome one for Russell, complementing what he wants clients to experience in Mexico. “We strive to make this the best trip of your life,” he says. “To facilitate something bigger than just a tour: a true authentic experience in Baja.”