I expected wide-open highway, a never-ending high stoked by the constant rush of wind and maybe some occasional solace on a forgotten Pacific beach.
I didn't expect to sleep in the back of a cargo truck, a four-lane freeway in Monterey, Calif., mere metres from my head.
I didn't expect a convention of clowns, bent on teaching us how to spin plates on the end of a stick. Or to have our clothing stolen - and recovered - at a high-end resort. And I definitely didn't expect to be behind the wheel of a five-metre canary-yellow truck.
The plan, admittedly hastily conceived, was to ride 8,200 kilometres from British Columbia to the southern tip of Baja California and back - on motorcycles, in just two weeks. We had visions of sunshine and blue sky, heat and desert. We made sure our friends knew how epic this was going to be. We heard from colleagues who told us we were knocking off an item from their own bucket lists.
This was going to be a serious thrill ride.
Nathan VanderKlippe gives you a glimpse into his journey
Then we looked at the forecast for our Vancouver departure day. There was no sun. There was only something like a hurricane: rain, mixed with strong winds and even some hail.
My riding partner, Brett Sorrells, and I swallowed our pride and decided testosterone may not be waterproof. We settled on the easy road through the storm. We rented a truck. Our friends jeered. We cringed, but we were dry. Sixteen-hundred kilometres later, we found ourselves parked at the drop-off location in Monterey, in sleeping bags next to the bikes in the back, wide awake.
It was 5 a.m. We had parked next to a freeway, a fact we discovered when a passing rig rattled the truck like a jackhammer. It was time to finally hit the road on two wheels. Two hours later, our belongings strapped on Rube Goldberg-style, we turned on to Highway 1 and headed south.
The Pacific Coast Highway, as it is also called, is everything a motorcycle road should be - especially as the first rays of morning light up the surf crashing below. The road heads south from Monterey, passing a sign that warns 74 miles of twisting road lie ahead. It's not a misprint. For hours, the turns are tight, the air is fresh and the traffic is minimal. When the winding finally relents, it opens onto a broad coast green enough to be Ireland, its rocky shores bristling with elephant seals.
But this was not what we had come for. Our real destination lay beyond the choked freeways of Los Angeles, south of the meal we shared with friends in San Diego. Our real destination was Baja California, that magnificent eyetooth of land that juts past the western edge of Mexico.
Baja held the promise of mystery and danger, a place where our bellies would be sated with fish tacos, our blood with a rush of adrenaline. There would be no cruise ships, and hardly enough time to stop at a beach. The road was the thing.
And, as we discovered, we were right. The road was the thing, a narrow ribbon of black asphalt that stopped at the horizon only long enough to bend its way up miles of perilous cliffs before descending back across a great expanse of cactus and scrubland turned green by the spring rains.
Baja is a thousand-mile scroll, a parchment of mountain and desert where the world comes to scrawl the story it wants to tell friends and drinking buddies. Even in a season when tourists are a rare species - especially with the nerve-racking reports of deadly gang warfare in border towns - we met dirt bikers from British Columbia who were out to ride every bit of cactus-lined dirt road in three weeks. We met an Alaskan cycling to Colombia. We met an Ohioan cycling the entire length of the Americas, bottom to top. We met a B.C. couple towing an RV, pledging to take a month to drive home across roads that had taken us six days.