Down in the Devil’s Oasis

The 2019 El Diablo Run saw a thousand bikers rip through
the barren desert in search of Tecate, tequila and comradery  

Words by John Kelly

Photos by Savannah Rose

It’s Saturday, May 4th and I’ve come to realize no amount of tequila or Tecate will stop the morning sun from coming up over the Sea of Cortez, burning hot and drying out everything in its path. Days are long in San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico. A city of less than twenty thousand people, originally built for its port and fishing, San Felipe now relies on tourism. The El Diablo Run also has modest roots and began with just a handful of bikes. This year, nearly a thousand like-minded folks found their way to this oasis. 

The El Diablo Run is a biennial event, and McGoo and his Biltwell crew put together a great rally. Daily events included a death race, chopper show and a good share of shenanigans that included unicorn rides across the beach, a display of true love and, most certainly, bruises.

Danger Dan rippin’ it in the circle of death

The unofficial start of the run left Temecula, California, on Friday, with kickstands up at 7 a.m. A caravan of choppers shook the streets of Old Town as they made their way out to HWY 79 to carve the canyons south. There were plenty of hand-built bikes each loaded with camping gear, a change of clothes and the necessary spare gallon of gas or two needed for the 180 kilometer stretch from Mexicali to San Felipe. It’s a roller coaster of desolation and busy streets. Folks came from the East Coast, L.A., Texas and Ohio, and many battled the busy streets of Mexicali only to be spat out into the emptiness of Baja California. Mexico HWY 5 is a long slab that falls down the peninsula. To the east it’s almost flat enough to see the earth’s curve fall across the sands to the sea and to the west towering mountains stab their way out of the vacant scorched ground. 

Just a bike taking a nice Tecate siesta.

My ride began on California Highway 79 out of Temecula. The road is smooth with swooping pavement for 60 miles. Then in Julian our group made a gas stop before another 60 miles of switchbacks and mountain vistas across the ridges and down into the desert where you find Ocotillo, California. There, Highway 98 parallels the Mexican border and runs straight into the heart of Calexico and then without even putting a foot down you’re across the border into Mexicali, Mexico.

What would a trip south of the border be without getting a little banged up racing?

There were two roadside attractions along the 5, both consisted of cold beer and cool choppers. Some folks took advantage of the stop, topping off fuel tanks with the spare gallon or two they had bungeed, bolted or belted to their ride. Lots of laughs echoed across the gravel parking lot until they were eventually lost in the rumble of passing choppers. I wandered to the bathroom bunker at the second stop and wondered what lay in the space between me and the Pacific Ocean some 200 miles to the west. There must be daily life for those who dwell in this land so alien to me. Days before, while I rapped on my keyboard and sipped my coffee … this land was here, doing exactly what it’s doing now, and long after I’m gone … it’ll continue to wield a climate very few living creatures can endure.

Kicked back and cruising down Highway 5.

Once in San Felipe the sound of Shovelhead straight pipes and Evo 2-1’s ricocheted against stone buildings and cobblestone streets. Biker traffic was constant for three days, with the exception of the few hours just before dawn when the waves, receding back into the sea, was the only sound. San Felipe’s tides are one of the world’s most impressive, where the difference between low to high tide can engulf an entire mile of beach.

In the morning the tide was out and low, an abandoned ship rested quietly near the lighthouse inlet and if the K9 captain approves you can get a closer look. By the afternoon, the water creeps toward the tent flap and wading out to cool off and rinse away the day is a great way to get geared up for the nightlife. Tacos, Tecate, tequila … and repeat.  Oh yeah, rock bands, beach racing, booty shakin’, shit talkin’, wheel burnin’, engine revvin’ and gut busting … get the picture.  For one, the tacos at Kikis are better than you’ve had anywhere and two … life is easy, at least for a couple days. No real worries. From what I could tell they never ran out of beer and the good time committee had their shit in order.

If you’ve been, you’ll probably go back. If you’re thinking about it … just go!

Roadrunner down in the dirt.

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