The Route, North to South.
Somehow I've ended up halfway down Highway 1 on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico riding alone. There is just over 700 km's of hot barren pavement to Cabo San Lucas where I have bought a flight back to Kamloops BC. I have all the camping gear and know how to get there safe, but I am no longer riding with a friend.
Before I get going on my way to hammer off some serious km's in the next 5 days I should tell you how I ended up halfway down Baja alone. I've been planning this San Diego to Cabo San Lucas pedal for the last 3 months. The plan was to pedal the full distance solo in 13 days with no support from a chase vehicle. I had to bring all the necessary camping gear and bike parts to be fully capable of taking this trip on. I was going to be my own support crew, no one to help out if shit hit the fan. I had gotten 15 days off work from my Marketing job in the middle of winter and was not about to waste one minute of it.
In all the research I had done, most people do this type of pedal in 3-4 weeks, not 13 days. Many take more time to pedal a few days and have rest days to enjoy this amazing place. My fiancée was worried, and had obviously heard of all the Mexican stories of bandito robberies and crazy truck drivers running cyclists off the supposedly narrowest road south of the US. This sounds like a serious adventure to me! I was quite amped on getting away from work and doing a pretty serious pedal alone and camping in the desert.
I had booked my flights into San Diego and out of Cabo San Lucas to get home, I didn’t buy the cancellation insurance so there was no backing out now. A long time friend of mine from Idaho had found out on Facebook that I was planning this trip and inquired about the itinerary; he had asked to join and now I was in a team to pedal the Baja 1000. For two months we had passed e-mails back and forth of gear, knowledge, stories from past and present and our personal travel expectations. This in my mind was to be one hell of a trip. If you have planned a road cycle tour before, you most likely know how much energy goes into researching gear, roads, altitudes, places to find food and water. I was aware from reading many blogs from past riders of the Baja that it can be hard to find water every day, good clean restaurants and hotels/ campgrounds.
After spending way too many late nights reading about Baja and googling gear, the end of January was nearing and I was mentally ready to just fly out to San Diego and get this party started. My setup was dialled, I just bought a new Giant Defy 1 from the Bicycle Cafe and had my panniers stuffed with everything I needed to do this 1,600 km trip efficiently. While in the planning stages with my newly signed up team member Morgan, we decided to park his car just north of the Tijuana border and take the pedestrian border crossing and find a bus to take us to Ensenada. This was to make things safer and get us south of the supposed drug cartels and day light shootings. I was getting excited to prove many people wrong that Baja is safe and was nothing worse than walking around in British Columbia. But being in BC I thought taking the bus was the better idea. Morgan drove out from Boise to meet me in San Diego and had a month to spend in Baja and I had 15 days. This is going to be good!
To get day one kicked off, we pedalled to the border and walked across with lots of Mexicans heading south too, packing whatever your mind can creatively think of. For some reason these people were looking at us with a bit of a quirky eye. I thought we looked completely normal with tight shirts and camping gear spilling over our bicycle bags. I had read that once you crossed the border there was an office where you need to get a visitor’s visa that costs about $30cdn. We walked with our bikes down this concrete, barbed wire fenced path; we joked about being cattle walking to our deaths. While walking through the pedestrian crossing, four military men with automatic weapons stared at us without speaking. Looking back, this was the border and they didn't ask us anything. Somehow we managed to completely miss any sort of step that resembled a government office. Oh well, we're in Mexico, stuff is different right? I guess Mexico isn't all that worried about who is coming in. When we left the car an hour earlier we made the call if it was hard to find a bus in Tijuana to Ensenada we would just start riding from there. Ensenada is about 100 km's away, so we had to get moving.
In hind sight, it would have been great to spend a day in Tijuana and explore this quirky chaotic city, but this will be a recurring thought throughout this trip “I wish I had more time”. We made it through the city and climbed one hell of a hill to get the muscles burning and work our way south. To break down the math, we had 13 days to make 1,600ish km's, we had to average 125 km's a day. Now for those of you that have toured before, you know this is hard while packing gear and camping at night. We made it to Ensenada 10 minutes before dark and grabbed a $35 roadside hotel. Spirits were high for getting day one under the belt. Day 2
We woke up at 5:30am to rain. Now from all the reading and planning we've done. We weren't expecting rain, at all. It never rains in Baja in the winter. Wrong. The skies were wide open and our spirits low. We walked down to the beach to see two surfers enjoying this wet weather. We however, were wondering how well Morgans bags would soak up the road water. Back from the beach we scrambled to find plastic bags to cover Morgans packs on his Bob Trailer, we left much later than we wanted. My goal is to leave at sun up, hammer out the km's, and find a place to stay way before sun down. We got our gear waterproofed with some free garbage bags from the hotel office and were off.
Day 2 baby! So you know Mexican roads were not really designed to have much water flow over them, sewer man-holes and drainage grates are few and far between. Imagine riding skinny tires over muddy water filled streets while exercising as much butt puckering gusto to ride through 8 inch deep puddles. To make things even better, Ensenada streets are concrete pads with inch wide, inch deep grooves that run parallel to the road. Conveniently these grooves lie right in between where bicycles should ride. I had two moments where I thought I was going to bounce off the wet concrete with a taco’d wheel. No pun intended. Morgan had blasted through a 20 foot wide, ten foot long puddle going way too fast and managed to ride right over a drainage grate. His newly acquired pinch flat had us pulling over. This was flat number two, since he had pulled his valve stem off the day before from pumping up his tires. We had our tube changing groove down pat now.
We found a government office to buy the Visas we needed to get past Guererro Negro (middle point of Baja) We had heard horror stories of cyclists not getting Visas and being turned around at Guerrero Negro needing to pedal or hitch a ride back to Ensenada some 500 kms north. This was not in the 13 day schedule. So Visa's stamped and less money in the wallet we were heading south again. It rained all day. To give you an idea of how much water came down, power lines were swinging in the wind and flashed on each other when they touched. I vividly remember feeling very safe riding past, while I’m soaking wet head to toe on a completely sopping bicycle. We stopped at a roadside restaurant with hot food to warm up cold hands. Four dirt bikers were parked at a table and had a good laugh when we slopped down into our chairs. We told them our plan to ride to Cabo and they had another good laugh at us. One of these funny men actually knew my boss. Small world. After being on this monsoon road for 8 hours, all the while covering the hardest mental and physical 94 km's I’ve ridden to date. It was a thing of beauty to find a hotel in San Vicente with hot water for $28 right before dark.
Life is going to stay wet for a couple more days say the weather forecast. Never rains in Baja. Today we had some serious km's to cover, from what we can see, there is not many hotels on the map. Bahia Santa Maria is the tentative goal, 125 km's away. It's raining, and the road is ruthless with uphills from hell. To boot, Morgan's rear brake pads are starting to make that sweet sound of metal on metal. Now, if we were almost anywhere else in the world, bike shops with many parts to choose from are abundant. My plan was to swap the front pads with the back and try to buy time to hopefully meet a gringo along the way that may have some extras. Now if Morgan was ever to win the lottery, he did in San Quintin, they had a bike shop and had the pads he needed for only $8. Spirits are great, clothes still wet. After coming around a “Curva Peligrosa” (Dangerous Curve) we ride past a car on its roof two feet from the road with a guy standing beside it with a clip board in his hand. My initial reaction was damn, that sucks, and an insurance agent is here already, weird. Morgan and I kept riding because no one was in the car and a guy with a clip board was there to assess the damage. After an hour or so down the road I realized that the guy with the clip board had to have been the driver, since we didn't see any other cars for at least a half hour. My conscience kicked in and I felt horrible for riding by smiling at this guy, thinking he was assessing a wreck. We're starting to realize that riding on this narrow windy road is not the safest place for cyclists. But for some weird reason, everybody was giving us way more room than we really needed. I won't complain. Now if you haven't heard or seen pictures of highway 1, there is literally 2 inches of pavement on the right of the white line. The great thing is that all of the truckers came up behind me throughout this trip stopped and waited for oncoming traffic. The rules of this road were quickly being understood by this tiny pedalling machine. For the third night in a row we made it to a dry hotel with ten minutes of day light to spare. This is starting to wear thin on me, firstly because I only have a red blinky light on my rack and no headlight. Secondly, being on the road at night is not the best plan. Cordial drivers or not, it’s dangerous. We fluked out by finding a beautiful hotel called Bahia Santa Maria right on the Pacific Ocean. We even had a butler dig out a hose so we could wash our filthy bicycles. I think I was more excited about that than warm shower water that night. Now my plans for a desert camping trip have turned into a wet hotel trip, oh well, south is south right? 9 hours on the road, headwind all day and 123 km's later, sleep was mucho deserved.
This was our earliest morning on the road so far, 7:30am start which was sun up. Looks like we have rain for the third day in a row. We had planned to make 160 km's to Catavina today. Both of us knew this was lofty since neither of us have ever done 160 km's in one day, let alone loaded down with gear. We have basically eleven hours to do this. If it was dry, no problem if we don't make it to a town, but I prefer not to build camp in the rain with no shelter for the initial tent set up. That's right, wet tent, wet sleeping bag even before you get in. We're getting to Catavina tonight! Today was the first time taking a bus was brought up, mainly from Morgan. He was starting to get fed up with this Mexican trip being cold and wet. To make things fair, neither of us was mentally or geared properly for wet weather. I however, have spent many days on motorcycle touring in wet weather. The main difference, on a motorcycle when you're wet, you can't warm up unless you have heated plug in clothing. When you’re wet on a bicycle, you can stay warm quite easily, just pedal harder! We met an Oregon lady on the road that told us reports for weather was grim and wet for at least another 400 km's. Morgan's spirits were diminishing, and were starting to wear on my mostly positive cycle expedition attitude. Coming north towards us just after lunch we met a fellow named Lane, from Holland. He was on month 14 on his bicycle. He had 54,000 km's on his odometer and had many km's left before he was going to be done in Alaska. He had covered Europe, Asia, Australia, South America, Central America and Southern Mexico. Unfortunately it was a quick conversation, I wish I would have had the chance to hear some road stories. By 4pm we had made it 110 km's and had another 50km's to cover in under two hours. In cycle math terms- it's not do-able. So the thumbs popped out. We were getting to Catavina tonight. We were wet, tired and had attitudes that were the lowest they've been since the start of the trip. This day was kicking our asses and I was not happy to give in and have to hitchhike. In my mind, I went into this to pedal the full distance in the time I had. After twenty or so vehicles drove by, a Tijuana man stopped and picked us up in his pickup. He was on his way to bring supplies to his hotel in Bay of Los Angeles.
A small town just south of Catavina on the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula. He invited us to stay at his hotel that night, and if it was on the way to Cabo, we would have gladly accepted his offer. Unfortunately it would have given a 100km or so detour out of the way. He dropped us off at a pink $30 hotel in Catavina. I tried to give him pesos for the ride, but he would not take anything. Our pink hotel was an interesting place, the front door barely locked and the bathroom door was a see through cloth. On a good note, we had yet another night getting to a place with minutes to spare before dark. In the back of my mind I was starting to doubt my riding partner's ability to actually cover this many km's in this amount of time. I was starting to get the vibe that Morgan had imagined that this type of travel would have been different. This was a lot of work, I would be lying if I had said this was easy and didn't test my patience, let alone his. We ate oatmeal for dinner, since we didn't have a restaurant or street food close by. The conversation at hand was if we were to jump on a bus and bypass this wet weather to get to the Sea of Cortez or keep pedaling on through. I preferred the latter since this was why I came down in the first place. Hitch hiking today for 50km's, I already felt like I've cheated in some weird way. So we decided if it was raining in the morning we would wave a bus down to take us to Santa Rosalia, 400km's south. If it were sunny, we continue pedalling and hopefully our perpetually wet shoes would have a chance to dry out. To Be Continued