The road to La Paz

We covered a lot of ground from Bahia de los Angeles to where we sit now, over indulging in fish tacos and margaritas on the Sea of Cortez.

The road from Bahia de Los Angeles took us south, cutting through mountain passes and wide open valleys full of deserts once again greener then our expectations would have had them. If you look at the plants you can still see it is a thorny inhospitable landscape but taken as a sweeping vista it welcomes you down from the mountains. And then keeps you there, sucking you down with sandy washboarded roads that defy the fitness you acquired over the weeks of mountainous sandy roads behind you. We had gotten a late start waiting out the rains that greeted us the morning of our departure and despite fearing the Baja mud, far worse then the sand, we managed to put in a solid afternoon before my sit bones had absorbed all the washboard they could before crumbling into calcium powder. 

Our camp site wasn’t the best because we raced sunset too long and settled for what was convenient. The flatness of the valley had us up to an early sunrise though and we returned to the coast and back to the mountains during the day, not sure what each turn in the road would bring or how far we would be towards our goal of Viscaino. We surprised ourselves though and made it to “The” ranch for water, which just meant we asked for water and a cowboy took our bottles, filled them and waved as we headed down the road. People are amazingly generous here but a lot of the official resupplies we’ve passed are more or less asking people if they have water and being grateful when they do.

The road to Viscaino passed through an almost ghost town and then we shot off through the desert, making some of our best time on roads that were supposed to be getting worse. We couldn’t believe it, until the roads finally fell apart as forecast and we were left crawling through deep sand on deflated tires. We stopped for shade under a skinny cactus to eat lunch and recharge and then pushed the final stretch into town. It is billed as the best highway town on the route and it was probably the best so far. A little hustle and bustle, but not too much, and dynamite taco stands. Street tacos here can be amazing but not every town has gotten on the wagon so when we find the good ones it’s doubly appreciated.

Viscaino was also a destination of note because it had regular bus service and we had decided we needed a bus. Racing deadlines and avoiding exploded knees and snapped tendons was a wearing race and so onto the bus we got. Danielle’s bike rolled right into the luggage space underneath but I awkwardly and uncoordinatedly started taking things off mine until it fit as well. I probably just need to take the front tire off but I’ll test that on the way home. Our destination was Ciudad Constitucion, another highway town further south, now only a couple hundred miles north of La Paz. From there we stocked up with four days of beans and tortillas and saddled up our bikes, I reattached my seat, and rode off into the desert. And into a steaming dump! The route failed epically taking us through the local dump. In hindsight there is an alternate if you ride the highway south a bit and cut east back into the Baja Divide and not knowing what it’s like I’ll say it’s waaay better then riding through the dump. The dump set our whole impression of the desert that followed, which was browner and drier then any we had been through before. It just had that wasteland feel to it. And it went on for a long time in a very slow ascent towards mountains on the horizon.

What changed everything was descending into a canyon and finding a flowing body of water crossing the road, with herons and egrets wading along the shore and small fish darting away from us. The canyons made for a tortuous road that would climb up one wall just to plunge back in and repeat, all while twisting and turning towards the better route through the mountains. We camped in one of these water filled canyons on a sandy beach with pink walls as a back drop and took a leisurely morning with hot coffee made over our little wood stove. We refilled from the stream and set off again to reach the Sea of Cortez for the final time. The days of riding up the mountains were undone in hours of plunging down over melon sized rocks and blown sand. Danielle’s rear rack liked it enough to stay, snapping a bolt and falling onto the road during the descent. We managed to redistribute the load a bit and carried on. The dramatic change in topography bordered us on the west for our ride south along the coast to La Paz. The cliffs were stacked in a layer cake of pinks and greens and whites, very patriotic geology and every new twist in the road or the mountains brought another landscape that had us staring and wandering back into the miserably wash borded roads until a jolt to the backside reminded us to hug the shoulders. 

Our last night of camping was climatic only for the wind. The sunset caught us in a long stretch of dust far from white sand beaches in a funnel of gusts that threatened to blow us away or blow one of the numerous balls of thorns we’d discovered, under our sleeping pads. We survived the night though and after a wind fanned fire for breakfast coffee, which seemed like a bad idea but happened anyways, we were off. We made the first market in days in time for some fresh lunch food and then were pedaling a paved road for the final miles into town. 

La Paz is a big city. We shared the road with traffic and even navigated a couple overpasses on our way to the historic center of town. We have arrived! Now it’s time to unwind, let the callouses from the bike seat take on some soft sand near azure waters and enjoy the easy access to fish tacos margaritas.

We’re hoping to do a little exploring of the region before heading back to California via Loreto at the beginning of the month.

This was a HARD ride, ignorance of the challenges got us to the start line and being stubborn got us here. I’ve gone through a the whole spectrum of opinions about sitting on a bike for days at a time, and I expect we will be doing it again soon enough.

Pacific coast to Sea of Cortez – Baja Divide part 3

Hello from the Sea of Cortez! We successfully made it through our longest section without resupply. This stretch took us 126 miles from Catavina to Santa Rosalallita via the Pacific coast. We pushed and got it done in 2 days. We each carried 9.5 L of water which turned out to be more than enough. We had long days of riding, and encountered rough washboard roads and steep ridge climbs but were rewarded with generosity and liquid encouragement from passing vehicles (cold energy drinks at the top of climb, cold beers in the midday sun), and beautiful sunsets and sunrises. It was also the first time we had biked along the Pacific coast that had gorgeous pristine beaches. We celebrated this section with sunset beers on the beach of course. 

We eventually headed inland to cross the peninsula and stopped in Rosarito to restock on food, water and a hot meal. We rode to the Mision de San Francisco San Borja which was very cool to get to explore. We enjoyed the decent dirt roads downhill that brought us to Bahia de Los Angeles and the Sea of Cortez! And it is beautiful-big mountains meeting the sea. The Baja Divide has done it again: this was another cool and diverse section of riding that brought us through many different landscapes and ecosystems from the ocean to mountains to desert to the sea.

Cactus country – Baja Divide part 2

We took advantage of the low number of cars on Mex1 due to the fuel protests and rode the road south through San Quintin. This was a welcomed flat and smooth section through farmland and agricultural fields. The area is known for tomatoes and strawberries (we rode by Driscolls strawberries). We stocked up at a tiny store in Nuevo Odisea and climbed inland into the mountains again. 

After some rocky unrideable sections, we were rewarded with hard packed sandy trail with fun technical descents and ascents akin to mt biking in the southwestern US. And before we knew it we were very much in a scrubby high desert landscape with many cacti. We also leapfrogged with a small herd of cows. Once again we ran into 2 friendly dirt bikers from CA. Overall the Americans we’ve met seem to continue coming back and visiting Baja many times. I can see why people like it here so much – good people, beautiful varied landscapes, great riding, amazing food (esp the tortillas!), no crowds. We descended into an awesome valley full of cirio trees which were very cool and unique. 

We are resting in Catavina before heading to the Pacific coast into our longest stretch without resupply. 

Gone for a bike ride and tacos, be back in 6 weeks – Baja Divide part 1

Happy new year from Baja! It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a week since we started our trip because it feels like a lot has happened. After a quick trip to Connecticut for Christmas, we took 2 days to drive down to San Diego where we’ve left the truck with Beth and Gene (thank you again!). Rain was forecasted for the San Diego/Tecate area when we planned to be biking through. However, after months of planning, preparing, rainy winter PNW training rides, packing, buying gear, and talking about this trip, we were very motivated and more than ready to hop on our bikes and start our adventure. 

We are following the Baja Divide route mapped out by Lael Wilcox and Nick Carmen (thank you! See The route is frontloaded with the most challenging and difficult climbing and the greatest elevation change at the beginning. The first day we rode over Otay Mountain which consisted of a steep climb but great views. We had planned to camp well before crossing the border, but were inspired to keep riding to Tecate because of nearby sport shooting too close for comfort. We ended up riding into the night when it started raining and became foggy which was not fun as we were riding on a busy paved mountain pass road. Finally though we made it to the border crossing where we got our visas to enter Mexico. Interestingly no one checked our passports as we walked our bikes through the gate and across the border. Exhausted after a much longer and more intense day than expected we enjoyed delicious tacos and beers and got a very basic hotel room that had wifi and showers but we also shared our room with a mouse. 

The next day we stocked up on food and water for the road and bought a SIM card for my phone. Tecate is a cool city with a neat central plaza. We climbed out of the city through neighborhood roads and eventually rode dirt roads into a beautiful canyon where we decided to camp. It was an early short day but our bodies needed the rest. Overnight it poured and poured as forecasted but our rain fly and tarp setup kept us dry. I was impressed. 

The next day we enjoyed some sunshine as we steadily climbed out of the canyon and met Cole, another Baja Divide biker. We saw many horses and cows and ranch houses along this picturesque section. It seemed that every turn was another mountain vista. We camped at the beginning of a stretch of pine forests. 

Camping makes us go to bed with the sun so we also rise with the sun making for early starts to our days. It turns out we have also done a good job packing light and have a good system down for how to pack our bikes. The next day we rode to Ojos Negroes where we met 2 motorcyclists from CA who were eager to learn about our trip. Where they were going for lunch was where we hoped to get in 2 days. In Ojos Negroes we enjoyed a hot meal and stocked up on water and junk food aka our camp food (nuts/chips/cookies/anything light and packable – first time I’ve had Oreos in a long time! – big change from our Oregon diet). So far everyone we’ve met has been very friendly and patient with our limited Spanish. They are also eager to know what we’re doing and where we’re going. We have also seen a lot of very adorable street dogs and puppies (miss you Opie!). 

We camped in an awesome meadow and awoke to a beautiful sunrise. We enjoyed a rocky more technical downhill section of riding that’s more like the riding we do in Oregon. The descent down to Ejido Urupan and Santo Tomas was beautiful with each turn bringing a new mountain view. At this point though, the crank of my bike started to creak and the strange noises became louder and more creative so we decided to hitch a ride to Vicente Guerrero where there is a good bike shop, FASS Bike. Although we packed basic bike repair tools and parts, it would be best to get to a shop if possible so that’s what we did. The main highway Mex1 goes through Santo Tomas and that section was undergoing construction so all cars had to slow down. This helped us find a ride for both of us and our bikes in <20 min. 

Jose Antonio from Ensenada was incredibly kind and friendly and packed us into his old Chevrolet box van and took us to Vicente Guerrero. This was no ordinary car ride though. Don sat on a big tire in back with the bikes and I sat up front. No need for seat belts but we had to keep the windows rolled down because of the smoke coming out of the car. Mex1 had a lot of construction going on that apparently has taken years but this meant a bumpy ride on dirt in many spots. When we were driving on pavement, everyone drove very fast/precariously and passed each other in ways that would lead to honking in the US. Along the way Jose pointed out dried up river beds due to drought in the past decade. 

We also encountered several road blocks that we learned were because farm workers were protesting the increase in gas prices. Apparently these protests are happening throughout Mexico but only here are people blocking roads – most places are blocking gas stations. The blocks resulted in very long lines of cars and semi trucks that couldn’t get through. In Colonet, Jose adeptly asked for directions to get around the road block and long line of trucks which took us way out and around on precarious windy dirt roads full of pot holes and washboard – the bikes and Don had a bumpy ride in back is an understatement. Semi trucks started going the same way which made us wonder how they could make those tight turns. Closer to Vincent Guerrero, some kids led us up a very steep rutted dirt road to get around the block. This was when Jose told me he preferred his old trusty Chevy over Ford any day. I feel if Jose weren’t so determined and good at figuring out the roads we would’ve been back on our bikes. We were very fortunate he picked us up. After driving Mex1 that was often shoulder-less, we were relieved we didn’t have to ride our bikes on it. It also turned out to be good timing to get to Vicente Guerrero where we got a hotel room that helped me get over a swift fever. 

We are now in a hotel in Vicente Guerrero and are taking a day off to rest, restock, write this blog post, and get my bike fixed at FASS Bike. Apparently we were very lucky that FASS was open because the owner, Chaba was almost planning on not coming in due to the road blocks. How bummed we would’ve been since we had detoured and hitched a ride to get to this bike shop! Chaba was incredibly friendly and helpful and got our bikes up and running again with a new bottom bracket for me and new brake pads for Don. We signed Chaba’s map of the Baja Divide route where he’ll have the rest of the riders sign as well. 

Here’s to the next section!

Some photos (they’re in reverse chronological order by accident)

At FASS Bike
Road blocks causing long lines of trucks and cars in Vicente Guerrero
Heading into the fertile valley of santo Tomas, known for its agriculture and wine
Descending into ejido urupan and santo Tomas
Overall trail conditions are good but the rain left big puddles in some spots
Hot meal in Ojos Negroes, where the Baja 1000 goes through as shown by the stickers on this restaurants windows
Many wild horses and mistletoe!
Descending into Canyon Manteca where we camped and it rained a lot
Leaving Tecate
Steep neighborhood roads in Tecate
Delicious tacos in Tecate
Leaving San Diego!

Living and adventuring in the PNW and beyond