2/25/17

Baja Bike Ride


On January 23 I left Oceanside, CA for a 3 week ride down the Baja Peninsula.  My route was 1200 miles, mostly on paved roads, with about 100 miles on dirt roads.  A map of my route is below.  The paved highways usually don't have a shoulder, but traffic is light outside of populated areas. Drivers were mostly courteous, though traffic is sometimes moving at very high speed.  There was, of course, an occasional yahoo.  There are endless dirt roads if you want a slower less traveled route.




People were very friendly and I never felt unsafe, other than a few dog chases and a couple fast moving traffic situations. I got lots of waves and cheers, and a handful of drivers gave me fruit, offered me rides, and even slowed down to hand me cold beer through the window.  In one of the more remote sections soldiers pulled up along side me in their Humvee, asked where I was going and offered me food and water.  I was never turned down when asking for a place to camp. I did meet two cyclists that were robbed at gun point near Tecate along the Baja Divide route, perhaps the result of a large number of cyclists riding through the same remote place in a short period of time (around 100 cyclists started the Baja Divide route early Jan). You can read Keith's Jan 17 account of the incident here: https://bajadivide.com/ride-the-baja-divide-2017/.  There are thousands of Americans, Canadians, and some Europeans traveling and living in Baja. I don't think it is any more dangerous than most of the U.S.

I did a good amount of speaking in Spanish, which may be more tiring than riding all day. I found fewer people spoke English than expected, except in touristy areas. I always initiated conversations in Spanish, so unless they replied in English, I tried my best to keep with the Spanish.  Sometimes the conversations were a mix. My fluency is at about 25%. Generally I can say what I want to say (often poorly), but understanding the response is much more difficult as people don't always use the limited vocabulary I know, of course.  Next time I hope to be better prepared, as the cultural experience would surely be much richer. There was lots of talk about Trump. More on that in another post.

Mexico is quite cheap and the short duration of the trip made this more like a vacation than other trips.  I allowed myself a few hotels, mostly in the $10-15 range and one nice one for $26 after a hot day on dirt roads.  I also ate at restaurants more than usual.  A tasty meal is typically around $5 or less.  I spent ~$40 for whale watching in Guerrero Negro and another $65 for swimming with the Whale Sharks in La Paz.  Both were excellent experiences, and I was lazy about shopping around for the best price.  Airfare to San Diego and out of Cabo was $410, plus $75 to bring my bike back (on Southwest).  Total trip cost was just over $1,000, which is quite high considering I spent $2,000 hiking 4 months on the PCT. Longer trips are more bang for the buck, especially if you are flying somewhere.

I bought an old mountain bike from Maurice in Oceanside.  He has a great, but hard to find used bike shop called Bikes and Parts in the Oceanside Plaza. The bike was $80, and another $25 for a rear rack, bar ends, 2 spare tubes, and 2 spare derailleur cables. The bike held up well except for the screws (tornillos) used on the rack were too short and one came loose on the rough roads, which I had to replace with an old nail and duct tape; the plastic cable guide under the bottom bracket cracked in a rough off road section; and the front derailleur stopped shifting properly, but works with a little push of the heel.  I used 1.25" road slicks most of the time and switched to the mountain tires on longer dirt stretches.  I found the biggest limitation on the rough dirt sections was the panniers and handlebar bag bouncing around too much. A bike packing set up would be better if you plan to spend a considerable amount of time off the pavement.
It's been a stormy winter in CA. After waiting several days for the rain to stop I started getting impatient. I dodged most of the rain leaving San Diego and there was a full rainbow over San Diego while riding the ferry to Coronado Island.
Warm Showers hosts, Sue and Craig, on Coronado brought me along to trivia night and rode out with me towards Tijuana in the morning. A good start!

The Pacific coast just after riding down from Tijuana and Rosarito. The ride through Tijuana wasn't as bad as I expected, but I hit some heavy rain showers which made for a dirty start. There was a lot of traffic, but not particularly fast moving. 
The quiet section of Highway 1 through the hills north of Ensenada, which splits from the coastal toll road (no bikes allowed). It was scenic and low traffic. 
My first Mexican Warm Showers host in Ensenada, the Montes family.  Their son, Jorge, currently studying abroad in Columbia, arranged for me to stay with his family.  Unusually cold temps made for especially tasty hot chocolate.
I rode east into the mountains from Ensenada on Highway 3. The route is scenic and has little traffic once away from the city.  High temps were around 50F, a good temperature for pedaling uphill.  I didn't realize the mountains were as big as they were in Baja, with some of the surrounding peaks ~ 10,000'.
I ran out of daylight near a small town, Leyes de Reforma, along Highway 3.  The friendly teenager in the store said I could camp out back.  The neighbors were a young couple that seemed a little worried about me.  I suspect they knew how cold it was going to be. The puddles by the road were frozen solid in the morning.
Looking back at the mountains after a big descent out of Lazaro Cardenas on Highway 3. Snow covered the highest peaks.  Heavy winds, sand, and cold temps made this a tough day of desert riding, reminding me of some of my least favorite riding conditions.  The desert can be unforgiving!
Once I hit Highway 5 and turned south toward San Felipe on the gulf side I had a 20-40 mph tailwind:) The road between San Felipe and Puertocitos is rough, and has the first gringo beach settlements I encountered.
Once south of Puertocitos the road is excellent, as are the views.  There isn't much out there but gringo beach settlements.
Eventually the nice paved Highway 5 ends and there is a ~50km dirt section that connects back to Highway 1.  Construction is in progress to connect them.  The new graded dirt section is closed to cars, but nobody seemed to mind me biking on it.  It is shorter, flatter, smoother and much less dusty without cars and trucks.  However, the nice graded section eventually ended and I came across a couple guys blasting rock in the middle of nowhere.  They told me if I kept going eventually I would hit the old road.  I kept going, but I had to carry my bike through a few steep rocky sections. 
Camping with the cacti somewhere between the old and new Highway 5. Beautiful desert through this section.
Back on the old 5, best done in the early morning when there is less traffic and dust.
Back on Highway 1 in the Valle de Los Cirios there is some very scenic desert riding.  I've walked and biked through a lot of desert, and the flora in this part of Baja is some of the most beautiful and unique with the Cirio, Cardon (biggest cactus in the world, I thought they were Saguaros), Datilillio (I thought were Joshua Trees), and the Ocotillo.
I took a day off in Guererro Negro to go see the Gray Whales in the Ojo de Liebre lagoon, one of the 3 lagoons on the west coast of the peninsula the whales come to calve.  I cannot imagine a better whale watching experience.  There are hundreds of whales in the lagoon, and the mothers and calves are within arms reach of the boats. Near the mouth of the lagoon the males were breaching in the distance.
Riding into Baja Sur with another cyclist, Charlie, from the UK.
Camping among the palms in San Ignacio, one of my favorite small towns. 
I met a couple other cyclists heading into Santa Rosalia, Keith and Sam.  One had some problems with a wheel, so we stopped at the bike shop.  100 pesos ($5) for a few new spokes and truing.  It took a couple hours as the bike mechanic was also the cook at the restaurant next door. The ride into Santa Rosalia is probably the best descent on the Baja.
This is the view from La Casa de Pancho Villa in Mulege, a restaurant/bar that lets cyclists camp for free at the mouth of the Bahia de Concepcion. In Mulege we met a group of 10-15 cyclists doing the Baja Divide route and eventually we all ended up at Pancho Villa and stretched their beer supply thin.
Heading into Loreto, with Isla Carmen in the distance.
I took the less traveled route up to San Javier, a small mission town, from Loreto. The climb isn't particularly long, but it is steep and the temps were in the 90s. The people in town were very nice. While I was switching to my bigger tires the local police man came over to tell me about the town and let me know I could camp behind the church. Another guy stopped to see if I had any tube patches. I gave him a few and he returned with a big bag of fresh oranges.
Scenic mountain riding around San Javier.
Heading west from San Javier there is a 70km dirt section.  The road follows a river canyon, which is difficult riding at times with a number of sometimes wet rocky river bed crossings and sandy wash-boarded roads.  I had a nice rest in Ciudad Constitucion after that stretch.
La Familia Landa Flores at Km 77 north of La Paz. Even though they were remodeling their restaurant, they invited me into the kitchen for dinner and let me camp on the property.  The section of Highway 1 between Ciudad Constitucion and La Paz is one of the more remote sections, with only a few small stores/houses/towns. Temps were in the 90s so I was delighted to find an Oxxo convenient store halfway.  They sell these slushy type drinks that are a treat on a hot day. 
Need a loyal companion?  Consider taking a vacation to Mexico and bringing a dog home with you. This puppy was at restaurant outside of La Paz.  I mentioned how cute they were and the owners said I can feel free to take one, or eight. I was tempted. Dogs and cats are not typically fixed in Mexico and they are everywhere. Ones that don't quickly learn the dangers of traffic don't last long. If you are biking down the Baja be prepared to see and smell many dead dogs, and other domestic animals, along the side of the road. 
I took a day off in La Paz for a trip to swim with the Whale Sharks, a highly recommended experience. We took a break from swimming to climb up on the dunes on El Mogote, a small peninsula off the coast of the city. 
Tuly, my Warm Showers host in La Paz, invited me to a BBQ with her friends.  Good company and food, and lots of Spanish practice.
Carne Asada La Paz style.  Que rico!

 
I took the coastal route from La Paz to Cabo via Cabo Pulmo, which involved about 60KM of slow going sandy and wash-boarded dirt roads.  44KM south of Cabo Pulmo there is a new paved road which leads to Cabo San Jose via a hilly scenic route. Unfortunately the afternoon I arrived in Cabo Pulmo the winds were too strong for snorkeling, so I hung out at the beach with some friendly Canadians.
Laura and Ben, Warm Showers hosts in San Jose del Cabo, showed me an all around good time to end my trip, including a day hanging out in...

 Cabo San Lucas, a spectacle of humanity and a place to eat and drink way too much.  This is the scene at Mango's, a wild spring break favorite. One afternoon was enough for me!  

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