A Week of Relaxation…It’s Time To Go

It’s 9pm. The ferry has just sailed from La Paz. We’ve been on board since 5.30…but that’s ok because it’s only an hour late and we’ve got another five months to get nowhere, or should that be to get everywhere. In any case time just doesn’t seem to be so important these days.

We have just climbed into our sleeping bags on the outside deck (it seems to be the place that all the peasant cyclists sleep). It’s warm and dark. The boat has that big boat vibration thing going on so I’m thinking sleep should come easy…it definitely will for Karen, she’s already there.

After a week off the bikes, save a easy 60km over the hill from La Ventana to La Paz you would think sleep would be he last thing that we need. But it almost seems the opposite…the less we do the more tired we get. It’s definitely time to hit the trail again.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t thoroughly enjoyed the week off. Why a week off I hear someone ask. It’s simple really, the stars aligned. We had just finished the Baja Divide and needed a rest, it’s just a brutally fantastic ride. We were also going to be waiting for some parts to arrive but that’s another story. A week earlier we met some riders, Mary and Ermanno, on a trail who invited us to come visit them in La Ventana. A few days later we decided to take them up on their offer and arranged to be there Friday. It turns out we arrived on the Thursday and stopped at a cafe to grab a beer to celebrate finishing the Baja Divide.

This is where the world gets small. While sitting at the cafe a van pulls up and a woman jumps out, introduces herself and asks us if we want to stay the night at their place. Since we’re officially homeless we gratefully accepted with the distinct feeling that we’re being taken in like a couple of stray cats. Turns out this woman is Alenka who we heard about while I n Lake Tahoe. She bikepacked from Tahoe to La Ventana back in October / November. She and her husband Jim both knew a few of the people we met up in Tahoe.

So after finishing our beer and following Alenka’s directions we arrive at their house. We’re in for a real tropical treat. The house is a big palapa, open on three sides with all the living under a thatched roof but essentially outdoors. We get the guest quarters upstairs, it’s just amazing.

Anyway we get along like a house on fire and could quite easily stay for a month. Not sure Jim’s to keen on that though. But he is keen to show us the local mountain bike tracks. They are definitely worth it, so much fun ripping between the cactus on sweet flowing tracks.

After a couple of days we head to Mary and Ermanno’s for some more R&R. This couple have life sorted too. They did a two year bike tour about 10 years ago and decided life needed to change so they made it happen. Ermanno works remotely so they can lIve five months in La Ventana kitesurfing and mountain biking and the other seven months in Seattle. I definitely like the way they are thinking.

For some reason we keep gravitating back to Jim and Alenka’s. Karen loves their morning coffee. I’m not so sure what it is but they are bloody good company and remind us of friends at home.

After four days it’s time to go. We want to have a poke around La Paz before heading to the mainland. There’s some more single track to explore through the Cardon (cactus) forest on the way out of La Ventana. It is forecast to rain, it does that very occasionally down here, and the forecast is right. The rain arrives and Baja has one more serving of mud for us while riding through the forest before we get back to the road.

Before the rain…

After the rain.

La Paz is a pretty relaxed but vibrant city with lots of sculptures and mural art…but we’re not city people so having a poke around is biking through the old town and along the Malecon (waterfront) is enough for us.

The best thing about La Paz is the whale sharks that feed just off the coast so a swim with them was in order. That was an amazing experience. These are seriously big fish that just cruise around sucking in plankton. The two we swam with were about six meters long. What a buzz and such a privilege.

So Baja is behind us now. If anyone wants a challenging but very rewarding bikepacking adventure then the Baja Divide is a must do.

In front of us is mainland Mexico and another stage of the journey. We arrive in Mazatlán then we’ll take the El Espinazo Del Diablo (The Devils Backbone) into the mountains to Durango before heading south. We’re jumping out of our skins just itching to get going.

We knocked the bastard off!

This famous quote was uttered by Sir Edmond Hillary after he and Tenzing Norgay reached the top of Mt Everest. This is a little how I felt about completing the Baja Divide. Our achievement was not quite on the same scale as Sir Ed’s but we both shared a fair bit of satisfaction about finishing that we have not gained from riding any other route.

Why is this I wonder? Was it the steep climbs, rough corrugated (or as our American friends refer to as ‘washboard’) roads, the deep sand or ‘baby head’ sized rocky sections? Was it the flat road riding through ‘peanut butter’ type mud that took us hours to nurse our clogged up wheels through? Was it the supposedly easy flat riding that turned out to be much harder effort wise than the steep hill climbs because of deep sand / baby head rocks / mud or a combination of all three? I’m sure I’m painting a great picture here – and yes, this is what we do for fun. We commented to each other more than once along the route “This is still better than being at work” as we pushed our bikes over the rough ground.

So the final 9 days of the Baja Divide route started In Ciudad Constitución. The ‘highlight’ of leaving the city was riding through the city dump where much of the rubbish is burned. We were riding through thick rancid smoke for about 1km. What shocked us is there appeared to be people living in makeshift shacks at the dump – scavenging a living from other people’s rubbish.

Along this route we kept bumping into Jamie who is a fellow biker who hales from New York. He was travelling pretty light and had no cooker and was living on tortillas filled with tuna, avocado and peanut butter (no true American would leave home without peanut butter). We camped together the first night after leaving Ciudad Constitución and we talked him into sharing a hot dinner of our version of Mexican Mac ‘n cheese (it wasn’t too hard to talk him into that). We found a wonderful camp next to the river and we’re able to jump in and wash the sweat and dirt from the day off. Jamie commented that this was the best camp he’d stayed at.

The next day Jamie was on the road before we got out of the tent. The road was really rough with steep pinchy climbs. Both of us were hanging out for a cold coke, but none of the villages we passed through had any kind of shop. We caught up to Jamie and he was sitting in one of these villages outside of a school using the internet! We couldn’t believe there was wifi available when we couldn’t even purchase a coke. We asked what he was doing and he said he was feeling sick and was trying to decide whether to carry on riding to La Paz to see doctor or to try to get a ride. He was looking for some medical advice so I pulled out my phone and through the wonders of modern technology (and WhatsApp) was able to phone our friend ‘nurse Sandy’ in New Zealand so Jamie could ask her for some advice. It was decided he would carry on riding with us and seek further medical advice in La Paz. The next night we fed him again (we had taken way too much food with us) and he was really grateful for this. In return when we arrived in La Paz he brought us a big juicy steak each – not a bad deal we thought.

Back riding on the coast by the Sea of Cortez – Jamie and Tony.

The road over the mountains was really rocky and rough, but when we hit the coast rocky and rough was replaced by sandy and corrugated (even worse)! We had another 60km of this bone jarring road before we reached the sealed road. It was going to be a long 115kms to La Paz I thought. We climbed over a nasty steep 200m climb and descended back to the coast when there at the bottom of a small hill was a grader working the road! Yay we are saved! The grader driver had done a fantastic job and the gravel road to the seal was a piece of cake to ride. The added bonus was the strong tail wind we had all the way along the coast to La Paz – life was good!

Arriving in La Paz

After a day off on La Paz we started out on a loop in the southern tip of the peninsula with some of the best road surfaces we had ridden yet. For me, I enjoyed this loop the best. Sure there was still some challenging riding, but the scenery changed quite a bit. We ended up riding along the coast on the Sea of Cortez again with beautiful clear water. Our first camp out of La Paz was in a small bay that some local mountain bikers we met on the road recommended to us. It was perfect and we had the whole place to ourselves. The water was so clear we could see fish swimming around the rocks. Tony really wished he had his spear gun and snorkel gear with him.

We continued south along the coast passed lots of holiday homes that are clearly owned by Canadian and North American ‘Snowbirds’ who are escaping the ravages of winter in their home towns. There were Gringos everywhere riding their four wheelers or beach buggy’s. There was heaps of property for sale along the coast line and I got the feeling locals were selling their prime real estate to foreign buyers (aka selling their heritage). We then headed back into the hills for more steep climbing…

Here the scenery started to change. Everything was more lush. The cactus’ were competing with trees and bushes for desert real estate. The roads had signs of water damage and there was water in the creek beds. It was also a lot warmer and we used a couple of the creeks to wet our shirts to try to stay cool.

Cactus growing amongst the trees.

Donkeys waiting to be loaded up with firewood.

We finished our loop after 6 days in La Ventana. The last night on the road we arranged to meet up with Jamie again for one last group meal of our special Mexican Mac ‘n cheese and some dessert of Oreo yoghurt – yum!

So having said all that, would I recommend this route to other people – yes absolutely, but with the proviso they don’t go into it thinking it will be a walk in the park.

Here’s where we’ve been.

Feliz Año Nuevo…Happy New Year

So picture this. It’s 8am, we’re camped at a hostel in San Ignacio (basically someone’s back yard) and I’m meant to be getting up to ride my bike but my stomach is telling me it’s not that keen. I try to get out of the tent but that’s the last straw and my stomach decides it’s time to empty itself. So here I am, wearing my undies, kneeling in the door of the tent throwing up with life going on around me. Karen comes over to see if I’m ok. John, another cyclist staying there asks her if he can do anything, then makes a quick exit to town. After what seems like forever I’m kneeling over 1 1/2 litres of liquified version of the cheesy nachos I had for dinner. It probably wasn’t the nachos but I will forever associate them.

Now on second thoughts that’s not really a picture you want…

San Ignacio Misión

So that was the start of our week. An enforced rest day in San Ignacio followed by three days of riding on a stomach that didn’t really appreciate it. Needless to say when we arrived in Mulegé I was poked.

But the ride over the divide was stunning. This had our first easy flat riding of the trip. When I say flat I mean about 50km of weaving through dry lake beds linking fishing villages along the Pacific coast. It was a bizarre scene.

Crossing the divide had the usual challenges but the down hill was the hardest part of the climb. A 550 metre decent that had about 400m metres of climbing in it. That was just nasty and nearly saw the toys come out of the cot. Time to lay under a tree and take a few deep breaths. Then it dropped us into a flat rocky riverbed for the last 25km to town. And that was their road and just about my lot.

Mulegé, on the Sea of Cortez, is another 17th century Mission town built around an oasis.

Mulegé Misión

Arriving on Christmas Day the place had a very relaxed feel so we got settled into a hotel and decided to have a decent rest day. This was the best sleep we’ve had in a town…no barking dogs, roosters crowing or trucks running all night. Oh for small mercies.

After resting and refuelling we were both keen to get going. Going involved negotiating a boat ride with local fishermen across Bahía Concepción (the inlet). This was an interesting exercise given our lack of Spanish and their lack of English but we managed to come to some sort of agreement and ended up getting dropped off on an amazing isolated white sand beach. The crystal clear water and solitude made us wish we had taken extra food, water and beer so we could have camped right there and spent the day swimming and exploring. Maybe next time.

The next five days days had a similar theme. Night one we camped in a small bay on the Sea of Cortez. The wind was up so the evening swim (read wash) was very brief. After that it was back into the hills linking together old mission towns and oasis’s on little used roads. This is all volcanic country so lots of rock, big canyons and steep climbing. Some parts reminded me of the landscape around Mt Ruapehu, just with cactus and desert sand instead of rivers, snow and ice.

Oasis surrounding San José de Comondú

Because there’s lots of passing opportunities?

Misión de San Javier

Vultures enjoying the morning sun

The last 70km into Ciudad Constituciòn was flat and typical of the flat riding here. Soft sand, loose rocks and the occasional good going just to tease us. The desert slowly gave way to cropping lands and released us back into civilisation. We finished off with an easy half day to arrive in town on New Year’s Eve.

Let’s get the party started!!

This leg of the journey. Next stop La Paz

Merry Christmas From Baja

Both of us never thought we’d be spending Xmas surrounded by Cactus and desert, but here we are in Baja Mexico this year. Actually we are really enjoying being away from the Xmas hype and commercialism that surrounds the festive season at home and in the States. We did try to get into the festive season a couple of weeks ago when we found some tinsel in some rubbish on the road side. I wrapped some around my handle bars and Tony wrapped some in the spokes of his front wheel. That didn’t last long after it rained and our tinsel was covered in mud. We are expecting to be in a place called Mulege (pronounced Mulahae) on Xmas day drinking beer and having a swim in the Sea of Cortez.

Since leaving Catavina we have had some pretty varied roads to ride including some of the toughest sections so far. Catavina is where we stocked up with enough water to last two full riding days and one night approx 19 litres. We purchased 3 x 4 litre bottles and strapped them to our front forks of the bikes and filled every other bottle we had on the bikes up. After 2km on the rough road the first 4 litre bottle failed and we had water running out of the bottom of it. We decanted what we could and drank the rest. The other two bottles failed about 20km later. We decanted and drank what we could, then looked for suitable replacement bottles that had been discarded on the side of the road to fill up. Here we were again scavenging from rubbish on the side of the road (a pattern is forming here). We scored three replacement bottles that were still carrying now.

We had some really nice wild camping on the Pacific Coast, in quiet bays all to ourselves. Some of the nicest camping so far. One even had a long drop toilet for our convience.

BYO toilet seat.

By this time we started to run into other cyclists and it was nice to share stories and experiences with them. About 100 cyclists do this route each year.

We have also ran into Tim from Tennessee who is a cyclist, but was down here in Baja having a car camping and kayaking holiday. He met us as we were grinding our way up a steep hill at 10am when the temperature was reaching about 30 degrees. He pulled up beside me in his Jeep and asked if I would like a cold beer. “Hell yes” was my reply. At the top of the hill he pulled up next to Tony (who was ahead of me) and got out of his car with his beer already open and handed Tony a cold one. It was one of the best beers we’ve had so far. We have learned to never turn down beer when offered to us on the road. After that we still managed to bike another 70km.

After leaving Baja De Los Angeles where we had a day off, the riding has been challenging, pounding our backsides on washboard roads, deep sand and rocky trails. On some of the sandy sections we have been able to avoid the deep sand by riding to the side of the road weaving our way around cactus’ and other spiky plants. However yesterday when riding the last flat ‘easy’ 52km into San Ignacio it took us 8 hours to negotiate deep sand…

And rocky roads…

Then there were areas where there was deep sand punctuated by rocks! This is the most pushing we have done on this trip. We have decided that ‘flat’ roads in the Baja mean slow, butt punishing hard work!! We have decided we much prefer the hills. Having said this, on this part of the trail we were rewarded with our first real fresh surface water which was really nice.

Other hazards in the desert apart from sun burn and lack of water is cactus thorns. They are everywhere and if you’re not careful they will stick into anything including our shoes, the tent, clothes and our tyres. Our purchase of our luxury items (ie our chairs) have kept our butts off the spiky ground.

And the ‘Stans’ (the goo that we put inside our tyres for all you non cyclists) is keeping our tyres inflated.

The scenery is still proving to be beautiful and we are amazed by the different colours and variety of landscapes in the desert. The riding has been challenging, but the rewards have beeen worth it.

Tony nailing the gravel.

Morning mist near San Ignacio

Desert sunset

Sunrise at Baja De Los Angeles

Where we have travelled this week.

We travelled from Catavina in the north to San Ignacio which is where the blue dot is on the map. By Xmas day we hope to be either in Mulegé in the south east or close to it. We hope you all have a great Xmas day.

Love Karen and Tony.

Frustration…Elation… Amazement…Nervousness

So here we are. Sitting in the middle of nowhere feeling all a bit beaten up after four days of hard going. It’s been a mixed bag of emotions to get this far.

(08/12/18 to 12/12/18)

Frustration

There’s the mud, lots of mud and it feels like we’re going nowhere. South of San Quintin the route followed mud roads and cut through soft paddocks before heading to the coast. Great we think, flat fast going. How wrong could we be. There’s more mud, just this stuff is made with salt water. Near the end of the day Karen was feeling the frustration. I’d like to say she threw her bike into the mud and swore a bit…but the bike threw her into the mud then she yelled and swore at the sky, then at me but that’s probably because I asked if she was having fun…Not helpful. Needless to say I retreated down the track to safety which was easy to do because her wheels had stopped turning and she had to clean out the mud before carrying on.

Four days after rain and the roads are still flooded

While we are talking about the tracks, they are hard. This is by far the hardest riding we have done on this trip. The tracks are just rough and slow. Today was a good day as far as terrain goes with not to much climbing. We managed 77km in 8 1/2hrs. We’re still working on adjusting our expectations so we don’t run out of food or water.

There’s the bikes. I guess after 14000km of hard going things are going to start to fall apart. First I thought my frame was giving up. Turns out it just needed a good clean out and some lube…and a bigger Alan key to screw it altogether. Then the bracket holding an Anything cage on broke on a rough decent. Luckily I heard it go because the cooker was still attached to the cage bouncing down the track. Would have been a hungry night otherwise.

Elation

It was so good to get away from the flat and populated coast and back into the hills. Riding a small second of the MEX1, the main road down the Baja was just plain scary. In the hills the ups might have been brutal, the downs rough and the flats just plain hard work given it was either soft sand or loose rocks but that all didn’t matter. We were surrounded by hills and both back in our happy place.

Amazement

That brings me to the amazing part. This place is our other worldly. We have never seen an area so arid but so full of weird and wonderful life. The trees and cactus are just bizarre. Apparently the tree are called Curios, I don’t know, but I think Dr Seuss rode the Baja because it’s just like the trees in his books. Needless to say the vegetation is a little different. But it’s not too friendly, everything is covered in prickly things. It’s defiantly not a place to go around tree hugging.

Dr Sues must have been in here

And in such an arid climate there is still wildlife. Being woken by the birdsong in the mornings is always welcome. And spotting those birds during the day always puts a smile on my face. Hummingbirds always amaze while birds of prey sit high in the the cactus waiting their turn and watching us go by.

Passing through a Curios tree forest

Nervousness

The Mexican people have been fantastic. Even with our nearly non-existent Spanish they are friendly and relaxed. One morning we were trying to find our track through the cactus down to the town of San Quintin. As we were back tracking a man carrying a 20 litre bucket appeared from no where. Inside the bucket were lots of fruit he had picked from the catctus’ that we assume were Prickly Pear. He offered one to us, but we had no ideal how to eat the thing as it was covered in thorns. He then pulled out a pair of small scissors and used them to trim off all the thorns and gave us a couple to try. They were pretty good. He then told us with lots of arm waving and sign language which way to go to find our way down to the road.

Today was the first time in Mexico that it has been people that have made me nervous. Not long after leaving camp this morning we had stopped to lose a jersey when down the road a bit we see a few tents about 50mt from the road. There were a few guys standing around the camp so we gave them a wave. They wave back then pick up their assault rifles and start walking out to the road. Considering we were a long way from nowhere we decided we weren’t going to hang around for a chat so got peddling and passed them by before they got to the road. Good thing it was downhill and one of the best sections of road we had been on. Anyway they may have been there for any number of reasons and to do us harm was probably the last of them but perception is a strange thing…it felt good to get some distance between us.

The other thing that has made me nervous down here is being prepared for the unknown. This route is remote and preparing for that is still a work in progress. Every night we have a look at the map and try to figure out how long the next day, or section, will take and how much food and water we will need. We haven’t ran out yet but we have been close. Yesterday we got lucky and found a small stream (the only one we’ve seen in the hills) to top up our water. Then near the end of the day we found a 1 1/2 of bottle that we think had come off someone else’s bike. That meant that night we could wash our dishes with water not wet wipes.

There’s some big cactus in here

Where have we been

Colonet to Vicente Guerrero on the MEX1. Don’t try it. Definitely the closest I have come to being collected by a car. And the worst ones were those coming towards us when passing other traffic. If we didn’t swerve off the road we would have been a fly on their windscreen.

Vincente Guerrero to Nueva Odisea.

Frustrating riding. It felt like we were going around in circles. We were even tempted to get back on the Mex1…what were we thinking. This night we camped at a rv park on the beach where the showers we hot salt water. It felt great but don’t wash your hair with soap in hot salt water. It just turns to glue. Three days later and it’s still stuck together. I might be getting dreads.

Nueva Odisea to Catavina

This has been is three days of remote riding in the hills. Slow and hard going? Yes. Fun? Most definitely. There’s something about camping under a cactus in the middle of nowhere. We’ve almost got the place to ourselves. The terrain changes all the time, from sandy flats plateau’s to loose volcanic rocks to towering granite boulders. In these three days we’ve seen one car on the roads (if you call them that).

Typical desert camp

Lion rock

Gotta love the art of granite boulders

Goodbye North America, Hola Mexico

We left San Diego escorted out of town by our Warm Showers host (extraordinaire) Diane who was riding her mtb. We were loaded up with enough food for three days and enough water for an over night (around 19 litres between us). We had strapped two three litre bottles of water to our front forks making the bikes very heavy and the steering very shaky. Diane and I swapped bikes along one of the cycleways and it took her a while to get used to the heavy steering causing the bike to wobble after riding her light and fast Stumpjumper mtb (I didn’t want to give it back). She left us about 27km from her house, and we travelled another 8km before we got out of town.

After we got out of town we negotiated a brutal 800m climb which let our legs know what they were in for over the next month or so. We spent our last night in the USA at a wild camp 25km before the Mexican boarder. The next day we crossed the boarder into the town of Tecate, Mexico. Our first impression was of how people here use any opportunity to make a buck with the Immigration Officer trying to sell us home made honey and salsa. Tecate is a bustling town and we experienced our first restaurant meal. Our grasp of the Spanish language is about nil and ordering food became a challenge for us and the wait staff. We got there in the end with delicious Tacos, Quesdillas and a beef soup. Then it was time to get out of town and hit the dirt roads.

The last four weeks of cycling the Pacific Coast Highway made us a little soft and our waistlines a little thicker. Here in Mexico once you leave the main road we found we were riding rough dirt roads with steep climbs, ruts and little traffic. It was bliss after riding the busy roads in North America. We also noticed the sides of the roads near towns were strewn with rubbish – almost like an informal landfill.

When travelling through towns and villages we had to run the gauntlet of barking dogs. We even had two dogs follow us for a couple of kms up the road like a pair of escorts.

There are even Roosters at the service stations…

We camped at a campground in a town called Ojos Negros (black eyes). It cost us MP 120 (USD 5.80) and we had a picnic table, a grassy site to pitch the tent, water and a cold water shower – luxury! However it was noisy with barking dogs all night and when they stopped at 5am the roosters took over. This made camping out of the towns more attractive because of the peace and quiet. Also our new luxury items (our deck chairs) make wild camping so much more pleasurable.

Last night it rained. It rained all night and most of the next day. This turned the roads into the consistency of thick porridge and made the riding exceptionally hard. We struggled on through heavy driving rain and a strong head wind down to and along the Pacific coast. We arrived at a small town on the coast and had lunch, then decided both of us had had enough of the weather and didn’t have another 40km in us battling the elements. We succumbed to our first hotel costing us an extravagant USD40, but at least it had a hot shower!

Turns out it wouldn’t have made any difference. This morning the sun was out so we got gear dry then rolled out of town. First up was a river that would have been uncrossable in the rain.

With only 40km to get to the next town of Colonet we had grand plans of resupplying then heading into the hills. The mud had other ideas. The bikes were going nowhere fast. 5 1/2 hours later we finally get to Colonet covered in mud, get supplies and a much needed beer then find somewhere to stay. We managed to find a nice hotel to spend the nigh and to get clean (mostly by hose pipe followed by a hot shower)👍 Did we mention the beers tasted really nice??

Looking forward

Looking back

What Are We Doing

Where are we going?

We are heading south, toward Chile, however the question is more where will we travel before 30th of June 2019?? We are not destination focussed. For us it is more about the journey and the more spontaneous the journey is, the more enriching it is for us.

Where have we come from?

We started riding our bikes in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on the 16th of June 2018. Since then we have been zig zagging our way through North America. To date we have cycled 13600kms (around 8500 miles). 

The Alaska phase saw us ride the Dalton, Richardson and Denali Highways before doing some great single track in the Kenai Peninsula. We then headed back across Alaska to the Top of the World Highway and on into the Canadian Yukon. There followed the Klondike, Robert Campbell, Stewart Campbell and Yellowhead Highway to work our way to Banff. From there it was onto the Continental Divide trail to Salida, cut west to Ouray and on the Plateau Passage trail through Utah to St George. By this stage it’s getting cold and we were invited to head across Nevada to visit friends at Lake Tahoe, a fantastic place. From there we crossed to the Pacific Coast Highway and then headed South to San Diego. 

It is here that the bikes are getting a bit of TLC before we head into Mexico and on towards South America.