Well, some of what I was expecting, but much of these first few weeks in Baja have been full of discovery and pleasant surprises. Bike travel here is much different than in the states in just about every way.
Well maybe that’s not the case but sometimes it feels like it. Yes, I’m still riding a bike, mostly camping on back roads, and enjoying the scenery.
However, that’s about where the similarities end.
Are extremely kind, patient, and excited to ask where I am going and how long it will take me to get there. I feel a fool for traveling in Mexico knowing just about zero Spanish because I know this trip would be much more rich of an experience if I could actually connect with the local communities. It’s also very ignorant to ride into someone’s town, ask for things, and not be able to converse enough understand their lives. I am picking things up quickly…or at least the necessities.
I’m not scared to bumble through sentences or try to hold a conversation. Most of the time, folks are patient enough to let me try and then use a Spanglish response to make sure I understand what they need me to.
There are a few people who are obviously tired of entitled American tourists not being able to count out their pesos, advocate for what they need simply, and just expect for English to be enough to get them by. I do not blame these people for being short and concise with me…I just wish I wasn’t one of those Americans.
I am not scared for my safety in the least–at least no more than in the states. Just like in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, or California I don’t camp near a road, I don’t leave my bike out of sight for too long, and I try to be not too obvious with the electronics and money I carry.
Mexico looks rougher, but there’s not much of a difference. Fear is a good way to shut down a trip like this and I’ve met plenty of people whose first response to me when hearing about my trip is, “you’re going alone, to Mexico!?…Be careful!” There’s nothing wrong with this sentiment based on the news we consume and the extrapolation of ‘the different’ world that makes people hesitant.
Admittedly, I was a little nervous when first entering the country. A few reports or harassment and attempted robberies near the border town of Tecate made me cautious at first. However, I met a few fellow riders from Alaska and rode with them for the first day out of town. Having a group was super helpful in easing the culture shock, figuring out the little things, and getting settled into this section of the route.
After that first day, I felt much more confident riding alone and weaving my way south toward La Paz
As mentioned above, I’ve already met a few groups of fellow Baja Divide riders.
The first group of three guys from Alaska was gracious enough to let me tag along and camp with them for the first night (which was nice seeing how it was Thanksgiving). They travel light, sleep under the stars, take long beer breaks in the heat of the day, and adhere to a flexible way of riding. They are easy going and I can tell they are having a great time even though the Mexico heat may be a shock to their Alaska acclimated systems.
In addition, I met and rode with another group of three riders from Pittsburgh. They were a little more planned out (my dad would approve of their spreadsheets), they were goofy and also happy to let me tag along for one day and night with them.
There’s also a couple on a mountain tandem (let me repeat that again….they are riding this 1,700 mile, rocky, sandy, elevation-ridden route on a tandem mountain bike) who I’ve been trying to catch for a week or so. They are covering 50 miles a day, a feat that is exhausting me–and again, they are doing it on a tandem. I am excited to meet them if I can ever catch up, and ask them many a question about their experience.
Riding with others is a great time, a social experience, and something that I really like. However, It is difficult to do so in a sustainable way. I’m usually moving at a different pace and everyone has their different routines and patterns. Plus, most folks are riding in groups down here so being a third or fourth wheel can be a little intrusive. I think if I met someone who is also riding solo, it’d be a little easier to adjust my flow if needed and ride with them for a while.
All this being said, I’m not sure if this is what I want–in the end, I set out on this trip to be alone for a bit to see how my head, heart, and soul were affected. I think I should continue with this goal, especially now more than even–still riding solo. This might change, however.
The Baja Divide is quite different from the other riding I’ve done thus far. It is almost entirely on dirt roads of varying quality. I think I was expecting less elevation change, smoother roads, and more direct routes. In essence, I thought it was going to be easier.
While the total elevation changes are less than, say, The Colorado Trail, they are steep. In addition, the roads are also commonly popular ATV, Dirtbike, and Baja 1000 race routes. Because of this, they can be pretty chewed up.
Sand and loose rocks are common along the route and can make riding slow and frustrating. Most days, I wish I had a lighter bike that could ‘float’ over these sections more easily. However, my body is doing pretty good at adapting to the demands–it usually means just more hours of riding in the day to complete the needed mileage.
Heat can also be a challenge. The first few days were pretty sweltering and it was hard to stay hydrated. Luckily, the weather has turned for the better, the clouds have blown in, and the riding temperatures are just about perfect. Let’s hope that it stays this way.
The scenery at first was a bit of a letdown, to be honest. Lots of barren deserts, dry foliage, brown mountains, and always a little bit of smoke in the air from the endless fires burning around towns. However, as the route has moved south, Dr. Suesse like cacti tower over the roads, flowers of the Agave plants are blooming, and the plants are green and healthy. In addition, the landscapes are more striking and molded–boulders, cliffs, and green filled arroyos buried in short but dramatic mountains.
The coastlines are also nothing to scoff at. Long beaches, rocky points, even/breaking waves, and a general lack of other people make these pieces of shore a sight to see. The ocean breeze and morning dews turn these environments into something different, almost another world. I’ve enjoyed moving from one ecosystem to the next. And apparently, The route just gets more spectacular from here.
It’s good, cheap, and filling. Learning more and more what type of food my body needs…more on this later.
They are cute and everywhere. Some are feistier then others and some will ‘chase’ the bikers away from their territory by barking and chasing after us. None have made any signs of actually attacking…it’s all just a show. For the most part, the pups are hungry for a tortilla or a scratch behind the ears.