Words by: Ross Ramage
Hoback Sports Cycling Ambassador
10 days in. What a wild ride it’s been. We started off in San Diego in the morning and after a handful of miles through town it was time to head to the mountains. We veered east and made it to the Lower Otay Reservoir on paved roads mostly. Not far after we hopped onto dirt and immediately started gaining serious elevation on a dirt road that wound us up the mountain with sweeping views of San Diego. After some descending, a punishing final hill on a busy highway with fading daylight marked the end of our time in the States and it was time to cross into Tecate, Mexico. The boarder entry was about as seamless as two exhausted dudes with limited Spanish could manage although we are fairly sure they charged us a bit extra.
We had found a hotel on the town square just a few blocks from the crossing prior so it was not long till we were setup with a room with food and beer were in our bellies. There was not much left in us to explore this town but we did get stopped by government troops with big guns demanding to see our papers which we did not have. They did not shoot us and all was well.
The next morning marked the first day for either of us in this country and we were soon on our way with loaded bags and sugary fingers from the most amazing bakery this sweet toothed hippy could dream of. We followed the road out of Tecate for a couple miles before heading out into the mountains to start what would be a big day of climbing. The route weaved up into high desert valleys that were often sparse of vegetation but with the occasional old gnarled oak tree that looked like it had been there longer than the sand itself. Eventually we found a campsite in a sandy wash full of spiked bushes.
The next day started off with emptying all of the vertical feet we had earned the day prior. The roads wound through more of the high desert ecosystem including pinetrees that reminded me of Tahoe forests. The descents were fast and fun and the roads were in good condition. We then rolled into a dusty town called Ojos Negros for lunch and water fill up as that marked our first 70 mile stretch with no services from Tecate. From Ojos Negros we jumped back into the mountains and met up with the Baja 1000 course. There was quite a bit of traffic on it with people pre-running it for the upcoming race. About 15 miles from town we came across a guy named Jovani standing next to his dirt bike with his helmet off. He spoke English and explained that he had broken down and was waiting for a friend to pick him up. It turned out he was from Uropan and that was where we were headed that evening so we exchanged numbers, offered him supplies, and we were on our way again. The climb over the mountain to the town was beautiful but relentless. The decent on the other side was composed of technical double track that was the first real test of the loaded bikes capability. We stayed rubber side down and might have a lot of fun in the process. The double track eventually turned to a dirt road that wound down big bouldery valleys with remote farms sprinkled throughout. With about a thousand vertical feet to go and a couple miles the sun finally set and we put on lights and continued to descend west into the valley below. When we arrived in Uropan we were exhausted but satisfied with ourselves on a 75mile day. Food, beer, and hot springs were all our minds had space for. Right as we started through the outskirts of the town we hear a yell from a car and it was Jovani. He said he saw our lights from below as he was rolling into town with his rescue vehicle. He offered us to stay at his moms place right around the comer and offered to make us food. His wonderful mom ended up running out to buy us beer that we brought to the hot springs. Helluva day that day was.
The next morning we set out a bit later than usual which was greatly appreciated. Our goal was to make it to the coast to a little town called Eréndira. It was a fairly uneventful pedal out there involving lots of Baja racers prerunning on dusty roads. The road dropped down close to the water for a couple miles then would wind inland for a couple more. Perhaps it was the gray skies but it reminded me of the Northern California coast with big crashing waves and a rocky shoreline with the occasional long sandy beach with many dolphin sightings. We made it into Erendria which was a little less lively than we had originally hoped and a bit soulless to be honest. Not long after we made it in the rain started and we took shelter in front of a convenience store and drank beer waiting for it to pass. We tracked down one of the only open restaurants and returned to the convenience store to load up on beers before finding camp for the night, by now it was dark. We had passed a lot of good looking camps on our way into town but that would mean backtracking a ways whereas continuing south was uncertain. While weighing our options a guy drinking a beer stopped and asked us how we were doing and asked us about our bikes. He spoke English well and said he was camping in his truck for the night. He said he knew of a spot back north (the way we came in) that was safe. We ended up trusting him and strapped a bunch of beers onto our bikes and headed off into the rainy night. The spot was on a rocky point and by the time we got there it was raining hard and windy. We set up the tent in a hurry, buttoned things down, and hopped in our new friends truck to take shelter and sus out if he was going to murder us in the night. Vallero ended up being a really cool guy who had spent a lot of time in the states working as a Engineer. We shared stories and drank beers before a windy nights sleep in the tent.
We set out the next morning for a town called Colonet which was supposed to be a relatively short pedal. Not long after leaving town the rain came in full force from the sea. The road winded along the rocky coast but stayed sandy which kept our progress wet but steady. Eventually we reached IT. It was going to be the bane of our existence for this day and for others to follow. The clay. They clay is a thick mud that at times probably was actuality clay. It sticks to your feet and to your tires and stoops any forward progress. We would hit small patches of it which would slow us down but we could keep moving. It became clear things were not going to come easy that day. Eventually after some hard fought miles we had left the coast and were headed inland, we eventually hit a stretch of clay so bad that we could not move at all. This was still about 8 miles from town. We tried dragging our bikes but the slippery ground made that impossible. We tried carrying them but with the added weight they weighed ~150lbs and that was fruitless as well. We tried on the road, we tried next to the road but it was clear that there was no way forward. We finally surrendered and decided to wait a couple hours in hopes of it drying out as by now the skies had cleared and the sun had joined us. We waited and waited as the occasional Baja 1000 prerunner passed. For the motos, they were able to clear the mud out of their tires by going fast. That was tough to watch as we were stuck in the muck. Eventually we decided to give it another go and our patience had paid off. As long as you kept momentum and pedaled as hard as you could once moving. We eventually reached the town with a few hours of daylight and decided to head to the one hotel we knew about to try and sort our muddy life’s out. It was up a big hill on a busy highway. We got there and they wanted a whopping $150 so we noped out of there and rode back down the hill but this time in the rain. We retreated in the fading light to a friendly looking cafe for food and well earned beers in kind of a shell shocked state uncertain with our accommodations for the night in the muddy highway town. The people in the cafe were super kind and told us of another small cheap hotel up a different hill and they would call a ride for us when we were done eating. This was welcome news for us as you can imagine so we finished eating, got more food and beers to go, and were driven to the new spot which we promptly shared all of our hard earned mud with. A extra tip was left for cleanup.
After our adventure the day prior and talking to a bike shop down the road we opted to cut out a section of the suggested route and stay on the highway that day. The highway did not offer much protection from the trucks and buses but the mud on the side of the road was a nice reminder of the alternative in the mountains. We soon reached the town of Vicente Guerrero where we stopped by said bike shop FASS bikes where the friendly owner Salvador was welcoming. We grabbed a couple small things and decided to make for San Quintin a little further down the road. The hotel there was a bit more expensive ($20 each) but offered warm showers which the previous hotel did not. We were also able to scrub down our bikes well which they appreciated as well. That night we ran into another pair of cyclists riding the divide as well but were on the 3-4 month timeline as they were retired and traveling with their dog in a trailer. Lots of tacos were ate this day and I went to bed full and clean.
We were supposed to watch the Baja 1000 pass through the next day in San Quintin but it was delayed because of the same rain we had experienced. That next morning we set off towards a big backcountry section then. After gather supplies in town We set off towards the coast for a while before heading into the mountains. The route wandered though a mildly interesting swampland that involved a wonderful push through more clay till we finally reached the coast. From there we were rewarded with a couple miles of beach riding along a long desolate beach save for the occasional oyster farmer. Once we headed inland we stopped for lunch and last minute supplies and water before setting off for a couple nights in the mountains without resupply. Usually the goal is to only spend one night out with no water fill-up but it is important to carry enough for two because the desert is a unpredictable beast. After a nice lunch and a disgruntled market clerk we were on our way back to the mountains. This section included 30 miles of mostly uphill. Progress was slow as the dirt was soft and grabbed the tires as well as the rough condition of the road. We made it about 10 miles in before burning some cactus for a campfire and making chorizo pasta. The next day was uncertain as we closed our eyes for the night. Would it be easy miles back out to the highway or more clay and added unplanned nights deep in the backcountry…
We got a early start as to give ourselves every minute of daylight as 10 hours still left some to be desired. The start was slow as conditions remained the same, soft dirt on rough tracks. The first large cactus was spotted giving hope to the road ahead. Eventually we were saved by the granite as the dirt turned to decomposed granite which supported our tires well along with our sleepy spirits. The rough double track wound into remote valleys until ultimately the climbing broke and the downhill lay before us. The descent was rough but brought a new biosphere of incredible plants and cactus more belonging in a Dr. Seuss book than growing out of this earth. Totally out of place but completely belonging in this environment much like ourselves. Progress was slow as our wandering eyes led to slow biking. We ultimately made it back to the highway after some fast miles. There were two restaurants on the highway that were marked on maps. Unfortunately we chose the second one and it was closed but they did let us fill up water and buy chips and cookies. As darkness closed camp was found in a shallow depression that welcomed us with a beautiful sunset with cactus silhouetting the sky.
The goal was to make it to a small highway town called Catavina the next day as we needed to gear up for a big 120 mile push with no resupply. Progress was fast through the mountains before finding the highway again for lunch at a deserted looking restaurant. Another cyclist sat our front with a touring bike as we rolled in. His name was Renne and he was from Germany and had been biking around the world for almost 2 years. We grabbed lunch consisting of shredded beef jerky burritos which were smothered in hot sauce, Doritos, and multiple packages of cookies. Renne was headed in the same direction as us so we agreed to meet in Catavina that evening as he was going to take the highway and we were going to take dirt roads. We set off and immediately we’re greeted by rugged roads with baby head sized loose rocks that made pedaling incredibly slow. Unfortunately we were committed to the roads as there were no connections back to the highway just a mile away. After some angry miles we were able to connect back to the highway and enjoyed a nice ride on empty paved roads which was a first on this trip. The desert was beautiful with big granite boulders, rolling mountains, and towering cactus. We reached town with light still and met up with Renne to share stories and learn of is adventures in distant lands over beers and chimichangas.
We parted ways the next morning after some chaotic shopping involving a potential multi day camp out with a well stocked but scarce gas station as our resupply. We made it on the road early enough and were soon heading west again back towards the pacific. We made good time as the road conditions favored fast travel. The coast welcomed us with a chilly breeze and sweeping views and a first well deserved jump in the ocean on a remote beach was in order. We drank gin as the sun set over the sea and we slowly retreated to shelter from the wind to make more chorizo pasta and inhale tubes of cookies to the sound of crashing waves. Tomorrow will bring a big ride on the coast back to civilization and cold beers. Feeling alive…
I had forgotten the mental routine of something touring as it is so different from everyday life. It is similar to long car rides in some regard but with much more physical effort. A lot of questions cycle through my head without definite answers to follow. What will the next hill be like? Is my bike going to break? Why am I doing this? Is this fun? The thoughts of friends and family occupy a lot of space in that time as well, wondering what the future will hold for them. Thoughts of myself also creep into consciousness. My work, my health, my finances, my dreams, and my goals beyond this next hill. Eventually it can be hard to find a clear stream of thought and they all become scrambled which is when it is time to put on music. Country westerns and bluegrass have been doing the trick this trip. I am working to clear my mind and try to live in the present more and I think focusing this time alone with my brain into meditation could be a good place to start.
This country has proved to be a beautiful place with wonderful people. This route is proving to be a beast that will require a lot of effort to conquer but it seems possible as long as the weather holds. The breakers roar…