Bouncing down Baja’s Backroads: Part 2

Where I Rode: Playa Escondida —> Playa El Requeson —> San Isidro/La Purisima —> San Juanico —> Comondu —> Loreto

 

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 Playa Escondida. It had been a brilliant and refreshing 3 days camped here among kind and interesting travelers. Most people who are in sufficient know as to find this beach tend to come back yearly. Others seem to never leave. One thing I learned from this time here is the strong difference between the culture of those who live out of small vans/campers/RVs and those in the big greyhound bus sized RVs. Everyone here chose this beach in part because the roads are too rough and windy for the big rigs, and they like it that way. One couple from Salt Spring Island in BC are in their 70s, drove down a 1974 converted van here and stayed a month before returning to work. One minute in their presence and I could feel the gentle beauty of their connection and the sweet peaceful lives they lead. They didn’t have any of the modern RV gadgets. Just a 2 burner stove and a fold-up bed. And a sweet little hand-made wooden row boat for fishing. 

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Along the same vein, Juan recently acquired this van with the intention of living out of it indefinitely in Baja due in part to financial limitations. Nothing fancy. But even the leap from the old van to this one comes at a cost. The more gadgets and systems of comfort, the more management they require. Grey water tanks, black water tanks, batteries, generators, back-up batteries to start the generators, etc. I can’t even imagine the complicated systems used by the big rigs. Still, at this modest size Juan was quite comfortable. I envied his ability to simply close his side doors and drive on to the next location. No need to make his bed or pack up his stuff. Given my 2+ hour a day routine of setting up and breaking down camp, the simplicity was appealing. That unassuming, modest style pervaded all of life at Playa Escondida. Our boating tour guide Ramon showed up the previous day with a bucket full of fresh-caught trigger fish. He showed me how he fillets them, and let me keep the fish I filleted. Fresh caught fish tacos that night. What more could one need?

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 One last look at the beach before pushing on South

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I rode the paved Mex-1 from Playa Escondida to my next off-pavement excursion. A turn from Rosarito into the open desert on fast hard-packed dirt quickly degraded to rough sea stones as it crossed many wide washes in the desert valleys. Occasionally the loose rocky road would become paved during extremely steep climbs to aid in reck-free driving. At climbs like this of 18% grade, even big stones turn into ball bearings, sliding out under car and bike tires alike and reversing an uphill intention to a downhill disaster.

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50km into the old road, I came across a large marshy area filled with fresh water. The entire area surrounding it glowed green with happily hydrated plants.

 

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The angle of the suns rays became increasingly oblique, casting long shadows from cliffs to valleys. In the distance, a river. Actually the first real river I’d come across since entering the Baja. Alongside it, the small colonial town of San Isidro. I descended into the long deep valley from the hot dry desert into a cool breeze blowing up the river bed, palm trees at its sides. It was interesting for me to take note that as far back as Southern Utah I’d crossed countless dry river beds, often known as washes. Given my timing of passage being late Fall into Winter, it was no surprise. All the previous year’s snow had melted, and the rainfall from late Summer monsoons had dried up. But this river originated from a natural spring, and flowed year round.

 

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Enormous and beautiful cliffs and mesas surround the river valley, reminiscent of some areas within Utah’s Canyonlands.

 

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After a passage through the sweet colonial towns of San Isidro and La Purisima, I ignored the local advice I’d received to follow a paved route 25km out of the way in order to avoid the very rough road West. First challenge: crossing the river. There was no bridge. Luckily upon closer investigation the water was only about 4” deep. Rode straight across it without even a wet shoe.

 

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Second challenge: Sand. Sand. More Sand. The road descended across a large dry river wash, then the 20km following that were varying depths and densities of seemingly endless sand. There was no riding out on the desert to avoid it like I had on the Camino Diablo, as the desert was just as sandy, and covered with thick brush. A few yells of frustration and deep breaths would carry me a short way until that process repeated. At long last the sandy passage drained onto a lone paved road, the Pacific Ocean visible in the distance. I followed it toward my next resting place: The tiny surf town of San Juanico.

 

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The paved highway eventually ran parallel to the long beautiful beach of Scorpion Bay. I took the first path I could straight out to the beach to touch the Pacific Coast for the first time since Alaska, nearly 8 months ago. It was a sweet and peaceful moment as there were no people for miles of visibility in either direction. Just the small crashing waves, bright sun, and smooth soft sand. I enjoyed it so much more without the hope of riding on it.

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 But wait. In the distance were the signs of San Juanico, just a few kilometers down the beach. The sand was surprisingly hard right at the water’s edge. What a perfect way to ride a bike into a surf town, on the beach!

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San Juanito was full of odd and interesting things and people. This old whale watching boat was dragged up the Pacific Coast from Cabo many years back and dumped on the beach.

 

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Note: This sign is in English. Big ex-pat community living here. I found the first little taqueria I saw by the beach and refueled. At the table next to me was a white guy with long hair and sunglasses. We both sat in silence for a while, eating our food, enjoying the lapping waves and ocean breeze. Eventually we began talking. Neil was a retired pro skateboarder from the 80s who’d settled here about 7 years ago. He offered me a shower at his place. I gladly accepted for his sake and my own. I followed his truck up the dusty streets through town pasts retired RVs turned homes surrounded by palm leaf shade structures, then turned a corner onto his block. I thought, “This can’t be his house, can it???”

 

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I followed his truck into the driveway. Neil had built this entire house by hand over the last few years. It ran entirely off the grid, less a twice weekly water resupply from an artesian well outside of town. He had neglected to mention that he was also an extremely skilled contractor/builder. Living simply in the lower level studio of the green building to the right left the enormous circular cathedral to the left for a music space.

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Guitar, bass, drum kit, mics, amps, everything you could want. We enjoyed a beer  as I marveled at the resonance as the sound bounced between glass panels, curved walls, and on up to the 18 foot high skylight. Some time later I pulled out the tin whistle I’d been learning to play over the last couple of months. The room amplified all the subtle overtones I’d been missing while practicing in the confines of my little tent. I could hear my mistakes so much more clearly, but the tone was still so beautiful. It made me want to play better. I practiced up in that space many times over my 3 days in town.

 

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Neil let me sleep up in the music space, offering his home for as long as I chose to stay in town. Amazing. My first morning I awoke to the gentle first light of day. Sat out on his deck and watched the sun rise across Scorpion Bay.

 

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Not a huge fan of posting selfies, but it was an unusual moment to find myself in a hand-built music room wearing a wetsuit. A veteran surfer, Neil told me that people travel from around the world to ride the breaks at San Juanico. Being a novice, I’d not heard of it. He said there was a great beach for learning as the waves carried across it slowly and steadily over a sandy floor. He even had the gear for me to borrow to learn! 30 minutes of awkwardly paddling the board to try and catch a wave led to immediate arm/shoulder muscle exhaustion. As it turns out biking fitness doesn’t translate to surfing very well! I felt a little bad as I know Neil really wanted to help me catch a wave and stand up, but I just didn’t have it in me to keep paddling. My arms felt like dead fish. I could barely paddle my way back to the beach. Sigh. Next time. The following day I’d planned to roll out of town, but it was Sunday. I’m not a football fan at all. I don’t even fully understand the game or it’s rules. But Seattle was in the finals to get into the Superbowl, so I spent the afternoon at a tiny beach side restaurant in front of the TV with another surfer and his family… Luckily also from Washington!

 

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Neil in front of his castle. This man is amazing. A mad scientist, he’s building a prototype for a new form of mass travel over large bodies of water. I don’t want to share the details as it’s not yet complete, but it’s pretty amazing. He’s building it himself, by hand, in his elaborate shop underneath the music room. I would ride back here from anywhere in the world to take a ride on this unique craft once it’s in operation. He showed me some of the parts of the thing, including a wing of sorts… he’s using the concept of ground effect, the force that makes hover crafts work, but his own take on it.

While in his shop, I shared with him my recent idea of building a collapsible cajon hand drum which would be light and svelt enough to carry on the bike. We had a great discussion of how to prioritize playability vs. sound vs. mobility. We even tested out Helmholtz’s resonator theory by progressively cutting more plastic off of the spout end of a 5 gallon water jug with a Saws-All to see how it’d effect the sound. The result was curious. There was a sweet spot that made hitting the jug sound best, balancing overtone resonance with strong bass tones. Too much variation from that point in either direction and it sounded either too quiet, too boomy or just muted and dead. Unsure if the finished product would actually sound good from our pre-testing, we decided for now it was not worth the cost of time and materials to build and test. So I’m sticking with my little Irish penny whistle for now…

 

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Returning to the paved road out of San Juanico (I had zero interest in repeating the sandy road I took into town), I wiggled my way back to the small oasis towns of La Purisima and San Isidro to explore an area just South of them, Comondu.

 

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The road to Comondu started out with a 1300’ climb out of San Isidro on rough, loose rocky road, washed out in a few spots from the recent hurricane.

 

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Beautiful volcanic valleys and random little lakes came into view from the top.

 

 

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Negotiating more rocky washed out road as the sunlight began to fade, I needed to find a place to camp. Everywhere on the sides of the road was uneven, rocky terrain. I was about to give up on finding flat ground, assuming I’d just have an uncomfortable night’s sleep when I found a small horse pasture by the roadside. Flat ground, few rocks, a blessing.

 

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Continuing South to Comondu, the road was thrashed by the hurricane. It seemed like much of the road had originally been built along a wash or water drainage, since the erosion and water damage often followed down along the road for extended sections rather than just crossing it. This gave a deep appreciation for those mountain roads I’ve traveled which seem to withstand heavy weather without damage. Not so down here. For scale, those rocks in the foreground are probably about 2 in size. Slow going that morning. Lots of walking. It was the rare moment when I was able to pedal on road flat enough to not hear the bouncing of my stuff on the bike for more than a second.

 

 

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The descent into Comondu valley was no faster or less rocky. But gorgeous.

 

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Two towns inhabit the small oasis of Comondu: San Jose de Comondu and San Miguel de Comondu. The second of which was said to have a small store at which I could resupply and grab a snack. Taking the bouncy dirt road between towns sent me along a small canyon, filled with huge palm trees, steep cliffs just behind them. Water everywhere.

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Turn a corner from the rough dirt road, and land on clean, the well maintained cobble stone streets of San Miguel de Comondu.

 

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The Comondu mission. a beautiful old stone building dating back approximately 300 years.

 

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From Comondu, I climbed out of the canyon on a steep cliffside road to head due East for the larger town of Loreto on the Sea of Cortez. The last leg of this little backcountry loop.

 

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Of course, the road quality did not improve much. By the time I reached the end of the rough road the following morning and turned onto pavement once again, it was pretty uncomfortable to even sit down on the bike saddle. So much deep bouncing, so continuously, for so long… the pavement was a luscious change.

 

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Taking a small detour South on the pavement, I found the small mission village of San Javier. Again, sudden shift to perfect little cobblestone streets in town. Quite lovely.

 

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San Javier mission.

 

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The final 30 kilometers to arrive in Loreto were among the most beautiful of this excursion. Passing through the center of the Sierra Las Gigantes mountain range, looking up at enormous jagged peaks covered in lush green vegetation.

 

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It’s quite a cool feeling to cross a landmass from one coast to the other within just a couple of days of riding. As the Sea of Cortez came into view around the last peak, I realized I’d be watching the sun rise over the water yet again.

 

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Loreto. Busy. Lots of cars. Lots and lots of Americans and people actively trying to sell stuff to them. Fancy clothing stores the likes of which I’d not seen yet in my route through Baja. Not my thing, honestly. So I followed my standard modus operandi for a new town: Seek out bike shop. There was one, called Mani’s. I found it on a side street and as I was about to walk in, an American man approached me asking about the bike. Within moments he’d offered me a place to stay with him in town!

 

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Turns out that Jupiter was the original owner of the Steamboat Powder Cats, a backcountry snow cat ski service out of Steamboat Springs. He’d since sold it, but held a few pretty cool artifacts from that epoch. He let me get cleaned up and gave me full access to his RV behind the house.

 

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Jupiter (left) and two of his buddies came to meet me for a two wheeled escort out of town. Fantastic breakfast sandwiches at his wife’s bakery, Mr. Bagget. Now to get back on the road, towards a place where the sounds of nature were far greater than those of man… Agua Verde…

7 Responses

  1. Quinten
    | Reply

    This is excellent reading! Will be checking in on you every now and then down the road

  2. TeriAnn
    | Reply

    … man those rough road vids were great..!!
    had me grimacing and laughing at the same time..
    loved the beach cruising too..great everything..!

  3. Mary
    | Reply

    Hi Scott, I have been following your journey vicariously from a comfortable seat with my IPad. It is reminding me of my much less adventurous but exciting 60’s. camping experiences.
    Jess and I are in Sayulita.
    Thinking about you, keep on trucking.
    Mary

    • Scott Pauker
      | Reply

      Mary! Great to here from you! I’ll be nearing Sayulita in about a month! I’ll let you know if Im nearby!!

  4. bobby
    | Reply

    Hi Scott! I’m friends with Ray and Jon the Canadians that you met on the road, they sent me the link to this blog. Great stuff! My wife and I bike toured Baja in the winter of 2013/2014 and are headed down there on May 3rd for a little mini-tour for three weeks. We are very intrigued by the route you took in this post and have a few questions for you if you could talk on the phone sometime soon. Thanks!

  5. Nancy
    | Reply

    Just stumbled onto your page and am smiling while reminiscing about my own trip to San Javier and Comundu` last year. Thank you!!! We were in Comundu while they were laying the cobblestones on that street in your photo…by hand and hard, back breaking work. Looks like they have finished some of the repairs they were working on when we were there. (one year ago, Jan). Will continue to follow your jouney, isn’t it wonderful when you get off the tourist highway and find a back road to explore? Kudos for doing it on a bike!! Vaya con Dios en tus viajes.

  6. Dana VanVoo
    | Reply

    Incredible landscapes, incredible people along the way, super rugged back roads, beachfront mountain biking, this trip has it all! I’m lovin’ the ride Scott! Lovin’ it!

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