Crossing Over… para Ir Abajo… a Baja

This was a significant moment for me. Days of deciding led to weeks of wondering and perhaps even months of mulling over the decision to cross that border,  and all it represented. My time in Phoenix made the decision clear. I knew in my heart I needed to continue, at least to see what was on the other side.

The layover day in Yuma was jam packed with intense conversations. A few very long, very important ones, clarifying to some family members and friends what this ride was all about for me at this point, and needing to take responsibility for my role the pain my absence has stimulated. Furthermore, I would be riding even further away with more communication challenges than before. All hard to say to people I deeply love. But it felt important to cross that border knowing I had said and heard all that has developed during all this time away. Despite being emotionally exhausting, it was amazing and deeply important. Right up to the morning of my departure I still needed to connect with my Sister, so ended up having a great talk sitting on the sidewalk on the edge of town. It had been 2 full nights of late night television watching as well. It’s definitely a means of unwinding from intense emotions for me, but a dangerous addiction as well. I barely slept either night, glued to movie after movie. Luckily I’d be forced back on the wagon the next day as my access to internet would disappear, and for a long time.

 

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Just North of Yuma was the California state line. It felt both significant to enter a new state by bike, as it always has, but so much less so in the face of an international border crossing which lay 10 miles ahead.  A quite country road stretched Westward through farmlands and huge sand dunes, eventually turning South.

 

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Another couple of empty miles and the actual wall of the US/Mexican border came into view. The only other Mexican crossing I’ve seen is at Antelope Wells, around which was a huge fence extending across the enormous valley of New Mexico. But a true wall held the feeling of a distinct border even more. The border patrol trucks driving up and down along the wall added a little melodrama to the whole thing.

 

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In 100 feet, there’d be no turning back. I stopped after that 100 foot span and sat on a bench for a moment. Saying goodbye to all the comforts and challenges of life in the United States, welcoming what the future might bring.

 

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No photography allowed at the border itself. I snuck this one shot in as I crossed.

 

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And that was it. Pretty anticlimactic really. A small welcome sign as I rolled into Los Algodones, immediately surrounded by dentistry offices and pharmacies, ONLY. Seriously, there were virtually no other businesses for a few blocks. All for US residents crossing over for the day to get cheap drugs and medical care. Very interesting.

 

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Within a mile I was out of the little town and riding down huge open flat country on a Mexican highway, past similar farmland to that which I’d seen in California moments before. Land is land. Borders are just concepts…

 

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… At least in some ways. I certainly knew I wasn’t in the US anymore when I saw the endless piles of garbage along all the roadsides. Truly an amazing shift.

 

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Down the road for a while, I hopped onto Mex 5, called a freeway in Spanish yet they charge to drive on it. Luckily bikes enter for free. Immediately I saw a sign for Corona and thought it was time for my first Mexican beer in Mexico for nearly 5 years. A lovely moment.

 

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Trying to get as far from the border as possible, I rode until the sun began setting. Turning off the highway on a gravel road, past the piles of garbage, I found a lovely quite perch at the base of some mountains. I looked on my bike odometer: 91 miles. Oh yeah, time to commit to metric, indefinitely. 146km. Time to start thinking and speaking in metric, to really feel the difference. Kind of a fun process, really.

 

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140 more kilometers would carry me all the way to my first real stop: San Felipe. It was Christmas Eve, and I’d heard SF was a cool little town on the Sea of Cortez with camping and a small Ex-Pat community.

 

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This tiny sandy road was a connector to get onto the Baja 1000 route. More on this later, but it’s a rough, sandy race route that covers the length of Baja. Soon I’ll ride some of this, but not yet. Pavement for now while a get a flavor for how things work here: Where to find water and food? How crazy is the sand on these crazy roads? Hard questions to answer with respect to off road bike travel without being here in person.

 

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Just North of San Felipe were a series of roads crossing the 1-2km from the highway to the Ocean. All fully developed communities with nice houses and their own markets, all populated entirely by US and European reitrees. Not exactly the Mexican colonial culture I was seeking. I rode past them into town, directly to the Sea of Cortez. Dipping my feet in the cool water, I realized the was the first contact I’d had with salt water since Alaska. Another good time to sit for a moment and take in the journey to date.

Turning behind me, the beach boardwalk was lined with restaurants selling fish tacos. Everyone I know who’s travelled in Baja raves about these fish tacos, and I needed to taste for myself. So, my next goal was to get one of those in my belly as soon as possible. As I was getting some cash converted for a meal, a tall, thin white man with short hair and an enormous red beard walked up to me, asking me about where I was riding. Turns out Mark was riding as well, in a group of 7 cyclists who’d come down from Seattle over the last few months. Mark and a few others lived about a mile away from where I last lived in Seattle! He told me they were all being put up at the town fire station and guessed there would be space for me to join them. I graciously followed him back there. The whole group of cyclists were headed to Trinidad and Tobago to help out on a permaculture farm there. A great group of guys.

 

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It was December 24th. Many of the restaurants would be shut down for Christmas. Looking back upon Xmas Eves of years past, a wonderful idea passed before my mind. I shared with them my hopes for keeping a strong Jewish tradition alive: Chinese food on Christmas Eve! Historically most restaurants are closed for Christmas in the USA, but not Chinese ones. It just so happened that there was actually a Chinese restaurant in San Felipe, and it was open! So glad to keep certain traditions going, even on bike tour.

 

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Hanging out with the firemen (bomberos) over Christmas eve was a trip. It’s Mexican tradition to eat throughout the night, continuously, so their family and friends just kept bringing over platters full of soups, tamales, and desserts. Perfect for a bunch of hungry bikers.

 

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We all slept on the plaster floors of an addition they were building to the fire house.  We woke up and cooked a big breakfast for all the bomberos. Fun to give something back.

 

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Christmas Day on the San Felipe boardwalk. Beer, music and good people.

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Francisco (left) was one of the firemen and wanted us to join him at a friends party on the other side of town. His car was a true dune buggy: classic VW bug with a lifted suspension and big tires.

 

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A tight fit, but we survived. At that party, I met a guy who said he liked riding mountain bikes, and had actually done some trail building just outside of town. He offered to meet me for a ride the next day. After only 2 days in Mexico, already got hooked into a mountain bike community. He told me they actually have a whole local mountain bike club that rides trails together, 50 people strong, called Los Pirates (the pirates).

 

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I met him near the local bike shop in town, a tiny shack with some awesome bike paintings all around it. As I sat on the corner waiting for him, I realized this was the 55th bike shop I’d been to since leaving Seattle. That’s a lot of bike shops!!

 

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Ramon Ramirez shredding the San Felipe trails (pistas). It was a short loop, only about 5 miles, but fun riding on loose rock with some good flow to it. I was so happy to be back on single track!

 

INSERT VIDEO OF MOUNTAIN BIKING SAN FELIPE HERE

 

 

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I decided to roll out of town with the Seattle boys as we were headed in the same direction. So interesting connecting to a large group of travelers. So different that being on my own. Every decision requires some consultation, of course, so that everyone is on board. Definitely an adjustment for me, but an interesting experience no doubt.

 

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As we rolled out of town, the beach side developments got further and further apart, eventually opening to empty desert… Ahhhhhh. So lovely to be back to the silence of nature.

 

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Coming into tiny settlements from time to time for a snack, I noticed a pattern of people displaying large whale bones. This pelvis was enormous.

 

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Back up in Oregon, the group took on a rider from Bogata who’d flown to New York City to start his ride, planning to ride all the way home. Julian had already crossed the US from NYC to Oregon when he started heading South with the group. Great guy with a really positive energy.

 

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Yes. It says Ballard in the middle there. Seattle greets me everywhere down here!

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A short day’s ride carried us to the small town of Puertecitos.

 

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Need they say more?

 

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Two port-a-potty sized structures housed the town library and post office. In the post office: a small rubbermaid bin with a piece of paper taped to it reading, “Outgoing”. Nothing else. In the library, floor to ceiling racks of trashy novels and a small section of out-of-date (like a decade out-of-date) magazines. Adorable really.

 

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The main attraction of Puertecitos is its famed hot springs. Bubbling up from the rocks on the coast, one must time it just right to get the cool sea water mixed with the extremely hot spring water for a perfect soak. We all shifted around within the pools to keep warm as the tide brought in quite cold water faster than we had expected!

 

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The group rented a few palapas (generic term for a covered structure to camp under or near) by the beach for the night. Unfortunately there was a very cold, very strong wind and no these palaces offered no protection.

 

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Everyone retreated to sleep on the patio of the unoccupied house next door, sheltered from the wind.

For my first week in Mexico, I couldn’t have asked for a softer landing. Kind people, welcoming locals, and beautiful country. Like the moment of catching a wave, the feeling of travel through North Baja has swept me up, and is carrying me South with a perfect sense of flow and peace. There’s no telling how long this calm will last, but I’m enjoying every second of it while I have it. I have watched either the sunrise, sunset, or both, every single day. I take none of this for granted. The capacity to carry myself South, to have a means of travel which allows me to find free camping night after night, and the continuous discovery of amazing people around every corner all serve to keep the wheels rolling.

I considered riding along with the Seattle crew for a while, but felt the dirt calling me. It was time to find some off-pavement routes for a while. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

One Response

  1. Dana VanVoo
    | Reply

    Fabulous first week in Mexico! Love the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese on Christmas Eve. Enjoying my workday immensely reading your blog! Viva Mexico!

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