Cycling the Sea of Cortez

Where I rode: Puertecitos —> Bahia Gonzaga —> Lago Chapala —> Bahia de los Angeles

 

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Waking up in Puertecitos to the brilliant purple and orange streaks smearing the sky, moments before the sun unveiled its rays of warmth, I found myself again amongst the group of cyclists (Life on the Wind Crew to me, taken from their project name  www.lifeonthewind.com). I knew I’d see them again down one of the limited paved options through Baja, so I set out on my own ahead of the group. It was a bit strange to ride away from a feeling of connection I felt with these guys, but I needed to be on my own again. More silence. Less haphazard speech on my part.

 

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The newly paved Mex-5 had a wonderfully wide and safe shoulder all the way South from Mexicali and showed no signs of changing in this way. So far I’d not experienced the fabled treachery of Baja’s shoulderless Mex-1, and was quite happy about it. Summiting a small pass through the coastal mountains, I stopped to take this photo of Cinco Islas, a small beautiful bay containing 5 small islands. A motorcyclist with passenger stopped on the highway next to me to make sure I was alright, and we struck up a conversation.

 

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Bill had been a professional Baja 1000 racer in the past, and knew the Baja inside and out. Perfect, it was meant to be. Until this point, I’d been using the vague maps I’d been able to find online before crossing the border, mostly staying on major roads due to lack of more detailed geographic information. In order to share some creative route ideas, Bill pulled out the holy grail of Baja maps, the Baja California Almanac. 

 

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A rare find as it turns out, since it’s no longer in print, this book showed all the weird tiny roads, tracks and trails with topography. It also showed where the settlements of people were, all I would need to plan out water/food resupplies for backcountry routes. I think Bill could see how excited I was to see a real map of the area. So much so that he offered his copy to me, without hesitation. So amazing. It was the best gift I’d received in a long time, surprising how excited I was, just over a map. That night would be the first of many nights, obsessively studying the route possibilities as I headed South.

       

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 After a great chat with Bill and his partner, I continued onward.

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Coyote crossing. This little guy was asleep in a little ball just on the edge of the pavement, and perked its head up just as I walked by to clarify that it was not actually roadkill. I stopped, and from about 20 feet away, we stared at one another for a few moments. It calmly got up and sauntered across the road and into the desert. One of the magical aspects of traveling alone on a quiet machine is a moment such as this. An animal that often runs from humans took enough pause to share in a moment of silence.

 

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Mex-5 had lots of interesting highway signs. This one says, “Don’t drive tired — Avoid accidents”. I wondered which ended up at that location first: The sign, or the mangled wreck of an oil truck off to the side of the road.

 

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This is my favorite. Literal translation with my adolescent command of Spanish: Obey the Signs. On all levels, I love seeing this sign. While I assume it’s referring to following the roadsigns and what they convey, I prefer to think of it as a reminder to listen for the subtle (or not-so-subtle) messages in life’s daily experiences, and honor them. So every time I see it, my senses are sharpened, as if to ask the universe, “OK, I’m awake, what would you like me to notice in this very moment?” Indeed, the Mexican government unintentionally facilitates a call to awareness.

 

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With only a half day of riding in so far, I pulled off of the highway and into Bahia Gonzaga for lunch. The small bay was lined with a single row of beach-front homes and a small motel/restaurant at it’s terminus. Time for some cheap seafood and a delicious margarita. I got to chatting with the bartender for a bit, and was unfortunately offered a subsequent complimentary cocktail thus completing the day’s riding (I’m a bit of a lightweight these days). The restaurant owner generously offered me an old rooftop deck on which to roost for the night.

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Sunset from the rooftop deck.

 

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Sunrise from the same deck the following morning.

 

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4 days before the new year, I considered just staying here through the 31st. Interesting people from around the globe had found there ways here and with them came great conversations. One man was an off road racer and now professionally trains the military in driving through challenging terrain. Another was moored in the bay, having traveled the world on his small sailboat over the last 18 years. There were Mexican families who’d travelled down from Tijuana for their yearly New Year’s trip. Such rich variety. Plus the bay was beautiful and quiet.

But again, something pulled me to continue onward.

 

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The motel/restaurant owner cooked me up some fantastic eggs and I was on my way.

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Dogs. Mexico is full of them. I’m told that it may relate to a resistance some have to neutering their pets, perhaps something about not taking away their masculinity. But unfortunately it leads to a LOT of stray dogs. Most find their homes near people who offer them enough scraps to live. Some get taken in as pets, like this lil’ darlin’. Amazingly though, most of the strays I see in the small towns seem to be surviving okay, though I’ve almost been adopted by quite a few already. So very hard to leave such a cute face.

 

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The newest stretch of pavement on old Mex-5 flowed South from Gonzaga for a final 10 miles before returning to dirt. So new that they’d not yet leveled out the rebar stakes sticking up out of the shoulder. I came very close to destroying a wheel more than once along this stretch.

 

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The true end of the road. The government plans to finish paving Mex-5 to rejoin Mex-1 40km South of here, but this was as far as they’d gotten. From here it was dirt, rocks, and a whole lot of washboard.

 

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Ocotillo cacti with full fresh growth. You’d never know from looking that just under these luscious leaves lay hundreds of 1” long spikes. Many beautiful and odd plants grow in these hills.

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Starting with the advice of a firefighter back in San Felipe and many times since, I have planned to stop in at the residence of Coco, guardian of famed Coco’s Corner. Between the Baja 1000 Race route passing by his property and being the only residence along the road for the 60km between Gonzaga and Mex-1, he has supposedly made quite a name for himself. Having undergone various amputations due to diabetic complications, he is legless from mid thigh down. He gets around his compound walking around on his stumps and tearing around on a four wheeler. Everyone said he’d be a little crazy. A few said I should make sure to leave an extra pair of underwear with him, as he has some odd collection of underwear left by passing travelers. All these things stimulated enough curiosity to warrant an introduction.

 

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Coco, rocking the gang sign from behind his counter. He sells bottles of water and beer. No more. Certainly no less.

 

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So… I guess the rumors were true. This man has a thing for underwear of all shapes and sizes.

 

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After some hilarious conversation (especially given his thick Mexican slang mixing oddly with my incomplete Cuban slang butchery), he offered me a free t-shirt made by some Baja 1000 racers for him. That is one special t-shirt.

 

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2 hours later I rode over the bone dry Lake Chapala to then initiate my introduction to the infamous Mex-1.

 

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I’ve been looking for the right hood ornament for the Ogressa. This cow skull was a bit too bulky to make the cut.

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Back on the highway, I stopped at the first roadside restaurant for a taco. It was getting late, and I asked the owner if I could camp behind his lot for safety. He was hesitant as he said the last cyclist he let stay there had died. Nervous of course, I asked if he meant the guy had been killed there. No. It was a heart attack. He just didn’t want the headache of dealing with a person dropping dead on his land. I assured him my heart was strong enough to last the night, and he was kind enough to let me stay in a shack behind the house.

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Turns out this was the location where they hung the goat’s feet from the ceiling… I have no idea why.

 

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Following the continually sound advice of Steve Garro, veteran Baja cyclist, I set my sights on Bahia de los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez.

 

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The Baja Almanac showed a few ways of getting over to the Bay of LA. There was a paved route the whole way, but I was more drawn to the thin squiggly line drawn across the desert leading that way. Turns out it was a short section of the Baja 1000 Race route, beautifully winding through a protected reserve called the Valle de los Cirrios. Cirrios are a weird and whacky Dr. Seussian form of desert tree that only grow in this region, known in English as the Boojum tree.

 

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Cirrios seem to mostly grow vertically, but have the capacity to exhibit quite a few variations in shape!

 

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The rough two track stretched through dirt, rock and sand. Super fun terrain to bike on, and such interesting plant life all around!

 

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Hopping back onto the paved road into Bay of LA, I saw the first of many devastated roads resulting from the hurricane that passed through Baja this past Fall.

 

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First sighting of the Bay of LA.

 

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It was the afternoon of December 30th when I got into town, and I decided this would be the perfect spot to enter the new year. I rode up the long beach road for a way in search of campgrounds with palapas. Something about the rough drawing of a turtle drew me to this one. As the universe would present it, the campground was owned by a sweet couple from Mexico City who’d moved here 20 years ago as PhD researchers studying the migratory patterns of sea turtles. Antonio had been the first person to discover that this species of sea turtle actually migrated across the ocean to Japan every year, back in the 70’s. They no longer study turtles actively here, but kept the land and built some beautiful palapas on the beach.

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December 31st. After my first warm shower since leaving the US, I rode into the small town to find internet. There, of course, I came upon the Life on the Wind Crew.

 

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They followed me back to the campground to prepare set up camp in preparation for the New Year’s festivities: a pot luck hosted by Antonio the campground owner in his beautiful home, and a huge party in the town square with a live ranchero band!

 

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Lovely food and company at the potluck.

 

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Someone had gifted Antonio one of those huge bottles of wine you see high up on wine store shelves. His son, Antonito, decided wine was to be drank, not saved.

As way led onto way (and drink onto drink), I found myself sitting in the back of an suv hatchback with legs dangling through the sand behind it as we headed to the town square for the town’s New Year’s party. I wish I had my camera, but didn’t want to lose it. The whole square was full of people. 90% were Mexican locals, the rest were either tourists or American ex-pats living in the Bahia. The accordion ignited the dance floor in comical ways as adults and children partnered up together. Ex-pats danced with locals. Grandmothers danced with touring cyclists (well, at least this touring cyclist). The vibe was warm and welcoming, not exclusive in any way. Eventually we rolled our way, slowly, back to the campground, rehydrated, and found our sleeping bags.

 

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 January 1st, 2015.

2015.

For some reason I awoke with the memory of the last time Haley’s Comet passed by the Earth, sometime in the 80’s. I remember hearing that the next time would be 2060, and thinking how imperceptible that amount of time felt. Now it’s only 45 years away. The world keeps turning and time presses on with every rotation.

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I decided to share this special day with Dillon, one of the Life on the Wind riders. We’d shared a strong connection from our first interaction, and were the only two that jumped at the idea of an early rise for a hike to bring in the new year. Following some simple directions to a trailhead right from town, we climbed up “Mount Mike” to gain a spectacular view of the whole bay. 

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Ocotillo cacti seem to LOVE this wet desert environment. This one twice the size of any I’d previously seen.

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We eventually found a perfect rocky perch overlooking a huge mountain valley, and ended up staying there all day. Hours of wonderful and inspiring conversation about living life consciously, about our individual journeys and how they’ve evolved, about love, about purpose. I am deeply appreciative of the time we shared. I couldn’t have imagined a better day.

 

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 As we walked back to camp under the brilliant fading light, we spoke of the magic that happens while traveling. It has taken me so much of this journey just to let go enough to feel that magic. I do not wish it were different. This unique and precious moment only exists through those leading up to it, they are all part of the journey. While doubt and anxiety are still experiences that surface within my consciousness, I am deeply gracious when I am capable, even if only for for one breath, of inhaling possibility, and exhaling peace.

2 Responses

  1. batya
    | Reply

    smiling so big, inspired.. so happy to read and see this…
    And of course the last paragraph is beautiful beautiful-
    “As we walked back to camp under the brilliant fading light, we spoke of the magic that happens while traveling. It has taken me so much of this journey just to let go enough to feel that magic. I do not wish it were different. This unique and precious moment only exists through those leading up to it, they are all part of the journey…”

  2. Dana VanVoo
    | Reply

    Happy New Year! A little late, but nonetheless…I sure am enjoying reading about your adventures in Mexico. You’re absolutely right about the magic and how it’s the moments leading up to feeling that magic. Continue on my friend. Viva Mexico!

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