BAJA DIVIDE 6: The Wild Pacific Coast

“Cataviña to Rosarito”.

It’s 10:00 pm, the lights are out, and I’m having my own private dance party. Earbuds are great that way, shutting out the outside world, playing music that transports me into my own private universe. My legs are restless from the last couple of days of chilling out in town, and my mind too. Everything goes by so fast on the bike. I try to be present, and just let it all be, but that’s not really me; I’m always trying to fit everything together like a puzzle, thinking about how all the dots connect into some bigger picture. The rhythm of the music carries me away, body moving, mind still; quiet thoughts emerge, retracing our time on the wild pacific coast.

I cruised out of Cataviña with 13 liters of water and four days of food on my bike, for a 161 km waterless stretch, and 202 kilometers between food resupply points. When I rolled my bike out of the hotel, I was expecting it to feel ridiculously heavy, and tough to get pedaling, but really, it rolled gracefully down the highway like a ballerina in full pirouette …until we hit the washboard on the sandy road that headed to the coast. That’s when I started having doubts about my decision to ride a bike without any suspension. I joked with Neon, “hey, maybe I should name my bike ‘salsa maker’, I’m sure my tomatoes and avocados are getting pulverized right now, next time I should bring an onion”.

The landscape slowly changed from low rolling hills–dressed in large boulders, cardons, cirios, old man cactus, and elephant trees (torote blanco)–to steeper hills, that with a heavy load, I had to push my bike up. We found a secluded spot to camp, deep in a wash, and woke to heavy dew and foggy mist. It’s a surreal landscape in the mist. A short ride later the landscape became more barren and the Pacific Ocean came into view, and then the very small fishing community, just a few dwellings really, San Jose del Faro.

We ride down the hill to the ocean. There are a few buildings nearer to the water, and people gathered out front of one, laughing and cooking. We’re hoping to purchase fresh fish. Neon rides up and asks if they have any. I ride up behind him, and he says, “they don’t have any fish right now, but they have lobster.” Ok, I’ve only had lobster a couple of times, but that sounds good. They offer up tequila. Neon takes a swig. Everyone is very animated and enthusiastic. I’m only catching a little bit, since my Spanish vocabulary is very limited. One of the guys pulls out two lobsters and cuts them open. Hmm, I think, this might be pushing the limits of my “aspiring vegan that sometimes eats wild fish”, but it does look good. Neon looks at me and says, “they’re cooking you a lobster, you want one right?” Yes; how much is it?, I reply. “They don’t want any money”, he says. Everyone chatters and laughs; Neon is telling stories about our travels, where we’re from, and where we’re heading to. I know these stories well, which helps a lot with picking out the Spanish words I know. This language barrier is a tough hurdle. I often I feel more like a spectator than a participant. The few words I know, well there are a lot really, but in the context of a language, my words are too few to make much meaning, and too few to understand most of the sounds that are bouncing around. Neon is fluent in Spanish, and I can see that even he is struggling at times. I think about language a lot; it is such an interesting construction of meaning. I’ve often wondered how much of my view of the world, and my experiences in it, is shaped by my language (English), and by the subtleties of how language (phrases, expressions, etc) change over time.

We linger for a couple of hours, sharing stories from our bikepacking trip, talking about politics in the US, and stumbling over a few language barriers. Before leaving, all the young men take Neon’s bike out for a spin. Then the baby girl takes a turn sitting on the bicycle, she desperately tries to reach the handle bars, but she is too little. Her parents scoot her forward on the frame bar, she grabs the handle bars and shrieks with joy, laughing, and grabbing the handle bars over and over again, looking up smiling at everyone. These are the things I’m going to remember about this trip, the laughter, the awkward moments, and the look on that baby girl’s face when she grabbed the handlebars. This, this right here, is why I’m here and why I’m doing this.

We wave goodbye and ride out toward the beach, checking our gps a few times at intersections. We take a good road past a few more homes before realizing we’re off route. There is a salt marsh between us and the road we should be on. We decide to cross it where it “looks” dry instead of backtracking. The ground sinks when Neon rides out into the “dry” marsh. He dismounts, and we start walking our bikes across. It’s like walking on thick pudding with a crusty, tough, skin. I’m starting to get a little freaked out now, thinking maybe it will get softer and just swallow us up. I can see Neon’s feet sinking more as he gets close to the other side. The mud is black under the white, salty, surface crust. My feet start to sink now too and I freeze. Oh, this is worse than a river crossing, I think, maybe, I don’t know, maybe it won’t hold me. Neon sets his bike down in the road and comes back and walks with me to the edge. I’m not good at stuff like this. Water, snow, ice, and I guess mud too, or at least the stuff that makes me think “uh, what if it’s quicksand”. It all just paralyzes me with some deep fear. I’m getting better at it. But I have to stop, breathe, turn away, and then look right at it, shove that fear down, and just make that next move. Sometimes I do that gracefully, with seeming ease, but often it’s not so graceful or pretty, and my emotions fall apart, but I still do it. I make it to the road. My feet are covered in a black tar-like mud. Jeeze, I think, “Was that a tar pit, like the ones they find the really old mummies in?” We get back on route and stop at the first shore we see so we can rinse our feet in the ocean. It’s a rocky shore. I’m standing in a couple of inches of water, trying to get the sticky black mud off my shoes, when a big wave comes up and crashes into my face, soaking me and my camera. I shake off the water. We push our bikes uphill and ride for a bit, then descend downhill, connecting back up with the road we were on when we discovered we were off route. The two roads connect. I laugh, and say, I guess these are the other parts that make up a memorable adventure.

The next day we meet two other couples bikepacking the Baja Divide, one couple from Idaho, and the other from Canada. Between them, and our time in San Jose, this is turning out to be our most social section of the route so far, even though it is said to be the most remote. This section of the pacific coast, on the Baja Divide, is very wild. Even though we did manage to score a nice lunch in San Jose, there are no services between Cataviña and Santa Rosalillita, except for one well (where we can ask for water) at El Cardon. I didn’t think I had expectations about what this area would be like, but apparently I did …because I wasn’t expecting a dry desert environment, rocky, and almost barren at times, with misty fog in the mornings, so thick and wet that many of the plants are covered in moss. The afternoons are hot, much more like the deserts I know. The nights bring serenades of crickets, owls, and coyotes, and heavy moisture (even when the skies appear clear and are full of stars). I wake each morning to a wet sleeping bag, and water dripping from my bike, though there was no rain. Waves crash on the shore, pelicans dive like anchors into the water, and the sun sets and rises ablaze with color.

The road after El Cardon has so much washboard that I occasionally walk my bike, even on the level parts, just to take a break from the obnoxious shaking and pounding of my body, and my bike, that resonates into the infinite with each ripple in the road. The breaks along the shore, called “The Seven Sisters”, near El Cardon are famous among surfers. Several vehicles pass us, carrying surf boards on their rooftops. One vehicle, from California, stops and chats with us for awhile, giving us apples before they leave. I have really come to love apples in Baja. I normally don’t care much for store bought apples, since I’m originally from Washington State, and grew up in a time when there were apple trees in everyone’s front yard. I miss the starchy crispness of an apple picked right from the tree. But the produce is pretty limited here in Baja California. All the little stores have produce, but typically it consists of tomatoes, avocados, potatoes, onion, and occasionally cucumber, cilantro, cabbage, or peppers …and apples (from Washington State). So when I find apples, they’re like a little piece of home that I can hold in my hand, and with a taste and smell, familiar enough, that my mind floods with all my childhood memories of every apple tree I’ve ever known.

We arrive in Santa Rosalillita early in the morning and ride straight to the store for snacks. As much as I love beans and tortillas, I’m growing tired of them after having run out of produce two days ago. I am delighted to see that the tiny store has a nice assortment of produce. It’s only a few hours ride to Rosarito, but I buy so much produce that it doesn’t all fit in my food bags: three apples, two bananas, three tomatoes, two avocados, a cucumber, and… I stop myself from buying a little cabbage. A ways out of town, one of the rails on Neon’s bike seat breaks. He manages to slide the break into the seat clamp so that it holds a bit of the rail on each side of the break. We ride to the last beach, before our route turns inland. I make a tomato cucumber salad for lunch while Neon goes for one last ocean swim. I like this pace; it’s like a roving picnic with some nice riding through beautiful landscapes. This all feels very sustainable, like I could do this forever. The road gets rocky and the last miles back to the highway feel a bit like riding on a trampoline, but much smoother than riding on washboard.

We arrive at a little hotel in Rosarito, 235 kilometers from Cataviña, and I still have two liters of water. Turns out I would have been just fine if I’d left Cataviña with only eight liters of water. How much I can ride in a day is so much more random than the regularity of daily miles while thru-hiking, some days the riding is difficult and I struggle to ride (push) my bike 30 kilometers, while there are other days when eighty kilometers cruises by with ease. The hotel here is pricier than any other we’ve stayed at yet, the wifi doesn’t work all that well, and water drips from a pipe out onto our floor, filling it to an inch deep puddle, but it has a nice hot shower (a luxury I’ve come to appreciate). We make a few inquiries about where Neon might purchase a new bike seat, and thankfully, we’re able to have one shipped to us via “bus freight” into a larger town to the south, Guerrero Negro. It’s a long ride on the highway (with no shoulder), so the next day we decide to hitchhike (with our bikes) to pick up the seat. We get a ride within ten minutes that takes us the whole distance. We find a cheaper hotel, amazing fish tacos, and a little espresso bar where my heart skips a beat in coffee joy; hot coffee, good dark sipping coffee, the smell, the taste, immortalized in my cells. I walk in, “doble espresso, por favor”. …and suddenly I am transported, e v e r y w h e r e …to home, in the Pacific Northwest; to every coffee shop I’ve ever loved; to Italy, where I’ve loved the coffee as much as the beautiful marble I’ve climbed on in the Dolomites; to every road trip and car-camping sunrise that started with coffee brewed in a travel French press or Bialetti. These are the things that make life so complicated and beautiful, and a deeply personal experience. I hadn’t realized just how much of me missed good, dark, rich, thick, coffee… it’s now close to midnight, and my dance party continues. My thoughts, and legs, are jumping all over the place …perhaps I should have ordered a single espresso?

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Loaded up with 13 liters of water and 4 days of food…

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Elephants tree (torote blanco)

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First tarantula I’ve seen in Baja…

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Misty morning magic…

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Lobster and laughs in San Jose del Faro…

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Black tar-like mud…

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Moss covered desert plants in the misty sunrise…

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Argiope, Orb weaver

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Morning light, and mist…

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Look, more Baja Divide riders!

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We had lunch on this beach, and watched the pelicans dive into the water for fish…

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Another couple riding the Baja Divide…

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Another great sunrise…

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These misty, foggy, mornings are magical…

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Santa Rosalillita…

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Tomato cucumber salad on the beach…

…with large pretty shells on the beach

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Rocky, almost like a road…

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3 Comments

  1. Glad you are experiencing the simple joys of simple people sharing the lobsters and tequila. Try Magnesium tablets for jumpy legs. It has helped mine though the double espresso is another thing. Cute ending your story with that!

    Lee

    On Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 9:15 AM, The Redheaded Nomad wrote:

    > The Redheaded Nomad posted: “”Cataviña to Rosarito”. It’s 10:00 pm, the > lights are out, and I’m having my own private dance party. Earbuds are > great that way, shutting out the outside world, playing music that > transports me into my own private universe. My legs are restless from the” >

    Liked by 1 person

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