Solace of solitaire and winds– leaving Loreto

Loreto to san javier

Another guest post from Alex Dunn.

my good friend erin left three days ago.  now i am alone.  i have been so long attached to my riding partner, for a month to be exact, always trailing one another, riding side by side, sharing every meal, sleeping head-to-toe in the close comfort of my tent for roughly twenty nights and the other nights spent in cheap hotels bed-next-to-bed– our every action was duplicated, mirrored by the other.  our thoughts did not become the same, but our nature certainly did.  whatever nuisances we harbored in the beginning seemed to have little effect in the end, for holding onto such trivialities would only tarnish such a unique and vivid experience.  we became patient, easily pleased, almost impossible to dissatisfy.  we were present.  

now i am here, on a lonely road pedaling up into the hills away from the city of loreto – a place i came to love, for there i became reacquainted with the ‘self’. myself. in loreto i rented a small cabaña on the malecón, let myself decompress, reevaluated my objective, my journey. i let it all hang out so to speak. i had my own space for the first time in almost seven or eight months: first i took off my pants, i stretched, i slept to my heart’s content, i played guitar and sang falsetto, i journaled and started steinbeck’s log from the sea of cortez. i cooked for therapy to rid the loneliness– a great pot of honduran style soup (a recipe learned from my cousin from tegucigalpa) with chicken, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, five varieties of hot peppers, chayote squash, chunks of corn on the cob, plantain bananas, ancho chili powder, cayenne and heaps of cumin, and of course salt and pepper. the pot lasted me for three days, eating bowl after bowl. i also indulged in grilling some bacon wrapped steak, for what better meal to re-instill a sense of confidence and pride in a man. i cooked beer batter pancakes every morning to keep things light. i reawakened within the walls of familiar comforts and a sense of home. these days were a necessary tangent on the path toward my approximate objective.

i left loreto in the early afternoon and now i am simply man and bicycle. just south of town i turned west and am now climbing up into the hills some twenty or so miles. there is a sense of calm in the air. something foretelling. the golden hour, that hour just before sunset (or just after sunrise if you are on the other side) where the quality of light is most rich and even, seems to have come early. it’s only two p.m., yet the earth around me is bathed in a light so complete, it gives the feeling as though the sun is preparing to sneak away at any moment. the clouds are perfectly three dimensional, almost sculptures of themselves hanging motionless in the air, their shadows printed exact and defined on the land beneath. the wind is warm, but so calm, nearly a notion. this warmth soon fades to a ghostly chill as i climb higher and higher, more than two thousand feet into the sierra la giganta. the pavement is ideal, affording me comfort in my arduous efforts, though sometimes the surface crumbles into the valley, washed away by floods and destroyed by rockfall. out in the distance behind me i see the great blue sea, and loreto faintly teetering on its edge. i reach a high plateau and the sea disappears as i turn around a small peak. loreto is but a thing of the past.

the sun is undoubtedly sinking now, quite close to the horizon, but i know i am only a few miles from misión san javier (est.1699). soon enough, i drop down into the tiny pueblito of the same name. I need water, and i am tired. i pedal calmly down the cobblestone street that leads to the mission and am entranced by its commanding, beckoning presence. i get off my bike and practically stumble, gracefully, mercifully, to the gate of this great church. the village is completely quiet and i am alone, humbled by the history and location of this majestic piece of architecture in the mountains. the oranges hanging from the trees in the courtyard glow like orbs of fire, small avatars of the falling sun that keeps them lit – within them there is a sense of the immaculate.

i park my bike and walk to the small fonda close by, the open sign still hanging on the wall outside. i am greeted kindly by its proprietor and i purchase water and cold beer before inquiring about a place to camp. he smiles and asks for me to wait as he shuffles off into a back room where, from the muffled voices, i assume he is speaking with his wife. he returns promptly and tells me to set up my tent under the mesquite tree directly next to the church. this is unexpected, but i am obliged and excited for this rare, undeniably spiritual opportunity. i thank him and say “esta noche acampo con dios,” to which he replies without hesitation “despues de esta noche, siempre acamparás con dios.” well, i don’t quite know who this dios actually is, but i certainly cannot refuse such a blessing.

i push my bike over to the mesquite tree and begin setting up the tent as a mountainous veil is pulled over the sun at once. in this instant a biting cold blows through the canyon, a cold that chews straight to the marrow. i put on more layers, a hat and gloves and return to my duties with urgency. as i am preparing the rainfly a small black street dog, a dog that reminds me so much of one from my past, comes running up to my side. it wags its tail nervously, a strange combination of timidity and elation. in a way it seems to be begging me not for food, but merely for love. i crouch beside her and stroke her mangy black coat and she is nearly overwhelmed. i tell her to go lie down so i can finish making camp and she listens, scampers over to my bicycle and digs a small crater in the dirt for her bed. she waits patiently, watching me, as i set up my stove and begin preparing dinner. she does’t beg for any of my food at all, but i still share some chorizo and tortillas with her, to which she becomes forever indebted. i eat quickly for all i can really think of is my sleeping bag. the cold is getting colder. as i lie down, the little dog pops up under my vestibule and digs herself another bed in the earth just beside me. i allow her this moment of companionship, something she seems to ultimately long for. in the night i awake several times, once to a small hail storm dropping granizo upon my tent, and two more times to my little friend warding off other dogs from our camp. she is my protector.

the rooster’s crow wakes me in the still darkness, but it is too cold to move. i lay in my bag for an hour waiting for the sun to hit the tent but it never does. we are in the shadows of the peaks above, my little dog and i, and the tent is covered in frost. escarcha. the sun is out there somewhere i know, but we seem to be forgotten in this hidden bend of the canyon. i finally muster up the courage to climb out of my tent and my bones creak and crack as i hobble into the icy dim light. my little dog does not stir. my first concern is to fire up the stove, after which i drink cup after cup of coffee while waiting for the sun – this takes hours. around ten a.m. i am finally ready to leave and i head off from the mission down the dirt road that connects west to carretera 53. my little companion follows me to the edge of the village then sits down and watches, longingly, as i disappear into the high mountain desert.

from the pueblito, the road meanders out of the canyon and through a shallow valley for about twenty-five miles, back and forth across the slow flowing rio san javier. the dirt is hard packed for the most part and there is only a little washboard from time to time. i am riding at a pretty good pace for traveling on dirt, with the wind at my back the entire way, and i encounter no signs of human life all day save for the distant sounds of cow bells, muted by the breeze. i am thus alerted to several ranches just off the road, but still i see no one. i am solitary in this experience, yet the wind begs to differ as it sends dust devils swirling, dancing alongside me. mesquite trees tremble and shake, cheering me along as i pass. i take lunch and swim in the river, despite it’s murky, bug infested waters for i am too hot to really care. as i climb back on my bike i realize the rear tire is running a little low. damn devil’s thorn strikes again! these schwalbe fat frank tires have been perfect along the way in every other regard, except when it comes to goat heads – the sharp little pricks have found the achilles indeed. i change the tube, burning a little more day light, then ease back down the road.

as i am riding i am amazed with how seemingly effortless things have been today, for the dirt roads i’ve traveled prior have required more struggle. as i hold this thought i come around a bend in the river valley, rolling out onto the western steps of the sierra la giganta, and i instantly remember that the dirt roads of this peninsula turn to sand when they pass through low lying valleys and back out to sea. my bicycle comes sliding to a halt, and i am unable to pedal. all i can do is laugh as i walk my bike for about one hundred yards before i am able to get it going again. on and on it is like this for the next twelve to fifteen miles – gaining momentum, then fish tailing side to side, almost dumping the bike, and sliding to a stop. i look back at my tracks and they appear to be those of a drunken serpentine beast, not a bicycle. i become disheartened as i realize the sun will be setting soon and i have no idea how long it will take to go on like this. once i reach the highway, i may be riding in the dark for an hour or two before i reach ciudad insurgentes.

my spirits remain aloft however, for the colors of the changing sky are enchanting and the wind brings me solace. in the sunset i have visions of colorado, and i hear the song of wyoming in the tall grasses swaying in the light air – the same birds singing as those from the marshes behind my family’s house in saratoga springs, where i spent much of my youth. the gurgling warble and rattling trill of the melodious marsh wren, cistothorus palustris. i am overcome with nostalgia, and the empathetic wind takes me home.

sooner than i think i arrive at the highway, and turn south onto the sweet, consolatory pavement. as i begin to pick up speed a lone horse crosses the road in front of me and makes like it is going to charge. i am slightly uneasy about this, but my sudden surprise and confusion keep me from anything but pedaling forward. the horse stands stoic as i ride by, then commences to gallop up alongside me for what seems to be a quarter mile. it soon appears to me that this horse is not chasing me, but gallivanting with me. it acts as though i am a horse myself, or at least it feels we share similar motives. even when i have felt most solitary, nature again has proven it’s ability to commune with me. i suppose that first, we must be open to this communion before it can take place, we must bow before nature in humble fashion, and surrender ourselves to its power and mysticism.

i pedal towards the coming darkness and soon see a loncheria on the east side of the road, tecate sign flickering in the pale blue twilight. i am thirsty and go inside to buy a cold soda (they are out of beer) and fixings for dinner. as i am paying i ask about safe places to camp nearby for i am losing ambition and no longer care to make it fifteen miles further to ciudad insurgentes. the kind old man invites me to camp in front of the store and says that there will be no traffic once it gets dark and he will turn out the lights. the night he says, will be quiet and cold. in accordance with my motto, porque no, i graciously accept these accommodations and at once begin making camp. he is right, after a short time the cold falls heavy upon us, and the chill climbs back, deep into my bones. i cook, eat quickly and turn in soon after to read sea of cortez. as i am reading the old man turns out the lights, and i am suddenly fast asleep.

the next three days are very enjoyable, my game of bicycle solitaire continues and i become ever more comfortable with myself. but, the road is boringly straight and its surrounding features are quite bland, much like the stretch of carretera1 from guerrero negro to san ignacio. the days meld together, and the experience is a long meditation under the infernal sun, reduced to an exercise of sanity maintenance. half of my water i pour upon my head to keep from heatstroke. the nights are still bitterly cold, and my only comfort is to seek refuge in more loncherias – my new kind of hostel. it is all a vision, or a hallucination, and i do not fully return to consciousness until i arrive at the gates of familiarity. la paz.

-a

A san javier 3

A san javier 6

A san javier 11

A san javier 7

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A san javier 9  vista loreto

A san javier 10

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Negrita

Misión nuestra señora de loreto

Leaving san javier 2

Leaving san javier

Leaving san javier 5

Leaving san javier 3

Leaving san javier 7

Carretera 53

Leaving san javier 10

Carretera 53  2

Camping km 76  4

A la paz

All words and images: Alex Dunn.  More posts from Alex here.  More to come.

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Dreams of Cortez: San Ignacio to Loreto

Punta arena  bahía concepción 3

“the phosphorescence exploded in response to our every movement like great flashes of diffused lightning. entranced and electrified by the alluring phenomena, our witching hour began – running in circles, kicking, splashing and howling like great coyotes of the sea. small fish darting all about, leaving trails of glowing light, fading into the dark waters. our companions, our mates back on the shore had no idea what they were missing as they receded into the dying embers of consciousness. we too heard the call of sleep.”

Punta arena  bahía concepción 5

amidst the sounds of palm fronds brushing and pelicans diving for fish along the banks of the small river, the dream of san ignacio comes to an end. the sun rises, again. the two burros on the property have been eating the bark of the date palm and its fallen fruit that lay just beside our tent. awake– startled by their grunts and grinding teeth.  it is a strange and menacing sound when heard so nearby, hidden in the darkness. my first movement– an attempt to peer out at my devourers– spooked them instantly and the sound of their frightened hooves trailed off into the distant grove. and so i smiled, and climbed out of the tent to wait for the coming light. salutation.

the sky turned a blaze orange– the color of a burning flame.  i rekindled the previous night’s coals and made coffee. mario arrived moments later, for he wanted to say goodbye before we continued to ease our way eastwards, back out to the sea of cortez. cheerfully, he hung around as we ate our breakfast and packed up our camp. con abrazos fuertes, we experienced yet another happy, grateful farewell – a recurring event on this voyage through the ephemeral.

the highway steadily climbed eastward for a slow twenty five miles. no wind. from there, around the southern base of volcán las tres virgeneswe were afforded a pleasant, calm descent out and and away from the proud volcano. the next twenty miles were flat and easy, before an abrupt drop straight to the edge of the sea. we then skirted the dirty beach north of santa rosalíapast a massive copper mine and the town’s disregarded trash site. fortunately these were both hidden out of view, in the shadow of the high plateau, when we approached from the west. the early evening sun painted the sullied outskirts of town in a warmth of golden light– inviting light– helping to make things a little more presentable. of interest though, is the fact that the old mining facilities (built by the french when they founded the city in the late 1800s) were never dismantled and one can see old locomotives, great furnaces and other giant steel structures all about the town itself. the french influence is apparent, though it dresses itself in a dignified mexican garb. and rumor has it that the ordinary, unimpressive church near the center is argued to have been built by gustave eiffeli don’t really see the argument, but such a claim to fame must be good for the shop keepers, restauranteurs, and hotel staff. so be it.

we checked into a cheap, dingy hotel and went about the town, wandering through tight streets and bustle. we found a nice restaurant offering whole baked chickens at a reasonable price, and by chance shared a meal with a group of english cyclists (one canadian) whose paths we briefly crossed the night before in san ignacio. we ate wholeheartedly then bid them adieusure to see them along the road. after many scoops of ice cream, a deserving fat-filled retort to such a protein-rich dinner (our bodies crave such things most, for our calories have been reduced to mere bicycle fuel). a deep slumber immediately fell upon us.

Leaving san ignacio

Descending into santa rosalia

Santa rosalia

as always i arose at dawn, and went out into the streets to look for potential breakfast. everything was boarded up and closed, the town still sleeping. i returned and cooked our porridge and coffee on the alcohol stove in the hotel foyer. erin awoke as breakfast was readied and we ate quickly, eager to ride south.

luckily for us there was a large windstorm that day, and it was blowing fiercely towards our destination – south to mulegé! another beautiful day at ease, traveling fast, pedaling little. we sailed along the coast through piercing light: through large open seas of suguaro cacti, silhouetted from behind in green shades of black and by mountains pressed against the burning blue sky. the morning passed – even time was consumed by the incendiary nature of the sun and wind.

without much effort, we arrived in the fishing town of mulegéweary and burnt dry by the incessant rays. but we felt good. we felt accomplished. we rolled unworriedly through town, another desert oasis divided by a meandering river, set slightly inland from the sea. another oasis, another mission, another expat hideout. we rolled through narrow corridors of shops filled with curios, blankets and hammocks to the eastern edge of the town center and parked our bikes in a small park across from a taqueria. at that very moment our cycling comrades from santa rosalía came wheeling to a halt alongside us. we escaped out of the sun and shared pork tacos, really just baskets of delicious pig with tortillas and different salsas. it was the only option on the menu that day, but it was certainly satisfying when coupled with ice cold cerveza. it’s amazing to me, the rarity of vegetables at any restaurant or taco joint in this country. just meat, beans, rice, tortillas, salsa. but some how, they still maintain a magical sense of variance.

after lunch our new friends were headed further to the mouth of bahía concepción, but i was tired and needed to write and to purchase a plane ticket to ecuador. i was beginning to feel my proximity to the tip of this great peninsula, and i needed to figure out what to do when i got there. we wished them well with hopes to reunite, and then went off to find an inexpensive hotel. i consummated my further plans for post-baja vagabonding and we went out for dinner – an unfinishable amount of pizza, pared with free spaghetti. quite an odd pairing, but sometimes it’s best not to ask and just eat. after flan and full bellies, another day was at its end. mulegé.

Mulegé

Mulegé 2

Punta arena  bahía concepción

Inside punta arena

Inside punta arena 2

in the morning we awoke, packed our bikes, and leisurely departed for bahía concepción. we planned to ride only some fifteen miles and search for camp along the white sandy beaches. after ten miles of inland riding we turned off onto a dirt road a pedaled out to punta arena, where the road met the bay and traced the water’s edge. the bay was an enchanting teal, a glowing neon green, or some color unnameable. the road turned to large stones, kindly sprinkled with goatheads, or devil’s thorns, named by the laughing, conniving gods of cortez. their prickly spines would give me grief for the week to come as i periodically fixed flats and found remnants of thorns previously unseen. what a damned evil way to spread one’s seed.

luckily, as long as i didn’t pull the spines out, my tires held air. we meandered on around the point, turning into a smaller bay named playa santiscpac, butted up against the highway. the picturesque beach was perfectly lined with rv’s, efficiently packed side by side from one end of the cove to the other. this same scene can be experienced at each and every one of the beautiful beaches along the western side of the legendary bahia. on every patch of soft sand along the water accessible by four wheels, there will be found a multitude of expats living out their dreams of final escape, yet nestled within the confines of the western world they can’t do withoutgiant satellite antennae maintain a constant connection (wouldn’t want to miss a game! ), skiffs, quads, dirt bikes, everything motorized; and a right minded person certainly wouldn’t want to leave home without a lazy-boy. nevertheless, many set up their tents alongside heaps of excess, in attempt to still feel like they are camping– roughing it. these little ‘campgrounds’ become little americas in the end, creating an unsavory paradox, a strange almost disturbing juxtaposition of industrialization stamped upon a seemingly pristine setting.

it is my fortitude to accept these surroundings as a fleeting experience, still beautiful in its own way. the power of letting go. we would also find that the far end of the cove harbored a secluded mangrove where we could camp, far enough away from the motorized masses. in doing so, we were once again, almost serendipitously reacquainted with our fellow cyclists of the past few days. they too, had discovered our mangrove hideaway the night before, and decided to take a rest day on the beach. they invited us to share their camp and to join them for dinner at a little shack by the road exiting the highway. we set up the tent, walked off into the warm coming night, and sat down to an exquisite dinner of fresh fish fried in garlic butter, battered scallops, and margaritas so strong they were really just large bowls of tequila.

following our gluttonous, yet justifiable feast, we returned to camp, built a fire, and moved on to a bottle of rum (by demand of the english of course). sitting around the flames, half of our camp grew tired while the rest of us enjoyed music and composed revelry. out of habit, as i have always been one for a good midnight swim, our new friend mark, erin and i shed our clothes in the black and ran out into the shallows of the bay. the tide was low, so we were able to wade quarter mile from shore, the phosphorescence exploding in response to our every movement like great flashes of diffused lightning. entranced and electrified by the alluring phenomena, our witching hour began – running in circles, kicking, splashing and howling like great coyotes of the sea. small fish dart about, leaving trails of glowing light fading into the dark waters. our companions, our mates back on the shore had no idea what they were missing as they receded into the dying embers of consciousness. we too heard the call of sleep.

at dawn, we awoke to say goodbye to our new allies of the road – they were off for loreto. shame they could not slow down and experience the southern reaches of the bay con despacio. erin and i would remain at this sequestered camp, swimming, napping, reading, playing old folk tunes on the guitar, plainly walking around barefoot in the sand with no real objective. at night we waltzed back to the restaurant for dinner, and while eating, a surprising thundershower came pounding upon the tin roof – a powerful monsoon. we waited it out for a while, but fearing it would last all night we ran through the rain, immediately soaking ourselves silly. it was only seven o’clock, but we had nothing to do but strip off our wet clothes and hop into our sleeping bags. about ten minutes into my book, by the exact nature of a monsoon, the rain stopped. dead quiet. night. it never returned.

we awoke from a long night’s rest in a different dark. sunrise. fire. breakfast. a happy routine. we then gathered our things and pedaled on in search of a more remote location to camp further south along the bay. the road was a serpentine dream, gently winding about in and around modest points, never really climbing, never really falling, never really lying flat or straight. we stopped at isla requesón for lunch, and the tide was out so we could walk across the thin spine of sand, out to the island itself. we waded in the waters to cool ourselves from the baking sun, and happened upon a few scallops, so tenacious and determined in their attempt to remain rooted. after a valiant effort we pulled them free, immediately searching for more. soon, we had quite an excellent addition to the night’s dinner. we cracked them open, cut out the meat and saved them in a bag for later.

back on the road, lost in such a dream the minutes and the miles slipped away. soon we found ourselves at the bottom of the giant bay. we had heard that there was an abandoned rv site close by, deserted in the early 90′s once the proprietors decided the wind too strong and the beach too ugly for their taste. not enough diamond white sand i suppose, and the road was frequently getting washed out, too difficult for large motoring behemoths to traverse. perfect for us, and sure enough we found it. km 76, a good day’s ride from loreto. we opened the gate, closed it behind, and rode about a mile out to the forsaken grounds. it was only a skeleton of an rv site, the best there is, naked bones of an ambitious plan thwarted by the mighty forces of nature. there was no one around. we found ourselves the best shelter from the wind, set up the tent and collected stones from used fire pits. watching a vibrant setting sun, we cooked dinner as the stars crept sheepishly out of the fading hues. this would be erin’s last night camping. in just two days she would be on a plane back to portland, oregon. and I– residing, contented, far off within a distant desert dream.

Bahía

Isla requesón

Bahía concepción 3

Callo  scallops

Deserted rv camp ground  km 76

Deserted rv camp ground  km 76  2

Deserted rv camp ground  km 76  4

Deserted rv camp ground  km 76  8

Deserted rv camp ground  km 76  5

one last pot of cowboy coffee in the baja light of dawn. one last breakfast burrito and empanadas cajeta. one last time to load the panniers. erin’s last ride would be one of the more memorable rides of the trip, both symbolically and visually. after the stout climb in the beginning, the majority of the highway led us through vast swathes of suguaro forests set against the mountainous backdrop of the sierra la giganta. there were few other vehicles throughout the day, and a gentle cool wind at our backs fought the ceaseless infernal sun. the final descent was slow and perfect, and loreto could be seen from miles away, projected far off onto a distant screen, slowly coming closer and into focus.

we arrived with a couple hours of light remaining, and we rode satisfied and serene through town and out to the malecón. the wind at the shore was violently blustery and we could see that much of the beach had been destroyed by a hurricane two months before. the malecón itself was being rebuilt, slowly. another stroke of good fortune and we found a nice cabana at the south end of the road for dirt cheap because of the construction. this didn’t bother us because we had a swanky little home now with many sconces, modern art, a full kitchen, dining table, living room quarters and a master bedroom. this was a wonderful place for erin to spend the last of her time. we made new friends with an alaskan couple and their two year old daughter, and had maybe the most unrivaled mexican food thus far for dinner. the next day we rode several miles out to the airport in search of a bike box only to find the airport empty – no flights scheduled that day. no matter, for a stove box from the appliance store worked just fine. for her last meal we barbecued fresh shrimp with pineapples and mushrooms and prepared a decadent guacamole. we even shared absinthe with the ever amiable man who manages the cabanas. we grew tired. in the morning, she flew away.

-a

End of the bay

Bahía concepción

Nuge s last ride  a loreto 3

Nuge s last ride  a loreto

Nuge s last ride  a loreto 5

All packed up

“there was no one around. we found ourselves the best shelter from the wind, set up the tent and collected stones from used fire pits. watching a vibrant setting sun, we cooked dinner as the stars crept sheepishly out of the fading hues. this would be erin’s last night camping. in just two days she would be on a plane back to portland, oregon. and I– residing, contented, far off within a distant desert dream.”

Volcán

All words and images: Alex Dunn.  See his other posts in this archive.

Coco’s Corner, Baja California

Coco s 4

the next day, after sleeping six hours, we rekindled the fire and cooked our porridge, then headed off for coco’s corner. the dirt road past bahia gonzaga traversed along a dry valley and turned to a river of sand and stone. the sand was so thick and slow that at times we were forced to walk our bikes, some of us falling flat over before getting up to push. all i could do was smile and laugh like a crazed school boy – for some strange reason i was having the time of my life. the sun was hot and the light bright white – perfectly illuminating the soft scattered clouds. after a full days ride, we finally reached coco’s corner at sundown – merely twenty miles or so from where we started. though coco himself was not there (his diabetes that has left him legless had recently affected his vision, forcing him to travel to the hospital in mexicali) his legendary pitstop at the junction in the middle of nothingness was truly a site to behold. straight out of mad max or road warrior, this small tract of land was a true, post apocalyptic oasis. junked, stripped down vans turned into sleeping quarters. fences constructed of beer cans, christmas lights and random bulbs strung from lines for about a square kilometer around the perimeter of the property. strange trash art, like a crescent of old toilets around a tv, and a large scorpion made of motorcycle parts– we had reached the end of the world.

there seemed to be no one around, as the high desert wind whistled cold and eery, but soon people were alerted by our presence and slowly emerged from the vans to great us. a family was acting as caretakers while coco was in the hospital – they welcomed us to camp on the property and turned on the generator to power the great light display. we had beers and they cooked us food (the usual tortillas with beans rice and meat) in exchange for a few pesos and some english lessons. we stayed up for a while, but exhausted and cold, and unable to really hear one another from the loud hum of the generator, we set up our tent inside the bar/carport to hide from the wind and fell fast asleep.  

-a

Coco s 2

Coco s 3

Above words and images: Alex Dunn

Lael and I met Coco just after the new year, 2010.  He is a boisterous and generous man, proud of his home in the desert.  He beckons his cat, Cokie, in a viral comedic mood.  He jokes with Lael– “penguino”– for she is from Alaska.  The place is neatly decorated with other people’s refuse, a sign or a lesson that there is value in sun-bleached beer cans and old porcelain thrones, amongst other things.  Cold sodas– some pesos that equal a dollar.  Cold Pacifico– about two dollars.   Coco insists we sleep in an old camping trailer, now grounded in the desert.  In the morning, we share cookies and jam and coffee, and sign his guest book– the most extensive of its kind on the peninsula, I suspect.  Everyone signs the book and draws a picture: touring cyclists, motorcyclists, Baja 1000 aficionados, globe-trotting motorists, vacationing Mexicans, expat Americans and Canadians, even nearly neighbors from fifty miles away.  In a desert world that has forgone the the ills of the city, Coco has encultured a virtual city of his own, where visitors count as neighbors in a place with only one resident.  In either direction along dirt roads and desert, there is nothing for tens of miles.  This is Coco’s Corner.

Oye Amigo!– Ensenada to San Felipe

Cañon la calentura 3

“…made me feel i had finally found what the hell it was i didn’t know i was looking for down in this godforsaken land.”

Highway 3  3

hey buddy -

just got into san felipe yesterday (staying at costa azul hotel on the beach for two nights for a much needed descansa and holiday treat), camped last night in a weird rv/camping site called las playas del sol (6 km from town) where a bunch of retired old folks think it would be nice to have a home away from home amongst some nice dirt and propped up mobile homes.  we were recommended to stay there by an elderly couple from victoria, british columbia, and their description was much nicer than actuality.  we stayed under some palapas and had the place to ourselves, and no one was around in the evening to accept our 15 bucks, nor were they there in the morn.  the view was spectacular and the residents were more than nice, but the communal amenities were rather sparse and dirty.  glad it was free.

prior to that we stayed at cayote cal’s for two nights, one night camping and the second inside due to crazy winds that were about to rip my tent in half.  the hostel was great, but the owner rick was a total arrogant ass.  it’s too bad his manager lulu (whom we met just upon departure) wasn’t there while we were, for she would have made the stay infinitely nicer.  rick seemed to be much more impressed by cycles with motors than ones powered by bi-peds, though he doesn’t ride himself for the great fear of falling.

the ride from coyote cal’s along highway 1 to the turnoff for cañón la calentura was made quite difficult and slow by an incredible side wind.  we went two miles past the turnoff before asking a farmer for directions, turned around and went back to the military checkpoint where we had semi-nervously passed the unmarked farm road.  the soldiers laughed but were impressed with our endeavor and happily directed us on our loco path.  after making it about ten miles down the sandy road we dipped off and hid in the bushes of a little slot canyon.  only a few cars passed in the night and we fell asleep under stars and silence.

the next day proved to be one of the more beautiful, yet challenging riding days i’ve ever had – those thirty miles of dirt were even tougher than the ninety mile push from hollywood to laguna beach.  such a beautiful way to travel, biking in solitude and dirt (reminded me of edward abbey’s proclamation to allow only feet, bikes, and hooves as a means of travel through national parks).  we only encountered two trucks passing, and a few men on horseback, nothing more but swirling sand and gusts of wind in the high desert.  the climbs were intense but the views were more than rewarding, made me feel i had finally found what the hell it was i didn’t know i was looking for down in this godforsaken land.

we finally reached the top of the pass and descended into a high, dried up lake bed where we started to run low on water.  close to the top of our last climb a truck came barreling down the road towards us and i stood with hand up, desperate to confirm our proximity to civilization.  the truck stopped and in confusion and awe, the four seemingly sketchy old fellows told me ten to fifteen more kilometers.  i waived them on and we immediately collapsed by the side of the road and stuffed our bellies with all the fats and sugars we had – even took big “nicholas carman” gulps of agave nectar, straight shot of glucose to the blood stream.  drinking the last of our water and high as kites we crested the final hill and could see lázaro cárdenas off in the distance.  the next eight miles or so were beautiful, slowly rolling down the washboard dodging frequent patches of what seemed like quicksand.  as we reached the ranchos outside of valle la trinidad, exhausted and parched, we had to evade quite a few packs of angry guard dogs – which proved rather difficult and frightening as we slid through the wash and repeatedly had to stop to throw rocks to ward them off.

finally, we reached valle la trinidad as the sun set and by luck rolled right into a nice, cheap hotel in the center of the quiet little pueblito of sand.  steaming hot showers, the best tacos of my life, a six pack of dos equis and twelve churros were my ultimate resolve for such a tedious day of pedaling.  the man and woman who ran the taquería asked if we were there just a year or two ago – was that you nick and lael?  I said no but told them of our recent adventure, and the man said we were ambitious fools for having ridden and camped on that road for only outlaws and bandits traveled through there, assaulting anyone else who tried to pass.  in retrospect maybe those men in the truck i stopped where crazy banditos who were too befuddled by my giant dirty bike and self to really think of assaulting me.  or maybe they wouldn’t have deemed any cyclist as worthy prey.  or maybe they were simply old cowboys headed to a dusty ranch and that taco man’s worries only reflected a universal fear that many have of remote places.  i take the latter.

rising early to thaw our milk for the morning’s coffee, we packed up and headed north of town where the sandy road finally met up with the pristine pavement of highway 3.  heading east we stopped at the last outpost for water and tortillas and by chance crossed paths with an ex-military man from fort louis washington passing through with his wife and father.  they had been coming down here for fifteen years, sailed around the entire peninsula and even done a three week cattle run in the area with a mexican cowboy friend of theirs.  he assured us of the safety of the region and insisted that we camp only twenty five miles or so in the valle santa clara on the southeastern foot of the sierra san felipe.  and that we did, after a relaxing, gradual drop down such a grade of road that would make any cyclist blush.  hardly ever needing to pedal, banking through mellow canyon turns and cruising along smooth highway in high gear, shooting off into great expanses of only more sand and cactus scattered in the bright light– this truly was the most beautiful ride so far.

we climbed off our bikes around 2pm and pushed them a quarter mile off the road through sand and mesquite, constantly evading the dreaded jumping cholla cactus – those little buggers gave us such annoyance they even haunted erin in her sleep that night.  we set up camp out of sight of the highway, dug a big fire pit and had infinite mesquite for fuel.  when the sun fell the heat turned immediately to a dry, piercing cold, perfectly illuminated by the extreme clarity of the desert moon.

waking with the coyotes and leaving erin cocooned in her bag i went on a two mile hike by my self through the changing darkness, black to blue, and gathered firewood for sunrise coffee and porridge.  i’m learning how to steal away from my companion for these brief moments of much needed solitude.  when she rose we packed up and continued our glorious decent.  after four days of riding alone on dirt roads and highway, we came to the military checkpoint where highway 3 meets highway 5.  the soldados asked to go through our bags and quickly realized we had nothing but dirty cloths, food and camp gear.  impressed by the preparedness of my surly big dummy bicycle and a gringo’s ability to speak spanish, they happily wished us luck along the way…

–we are gonna stay the next two days in san felipe, maybe leave on christmas but locals are warning us of drunks on the road so maybe we’ll wait till the 26th.  time to switch the tires from front to back – the rear is getting quite warn already and has some little tears from glass probably.  the front still looks brand new.

i’ll send photos tomorrow.

hearts from erin,
me too,

-a

Erendira  south san isidro

Baja California is traversed north to south by the main Transpeninsular Highway, which was unpaved until the mid 1970′s.  Today, it is trafficked by gringo tourists and locals.  Some long-range truck traffic is present, mainly serving the larger cities in the southern cape region such as La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.  South of Ensenada, a short paved road leads from the main highway to the town of San Isidro on the Pacific Coast.  This is a popular surfing hang, and is home to the aforementioned hostel with mixed reviews.

As secondary roads are paved at a rapid rate, now is the time to visit Baja. Plentiful backcountry riding opportunities abound.

San isidro 2

San isidro 4

Returning to the main Transpeninsular Highway, or Carretera 1, a small dirt road crosses a low mountain range to connect with Hwy.  3, which eventually leads toward the Sea of Cortez.  This road can be found amidst farmland south of San Vincente along Hwy 1, and meets Hwy 3 at Lazaro Cardeñas.

First night cañon la calentura

Big man make big bike look little

The road passes through farmland for a few miles, then narrows into the Cañon la Calentura and climbs nearly 1500ft to a pass.  It steadily descends the other side before settling onto an elevated plain near the town of Lazaro Cardeñas.  This is a great road, and a nice introduction to dirt road touring in Baja when approaching from the north.  From pavement to pavement it is a single day’s ride, although camping near the top of the pass is recommended.

Cañon la calentura 4

Camp  SE foot sierra san felipe 2

Highway 3 crosses the peninsula from Ensenada on the Pacific Coast to Hwy 5, near the salty marshes of the northern Gulf (Sea of Cortez).  Hwy 5 connects the California border near Mexicali (and Calexico) with San Felipe, a popular beach town to the south on the Gulf of California.  While San Felipe is a quick trip for many San Diegans and Arizonans, it is much more peaceful than Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada on the Pacific Coast.  It is one of many retirement/expatriate communities on the peninsula where Americans and Canadians seemingly outnumber Mexicans in winter.

Erin rides a vintage Specialized Stumpjumper, re-imagined with an more upright position and versatile 26×2.1″ Continental Town and Country tires.  She asked me how she might free some space in her panniers and balance her load toward the front of the bike.  Over the phone, I recommended she strap a drybag to the handlebars.  I was surprised to see it secured above the bars, presumably because it interfered with the exposed brake cable running to her front cantilever brake.  I like to think that it may provide a measure of safety in the event of a collision, like an airbag.

Hwy 3  6

Sunrise SESF 2

Camping along the shallow waters of the northern Gulf near San Felipe.  South of San Felipe, past Puertecitos, the pavement ends once again…

Palapa camping san felipe 4

Palapa camping san felipe 2

DSC00461

Jumping cholla sunrise

“…and that we did, after a relaxing, gradual drop down such a grade of road that would make any cyclist blush.  hardly ever needing to pedal, banking through mellow canyon turns and cruising along smooth highway in high gear, shooting off into great expanses of only more sand and cactus scattered in the bright light– this truly was the most beautiful ride so far.”  

Hwy 3  4

All images: Alex Dunn

La Paz to Guymas

 

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Novermber 5th is a little late to be biking out of Tacoma. Following two months of rain-soaked shoes and a brief snowstorm near Shelter Cove, we crossed the border from San Diego into Mexico on New Years Day. For the next three months, we didn’t see a drop of rain. Baja was a dream– a great climate and a great introduction to Mexico. We found dirt tracks on the peninsula that uncovered remote fishing villages and missions with olive groves. The Sierra de la Laguna, at the center of the southern cape region, was a highlight with fresh water streaming out of canyons carved into the mountains. Aside from two freshwater oases at Mulege and San Ignacio, these streams were the only surface water to be found in Baja outside of the brief rainy season. From La Paz, we had planned to take a ferry to Mazatlan on the mainland at close to 100 dollars a person. Rather, we met a young French-Canadian captain named Gael in La Ventana who offered us a few days of cruising around Isla Espiritu Santo, and swimming with gregarious, if not a little aggressive, sea lions. A female sea lion, inverted, hugged both Lael and I. Gael deposited us at Marina de La Paz, where we were able to connect with other English speaking captains from home ports like San Francisco, Astoria, Bellingham, and Vancouver. Club Cruceros is a social club at the marina designed to connect the cruising crowd in La Paz, and is a great place to fish for a ride to the mainland. Within minutes, we were introduced to Dennis, formerly of Astoria, OR and the United States Coast Guard. We were to leave on the fourth day after some brief preparations and grocery shopping.

Dennis’ 38″ Island Packet was comfortably large for the three of us, with room for our bikes below deck and away from the saltwater. The arrangement was that we would cook meals and split food costs in exchange for passage. On the final night, we would make the overnight crossing to Guymas, each standing watch for three or four hours. The first three days at sea we would motor north along the islands of the Baja peninsula to improve our angle of approach and shorten the voyage across the Sea of Cortez. In all, the trip was a leisurely few days of motoring and reading; and nights in magazine-quality anchorages, swimming to shore to explore the surroundings. The crossing on the final night afforded us the experience of real cruising, although minimal winds made for a safe, uneventful passage– music to a Coast Guardsman’s ears.

From Guymas, we traveled paved highways south to Navajoa, and inland to Alamos, which marked the end of pavement. The following days mark the most memorable and challenging riding either of us have ever done; Alamos to, La Higuera, Chinacas, Chinipas, Temoris, Bahuichivo, Mesa de Arturo, and down to Urique. Consecutive days climbing five thousand feet of switchback dirt roads with classically inadequate Mexican maps, and descents that would have been impossible ascents left us gasping, gripping brakes, riding as little as 23km one day. But this was what we were here for, challenging the limits of 47mm touring tires, even if Lael promised never to do it again. Fun isn’t always fun, and never doesn’t always last for long– she is, we are, back at it.

Merry Christmas and to all a good night…

A retro-post, thanks to a disc of photos awaiting us in Alaska from our captain, Dennis.