Lael Wilcox Baja Divide FKT: San Ignacio and Mulegé

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Lael arrived in San Ignacio in the early afternoon. Although the elevation profile would indicate an easy flat ride from Vizcaino, the reality is that there is a lot of sand in this section. It is hardly ever unrideable, but it is work. When we toured the route over a month ago— following a particularly wet winter season for this part of the world— most of the sandy sections on route were riding really well. Now, dry weather and spring heat leave most sandy sections as they are expected to be— sandy and soft. Lael reports being able to ride almost everything, even on her 2.6” tires. From my experience researching the route last season on 2.4/2.5” tires on 30mm rims (ID), I know most of the route is rideable on these narrower tires, especially when lightly loaded, but it surely takes some finesse to keep the bike upright. In some cases it simply takes a flick of the throttle to get through a short sandy section; pause too long and the bike will sink. Sand isn’t the only challenge on the Baja Divide, and truly challenging sand is not actually that common.

Lavanya and Al, joined by their friend Derryn from Australia and another Baja Divide rider named Agus from Guadalajara, all rode out of San Ignacio to meet Lael as she entered town. The expansive sandy track from Vizcaino changes in the final miles near San Ignacio, entering a broad canyon with freshwater pools and date palms. There, the “road” is not much more than a faint suggestion, alternating between loose cobbles and sand, where fallen palm fronds provide improved floatation over the soft surface. The group rode about a mile backwards along the route to a lagoon where we could swim and wait. Lael arrived at a steady 3-5 mph, doing well to keep the bike upright over those loose cobbles. When fresh, this is a challenging surface to cycle. When tired, it must be maddening.

Lavanya walked to meet Lael on the track, and for a moment the two were laughing and crying and laughing. This fall, Lavanya Pant received the “Lael’s Globe of Adventure” Women’s Scholarship for the Baja Divide.

Walking as a group for a moment, Lael described the sweatpants she bought in Bahía de Los Ángeles and the trash bag she bought for 5 pesos which she is using for additional insulation at night. We continued into town and joined Lael as she resupplied at the grocery just beyond the mission church. San Ignacio is one of the most attractive towns in Baja, featuring a beautiful old stone church and a shady, Spanish-style plaza with a healthy but small touristic economy. The large freshwater lagoons and palm trees are enough to make you cry after many days in the desert. It is beautiful. 

Lael purchased and packed an impressive amount of food. She drank multiple yogurts and Electrolyte drinks, along with a Coke. She ate a slice of flan (custard) and some concha (lightly sweet rolls). Trying to pack her full bladder into the framebag along with all of the food she bought proved challenging, so she removed the bladder and gulped more than a liter from the bag. Once re-packed, fitting a bag of refried beans, sliced queso fresco, De La Rosa peanut marzipan, bricks of sweetened coconut, cookies, egg custard sweets, chips, Hot Nuts and more, she jammed the bladder back into the frambag and forced it closed. Overflow calories were packed into her seatbag, along with the trash bag and the sweatpants. Finally, she removed a little Lezyne pump and aired her tires for the 25 miles paved section ahead. The route out of San Ignacio follows a secondary paved road leading to Laguna San Ignacio, where it turns to dirt. Lavanya, Al, and Derryn were all packed to continue their ride and joined Lael on her way out of town.

The route continues on a series of dry lake beds along the Pacific to the fishing community of El Datil. Thereafter, it returns to the mountains on the second complete crossing of the peninsula. This section of the route from El Datil to Mulegé is described in our route guide as one of the most challenging sections of the route. Here, the Baja Divide follows a doubletrack up a canyon for about 40 miles, which like many other mountain drainages in the desert, includes alternating sand and loose cobbles. Thankfully, there are many water crossings along this section which provide opportuity for Lael to fill her bottles. By the time she gets to this part from San Ignacio, her food stores will be diminished and she will not have to carry more than a liter or two of water at a time, making the ride just a little easier. Cresting the Sierra de la Giganta at just under 2000ft, the route descends a roller coaster route to Mulege, another spectacular oasis and mission town on the Sea of Cortez.

Lael called from Mulege, just after dark on the day after she left San Ignacio. Watching her progress over hours and days is amazing, considering I know the effort that many of these sections require. But speaking to Lael reminds me that there is a person behind that blue dot on Trackleaders.com, and that person must summon the physical and mental power to make that dot move at more than 130 miles per day. She was planning to ride another hour out of town to sleep, before an early start the next morning. In keeping with her recent pattern, Lael begins sleeping between 8-9PM, and restarts her day between 1:45AM and 2:30. Then, her eyes and her body are fresh enough to tackle several hours of night riding. The feeling of riding through the morning sunrise is greatly energizing, she says.

The official Baja Divide route crosses Bahía Concepción from Mulege to ride a little used dirt track on the east side of the bay. For the purposes of an FKT attempt on the route, we have decided to allow an alternate along the paved highway. Thus, a rider is not stuck waiting for a boat for many days in the event of high wind or other weather. When touring the route, riders must visit the fisherman’s beach and negotiate a ride in a open fiberglass boat, called a panga. Since dozens and hundreds of riders have passed through Mulege this season, local fishermen are now well aware of the opportunity to make some money by ferrying riders across the bay. Whereas last season we had trouble convincing anyone to take us across the bay, riders are now solicited for rides as soon as they enter town. We’ve created a new industry! After days and weeks in the desert, being on the water is refreshing, For the touring cyclist, the ride on the east side of the bay is not to be missed.

South of Bahía Concepción, the route returns to the mountains in a section which features canyons, more freshwater, and several historic Spanish missions. Lael will be passing through Ciudad Consitucion sometime today. She is currently as route mile 1185 nearing the planned agricultural community of Ley Federal de Aguas Numero 1. Less than 375 miles remain to the finish in San Jose del Cabo.

Follow Lael’s Baja Divide FKT attempt ride on Trackleaders.com. If you are at NAHBS in Salt Lake City this weekend stop by the Knight Composites booth today at 2PM-4PM to talk about the Baja Divide. I will be giving a brief overview of the route project followed by an open Q&A session and my loaded Meriwether Cycles bike will be on display.

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2 thoughts on “Lael Wilcox Baja Divide FKT: San Ignacio and Mulegé

  1. Incredible! This day can’t get much better than this. I’m all smiles as I think of all of you, especially Lael and Lavanya. Peace and speed to all. Jo

  2. Nicholas, I gotta tell ya…I am so grateful that I somehow stumbled into your world lo these many years ago. And Lael! She looks normal but WTF? A so-far unsung hero but not for long…sooner or later fame will strike.

    I’m following Chris Harne as he drifts his way west. I wonder…

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