Arizona to Baja to Alaska to Trans-Am: From the tropics to the arctic and everything therein

Nicholas Carman1 6126

Alex warms fingers while pedaling over Cache Mountain Divide in the White Mountains Recreation Area north of Fairbanks, AK this spring.  After riding with us in Baja for two months, he joined us for several weeks of winter riding in Alaska.

Crossing the Mexican border at Tecate last December, we could not have known what was to come.  We weren’t planning to ride down the peninsula twice to make the Baja Divide, Lael wasn’t planning to race the Trans-Am.  And I couldn’t explain exactly how we had gotten there.  How, after five years, are we standing at the border gates with such great excitement to return to Mexico, hoping and knowing the desert will provide the opportunity to enjoy long restful nights and open roads.  Baja was a consolation for our other plans.  We’d tossed around lots of options, such as riding in Egypt and Sudan or wintering in Eastern Europe, but Lael had too recently attempted the Arizona Trail to commit to those kinds of trips.  So we went to Baja, and now we are here.  Specifically, Lael is standing adjacent to the mouth of the Columbia River in Astoria, OR riding a carbon road bike with electronic shifting and no sleeping bag, planning to ride to Virginia as fast as she can.  And I’m in Alaska, rounding third on a three month commitment to The Bicycle Shop, before I jump on a plane to Newport News, VA to ride 13 miles to meet Lael at the finish in a few weeks.  If it works the way I’m planning, we’ll roll into Yorktown around the same time.  But I cannot really expect anything.  The only rule is the consistent progress of time and the consistent process of making decisions as they come.  It happens fast, and you have to act fast.  That’s as much as I know anymore.  It is a passionate and impulsive existence, and it moves fast.     

I had spent the summer working and Lael spent the summer racing, this is back in 2015, when she was riding an average of 175 miles per day down the Great Divide Route.  It was a great summer.  That’s how I remember it, at least, but there are heartstrings and missing fragments working to ease the hard memories and sweeten the great ones.  I remember collecting her from the end of the Divide, from the second ride when she traveled the route by herself and crushed it and she felt all alone.  That ride was bittersweet.  

We collected ourselves at the end of the summer in Alaska and landed in Las Vegas for a fun week at Interbike with the Revelate crew, followed by a week long bicycle ride to the start of the Arizona Trail by casual riding on paved roads and a few dirt tracks.  Arriving at Jacob Lake, AZ and making an out and back trip to the Utah border to officially high-five the northern terminus of the trail, we set out to complete the entire Arizona Trail.  We first contacted the Arizona Trail back in 2013, when we arrived via plane from Ukraine to Denver, hitched to Grand Junction, and rode Kokopelli and Lockhart Basin toward Arizona.  We traversed sections of the AZT, Coconino Loop, and the Black Canyon Trail down to Tucson.  But that was just a taste of the whole AZT which is best known for monumental challenges like the Grand Canyon and Oracle Ridge, along with more mundane challenges such as overgrown trail north of Oracle and mud-hardened hoof prints on the plateau near Mormon Lake.  But in between things you wouldn’t ever wish to do again, are things worth doing every day.  This time we would do them all.

By the time we rolled onto the Arizona Trail in the north, a brief conversation which had taken place a week earlier at Interbike was developing into a media project involving Lael and a solo time trial down the Arizona Trail later in the month. She should have been excited.  But the coming days and weeks of touring the route would leave her in tears.  The prospect of having to navigate the narrow, overgrown, rocky trail at night, at the end of October when daylight is limited to barely 10 hours a day was now a little more than challenging, and all of this at someone else’s request.  She could have said no, I suppose.  But it was her summer of Tour Divide racing that allowed her the opportunity to be involved with this project, this opportunity to work, and she needed the money.  The media project was sponsored by REI and Outside Magazine, and they connected Lael with a nice bike from Specialized.  Surely, you’re not asking her to race her blue bike?

The old blue bike, a secondhand Raleigh XXIX, had a hard life.  The fork was less than fully functional, the drivetrain worn out, the bike at all times had one broken brake lever, and not until after we gave the bike to our friend James in Flagstaff did he discover that the frame had a hole on the driveside chainstay.  Lael selected to ride a Specialized Era Expert Carbon on the AZT, a conscious decision to balance weight, the ability to endure long days yet still be efficient over more rideable terrain, and durability.  We received the bike via Absolute Bikes in Flagstaff, AZ and assembled it on the sidewalk across the street from the shop with a multitool, sans pedals.  I pushed Lael on the pedal-less bike over to Flagstaff Bike Revolution to begin the process of customization: installing dynamo lighting, wider handlebars, desert-worthy tubeless tires, custom luggage from Revelate Designs, and Lael’s tried and true cheap Cannondale saddle and NS Aerial Pro platform pedals.

The remainder of our Arizona Trail tour went well, except for the level of anxiety which resulted from the impending “media project”, as we called it.  Riding the AZT late in the fall, especially in the southern portion of the state, means you might be the first person through the remote trail after a scorching hot summer where recent monsoons have shaped the land.  These trails get little use in the summer.  There are thorny cacti and tall seedy grasses growing over the trail, making the path hard to find even in daylight, in some sections.  There are long sections of trail which are well defined, yet peppered with loose rock better suited to hiking than riding a bike.

We toured every inch of the trail up until Kentucky Camp, south of Tucson, where we bailed on our tour in search of a way north to Utah.  The project was set to begin with some filming in Flagstaff in two days, and Lael’s ride would begin two days later at the border.  We rode our bikes north to I-10 and to the Tucson Airport where a small rented Chevrolet carried us north to Flagstaff.  I paid the rental rate plus insurance and saved the receipts for future reimbursement.  We camped in Black Canyon City for the night, at the trailhead to the Black Canyon Trail where we had camped several years ago.  Arriving in Flagstaff the next day I negotiated a $25 hotel room for the night.

Flagstaff provided two days of rest, two days to film in-town sequences, and our last chance to get the bike and equipment perfect.  Rolling north to the border, we felt like we had done everything we could to prepare ourselves.  Lael was still a little tired, and the drive to the Stateliness Campground took longer than expected as I gassed the little Chevy through a series of erosion patterns in the road.  It rained for several hours during the night at the Stateline Campground, and Lael began her southbound AZT ITT about an hour before sunrise, immediately climbing 1500 ft onto the Kaibab Plateau.   The rest is documented in the short film “Fast Forward” produced by Talweg Creative for REI and Outside Magazine.  Thanks to Talweg for stellar videography and editing, and for telling such a compelling story,

After Arizona, we spent several weeks in Upstate New York visiting my family around Thanksgiving, planning our next move.  I pushed to return to Egypt and Sudan, but with only several major exit points from the region we would be committing to a long trip to access a reasonably priced flight out of Africa, probably arriving in Cairo and leaving from Addis Ababa.  Lael was still feeling tired from a season of big efforts, and I knew that Egypt would not be the most restful place to visit.  It takes energy to be in new places like that, and Lael was concerned that she would not be able to run freely and jump rope, realities of travel in Muslim countries.  We finally decided to return to Baja California.  Since traveling there in 2010, we had always talked about returning with the right bikes for the job.  We traveled there in 2010 on bikes which we assumed were capable of some off-pavement touring, mine a 1985 Schwinn High Sierra, hers a modern Surly LHT.  It was our first taste of true off-pavement touring, and we were hooked, but the riding did not come without challenges, especially on those bikes. 

This time, we crossed the border in early December and spent the next three months traveling up and down the peninsula, riding a series of dirt routes which would eventually become the Baja Divide Route.  Our low-key bike tour evolved into a route-building project after the first few weeks of riding.  I had purchased a series of printed and digital maps to assist our routeplanning.  We soon decided to share some of our routes and tracks, and eventually committed to building a continuous route down the peninsula with as much off-pavement riding as possible.  The Baja Divide was born, and we dove deep into the project for the remaining two months, joined by friends along the way.  Thanks to Alex Dunn, Erin Nugent, Christina Grande, Betsy Welch, Montana Miller, and Colleen O’Neil for assisting in route research.  Details of the route will be released this summer.

Returning from Baja in early March, flying from La Paz, BCS, MX to Anchorage, AK, USA, with our friend Alex in tow, we planned three weeks of winter fatbiking before the end of the season.  Despite a low snow year and warm weather, we linked together a series of short trips in the White Mountains north of Fairbanks, on the first section of the Iditarod Trail from Deshka Landing to Yenta Station, in large singletrack loops around Talkeetna and Anchorage, and for our last overnight trip we rode and pushed up to the Fox Creek Cabin on the Resurrection Pass Trail just a few days before the first of April. Alex, Joe Cruz, Carp and I pushed the final five miles in wet knee-deep snow to reach the cabin for the night,  By morning, the refrozen snow was more quickly passable, but the winter fatbiking season was over.  The next day Lael and I started work at The Bicycle Shop, and spent our evenings building her bike for the Trans Am Bike Race.

Lael and I worked every day for the month of April, with just enough time during the evenings to organize a program to provide refurbished, secondhand bikes to two third grade classes at Russian Jack Elementary school where Lael’s mom Dawn is a teacher.  Dawn realized that many of her students at this Ttile 1 school did not have bikes, and some didn’t know how to ride.  Others had bikes, but flat tires and loose chains kept them from riding.  With help from about a dozen friends and volunteers from the community, from Off The Chain Bike Collective, and from The Bicycle Shop of Anchorage we provided bikes to over 25 students.  Helmets, locks, and instruction were provided to all 3rd grade students at the school.  The two classes were invited to Off The Chain to gain some perspective about how bicycles are repaired and maintained, and to further understand the mission of a not-for-profit, volunteer-based bicycle collective.  It took a minute, but we reviewed the words, “volunteer” and “donate” a few times for clarification.  Check out the video about the project published by Alaska Dispatch News, as well as the article written by Erin Kirkland entitled “3rd graders get free refurbished bikes thanks to dedicated cyclists”.

On May 1st, Lael rode out of town to the start of the Trans Am Bike Race.  There are only so many roads out of Alaska, so to provide a unique experience she rode into Canada and back into Haines, Alaska, before taking a ferry south to Bellingham.  After a brief detour to Vancouver, BC, Lael continued south through Seattle and Tacoma to reach Portland, OR two weeks before the race start.  There, she met with friends and family, and serviced her bike with the incredible support of Kevin at River City Bicycles, who is technically versed in road tubeless, Di2, dynamo systems, and other details of Lael’s Trans Am Race bike, a highly custom Specialized Ruby.  More than anything— and this is something you don’t usually find in a bike shop— is that Kevin cared enough to do exacting custom work such as wiring a new USB charger into the system and assisting with tubeless tire experiments, to meet our exact needs, even though there was some level of unknown in the project.  I would have loved to be there to help, but was previously committed to working at The Bicycle Shop in Alaska for the three busiest months of the year.  The bike season in AK is not unlike the fishing season.  We’re grateful to Kevin for nailing the last few details in an otherwise successful bike build, pre-race ride, and preparatory period in Portland.   

Road tubeless tires are almost impossible to mount, the result of the ultra-stiff tire bead required to hold air and to stay on the rim at 100psi without a tube.  Whereas with tubeless mountain bike systems, where rim profiles are paramount, road tubeless relies as heavily on tire shape and structure as on the rim features (while tubeless-ready rims are still mostly required).  After trying half a dozen tires, and narrowing in on tires ranging from the 26mm Specialized Turbo to the 28mm Schwalbe Pro One, I discovered that the Hutchinson Sector 28 is the only tubeless road tire in our hands that could be mounted with relative ease.  A road tubeless wheel system should resist most punctures and pinch flats, but tire failure from a large cut or puncture is still possible.  It’d be a shame to be stuck on the roadside, unable to remove a tight fitting tubeless tire.  Even harder may be to reinstall such a tire with a tube,  The Hutchinson Sector 28 solves that problem, and is reported to be a nice riding tire.  Lael rode down to the start on Specialized Roubaix 23/25 Road Tubeless tires, which were difficult to mount but provided a flat-free ride down to the start.  That tire was narrower than preferred, but proved an essential concept— that tubeless road tires are worth it for the ride experience, and for their low-maintenance in use.  Above all, the ride quality from a road tubeless tire is remarkable!  The same bike, before and after the tubeless conversion, was greatly changed.  Before, it was fast, comfortable, and muted.  After, it was an electrifying, high-energy experience.

In the same few weeks, we also learned a lot about Shimano D12 electronic shifting.  Initially, we had planned to build a bike with hydraulic disc brakes and a mechanical group.  However, many of the complete bikes that were readily available came with D12, and several competitors in the Trans-Am and also the Tour Divide have successfully used electronic groups with great success, and with positive remarks.  Specifically, Joe Fox chased Lael to the finish line last year on the Tour Divide, riding a custom titanium drop bar 29er with a mix of XTR Di2 and road levers.  Mike Hall and Jesse Carlsson both used Di2 equipped bikes to win the Trans Am in 2014 and 2015, respectively.  We reasoned, much like hydraulic braking, that the electronic shifting would minimize rider fatigue and maximize drivetrain performance.  Could this be understood as an exact benefit in speed or distance?  I never managed to justify such claims, at least not objectively, but it is one in a list of many small features that we hope accelerate the process of riding across country.  In combination with all of the features built into the Specialized Ruby to provide a stable and comfortable ride, we hope the bike provides a platform for Lael to do what she does best, which is to simply ride a bike.  Details aside, I expect long days in the saddle, short restful nights by the roadside, and reasonably fast riding without stopping. 

The Trans-Am Bike Race starts today, June 4, at 8AM PT in Astoria, OR.  Follow the 2016 Trans-Am at Trackleaders.com.  

Additionally, several nice profiles have been published about Lael and the Trans Am Race: “Stars, Stripes, and Speed” by Holly Hill on the Revelate Designs blog; “Lael Wilcox: A Rising Star in the Bikepacking World” by Michael Lambert on Roots Rated, and “Readers Rig: Lael Wilcox on the Trans Am Bike Race” by Lindsay Arne on Bikepackersmagazine.com.  Thanks to all for sharing.

Additional thanks to Eric Parsons and everyone at Revelate Designs for providing custom luggage including the maximum-volume stars and bars framebag and magnetic closure Gas Tank, as well as a refurbished Lael Can, the oversized Jerry Can which survived both Divide rides last summer.  Lael dubbed the bag the “medicine cabinet” after falling ill and filling it with Mucinex, inhalers, and antibiotics.  Thanks to Charles at Intelligent Design Cycles for providing the SP PD-8 dynamo hub for this ride.  Thanks to Kerry Staite from K-Lite in Australia for the high powered dynamo lighting and the switchable system, which also operates a B&M USB-Werk to power the GPS and the Di2 system.  Thanks to Specialized for providing the Ruby for this ride and for building a custom front wheel out of the SP PD-8 dynamo hub and CLX 64 rim.  Lael completed her first endurance event on an older model Ruby borrowed from her mother, and this video tells the whole story

Baja California, from San Diego to San Jose del Cabo, MX

Nicholas Carman1 6034

New routing on our second ride down the peninsula is more heavily involved with the Pacific Coast, where foggy mornings are common in winter.  Here, the desert drips with sweat from heavy fog.

While drier segments abound on the route.  The entire route passes deserts of various kinds. 

Nicholas Carman1 6004

Mountains never far away.

Nicholas Carman1 6001

Resupply is easy when options are limited.

Nicholas Carman1 6030

Even a boat ride is included on the Baja Divide, if you can muster the Spanish and the energy to negotiate with the local fishing crew in Mulege.

Nicholas Carman1 6077

But it is worth it.

Nicholas Carman1 6066

Nicholas Carman1 6067

Nicholas Carman1 6068

And when routing issues plagued our planning, unexpected solutions arise.  What looks like not much on the map, looks like not much in person.  Incredible.

Nicholas Carman1 6073

Great ideas, such as racing the Trans Am, come three months into a trip which was meant to heal the fatigue of last summer’s efforts.  Touring and racing the Holyland Challenge Route in Israel is part of the motivation for racing the Divide last summer.  The Fireweed 400 started it all, and technically qualified Lael for RAAM some years ago.  But before that, we just rode and rode and rode, and good ideas sprouted from every last good idea.  It’s a trend that continues into the foreseeable future.

Nicholas Carman1 6048

Back to Alaska, but not without a glimpse of the Baja Divide Route.  It is the small road on the left, near the beach.

Nicholas Carman1 6085


“Fast Forward” on the Arizona Trail

Nicholas Carman1 5995

Back in October, Lael committed to racing the Arizona Trail by bike, solo.  I provided some location scouting to the film crew.  It isn’t easy to find the Arizona Trail in a truck with a bunch of camera equipment.

Nicholas Carman1 5993 

Nicholas Carman1 5994

“Fast Forward” is part of a highly successful film series by REI to tell the stories of three people, connected to three trails, part of their “Every Trail Connects” campaign.  Watch the short film “Fast Forward” at Outside Online. 

Screen Shot 2016 05 27 at 7 48 50 AM

 

Alaska

Nicholas Carman1 6088

Always good to have friends with a school bus, thanks Carp and Will!  As soon as we arrived we went straight to The Bicycle Shop to begin building fatbikes.

Arriving in Anchorage, I prepared for our winter rides by purchasing a Specialized Fatboy Comp, a relatively inexpensive and lightweight fatbike.  I was happy to add carbon Dirt Components Thumper rims to the equation, with tubeless 45NRTH Dillinger 5 tires.  I’d never ridden 5” tires before, nor had I used any proper studded fatbike tires other than Grip Studs in Surly Nate tires.  Each time I make it back for a winter in Anchorage, fatbike technology has changed dramatically.  In 2011-12 Lael and I rode Surly Pugsleys through a record-setting snowfall, happily and successfully.  But things have changed.  In 2013-14 we drilled the singlewall rims on our Salsa Mukluks to save weight and converted them to tubeless, installed Grip Studs.  But this year, our bikes required relatively little modification, weighing in at less than either of our conventional touring bikes.  They’re high end machines, but they are widely available.  Remember when there was only one tire available?  

From desert plusbiking to late-winter fatbiking, it’s all big tires, tubeless of course.  In this case, Lael used a pair of prototype Dillinger tires set to be released this coming season. These tires feature the same tubeless ready casing found on the 45NRTH Van Helga and other tires, leathery and tough yet light and flexible, with substantial and tight fitting beads.  The tread pattern is slightly improved on the newer Dillinger tire, with a remarkable new stud design.  The old style concave studs are expanded, now more than twice their old size.  The result is positive traction on icy surfaces not found in any studded tire to date, save for Grip Studs and the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro.  In the last ten years, fatbikes have undergone more dramatic improvements than almost any other genre in a ten year period.  Maybe mountain bikes did the same in the 80’s.  

Oh, and HED Big Deal fatbike rims have the best tubeless interface in the industry.  The rim design is ingenious, and is feathery light.

Nicholas Carman1 6113

I enjoyed using a pair of Dirt Components carbon Thumper rims, with custom Dirt hubs on my bike.  The wheel build quality was excellent, but the thing that impressed me most was that the rims were prepped with Orange Seal tape.  This kind of thing makes me feel like we live in the future when everything is tubeless.  

Nicholas Carman1 6090

We travel north to the Talkeetna Trio, a popular local race sponsored by Speedway Cycles.

Nicholas Carman1 6096

Race organizer and owner of Speedway Cycles and the Fatback bike brand, Greg Matyas, counting down the start of the Trio.  Top Alaskan racers Carey Grumelot, Tim Bernston, Clinton Hodges, and Josh Chelf stand ready up front.

Nicholas Carman1 6098

An incredible race day in March, with views of Denali and the Alaska Range.

Nicholas Carman1 6106

While in Talkeetna, we meet a young GIS specialist from Anchorage named Rob Clark who offers to help with the Baja Divide project.

Nicholas Carman1 6102

After the race, we enjoy some riding on the Susitna River.  These few weeks of riding outside of Anchorage provide perspective about how backcountry winter routes in Alaska exist and are maintained.  It should have been more obvious to me, but it is all about snowmachine routes.  That speaks to the nature of Anchorage riding, which is defined more by packed singletrack and groomed multi-use trails.

Nicholas Carman1 6137

Nicholas Carman1 6117

If only for a brief period, Lael enjoyed riding a carbon Specialized Fatboy Expert, complete with HED rims, Race Face Next crank, bars, and seatpost with 45NRTH Dillinger 4 tires.  After all the heavy bikes she’s ridden, I like to think she deserves the pleasure of riding some light ones.

Nicholas Carman1 6110

Nicholas Carman1 6118

 

White Mountains

Nicholas Carman1 6128

Traveling north of Fairbanks, Lael, Alex, Christina, and I rode the White Mountains 100 race route over a two day period.  Starting late in the afternoon on our first day, we cranked out 40 miles in just a couple hours, reaching the Cache Mountain Cabin about an hour after dark.  Both Christina and Lael would race the WM100 in a couple weeks.  We’d dragged Alex back to Alaska from Baja, and promised some stellar riding.  Since most of Southcentral Alaska was melting, we headed north. 

Nicholas Carman1 6120

Nicholas Carman1 6121

Nicholas Carman1 6122

Nicholas Carman1 6124

Nicholas Carman1 6123

On the second day, we mostly are able to ride over Cache Mountain Divide, to clearing skies and cold temperatures on the other side.  A few wind drifted sections require walking.

Nicholas Carman1 6125

Eventually, the clouds roll back in and snow starts falling, building to about 6 inches by the time we finish an hour after dark.

Nicholas Carman1 6136

Christina had also joined us for ten days of riding in Baja so group dynamics we pretty well established by the time we started.  Mostly, there was a lot of laughing.

Nicholas Carman1 6132

 

Anchorage

Nicholas Carman1 6138

From downtown to the nearby backcountry, all by bike.

Nicholas Carman1 6094

We timed our travels to coincide with Joe Cruz’s arrival in Alaska.  We almost never fail to see Joe when our paths cross within a couple hundred miles of each other, such as in Prague, in New Mexico, and for a second time in Alaska.  We begin with an epic day ride from Midtown Anchorage into the Chugach Mountains, and back.  For cyclists, this is the most unique exit from town.  The following day we push out of town to Willow where we begin an overnight journey on the Iditarod Trail.  We cross our fingers that rapidly melting snow is still rideable.  

Arriving late in the afternoon, we pedal the local Willow Trail System in several inches of fresh snow.

Nicholas Carman1 6143

The Willow Trail System, generally designed for snow machines, is well developed and signed, marked much like a network of MTB trails.

Nicholas Carman1 6140

Nicholas Carman1 6142

By morning, after a long period of bacon, coffee, and light philosophy with Prof. Cruz we push out onto the trail.  We connect from Crystal Lake to the Willow Trail System, down the Susitna River, and up the Yenta River. 

Nicholas Carman1 6144

Alex’s Baja inspired sombrero helmet gets an Arctic ruff, while Joe pedals a brand new Seven titanium fatbike.  This is the guy who I thought might never give up his Pugsley.

Nicholas Carman1 6145

Nicholas Carman1 6146

Nicholas Carman1 6147

Conditions are good, softening, but rideable.  Cold rain falls for a period, lessening our commitment to any particular destination.

Nicholas Carman1 6152

We stop at Yenta Station for a beer, enjoying the Iditarod paraphernalia inside.  Just upriver, we loosely stake out our pyramid tent in the snow, using our bikes as anchors.  Light rain falls through the night, condensation builds inside the structure.  By all accounts, it is kind of a miserable night outdoors, but we all manage a sense of humor.  Joe pretends not to be uncomfortable sleeping between 6’4” Alex and a drooping wet tent wall.  That’s what Joe does.  

Nicholas Carman1 6153

Nicholas Carman1 6154

Everyone is happy to point back toward home the next day, as temperatures reach 48F on the river that afternoon.  

Nicholas Carman1 6157

Nicholas Carman1 6158

Snow packs well in such warm weather, so much that the snowman basically made himself.  Each section was really heavy.  

Nicholas Carman1 6162

Nicholas Carman1 6163

Nicholas Carman1 6169

 

Talkeetna, again

Nicholas Carman1 6170

We return to Talkeetna to visit friends, and make a few laps around the local trails which we’d recently discovered during the Trio.  Joe would be spending the following week here, we were excited to show him around.  The wide snowmachine width trails make for really fun riding, as they traverse small-scale glacial topography, undulated less than a hundred feet at a time.  

Nicholas Carman1 6173

Nicholas Carman1 6175

Nicholas Carman1 6171

 

Resurrection Pass

Nicholas Carman1 6176

Back in Anchorage, days before Joe and the Baja Divide team disband for good, we plan one final outing.  Packing four bikes and bodies into the famed Anchorage “short bus” we head for Resurrection Pass trail.  We knew it would be warm, but we knew everything would be warm.  

Nicholas Carman1 6177

We enjoyed a gorgeous day and 7 miles of good hard trail conditions, characterized by mud and wet ice, but nearly all rideable.  Once we crossed the creek onto the east side of the valley, we met deeper and deeper snow…

Nicholas Carman1 6178

Postholing for about 5 miles to a cabin.  Once committed to reaching the cabin, the group opened up into a slow moving pack train.  Imagine three of us waist deep in wet denim arriving at a cabin, the fourth shivering and barely concealing curses.  Within minutes the hunt for firewood, and both Starbucks Via and blended Canadian Whisky change the tone of the afternoon.  Hours later we are drying our pants over the fire, slowly de-robing in the warming cabin, and trading the kinds of stories that are only told deep in the woods with nothing else to do.

Nicholas Carman1 6179

Nicholas Carman1 6181

 

White Mountains, again

Nicholas Carman1 6194

The final chapter to our winter adventures include a second trip to Fairbanks for the White Mountains 100 race, an event including fat bikers, skiers, and runners, as well as a sole competitor on a kicksled this year.

Nicholas Carman1 6193

Nicholas Carman1 6191

Nicholas Carman1 6197

Nicholas Carman1 6198

Nicholas Carman1 6196

Nicholas Carman1 6185

Nicholas Carman1 6186

Nicholas Carman1 6205

Nicholas Carman1 6187

Nicholas Carman1 6203

Overflow is a common concern on this route.  Most riders got through the race without getting their feet wet, although a few were less fortunate.

Nicholas Carman1 6206

Megan Chelf set a new women’s record on the route.  She and her husband Josh now own both the men’s and women’s records on the WM100.  Here, Megan is riding up “the wall”.  

Nicholas Carman1 6207

Nicholas Carman1 6208

Lael racing to the finish, completing 100 miles in 10 hours 51 minutes with a lot of climbing and even a little walking.  Conditions over Cache Mountain Divide were windblown and soft.

Nicholas Carman1 6210

Christina finishes just after dark.

Nicholas Carman1 6212

 

Building a road bike for the Trans-Am Race

Nicholas Carman1 6225

Returning from our winter adventures, Anchorage was quickly moving toward spring with a continuing heat wave.  We built Lael’s Specialized Ruby and began customizing it for her ride down to Oregon and for the Trans Am Race.

 Nicholas Carman1 39

Nicholas Carman1 6218

Our first stop is Revelate Designs headquarters, which is only three blocks away from The Bicycle Shop.  When picking up Revelate orders for the shop, we stack boxes of luggage into the baskets of a 1950’s era Schwinn and navigate the streets of Midtown Anchorage. 

Nicholas Carman1 6236

 

Bikes for Russian Jack Elementary

Nicholas Carman1 47

Nicholas Carman1 6241

On a series of weekday nights, working until midnight, we organized a one-time program to provide bicycles for two third grade classes at a local Anchorage elementary school where Lael’s mother teaches 3rd grade.  With help from friends at Off the Chain Bicycle Collective and The Bicycle Shop, we refurbished more than 25 bikes for students and provided locks and helmets to both classes.  The program required a lot of volunteer hours, but was hugely successful.  Check out this short video about the project on the Alaska Dispatch News page.

Screen Shot 2016 06 03 at 8 36 59 AM

The project required 3-4 nights of intensive bike building and repair, donation collection, transporting bikes from Off The Chain to the school, an afternoon of field trips to Off The Chain, and an afternoon bike rodeo at Russian Jack to present the donated bikes and equipment and to educate students about cycling skills and strategies.  Watch the video.  The sound of excited children riding bikes is totally worth it.

Nicholas Carman1 40

Nicholas Carman1 43

Nicholas Carman1 48

Nicholas Carman1 44

Nicholas Carman1 6242 

 

Riding to the start

Nicholas Carman1 14

Lael left Anchorage on May 1 to ride to Astoria, OR, to the start of the Trans Am Bike Race.  Eric Parsons and his son Finn joined us for the ride out of town, along with Lael’s parents.  Finn had just received his first big bike, a 16” wheel Redline that he selected with Lael at The Bicycle Shop the day prior.

Nicholas Carman1 34

Nicholas Carman1 5

Lael and I continued to Palmer for the evening and stayed with friends, who housed and fed us for the night.  Alpenglow over the Knik River valley.  

Nicholas Carman1 38

Lael continued the next day and I returned to Anchorage to make it back in time for work.

To finally see the complete bike in action was exciting, after all the work that had gone into it and all the late nights required in the last month to make ends meet.  Riding becomes the quiet meditative time.

Nicholas Carman1 8

This is Lael’s touring load out of Anchorage, including a pair of running shoes, a jumprope, and all of the maps covering the Trans Am Route to study on the ferry.

Nicholas Carman1 6

Godspeed Lael!  Enjoy the Trans Am!  Follow Lael’s progress on the 2016 Trans Am Bike Race page at Trackleaders.com.

Nicholas Carman1 4

Baja Divide Update; Presentations in San Diego, CA on 2/4 and 2/5

Nicholas Carman1 5707

Attention San Diego area riders! Lael, Alex and I will be presenting about the Baja Divide on two consecutive nights, describing the routebuilding process, the rewards and challenges of touring in Baja, and more information to help plan a self-supported tour of the Baja Divide next season.  Sponsored by the San Diego Mountain Biking Association, we will be at Border X brewing in Barrio Logan, San Diego on Feb 4, and in Escondido on Feb 5.  Both events are at 5:30PM and more information can be found on the SDMBA Facebook Events page.  Small donations to the project will be accepted to help fund immediate expenses.

The Baja Divide route is taking shape.  Since December 8th, 2015, we have ridden well over 2000 miles from San Diego, CA to San Jose del Cabo, B.C.S., MX, including several loops in the southern cape.  Several friends have joined our routefinding efforts on a diverse range of bikes, arriving from from Missoula, MT; Anchorage, AK; and Fort Collins, CO.  These are the first riders to experience the Baja Divide, although at this phase that still includes a few dead-ends, a bit too much sand, and a lot of tacos and beer.  

However, there are several gaping holes in the route and many smaller details which require honing.  As such, Lael and I, accompanied by our friend Alex, have returned to San Diego.  We are planning a few days to reorganize ourselves and tune our bikes before crossing the border at Tecate for another month of riding in Baja.  All three of us will fly to Anchorage in early March to catch the last month of winter and the best month of fatbiking.   

I’ve had many considerate offers from supporters of the Baja Divide project offering professional expertise, encouragement, and money.  At this time, I have plans to build a proper website this spring, with help.  I’m still considering the details of a printed resource, although I consider it an essential part of the project as a way to enable broad scale planning and to communicate with locals along the route, especially to share such basic concepts as where you are going and where you have come from.  To follow the route, a GPS will be required.  Lastly, I am not accepting any individual donations to the project at this time.  Once the route file is complete and the new website is live, I aim to seek corporate sponsors for the project whose business and ethics reflect those of the Baja Divide.  As such, though our efforts and their expense, the route is meant to be a gift to the bikepacking community, and all digital information will be available for free.  Currently, Lael and I are funding the project, with limited in-kind assistance from Revelate Designs, SRAM, Advocate Cycles, Sinewave Cycles, The Bicycle Shop of Anchorage, Cal Coast Bicycles in San Diego, and SDMBA.

If anyone in the cycling, outdoor, or travel industry is interested in supporting the Baja Divide, please contact Nicholas at bajadivide@gmail.com.

 ————————————–

Alex arrived in Loreto with his expedition-grade Surly Pugsley, built with a Rolloff hub, Gates Carbon Belt Drive, and packing a small Martin Backpacker guitar.  He is a close friend from university in Tacoma, WA, now working summers as a fisherman in SE Alaska, originally from Fort Collins, CO.  He speaks excellent Spanish, having spent considerable time in Ecuador, Argentina, and Mexico.  He has touring by bike in the USA, Baja, and Ecuador.  Language skills aren’t essential to ride in Baja, although while developing the route it is incredibly helpful.  The Pugsley is well suited to soft-conditions, although the weight of this particular build is burdensome on the more technical sections and on prolonged climbs. 

While in San Diego, Alex is sending his portly Pugsley back home and replacing it with an XL Advocate Cycles Hayduke.  After two months in Baja, we’ve decided that 3.0” tires are the preferred tire size, while a suspension fork makes the riding more safe, comfortable, and fun.  The “sombrero casco” is a custom creation.   

Nicholas Carman1 5927

Erin also joined us in Loreto for three weeks, and flew out of San Jose del Cabo.  She is a close friend from university in Tacoma, WA, originally from Ketchikan, AK, now residing in Missoula, MT.  She has ridden the length of Baja by mostly paved roads in the past, and has also toured the Idaho Hot Springs Route.  Erin rode her secondhand Trek X-Cal 29er with 2.4” and 2.3” tires on relatively narrow Bontrager Mustang rims, which required a little engineering to ensure a secure tubeless system.  Her bike was well suited to all of the hardpacked riding, although she struggled in soft conditions more than the rest of the group as she was riding the narrowest tires.

Nicholas Carman1 5837

Christina joined us in San Jose del Cabo for a sun-soaked ten day ride, escaping the cold, dark winter in Anchorage, AK.  Christina and I first met while working at The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, although she now manages the Trek Store of Anchorage.  She is originally from San Fransisco, CA.  She is an experienced mountain biker and road rider and is signed up for several endurance fatbike races this winter including the Susitna 100 and the White Mountains 100.  She met us last year to ride in Israel for ten days, enjoying the worst weather in our three months in that country.  We promised sun in Baja, and Baja delivered.  Christina rode a Trek Farley 9.6 with 27.5×3.8” Bontrager Hodag tires on TLR Jackalope rims.  Her bike excelled in soft conditions, over rough terrain, and while climbing, thanks to a lightweight bike, big wheels, and a minimal load.

Nicholas Carman1 5913

Lael continues to enjoy her 27.5+ Advocate Cycles Hayduke.  The tires are wide enough that at lower pressures, she can ride through all but the deepest sand, which the Baja Divide route intends to avoid.  The modern geometry and the RockShox Reba suspension fork make technical descents a breeze.  The bike climbs well and the tires maintain traction well on steep climbs, perhaps better than a fatbike in some cases.  Ultra-wide tires have a tendency to sit atop rocks and gravel, loosing the connection to the ground.  Expect a complete review at Bikepacking.com later this month.

We plan to service both of our forks in San Diego, as well as replace her chain and rear tire.  Aside from those wear parts, her bike has performed flawlessly over Baja’s diverse roads and tracks.  

Nicholas Carman1 5815

My pink Meriwether Cycles custom has become a trusted friend.  For riding in Baja my wide 35mm rims and 2.4”/2.5” tires do well, although even I am often wishing for a proper plus bike.

I was planning to convert the bike to 27.5+ with a new wheelset and tires, but have decided that the design is best suited to 29” wheels.  Compared to the 29×2.4” and 2.5” tires I am using, a 27.5+ wheelset would lower the bike by about a centimeter.  In fact, I like how it sits and how it rides right now, so I’ll save myself the expense and simply mount a bigger tire to the rear, a 2.5” Maxxis Minion DHF.  These tires are more aggressive than I need, although the tire volume and durable casing are excellent.  

I’m also looking forward to trying a SRAM 11-speed group soon.  For the steep rolling terrain we often encounter, I find myself forcing shifts from the big ring to the little ring with haste, which occasionally gets ugly with a worn drivetrain (i.e. chain suck).  A single chainring system reduces the number of shifting permutations, and focuses my efforts in a simple upshift-downshift pattern.  I’ll be using a combination of parts, including a steel narrow-wide 28T chainring and a steel 1150 10-42t cassette.  Can a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain be a durable touring group?  Now that the technology has spread around the globe and to lower pricepoints, this will be a more frequent consideration.

We are all using tubeless wheel systems and between the five of us and two months time, we haven’t had any flat tires.  Correction, Lael was carrying a 2” thorn in her tires for weeks, until it finally poked through her rim strip and flatted her wheel.  The tire was fine, so we removed the tire and repaired the rimstrip with a small square of tape.  The tire reseated easily and we were on our way.

Nicholas Carman1 5683

Our time in Baja has been restful thanks to great weather and long nights under the stars, but since dedicating ourselves to the Baja Divide project, our commitments have grown and life is now quite busy again.  We plan about six days of work and preparation while in San Diego, crammed into about three and half days.  We cross the border back to Tecate this Saturday, February 6, and plan to arrive in La Paz by Mar 6 to catch a flight back to Alaska.  That distance, and the amount of work we have in between, will be challenging.

Even so, life is good in Baja.  We’ll be certain to enjoy our time here and we look forward to sharing it with others.

Nicholas Carman1 5657

Nicholas Carman1 5659

Nicholas Carman1 5680

Nicholas Carman1 5691

Nicholas Carman1 5698

Nicholas Carman1 5682

Nicholas Carman1 5748

Nicholas Carman1 5727

Nicholas Carman1 5856

Nicholas Carman1 5843

Nicholas Carman1 5830

Nicholas Carman1 5846

Nicholas Carman1 5835

Nicholas Carman1 5717

Nicholas Carman1 5845

Nicholas Carman1 5849

Nicholas Carman1 5838

Nicholas Carman1 5851

Nicholas Carman1 5861

Nicholas Carman1 5867

Nicholas Carman1 5872

Nicholas Carman1 5875

Nicholas Carman1 5879

Nicholas Carman1 5882

Nicholas Carman1 5910

Nicholas Carman1 5909

Nicholas Carman1 5863

The Baja Divide Route, Mexico

Nicholas Carman1 5668

Don’t ride MEX 1, ride the Baja Divide.  Lael descends toward Ejido Uruapan on her Advocate Cycles Hayduke.

It’s called the Baja Divide.  The route touches the Pacific Coast and the Sea of Cortez multiple times.  It crosses every mountain range in Baja California, a desert where freshwater streams and springs are not uncommon in winter, and where traditional ranching and fishing lifestyles persist.  The route climbs and descends on well traveled graded dirt roads, popular 4×4 and moto routes, and forgotten jeep tracks.  We’re planning a connection across Bahia Concepcion by panga, the durable fiberglass fishing boats used by local fishermen, to access a little used dirt road on the other side of the bay.  The Baja Divide is a personal project of Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox to give back to the bikepacking community.  We’ve enjoyed routes in Israel, Arizona, South Africa, Slovakia, Montenegro, and elsewhere.   

The Baja Divide is a dirt bikepacking route from Tecate to the southern cape.  When the route is complete, it is expected to be nearly 2000 miles long and over 90% unpaved, recommended for bicycles with 2.3” tires or larger.  Thus far, 3.0” tires as on Lael’s Advocate Hayduke have proven to be perfect for the route, and 4.0” tires would not be out of place.  As always, pack light, leave room for food and water, and leave most of your cold weather gear at home.  The route would be best enjoyed between November and February, when most dirt routes in the USA, Canada, and Europe are closed for the season.  

What began as a personal project to craft a pleasant ride down the peninsula– an experience and a route which we hoped to casually share— has developed into a commitment to publish a real route in Baja.  As such, a real route is thoroughly researched, tested, and recorded.  A GPX track, route narratives, and a resupply guide will be prepared.  Most of all, I hope to be able to publish a printed resource similar to the high quality maps we have come to appreciate from the Adventure Cycling Association.    

There is much work remaining to complete the route.  Thus far Lael and I have connected San Diego to La Paz by a series of dirt routes, and we plan a few more weeks of exploration in the southern cape with a rotating cast of friends who have joined us to escape winter and help with the route.  Thereafter, Lael and I plan to take a bus back north to Tijuana to ride down the peninsula a second time.  We will ride alternate routes, make detailed notes and waypoints regarding resupply, and record more GPX tracks from which the final route will be compiled.  It is a big project, seemingly growing in scope every day.  

The future of the Baja Divide requires your support.  We are looking for corporate and individual sponsors who wish to promote the project and the culture of self-supported bikepacking through financial or technical assistance.  In-kind equipment sponsors are also welcome to offset costs associated with building the route, including worn tires and drivetrain parts, camping equipment, etc.  For instance, Lael and I are both using threadbare sleeping bags, worn from nearly four years on the road.  Additionally, I am looking for a high-quality 27.5+ wheelset for my Meriwether, as I’ve been jealous of Lael’s 3.0” tires on the many sandy and rough jeep tracks in Baja.  My six year old Brooks B17 saddle has bent rails and has lost two rivets. We are also seeking assistance in building a high-quality custom website for the project.  For now, I have built a simple WordPress.com site for the project at www.bajadivide.com.

I expect to have a complete GPX track available later this spring.  An informal group ride is scheduled to start on January 2, 2017.  Lael and I will be there.  Ride self-supported at your own pace, form your own groups, ride as much of the route as you want. 

I will begin sharing stories on the blog from the process of route building in Baja in the coming weeks.  Look for more stories on Lael’s Globe of Adventure, the new Baja Divide website, and our new Instagram accounts @nicholascarman and @laelwilcox.  

Nicholas Carman1 5702

Nicholas Carman1 5762

Nicholas Carman1 5759

Nicholas Carman1 5832

Nicholas Carman1 5712

Nicholas Carman1 5703

Nicholas Carman1 5709

Nicholas Carman1 5828

Nicholas Carman1 5701

Nicholas Carman1 5688

Nicholas Carman1 5829

The Edge of Winter: AZ/NM/NY/DC/CA/MX

Nicholas Carman1 5480

We’re off to Baja for a few months!  Lael is riding her new Advocate Cycles Hayduke, a steel 27.5+ hardtail, and I am riding my pink Meriwether.  Thanks to the donation of a used iPhone from a friend, as a multi-purpose travel device, we now both have Instagram accounts.  Follow us there at @laelwilcox and @nicholascarman.

The first moment in long pants and a sweater, come fall.  The first afternoon in short sleeves and a shirt, when rotting piles of snow linger in the shadows and thin blades of grass emerge from the matted brown lawn.  It is the leading edge of any season which I especially relish.  For more than a month, we’ve ridden the breaking wave of winter across Arizona and New Mexico, through New York and the Mid Atlantic, and now through California and Baja California.  But it isn’t meant to be.  We’re headed south for the season.  

On Wellesley Island, NY, where my parents now live, I encountered an entire harvest of apples beneath a tree, forgotten by nearby residents in favor of store bought varieties.  And the next day, an inch and a half of snow covers them.  In Baja, we’ve encountered freezing nights just several hundred feet above sea level, yet warm dry nights at elevation, a phenomena which continues to elude me.  Above, at nearly 10,000ft,  a dusting of snow falls on the Sierra de San Pedro Martir.  Yet Washington D.C. is the coldest place I’ve been in the past month, where winter threatens with cloudy skies and 39 degree rain.  I say anything is better than 39 degree rain.  Give me Alaska, Minnesota, or New York in February, but never cold rain.  Any time we ride in 39 degree rain, Lael reminds me of the last time we rode to Baja from Tacoma, WA.  We left on November 16th, 2009 to ride south, and it rained every day until we crossed the border.  The final week in Southern California at the end of December amounted to record rainfall.    

Our time in Arizona concluded with Lael’s AZT750 ITT attempt, a pursuit which has been captured as part of a brief documentary feature, set to be released this spring.  More on that when it is released next year, but the process of filming was enlightening and a lot of fun.  Expect aerial drone shots of Lael.  What could be more fun than aerial drone shots of a girl riding her bike and eating, pissing in the bushes, hurriedly buying a dozen cookies from a small grocery?

For the filming, I was contracted to help scout film locations on the backcountry route and to transport Lael to the start.  Thus, a vehicle was rented in my name and for almost two weeks, I piloted a small Chevy Sonic around the state, bashing the undercarriage on all manner of unpaved roads.  That’s why you get the full insurance.  After the ITT attempt, we spent a weekend in Santa Fe to finish some filming, which gave us the chance to reconnect with some friends in New Mexico, crossing paths with Rusty and Melissa; Cass, Nancy, and Sage; John, Jeremy, and Owen.  Each of these people play a role in our lives.  Rusty arrived in Albuquerque the week we were leaving and took a job at Two Wheel Drive where I had worked; Melissa is riding my old Raleigh XXIX; we stayed with John’s high school friend in Athens and recently John went to ride the Bike Odyssey route in Greece; Owen sold Lael her first upright touring bars, some secondhand On-One Mary cruisers which we used to replace the drop bars on her LHT; Cass and I have crossed paths more than a few times, dating back to the summer of 2009 in Alaska; and, I believe, I was present to witness Nancy’s first day of her first bike tour, as two inches of snow fell while we climbed up Lynx Pass on the Great Divide Route in October.  It is a motley crew of bike people, and although we’ve never lived in Santa Fe, it the nearest thing we have to a bike family outside of Anchorage.  

Returning the car to the Tucson airport, I put my bike back together and head back to the AZT to reride some of the smoothest trail on the route, from I-10 back to Tucson.  Did I mention I’ve rented a car twice in my life, both times from the Tucson Airport, within a period of three months this summer?  I connected with my friend Dusty from Anchorage while in Tucson, and spent a few days riding local tech trails and buff singletrack circuits.  Dusty is the other half of the Revelate Designs team in Anchorage, although it seems most of his time is spent climbing Denali and grooming himself for shots in the Patagonia catalog.  Dusty is like the Tasmanian Devil on a bike, and likes to bump and jump everything on the trail.  I witnessed no less than three encounters with cactus in two days.  Several days prior he landed on his elbow while accidentally riding a trail in wilderness on Mt. Lemmon.  He required stitches, and was rock climbing within days.  

After a week with some of Lael’s extended family in the Phoenix area, we flew to Ottawa to visit my family in Northern New York for Thanksgiving.  There, we helped them move into a new house and enjoyed the company of my family for several weeks.  The constant passing of freighters on the St. Lawrence River is endlessly entertaining, especially as boats the size of small cities pass in the night.  From the right vantage it is hard to tell if the house is moving to the side, or if a ship is passing.  The low rumble of massive propellers warns of a passing vessel before it arrives.  I grew up in Central New York, my parents later moved to Northern New York, and they’ve moved once again further north, now about one mile from the Canadian border.

Lael received a new bicycle from Advocate Cycles while in New York.  It arrived the day before we planned to leave NY.  Her blue Raleigh was donated to our friend James in Flagstaff, who has since repaired a hole in the frame, repainted it white, and purchased a new suspension fork and luggage.  The Specialized Era was quickly sold before leaving Phoenix, the transaction taking place out front of a Trader Joe’s just two hours before leaving the state.  She was happily without a bike for two weeks,  a needed break after her year long riding binge.  The new bike, a marvelous mid-fat steel machine, will be perfect for our exploits in Baja.  

The Advocate Cycles Hayduke is a 27.5+ hardtail with a 120mm Rock Shox Reba fork, WTB Scraper rims, and an 11-speed GX1drivetrain.  Aside from a few simple modifications, the stock bike is prime to shred Baja’s mountainous backroads and sandy desert tracks.  The 27.5×3.0” tires— effectively the same outside diameter as 29×2.3” tires, thus interchangeable— grant unique abilities without the debilitating heft of a true fatbike wheel.  In short, it’s kind of a fatbike that rides like a mountain bike, or it’s a trail-oriented mountain bike which floats over loose rocks and soft sand.  Aside from the difference in wheel size— 27.5×3” vs 29×2.4”— Lael and I are riding remarkably similar bikes.  My pink Meriwether can fit 27.5+ wheels and Lael’s Hayduke can take 29×2.4” Ardents.  That versatility is one of the main features of the new crop of 27.5+ hardtails— they’re also 29ers!  

Leaving New York, we catch a ride down the coast to Baltimore, Washington D.C., and nearby Alexandria, VA where my sister now lives.  After a brief visit and a cold crosstown commute in the rain, we board our $100 flight west to San Diego.

We arrive in San Diego after a night in the Denver airport with our sleeping bags, greeted by warm sunny weather.  We reassemble our bikes and gear outside the airport and pedal across town to visit Lael’s godmother in Coronado.  There, we photocopy, cut, and paste maps; downloads digital basemaps to our Garmin; and generally prepare our bikes and equipment for several months of travel.  

We roll south out of Coronado on bike paths, through Chula Vista, and over Otay Mountain on a dirt road used most often by border patrol agents.  We descent to Tecate and cross into Mexico.  I have a series of potential routes down the peninsula, which we hope to weave into a pleasant journey and a route which we can share with others.  We traveled here five years ago, enjoying our first extended off-pavement rides on drop bars and medium wide 1.75” Schwalbe Marathon tires.  This time, we come prepared.  And even through the peninsula is crossed with fascinating routes well documented by the moto crowd, any search for bikepacking routes in Baja come up short.  We hope to change that. 

By now, now that the dust from this long summer season has settled, we’re pedaling along the Pacific Coast or the Sea of Cortez, or camping under millions of blistering stars enjoying long winter nights and a caguama of Tecate.  Considering that recovery is still a priority, especially for Lael, this is how we know to do it best.  Thirteen, fourteen hour nights will do that.

——————————-

Arizona

Nicholas Carman1 5563

Lael’s AZT750 rig, a Specialized Era Expert, fully loaded for freezing nights and the requisite food, water, and tools.  Despite her continued breathing issues, the bike and all systems were nearly perfect, including the 14L Osprey backpack for the Grand Canyon hike with the bike on her back.  I’m planning a brief feature of her Tour Divide and AZT bikes, for those that are interested in such details.  

Nicholas Carman1 5321

Flying the drone.

Nicholas Carman1 5556

Eric made this lovely framebag for the Era. This new fabric looks like it belongs in a menswear line.

Nicholas Carman1 5646

Afraid of the long, dark nights in late October, we devised what we consider to be the best and most reliable combination of lighting for this particular event, including a k-Lite 1000 lumen dynamo light and a 320 lumen Black Diamond Icon Polar  The Icon is an ultra-bright headlamp which takes 4 AA batteries and pushes out max light for 7-8 hours, enough for a full night of riding on spring or fall ultra events.  The Poler version includes an extension cord with a threaded attachment, allowing the battery pack to be stored in a pocket while in use (thus, not on the helmet), and it can be removed entirely during the day.  Only the lightweight head unit stays on the helmet.

The k-Lite puts out considerably more light than my Supernova E3 Triple.  Most importantly, it performs much better at slow speeds, pushing out more light while riding at walking speeds, with less flickering.  The standlight also puts out some usable light, whereas the Supernova fails to put out anything useful.  The quality and construction of Kerry’s lights are impressive.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t integrate this light into Lael’s new bike, as the Hayduke comes with Boost spacing.  An SP Boost dynamo hub is due out soon. 

Nicholas Carman1 5579

 

New Mexico

Nicholas Carman1 5573

Just enough time to shoot some interviews and some riding, and just enough time to ride and dine with friends for a few nights.  Thanks to John and Jeremy for a warm house for the weekend!  

We enjoyed a little of each of Santa Fe’s trail systems, including a jaunt into the local backcountry to ride the “Secret Trail” with Cass, Rusty, and Jeremy.

Nicholas Carman1 5572

Nicholas Carman1 5575

Outside of the Whole Foods, we meet a young cyclist from CA named Chris.  He was beginning a brief tour down to El Paso.  He had managed to strap a full re-usable shopping bag under his seat as an impromptu seatpack.  We offered to let him borrow Lael’s cavernous Tour Divide seatbag for the trip.  Chris has some photos from his trip on his Flickr account

Nicholas Carman1 5576

 

Arizona

Nicholas Carman1 5578

Back in Tucson, ripping trails with Dusty for a few days, before riding back to Phoenix to try to sell Lael’s bike and prepare for our flight east.

Nicholas Carman1 5325

Nicholas Carman1 5323

Nicholas Carman1 5324

Back to Phoenix.

Nicholas Carman1 5645

 

New York

Nicholas Carman1 5584

Our brief time in New York— sadly, too late for the leaves (or the apples) to still be on the trees— is much overdue.  I hadn’t been home to visit in over two years.  We helped my parents move into a new house on Wellesley Island on the St. Lawrence River, which connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a massive river famed for the Thousand Islands region, notable for over 1800 islands amidst swirling currents and historic homes, dating from a time when the East Coast and nearby Watertown were booming.  Lots of large commercial vessels travel this river.

Nicholas Carman1 5432

Nicholas Carman1 5431

Nicholas Carman1 5387

Nicholas Carman1 5385

We mostly spend time off the bike while in NY, although we did get out for a few brief rides.  Lael is on my dad’s old Specialized Hardrock.  It’s a good bike, but it makes you appreciate the features on even our less than space age touring bikes.

Nicholas Carman1 5384

On Thanksgiving Day we volunteered with a group of employees and families at the hospital where my dad works to prepare and deliver over 300 meals to local families.  The food was prepared by the time we all arrived in the morning, but it was our job to portion and package it for delivery.  

Nicholas Carman1 5466

Nicholas Carman1 5471

Nicholas Carman1 5468

Nicholas Carman1 5470

Finally, the day before leaving NY, Lael’s bike arrives.

Nicholas Carman1 5473

Nicholas Carman1 5485

About the first thing she says to me: “There’s a new sheriff in town!”  Those 27.5×3.0” tires certainly miniaturize the appearance of my once voluminous 2.4” Ardents.  We plan to replace the ultralight stock Panasonic Fat B Nimble tires with some Specialized Ground Control tires weighing about 200 grams more, per tire.  The extra weight will be well worth it on a two month trip the desert.

There is always a learning curve when riding a new bike.  At first, it did feel a bit strange.  Once we swapped handlebars, stem, and seatpost, things got better.

Nicholas Carman1 5649

Nicholas Carman1 5479

Nicholas Carman1 5583

 

Baltimore

Nicholas Carman1 5598

 

Washington D.C.

Nicholas Carman1 5597


California

Nicholas Carman1 5591

We spend a few days with Lael’s godmother Jacklyn in Coronado, including a few trips to the beach between planning and preparing for Baja.  Both bikes get bottle cages on the fork and a couple of packable bladders in the framebag.  We install luggage and new tires on Lael’s bike, and a Salsa Anything Cage to the underside of the donwtube.  Why doesn’t the Hayduke come with a mount for a bottle cage or a Salsa AC down there?  Why do many steel Surly and Salsa models also fail to include this simple feature?  The world may never know.  

Specialized 27×3.0” Ground Control tires set-up tubeless perfectly on WTB Scraper rims, with a floor pump.  I used Gorilla brand clear repair tape for the first time.  It seems well suited to the application, and is perfectly sized for the WTB Scraper rims.  I had to use a razor to score the roll of tape for my 35mm rim.

Hose clamps keep the Anything Cage in place.  It will be used to hold a 64 oz. Klean Kanteen, as I have been doing for many years now.  This is the first time Lael has the extra capacity.

Nicholas Carman1 5604

Riding to step aerobics with Jacklyn.

Nicholas Carman1 5608

Our route out of San Diego includes a segment over Otay Mountain on dirt roads.  It is a stunning 3000ft climb to the top of the mountain, and a fast descent back to paved road 94 on the other side.  The result is a short paved ride to Tecate from San Diego.

Nicholas Carman1 5663

Nicholas Carman1 5653

Nicholas Carman1 5652 


Baja California, Mexico!

By now, we’ve crossed the border and pedaled a week into Baja, and touched both coastlines after our inland crossing at Tecate.  Thus far, I can highly recommending crossing at Tecate compared to Tijuana or Mexicali. Tecate is a small pleasant city.  As soon as we crossed we passed a shaded park full of men playing cards.  Last time we crossed into Tijuana we saw a guy stab himself in his calf with a needle soon after crossing.  We connected to dirt roads about 20 miles out of Tecate.

Nicholas Carman1 5622

Baja Coda– Seven Days of Dirt

Day 5  cabo pulmo  7

This is the final installment from Alex Dunn’s bicycle adventures in Baja.  Read more about Alex’s journey in Baja aboard a Surly Big Dummy.

it’s already been nearly two weeks since i last wrote. the days really do blend together into one long, glorious bicycle ride. once i arrived in la paz i remained there for four days, for it is a place i hold dear to my heart – almost three years ago exactly i stayed in la paz for the better part of a month, stoking the fires of an old flame. she attended spanish school, while i did my usual wandering about. this time around i stayed again in my favorite hostel, pensión california, just a couple blocks off the malecón. i had to do some re-exploring, mainly sniffing out the best food vendors in the crowded streets and eating to my heart’s content. the beauty of bicycle touring is that one can indulge in rather obscene amounts of food, with no real concern or regrets, for food is fuel and much fuel is needed. i often find myself eating upwards of five or six full meals in a day, not including the various desserts; but of course, the dessert compartment has an entirely different capacity.

after much feeding and rest, as well as swimming with whale sharks and mingling with germans and canadians, i was ready to ride again. i had been throwing around different ideas for what routes to take on my last big ride down the peninsula. i had nine days until my flight to ecuador, which left me seven days for cycling if i wanted to play it safe – reserve time to decompress and disassemble my noble steed and put it in a bike box. what i really wanted was pure solitude. not just a day or two’s glimpse, but a real confrontation. i wanted to be alone with this great peninsula and say my goodbyes to the land and water that have benevolently guided me. i had already seen the western cape from my previous journey and i was itching to ride on dirt roads, so it only made sense to head east towards cabo pulmo.

late in the afternoon i finally left la paz, after waiting around for a few hours in a bike shop for the owner to deliver me a 2.35in tube. he eventually arrived with tube in hand, but of course it was a 2in tube – smaller than I cared for. he then rummaged in the back and finally found one of ample size, yet despite his inspection i discovered several small holes in the tube already. i promptly left in mild frustration for i didn’t really need this tube, it was only for piece of mind since all three of mine were littered with patches from goat head punctures. being that la paz was the last big city i was going to encounter, and has grocery stores which carry such rarities as nuts and berries, good coffee, and so on, i squandered a few more hours of daylight purchasing enough food to last me almost a week. at long last, i said adios to the hostel and it’s dueño and i was on my way.

pedaling east on carretera 286 was a sluggish, steady ascent for about twenty miles, peaking at about one thousand feet. the sun was beginning to dim but i was not anxious, for the descent was one of the more amazing things to behold. i could see san juan de los planes twenty miles off in the distance, the road reaching down and out in a perfect straight line from myself to the small town. i easily covered this distance in less than an hour. in los planes i filled my bottles and bladders with water, fourteen liters in all, and started out on the dirt road for boca del alamo. the sun was growing heavy and tired, and so was i. half way up the climb to the ridge line of the sierra la gata, i gave in and set up camp right there on the side of the road. i hadn’t yet encountered anyone and things were becoming quite steep and treacherous, so i figured i would not be bothered. here i had a wondrous view of the setting sun over los planes and the wide valley stretching out into the sea of cortez. as i cooked dinner ants and spiders swarmed my station and the lonely song of the coyote filled the air, but i didn’t care for i had john prine, hank williams, and townes van zandt to keep me company– men who make loneliness seem alright; they make it feel appropriate, or honorable even. and so i relished in my loneliness and sleep came easy, my dreams filled with a feeling of amity.

the next day’s dirt was precarious, yet gratifying, with climbs so steep i had to dismount and sudden descents that rattled me close to my own demise. i was periodically stormed by clouds of wasps, who seemed only to want to drink my sweat, no taste for flesh or blood. still, without revealing any sense of nervousness or trepidation, i could not help but feel a little wary inside for there were enough wasps to bring anyone into anaphylaxis. this only made me pedal faster and i reached the water’s edge quickly, arriving just north of boca de alamos in the early afternoon, roasting in the heat and swiftly turning on the first path i saw out to the water. i dumped my bike in haste and was immediately swimming in the ocean. the sun has only become hotter and hotter as i’ve traveled south, almost thwarting any desires to travel further once the early afternoon heat is upon me. after my swim i decided to camp in order to play guitar and reserve ample time for my sunset routine. as the light grew dim, manta rays began jumping out of the water twenty yards off shore, much like the salmon do of the northern pacific where I spend my summers. all through the night i could hear their large bodies slapping upon the surface over and over, either trying to rid themselves of parasites or loosening their eggs. they may also have been communicating or simply playing. apparently, this activity is still a great mystery to the many biologists who have studied them, just like the mystery of the salmon. i like this, when nature evades the scrutiny of humankind, when only our sense of magic remains to describe the world. we are infants stumbling upon a planet of creatures far older than ourselves.

in the morning i rose with the sun as always, yet i took my time. i am here to embrace the beautiful boundary of land and sea, not to hurry along to the next destination as so many bicycle tourists do. con despacio, con despacio had become my mantra. first i stretched, then drank coffee. next i played songs for myself, for the changing colors in the sky, and for the many saguaro cacti standing proud as they too looked out upon the sea and the wonder of the day unfolding. i packed up slowly and once ready i took a quick swim with the sword fish and puffer fish, to cool myself in preparation for the coming heat. and as expected the heat arrived. i skidded, slid and slithered along the mostly flat dirt for most of the day’s journey and it became quite unbearable to wear anything but my shorts rolled up and a bandana wrapped around my head, like a great naked bicycle pirate in the desert. for the few passing cars (mostly elderly white folk) i seemed to be quite a surprising sight to see – almost a bashful yet confusedly impressed look of shock they had on their faces. some of them even stopped their cars involuntarily, stunned and slack jawed, and i rang my bicycle bell and yelled yargh!– a sweaty, maniacal marauder on a strange two wheeled ship! and i loved it. anything to shock the old bald heads and white hairs. the heat was certainly going to my brain, and i needed to cool off quick. i decided to make this another short day and i stopped just south of punta pescadores to swim and drink the cold beer i purchased as i passed through cardinal. this beach wasn’t the best, and had the encroaching american retiree sprawl of los barriles just five miles southbut it was still beautiful and i was getting a little too picky in my search for ‘my own’ private paradise. it would have to do. i had neighbors camping a kilometer down the way, but they couldn’t hear my singing and hollering so i didn’t give a damn. more songs, more burritos, a deja vu baja sunset and the crystal clear light of the waxing moon. i drank my last beer then fell into a deep, blissful, oceanic slumber.

Pensión california  la paz

Saliendo la paz

Day 3  boca de alamo  3

Day 7  near punta gorda  4

Day 3  south of punta pescadores  2

Day 5  cabo pulmo

Day 4  cabo pulmo  4

i started early the following day since i had ambitions of reaching cabo pulmo by early afternoon. i was up and at it quickly, no time for traveling tranquilo like the last few days. i immediately rolled through los barriles, which certainly seems like a real paradise if one is old, has some money, likes to windsurf and doesn’t really know any spanish. at first i didn’t like the immediate transition from rural mexico back to american refuge – i could feel the imposing despondency of cabo san lucas already. although, after encountering my first little tienda in baja that carried all the vegetables and grains you would find at the local organic co-op in the united states of america, and witnessing the real happiness in the eyes of the aged couples as they motored around on their four-wheelers. with nothing to do but go from the villa to the beach to the bar and back, i began to understand. maybe if i make it to be as old as the hills and have a little cash stacked up, i’ll change my tune and i too will want to find a little piece of earth all safe and sound where the cold never comes, where the sun lights the way and nothing is ever urgent. i just don’t know if i’ll do it quite like this.

south of los barriles i couldn’t escape the two mile stretch of carretera 1 before turning back onto dirt around buena vista. about seven or eight miles later, just past la ribera i pedaled through a skeleton of what was going to be a cancun-like resort. thankfully, president calderón denied building permits last year after research could not prove that the project would not damage the neighboring reef system. out and around cerro los teso, i entered the cabo pulmo national park, home to the oldest of only three coral reef systems in the entire eastern pacific (around 20,000 years old). several hours later i arrived in the town of the same name right on schedule. as i rolled through this tranquil little pueblito of post tourist season dormancy i encountered several old ex-pat, resident windsurfers. but mostly, everyone else was local save for a few of the dive shop owners. as i meandered about i was approached by a young american man who liked my bike and said it reminded him of the extracycles he and his friends used to ride from the northern tip of alaska to tierra del fuego. his name was jacob and he turned out to be one of the ‘ridethespine.org’ crew, a blog i had indeed used as a reference as i designed my own long bike. the serendipity of our encounter grew as we realized we shared common friends in seattle as well, and he invited me to go on a snorkel tour of the coral reef with him and his girlfriend the following morning. naturally i accepted, then i headed off to look for my campsite – i was directed by the locals to a privately owned beach that spanned a few kilometers north of town. here i was all alone on a littoral of small stones, sparse bushes and thinly scattered cacti. two dogs, one that looked similar to my dog reina back home and had the very same demeanor, greeted me as i was clearing out a space for my tent. right away they attached themselves to me and became my guardians for the next two days, scaring off any creatures that came within one hundred yards of my new residence. they even slept right next to me. reina’s cousin made sure that our sides touched through the tent walls all through the night.

i awoke earlier than usual to break camp so i could make it back to town for the snorkel tour. we headed out in a small skiff and snorkeled around the electric reef, swam with sea lions, hawksbill turtles, and great whirlpools of jack. so many other various species of fish of the most vibrant colors, parrot fish, banded guitar fish, sword fish and moray eels. we then went out a few kilometers to where the manta rays were jumping, sometimes upwards of six feet in the air. for some reason we could not help but giggle every time we saw one jump out of the water – it was as though, with each attempt, they truly believed they were one step closer to flying up and away from this confounded ocean. really they were just awkwardly flailing. we dove off the skiff and beneath us there were thousands of rays, what seemed to be millions, flowing beneath us. the surface of the sea is a guise for a real ocean below. these waters were alive with manta.

after the tour i said goodbye to my new friends and headed back to my camp, my guardian dogs patiently waiting for my return. a pair of horses had also come by to visit, inspecting my bicycle and tent and grunting in approval. i napped, played guitar, then cooked us all a little feast of rice and beans, avocado, cheese and chorizo. i even gave my new amigos a little beer for we were in a celebratory mood – they were quite thankful. the sun fell and the moon rose, emitting a glow almost brighter than daylight, and i could hear the pleasant sounds of the mantas practicing for take-off all through the night.

the next day i pedaled only twenty miles to punta colorada, about half way from cabo pulmo to san jose del cabo. nonetheless, at a pace of no more than six miles an hour this was a long four hour journey. the road was more like riding on the sandy beach and the sun had grown hotter, larger and more oppressive– a challenging and strangely euphoric combination. drink, sweat, pedal. my thoughts were no longer. i acknowledged the flora around me, the large white clouds hanging sparsely overhead, nothing more. if there were cars that passed my way, i cannot say. by circumstance this had become zen bicycle meditation– feet on pedals, wheels spinning round.

i awoke from my practice in the middle of an arroyo, hard packed dunes rising fifteen to twenty meters all around me. i followed the arroyo out towards the sea where it faded into the soft sand of a lonesome beach and i knew i was somewhere near punta colorada because despite my previous exercise in letting go, the words boca de la vinorama (a nearby rancho) hung lightly in my recent memory. there were five palapas or so along the water’s edge and no signs of humans, only a small house sitting atop a short plateau a few kilometers away. this was the ideal spot for my last night camping on the baja peninsula. i parked my bike underneath a palapa, dropped my shorts and dove into the surf. i swam well past the breaking waves and floated on my back, staring up at the drifting clouds. my ballad of cortez quietly played, fading into the pacific ocean here at the mouth of the gulf of california– the end of the sea of cortez. i had made it and i could care less if i pedaled to the famed arch at cabo san lucas– the geographical tip of the peninsulaa goal such as that would be existential regression. and so i smiled and said goodbye.

Day 4  south of punta pescadores  2

Day 5  cabo pulmo  5 reina s cuz

Day 6  south of cabo pulmo 3

Day 6  south of cabo pulmo 2

Day 6  south of cabo pulmo

Day 7  near punta colorada  3

Day 7  near punta colorada

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

WP001 57

A san javier 9  vista loreto

A san javier 10

WP001 58

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.

WP001 63

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.

South from San Felipe, Baja California Nord

Close to champala 4

“we gathered wood for the fire. ocotillo. mesquite. elephant tree. once ablaze we cooked fixings for hearty burritos of rice, beans, tuna, queso fresco, chiles and salsa. i decided it was time to cut some weight and crack open the nice bottle of tequila i had purchased for christmas. carsten and reiner were delighted by my surprise and we stayed up for hours drinking, smoking tobacco, and sharing stories.”

Punta willard 2 1

This is the third post in an ongoing series from writer, rider, musician and photographer Alex Dunn.  The most recent excerpt from travel in Baja can be found here, entitled “Oye Amigo!– Ensenada to San Felipe”. His first post, “Big Dummy”, details his Surly Big Dummy longtail bike and the first leg of his ride from San Francisco to San Diego.  Dig in!

christmas day. i swapped my tires from front to back since the rear had been wearing twice as fast, and did an oil change on the rohloff speedhub for good measure – now it shifts quite smooth. It’s good to be a little fastidious out on the road i suppose. good for a clean conscience at least.

erin and i decided we would head out of san felipe for puertecitos, despite the warnings to avoid drunken christmas drivers. we wagered that most people would actually be drunk and stuffing themselves on holiday feast at home with family, not driving around inebriated on a road to nowhere. we were also starting to get a little restless in the city sand, though very grateful for the chance of repose. so off we went in the late morning, quietly pedaling through the silent, vacant streets. past closed storefronts, the empty beach off the malecon, and out of town. it seems our drunken compatriots of the road were merely figments of a proud boast of communal deprecation. we encountered maybe four or five vehicles the entire 50 miles or so – all seemingly sober and unhurried.

the road was practically ours – mile after mile of smooth pavement like low rolling waves. the hot wind blew so fierce at our backs that pedaling was more of a charade, our bicycles more like giant sails pulling us forward down the highway. we really hadn’t to crank much at all and arrived in puertecitos in about 3 hours, quite impressive for such a heavy vehicle as mine. the sun soon began to touch the top of the dusty hills as we set up the tent beside some palapas in the bay, and after camp was made we rode up over the point to the hot springs. the springs themselves are actually tidal pools that change temperature as the tide comes in and goes out, requiring you to move pools as the water becomes too cold or too hot. we soaked that evening in a long, narrow slit at high tide with a young couple currently touring around baja and some mexican soldiers who had just been monitoring the springs from a house up the hill. tony has been riding his motorcycle around the united states and canada for the past year and now is venturing through mexico and beyond – his girlfriend follows him in her truck, with the comforts of a bed, a kitchen and true companionship. quite a nice set up really. his photos can be seen at http://www.intotheblueagain.com.

rising in the morning to yet another beautiful sunrise, we decided it best to spend the day in puertecitos soaking our tired bones in the thermal pools and relaxing (as if the life we lead is anything but). after a long breakfast of our usual porridge (oats, flaxseed, almonds, cranberries), fresh papaya (cuban), and several cups of coffee, we went back to the pools where we remained until sundown. while soaking i shared beer and conversation with an oceanographer from ensenada named juan. juan was there on a week vacation with his three beautiful children, camping on the beach two kilometers south. he was impressed with my endeavor and with my spanish and offered to get me more beer with his truck. realizing he had finished his last bottle, he drove off to the market and returned with several different mexican beers he wanted me to try. as we lay in the pools with his children, sharing an intercambio of spanish and english he asked what my dinner plans were. i replied that erin and i had no real plans as always, so he invited us to come to his family’s camp where he would cook us hamburguesas, papas fritas, chorizo verde (quite rare actually, compared to red chorizo), chili rellenos, and of course mas cerveza y tequila! certainly we inclined to do so, and once the night fell upon us we rode off to find their camp. the dinner and company were perfect and magical, as we shared food, drinks, laughter and traded more english and spanish.

this experience was just another prime example of the many acts of kindness and hospitality we have experienced in baja thus far. i have been thinking much lately about all the horror stories i’ve heard of kidnappings, thievery, rape, and whatever else a person of high anxiety can imagine. and i’ve realized that they all have been from people who know little to no spanish at all. it is quite practical, almost critical really, to have some sort of grasp of the language that is spoken in the land that you travel. or at least display a desire to learn. if you cannot connect, how do you know whether or not someone is offering you their generosity, or if they have an ulterior motive? it is no wonder that such a barrier only leads to misinterpretation and apprehension. you also may come across as self important and superior, alienating yourself and possibly being taken advantage of. people are people and the beautiful ones exist everywhere – baja is full of them. the world is full of them. common sense and compassion go far.

as our fogata turned to embers and our bellies tiredly full, we said our goodbyes, gave thanks and abrazos and rode back to our camp – no need for lights, for a full moon hanging from the clear black sky is the best lamp of all. before bedding down we stared up at the stars and relished in our great fortune. experiences like these are what sparks a lust for life.

On the way to puertecitos 2

Nuge

Puertecitos

Puertecitos springs 2

WP00001 83

Puertecitos to gonzaga

First day dirt from gonzaga 3

Porridge and papaya

First day dirt from gonzaga

First day dirt from gonzaga 2

morning. another perfect sunrise. porridge, fruit, coffee. bliss. will this ever end? just as i was finishing my breakfast a tall german man came strolling down the beach and approached me in such confident gaiety. he introduced himself as carsten and said that he and his best friend reiner had arrived themselves by bicycle the night before. they had started in san diego ten days prior and were headed south for the next two weeks. we talked of our mutual plans while looking at the map and he inquired if we should like to camp with them later that night. of course we welcomed the offer, though they were already prepared to leave and we still needed to wash up, pack, relax a little more.

shortly after, we said goodbye to puertecitos and peddled south again, up ample climbs immediately followed by wonderful descents with immaculate vistas. the wind was calm and the pace was steady over forty five miles of new, open pavement. we passed the german cyclists early on and played leap frog with them throughout the day, as each of us stopped frequently to take in the wide open expanses of the desert foothills falling gently into the sea of cortez. the pavement dropped off five miles before bahia gonzaga, and the sun hung heavy in the west. as we reached the crest of the last hill at punta willard a man in a truck came barreling along the dirt road, sliding to a sudden stop in front of us. he hopped out of the small pickup with his little chihuahua named daisy, yelling buenas tardes bicicleros!  he introduced himself as mario and asked where we were headed, from where we were coming, and related stories of his own adventures as a long distance runner and avid hiker (he claimed to have run the 50 mi from san felipe to bahia gonzaga many times, and to have hiked across the peninsula as well). he spoke little english, but was of course enthused by my grasp of spanish and he was he wildly excited by our bicycle exploits. he was headed to ensenada for four or five days but offered first to lead us a few miles out to his beachfront property where we could stay as long as we wanted and even enjoy his guest house (an airy trailer with no running water and a few broken windows). we abandoned ourselves to his offer and followed him out to the property just as the sun slipped away, trading its attention with the fast rising moon. he was quick to show us around, give hugs and wish us well before he and daisy jumped back into his truck and sped off in haste. mystified and elated by our unexpected gift, we set up camp wearing giant smiles, reiner whistling all the while.

after camp was made we gathered wood for the fire. ocotillo. mesquite. elephant tree. once ablaze we cooked fixings for hearty burritos of rice, beans, tuna, queso fresco, chiles and salsa. i decided it was time to cut some weight and crack open the nice bottle of tequila i had purchased for christmas. carsten and reiner were delighted by my surprise and we stayed up for hours drinking, smoking tobacco, and sharing stories. the two of them had met in boy scouts in germany and have remained best friends ever since. both of them are forty eight years old, but started cycletouring together at the age of twenty eight – for the past twenty years they have cycled in a new part of the world (pakistan, ethiopia, uganda, papua new guinea, iceland…) for their four weeks of winter vacation. i like to think that they have always ridden side by side, just as i would come to find them without fail over the following week.

as we continued to add wood to the fire, we returned to the topic of language as i discussed before. and as we delved deeper, we came to the language of the bicycle. our great benefactor mario was obviously connected to me via our ability to converse in spanish, but he was also linked to all of us through our means of conveyance. he was impressed with our desire to navigate a foreign land by method of such self sufficiency. we are not isolated within fast moving cars, nor reliant on the help of others as backpackers most often are. and though we move about on our own accord, our speed is such that we truly experience the roads, the land, the people that surround us. this is something that carsten and reiner said they have always experienced in every country they have toured. even if they can’t speak the language, people are always kind and generous and widely affected by the nature of the bicycle itself. so i say this – get out of your fast moving cars, strap your backpack to your bicycle, and engage in the land that you travel!

-a

Close to champala 3

Close to champala 2

20 year old trangia  german s

Coco s

Champala

“…as we delved deeper, we came to the language of the bicycle. even if they can’t speak the language, people are always kind and generous and widely affected by the nature of the bicycle itself. so i say this – get out of your fast moving cars, strap your backpack to your bicycle, and engage in the land that you travel!”

Long distance

All words and images: Alex Dunn

Coming soon: A good look at Coco’s Corner. Back to pavement and at long last, a desert oasis.