The Baja Adventure: Part 2

Editor’s Note: We now proudly present Part 2 of the The Baja Adventure Blog series. As before, James Stout delivers an eloquent description of the adventure that both he and Anna Grace took part in, but this time, we have the video proof to back it up. Just like the written word here, the spoken word in the video is James himself. Sit back and relax and enjoy the gorgeous scenery and riding of the Baja Adventure.

Just like most of my adventures, this one began in a garage as Anna and I set up our Barlows with Hunt’s aptly named “adventure” wheelset and the biggest IRC Boken tires we could lay our hands on. The one thing you do not want in the heat of the Baja desert is a puncture. Anna flew into San Diego the night before we were due to leave, so we took a cargo bike tour of the city before getting down to the serious business of mounting tires, strapping on bags, and working out who was going to carry the whisky flask.

The next morning we woke up eager to get on the road, and then somehow still wasted hours before we left. The drive down was uneventful, the taco lunch delicious, and the coffee stop shockingly good even by our West Coast bike rider coffee snob standards. Ensenada really does have it all, there’s a great brewery as well.

We began our ride at La Bufadora, a blowhole that is popular with locals as a daytrip destination. After watching the water shoot through the rocks a few times and sending the tricky slalom of young men trying to sell us everything from 4 foot teddy bears to giant pottery planters (how did they think we would carry them?) it was really nice to be finally on dirt roads and , aside from the occasional cattle dog, totally by ourselves.

Most of that day was on hard packed dirt roads and in an increasing sense of panic as we realized our faffing meant there was no way we were going to make it to Coyote Cal’s by sunset. Things were further delayed by the inevitable bike tweaks and a particularly angry bull which we encountered on the road, like literally on the middle of the road.

 it wasn’t really until early that night that we hit the deeper sand. It turned out we’d spent a little longer than planned at La Bufadora entertaining the notion of perhaps trying to haul one of those giant bears across the peninsula, and probably shouldn’t have got that second round of tacos. The 70km between us and Cal’s was not exactly easy going. There were smooth roads, you just had to find them in between the heaving potholes. So, with 30k to go we turned on the lights just as we crested the highest point of our ride. We could see the ocean, and the beautiful sunset, but we couldn’t really see much of what was between us and it save for the little puddles of yellow light in front of our handlebars.

Of course, the fast, loose, slightly sketchy, and totally unplanned parts are always the best. We skidded and slid and squealed our way into Coyote Cal’s that night wearing mostly dust, a sprinkling of blood, and huge smiles. We drank Tecate in the shower and ate Thai food, courtesy of Cal’s wife who runs a massage school at the surf shack. Baja is always full or surprises.

The next day had its fair share of surprises. We enjoyed waffles for breakfast and cleaned our bikes as we waited for the fog to lift. Once the sun peaked through we had a few hours of rolling road before we stopped in a small town, the only one on our route, to gorge on ice cream and soda before heading into the hills. The fog had given way to triple digit temperatures and the tarmac was bouncing that heat back at us to make for the sort of riding that really pairs well with frozen desserts.  After setting glucose consumption records, we headed off the road and into the red dirt and rocky roads that really make Baja special.

This route was a new one for me, it connected a few of my favorite spots using roads that looked pretty good from the air on my last flight that came this way, and seemed to exist on Google maps. Exist they did, but pretty good they were not. The next few hours were testimony to why picking a good friend is the most important choice you make on a bikepacking trip. Anna and I opened our jerseys to the wind and distracted each other with stories, songs, philosophical debates, and discussions about what would be for dinner. Fortunately, some of those dinner fantasies were to come true as an unexpected bonus liquor store yielded tall cans of Tecate, ice cream sandwiches, and other sports nutrition delights manufactured by the Haribo company.

Replenished, we began our sunset ascent of the road to Mike’s. I had ridden down this road before and had great memories of swooping corners and slabby rock sections. I had forgotten that both of those are less fun going uphill on a bike that weighs 35lbs. But we did the calculations and realized that, at a steady clip, we’d make it to the river that surrounds Mike’s with battery to spare in out lights.

Again, the night riding delivered far more fun than it had any right to. We saw owls, deer, and a spider the size of my head. We didn’t see quite a few rocks and sandy sections, so that made it fun. But soon enough we heard the river and knew that Cal’s was close by. Minutes later we were showering away another day of grime, stuffing our shoes with scrounged old newspaper, and looking forward to a hearty helping of delicious homecooked Mexican food.

The next day we woke early, eager to beat the heat, and enjoyed coffee and breakfast with about 20 motorcycle riders who had arrived the night before. As soon as we walked in the chat changed from engine displacement and modified exhausts to how on earth these two kids got her eon push bikes. Countless questions followed; How many gears did we have? Are those tires grippy on the rock? No suspension?  Our egos suitably inflated, we clipped in and started riding uphill on what I distinctly remember as a downhill.

Soon enough the sweeping corners I recalled opened up, and in the full light of day we saw the beautiful high desert foliage as we swept down from the mountain to the valley road. But every mile we went down the temperature seemed to increase by ten degrees. Soon enough we were back at the store from the day before, enjoying 11 am beers and yet another of the many ice creams on offer in this tiny oasis. The rest of our ride we would be focusing on our next beer as we knuckled down and rode into the headwind towards Ensenada on the hot blacktop. By the time we arrived in town both of us were ready for a shower, but our next chance to wash was two hours of driving and an international border away. So instead we made do with the rejuvenating powers of Corona, hopped back in the truck, and headed north towards the bright lights of Tijuana.

Adventures like this needn’t be epic, I was away from home for two nights. But every night that I look up in the stars in Baja’s Dark Skies preserve I feel a very long way from my day to day life. It’s hard to imagine when you’re sitting outside a liquor store as kids chase chickens in the street and truckers laugh at your ridiculous antics that you’ve got google calendar appointments on Tuesday. That’s what bikepacking is all about really, going somewhere else mentally and physically, using your own power to do it, and finishing up exhausted and refreshed at the same time. It’s also about ice cream, and an excuse to drink before noon.