It’s been over a month since I joined around 90 other bikepackers on the waterfront in San Diego, California to start following an off-road route some 1700 miles long the length of the Baja peninsular, in Mexico. At some point I will write more about the rest of my journey across Greece, and maybe even about the Colorado Trail over a year ago, but for now it is time for something on the magical Baja Divide.
I’m also using Instagram as a kind of micro blogging platform, posting a few photos and update for each day, when I get wifi or decent mobile signal. If you already following me on Instagram, some of what follows may be familiar. If not, and if you want more frequent updates from this journey, you can find them on the (Un)Inspired Ramblings page. There have been a lot of other riders on this route using Instagram, so if you take a look at the #bajadivide hashtag you’ll see many other images and stories, providing a much bigger insight on the route. It’s great to be part of something this big, and very different to anything I’ve been involved in before.
Having said that, other than a bunch of people riding the same route at around the same time, this is not an organised ride. Aside from the group start and some arrangements for first night of camping and dinner some fifty miles later, it’s everyone for themselves. It’s up to each individual how they want to ride: whether with a group or on their own; fast or slow; following every inch of the route or bypassing sections; wild camping every night or seeking out hotels and warm showers. No one cares whether you finish the route first, last or not at all. It’s just 90 or so individual journeys linked by geography and timing, and in the end, by new friendship, camaraderie, a love of the outdoors and of travelling by bike.
The group start came at the open invitation of Nicholas and Lael, who have invested the last year or so of their lives in compiling the route. They’ve ridden the length of Baja numerous times, researched trails, constructed GPX tracks and a route guide, collated resupply information, produced a website, and built enough momentum to convince nearly one hundred people who generally hadn’t met beforehand that it would be a good idea to meet up at the same place and same time and to start riding south together.
And what a good idea it was.
I have to admit that I was initially a little reluctant to join such a big group. I generally tend to think that I’m slower, lazier, more disorganised, and less determined than most other people doing this sort of thing. I remember sitting at my old desk in west London (right on the M4 in Brentford, not the nice bit) when I saw Nicholas release information about the route and group start, nearly a year ago. My first thought was “Wow, what a route!”. My second thought was that perhaps I’d ride it a few weeks after the group start.
But I fought that initial instinct, acknowledged that I don’t actually know enough people who enjoy this stuff and that whilst I do appreciate some aspects of riding alone (which is how most of my longer journeys have been) I also eventually find it quite lonely, and therefore decided to embrace the opportunity to ride with so many other people for a few weeks. I think I was the third person to put my details on list (after Nick and Lael), and it’s pretty nuts to think that this simple action over ten months ago, in a year when anything could have (and much has) happened, leads me to be writing this, part way through this journey, here and now. And it’s been utterly amazing.
The trails have been tough and remote with a whole mix of surfaces including gravel, dirt, boulders and sand, as well as chewy, sticky mud after rain in the north. I managed to avoid the mud, but only by bypassing a sizeable chunk of unridable trail by bus.
We’ve wound our way through the mountains, along the coast and only occasionally alongside the tarmac roads.
We’ve camped in the desert, on beaches, behind buildings, and in abandoned fishing camps.
At times it has been cold at night, and we’ve needed to wait for the rays of morning sunshine to reach us before we can stir ourselves to make coffee and breakfast.
The coastlines of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez have been stunning.
As well as pedalling, we have pushed…
(Photo by Amy Dunville).
…and hitched rides in trucks, boats and buses, when necessary.
We’ve been befriended by locals, and been taken in by families for the night…
We’ve watched the morning catch come in to tiny fishing villages…
And cooked fish caught fresh in the morning, at our desert camp that evening.
The vultures have been ever present above. Watching, waiting.
Chunky, tubeless tyres have been a necessity, to tackle the sand and thorns.
As has carrying significant amounts of water, especially as we’ve made our way south and the heat has increased…
But the two things that will leave the most significant mark on me are the many varied, but awesome people that I’ve met and ridden with…
And the desert, which is just beautiful and full of more life than I could have imagined. In the past, when I’ve looked at images of desert riding, it seemed intimidating and alien. But right now I can’t think of a place I’d rather ride and camp. Even with the thorns.
Nick once wrote to me that riding the Colorado Trail would change my life. I’m not sure that it did, but riding the Baja Divide just might. And there’s still more to come!
(Photo by Amy Dunville).
p.s. I am never again going to try to produce a post using an old slow iPad, the cranky WordPress app and the even slower and crankier Mexican wifi. Damn, that was frustrating and time consuming. Despite the extra weight, all is forgiven, MacBook Air!