For Sue, Mariah, Liza, Whitney, Lael, Sarah, Katherine, Rachel, and Haley.
On the flight from Austin to San Diego, I double-checked the intensely thorough checklist I’d written by hand to account for my gear. I ran through my printed copies of the detailed route description as I wrote in my journal: Day 1—55 miles. Day 2—45 miles. Day 3—40 miles... until I gave into the sleep I had been evading. Apart from making as many friends as possible, I had one main goal for the next six weeks: to finish the entire Baja Divide route with no deviation.
I’d just rung in the new year in San Diego and I was now riding my brand new Cannondale Beast of the East 2 to the waterfront. I was still getting used to the unfamiliar ride as I met the hundred others who’d also be living off their bikes as we snaked southward through Baja. Among the 40-or-so women were some of my heroes—Lael Wilcox, every female adventure cyclist’s role model; Sarah Swallow, the woman who inspired me to get into bikepacking; Whitney Ford-Terry, who I had shamelessly stalked on Instagram in the months leading up to that day (she’s lived a thousand awesome lives and is heavily involved in both cyclotourism and art advocacy.) I was so nervous and crippled with social anxiety that I stuck closely to the small handful of people I had already met before.
It didn’t take me long (four days, to be exact—according to my journal) to realize that I had nothing to be nervous about because I was in uniquely comfortable company. In addition to their impact and involvement in the adventure cycling world, these people are all like-minded, adventure-craving, down to earth individuals who are all living in the same mental frequency as I am. We bonded in the backcountry and soon I stopped admiring them from a distance; my heroes became my friends.
One week into the route, I found myself wrapped up with the infamous DFL crew: a ramble tamble group of friends and strangers who aimed to have the most wacky fun together as possible, no matter the pace (think: many 20-mile days.) As much as I fell in love with the people of DFL, their “dead fucking last” pace began to cause tension within myself. I only had six weeks to ride 1700 miles and these short days were not cutting it.
One afternoon after a late start with a group of 20 DFL compadres, my new friend Sue and I accidentally departed from the group, hoping they would catch us before nightfall. As we reached the top of a brutal climb that required use of the 24-hour Energy shot I’d been saving for a time of desperation, we realized what time it was—the sun was beginning to set. We decided we would probably not be reunited with our friends again that day and pressed on into the rolling hills to a nearby rancho. Sue and I reassured each other the entire way that we were total badasses for mountain biking after sunset. We talked about how inexperienced we were in mountain biking and bonded over being risk averse, promising each other we’d stick together until we reached the ranch. Little did we know we would be each other’s proverbial rocks for the remainder of our time on route.
A strong woman named Michelle Griffith once said, “When I come across another woman who’s such a badass, I want to be her—I’m jealous of her... and then I realize that I could make her my friend. Instead of holding that woman at a distance and either look up to or envy her, I think if she can do it, I can too.”
I’ve never done anything quite like this. I was one of the less-experienced Baja Divide riders and spending time with women who had toured solo through Germany, ridden the circumference of Lake Michigan, and scouted new off-road bikepacking routes showed me that I could take on such feats as well. I found a lot of strength and comfort riding with these women, and they gave me the spark to ignite a drive to continue exploring the world by bike.
There was a clear turning point for me. Three weeks into the tour, Sue was bedridden with bronchitis and our travel mates Jan and Kodak were having serious mechanical issues that would require some delay in progress. We took an unplanned rest day in the beach town oasis Bahia de los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez. I fought (and overcame) my anxiety about being behind the schedule I’d made back on the plane to San Diego. In that moment, it seemed arbitrary and I realized that continuing on as planned in hopes of crossing the “finish line” would mean leaving the people my trip was now really about. I’d suffered bad weather and sickness with them and it was clear that I was not going to finish the Baja Divide route this time. But I was okay with that.
Shifting my focus from finishing the route to simply enjoying the tour with my friends was the most insanely awesome thing I could have done for myself. I accepted that every morning I woke up and had no idea what to expect of the day. My perception of bike touring changed. It became a captivating way for me to live in, and enjoy, the present. My priority to finish had been replaced with the priority to foster strong relationships with my travel partners and to soak in as much Baja as possible. When I left Austin, I thought I was a pretty chill person. Baja had made me divinely chill.
As biking through the desert shifted from being a vacation to being my normalicy, it didn’t make sense to rush to cross the finish line—just like it doesn’t make sense to rush life to get to the end.
It had been forty-two days since I left the US and I’d ridden 1,200 miles into Baja. I’d eaten twenty bags of refried beans, jumped into water naked thirty-five times, enjoyed fifty-three cups of instant coffee, and spent six hours in a tiny town tearing up a karaoke lounge. Approximately. I turned north to hitchhike from Loreto, but not without some of the strongest female relationships I have ever cultivated—relationships that have followed me beyond the Baja Divide. I’m working on multiple collaborative projects with the women I met on route and Sue and I are cooking up a plan to tour through Australia and South America—all thanks to my time here. In the beginning of the Baja Divide, I saw this trip as just one adventure. Now, I see it as part of something much bigger trip: something that doesn’t have to end.