Baja Divide: The Northern Sierras

Katherine and I pose with all our gear knolled on the floor of the bike parking room next to RIDE Cyclery in San Diego. We spent like 6 hours at the shop that day getting our bikes built, organizing gear, and hanging with our new friend and bike mechanic Owen. 

Katherine and I pose with all our gear knolled on the floor of the bike parking room next to RIDE Cyclery in San Diego. We spent like 6 hours at the shop that day getting our bikes built, organizing gear, and hanging with our new friend and bike mechanic Owen. 

New buds Brendan and Shelley crushing the first couple days of the Divide. 

New buds Brendan and Shelley crushing the first couple days of the Divide. 

Y'all, I have to start this first blog post by saying that Baja California, Mexico is perhaps one of the most incredible and diverse (and affordable) geographical regions to tour on a bicycle ever. I am, of course, 100% biased in saying this because I'm currently sitting in a warm hotel in Vicente Guerrero enjoying my first "zero day" in a week and a half, beaming as I reflect on the past 300 miles of mountain biking. 

I had half-planned to make an iPhone video of my Baja experience like I did for the Oregon Outback, but it didn't take me long to learn the route is WAY too technical to take a hand off the bars and shoot footage.

I had half-planned to make an iPhone video of my Baja experience like I did for the Oregon Outback, but it didn't take me long to learn the route is WAY too technical to take a hand off the bars and shoot footage.

It's funny, I finally had the opportunity to call my family yesterday; as I was touching base with my sister, I realized I haven't had any time to digest the experience and form poignant thoughts yet. That may come later on in this blog's life while I'm on the road, but for now here are some anecdotes and a bunch of photos from my iPhone.

This is a pretty typical view for the first 300 miles of the Baja Divide: dusty, washed out roads lined with scraggly desert plants framed by mountains as far as your eye can see. 

This is a pretty typical view for the first 300 miles of the Baja Divide: dusty, washed out roads lined with scraggly desert plants framed by mountains as far as your eye can see. 

On our first day in Mexico, a group of six of us were riding from Tecate to our campsite about 7 miles south. Off the highway, we stopped at the top of a hill to check navigation. We learned that we'd passed the campsite a mile back and decided we'd all share a single tallboy of Tecate to console ourselves. Just as we finished the beer, blaring sirens accompanied red and blue lights. I speak 0 Spanish and as the policeman approached us, I assumed he just wanted to say hi and check out our bikes (we had just come from the center of Tecate where the Baja Tourism Council welcomed and thanked us for our patronage). I soon got the feeling he had other motives. After a few minutes of back-and-forth, Shelley (who is proficient in Spanish) started throwing her hands up and sassily crying out at him, "Ayayay! No!"

Liza dropping in, racing the rest of the pack to get to the ocean. 

Liza dropping in, racing the rest of the pack to get to the ocean. 

She translates the situation to us: public consumption of alcohol is illegal in Mexico and he'd seen all five of us (one abstained because she is gluten intolerant) partake in the beverage. He was threatening to make us pay 1000 pesos each ($50 USD) and keep us in jail for 30 hours. Yeah, that's right—Mexican jail. He then threatened to search our bags for marijuana to which Shelley responded, "You're crazy, we don't have marijuana! We're mountain bikers! We're athletes! We don't smoke. Ayayay!"

The officer took a phone call and held an index finder up to us, telling us to "hold on" (in Spanish) and moments later let us go on down the hill to our campsite with no further argument. 

We got to ride and camp a few days with some of my bikepacking heroes, Tom and Sarah Swallow. They're both super rad—that's Sarah on the far left. 

We got to ride and camp a few days with some of my bikepacking heroes, Tom and Sarah Swallow. They're both super rad—that's Sarah on the far left. 

It was a super bizarre experience dealing with the officer—we figured he probably wanted some sort of bribe, but Shelley was not backing down. The shock took a bit to wear off; we had only been in Mexico for about 5 hours and we'd already had a run in with the local law enforcement? My major takeaway was that the more confidence you can have when interacting with people in a foreign country, the better. I can say it has definitely improved my experience thus far!

Our first night of wild camping was after day 2 of riding—chilly but so lovely to hang around a campfire with our new friend Chris from London. 

Our first night of wild camping was after day 2 of riding—chilly but so lovely to hang around a campfire with our new friend Chris from London. 

Day 3 had us riding through low farmland as a bit of misty precipitation kept the sun away all day. That evening we crammed as many people as we could into a hotel room in Ojos Negros to dry our sleeping bags and clothes. We paid $3 USD each for the night.

Day 3 had us riding through low farmland as a bit of misty precipitation kept the sun away all day. That evening we crammed as many people as we could into a hotel room in Ojos Negros to dry our sleeping bags and clothes. We paid $3 USD each for the night.

Last night (after our tenth consecutive day of riding) , we arrived at FASS Bikes in Vicente Guerrero and were welcomed by Nick Carman, Lael Wilcox, tacos, and beer; the perfect way to celebrate the end of the Northern Sierra section. Through a conversation with a fellow Divide rider, it occurred to me that we're doing actual mountain biking out here—using mountain bikes to ride over mountains, not just ride around in circles on trails like I do back home in Austin. I really love that.

Every backcountry campsite is perfect and each is accompanied by a complimentary incredible sunset.

Every backcountry campsite is perfect and each is accompanied by a complimentary incredible sunset.

Tomorrow, we leave town and begin the second section of the Baja Divide: Valle de Los Cirios, named for the towering Dr. Seuss-esque green plants topped with yellow blooms that resemble candlesticks.

Every day on the Divide brings new surprises... Day 9 had us riding through a series of knee-deep creek crossings. (RIP bottom bracket) 

Every day on the Divide brings new surprises... Day 9 had us riding through a series of knee-deep creek crossings. (RIP bottom bracket)