I'm finally beginning to sit down with my maps, developed photos, and the journal I kept for the first month of my journey down the Baja Divide (I eventually stopped writing every day)—it's taken me two weeks to work myself up to do so, as I've been having a difficult time gripping reality since I returned to Austin.
I want to share some of my favorite photos and quips from my journal to give an idea of what was going through my head while I was touring. I was usually logging entries from my sleeping bag, just before falling asleep. Journal snippets are in chronological order; the photos... not so much.
"Mariah wakes up dancing—she's so stoked. Mariah loves bike touring. It still hasn't sunken in for me. Hot damn, today's the day."
"By the time I reach the top of Otay Mountain I feel like I've made 60 friends. I fell off my bike 4 times before we reached Barrett Junction. I feel more like myself than I have in months."
"I paint my fingernails at the border crossing while we wait in line to pay for tourist visas."
"I post a photo to Instagram saying 'All my dreams are coming true,' because they are."
"We buy booze and cookies and return to the hotel, where we pile into one room and share adventure stories. I realize that we are all like-minded with similar hunger for adventure. I also realize that I am part of a very special gathering of wonderful minds."
"When we reach peak elevation, Tom Swallow warns that the next descent is 'loose and it's easy to go fast.' We stagger our starts—I am still shocked I didn't crash or lose any gear. The descent turns into perfect single track that seems like it was built for us."
"This night feels like a celebration of instant friendship as we decide to work together to make dinner—tacos, mac+cheese, and stewed onions+tomatoes. We eat about 15 cookies each. I so welcome sleep as I'm swimming in boozy stupor."
"We wake up and slip into our now-regular morning routine of fire, coffee, breakfast, jokes, and packing bikes. This is the first sweaty morning and the sun forces us to leave camp against our wishes."
"I fell asleep trying to find Taurus in the stars, only to decide it was being outshone by the full moon."
"Liza yells 'Ready! Aim! Fire!' and we watch as Lael speeds towards our exposed butts, eyes covered by her hand, mouth wide in a smile."
"We hit the climb and I really started to feel the past 9 straight days of riding (I drank the 5-hour Energy shot Mariah gifted me in San Diego)."
"Sue and I repeatedly told each other we were badasses to encourage each other to find strength to press on into dusk."
"My body is crying for a rest day and I can barely keep my eyes open."
"When I walked into the hotel room, Adam and Brad were naked, jumping up and down on the bed hitting each other with pillows. Shortly after, 7 of us piled on the beds and Adam read the history of the Melling family aloud to us until we all but fell asleep."
"I see a group of 5 cyclists coming the wrong way on the route—they say it's impassable. We decide as a group to ride the beach as far as we can and then hop on the highway to reroute through El Rosario. Plans are made to be broken."
"It's a chilly, soggy morning and we realize we probably should have rinsed the saltwater from our bikes the night before."
"We stop at the beginning of a dirt road and decide to take a chance on the mud. At first we think this is a fantastic idea. Nick Carman turns to me and says, 'we're going to have to climb out of this valley eventually—I'll race you to the top!' I respond, 'Sure, whatever.' We approach the climb and I'm immediately walking. Nick passes me and everyone else as he cleans the hill without putting a foot down."
"After leaving camp the terrain is immediately steep and rocky and I fall—instantly frustrated. I can't tell if my eyes are watering because I am still half-asleep or if I am crying a little."
"I am totally in love with the Cirio cacti. Every day I see them and think they are from Dr. Seuss's dreams. They are lyrical and dance gracefully as they bend high up into the skyline."
"...awesome creative energy and hearty belly laughs go with rich admiration and respect for each other."
"A new guy rolls up—Ryan. It takes about 2 hours for us to rename him Tang Pouch (Tang for short) because he fills his Camelbak bladder with Tang."
"I'm really happy this morning and can't stop singing. Immersed in the Cirios once again, we begin crossing the mountains that lie between Cataviña and the Pacific Ocean. With every hill I expect to see water."
"I'm definitely becoming accustomed to 8pm bedtime and 7am wakeup. I don't know what I'll do when I return home and can't sleep for 10 hours every night."
"I was finally warm when I woke up this morning."
"It starts drizzling and I freak out, gearing into survival mode. I know what happens to the road when it rains and we are far from any town of significant size."
"We all agreed to bust out the remaining 10 miles to Santa Rosalillita. 15 minutes later we found ourselves faced with the infamous peanut butter mud we'd heard so many stories about. For about 40 minutes it was take three steps, wheels lock up with mud and rocks, use hands to clear tires and drivetrain, repeat."
"The last hour of riding into a headwind broke my spirits: 'It's always smoother on the other side of the double track.'"
"We pile 5 people and 5 bikes into a room the size of a closet. We string up a clothesline in the room to dry everything out from the rain and put Jan's bike upright in the shower to make room. It is a ridiculous sight."
"It's raining when we wake up and we have no idea what our fate is for the day. At this point, riding 100% of the Baja Divide doesn't even seem possible."
"We make it to Mision San Borja for a late lunch and a woman dressed in a leopard print bathrobe leaves her house next to the mision to give us a tour."
"We only had to go around mud puddles four times all day. After a slow, gradual climb we descended for a long time, right out of the cactus forest."
"We rolled into town and immediately found an old, white taco shack run by a kind, elderly woman. Here, I fell in love with shrimp tacos."
"We reach Pancho's. He invites us inside and makes us coffee—it's as if he knew we were coming. Pancho is a giver. He expects nothing in return for his generous hospitality. He makes us pasta soup and we chat until the sun sets. He tells us we can sleep on the floor of his home, or his beachside shack made of cactus reeds."
"A realization starts setting in: just how much life I have ahead of me and how much I can accomplish in those years. I don't need a traditional professional life—I can take opportunities as they come when they feel good."
"After a long, unremarkable day, my mood was instantly better when we stopped biking to set up camp."
"I'm woken for the umpteenth time by the dampness of my sleeping bag. My eyes peep open and my vision is filled with a hazy blend of baby blue water and sky. I justify the poor quality of sleep by remembering how many whales I heard breaching throughout the night and the four shooting stars I counted in between bouts of sleep."
"The most strenuous section of the Baja Divide was one of my favorites. With the correct mindset, 15 cobbled water crossings become 15 opportunities to swim and bathe."