Thursday, November 6, 2008

The NOT SO Easy Side of Baja

From La Buffadora I intended to head over to the east coast of Baja to ride along the Sea of Cortez (also known as Gulf of California) and an area that is less traveled and purported to be a more scenic area to ride. 

Since I didn't want to back track to Ensenada, I decided to cross the desert on one of the several roads that I saw on the map. All of these roads are dirt roads and, on the maps, appear to continue across to Hwy 3 from Hwy 1. From what I can tell immediately upon starting on the first road was that it hadn't been graded in a long time, but was still passable.

After an hour of riding down this road, I started to have concerns, but, according to my compass, GPS and my dead reckoning, I was still on course. There was one minor issue that was developing... I started feeling my stomach gurgle. Yes, I was touched with a bit of "tourista" and without the relief and comfort of a restroom. Here I am, in the middle of the desert and needing to stop every 15-20 minutes in the heat of the day with only the shade of a bush or saguaro to keep the sun from my bum.
Before I continue, let me describe the terrain and road conditions. I am riding through a desert of cholla, saquaro, and prickly pear cactus that is used for nopales. The roads are rough, wash board filled and have no continuity. One mile will be hard packed and easy riding, followed by soft washout and then I'd find pockets of talcum powder like sand that seemed determined to grab my bike and pitch me off. I determined that low gear, with steady and moderate velocity was the best method for dealing with the soft talcum powder-like sand. If I went slow, I would fish-tail. If I went fast, the bike would dive (I found this out after leaving a very nice hard section of the road) causing a balance shift that was not easy to manage. After some experimenting I sorted out what was best for each condition and road accordingly and watchfull of the constant shifting.

Okay, now that I painted a grim picture of the conditions, let me just say that I have seen all these conditions before and I am prudent and experienced enough that this is a pretty basic road (except for the beach sand). 
So, I am about 3 hours into this road and haven't seen a road sign since I left the highway. I have had to stop half a dozen times because I am sick and have now run out of TP. I'm down to my last liter of water and it appears like I am only half way across to Highway 3 and I am not feeling any better. Like many deserts, there is not a whole lot of shade except for the occasional sequaro. I have made very little progress (mileage anyway) and then I come to the end of the road. It just ended. For several minutes I thought I missed a turn, but I didn't. I am sure that I could have continued across the open spaces, it wouldn't be like the terrain or riding would be any different... just a little less civilized. Since I was sick, becoming dehydrated and almost out of water, I turned around to be on the safe side.

A couple of hours later the sun was setting and I had still not found the road. I pulled over, parked the bike, set up camp and drained the last of my water and ate a couple of fig bars and almonds for dinner. The next morning as I packed up, I noticed a flat on my rear tire (my third this trip if you are counting). I plugged the hole in record time - I am now a pro at it! After the repairs, I hit the road only to find that I was about 20 minutes from the main road. It wouldn't have made much of a difference if I pushed on last night, I was still a long way from anywhere with a room and who knows how long I could have made it with the tire going flat. It was much better to fix it on the deserted dirt road than on the side of a busy narrow road.
I was still determined to get to the coast, so after I mapped out another route, I continued on for about 60 miles until I found the right turnoff. It is appearing that the 2 Imodium AD I took in the morning are keeping me from the difficulties of the day before (thank god!), so I turn into the road and seem to be making better time than yesterday. I make it about 50-60 miles before the road ends at some rocks that I couldn't find my way around, so it is back the way I came... again. I am frustrated and my "tourista" is coming back. After a few hours on a road that went to nowhere, I find myself back on Highway 1 headed south once again without success.

I can't figure out why a road would just end. I know it looked like it had ended several times before, but I was able to pick it up a short distance after a dry wash I had to cross. You would think it would have terminated at a town or a junction in the road, but at rocks... It was a very popular spot by the bottles, fire pits and trash strewn about, so perhaps it is just a place for the locals to go to shoot some smack, coyotes or just plain old cans.
The 6 hour round trip wasn't a waste, I did see some amazing land that not many see. I also had a bit of adventure and some adrenaline rushes when my bike went out from under me in some thick sand. It is easy to set a bike upright on pavement, but in sand... I had to pull my side backs and brace the tires from sliding away from me and then... well, let's just say that it was not an easy task and I got very frustrated. In the end, and in retrospect, it was a great time. Some might be saying that I never reached my destination of the coast, but as I always say, "It's the journey..."

I was back out on the tarmac and headed south and to a hotel with restroom... I found Mama Espinozas in El Rosario has been a stopping point for the Baja 1000 since the beginning of the race and it doesn't appear that there haven't been any upgrades since, but it was a place that I could rehydrate, eat and find shelter, I stopped. There is something that makes everything right when you can find a good beer, a nice "safe" meal and a nice shaded area to park the bike. Even the nice, hard (bedbug laden) bed was welcome.
The next day I was determined to make it to the Sea of Cortez, so I looked at the map and found a road that looked as if it went across and decided that I will just continue on the pavement until I am sure that I am over my stomach issues. After a long day of riding I found myself at Santa Rosalia. I have finally made it to the Sea of Cortez! Santa Rosalia is the largest town I have seen since Ensenada, with the possible exception of Guerrero Negro, but it is the first resupply since Ensenada for me, so it is a welcome sight. I rode in at dusk and the roads (road) was gridlocked, but by the time I checked into a hotel, cleaned up and went to look for food, it was dark and the roads were empty. No cars, no people, and very few places open. I decided this would not be a place to relax - too much industry here and not enough, well, stuff to see and do.

Instead of exploring Santa Rosalia I decided to head to La Paz. It would be a good long ride, but if I stayed on main roads I should make it with time to look around in between. Not even 60 kms from Rosalia I found myself checking out Mulege (a coastal town) and found that it was nice, but felt like it was a place trying to grow while some people were trying to keep its charm - very disjointed with two modern looking strip malls as you enter the town followed by an adventure outfitter and an old style restaurant and then some gringo restaurants and bungalow style small resorts. 

Further down the road and around the corner was a gem of a place - Bahia Conception is a great, and let me emphasize GREAT, place. As of now, it is untouched yet full of beauty with a handful of gringos living in RVs on the beach or in palapa style houses doting the hills. Another 60 kms brought me to the best place on all of Baja (that I have seen - to include Cabo and La Paz). That was Loreto. 

Loreto is all that Mazatlan, Acapulco and Cabo were in the late 70's - early 80's, but without the pomp. There is a great boardwalk. There are palm tree lined streets and smart unpretentious shops selling REAL local crafts. Sure, there are shops that cater to the cruise ship tourist, but overall it is just a sleepy little town about half the size of Cabo and twice the beauty.  Don't get me wrong, Cabo is set in a pretty setting, but has grown past its means. That is what makes this place different. The planners actually seem to have a plan.

I only lunched at Loreto so I don't have the benefit of more than two hours, but it is well worth the trip (if you are looking for sleepy little towns with good beaches and views.

No comments: