18-21 April 2009, past San Quintin –Rosarito, via El Rosario, Sonora & the desert..
The roads were dry and empty but the fresh sea wind kept us cool. That is, until we headed inland and up a very steep hill. After some pushing we ended up at another military checkpoint on top of a mesa, before the road dropped quickly into the dusty town of El Rosario.
We bought some yoghurt and even though we had only cycled 50km, we decided to stay the afternoon and work in the Internet cafe. The previous owner was the current pharmacist and he send us to a place on the far side of town to pitch our tent: Baja’s Best.
It is a nice restaurant and B&B, run by ‘Eduardo’, American Edward Lusk, recognizable by the large ‘Starbucks’ sign on the side of the yellow building. Not sure if the coffee is from SB, but according to Ivana (who, unlike me, likes the beanjuice) the freshly made stuff was great.
When we go in for the evening, 3 drunk Mexicans are singing loudly. The youngest one starts messing with the friendly rottweiler Bruno, to the point that Bruno is about to attack. His two friends try to persuade him to stop, even lock him in his car, but somehow he manages to escape and stumble back in again. They are living proof that it is not wise to drive or ride after sunset on the Highway 1…
We camped on a nice patch of grass, a luxury in Baja and when we packed the next morning, Ed’s friend and neighbour Duffy came by. He was intrigued by our trip and bought us a breakfast in the restaurant.
We had been warned about the next section of the road, dangerous for all vehicles and cyclists in particular. Not only was it about 500m up, but the road was narrow, curvy and for some weird reason some curves were grading outwards creating danger for trucks.
As we would spend the next day pushing up most hills we decided to take a ride and got one a minute later, with Angel, a nice guy from La Paz. He mentioned that there had been some car-jacking on this section and that not everybody might stop for hitchhikers.
We quickly passed steep hills and very narrow corners and felt the centrifugal forces resulting from the road-designers’ engineering mistakes from the back of the pick-up.
After about 60km we got out and started cycling and immediately regretted not having stayed on another minute as the road climbed up steeply out of a small valley. But even worse, once we got to the top, we almost got blown off the road.
A gale-force wind was coming from the East and as we were headed SouthEast, it was almost impossible to cycle. The dry dusty storm pushed us all over the place and every truck passing created dangerous vacuums. It took us over an hour on relatively flat ground to cover 10km and we were happy to get some shade and a soda in a small ‘llantera’ one of the many car workshops (‘Body & Pain_’ as I saw once in San Diego ;-)) along the road.
We headed up as well now and the speed dropped even lower and we quickly ran out of water as we were basically fighting a life-size blowdryer at full force. In a small restaurant we bought a gallon of water. We had to buy our first plastic container on the trip as there was simply no water to filter around, we were in the middle of the desert.
Another hour later we stopped at a place that was called ‘Sonora’ on the map, which turned out to be exactly one house on the side of the road. We decided to call it a day as we had only done 30km in over 3 hours and were completely exhausted. Santiago, the owner of the ranch and his son Alonso, let us camp outside and we watched the milky way, while the wind stopped exactly at sunset…
The next morning we left early to avoid the wind, but it had gotten up early with us. Still it was not as bad and we made it to Catavina relatively quickly. Catavina, the touristy little town in the middle of the desert of the same name was a depressing place.
At 10 o’ clock in the morning we entered the local abarrotes, the name for the small minimarkets that were to be found in every dusty place in Mexico, selling basic un-necessities and some useful items like water.
She said the filter was working and the water was safe, but when I checked the back of the machine the electrical cord and plug were tied in a not, covered with years of dust and spiderwebs, so unfortunately we had to purchase another plastic container…
The other clients all bought either beer, or coke and liquor, while the sun was still rising. We bought some refried beans burritos and some quesadillas and watched a half-drunk family get back in their battered old van, 6 people on 3 seats, the rest was on a mattress in the back, sipping litre-bottles of beer.
It was getting hot, so we headed back up the hills. Sometimes the wind was pushing in the back, then either it or we turned a bit and got mummified from the front. Ivana’s thermometer said it was 45 degrees Celsius (113F) and even though I drank more than one litre per hour, I could not pee a drop in a course of 2 days, the water just evaporated from our bodies.
Still it was a great place, giant cacti between graffiti-covered boulders lined the quiet road and we felt in a different world. The odd cirius trees were growing everywhere as well, simply a single almost-straight trunk, sometimes ending up divided near the top, but generally without any branches.
We had already climbed a lot during the day and as some places on the map were were out of business or simply did not exists, we had not rested during the hottest period. After another steep uphill where I had to again help overheated Ivana push her bike up, we were passed by a pick-up who offered us to take us to the next place. It was only 16km and most of it would be down-hill as we were on the highest point, but Ivana wanted to get out of the sun. The cold beer the guys gave us eased a bit of the pain of 10 minutes of driving down a nice steep slope.
We entered the small ‘Loncheria’ (where you can buy, yes you guessed it, ‘Lonch’) and had a short conversation with the sturdy woman behind the counter.
‘Buenos tardes (Good afternoon)!’ we greeted.
‘?Que queria?’ (What did you want?), was the reply.
We tried again with a greeting but got the same reply. We bought some water and asked if we could pitch our tent somewhere around the place.
‘There is a hotel somewhere.’, she pointed out towards the desert.
‘Where and how far?’ we asked out of politeness, adding that we were on bicycles.
‘There!’ she pointed again into the dust.
After this depressing person and similar place added enough tension between us to cause a short fight about taking rides, we decided to make some extra miles to make up for it and to enjoy the cooler afternoon air.
We had seen a small place called ‘El Crucero’ on the map, 29 km away. Even though it was late, we had some great down hills and the wind was suddenly pushing, so we made it just before dark. The only downside was that there was no place to be found anywhere.
As we had to get off the road before dark, we followed a sideroad until we were out of sight and pushed our bikes into the desert. We were warned about the many spikes and cacti that had punctured so many a biketraveller’s tire and camping gear, so we carefully tried to remove the spikes from our path.
Stupid gringo as I am I tried to kick away a small fallen part of a cactus, but it punched right into my hard sole and managed to warp around, into my foot at the same time. I had to ask Ivana to pull it out, which took a lot more effort than getting it in…
We did not need to put the tent-fly, so if we hadn’t been so tired from this hot and hilly day (103km, excluding the 16km ride!) we could have watched the gazillion stars from our matresses…
We woke up to another hot day. We were sweating at 7 in the morning trying to get our bikes out the minefield of spiky things. Somehow I like the desert, but when all animals, plants and animate objects are apparently only put there to make life harder or even end it prematurely (in the case of some plants and many insects, snakes and spiders), it was good to be on the hot dark road again…
We learned from our mistake and stopped before 11 o’ clock, lounging and lunching on some car seats on the patio of a small Loncheria until it was a bit bearable again. We had gotten a book from our host Gary, back in Oregon, and due to lack of power and Internet (though my solar panel was charging the batteries) I finally had time to start this great travelogue: Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend
We spent 4.5 hours in Punta Prieta, waiting for the sun to ease its angle on the Mexican part of the earth’s surface, while fat girls cared for babies with American toys. I managed to make the world a slightly better place by killing about 10 flies in the meantime. Guess that Buddhism, the last religion that had any hopes for me, also has given up by now…
It was still 40km to go to our next destination, Nuevo Rosarito and we rushed through the hills, over smaller and then bigger rollercoasters.
I waited for Ivana besides the road on one of the rare flat parts where you could see half a mile. Ivana was almost next to me, when an oversized SUV with Californian license plates, loaded with beach-stuff and two fat guys approached her with about 70 mile per hour (112km/h), swerving wildly to the left just before hitting her, then wildly back just in front.
All this on a clear road with no other traffic, perfect sight and a maximum speed of 30mph (60km/h). While passing they gestured maniacally with their hands indicating that we were crazy, to which I kindly attended them to the longest of my fingers.
Almost all large Mexican trucks always give plenty of space and wait when it is even a little bit unsafe to pass and then waive or honk friendly when they do, but somehow it is always the typical obese beach-yankee in their useless oversized SUV’s that think that they own the country, that are the biggest danger on the road…
To celebrate the survival of our first real dessert we ordered some fried fish and camped our tent in the nice backyard, where we even discovered a hot shower!
But the night turned out less pleasant than expected. Not only were big trucks stopping all night long, their stinking diesel engines running stationary for hours before pulling out of the restaurant, but we both woke up feeling sick. I went into the bathroom and threw up my dinner, while Ivana passed it through the natural way, but at an unnatural speed and viscosity.
22 April 2009: with empty stomachs from Rosarito towards the 28th Parallel, 76km
We felt weak but luckily the road flattened out after some minor climbs and even the road surface that for 10km had resembled something out of a horror movie rather than asphalt returned to Mexican normal.
It was still hot and though close to the sea, the vegetation was mostly limited to thorny things and surprising amounts of a close cousin of the Joshua Tree, but I also discovered some tiny brave berries on the desert floor.
Halfway was a place called Villa Jesus Maria, not much more than a truckstop, where a nice family cut up a delicious fresh fruit mix on the spot. Ivana’s stomach was till upset and she due to her cramps she stuck with safer foods.
It is hard to believe that these dips in the road have ever seen water, as we had not seen a drop of fresh water since leaving San Diego…
From miles away I could see a shape in the sky, that turned out to be a giant flag, rivalling the one in Ensenada for size, beating it in location: in the middle of nowhere.
The position was not as random as it might have appeared as we were approaching the 28th parallel. Not only a nice circle around the planet, but also the border between two Mexican states: Baja California Norte & Baja California Sur, the latter even being in a different time zone.
We got half price and awarded ourselves with an easy rest day before turning our clocks one hour ahead to Southern Baja Time. We survived the Northern part of Baja California. Not unscathed though and it is interesting to see what the even larger Southern part will bring…
We stayed a few days in Ensenada. Gerardo, who lives in the US, came down for a day, to resupply the local bikeshop (‘TNT’) with new bikes and parts and took us out for breakfast in the centre of Ensenada, where we visited a nice coffeeshop with Wifi. The town was virtually deserted, no tourist in sight.
Ivana’s knee was still hurting a bit, but we enjoyed the little house that Gerardo has opened up for cyclists passing South. We visited his friends Delia & Jose Antonio often and enjoyed just walking around the neighbourhood.
15th April, Ensenada – Santo Thomas, 35 km
After I took a photo of the Romero Yonke, for my friend Romke Jonker :), I turned to take a photo of Ivana approaching and almost shot her being run over by a truck that passed way too close for comfort.
It was going slow, but we were warned…
On top of a hill we saw our first of several military checkpoints. They check for weapons going South from the USA to Mexico and beyond and drugs going the opposite way, but never once did we have to stop, nor were our passports or bags checked.
We did more climbing than expected and as Ivana started feeling some pain, we decided to call it a day in a small town of Santa Thomas. The local campsite wanted more cash than the hiker-biker sites in the USA, so we continued down the road to ask for a suitable place to pitch a tent.
We found a small local hospital where a nice doctor was teaching the local and rural population about birth control, AIDS, nutrition and more.
She did not only share a nice ‘sopa de mariscos’ (seafood soup), but offered us the office to put our mattresses, so we did not even have to pitch a tent.
16th April, Santo Thomas – Colonet, 76km
We got our first taste of Baja climbing today, slowly climbing over a 450m high slope. The road was not too busy, but once we hit the steepest part, the road curved and we realized that although we could hear them coming from a kilometre away, the big trucks could not see us, so mostly we waited on the side of the road to let them pass.
We had seen many signs depicting ‘campsite’ along the way, but they never had any direction, explanation, name or distance attached to them, so we never actually saw one.
The town of Colonet seemed to be nothing more than just a few dusty convenience stores along the highway, but when we went in one of the side roads we found a nice central Plaza, where we could ask the Police for a place to camp.
We entered to see about 5 guys lounging lazily in comfortable chairs, watching some soap opera on TV. One managed to get up and showed us a place in the backyard, where we could sleep. When we headed to a nearby mini-market to buy our totopos (nacho chips!) and salsa and to refill our water bottles (cheaper and more ecological than buying bottles), we got a lot of positive comments from kids and elders.
One family that apparently already had seen us on the road got so excited that they invited us to their house for dinner. As they could not explain much more than ‘up and behind that steep hill’, we decided to put our bikes in their van and -after letting the police know that we wouldn’t be staying- off we went.
Gerardo and his family lived outside of town in a small place, erected by a church group. Around it a few dogs were keeping the cows away from the food for the pigs and the chickens. They also had a campervan, which was normally reserved for his 3 girls to study, but now they insisted that we use the bed inside after we shared our totopos and some quesedillas, sharing mutual stories, 7 people around the light of 2 candles…
17th April 2009: Colonet – past san Quintin
Gerardo, his wife and 2 daughters left at 6 in the morning to catch the bus that would take them to work on the fields, paying about $10 per person per day. We spent some time with the 3rd daughter, Areli and then headed out on the bumpy road, back to Highway 1.
Mexico Highway 1 is just a two lane-road, exactly 2 trucks wide, divided in half by a mostly uninterrupted non-passing line. As with all traffic signals (stop signs, speed limits and even distances to the next town), this is merely a polite suggestion, and rarely appreciated.,There is no room for a bicycle if two vehicles are passing each other, so we had to be watchful all the time and our little rear-view mirrors were lifesavers.
Fortunately a large part of todays trip, a small part beside the road was paved, creating a narrow shoulder as wide as 1-2 feet, just enough to make cycling a bit more relaxed.
We passed some busy parts, the area called San Quintin was full of large and small trucks, but right after, traffic was much rarer and the wind was finally in our back for a while. We noticed some regular patterns around the road: trash every meter, ripped car tires every 10 meters and a memorial sign looking like a grave amidst car debris every kilometre or so…
This area was home to many tomato & strawberry growers and we ended up camping at a rest area between big farms, while big trucks were roaming around non-stop.
Tomorrow: Part 2 of Baja California Norte!
Day 85 – 90, 4-9 Oct 2008: Cache Creek to Vancouver: tunnels, rain and big cities: through the canyon to the urban jungle!
It was time to finish our journey through Canada and get back to sealevel. Just one last section to go, which had been promised to be beautiful, windy & dangerous…
4th October: Cache Creek – Lytton, 78km
Cache Creek is a bit of a weird city, or maybe it was just that we were there in rainstorms, while it is one of the driest parts in the country.. Anyway, the sun welcomed us again when we left the row of fastfood chains behind us and the dry landscape showed itself.
It was a fun day of cycling, as we were treated with some verrry nice downhills.
I have felt that one of the things that makes me most happy is cycling downhill fast: the wind in my face, the mix of speed, fear and excitement and the resulting cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline. Many physical and mental bystanders think that this borders to suicidal behaviour, but they have no idea about how much you can enjoy and celebrate life even in just a split second; it makes you want to scream and sometimes you just do
Halfway down I noticed some fruit stalls alongside the road and stopped at the biggest one and got some apples. After Mike, the owner showed us around and told us he had too much fruit and not enough pickers, we were tempted to stay a while and make some extra money. But with my back it would not be a good idea and we were still being chased by winter, so we headed back on the road instead, loaded with a bag of fruit and veggies that Mike had let us pick..
The rain suddenly came back in full-force showers and we stayed a while in a nice small lodge and bakery in Spences Bridge. We saw more of the huge freight trains passing and twice I counted over 210 wagons per train… Read more
Day 53-62: 2-11 Sep 2008: The Cassiar Highway: a wonderful wilderness with hills, gravel, jade, wildlife… and people
Of course we took the road less travelled Highway 37, The Stewart Cassiar Highway, or simply The Cassiar Highway. All names for this infamous road, almost 1000km long, known for the lack of services, bad weather, bears and gravel patches. The latter issue had been solved we had been promised, but the other?
2nd September: Nugget City – French Creek, 58km
The adventure started sunny, but dark clouds appeared, especially on Ivana’s face when she noticed the first set of hills. “is this going to be like that for the rest of the road?” she asked. I truly did not know, but suspected that this was just the beginning…
Fortunately some nice people made our day by donating a full bag of cut-up watermelon, just what the doctor ordered as the sun had come out. Unfortunately the wind had come to and after a week of tailwind, we were not happy to have it in our face again, slowing us down.
Ivana spotted a black bear, right beside the road, I must have raced right past him on the downhill. At least that made her a bit happier and when we also found a nice deserted rest area called French Creek where we -after hanging our foodbags in the trees- could relax near a good campfire.
It was hard to leave Tracy & Sylvester as we had felt so much at home in their place, but we had to hit the road, winter was catching up…
We managed to delay ourselves until about 16.00 in Whitehorse and then left in a terrible downpour, and as the first few km were steep uphill to get out of the valley, we were feeling down. But the sky stopped dumping water on us and soon we found ourselves going up and down over rolling hills besides more Wonderful Lakes. We had set ourselves a new goal: get to Scott’s Anarchy Farm! We had met Scott in the Potlatch (see previous post here) and he had invited us to visit him when we would pass.
Unfortunately he was not in the Greenhouse: a big plastic covered collection of wonderful smelling flowers and vegetables. We waited outside for some moments and cycled around in the area, but as we did not had the directions to their house, we returned to the greenhouse. The rain started again, and we decided to sleep inside the greenhouse, setting up our inner tent only. It was by far the best smelling campsite on our entire trip.
In the middle of the night we heard some noises and Scott came in. He did not seem to surprised to see us sleeping in the middle of hundreds of flowers and added one more log to the slow burning woodstove, so the temperature stayed above freezing.
The next morning he came back with coffee. A few weeks later he sent us a great poem, please check it out here on his 1000 Americans page. We stayed close to the warm fire all morning and only after noon, we packed our tent and continued riding through the rainy Yukon lake District. The wind was friendly and even with our late starts we did over 100 km, ending up late at a deserted state campground, close to Teslin lake.
August 28 – 30: through the lake District with Mate & tortas
We had promised ourselves to start earlier, and actually managed to get on our bikes before 8 ‘o clock! We arrived quickly at the small place of Teslin, where we spend several hours in the library. We were surprised at the many small libraries we met, there is so much great stuff to see and hear, most offer Internet access and the ladies running them are without exception all nice and friendly, so support your local Library and get your kids to read!
We spend some time in the Teslin Motel, working on our reports and chatting with Heather, who was on her way North, on a big BMW motorbike (see her picture here). We fixed her iPhone for her and chatted with this lovely woman, who was in great spirit.. Do not pass the Motel without seeing the hidden gem: a small museum with stuffed animals in the gift shop (some of Ivana’s images are on Flickr here). This sounds much worse than it is, they have done a wonderful job. Oh, and the Wifi is free at the Motel
Ivana managed to cross the scary and long bridge, which had a steel bottom, through which you could see water below. As with most rivers, we had to climb a steep hill to get out of the valley it had created, but during the climb a van stopped. Read more
We were in the Yukon now. Most people we had met on the way told us that if we had not seen any bears in Alaska, we surely would in Yukon… Not sure if that is good or bad news yet.
We took a rest day in Beaver Creek. It was still raining most of the day and we could use the Wifi Internet at the 1202 motel for free, so we could update the website and do some work. The next day we were off and found that the wind was almost blowing in our backs, hurray! The wind is maybe the biketraveller’s biggest friend or foe. It makes such a difference if the downhills can be done without any pedaling, it makes the following uphill look a lot easier, saving physical and mental strength.
When we stopped at a campground for some lunch we were almost attacked by a very persistent squirrel. He used all possible ways to get on our table and to try to steal our food and when chased away, made angry sounds from the top of a nearby tree! Guess he was also getting ready for winter, as it was still getting colder every day..
down the road we spotted 2 big moose. It is still hard to imagine how tall they actually are; as we stay at a safe distance, we never get the chance to check if they really are about 2 meters (6-7 feet) at the shoulders and fortunately our bikes also do not have to test if they are really about 700 kilos each..
We were warned by the lady in the Beaver Creek tourist office not to stop at the White River lodge, apparently they had been very rude to travellers. When we arrived there, the rainclouds were just about to engulf us with full force, so we stopped to put on our rain pants. Immediately a guy came outside and told us to continue, as the owner apparently hates cyclists!
The rain was unavoidable, so we headed right in and got totally wet in about 10 minutes, when we arrived at a small diner and gas station, called Cook’s. The office slash ‘restaurant’ was a complete mess, filled with all kinds of junk, rocks, canned foods and miscellaneous items. We got off on a wrong start when I paid for the can of Irish Stew and a big 1 kilo package of cookies. Read more
As the other cyclists were sound asleep and they would be faster, Ivana & I left before them. We were greeted by a very strong headwind, which promised not much good for the next 30 miles up to the pass. Fortunately it was still dry most of the time and further relief was brought by some friendly people on the road.
When I stopped to wait for Ivana, I met a few women, who worked at the Toolik Lake research center. They were intrigued by our trip and even more by the Solar Supra solarpanel I had on the back (which charges even when in cloudy conditions). They took some photos, to share with their class and treated us on some homemade cookies, yummm…
Just down the road I noticed two huge 4×4 vehicles coming our way. What struck me were not the many different stickers, but the Argentina- Alaska notice and I stopped them. It appeared to be the family of Hugo, which I will introduce in a separate post. we are starting to meet so many nice persons, that I am going to start a different category: 1000 Americans. Not sure if we will get to write about 1000 different people during this trip, but we will definitely meet them. For now let me just say that they gave what we needed most: a cup of coffee for Ivana and a Twix, Oreo cookies and some other treats for both of us!
No more excuses now, we had to get up to the infamous Atigun Pass in order to cross the Brooks Range and the roads started to climb into the clouds. The rain came back as well and the final hours up to the pass were quite gruesome, chilling us to the bone.
The last section was so steep that Ivana and I both had to walk for a bit. I arrived first on the pass, but as it is not a touristy road, there was no sign, no shelter & no place to hide from the storm. But luckily, a truck was parked and I could shelter behind, waiting for Ivana to appear from the mist. Ok, into the wind and downhill! Read more
People who know me, know that I am generally quite laid back. I hate a few things though: intolerance, dishonesty, general stupidity. And mosquitos. Especially mosquitos.
The wind was gone and the air was filled with a low but constant buzzing noise. Millions of mosquitos were hovering above the tundra. In Alaska the mosquitos are not just annoying, they are annoying in very large quantities and sizes. We were warned about them and fortunately Peter from Outdoordacht had supplied us with some Sea to Summit head nets. It might sound excessive, but unless you have experienced this, you have no idea how crazy these bugs can drive you.
We had our breakfast inside our tent and then packed quickly and headed off. We noticed that as long as you were cycling, it was still reasonably doable, but when stopping, even for a moment, the mozzies would attack. we almost wished for the wind to return, not sure yet, which of the two makes the cycling the hardest. Read more
You lose all sense of time when it doesn’t get darker at night. The sun doesn’t set at 70 degrees North, but just circles around you like a vulture above a fresh kill. As we do not have watches, only our cycle computers and Lenny could tell us what time it was. The other cyclists were buys packing as they were on the 08.00 tour, but as our tour only started 6 hours later, we enjoyed the extra hours to relax for the first time in weeks.
When we finally headed over to the Caribou Inn, they had already finished and were preparing for their trip. As a biketraveller, you have to take care with your money, as you never know where you might need it. That is why we were hesitant to attack the $18 lunch buffet that the cyclists had raved about. Once we took our group picture outside and said goodbye to the others, we had made up our mind to feast; but we were too late as lunch was over.
Only then we found the hidden secret of the Caribou Inn: the packed lunch. For $10 you could take a quite large paper bag and fill it with whatever you like. I am sure they had no idea how many salmonburgers, hamburgers, ham/cheese & salami sandwiches, chocolate cake, yogurt, fruit juice and potato salad a pair of cyclists could fit in just one bag Read more