Part X: Crossing the Border
Monday, October 22nd
I am leaving Cleveland National forest. The road is quiet except for the chirping of thousands of birds and quail all around me. Golden oak trees line the road. I greet every tree and every little bird that flies by me. Winter is coming. Ok, birdies! Eat up, get fat, and fly south! I’ll meet you down in Baja. I am so happy that I am finally going downhill that I wave at every passing car. People probably think I am crazy! I don’t care. I even wave at a black vehicle that has official red and blue lights flashing. Oops! After less than an hour I cross HW 8 and turn left onto the historic HW 80. I pass the first border control, and I ask two patrol guys how far to the border?
“Five miles” they reply.
Five miles? That doesn’t make sense.
I ask again: “How far is the Tecate border crossing?”
“Oh, Tecate! That’s about thirty miles.”
Jeez, what did they think I was going to climb over the mountain and go as the crow flies!?
I soon turn off HW 80 toward Campo. The road is quiet and beautiful. Granite boulders dott the hills. It’s a lot different then what I imagined riding the last section to the border would be. I thought it was going to be a flat and boring desert. Far from it. I arrive at Campo, which is a historic railroad town.
It’s a good thing I didn’t make it to Campo last night. Apart from a railroad museum and a general store, there is nothing here that I can see. The road is quiet to the point of being a bit creepy. I see a border wall up on a hill above the winery. I must be getting closer. The only cars that pass me are a few border patrol cars.
After 48 miles, I arrive at the border. The crossing is super simple, and the official is a very nice guy. He says he’d love to visit Slovenia after I describe to him how beautiful it is.
After two short blocks, I am at the central plaza of a typical bustling Mexican city. I immediately feel at home. I do a couple of laps to see what else is around and return to the plaza where I saw Hotel Tecate. I want to stay in the center, feel the vibe of the town. I find the entrance to the hotel which was a bit tricky due to construction. The reception office is upstairs, so I lock the bike to the railing at the bottom. The room is about $30. The hotel manager helps me carry the bike up the stairs. I take time to rest and explore before I take off early tomorrow morning. I have a delicious meal at Los Gallo’s Restaurant, and afterward, I walk around a bit.
I wake up to the sound of church bells at quarter 'till, calling for 7 am mass. Wow, did I really sleep that long?
I pack up quickly and head to Los Gallo’s restaurant for Juevos rancheros breakfast. It comes with chips, salsa with fresh avocado and a vegetable soup all for six dollars, including coffee.
I head out of town on Ruta de Vino #3 which is toward Ensenada. A young 18-year-old boy named Diego joins me on his classic Schwinn bicycle, and he starts asking me all kinds of questions. Practicing my Spanish, I learn from him that he is on his way home from selling burritos. His older brother makes them, and Diego Maximilian goes out at 4 am to sell them to the workers waiting at the bus station. He is still a student. I encourage him to study hard. Before we depart, I oil and clean his chain.
”You have a nice classic bike Diego, take care of it every day, and you’ll have it for a long time!“
He is very proud of it. I made a new friend, and I barely started my first day of riding in Baja.
I turn off the main road after 10 miles in the town of San Francisco. I stop for the last resupply of water and food. I’ll be in the mountains for a couple of days.
Hello world, hello quiet dirt road, hello self, and peace within me! Hello, spirits of the ancient people who roamed free in this mountains. I hope you welcome me and protect me. I am here for you to show me the way.
I stop in the shade of a giant Ironwood tree after I’ve climbed a couple of thousand feet. I close my eyes, and all I hear is the wind, a solitary bird, and a fly buzzing around my face. This is the Baja I came to discover. This is the self I came to unlock and set free.
The road climbs and winds through the rugged mountainside, then drops back down to a meadow where pines grow. I pass sheep and cattle ranches. The shadows are getting longer, and I am getting low on water. I keep riding since the temperature is perfect. I look to my left to check out granite boulders. It’s like some giant baby stacked them up before humans showed up. A giant orange full moon just popped up from behind the mountain. I soon ride only by the light of the moon. I ride for a couple more hours, but the temperature is dropping quickly. I decide to set up camp. I’ve ridden over 10 hours, climbed more the 5K ft and over 50 miles. The moon is bright, crickets are chirping, and it’s getting cold fast. I quickly crawl into my sleeping bag, and by morning the temps drop down to 30 degrees. I am still at 4500 ft elevation. The night is miserable; my Thermarest is losing air, and I sleep on the hard ground. I can’t wait for the morning to arrive to warm up. I ride 22 miles to Ojos Negros, and I stop in the first store I pass to get a bottle of water. The last 22 miles I rode on less than a half of the water bottle I’ve been saving. Note to self: Carry plenty of water!