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. The road is lined by golden oak trees. 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 then 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 80 toward Campo. The road is quiet and beautiful. The hills are dotted with granite boulders. 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 to Campo, which is a historic railroad town. 

It’s a good thing I didn’t make it to Campo last night. Apart for 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 go visit Slovenia after I describe to him how beautiful it is. 

After two short blocks I am at the main 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 office is upstairs. I lock the bike up to the railing. 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 afterwords I walk around a bit. 

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I wake up to the sound of church bells calling for 7 am mass quarter ‘till. 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. 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.

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I turn off the main road after 10 miles. 

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 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. 

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The road climbs and winds through the rugged mountain side, 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 babies stacked up before humans showed up. A giant orange 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 as I am still at 4500 for 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 then a half of the water bottle I’ve been saving. Note to self: Carry plenty of water! 

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Alenka Vrecek