Part XIV: Water Is Life

Wednesday November 1st

Dias de Los Muertos

My ride starts along the Pacific and I am riding right on the edge of the water where the sand surface is the most firm. The sun is still low on the horizon, so the ocean and the sand sparkles in the silver glow of the morning. Shorebirds chase their morning food, crabs dart in and out of their sand holes, seagulls in large groups take off just as I come close, pelicans glide so close to the surface of the water they are practically touching the waves with the tips of their wings. It has always been a mystery to me how these ancient, awkward-looking creatures fly with such amazing precision and elegance. It’s a magical time of the day, when everything is fresh and new again. Sand dollars of all sizes wait for kids to collect them. My anxiety about what’s ahead of me is washed away by the constant waves washing onto the sandy shore.

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I wish I could just ride like this for the rest of my trip. In Nueva Odisea I fill up on water, buy an apple, an egg, and chocolate milk. That is to be my recovery treat for the end of the day. And it turns out, a treat that will be much deserved and more than appreciated.

The road starts climbing and it soon comes to beautiful boulder-studded slopes. I like it. I stop for lunch around noon and enjoy an egg omelet I wasn’t able to finish for breakfast. I was too nervous about what lies ahead. To summarize and skip ahead, I ride for 9:36:11 hours, climb, and push my bike over baby-head river rocks over 4727 feet and “only“ make it 40.8 miles. My plan is to cover at least 50 miles to the halfway point before the next resupply area. The temperature reaches close to 100 F and I am down to three bottles of water with 60 miles left to go. I finally crest the last summit and the road starts to descend. I am excited to go downhill when something starts making a funny noise in the back of my bike. I try to ignore it for a while, thinking I’ll deal with it when I stop. But I can’t ignore it any longer, so I slow down and find a water bottle holder mounted in the back barely hanging on by one zip tie. Miraculously, the water bottle is still in it. This could have been a disaster, as I’ve been saving every drop of water.

The light begins to paint a magical evening rose glow on the edges of the horizon and I find myself surrounded by cirios and cardon cacti. Something I’ve been waiting for the whole day. Suddenly the whole day’s effort is pays off. Now I just have to find a good place to camp for the night. I pass the arroyo and just up the hill from it on the right, there is a group of trees, a fire pit, and just enough light left to set up camp for the night. I gather sticks and cook my soup over fire with one cup of water I allow myself to use. I have to save water for tomorrow. 

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I let the fire die down to charcoal which gives me plenty of warmth, but allows me enough darkness to watch the Milky Way stretching directly above me, bright stars flicker unspoiled by any ambient light and I give in to listening to the grand finale of a bird symphony as they finish in unison before they retire for the night. It comes in the form of the loudest crescendo I’ve ever heard. Then all of a sudden, all is quiet. The sky is blood red and I am bloody tired. My rice noodle soup is over-cooked, but I force myself to eat it all. It’s the only source of calories and liquid I have. Oh, I almost forget my treat- I finish the chocolate milk, hardly taking a breath between long, thirsty sips. 

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I am on a lonely, very remote road and have not seen one vehicle the whole day. Somehow, at one in the morning, one passes right by my camp. I am in full alert mode and as I watch the red lights retreat, I listen to make sure the engine keeps moving away. It does and all is dead-quiet again. Needless to say, it is difficult to go back to sleep after that excitement. The temperature at night still drops down to 34 degrees F, but I stay reasonably warm and my pad is holding air. 

In the morning I allow myself to heat up a cup of cocoa to compliment my gourmet fried egg and tortilla breakfast. I am warming up my toes on rocks warmed by the fire and then- the whole damn cup of cocoa jumps up and spills into the fire before I get a chance to catch it. Well, if that just doesn’t make you cry! 

Just a few choice words fly out of my mouth and I am afraid I’ll corrupt the birds waking up around me. 

Party’s over! No need crying over spilled chocolate milk! I pack up my gear, which always takes a while and take off before it gets too hot. I need to ride as far as possible using as little water as possible. I allow myself the first sip at 10 am. To prolong the satisfaction, I hold water in my mouth as long as I can. It’s getting hotter and hotter and I am now down to two regular bike-size bottles. I am afraid to look at the temperature and when I do, it’s 101 and then it soon it creeps to 103. I stop checking. I have 50 miles to go. The progress is way too slow. I try to distract myself with the spectacular environment around me, which it really is. I’ve been waiting for this. As a matter of fact, I have to stop myself from getting off the bike to take photos of all the cirio trees. Each one of them has a different personality. When the kids were young and we used to drive down the Baja peninsula through Cataviña plato, we would marvel over what they called Dr. Seuss trees. Drained of energy, I find a shade under a cardon cactus which is probably over three hundred years old, to have lunch of a can of tuna and crackers. As soon as I stop though, I am inundated and covered by flies and bobos, which are this tiny pesky bugs that invade your nostrils, ears, and eyes. I hurry as much as I possibly can without eating too many bugs. I hope they make good protein. 

I am getting more and more anxious about my water supply. If I pull over, I could wait for things to cool off a bit, but then I’d have to ride in the dark, which I don’t want to do. Out of the blue though, a pickup truck passes me and I see a full case of delicious sweet water in the back! I wave frantically and the pickup stops.

“Tienes un poquito agua, por favor?”

Two really nice guys start opening bottles and filling up every water bottle on my bike and then gift me with an ice-cold bottle of lemon-flavored electrolyte drink. I just stand there and gulp and gulp and gulp. We chat for a bit, they tell me there is water in an arroyo not far away, but it’s not drinkable. Again, I’ve been saved by strangers! They take pictures with me and my bike and they take off. I just stand there for a while, drink more cool, refreshing water and marvel at my fate. So many good people have come into my life as I pass through this rough and rugged country.

When I get to the arroyo, the murky dark water infested with bugs isn’t even sustainable to wash my hands with.

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We got this, Beast. We both need the encouragement. We can ride as far as we want now that we have water. And just like that, after several more miles, we hit HW 1 and I opt to ride on it to cover ground faster in hopes to reach Cataviña. At around 5 pm, when the light starts to make those long shadows again, the craziest thing happens. I am approaching a sharp turn in the road and there is a car pulled to the right. A person is rolling a big tire across the road. I think to myself, “Oh, those poor people- they have a flat tire!” Then the other person runs into the road with a huge rock and drops it next to the big tire which are now both laying in the middle of the oncoming lane. The two kids then jump in the car and take off, burning rubber. 

“What the hell!?”

A car is speeding up through the turn right toward the tire and the rock! I pull off the road in anticipation of a major accident about to happen. I frantically start waving my arms and scream as if they could hear me, in order for the oncoming pickup truck to stop. Thank god it does! This could have ended up in a fatal disaster! The two guys are thanking me profusely for alerting them, as they did not see the big rock and a tire blocking the lane. Just shows you, there sure are stupid, crazy people everywhere. Hard to understand what goes through someone’s head to do something so vicious?

Stocked up on plenty of adrenaline, The Beast and I make it to a truck stop restaurant on the side of the road and kinda what passes for a campground on HW 1 just before dark again. Beef stew and Corona revive me and my Thermarest, tent, and sleeping bag welcome me to deep sleep for most of the night, despite loud trucks passing by. 

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The next day at midday, I reach Cataviña and I check into the nice Mission Cataviña Hotel. It’s booked full because of the upcoming Baja 1000, which will provide plenty of action. For the first time in my long trip, I send my clothes to be laundered. When they come back, I inhale them like a newborn baby inhales her mother’s scent. I feel reborn and rejuvenated after I take a bath, even though the water is just barely warm. I make no plans. They will come to me as needed. The way forward will present itself to me. For now, I need to rest and lift my tempered spirits and revive my tired body. 

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Alenka Vrecek