The Missing Link
It is February 6. I am finally going to ride the missing link. I’ve wanted to go back to finish the section of the ride that I skipped at the end in November because I got sick. The unfinished business has been haunting me.
In many ways, this last part of a trip feels very disconnected, which of course it is. Several times over the previous two months, I was packed up and ready to go, then the plans got changed and delayed again. It is tough to leave my comfort zone even if it is just for a few days. In January, I got hit with nasty flu which knocked me off my feet, and I couldn’t shake it off. It drained me of every bit of energy I had. I haven’t been riding since.
Finally, a window of opportunity opened up. Hannah, a niece of our friends Diane and Rafe Miller from Tahoe, was arriving at Constitucion after riding solo down Baja divide. We are going to meet in Ciudad Constitucion and ride the remaining 168 miles to La Paz together. I have this huge dilemma though. Do I want to ride with a twenty-two-year-old girl who has been covering 70 miles a day? Will a young and strong girl want to ride with an old lady like me? Anyway, I sent Hannah a text. The timing could not have worked any better. I pack my bike in a hurry. Jim and I take off from our house in El Sargento in the morning and drive two hours North of La Paz. We meet Hannah riding down the middle of Ciudad Constitucion. I feel uneasy right away. "No way can I keep up with this young and strong lady!" We load her bike on our van and go on a search for a campground. After shopping for supplies, I make a big pasta dinner and a huge salad. Hannah eats everything in sight. She has been riding hard and burning a lot of calories. We play a game of cards and are in bed by nine. The rain is falling steadily throughout the night. I am worried that all my gear on the bike is going to be soaking wet.
Jim drops us off at the edge of the city dump in the morning, and it starts to drizzle again. The humidity is suffocating. We start riding at a good pace and soon cover 30 miles to arrive at Mission Gonzaga by noon. It is buzzing with activity. Vaqueros with their white cowboy hats and big silver belt buckles are all gathering for the annual meeting.
This area used to be the land of Guayacura native people. They were a nomadic tribe and spoke the language unrelated to any other Native American language, which points to the ancestry of these people dating back thousands of years.
We pass many ranchos along the road. The history of Baja ranching and it’s legendary vaqueros, dates back to the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. Cattle and horses were imported from Spain, and new landowners trained native people the riding and roping skills which became legendary. The roots of Alta California cowboy or a buckaroo started right here in the heart of Baja. Lifestyle on these ranches hasn’t changed much. Many ranchos are far removed from the rest of the civilization and traditions of the lifestyle are still passed down to the next generations as they have been for over three hundred years. It is still the Wild West and the frontier in many ways untouched by the outside world. The ranches are not easily accessible by cars, and many can only be reached on the backs of the horses, mules, and burros. Generations of families live together in what we might consider primitive dirt floor huts and cook over an open fire, which stays burning day and night. Everyone has chores, and much of their hard life depends on water, which can be extremely scarce. Just like it was on the rest of my trip through Baja, people are incredibly friendly. It is easy to engage in a conversation, and you are always aware of how proud people are of their culture. Kids wave and yell “ Que le Vaya bien!” Which literally means:” May it go well!” as we ride past them.
After a long flat and unremarkable section of a sandy and washboard road, we finally enter a more interesting canyon land, and of course, the road starts climbing as well. My legs are heavy, and I start falling behind Hannah. I push as hard as I can, and my right leg starts cramping more than ever. I am in agonizing pain. I try to ride through the cramps but have to dismount The Beast often and wait for the cramps to lose the grip of my quad. This is not good. It’s only the beginning of a three-day trip covering 168 miles of rugged terrain. I feel pressure to keep up, but my body doesn’t allow me. We cross the beautiful San Pedro river several times. I notice places to camp along the river, but Hannah is way ahead of me and nowhere in sight.
By 5:30 we regroup, and as we are climbing out of the Aroyo, we are on a lookout for a campsite. We reach a plateau, and a side road leads us to a perfectly flat and hidden spot among cardons. It is getting dark quickly, so we set up our tents - Hanna is traveling light, and she uses a tarp only. I prefer the idea of a tent. I am not a big fan of things crawling over me at night. We gather wood for the campfire, and I can’t believe that it is going to be Hannah’s first campfire of the entire trip. She has been basically eating cold tortillas and beans. We eat in style. Dehydrated camp food of rice and chicken is like a gourmet meal on a trip like this. The stars are mostly enshrouded by clouds, and as soon as we are both cozy in our sleeping bags, it starts raining. It’s quiet, I am tired, and I sleep well most of the night. It feels comforting and safe to have company.
On the second day, riding becomes more challenging right from the start. Steep and rocky road forces us to push our bikes a lot. We catch up with JD. He is an older gentleman from Banff area in Canada. He does not travel light and after exchanging some pleasantries, I hurry on to catch up with Hannah. Finally, we crest over the last pass, and the Sea of Cortez lays below us in all its splendor shimmering in the afternoon light. The descent is steep and rough, but my legs are grateful. The Beast and I fly down to the fishing village of San Evaristo where we stop for a late lunch of fish tacos and Ceviche.
I am now in a familiar territory and know of this small cove just south of the lighthouse beach a few miles from San Evaristo. We stopped there with Zarmati family when we came up here on a kiteboarding trip back in December. I reach the obscured road leading to it, but Hannah was way ahead of me again. I pedal hard to try to catch her. I whistle and yell after her but she can’t hear me. My legs are screaming! I come blasting around the corner, and here she is. Admiring unique pink rock formations.
We turn around and reach the cove just as the light is turning pink and the clouds are reflecting off the surface of the ocean. We both go for a refreshing dip, make fire and heat water for some miso soup. We watch the stars for a while sitting by the warm fire and chat. It is nice to have someone to talk to, but we are both tired and we soon retire for the night. El Norte winds pick up, and my tent is flopping so loudly, that I can’t sleep in spite of earplugs. We are both up while it is still dark out and we admire bright Venus, Saturn and Jupiter which are in perfect alignment. Just before the sunrise, the sky shows off a spectacular pallet of reds and oranges.
We pack up and the North winds that are coming down the coast are hitting the sidewalls of the cove, so the wind is coming from all directions. We are on the road before eight. The ride starts off with a punishing climb and then it goes up and down along beautiful coast to our left, and incredible cake layer mesa to our right. For the most part, the wind is at our back which is a huge help.
The road finally drops down to the flats and stretches for thirty miles over sandy and washboard road until we reach a paved road in the town of San Juan De La Costa. We are on the home stretch now. I have just enough battery left on my phone, so I can listen to some music to keep me company on the last 20 miles of pavement. I am counting down the km markers one by one.
In the distance, I see a van, a man and a dog shimmering like a mirage on the side of the road. Jim and Monty are there to greet me. It is a scene I have been envisioning so many times during my ride. My wish finally came true and tears fill my eyes. My boys are here to meet me!
And just like that, my trip is over and I am exhausted yet happy. Mission accomplished.