For the first time in two months of riding, I am scared. A feeling of desperation constricts my chest, makes it hard to breath. There is a rattlesnake under my bike, but it is a curiosity, not my primary concern. I’m fearful of the suffocating, inescapable heat.
We are nearing the tropics on the Baja Divide route and the heat and humidity are combining to create impossible riding conditions for us. We start early each morning, riding by headlamp until the sun comes up. We take long siestas in the shade. We ride into the dusk. It is too warm. The heat is intense enough to melt our Gummy Bears, and our daily water consumption soars from four quarts to 16 quarts.
Today we can’t find any complete shade and are 10 miles from the next water source. We sit for a while in the partial shade of a cactus, sweating. Even the rattlesnake is looking for shade. We can’t stay here.
Back on the bikes we climb the final distance to a pass, riding where we can and pushing when the track is covered by huge rocks. Gazing down at the Sea of Cortez we can see our next resupply at the beach community of San Evaristo. La Paz is in the hazy distance to our right. The end of our Baja ride is in view, we just don’t know it yet.
We roll down 2000 ft from the pass, walking our bikes when we encounter storm damaged track littered with rock and sand. It is a relief to make it into the village after three strenuous days of riding from Constitucion. Alice and I agree that this has been the hardest stretch of the trip yet. Sitting in the shade of Lupi’s front porch, we enjoy fish tacos and the kids meet new friends on the beach. Alice and I are exhausted, yet the kids come alive with the prospect of play in a new environment.
It is not our intention to end our ride in San Evaristo. There is no catastrophic event that halts our progress. Instead, it is some combination of dehydration, exhaustion, and a food- or water-borne illness, that literally brings me to my knees. For three days, Alice and the kids care for me in our tent, but there are few services in San Evaristo and my condition is not improving. I can barely walk, let alone ride. We accept a lift into La Paz, where we can get a hotel room and access a wider range of services. It takes me a week to recover. It is during this time that we decide we are finished riding in the Baja.
In La Paz, amid the honking of horns and the bustle of people, we bump into other cyclists who have completed the Baja Divide. We happily share stories in the foyer of Pension California. Each rider expresses a similar sentiment about the difficulty of the route. More than once we hear, “I totally underestimated how hard it would be!” This improves my morale after feeling pretty beat up by the Baja.
To wrap up our time in Mexico, we do what most other families are doing on the Easter weekend. We drive to the beach, rent an umbrella and chairs. We go surfing. We eat ice cream and fresh mango. We visit the water park and enjoy the thrill of the water slides. We even swim with whale sharks!
As we travel north to the US by bus, we gaze out at the land we have spent two months traversing. For us the Baja is a wide range of intense experiences. It is dirt tracks through cactus, scoured by a NW wind. It is two dollar fish tacos piled high with cabbage and salsa. It is turkey vultures circling lazily above and pelicans diving just offshore. The Baja is plastic bags plastered to cactus by the wind, and beer cans chucked in the ditch. It is the shopkeeper's smile and sincere, “Buen viaje!” or “Have a nice trip!” It is our family of four camped beneath an intensely dark, star-filled sky. The Baja is the hardest adventure we have attempted as a family, and will settle prominently in our memories for years to come.
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I love being outside. I prefer to ride on dirt. Or snow. If I was born a hundred years earlier I might have been a polar explorer. There's a great natural world out there to see, smell, taste, listen to, and experience. Life slows down out there and the distractions we've created will disappear if you let them. Give me a backpack and let me go.