100 miles with no water, and a big snake!
If there was one leg of the Baja Divide that was concerning us, it was the Cataviña leg. It is the longest stretch of the route without water or resupply – 100 miles minimum between water – and I’m happy to report that it’s now behind us. It was tough, as we expected, but we made it through, and now have a bag full of memories and experiences to show for it.
As I indicated we would in my last post, we left Cataviña at 6:00 in the morning, trying to beat the heat. Our bartender friend, Pépé, drove us 6 miles down the highway so that we could link up with the Baja Divide route, and we set off towards the coast with a full supply of water (a bit more than 12L each).
Thanks to Pépé we were able to avoid the 6 miles on the highway.
Extra water: 1.5L on the handlebars.
2 x 1.5L on the forks, and 2L on the downtube.
700ml in the cockpit.
6L strapped on the rack. All of that water is heavy!
The first couple of hours were extremely pleasant. The sun had not yet reached its full intensity, the scenery was beautiful, the trails were in good condition, and with a slight downward slope. We made good time at the beginning, which is fortunate because we had set a goal to ride 50 miles that day, more than on any previous one. Why? Because our hope was that in two days of riding we could make it to El Cardon, the first reported water resupply, 100 miles away. We had enough water for three days, just in case, but we were shooting for two.
The ride began very pleasantly.
The first of the real hills.
Hot, and it’s only 8:00 AM!
The colors contrast with the blue sky.
So much color in the desert.
As the day progressed, the climbs got steeper and more frequent. We found ourselves climbing and descending a series of rough ridges, ones that rolled on into the distance. While I can’t say that I enjoy climbing via a bicycle at all, I can appreciate what goes into climbing a mountain pass though. There is a goal, and an eventual outcome, the summit. Rolling hills are another matter altogether. They seem pointless to me, especially when the descent is so rough that you can’t capitalize on the gravity that you have fought so hard against, having to ride the breaks the entire way down, only to repeat the process again. It’s soul destroying, especially after having already ridden 30 miles, my apparent happiness threshold.
We always plan to hide from the sun during its most intense hours but often this is all the shade we can find.
Dirt road gourmet.
A salad made with fresh tomatoes, avocados, limes, and local spices. Titanium spork and plate a necessity.
At one point, after cresting a hill only to be met with one more false summit, I believe I yelled, with a handful of expletives thrown in for spice, “What are they going to do, use a ladder for us to climb even higher?“
Rebecca and I have a very different way of dealing with these difficulties. I often tend to rant like a lunatic, as indicated above. Rebecca, on the other hand, deals with the strife so stoically that I imagine if Marcus Aurelius was still alive, he’d want to read her Meditations!
We ultimately reached our goal of San José del Faro, greeted at its outskirts by a thick blanket of fog. As we rode on to the beach, we arrived at the same time that some men from a nearby fishing camp were bringing in their boats. After a brief conversation, during which we admitted that yes, we like fish, and yes, we are hungry, we were pointed in the general direction of a place to have dinner. What we didn’t realize at the time was that they were inviting us back to their camp to join in their nightly meal: fresh fish, caught not 2 hours prior. The fish was grilled on a BBQ, and served up with rice, salad, and warm tortillas. It was fantastic, and made me forget the troubles of only a few hours before.
Fog! We must be getting close to the ocean.
Back to the Pacific.
End of the work day.
Not only did our new friends feed us, they refused any compensation, and they invited us to camp with them. We had an epic spot on the edge of a cliff, with waves crashing onto the beach below us. It was a perfect end to a huge day. Even though the weather throughout the night was chilly, we slept like logs, both of us eyes shut before 8:00 PM.
These friendly guys invited us to join them for a meal, and to camp with them.
Epic camping spot on the edge of a cliff. Just don’t sleepwalk!
That’s one way to clean up after the ride.
We began at 2000′ and descended to sea level, BUT climbed 1540 feet! Let that sink in.
The following day was scheduled to be equally as long, but unlike the day prior where we had a spectacular start, this one began difficultly. Remember what I said about rolling hills? We were right back at it, only this time, pushing the bike up the hills. We had another 50 miles to cover if we were going to make it to El Cardon, and at an initial speed of 2.5MPH, it seemed as if we weren’t going to make it there anytime soon.
The camp where we spent the night. We left before many of the guys were out of bed.
Weird trees abound.
We were skirting the coast for much of the day.
The cool weather left us once we got away from the coast, replaced with Baja’s near ever-present sun. There were some epic views of the water during the day, but always from a distance. We put in a lot of miles, inching closer to our goal, hour by hour. It got to the point though that we asked the question, why kill ourselves when we’re carrying so much water? We could just camp, and hit El Cardon the following day to resupply.
Canadians will appreciate this. Found on a rusted out junker in the desert.
Rolling hills will be the death of me.
We wanted to swim there, but the trail never went to the beach.
We stopped 8 miles out of El Cardon, just prior to 6:00 PM, to redistribute our water stores before continuing to ride. During the process of doing so, I glanced over my shoulder and was surprised to see a rattle snake, chilling on the trail not 20 feet from us. Even though we have been keeping a non-stop watch for snakes, this is the first one that we have seen in Baja, and he was in our way. What follows is kind of funny in retrospect.
One of our Warmshowers hosts, who I’ll leave nameless at this point, shared a story of having to get by a similarly-positioned serpent. Immediately after passing the snake, which took a lunge at him, our friend crashed his bike, having payed better attention to it than he had to the trail. Well, I decided to take point, and with a good run, sped by the snake without it moving an inch, at least I don’t think that it did. Rebecca followed immediately after, and just like the story we heard, proceeded to wipe out just feet from the snake after hitting a patch of deep sand. She was unhurt, and managed to quickly clear some more distance between her and the snake, but unfortunately, the crash did some damage to the bike. It wouldn’t pedal any more!
Well, hello there!
A mechanical in the desert can be a problem. We both knew where the nearest help might be, and neither of us had any desire to push the bikes over 8 miles, especially with sunlight quickly leaving us. As we often had to do with the boat, we took some time to troubleshoot the issue – keeping a watchful eye for our friend, the snake – and ultimately concluded that the main chainring had been bent a bit, causing the chain to hang up during certain points in its rotation. Fortunately for both of us, we were able to bend the ring back into position by using my Leatherman as a pry-bar. We cleaned up the chain for good measure, and with everything working properly, set off again. By that time we both knew that we wouldn’t have enough daylight left to reach our goal, so proceeded to make camp just a bit down the road. Again, we both slept well!
On various points during our travels, we have come across large, colorful signs on the trails, illustrated with photos of the various wildlife in the region. One animal that we’ve seen pictured is the Mountain Lion, and although we haven’t seen one yet, we were convinced that the tracks we had been following along the trail for better than 10 miles were made by one. We were both very attentive to strange noises when we awoke during the night!
The following day we, again, set off early, and the miles ticked by quickly towards El Cardon. All we knew about the place was that a man named Raúl apparently rented campsites to surfers there, and that he had a well. When we followed the sign to the beach, we found paradise, and even found (we think) a source of water. What we didn’t find was Raúl. Given that the day was still so early, and we didn’t have much in the way of food, we decided to push on to Santa Rosalillita after a quick dip in the ocean, a decision that I almost immediately regretted.
- Note: Ultimately we think we found Raúl’s spot, down the main road a bit. It was a bit unclear to us.
What we had been looking for.
Paradise, but where is Raúl?
A beach all to ourselves.
That decision, leaving such a picturesque spot instead of spending the day there enjoying the fruits of our labor, grated on me for much of the morning. It was compounded by the fact that the road we were on was so badly washboarded that I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a picture of it in the dictionary under the heading of corrugation. It was so bad that we opted, when possible, to ride a rough dirt two-track paralleling the main road instead of the straight gravel track that most people drive on. Sadly, that was not possible for long, and we suffered through the washboarding for over 20 miles!
I suspect that during the season there’d be many surfers here.
Back to climbing again.
The road to the left is so bad that we’d rather ride the 2-track on the right!
Lunch spot after a big climb.
Rebecca keeping her distance from me so that she doesn’t have to listen to me curse.
We spent the last night of this stretch in Santa Rosalillita, a small fishing village on the coast. We found a clean, basic hotel room, a hot bowl of fish soup served up in someone’s home, and some friendly villagers. As with the meal that we received at the hands of the fishermen in San José del Faro, it doesn’t take a whole lot to make us forget the difficulties of the day.
A hot bowl of fish soup is (almost) all it takes to make me happy!
By the way, after all the worry about water, we ended up arriving in Santa Rosalillita with 6L of water remaining, and that was without restocking in El Cardon. Better to have it and not need it than the other way around!
- Cataviña to San Jose del Faro: 75.5km, 10.41 hours
- San Jose del Faro to Wild Camping: 64.9km, 11:20 hours
- Wild Camping to Santa Rosalillita: 54.9km, 8:05 hours