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Twenty-six days ago I crossed over into Mexico, since then I’ve had eighteen days that involved at least some riding, a week lying low through illness and the remainder here in La Paz. A few of these riding days were really short and a few were pretty long, but overall I’ve covered about 921 miles, giving a daily average of around 51. The reality is that on my full days I was pretty much always hitting over 60 miles a day, usually without a great deal of strain. The riding in Baja has been easy, only really gaining any sort of sustained interesting character in the final five days since I left my sickbed on Playa El Coyote, Conception Bay.
The week that I was stranded on Coyote Beach should have cost me 60 pesos a night but having befriended some of the more permanent residents I didn’t pay a cent. I even found myself in the fortunate position of having use of a hot shower, chairs and tables. My last three days on the beach were peaceful after Casey, Joel and co. went out with some locals to fish and dive for clams over the other side of the Bay. Convenience dictated that I pitch up on their plot and keep an eye on their things while relaxing and trying to regain some health and strength for the final push to La Paz. In this time I finally found myself able to stomach some food and built up enough strength to eventually go out in Casey’s sea kayak. I have a bit of a weakness for sea kayaking so you can imagine my delight when my body allowed me on the water. In a kayak you’re so close to the ocean and so mobile, opening doors to less accessible areas and providing an excellent vantage point from which to peer down into the watery depths. My paddle took me across the Bay to Coyote Island and then around the coast until I hit camp again. It was never going to break any records but I saw a giant turtle, some interesting looking fish and was relieved to just finally have some energy.
My little enforced beach holiday also gave me the opportunity to take down a couple of books. At last I had something to escape from and sure enough burying myself in a book became the easiest thing. By the time I’d finished the second one I was itching to get back on the bike and regain some momentum. It seems the older I get the more frustrating beach life appears to me. I need something to interest me and after a week the beach had played all its cards. Save for a string of beautiful bikini clad girls, I don’t think anything could have held me back from moving on.
The first couple of days back in the saddle were hard work. I had lost a lot of strength and stamina, making the simple physical act of riding 50 or 60 miles exhausting. My appetite had still not fully returned and I was feeling nowhere near my best. This is a shame because these two days offered by far the best riding of the whole Baja route. First came some really enjoyable gentle hills bordering the Bay of Conception and then when the road cut west inland after Loreto there was the only serious climb of the route. I make no secret of the fact that I usually relish a good climb but this one punished me. The road surface was excellent, the switchbacks kind and gradient relatively subtle, but under the blazing sun my weakened frame really had to labour. At peak fitness I’m sure I could motor up this ascent whistling through a massive grin. I was not at this peak and had to stop a number of times as waves of exhausted nausea flooded my system.
The pictures I took of myself while out on the Kayak really bought home to me how much weight I’d managed to lose in just a few days of illness. My upper body has really withered bringing me close to the PrayMantis look of serious cyclists. Combined with an unfortunate cycling tan that gives the appearance of wearing stockings, my body seems to be more willing to accept the title of ‘cyclist’ than my mind. It’s no wonder that the pathetic looking specimen in these pictures had to battle up those hills.
Over the following few days my strength slowly returned, my thighs recovered their usual explosivity and the 70 mile days flowed again. I was quickly closing in on La Paz and feeling really positive about life. I had now fully relaxed into Bajas watered down Mexicana. I stopped in Constitucion to get groceries and check on emails and realised on my departure that I’d felt quite at home and safe. A couple of weeks earlier I would have been on edge and nervous. Finally I had shaken the US anti-Mexican propaganda from my system.
My penultimate day from La Paz threw up a couple of interesting encounters. I was just riding away from my lunch stop in Las Pocitas when a VW Camper travelling the opposite direction signalled to me to pull over. This is not so unusual as cycle tourists have a common bond with such vehicles… we respect the fact that they have to put as much energy into keeping their wheels rolling as we do. So the bus turned around and pulled up alongside me. I had to double take when I saw what was behind the driver… there poking out of the gloom was Jens, another Pan American cyclist that Justin and I had met at the end of the Cassiar Highway, Canada. I’d known he was still in Baja nad had been in email contact to see where. The day before my emails had told me he had taken the ferry over to Maztlan and was on the mainland. Turns out his plans had changed and he was off to visit a friend before returning to La Paz to catch the ferry the next day. A surreal little episode that left me scratching my head a little.
Just a few miles up the road I encountered a couple of other cycle tourists. Julian and his girlfriend Ellie had just arrived in Baja from Maztlan and were making their way up to Vancouver. Julian, an amiable softly spoken Irish gent revealed that he’d been on the bike since 2008 and had spun down the length of Africa before hitting up Argentina and heading north. In Colombia Ellie joined him and I gather they will travel to Vancouver before heading home through Asia and Europe. Really unassuming and modest, this pair passed on some valuable advice and set me thinking about some of the themes I mentioned in my previous post. One of the more remarkable things for me was that Julian was riding a Thorn with a Rohloff hub. His Thorn Raven was standing up well to the rigors of multiple years on variable roads and gave me confidence that Shermy won’t be needing too much more work over the coming couple of years.
On arrival in La Paz I made myself at home in a Frozen Yoghurt shop to check the status of my potential host. Unfortunately he’d had to head out of town so I was quickly resigned to shelling out for my first hotel of the tour. I got talking to the owner of the Yoghurt shop, Brian, and soon found myself treated to free beer and lunch. I developed a lot of respect for Brian who had worked tug boats in Alaska for 8 years before moving to El Paso to work at a refinery. Only a month ago he had opened the shop and will be joined shortly by his Mexican wife and three children. Brian has put everything on the line in the name of happiness and has discovered a handy knack for making incredible frozen yoghurt from fresh fruits.
After a good while touring down town La Paz looking for somewhere affordable to park myself I finally chanced upon the Hotel Yeneka. Affordable, really friendly and packed with character I feel I landed on my feet. Tonight will be my third and final night here for tomorrow I’m booked in on the 14:00 ferry to Topolobampo. Its costing me a shade under 900 pesos for myself and the bike and will give six glorious hours of compulsory time to myself. I’m quite looking forward to the opportunity to scan my new (and bloody heavy) guide-book and Mexico road atlas.
My Baja adventure is coming to an end. Its been a roller coaster but I’m glad I rode it. I am sure I shall never return here and at this moment in time (with no real experience of the mainland) I would encourage other Pan American riders to cut down through New Mexico and then the Mexican mainland rather than grind down Baja. But that is only my opinion. If you scan my previous posts it is obvious that I have had some good times here, maybe its just that on this tour I’ve become used to having really great times.