Longtime friend-of-the-shop David Means went on a bikepacking trip in along the Baja Divide in Mexico a few months ago, and was kind enough to let us publish his recap here. It looked like a blast! If you're interested in getting into bikepacking, stop in the shop - we're more than happy to help you out.
Cape Loop, Baja Divide, Baja Sur, Mexico 2019
The bike packing trip to Baja Sur in Mexico began inauspiciously enough. Several weeks, if not months, of anxiety-ridden preparations to move three souls and, more importantly, three hard tails and gear, from the frigid whiteness of Vermont to the hot, dry, maritime and mountainous territory of Baja Sur, culminated in a non-plussed survey of makeshift, but large, boxes containing wheels, frames, forks, fuel bottles, tools and various other and sundry essential stuff for a nine-day Cape Loop section of the Baja Divide trek along the shores and through the mountainous desert of this ocean-jutting peninsula. A rinse of a gasoline-lined MSR fuel bottle at the airport was all it took and, she said, “you’re good to go.” And go we did, traversing the continent via DTW and LAX to San Jose del Cabo, where we were met by a phalanx of spring-break-style merriment literally at the airport exit. Negra Modelos, margaritas, and noisy but festive Latin music accompanied the usual cluster of taxi drivers clamoring for the next fare. A short ride from the SJD airport later, we arrived at the famous-to-bike-adventurers and glorious Cactus Inn, with bikes in 100 pieces in six boxes, soon only to cover the hotel porches for a subsequent two-hour session akin to putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again. Eventually more or less contentedmwith the outcome, consolation came in the form of a few tortillas and enchiladas (and some inedible papas fritas) from a local family stand—Familia “Robbin” if memory serves—and washed down by somemcold Carta Blancas.
After a decent night’s sleep, final pre-adventure bike and human adjustments highlighted the next morning. Then came breakfast at a local restaurant that catered mostly to airport workers and a few gringos, filling up on stove fuel, water and pesos, before heading east, fully burdened, from San Jose del Cabo toward the Sea of Cortez, some 25 miles distant by way of a network of dirt farm roads. The route passed up and over several small ridges through sparse desert vegetation and past occasional ranchos and shrines to people who most likely refused to pay homage to the winding and rutted roadways or to sobriety, or both. The riding was primarily characterized by sand and washboard, the latter of which caused a not so insignificant calamity that involved the loss of a pannier with some very useful, if not essential, camping equipment, including a sleeping pad. First World problem. Arrival at the shore was rewarded by fish, veggie and meat tacos and other-worldly chunky guacamole at a beach-side joint called Vida Soul. And Negra Modelo. After a fruitless search for the missing pannier and sleeping pad,but a successful find of a soiled-by-who-knows-what piece of open-cell foam, camp was made a few miles north of Vida Soul, in little copse just off the road and across from roaring surf and strong winds.
The following day’s long slog north along the beach featured softer sand, continued washboard and, most distressingly, strong headwinds, making progress greater than about five miles per hour more than difficult. This day’s ride was prefaced by calamity number two, as the second stove in tow (the other went the way of the lost pannier) appeared to object to unleaded petrol after 30 years of Coleman fuel luxury. No coffee, no breakfast, except for cold oatmeal and a Kind bar or two. Intrepid, we forged ahead toward Cabo Pulmo, an impressive rock formation protruding from land into the sea and home to a national park catering to hiking, fishing, scuba diving, kite surfing and, yes, single-track mountain biking. Lunch at a snorkeling center in the town of Cabo Pulmo featured the best tacos so far. And not to forget Negra Modelo. Continuing north into the wind, the route took us another ten miles or so in sand and then, miraculously, about 15 very long miles on macadam to a beach town called La Ribera, or “La Riba” for short. Totally beaten by the headwind, the consensus was to stay in the fabulous Hacienda del Palmas not far off the beach, and close to the Mexican version of a “sports bar” featuring fried pulpo and tacos with a big screen howing, of all things, that night’s basketball game between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors. And despite cheers from the Negra Modelo crowd, the Celtics lost.
Leaving the comfortable hacienda, the route led further north from La Riba on the less comfortable two-wheelers toward Los Barriles, an upscale resort town a dozen miles up the beach. From there the plan was to make a quick run across Highway 1 (the main highway on the east side of the peninsula) to El Triunfo in the center of Baja Sur. But one look at the no-shouldered road that would wind through the mountains for about 30 miles, together with an ominous Suburban brush-by orchestrated by an inebriated gringo sun-worshiper, convinced all that discretion was the better part of valor and hitching a ride was the way to go. An hour later, and still living to tell about the adventure, we arrived in El Triunfo, an old gold and silver mining town currently experiencing a resurgence and lots of renovation funded by Walmart heiress, Christy Walton. The town boasts two museums—a piano museum filled with broken-down pianos and a state-of-the-art historical museum. Annexed to the piano museum was a small concert hall upon the stage of which sat a massive Steinway, then being played by a virtuoso pianist. The music was Rachmaninoff in texture and complexity, but specifying which opus was fruitless. Turns out that the artist was a Russian and the composition was his own. The restaurants in town closed early, as did the town itself, but we managed to dine in a family’s backyard on tacos and quesadillas prepared by mom herself. And Negra Modelo. We retired to yet another hacienda located off the main drag thatfeatured small cabanas with thatched roofs in an oasis-like setting, although the evening and subsequent night was punctuated with a score of barking dogs and a town clock that stuck on the hour and half-hour—particularly disturbing to one of us who decided that two successive nights in a hacienda was treasonous in the context of a bike packing trip. And the morning featured the usual offerings of the local roosters, starting around 5 a.m.
The day’s journey from El Triunfo southwest toward the Pacific and Todos Santos would turn out to be both the most enjoyable and most frustrating ride of the trip. The route left town and headed south and west along spectacularly beautiful (and rideable) farm roads, passing through the villages of El Rosario and Valle Perdido, offering magnificent mountain and valley views. Twenty or so miles in, we didn’t strike gold or silver, but sand, deep sand and then more sand. This, in turn, elicited much colorful language and enough of a brain fart to lose track of the route and chug some three miles or so—through the afore-mentioned sand—along an old river bed that led only to a dead end. Happily, though, the dead end was coterminous with a local rancher’s weekend spot, where the family was enjoying a late afternoon meal. It was rather quickly ascertained that accessing the road into Todos Santos from our present location was quite out of the question, but the rancher very good-naturedly, and for a modest fee, offered to load the bikes and riders in his truck and drive us north to Highway 19, the main road running along the west coast of the peninsula. Of course, this involved trudging (hike-a-bike for some of us) back through the river bed to find the truck, which could not retrieve us of course because it was unable to drive through the sand due to its depth. Loaded up an hour and a half later, we were driven 20 or so kilometers north on rutty farm roads Highway 19, arriving at about 5:30 p.m.—a half hour before sundown--and a big green sign that said: “Todos Santos… 24 kilometers.” With few alternatives, a 90-minute mad dash led us to a dark Todos antos, where we managed to snag a triple room in the upscaleGuaycura downtown hotel that thankfully was across the street from La Copa Cocina, a fabulous restaurant featuring Mexican fusion cuisine and, of course, Negra Modelo, although we opted for a troika, per person, of margaritas on this occasion.
Todos Santos--a quaint and wonderful mecca for tourists that is home to numerous galleries and shops, not to mention on the shores of the Pacific Ocean—boasts a bike shop on the northwest corner of the town’s main intersection. We took advantage of this and dropped off the bikes for a quick drive-train cleaning before hoofing it a few miles to put our feet in the Pacific. The beaches are wide and sandy, the water a clear blue and frequent whale blowhole sprays puncture the views. After a terrific breakfast at Alma and Manny’s and checking out of the hotel, we continued south along Highway 19 through El Pescadero for about 15 miles before heading east into the mountainous Sierra de la Laguna. Winding steadily up and up along rideable sandy farm roads for another 15 miles, and punctuated occasionally by curious Mexican ranchers concerned about our physical well-being (and perhaps mental health for engaging in our chosen activity) we established camp in the foothills of the mountains, preparing ourselves, mentally and physically, for the climb over the mountains back toward San Jose del Cabo.
Although we were able to plead with the camp stove sufficiently to cough up some heat for a decent meal of Thai curry noodles the night before, breakfast featured a return to Kind bars and cold oatmeal. From camp, we headed straight up on a mostly rideable, but difficult, climb of about three hours to the top of the pass between the mountains This provided spectacular views both east toward the Sea of Cortez and west toward the Pacific. The descent was a jarring ball of fun, and an acceptable reward for the preceding challenge of the long climb. Highway 1 was not far away at this point and the decision was made to roll on to the Cactus Inn rather than spending our last night under the stars sustained only by cold mushroom risotto. A quick sprint down Highway 1 led us to a loncheria just north of San Jose, where the tacos were supreme and the beer cold. The following day was spent disassembling and repacking the bikes for air travel and exploring San Jose del Cabo, a lively town with lots of tourists, shops, bands playing classic rock, and even a craft brewery. A day removed from pedaling into the courtyard of the Cactus Inn, we deplaned in Vermont, bikes and bodies thankfully intact, to winter in all its glory… two feet of snow and single-digit temperatures, but with nary a Negra Modelo in sight.
NB This counter-clockwise 175-mile bike packing route is a version of the Cape Loop ride described in many blogs and websites devoted to the Baja Divide. A major lesson learned is that biking conditions in Baja are unpredictable, and the foregoing is a very doable, although challenging, ride for people with about a week’s worth of time for adventure. The full 285-mile loop requires at least 10 days, if not two weeks, in order to experience fully Baja’s environment, its inhabitants and cuisine.