Friday, February 27, 2009

Sickness and Stabwounds

"It has been said, and truely, that everything in the desert either stings, stabs, stinks, or sticks. You will find the flora here as venomous, hooked, barbed, thorny, prickly, needled, saw toothed, hairy, stickered, mean, bitter, sharp, wiry, and feirce as the animals. Something about the desert inclines all living things to harshness and acerbity. The soft evolve out." Edward Abbey.

The viscaino desert being no exception. Seems like weeks of pulling stickers out of my socks, out of my tires, my tent, sleepingbag, the rubber soles of my tennis shoes for chrissakes. Left the pacific side of Baja to howling tailwinds, flat roads, and 217 kilometers of wide open desert between us and the other coast. Night in the sand outside of Viscaino Junction on the grounds of an old oil transfer station, fog in the desert in the morning, burning off to a blazing day. Highway stretching for miles in either direction. Evening brought us upon San Ignacio, a desert oasis in the true sense of the word. Camped upon the shore of a lake in the shade of a grove of date palms for two days and two nights, Jason nursing the first in a series of stomache ailments. La tourista. Montezuma´s revenge. Call it what you will but its not pretty.
More desert. Finally the Gulf coast. Santa Rosalia. Colonized by the french. Think of a poorer, less sophisticated New Orleans. Onward through Mulege. Camping too expensive due to the droves of canadian r.v ists. The scurge of the broke traveller. For every r.v willing to pay 20 bucks a night for a place to park their "rig" is a campground owner with the nerve to ask 7 bucks a head for tent camping. No thanks. I´ll take the desert. The cactus. The seedpods that stick not only through the leather on your shoes, but through your tarp, your tent, your sleepingmat AND sleeping bag keeping you awake all night.
Finally, finally, finally. The beach. White sands and blue green waters. Bahia de conception, Coyote beach. Our own little Palapa and nothing but the sea the sky and the mountains across the bay in front of us. Out of the salt caked and rotten, sun baked bike shorts. Into the water. Cool and clear and so good on the skin. Walking out into deeper waters, something attacks my foot. Sharp pain shooting up through my leg. I stumble and then duck into the water, pulling my feet from the sandy floor and hoping for the pain to subside. Not doing. Swim to shore Even in the shallows, weary of touching bottom again. Foot bleeding from what is only a 1cm knick in the top. Blood somehow thick and stringy. Pain becoming unbearable. Something´s wrong.
"You get hit by a stingray?" It´s the old man in the neighboring campsite.
"Don´t know what else it´d be." I reply, wincing throughn the pain.
"Well, get some hot water on that, as soon as possible, as hot as you can bear. It´s mating season I hear. Those things are everywhere."
"Thanks for the tip." I say, trying to stay cordial, thinking, "little late for the warning you old fucker."
All annoyance aside, the old man´s advice did do some good. Pouring boiling water on the wound seemed to drown out the pain, now pulsing through the entire foot. Hours pass. Any number of half-assed and improvised home remedies. Hot water, lavender oil, Mezcal, Beer, sleep.
Wake to the sun rising over the bay. Glowing gold and bright in the morning sky. The water clear and glassy as a lake. Foot looks like a baby´s all padding, not definition. To fat to fit into a bike shoe. Wouldn´t be going anywhere anyway if Jason weren´t already doubled over, clutching his stomache. Up all night vomiting. Not going anywhere.
Not a bad place to be stuck though, on a sandy mexican beach in the shade of a palapa on a beautiful bay. Not to bad. Not bad at all.
Two more days on the beach. Sleeping under the dome of the stars. Watching a pod of dolfins play in the pitch black waters, their movements made visible only by the bioluminecent red tide. Breakfast infront of a fire at sunrise. Sea Kyaking at dawn. Exploring the islands off shore. Swimming naked in the cool, clear, water of an untouched, deserted beach (with a rock bottom this time) enjoying life despite its pitfalls.
Now. Loreto. Foot back to its former size. Jason now only sore from all the heaving. a return to the city and some sense of normalcy. Moving slowly but enjoying it. May hit La Paz in a week or so. Then ferry to the mainland. What´s the rush anyway?

Monday, February 23, 2009

La Carretera de perros muertes

South of Ensenada the land opens up to a wide open agricultural plain. The road flat and long and lined by dead dogs, small, dusty farming villages, too much traffic. Just before El Rosario the road turns inland and we caught our last glimpse of ocean for several hundred kilometers. Spend a night at El Consuelo, a little secluded beach right where highway one turns inland for El Rosario. Bathed in the cool blue of the Pacific ocean and watched the sun set over the waves. Didn´t want to leave, but when you can only carry 8 liters of drinking water at a time, sometimes concessions must be made. Heading east, we climbed steadily for what seemed like a full day or two. Into the high deserts, Cirio (boojum) trees appearing slowly, then more frequently as we headed east. Cholla cacti, sagebrush, creosote and the acient Seguaros covering the land to the mountainous horizon. Spent the night on a small dirt trail just off the highway (out of sight behind a small rise). Kept up all night by the semis jake-braking into, then grinding out of the valley. A sprinkling of rain, but woke to clear skies and pushed on. The land changing again from rolling hills to wide fields strewn with giant boulders (most near the highway covered in crudely painted graffiti). Absolutely incredible. Made CataviƱa that night, a small town in the middle of nowhere consisting of two motels, a market, and a man selling gasoline from cans out of an old trailer. Jason wanted a might off and foot the bill for a motel. Good thing. Woke to rain and howling wind and clouds to the horizon. No one argued when Jason suggested we stay and see if the weather broke. Around 3, the sky lightening, fueled on coffee and hours of inactivity, we all three walked out into the desert. finding the largest Hill and making for the top. About a mile in the sky broke open, soaking us through. Pushed on for the top,scrambling over boulders and dodging 100 different species of spiky plant. Just as we crested the peak the sun broke through the clouds, drowning the valley below in golden light, casting two rainbows across the endless rock gardens. Mountains in the distance glowing red in the twilight. Two more nights in the desert. Leaving the rocks and cacti for a rainswept steppe, fighting headwinds and rain and the ubiquitous mexican truckers for mile after mile. Camping under a near full moon in the shadow of a thirty foot, 200 year-old Saguaro. Finally turning south again and blasting into Guerrero Negro at 23 miles per hour, the sun shining and the wind full at our backs... Tomorrow we ride back into the desert. Heading east again for the Gulf of California. Can´t wait to feel that cool water on my skin again.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Welcome to Mexico!

Ensenada. Now only 60 miles and a world away from the U.S. border. It´s saturday and me and my riding partners Jason and Jessi are just laying low and taking care of some last minute things before heading farther south.
Left leucadia on wednesday morning and rode to san diego to meet up with Jason and Jessi. Spent the night in San Diego just hanging out and helping to get things organized. We had planned on shooting for Rosarito (or there abouts) on wednesday, but despite our early start, took a long while getting to the border. Jason is using and extracycle (kind of an extension off the back of the bike that permits carrying large amounts of cargo). Unfortunately jason was having major issues with the thing. His cargo kept pushing against the rotor for his disk brake (rule no.1, don´t tour with disk brakes). The immediate solution, remove the brake all together. Reached the border a little later than we would have liked and decided to play it safe, stay in San Ysidro (right by the border) then ride through tijuana in the morning.
Contrary to our presumptions, there was absolutely no wait or hassle at the border. The bike lane was closed so we actually had to get on I-5 and ride across the border with all the other vehicle traffic. Riding in tijuana is like nothing I´ve experienced. Huge potholes, traffic everywere, exhaust and dust burning your eyes and lungs. You can´t take a bike on the toll roads, so we had to climb out of t.j. along the rutted and broken asphalt of Mexico 1 libre. Approaching the ridgeline, before the decent into Rosarito, I heard and odd sound coming from my back wheel. Maybe it was the roads, maybe it was riding 1700 miles fully loaded on a used wheelset, maybe just bad luck, but one of my spokes had actually torn through the rim of my rear wheel, leaving the spoke and nipple hanging and a half inch wide tear in the rim. Fuck. Not ten miles into mexico and the rear wheel´s dead. Decided to pull the spoke out of the way and keep riding, keeping my fingers crossed that I´d make ennsenada (and be able to find a replacement wheel there).
Continuing on the long decent into rosarito, tearing downhill, pushed by a tailwind, I turned to check on my riding partners only to see Jason carreening towards me, dragging the heel of his shoe on the ground. He flew past me just narrowly averting running headlong into a ditch on the shoulder of the road. His front and (remember) only brake had failed somehow. Forcing him to bomb brakeless to the bottom of the folowing and hoping that he wouldn´t go flying off the road (luckily the road only had large, gradual curves). Jason managed to make the long run out at the hills base and finally came to a stop. Panting and wild-eyed, heart undoubtably racing.
Safe at last in the flats, a pickup truck pulled over to us, the driver leaning out the window.
"your friend" he said "she fell. Shes o.k but her wheel´s like this." making a wavy motion with his hand.
I left jason at the bottom of the hill and rode BACK up to find Jessi no chalantly changing a flat on the side of the road. She had run over something big and blown out her rear tire, losing control and falling to the side of the road. Her wheel was bent, but not to bad. After the flat was fixed, the brake re adjusted and Jason joined us back at the top of the hill, I brought up what no one else wanted to say.
"we´re ten miles into mexico, we´ve got four good wheels and four brakes between us (do the math). Hate to say it, but maybe we should head back, take care of this stuff and try again tomorrow." Luckily both Jason and Jessi said what I wanted to hear.
"No. No turning back. We´ll figure it out."
And here we are. Ensenada. Tecate and fish tacos (I know, it´s typical and kind of cheesy, but what the hell.) Jessi´s wheel is fixed. I found a new rim and am rebuilding my wheel this afternoon. Jason jury rigged his extra cycle and has two brakes. We figured it out, as I figure we´ll have to over and over and over.
Despite everything, even just two days into all this, it´s been amazing. Beautiful, long rides. Epic landscapes, super friendly people, always lending a hand, curious about the trip, drivers offering a large breadth when passing on the highway (except the trucks, sometimes). Just touring in a new country is great. so different that Washington, oregon, california. Sixty miles down, 3000 to go.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Futuristic technology!

Mexico is amazing. Only several days in and something blows my mind every day. Too much to write about now. One of my fellow travelers has this crazy gps device. You can track our progress here:

At least until the batteries run out or Jason throws it into the sea.