Bikepacking the Baja Sur Divide Trail - January 2019

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Mountain biking the Baja Divide without support will be a great challenge on many levels. Being an older athlete doesn’t mean that I can no longer participate in extreme sports, it just means I am a little slower and need more rest. Mt past experiences camping and exploring the Baja since 1981 will help me. I understand how harsh the climate is. The dangers of traveling by bicycle in the Baja desert should not to be taken lightly. For added safety and to make my loved ones relax a little, I have invited a friend to join me. On January 13th I fly to Loreto, Baja Sur, Mexico and begin my adventure. Due to limited time, I have chosen to ride from Mulege to San Jose Del Cabo, approximately 1000 kilometers or 600 miles. 

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*All cyclists names have been changed.

Day 1 - Eugene to Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Alaska Airlines flights from Eugene are always early, this morning my wonderful wife Linda drops me off at 4:30am. I fly into Los Angeles, then transfer to a Loreto flight. Gathering up my bike box and suitcase, I head out to the curb to look for a taxi. I notice two Americans getting into a nice pickup truck. Quickly running over, I ask them if they can give me a lift to the Loreto Hostel. They gladly toss my bike box and suitcase in the bed of the truck and deliver me in under 10 minutes. Mark, the owner of the truck tells me that he only lives one block away, he invites me to join him and his friend Jim for dinner later at Orlando’s restaurant. I thank them for the ride and dinner invitation and wave goodbye.

Hostal Casas Loreto is located next to the Historic Museum and Church, just blocks from the water. The hostel is run by an older gentleman, Abel. After moving to Loreto he opened Hostal Casas Loreto in 1973. The interior design consists of a large covered open courtyard with a few tables, plants and skylights, all of the rooms border the courtyard. It’s very attractive, clean and welcoming. After Abel checks me in, I quickly get to work reassembling my bicycle. I attach my bikepacking bags and load Hayduke (my bike) up. I place my mascot, a stuffed turtle, on my saddle bag for good luck, (my friends Karen and Brian gave turtle to me on a recent Hawaii DamselTour). 

Loreto is a wonderful little city. In 2016 I enjoyed the Christmas holidays here with my wife Linda and our good friends Colleen and Ginnie. During that visit we learned more about the Jesuits arrival in Loreto, where Padre Salvatierra started the first Spanish missionary work on October 19, 1697. The Jesuits use of the missionary system became a hallmark of Spanish colonization. In the Baja, each mission consisted of a central village where the missionary and any accompanying soldiers lived. By the end of the first year Padre Salvatierra began searching for locations in the mountains west of Loreto for more missions. The Spanish missionaries forced the Native Indigenous Indians switch from their native language, teaching them instead to speak Spanish. Much changed forever on the Baja because of the missionaries.

I am looking forward to getting my work done, then going out to dinner at Orlando’s, my favorite restaurant in Loreto. I have been dreaming about Orlando’s poblano peppers for two years.  Walking over, I wonder if I’ll see my new friends Mark and Jim there. Orlando’s doesn’t disappoint me. I enjoy a poblano stuffed with shrimp covered with a delicious sauce and a Hornitos margarita all for $13 USA. Loreto is a popular tourist destination for sports fisherman, making the prices a higher than much of the baja, but still very affordable.

Day 2 - Loreto to Mulege’

Before leaving home I prearranged having a shuttle pick me up at the hostel to drive me to Mulegé. It’s more expensive than taking the bus, but also more reliable. I eat breakfast and ride my bike to the Malecon for a “shakedown ride”. Hayduke is in perfect condition, ready for The Baja Divide. 

Anthony and his friend Mario pick me up on time at 10 am. I ask Anthony if he can drive me to a hardware or paint store so I can by some alcohol for my tiny alcohol cooking stove. After a few tries we finally find some alcohol and leave Loreto for the two hour drive north. 

The drive is filled with conversation about Baja Sur. I learn that I have traveled more on the Baja than either of them.  Anthony drops me off at my Mulegé hostel, “Cliff’s Place”. It’s one in the afternoon and a pleasant 73 degrees outside. Cliff’s Place is on the south side of the Rio Santa Rosalia. This section of the Santa Rosalia River is a bird watchers paradise. The birds have one of the nicest places on earth to live. They not only have the large river, but the Sea of Cortez and Conception Bay. Bahía Concepcion is one of the largest bays in the Sea of Cortez. No wonder nearly 500 species of birds live on Baja California, Mexico.

The small village of Mulege was founded sixty years before the first Europeans discovered San Francisco Bay. If you are sight seeing in Mulege you should visit the massive historic federal prison. The prison is no longer active and now houses a museum. Also a trip to Mulege is not complete without visiting the famous Mission Church, Santa Rosalia de Mulege. This was the Jesuits fourth mission founded in 1705. It originally served an Indian population of over 2000 persons. The church has been restored and the view of the river winding through the palm trees is gorgeous. Walking around this small historic town is the best way to see it, as the streets narrow and winding. When you look across the river from up in the historic village of Mulege, you can see where a huge flash flood from hurricane Jimena wiped out many homes along the river in September of 2009. 

Unknown to me until recently is the fact that US troops occupied Mulege, Todo Santos, San Jose Del Cabo and La Paz during the Mexican-American war. In 1847 a battle took place in Mulege between Mexican patriots and US troops from the sloop Dale. The history of US occupations on the Baja during the Mexican-American war was not taught in my US history class. Maybe that’s one reason why I find this history so interesting now.

What a gem Cliff’s Place is, nice rooms, a full kitchen in the communal courtyard, affordable and a great location for Baja Divide riders. It’s less than half a mile to the Fisherman’s Landing boat launching ramp. Cliff’s Place is also only two blocks from Jungle Jim’s popular expat restaurant.

Around 5pm I head out to Jungle Jim’s for an early dinner. Tonight’s special is slow cooked bbq ribs, baked beans and corn. I wash it all down with a cold Pacifico. While I’m eating my dinner I strike up a conversation with Mulege local expat, Joe. While we are talking, Joe points out the famous authors Jack and Patty Williams across the room. They wrote my favorite Baja Travel Book, “The Magnificent Peninsula, 1996 5th Edition”. After I purchased this book, I never needed any other travel book on the Baja. I can’t believe that I’m seeing them in person. Their book has traveled with me and my family on every Baja trip since 1996. I refer to it as our a Baja Bible. I studied the sections of this book prior to leaving on this trip.  Jack and Patty are in their 80’s now, retired and living in Mulegé. After dinner I am feeling fat and happy as I slowly walk back to Cliff’s Place to wait for my riding partner John to arrive from the north. 

Around 7pm John texts me that he’s having trouble finding Cliff’s Place using Google Maps. I send him a location pin via Messenger. He still can’t find Cliff’s Place. So I head outside to the dirt road along the river with my bright flashing red light. Eventually I reel him in.

Not good news. John arrives with a broken spoke nipple on his rear wheel. He also informs me he’s sick with a sore throat between coughing fits that sound like a serious case of bronchitis.

Normally a spoke nipple is not a big deal to repair, but John doesn’t have the part he needs, a nipple, or a spoke tool. My mind starts thinking about how there are no bike shops for over 100 miles either way, and tomorrow afternoon I have arranged for a fisherman to take us across the bay to start riding the northeast shore of Bahía Concepción. Lucky for John my wheels are the same size and my spokes and nipples are the same design. I have the parts and tool he needs. We spend a couple hours and manage to repair his spoke nipple and reseat his tubeless tire. He lifts his bike and spins his rear wheel asking me if it looks trued. I tell him that it still has a small wobble. He says it’s good enough. I suggest that he true his wheel better pointing out his wheel will most likely break another spoke nipple if not trued, (his nipples are aluminum not steel). He says it is fine. Okay… John is a self proclaimed expert bike mechanic.

To read the entire 22 Day itinerary, click here.