Leaving Gonzaga Bay :: The Remembering

Not the best road for bicycling but not the worst either.

I’m watching our loaded bicycles while Kai is inside Rancho Grande gathering enough food for three to four days of wild camping.  I, along with several other folks, am being entertained by a man cycling around the outdoor patio with a baby balanced on the handlebars.  The look on the baby’s face is priceless, one of pure glee, fearless.

I wish I felt the same right now.  Instead, I’m feeling anxious.

Over the next few days we are going to attempt to cycle the remote back roads of Baja.  Heading in a southwesterly direction from Gonzaga Bay we have 37 miles (58 km) of questionable roads between us and Highway 1.  To make it even more interesting we will be ascending the entire way, over 2500 feet.  The first few miles of our ride will be the real test.  Will the road be as bad or worse than the 15 miles we tried to ride in to town the day before?  Can we continue onward as planned or will we have to backtrack?

Admittedly, I’m not in a good place when we roll out of the parking lot.  The sandy roads of the day before have really dampened my adventurous spirit and the last thing I’m looking forward to is the possibility of having to spend the next few days pushing my loaded touring bike through the never-ending supply of sand surrounding us.  To add to the drama of it all, there are no places along the route to replenish supplies and there is no cell phone reception so the conservative side of me is thinking about all the things that could go wrong.  What if one of us is injured or the roads are unmanageable and it takes us longer than expected to travel them?  What if we run out of food or water?  More importantly, what if I just can’t handle it?!  I’m still out of shape and overweight.  I’ve never attempted this kind of technical riding on a fully loaded touring bicycle.  I am nervous.

Of course, while all this is running through my head the logical side of me is counter-arguing:  it’s ONLY 37 miles and although it is remote, we do know people travel on the road, so it’s not likely that we will starve or die of thirst out there.  It’s also likely that we could hitch another ride if things got really bad (but I would hate for that to happen again!).  Just take it slow, find your rhythm and figure it out as you go…..it will be fine, you will be fine.

But then it hits me.  The wind, that is.  As we turn on to the road, it throws me reeling over the edge.  Furious and determined, it whips at my face then whirls around and hits me from the side.  “Oh, you’ve got to be f@#king kidding me!” I shout.  I try to ignore it and focus on assessing the condition of the road.  It’s one of the crappiest roads I have ever seen, a mixture of washboard, gravel and mostly sand.  It appears to be barely better than the road from the day before.  Nevertheless, I’m determined to give it a go so I scope out what I think is a good line and start pedaling.  I’m immediately blown off-center, not able to move forward even a couple of feet.  I try again and again and again.  Even when I lean into the wind, determined to stay the course, it defeats me and I find myself helplessly being swept to the left of the road and into the sand that stalls.  Meanwhile, Kai is experiencing the same problem, although he has managed to get a bit further along than I have.  I start yelling for him to stop.  I need to talk about this situation.  But he doesn’t hear me over the damned wind!  A part of me knows that he’s also purposefully going ahead to entice me to catch up with him and avoid my calling it quits.

Kai heading south, away from Gonzaga Bay

Kai forging ahead.

After mostly pushing a couple of miles up the road I’m completely spent.  This is impossible!  I cannot do it!  I don’t WANT to do it!  It’s insane.  My logical side tells me we are not going to make this ride in 3 days if we have these conditions the entire way.  I decide I’m done.  And I stop, my body leaning fully in to my bike to keep it upright.  I am feeling full on hatred for bicycle touring at this moment.  By the time Kai walks back to where I stand I’ve already formulated my argument for why we should go back to the hotel and backtrack the following day.  In fact, I’m ready to ride all the way back to Vermont.

Windy Day, Leaving Gonzaga Bay

Done!  The position of my mud flap and my ponytail give an indication as to the strength of the wind.

He knows what’s coming and he starts by trying to commiserate but when I dig my heels in he gets frustrated.  Reeling off every reason why we wanted to cycle tour around the world in the first place, he asks question after question.  Don’t you want to see x, y and z?  Yes, of course, but I’m happy seeing them through other people’s photos.  Don’t you want to be healthy and breathe in this air every day instead of being in the office?  Yes, but I promise if we go back home I’ll exercise outside, every single day, no matter what.  What about all the organizations you want to visit, the volunteering you want to do?  Well……I don’t know……there are plenty of good things I can do at home too.  What about meeting people around the world, seeing how they deal with problems, what their dreams are?  Oh, I don’t know!  I’m faltering.  He’s right about all of it.  Of course I don’t want to quit but I am having major problems lately with motivation and today’s conditions are not helping.  I’m feeling sort of like a big loser now, a bit ashamed.  Every week I’m reminded by people around the world that we’re living “the dream”.  I’ve been told by other cyclists that I should relish every single day on the road, that it’s better than any day in the office.  I know it’s all true but it doesn’t change the reality that long-term cycle touring can really, really suck too.

Then he starts to pull out the “Remember When” list.  Remember when you climbed your first “big” peak in California?  Remember how you struggled with climbing it?  Those hills are tiny compared to what you’ve climbed since.  (That’s true, I think to myself.  And that’s kind of funny.)  Remember when we first started wild camping, how worried you were about it?  Now you prefer it over hotels.  (Right again.)  Remember how we had Point Mugu to ourselves, how great that was?  Think of all the great people we’ve met that we would have never had the chance to meet if we weren’t out here.  Remember Puertecitos, the hot springs, the silence, the stars, the sound of the birds flying?  (Yes, yes, ok.  I remember.)  And so it goes.  The remembering always pulls me back in.

Desert, S. of Gonzaga Bay

Can you tell which direction the wind is blowing?!

After some laughing about the craziness of the current conditions we push on and against the wind, certain that just over the next peak the wind will change its course or ease up a bit.  Eight miles in we finally get a break.  For almost three miles we dip down below a mountain ridge to our right, just enough to break the wind.  It’s short lived and by mile 12 we’re fighting the blasted wind again.

Sheila, Gonzaga Bay in the distance

Sheila, back in the saddle again, leaving Gonzaga Bay behind.

We’re both exhausted and decide its time to stop despite our pathetic distance traveled.  We scout out places to set up camp but have problems finding anything out of the wind.  We’re into the hills now so it seems even more ferocious than when we began the day and the constant sound of it is driving us slightly mad.  Finally settling on a spot near a short and dense tree we stake the corners of the tent before erecting it to prevent it from flying off.  Kai squats behind the tent making dinner while I unload our bikes and set up our sleeping quarters.  We devour dinner and then fall in to the tent, giggling about how good it feels to lie down, even on our thin sleeping mats.  There is nothing in the world like this feeling, a complete and welcome physical exhaustion.  The sides of the tent are wildly stuttering, the wind trying to free it from our grounding of it.  It would normally keep us awake but within minutes we are both dead asleep.

Sheila, climbing in remote Baja

Wild Camp, Desert southwest of Gonzaga Bay

The tent tucked behind a tree.

Wild Camp, Desert southwest of Gonzaga Bay

Kai tucked behind the tent.

A short video of our first day and next morning on the back roads of Baja:

Heavy Winds & Sandy Roads :: Southwest of Gonzaga Bay (Baja, Mexico) from 2cycle 2gether on Vimeo.


Editor’s Note:: I wanted to continue this post to include the next day which was much better and happier but I don’t have time right now.  Don’t worry – we’re still cycling!  These little “bumps” in the road are all a part of the course for cycle tourists.  Half the battle, for me, is overcoming my own self-doubts and fears.  I’m doing it, one revolution at a time, just like you!

We’re currently in Mulege, heading out this morning for a few days of camping along Conception Bay.  We’ll be off-grid again for this time but plan to take a break in Loreto, when we’ll have a chance to continue our blog posts and get you up to speed.  Till then, keep forging ahead!


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