34.2 mi / 8.5 mph / 3587 ft. climbing
Home: Wild camp in the middle of the desert cacti
One more breakfast at…Mama Espinoza’s. For the second morning in a row, a tour bus dropped a load of Americans into the restaurant, presumably to look at the memorabilia and buy some of the various stuff for sale. They kind of wander around for 10 or 15 minutes and then leave. On the one hand, it’s awesome how they’re seeing way more of Baja, Mexico than the average Cabo Spring-Breaker (and infintely more than the Americans too scared to go to Mexico at all), but on the other hand, it really highlights why we love exploring places by “traveling at bicycle speed”. Ugh, I feel like such an ass looking down my nose at these bus-tourists, when just a few months ago I hadn’t even considered going to Mexico. But I can’t help it, because now that I’m here, the amount of “Mexico” we’ve experienced already, even with our garbage Spanish and limited personal communication, just staggers me, and it makes me sad to think of how much I would have missed if we’d just been on the bus tour.
At the Oxxo we got some final snacks and filled six liters of extra water into our 10-liter water bag, purchased during our stay in Redlands explicitly for this desert crossing. With the ~4 liters our bottles hold, that’s about 22 lbs. of water between us. Not so much because we’re concerned about the heat and dryness of the desert (luckily today had a thin layer of clouds giving shade for most of the day, and temps peaked in the 70s), but because we don’t know how many days we’ll go without a good chance to refill.
The first five miles took us along a dry river valley with a lot of agriculture somehow happening around it, but then when we crossed a long bridge, the climb began, and the already-limited civilization quickly fell away to nothing. We rose into the desert, up some 1700 ft., with the size, shapes, and variety of desert flora increasing as we went.
We began to see the legendary boojum trees, which only grow here, getting taller and thinner and more Seussian the further we went. The road took us up onto spectacular ridge lines with 360-degree views, which included high mountains, cactus-filled slopes, and deep valleys. When you look at the Baja Peninsula on a map, it seems so skinny, so fragile, ready to be wiped away by a good strong wave from the Pacific. But no, this pensinsula isn’t about to go anywhere, it is filled with massive mounds of rock that rise far above the sea.
After seeing perhaps one occupied building in over 20 miles, we arrived at El Sacrificio Loncheria, our target for the day. A true old-school road-house, it’s genuinely a house. We strolled in the open front door and were greeted by Juan, and perhaps his daughter or granddaughter. Again, we’re frustrated that we can’t communicate more with our limited Spanish, but we immediately understood that we should open the cooler for drinks (and we grabbed a couple of Tecates). We also verified that we would be able to set up our tent in the back yard to spend the night, which was our original plan. It was still somewhat early, but after a quick debate, we decided to both have a full 3-burrito plate (again, no menus here), which our hosts dropped into the kitchen to quickly prepare. We paid 20 pesos ($1 USD) for some Wifi (this is the first place in Baja where we haven’t had cell service, understandably), and looked up weather, sunset, and wild-camping options.
See, the people who have been surprising the shit out of themselves by slowly but inexorably ratcheting up what they think is “safe” and “normal” were now considering pitching our tent out in the middle of the desert somewhere. Thirty miles from a place where more than three people were gathered in a square mile. In Mexico. For me, with so much beautiful, unoccupied desert around, it would seem silly to spend the night tucked in behind a house with a crowing rooster and several barking dogs and who knows how many overnight truckers stopping (though no one besides us had stopped during our visit). For Rett, it was a bit more about cutting off some miles and hills of our next day, which I could also get behind.
So with an hour and half until sunset, we decided to go for it. Said goodbye to El Sacrificio and headed for a spot five and a half miles further down the highway, recommended on the iOverlander app. Would it exist? Hopefully, because while we would have been able to find some workable spots relatively close to the highway, none of what we passed was great. Worse, a strong steady headwind had started up (it had been nearly wind-free at El Sacrificio, part of why I figured pushing onward would be a good idea). And with more than 3000 feet of climbing already under our belts, adding another 450 feet into that headwind was a real bear, and had us seriously doubting our decision.
But we slogged on at 6 to 8 mph, past some cows in the middle of the roadway, watched a coyote cross ahead, and finally, there it was! Exactly where marked on the map, a turnoff onto a relatively-smooth dirt road. We walked about a quarter mile in, found a perfect flat campsite area, nearly invisible from the nearly-empty highway, and surrounded by majestic, psychadelic cacti. Before setting up the tent, we set up our camp chairs, cracked open a couple more Tecates brought from El Sacrificio, and watched the already-set sun turn the clouds magenta behind the spines and spindles of the desert forest surrounding us.
Holy shit, how did we get to here? A month ago we were in Redlands, doubting if we were even going to be able to continue bike touring. I am so glad that we have made it to this geographical, emotional, and mental place, even though I really can’t explain how it happened.