39.9 mi / 12.2 mph / 1492 ft. climbing
Home: Clementine Room at Clementine’s BNB
Today’s ride was a bit the opposite of our recent pattern: it started with a rough morning, but the tailwinds stayed steady to make reaching the end relatively easy.
The first issue in the morning was the heat. Partly due to not getting on the road particularly early in the morning, but it’s also possible that we were experiencing some long-absent humidity near the coast. Just getting down the steep hill and through the one-way narrow town streets to get us back to Highway 1 was a challenge. Then the road surface continued to be pretty poor, not as bad as the north end of Santa Rosalia, but worse than the normally high-quality Highway 1 we’ve been blessed with. We had hills to climb, and the usual close-to-town traffic levels put more stressful big trucks on our ass than usual. And at one point we had a couple of aggressive barking dogs running loose on a cliff edge twenty feet above us, raining down rocks toward us as they tempted themselves to tumble down the cliff in order to get a taste of our flesh. Combine all that together and it had us sweating bullets 30 minutes into our ride.
But then, the hills became flatter, the heat felt less-intense, the traffic lightened back to its normally-low levels, the tailwind picked up speed, and the dogs stayed up on their cliff. The road didn’t hug the coast for very long (our first time riding with the water on our left side), but the water stayed in view for much of the ride, giving us hints of the turquoise we’ll hope to see in Bahia Concepcion, as well as a view of the large San Marcos Island, with its dusty white scar of gypsum mining cutting across its southern end. Apparently mining is the thing around these parts!
At one point we passed a prison facility of some sort, and it caused me to recall how “20 years in a Mexican prison” is used as a punch-line of sorts in the United States, shorthand for the worst-of-the-worst. And here we were, just riding our bicycles past such a nightmare institution turned from boogeyman into reality. One of those moments that snaps into me that we’ve really been riding our bikes through a foreign country for over a month! From the outside, it looked pretty normal, and if it’s like most other things we’ve been told to fear in Mexico, I bet it’s actually way less scary inside than the American version!
One thing that I know is opposite-world here is…bridges! In many parts of the U.S., especially Oregon, bridge-crossings are the biggest cyclist-nightmares of the day. Usually we’d have been riding the the shoulder, with traffic able to pass easily, and then suddenly the shoulder would disappear at the bridge and we’d be forced into a narrow funnel with the cars and trucks, often on an uphill, while they fume and rage and honk behind us.
In Baja, it’s reversed! The main part of the road has no shoulder at all, but then at the bridges, we’ll suddenly get a 6-foot wide shoulder, and even the travel lanes will widen out a bit! My assumption is that it’s because the construction timelines are also reversed: in Baja, the bridges are relatively new, and in many cases they’re not even replacing an existing bridge, but rather they’re the first time the route has been lifted above the rough road that went across the bottom of the arroyos. So they’re built to more modern standards for their short distances, while the idea of widening the older main trunk of the lightly-traveled highway doesn’t pass the cost-benefit analysis. Whereas the cost to add some asphalt to modernize the more heavily-traveled highways in the U.S. was doable, but the price to replace the already-existing, more-complex bridges has not yet been justified. Either way, the traffic here is so relaxed, we don’t even need the shoulders on the bridges, but it’s nice that they’re there in some unknown future when Highway 1 gets widened and shoulder-riding becomes the norm.
We had a climb near the end, with some hints of deep mountain valley heading off to the west, and then a downhill that brought us into Mulege, another desert oasis. We bypassed the town proper and headed to a riverside gringo development where we arrived to our room at “Clementine’s”, a collection of rental houses and rooms in the private neighborhood.
Unfortunately that made “town” a mile away, and after we found that Jungla Jim’s, the one restaurant in the development, was currently not operating, I made a run on the bike into town and we resigned ourselves to cooking up some dinner in the shared outdoor kitchen.
A relaxed late-evening walk up and down the river, saying hello to fellow gringos doing the same, led to our now-frequent “I could live here” refrain.