17.8 mi / 10.0 mph / 1083 ft. climbing
Home: Mariya’s AirBNB apartment
At breakfast we started working on a pro/con list to help us decide where to fly to in the United States. Once upon a time, we’d considered turning back north from Guerrero Negro and riding our way back out of Baja. As we continued south, that changed to maybe taking a ferry from La Paz to the Mexican mainland and riding north to the U.S. from there. But for some time now we’ve known that we’d be flying from Los Cabos.
What we haven’t known is where we’d be flying to. Our main selection criteria were:
- A direct flight from Los Cabos
- Reasonable weather whenever we would arrive
- A rideable distance from Rett’s dad’s place in Upstate New York for a mid-June arrival
Now with our date to depart Mexico narrowed down, our possible destinations quickly filtered down to Charlotte, NC and Chicago. Chicago looked better on paper, but we still felt a draw to Charlotte, especially when our friends Sarah and Mark sounded excited to welcome us there.
We could make our final decision once we completed our final bit of riding in Mexico, a short trip to San Jose del Cabo (“the other Cabo”, and the one with the airport). First we (well, mostly Rett) had to stand in a long-ass line in the hot sun to simply check out of the resort. Not something we’re used to doing, and at least an “all-inclusive resorts suck!” point I could finally use.
It was far from our most-pleasant ride in Baja, since it was entirely along the busy “tourist corridor” highway that keeps you close enough to multiple lanes of the densest high-speed traffic we’ve experienced here, with somewhat-inconsistent shoulders, on/off-ramps to navigate, and mostly too far from the paralleling coastline to afford any nice views. And it was hot, and hilly, so Rett was particularly struggling for the relatively-short distance, surely with no help from the previous night’s partying.
Our San Jose del Cabo AirBNB was well-located, just off the main highway, but up an improbable 14% hill (I could double-check because I rode both my bike and Rett’s bike up it, while she walked). The spiral staircase was one final insult, but we managed it, and settled into what looked to be a pretty nice home for the next nine days. We wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to book a flight, figure out how to pack up the bikes, and pack up the bikes.
Rett had started coughing in the late afternoon after we’d settled in at our apartment. She initially assumed it was smoking/drinking/hangover effects, but I’d never seen those cause this sort of coughing in her. She attempted to go to sleep early, but by 11:30pm, with her coughing continuing unabated, I switched to the second bedroom. She eventually slept, but by morning, it was clear that she was affected by something worse than a hangover.
By the morning after that, it was clear that I was affected with similar symptoms. COVID-19 was the main suspect, and the filthy miasma of our Cabo San Lucas debauchery was the obvious scene of the crime.
Rett took a Rapid Antigen Test two days later (partly to give time for the virus to affect a test, and partly because it wasn’t obvious how to find a test: it turns out Farmacia Similares had them for ~US$10). Reading the Spanish instructions on a Chinese-made test was a fun thing for sick people to do, but careful methodology turned out to be unimportant; Rett’s test turned boldly and immediately positive. There was no reason to test me too, so we just assumed I was positive as well.
We once lived less then 10 miles from the first COVID-19 deaths in the US, but had managed to remain infection-free for 2+ years. Not surprisingly, infection finally happened during the most guard-let-down activity we’d participated in during those years. Also there was no small bit of irony in Rett getting infected with COVID immediately upon reaching the Mexican resort-stay that had been cancelled by the arrival of COVID-19 two years earlier.
We were both vaccinated with three shots of Pfizer, but this likely-Omicron-family variant punched through without difficulty. My symptoms lasted about 5 days and only reached bad-cold severity, while Rett’s lasted a little longer and were legitimately flu-like. She was laid up in bed for at least two straight days, and body aches made it difficult for her to walk the ten steps from bed to the toilet.
So it really sucked, and is something we would have much preferred to avoid, especially when potential long-term effects like “diminished lung capacity” could seriously affect our future lives. We were incredibly lucky, however, that it hit us when and where we had already planned a significant chunk of motionless time in a well-resourced city. Falling sick in a desert camp with two days of riding to the next real town would have been much worse.
But finally, there was a logistical consideration: we could not return the the US without a negative COVID test (and not that we would want to travel when positive even if it wasn’t a requirement). When would we test negative? Who knows!
So one unexpected COVID-19 side-effect was that it decided our destination: Chicago had daily flights from both United and American, while Charlotte had only one Saturday flight per week. We would now need the flexibility. So, sorry Charlotte, we’re stuck with Chicago.
On our ninth day, we felt sufficiently-recovered to finally book a flight, but not sufficiently-confident that we’d test negative, so we scheduled it for four days out. It was also the originally-scheduled end of our AirBNB stay, but luckily the brand-new AirBNB listing had plenty of availability, so we extended that for another four days as well.
So we had originally set aside nine days for us to get our shit together to fly out of the country with our bikes, and had accomplished essentially none of that. So now, even while still possibly infected and contagious (though we felt mostly healthy), we had to get everything done in less than half that time.
I had been able to do enough research to learn that flying with bikes could be done fairly economically these days: the major American carriers have all adopted policies in the last few years saying that a boxed bike will cost the same as (and take the place of) a normal checked bag (a surprising example of airlines getting more consumer-friendly!) If we could each take a rear pannier as our carry-on, a front pannier as our “personal item”, and stuff our remaining two panniers, handlebar bags, and helmets into a large duffel, we would squeak by with just two checked “bags” each, for a mere $70 ($140 for the both of us) on American Airlines.
We needed to get boxes for our bikes, and one tremendous bit of luck was that there was a bike shop a block from our AirBNB, because transporting the unwieldy large cardboard shells is a challenge. I had stopped by one day and they told me that they’d likely have a couple boxes (the same cardboard boxes that bikes get delivered to them in from the manufacturers) the next day. However, the next day, the response was “no, sorry, no boxes today, and we won’t get any.” Also no rides to the airport (which seemed to be something they used to offer), because the guy who did that doesn’t work there anymore. Bummer, and it sure would have been nice to know 24 hours ago that I needed to keep my box-search active.
After a bunch of hemming and hawing and trying to avoid making a phone call to someone who might not speak English, I took my bike out to ride by a couple other bike shops. And, the first one, Sanjo Bikes, had a couple of nearly-perfect boxes sitting there right on the display floor as I walked in! The kid working had limited English, and apologized for the “basura” left inside them, but it wasn’t “trash”, it was all the wonderful packing material from the original bikes! I gave him 100 pesos to hold them, and then had to figure out how to get these giant boxes the uphill mile back to our AirBNB. In the end, I rode back home, Rett and I took an Uber to the store (so she’d only have to do one way in the heat and sun), and then we walked them back, mostly in train-form with Rett in front, the two long boxes behind her, and me in the rear. But sometimes with them both balanced on top of my head. Luckily the stretch had some of the least-booby-trapped (but still quite murderous) sidewalks we’ve seen in Mexico, so while it was a lot of work, we got it done faster than I’d hoped.
I spent the next two days measuring, experimenting, and packing the bikes up in the way that would give the lowest risk of damage from airline baggage handlers. The front wheel, handlebars, and pedals need to come off, and then all those things need to be rearranged and organized into a roughly rectangular form. Luckily both of the slightly-different-sized boxes were nearly a perfect fit for each of our bikes.
In the meantime, I finally decided to take a COVID test, nine days after my symptoms started, and about three days after I was feeling 100% again. And, it was positive. Not as glaringly positive as Rett’s from a week ago, but it meant I was still likely contagious. I wasn’t shocked though, since my reading had told me that this is a bit of a “feature” of recent COVID infections in vaccinated people: symptoms now start much earlier after infection due to our immune systems being primed and ready to counter-attack. So that means we’re aware of our infection much sooner, and thus the infectious period seems to last longer.
During previous expeditions, I had tried and failed to find “Ghana must go” bags (or “Chinatown totes”): large, light, cheap, woven-plastic bags to encase our existing, smaller bags. So Rett went ahead and found the Ikea version on Amazon Mexico, and had them shipped to a nearby DHL office.
But with the vagaries of product-delivery in Mexico, inscrutable tracking information, on top of fear of remaining COVID-positive, and generally still feeling harried and stressed and unprepared, we decided to delay one more day, changing our flight and extending our lodging to a full two-week stay.
The next day though, the bags arrived and we picked them up without issue (and they juuuust fit all of our stuff in them), and even better, we both tested negative in our COVID “pre-tests”! In celebration, we went out to eat for the first time in San Jose del Cabo, this town we’d been living in for nearly half a month. The Middle-Eastern cuisine of El Grill was either excellent, or, garbage made to taste excellent by our brains finally relieved at the settling of uncertainty.
The next day we took our “official” COVID tests. In Cabo they have a whole streamlined industry at all the resorts that integrates airline-official COVID tests into the checkout procedure, but we were an unusual case as we weren’t leaving directly from a resort. A day before I had finally noticed a mobile testing center a few blocks away at St. Luke’s Hospital, but before that Rett got us set up with an at-home, video-over-Internet test. Essentially we just performed COVID tests in front of our computer for a human in California on the other side (holding up the result directly in front of the camera for a screenshot; cheating would not have required magician-level slight-of-hand), and an hour or two later, got our official PDF that we could then upload to the airline’s verification system.
With that last bit of nervousness taken off the table, we finally had an opportunity to see this town we had been living in for weeks. We walked our way down to the Mission and historic town center, and I was a bit shocked to see how touristy it was! Over in our area of town, along the main highway, I had been to way more places than I probably should have (masked, mouth closed, not speaking, and taking advantage of the temperature-scanners at grocery store entrances to show that I never ran a fever), and it had felt like a wholly-local, Mexican city.
And it even felt that way on the few walks we’d done a bit further out to test our return to health. But this time we went far enough to hit, first some streets with upscale shops (and walkable sidewalks!), and then the full-on “buy Viagra/Xanax/etc!” tourist pharmacies along with the lines of restaurants with hosts guiding you in. We stopped at Baja Brewing for a sampler of beers, but mostly just explored the admittedly-pretty streets. On the way home, a bit further out, we stopped at Claro Fish Jr. for some really good tacos to end our night, and our three months in Mexico.