There’s something about the bicycle. It’s like a magnet to humanity. Specifically, the touring bike. The bigger the load on the paniers the greater the curiosity invoked. At least that’s how it seemed each time we’ve set out on a tour. The first day of our Baja bike tour was no exception. Sitting in front of a burning lot of dried cholla cactus that made up our first campfire of the trip that night, I couldn’t help but look back with a smile at the myriad and mixed greetings we received that day.
The gringo couple out on a walk when we rode the bridge out of San Jose del Cabo and their cheers, the man and wife from Winnipeg stunned to learn we were not on a guided tour but a self-contained bike trip, the grizzled Mexican cowboy in the passenger seat of the big old car, two ton hat and all, smiling and waving, the American couple who stopped their jeep on the busy round about where we stood after a nature break simply to say ‘the road is really rough ahead, you know…’. Then finally, the security guards at the start of the private road, out in the middle of nowhere with a chain spanning the two small lanes to stop vehicles from passing, and the convincing we had to do to convince them that, yes, it was indeed possible to ride our bikes on the infamously rough East Cape road.
Travelers, locals, tourists, truckers and Mexican ranchers made us feel like adventurers of times past. Only this was 2013 and all we were doing was a two week long bike tour. A voyage on the roughest of roads. What laid ahead was adventure and hours of riding sandy, rocky and steep roads all but eroded away in places. Perfect for our traveling needs. The worse the road the less the traffic.
Such a crappy road juxtaposed with McMansions along the Sea of Cortez made the perfect mix for the rugged coast. No matter how prime the real estate, the land, weather and sea doesn’t allow for more than a glorified jeep trail. An ideal path for the mountain bike.
Yes, we were in a foreign land but one we knew well. The moment we stepped off the plane the warmth was evident. The Latino culture never fails to warm the heart. Even the customs officers lining the tarmac couldn’t help but smile. Each and every interaction reminded us of our cultures coldness. And I’m not talking about that of ice and snow.
This warmth was not felt just from the desert sun. It was felt from every encounter with the Mexicans. And to think we started our adventure in a version of tourist hell, San Jose Del Cabo. The woman with her basket of empanadas homemade still slightly warm from the oven. She laughed and smiled while listing off her tantalizing choices. She asked where we’re from when making our selections, then carefully placed each in a small paper sack. We munched on the delicacies and discuss how cold Canada is with her and another shopkeeper. It’s all in Spanish but Peter is fluent and I can sort of understand enough to get the gist of things.
The bike shop who called each and every shop in town as well as the neighboring city, Cabo San Lucas, to find someone, anyone, who had spare plates to attach my cycling shoe cleats to. In the rush of packing I left them at home. David, the store manager, ended up not only finding a set 30 kilometers away, he drove and got them for me. All so we could begin our bike tour the next day.
The dignity of the man with his paletas in his little ice cream cart with a small bell to notify customers. A push cart smaller than the tiniest ones north of the border. The woman who carefully cut the fruit for our fruit cup. Already piled high with tropical fruit delights, she decided we needed a little more and placed four small pieces of papaya on top. All with a smile.
The maids, the landscapers, the vendors, they all greeted us with friendliness even when we had no business to give. They don’t have much by our standards but are so rich in ways we lack. There’s a dignity in their poverty that we lack in our wealth.
These and many other reasons are why we keep coming back to La Baja. It was Peter’s 9th bike tour on the peninsula along with the walk he did from tip to top, Cabo to Tijuana, all by himself through the desert. For me it was the third time, all by bike. Two weeks is a short trip by our standards but after two days we were already satisfied with the adventure.
And then that beautiful desert camp to end day one with the cholla log burning fast and hot to boil water for the first meal. Up and arroyo just off the road we set our spot for the night and were surrounded by the lush cactus jungle north to south. The crashing high tide of the Sea of Cortez beat like a rich drum to a symphony of crickets.
It was hard to believe that for the first time since I raced at the Olympics in London I was back on my bike. Back on two wheels and loving the ride. All day I smiled because it gave me the simplest of joys. It’s true that riding a bike brings one back to being a kid. Even when pushing the damn thing up some of the deep sandy slopes that once were road, I couldn’t help but feel complete.
It was good to be back and even better to be on a bike. Modern-day explorers we were. All we hoped to discover were new experiences as rewards to our efforts. As the security guard said when we finally convinced him we could survive riding the terrible road, ‘Que la vaya bien’, ‘that it goes well’.