DFL the (Baja) Divide
Photos and words by Spencer Harding
I went into the Baja Divide grand depart expecting it to be more of a social occasion than a bike tour. I’ll admit, despite the plentiful resources provided on the Baja Divide website, I barely looked at the maps and descriptions of the route. All I knew was that there would be a bunch of really wonderful people there that I wanted to hang out and ride bikes with. So I piled my car full of chubby bikes and wonderful humans and headed south to San Diego.
While there were plenty of people in it for the long haul, I had planned on a modest two-week trek down the first section of the Northern Sierra route to Vincente Guerrero. An addendum was later made to include a week of riding south to explore the sci-fi botanical landscapes of the Valle de los Cirios just north of Catavina.
The first day was pretty damn exciting. There were tons of stroopwafels (thanks Gu!), brand new bikes, old friends, and nearly 100 people ready to ride bikes about it. The proposed plan for the grand depart was a 50+ mile ramble out of San Diego, organized by Nicholas and Lael. The first day included a huge climb over Otay Mountain and some swampy single track before reaching the group camp at Barret Junction. I barely made it before dark and wasn’t the last one in. After everyone settled in, the hoard convened in roadhouse hall filled with long tables and taxidermy treasures for a massive buffet dinner where everyone caught up and made new friends.
The next morning we began our fateful crossing into Mexico. The process of acquiring a visa was simple enough though with a group of our size of the crossing took more time than expected. Luckily, the second group camp was just a few miles outside of town. A sea of tents covered an off-season water park camping area. Lots of Tequila, Ginny DJing, and plenty of drunken sing-alongs well into the night made sure everyone was up and out early to get as far from our posse as they could.
After making sure everyone had proper base maps and plenty of Gu, Nicholas “set his lil’ birdies free” the next morning, and off we went – at the crack of noonish – to explore the first real backcountry sections of the Baja Divide. Little did we know that the next day a plague would fall upon our group. It started with a cough and slowly morphed into some kind of bronchial nightmare replete with sleeplessness and fever dreams. Ariel was the first one down. Slowly, over the next few days and weeks, we all fell in some way to the sickness.
Nonetheless, we all pressed on in our own ways, though we rarely made it more than 30 miles in a day. With campfires every morning and evening plus the added hang out n’ snack time the glacial pace of the #dfl crew was no surprise to anyone. The compromise of miles for kinship was well worth it to our squad. Sarah and Tom were our trail sages (fearless leaders) as they had ridden most of the first quarter of the route a few months prior with Nicholas and Lael.
As for the route, it was fucking hard. This and the sickness set the pace for our group, though we maintained a healthy level of optimism. Riding along the tore up landscape in the wake of the Baja 1000, a moto race that comprises a large section of the route, made for some exquisitely twisted double track. Now that isn’t to say the route is prohibitive, there were a few novice bikepackers and all things considered they were all doing pretty damn good. In fact, it was truly amazing to watch people shredding fully loaded mountain bikes for the first time. This route brought specific challenges for everyone, many people had gear issues, some had trouble not speaking the language, but one person’s weakness was another’s strength and everything was handled communally.
It’s also worth noting the contingent of badass women cyclists who showed up for the ride, no doubt due to the outpouring of support / stoke from Lael’s scholarship and the folks from Advocate Cycles. This really made an impression as I had received some comments last year after the DFL the Divide trip about the lack of women in the group. While I had no personal involvement in the organization of this trip, I was super stoked to see that the group who showed up to the start in San Diego was comprised of nearly 50% women – a heartening realization.
This was probably the most monumental gathering of the bikepacking community that I have ever witnessed and I am so thankful that I to have been a part of it. Nicholas and Lael created something truly special and inspired so many wonderful humans to come together. Thank you for you passion and enthusiasm – I can’t wait to finish the remainder of the route.