Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean south of California, west of Mexico, the Baja Peninsula encompasses four deserts, roughly 3,000 kilometers of coastline, and the right mix of challenge and remoteness to attract intrepid travelers of all kinds. For those of the bikepacking variety, a relatively new route has quickly become a must-ride: the 2,692-kilometer Baja Divide. Those with schedules to keep may take on the Divide in sections, riding for a week or two before hopping on a bus back to where they started. And then there’s Sònia Colomo.
The 1st of July marks the start date for the most awaited cycling event of the year. Tens of cyclists from different origins gather to dedicate the next weeks of their lives to riding a different route every day, with a rest day every week. Those who manage to finish the route will have over 4000 kilometers under their legs. We’re not talking about the Tour de France here, this is La Ruta Chichimeca!
Perhaps you remember Beau? That crazy fella who rode his bike from Boulder, Colorado to Mexico City in the middle of the summer that we profiled last year? Well, John reconnected with Beau after his tour and asked if he had any stories he’d like to share. Little did we know we’d get a tale like this… Also, Beau is doing another postcard project, so read on below for those details as well!
There’s more to biking in Baja than the Divide
Twenty minutes after sunset and the sky has a glowing ember look. Night is taking over. In the distance — in the hills — you can see the front and rear lights of a bike. At first, it seems like it must be a motorcycle, but there’s no noise. It’s a mountain bike. The rider zooms up and down small climbs and descents, and then flies past us in a cloud of dust we can’t quite see, but can smell. The person on the bike, whoever they are, is having a great time.
I’m driving the entirety of Baja — with my husband and our dog — from Mexicali to Todos Santos. We started in Colorado. All in, the trip south is over 2,000 miles. We camp a lot — in a little van we built out last year. It’s great, but not quite van life. More, a step up from tent life. We’ve got our mountain bikes — an Ibis Mojo and a Revel Ranger — and a lot of peanut butter.
Dulce Ortiz and Wladimir Labraña are the couple behind Atom Cycles, the handmade bicycle building project in Ojo de Agua in the State of México, just outside of México City. What started as a love story between a Mexican woman and a Chilean man isn’t mine to tell, but it resulted in the fusion of the expertise of a graphic designer and a metal construction technician to bring to life fillet brazed bicycle frames, racks, and an expanding range of bicycle accessories.
Ever wonder where stolen bikes end up? Well, Bike Index has an in-depth look at a Facebook reseller in Mexico that was selling stolen bikes from Colorado. Alexander’s Bikes had been operating since 2019 and Bike Index uncovered dozens of bikes listed as stolen in Colorado on the Facebook page. This is a really great pice of journalism so be sure to check it out if you have time!
In the mountains of the State of México, about two hours by car to the west of México City, there’s a little town named San Simón el Alto; in this town, there’s a house which would pass as any other house save for the sign that reads “Bebidas exóticas”, exotic drinks, and an outdoor bar, a Biergarten if you will, with chairs in an inviting position. Wandering in the garden, a big turkey makes sure everything is in order and slowly approaches whoever stays idle for too long, be it dog, cat, or person. To the right there’s the house and one of the doors opens up to reveal two sewing machines, rolls of Xpac and Liteskin, and a few half-made bicycle bags. This is Peregrinus Equipment, the bike bag enterprise run by physicist, cyclist, and nature enthusiast Nicolás Legorreta.
Karla and I headed to Tijuana when we heard that the local government was giving the covid vaccine to anyone who wanted it. We used a Fabio’s chest as luggage bags because although we didn’t bring our bikes, we had the idea of borrowing some to move around the city and try to fit in an overnighter, so we also brought our sleeping bags and bike touring tool kit. With the Baja Divide being so close the thought of jumping on it crossed our minds but we decided to settle for something that required fewer logistics and that could be started and finished from the place we were staying in.
La Costa de Hermosillo is the name for a vast expanse of land that covers from the west of the city of Hermosillo all the way to the coast of the Gulf of California, 100 km (60 miles) away. Once part of the territory where the Comca’ac Natives thrived, nowadays it’s mainly used for agriculture; during the 19th century, the Comca’ac, most frequently called “Seri” which means “people of the sand” in Yaqui language, were persecuted and almost wiped out completely by the Mexican army and ranchers who had interest in this territory, and the few survivors of the already dispersed Comca’ac Nation were progressively displaced further and further towards the coast till they reached the land they occupy today, where water is scarce and life conditions are harsh. Rain is not often seen around here, and agriculture is only possible via drilling wells and bringing water from other parts. La Costa de Hermosillo is flat as it is possible for land to be, so making long distances by bike in this region is a matter of keeping your bars straight and moving early, because it’s usually around noon that the wind picks up.
Reasons to go on a bike trip have different origins; this one, in particular, originated when I saw a photo of several rock pillars lined together and I wanted to see them in person. Located in the heart of the Guarijío/Makurawe Native’s land in the southeast of my home state Sonora, “Los Pilares de San Bernardo” have witnessed the centuries that the Guarijío have made of this place their home, and in the last decade, the construction of a controversial megaproject by the federal government. Promoted with the idea of building a dam to prevent floodings further down the Mayo Valley and provide the local communities with water all year long, this project was given a fast forward before being fully evaluated and is also splattered with shady agreements between the government, big agricultural and mining companies and “local authorities” that some of the Guarijío don’t recognize as such.
Álamos is a town in the southeast of the Mexican state of Sonora popular for its colonial architecture and for hosting an annual art and music festival and is also part of the network of “Pueblos Mágicos” in the country. After taking the long way from the nearest city which took me and my friend Javo five days instead of the 65 km on the main road, we arrived looking for the commodities of a town with full services. As we ride on the cobbled streets and alleys that give this town part of its essence, the fresh memories from the days that brought us here are slowly replaced by the blurry, drunken memories from my college days coming to the biggest music festival in the state. I recognize porches where I slept or found my friends sleeping, and the house where an old man invited me for a morning sip of lechuguilla, a distilled liquor made from a local species of agave, which he was drinking from a repurposed coca-cola bottle.
Security in México is a topic I don’t usually talk about; in order to keep myself from falling into hopelessness, I try to focus and highlight the good actions of people. Nevertheless, it’s like a pebble that you always carry in your pocket: you know it’s there, you touch it when you reach for other stuff, and although you are mostly used to it, some days it just decides to poke your leg. Adventure cyclists in the country generally have this factor in consideration at different levels depending on region and other circumstances, so here we’ll go a little over the topic but hey, there are some happy parts in this story too, for good balance.
The doorbell of the Alaska bike shop jingled shut as another khaki shorts cruise ship goer left, leaving me alone at the counter for a brief moment to contemplate my future. My job at the bike shop would end in mid-September, and I wanted to be riding the Baja Divide in mid-January. These things were clear, what lay between them was not.
Karla and I were on route before Covid-19 had been detected in Mexico, but as we saw the situation develop we decided to pause our trip and go home. It feels weird to have our outdoor space reduced to a small backyard after being on the limitless open road, but we stay positive and hope you’re all safe and to see you on the road once all this passes. Stay strong and cheers!
We leave San Ignacio and after a chill ride we make it to Laguna de San Ignacio where we join a whale watching tour. On our previous segment we had seen whales spout from the coast, but seeing them dive under the tiny boat we were on was an amazing experience. Back on dry land we stop at the tiny store in town for a quick resupply, where the lady behind the counter is actively scrolling on her phone and she expresses her concern about “the new virus”. This area relies heavily on sea related activities and the main buyer is China, but because of Covid-19 all product shipping has been stopped, leaving people without part of the income they count on for the rest of the year. She’s also worried about being in a touristy spot, where most of the visitors are from abroad.
Last year, my partner Karla and I rode the northern half of the Baja Divide which soon, and as expected, became the hardest pedaling we had ever done, but also one of the most fulfilling experiences of our lives so when we went home we just kept on dreaming about going back for the second half of it.
This video is beautifully shot and will speak to fly anglers and mountain bikers alike!
In remote Baja, Mexico childhood friends stumble upon an untapped Mecca for two dissimilar passions – stalking striped marlin on the fly and progressive, freeride mountain biking. But in this part of the world, almost nothing, other than a cold beer at the end of the day, comes easily, and through hardscrabble adventure and misadventure this motley crew hopes to find never-before ridden terrain and experience marlin exploding into chaotic topwater action.
Be on the lookout here for the full feature-length when it drops online.
One of Lael Wilcox‘s dreams when it comes to the Baja Divide is to provide the route in Spanish. Well, thanks to Daniel Zaid, that dream has become a reality. The Baja Divide begins at the US/Mexico border and continues all the way down the Baja Penninsula, with the route describing each section in detail. This is a huge undertaking for Daniel to take on. Many thanks to Lael and Rue for making this happen!
See the translated site at Baja Divide.
Karla and I had planned to explore a route that has been in my books for a while now which would connect Naco at the México-USA border to the city of Hermosillo via mostly dirt roads, as part of a project I tend to call “Ruta Trans-Sonora”, a way to cross the Mexican state of Sonora from north to south offering a continuation from the GDMBR, the AZT, and the most recent Wild West Route. This could, eventually, connect with the also recently released Trans-Mexico Route, which so far assumes you’d do the Baja Divide first. Although I don’t know why anyone would miss the opportunity of doing the Baja Divide, the idea is to put another option in the menu, and well, it’s my home state after all.