Trukee, California to La Paz, Mexico


 Trukee to San Francisco
cycling on drugs and camping in goat heads  -   California coast cycling problems
9 days 535 miles
 San Francisco to San Diego
waiting for Bob  -  late to bed early to rise  -  if the earthquakes won't get ya the forest fires will  -   California Coast cyclists  -  life on the shoulder
12 days  692 miles
 San Diego to El Rosario
genuinely silencioso Mexico  -  sweet bread and adult comic strips  -  living with a view in Ensenada  -   you are from Turkey ?
5 days 309 miles
 El Rosario to Loreto
truck stops designed for bicycling  -  hay mas frijoles ?  -   Winnebagles and back wind  -   cirrios, cardons, pipe cleaners and flats  -   Spanish speaking French imperialism disguised as New England in Mexico  -  collecting oasesis  -  mark that spot
6 days 511 miles
 Loreto to La Paz
monotony is just another part of variety  -  cola wars in the dessert  -  the beach at the end of the rainbow  -  resorts for the rich and spoiled
3 days 273 miles
 back by bus
51 ways to sleep on a bus  - los patas por favor  -  the coast from hell
4 days 115 miles

Introduction THIS IS A DESCRIPTION OF 2 TOURS IN ONE, well maybe 1 and 1/2  tours in one. The first one starts in Central California, proceeds to the coast, and follows the California Coastal bike route South to San Diego. Since it's only 3/4 of the California Coastal bike route, it's really 3/4 of a trip. The narrative is mostly personal in nature, perceptions, freaky happenings, people, and not so much about tourist attractions or history.

The second part of this tour starts at the Mexican border, and goes through the longest Peninsula in the world, containing the greatest species of cacti in the world, most of which can only be found there. Interested yet ? There is little chance of taking a wrong turn. Only a single hard top road connects the towns, the Transpeninsular through Baja California. I rode as far as La Paz, skipping the very touristy Southern tip of the Peninsula. Being quite the tourist here myself, I included a few more things of historical and touristic interest. So that's another 3/4 of a trip, for a total of a trip and a half.


Trukee to San Francisco

Okt 7 - Okt 15 : 9 days,  535 miles
route : Trukee, Calif. - Grass Valley - Manchester Beach - Bodega Dunes state park - Sausolito - San Francisco

titles : cycling on drugs and camping in goatheads  -   California coast cycling problems

MY BAGS WERE PACKED AND I WAS READY TO GO. I knew what direction I wanted to ride, South. I knew where I wanted to ride, California. I knew how I wanted to get to the starting point of the ride, by (t)rusty old Amtrak. The California Zephyr ran practically by my house and it could get me to California in relative comfort. I still had to decide where exactly to get off the train and start riding. Ten minutes before purchasing the ticket I decided on Trukee. It was small. Hence I expected little traffic, and it put me at about a weeks worth of riding distance from San Francisco. There I had date fixed on which to meet my cycling buddy Bob for a ride down the coast as far as San Diego.

Trukee, a small historic resort in the Californian Sierras turned out to b a great place to start a bike tour.  At the start of this trip, my mind was into this trip like a cow is into physics. Yes, I had been planning this experience for months and months. I had been dreaming about it. I had anticipated it. I thought I was looking forward to it. But, you see, as it turned out, it was also directly connected with the end of relationship with a woman who I had gotten to know pretty well over a stormy 9 month period. I will spare you all the details. I was just wishing I could have spared them myself too. My mind had other things on its mind than the biketour.

I assembled my bike, disposed the box in the dumpster, and started to figure out how to proceed in a general westward direction from here. Hm, looks like there will be a Donner Pass in my life today. My legs still had some energy in them I thought, but barely. It was mostly nervous energy. The scenery was fantastic, the sunshine perpetual, the temperature perfect, the roads scenic. But my mind was on its own trip. On a bike, you have time to think. That can be a good thing, or you can think yourself in circles. That's usually a bad thing. I was thinking myself in circles. After a nice numbing climb, I descended into a hot expensive valley, that seemed to me could be any recently constructed suburban community in this country. So I checked into the first motel I found, and lived the strip mall life.

The first days of riding were unlike any other bike tour I've been on. I rode purely to selfmedicate myself. It was absolutely striking. Many times, shortly after I would stop pedaling I was becoming more depressed. When I got going again, I started to feel just a bit better. This was biking for medicinal purposes. My body was making its own Prozac of sorts. In retrospect I can see some advantages to this depression. For one,  It made for some mileages I can be proud of a couple of years later.

As far as I was concerned this was Long Island with perpetual sunshine, Front Range Colorado with strange smelling traffic, a dry version of a New York suburb, anyplace anywhere with lots of commuters and stripmalls. What I saw was a reflection of how I felt. But I had a job to do. I was to produce miles. I crossed the Central valley during the day, and in the evening limbed into the bone dry coastal range, west of Williams. The desired effect was beginning to make itself felt in my mind, a nice mindnumbing dizziness, that paradoxically cleared the perception.

When touring solo, I often like to complete an exhaustive survey of the available choices to bed down for the night. This way I can sink my head into a soft pillow, or a bunch of crumpled up clothing as the case may be, secure in the knowledge of having maximized rest and comfort over the dollars spent. Then I can drift off, sleeping the blissful sleep of the mileage exhausted and utterly content. Not on this trip. I took the first thing that came along, hotel, or roadside clearing under the powerlines.  My mind was busy dealing with other things for another month.  The evening stops fell into two categories, on this first leg of the trip. Either I would stay at the first $50 motel that came along, or I would simply spread my foam pad on the side of the road in whatever reasonably suitable location presented itself.


The first evening "rasonably suitable" also meant "scenically idyllic". I got lucky.  I entered an open beautiful dry forest next to the road. This would be my resting place. I needed to rest, so that my body could get ready to produce more bike proziac. I was overwhelmed by a strong eucalyptus like smell, originating from some huge pine cones in my camp site. I liked it. It was the first new strong impression on the trip, the first new memory to be made. First impressions have a way of sticking.  Let's hope this one does. First impressions flood the brain cells that have been emptied by built up expectations. I spread out my things on the ground, and called the Z rest home for the night. I hadn't seen even the hint of a cloud yet in California, and the temperature was never less than balmy, so I was worry free of waking up cold and wet, provided I could get some sleep.


During the next day, my route followed the shore of Clearwater Lake West, the largest lake in California. It was an antithesis to the ocean lifestyle which was to follow later.  A string of old romantically decrepit resorts lined the shore. They weren't booming with the rest of the state. Bicycles were not a part of the street scene. People in these resorts acted genuinely surprised and impressed to see somebody travel a fairly long distance on a bicycle. "Hey, that's great, wish I could do that" said the cashier with the unabashed fervor of a now little older flower child, as she rang up my fried chicken and potato. - Thanks, for being friendly, and for the encouragement. I needed that.

Next evening fate dealt me  another sleep-by-the-side-of-the road experience, this one not quite as memorable as last night's. How was I supposed to know that Mendocino state park was closed for the season ? So I found my own piece of park. I spied a clearing from the road. In the oncoming darkness, I couldn't see that I was making myself at home in a sea of California sized goat heads.  Goat heads are to bike tires what spikes are to cars, the stuff that tire patching nightmares are made of. In the morning the nightmares came true. I had maintenance work to do.

The journey continued towards the coast. The biking became paradisical. A to-higher- standards-constructed asphalt carpet carved through a canopy of green ridges. Finally, a rough cold breeze - shreds of fog tearing my skin frisky - those peculiar coastal trees, dark dead trunks tortured by weather but living anyway, as evidenced by some leaves seemingly pasted on as an afterthought. The Pacific spread out below like a silver magic carpet. The impressions of the trip were beginning to take on shape. I headed for my first hike and bike site, Manchester Beach. I was the only biker there. That's what you get for being here in October, I thought.

The next morning, I packed up an extra pound of dew in my tent and headed out on a sleepy 101. Again my continental dry weather eyes were fascinated by gnarly knotty statue trees, spread out canopy pines, an infinite variety of leaves. Seastacks kept the eyes busy. But those same old thoughts kept rearing their ruminating heads. So I was in a condition where my mind was out of condition. What else was new ? Maybe some heavy traffic could persuade me to live in the present. During the next two days the traffic became serious and noisy a couple of times, like in Bodega Bay at the end of the weekend, but not noisy enough to drown out the noise from the inside. A whole lot of California traffic was better than just plain lot of California traffic. When there was enough of it, it really can't go very fast. Then the superiority of the bicycle became evident, as I zoomed past disgruntled motorists, hoping that they had enough sence to remain in their cars, and not open their cardoors to hurt me.

At Bodega Bay I met my first California West Coast cyclist, San Diego bound, from Vancouver, basically black haired with a peculiar golden frosting on top, California fashion statement, I guess. He was from San Francisco, which was in the middle of his planned cycling route. This brought up a problem. How do you pass through home, and still call it one trip. - You can't leave home again, or something like that. He wanted to make sure there weren't any problems. So he planed to stay at a friend's house in San Francisco. Sitting there in the dark misty haze around our tents, we talked mostly about stocks for the evening, and the fact that they go up and down.

I entered the land of San Francisco via Camino Alto towards Sausolito. I followed an endless stream of bikers, blissful smiles on their faces,  bikepath direction sun, the promised land it seemed.  I asked a healthy tanned woman at a busstop if this was Sausolito. "This is it" she said, and Brigham Young couldn't have been more charismatic. The spot called for for a reflective break across from the Golden Gate bridge, and watch the endless happy parade of weekend traffic, consisting of 50 percent bicycles.


San Francisco to San Diego Oct 16 - Oct 27 : 12 days,  692 miles
route : San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Monterrey, Big Sur, Plaskett Beach, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, El Capitan Beach, Carpintero Beach, Leo Carillo Beach, Seal Beach, Oceanside, San Diego

titles : waiting for Bob  -  late to bed early to rise  -  if the earthquakes won't get ya the forest fires will  -   California Coast cyclists  -  life on the shoulder

IN THE SAUSOLITO HOSTEL, I had an appointment with my biking buddy Bob. He was to fly from Denver to San Francisco, and then meet me at the Sausolito youth hostel. Our plan was to ride from San Francisco to San Diego together. I would continue South from there alone. Now, just a bit of background on Bob. In the last years, Bob has taken some pride for arriving late for some club bike tours. A special sort of fame derives from arriving in the dark, your headlights piercing the night, while your bike tour buddies are lounging in Jacuzzis and swapping stories over beers. You do get noticed. You do get famous. "Yes, but will we have a Bob ?, that is the question here" was the question on many a bike tour, uttered by exhausted cyclists swapping stories over beers or cafe lates, in bars, jaccuzzis or simply in the middle of the parking lot. Sometimes we had a Bob. Sometimes we didn't. When we didn't have a Bob, stories of the previous year's Bob sightings kept us entertained and guessing, waying their credibility against our own experiences.

This independence from arbitrarily set deadline shows a certain self reliance. You don't need to race to the hotel for night to spend the rest of the evening in the parking lot. You don't need to install the latest deraileur that the editors of Bicycling magazine are promoting this minute.  You're free to prefer touring geometry bicycles over the current rectangular frame design frenzy. The same attitude makes him a great bike touring partner. He doesn't get bent out of shape because his tires don't have the latest tread design, or because it's raining for a day. Life is not a problem to be solved. It's a mystery to be experienced, that sort of thing. Besides, why is everybody in such a  hurry anyway ?  It's the journey, not the destination. Well, isn't it ?

Yes, of course it is. But this time even Bob could not have topped Bob. As I found out later, Bob promptly missed his flight to San Francisco. Unperturbed, he booked a second flight for the next day. It was about 9 pm and pitchdark, outside the Sausolito hostel, on the second day. I was sitting around a picnic table with some German tourists, comparing shopping prices in America and Germany - always a favorite topic. I had given up on Bob - when - out of the dark,  emerged the sounds of rhythmic breathing, like a miniature steam locomotive, accompanied by a headlight bopping up and down in the dark, in smooth sinusoidal motion. - "Maybe, your colleague after all ?" asked me one of the German tourists with a voice that sounded like Dick Tracy. Ah yes, my colleague, indeed. He did it again, appearing out of nowhere when given up for lost.

The next days ride was not one to brag about to your randonee long distance buddies. It was however a very pleasant tour. We moved from Sausolito across to the San Francisco hostel. This involved crossing the Golden Gate bridge, a landmark that is worshipped by people whose Gods are landmarks. We counted ourselves amongst them. "Go slow and make it last" said Bob as we rolled across in hordes of tourists.

Having been here before, Bob know some of the finer points on how to appreciate this landmark properly. An integral part of the Golden Gate experience, he felt, was definitely the medium sized tourist kiosk on the San Francisco side. There you could purchase T shirts that announce you to the world as somebody who had been in this place. Not only that, you could publicly display some sort of slogan to the world, like, "fog", "love", "cable cars", "sourdough bread". Our favorite however was the little old glass bubble with the Golden Gate bridge in it. It could be turned upside down and righted, causing snow to fall on the bridge.  No information was available on when in fact this phenomenon had last happened in San Francisco.

Several days later, touristically strengthened by a number of San Francisco sightseeing experiences, at 10:30 in the morning, Bob and me were ready to go. Bob's bags were finally packed to perfection, sleeping sack neatly creased and folded, like a very special letter. His bike stood there in clean glory, like in the pages of an REI catalog, while my various sundry belongings were strapped to the racks with aging bungie cords. We must have looked like the odd couple indeed.

Bob had done this tour down the coast from San Francisco before. Consequently, for me this was like being on a guided tour. Everything down to the lunch stop was neatly planned. But, biketourers are an independent bunch, aren't they ? We all got our quirks and likes and dislikes, early to rise early to bed, or the opposite, whatever the case may be. Well, we just develop that way. To make a long story at least a little shorter, we rode our own pace and decided to meet down the road a ways. After bypassing the first possible stopping point for the night, pigeon point light house, Bob raced down the coast chasing me, while I raced down the coast chasing him. Our perceived relative position to each other did not match our real position to each other. This makes it extremely difficult to catch one another, until perception matches reality.  It would turn out to be a late day, by my standards anyway. Bob was fully equipped with heavy duty headlamp. That should have given me a clue right there from the beginning. We did finally catch each other. Then together we pedalled like hell, watching the sun approach the horizon, and the waves speed by in the dusk, still a good twenty miles between us and the next hostel in Santa Cruz.

We settled into the hostel. Bob had the dinner spot all picked out, and even managed to find it in the dark. For him it was another traditional stopping point from other California coastal journeys. Surprise, it was the Pontiac Grill, 50's music permeating the teeny bopper athmosphere."I didn't think people still listened to music like this" I said to Bob, as the dooh wap dooh wap flew thick and heavy. - "You mean music with insipid lyrics ?" he asked. He was trying his best to make me feel better. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, you ain't nothing but a hound dogger cryin all the time. I have to admit it takes a lot of skill to serve french fries on those roller skates. It was a long 89 mile day.

The next day we made plans to meet in Monterey City Park for the evening, 58 miles down the road. This would give me a chance to still set up my tent with daylight, while not unnecessarily hurrying Bob who didn't like to consider such trivialites. The ride was pretty enough, though the scenery somewhat industrial, according to my diary. Just great, my mind was stuck in a ruminating gear again, from that unsanitary personal relationship that I left behind. The unfed mind feeds on itself. There was hope though. Time wounds all heels. I mean, time heals all wounds.

My tent was set up at the appointed spot, and I was ready to go back to town for supper grocery shopping. It was dark. I had given up on Bob. But, just when you give up on him completely, he always shows up. Loud breathing originated from the dark, and it did not come from inside of a tent. It came from a headlamp, rhythmically bopping up and down at the speed of a brisk walk. That was a sure sign of Bob arriving at last. And I was right.

I was on my way into town for a grocery run, so I offered to pick something up for him. "A can of Campbell's chunky chicken and rice soup - Rice not Noodle, a quart of orange juice - Tropicana if at all possible, a quart of milk - definitely skim, and oh yes, a can of Coke - and not Pepsi. Who says cyclists do not have specific tastes ? We are not all granola crunchers, you know. However, we definitely all know what we want, and Campbell's chunky chicken noodle with Tropicana and Coke it is ! Maybe the Campbell's soup company would be interested in sponsoring Bob for a long distance ride. Personally I think, a Campbell's soup decal would look totally cool on a bike frame. But I'm no authority when it comes to fashion statements.

Our early/late touring style with appointed meeting spots continued. We met up for one very interesting part of coastal stretch, Seventeen-mile drive in Monterey bay, close to the town of Monterey. In order to gain access we had to sign papers, releasing our legal rights to sew for damages in case of traffic accidents. I felt like I was entering another country with its own laws, a kind of San Marino kingdom for the rich and wealthy. A lawyer would play the part of king.
It turned out to be a fascinating ride, an extraordinary collection of plants, ecspecially different cacti, fronting the ocean. Bob knew what to expect, and had brought along binoculars for the noisy sealions, the darting seals and attacking seagulls. The place beckoned to linger. - A sea life sanctuary in the backyard of the rich and famous, really is not a bad idea, as long as you don't get into any traffic accidents.

Pfeifer - Big Sur State Park was the evening's commonly apointed destination. Bob had yet to go back and take down his tent. I was ready to speed off to get there before sunset, as usual. In yesterday's paper I found no mention of a forest fire burning in Big Sur. I was riding South from Carmel. It was misting sideways, giving a snowy black and white TV screen apearance to the landscape, not the kind of weather that makes you think of forest fires. And I wasn't thinking of forest fires, but as it turned out, a forrest fire would have a major impact on our ride.

Having arived at Big Sur Park, I was  wondering about the arrival of Bob. Nothing new here. I was camped in the hike and bike site, under a wonderful, incredibly dense canopy of trees, swirling in the wind overhead, like an ocean looking up from below the waves. Did I mention that he always shows up when you give up on him ? Today I thought he would still show, he always has before. Maybe this explains why today, he didn't make it. It's a corollary to the previous statement. It must have been kind of difficult to pack up that tent with the rain, that had developed later in the morning, I reasoned.

Another biker at the campsite kept me company, another late season straggler like me. He was maybe 50 years old, rode a mountain bike like me, and could be described as being outside of the mainstream of the jersey sporting, powerbar munching, high cadence California cycling mainstream. "Hey man, my old lady just got busted, so I ******* jumped my bike, and maybe go to Belize man, get some boatwork, what the ****, man !" I was cutting up carrots for my evening rahmen noodle soup, and was puffing on my tobacco pipe, wondering what the day had to offer in terms of diary chronicling. Hey man, there was something !

This fellow carried baskets for bags, really a kind of neat idea. You just categorize all your stuff and pack it into color coded stuff bags, throw the whole collection in the baskets and bungie them down. In the evening at the campsight,  you can just dump out the two baskets, instead of searching around blindly in the deep interiors of the bags. In one of the baskets he carried a spare seat, saying he expected to wear out his current saddle on his way to Belize. Now I've heard of seats wearing out a butt or two, but I suppose a really tough butt can wear out a seat every once in a while. What was really unusual, was that he carried a complete seatpost attached to the saddle in that basket. I was wondering if I should bring up that it's possible to detach the seat from its post. Naah !

I heard my companion's voice again, around midnight. The whole night had been windy. Now the wind was whipping the trees around like a blender. "Hey man, we've got ******* problems. They're evacuating the camp. The fire is movin in". - Pardon ? fire ? what fire ? Is there a fire ? Who says there's a fire ? My eyes opened like a soggy paper back book. I hadn't slept that much with all the wind anyway. I could tell the park was in a lot of commotion. And so I packed up my tent in brail, wishing I had Bob's headlight handy. "Hey man, I've got ******* 200 dollars waitin for me at the Saveway at Carmel", spoke the ******* Belize biker, and was gone. I was still trying to extract a bungie cord from in between the spokes and the cassette. Why do bungie straps always wait to get caught in inopportune places until forest fires ? This was a major operation. I finally carried the bike down to a bathroom, where there was at least some light, forest fire or no forest fire. Well if Bob was here, he definitely would still be packing too, I calmed myself, noticing a strong smell of smoke in the air.

I finally wheeled out of the Park in the darkness, after almost all other camping vehicles were gone. I was wondering if the remaining park personal had any advice on where to go from here, ecspecially since I didn't have a light on the bike. Well no, they really didn't. I kind of expected that. Hm, now what was the purpose of this whole exercise anyway ? The thought just occurred to me for the first time. A mile away I found a private trailer park on the other side of the road. They weren't concerned about no forest fire there, sleeping soundly as camping caravans wondered off into the distance. I couldn't even find anybody to take money from me so that I could spend the rest of the night under a picnic table, or something. So I did the later anyway.

The morning came quickly. Got to have a good breakfast to start off the day. So what it will it be, frosted flakes and a quart of milk, or something at that there roadside eating establishment ? I chose the second, but more details about the fire were hard to come by. Well, it's day, got a bike, ride it ! I headed South as planned. The Big Sur experience for me was scenic cliffs, flattened to dramatic paper cutouts by the smoke, over a sunny Pacific. Little yellow firefighters peppered the roadside landscape like lentils in a soup. And there was less, less traffic than Ecuador during an Indian strike ! People had warned me about the traffic in this scenic wonderland. The traffic was nonexistent, and they didn't even mention the forest fires. Just goes to show, every trip is different. About 50 miles further south, around noon, the reason for the absence of traffic became apparent. I crossed a roadblock from the backside. This put a block between Bob and me. Wonder when I will hear from him again.

I called it an early day at 2 pm, at the scenically most beautiful overnight stop on this tour sofar, the Plaskett Creek campground. I lingered away the afternoon with the ocean pounding close by, watching the mass of smoke in the North. Only problem was, grocery stores were a very scarce commodity along this route. I was sharing the open camping area with a church group, engaged in bonding rituals next door. During the group photo they said "we all love Jeeeeeesus". Now that was cute. They offered me some leftover "macaroni and cheese" boxes for dinner, instant dinners for instant hunger.  I gratefully accepted. I thanked them, and I thanked Jesus.

During the following days, the technicolor coastal movie of this ride continued, crystal blue sky, wind at my back, the stuff that dreams are made of, a wildlife scene on the beach every once in a while, seals or sea lions packed like sardines, on only one particular sandy beach or rock. I wonder how they make that selection. They crowd together on one tiny rock like bike club tourists at a scheduled rest stop hovering around the power bars, and ignore the rest of the coast. A call to the basestation back in Colorado revealed that Bob had caught a ride around Big Sur, which brought up that question again, who is ahead of who here ?

Two days later, about 100 miles down the road, at the Pismo beach hike and bike campground, I ran into a  smoking biker. I smoke a tobacco pipe on bike tours in the evenings sometimes, to relax. He smoked real cigarettes. Both are equally unimaginable in my homeland of Colorado. But I felt like I had met a kindred spirit. His name was Neil, looking maybe 45 years old. His ride stretched down most of the North American California coast. After an hour of talking, I was intricately familiar with what chlorinated water, asbestos pipes, and McCarthyism can do to you -- if you're a little paranoid about them. Like many committed or commitable bikers, he had an interesting lifestyle. He supported himself by fixing up a house every five years or so, and then selling it. "In Canada we can sell a house every five years without paying capital gains taxes", he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

Then followed a day of eating inland miles between 2 beaches, Pismo beach and El Capitan Beach. At the end of the day route 1 was a memory. Now it's four lane freeway 101. Let Southern California begin. Riding onwards for couple of days, through Santa Barbara, Venice, and Malibu had a strange effect on me. I felt more like a biking bum than ever before. There was more than the usual share of stretched limousines with tinted windows passing me. In Santa Barbara I felt I had wandered into a ghetto for the rich and exclusive. Gas stations sold fine cigars as a sideline. Everyday businesses like supermarkets were rendered incognito by disguising them as historic buildings, so as not to offend the sensibilities of the sensible. This was really kind of neat, even though I had to ask "where is there a supermarket around here ?" while standing in front of one. I did not expect "disguised commerce" in this commerce state.

My own impression of biking through Southern California, and being here for the first time, was that people were very friendly, but it was hard to make a meaningful contact. These people weren't born yesterday, no, they're practically inventing tomorrow. They give the appearance of having tried it all in life, dunebuggies, surfing, cars, sex, wealth, bicycling, fame and fortune, kick boxing, being a star. So a proportion of them are a bit on the jaded side. So, you're riding from Oregon to San Diego. - That's great. We see about 2000 of you a year.  Yet, I got the impression, after all that experience and invention, in the end, everything amounted to money, and a bike tour became a little insignificant event in the face of all this.  It's easy to get a little depressed in surroundings like Venice Beach, where you are somehow forced to see yourself being part of a Hollywood movie centering around running lifeguards. I know, I know, I know, it's just me. I said it was my own impression. It's also a first impression. But that's what's really special about first impressions. They can't be repeated. If you don't record your initial impression the first time around, you miss your chance, and I didn't miss it.

I also called the basestation again to check on news from Bob. I heard again that he apparently got a ride around Big Sur. Then several days after that, he had an accident with a car on a beach. Accident with a car on a beach ? Can you do that ? Yes, apparently there are cars on some beaches. - Sorry, I'm not from here. He was okay, that was the most important, except for some stitches in the lips, but the bike wasn't that lucky. It was totaled. In subsequent years, Bob would describe this trip, as the vacation from hell.

Yes, from here on, it was four lane traffic, all day, and every minute of the day. But at least I still had my own shoulder, most of the day. Life on the shoulder is not that bad, noisy but spacious. I was pushed on through Malibu by a cosmic wind from the back, which gives life a completely unrealistic appearance. Wealth was spread across the golden shore like orange marmalade on a generous breakfast crumpet. Improbable residences dotted the hillside above Malibu, each one as individually distinctly different from the adjacent one, as the next adjacent one. Like I said, pretty hard to stand out, when everybody is different. But wait a minute, the crumpet had been in the Santa Ana toaster too long. That smell much stronger than traffic was ash. That color on the hillside and both sides of the road was charcoal brown - brush fire season in California.

I let myself be carried along by the traffic like a little ping pong ball in a creek. I crested a hill, and to my surprise, saw container ports, skyscrapers and other figments of big city life. Wind and traffic had channeled me to the outskirts of Los Angeles. A dozen trucks passed me in a minute on three lanes on the left, while on the right the full chaos of modern suburban city life spread out, parking lots, video shops, 7-11's, parking lots, Denny's, carnicerias, parking lots, cars looking for yet more parking lots. A small green sign stood next to the road, surrounded by a pile of garbage. The sign apeared to be planted in that pile of garbage. It read "Pacific Coast Bike Route". Hm, calling this a bike route, was kind of like calling LA a wildlife sanctuary. Okay, I guess, in a way it is sanctuary for wild life. Taking a helicopter from here was really not an option. I don't like to plan everything down to the last detail. So, I persevered on the bike, on to Seal Beach, where I treated myself to a motel.

It was an especially ferocious brush fire season in the Southern California in 1996. Much of the route North that I had just traversed was closed because of brush fires. The traffic jam helicopters were competing like bees for the queen over the fires, vying to bring pictures of burning Ventura canyons and buildings into my motel room. A media feeding frenzy was under way.

South of Caripintero beach, I could see why I found so few other bike tourers. What was idyllic highway 1 in Northern California, had become four lane highway 101 through purgatory. It now became the PCH from hell. PCH is short for Pacific Coast Highway, in order do make delivery of traffic jam reports over the radio more efficient. Whoever designated this a bike route must have had their helmet on a little tight, or ridden their bike to school year round during grade school, like me. Interspersed with the PCH from hell,  were also lots of very idyllic biketrails along the suburban coastline, like the absolutely peaceful route through Fort Pendleton. But on the whole, this section was a day of negotiating strip mall parking lots, interspersed with the occasional yacht harbor, when surprise, another wonderful idyllic spot apeared on the now arid dry rocky coast, Leo Carillo beach.

And I met more bike tourers too. This time I shared the campsite with a German couple, riding against the norm, and against the wind from South to North. They asked deep cultural questions.  Where does all the paper garbage from the fast food joints ends up ? Is there enough room for all those landfills, to absorb all that unnecessary garbage coming from the Burger Kings, Mc Donalds and  other burger joints ? I was going to say something that the US had lots of rooms left for lots of landfills before the suburban population would be impacted.  Then I realized that this question was purely rhetorical, and didn't say much of anything. I'm guilt free, haven't been to a burger joint in months.

Between Leo Carillo Beach and Seal Beach, it looked like somebody had taken a big knife, dipped it into a gooey mixture of cars and wealth, and spread it uniformly all over Southern California. Those palmsticks pricking into the blue hazy hot sky, were tickling my nerves raw, or was it that jeep that just passed me with two inches to spare ? Okay, if I'm the only biker around, I might as well make myself as comfortable as possible. I checked into another motel in walking distance of chocolate milk, a grocery store with barbecued chicken, and even a staircase to a spectacular sunset on the Pacific. It was the one truly great spectacle that I could look forward to every night.

From Oceanside I pulled in 50 miles more of high density prime ocean front habitat, all the way to San Diego. I arrived there on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. For being such a big city,  a remarkably laid back feeling permeated the wide lazy streets, kind of like Denver before the construction of the five lane mousetrap. Downtown was laid out with the sightseeing ship/railroad enthusiast in search of inexpensive accommodations in mind.


San Diego to El Rosario Oct 28 - Nov 2, 5 days, 309 miles
route: San Diego - Tecate - Ensenada - San Vicente - San Quintin - El Rosario

titles: genuinely silencioso Mexico  -  sweet bread and adult comic strips  -  living with a view in Ensenada  -   you are from Turkey ?

FROM SAN DIEGO I TOOK AN INLAND ROUTE TO ENSENDA. I crossed the Mexican border at Tecate. I stocked up on peanut butter at the border. Who knows when I will see peanut butter again ? I felt the kind of excitement and uncertainty when you enter the unknown. Not to worry, peanut butter head ! In Tecate I found a kinder gentler Mexico, in contrast  to what I had experienced during a trip on the Central Mexican mainland ten years earlier. For starters, I found a 12 dollar room in Tecate that was genuinly silencioso, a precious commodity for a tired biker. The establishment was run by a gentle old woman.

On the following day I rode the 76 miles to Ensenada. Thuis wonderful scenic surprise over a lonely spine of mountains reminded me of other mountains, made of a geologic formation called "Dakota Sandstone" in Wyoming. For lunch, on a lonely outpost on blue sky and clear dessert ranges, I pulled out a tasty bigote bread from my bags, and stuffed it with some slices of cheese. I wondered what Bob would have thought of this place. I loved it, sofar.

In Ensenada I put in a day of rest, to get the bearings on my new cultural surroundings, time to learn how to live in new surroundings. How to eat is a good starting point. I started the day by going to the closest panaderia. Imitating the customer in front of me, I picked up a pair of long thongs, and put half a dozen of inexpensive little sweet breads in a basket, imagining what they will taste like. They all tasted excellent. They all tasted pretty much the same. Some had orange sprinkles, some had yellow sprinkles, some where unsprinkled. Some were a little sweeter than others. - Really can't go wrong. That was reassuring. Then I bought some of the 10 cent small comic books everybody seems to be so fond of. - Lots of jealousy, family stories, obsessive love, passion crimes, sex, murder, incest. Hm, not so reassuring. - Good basic spanish practice though.

Ensenada has a tourist shop street close to the harbor. Going away from it in all directions, the town becomes increasingly Mexican, and increasingly poorer. In Southern California the rich, or I should say richer, people lived up on the hills. In Ensenada, the poor, or I should say poorer, people lived up on the hill. Yes, they did have one magnificent view of the bay from those concrete garage sized buildings with corrugated metal roofs, connected by littered dirt lanes, at times sloping sideways so much that I got off my bike to walk. I was worried I'd loose the bike sideways. I felt, what I often felt on bike tours through unfamiliar areas. I got a large overview over many things, but I did not know what it felt to be one of those people, and live in this kind of surroundings. I was just a tourist passing through. Still, I think all those Margarita slurpers down on the tourist drag for the weekend should be taken for a tour up here.

The next day I left Ensenada, and once I left behind the four lane traffic, and shrugged off being almost hit by a pickup, I realized the road was a good road. No clouds, perfect temperature, wind from the back as always, no traffic to speak of, and the unknown lurking in the South.

The question of where I'm riding from, provides for some problems since I crossed the border. "Trukee" I said a few times, as if it was the capital of someplace big. "Turrrrkey" they asked back, drilling the r in Mexican fashion, with a look of incredulity in their eyes. Okay, from now on, it's Lake Tahoe, or even better Alta. California, upper California.

Actually, the same thing happened with two Americans on bikes, that I ran across at my stopping point for the night, San Vicente. They also thought I was coming from Turkey. Maybe I should consider wearing an easily identifiable flashy fashionable Colorado racing jersey. The two other bikers were on their way from San Diego to Los Cabos, loaded with 25 cassette tapes for the dessert stretches ahead, and stories of being invited of sleeping on yachts in Southern California. Sounds like their story would be more interesting than mine. For me it was the old "rest on the balcony routine for the evening" and wonder about the nightlife that others are having. It was Halloween evening, and even in this idyllic isolated roadside oasis, snippets of nortenos filled the night from all those cruising bass mobiles.

I also got my first lesson in bartering. 50 cents for four bananas at the local market seemed a bit high to this uninitiated tourist. In the end I took them anyway, 50 cents it is. After some talk about where I rode from, they gave me an addtional four oranges for free. There, now that was easy. - Good deal, I thought.

It was two more days of riding to El Rosario, 41 miles, and 79 miles, with a convenient motel town in between, San Quintin. I felt like I was racing through the country side like a chipmunk on powerbars in a wheel cage. Conditions were perfect. The bare mountain scenery provided an everchanging movie. The crystal clear barren hills ended, and I stopped for lunch on the first day, in a brightly colored loncheria box by the roadside. These loncherias are generally at 30 to 100 mile intervals, often at completely isolated places, without signs of settlements nearby. They are there primarily to cater to truckers. But they are perfect for lunchstops on the bike, offering great simple food, water, and of course, coke in old fashioned returnable bottles. For exact logistical information consult Erica Weissbroth's "bicycling Mexico". Two other companeros were two hours ahead of me, said the woman at the loncheria, as she scraped out a dry cement like mixture from a pot, which turned out to be my lunch beans. Hmm, yummy, no, really, I mean it ! Hit the spot perfectly !

On the day that I reached El Rosario, I reached the Pacific again too. Where else can you find a dry stream bead, an arroyo, go directly into the ocean. There are probably some other places, but I haven't seen them. Beach front property in Mexico was more depressed, but to me it was less depressing, usually your basic 6 foot satellite dish with a small basic house attached, and the obligatory dead car nearby as house ornament. On this day, before a hill with a fantastic view across the spine of the peninsula, the first snake like cactus made their debut in the landscape.


El Rosario to Loreto Nov 3 - Nov 9, 6 days, 511 miles
route : El Rosario - Rancho Santa Inez - Guerrero Negro - Santa Rosalia - Loreto

titles : truck stops designed for bicycling  -  hay mas frijoles ?  -   Winnebagles and backwind  -   cirrios, cardons, pipecleaners and flats  -   Spanish speaking French imperialism disguised as New England in Mexico  -  collecting oasesis  -  mark that spot

EL ROSARO WAS A MAJOR SUPPLY POINT for the trek ahead through the the Central Dessert. The painted "abarote" signs advertising fish tacos, gleamed more brightly than usual through the roadside garbage. Early in the morning, bags filled with canned refrijoles, chocolate Ibarra, crumbly last minute pan, and an extra gallon of water, I pushed off into the central dessert, like a ship into the ocean, wondering about the things to come. According to the guidebooks there wasn't much of anything for about 250 miles, a locheria here and there, one Rancho, but no towns, oh, but lots of scenery.

Leaving El Rosario, the scenery was not unlike a major river cutting its way through the Colorado plateau. But the Rio de Rosario had no water. It made up for it in sand. River, dessert, sand, beach ? Somehow it all came together. I started climbing. Then the cacti appeared in earnest, slender snake like ones, straight organ pipe ones. This latest addition to the landscape was the Cardon Cactus. The Cardon resembles the Saguaro cactus that is common in the US South West, but it grows taller.

After 30 miles or so, I tried the second loncheria for soda and pan, a straw hut outpost with a lonely woman waiting for customers, a stove, beans, eggs, Coca Cola in returnable bottles, and more beans. It struck me, that this was not only all I needed, it was all I wanted, that is to eat anyway.  "La gente viven in muy diferente maneras. Es muy distincto acqui. ( People live in very different ways. It's very different here)" That was about as much philosophy as my Spanish was good for.

With each valley and climb, cacti metamorphosed to fit the conditions. Cirrio trees made their first appearance. Not only is Baja California ( and a section of the state of Sonora ) the only region where they appear, it's also the only region where they appear in whole forrests. The fact that there are so  many of them does not detract from their outlandish appearance. The creator of the bioscape stuck your basic pale in the ground and glued a leaf to the top. This was the closest thing to going to the moon and not having to wear a space suit. I imagine riding a bicycle must be difficult in those things. My guide book informed me that this whimsical plant also carried the name Boojum tree, after an "Alice in wonderland" episode. Barrel cactuses appeared in patches next to the road as if a truck had lost a load of prickly pineapples. The garbage was gone for good. Yet this was still Mexico. This was nature at its best.

In the Catavina region granite boulders were added to the scenic cocktail. I reached the one rancho on today's route, rancho Santa Inez for the first overnight stop. It was no town. But who needs a town ? I had a place to camp. During the evening in a cool stone building, I was served frijoles burritos with a side of frijoles. Is that enough frijoles ? Yes, I believe it is. Still, "hay mas frijoles ?" ( are there any more beans ?) has become the most important phrase in my Spanish vocabulary. I shared the campground with two other sets of self contained travelers, a couple of retirees on their way to their condo in La Paz for the yearly three month escape from winter, and another Southern California RV team.

I learned that I was camped on a historic stopover point of the old Baja 1000 roadrace. Also,this rancho has been serving beans longer than the US transcontinental railroad has been in existence. That's 120 years of frijole burritos with sides of frijoles. The stomach boggles with imagination.

A new day, more central dessert. The name "central dessert" applies all the way down to near Loreto, although part of the route also goes through the Vizcaino dessert. "Central dessert" is a collective expression, in the same way as "Rocky Mountains". The individual landscapes that make up the collection kept changing. After the Catavina region, vegetation became sparser. I was almost tempted to call it what all the guidebooks told me it was, monotonous. It was a little bit of an off day. That blessed tailwind was gone for the day, as was the perfectly moderated sunshine. Just when you take things for granted, they always go away, I thought to myself. Actually, at about this point I started talking to myself aloud.

A caravan of about 20 US RVs passed me. They were sweeping down the road in Armada like flocks to support each other in case anything broke down. I was wondering what they were thinking of me, out here all by myself. I was thinking that if I was in one of those motorized mansions, I would want some support too, in case anything broke down. And with that thought, attention turned to finding the perfect lunch spot for a cheese and tomato bagel. That bagel was a gift from one of the RV couples in Catavina. I promised myself to come back someday and explore the region in more detail with my own bagel mobile.

Sometimes when you stop taking things for granted, they come back. The blessed tailwind did. And so the landscape zipped past, in IMAX fast motion format. The cirrio, cardons and other cacti gave a repeat performance, the Cardon stronger and taller than ever, foregrounding the Sierra Assablea with a matchstick forest. By the evening, 80 miles still separated me from Guerrero Negro, the next town since El Rosario. Again, I really didn't need a town. I did need the Pemex gas station, at Punta Prieta, the turn off to Bahia Magdalena to get water and tortillas. I bungied 1 and a half extra gallons to the bike and continued down the road in search of camping with thorns.

This wasn't hard to find. But if everything is good, you have to find what is perfect. I carried my bike off the road into a strange bewildering thornforrest for several hundred yards,  in search for the perfect tent sight, to boldly camp where no man camped before. My neighbors for the evening were a dozen or so cacti, each one with its own curious different personality. That huge prickly watermelon, also known as a barrel cactus, was certainly very helpful for leaning my bike against. A couple of Boojum trees made a fascinating foreground for the evening's sunset pictures. Right around my tent were several members of the species that could best be modeled by twisting together a bunch of pipecleaners. This was camping at its most lunar. The next morning I discovered a thorn in the scenic ointment, two flats where two healthy inflated rubber tires should have been. Luckily we live in the age of slime. For me, slime in the dessert was the second most iportant liquid, right behind water. I put more tube sealant into both tires. That's what you get for leaning your bike against a prickly watermelon. Right at about this point I wasn't only talking to myself. I started talking to cacti : "Hey there Miss Pricklebarrel, don't deflate the rubber !"

One more day of riding completed the first long stretch through the Central Dessert.The loncherias became more common as I got closer to Guerrero Negro. During the last The last 50 miles the roller coaster road had a change of heart, and in the words of "bicycling Mexico" assumes the attitude of ray that passes unrefracted through "Villa Jesus Maria", another settlement that was good for water and some basic food supplies. Guerrero Negro is great for whale watching in the winter, and has the largest lagoon used for making table salt, in the world. For me it was a comfy cheap quiet hotel, a sandy maindrag with lots hamburgesa opportunities, and a place to get in the mood for more cacti.

I rode out of Guerrero early next morning. As usual the wind was going my way. Wherever it was going, I was trying to get there as fast as it was. The cacti whipped by my bike as if I was in a video auto race game. I kept checking the score on the cyclometer. After 75 miles I still had a 19.6 mph average, and I didn't even have lunch yet. Don't unplug the alarm clock. This dream is too nice. After 80 miles it was finally time for the traditional dessert tomato and cheese sandwich. I had been afraid to stop, thinking the wind would go away, or even worse, change direction, or that I would wake up. I was right. Back on the road after lunch I was in a new state of mind, hot volcano landscape simmering in a frying pan. Whatever wind there was left, started tucking at me sideways.

So maybe San Ignacio wasn't such a bad place to call it a day after all. It was the first of a series of truly magic towns down to Loreto, each one as different from the other as the various species of cacti in the central dessert. It was quite a shock. There I was, parched, baked, burnt and dried, toiling for miles against evaporation. And out of a ravine in the dessert, emerged a forest of palm and citrus trees, creating dark soft light.  This was a true oasis hidden in a ravine in the dessert, completely furnished with all oasis implements: shady date palms arching over a cool lagoon. It was quite a pleasant shock. Additionally there were all the fixins of an old Spanish colonial outpost: a beautiful mission church, a town square ringed by fortress wall tiendas, shaded by gigantic Laurel trees, and the gringos abound.

This oasis has its start with the Jesuits. It's them we have to thank for today's shade. An oasis is a manmade thing, maybe the most naturally pleasing "manmade" thing. After the Jesuits had a falling out with their Spanish masters, it was the Dominicans that started the church with 4 foot thick lava blocks. I wondered if the builders of this oasis saw this place, like it is today, only in their dreams. All those mammoth laurel and palm trees take a while to grow, you know. They've been growing now since 1728 ( or maybe 1786 when the mission church was finished ). Those trees have been working on it now, for more time than our country has.

I met some kindred spirits in the oasis. Two Colorado mountain college ecology instructor types in their 20s sat in front of their floorless sheet tents, reading, like buddhas in training. Our chat in the evening got down to fundamentals pretty quick. We talked about the different lifestyles people lead, trying to get out of life what you want, and the tradeoffs that are involved, jobs, careers, adventures, relationships, condos, houses, or maybe "but then you don't need much, some water some bread, and a good book", and probably a bicycle for me, while their students in their rastafarian hair styles spread out their sleeping bags under the palms, and got into a game of frisbee. Now why do three people from Colorado have to go to a far away place like a oasis in Baja California, to have a meaningful conversation like this ?

"Hay mucho aire" (there is much air), said the mechanic as he picked out an old coffee pot hanging by a wire from the garbage. Yes indeed, pushing on from San Ignacio the next day, there was a lot of air, moving sideways today, from my vantage point in the saddle. And the air was my enemy today. While I was in a "tienda rural" asking a young girl if "hay queso" (there is cheeze) today, the wind threw my parked bike over, and broke the stay on the Blackburn rear rack. That's where the coffee can wire comes into play.We fastened the thing together as good as possible. Well, it always has been one day at a time on this trip. I continued inching my way towards "vulcan las tres virgenes", trying to accept my new fate, reduced to toiling bicycle laborer, blowing in the breeze like the wash, condemned to first gear for today, rear rack fate hanging by a wire from the dumpster.

It was a short day mileagewise, 48 miles, but another winner in the scenery department. Passing by naked baked dessert volcano "las tres virgenes", the Transpeninsular climbs over a pass at about 1300 feet, and then descends to the golf of Cortez for the first time on this journey. I had wandered into a death valley by the ocean. From the pass I saw dusty crumbly badlands, and the blue sky and blue sea fuse into one another in a hot haze boundary layer. Together with the raw elephant skin rocks, it was the stearnest oceanscape I could imagine. After that, a right turn to the South changed my fortune again. But I called it a day in the second of the magical string of towns, Santa Rosalia.

Santa Rosalia has a different appearance than any town in Mexico. This old wooden New England like architecture, sheltering form the wind in a dessert ravine, was too unique to pass by. Smoke the pipe by the ocean, and realize you are here because you got here with your own power. It was time to enjoy the moment a bit.

Even though it looked like New England in the dessert at first sight, Santa Rosalia was actually constructed by the French owned Compania del Boleo around 1880. The industrial Magnate of the hour was named Rothchild. He built this French imperial company town for his mine workers with lumber from British Columbia and Oregon around 1880. This being a mining company town and all, galvanized iron was also a popular building material, even though the finished parts were shipped in from France. An iron church designed by Mr Eiffel of tower fame ended up here, even though it was destined to go to a town im Africa. Since 1985 the mines are shut, because of a high incidence of arsenic poisoning amongst the workers.

The place naturally has an air of decay about it. The bosses houses up on the hill with those gigantic porches and gardens just ain't what they used to be.  But to this tourist, that decay has a gentler influence than a strip mall parking lot would have. It's already 1996, and it still feels like about 1920. The decay is quite pleasant, and French colonialism in the dessert in Mexcio is, well, shocking.

The next day I pushed off, South along the sea of Cortez, hoping the wind would be on my side. It was. I was racing the waves South, but it was not enough for a new record attempt. The next "great little town" was Mulege. However, my guidebook ( "bicycling Mexico" by Erika Weisbroth ) advised me to keep on going towards the beaches of Bahia Concepcion, for I was about "to strike it rich". Reading that book, I learned to trust it. It seemed to reflect my own attitude about what makes an interesting bike tour.

I did stop long enough to wander through the lagoon oasis, and look up the local missionary church. Collecting oasises was the latest sport to keep me occupied. This was the second one, and just as soothing, and contrasting to its surroundings. This mission gets a little bad press from the guide books. True, there isn't much fancy artwork around. What's striking is its position in the landscape, overlooking those palm covered colorful hills, like Jesus himself preaching to them. It made me personally think that I was in the mideast for just a second ( see the included photo ).

What do you know ? I found that Erika wasn't lying, as I spied speckles of islets, razor blade ridge islands, and a bit closer, paradisical beaches on the Gulf. There is such a thing as the "romantic American beach bum". They're sleeping in straw huts on stilts overlooking barren bays sprinkled with islands. The rest of them are in their RVs. All the coastal US states were represented, judging from the license plates. As for myself, I pushed on to find my own secluded beach wonderland. It was right at the end of the bahia. One other vehicle came by, from Oregon, packed with a mountain bike, surf board and a wife. "Camping, the possibilities are endless" he told me, and was off looking for one. So, here I was, at the perfect vantage point on the sea of Cortez, a bag of noodles, a Mexican can of tomato puree, waves and wind heading for me, along this ocean channel ringed by dessert ranges. This place got my vote for the most beautiful natural setting along a coast in the universe, but then, the longer I was here, the more partial I became to dessert landscapes.  I inserted another bookmark in my mind here, as a place to come back to some balmy midwinter month.

Leaving my camping spot the next morning my stomach acted up in typically mainland Mexican fashion. I was suspecting the datiles as the culprit, that led to the strong demand for toilet paper this morning. I almost felt like I was on a third world trip. I was even tempted to get rid of the bag of datiles, that I was still carrying from San Ignacio, wich after 2 days of delivering an endless supply of carbohydrates and minerals, still weighed more than my sleeping bag. So the kilometer posts passed slowly, and every loncheria had a Fanta or a Sprite with my name on it, there in the comforting shade under that perfectly woven palm roof. At the end of the day, as I rolled into Loreto, I still had my bag of datiles. Must be my post world war 2 "don't throw anything away" upbringing.

Loreto is the last town in that string of magical towns I mentioned. Once you get past the ring of dead car dumps on the outskirts, which seems to be mandatory for any Mexican town, the place is fixed up for Senor Turista, like a Mexican waiter in full attack uniform. Manicured bushes, beaches, benches, hamburgesas, spicy-soup comidas, comfortable motels, a potable water plant with accompanying history and statement of how proud they are of their water quality. Really, this place seemed ultimately livable for us spoiled gringos. Compared with Santa Rosalia and San Ignacio you traded away some exotic quality for the things we Gringos all have come to love, big beds, cleanliness, Margaritas and paved streets. It's still free of stripmalls, as of 1996.

The mission here, right in the lovingly paved town center, is the oldest colonial settlement in the Californias. It was 1697 when half a dozen Jesuits or so arrived here, and started building the mission church. Over the next 70 years they founded 23 missions reaching about as far North as the Central Dessert. After the Jesuits were officially expelled by the Spaniards, the Francisicans got a shot at it in 1767. But they mostly directed their attention to the North, alta California. In the South the Dominicans really continued the Jesuit's work about 5 years after the Franciscans gave it a whirl. Eventually it all collapsed because supporting Indians died from European diseases, small pox, typhus, the plaque and others.

The mission has been lovingly restored, but personally, for the big picture, that is, the mission and how it sits where it sits, I got a better idea of what a Jesuit must have felt like in the more remote feeling outposts, like Mulege and San Ignacio.


Loreto to La Paz Nov 10 - Nov 13, 3 days, 273 miles
route: Loreto, ciudad constitucion, La Paz

titles: monotony is just another part of variety  -  cola wars in the dessert  -  the beach at the end of the rainbow  -  resorts for the rich and spoiled

THE STOMACH HAD RECOVERED FROM THE DATILES. The stomach said go, so the legs followed. Leaving Loreto, there loomed in front of me that climb all those RVers had warned me about. The road headed  upward into the stark dry beauty of the Sierra Gigante.Those first 10 miles were the stuff that bike touring company brochures are made of, a picturesque spaghetti salad of switchbacks in a spicy sauce of delightful scenery. Mostly those travel brochures show bikers descending, not sweating bikers with the look of torture on their faces, moving at a snail's pace. Actually the climb wasn't that large at all, maybe 1500 feet, a paradisical set of switchbacks with views onto the sea of Cortez. Once near the top, the eyes were tempted to the jig saw blades of islands in the Golf. On the other side, hazy distance and the everpresent empty road, a high plain. Cars had been replaced by the occasional palm leaf covered loncheria, waiting for cars. This was another long day without settlements, about 70 miles without even a loncheria, 95 for the day.

My next problem was how to find a bit of shade for lunch, out of the sweltering heebie jeebies - no trees, no shadow, no shade. After 20 miles of studying the shadows given off by cacti, I decided that a billboard welcoming me and others to the territory of Loreto, was the best deal, shadowwise. If I sat upright in just the right spot of dessert, my entire body could fit into the sliver of shade given off by the sign. Let the lunch festivities begin. Too bad all those strawberry cookies from the Loreto bakery had turned to dust in my bags. Oh well, still tasted cookyish.

Onwards. The west side of the Sierra Gigante was a contrast to the rugged fault line on the Gulf side. It was the dip slope of the range, geologically speaking. If it was variety I wanted I came to the right place. Next was an invariably plain plain. There was so much scenic variety it even included a bit of monotony. My landmarks were the kilometer posts. After crossing the Sierra Gigante here, the road, the one and only road, makes its way towards a large coastal plain, the llanura Magdalena, on the Pacific.

After a comfortable night in a cheap hotel in ciudad constitucional, I continued North on the llanura Magdalena. So this was the mopping up part of the trip. La Paz was within a couple of days ride.It was todo derecho as far as the eye could see. There is a fine line between monotony and the spectacular, when it comes to plains.

In late afternoon I reached a small town, Placitas. Regardless of how isolated it was, it seemed to be a marketing battleground between the Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola afficionados.Half the buildings had Coca Cola emblems painted on them, the other half Pepsi Cola emblems. I was more interested in aqua puro. Really, my destiny for the day revolved around it. I started asking for some,  in the two garage sized markets in the town, and for a possible place to spend the night. I was directed to the local padre just one dusty lane or two from the store.

The padre's church was a cactus fort of christianity of sorts. Cactus trunks had been arranged side by side to form solid live protecting walls, what an idea, what a fantastic place ( see picture ). The padre thought a while about my problem, of where I could spend the night, then showed me a 5 by 5 feet shed, with a pole in the middle. - Well, no, we both agreed, that probably wouldn't really work that well. But hey, all I needed was a little place to pitch my tent, and in between these cactus battering ramps really was quite a unique spot for such a venture. This was what the padre offered me next, and I gratefully accepted. - Would have liked to find out a bit more about how they got them cactuses all to line up like that - that's quite the trick. But the padre was pretty busy with counseling a variety of people arriving in banged up pick up trucks. So I spent the afternoon relaxing and recovering, watching a black cat, play cat and mouse, with a dog. That cat had those cactus obstacles figured out better than that dog. Hey, we all know what makes bike touring really interesting, little things like that ! - Well, whatever.

The next day was the last miles to La Paz. Afer another aqua puro stop on a hill, there it lay before me, a picturesque bay floating in the haze. Somehow I also had imagined the Greek coast that way, dry round baking bread loaves of hills. On further inspection, on the outskirts of town, no, this was definitely still Mexico, judging from the musty smell of sewers and garbage. But beyond that lay a fantastically livable little city. A beautiful little beach promenade, not overly crawling with drunk dollar spewing tourists, at least not in November. - Nice stonework and benches facing the oceans. It looked like some city governor type at one point in time had realized this was a special spot. That counts for a lot. - A couple of nice hotels with music on the bay, a friendly quiet cheap hotel on the outskirts, for tired bike tourists like myself, - even a Chifa, a Chinese restaurant.

I spent a couple of days exploring, and looking forward to the reliably blood red sunsets on this warm broth of an ocean.These were short-sleeve sunsets, followed by warm breezy nights that were a relief to cloudless days.- What I'm trying to say here, is that it was amazingly hot here in November.

One day I rode along shimmering beaches, to the ferry port to the mainland, Pinchinche.This whole Baja California tour had been so different, than that other tour I did from Mexico City, 13 years earlier. Admitted, that time I really didn't know what I was getting into. But this here Baja, seemed so much more a kinder and gentler Mexico. Why even the Baja trucks seemed more civilized, and expressed themselves with more sophistication. - They had mufflers. They passed with sophistication. - They left some room. Was all this just a fig newton of my imagination ? Well, on that ride to Pinchinche, I met a mainland truck, splattering noise and hiccuping with various engine problems like Satan's baby. My eardrums felt a strong sensation of pain as he passed. All of a sudden I remembered. - Maybe it wasn't all in my imagination.

I didn't ride the final loop down to Los Cabos. From what I've heard from friends, and read in web pages, I didn't miss a whole lot. South of here, the margarita dollars change the ambiance, in the hotels and on the road alike. But of course it's always worth checking it out for yourself. You can't believe everything you read. For me this 1000 mile peninsula was a magnificent experience of the variety nature is capable of, in spite of irresponsible development for the rich and spoiled in the handful of overdeveloped resorts on both ends of this trip.


The retreat, back by bus, bike and train. Nov 14 - Nov 17, 4 days, 115 miles
route: Ensenada - Tijuana

titles: 51 ways to sleep on a bus  - los patas por favor  -  the coast from hell

I PLANNED TO TAKE THE 20 HOUR BUS TRIP back from La Paz to Ensenada. A disadvantage to riding your bike absolutely everywhere you go, is not knowing the finer points of bus transportation. When I got to the station, mentally prepared for this ordeal, I was told the vehiculo was full .Chalk one up for inexperience. Then a place magically appeared 10 minutes before departure. I took it. It was in the middle of the last row on the bus, the one with the door to the bathroom in it, between a 200 pound campesino and a 180 pound farmworker. I was ready to chalk another one up for little old inexperience.  I folded my elbows in between my knees, and thought about the Tom Sutherland hostage ordeal, and all the things he must have gone through.

Not to worry, hostage-paranoia-breath ! Behind ciudad constitution the seating arrangements loosened up considerably. Suddenly I found myself lying flat on my back across 3 seats, like a deluxe pancake, trying to come up with new subjects to dream about. The deluxe pancake position turned into a folded-in-half omlett position, as somebody took one of the seats, half a day later in the darkness.

Later that night came the shoe patrol. To get everybody ready for the next midnight stop, a conductor came around and got everybody in a vertical position, and "los patas, por favor !", put those shoes back on !! Okay, I understand this in retrospect. To the boarding bus tourist, a bus full of dead shoeless people littered throughout the bus, like banana peals in a garbage can, is probably not a very welcoming appearance. Vertical figures, with shoes on them, are more welcoming. Still, I hadn't really thought about the situation that much. It was, after all, new. So this whole maneuver came as quite a surprise. What was this, a school outing in regulation uniforms ? - In Mexico ? Okay, okay, okay, I understand. Even, or maybe especially, 20 hour bus trips require a certain amount of decorum, and shoes I guess. But the awakened outnumbered the embarking by a factor of at least 30 to 1.

Feeling a certain amount of satisfaction, from having worked so hard at resting, I reassembled my bike at the Ensenada bus terminal. On the way down, I had taken the inland mountain route through Tecate, between San Diego and Ensenada, on the way down. Now I wanted to ride this remaining coastal strip back to San Diego. And so I had a huevos rancheros with chorizo breakfast, put some tube sealant in one tube, and proceeded to tour the ugliest stretch of coastline known to mankind - well, to me anyway. This was uncontrolled Southern California luxury sprawl, without the rather sophisticated system of garbage removal, that they have come to take for granted in that lovely state. The result is uncontrolled garbage and uncontrolled development. The good thing is that, actually, nobody really cares if you are riding down the shoulder of some 6 lane express way, in the right direction, or the wrong direction, whichever side has less garbage and glass on it. I thought that this was yet another example of the variety this trip showed me.

Home, Charles


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