Divide Imposter


Checking in on JD’s progress on the Baja Divide, I saw he was about to reach Mulegé. It suddenly seemed (and it proved to be) a good idea to make the short drive north to see him. I drove to Mulegé, bought a six-pack of cold Tecate, and navigated out the route to meet him. The trail for this section of the Baja Divide was a little out of sync with where the .gpx file on my mapping app showed but when I did get to a location that corresponded with the Baja Divide trail, I waited. No luck. JD had already passed by, taking a much more obvious route into Mulegé which, for some reason, the ‘official’ BD route avoided.

At the Hotel Hacienda, I asked whether a cyclist had just checked in. Yes. I got the room next door, then went of in search of JD – who was doing some food resupply. We had our beer (not all of them) a little later, still cool and appreciated.

Tequila inveigled its way into our plans that evening. Three margaritas with dinner had an deleterious effect on our reasoning capabilities. To the extent that sampling the sipping tequila I had with me seemed like a good idea to us both.

After a delayed start to the day, JD decided to spend a leisurely day arranging a boat ride across the Bahia de Concepcion so we rode our bikes down to chat with the fishermen.

Hotel Hacienda courtyard, Mulegé

JD left the next day and I spent a few days around Mulegé. I drove back along the Baja Divide route for 40 kms (JD had said it was driveable) to get a feel for what the riders were going through, in terms of countryside and trail conditions.

On the stroll up to the mission.
Mission Santa Rosalía de Mulegé
Viewpoint overlooking the Mulegé River from the mission.

Backroads to San Juacino

My paper map showed a secondary road from Mulegé across country to San Juacino, a small town on the Pacific. Google showed the same. And much of the route was shared with the Baja Divide, although in the reverse direction (westward) than that taken by the majority of riders (who start from San Diego).

Open wash to start (or finish, if you’re cycling).
Beginning to climb into the hills.
A somewhat superfluous sign. It’s all been bendy.
At one stage, the road goes through a canyon.
A short section of ‘pavement’ (rocks and concrete) for a section susceptible to the road washing away

There were no other vehicles on the road for the first few hours (it’s ‘only’ 90 km but slow going, stopping to take pictures, enjoying the views, and driving at a sedate pace without shaking myself too much). Foolhardy, alone in my truck? A little, possibly. But I had food, water and a bike so, in case of a truck breakdown, I could get myself to relative civilisation in a day or two.

There were a few ranches, widely spaced. Pens full of goats. I haven’t noticed goat on the menu at any restaurants so I’m not sure where they go.

After about 50 km, there was traffic ahead. A single cyclist, making his way towards me. I stopped for a chat, and Dan (Waitts, Waites?) was quite happy to speak English for a change after a few days of solitude or trying to communicate in rudimentary Spanish. Dan is riding a lovely bike, a Tumbleweed Prospector, the bike I would buy if I were starting over.

To my untrained eye, the free-ranging horses, all with the same colouring, looked to be fine animals.

I came to a gate across the road. I spent time looking at the knot, trying (unsuccessfully) to figure out how to re-tie after my truck was through.

The knot seems pretty straightforward but I couldn’t replicate it from the other side of the fence. I settled on a clove hitch; easy for a rancher to untie. I would probably be cursed for this but not as much as if I had left the gate open.

The sun was getting low when I met a vehicle coming the other way. A stop and chat seems mandatory in these parts although there wasn’t much I could say or understand. The gist of the conversation was that I was headed to San Juanico and she was headed to a ranch – maybe the one I had passed a few kilometers earlier.

I hadn’t been paying much attention to navigation; there only seemed to be one road and there had been no obvious alternatives. My phone mapping app showed that I was still on the Baja Divide but when I looked at Google, it appeared that I should have taken a left fork about 15 km back. I backtracked for that 15 km and found a trail off to the side and followed it for about 100 m until it ended precipitously at a wash; the road had disappeared in a previous flood. That explained why this route hadn’t been indicated on either of my mapping apps (both based on the open-source OpenStreetMaps) but not why Google still showed it.

So I headed back westward in the dark, back to where I had ‘chatted’ with the lady rancher and continued along the obvious route until close to its junction with the road south to San Juanico. Strangely, the road just ended, with vague trails off to the left and right. I tried left, narrow and steeply downhill for a while. Doubtful. I backed up for a hundred metres and tried the trail to the right. This was bigger but dropped into a wash and disappeared. Or, rather, I couldn’t see the continuation in the dark. I got out and wandered around with my headlamp but that didn’t help. There weren’t any tracks to follow, either.

I returned to the my first attempt, on the left, and followed it as it forked and forked again (as, presumably, locals had forged a way forward) until I bumped down on to the gravel road south to San Juanico.

San Juanico

San Juanico is a surfing destination. But there is also a splendid beach, albeit with few visible waves, that the local fishermen launch from.

San Juanico to San Miguel de Comondú

The road from the south to San Juanico is paved. Google shows a road I could take, left from the paved road to San Isidro, which is back close to the Baja Divide. Why not?

I took the turn recommend by Google but only for about 100 m. The track rounded a bend and came to a sudden end, a two metre vertical drop to a rocky wash. I backed gently away from calamity.

There was an alternative direct route to San Isidro on my phone apps. A second instance where Google is outdated and open source maps have more currently accurate information.

From San Isidro, I headed for San Jose de Comondú. After a few kilometers, I rejoined the Baja Divide. No vehicles (or riders) to be seen all day between towns.

A long dusty climb out of San Isidro. Probably not that much fun to ride.
Looking back towards San Isidro in the afternoon sunshine.

There was no accommodation in San José so I headed for San Miguel, 5 km away.

San Miguel de Comondú

Don’t come here for the wifi speed. But the hotel is very pleasant and reasonably priced. Locals with a different provider had cell coverage but nothing from my AT&T affiliates.

San Miguel is a small, quiet largely depopulated town with many abandoned homes. But very picturesque.

San Miguel to Ciudad Constitucion

After wandering around San Miguel with my camera, I was back on the road through San José. Unfortunately, the mission was closed.

The mission in San José
Leaving San Miguel

JD, tiring of incessant up and down, decided on taking a couple of days off to go sailing. I suspect this hill was instrumental in his decision. It wasn’t excessively steep (mostly 6-7%) but it was bumpy and poorly graded which, no doubt, did little to improve the enjoyment.

Back at the mission in San Javier. Still the best so far!

In San Javier, I met a couple of Swiss cyclists. They weren’t on the Baja Divide; they were laden with front and rear panniers. They had come down from Alaska, they said. Three and a half years. Quite a long time, I said. Oh, they had actually started in Argentina. Ushuaia, the bottomest bit of Argentina, at the bottomest part of South America.

In Santo Cristo, the Baja Divide took a turn to the left and, judging from my maps, onto sketchier roads and trails. I carried straight forward to Ciudad Constitucion.

I had to take evasive action so I didn’t run over this guy. About 150 mm in length.

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