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Travelling the World with Hera van Willick: Baja California

By Hera van Willick

I bounce around on my bike on a dirt road with washboard relief, up and down, left and right. My panniers clatter an unclear rhythm. My bike isn’t made for this! And neither am I…

That isn’t true, my bicycle actually is made for this! But it suddenly doesn’t feel that way anymore now I’ve seen the gear of the cyclists who specially came to Baja California for these trails. Mountainbikes with extreme wide tires, suspension, just a little bag here and there and a mat and sleeping bag tied to the handlebar or under the saddle. And me? I feel like I’m bouncing my wrists, back and laptop to god on this washboard-road-from-hell! I couldn’t resist to go on this ‘mild’ trail to skip a part of the MEX 1 (the only asphalt road down Baja), but after only 7 km I already doubt my decision.

I’m really the only idiot on this route with a good 35 kilos of baggage. Plus at least 7 liters of water and food for 3 to 4 days. My down jacket, insulated trousers, warm vest, winter socks and 4 season tent bounce along. That’s what you get when you don’t fly in for this ride but came biking down all the way from Alaska.

I stop to let some air out of my tires, maybe that’ll give me the much needed suspension. Kdeng, kdeng… kdeng… now I bounce all the way to the rim with every big rock I hit. ‘Ideal…’ I think sarcastically. I deliberate whether to turn around and ride back to Al, the 76 year old motor-legend who friend- and fatherly took me in his house in Bahia de los Angeles, and spend another nice day there before heading back to MEX 1.

Al ran a Harley Davidson business in Canada for 30 years and rode the Baja 2000 (km) race 17 times on his dirt bike and won several. Never have I seen a 70+ man with a brighter sparkle of love for life in his eyes then Al. When I see a car coming in my direction I think of another option.

The Americans slow down to check if everything’s okay with this bouncing cyclist. This is my chance..

‘Do you guys know Al?’ I ask them, ‘He’s a sort of legend, everybody in Bahia de los Angeles knows him.’ But they don’t, they’re ‘just on holidays’ here. I explain them what I’m doing and what I’m running (biking) into. I know that Al will drive south in three days from now and we’ve kind of said we’d meet each other on the road that day. ‘Can you please take some of my heavy luggage and drop it at his place? If you ask about him in town you’ll find him for sure.’ The fact that these guys are with three and that they’re not really eager to accept my luggage assures me that I can trust them to drop of my stuff.’

They agree and I start turning my panniers inside out and go through my stuff to filter out the heavy things. My toiletry bag, tent, warm sleeping bag, diary, laptop, climbing- and hiking shoes, maps from Alaska to Mexico. When they put the bag in the trunk of the car it sinks a little deeper on its axles.

After I reorganize my luggage I ride on, feeling much lighter. Three days I bike over dirt and gravel roads through the pristine nature of Baja. The car that took my stuff back to Bahia was the last and only car I’d see in these days.

I’m relieved when I see the first daylight shimmering on the horizon.

It’s wonderful to ride in such a peaceful and rugged surrounding again. The first night I roll out my mat and start a fire. As the sun sets it cools down quite a lot. I collect some more wood, put on all my winter clothes (luckily I didn’t give these to the guys) and crawl into my sleeping bag liner. The dew starts to come down and I feel how the liner and all my stuff gets humid. I fall asleep with my hood on and wake up two hours later with a cold back and even colder feet. I decide to start the fire again and put a big trunk on it. I’m lucky to even have found trunks like that, usually I have to make do with some sticks.

I sleep in stages and every time I wake up I feed the fire. I’m relieved when I see the first daylight shimmering on the horizon. Whilst having breakfast I lose the winter clothes layer by layer and stretch out to warm up my stiff body in the warm Mexican sun. Several hours later on the bike the sweat drips of my body and I scan the horizon for a big cactus to find some shade under. Incredible that such hot days can be followed up by such cold nights. The two nights the story repeated itself.

When, three days later, I meet Al and he tells me the bag with my stuff made it to his house and he brought it with him, I heave a sigh of relief. Al gives me a ride to skip the next boring and narrow section of the MEX 1. As we say goodbye in Santa Rosalia I’m happy to load my bike again with the 12 extra kilos. No more cold nights! The days after the trail I ride south along the beautiful east coast of Baja.

On a private beach I cook a pot of clams that I dig out of the sand right in the shallow seawater. It doesn’t get more organic and fresh then this. Delicious!

Every day I listen to one or two episodes of ‘Inspired beginners’ (a Spanish podcast), I do sit ups and a yoga-like stretching routine and if I find the time I also do a Spanish lesson on my laptop. I’m on fire when it comes to discipline. That’s what you get when you’re biking alone again and suddenly have all this ‘extra time’. It feels great to religiously do these few ‘daily tasks’. Especially after the bouncing on the washboard road and after the cold humid nights put my neck into a constant semi-cramp, stretching in sun feels more like a treat then a chore.

I’m riding alone again. I love the peace that I experience. What a difference it makes to split your attention between you and someone else or just be the only one there. I make every decision alone again, without discussion. On the other hand I sometimes feel more ‘lonely’ now then I used to. Especially when something great happens or something is beautiful, I miss my bike buddy Shaun to say too: ‘Isn’t that AWESOME?!?’. Exactly what people often say to enjoy in travelling together. I never cared for it, but now I find myself experiencing it at times.

When the riding is hard or things are difficult I don’t mind being alone. To me it’s fine that things sometimes just ‘suck!’ and that I’m not enjoying it at all every now and then. Nothing can only be fun all the time and that’s okay. I get very irritated by unstoppable and unreasonable optimism, though I have to say that Shaun didn’t very often make himself guilty of that. Still it’s nice to undisturbed feel lousy and cranky every now and then.

Cycling alone has its pros and cons, but for now I enjoy having my time and thoughts to myself again.

Right now I’m in Loreto, 350km from my ‘Baja finish’ La Paz. Tomorrow I’ll stand with my bicycle on the side of the road holding up my thumb. Yesterday I rode my last bike day for the next three weeks. That’s the longest I’ve been off the bike on this entire trip in one stretch!

What I’m gonna do in that time you’ll read in my next blog. After all, I’ll need something to write about if I’m not biking…