Diary of a desert crossing

December 27th, 2011

The only problem with blogging every few weeks about our trip is that we cherry pick our ‘best bits’; the most scenic views, the prime camping spots, the most interesting people we meet and the tastiest food.

In reality though, our trip (and bike touring in general) is never quite like that. Even in Baja, in between these highlights there are inevitably a few days of repetitive “eat ride sleep”; of uninspiring roads, tired legs and occasional headwinds.

So just to balance things out a little, here’s 24 hours from our recent final Baja leg, from Loreto to La Paz. After a beautiful initial climb away from the coast, we faced a fairly tedious three day trek across the desert to reach La Paz for Christmas Eve.

Thankfully, we were accompanied by our current riding partner Lee, a hairy bundle of fun from Colorado who is always on hand with tortillas, impressions and randomness to put a smile back on your face. One of a cluster of Pan American cyclists we’ve met recently, Lee has been riding with us after Ian – the other half of their 350 South trip – had to return to San Diego with a broken hub.

6am. Alarm. Try and remember where we are. Stick head out of tent – a small cactus grove somewhere in the Baja desert. Grunt a good morning to Lee. Stomach is already growling and demanding attention.

6.30am. Fire up the stove. Lee swears and beats his stove repeatedly on the ground. It finally coughs and splutters into life.

6.45am. Breakfast: an industrial sized portion of porridge, bananas, tortillas with honey and coffee. Gradually progress from grunts to conversation as coffee begins to take effect.

7am. Correct American on pronunciation of ‘banana’. Establish that Bananaman never made it big in the US.

7.30am. Morning dash into the bushes for hole digging routine. Panic that I’m about to re-dig mine or even worse, someone else’s hole from the night before. Squatting in the bushes is like a high risk game of battleships out here.

8.15am. Early morning stretching regime. Try to avoid yesterday’s mistake of leaning against cactus.

8.30am. Re-trace our steps out of our desert hiding place and back to the main road. Head for Ciudad Insurgentes, one of only two towns we'll see over these four days, and the first bend in the road after 30 miles riding in a straight line.

9.01am. Carefully negotiate bend, thankful we remember how to steer.

9.18am. Bedders and I launch into impromptu singing of “Walking in the Air” in an effort to inject some Christmas spirit into the desert. Lee looks baffled.

9.30am. Bedders smells a bakery ahead and takes to the front to drive an unrelenting pace to Ciudad Constitucion, the second town on route. Head into town for food, water and distraction.

10am. Stop at supermarket to buy 2kg of fresh tortillas. Come out to find Lee cornered by mexican with beer in hand asking him for a tortilla. Explain politely that he has little chance of getting any food from three hungry cyclists. Mexican asks Lee (currently sporting a 6 month beard) if he is a direct descendant of Santa Claus.

11am. Next stop, a fruteria for fruit and veg to stave off the scurvy. Lee buys enough to feed a small Mexican village.

11.30am. Hunt for water. Stumble across a licuado (fresh fruit drink) store run by Benjamin, with a long line up of mouthwatering flavours. Can't resist trying horchata (rice and milk), sandia (watermelon) and cebollada (barley) - all delicious.

11.35am. Benjamin opens a huge jug of purified water and fills our bottles – about 35 litres between the three of us for the next two days.

11.40am. Sarah and I head next door to the panaderia for a sugar hit. Benjamin suddenly comes running in to ask Sarah how much she loves me. She reassures him. He seems pleased.

11.45am. Benjamin gathers us round for a group hug and pep talk, and waves us off.

12.30pm. Finally make it out of Constitucion.

2pm. Stop at the roadside for lunch – tortillas, fresh cheese, avocado, tomato and fruit. Mexican army convoy passes and waves cheerfully over their machine guns. The two old men doze off and dribble into our beards.

3.30pm. Tedious desert road. Lose myself in thoughts of pizza toppings.

5pm. Approaching our 100km target for the day and reach a small village. Church looks like it could be a good camping spot, but decide to push on for a few more km, as desert has been unfenced and so should be easy to sneak into for wild camping.

5.01pm. Desert is now barb-wire fenced on both sides. Legs had thought they were done for the day and no longer work. Road becomes more rolling.

5.45pm. Finally come across a cattle grid leading to a small track into the desert. Wait for a break in the traffic so we can sneak off the road unseen. My water bag falls off the bike, ensuring that every car passing for the next five minutes sees exactly where we’re going. Ride about 1km along track, find a small ravine to hide in and pitch our tents.

6.30pm. Lee aggravates a passing scorpion with a stick. Just a little guy, not one of the larger “deer killers” we’d been hoping to see. Mental note to make sure the tent inner is zipped up tonight and shoes inside.

7pm. Feeding time at the zoo – rice, beans and tortillas, enlivened with the ubiquitous Mexican hot sauce. Wonder if I’ve eaten my own body weight yet in tortillas in Mexico.

7.45pm. Correct American on pronunciation of his own surname, ‘Saville’. Point out it should be as in Jimmy Saville, not as in the Spanish city. Attempt to explain who Jimmy Saville is. American looks nonplussed.

8.30pm. Pick-up truck passes along track – headtorches out and duck down. Pick-up bumps its way past into the distance, presumably out to a ranch in the middle of nowhere.

9pm. Conversation fades, and we finally give in to the inevitable.

9.05pm. Tents reverberate gently to the sounds of three snoring cyclists.




5 Responses to “Diary of a desert crossing”

  1. Christine McD Says:

    James Sarah so loved your ‘reality’ blog…. gave me some good mental pictures… sounds like it is good to have another companion on this desert run..particularly for the camping spots.. enjoy it all… love auntie Chrissie xxx


  2. Ma and Pa Says:

    Excellent blog and great reality check. Glad to see you both last night on Skype – what a great piece of useful technology that is! Love you both millions. Thanks for e-mail confirmation. Sent all off today for Tourist Card. So excited to think of real hugs and conversations – only three weeks away! Take special care now and we will get together again before we meet.
    Mum and Dad


  3. Sinéad Says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this!!!

    great to get an idea of your ‘average’ day.

    speak soon
    Sinead xx


  4. Gayle & Mark Says:

    Just been catching up on all your latest blog posts! Love this diary of a day one! So funny, we have been chuckling our way through it….brilliant! Love the Whartons xx


  5. Emma Mehmed Says:

    I’m very pleased to hear that you are correcting the American pronunciation! You mentioned Jimmy Saville – did you know he died recently?!


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