The Baja Divide

The Baja Divide is not a route that we created… it is one that we followed – and really enjoyed! If you are planning on doing it, there is a wealth of free information on their website: The creators of the route are Nick Carman and Lael Wilcox. They have provided a comprehensive Route Guide as well as as a resupply chart. Route descriptions don’t get any better than this – and usually you have to pay for them. This is Nick and Lael’s gift to the bike packing world. If you find yourself struggling through some deep sand, please don’t grumble something about the route guide authors – remember to be grateful that you’re on a remote, car-free route… and that now is the time to let a little air out of your tires.

There were many, many sandy sections. Some were more sandy than the route guide promised. None were less sandy. The cause for the loose sand seems to be the recent passing of the Baja1000 motor race. We managed to ride through more sand once we lowered the tire pressure. Once I got home, I measured with the gauge, and determined that we were riding about 15psi on the really sandy sections. We rolled 26″ x 2.2″ tires. If I were to do this ride again, I’d be OK with 29″ x 2.2″. The guide strongly urges using 3.0″ tires. 3.0″ tires would be more user friendly in that you wouldn’t have to air-down all the time. Also, they’d be easier to ride for a beginner. Nevertheless, no matter what tire you are riding, it takes a lot of power to ride through deep sand – based on footprints, we often found that people were walking through the deep sand in spite of having 3.0″ tires.

Janet overlooking our first sighting of the Pacific Ocean.

Since so much route information is covered in the guide, I’ll let you click over to that page. Below, I’ve included some pictures as well as a brief discussion of our latest thoughts on touring. At the bottom, I’ve included a map of where WE went, which differs very slightly from the official route. The places we diverted:

#1-On the coast, coming into Pabellon campground. The route takes you along the sandy beach, but just over the sand dunes to the East, there is hard pack dirt paralleling the route. We found this to be more enjoyable.

Here is where we deviated just slightly from the GPS tracked route. The route is in the sand, but we pushed over to that nice hard pack instead!

#2-Going from Viscaino to San Ignacio. Here we asked permission to go through the plantation. They were very friendly to us, but we do NOT recommend that a bunch of cyclists start asking to cross through. It saved us a couple KM of sand pushing.

We went through the plantation, and saved a couple of KM of sand riding. Of course, as soon as we got beyond this fence, we were back in the sand.

#3-coming into San Ignacio: When the route takes you to the diagonal paved road, we just stayed on that road and then rode the trans-peninsular into San Ignacio. Our friend Graham rode the sandy track into San Ignacio.

In riding with Graham for 2 weeks, Janet and I really got to know him well. He shared many stories with us, and we found that our touring styles were perfectly compatible. Graham is easy going and introspective. Some of our best nights camping were with him – one night we listened to a podcast, had a discussion afterwards, and then saw shooting stars from a meteor shower!

#4-The boat ride: Because we had to pick up some supplies from our friend Graham’s parents (who generously transported a replacement tire and hub part to Mexico for us), we decided to take the boat ride across the bay of conception from Coyote instead of Mulege.

There were beautiful beaches near Playa Coyote – white sand and crystal clear water. We took our boat ride from here instead of Mulege.

Janet and I took the boat ride across Bajia de Concepcion – we were glad we did! The surface was very good, and we felt like we were really “out there.”

It seems that each one of these trips that Janet and I take is better than the last. If you’re wondering how that can be, I think it is due to learning how to tour better. I feel like these are things you have to learn on your own – you can’t just learn them from people telling you… but I’m going to tell you our latest recipe for having fun on the trail anyway.

One of our favorite pictures from the trip was not taken by us, but instead by Onna V

1- Allocate twice as much time as you think you will need. On this trip, we got more time by cancelling half of the trip (we planned to do another route from Guatemala to Belize). As soon as we eliminated the second half of the trip, it opened up all sorts of fun opportunities. We spent extra time with new friends we met on the road. We never felt rushed. Heck, allocate 3 times as much time as you think you will need. It makes everything so much more fun!

Sleeping under the stars and watching the meteor shower was a highlight! This photo was a long exposure; the red light is Janet’s red headlamp inside the tent.

2- Don’t sweat small numbers. The longer your trip, the more “diluted” the cost of a splurge for comfort becomes.

In the past, we would try to find the least expensive hotel room. This would often lead to us wandering around asking at hotels. While this did save us some money, I feel like we had more fun choosing hotels based on what looked like a quiet and comfortable location. We didn’t always get it right (like when there was a wedding party that lasted until 4am next door to our hotel in Mulege)… I still appreciate not being wasteful of money on a tour – but occasional luxuries can make touring feel more like a vacation.

3- Learn to love camping. This trip in particular, I’ve come to love the camping. In fact, I prefer the quiet nights in the sand camping under the stars over the standard hotel room noises. Because nicer hotel options were actually available in Baja, We have upped the quality of our hotel choices – but camping still rules (at least when you have over a month of perfect weather such as winter in Baja).

Camping near El Datil. The salt flats are easy camping, as you don’t need to search as hard for a spot without thorns!

4-Blab. Another great thing on this trip is all the people we have met. Janet and I are both pretty reserved, but we both have stepped out of our box more than ever in conversing with the locals. It has led to some great experiences. Also, Janet is getting great Spanish practice now and doing better than ever!

During the journey, Janet’s Spanish continued to improve. This is Francisco in La Laguna. She talked to him at length while Graham and I worked on his bike. He spoke slowly, so Janet understood almost all of what he said.

5-Do an established route. We are following a route that was designed by others this time. Other people are doing it at the same time as us. This has led to a ton of cool friendships and shared experiences on the web and meetings in real life.

Here we are with our biggest bike packing group! This is where we re-met Emma, Sara, and Q. Also, for the first time, we met Graham here. Also, it was here that we had lunch with two other (road) cycle tourists.

On the 3rd day, we met Keystone Baja Brigade. We would meet these guys several times through the course of the trip. What a fun group!

Graham holding one of the little puppies that belonged to the family we met at Rancho Girasol

Valle de los cirios – still one of my favorite sections in Baja. “Cirio” means “candle” in Spanish, and that is the derivation of the name, as you can see that these look like candles. I have heard that these were the inspiration for the Truffula trees in Dr. Suess’ Lorax.

In El Arco, we met Roman. We knew his name because Adam who had ridden this section just before us had mentioned his name. Roman was so excited to see us that he kindly whipped up a batch of coffee and then some burritos to go! We wanted to pay him, but he said no.

We rolled into El Datil looking for a resupply, but soon a big group of people walked in after having done a long walk for the Virgin of Guadalupe. The distance of the walk was up for debate (they were drunk), but I gathered that it was pretty long. It appeared that they were rehydrating with beer.

Some sections near the beach challenged us with constant ups and downs. We should have savored it, though, because the first 3 days, we didn’t really have much sand.

When we arrived in El Sacraficio, we were pretty beat. It had been a 60 mile day – which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that it was all climbing on rocky trails with huge sand patches… on a tandem. There is a tiny store on the road, and so we asked if there was a slim chance they had lodging (one of the guys out front had mentioned they had been painting cabañas in the area). The family said “sure, we have a room. You can pay whatever you think is fair.” Janet noticed that they were getting it ready – it was the room of their teenage daughter. Lukewarm shower and bathrooms were outside. We were very grateful after a long day.

These are the salt flats that we would occasionally ride. Salt flats were fun because they were flat, generally more firm, and usually we had a tailwind.

Janet on the beach.

I played with a longer exposure on my camera, and captured the full moon rising.

Another beautiful baja sunrise.

We were at the wrong place at the wrong time for the king tide! This should be a salt flat most of the time, but the really high tides made salt water flow inland. Salt water is about the worst thing you can get on your bike, and when combined with sand, it can be extra nasty.

Me with Pancho. This guy lives out on the beach amongst a couple shacks. We sat down for a beer with him and he told us stories of how he is never alone (except in the summer). People come to see him every day during the rest of the year. He told us stories of how he rescues the baby sea turtles – putting cardboard over them when they are eggs in the sand (and putting sand over the cardboard so the predators don’t see the turtles). He said that the “jefe alta” (high boss) came out and wanted to know more about what he was doing and tried to see if they could learn from his protection techniques. He admitted that a lot of the turtles still die anyway, but his efforts are definitely making a difference. He told us many other stories, but his attention to care taking the area really struck me.

Here is Iginio riding our bike – he has a shop in Viscaino: 615.103.5094 they are down a dirt road at corner of Calle Leona Vicario and Avenida Valentin Gomez Farías

Graham on the amazing stretch from San Ignacio to El Datil. We rode with him for 2 weeks, and then reunited in La Paz as well.

Graham also used to race cross bikes. He’s a very strong athlete, but patiently waited for us when we struggled in the sand. He also kindly raced into Visciano to get a tire for us and then ride back to meet us when our rear tire had gotten super bad (due to bead defect).

There were some steep climbs on the descent!

Here is Graham on the descent into Mulege.

Here is our riding buddy Graham and his family. Graham’s family came to visit him for a vacation, and they were able to bring Janet and me some VERY needed parts from the United States.

This is another one of those Oasis things!

A sweet little slice of Pavement near San Javier.

A cute puppy for your eyes! The dogs in Baja treated us well. Yes, some dogs barked, and some chased – but it never came close to the number of dogs that chased us in South America!

Janet and I were always surprised about the presence of water in the desert. Now we really know what an oasis is! Surface water (which we really only found in Baja Sur, the southern of two states in Baja) made it a lot easier to camp. We could treat the water for drinking, as well as wash the dust off our bodies at the end of the day. We could still wash without it – but it is nice to have an abundance. Usually I will take a water bottle shower, and I can get comfortably clean with about half (500mL) of judiciously applied water.

Here are Onna and Neon – two new friends we met along the way. We camped with them and then met them another day for lunch. They inspired us with their stories of building their own home and living off the grid. This is a topic that interests us greatly. They plan to ride down to the tip of South America. They are also climbers, so they have been doing some side trips such as climbing the highest peaks in both Baja Norte and Baja Sur. They are true adventurers!

Yes! A section of flat hard pack dirt instead of sand, rocks and climbing. Although we loved the challenges, today, we will take it!

Glorious sunrises and sunsets happened nearly every single day.

Glorious sunrises and sunsets happened nearly every single day.

Janet and I visited El Serpentario in La Paz.

Sara is one of the people we met along the route. She was riding with the Keystone Baja Brigade. We enjoyed riding on-and-off with them and getting together for dinner several times along the route!

I went to meet Pete Basinger while he was in the process of setting the FKT (fastest known time) on the Baja Divide Route. He was super cool, and we got to ride together for about 10 miles.

We chanced upon this restaurant – and were glad we did! El Pirata had good service, good music, and tasty food!

Cabo Pulmo.

All these guys are biking or (at least one of them is skateboarding) all over the world!

Here you see all the gear it takes to get two people for 50 days in the desert! Yes, we consolidated everything and smooshed the bags tightly. Take note of the bike prepared for flying.

This is the map for the entire route discussed in this post.  To Export GPX files, click on the three horizontal bars in the upper right hand corner of the map and select Export selected map data…
To see full screen, click here (opens in new window)

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2 Responses

  1. Hops Glenesk says:

    Thank You!! Especially loved the tips. I agree! Time is precious…why rush it. Loved meeting Pancho, Graham, and others during this entry. I am hoping one day to have the courage to undertake such an adventure. YOUR gift to the community of cycling through this blog is VERY helpful. Now what was that beer you and Pancho shared?

  2. Emma says:

    I loved reading this! It’s so great to see another perspective on a shared experience! I wrote up a couple stories too;