Beans and rice? Check. Water? 14 liters, ready to go. Avocados and tortillas for lunch, and coffee, oranges and oatmeal for breakfast. Oh, and a package of cookies for whatever. We were ready to head out on the road to San Ignacio Laguna. Would we make it cross the unnavigable road? Would we catch a deal for a whale-watching tour, or would it all be in vain?
Because of our grocery stop we headed out at about noon. The worst time to start a ride. But there was no time for a siesta. The whales await! It was smooth riding until the first little hill. Loaded with fresh cans of vittles the weight really settled in. For the longest time the road was pavement and flat. No problems at all.
I actually left in cloudy spirits. I had misplaced my hard drive at the internet cafe and had been unable to recover it. The owner also owns a tour company and when we came across him on the road we merged into the middle like in a game of chicken to flag him down and ask if he had found it. He merged into the oncoming lane and gave us a good, scolding honk. We forgot about it and continued on only to have him come up right behind us. “Hey you guys okay?” the group on his tour asked. “We saw you waving your arms we thought you might be out of water or something.” We told them we were alright and the owner told us he hadn’t found anything. Damn. Beckoned by their questions we told the group what our plans were. “Shit, you guys are fucking crazy. Mexico on a bike? Let me see those legs. Damn. Do you have patches?” That’s like asking a car driver if they have jumper cables. “I don’t know how you’re going to do it,” they warned. “This van could barely handle the road.”
A few more kilometers of pavement and then we saw it. Big chunks of gravel wound and rose along a long washboard landscape. But it was nothing that we hadn’t seen before. So, like a seasoned cyclist, I lowered the PSI of my tires to maximize my traction and comfort. I felt pretty cool until I felt a little more of the rocks than I wanted. I borrowed a pump from Davin (mine was still busted) and put a bit more air into them. But I could never get it right so I kept stopping, pumping, riding on, and feeling the rim dig right across the rocks as if the tire wasn’t even there. I pulled over to check my tire which is quite a process. First I have to unload all of my bags. I have 6. Then I have to wrap a bandana around the seat to protect it from the rough gravel edges. Shift to my highest gear, flip it over, smack the wheel out and then pop the tire off. Then its a slight inflation and an intimate process of poring over every inch of that tube. My tongue out, wide and tight just at the point of a passionate lick feeling, waiting for that slight gust of air to tell me where the hole is. I feel something and slather it with spit to double-check. Ooh, look at those bubbles. Now repeat the process backwards t begin riding. But something still isn’t right. The rear tire was still flat. Oh yeah. When you get a flat from low PSI two holes are punctured, creating a “snake-bite.” Forgot to do both holes. Dismantle once again. When I finally got it figured out three cars had passed and offered help. “Estoy bien,”I said and then Sir Norte fell on me. “Why are you doing this?” I ask Sir Norte. “Here I am trying to be kind and fix you and you repay me by falling over on my leg?” But Sir Norte wasn’t thankful for getting fixed up. He was pissed for being forced onto the agonizing road. I was subjecting him to an unfriendly road of diabolical stones, conniving hills, and evil dust. His fallings were his words for, “Fuck you. I don’t want to be here.” Well we weren’t done yet. A dozen pumps later on the front tire and it was not one, but two pinch flats. I made as quick a work as I could on them and continued riding. Wincing every time I felt a little too much of a rock. Grinding my teeth over every washboard section.
At this point I wasn’t even halfway done with the road and the sun was beginning to set. The crew was at least 45 minutes ahead of me and who knew what kind of wackos ride the road at night. After a bout of nasty bumps I came across one of Ace’s sandals. I caught him riding Davin’s bike looking for them. All of us have very different set-ups. Julie has an old Trek 520, which is an ultimate road-touring bike. She has a trailer attached to it to carry her gear. Ace and I both have a very similar set-up. Stiff steel mountain bike with front and rear panniers. Davin has the funkiest set-up. He has an aluminum mountain bike frame with a locking front suspension. In the rear he has installed an xtracycle. This allows him to have front steering dexterity and better traction *pushing up my glasses and tugging my suspenders*.
The crew had picked out a campsite on top of ancient seashells. We were at the edge of a vast salt flat. The reason must be that a giant Bayou man used to live there and had his kitchen table right over our campsite. After his steamed clam meals he would just chuck the shells onto the ground. Either that or the seafloor must have come long ago right to where we camped. I made a quick fire and slept without my tent under the stars next to the fire.
The map showed that the road curved around a salt flat and added an extra 20 km to do so. There appeared to be some tire tracks through the salt flat, but we were wary of sand. But on a bike tour you have to take chances. Sure enough it felt like cushy asphalt. A trail for only us. We cut through that cracked and barren and land, picking lines through occasional rocks and bushes until we met back with the road. Further along the road we came across prehistoric pools of red and blue and black water. A crust formed on top of them like ice on a frozen lake. We investigated and discovered that it was all salt. I hacked some off to put in my bag and use to season my food later. A huge winged bug the size of my hand got stuck in time. I tried to pawn it onto my friends as a nutritious meal, perfectly seasoned by nature and when the time came for them to dare me to eat it and shook my head. “No way,” and threw it into the pool.
Not much longer and we were in San Ignacio Laguna. We huddled around and ate lunch trying to figure out the best way to finagle a deal out of a tour company. Then a big American SUV pulled up and a big-armed Irishman came out with an even stronger accent. “Where ya’ from?” he asked after salutations. I told him and returned the question. “Ah, I’m from Nevada City.”
“No way. My friend over there is from Nevada City.” I pointed at Davin to find him already standing and walking over. “Excuse me, but I think you used to be my neighbor,” he said. Turns out, ol’ Brennan o’ Nevada City used to be Davin’s neighbor. Name it a small world, but I chalk it up to the luck o’ the Irish. We hung out a bit, drinking coffee and talking dogs and bikes while his little setter ran around the beach teasing all of the Mexican dogs. Finally, he gave us some money to help pay for the tour and mosied back to his hotel or wherever he was staying. What a guy, what a guy.
We came upon a tour company and asked them the details. There was a carpenter building something who came from San Diego. And when I say came, I mean he walked. All the way down Baja and then back up to San Ignacio Laguna to be around the whales. He did it in 40-odd days. By the end of Baja, it took us 74 days to get out of there. I’ve always complained about walking because it is so slow. I think I have some thinking to do.
Baja Expeditions were great. They agreed to cut us a deal, a major deal. $30 bucks each instead of $60 or something like that. And they had a foosball table inside. I did some stretches and prepared to show the staff my best Frederic Collignon moves. It was a rough table though. Sticky rods, screws for feet, and a 2-goalie, 3-defender set-up. How do you play like that? It was one-on-one to two. Winner stays on. At first I got totally rocked. But at least I could beat Jerry who told me his weakness was that he didn’t have enough Omega-3. He retreated to the kitchen while I was on a winning streak. Even though he beat 10 times that night, I defeated Angel who had run the gamut and beaten everybody 3 times in a row. I had my moment and beat every person in a row, and then my easiest challenger, Jerry, returned after an energy bar snack stacked with Omega-3. Serve. He slams it in for a goal right away. Serve. Once again, goal right away by Jerry. He wasn’t kidding. I went to bed defeated but exhilarated at the chance to play and walked through the sounds of whales breathing to my tent.
The next day was our chance to check out the whales. There was a couple from Idaho and they needed to fill the boat so we were a go. Our guide, Jorge, is a Marine Biologist who lives in Michigan most of the year but comes down to lead tours during the whale season which runs from January to April. The boat steered directly for a flock of about a hundred birds, scattering them to decorate the sky. As we broke their hangout a school of dolphins swam beneath and rode our bow. “They do this,” Jorge explained, “Because the boat breaks the water like birds flying in a V to break the wind.” I jumped onto the bow and leaned over to look at the dolphins up close. Even over the roar of the prop I could hear them clicking to each other. Fascinating creatures. They left us just as we got into the whale-watching area.
The whales come to the laguna to breed. We could hope to see actual mating, birthing or just a mother with her calf. Right away we saw whales spy-hopping, breaching and flapping their flukes against the water. Thirty different sightings immediately. I tried to snap photos as quickly as possible and capture the moment but I don’t have a good enough camera. When a whale pokes its head straight out of the water it is called spy-hopping. A whale did this 10 yards away from our boat. I missed it trying to photograph it. I put my camera down and decided to witness the moment firsthand. Because of this I gazed into a whale’s eye, stared at the scars of an orca attack, and saw the elegant roll of a whale sun-bathing. All unfiltered. We followed a mother and a calf around for an hour, hoping to get close enough to touch them. Sure enough the whale approached the boat and dove close enough for all of us to pet her and her calf. Davin and Julie even got to kiss them they came and stopped so close to us.
When we returned we enjoyed a fresh ceviche lunch and foosball. The rest of the day we lounged about reading and foosing. Towards night a family from Colorado that has a home in nearby San Juanico came to see the whales with a huge carton of fresh oysters. Robert, the father, talked to Julie about Colorado as he placed the shells on the barbeque and waited for the “I’m done!” call of the parted shells spurting water. Esteban, Jorge’s son, and I talked about the fiercest creatures in the sea, Shark Scorpions. His weapon of choice to fight such horrid beasts was a submarine with lasers, invisible shield and fire-shooting sword.
I fulfilled the dream of my mother. I saw the whales and even got to touch them. That hellish road was worth every inch.