Viva Mexico

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I ended up leaving San Diego a day late, feeling a bit under the weather. I considered staying another day but the sting of US hotel prices drove me out. I intended to ride to the border, go into Tijuana, and stay the night there. Fortunately, I got lost trying to get back on the route and ran into two other southbound cyclists: Eric and Joel. They planned on staying on the US side and going over to Ensenada in the morning. They had a route which included a scenic ferry crossing and little traffic. What a find. I joined up with them and continued south for the day; eventually deciding to ride across the border together the following day.

Eric and Joel left from their home of Sonoma a couple weeks ago. They had been kicking out 80 mile days to stay on schedule, they only have about a month before they have to go back to work. And I thought my 65 mile day was tough, sheesh.

So, morning came early, 6AM. This is by far the earliest I’ve woken up on my ride so far. I’m more of a just-before-checkout-time kind of guy. We rode into the border crossing and discovered that there was little to no checking of documents unless you went to the office and explicitly asked for a stamp and a visa. $22.50 later, I’m good to go in Mexico for six months.

I had been looking for information on navigating Tijuana on bikes on the internet but found little. The only thing I did find was mention of bicycles not being allowed on the toll road; and it’s true. Eric also had issues finding any good information. So, we rolled into TJ, asked a cab driver where to go and promptly followed his bad instructions. Long story short, several people told us we could ride next to the toll road, on the toll road, and over the hills through some suburbs. All of these methods turned out to be incorrect. When we did try to enter the toll road we were told we could not and were turned back. Playing the gringo card didn’t work either; the only direction was back the way we came. We eventually got onto Hwy 1 rather than Hwy 1D. I didn’t ever see any indications pointing us towards Hwy 1 and I still have no idea how to get there the correct way. What you don’t want to do is follow any signs that say “Scenic Route”, Hwy 1D, Juarez St, or Cuarto. You want the free road, Hwy 1 (Libre). I believe you need to take a left somewhere in TJ then a right to find it but I really have no idea. We ran into yet another southbound cyclist (Amy) who happened upon the right route simply by taking streets with less traffic. Some people in a forum recommended taking a train from San Diego to Rosarito or Ensenada and now I see why.

After our 16 mile scenic detour through TJ, we finally got on the road towards Ensenada. It was clear we weren’t going to make it another 60 miles that day so we selected a campground about 34 miles south. The road was treacherous: shoulder drop offs of several inches to several feet where there was construction, narrow roads, abrupt potholes as deep as 6 inches, and traffic that barely fit on the road without a bunch of crazy people on bikes on the side. Still, the drivers were very courteous, the view was excellent, and hey; we were in Mexico. What’s not to love about all that? Right Joel? :)

We stopped at one point to check the map to see how much further it was to the campsite only to discover it was just a few blocks behind us. As if this coincidence wasn’t enough; while we were collecting supplies, sharing a few well deserved Modelo’s, and watching the feral cats prowl the area we met John. He had noticed us from across the street where he was waiting for a cab to take him home from the office. John, a sometimes resident of Baja, came over to talk to us about what we were doing and where we were going. Almost immediately he offered to let us stay at his cabin, just 3K back up the road from where we had come. This turned out to be a very cool experience. We were treated to soft beds, running water, hot showers, an amazing sunset, and some great company. The cabin was actually a trailer in a trailer park which was built in the 50′s or 60′s. Each “trailer” had since been modified to the point that it was no longer visible and became unique structures resembling houses. Thanks again John! You can read about our visit on John’s Blog as well.

The next day we awoke, made breakfast on the gas stove; there’s no electricity at the cabin, and took off for Ensenada. The road was much less busy than the previous day’s bustle and all in all in better condition. The route took us up over a 1200′ hill, rolling up and down to get there. We were all pretty tired for some reason that day and took it pretty easy. Fortunately it was all downhill from the top into Ensenada where we had our first tacos. To any cyclists taking this route, you may want to bring a gas mask to ward off the fish factory odors at the outskirts of Ensenada.

We hung out last night together in town and had some good fun. Eric and Joel left this morning to bust out some miles while I stay here for a day or two to update the blog, do some laundry, get my phone sorted out, let some ailments heal, and take care of some other errands. I’ve only been in Mexico for two days now but my overall impressions are: The people are very very kind and helpful, the food is good in my opinion, it’s a little more expensive than I would have guessed, and most important of all: the flavor here is real. I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of Baja.

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A word about Ortlieb

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My panniers and my handlebar bag are both Ortlieb products. Of the riders I’ve seen so far they all rode with Ortlieb gear. It’s waterproof unless submerged and is generally thought of as some of the best touring equipment out there. One of my friends told me before I left “Ortlieb or don’t go”; I’m glad I made that choice.

I’ve had two failures with this equipment since I left. Once I sheared off a top clip on my front bag when I laid the bike down. I wasn’t surprised it broke with the amount of force that was exerted on it. I called up Ian at Ortlieb, he shipped the replacement part to a convenient location on my route. I picked up the part and replaced it; all at no charge to me. That’s right, they paid for everything even though in my opinion it was totally my fault.

Next, one of the snaps on my front bag came loose, and the rivet holding it on sheared off. This was likely due to the corrosion building on the button from the salty sea air my bike was exposed to daily. I would have preferred it was a metal rivet but regardless, Ian took care of me anyway. He shipped me a replacement snap and some extras along with some cool stickers that the trucker is now sporting. Again, all at no charge.

For the most part, the engineering is good with these products. Sure it could be better in some aspects, but it’s a good balance of weight savings and durability. I don’t care if it’s only 98% and they have warranty service like this. I have heard that they provide this same level of service regardless of your location around the globe.

Thanks again Ian and Ortlieb!

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Mexico bound

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My odometer says I’ve gone about 1500 miles. Tomorrow I will head down from San Diego into Mexico, closing the US chapter. Looking back, this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. It has been almost nothing like I thought it would be. It’s been so much better. I loved riding before I left Seattle, but now I love it almost compulsively. The parts of the journey that I thought would be difficult: sore muscles, inclement weather, and solitude, became amusing or ended up being a non-issue. I feel more sane than ever before. Isn’t that what the crazies always say? ;) I observed some of the most beautiful landscapes of my life and indulged in some amazing sunsets. I rode the best terrain of my life. I’ve seen hawks, skunks, deer, dogs, falcons, possums, rats, a fox, turkey vultures, obese ground squirrels, cats, and that was just the roadkill. Unfortunately, both ratemyroadkill.com and rotornot.com were taken so I didn’t set up a carcass rating website. I met some amazing people and have been the recipient of generosity that I would never have expected from strangers. Most important of all, I’ve had epic fun.

I want to take a moment to thank all the people who helped me along the way. You added emotional support, convenience, gear, philosophy, and flavor. I truly appreciate all you have done.

Tim, Jana, Julie, Ty, An, Jesse, Tamara, Alan, Mom, and Dad – Thank you so much for the gear, the support and the hospitality. It has really made things simple for me.

Ryan, Lindy, Beau, Barb, Sylvia, Jade, the couple I met who bought me lunch near Big Sur, Galen, the fellow who gave me a beer/Christmas ham/a little captain south of Big Sur, the heavy-handed bartender on the wharf in Monterrey, and the cycling group who shared their knowledge, beer, and snacks with me north of Lompoc – Thank you so much for your hospitality and kindness. I hope you enjoyed my stories; I certainly enjoyed meeting you all and spending time with you.

And thank you to all the many, many, many people back home and on the road who shared their philosophy with me and gave me words of encouragement. I’m sorry I don’t remember everyone, but I do remember Dan, George, the camp hosts in Carlsbad, Duncan in San Elijo, Otto and Marie in Newport CA, and many others that I’m sorry I can’t remember. Thank you so very much.

Some of you may have noticed that I put up some photos from this leg. There are some more coming in the next weeks (some were lost and I need to get them from my backup). You can see them here.

Tomorrow I’m southward bound.

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Los Angeles

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The road south soon turned from cactus covered hills to sprawling concrete. The right side of the road still sported beach views and the route sometimes took me along beach paths and boardwalks. To any cyclist riding this section after a storm I would recommend not riding any path next to the beach as the wind blows copious amounts of sand onto the pathways. For the first time, I was forced to get off the bike and walk.

I was fortunate to be able to stay with and get to know a family friend and her roommate in Long Beach. It’s always nice to stay indoors, especially when you don’t have to pay the typical $70.00/night for an “affordable” SoCal hotel. Thanks again Sylvia and Jade for the hospitality and the scenic Long Beach tour!

A day or so into the LA area I stayed at a hotel in Santa Monica which was touted as the cheapest hotel in the area. At $60.00 / night I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I was wrong. Upon checking in I was told that I could have a five dollar discount off the typical rate because my room didn’t have heat; fine with me. As I whipped out my credit card to pay for the room a grimace formed on the proprietor’s face.

“Oh, we really need to have you pay cash.”

“Um, OK, that’s fine I guess.”

I later learned that this hotel had been busted about 6 months back for drug trafficking and had racked up some public health and safety violations. I’m not sure if they were renting out rooms under the table to avoid taxes or to keep out of view of the public health department.

The room was laughable: mold in the shower and bathroom, a gaping hole where the heater used to be, large stains on the sheets and the bedspread, a few cockroaches attempting to steal my bike, some dried blood on the door jam, and the crowning amenity of this chateau du ordures? A used crack pipe under the mattress. I didn’t ask if rock included in the continental breakfast. Instead I went to dinner with a friend, thanks again Chico!, slept inside my sleeping bag liner, and left first thing in the morning. All in all, a very amusing experience since I didn’t contract scabies. I’m almost sure this won’t be the worst hotel I will stay in on this trip I hope it’s the worst for the price.

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Email Issues

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I had an issue with a filter on my email which caused all my inbound mail to be deleted since the 27th of December.  So if you sent me something and I haven’t responded that is why.  Ahhh, techmology.  Anyway, feel free to resend if you feel your message may have been deleted.

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Big Sur and SoCal

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Another highlight so far was the riding around Big Sur. This area provided spectacular views, hair-raising descents, some of the strongest winds so far (hard to believe, I know), and some great sunny days.  The terrain on this stretch is up and down, more guardrails than Oregon but the same precipitous drops, and many many more RV’s than I’ve encountered so far.

On one particularly blustery day I found myself at the top of a short hill in a deep roadcut a few hundred feet above the ocean.  As I crested the hill I looked down to see I was going 4mph and took a second to coast slowly on a flat spot before the decent.  I recieved a wobbly push from behind and then another; the wind funneled through this gap in the landscape.  I looked down to see I was now going 11mph.  These gust kept coming all day, mostly head-on, many dangerously from the side, and sometimes a gift of a tailwind.  On one descent I found that the turns seemed to be coming up quicker and quicker but I didn’t seem to be screaming along.  I realized I was being pushed down the hill by a massive tailwind causing silence rather than the usual roaring in my ears.  I glanced at my cycling computer to see I was going 40mph: meaning the wind was at or stronger than that speed.  I resisted the very strong urge to pass the motorist in front of me and held on for dear life as a negotiated the turns. Several times that day I was forced to lock my arms as I was buffeted by slipstream gusts from RV’s on one side and onshore winds on the other.  I would suggest caution for anyone riding this section this time of year.

At one point the coastline goes from sheer cliffs to rolling hills and farmlands marking the beginning of Southern California.  The greenery immediately becomes brownery, the skies are filled with Turkey Vulchers and Falcons, Sea Lions fill the beaches, and someone decided this area was a great place to have a herd of Zebra’s in their pasture.

One night I shared a campsite with a very kind homeless gentleman heading south with 125lbs of gear on a trailer behind his bike.  He mentioned he had a bit of an issue throwing things away.  We discussed cycling, mileage, notable landmarks, and laundry.  The topic of our laundry schedules came up and he was shocked at the infrequency of my schedule.  He apparently does laundry three times as often as me.  I tend to dry clothing out very often but wash infrequently.  After talking with him I decided that I should probably hit the laundromat the next time one made itself apparent.

I continued south through San Luis Obispo, a very nice town, towards Santa Barbara.  Along the way I ran into a group of cyclists on tour with a sag wagon.  They lost their dedicated driver and now use a leap-frog method of advancing the vehicle from San Francisco to San Diego.  One cyclist will drive and park the vehicle at the next landmark while the group rides toward it with little to no baggage.  The driver then rides back towards the group, eventually meeting them and heading back to the vehicle.  The driver position is rotated throughout the group.  I was lucky enough to meet them briefly in a valley and then again at the top of a large climb.  As I crested the hill one of them beckoned me closer and handed me a cold beer.  Hell yeah.  I managed to cross paths with this group again the next day.  It’s always nice to meet other cyclists.

I am currently in Santa Barbara, CA resting for the day.  I will head on down towards Long Beach starting tomorrow.  At this point I’m only five days or so from the Mexican border.  I am planning on meeting my Sister and her family in San Diego in a week and a half so I’ll find a way so stretch five days into ten; shouldn’t be hard.  This extra time will hopefully allow me to finish and jettison Kitchen Confidential, a very funny read for those not offended by foul language, and maybe even get my equipment list uploaded.  :)

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Christmas Calamari

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From San Francisco I cruised down to Monterey.  I had been planning on taking it easy but managed to kick out a couple short days and a 65mile leg.  This section marked the first time I wore shorts and a short sleeve shirt all day when riding.

I took a day off for Christmas in Monterey, found some Christmas Calamari and made friends with the heaviest-handed bartender in town.

Over the last few years I usually spent Christmas doing one of two things: cooking for days or refinishing hardwood floors (don’t ask).  Although I was alone, had no stocking, and far from home; I enjoyed the day.

The next day I headed south.

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San Francisco

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I enjoy riding in rural areas so much that when I do come to a large city I find it a little unsettling.  I am experienced riding in traffic defensively but the whole race and bustle of the city seems so pointless to me at this point.  I find this interesting since I used to be part of that.  It seems so far away from where I am now.

I rode across the Golden Gate Bridge on my way into San Francisco.  This may seems strange but until I was standing on this massive structure looking down at the water far below, this whole trip didn’t quite seem real.  This major landmark informed me that I am not anywhere near home; this is awesome.

I found some friendly people, not hard to do in San Francisco, who gave me directions to my friend Beau’s office.  Unfortunately they didn’t take into account that I was on the bike when they handed out their advice.  To any other cyclists touring in San Francisco I would NOT recommend cycling up Steiner and then up California.  There must be a better way around this hill.  On one 4 block stretch I had to stop seven times to rest.  That steep hill coming out of Elk ain’t got nothin on these hills.

I was lucky enough to spend a few days visiting with Beau and getting some errands taken care of.  I was also able to meet with my friend Barb who just returned from many of the places I’ll be going in South America and got the lowdown.  SF is a great city.

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Northern California

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As I entered California the weather kept getting better and better.

Almost immediately I entered the Redwood National and State Parks. I had wanted to see this area for quite a while and it did not disappoint. Although the climb into the first section of the park from sea level to 1400′ was long, it was worth it. As I rode down through the narrow winding roads in the late afternoon I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road. The redwood trees so immense and tall I wanted to stare into their canopy as I careened down hills. The feeling of insignificance; a flash; from the anthropomorphic perspective of these trees, some thousands of years old, was amazing. I have never seen forests like these. Mt. Rainier I love, North Cascades I love, Jungles of India; Costa Rica I love, but this place blows them all away. It’s the feeling you get when you first visit Paris or New York and you step out of the subway. Like you are on the sea floor of a Metropolitan ocean; only this is twice and deep, magnitudes more beautiful, and no Redmond in sight. It’s that little spark of magic you remembered at Christmas time as a child.

If you haven’t seen the redwoods; I would recommend doing so. Especially Humboldt State Park to the south. I do wonder, however, if I would have had the same mind-blowing experience if I had been in a car. So if you go, get out and walk some or bring a bike with you and coast carefully down the hills.

I camped in the redwoods for a few nights over a week. I met a lot of friendly people, including one who can be seen at the bottom of this page in a tomato suit. I was fortunate enough to meet my first southbound cyclist on tour. For some reason this time of year isn’t a popular time to tour the coast. Did the sarcasm convey? I rode with Galen for a day from Eureka down to Burlington Campground in Humboldt State Park. Thanks again for the eggs dude! This stretch was some excellent riding. The redwoods in the State Park seemed to have less underbrush which somehow made them even more striking.

From there on down the coast to San Francisco I followed highway 101 until highway 1 split off at Leggett. This also marked the start of Leggett hill, the highest point on of the US leg of my route at 2000 feet. The winding road climbed ever further up, traffic very light, a nice bit of sun, and an excellent view. All in all, certainly easier than climbing into the Redwood National Park. The descent from Leggett hill was the best of my life. Around seven miles of 10mph hairpins with, sometimes, several hundred foot drops just feet from the fog line. I love riding down hills on my bike. Riding on a light race style bicycle is one thing but a fully loaded touring bike is quite another. With 70lbs of gear on my 28lbs bicycle it takes off like a locomotive and stopping can be a hopeful event. I am typically one to cast fear aside and go big or go home. Riding a touring bike down hills such as this one is truly a terrifying experience. I can’t overstate how insanely fun it is.

I do keep reminding myself that I need to be conservative when riding since I am alone and I have no residence from which to recover from catastrophe. I remind myself, but I don’t always listen. Life is too much fun when lived; I gotta do it.

Shortly after highway 1 splits from 101 it parallels the coast; rolling up and down hills. Some great riding. I managed to catch yet another storm on my way down, soaking me for a few days.

One notable town was Westport CA. If you ever pass through and need a place to stay, Otto at the Westport Inn has some great stories and if you are nice he will make you coffee and toast in the morning.

The coastline brought lighter traffic, glorious sunsets, numerous falcons; hawks; and turkey vultures, and a few more sets of hills. I also passed the steepest hill on the west coast route, a very short hill climbing out of town of Elk. I managed to find some steeper hills in San Francisco to ascend.

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