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High expectations in Mexico

We are in Mexico, FINALLY! After months of cycling through Western countries we had been looking forward to this moment so much. Practicing Spanish, discovering a different culture, good and cheap food and... sunshine! These prospects kept pushing us forward during the colder winter months in the United States and we traveled south with high hopes and expectations. We had a promising start cycling the Baja Divide but tables turned quickly, read all about it in this blog.

The Great Basin test ons tot het uiterste
Cycling on the Baja Divide

We say goodbye to the highway

December 21, 2022 - Nervous, excited, curious... we are feeling all these mixed emotions at the start of our Baja Divide in Tecate. After a smooth border crossing we quickly find ourselves in a completely different world, full of new scents, colours and tastes. It takes less than an hour before we taste our first real Mexican taco and from the start locals great us with the warmest of smiles.

We will spend our next six to eight weeks in Baja California, the peninsula in Mexico located between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortés. After careful consideration we have chosen to cycle the Baja Divide. An off-road bike packing route that has become increasingly popular in recent years and is described by many cyclists as one of the tougher cycling routes in the world. A practical blog about this bike route will follow later, but we can already share our decision has some consequences. The thing that scares us the most is definitely the amount of water we have to be able to carry, up to 12 liters per person.

We go through all our stuff and eliminate a lot. Winter tent, gone. Rain gear, gone. Winter clothes, gone. With a little hesitation we also throw our beloved backpacks overboard which in the end sums up to eliminating 11 kg. How we have been dragging these kilos around for the past few months is also a mystery to us. One last important detail, we need new tires. In fact, wider bike tires will ensure that we can tackle on the sandy sections of the Baja Divide as well. The Schwalbe G-One, DD Raceguard will be our new friends in a tubeless setup.

Difficult decisions are bing made and in the meantime we plan our route in detail. There are stretches of 200km without any supplies so we want to start well prepared. It's hard to know if we can bike 30 or 80 km a day, but we want to be prepared for a "worst case scenario. We spend our last three days in San Diego with Eleanor, Dave and Adie (@designedtoexplore) who cycled the Baja Divide last year (with their then three-year-old daughter). We discuss their do's and don'ts for every section and we get an awful lot of helpful tips. Never before have we spent so much time preparing a route.

The first day out of Tecate is promissing

And oh boy, what a start of our Baja Divide during those first few days out of Tecate. No highway, no traffic, no sounds, hardly any people or cars... very promosing! The horses look up in surprise when they hear the spinning of our wheels. The first Mexican dogs are waiting for us. The route is tremendously challenging and more than once we push the bikes up a steep hill, but always with a smile. Sand has become our new friend, rocks the enemy. On day two we cover 80 km and our bodies are exhausted, but what a beautiful bike ride it is and the wild camping on Baja is extraordinary. Even when the first dog attacks and takes a bite out of Niels' pannier we keep smiling, a positive and joyful attitude prevails. For every aggressive dog you can find ten cute dogs that are always in for some cuddling. The route delivers, our expectations are more than met but suddenly (may we say, again?!) the bad weather turns out to be a game changer, and not in a good way.

"Rain in Baja California? Small chance!"

After spending Christmas at a unique, local ranch in Ensenada, we are ready for the next part of the challenge. Before we say goodbye the people at the ranch warn us, the weather does not look good with heavy rain in the forecast. "Hopefully you will find a place to take shelter", they say. We check it ourselves and it does indeed look like it will rain, but we decide to neglect this warning. "Rain in Baja California? Small chance!", was the answer of all cyclists we talked to and did the route last year between November and April. Some even told us they at one point were so delighted they had a cloudy day. Also the many blogs and YouTube videos we screened showed little to no rain. Luck was not in our favour and the upcoming week our plans would change more than once.

During our cycling day to Santo Tómas, section 3 of 20 on the Baja Divide route, thick clouds start appearing and it gets chilly quickly. Just to be sure we decide to negotiate a hotel price for the night in the only hotel in this little town. Mexicans are lovely people and a bit opportunistic earning money, which you can not blame them for. In our opinion, this does not mean you have to agree with the price from the start and in our best Spanish we succeed in downsizing the price by almost 50%. With a big smile the lady at the counter agrees and hands over the room keys. While we check into our outdated hotel room and push away the smelly curtains we see the first rain drops outside.

In the morning we wake up feeling good and happy to have followed our gut feeling, because it did not stop raining. We take our rain jackets out of the panniers and look at each other a bit disappointed, but we are well aware it won't be possible to cycle the off-road stretch to Punta Colonet. Mud and sticky clay will be inevitable if we stick to the Baja Divide. Our thoughts go back to our trauma in The Great Basin, where we weren't able to choose another paved route. At least, there is an alternative this time and we can cycle the Highway Mex One towards our next destination.

Faster than expected, we say goodbye to the Baja Divide for a while and we follow the Highway all day. The view is hidden under a thick layer of fog and the rain lingers above us all day. Stefanie's feet are freezing cold (there you are with your sandals in Mexico) and Niels is trembling all over his body. We are glad to find a cheap hotel with a hot shower in the evening. We have nowhere to put the tent because everything has become one big mud puddle.

We continue our way on the highway

Biking through a dog graveyard

Mountains covered by a thick layer of fog, roads flooded and large puddles of water everywhere. Before thinking about our day on the bikes we start the day with some yoga and a healthy breakfast, nothing better to fill up our energy levels. We try to be positive about another cycling day on the Highway, but we had been looking forward to this stretch on the Baja Divide a lot (Coast alternative Punta Colonet to Vicente Guerrero). With no control over the weather we lube the chains, put on our rain jackets and start cycling.

Our positive attitude disappears like snow for the sun when we start pedalling. The Highway on this stretch is incredibly busy and loud, although the Mexican drivers deserve kudos for their patient and safe driving. That's the positive note of the day, together with some good tacos we find at the end of the day in Vicente Guerrero. Unfortunately, there is not much of beauty to be seen on this stretch, mainly because the views are still very limited. We pass one dead dog after another on the side of the highway, it's like cycling through a dog cemetery. It seems surreal to us, but a dog's life here is worth a lot less than what we are used to. As a cyclist you see more, but sometimes there are things you don't want to see

And so... Stefanie takes off. "The faster I cycle through this shitty part, the better!", but at an average of 26 km per hour, Niels can't keep up with her today. "Pudding legs," he calls it. Stefanie is a bit annoyed by Niels' pace and just wants the day to fly by. A déjà-vu to our ugly fluorescent vests we had been wearing on the US Highways. Nothing but happiness during our first days in Mexico, but suddenly doubts are taking over. It seems we soon need to stay in one place for a few days, but the hotels are still without charm, much more expensive than expected and the highway-towns are not our cup of tea.

What is the goal of this cycling trip?

This trip around the world by bicycle has taught us to deal with lows and highs. Mainly very good, amazing moments alternate with occasional lows, from which we always emerge stronger. The prevailing feeling is that we can cope more and more with the elements we are presented with and get stronger along the way. Still, there is that one element that makes us hesitate from time to time, the weather. Sometimes it seems that we fall from one extreme into another, while one thought has always kept us positive: "No matter how cold it is now, we are going to have a warm winter in Mexico!". So we dragged ourselves through a German carpet of snow in April, fierce hailstorms in the rest of Europe, windstorms in Iceland, vanished views of the IceFields Parkway in Canada, hellish thunderstorms in the US and much more. That one thought of a warm Mexican winter always kept us going and we were so looking forward to it!

You often create expectations unconsciously, like it or not. Everyone knows the feeling of looking forward to something, and the more you look forward to something, the bigger the disappointment can be. When our Warmshowers host on New Year's Eve says a little exaggeratedly that it is as cold as in Alaska and we have to dry our wet clothes next to the stove, something snaps. At home in Belgium it is currently warmer than in Mexico and the dream of going into the New Year in a paradise and warm atmosphere collapses. We look at each other doubtfully and realize without words that we don't want to be here, but there is no other option but to take it as it comes. The connection we so often have been feeling with people before is not present, it even feels as if we have lost connection with ourselves. And the longer we are away from home, the less we feel connected with our home base.

Sharing these intense moments together is beautiful and sometimes hard at the same time. Stefanie in particular has a hard time giving this experience a place and bursts into tears several times. "I don't want to be here at all. Why can't I ever want normal things in life. A house, little garden, children... Why do I always have this urge for adventure and quest for freedom?" We no longer feel the exact purpose of this trip and with a bit of reluctance we accept the Warmshowers' invitation to celebrate New Year's Eve with them at a local church. When a scheduled departure at 7 p.m. doesn't start until 9 p.m., we almost literally have to drag ourselves into the car.

A new start

We know, we know... we have been complaining a bit too much in this blog. But like always it all leads to new encounters and joyful moments. Because not much later we enter a church celebration and some young people play live music for the small community. We do not understand a lot of Spanish lyrics, but the faith and dedication of the people is amazing and with tears in our eyes we listen to this spectacle. It is suddenly as if the entire past year flashes before us. All the intense moments we experienced, including the past wet week, but also all the highlights and encounters along the way, suddenly find a place in our minds and hearts. Afterwards, we are allowed to sit at a table and the locals share the little food and drinks they have with us. These people sit at the table without any expectations. These are the moments that we always learn from, these unexpected moments teach us so much. If you do something difficult today, tomorrow you will be able to think creatively again. If you do nothing today, tomorrow will remain the same.

And so at 5 to 12 on New Year's Eve, we lay in our bed and count down to the New Year together with a hearty hug. The last week we were hard on ourselves and we are trying to be milder to ourselves and each other. We'll take the next weeks a bit more like a holiday instead of a lifestyle. Book a hotel more often, eat out from time to time and take rest days when we need it. Relaxation modus is on and we feel totally fine about this.

On the first day of 2023 we traverse a few more rain showers and look positively forward. Environments become more colourful, clouds quietly give way to sunshine and those small charming Mexican villages lurk around the corner. Giant cacti accompany us throughout our days and we pitch our tent in magical places. We were disappointed in nature but nature never disappoints, it's what we feel connected to when things are difficult and gives us energy to keep traveling and exploring. Mexico may have been the hardest start to a new country during our world bike trip, but we are all set for the next part of our cycling trip.

Packing List World Trip by Bike
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