San Diego – Tecate – Ojos Negros
7th – 9th February
Total Distance 202km
It took longer that we thought to make a start, mainly because it was a major jigsaw puzzle to work out how to pack everything into all the various bags and ensure they are balanced on our bikes. It was midday before we finally set off from outside the Marriott Hotel on the waterfront beside the city.
For this journey we are following a specific bike-packing route down the Baja Peninsula. It was pretty exciting to finally set off after all the preparations and organisation. We followed the route through the industrial area, then around a canal before working our way through Chula Vista and out of the city via mix of bike trails and roads.
The aim for the first day was to cross the Mexican border and stay in Tecate. In between San Diego and Tecate lies a 1000m mountain. As the sun sets at around 5.30pm, we would never have had time to climb the mountain and then reach Tecate in one day and camping is pretty limited. Instead, we took the road around the mountain which still involved several long tallying climbs for the first day of a cycle trip. The final push to the summit before Tecate was not pleasant as the sun had set and the traffic was relentless.
When we arrived at the border it was 6.15pm and with the border officials finished for the day, we were able to walk straight through (we returned first thing this morning to get our visas). It wasn’t too difficult to find a friendly, clean hotel, Hotel Tecate, and a family-run restaurant just off the main square. We’d done 75 km and approximately 1000 metres of vertical climbing with loaded bikes so it wasn’t too difficult to make short work of the large plates of local fare.
Today, Day 2, saw the start of the Baja Divide ride proper. After the visa formalities, food shopping, rejigging the bags and bikes, we again didn’t get going until late, climbing steeply to get out of Tecate on the main road to Ensenada. After 15km we came to the village of San Francisco where we had to stock up on water for the first big challenge. Carrying 8.5L between us, we set of on a rough track, riddled with gully erosion, rocks and sand patches. The 2.8” wide tyres we are using were very effective on these surfaces. When I wasn’t concentrating on the path ahead, the scenery was stunning; desertous rocky mountains with very few trees. Still recovering from the shock of Day 1, progress was slow. After dropping down into Manteca Canyon, we followed the valley floor before a series of sharp testing ascents which topped out at almost 1100metres. We slowly descended, passing many Ranchos’, pine trees and meadows.
It was a slow day distance-wise, but we always knew this would be a challenge. In the end, with fading light we found a suitable place to camp, sheltered from the track by a grove of large trees. We’d done just 51km but ascended more than 1000 vertical metres.
We are carrying some substantially-sized dehydrated meals, kindly supplied by Outdoor Foods – a cut above any other dehydrated or freeze dried meals I’ve ever had. And, of course, not a grain of rice from my chilli con carne was wasted.
I started writing this blog on my iPad, sitting inside my brand new 1-person Tatonka tent but was unable to send it this morning, so I may as well wait until the end of Day 3.
We had underestimated the amount of climbing still left to do to get to Ojos Negro, our aim for the last two days. We ascended in stages, eventually reaching the summit at 1421metres, the highest point for the whole Baja Divide route. It may be winter here, but the sun was pretty intense during the day and the main concern was our water situation. Our worries were eased by a couple of passing drivers who both gave us a litre of water. As you will see from the images, the scenery was again spectacular, especially in the late afternoon light as we neared our destination. Between the first village that we came to and Ojos Negro, the road flattened out as we crossed a fertile plain with crops under irrigation. There is always a sting in the tail – the road was sandy and deeply corrugated.
We decided to take a hotel rather than camp near the town. It was great to wash two days of dust, salt and sunscreen away and load up on tacos from a local family run restaurant. We were ravenous after 76km, another 850 vertical metres climbed, but then we dropped 700 metres from the summit to the plain.