Friday, October 21, 2011

Days 6, 7 & 8: Mexicali, BCN to Puerto Penasco, SON

Day 6: Wednesday, October 12   Mexicali, BCN to Luis B. Sanchez, SON    Miles: 53    Flats: 0, 1 (trip, total)

We left Hotel Migrante excited to get on the road, but nervous about how hectic the roads would be and concerned with being able to carry enough water as we enter more desolate desert stretches.

This was the first day of riding that was flat and I felt well and to make it even better we had an incredible tailwind and we got lots of happy honks and waves from drivers.   Once we got out of the city, it was a lot of fun, regularly cruising along at 20 miles an hour.  The aroma passing by cattle ranches and manure strewn fields got to be a bit overwhelming at times, but it was lovely nonetheless.

We decided to get a cheap hotel in the last decent sized town before the roads got a lot more uninhabited, and dumpy as it was, it was lovely to have a shower and electricity to charge my camera battery!

Hotel Santa Fe in Luis B. Sanchez, Sonora

Day 7:  Thursday, October 13    Luis B. Sanchez, SON to BehindADune, SON     Miles: 75     Flats: 0, 1

Really fun day of riding, and the farthest I have ever ridden in one day. We got out of our crummy little hotel early, stopped for breakfast 5 miles down the road and off we went. There was only one "town" in the first 50 miles, and that was really just a military checkpoint, but it was enjoyable nonetheless for the shade and the cold coke (our new habit).

Shrine to the Virgen in the middle of the desert

Sacred upcycling

We flew along with a second day of tailwind, eventually seeing the Rio Colorado delta and the beautiful Gulf of California.  We arrived in El Golfo de Santa Clara before 11:00am after 50 miles of riding.  We had originally planned to stay in El Golfo, but if we did that we were looking at having to do the next 90 miles (wherein there were NO services) in one long day or breaking it up into two, and camping in the desert. Two full days in the desert also bought up the concern of how much water we could carry.

So, we decided to hang out in El Golfo for a few hours until it cooled down a bit (how can it be so hot in October!?), get on the road again and go as far as we could.  So that is what we did and we made it 25 miles before we picked a nice spot where we couldn't be seen from the road, and we camped there, watching the sun set and the moon rise before falling asleep at approximately 7:45pm since we didn´t want increase our visibility by using our headlamps in the tent.

Our campsite

I observed two interesting, thought-provoking events this day which I would love opinions/perspective on.

First, as we sipped a gatorade in a gas station, waiting to head out into the desert, a little girl, maybe 6 years old, came in the store and asked for some prepared food, a hundred peso bill in her hand. At first glance, I thought that was a big bill for her to be trusted with. Then I thought, well, it´s less than 10 American dollars, so that is not so much. But the conversion isn't really that easy, minimum wage is 53.8 pesos PER DAY in Baja California, so 100 pesos is like 2 days work! So, in dollars, it would be like her having a hundred dollar bill! Which perception is right? Was it like a little girl with 10 dollars or 100 dollars?  (for more perspective, and because people always say the cost of living is so low and that is why its okay to pay workers so little in poor countries, our gatorade cost 28 pesos, public busses in Tijuana cost 10 pesos (no transfers), our average meal out is 50 pesos each, if not more).

Second, on the last leg of our day as we pedaled into the desolate desert, about 15 miles in, next to a big pickup truck with its hood up, a man tried to wave us down for water (presumably for his radiator). When we saw him ahead, I told Eric I was nervous and to keep going. As we rolled by he said "need water" in English and we remained haunted by those words the rest of the ride. As we swung wide, I responded to him "necesitamos nuestra agua"- we need our water, which was true, but not the full reason why we didn't stop.  We were nervous, on bicycles, and there were plenty of other cars going by that may have had more resources.  Also, we were specifically advised not to stop for supposedly stalled cars in Sonora and I assumed it wouldn't really happen because we are on bikes. Eric observed that not only the hood was up, but the spare tire was on the ground while all 4 tires on the vehicle appeared fine.  As sketchy as it seemed, I feel like we denied someone water! Could we have helped? Did we do the right thing? I probably would do the same if the situation happened again tomorrow, but not without guilt. What would you have done?

Day 8: Friday, October 14     BehindADune, SON to Puerto Penasco, SON    Miles: 72    Flats: 0, 1

We awoke in the morning to find all of our stuff damp!  Who knew that there would be such heavy dew in the desert?  (Was it really dew?  I don't really know.  It probably had something to do with proximity to the Gulf? You tell me.)  We were slow to get going which was fine because there was quite a fog on the road, which made it really picturesque, but also quite dangerous.

Dew in the desert!  What?!
Foggy morning!

Looks like we are biking to heaven!

Though it started out pretty, this was a really rough day.  It was surprisingly hilly and after two days of tailwind, we were fully realized how lucky we had it, because it was headwind time.  It was also just really rough to not have any shade to stop in or any distraction from the vast expanse of road ahead- I would get one line of a song in my head and sing it to myself for what seemed like hours ("doo-doo-do-do, do-do, do-do, Can´t touch this" x 1000000). To keep my sanity, I usually like stopping every 10-20 miles and taking a break at a gas station or puesto, but that was not a possibility here.  The road signs were also really annoying as one would say we were 70 km away from Puerto Penasco, and 10 km later another would say that we were 71 km away. And the icing on the cake was that we had some mechanical difficulties, as my crank arm started clicking and Eric's shifter for the rear derailleur starting breaking so he stopped using it and his 21 speed became a 3 speed.

Our spirits were lifted a few times along the way, which made it a lot easier to push on.  The first was the Earlham Border Studies program van stopping and saying hi around mile 30.  We planned to stay with them in Puerto Penasco, but it was so nice to have an excuse to stop and rest for a moment.  The next was a environmental and cultural education rest stop, which to my disappointment did not have a coke machine (Weren´t we in Mexico?!), but it did have some big signs that provided us some deeply desired respite from the sun.  The best surprise along the way was a little woman's house that had a little Cafe sign pointing to it and it was there that we finally got our Coca-cola!  In addition to that, we also got to hear about the UFO sightings in the area--we saw pictures and everything. Pretty freaky, y'all.

I wanted to kiss the ground (and get off that bicycle seat!) when we finally arrived in Puerto Penasco around 3:30, but unfortunately it wasn't over yet.  We planned to stay at a research/ecotourism organization that was about 6 miles into town, and those were long miles, but managable since we knew it would be over soon and because we stopped for lunch and Gatorade (I say managable, but the day was hard and in those last 6 miles I continuously sang a song to myself that I wrote about hating Puerto Penasco).

We biked 150 miles in two days!  I am really glad we get to rest for a few days, but I am excited to know that we can do it and how much water we need--we packed 18 liters for that 100 miles and we had 4 left over when we arrived.

Our first sunset in Puerto Penasco


  1. Extra beautiful pictures on this one; love the "sacred upcycle!"

  2. Comment emailed in from Father Peter Hinde in Juarez:

    About the lilttle girl with the 100 pesos. That's not much for purchases. Remember that basic food basket in the Mexican side all along the border is more expensive than on the US side. About the guy asking for water, I would say that you made the correct move, But who knows?

  3. Comment emailed from my dad, Jim Brandes:

    Regarding the little girl with the 100-peso note: I think you are correct to put it in the perspective of daily earnings. When I was in Thailand 25 years ago, I thought lunch at the factory was cheap: about 40 cents US. But then I recalled that the workers there were being paid about $4 per day. 10% of your daily wage for lunch is a lot - or maybe not. We in the U.S. are accustomed to spending very little of our income for food. In many places around the world most of people's income goes for food. So if someone were able to spend 10% of their income for each of three meals a day, they might consider 30% of their income for food to be reasonable.

    As to passing up the truck with the hood open: It is a scary world, and it is often difficult to decide when you should or should not be cautious. Although it is weighing on your conscience, I think you made the right decision, based on several facts: You had been warned about stopping for apparently stalled vehicles because it can be a set-up. You saw that the individual had the spare tire out when all the tires on the truck looked fine (This was a good observation). And you did not have water to spare, anyway. Radiators can take a lot, and you only had what you expected to need in order to cross the desert.

    I know you are a good person and would not hesitate to help someone who really needed it.