We are 300 miles into a 1,700 mile trip. We are down to 2 people for a short bit. Malcolm headed back up north and will shortly be joined by another Alaskan, Amy. Below are some picture and musings on the adventure so far. I hope to organize my thoughts in a more clear fashion for future posts, but this is what you get for now.
We started the Baja Divide last Wednesday. After Danny and I finished up our abbreviated version of the Stagecoach 400, we met up with Malcolm in San Diego. After a rest day in town and a quick stop for supplies, we started out towards the Baja Divide from our friends Alev and Niki’s house. We were able to sample some of the great single track between San Diego and La Mesa as we worked our way southwest. Once on route we stocked up at Trader Joe’s for the day and headed towards the border.
We roamed through neighborhoods finding our way out of town before riding some flowing, urban single track around a lake. A quick section on the highway brought us to a big dirt climb up Otay mountain. The climb itself is around 3000 feet of elevation gain, which we had perfectly coordinated to ascend in the mid day heat.
After slowly making our way up the steep mountain road by hopping from small shady bush to small shady bush we were rewarded with a huge descent off the other side. We eventually made our way to the Barrett Junction Cafe where we slept out back after some fries and chocolate milkshakes.
The Tecate border crossing was quick and simple in the morning. $30 bucks and we are allowed to stay for 6 months. Sweet! You can even buy hot sauce or honey from the customs agent (we politely declined both). Once into Tecate, the first order of business was to get some Mexican cash. Everyone got cash alright, but the ATM ate Malcolm’s card. Nothing to be done but keep riding south, we headed to the store to get food for the day.
We meet a fellow cyclist at the grocery in Tecate, Gram. We ride with gram for the day swapping stories and sweating in the heat together. We spend the night just off the road in some brush and Gram is gone before we are up and moving.
We continue riding further into Mexico for the next several days in unseasonably hot weather, following Grams tire tracks, camping in the dirt and sand, carrying lots of water and eating untold bags or chicharron. It is good to be wearing shorts and not much else. It is good to be getting a tan. It is good to be sitting around in the dark with friends and drinking tequila and eating cold burritos. We get tacos almost everywhere they are available. They are as delicious as you would expect them to be.
The route thus far mostly follows dirt roads, ranging from well graded to chundery, cobble-strewn two-tracks. The riding is interesting and the scenery is often excellent.
Buying some beer to combat the hot sun.
Misty morning camp site on the Pacific.
Seems like a safe place to live.
Danny Fights his way up a steep and loose section as we work our way through the rolling ridges.
We arrive into Vicente Guerrero after 6 days of biking. We are dirty and ready for a day off the saddles. First things first we find tacos and sort out Malcolm’s bus ticket. We eventually find a hotel to crash in for a night or two and spend the afternoon eating tacos and decompressing from the last 300 miles. It’ll be good to get back on the bike soon though. Danny and I eat 1o tacos a piece on our first day in Vicente Guerrero; shrimp, fish, asada, and adobada. They are all fantastic. We drink tequila and Tecate.
My friend Danny and I completed our condensed version of the Stagecoach 400 yesterday. We ended up cutting it short to make it back to San Diego for a rest day before starting the Baja Divide (tomorrow). Below are some pictures and random musings I wrote down today and while we were out on the ride:
Danny and I arrive at the San Diego airport eight minutes apart. I have come from Anchorage and Danny has come from New Mexico where he was visiting his folks.
Our friend Niki meets us at the airport. She is driving a Chevy Cruz. We have two bikes and all our camping gear. We quickly realize that we aren’t going to be able to get this all in the car, so we make a plan b. Niki grabs most of our heavy gear and takes off in the car, Danny and I will bike to their house from the airport. Off we ride through San Diego.
We have come to San Diego to ride the Stage Coach 400 (and subsequently the Baja Divide). Luckily the stagecoach route passes right by the airport, so we take this new found opportunity to jump on the route. We end up getting in a nice 30 mile ride, with some stellar single track. It is a nice way to start of our trip, and feels better than it may have to not have ridden from the airport.
On day two one thing becomes clear to the both of us, it is hot here. When I left Anchorage there had already been snow on the ground for over a week, and I had grown accustomed to wearing a jacket. We sweat our way through the climbs and try to stay hydrated. It is nice to be back on the bike again. I have lost some fitness over the last month or so sitting in Anchorage, but that will all come back. It is nice to sleep outside and look at the stars. I wish I knew more constellations.
Biking through a lonely arroyo we found Hollywood and Vine.
Since those first couple of days we have gained fitness and figured out how to ride through sand. Oh the sand. I am finding that my 29 inch tires do alright in the sand if I play around with the pressures as the sediment gets loose. I am rolling and 2.6 Nobby Nic in the front and a 2.6 Purgatory as the rear tire. I had hopped to run two specialized 2.6 inch tires, because I am a big fan of their tire patterns and price points, but when I finally got the tires they are not as wide as advertised (2.4 inches, what give spec?). I thusly resorted back to the plan of running and Nobby Nic in the lead.
On Monday we wake up by a picnic table on a fairly busy trail just off I-15. We make our usual coffee and eat hostess powdered doughnuts. Eventually we get packed up and start the roll down the road. The day ends up being short as we end up at the Pacific at about noon and decide that we should swim and hang out rather than pound through the city in the sun. The ocean is colder than anticipated, but it feels nice to finally get the dust and dirt that has been covering out bodies for the last five days off.
Our friend Malcolm arrives in Sand Diego today and will ride to meet us. Tomorrow we will start onto the Baja Divide for the next while. I’ll keep posting here when I find time and wifi and you can see smaller snapshots of our trip on Instagram; @akschmidtshow and @dresherdan.
We ate bread, mustard, cucumber, cheese, and cured meat as we watched the rusty an old white Mercedes pull up next to the basketball court where we were sitting. We continued sipping our white wine as we watched a man get out and disappear in the bushes. We heard livestock bells ringing. Within a few minutes, the man returned out of the woods following his two cows. He got into his car and continued to herd them down the street, back into town, applying liberal use of the car horn. The man had glanced at us when he first pulled up but I thought nothing of it. We planned to sleep right here, next to the basketball court and soccer field outside of a small town.
About 30 minutes later the car returned, this time with a passenger, and the car drove out onto the basketball court and parked next to us. The passenger got out and started talking to us in a langue we did not understand. Nic got up and tried to communicate back with some English and some Ukrainian. We couldn’t tell when he was saying. He wasn’t over aggressive and seemed to just be trying to communicate his point. He confirmed that we spoke english before getting back in the car as they departing.
I gathered two things from the encounter. The first was that there was a problem, that word sounds familiar enough. whether or not he thought we had a problem that needed fixing, or we were the problem was unclear. The second thing I understood was “police”, something to do with the police. So there we were, still snacking and drinking wine, confused as to what had just happened. We finished eating and pushed our bikes to set up the tents in the soft grass behind the court.
Just as we slipped into the tents I hear Nic say, “There is a flashing blue light over there.” Sure enough, as I look out my tent door I can see a flashing light coming down the street. I turn off my music and watch as it pulls into the basketball court and drive away slowly. We are obscured from view behind some bushes and a limestone wall. We are not hiding, this is just a nice place to sleep. Ten minutes later another car slow-rolls the road. Not much to do but try and sleep. I read some and eventually fall asleep.
I am awakened by a bright light shinning through my open tent door and someone saying “police”. They walk to Nic and give him a similar treatment. Nic talks to them as I pull on my shorts and a jacket. The two men Mercedes-men have returned with an older police officer and a local 18 year old kid. Ante is his name and he is here to translate. He almost immediately tells Nic that we are not in trouble, but this is not normal and so someone called the police. Safe to say we know who that was.
Over the next 30 minutes the police officer takes down mine and Nic’s information including our occupations, and parents first names. The original Mercedes cow-wrangler stays off in the shadows the whole time, odd enough. Perhaps he is embarrassed for calling the cops on two dirty dude on mountain bikes. We talk and joke with the other three.
It becomes clear that they are worried for us. It is too cold to sleep here (mid 50s), and there were once wolves that came out of the mountains to town, and there is no light where you are camped, and theres a perfectly nice church over there you can go sleep by… We tell them, no it’s alright, we like to sleep outside, and this is plenty warm. We shake hands as our Bosnian greeting party departs.
Nic and I return to the tents laughing at what has just taken place and drink our last two beers that we were saving for the next day. And so ended our first night in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
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Since my last post we continued to dodge rain and thunder. We made our way south through Croatia, eventually reaching the end of the Adriatic Crest Route in Split.
We slowed down around Split, spending a couple days in the city to recharge and get some laundry done. Then we headed towards Mostar on a route we had concocted with the help of Komoot. Komoot is a piece of German software that helps to create travel routes using a large database of roads, trails, highways, etc. We tell it we are mountain biking and want to go from A to B. Check out the route, move a couple points, follow the magenta line on the GPS.
So far Komoot has been doing us pretty good. Since entering Bosnia, there have been a couple of overgrown sections that we went around, but the routing in general has been very enjoyable, keeping us off of pavement and big roads where possible.
We are holed up for an afternoon in Mostar. We decided to grab a room as we were gearing up for a 5,000 foot climb out of the city and noted that the weather was calling for 38mm of rain in the afternoon. That’s a lot of rain to be climbing a big mountain. Checking out Mostar is a nice byproduct of that decision.
If you want some more eye candy and insightful writing head over to Nic’s site at https://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/.
As Nic and I started into Poland, the weather started to get rainy and cold. A quick look at the forecast told us that the foreseeable future looked wet. Rather than head into the mountains to be damp and cold, we jumped a train down to the capital of Croatia, Zagreb. It was a full day of travel and a quick stay in a hostel, but as soon as we started riding through the city in the morning we knew we had made the correct decision. Figs, plums, apples, grapes, and pears hanging from trees and vines all across the countryside. The sunny weather had us in pretty good spirits.
The first day in Croatia we rode out of the city and into the nearby hills, linking together dirt and pavement, making our way generally towards the coast. The day was ended with a character building downhill hike a bike. We were both glad when we finally got out of the small canyon we had worked our was into. We hammered down a gravel limestone road until we found a bar. After several beers we crept off into an abandoned building to find some sleep.
The next day was a big day of pounding pavement, that found us within throwing distance of the route we were aiming for.
We had a loose plan in mind that we would try to link up with the Adriatic Crest route. It took us just over 2 days to intersect the route. Thus far, the route has been phenomenal . Mixed dirt and pavement through mountains and broad valleys. We have climbed up to 5,200 feet and are currently sitting at 40 feet on a tidally influenced river channel.
Over the last several days we have encountered some wet conditions, but it has been warm and thus, not too bad. I had forgotten what warm rain feels like. It is not all bad. We will continue along this route until we reach the end of the route in Split. From there the plan is less clear, though it is coming together. We will spend some time in Bosnia and Montenegro on our way towards Albania. I hope we can find some figs on today’s ride.
Malcolm and I left Anchorage on the afternoon of the 20th and arrived the evening of the 21st in Prague. We unpacked the bikes in the airport and headed into the heart of the city, following a GPX track that Nic had emailed to us. We eventually waded our way through the crowded streets to Lubamir’s house (a friend of a friend of a friend), where Nic had arranged for us to stay. Lubamir took us out for our first Czech beer before we crashed after a long day of traveling.
The next day we boarded a train headed to Leberic to meet up with Nic. Nic was waiting with pastries in hand. We dropped into town to grab some food and then headed into the mountains.
For the next 3 days, I got my ass handed to me trying to keep up with these guys.
I have been pretty stagnant for the last couple months. Biking maybe 20 miles a week and occasionally getting out on a hike, but generally a lot of time wasting with little physical activity. Starting out of Leberic, we were in the mountains almost immediately. Pedaling a 60 to 75 pound rig up and down the mountains was a rude awakening for my body. Those first 2 nights on the trail I rolled into camp completely destroyed. Since those first few days, I have felt my legs get stronger and even enjoyed a couple of the longer climbs.
Malcolm headed back to Alaska several days ago to go back to work and keep time open for future adventures. He was generous to take some extra gear I had brought along and did not need. Carrying extra, unusable weight just makes life harder. I had a bit of a hard time trying to figure out what to pack for a trip of unknown length to a place I have never been, so naturally i brought too much stuff. The trip has so far been a bit of an apprenticeship in bikepacking. I am learning where to pack gear on the bike, how to fit more food and beer on the bike, and how to keep grinding uphill when your legs are screaming.
Two nights night ago, we dropped out of the mountains and camped on the edge of a reservoir. It was nice to get in a quick swim before eating some sausages on the edge of the water.
Yesterday we pedaled mostly pavement through farm country to Opava. We decided to take a bit of a rest here and grabbed a $40 hotel room.
It is nice to get in a shower and wash my clothes with some hot water. Our hotel is attached to the local soccer stadium, you can walk out of our room, across the hall, and straight into the stadium. If only there was a game tonight.
Everyday so far has felt like two or three. We travel through such varied trails and terrain that it is hard to remember where we have gone. We are eating huge meals when we can and drinking plenty of beer to power our legs onward.
From Opava we will head generally east into the through Poland heading towards the corner of Poland, Ukraine, and Slovakia.
If you want some more eye candy and insightful writing head over to Nic’s site at https://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/