Baja California – the heat is on

Yesterday was my first impression of the central Baja. Near the Ocean it gets foggy at night, just like in OR and CA. However, it burns off very quickly after sunrise and then it’s just dry and sunny during the day. And once you get away from the Ocean it gets really hot.

After an easy, flat warm-up ride for the first 10km or so I had breakfast at a small grocery store. That was a 2000 cal breakfast with an entire pack of cereal, 2l of milk and some generously sweetened coffee.

The 2000 calories bicycle breakfast

After that the road started to climb into the hills. The next section to Las Ca┼ładas is just terrible: it’s dusty, smoky (from forest fires in the hills which almost make the mountains look like volcanoes), uphill through towns with lots of traffic – not fun. Then to make things worse, there was road construction for about 5km. All the traffic snarled through small gravel and mud tracks which had been watered down to contain the dust. I tried riding on the track under construction away from the traffic, which worked in places. The road was extremely bumpy and it was slow going; for the last 9km I needed a full hour!

Talk about these car wrecks collecting dust along the road under construction

Then continuing South to San Vicente I encountered some serious hills (up to 500m, more mountains than hills actually) and very hot conditions. Upon descending into the basin of Santo Tomas – a wine growing region – the hot air blowing in my face on the downhill felt like a giant hairdryer. My thermometer read 37C (99F) and there was no shade anywhere – just brutal. I can’t ride in this heat; have to find some shade and wait out the worst of the heat. I stop in the shade but there is hardly any relief from the heat. I open the towel & tent (which I packed wet in the morning fog) and spread it out in the full sun – it is dry as a bone within minutes.
After a while I continue just 2km or so to the ‘El Palomar’ restaurant in Santo Tomas, where I stop for a cold coke. There are 4 Baja Rally vehicles at this place, apparently run by some commercial tour operator. There are Baja 1000 rally stickers all over the place. I leave a brochure of my project with the hostess and she hangs it up in her place right away.

Climbing hills in the hot midday - Baja near San Vicente

Now there is a real mountain pass of almost 500m to traverse. In this heat it’s not very efficient, as much of the energy goes into cooling rather than climbing. Slowly but steadily I gain the pass. No big downhill though, rather continue on a sloped plateau. I get closer to San Vicente, but it’s getting too hot for me. So I stop at a little place that sells cheese (and sodas), sit in the shade, drink and actually sleep a little bit. I probably spend 1.5h here before I resume at 4pm.

Riding in the late afternoon is much cooler

The best time to ride is early morning or late afternoon. However, once the sun sets it gets dark very quickly and you don’t want to ride on the Mex 1 highway in the dark. It’s dangerous enough to ride on it during the day. Between San Vicente and Colonet (35 km) I had to make an emergency exit from the road no less than 4 times as trucks were approaching and wouldn’t slow down despite oncoming traffic. They just honk as if to say “You better get out of the way because I’m not stopping…” That was dangerous and scary. Hopefully it doesn’t stay like that and the traffic will diminuish.

When I got close to the little town of Colonet I stopped at a small house with a sign that they rent rooms. I inquired about camping, but they really wanted to rent a room instead. Also, their backyard wasn’t particular pleasant or safe as they had no fence around their property. (Those encounters show me how much I still have to learn to make myself understood in Spanish. But with each day it should get better.) I continued to the next place with a hotel sign. Again, no camping there, but they suggested I ask at their neighbors, which had several Christian signs on it. It was the residence of Pastor Obregon, his wife Shirley and Missionary Peggy from Canada. They were kind enough to let me put up my tent in their backyard, which was away from the road and safe behind a fence and locked gates.

Camping in the backyard of the Obregon family near Colonet

Not only that, but they invited me in for dinner as well. And then they invited me to come along to an evening at a nearby drug rehab facility where they would show a DVD of a Christian concert (which was actually of very good quality). I helped the two elderly ladies to drive there and then setup the DVD player and TV. Before they started the video, Shirley said a prayer and also introduced me to the assembled men. “Este es el hermano Tomas!” And the crowd applauded and cheered. Then I briefed them via an interpreter about my project; I encountered quite a captive audience there: About 100 men which almost looked like prisoners, very poor and some in struggling health and on rehab medication. For these folk the DVD movie on the weekend seems to be the highlight of their week. And Shirley had brought some bulk candy which we handed out to those men after they had some simple soup as their dinner. I also contributed my trail mix and gave that to the men. To be clear, I would also have liked to eat it myself. But seeing those poor people hold out their hands and the joy on their faces about this unexpected treat was an amazing feeling.

Men at Colonet drug rehab station during a Christian DVD concert showing

Such went an unexpected evening with the two missionary women at the drug rehab station! Things like this can’t be planned, they just happen. I am indebted to the Obregon family for taking me in and treating me so nicely. Thank you very much.

Thanking the Obregon family at the morning departure

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