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Adventure, Cycle, Travel / March 19, 2017

The route I’ll never race

Written by: Jan Bennett

In January, I took the opportunity of a lifetime.

I joined a group of about 90 bikepackers in San Diego to ride the sport’s hottest new trail: the 1,700-mile Baja Divide. Conceived and developed by bikepacking power couple Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox, the route connects (mostly) unpaved roads to tour the entire length of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

Our ride was not a race. There was no Trackleaders page where others could live vicariously through our little blue dots, and no official participation jersey. There was no official anything, save for loosely-organized group camps the first two nights. It was a relaxed, one-time event to celebrate the hard work that went into the building the trail.

The ride won’t happen again. But the trail isn’t going anywhere.

 

Taking a break under a Saguaro in the Valle de Los Cirios. Photo by Jan Bennett.

Justin speaking with a local rancher about the potential for mud in the next section. Photo by Jan Bennett.

Justin, Amy, Rafa, and Ryan making their way to Bahia de Los Angeles. Photo by Jan Bennett.

If you’ve never been to Mexico, you should ride the Baja Divide. If you’ve never eaten tacos for each of your daily meals, you should go. If you’ve never had the pleasure of racing local kids out of town after their families have just prepared freshly gathered clams and fish direct from the Pacific ocean for you and five of your riding buddies, you should go. If you love riding your bike through some seriously remote, awe inspiring terrain, where time no longer matters and the days blend into weeks, you should go.

Should you race the Baja Divide? That’s up to you. But I never will. If I had set out to race Baja, I would have missed  the most memorable experience of the entire trip, which took place in the coastal village of El Dáti.

Shortly after rolling into the town of less than 200 residents, we were asked to help a family shuck a batch of fresh-caught clams. Those clams were meant for us—we, later ate them in a family-style dinner with large bowls of fish soup. It was both a great meal and a cultural experience, and it was exactly the sort of thing I’d have missed on a competitive ride.

 

Our crew shucks clams in El Dátil. Photo by Jan Bennett.

A local chef prepares home made fish soup in El Dátil. Photo by Jan Bennett.

A tour of the Baja Divide puts riders in the backcountry for days on end. So rolling into town is an exciting experience—not least because of the region’s outstanding street food.

We most often ate at family-run taco stands with limited seating, run by multiple generations of one family. The children took our orders, instructed by their parents to practice their English with us. In turn, they verbally communicated their order to whichever family member was on the cooktop that day. There was little need for paper tickets, as just one order was taken and prepared at a time.

Another family member would check stock of horchata, Mexican cokes, aguas frescas, and bottled waters, while someone else was on the grill, cooking up the meat for huaraches. The tortillas were made fresh in these kitchens, usually by the family matriarch.

Truly experiencing this part of the Baja culture meant taking the time to sit, talk, and relax. It meant understanding that savoring the food being prepared fresh, just for you, takes time. While answering questions about our day’s ride, we often realized we could probably make room for another taco or two, even though it would add another 30 minutes or so to our lunch.

 

The Baja Divide is best in the winter, which means a tour involves short days and long nights. Thus, there’s plenty of time to set up camp and enjoy a campfire with friends. That’s plenty of time to stare out at the Milky Way, and the thousands of stars visible on those dark nights, and contemplate one’s place in the universe.

Experiences like these are bypassed on a race. Yes, they’re replaced by the rewards of pushing one’s limits and sometimes accomplishing more than one thought. There’s no denying that.

But after my time on this route, I’ve fully accepted that my heart belongs in those long taco lunches and extended nights out under the stars. That’s where my dreams take me at night. That’s what makes me smile from the inside out, and that’s why I’ll never race the Baja Divide.

Search #bajadivide on Instagram for more amazing photos of the route. To find partners for your own ride, join the Baja Divide Facebook Group.

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about the author

Jan Bennett

An adventure seeker at her core, Jan Bennett has always been drawn to the outdoors and being active. Completing three different wilderness expeditions before graduating high school, Jan has always been at home in the wilderness. Even though she has a degree in Technology Management and a minor in Business, Jan took the leap and left corporate America in 2015 in order to persue her cycling passions. On any given day, you can find Jan in Dallas, Texas preparing her mind and body for the next outdoor adventure.

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