Highway One Diaries: Land of Pointy and Mean
The_urgency_of_crossing borders propelled us quickly through the borderlands of Mexico. We figured that the further south we were, the safer we were. Furthermore, as the traffic and city lights of Ensenada and Tijuana were left behind us we regained our familiarity with empty landscapes, quiet roads, and a date with Mother Nature in a new dress. Welcome to the desert, the “land of pointy and mean” as I coined it outside El Rosario.
This desert was the real deal. We were warned to fill up on water and supplies at El Rosario before pressing on into the 400k of desert separating if from Guerrero Negro. Water conservation and carrying capacity was of paramount importance in desert heat and pronounced isolation. Replacing our staples of bread and jelly were new staples of tortillas, rice, beans, and whatever else we can find cheaply and in abundance. Lots of desert camping and desert lessons lay ahead, yet we had little idea of what to expect as some people warned us of a desolate desert with no civilization for over 140k; others said we would be just fine and would see spots to replenish food and water every 60k with little trouble. Local knowledge can be comically unreliable which is why one must learn to laugh.
Laughter has sustained us through what was easily some of the most miserable camping of Bound South. Who could forget the night outside of Guerrero Negro when we decided to sleep under the stars during a pleasant, cool night in the desert, only to find a dense fog descend upon us in the early morning and soak us and our sleeping bags. Lesson learned: even when the sky is absurdly spectacular to look at, don’t bother sleeping outside the safety of a rain fly and a good tent.
We fought vicious crosswinds through much of the desert and mountains south of El Rosario. Usually we maintained our high spirits by reminding one another that “thousands of people envy us” and that if bicycle expeditions were easy and fun, everyone would be doing them. One evening, after battling through hard crosswinds (enough to throw us off the road on numerous occasions) we decided to take a cattle road up through dirt and stone into the hidden desert brush of an august plateau above Highway One. A strong but manageable wind was blowing as we set up camp and ate our simple dinner of rice and beans on our MSR stove. The wind began to intensify. As we were reading and preparing to sleep, David and Nathan noticed that the wind was still increasing in force and that the tent was slowly collapsing around us. What followed was a feat of brotherly teamwork and haphazard desert camping ingenuity. With 40mph winds and plunging temperatures, Nathan and I shivered as we assembled outside of the tent to hold it down. David pulled stakes in order to rotate the tent to more aerodynamically face the wind. Stakes once more in place, the tent was still collapsing. Undaunted, Nathan had the idea to throw our bicycles into the brush and then anchor bungie cords to the bicycles and the tent in order to reinforce it against the fierce winds. The wind and the sound of the rain fly was nearly deafening. We slept safely in a reinforced tent that night, but everything we owned was covered by dust the next morning and the wind was blowing just as fiercely. We were reminded of a warning from a restaurant owner we had met the day before: “We don’t waste money on paint here in the Baja. Any of our sandstorms will blast it off in a matter of days.” Lesson learned: camp in places well sheltered from the wind.
There have been other lessons, less dramatic but no less poignant. After taking care of business 50 yards away from our tent one night, I discovered that my headlamp was out of batteries and my steps suddenly painful. Desert thorns and native species of cacti had successfully sent 3/4″spikes through the soles of my flip flops that stabbed me with every step. I walked back wincing on the balls of my feet, praying that I didn’t walk into a cactus or step onto some other godforsaken member of the kingdom Plantae. Why anyone would choose to live in a place like this remains elusive to me. I am reminded of what most of my friends think about North Dakota.
The desert is an austere, beautiful place. We had to learn to respect it. I still have no love for the sand, the harsh vegetation, the nonexistent wildlife, the terrifying insects, or the pitiable donkeys and cattle that graze the scraps of green scattered across the brush and cacti. It is probably best for the desert to simply be feared, but if it is to be loved, it should be loved for its constancy. No amount of human ingenuity or force of will can wring water from its ground or bring rain to its hills or people to its vast empty spaces. It is a landscape in beautiful stasis, defying the frenetic cycles of life and offering a great empty space for the mind to explore.