Riding, camping, resupply

Riding, camping, and resupply are the daily routine on the Baja Divide. In most of Baja, resources are limited, although the route is designed to be ridden self-supported. Most sections of the route are defined by access to a paved road and major resupply points at either end, while a motel and a bus station are also common in larger towns. Daily mileage is shaped by resupply needs; in some places it may be required to ride longer days to reach a water source. Riding speeds will also vary greatly as the terrain changes, and winter days are short. As such, average daily distances will range from 35-45 miles for most riders with some longer days when resupply strategies require.

Download and print the Baja Divide resupply chart.

Free camping is possible on most of the route and is one of the highlights of traveling in Baja. Desert nights are cool and dry, although winter nights along the Pacific coast and in the Northern Sierra can be cold and moist, and lightly freezing temperatures are possible. Many nights may be enjoyed under the stars, although a simple shelter is useful. Rain is infrequent, but possible, while consistent and strong winds are not uncommon in Baja.  There are very few free camping possibilities between San Diego and Tecate.

There are several strategies when selecting a shelter. A lightweight doublewall backpacking tent provides the best protection against wind and rain. Considering that the tent may not be required every night, a compact and lightweight package is important, yet the ability to withstand strong wind is part of what makes a tent valuable in Baja. At least half of the stakes for any shelter should be an oversized sand/snow specific model, such as the MSR Blizzard stakes. Tents we recommend include Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2, the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL series, and the MSR Hubba Hubba NX. There are lighter models from both manufacturers, but their ability to resist strong winds is compromised.

Single wall tents and tarps are also a good option. These designs feature minimal packed weight and volume, although they are not freestanding designs and require careful staking.  Pyramid shaped tents provide a high ratio of internal space to packed size and weight.  We recommend several models from Tarptent  including the Double Rainbow, as well as the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultramid 2 and the pyramid Black Diamond Mega Light.

A bivy may be a suitable choice for anyone traveling alone that appreciates an ultralight system, and enjoys sleeping out on most nights. It’s an emergency shelter that greatly reduces packed weight and size, but is not a comfortable place to spend a night in bad weather. A bivy is prone to developing condensation, moreso when it rains. We recommend the full-featured  Outdoor Research Helium and Aurora bivies, the Mountain Laurel Designs FKT Soul, and the minimalist Montbell Breeze Dry-Tec and a number of minimalist models from SOL.

A lightweight sleep system and shelter is essential, to leave room for food and water on the bike. A summer weight sleeping bag rated 30-35°F is adequate and a high quality down bag in this range will be extremely light and small when packed. Sleeping pads are largely a personal preference and almost any pad will provide adequate ground insulation in this temperature range. Keep in mind, however, that many ultralight inflatable pads may be prone to puncture in Baja. Use a durable groundcloth, select campsites carefully, and consider bringing a patch kit.  Foam pads are a safe bet in the desert if you can find a convenient way to pack one on the bike. We recommend the Western Mountaineering SummerLite and HighLite, both of which are the lightest full-featured sleeping bags in their category and are very well made in the USA.

While camping is easy along most of the route, site selection should consider drainage patterns if rain is likely, and prevailing wind patterns. Baja is safe and it is not unusual to be seen camping in the desert. If you are unsure where to camp, ask locally. Finally, limit the impact of your visit by using existing campsites, turnoffs, and clearings. Carry all of your trash out of the backcountry, no matter how many Tecate cans and Coke bottles you see by the roadside. Bury all of your shit. The deserts in Baja are vast yet sensitive, and face massive strain from ranching, off-highway vehicular activity, and us. Plants in the desert grow slowly. Respect the people and the land.

Hotels are available frequently along the route, although camping equipment is required to complete the route. Rates range from $15-35 dollars per night: services are simple, cold showers are not common, wifi is often available, while more upscale accommodations are available in touristic areas. Hotels or lodging are available in: San Diego, Tecate, Ojos Negros, Colonet, El Coyote/Rancho Meling, Vicente Guerrero, San Quintín, Cataviña, Santa Rosalillita, Rosarito, Bahía de los Ángeles, Rancho Escondido (El Progresso), Rancho Piedra Blanca, Vizcaíno, San Ignacio, Mulegé, San Miguel de Comondú, Ciudad Constitución, La Paz, Los Barriles, La Ribera, Cabo Pulmo, San José del Cabo, Todos Santos, and El Triunfo.

Clothing needs are minimal. Winter weather in Baja is generally warm and dry. Use this to your advantage to pack light, leaving room for necessary food and water.  During most days, shorts and a t-shirt will suffice for riding equipment. A waterproof shell and long underwear top and bottom layers are nice for cold nights and cool days. An extra pair of warm socks, a light pair of gloves, and a down vest are a few items that might be nice. Find what works for you, but don’t bring everything. Commit to one pair of shoes that are comfortable to walk and ride in. Protect yourself from sun exposure. Consider using sunscreen and a helmet with a visor.

Water defines the way you travel in Baja. Purified water is available from purificadas in cities or from small purification stations within stores in small towns. Bottled water is available for purchase at all stores. Surface water is not widely available on the route except in a few mountainous sections where it may lessen the requirement to carry water on the bike. Bring the smallest possible water purification system that you are comfortable using, as you won’t use it frequently, or don’t bring one at all and commit to carrying all of your water between resupply points. Chemical treatment tablets or a Steripen should suffice, in-line gravity filters are also a good choice. The best way to carry water includes a combination of bottles and bladders or a hydration pack. 4-6 liters of water is typical for most sections of the route. However, longer sections require 8-12 liters. In the backcountry, locals rely on wells and surface water, and in some places locals rely on water that is delivered by truck. Their resources are limited and riders should not expect to rely on their supply, except in an emergency.

Food is available almost as frequently as water along the route, although carrying several days of food poses less of a challenge. Carrying 2-3 three days of food is reasonable, while the equivalent amount of water– which would weigh up to 40lbs– is not. Tortillas, cheese, packaged beans, vegetables, fruits, canned fish, machaca (dried shredded beef), chips, cookies and nuts are foods common in small stores on the route. Prepared specialities include tacos, ceviche, pan dulce, and hard cheeses such as cotija. Plan some time in towns to enjoy eating out in the evening. Usually the busiest street vendor is the best.

If you choose to bring a stove, some types of fuel are hard to find. Gasoline is the only reliable fuel source and is available at government-run Pemex gas station, alcohol is found in some cities in paint stores and pharmacies (ask for alcohol industrial in paint/hardware stores, pharmacies sell a low-strength topical ethanol), while isobutane-propane canisters are non-existent. A small wood burning stove might be useful given the amount of small, dry biomass in the desert. Due to these limitations we have traveled in Baja without a stove, enjoying fresh tortillas, cheese, beans, and sliced fresh vegetables for many meals. During the day we often snack on nuts, chips, fruit and packaged cookies. If carrying a stove, rice, lentils, oats, and noodles are commonly available. Supermarkets in the largest towns along the route are very well-stocked, much like in the USA or Europe.

Traveling in Baja is fairly inexpensive. Expenses include food, water and the occasional hotel if you choose. Groceries are about half the price of the US, tacos cost a dollar or less, hotels range from $15-$35 and camping is free most of the time. A typical budget would be about $20 per day if you occasionally stay inside and buy your friends a beer, but it would be easy to spend less than $10 per day.  Water is an expense which must be considered, purified water is much cheaper than bottled water.

A GPS device is required for navigation. Route cues are not published and would be impossible to produce, as most roads on the route are unnamed and unsigned, while a few are barely known to locals. Preferred devices include the handheld Garmin eTrex series and the cycling-specific Garmin Edge, while smartphones offer competitive functionality, if enough power is available.

The eTrex 20 is simple, rugged, inexpensive, weatherproof, and uses very little power. The eTrex series (20,30, 35) is powered by AA batteries which are easily sourced in Baja in larger towns. A consistent energy source can also be used to power the device via USB, such as from a battery or a dynamo hub with an inline cache battery. In general, providing consistent power to an eTrex from a dynamo is a challenge, and AA batteries are the simplest power source. For most users, the other features outweigh this minor inconvenience, which only relates to those trying to power the device with a dynamo. Operation of the device is via several rubberized buttons and a small joystick. A cheap plastic handlebar mount is available for the eTrex computers, but it might take some searching online to find it anymore.

Edge series computers are sleek and slight, feature cycling specific metrics and connectivity, and they allow touch screen operation. Internal batteries are rechargeable, and are thus more easily powered and charged by a dynamo, but conventional AA or AAA batteries can not be used as a back up. A battery pack could be used to bank power, which would be charged when in town (or from a dynamo or solar panel). Both the eTrex  and Edge devices readily display maps and tracks, and record rides and waypoints.  The eTrex is reported to be a more reliable device.  Free Open Street Maps are available for download, and this helpful guide describes the process to load maps to an Edge series computer.

Smartphones have developed a level of functionality competitive with the best GPS devices, although weatherproofing and power consumption are weaknesses. Programs such as Gaia GPS, Ride With GPS, and OSMand+ provide multiple map layers (available for download for offline use, including satellite imagery) and the ability to display maps, tracks, and waypoints. Gaia’s interface is greatly superior to the packaged programs from Garmin, lightening the learning curve which has frustrated many first time Garmin users. However, loading detailed maps of the entire peninsula may be challenging as these are large, detail-rich files. Powering a smartphone is challenging on multi-day rides. While GPS positioning will still function in power saving “airplane”modes, the device uses more power than an Edge or eTrex. A battery pack (up to 10,000mAh) would be required to power a smartphone for several days at a time, while the same is true for a Garmin Edge. If a dynamo is present, the phone could be charged while riding, but a small battery backup is still recommended (2300mAh to 5600mAh min). Along most of the Baja Divide, riding speeds are such that a device will gain charge through the course of a day, although many sections will limit charging. The risks associated with losing navigation are lessened if traveling with a group.  A portable solar charger might also be useful if you plan to spend more time at rest, of if you can develop a system to capture the sun while riding.

The most detailed paper maps available are an out-of-print Baja Almanac, last published in 2009 but still available for an inflated price from some online retailers. If you can get your hands on a copy, a couple of photocopies may aid in any navigation if you plan any involved off-route adventures.  A tear and water-resistant National Geographic mapset of Baja is also available for about $20, and would be a reasonable accompaniment to digital resources on route. Draw the route and other resources onto these maps for planning.

Free digital open source maps can be downloaded, such as OSM or OpenCycle maps. In the development of this route we used the excellent E32 Cartografia maps, which are detailed maps of Mexico developed by Omar Ortiz Navarro and based on open source content but featuring additional information relevant to off-pavement travel. These maps are available for $105, while additional licenses are $35 for a second device. Gaia includes maps of various kinds in its database, but those should be downloaded in advance as wifi speeds in Baja are slow.

Download GPX tracks, resupply waypoint file, and the resupply and distance chart.

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Sleeping under the stars is a highlight of riding in Baja.  Bahia Concepcion, BCS, MX.
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