After Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox announced the Baja Divide on Wednesday there was a lot of excitement, and rightfully so. It’s going to be the perfect winter route, when most of us are hunkered down inside with our heat knob turned to high. Check out the media release to get an introduction on the route. The interview below will provide a deeper perspective from the co-creator of the route.
Why Baja? What enticed you guys to explore down there? There are a lot of great reasons to travel in Baja. We’ve spent more than a few seasons migrating to the southwest, and have enjoyed riding in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, but eventually winter catches up to you. The only sensible place to go bikepacking in December and January is south of the border. We first rode from Seattle, WA to San Jose del Cabo, BCS, MX in 2011, and continued our journey with a sailboat ride to the mainland and a few weeks of riding in the Sierra Madre. This was our first trip with substantial off-pavement sections, including the Lost Coast in California, a few dirt rides in Baja, and the route from the Pacific to the Copper Canyon. In five years, our bikes and interests have evolved, as have our experience and skills. Baja is special to us because of that experience, but the place is also very special on its own. The way the desert meets the sea reminds me of Sinai. The cirios trees and cardon cactus provide a Seussian backdrop to sunrises. The food, the people, and mid-winter sun— there is nothing not to like.nicholas-carman1-551 The riding in Baja California is incredible. The Baja Divide route ranges from well-traveled dirt roads to rough jeep tracks, some of which can be quite rocky and sandy, and a lot of our routes really put you out there. If you’ve ever looked at a map of the Pacific Coast in the USA, or California, and wondered if there are any undeveloped sections of coastline left, you’ll be delighted to know that Baja has two lengthy coastlines on distinctly different bodies of water. While the route largely travels through mountainous desert, there are substantial sections along each coast. The route touches the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez 4-5 times each. Mexico is one of our closest neighbors, yet features such a radically different experience than crossing a state line or visiting Canada. Especially for a first time international bikepacker, Baja is a great training ground to learning a new language, getting by with fewer resources, and discovering new food and culture. Mexico is also an exciting place right now, globally. The country is changing and growing, and mountain biking is becoming increasingly popular. Especially in Baja, where pickup trucks and old Ford Expeditions are common on dusty backroads, the mountain bike is an obvious extension. Bouncing around on rough tracks on a bicycle has universal appeal. With the ability to enjoy incredible free camping for many months, and with a favorable exchange rate, the Baja Divide is an inexpensive tour.lnicholas-carman1-5882-1 To me, Mexico has the draw but not the best image, is there anything to worry about as far as crime is concerned on route? We’ve never seen or heard of any problems in Baja. It’s hardly a topic of conversation, except our media has a powerfully suggestive voice. The people we meet are kind and straightforward, especially those who live along the Baja Divide route. If people can’t attempt the whole route, what sections would you suggest doing? We’ve divided the Baja Divide into four chapters: Northern Sierra, Valle de los Cirios, Missions, and Cape Loop. The Northern Sierra and Cape Loop are the easiest to access, from San Diego and La Paz or San Jose del Cabo, respectively. These rides are about 300 miles each and would fit into a 7-10 day trip. However, it is relatively easy to get anywhere in Baja by bus to begin or end a tour. Bus companies run multiple buses daily and the route intersects many cities with access to bus service. San Diego to Vincente Guerrero is a good week-long journey, with a bus back to Tijuana where you can ride across the border to San Diego.rnicholas-carman1-5831 Another good access point by plane is Loreto, which would allow a rider to finish in La Paz or San Jose del Cabo, or to make a custom loop in the Sierra de la Giganta. Loreto is in the middle of the Missions segment, about two-thirds of the distance down the peninsula. Lael’s favorite sections are 5, 9, and 16, which are described in detail with images on the site. I really like the entire Northern Sierra routing, sections 1-5. However, there is a massive section along the Pacific Coast from Cataviña to Santa Rosalillita this is pretty special. And if you can catch a boat across Bahia Concepcion, the road on the other side is an incredible experience. What are three towns one must stop at on/near the route? La Paz is the largest town on route and features a great mix of history and modern Mexico; Vizcaino, Ciudad Constitution, and Vincente Guerrero/San Quintin are great highway towns where you can get a cheap motel room and walk the streets at night in search of the best tacos; San Ignacio is a popular mission town with an incredible oasis where the entire valley is filled with date palms and the mission church is well-preserved.nicholas-carman1-587 What was the motivation behind the women’s scholarship? We love the route and we wanted to get riders onto the Baja Divide in the first year to ensure that it would have a future. That is the reason we organized the January 2, 2017 group start in San Diego. I was afraid that the project would become a dusty bookmark on the internet, or a GPX track floating in space. Putting people on the route is important. The scholarship is a way to get more women thinking about the Baja Divide and about riding bikes in the backcountry. I can see the disparity in participation, for instance, when about 10% of participants at events like the Tour Divide are women, even though people like Lael, Ezster Horanyi, Sarah Hammond and Sarah Cooper have proven that women can be competitive in ultra-distance racing. The scholarship isn’t about racing, but it aims to address the lack of women in the sport as a whole. Even though we’re told that sales of women’s bikes and accessories is the fastest growing segment of the bike industry, anyone who has been to a bike race or worked in a shop knows that we have a long way to go.b3nicholas-carman1-5913 While I can see the disparity in participation, Lael has experienced the pressures that actually limit women in cycling. When she’s waiting tables at a restaurant and the conversation turns to her experiences, men (and women) occasionally tell her that she’s lying. Just because she’s wearing mascara and can use the words mortadella and sangiovese in conversation doesn’t mean she can’t ride across South Africa, or Israel, or America. The scholarship is also meant to target women with the interest and courage to travel internationally, off-pavement, and who are willing to share their experiences with others. While we aim to impact one person in particular, we want that person to be an agent of positive change, even if only in a small way. Social media, blogs, videos and other personal expressions can make our bike rides bigger than they really are. Our families, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances are all watching and learning through us. The recipient of the scholarship will receive an Advocate Cycles Hayduke or Seldom Seen, a complete Revelate Designs luggage system, and a $1000 community-supported travel grant. We’re also trying to organize some other lightweight camping gear to round out the package. We rode inexpensive secondhand touring bikes for years, and often worked off an extremely limited budget. This is the kind of opportunity we would have been excited to discover back then, so we’re offering it now.nicholas-carman1-590 What is your beer of choice on route? I would assume there is no shortage. Tecate Roja. Tecate is the hometown favorite, and is the most widely available beer on the Baja Divide. The route actually passes the brewery after crossing the border from the USA. As you go further south, Pacifico becomes more common, which is produced on the mainland in Mazatlan while Corona and Modelo are also on offer, as Grupo Modelo owns and distributes all three brands. There is a growing craft brewing scene in Baja California with breweries in Tijuana, Tecate, and Mexicali. I expect there are some in the cape region as well, and I’m sure we will see more in the future. You have spent a lot of time traveling this route. Tell us about your absolutely favorite and most memorable day on the Baja Divide. The moment we succeeded in getting a boat ride from some fishermen in Mulege across Bahia Concepcion to ride the little-used dirt track on the other side of the bay was the highlight of our experiences there last year. After riding for three months, this was the keystone to the entire route and our final day of riding.nicholas-carman1-6049 Any interesting facts about the route that we wouldn’t be able to find on the website? The night that we got the ride across the bay, we were having a fire on the beach and a scorpion crawled up my shorts and stung me. In 2011, after five days of riding through hot, dry deserts on the main highway, we descended to the sea north of Santa Rosalia. I ran into the water and was immediately stung by a stingray in the arch of my foot. And there are cactus everywhere. So, Baja can be a prickly place. Tubeless tires are required, shuffle your feet when entering the water, and keep an eye out for scorpions. Most snakes and scorpions are hiding mid-winter but as the weather warms up in the spring, they come out to play. These are minor hazards, which I happily take in trade for mostly clear skies and warm temperatures and the ability to sleep under the stars for weeks at a time. Oh, and there are no mosquitoes or predatory mammals.nicholas-carman1-488

The Baja Divide is a free resource and is open to ride at any time, self-supported. View the complete Baja Divide route on Ride With GPS. Learn more about the route at www.bajadivide.com.

6 Comments

  1. I used to live in San Diego. Ways to serve at the beaches Ensenada. I would love to do this bike ride.

  2. Amazing project guys! I wan to ride it as soon as I can!

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  5. Peter Gordon

    Do it! We are day 5 into the Baja Divide, for sure it is tougher than the GDR ( whichever we finished last week ) but already it is so so worth it.

  6. George Barajas

    I used to race off-road in the Baja races now I can no longer drive do to severe anxiety when driving a car . When I found out about the Baja Devide a spark has lit up inside of me . Iam 300lbs after having been depression by not being able to race off-road cars it used to be my life . Now I have bought a mountain bike and started riding to prepare for the Baja Devide and loss 100lbs. I used to dream of completing the Baja 1000 one day and now I can’t stop dreaming of completing the Baja Devide first. I’m taking on this mission to save my life and become healthy again , thank you for putting this together and inspiring me . I will see you in Baja . I plan to complete the first section next year before spring . 🙂

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