On January 2, 2017, Nick and I met 96 riders in downtown San Diego to ride the Baja Divide, a 1700 mile dirt route that we mapped down the Baja peninsula. It was not a race, rather an opportunity to meet folks, make friends and explore magnificent terrain and culture. We rode for two months, leap frogging riders all down the way. In late February, we flew back north so that I could attempt the Baja Divide again, this time with the intention of riding the route as fast as possible to set the Baja Divide FKT, the fastest known time.
This is how it went.
The idea started forming before I could put a finger on it. What would the Baja Divide be like as a race? How would I strategize? How would the riding feel? What would be the best bike set up? How much distance could I cover in a day, day after day? How fast could I get it done? Somehow, I felt committed to the challenge of attacking the Baja Divide before I even actually decided to do it. It just felt so natural. This is our route– mine and Nick’s. I’d already ridden it three times in 14 months. I knew it– knew the land and the culture and the feel. Attempting a fastest known time felt like the final chapter to my Baja Divide year.
Gearing up for the ride, Nick rebuilt my bike. He spent hours at my Aunt’s house in La Ventana and Cale’s house in San Diego cleaning and replacing parts, installing a new fork, rebuilding the front wheel with a dynamo hub, and mounting lights. We optimized the gear and I left a lot of things behind, including my sleeping bag. It was only while buying Ibuprofen at the store in San Diego that I had the memory of pain. The pain that happens during these long, intense rides– throbbing knees and hands and feet, aching sleep deprivation and a dull brain. In that moment, buying the pills, I accepted it. I accepted the pain. It’s just part of the experience. I would not call it suffering– suffering is something that happens to you, something you can not control. Riding miles and miles is something that I choose to do, something I choose to do to see what is humanly possible.
While we were in San Diego it rained an inch and a half. In the rain, Nick and I took the bus to the border at Tecate, crossed the border, checked into a $13 a night motel room and waited two days for the roads to dry out.
The dirt roads on the Baja Divide contain a high percentage of clay. When it rains, the clay turns into mud, mud that clings and cakes onto tires. Within a couple of revolutions, the tires are so coated with mud that the wheels can no longer clear the frame and as a rider, you are forced off of the bike. This mud is so thick that you can’t even roll the bike, but have to shoulder it and trudge on. And then, the heavy mud cakes to the bottom of your shoes. It’s a death march.
We watched the weather forecast obsessively. I wanted to start as soon as possible because it was starting to get really hot in southern Baja.
On the day before my projected depart, Salvador from FASS Bike drove 200 miles to visit us in Tecate to see my start. He held a mini press conference in a restaurant in Tecate and welcomed local mountain bikers to hear about my ride. Salvador Basurto III has shown amazing support to riders on the Baja Divide. This route is rugged and remote with few bicycle shops. In the first season, Salvador has helped countless riders all along the route source parts and repair their bicycles. When Jace cut a sidewall, Salvador sent him a new tire. When Ryan’s bike got stolen, Salvador helped track it down. When Nick and I couldn’t get cash in Vizcaino, Salvador arranged a money transfer. He has a wall sized map of the Baja Divide in his shop in Vicente Guerrero and has hosted parties for riders coming through. He is a fantastic guy with a great attitude and we really appreciate his support. Whenever we had a problem, Salvador always seemed to have a solution.
I dedicate my FKT ride to Colleen Welch. A mother of four boys, Colleen rode with us for the group start of the Baja Divide. We crossed paths a few times down the Baja Peninsula. Colleen was always up for everything. Spending time together in La Paz, I started telling her about my plans for Anchorage GRIT and the FKT and I broke down in tears. I was overwhelmed and broke. It all seemed so hard. The next day Colleen said,
“You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to give you two thousand dollars.”
“You can’t do that!”
“You bet I can!”
And she did! Colleen made my FKT attempt possible. I am overwhelmed by her generosity. She told me that the Baja Divide was a pretty inexpensive tour and about money, you can’t take it with you when you go.
I set the start for my FKT Baja Divide attempt for 5AM on March 2. A funny part about riding solo is that you can really start at any time. There are no other racers and there’s no official schedule. I actually roll out 5:12AM.