For the past two weeks I have been trying to write a trip report for my last bike tour. It has proven to be a much harder task than normal. I just can’t seem to find the right words to sum up such an intense trip. A trip that left me completely thrashed for a week afterwards and still wanting to do nothing but go back for more. I have decided that I will just share individual stories from the trip every once and a while. Those stories which have left an imprint on my brain and I will be telling over beers and around camp fires for many years to come. Stories of four friends riding fat bikes over 200 miles for 6 days up the east coast of the Sea of Cortez back to Arizona. Here is the story of a day right in the middle of our journey.
As the sun rose on day three, we awoke to find a crust of ice on all of our bivy sacks. This would turn out to be the first of 4 very cold nights sleeping in the sand. We were hidden away behind a big dune, tucked out of sight about 200 yards from the ocean, on what appeared to be an empty homestead. I could feel the sorness in my knees from the previous day’s effort and I wasn’t looking forward getting out of my warm sleeping bag and facing the cold morning. Everybody else was moving a little slow so we took our time and made a fire. We thought it might be nice to start the day with some dry shoes and warm toes. A little advil, a little oatmeal, and a whole lot of coffee later. We were finally ready to ride.
Just as we were about to start riding, a truck pulled up on the dirt road a short distance from our camp. Since we crossed a gate to get to our spot, I figured it was best to go talk to them. Come to find out, it was the property manager and he said it was no problem camping there as long as we put out our fire. I tend to be overly paranoid about having enough water on me when bike touring so I took this opportunity to pick his brain about availability. He said:
“No water for 100km to the north. You are crazy. No towns to the north for 100km either. You and your friends are very crazy”
We thanked him again for letting us poach camp, he wished us good luck with a laugh, and we pedaled north along the sand. As we rode, we took a quick water inventory. Travis and Devon had a bladder and a half plus a couple bottles, Joe had a little more than that, and I had 5 full bottles and a pretty light pack. We would have to be a little cautious, but it should get us the next 60 miles to town by that evening.
Our dry shoes only lasted about 5 miles out of camp when the white sand beach vanished and was replaced by a black muck left by the receding tide. There was no way we were going to backtrack all the work we just did and there was no sign of any better way around. We just had to grit our teeth and get it over with. We splashed through tidal pools and post holed through the mud on foot when the riding became too difficult. Everybody seemed to pick their own route through this stretch as if to have their own little space to suffer in silence. We regrouped about 45 mins later and everybody was visibly worked over.
We rode north along the beach for a little while longer until we found an old sand road. We hopped on that for a bit to tick off some miles. After crossing a third barbed wire fence with no gate, the group started to get grumpy. Getting 4 big bikes and people through a barbed wire fence is quite a task when you are tired. We stopped to take a break and split the last two can’s of Pacifico we had left. The sun was starting to get low in the sky and it became obvious that we needed to pick up the pace to get to the next town by dark. We bailed off the sand to the first paved road we saw thinking that we were only 10 or 20km from our destination and the next sign we saw said 73km. That was a slap in the face we were not expecting.
We rode for quite some time and I was starting to get concerned about water. We might have to spend another night out in the sand without resupply and that could get sketchy. An earlier attempt at finding an “oasis” that a bartender told us about on our first night, resulted in a big dry pond and everybody being a little upset at me for taking them on a wild goose chase.
I rode off the back for while as nobody spoke to each other. We had about a half hour of daylight left and still 30km to the next town. Judging by the energy level of the group, we would definitely be spending another night out before we could re-supply. My water was nearly gone and it was starting to weigh on my mind.
I got dropped by the group on a small rise just as we passed the only house we had seen in hours. It was a large building still under construction with a big tank of water in the driveway for mixing cement. Perfect, I could hop the fence and pump some water out of it. Just as I got to the gate I was greeted by two angry barking dogs. A full grown black Great Dane and a puppy with their owner right behind them. I introduce myself and ask if he has any water to spare. With a shake of the hand and a smile he opened the gate and took me right in. Pancho was his name, and between his broken English and my horrible Spanish we had a great conversation. He gave me a gallon of water and I quickly fill all my bottles and put the remainder down my throat. I tell him I better get going so my friends don’t get too far ahead of me and start to worry. He then hands me another gallon of water for my friends! As I am filling up my pack, he puts a clear plastic bottle in my hand and simply says “you look like you need this”. It was a bottle of cheap booze, and he was right, I did need it. It was called Vivo Villa and the label was a picture of Pancho Villa on a rearing horse. We both took a couple big pulls off the bottle and I joke that it is really his name on the bottle, not that of the Mexican hero. We laugh and drink a bit more and he insists that I can take the rest with me. I offer to pay him but he refused three times until I finally slip him 50 pesos with a handshake. It was now almost dark and I asked him where he thought we could camp for the night. He said 5km north is a small fishing village just off the road “find Efram and tell him Pancho sent you, he will give you a good place to camp”
We do indeed find Efram and his buddies hanging out after a day of shrimp fishing. They tell us that we can sleep in their shelter out back. Which turns out to be a shack used for sorting shrimp and crabs after a day’s catch. It was a wood floor off the ground and gave us some good shelter from the wind. Jokingly we said the only thing to make this better would be a cold beer. A guy named Jose took Joe and I to his house where he had a 6 pack of Bud Light longnecks on ice and just gave it to us. We feasted like kings on whatever food we had left. We toasted to a great day with horrible American beer and even worse Mexican swill. But it was one of the best meals I have had in recent memory.
The next day I decided to take a little Pancho with me and make myself a new headtube badge. I would ride that fat bike just like him on the back of that horse. We would ride victorious into town only 18km away. Little did we know what the day had in store for us. But that’s a story for another day…
Joe did a great job of summing up our first day over on his blog, go check it out.
Keep it dirty…by