Friday, March 28, 2008

Fear is the Mind Killer

I love Baja Mexico. I've spent more than 12 months there spread over a few trips. It's a beautiful part of the world with spectacular scenery, generous people and lots of open space. I find that I spend a lot of time just looking around and drinking in the scenery. I've sea kayaked, beach camped, ridden dual sport motorcycles, eaten way too many tacos and imbibed countless beers in Baja. I've also done some bike touring.

On the surface a bike tour down the Baja is not a good idea. The only "real" road is a narrow highway with a single lane in each direction. When working on this road the highway crews just pile more asphalt on the old stuff which means you often have a 2"-5" vertical drop off from the paved portion to the steep narrow dirt shoulder. Then consider all the traffic for this part of Mexico speeds down this road at way over 100kph. To make things even worse lots of the traffic consists of folks in RVs who seem barely able to control their rigs as well as all the tractor trailer trucks hauling supplies to this remote part of the world. Oh yeah I forgot about the crazy mountain roads with loads of blind corners and heinous cliffs that would mean sure death to any bike tourist foolish enough to ride them.

Is it really that bad? Well I have friends in San Diego who have spent more than a decade in Baja and they made it sound even more insane than I did in the paragraph above. In fact they pretty much assured me that I'd either die or turn back soon after I started. Before I rode my bike in Baja I had been there on a motorcycle and in my 4x4 pickup several times. I had to agree the roads were not ideal and traffic was crazy.

So why even bother? Well I truly love Baja like no place else on Earth so the thought of getting to experience a new side to this old friend was very attractive to me. Secondly I had seen folks on bike tours during my vehicular visits, not many, but the ones I did see were looking quite alive - smiling even. What finally pushed me over the edge was meeting a 55 year old Swiss lady at a beach camp near Puerto Escondido [a location which will have some significance later in my story]. She was in the middle of a 5 month bike tour. I stopped my truck and got out to talk to her. I was amazed she was touring by herself in Mexico and she was 55! She laughed at me remarking what was the big deal - it's just riding a bike - nothing to stress about.

So there I was rolling down Hwy 1 in Baja. Having a laugh with my tour partner [BTW - she writes a mean bike touring story and takes some kick ass photos]. It quickly became apparent that at bike speeds you didn't encounter traffic that often and most of the time traffic coming from the rear had the whole oncoming lane free to pass us. Not only were Mexican drivers polite and courteous, they were genuinely excited to see us. When I saw a long line of trucks coming towards us in a convoy I got ready to wave back non-stop until they passed. Frankly, coming from a car-centric culture, it was awesome...=-) We did have the very odd driver, often in an RV, who wasn't as considerate, but with the judicious use of our rear view mirrors this was never a problem. One of my favourite memories is a truck diver who stayed behind us for ages in first gear as we climbed a mountain - simply because it wasn't safe to pass. No honking, no yelling, no problemo. I honestly can't say it enough - the people in Baja are wonderful.

After a week of smiles, miles and too many tacos we found ourselves at that beach camp near Puerto Escondido where I had met the nice Swiss lady. I smiled inside with the memory of that encounter and the profound power we have to inspire each other. I ran into some old friends RV camping on the beach so we took a couple rest days off the bike. Between hikes and more taco/beer sessions we chatted with the beach campers - all Americans or Canadians. To our horror we heard one terrible bike/car story after another. Muggings, killings, name it. Some of them recent - such as the story of a couple touring down the main highway. The husband was a bit in front of his wife when a car cut her off and robbed her. They stole important documents, cameras and money - plus they destroyed her front wheel....=-( Everyone urged us to end the trip and get home safely. To say we were bummed is an understatement.

Regardless we decided to ignore everyone and started off down the highway. We had an awful day. People weren't as friendly, drivers were aggressive, the riding was harder - all in all in was a bad day. As we rolled up to our crappy hotel and tried to get some food I remarked to my tour partner that maybe nothing had actually changed since our previously positive touring experiences - except our attitudes and expectations after "beach gloom and doom". She concurred and we tapped our beer bottles together promising to start the next day with the same easy going vibe we had shared before our break.

Well the amazing thing was the next day [and the rest of the tour] was back to smiles and laughs all the way to Cabo. The whole bad day had been in our heads - residual negativity from our RV friends. I'm not suggesting nothing bad ever happens in Baja, but in over 12 months of travel there I've never been attacked, robbed, insulted, cheated, etc... In fact the reverse is true. I've been over whelmed by random acts of kindness from Mexicans and Gringos alike.

Later in our trip, as we were preparing to leave La Paz on a final push to Cabo, we ran into a friendly American ex-pat who wanted to know where we were headed. When we told him we were taking the mountain road around the East Cape and into Cabo he warned us it was suicide. Too many trucks, deadly mountain roads, banditos and corrupt police. We didn't bother arguing we just smiled and replied - " would be sure probably can't even get there by bike....thanks for the warning we'll take the bus!" The ride through the mountains to Cabo turned out to be some of the most fun riding of the trip!

A Buddhist friend of mine once told me - " don't live in the world...the world lives in you..." I try and remember that I have a huge influence in how I experience my life. I don't let fear get me down any more.

- The Lazy Randonneur


M said...

I have to agree that cycling in Baja is great! I heard the same horror stories and dire predictions, but had an absolutely wonderful time biking down there, and my experience is pretty close to what you described. Actually, it sounds like we were there at the same time. I ran into Dominic ( up near El Rosario, and was in Loreto within about a day of you, based on the date of your Loreto Mission photo. Anyway, enjoyed the post and the photos, brought back lots of pleasant memories from the Baja portion of my trip. Oh, and I was also using the Marathon XRs, great tires! --Matt in Seattle

Andy said...


You're totally right and any cyclist knows this - and not just cycling, its life as your buddhist friend says - we can experience it (or let it experience us) or we can waste energy in fear and what we "can't" do. In my own cycling I am closest to just living life as it is.

But my question to you is where do you find all these absolutely really gorgeous females that ride bikes. I'm 55 myself and all the 55-year old women I meet are of the kind that are afraid to cycle. Where are the women that want to get close to life without the bs and the "can't do that its too dangerous" approach - you have them all, send some over here please.


Fear does not protect us - intelligence does that. Fear seems to just hinder. Throw logic and experience at it and it disappears.

andy (that one FromTheYakList, year with friday video and all that - great blogs you have everywhere, keep them up)

Vik said...

Hey Matt - glad you had fun in Baja. I'm just scheming to see when I can go back!

Do you have a journal or any online pics from your trip?

alice b. toeclips said...

lOOOOOOOVE this story
hope to retain the message...really want to
ride baja some time...only have once, just a few days...
Tres inspirant!