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Jan 23

Across the great nothing.

It's difficult to get photos of yourself on the bike when touring alone... Tony and I head across the desert.

Mark's Beach

The five day trip to Guerrero Negro is the emptiest longest stretch of relative nothing that I was going to encounter in Baja, and most likely, on the whole Tour de Zack.  The 450 km went very well as I was met constantly along the way with beautiful desert vistas as well as acts of kindness and warm hospitality that made this desolate stretch of road much more comfortable than it would have been otherwise.  We found some interesting places along the way.

Cowpatty

Tony made a friend

The Cowpatty in all it's glory

When Tony and I headed south from San Felipe, that first day took us 90 km to the “town” of Puertecitos.  Puertecitos is a tiny collection of houses, a petrol station that is rarely open, a shop with empty shelves, and a hotel were reservations will not be required. Not exactly a recipe for a crazy Saturday night.  But Tony and I were OK with this because we weren’t going all the way to Puertecitos, we were stopping a few kilometers north of the town at a bar.  The Cowpatty.

Word on the street has it that the Cowpatty is the place to be on a Saturday night if you find yourself passing through this quiet corner of Baja California. It offers cold beer, eccentric ex-pats and “the best hotdogs south of the border”; but more importantly it’s the only active watering hole in the area.  I rolled up about 4 pm to a warm reception and soon found myself – beer in hand, hotdog on the way – going over the map with Jay AKA “Panama” about a possible detour I could take on my way down south.

Bay at Puertecitos

I felt right at home at the Cowpatty, because it reminded me so much of the Marianas Yacht Club in Guam that I grew up around.  Everything from the open air bar and the booze-loving-semi-retired-washed-up-expat regulars to the bookshelf of used novels and the random dogs walking around brought back memories from the other side of the world.  The bar ran on Puertecito time though, and so by 5 pm everyone had already gone home, except for me.  Fortunately for me though, the owner and the bartender Memo were quite happy to let me sleep in the bar.

Nice paved road

I was out pretty early the next day, and so took my time heading down the brand new paved road.  But all good things come to an end, and in this case the road comes to a sudden halt about 20 km north of Bahia de Gonzaga and is then dirt for the next 80 km through nothingness back to the transpeninsular highway.

Hard to set up these shots on your own...

I love the Mexican Army

Just before Bahia de Gonzaga there is a military checkpoint.  There are military checkpoints all over Baja California, where the military stops cars and trucks and strange looking foreigners on bicycles in order to search for weapons, ammunitions and drugs.  The checkpoint at Bahia de Gonzaga is a simple affair.  There is a tent barracks housing about 12 soldiers, and they are tasked with monitoring a very quiet strip of dirt.  Often bicycles just get waved through, but this time I got stopped for a chat.  After the usual “where are you coming from? where are you going?” conversation I asked them if I could buy drinking water in Bahia de Gonzaga, to which a soldier – who looked about 16 years old – replied that I could get everything I needed at Alfonsino’s, a full service but rather pricey

Tuna, a gift from the army

Camped at the petrol station this night. with permission of the owner

restaurant, and the only restaurant, at Bahia de Gonzaga.  So, I told them it was out of my budget to which another soldier repliedTe gusta atún?”  Do you like tuna?  “Si, como no!, pero no tengo atun…”  Yes, of course I like tuna, but I don’t have any... (I’m wondering where this question is leading).  “Espera.”  Wait. He tells me.

A couple of minutes later he comes back carrying not one, not two, but seven tins of tuna which he hands to me.  I’d just won the lottery!  After a flurry of thanks and a couple of hand shakes, I rode off.  The Mexican Army is now officially my favourite army in the world.

Entrance to Coco's corner

Zack meets Loco Coco

Day three was all off-road, but I was going just 36 km to the famed Coco’s Corner.  Coco is a desert hermit who lives in a gorgeous spot of the desert about 22 km from the Transpeninsular Highway.  He has been there for 21 years, living on his own and offering cold beer, and a place to sleep for the cyclist, motorcyclists, Baja racers and cars passing through.  Everything about his place is strange – in a good way.  When you arrive you pass along fences of strung up beer cans, at the “bar” there are all sorts of underwear -boxers, briefs, panties, bras – hanging for the ceiling.  The rest of his lot is filled with old run-down camper trailers, and broken down trucks.  By far though, the most interesting thing about Coco’s Corner, is Coco.

Desert tony

For starters, Coco doesn’t have either of his legs from the knees down.  But even if he had both his legs, he’d be an interesting character, he is a grumpy old guy constantly swearing proliferously in spanish and whether he is speaking spanish or english doesn’t always make much sense.  He gets around by either walking around on his knees, pushing around in his wheelchair, or driving around on a little 4 wheeler dirt bike.  Despite his grumpy facade though, he has a great heart.  He put me into one of his campers before he sat me down and fed me a cup-o-noodle while I flipped through the gigantic guestbook filled with the people who had passed through and experienced his hospitality.  He has seven of these books, and as you flip through them the message is clear: Everybody loves Coco.

After a good night’s sleep in Coco’s camper van, it was only 20km left of unpaved road to the highway, but all of it was up hill into the mountains.  Tony was a bit grumpy, and half way to the highway his chain snapped.  Not a big deal, a man-scout extraordinaire is

Mi cadena esta rota

trained to fix these things, and soon we were flying along back on pavement to Guerrero Negro.

Zack makes friends and gets hit by a truck.

On day five, the last day to Guerrero Negro, I had 120 km of flatish road with a great tailwind all the way to Guerrero Negro.  60 km down the road I pulled over to a little shop to buy some lunch food and snacks, and found two other touring bikes parked outside.  The owners were two Germans, Felix and Karl who have been cycling for 6 months from the north of Alaska and whose final destination is Argentina.  We headed off down the road together looking like an impoverished biker gang.  We chatted the rest of the way down to Guerrero Negro, and apart from the fact that I got hit by a truck, it was an easy and uneventful day’s ride.

And yes, I got hit by a truck.  It was a particularly narrow section of road, such that two large trucks going opposite directions could not quite squeeze past each other, and so in this case the truck coming the opposite direction pulled over to let the truck coming up from behind me pass through.  I was riding on the white line, which in this case was the full extent of the shoulder, trying not to run off the road and into the guardrail.  The truck began to pass me, and as he drove by I slowly began to get sandwiched between the truck and the guardrail.  For a moment there I thought I was going to make it, but then the back end of the truck swung in and smacked against my shoulder knocking me off the road and into the guardrail.  It all happened very slowly, at the point of impact I was probably going 10 kph, and the truck maybe 20 kph, and so unfortunately I don’t even have a decent scar to show off to the ladies.

In any case, after my slow-motion brush with death, we rolled into Guerrero Negro and it looked like I was going to have travel buddies for a few days…

It's difficult to get photos of yourself on the bike when touring alone... Tony and I head across the desert.

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