stories • happenings • adventures
I wake up holding my cramping stomach, I could just lie here but after four days in the backcountry we all want to get to Mulege for food and comfort. As we start riding I feel sorry for myself then I feel better and a great idea knocks me over, that I won’t stop again. If I don’t stop I’ll be in Mulege in a few hours drinking Coca-Colas, Tecates and other civilized medicines and sleeping for as long as I want.
Three days ago we rode for a few hours with Lael during her Baja Divide FKT attempt. I watched her skillfully eat an assortment of intricately packaged snacks on her bike. Maybe I could try that, start with the easy ones that I can tear with my teeth like Snickers and gradually move up to taped up, tri-colour Mexican flag coconut fudge. I give it a go, it works well.
With no stops I get ahead of Al and Derryn, Al catches up to me. This happens on several climbs before he says we should wait for Derryn who is having minor bike issues. I tell him no because I must get to Mulege quick. Why? I want to and they will no doubt catch up to me.
So I keep pedaling till I hit a fork in the road. I am not the navigator on this team. I turn my phone on to look at the map and the route sends me to the left. A ranchero approaches in his truck with a bull tied to the back.
“Estas sola?” he looks momentarily puzzled
“No my friends are coming”
“Que le vaya bien” we smile and he speeds off leaving me in a small cloud of dust.
I hook into a goat’s milk caramel lollipop. This is apparently dangerous in the unlikely event of a crash but the only people that can and would stop me are not here. I keep rolling.
There must be at least 20 river crossings – wet and dry. After each, the route travels along the river on sandy tree-lined roads. Shade is precious and even the smallest trees are generous in contrast with the Cardon cactus and Ocotillos of the last few weeks. Then I’m riding into the mouth of a big canyon, which I now know is the Sierra de La Gigantica. In the early morning, sunshine is bouncing off the water and the rich desert greenery, which is abundant from recent drought breaking rains. This is so great!
I pass several quiet family ranches and their goats, cows and donkeys. The donkeys, usually tied to a tree, jump in and out of my path testing the safety of both options in relation to my approaching bike. I think of those Year 7 math problems that go like – If you are travelling at x speed and a donkey is erratically jumping towards and away from you in how many seconds will you collide with donkey? I’m not sure, but I manage to avoid a collision so I guess I can confirm math isn’t so important.
Some rancheros wave, I see a sign for goat’s cheese. Two days earlier a woman in El Datil told us we could go to any ranch along the way and ask to buy queso fresco. I think about it. Oh wait! Al has all the money and I haven’t seen them for a few hours. The first holes begin to appear in my cool plan to descend into Mulege and sip on miscellaneous beverages while waiting for my amigos to roll into town.
Further along, my path is blocked by a big herd of goats and unlike the other goats on the route they don’t budge. I look around and it becomes clear they belong to the family of seven who all have eyes on me. A little black ferocious Chihuahua runs out and is about to grab my ankle so I roll forward. All seven people yell at the Chihuahua while I cut circles to keep my ankles canine free. An eighth appears to join in the yelling and the dog relents.
They tell me to come inside into the shade.
The grandmother points to a seat, the mother brings me a glass of water and goes back to hand washing a family load of laundry.
I wasn’t going to stop but I am unable to resist their friendliness.
We exchange names and situations. The grandparents have a ranch up the road but they spend most days here.
The mother asks if I am hungry, before I can answer she disappears into the house. A few minutes later she brings out three warm burritos filled with frijoles and queso fresco. Yum! I ask if they make the cheese themselves. “De chivas” she nods and points to the goats.
The four children and husbands are also very busy saddling, feeding dry alfalfa to the horses and herding the goats. I chat to the women about everything; they tell me about the government choppers that do food drops when they get flooded in during wet season.
Some time later Al, then Derryn, arrive. The mother is again in and out with fresh burritos. While eating, we watch the rancheros don chaps, boots, jackets and transform into storybook charros. Three of them head out into the heat of the day.
This is our cue to leave but I have become so comfortable here I had forgotten about my fantastic idea. We say our goodbyes; they tell us to stay cool. We push on and it is mucho calor. Immediately we are on an absurdly steep climb, I get off to push my bike. Al rides past on his heavily loaded bike with ease. This is mildly irritating. What’s the big rush anyway?
I lose sight of Al and Derryn on the descent, then an identical climb. There are no more trees. The heat is stifling. I work myself up into a frenzy thinking I won’t catch the others on this terrain, which means I can’t stop and wait it out.
I get up and over the next climb at the bottom of which my friends are soaking in a sweet water (agua dulce) oasis. I frantically demand we take a break.
“Sure” they agree to what they are already doing.
I join them in the pool. Red, blue and purple dragonflies spin around us. Tiny fish try to nibble at our feet. We are not going anywhere, I become calm.
When we resume with brighter moods the terrain is still rough and now with even sharper grades as we sink deeper into the canyon. The roads are storm damaged. The loose cobble descents scary.
On one long slippery descent, I pump mindlessly at my brakes and come to a dead sideways halt. How did this happen? I shrug and awkwardly realign myself with the road to keep going.
As we inch closer to town the road is flatter and graded. We wind past several ranches then big agricultural properties. Three teenage cowboys ride next to us, but they are fresh and fast like the wind. When I spot the first date palms I become excited again and start rushing to where all the cars are coming from. We hit the pavement and roll into Mulege as a team and head for the first mini market. The fridge is chock-full of Coca-colas and Tecates.
Lavanya Pant is the recipient of the 2017 Lael Wilcox’s Globe of Adventure Women’s Scholarship. Through an application process focused on she was selected as an outstanding individual to receive an Advocate Cycles bicycle, Revelate Designs bikepacking gear and a community supported travel stipend. To see more photos from her adventures find her on Instagram @lavlavish.
Whether you’ve been winter riding for a decade, or are braving your first cold snap in the saddle- there is one thing we all have to deal with, it’s keeping our digits from freezing. If you’ve come back from a ride with cold hands and first thought, “I need to buy new ____” You’re only thinking of one part in a much bigger picture of ergonomics and circulation to your hands. So before you try to buy your way to warmth let’s go through some simple things you can do to keep those fingers from going numb, or worse.
1. Comfortable bike geometry
Simply put – your hands should be comfortable on the bars and not go numb through regular riding, if they are, your bike positioning is causing bad circulation and possibly putting undue pressure on your wrist and hand nerves which will lead to numbness and poor blood flow. Bikes setup with aggressive XC or racing geometry should be suspect! The solution is easy – relax everything – raise up your cockpit, use bars with a minimum of 17 degrees of sweep and get comfortable ergo-grips. With less pressure on your hands to start with, you’ll have better blood flow and that equals warmth.
2. Insulate your cockpit
If you’ve ever used an outhouse in the winter with a blue board cutout, you’ll know where I’m going with this… Aluminum bars, levers and hard rubber grips are your enemy. Cold is easily conducted through your bars and controls to your body. The solution just takes a bit of effort to pay huge dividends in warmth. The best thing you can do is wrap your grips with foam or cork (road bike) bar tape. Carbon bars also help as they conduct minimal heat. If you don’t have carbon brake levers, lizard skins sells tiny neoprene lever sleeves, or wrap your levers with Hockey tape. Adding a little bit of insulation here to combat the conductive heat loss is more effective than insulation added by pogies.
3. Start with a warm bike
This one is obvious, but easy to get careless with. It’s a lot easier to keep something warm, than to warm it up. Keep your bike in your garage or in a warm place until you’re ready to jump on the saddle. Don’t let it sit outside for 10 minutes while you finish getting geared up. Obviously if you’re driving to a trail head you can’t avoid this, but any measures you take will help.
4. Have a simple hand ware strategy
Ideally, you’ll be able to ride bare handed inside your pogies, if you need to, add a pair of simple fleece liner gloves. Inside pogies, gloves do not need any kind of outer shell, the extra material reduces breathability and increases drying time. When you’re out on a long ride (especially in subzero temps) there will be a point where your hands will get cold no matter what you’ve done. For this, you should pack a “bailout” pair of lightweight mitts to make it through that big down hill, or after you fix your frozen derailleur. These mitts should again be fleece, but have also had good luck with the liners from big mountaineering mits with the super light taffeta shells. The liners from BD Mercury Mitt’s work very well as they have an optional trigger finger for your brake levers. What you don’t need is a bunch of leather and big gauntlets. When you swap out to the bail out mitts, put your thin gloves close to your body so the moisture in them does not freeze and possibly dries out a bit. Swap out for the lighter pair as soon as you warm up again to keep the bailout mitts dry and sweat free for the next time.
Your wrists and forearms are a major zone for thermoregulation. Wear clothing than you can easily pull up to your elbows to dump heat when you need to on climbs. With exposed arms, you should easily keep your hands from overheating inside pogies. Forearms and wrists are prone to sweating, while we’re not going to cover layering here it’s a good idea to avoid thin long sleeve wool or synthetic layers here as our experience has been that the forearms get damp wet with sweat easily and can freeze while you’re wearing them then boom – cold hands. You’re better off using thin stretchy fleece that does not absorb moisture in the first place. If the weather calls for a shell of some sort, make sure you still are able to vent your arms.
6. Recognize who you are and prepare accordingly
A big guy who is warm “no matter what” is going to have a lot easier time keeping their hands warm compared to a petite woman with Raynaud’s syndrome. In the case of the latter, you’ll have to pull out all the stops to stay happy. There’s no shame in using Little Hotties.
7. Stay hydrated and fed
Getting dehydrated is the main cause of frostbite. Have a winter hydration system (like ours!) that you can easily rely on to stay hydrated. Bonking on long winter rides also has far worse consequences than in summer time. Don’t leave the house without some snacks in the bag.
8. Get good pogies
Pogies have two main jobs – they block the wind and insulate. For temps above zero you can get by with pretty minimal insulation ( if you follow everything else on this list). When you start getting well into the negatives, you’ll need some puff to combat the thermal gradient.
What did we miss? Got something to add? Make a comment!