BIKEPACKING THE BAJA DIVIDE
Words + Photos by: Evan Christenson
There’s not much else to be said on the Baja Divide. The route is a gem, more a gift to humanity than a line on a map, and along that long red line, swinging and swaying, is a series of lessons and growth and trials and tribulation.
The Baja Divide exists to show you everything magical about Baja and everything enduring about yourself. The Baja Divide is a magnet of riders from all over the world, and pulls them into this small peninsula dividing the ocean and the gulf, and runs them into the dirt. I heard stories from them down there. People have done it on foot, unicycles, with their dogs, with surfboards, alone, with groups of strangers. Many hundreds have set out on the Baja Divide and many fewer have finished it (it’s a tough one this!).
We? Bo and I? Two strangers dancing with the L-word and obsessed with the serendipity of this whole thing set out to go see Baja by bicycle. More importantly we set out to go learn about each other through the Baja Divide. It’s dirty and rough and hot and windy out there. But in moments of pause you can look out into the desert and in a mirage you can see a reflection. It glimmers and awakens something inside of you. A longing for home. For shelter. Three days and a hundred miles of soft sand from a town you can look out into this void and see yourself staring back. With a stranger you can look at each other’s reflections as well. You can see where the wind has carved holes in the distant granite boulders and how the shadows align with their soul. In nothingness there is nowhere to hide. So in Baja it was the perfect place to get to know someone. To let washboard roads shake out the truth.
Bo-Shan Go. I love her name. It hops and skips and gathers in my mind. It smells like concrete after the rain. She sent me a message a year ago now asking about camera straps. We talked a little initially. Time went on. I tried to not bother her.
After a couple months of prodding at each other’s direct messages she was single, and I was pretty smitten by her cute bike pictures and silly captions. Internet dating is a weird world, but through emojis and bitmojis and the like we started having serious conversations. We began video calling. I never wanted to put the phone down. Months flew by. When she went to bed I bit my tongue to stay true from that damned L-word.
Bo is from Amsterdam, and me being from San Diego meant we couldn’t see each other when the time came. I wanted to see her desperately, but travel restrictions meant I couldn’t fly into the EU and she couldn’t enter the US. We looked around and scoured the internet for restrictions and tried to devise a plan. I needed to see her. We were talking hours a day at this point and the further I explored the rabbit hole the more I wanted to run to the end. The conversation would begin in politics and end 4 hours later after touching the entire slate of things I deem interesting. We revisit conversations and write letters to each other in the evening and send memes and photos and we call when she rides home from work and when she’s cooking dinner. I video call when I’m driving and she starts to see the US from a completely different perspective. We start officially internet dating in October. We make plans for her to fly to Tijuana for New Years. I frantically drive back from DC and pick up two bikes on the way home and Orucase makes framebags and we barely squeak out the departure date we set. We both quarantine and then meet in Tijuana. Sparks fly. The world is spinning and just like that the pedals are too and we’re off on our own twisted silly version of the Baja Divide. No two runs of the Divide are the same. Bo and I’s? Completely different.
I’m a bleeding, desperate romantic, can’t you tell? Everything that says love and beauty I say yes to. Logic and I don’t mesh. A 10+ week first date, a beautiful woman, the desert, the chance of love all scream romance to me. I had to do this. Bo was warned by her friends to have an exit strategy. When mine mumbled the same I looked the other way. It felt oh so good. It was everything I had ever dreamt of and was lining up. I rubbed my hands together and welcomed her to a crazy life in my truck. We quarantined together when she arrived. We basically quarantined together on bikes for the next three months.
The Baja Divide, like all first dates, does not exist in a vacuum though. There is no perfect planning, and no 80’s film gave me the guide on how to navigate this thing. When Bo and I got it wrong we got it wrong. But we picked up the pieces together. When my front rack broke she took the basket and I the bag. When my rear rack broke two days later I worked on a hack-job fix while she shuffled the weight around. Both times we were back on the trail in 15 minutes. I’ve spent a lot of time riding alone in crazy places, but with Bo it felt like I finally had a partner I could count on and roll a bit smoother with. It felt better to be with her. Like together the punches didn’t hit so hard.
The ride went on. The Baja Divide, in its length and arduousness does that. Just when you think you’re nearing the end you check that red line and see you haven’t even crossed into Southern Baja yet. Time loses itself in Baja. You fall asleep with the sun and wake with it. Some days we awake before it to try to beat the heat. Most days we frolic around in the morning light and stare at the cacti. By the end of the ride we were so spent, time just slithered away. We’d ride into a nice beach and like it and decide to stay for a day or two. Riding fell to the wayside. The world is still chaos outside, but on these small parcels of beach, beautiful and remote and isolated we could have our own space. It was here, months down the ultimate route, that we were able to really explore each other. I think here, in the long days filled with nothing our true compatibility was put to the test. There’s no hiding behind mediocre Italian food and a movie on this date. On a beach in the middle of nowhere you have to talk. You have to explore what that L-word really means.
Bo and I explored each other, and that still resonating sense of doing it through the reflection of Baja. I think it’s a rare opportunity to see someone’s true limits. But at these limits a definitive personality shines through polished lines and fake smiles. I first talked with Bo over the internet. But I first really got to know her some 100 miles south of the US/Mexico border. She smiles when she climbs. We stop and stare at the layers when the light begins to fade. She jumps at chopping veggies while I tend to the stove. We raced putting the tent up at night, and both groggily stumbled through making coffee in the morning. She got her ass kicked by food poisoning, but she always got back on the bike. Bo’s tough. She’s strong willed and always wants to see what’s around the corner. I love that about her.
Bikepacking has afforded me over the years the gift of getting to genuinely know people. When the rain has come harder than I was ready for, I’ve found myself in small yurts and huts with families around the world. They’ve always smiled and cared for me. Some times we couldn’t have a conversation, but we always smiled. In passing, curiousness has always provoked genuity. So to take this same, stripped down attack on life and bring it to a first date was the best risk I’ve ever taken. Bo and I fought at times. We struggled through sand and got angry at the desert together. We fought over stupid stuff some days too. But I fell in love down there. Maybe it was spitting toothpaste at each other. Or dancing on beaches. Maybe it was all of it. The nuances that won’t fit here. The looks after a long day on the bike. Our grown co-dependence. Can’t wait for the next one…We’re thinking the next one will be even bigger.