TJ to Mulege: A Cycling Challenge
Talk about traveling into Baja California. Some of the hardiest souls actually take on the challenge by heading out on foot. Names like Graham Mackintosh and Michael Younghusband come to mind. Their only luxury was a burro with an attitude. Each of them walked thousands of miles through the harshest desert terrain. Randy Houk set out to do it on two wheels as many have done before him. I just happened to be in Mulegé, talking with friends at El Patrón restaurant when a stranger walked in and ordered a beer. Always alert for a good story, I knew one had just walked through the door. It was natural to begin to ask a few questions as I have always wanted to ask a rider why on earth they endure such physical demands. Here was my chance. Not only are the roads very narrow with no shoulder to speak of, but the semi-trucks are very wide. The steep mountainous terrain is grueling combined with the heat. It never looked like much fun. But Randy was about to give me insight into the nature of cross-country cycling. By the time we met in Mulegé, he had already covered 4,000 miles. He had his vision set on South America.
He was very good natured about talking with someone who gave up bikes when she was ten, because she didn’t like wearing asphalt imbedded in her nose. He admitted that he was more of a "Forrest Gump" rather than an extreme athlete. Life just gave him the opportunity to be free to roam and he said yes. What gave him the final push was seeing his friends locked into a routine of TV, weekend sports and their light for life going out. So like Forrest, he just started out to see how far he could go.
It was almost June on the Gulf of California with temps headed into the 90s. As he relished his cold beer, I asked him about heat stroke and what it felt like. As it turned out, he experienced it just as he was leaving Tijuana. Randy had done his research about crossing into Mexico. Unfortunately the recent construction and widening of the border crossing at San Ysidro was not included in the guide books. He ran into a turnstile that he couldn’t get his small bike trailer through. Well, the short story of it is that a local named Juan made it his business to help people crossing since it was fairly confusing for a first timer. After pulling the hill out of Tijuana, he began to feel a tingling sensation on his back. He experienced being light headed and a little dizzy. He has learned his lesson to pay attention to these first signs to cool down, when he found himself in the middle of the road and couldn’t remember when he swerved.
All along the way Randy was offered hot showers. A fellow cyclist suggested his first stop across from the "giant Jesus" at K38 Fish and Shrimp Taco stand where Roberto took him in for his first night. This kind of warm welcome greeted him all along the way. Randy found that the Mexican truckers were very supportive, giving him plenty of room and a gentle beep on the air horn as encouragement. Cars often offered him "thumbs up" and the friendly waves were truly appreciated. I asked him what it was like riding up the mountains leaving La Misión in northern Baja, or anywhere else for that matter. It is tough enough by car, so I couldn't imagine it. He smiled and said "I’ll tell you a secret. When I take a really extreme climb, I break it down into small goals. Each small goal is attainable in the mind. So, I make it to the top, one small goal at a time." He startled me when he added, "I am not always riding you know. I will walk the bike if I need to. What I like is when I get to the top and going on over for the downhill run," he grins, "the cars that I meet think I actually biked the whole way up. They are very impressed." He waved his arms up over his head to show how it felt when he made the summit. "I really never know what I’ll find on the other side, but it is always something wonderful, a great view or a great ride down!"
It wasn’t an easy decision, although a good one, when circumstances turned Randy around and pointed him north. He was very philosophical about it and all true travelers know that it is not the destination but the journey that matters. Randy was last heard from putting on another thousand miles in the state of Washington. But still, why does he really do it? His pictures are worth a thousand words.
See more on Randy's blog