Desert December in Baja

When people heard of my plans to cycle in Mexico the consensus of opinion was that it is too dangerous and that before long I would be recruited as a member of a drugs cartel. As I haven’t experienced mainland mexico yet I can’t comment on this. But in Baja it has been an amazing experience and I have not met any drug lords or bad people.

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I cycled from Ensenada for a few days on my own through vineyards and across mountains. I enjoy riding alone but also think it’s nice to share these experiences. I contacted Basti, a German Biologist,  through a couchsurfing forum who is cycling from Tijuana to Cancun. He was only a few days ahead so he waited for me to catch up. 

We met in Catavina which is the gateway to the Valley de las Cirios Desert. It is a biosphere reserve and we could tell why it was protected with such an amazing range of plants. There were Dr Seuss like Cirio trees, cactuses and other wonderful vegetation.

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During the first day of cycling together we experienced the most powerful winds! In the morning we had extremely strong side and head winds which meant I could go faster up hills than down (aka very slow). The morning was tough but luckily the winds changed direction and in the afternoon we were blown along by the best tail winds I have experienced, covering 40kmp. We always think of this day if we are ever struggling and remember things will be great again.

We arrived in Guerro Negro a few days later, the start of southern Baja. We met up with another gruop of cyclists here. From that point our paths kept crossing on our way south, we became a real biking community and all decided to spend Christmas together.

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We followed the mostly straight route through more desert for another few days and eventually hit the sea of Cortez. We enjoyed 4 days exploring the paradise of Bahía Concepción beaches between Mulege and Loreto. This was a great break from the desert riding. The area was populated by a large ex pat community , mostly Americans and Canadians who over winter there. They were delighted to let us share there paddle boards and kayaks. Out on the ocean we explored nearby islands and frolicked with dolphins.

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After a few more days riding through the desert we reached La Paz in time for Christmas. By this time we were happy to have a rest from our bikes. We hired an air bnb house with the other cyclists and celebrated the holiday. The Christmas present I gave myself was a snorkelling trip with whale sharks . It was a truly magical feeling swimming with these giants of the sea in their natural habitat. They were over 10 metres long, the size of a school bus!!

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Missing home over the festive time but it was great skyping the family and sending Christmas love!! Feliz navidad y próspero año nuevo

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Desert December in Baja

Central & Southern California

To fill the gap in the blog, this is an update on my last 4 months in Central and Southern California encapsulated into one post. This is difficult as I had so many cool experiences and different WWOOFING opportunities. Because of this I spent more time on farms than on my bike! Here’s a brief update on the farms I worked:

Shanti permaculture farm, Occidental.

Elizabeth owned this beautiful property which was 80 miles North of San Francisco in Sonoma County. She practiced permaculture, which she used to grow veg for her own consumption and the WWOOfers that passed through. For the uninitiated Permaculture farming is centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. Paul Wheaton explains permaculture as “a more symbiotic relationship with nature so I can be lazier” which describes one of the benefits perfectly.

As well as working in the garden I had the oppurtunity to use power tools to make planter boxes, benches and a top bar bee hive. It was great learning about this more natural method of bee keeping.

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Dare to dream, Lompoc.

This family owned farm is situated 6 miles West of Lompoc in Santa Barbara county. Jeremy and Megan had escaped the city life to have a go at farming. The farm specializes in raising backyard chickens, handcrafted chicken coops and selling eggs & local CSA produce. They opened up the farm to about 10 WWOOFERS at a time to share their experience. This made it a really fun place to be. We all worked together on the daily jobs and had lots of free time to explore the area and hang out at the beach.

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Super Bee rescue, Carpinteria.

Nick the beekeeper specializes in high, difficult and complicated honeybee Rescues in the Santa Barbara area. This was one of the the coolest WWOOFING experiences. These bees would have been exterminated without Nick and his wonderful passion. His motto is “save the world, one bee at a time”. As a WWOOFER I got to ride with Nick to his calls and help rescue bees from trees and rooftops where they had swarmed or had made unwanted residency. I felt like a super hero. I learnt so much in the two weeks i spent there and got to look in so many hives and make honey.

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Chandelier Springs, Valley Centre

This farm was owned by Doug and his son Spencer. It was a huge property surrounded by hills. It felt like a WWOOFERS paradise, a huge playground with so many projects. These included building an earthship, sauna, pizza oven and hoop houses. It was fun getting back to basics with no electricity. We cooked every meal on an open fire. I could sadly only spend 2 weeks here as my 6 month visa was expiring. My friend Arran is writing a great blog about wwoofing and he goes a lot into the details. Well worth a look if you are interested in farming Wwoofingwithaaran.com

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I had a blast riding between all the farms and there was quite a cycling community down the coast through Big Sur which was one of my favourite sections of the ride, despite the hills! I also took a side trip to Joshua tree park which was magical. One of the craziest places I have experienced and the stars where the best that I have seen.

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Such an amazing 6 Months in America. Now in Mexico and about to ride a desert. Will post about it soon and I will not leave it as late as this post. Happy December.

Central & Southern California

Hola Mexico

I am in Mexico!!! Yesterday I said bye to America and cycled over the border to Tijuana. As soon as I crossed, I felt like I was 1000 miles away from the US. It was very hectic but had a  great feel to it and smelt different. I decided to get a bus from the border to Ensenada (the first section of the coast that I haven’t cycled) to avoid riding in Tijuana and get a little more settled into the country before I cycle.

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What a welcome to Mexico I got. The bus dropped me in a very un touristy area and everyone who I encountered on the street were very hospitable and interested in my bike. I was even given a red rose by a local. The friendly people made a welcome change from some of those in Southern California.

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I cycled to my hosts house which was a beautiful 8 mile ride along an uneven road by the coast. My host, Jesus, is a business student who is hoping to run his own hostal in the near future, which made him a perfect tour guide. We shared a lovely evening together with Ensanada famous fish tacos (bad vegetarian) at a lovely small local restaurant with a cerveza. We then went into town to  Hussong’s Cantina. It is the oldest and best known cantina in Baja and there was a fun traditional folk Mexican band playing. Hussong’s is reputedly the place where the Margarita was first created in October, 1941. It would have been rude not to have 1 (or a couple).

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After dancing to the beautiful music and making lots of friends we went back to the car but it wasn’t there? The police had towed it away as apparently it wasn’t parked in a correct spot. We tried to get it back but were told we needed to do it the following day. Welcome to Mexico. I have been here for less than 24 hours and I have already had so many new crazy experiences. I am very happy to be here and I’m ready to explore the beauty of Baja and it’s people. 

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Hola Mexico

Blueberries in Bandon

We’re back on the road again after 2 weeks wwoofing on an organic blueberry & cranberry farm. 

 

The farm was just South of a town called Bandon, right by the Pacific Coast in Southern Oregon. The owner, Nick, had bought the farm less than a year previously and we were the first wwoofers there to help out. A majority of our time was spent picking and sorting blueberries, as well as weeding around the bushes. This was the first harvest of the season so we were also able to help at its debut at the Farmer’s Market at Coos Bay. It was good fun and we learnt a lot about working on a small-scale commercial fruit farm. 

 

 Some of the highlights were:

  • Travelling around the farm on a quad bike – checking out the 70 acre property full of lakes, sheep, llamas and searching for lobster mushrooms.
  • Being invited to a local wedding reception in the old cheese factory in Langlois – which involved a lot of country dancing to the upbeat band playing. This was coincidentally on Hattie’s birthday so we had a double reason to dance!
  • Celebrating 4th July on a beach and seeing the fireworks over Bandon.
  • Attending an annual dog show, where all the owners were grooming and pampering the plethora of pups.
  • Spontaneous road trip to Eugene, where we had a tour around the University of Oregon, and back to Portland where we spent many hours back in Powell’s bookstore and were able to try the famous VooDoo doughnuts (we both had the ‘Dirty Old Bastard’ which was covered in peanut butter & oreos – yum).

    
  It was wonderful having Nick as our host as he joined us in all these activities and provided a lot of laughs when comparing the American vs. English language. It was inspiring to see someone who was just 3 years our elder owning and working on a fully productive farm. We’re excited to keep in touch and see how the farm takes off and prospers with his ownership and lead. After leaving the farm, we’ve seriously missed the enless supply of blueberries on the doorstep!  

Since being back on the road cycling, we realised that we lapsed quite behind on the blog – as most nights we put up a tent and are asleep before it’s dark!  Therefore there’ll be another update soon as we will keep on it more diligently.

  Hattie & Rio

Blueberries in Bandon

The Oregon Coast

We set off from Portland for the coast, both looking forward to the cool sea breeze after being inland for a couple of warm weeks. We continued opting for backroad routes towards the coast, then joined up with the Highway 101 and the ocean in Tillamook. The bike ride out was through charming countryside towns with plenty of rolling hills and even a few mountains.  

We also faced our first flat tyre of the trip, on the back of Rio’s bike, but were pleased that we could fix it without too much worry and were cycling again within the hour.

Our first glimpse of the Pacific in Oregon was on Sunday morning when we cycled down to see a mist covered bay with playful seals swimming around.

Since then, we have been able to follow the coast along the 101 and every corner has felt like it should feature in a picture postcard. The area is well-known for its lighthouses, so we made sure to stop and check out two of them this week; Yaquina Bay Lighthouse near Newport and Heceta Head Light near Florence (which can be seen in the background of the photo below). We’ve also been keeping our eyes on the sea at every stop, after meeting 3 marine mammal observers who told us that Grey Whales were still in the area and could be seen milling off the coast.

During this stretch we’ve been saving money by spending  a majority of our nights wild camping. Finding a decently hidden location has added to the excitement of the trip, with some locations being easier than others. Most of our ‘campsites’ have been in forested areas within 10m of the main road, allowing easy access and quick departure in the morning. As of yet we haven’t run into too much trouble, the only downside is having no access to a refreshing shower at the end of the day – but we find the dirt and mud has made us look more tanned than we really are. Our lemon & eucalyptus mosquito spray works wonders as a perfume, if we’re without a shower for a few days.



We’re able to cook and enjoy a warm meal at the end of each day using a small Trangia camp stove, meaning we don’t have to rely on being close to restaurants or towns for our food. 

We’re currently having a day off in the beautiful hilly countryside near Coos Bay whilst staying with a friend’s family. They have a wonderfully copious supply of fresh fruit and vegetables from their well looked after garden, which is definitely recharging our batteries in between cycling.

Hattie & Rio

The Oregon Coast

How it all began

The beginning of this trip for me was the copious inspiration I felt after attending my very first ‘Explore’ weekend, at the Royal Geographical Society in 2011. The general premise of the weekend is to bring together adventurers and wannabe adventurers to share tips, tricks and stories during presentations and workshops.

Meeting Michael Palin at the  2011 Explore Weekend
Meeting Michael Palin at Explore 2011

Hattie and I met just a month previous to our first Explore, during our Freshers’ week at the University of Exeter. Thus, my initial memories of her is both of us having ridiculously big smiles and buzzing with excitement at ‘Explore’. We were in awe of all the people around us and absorbed countless tales of exciting expeditions around the globe. We even bumped into Michael Palin for a chat and, needless to say, it was an unforgettable weekend. I found myself wanting to go to the airport and jump on the first plane out of England! Alas, as we had just started our Zoology degrees this felt like a pretty impractical desire.

3 years later, and 3 more exciting Explore weekends under our belt, we have now both finished our degrees and ready to use this newfound free time for an adventure.

We decided that a cycling trip was what we wanted to do- it meant we kept things low cost, ecofriendly, relatively quick (yet slow enough to enjoy the scenery) & fun!

After discussing location ideas, we soon realised that neither of us had been to America so decided this would be ideal! Some of the other contributing reasons for the US were;

  1. Beautiful scenery (so we hope)
  2. They speak English – even if it is with a different accent & replacing words like ‘trousers’ with ‘pants’
  3. Bike friendly – plenty of people have done and are still doing bike trips around America (e.g. http://www.adventurecycling.org)
  4. Relatively safe – particularly for 2 girls travelling by bike
  5. Good phone/internet coverage (for concerned family and to track our movements)

We decided upon the Pacific coast as the route we’d like to take and, having always wanted to go to Vancouver, we decided to start the expedition there.

Therefore, 3 days after our last Explore weekend, Hattie & I booked one-way tickets to Canada. Our plan is to cycle down to California and work on organic farms along the way (known as WWOOF-ing).

We will arrive in Vancouver on the 2nd May 2015 and hope to spend a few days couchsurfing to check out the city before heading to our first organic farm!

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Skyping to plan the vague outline of our trip – exactly 9 weeks before departure

After that our only plan is to get on our bikes and start cycling! We’re leaving things as open as we feel possible so that we can have as much flexibility as desired whilst we’re travelling.

So with our final 9-week countdown just started, we’re extremely excited!

Rio

How it all began