Grueling Bike Race Over The Sierras

Tough terrain, tough weather, but the tough keep going
BY: DAVE KAMENA

A Facebook message inviting me to ride in a 100 kilometer, (58 mile), mountain bike race was not what I was expecting in early November. Especially not from an English Oyster farmer named Mark. This time of the year usually finds me duck diving scary waves in cold water, but the cold water is gone and the waves haven’t been scary so I accepted the invitation to torture myself on my bike instead.

The race starts every year in the small town of El Hongo up the mountains east of Tecate where that big scary prison is. These guys had been riding this 96 km 57 mile route since 2004, when the race started with a few guys that were bored with watching futbol on TV and wanted to see just how cold and rainy it could get up in the Sierra Juarez that time of the year.  The event is held ‘rain or shine’ which is proudly written across the T shirt. That means the $10 you paid to get your number is non-refundable.  Bring your rain jacket and your bike tools and ride!

The route follows the basic spine of the coastal range called the Sierra Juarez. These mountains host a fantastic range of flora and fauna including a blue mountain lake and many famous rock climbing routes. All are connected by the usual Baja dirt roads winding between secret ranches, which are really what make Baja so ideal for off road adventures. The finish line is in Ojos Negros, right in the middle of town between taco stands and Tecate stores.

The ride itself started with a long semi paved downhill. There were more than 400 bikes going really fast really close to each other. So many bad things could happen at any moment, and you either love or hate that. It seemed like there were hundreds of riders who loved it, and the group moved en masse towards the first big climb. 

The mountain climbs out of a lower basin filled with brown rocky hills and Mexicali summer houses. On this particular climb you could see the top from pretty much the whole climb which kind of intensifies the suffering. Ignorance is sometimes bliss on a long hill climb and I prefer not to know where the top is.

In all fairness to the Baja Ultra endurance bike race held in October, this was not a difficult climb and I did not throw up. (Shout out to Jorge Trujillo!).

Upon topping out on the first mountain pass you could see the huge elevated basin we were to ride across. The next 40 miles or so would be some down but mostly up. We rode through huge crowned oaks, burned land re-establishing itself, pine forests, and dry lakebeds. Otherworldly rock formations and remote peaks begged to be explored at almost every turn. 

After a long winding section through a sand dune forest full of Indian signs (I don’t know how else to explain that part), the track turned down for almost ten miles, ending in a huge flat agricultural valley that I figured must be Ojos Negros.  As predicted by my oyster farmer friend the wind was blasting straight into our faces on a dusty, straight, extremely wash boarded road. I knew from my odometer that we would be enduring this brutal road for the next ten miles. At this point we were 55 miles into it and the pain where my body met the seat was intense. Of course, I know this pain well and knew it was coming so I knew that I could ignore it. Kind of. Did I mention that the washboards had soft sand in between each bump, so if you stopped pedaling for even a second you would spin out and stop? 

A team of kids who had been pestering me all day passed me so I filed in behind them and ruined their day at the finish line as they mistakenly thought they had beat the Gringo guy.  Not today!

The finish line in town was celebrated in typical Mexican fashion with food, drinks, music, and the world famous friendship and camaraderie of the Baja Mexican people.