Baja Day 6: A dash to the border

Day 46, Rosarito to San Elijo State Beach, 56 miles

I was going to wait until tomorrow, catch a ride with Mary to San Diego, where she works during the week. But last evening, I realized I was feeling confident, ready to cycle the 15 or so miles left to the border. Including a ride through Tijuana. Mary fixes a nice breakfast of eggs and bacon. A beautiful day, clear skies, little winds. I bid her thanks and farewell, and I head off. I retrace my route to Tijuana, but Mex 1. This is a four lane highway, paralleling the Mex 1D freeway. Most of the traffic is over there, my highway is nearly empty all the way into Tijuana.

I’m riding strong, confident. I pass vendor after vendor of pottery, furniture, appliance. US Dollars bring a lot of wealth to northern Baja. And crime, drug trade, prostitution. I haven’t seen this side of Mexico, just heard about it. I’m glad to be riding in the morning, on the “safe” side of town. I climb a series of hills, then descend all the way into Tijuana, following Mex 1 to the Centro. The highway crosses the Tijuana River, then I turn left to make my approach to the border.

Foot traffic, taxis, street vendors all amass at the border, once last chance to spend Pesos or US Dollars. I’m now walking up a long walk, with many others, mostly Mexican nationals who are also walking across. There are lines for Sentri, expedited entry, and “All Others”, which includes me. The wait isn’t too long. Mary warned me not to go late in the day. About 45 minutes? Then the Border Officer asks what I’m bringing. My bike, and me. He waves me on. I walk by the drug sniffing dog, then put my panniers through the x-ray. And then I’m across, standing in San Ysidro plaza again. I jump on my bicycle and pedal away.

I ride on a few miles, see the flags of my home country: Stars & Stripes, California Bear, and Golden Arches. First meal back in the States? Big Mac of course. Don’t tell the food cops. I’ve got 35 more miles to ride, to get to my camp for the night. The pedaling is easy, along the bay bikeway, into downtown, stop for a FedEx printout of my bank balance back home. Gotta check the checking accounts.The FedEx is in the Marriot by the bay, a grotesque extravagance of glitziness. Did I really miss this, in Mexico? Yes.

Back on the road, up past the airport, then along the freeway, Rose Canyon, UC San Diego campus, then the long descent down Torrey Pines. Another hill or two, the sun has set, headlamp on. I arrive at San Elijo in the dark, but recognize a couple cyclists in the Hiker/Biker site: Valerie and Max! I met them twice before, at Refugio Beach and Half Moon Bay, weeks and hundreds of miles apart. Again the strange cycling community of the PCH tourist has worked it’s magic, bringing together divergent riders for one at one more camp, way down the road.

Valerie and Max are going to head to the border tomorrow, stay at an KOA park. I convince them to skip the KOA, stay instead at the Hosteling International in the Gaslamp District. Much nicer, restaurants and bars around. I get an email from Alice, who turns out is staying just 16 miles to the north! I invite her to meet me for coffee at Solana Beach in the morning, before I catch my train.

I set my tent up way past dark, by headlamp, enjoy a restful night. It’s good to be on home turf again. The highway sounds are as soothing as the waves.

Awake before dawn, again. But I want to wait, to see Valerie and Max before I leave. They take their time in rising, so I get a chance to watch a stunning sunrise over the ocean and hills to the southeast. Patchy clouds, some rain predicted later in the day. But I’ll be riding the Amtrak Surfliner by then, up to San Luis Obispo again, for one last ride across Big Sur, my now favorite California landscape.

Rodents have chewed into Max’s panniers, which he left out overnight. He tells me they gnawed into their tent too, to get at the food. No boxes at this campground. Should have hung the panniers on the chainlink fencing. A word to the wise. They will meet me over at the coffee shop in Solana Beach.

I stop for some food at the Seaside Market, a pretentious, overpriced store in Cardiff-on-the-Sea, a pretentious, overpriced town. Contrasts of wealth against the relative poverty of Mexico are stunning. Yet, I’m glad to be here, where streets are kept clean, water is drinkable, I know the language. That was the hardest part.

Java Depot has good coffee and food. Max and Valerie show up, eat some lunch, head to the border. The Alice rides in, just after they left. So good to see her again! I buy cappuccinos, we chat for a few. I’ve got to get on my train she wants to ride on. I enjoy her stories, her good humor and lightness. Reminds me of my intention, staying present. What this tour has really been about.

Then we part, off to the next destinations. Perhaps we’ll meet up again in Europe, where I’ve just also promised to visit Valerie and Max in German. I ride across the highway, “Historic US Route 101”, a connection to the Oregon Coast, glad to at last be heading north. I board the Surfliner, relax into the seat. I chat about my tour with another cyclist, who’d just ridden a century along the coast and was riding the train back to LA. Rain at the next stop, just missed it. Then at LA, blue skies again. California needs more rain.

The sun sets as the train approaches Ventura. Hundreds of miles are passing under the steel wheels, gliding over rail and ties. I’m relaxing into the seat, into the ride. We’ll be at San Luis Obispo soon, and I’ll be sleeping sound in the hostel Tomorrow, Big Sur!

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