He's back at it!

People who know me know that I belong on the Trail. I've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (twice),the Pacific Crest Trail and the mighty Continental Divide Trail. I've hiked many of the long trails here in Michigan including being the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail and the Great Lake To Lake Trail. In 2017, I hiked the Israel National Trail and the Golan Heights Trail. My next goal is to be the first person ever to hike the Baja Divide Trail.

The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone who is interested informed of my progress and to encourage those who are able to support me in this endeavor.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Reflections on the Baja Divide Trail




I broke this topic down into two simple lists: Things I liked about the Baja Divide Trail (BDT) and things I hated about the BDT. ‘Hated’ may be a strong word but it’s accurate.  These were things that really tipped the scale from having an easy, fun hike to a difficult (but rewarding) journey. 

Things I liked about the BDT:

The Coasts. Both the Pacific and the Sea of Cortes offer fantastic hiking. The Pacific Coast features huge, crashing waves and cool breezes. The Sea of Cortes is like the Gulf of Mexico in that the water is warmer and the waves are smaller and there’s always weird but cool stuff swimmin’ around in there. Always something to see.  Both coasts frequently had miles and miles of deserted beach and great camping. 

The People. I found the residents of the Baja to be friendly and fascinating. I met loads of them on this hike but I was often held back from learning more about them by my lack of conversational Spanish. The expatriate community was a different story. Mostly friendly but with a bit of attitude. They can’t wait to tell you how long they’ve lived there and almost every one of them seems to claim to have been the first American to have moved there. 

The Wildlife. I saw many species of birds that I’ve never seen before. Plus seals, whales and dolphin... All matter of flora (none of which I could identify)... All sorts of insects and reptiles.... Coyotes and jack rabbits.... Part of it is just being outdoors 24/7 (I only spent four nights indoors this whole trip). You’re bound to see more wildlife wherever you are just because of increased exposure. 

No Bears. No need to tie your food up at night. Even eat in your tent, if you like. There were still plenty of mice, though, and they can be just as bad!

No Rain. I always try to see the beauty in all kinds of weather but heavy rain really slows me down. A wet pack is heavier and wet feet are more prone to injury. I didn’t see so much as a cloud the last two months of this hike. 

Easy To Hitchhike. I often judge a community by how easy it is to get a hitch into town for resupply. I never had my thumb out for more than a few minutes before someone pulled over. Even when I was road walking part of the trail people would offer me a ride. My favorite hitch was jumping in the back of a pickup truck (which is perfectly legal in Mexico). No need to worry about the language barrier or offending anyone with my horrific body odor. Just make sure your hat doesn’t blow off and enjoy the ride. And they never took the money I offered for gasoline - they were just being kind for the sake of being kind. I love that. 

The Food. The stuff I carried with me on the trail got old pretty quick (plain white rice splahed with hot sauce almost every night) but the food in the towns was pretty awesome. Ceviche, menudo, birria and tacos de pescado, carne, tripitas... even cabeza(!) were all amazing. Sweet fruit sprinkled with spicy chili powder and cold horchata made for tasty treats on hot days. 

Things I hated about the BDT:

The Heat. This may seem obvious but toward the end of the hike, the heat was so severe that I couldn’t even sleep at night. It wouldn’t cool off until about 4am so I would only sleep from 4am to 7am some nights. Makes it really hard to hike 20 to 30 miles a day when you don’t get a good night’s sleep. Plus, my water was always warm (sometimes downright hot!). I would stash a couple of liters deep in my pack early in the morning so that it would stay cool but that didn’t last long and warm water is super unsatisfying - especially when you’re really thirsty. 

The Flies. Luckily, they weren’t biting flies but they were often relentless; constantly trying to get into my eyes, ears and nose. I could wear my bug netting but that made it even hotter. I just had to do my best to get used to them. 

The Unchanging Scenery. The first quarter of the trail did feature some interesting landscapes and different deciduous trees but after that, it was nothing but rolling brown hills and cactus. Every time I saw on the map that the trail turned inland, I knew it was gonna be miles and miles of plain dirt roads running through the desert until I got back to one coast or the other. 

The Language Barrier. This one is my own fault for not learning (and remembering what I had learned years ago) more Spanish before I left. I knew enough to get what I needed but I dreaded that awkward point where someone would ask me a question and I could not answer. Interesting that way more people in Israel spoke English than in this part of Mexico.

Dogs. Lots and lots of stray dogs in Mexico. I used to brag that I didn’t carry a weapon when I hiked because I didn’t need one but I found myself wishing I had some pepper spray with me on several occasions. I experienced packs of threatening dogs with me in the middle fending them off with a two-foot piece of hose that I found on the ground. Not fun. Never got bit but still, not fun. 

The Cactus. I often joke that “every plant down here wants to hurt me!”  While that may be an exaggeration, there are cactus with solid three-inch needles that will poke right through the sole of your shoe and into the arch of your foot. I met two Canadians in a van who were looking for ancient cliff drawings. One poor guy hopped out of the van, took two steps and got stabbed by a cactus. He showed me the bloody flip flop to prove it. He also vowed never to get out of the van again!

The Beer. I’m a beer snob and proud of it. Part of the joy of travel to me is trying all the great beers from the places I visit. The Baja features nothing but mass produced lagers. No ales. No ‘craft beer’. Just loads of bad beer in cans. This aspect of the hike really made me miss Michigan. 

The Deep Sand. This was a problem because of the cart I had to push to carry my water. Every time the trail got sandy, my heart would sink. I knew it was going to be difficult and time consuming to push that cart through the sand. Even when I finally got rid of the cart, hiking in deep sand is no picnic. There were times when I’d trade anything for just a few feet of nice, compact earth. 

The Trash. One American expat that I met down here told me that the main reasons American pack it up and move home are the dogs and the trash. Most of the Baja does not have formal trash pickup. Folks down here just take their garbage to the edge of town and dump it. So, there I am with my gallon-sized ziplock baggie stuffed with empty wrappers and used wet wipes, carefully obeying the Leave No Trace principles when, all around me are mountains of trash!  Even when I finally got to a town and responsibly put my trash in a can, I knew that it was going to be taken right back to that dump on the edge of town. The Baja Peninsula is sparsely enough populated for now but, eventually, they’re going to have to figure something out. 

So, having read this, what do you think? Would you hike this trail? Leave me a comment below and let me know. Thank you!




10 comments:

Noam Gal said...

Heat, sands and trash - doesn't appear too appealing to me. I got plenty of those closer to home. :-)

Christopher Hillier said...

There were some drawbacks, for sure. But I wouldn’t have been able to hike it without your help with navigation. Independencable.

Pamela White said...

Interesting...would like to hear MORE. Would have loved to see a video of your hike...fighting off dogs and wicked cactus ... �� welcome home Chris

Christopher Hillier said...

Thanks, Pam. I might be giving a talk about my hike at the SOLAR Club in Livonia soon. I’ll let you know.

Brian H. said...

I knew the beer situation was going to be bad.

Christopher Hillier said...

There was only one brewpub on the entire peninsula and that was is Cabo San Lucas. Didn’t get to check it out. REALLY glad to get back to good beer. A buddy bought me a 22oz M43 from Old Nation Brewing. I was in heaven.

wood couter said...

thanks, buddy for sharing the post.

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