Topeak-Ergon: Back to Baja
Beyond expectations lies the Mexico you don’t know! For my recent trip, I invited some of my good friends – SoCal racer Stefano Barberi and United Airlines senior pilot Marty Neary – to join me. I knew they would be blown away by the friendly people, the wild adventure and the amazing terrain.
After you get over the initial contrast that lies between San Diego and Tijuana and head down the vast wild coast things change. Aqua marine sea, islands and tan brown mountains make up a postcard scene. The bustling coastal city is full of Latin colors and character. This place, however, is more than that. You can tell you have arrived at a cycling hotspot. There are 1.5-meter rule signs on roads and cyclists buzzing around in team kits both day and night!
The second we arrived at the bike shop, we were greeted by Jorge Truilo the man behind the legendary race Baja 100k. He just opened his third bike shop and is a driving force behind the riding culture that is taking Ensenada by storm.
Hugs, handshakes, and fist bumps abound. I grabbed some selfies with eager members of the women’s bike club that assembled at the VIP dinner party. The party was catered by Jorges’s mama and papa, with lobster tails, Mexican style beans, flash-fried tortillas with home made salsas and some sort of tasty cream pasta. They topped it off with local microbrew beers and we kicked back and relaxed after the big travel day. Dulce Vida!
The new 5000-square foot bike shop puts most US shops to shame with its layout. The high-end inventory and picture-window bike displays featured the amazing Rampage Trail and the remote inland roads. There was an organized service area that had a squeaky clean and tool-free workbench. As a former mechanic, I know this is not usual, but rather the sign of truly professional mechanic.
The press conference we participated in was like that you’d see before a big rally car race: with the mayor, top international riders, TV, newspaper reporters and podium girls making for a full spectacle.
The night before the mountain bike race, we found great burger, listened to bumping house music and watched the stage announcer pumping up the spectators that watched the 5k running race that was taking place.
The next morning it was our turn. The start felt hectic with the TV helicopter swarming overhead. After the police-lead rollout, we hit the first mammoth climb with the $500 KOM at the top! I was ridding strong in second place, chasing star rider Hector Paez of the Italian Team Olympia that had sent three riders. Then I punctured and my CO2 hissed out a cloud of smoke. I stood there for a while thinking I was done for the day! Due to kindness of the neutral support and other racers, I was able to fight my way back up even overcoming a frustrating second flat!
Now because I was so far back, I was riding to enjoy it. The goal was to finish strong and to shred some trail. I was pushing hard for the simple pleasure of seeing how much I could nail the final climbs.
In the past few weeks, I’d missed several races because a knee-injuring crash. Being able to ride strong and push hard, made the feeling its own reward. Better yet, I was able to look around and enjoy the amazing vistas of the wild mountains layered next to a vast blue sea. The Rampage Trail was a descent down a fin of the mountain with an exposed 1,000-feet drop on either side and at times is as narrow as a skills park balance beam! The trail feels like you’re riding down the spine of giant dinosaur. It was damn cool.
The new section they introduced this year stunned me with its desert wildness. Sculpture-like giant boulders lined the small valley and blooming cactus decorated the trail as it weaved through the rocks and onto a half-track narrow benched section. It was really fun!
Post-race I was approached by a lot of fans, had a few cold beers pushed my way, and even held a baby for a picture. The bumping techno, beer garden and coastal venue was the stage for a fantastic time.
We got a good lead to head to the Mercado Negro for fish tacos. It was like a fish market out of a book: fish of every type staked in huge piles next to crabs, clams, octopus and more! We sat drinking margaritas, listening to a mariachi quartet and eating marlin tacos that words will never suffice to explain their splendor. Marty found a fine Cuban cigar and Stefano and I ate macaroon-covered ice cream while laughing about the funny stories of our day. Good times.
We enjoyed the awards, but had to head to the airport because of a super-early flight the next morning. After taking a couple of wrong turns in Tijuana, we approached the U.S. border. Just when I thought the adventure was over, we were selected for what seemed like a random screening by border patrol. In reality Marty’s ID scan revealed a warrant with his name on it from Ottawa Canada! As he was interrogated and finger printed inside the station Stefano and I looked at each other in disbelief. Like, holy shit, this ain’t looking good. After a while they all came out smiling and chatting and our ordeal came to a close. It turns our there is some dude on the loose with the same name and description. They had the wrong guy, but that added a bit of excitement to our already wild trip!
After two years racing in Baja, I thought I knew how this trip would go, but it was my best yet. Not because of my modest 5th place but because finish, but because I brought friends and they loved it. We all won the adventure of the unexpected!
I can’t wait to go back already!
– Jeremiah Bishop