Our Community - Reflections on Adventure

Friendship and Bikes: Abi Taylor’s Baja Divide

“Negative thoughts still invade my brain when I think back on Baja. How it could have been different. How I didn’t express my gratitude to my friends enough. How I didn’t tell them how much I look up to them, how I am amazed at the strong, compassionate women I’ve been blessed to encounter in my life. How all I want is to be one of them.”

Bikes have always been a symbol of freedom for me. As a kid I would strap a cooler on the back of my bike and wear a pack for all day adventures with my brother. We’d careen madly around the steep hills and sharp turns of our neighborhood roads. Explore all the nearby creek beds, make forts under bridges, lie in the dirt and stuff our mouths with snacks. Concerned folks passing by in cars would call out to make sure we were alright. We’d wave our muddy hands from the ditch and laugh, wasn’t it obvious we were having the time of our lives?

Taking a look at my bikepacking adventures, not much has changed. I still love steep descents, stealth camping, and eating way more junk than my mileage warrants. I still laugh when concerned adults ask me if I’m alright, although sometimes it’s followed by tears.

Good days on a bike make me hungry for more. When my legs and lungs and wheels are in sync, I can’t help but feel like a powerful machine. Bad days on the bike have made me question everything about my life, my self worth, even my relationships. To be in a position where my only option is to continue pedaling, while painful, has shown me how strong I can be.

Two-wheeled adventures were a staple of my adolescence, but it wasn’t until 27 that I did any overnighting. When an old friend asked me to be his partner on a bike-powered cross-country litter cleanup tour, it didn’t take long for me to say yes. I cycled into fitness on a 4.5 month, nearly 5000 mile tour from the Georgia Coast to Seattle. If I told you every second was bliss, I’d be a liar. But it sure lit a spark.

Good days on a bike make me hungry for more. When my legs and lungs and wheels are in sync, I can’t help but feel like a powerful machine. Bad days on the bike have made me question everything about my life, my self worth, even my relationships. To be in a position where my only option is to continue pedaling, while painful, has shown me how strong I can be.

In my adult life, I’ve been lucky to have worked and lived in a wonderful Outward Bound community based in central Oregon. Cori, Jenny, and Rachel are just three of some of the incredible women that have worked there over the seasons. At this point, we’ve known each other around 7 years. Jenny and Cori were searching for somewhere to bike during the winter when they found the Baja Divide Cape Loop: fun biking, cactuses, sunshine, the ocean, so many tacos! It sounded like an obvious choice during winter break. Soon after, Rachel and I joined in.

We decided to attempt parts of the Missions and Cape Loop sections. Early on we agreed that it would be an all women’s trip. Rachel and Cori brought forth the idea of partnering with The Cairn Project, which we readily agreed to. I can’t begin to imagine my life without the feelings of strength and freedom I find in the outdoors. I’ve dedicated much of my professional life to programming that helps folks get outside and have life-changing experiences. Being an ambassador for The Cairn Project felt empowering, and added a dynamic piece to the trip. Instead of just going on an adventure with friends, we were raising money to ensure that the next generation of women can do the same.

Being an Ambassador for The Cairn Project felt empowering, and added a dynamic piece to the trip. Instead of just going on an adventure with friends, we were raising money to ensure that the next generation of women can do the same.

Flying into Loreto was easy, (pro-tip, Alaska Airlines lets you check a bike as a bag!) and we stayed at a lovely AirBbB with a precious pitbull who slept on our doorstep. We didn’t give ourselves much time to settle in. Morning came and we packed our bikes, grabbed what we could from the local mercado, and began the 24 mile climb to San Javier. There, we would meet the official Baja Divide route.

My plan to once again ride into fitness was failing miserably as I attempted to force my body uphill from sea level. I’ve struggled with asthma for a long time, and the familiar burning heat was filling my lungs as I heaved my feet, one in front of the next. Occasionally I would look ahead and catch a glimpse of my three friends, spinning away in a little line around the next corner. My ego was struggling as much as my legs, and I scrunched my tear-stained face as I pushed forward.

Our first campsite was just short of San Javier. We slept on a rocky river shore, beneath the cholla and stars. I sighed with relief as I slid my tired legs into my sleeping bag. I made it, and I could make it tomorrow, too. When we arrived at our first major resupply, Ciudad Constitución, it felt incredible to shower and sleep on a mattress. I’d struggled on and off the past few days, including leaving my wallet roadside and desperately dashing back to look for it (found it!) and the resurfacing of back pain from an old spine injury. As we biked toward town my cough got more active – and more productive, as the medical folk like to say. My back got more painful and soon getting off the bike hurt more than staying on it.

Cycling away from Constitución the next morning, we headed toward the final leg of the Missions section and the most remote section of our trip. The route crosses back through the Sierra de la Giganta and follows a relatively undeveloped part of the coast before hitting the bustling city of La Paz. As we headed out on the highway to avoid the “burning, steaming dump” we’d heard horror stories about, I got the first flat of the trip and plugged the hole as cars sped by. I was hacking more than breathing and feeling defeated as we turned off the highway on the dirt road that would eventually lead us back to the Sea of Cortez.

Mentally as well as physically, I was losing steam. Coughing and crying and spitting and biking silently behind. I can be a poor self advocate at times, and when we took a break for lunch, my friends essentially confronted me. “How are you? What do you need? What can we do?” I sobbed. I felt awful. I was embarrassed. I was ruining their trip. I was slowing them down. All these negative thoughts filled my mind. My friends comforted me. With their help, we laid out the options. Continue on: keep suffering and ride further away from the possibility of help. Or: ride back to Constitución, see a doctor, and meet them in La Paz. They would have returned with me, but I would have felt even worse.

Leaning into the vulnerability and posting my bummer update online actually helped me feel better. I didn’t pretend to be some badass, I admitted I was having a tough time and so many people reached out to me.

We hugged, and I cried hard as I cycled back to the city. I felt weak, like I was giving up. I curled back up in a hotel bed. That which had been so comforting the night before made me feel very lonely. Leaning into the vulnerability and posting my bummer update online actually helped me feel better. I didn’t pretend to be some badass, I admitted I was having a tough time and so many people reached out to me. That support, and knowing my friends cared kept me motivated. I booked a bus ticket and scheduled appointments. If I couldn’t bike, I could at least try to get better.

I saw two doctors in Baja, one for my lungs, one for my back. Bless Mexico for their healthcare system, it was so easy and affordable and made a not-fun situation a lot less stressful for me. After catching a bus to La Paz, I wandered around for days waiting to hear from my friends. Worry would creep into my mind, and I would remind myself how badass and capable they are. I knew they’d be okay. Five days felt like forever though, and by the time I heard from them I’d stayed in three different hotels and walked the Malecón more times than I could count. I even tried to be a good tourist and visit famous Playa Balandra. Crying on the public bus back to town after splitting my toe on a rock, I thought about just going home. I was feeling pretty raw, exposed and alone in a foreign city on a trip that I had hoped would be empowering.

Christmas Day, my friends rolled into town. Bruised and tired, but happy. The night before, I finally hit my tourist stride as I partied with my fellow hostel-mates. We sang French carols and ate rum cake and danced the night away. Turns out, if you want to communicate with someone, you can make it happen. Language is a barrier easily climbable when you reach out.

After two layover days at Hotel Yeneka (whose manager might custom spray paint your helmet if you ask him nicely) we climbed the road out of La Paz. The final section of the trip to San Jose del Cabo was my favorite. All of us still struggled with sand, bruises, tired legs, saddle sores and weird stomachs. (My antibiotics were particularly rough). Rachel pushed on through a gnarly deep thigh contusion from a wreck before La Paz. We had the ocean, though, and a mostly full bottle of Tajin. Things were pretty good.

I hope that, with The Cairn Project, we can inspire womxn and girls to grab their friends and go outside. To build stronger relationships. To build stronger women. That we are capable. Even when we feel like we’re not. Especially then.

The final push of the trip was a sandy 2500 foot climb out of Cabo Pulmo toward San Jose del Cabo. Did I still have to hike my bike? Yes, but I was able to pedal more than not. Considering how I started the trip, perhaps I did ride into fitness after all. Lowlights and the hardest moments of the trip are easy for me to point to. There are so many good memories from Baja, and each of those outweigh all the bad ones. Smiling wide, skin buzzing as we descended for miles toward La Ventana. Belly laughing at cows and donkeys curiously trying to check out our campsite. A hilarious misunderstanding about 2 for 1 margaritas. The joy of exploring tide pools. Having friends that support each other. Swimming with turtles and sea lions. Just like we’d thought: Fun biking. Cactuses. Sunshine. The Ocean. And, so many tacos.

Now that I’m home, I have a lot to look back on. It honestly took me two months to get fully unpacked. I still have seashells in my top tube bag and a very smushed coconut bar colored like Mexico’s flag. Negative thoughts still invade my brain when I think back on Baja. How it could have been different. How I didn’t express my gratitude to my friends enough. How I didn’t tell them how much I look up to them, how I am amazed at the strong, compassionate women I’ve been blessed to encounter in my life. How all I want is to be one of them. I hope that, with The Cairn Project, we can inspire womxn and girls to grab their friends and go outside. To build stronger relationships. To build stronger women. That we are capable. Even when we feel like we’re not. Especially then.

Tcp Team Abigail Taylor
Abigail Taylor

“Negative thoughts still invade my brain when I think back on Baja. How it could have been different. How I didn’t express my gratitude to my friends enough. How I didn’t tell them how much I look up to them, how I am amazed at the strong, compassionate women I’ve been blessed to encounter in my life. How all I want is to be one of them.” See Abigail's ambassador page.