Scott Mercier: Riding mountain bikes in Mexico for spring break
Special to The Aspen Times
Like clockwork, when the flocks of Canadian geese start their migration back north, flocks of mountain people head south for a break from the snow and cold. The Mercier gang usually heads to a beach somewhere to surf, relax, read and get a healthy dose of vitamin D as our skin turns pink. This year, we went to Cerritos Beach near Todos Santos, about an hour north of Cabo.
Cycling has never been part of these trips. That changed this year. Dave Thompson and his wife, Ann, expats from Arizona, recently opened a bike shop in the artistic town of Todos Santos. They joined the “Over the Edge” franchise that has its roots in Fruita. They chose Over the Edge because they liked the destination mountain bike concept. They have a full-fledged shop with an excellent fleet of rentals. The rentals include a helmet, so you don’t have to pack one. You will, however, be riding flat pedals, so if you want to clip in, bring a pair of shoes and your pedals from home.
The lower Baja Peninsula has a nascent, but thriving, cycling scene, and Todos Santos is the epicenter for mountain biking. There are currently more than 35 miles of single-track trails with more expected over the next few years. The trail system has been built and maintained by a hardy group of volunteers; both expats and locals. There’s even a competitive scene with well-attended races.
The Todos Santos trails all start and finish in town, so there is no need for a shuttle. I chose Sierra Madre, a trail with about 10 miles of single track and 1,350 feet of climbing. Sierra Madre starts at the local cemetery and as I was riding to the trail head, I was greeted by a committee of vultures feasting on a carcass. An animal carcass, not a human one! I’m not all that superstitious, but I thought that could be a bad omen. Dave had warned me to be aware of rattlesnakes, as well, and suggested I check for them before putting my foot down. I didn’t see any, but the vultures were a reminder of my potential fate if I didn’t pay attention.
Dave provided a map and also suggested I download the Trail Fork app. The app is pretty cool and provides GPS coordinates of mountain bike trails around the world, and while you’re riding it shows where you are on the trail. However, the trails were well marked and Dave’s directions were simple, so I only needed the map once.
There is one significant climb that greets you right at the start of the ride. It’s about a mile long with 400 feet of climbing. The volunteer trail builders knew what they were doing, because the switchbacks are well placed so that the pitch isn’t too steep.
You definitely want to stop for a few minutes at the top to enjoy the view. Baja is a desert, but Todos Santos is an oasis of green from a large aquifer. The contrast of the blue ocean, the greenery and the desert landscape is striking.
The trail descends to the highway and you ride an underpass to get to the other side. This next section of trail is the most fun and the most unique. It’s mostly rolling up and down from here, and you ride through a literal forest of cardon cacti. These cacti can be hundreds of years old and grow as high as 30 feet tall.
I’ve ridden in the deserts of Colorado and Utah quite a bit, but the flora of the Cabo desert was something unique. The plants and bushes seemed to be in a state of hibernation, just waiting for some moisture from the late summer rains to bloom.
About 90 minutes later, I was back at the shop, grinning from ear to ear. I didn’t see another rider on the trail and managed to finish before the day got too hot. I felt as if my soul had been cleansed.
If you find yourself in Cabo this spring and want to ride, head up to Todos Santos and say hi to Dave.
Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works as a private wealth adviser in Aspen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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