Trail Running, Baja Style

[photo by HagePhoto]

We piled in our standard-issue white compact car, a loud reminder to all of Mexico that we were gringos. We headed out for our first destination believing wholeheartedly that our tiny clown car would take us anywhere.

It's an amazing feeling to wake up when the plan for the day is chasing the sun, the early morning light hiding beyond the break as you race the sun rays to the top of the hill. We left behind the asphalt, the deadlines and the expectations. We found the adventure, the quiet, and the freedom. We stopped at the top, stunned by the vast expanse of the lush desert plunging into the blue abyss.

We didn’t go to Baja for the beach, or the margaritas, or the water—we went for the dirt. Well, maybe a margarita, too. The Sea of Cortez was the backdrop and the Sierra de Laguna was our playground. There is little known about the trail running on the Baja peninsula, but it was our goal to find and run as much of it as possible in six days.

One afternoon, in the village of Cabo Pulmo, Meghan and I headed out into the heat, determined to conquer a trail appropriately named “Old Nasty.” Following the hand-drawn map we acquired from a local, we made our way through the river of sand, feet sinking with each step into the hot, soft dust of a dry stream bed; then up onto the plateau of ancient saguaros. The trail markers far between, we wandered through the threatening spines of the cacti, not sure if we were on the trail or following a burro track.

There it was, a small stump telling us we had found the entrance to “old nasty.” We wove across the plateau. Left, right, left, left, right, up! And then it began the torturous climb, the switchbacks fooling you into the belief that the top was just around the corner.
Meghan is an ultra runner, and while I make my best attempt at it, I aspire to her match her stamina. But it was stubbornness that drove my aching legs up the hill. The sun beat down; I could feel the burn line working its way around my hydration pack and up the back of my legs. We made it to the top for a brief moment of joy before heading off to see where the next set of trails would lead.

While most of the trail exploration ended in success, our visit to a park outside La Paz might have proven to be our match.  The internet commentary told of a trail that took travelers to the top of a peak after crossing a dam.  We found the dam, ignoring several large "closed for construction" signs, the locked gates and barbed wire. We made our way down into a gulley and back out to a rusted rebar ladder, determined to find the trail. Every step, further into the unknown, every step certain we would find it. Deer, dog, donkey—not sure who made the path, but we followed it, seeking a rock point we determined to be the top. This adventure would definitely not be classified as a trail run, but we bagged that peak in La Paz with style.


Our trip came to its final days, with one last mission for the team: the 24-mile round trip up el Picacho in the Sierra de Laguna. We left Todos Santos, the rental car with a quarter tank, plenty of gas for the trip to the trail head and back. Well, maybe. We pulled into the trailhead with the gas light blinking, the gauge giving up hope and falling below the empty line. Well, nothing to do about that now, time to run.

The barren desert view was replaced by lush rainforest. I could feel the moisture filling the air, cooling our sun-beaten skin. On the way up, we passed several groups of locals coming down from a backpacking trip, all the ex-pats were at the beach. Fortunately, we had mastered “Hola” and “Buenos Dias” earlier in the week.

When you reach the top of any peak, you feel like you've conquered the world, you look out at where you have come from and the rush of accomplishment fills your heart and that rush sends you flying back down the trail toward the finish line. 

We coasted on fumes back to Todos Santos and watched the sun set from the beach.

TECH TIP: If you only wash the liner of your Turbine shorts, they’ll dry a little faster and get you through six days before a good hearty wash is necessary.