Cycling the Baja Divide; The Good and the Bad
Around the World on a Shoestring Budget
Bikepacking as far as possible, for as long as possible, for as little as possible.
This page and series of blog posts follows DeArmond Lopez's transcontinental cycling journey, following the length of the Americas and then onward: from New Mexico, USA to Ushuaia, Argentina. A distance yet to be added, for a duration yet to be known. Read on and follow this website for updates on this adventure and further travels.
What inspires somebody to cycle around the world. Is it the desire to visit foreign lands and see strange landscapes? Or is it to immerse ones self in a far off culture? Bored of your job and just want adventure? Maybe we can avoid the struggles of life by keeping in constant motion? There's a million reasons to embark on a grand adventure and I intend to find these reasons for myself.
We all have certain motivations as to why we choose one lifestyle over another. When I was 18 and contemplating the direction I wanted to take my life, I had made the decision to live a life very close to nature. I bought a late 80's Dodge work van and slowly converted it into a mobile residency. Before I knew it I had a home I could move wherever I wanted. This afforded me a level of freedom I hadn't experienced before and I was hooked. I was able to go wherever I wanted and wasn't being held down by any kind of lease or contract. Every day became a daily grind of figuring out basic logistics such as cooking in a van, finding places to sleep, keeping clean without a bathroom, etc. Having daily challenges filled my life with a sense of purpose because I always had something to do. Boredom wasn't in the equation with this type of lifestyle. It was a life of constant attention to my daily tasks. I very much enjoyed living like this.
With this newly found freedom, I moved out of Albuquerque and hunkered down in Red River, a little ski town north of Taos. I made Red River my home base and spent all of my free time exploring the Sangre de Cristo mountains which became my backyard. I would park my van next to the creeks and rivers and fall asleep listening to the sound of running water just feet from the doors. On my days off, I would hike to the alpine peaks alone and be fully immersed in pristine wilderness. Whenever I became bored of the mountains and needed a change of pace, I would drive down into the high desert and explore around the Rio Grande Gorge. Spending the nights bathed in the deep starlight became the norm for me. This outdoorsman's paradise in northern New Mexico ended up keeping me longer than I had originally planned on. Even though I was in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, I began to feel the constant feel of wanderlust once again. I had lost my sense of adventure and it was time to find it once again.
At this point in my life, I was living in an amazing apartment in Cerro while working as a manager of a ski shop. I had created a pretty normal routine. I would go to work five days a week, go back home to my cozy apartment, then get lost in modern distractions. I would try to go experience nature on the weekends and take nice landscape pictures. I was making just enough to save a little bit of money after paying off the bills, however it was just enough. Aside from the fact that I lived in the middle of nowhere, I lived a quintessential modern lifestyle. No longer was there daily challenges, instead there was the banality of modern living. Routine dictated my schedule and I wasn't in control of my time. Everything revolved around work and paying my monthly rent and it eventually started to erode my once adventurous sensibilities. I felt like society managed to pull me down and trap me in a system I don't agree with. The slow encroachment of modern living slipped my radar and before I knew it, I was living a life I had not desired.
This kind of lifestyle is full of comfort and uniformity, which is how it ended up holding me hostage. While I was living in my van, being in near constant discomfort and unknowing was just part of the life I had chosen. My van was either too hot or too cold, too many bugs around, gas too expensive, the van could break down at any moment, I have to find a new place to camp every night, I have to stay clean without running water, cows keep mooing next to my van in the middle of the night, I need to eat healthy without a kitchen, let's do all this while working full time, so on and so forth. These tasks gave my life immense purpose and I was rarely without adventure. The modern life, albeit comfortable and safe, does not give my life the same feeling of purpose as my long gone days of roughing it. This persistent memory of my vanlife days was ever present in my thoughts and I couldn't quite shake the feeling of needing to live that life again. It was always calling for me whenever I dreamt and I can only ignore it for so long.
It was during this realization that the modern wasn't my end goal, I had taken up bikepacking after stumbling across Iohan Gueorguiev's videos. Watching Iohan's travels and seeing the adventures he went kept on inspiring me to live a life just like his. To live a life deliberately, solve problems every day, and experience new things daily became my goal. I've since cycled thousands of miles around New Mexico and discovered many stunning places and met countless interesting people. Every time I start cycling, I feel the constant urge to keep moving and not turn back. I see these endless roads stretching into the horizon and my soul tempts me to keep exploring. There's too many amazing places out there to stay in one place forever. Just like Iohan, I want to see the world.
I then moved to Santa Fe about a month before the COVID pandemic started with the intention of saving money for this trip and to further sort out all of the travel logistics. I felt living in a place with higher wages would really help me to afford this journey. I had a basic job at Dillards selling fragrances and was excited to be able to get this next big change in my life started. My goal was to enjoy Santa Fe for a year then get started on my long ride. It was exciting to be in a new place working towards this adventure.
I was in Santa Fe for about two and a half weeks before the pandemic began to shut everything down. Of course, this wasn't something I had planned for. My job which had just started ended indefinitely and I was once again at square one with my long term planning. COVID ensured that any long term planning I had done was as good as worthless. It became impossible to plan a trip out of the state, let alone an international adventure. I was forced to come to terms that this journey would have to hold off in a while. Even though the world was at a standstill, I still had to make choices that would enable this adventure to come to fruition once society normalizes again. This was my mindset during the entirety of the pandemic.
After spending a month in quarantine at my parents house in Albuquerque, I was contacted by David Bell to work at Mellow Velo in Santa Fe. Mellow Velo is one of the finest bike shops in the country so naturally I took him up on his offer. I began working at the bike shop during the height of the pandemic as a bike mechanic. I maintained dozens of bikes for Santa Fe locals who commuted to work and used bikes as a mode of transportation. My bike mechanic skills quickly grew to the point where I feel confident working on nearly any bike out there. This is a good skill to have before undertaking a long-term bike ride! I was also given the opportunity to create Mellow Velo's website, do photography for the shop, do graphic design projects just to name a few tasks. Working here enabled my to get all the gear I need and to also save money at the same time. If I hadn't worked there for the time I did, this adventure would be looking very different than it does now!
Mellow Velo was the best job I've ever had and it was a pleasure working there. My coworkers and boss are amazing people and we managed to make countless great memories over the two year span I was there. It was bittersweet leaving such a great group of people, but adventures like this don't occur too often. The pandemic really sucked for many reasons, however ending up at Mellow Velo was the blessing I needed before I moved to Santa Fe. Life unfolds in many strange ways, and making my way to Mellow Velo was an occurrence which had to happen.
Funny enough, it was at Mellow Velo where I assembled my Ti Timberjack bike from the frame up. I used all the skills I've learned there to get it ready for this adventure. I feel confident with completely tearing the bike down and rebuilding it on the field. Working as a bike mechanic helps infinitely more than selling fragrances at Dillards! Looking at my bike being completely ready for this trip is a great sight, however it is a sign telling my I need to begin this adventure. I have all the gear I need and am not renewing my lease thereby giving me a hard start date. No matter what happens with the world, I am leaving on this trip! It's not a question but a promise.
Very similar to when I made the decision to live in a van, It once again became time to choose which direction my life will go. This time my utmost priority is long distance and long term travel. I don't want to stay in one place for too long, rather I want to see as much as possible. I want to travel as light weight as possible while still having full capability. I want to take great photos and have some method of publishing the images. I want to meet interesting people in interesting places around the world. I want to make this lifestyle sustainable and teach other how to live a life similar to mine. I want to sleep under the stars and be exposed to the environment. I want to banish my addiction to comfort and replace it with a feeling of purpose and grit. I want to live a life I am passionate about, not one I am forced to live due to monetary reasons. I want to have a daily sense of purpose and drive. I want to be in control of the things I can control, and let the universe guide me through the things I can't control. I want to live deliberately while following the flow of nature. I want to be able to breathe freely and exist without societies expectations.
"I am the gatekeeper of my own destiny and I will have my glory days in the hot sun."
My plan is to start cycling around October 2022 from Albuquerque to see family before I begin cycling. I will begin pedaling near Grants, New Mexico then head South on the GDMBR. I will then take either the IC7 Mogollon or IC8 Chihuahuan route into Arizona, depending on forest closures due to wild fires. After traversing one of these Intermountain Connector routes, I will get onto the Western Wildlands Route . Once on the WWR, I want to venture towards Tucson, Arizona. Once at Tucson, I will then go towards Slab City and then onwards towards San Diego. The goal is to reach San Diego by November, 2022. I will use my time in San Diego configuring my gear in preparation of going into Mexico and Latin America.
Once I have everything prepared and my bike in peak working order once again, I will then take the Baja Divide Route into Mexico. Crossing the Mexico border into Tecate will be the last time I will be in the U.S. for a long while. The Baja Divide will take over a month to complete and I intend to enjoy every second of it!
Once I have completed the Baja Divide and have reached La Paz, I will take a ferry over to Mazatlan and rejoin the mainland once again. I will, more or less, be taking the Trans-Mexico Bikepacking Route. I intent to ramble around and take in the culture once in Mexico and not be in too much of a rush. It will be a cool experience seeing where some of my ancestors came from and visiting places they called home.
Once I have thoroughly traveled around Mexico I will continue further South towards Panama. After I traverse Panama, I will take a ferry to Colombia and step foot in South America for the first time in my life.
I have no idea when I will get there, however I will ramble around heading South towards Ushuaia, the southernmost tip of South America. My goal is to traverse Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Of the entire trip I have so far planned, I most look forward to traveling around the mountain of Peru. Ever since I first laid eyes on Machu Picchu and the tremendous valleys of the Andes, this place has been calling for me.
After I have reached the Southern tip of the continent, I will have to figure out what me next move will be! The goal of this journey is to create an independent life where I can travel where I please while pursing my passion of photography.
This is the extent of my planning. If I can manage to leave South America, I will essentially wing it and travel where the wind takes me.
It is much easier saying something than doing something, so ultimately we will just have to see what direction my soul leads me towards. I am keeping all the the planning logistics very simple because I am essentially riding wherever I want. I don't want to be constricted to an arbitrary path.
A huge motivation for pursuing this adventure is to capture as many amazing moments as possible and share the images with the world.
When I was growing up, I remember having a handful of National Geographic magazines in the family book collection. I would see fascinating places full of interesting stories about nature and the cultures of people I never knew existed. I would then try to discover as much as possible about these far off places, and this was largely fueled by the stunning pictures I was seeing. These images teleported me to different places in the world and help fuel my curiosity for exploration.
On a similar note, when I was a small kid, I distinctly remember my older sisters showing me a picture of a cooked pig from one of these magazines. This picture consisted of some tribesman holding a huge pig that had just been cooked surrounded by tropical foliage. This picture was too much for my little brain to comprehend and it scared the crap out of me and made me cry! Whenever I wonder about the impact photography can make in a persons life, I remember being scared by that succulent pig and how it produced such a visceral reaction in my youngster self. A photo has the power to inspire adventure in the hearts of people, and dread in the minds of others.
While I am on this adventure, it is very important for me to document the places I traverse in an effort to document our world in this very turbulent time. I feel it is important for me to let other people experience the feeling of far off adventure, see rare sights only few are privileged to see, and be inspired to see our world from a different perspective. With the climate crisis affecting our world so profoundly, these strange landscapes I traverse may not exist in the near future. I feel deeply compelled to capture images of this changing land so we can look at our challenges from a different angle.
To read more about my photography setup and workflow, visit the Gear page.
Why do this adventure on a bike?
I believe the bicycle is one of the greatest inventions humanity has ever created. The simple bicycle is the perfect device to travel far distances, all while being extremely cost effective and eco-friendly. It's design is ideal at transforming peoples biomechanics into a mode of transportation. The pace set on a bicycle is perfect for traveling long distances all while being able to savor every moment without rushing. Bicycles help people become healthier while being super fun at the same time. The cycling community is as inclusive as it gets and full of amazing people. People treat cyclists very kindly and tend to offer help when possible (only when not cycling on the road). Bikes allow anyone to have an effective means of transportation, not just the wealthy. Bicycles are one of the most positive inventions people have been blessed with.
This is my deeper philosophy concerning bikes, but simply put I just think it's the perfect tool to travel the world with. It allows me to carry all of my stuff I need, travel far distances daily, and is exponentially more cost effective than overlanding (albeit with less comfort). It's also one of the most eco-friendly methods of transportation we currently have.
Bikes are pretty rad, to say the least.
How to afford this adventure?
I have been saving money for this adventure for the past number of years. I spend my money exclusively on essential living expenses and gear I will take with me on this trip. Before I buy a piece of gear I do extensive research to make sure that what I do end up buying is going to work and perform properly. I cook nearly every meal I eat and rarely get take out. I drive only as necessary because gas is so costly. I don't buy clothes because I will only be carrying ~2 outfits while traveling anyway. I do portrait shoots on the weekends to have some supplemental money to buy wants (tattoos, wine, gas money to drive somewhere for a day, etc). This extra money ensures I can stay on budget without touching any of my savings. I am selling all of my non-travel items I wont be carrying with me, including my car, furniture, old computers and camera gear.
If I can stay on budget while traveling, I should be able to travel around for several years.
My daily budget will be around $10-15/day. This number could change due to the chaotic inflation we are experiencing.
I plan on cooking nearly every meal I eat. I have invested in a reliable cooking system that can cook nearly any kind of food out there. Wild camping will be how I plan to spend nearly every night, and I will utilize Warmshowers and other amazing networks to find occasional lodging. I will try to keep my monthly maintenance/gear costs as low as possible. I have a ton of credit card travel points that I will utilize when flying or getting an occasional hostel. My goal is to keep my living expenses as low as possible so I can travel as far as possible. I will also be WWOOFing whenever I need to stay in a location for longer than a week.
Care to help?
With my budget being $10 per day, every sale and donation means so much for me! A couple of dollars can get some food for my stomach or a new used piece of clothing I've been needing. Bigger donations help with keeping this website alive and domain paid for, my electronics in proper working order, and an occasional place to stay after a particularly brutal week. I am a simple man, all I really need is my camera, camping equipment, and computer to upload my photos. It's also nice having a bike I can scurry around on, albeit less essential.
In a perfect world I would drift along like a cloud surveying the land, but even Hell runs on money.
This website has a Store Page where you can buy a print or NFT of my photography. These prints and NFTs allow me to travel further all while giving you something tangible (or virtual). I take special care to ensure every image in the selection is of the highest quality. I also update my selections regularly so that all prints are limited runs.
If you don't need one of these prints but still want to contribute to this journey, there are donation portals on this page, the home screen, and the store page. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to help out in some other way.
Can I help?
If I can help with any of your questions or with any projects please reach out to me. Visit my Services page if you feel I could help you with a fun project or need my expertise. Even with this nomadic lifestyle of mine, I love to help out whenever possible. I check my inbox when possible and try my absolute best to respond to everyone. Due to the nature of my travels, don't expect an immediate response. With that being said, I created this website with the hopes of helping anyone who stumbles upon it. If there's a way, I'll try my best to help out.
Recent blog posts from this adventure
This website, my photography, and travels all cost time and money. I try hard to keep my budget as low as possible, however unexpected expenses happen.
If you appreciate my website and photography, donations help to keep this adventure moving forward.
$5 will get me a beer or taco, $25 for a meal and clean clothes, $50 for an occasional hotel room, $100+ for bike maintenance and website domain fees. Even hell runs on money.
All donations are immensely appreciated!