Stealth camping in Baja California is gloriously easy. The towns are few and interspersed by dirt tracks leading off into the bush. Still, during the short pedaling days of winter, I always end up looking for camp at dark. This has led to some pretty raw bivouacs: under the airport flight path in Cabo, in a drain pipe under the Transpeninsular highway outside of San Bartolo.
Last night’s camp seemed promising — just past the ferry terminal on the La Paz peninsula, the silhouette of palm thatched palapas outlined a narrow, curving beach. I pushed my bike onto the sand. Keeping the sound of lapping waves to my left, I found a low line of mangroves in which to spend the night.
It wasn’t the perfect camp–the mangroves sent uncomfortably nubby, finger like roots pushing out of the sand–but it would suffice for a night’s sleep. I kicked away a few pieces of used toilet paper and laid out my sleeping bag. As usual, I was only good for a page of journal writing before dropping my eyelids like rocks.
Crumple crumple crunch! I snapped out of sleep to the plastic crunch of a soda bottle. Sighing, zipping, and snuffling, someone had joined me in the bushes just a couple arm breadths away. I froze. A light patter of rain started dampening my sleeping bag. I debated whether to put up my tent and give myself away with the rustling.
The tossing and turning in the next bush over turned into footsteps. A shirtless, barrel chested shadow stepped into view and crossed to the bushes on my left. My heart beat faster. I thought of my friend Bill, world bike traveler, who had advised me on stealth camping in Mexico. He recommended pitching tent just outside of town, out of view but not necessarily hidden. No one ever bothered him, he said.
After a few minutes, I heard the man pull up his pants and kick sand over his cathole. The guy had taken a dump right next to my camp! A sour fetid smell wafted over. Should I be mortified or amused? Unable to decide, I buried my nose in my sleeping bag, rolled over, and shut my eyes again.
I had not yet drifted off when a truck pulled up next to the mangroves. It drove straight onto the beach. A door slammed. I raised my head to see a flashlight waving around. Shit! I thought of the “No Camping” symbol on the beach and prepared for discovery.
The man rummaged in the trash for cans and then walked towards my camp. Well, I thought, this is it. At the edge of my hideout, he stopped. And began to take a piss. His light shined in my direction — reflective stripes all over my bike, me in the sleeping bag staring wide eyed. He startled. Muttering in Spanish, he shuffled to finished peeing on the other guy’s spot and drove off.
I sat up and packed my things. Obviously, I had made camp at the local latrine. Just as I was shaking out my ground cloth, another car pulled up. Staring into its headlights, I froze again behind the branches of my mangrove patch.
This car too drove onto the beach. A slam of the car door and then the unmistakeable “Blep! Blep! Blep!” of an explosively urgent shit.
I attribute my success and happiness as a bikecamper to the regularity of my bowels. There’s nothing worse than pedaling 60 miles constipated. I ward it off by taking a dump first thing every morning. Minutes after setting out from latrine camp, I felt the urgency come upon me. How fitting, after a night spent listening to — and smelling! — others heed the call of nature. I jumped off my bike and clambered up the side of a roadcut, hastily digging a cat hole in the rich smelling earth. Squatting high above a curve in the road, craggy hills stretching into the distance, thorny shrubs and cacti emerging in the weak gray dawn, I thought, “After nearly being crapped and peed on twice in a night, at least I have the decency to crap here in full view of everyone.”
I pulled up my chamois and got back on my bike. As my Chilean friend Danielle likes to say, “Vamos a la mierde!” The shit’s hitting the fan. Let’s go to the shit!