I just want to say a public thanks to Brett and Scott for dreaming the dream of Baja and having the intestinal fortitude to see it through. I honestly can’t thank them enough for including me in this and trusting me during our Baja boot camp ride, the lengthy pre-ride and giving me a pretty long tough section in the dark to race. As has been mentioned before we really didn’t all know each other before this endeavor but now we share something special we will remember the rest of our lives.
For me this race is very special. I remember growing up in Michigan riding a little Bonanza mini bike and a Honda Trail 70 through the woods after viewing the Wide World of Sports coverage of the Baja races and dreaming I would someday do that race. It was larger than life and was always in the back of my mind. My passion, like Brett’s and Scott’s was reignited when I saw Dust to Glory. Now, living in NorCal and thousands of miles closer than my youth in Michigan I knew I had to step up and do it. In furtherance of this goal- I had been attending every race and either pitting or chasing since 2006, mainly for the Desert Assassins, trying to find a team that needed a rider. I had logged over 14,000 miles of dirt in Baja since then and most of that on the various courses. I had been racing ~18 motocross races and various enduros every year trying to keep my speed up and skills sharp. I had a ride worked out twice but both times the team fell apart before the race even started. Last year I was down pre-running my sections when I got the word the plug had been pulled. I was beginning to think I might never get my chance at the Baja 1000 after having been so close.
This time it all came together. I knew from the first day I met them that they had no quit in them. I sensed that no matter what, we were running this race and finishing even if we had to carry the bike in pieces over the finish line. Even though I almost killed them off the first day I took them out for a ride they were undeterred. This was something we could build on. We might not be the fastest team on the course but we aimed to finish. A team of guys of a like mind who had been there, done that and all share a common goal. That doesn’t happen often in adult life but when it comes together it can be magical.
We made some mistakes during our pre ride and probably underestimated how tough the race was really going to be. We probably should have pre-run the entire length of the course and definitely I should have pre run my section at night. I also screwed the pooch by getting way out ahead of my teammates during one pre run and had to go back when they had a flat.
Even with that bonehead move, the pre-running was a lot of fun. I logged a ton of miles on three different bikes pre-running not only my, but some of Brett’s, Scott’s and Chris’ sections. We rode a few times at night to get familiar and this really helped my comfort level for the night time nightmare that lay ahead.
I pre-ran my original section which was only going to be from Bay of LA to Vizcaino and felt pretty good about getting through that in around 3.5 hours or so on race night. It was a nice fast but narrow section with a ton of open the throttle to the stop terrain. There were a lot of washouts in the first 40 miles but some nice people had marked them pretty well with tires, pink spray paint, Kitchen cabinets laying in the road etc. There were only a few rocky hill climbs and no silt to speak of. I figured it was going to be a walk in the park. Uh huh… you know what they say about best laid plans.
Well after pre running with Chris from RM617-RM800 and meeting up with Brett and Scott who had attempted to pre run the Vizcaino to San Ignacio section I found they went ten miles in to the silt and had to turn back. I had loaned my bike to Brett and it was having fueling issues. One of the jets was plugged and it needed either idle or full throttle to run. That isn’t much fun in the silt so they called it a day. After a bit of discussion it was decided Chris and I would pre run that 65 mile section first thing in the morning and we would just add it to the tail end of my Bay of LA to Vizcaino section for the race. No worries right? It would be simpler logistics anyway. I welcomed the expanded miles.
So the next morning Chris and I ran out North to Vizcaino with our chase driver Trey and he dropped us off in the fog. The plan was for us to run the section back to Rice and Beans in San Ignacio, load up and head back to San Felipe.
We mounted up and ran out to the course. After about two miles I could see why everyone was so eager for me to run this section, it was a freaking narrow two track silt bed. Chris and I were railing right along through the siltish sand when all of a sudden I hit a wall; skid plated the bike and came to a dead stop. Crap! That stuff was deep. It was compounded by the fact that we had to take our hands off the bars to wipe goggles every so often due to the fog. At one point we were slogging through the silt beds trying to keep a head of steam when we noticed the motors were getting hot. We took a little break and found a few tracks paralleling the course. Looks like we stumbled on some alternate lines so we started back up and bushwhacked around the worst parts. It wasn’t easy making good time through the bushwhacking but anything was better than slogging through that silt.
We did have a bit of drama on our pre ride of that section. I was leading and making a good pace of about 60ish when I came upon an uphill section that looked like three small rises to a plateau. I took the first rise and second at speed. As I landed after the second rise I could see the third was NO BEUNO! It was a big gap drop and then a rise……Oh Snap! No time to brake so I goosed it and lifted the front wheel to hopefully surmount the obstacle………I managed to hit both wheels at the same time my foot pegs and boots smashed the ground hard! This launched me to the atmosphere and off to the edge of the course. I landed and barely saved a nasty high side shaking like a leaf. I immediately about faced and tried to wave Chris down or at least catch his probable crash on video. He basically pulled the same maneuver I did and saved it the same way. Both of us stopped to take stock of the terrain and I made a mental picture of the approach so I didn’t do it again in the race. We finished up without any issues, no crashes and made a pretty good time of 2 hours 56 minutes considering the first 40 miles was silt and sugar sand and the last 25 were rocks…..lots of rocks. I could definitely see the potential for carnage here.
Day before race
Jerry (Scott’s Dad) and I departed Ensenada the day before the start to go stage out of BOLA where I would get on the bike. We had a nice leisurely drive down there that basically took us all day. We pulled in to Bay of LA hoping Victoria at Casa Del Sol would take pity on us and have a room available. But alas, when we arrive no rooms were to be had. She sent us next door and we got there just in time to watch the last set of keys get handed out to another team. We had camping gear with us but I was hoping to have a bed as I knew I would be getting the bike after dark and riding my 249.75 miles in the blackness.
We finally caught a break. Lucy at Guillermo’s had a full house but she thought maybe one team might not need one room. She worked some magic and handed me the keys. Whew!
Waiting, Waiting, Waiting in Bay of LA
Dawn came and I couldn’t sleep anymore. Jerry went to go have breakfast and I attempted to get some more rest as we didn’t have to check out until noon. I tried hard but just couldn’t sleep. So I ended up firing up my iPad and watching the SPOT tracker from Guillermo’s patio. Lucy came over and gave me a tour of her place and told me her husband (Guillermo) was also racing. She was especially proud of his Baja 1000 plaques on the wall.
Once the bike hit Peurtocitos on the SPOT tracker I made the decision that we would head out to RM 360ish at the road crossing and wait for Scott. I wasn’t getting any rest with all the people around.
I was waiting for the bike at the road crossing heading to Bay of LA. I had tried to sleep but it was useless. Every time I would nod off a trophy truck or chainsaw loud buggy would come ripping by and I would think it was Scott. To make matters worse it was starting to rain and the fog was coming in so visibility was crap. Jerry was a trooper. Every time a bike would come by he stood by the side of the road making sure he was visible for Scott in case it was him. I knew we were running the only Yellow/ White HID so I was pretty sure we would see him unless he switched off the yellow for some reason. Not a high likelihood in the rain/mist though as the yellow is the ticket for cutting through that stuff.
We did have one scare around 7:30 pm when Jerry comes to me and says he thinks Scott might have gone by. I was frozen for a moment not knowing if we should chase him down or not. But I had faith that there is no way Scott would have just flown by without looking for us where the highway section started. I knew that was the plan and Scott would stick with it. Army training dies hard!
After assuring Jerry it could not have been Scott we settled down to wait again. I have to admit I had a million scenarios run through my mind and there was a bit of doubt creeping in when another hour passes and Scott still hasn’t arrived. But I figured with the rain and the trophy trucks passing him he probably was just plugging along.
Scott shows up and he is in fine form. He’s dirty, wet and energized. He related he was having a blast and was totally excited to get to us. I noticed the front light was a little loose and mentioned it but Brett said it was designed that way in case of a crash , it was zip tied and to leave it alone. I got on the bike after getting a briefing from Scott and headed down the highway keeping it under 60 to Bay of LA. It’s really hard to do this btw when your adrenaline is pumping.
LAMEco Racing prototype lights
I had only ridden the lights that John made for a few minutes on the beach so I really didn’t know how they worked. Holy Smokes! Those lights were like two light sabers piercing Darth Vaders black heart! Seriously! He grafted some KC HID lights into a mount he custom designed and came up with something awesome. My Baja Designs halogen lights don’t throw 25% of the light. And the way he blended the yellow and the white and aimed the reflectors was perfect. I think we had more useable light than some of the trophy trucks.
The yellow light gave definition to objects that the white light washed out. The effect was almost like looking at the terrain in a 3D filter. It was really good.
I get to the first baja pits in Bay of LA and have them check the pressures. They tell me I am at 12 pounds in the front and 16 rear. Weird about the front because Scott told me I was at 16/16 just thirty miles back.
I know it is going to be a high speed rocky section so I ask them to bump it up to 17 front and rear. They do so and I am off. The first mile of the course I get on to the two track road leading south out of Bay of LA and I am already in some dust. I see a bike up ahead so I wick it up and pass him. This continues for the next ten miles and I pick off two more riders. I am feeling pretty good even though I have the odd feeling that none of this terrain is familiar. It went from being two track fast smooth road to two track / two ruts with rocks thrown in. It is amazing the amount of damage those trucks and buggies do to the course when they get ahead of you. Especially when you are in a narrow section where alternate lines are not available to them. It literally changes the character of the road.
I see big lights up ahead and find another gear, I can see it’s a buggy and is running hard in front of me. The dust gets pretty thick and we are in little rolling rises so I keep charging up trying to find a place I will be able to pass. The dust really sucks. I finally get a good head of steam and am charging up a hill when I see lights in the sky. Huh? Does someone have a searchlight out here? Wth? I come over the rise to see the buggy cartwheeled off the course and facing me. I slow down and the driver is giving me thumbs up so I soldier on. The buggy must have caught the edge of the concrete vado and flipped over somehow. There are a bunch of little “gotchas” out there waiting and I am just hoping none have my name on them. I have a bike to hand off to the next rider……no matter what!
I also was having a minor issue with the light, it would flop over about 6 degrees to the right and every once in a while I would reach forward with my right foot and kick it back to center. I tried doing it with my hand but almost crashed so my foot was safer and more efficient. I finally solved the issue by riding mostly in the left hand track and it threw the light just about right.
I see some more lights ahead and start getting some dust so I speed up and pass another bike and an ATV. Now I am really feeling my oats and just letting Elvis run for all she is worth. It soon starts getting rougher though and I start to ease back. The wash outs seem larger than during the day and the course is really beat, in fact I don’t even recognize it. I come across another buggy flipped over on the side and they are both out and walking with the thumbs up. Soon after this disaster strikes!
I hit one of those hidden concrete lips of the vados and soon after I feel my rear tire start to squirm. Crap! This can’t be happening! I hit them like that all the time pre running with no issues.
I have a flat and I am twenty-thirty miles from a pit. I pull to the side to assess the situation. I can either zip tie it and limp along at 20 for an hour and a half or I can man up and change it with one of the two spare tubes I am carrying. I find a rock and bust out the tire as buggies and bikes pass me within feet of my head. I got out my 18 inch tube and went to work. I actually got it off and on pretty fast and was back in the race. I hauled ass to the Baja Pits, passed a bike and quickly took on some fuel, a bit of food, water and had them check the pressure. It was holding ….So far so good.
Still making time even though I am now off the pace. At least I am still moving. I still had a long ways to go to El Arco though.
I am cruising merrily along thinking all my troubles are behind me, running over rocks and downed cactus and only occasionally seeing lights when I get another flat!!!!! Omg! Now I am pissed! I only have a twenty one inch tube with me but I know the pits have to be up ahead somewhere so I Zip tie it and start down the course. I can only manage 20 or so without shredding the tire so I limp along for what feels like an hour getting passed by a few buggies a truck and two bikes but one stopped and assured me there is a pit close by.
I limp in to the JCR/Honda pit not knowing if they will help me or not. I resign myself to the fact that if they don’t have a proper 18 inch tube I will just use their tools to put in my 21 inch and limp to the next Baja Pits in El Arco.
The Honda guys wave me in and even though I didn’t pay their pit service they tell me they are veterans and hand me an 18 inch tube and the biggest damn tire irons I have ever seen. I make fairly quick work (with their help) of the tire change and head on down the course to El Arco. I still have a 21 inch tube and I can’t possibly get another flat, no one’s luck is that bad. I lost probably an hour and a half limping along but I am still moving!
I finally make it to the El Arco pits and have them check pressures. All good! They tried to send me on my way without gas but luckily I corrected them and headed off to Vizcaino. During the pre run this next section was fun and I was looking forward to it. Brett and I had done it together and it was really fun 55 mph sweeping turns through the narrow cactus tunnel…. Narrow…..Narrow? yes, now it was two ruts through the sand with downed cacti every few hundred yards from all the vehicles that had clipped one and sent it tumbling onto the course. Fack! I was hoping to really push and make up time here but it was not meant to be. I averaged a good speed, no one caught me until I got out to the straight sand road for the last high speed bombing run to Vizcaino……Yes! I am thinking! I can let her fly!
Make up time!
NO! The bike starts sputtering at high speed and now I am forced to downshift and slow down to smooth it out. I switch over to reserve as I see the fuel is a little low and it gets better. Now what? Is there a blockage? I keep forging ahead knowing Baja Pits is up ahead at the road crossing and I can get it sorted there.
I continue forward frustrated as I am again held back from making up the time I gave away with two flats. It’s now like 3:00 am and I have been on the bike since 10 pm. I’m not tired but am frustrated with the issues and alone in the dark.
Vizcaino and Baja Pits
I get to the road crossing and am looking for Baja pits, well it turns out everyone else was too. I see the Yokohama /Desert Assassins semi parked and I circle back to it to ask if they know where Baja Pits is or possibly my chase crew. They inform me everyone is looking for Baja Pits and that my chase crew had been through thirty minutes prior looking for me and they think they headed to San Ignacio to wait. Arrgh!
They offer me water and food so I figure I can change my air filter under their lights since I am about to tackle the 40 miles of silt hell ahead. I go to get off the bike and notice my rear tire is FLAT!!!! Again! For a third time…..
A young Mexican spectator kid comes over to help me and we wrestle the tire off and I put in my last tube. The 21 inch I have been carrying around as a last ditch emergency spare. It goes in pretty easily and the Yokohama guys put my air filter in while I was working. In fact it took longer to get that air filter on than the tube. They Yokohama guys tried to call my chase on the radio to give them an update but were unsuccessful. They also couldn’t reach Baja Pits. They tried to get BFG to relay a message but when BFG found out I was on a bike they blew us off rudely over the radio. F@#$% you BFG guys at San Ignacio!
The Yokohama guys had gas and since Baja Pits was nowhere around they filled me up which caused the motor cutting out to stop. I figure it was just really low and the screen on the reserve must have been obstructed.
And I am off to tackle the Silt. Now I know the course was deviated to cut out the worst of the silt, at least that is what SCORE said pre race. But I, and every other driver, never found that route. I suspect the Mexicans were camping on it and waving us on to the original course. I did see a turn I thought was the new course but there were twenty Mexicans blocking it and waving me to the one I pre ran…..
Ok the silt was bad on pre run day. Now in the dark and the fog it was unbelievable. Every truck and buggy had already been through and now it was two silt ruts filled with deep trenches. There was carnage everywhere. Big pits dug out where someone had been stuck. Stuck spectators blocking the course, overheated buggies, trucks, bikes and ATV’s littering the route. I pushed as hard as I could for as long as I could with a few tip-overs into the soft stuff when I got cross rutted. It was really easy to do, one second you would be floating on top between the two ruts when all of a sudden your rear or front would drop in unexpectedly and then bite the edge and try to rise up only to fall back in. It was all I could do to keep moving and keep upright. My shoulders were screaming. And I still had forty miles of this and 25 miles of rocks to go before I could hand the bike off.
I came across one guy on 259X I could see was stuck in the silt and hurting and asked if he was OK. He said he was a friend of Ed Ellis, one of our riders, and to please tell Baja Pits he is hurt but not badly but the bike could continue on if they can get a rider to him. He was at RM538 in the thick of the silt. I found out later Airborne Andy had a hell of a time getting to the rider and bike and rode it the next 40 miles before it blew up! It was gnarly in there.
I kept on as best I could and finally got to the sugar sand where I thought I might make some good time and found it to be alternating sugar sand and then a few hundred yards of silt that would take you unawares. I managed to stay between the ruts and make some time. When I finally found the Baja Pit and asked them why they were in the middle of nowhere and not where everyone thought they would be at the road crossing at Vizcaino, the guy matter-of-factly replied, “this is Vizcaino”.
OK dude can I get some gas?
By this time the sun was coming up and I still had some rough miles ahead of me. I passed a few more broken down trucks and ATV’s and thanked the Honda gods and our sponsor DT-1 air filters that ours was still running strong.
I came across a big group of Mexicans in the middle of nowhere and they all came running out to wave. I saw the little jump they built at the last minute and took it with style. Haha. The joke was on me because the landing was a huge hollowed out silt bed where I had a little wobble, save, wobble and tip over. They did come out to help me up and send me on my merry way though.