I made arrangements to meet Mike D and Scott at La Salina. I pulled in there at around 1pm Wed, and with Mike and Scott not due in there until Midnight, I had 3 or 4 hours of riding time. The bike was soon unloaded and I was about to leave when a young Mexican boy (18) came over to talk bikes. He spoke pretty good english, and I could tell, he liked bikes. He had a '82 Yam XT 550 which wasn't running. If it had been, he would have made a great guide, Darn.
My bike at this point was untried since my last wrench session when I fixed a badly leaking needle valve in the float bowl. I started it 6 months ago when I made the repair, but I didn't go anywhere then, and other than a quick startup just before leaving for Mexico it hasn't run a lick. So assuming all was well off down the pavement I went to find my dirt roads. My spirits were high as the wind blew in my face. A half mile of pavement brought the first hint of a miss from the engine. No, I thought that was probably only a gust of wind which caused the oh so slight hesitation.
But the old, smoke and fire, proverb soon proved to be spot on. It started missing more and more until I could only maintain about 25 mph with a lot of missing and coughing. I started to head for the van with a vision of pulling it's carb for a clean out. I had to run about 10 miles to get back, and during that time I saw a very slight improvement. It could have been wishful thinking but I elected to go up a dirt road and see if things got any better at slower speeds where I wouldn't need so much fuel. I had deduced that the fuel flow from the petcock wasn't keeping the float bowl full for some reason.
I went a mile or so when I came to a dead end. I walked up the canyon for a ways to see if I wanted to go farther, nope it really was a dead end. When I got back to the bike the light flow of fuel had refilled the float bowl, and it ran good. Another leg of the dirt road I was on took me to LA Mission which was in the direction that I wanted to go in the first place. Let me say here that, I love a bike that fixes itself.
Soon I was cruising along some great roads in the back country with views to match. I was aware that I was alone so I was staying in the 80% range of adventure riding. I rode through a little (I later learned) Indian village. These folks don't speak spanish, I was told that they have their own indian tongue.
I rode about 35 miles completely enjoying the evening before I arrived at Guadalupe. Guadalupe was founded by Russian imigrants a hundred years ago, but now it's all Mexican. I asked a local how to get back to where I wanted to go. He wanted to send me to Ensenada and then up the pavement. That would have required toll roads. I don't like toll roads so I found a Mexican with a beat up pickup and asked him. He had the right idea. He sent me down a dirt road which more corresponded to the map I had.
As I headed back toward camp, dusk began to settle in on me. It provided me with a beautiful sunset as well as brisk evening temperatures to make me wonder if my riding apparel would be warm enough. It was, but just barely.
By the time I arrived at the van the DR350 was running like a top, idleing well and starting with the first push of the button. It doesn't get any better than that. I was parked in the parking area of the only cantina in La Salina, and I intended to spend the night there so there wasn't anything to stop me from having a couple of brews as I waited for tomorrow and more R&R (Riding and Racing).
Once inside I immediately notice the three (big) girls at the bar, just like I like them. If I was going to move on them, I would have had to have been there a little earlier. Oh well. So the seven of us, the girls, slim, the Mexican boy from earlier, the barkeep, and myself were enjoying a nice quite midweek evening of small talk. The Mexican boy talked of getting a job in the states. The three (big) girls were gringas who live there nearby, and Slim was a seventy year old expatriate from Montana, Yahoo.
The girls had all ready escaped.
The girls went home to dinner, and the Mexican boy likewise vanished. That left me with only Slim's brain to pick. I always like to see how much it costs folks to live down there. In Slim's case he bought an all ready in place used trailer right on the beach for 10,000 bucks some seven years ago. It's in a trailer park and for $4000 a year he gets space rental and space upkeep. That's kind of high compared to OMB who built a house on the beach on the opposite shore of the Baja Peninsula. He pays 600 dollars a year for a 50 by 100 lot over near San Felipe. OMB has a 3 beedrom house with a two car garage that is run totally on solar power, refrigeration is done with propane. He has a little piece of paradise over there.
Soon Slim abandon me, and the bartender was showing signs of wanting to close. I found out that just about a 1/3 mile up the beach at the Blue Seasons trailer park I could get a meal at their restaurant, if it wasn't closed. Slim said just hop on the beach out front and go on over there, you can't miss it. It made sense to me so I fired up the Suki and squeezed by the fence to the beach. All right this was cool and I was hungry. When I started looking for the place I couldn't see past all the spotlights shinning toward the beach.
So I picked the biggest building there and popped up on somebody's patio. Oh shit, well, it did turn out to be the right place. Just the wrong time, and the wrong entrance. I was looking for a way to get out in the driveway. I figure I'd be a little less conspicuous in a driveway. I had to negociate two flight of stairs four steps each, which I did without too much trouble and then across another large concrete area. Finally I spied the restaurant sign which show them to be closed. As I contemplated my next move the pissed off security guard came up and wanted to know what the fu$k was going on. He didn't speak English and my Spanish wasn't getting the job done, but I soon understood that I had better get back to my trailer space, or get the hell off the property if I didn't have a space.
Oh well, I didn't want to eat there anyway. I wanted to tell him that I had been thrown out of a lot better place than that, thank you very much. So back down the pavement this time, to my van where I enjoyed a dinner of hard boiled eggs and potato chips. It must have been 10 pm by then and it was time to go to sleep, so I curled up in the van and began to snore immediately. That was a good first day of Baja 1000 watching.
Mike and Scott showed at about 2am, just a little late.
Back country views
The Bar at La Salina
I began Day two by needing a piss break at around 3AM Thursday morning. While walking outside the van, Mike's voice broke the silence. The boys had pulled in 3/4 hours ago, and hadn't gotten to sleep yet. So they brought me up to date on them leaving LA late and what else had made them tardy. Being Ca weather there was no need for tents for the few hours of sleep left to be had that night.
In the morning, the day before the race (Thur) is spent by the race committee parading the 250 entrant's vehicles through downtown Ensenada. This takes all day, and the pace is mostly stopped with an occasional move forward. It gives you plenty of time to get personal with the cars or talk to whoever is in charge of said race car. You can crawl under them if you want to get a real good look at how they are made. You need to do all your gawking at racers before noon. After that the crowds are just too large to get around. Mario Andretti was chosen grand race marshall. I was able to get a picture while he walked through the crowd.
This car parade also takes the cars past all the booths of race car products which wows us as well. A couple of the products of note are a privately made automatic transaxle that is strong enough to handle the power output of the V8s which are being installed in today rear engine buggies. Or these high tech shocks of these modern $200,000 racers. The tubes on the side of the shocks bypass fluid in order to change the shock value in a particular range of operation. They retail in the $1000 range. Many of the cars are really good looking, and it's hard to believe that they expect to ruin that body in less than 50 miles. We watched the race at mile 35 and that truck's hood was gone by the time he got to us. That doesn't slow them down in any way, though.
After the parade watching we drove out of town about 25 miles east of Ensenada to get a viewing spot for the race. We got there by 12:30pm, and unloaded the bikes. There wasn't much camp to set up, just one tent. After that it was time to ride, after all the race didn't start till tomorrow.
We rode out the race course to look for a possible better place to watch the race from. We found plenty, but we couldn't get our cars in and out easy, so we didn't move. Scott was riding an '01 XR650 Honda outfitted with saddle bags left over from his 2 month ride across Australia a couple months ago. Over there its Kangaroo instead of deer to be feared. Scott ran into one of the buggers and broke his collar bone while there. Can you image kick starting one of those with an injury like that??? All men are not created equal. Mike is on an '01 DRZ 400 Suzuki that, after a couple grand in upgrades is a contender. While I am riding a bone stock DR350 Suzuki. I even lowered it a couple inches so I can get a foot on the ground sooner.
Well this part of the course is used most years for this race, and it causes a whooped out road that is just the worst thing to ride on. My bike drives in and out of each whoop. The better setup bikes just jump from one whoop to the next. The boys would wait for me from time to time. We were enjoying the rest stops quite a bit. We were also agreeing with the rumor that this years race was going to be maybe the toughest ever. We say that every year.
Now you see I was leading these guys since I knew where I was going, but these guys didn't want to go at my 'stay alive' pace so they were usually ahead of me wondering which way to go at various forks. I would go ahead to show the way, and they would blast past roosting me with all manner of sand and pebbles. I would slow until I was out of their dust and continue. Well I caught them napping in one 1/2 mile straight section of downhill sand. As soon as i saw it (I don't know why I was leading) I gave it all my DR had. Of course any straight section is an invitation for the boys to tempt fate with a high speed run, But I was tempting fate first this time. I had the bike up to seventy+ and I was throwing so much debree I held them off all the way to the cattle guard at the end of that stretch. At least I won one that afternoon. Old age and treachery overcoming youth and enthusiasm comes to mind here.
Never the less the 75 miles we rode that night was delightful. Scott and Mike had only 4 hours of sleep the night before so they were ready to pack it in early. I lead them in a big loop which ended up in the small town of Ojos Negros. First we stopped at the gas station for refueling.
The gas station is a house with a 15 year old boy who syphons gas into 1 gallon milk bottles and dumps them in your tank. $3 a gallon for gas in this sort of out of the way station is typical. There was a Chihuahua puppy there that we all fell in love with. He didn't weigh two pounds. The awkward little guy stumbled around out there among us with every little noise startling him. He was adorable. And just the primativeness of the gas arrangement startled Mike and Scott to the max.
But now it was time for dinner. On race weekend the town opens up with taco carts. We found one that suited us. They had a large pork roast on the fire as well as carne asada going on another burner. We ordered a dozen beef tacos to start off with, and finished off with 8 more pork tacos for desert with sodas all around, all for under 20 bucks. After eating we waddled out of the place, and headed for camp.
Not twenty minutes after getting to camp and realizing that it was getting colder, a wood vender showed up with firewood for sale. We bought enough for three nights, we were set, way cool. We told lies around the fire for a couple hour before hitting the sack around 9pm.
To those of you who don't ride dirt bike, you can't believe how exhausting dirt mile are. I have ridden 300 in a day but less than a 100 is more the rule, and if it's tough riding it's way less.
|Race day 3
Last night was a cold one. Frost all over everything. Scott and Mike shared a tent, and I think there was some cuddling going on. Just a rumor, but.... Anyway the briskness warranted an early morning campfire for warmth while we waited on Scott's camp stove to get the coffee brewed. Hummm... it was good to reflect on hot coffee, clean air, and a few days of scouting the back country, while we waited in anticipation for the first bikes to show.
The race starts in Ensenada at first light. They release the first motorcycle class as soon as they can ride without lights in a group start. They release the next classes in 5 minute intervals. There are about 10 classes. Then they give the last bikes an hour's head start. Then the hunt begins. The fire breathing, roaring, and snorting V8s take up the relentless chase. There are usually 5 or 6 bikes (out of 40 total) that stay out front of the 4 wheelers and maybe one or two who have a faster time than the cars, but the rest are mercilessly tracked down and past many times by the unlimited classes as they search for dust free, clean air in which to put the maximum hammer down.
The Baja races (and Dakar) are the only races where the cars and bikes are on the same track that, I can think of. You have to imagine that those roads are just barely wider than the car, so when a car is passing, the bike is crowded over to the outside of his track trying to give the car all the road that he can spare. He's sliding sideways into the center of his track all the while going as fast as he can. The car is taking out brush and occasional rocks on the edge of the road risking blow outs and other hazards. He has to do this as fast as he can to minimize his exposure time. It's very risky business sometime carried out at 60 to 70 miles an hour.
I get a little shiver as I remember those days. The first racer through has the advantage of clean air. This years race had still air conditions which is hell for the entrants as the dust just hangs on the course. That may explain why the first bike beat the first car by 45 minutes this year, usually it is much closer with Johnny Campbell's team being the lone car beater. He is phenomenal and has been dominant for the last several years. It is not pure gravy with the first racer, although he has clean air, he has to deal with all the spectators that are positioning themselves for race viewing. Some are traveling his direction hence throwing up dust, and others are traveling against him which heighten the risk of actual collisions. It's hell out there, folks. Don't try this at home.
It warmed quickly as the sun rose. Soon the first bike was showing signs of being near. You can tell as he is usually a named rider, and is being photographed by a helicopter. After that the next hour was busy with cycles strung out, some running fast (the contenders) and others using a more conservative pace (the survivalists). There are riders of all ages with separate classes for riders over 30, 40, and anything over 50.
There was more than an hour's wait for the first cars, but the wait is always worth it. They simply fly over the ground and these days they land with lightness of butterflies. You can tell by the crowds that we were close to a large town and that the race course here was an easy road, but trust me that wasn't the case for much longer. We watched the race and took pictures through the fast groups, but when they got to the pure stock VW class it become time to get our bike fired up for a ride. First we walked the 1/4 mile to the junction of road and race course for some food. We settle for the taco cart that was selling burritos.
After eating we fired up the bike and headed out for the pine tree country some forty miles from there. From looking at the scrub brush country here you wouldn't suspect that there is a beautiful 30 mile diameter section of pine forest close by. We took a break at an intersection where I was explaining where we were. Mike asked Scott how to do a wheelie in the dirt. 10 minutes of wheelie practice ensued that I wasn't a part of. Scheesh, kids. Soon we were off again and enjoying some riding to die for.
We came to the little town of Asseradero (sawmill) where we stopped at the gas station for sodas. The lady that runs this place has been here for 40 years. she will get you fed or watered up, she has sodas and beer as well as some canned foods and cups of soups. She has siphoned more gas probably than anyone else in Baja. I first went through there in '66 In an old war surplus jeep. We were desperate for gasoline, and she saved our bacon. The sawmill was defunct even back then.
The next stop was at Laguna Hansen in the national park up there. Currently it is a dry lake as it was when I first was there in '66. When it gets dry it stays dry until we have an unusually wet year, then the water stays for 6 or eight years until it dries out again. When it has water it is a beautiful mountain lake about a quarter mile in diameter. We stopped to take some picture and soak in the beauty of this 5000ft rocky mountain summit, and then continued on to this new (in the last year) restaurant. We had another load of burritos once inside. The cafe was accommodating with nice rustic furnishing. I give the place a bunch of thumbs up. It was warm to. The wood stove was up to the task even though we could see 1/4 inch gaps at the roof joists. She had gas as well.
We needed to head back as it was 3pm and all ready cooling off. I wanted to make a westerly fork somewhere to get us over to another road going the other way. The first fork that I chose petered out in a road closure after a mile or so. Mike and I turned around and wondered where Scott was. Well, no matter we will find him when we go back. I knew that we might meet him going against us so I'm being careful. Well, Scott, after gathering some sage, is hauling ass to catch up. When you are hauling like that, you are straitening the road going from rut to rut and currently he is in my lane and closing fast. Too fast for either of us to get stopped. At the last possible second I got my bike turned for the other lane. we passed each other in the same lane as I had only moved over a bike's width. Whew...to close for comfort... Scott ran off the road on the left. Probably the biggest hazards on this types of ride is other traffic. There is so little of it that you start taking the whole road for granted.
The next fork taken was the right one. We passed a rancho with a black and white horse running around his fenced 5 acre front gated yard. Damn, it was a nice scene in there nestled among the pines. There was still some nice piney tree riding. We were soon back in the scrub brush and dropping altitude with a welcome rise in temperature. The boys were waiting for me when we got near that straight section where I sand blasted them from day one. I just kept on riding and I thought I would stuff it to them again, but they were burned once and not going to let me roost them again. I got to the fast sand first and called on everything the Suki had, but I didn't have enough distance on them. The bastids blew by me at at 80mph+. I got a face full that time. I guess you can't win them all.
We completed the 5 mile back to Ojos Negros for gas before going to camp. We were in shortly after dark. And no sooner than we got the camp fire light the Mexicans in the camp just south of us brought over a plate of cooked Carne Asado with tortillas for our dinner. Can you believe that?? Well suffice to say we didn't let it go to waste. We spent the evening around the fire waiting for the racers to come back through on the way to the finish line. The first bike came at around 9:30 pm with the next bike about 45 minutes later. Then a couple more bike and the first car got there after midnight. I gave up at midnight and went to bed. It had been a long day.
Baja , the Final Day
A few race cars and bikes had come through by the time the sun came up. Including bike and cars there ia usually in the neighborhood of 250 entrants. I learned later that about 60 of them finished the race in the 36 hour time limit. Those are typical finishing results. Anyone interested in official results or statistics can find them at www.score-international.com . With that kind of finishing results you can imagine that watching the finish is akin to watching grass grow so we made plans to move to a new area of Baja to explore. I decide to move closer to the border instead of further south. We headed toward Tecate, both to avoid the toll road, and the heavy border crossing at TJ.
Coming down the hill into Ensenada I took a new right turn. It was a four lane that I thought might skirt the city section of Ensenada. It did, it took us several miles inland and past the Ensenada reservoir, which I didn't even know existed. But in the long run It was just a nice ride.
We stopped for breakfast in Guadalupe. I'd never been to this cafe before but the time was right. Mike was trying to tell me 'no mas' and Scott couldn't believe that we were going to eat out again. But I reasoned with the boys, that we would soon be out in the bush riding, and that if all didn't go well we might be happy that we filled up here. This kind of preparedness may explain why I'm toting an extra forty pounds with me every where I go, right under my belt. At any rate I can't resist these non main stream cafes. In the forty years that I have been traveling in Baja I have only acquired the Aztec Two step once. Those are good enough odds for me.
After breakfast we located the dirt road that touted Rancho Diamante. It is about midway between Ensenada and Tecate and heads east up into the same country that we dad been riding in the last two days. It is always good to run these roads once in a while to keep abreast of road closures or conditions. It turns out that there was nearly as big a wildfire burn in Baja as there was in the us. We would spend the afternoon in burned out brush.
Scott and Mike were concerned about parking our vehicles out there in the open country, but we felt pretty safe as we planned to be back before dark. I wouldn't leave it there over night. I notice as I write this that 3 days of riding and camping out were wearing me out. My enthusiasm was waning. But never the less, we lit out at about noon.
I immediately began to catch Scott and Mike's high once on the bikes. The burn had caused washouts from the recent rains which gave us something to be concerned about. The riding was great as we frolicked on that road. At one point we stopped for a break. Mike noticed an old army type pickup over in some rocks. We all looked and, after some doubt as to whether it was a pickup, decided it was. Off over the bank for a look see, cool, but when we got there it turned out to be just a rock formation. It gave us a chance to climb the bank on the far side at a few different places. Back on the road we passed a half dozen guys with shovels and an SUV filling in the worst ruts. They all had smiles of both jealousy and appreciation of our day on the bikes.
An hour and a half later we pulled into Rancho Veronica. This is a great Motel out in the wilderness southeast of Tecate, BC. We stopped into the restaurat/bar for a Soda. While there we got to catch up on some race gossip from the Mag 7 group at the table next to us. Mag 7 is a group of guys that pit for racers for hire. They're not in it to make a big profits, but they charge enough to pay their expenses. Generally that can field 15 or so pits with generators and tools plus hauling tires and gasoline. They are mechanical guys that can work on lots of things, but mainly they are off road racing addicts out to help anyone they can and anywhere they can. They have also been there from the beginning, and as long as I have.
We pulled out of there. We wanted to go back a different way so we took the road south from there for 10 miles or so. Scott had his GPS cranked up and he had marked a few points on the way in so we decided to go cross county to find one of those points on the way back. This wouldn't have been possible with out the burn. The brush would have been too thick. Here Mike and I are waiting for our scout (Scott) to come back with a makeable route over the hill on the left of the picture. It only took us a half hour to get the couple miles back to our outgoing route. Then it was bonsai back to our trucks. We felt more comfortable on a trail that we had just gone over a couple hours ago. You could notice the difference in out abilities after 3 days of riding. I was even keeping up pretty well.
At one point with Mike in the lead, and trying to maintain that lead over Scott, Mike caught a small rut just wrong. Probably just a split second's inattention, possible a glance in his rear view mirror, But at any rate, he instantly became a windmill of body and bike parts coming to a rest some 100 feet away from the rut. Since he was wearing armor under his sweatshirt the biggest damage was a 1" hole in the sleeve of his sweatshirt, cool. We took a moment to collect ourselves, and relate a few of our own near misses of the weekend.
A mile further had me stopping at this Fantasy land Rancho for pictures. Mexico is mostly a land of essentials only. for instance most building are finished before they are painted. It's hard to imagine the circumstances that would end up with these cartoon characters spread around this guys Ranch. Scratching my head I continued on to the truck and the end of our ride.
Mike and Scott are saying goodbye. We had enough gas to get home. Our only obstacle left was to get across the border. The traffic at Tecate is 100th of what it is at Tiajuana, but even so, it took us 45 minutes to make it through. Once clear of the border we exchange a brief wave, and began to morph back into the person that we really were and out of the person that we would like to have been. We only knew that we would ride again soon.