Baja 2000 Part 2
I met up with Eric in November at his house about a week before the race early in the afternoon. He was frantically trying to finish prepping both the race bike and his pre-run bike. He needed to take two bikes to Baja so he didn’t have to pre-run on the race bike and rack up a bunch of miles on it. The race bike was brand spanking new and we needed to keep it fresh for the race. Eric had not even started the engine yet. He had a list of things he had written down that he needed to do to “bullet proof” the bike sitting on a white up-side-down bucket and only about half of the items were checked off. He asked me to go over the list and see if there was anything else I could think of that we needed to do. I really didn’t know exactly what to expect in Baja and couldn’t think of anything to add to his list. I had my Honda XR 600 with me so I could do some pre-running as well, but I had not completed half of the things on the list to my bike. While I was pretty good at maintaining dirt bikes, I had never prepped a bike for Baja before. Little did I realize the adventure I was about to embark on.
We loaded all three bikes, two XR 650’s and one XR 600, onto a small trailer and piled our gear and gas cans into the back of his pickup. It was going to be a tight fit, but we didn’t care, it just added to the adventure. The race bike was not completely prepped, but we had tools and everything we needed so we would finish it once we arrived in Baja.
Eric’s pick up was a mid 90’s green Nissan. It was powered by a 4 cylinder engine and a 5 speed transmission. It was nothing fancy, but it did have a 6 disk CD changer behind the seat. Eric had an assortment of music loaded into it. I don’t remember all the cd’s but I do remember ZZ Top, AC-DC, Beasty Boys, and LL Cool J being some of them. It was quite a selection and by the time the trip was over we knew every song by heart! Eric is 6’5″ tall and I am just shy of 6’1″. There was not much room inside the cab of that mini truck for much else.
The plan was for all of us to meet up in the town of Gila Bend AZ and then convoy to Baja together where Mike was already pre-running his section of the race course. Eric and I were running late and everyone went on ahead of us except Dayton and his dad Glen. They were driving a late 70’s gas guzzling brown Ford F-250 extended cab pick-up.
We blazed across the desert on I-8 as fast as that little Nissan would go. We had to make the border crossing in Tecate California by midnight before it closed. We were extremely over loaded for the little four cylinder engine and often had to downshift to 4th gear, so we drafted Glen like we were racing NASCAR at Talladega Speedway. We tailgated the F-250, following about 10 feet behind which is extremely dangerous, but we liked to live life on the edge and it didn’t bother us.
Just west of El Centro California, after a fuel stop to quench the thirst of the big V8 Ford, we had to climb a long steep grade into the Sierra Nevada mountains of Southern California. We had to turn off the air conditioning to conserve horsepower as we needed to squeeze every bit of it from the little engine like one likes to squeeze every last drop of juice from an orange. Eric held the gas pedal to the floor for what seemed like an eternity as we climbed over 4000 feet into the mountains. Finally we reached the summit and I could almost hear the little Nissan let out a sigh of relief.
We turned off the freeway a little later and wound our way through the mountains on a twisty 2 lane road to the border crossing at Tecate. We arrived with about an hour to spare before it closed. Glen and Dayton were right behind us.
We must have looked suspicious because we were ordered to pull over for inspection by the Mexican customs officials. They claim that who they pull over is decided randomly, but I don’t believe it for a second. A big red stop light starts flashing along with a loud buzzer to indicate to the driver that he must pull over to the right. Eric did the talking and I observed. The officials wanted paper work on the vehicles and dirt bikes. Thankfully, we had everything they wanted to see and we did not need to “grease the wheels” with any green backs. After about a 10 minute inspection we were allowed to continue.
The road from Tecate to Ensenada winds through the mountains with steep grades, both up and down. It is narrow with verticals drop offs in many places. Guard rails are few. And when one is found, I wouldn’t trust it if you needed it. They looked like a bicycle could crash through them. We dropped down through the beautiful Guadalupe valley known for its vineyards and wine making. The race course was going to come through here so Eric stopped to show us where the turn off of the highway was. This was the section that Dayton would be riding and this was also his first Baja trip.
We arrived in Ensenada around 12:30 AM and checked into the Hotel Colon. The building of the hotel formed a square surrounding a parking area with a narrow entrance by the office. The parking lot was crammed full of other racers. Off-road race buggies, race trucks, and all the support vehicles and trailers were stacked two and three deep. There was very little room for our vehicles, but we managed to find a place to park. We didn’t have a reservation, but somehow Eric talked the overnight clerk into renting us a room for the week. The 4 of us had to share two queen size beds, but we didn’t care. It was all part of the adventure!
We met up with Harry, John, and their chase truck drivers and made a bee-line for a taco stand down the street. Mexican tacos are amazingly mouthwatering! And in Baja, fish tacos are the taco of choice.
The owner of this particular taco stand was a huge fan of off-road racing and knew Eric by name. The small wooden structure sat just off the edge of the sidewalk. The front side was hinged at the top so it would lift up revealing a bar with stools for the customers to sit at. A man was cooking meat, vegetables, and tortillas at a large flat grill along the back wall. Several fridges contained beer and sodas stood along the side walls. Perched on top of one of the fridges was a small television playing VHS recordings off road racing videos. The quality of the video was not good, but nobody cared. The food was served on paper plates with plastic utensils if needed. The smell was invigorating and my mouth started watering instantly. You could get anything your heart desired to eat as long as it was a taco.
As soon as we approached in the darkness an excited voice yelled out “My frrren Erric Brrown! Erric Brrown, my frren, welcome to Mexico. I so glad see you”. The owner was so glad to see Eric and immediately started telling us how big of a racing fan he was. His English was not perfect, but he tried hard. We gobbled up about a dozen little tacos each and I don’t think we had to pay for half of them.
After filling our bellies with deliciousness we made our way back to the hotel. We had several long days ahead of us to pre-run and get ready for the race.