Baja 2000 Part 4
I woke for my second day in Baja excited but tired. The day before had been the longest ride in the desert I had been on in quite some time. Not only did we ride 150 miles, we rode quite fast while we were moving.
I needed to do some maintenance on my bike and got to work. I cleaned my air filter, adjusted my chain, and checked everything over.
The hotel was a buzz with teams working on trucks, buggies and bikes. Everyone was friendly and helpful to each other. One of the gentlemen staying at our hotel was named Richard Jackson. He had raced every Baja 1000 since 1967. He was doing a few things to his race bike and since Eric had introduced me to him the night before I took the opportunity to look over his immaculately prepped race machine. His team was riding the new and popular Honda XR650R. He had modified many areas of the bike to improve handling and comfort. He also had designed a custom headlight assembly featuring the fairly new HID type of bulb. A number of teams were using them for the first time on dirt bikes. They are extremely bright and light weight, but their reliability was still to be seen. Richard was helpful giving me advice on bike prep and the race course.
It was about 10 am when we finally started heading south. We loaded our three bikes and gear bags in Glen’s truck. We tentatively planned on an overnight stay in the village of Catavina about a 4 hour drive south. Eric told us he would find a place for us to stay and leave some sort of sign for us to find him.
We dropped Eric off at the beginning of his section of the course. He was going to start riding at the northern end of his section which followed the Pacific coast from Santo Tomas to the south of San Quintin. From there the course turned inland to the east before turning back south where it paralleled the highway before joining the highway for a stint just north of Catavina.
Dayton was scheduled to remount the bike on the south side of Catavina where the course crossed the road. We arrived at the road crossing about 3 pm and quickly unloaded our bikes and donned our riding gear. We only had about 2 hours of daylight and at least 90 miles to ride to get to where we would meet up with Glen. We knew we were going to be riding in the dark, but we didn’t mind.
Glen bid us farewell as we rode off to the south. Not far into our ride the course dropped into a deep sandy and rocky dry riverbed. After about a two miles in the twisty wash the sand revealed that the clutch on Dayton’s bike was indeed catastrophically damaged the previous day.
Dayton’s clutch was slipping and he came to a standstill in the horsepower robbing sand. We had only ridden 9 miles! We quickly discussed our options when another rider over took us. He gave a little wave as he passed. Dayton realized we could have sent word with him to Glen and told me to catch up to him. My engine roared to life as I sped off as fast as I could ride. But as hard as I tried the couple of minute lead the mystery rider had was too much to overcome. After about 10 miles the course topped a hill and I could see the rider’s dust trail about a mile ahead across a small valley and I knew attempting to overtake him was pointless.
I turned around and headed back to Dayton and gave him the disappointing news. Right about then a Ford Ranger came by blasting down the wash. The pick-up did not stop, covering us with sand and rocks. We became furious because we had missed two opportunities to send word to Glen that he needed to come pick us up.
After a few more minutes passed I knew we needed to do something about our situation quickly. The sun was getting low in the west and I didn’t want to deal with darkness along with a broken bike. I made the call for us to tow Dayton’s bike back to the road and see if it could be ridden on the pavement.
We tied my tow strap between the two bikes. My engine did not like the strain in the deep sand. I grabbed a handful of throttle and showered Dayton with rocks and sand from my spinning rear tire as we began to make our way back up the wash.
The sun had just set when we reached the pavement. Glen was long gone and we were all alone in the middle of Baja! Dayton tried to ride his bike down the highway, but his clutch started slipping again at each hill. After a quick conversation we decided we needed to stash his bike and continue on doubled up on my bike. Dayton started to ride off into the desert away from the road to ditch his bike when I realized we would never find it in the dark upon our return. With my urging, we continued south a little farther where we found a large culvert under the road where we could leave the bike. After returning to the roadway I saw a KM 93 sign a few yards up the road, so I made a mental note of the location to recover the bike later.
Dayton had an extra gallon of gas in his backpack so we poured it into my bike because we had a long way to ride and did not know what we were going to encounter along the way. I was beginning to worry because we didn’t even have a racecourse map with us. We really hadn’t needed one while staying on the course since it is marked by arrows and the tracks of other racers showed us where to go. But now we needed to find a race course access road in the dark. I vaguely remembered where it was located from the few minutes I had looked at the map. The only thing I remembered was that it would be a right turn somewhere after the village of Nuevo Rosarito. I did not share my concerns with Dayton as he had already made me aware several times that he was pretty distraught about our current situation. I decided I was going to take the “cool and calm” approach to the situation because freaking out would do neither of us any good.
I turned my backpack around so it hung on my chest and Dayton climbed on the back of my Honda. I did not have any passenger foot pegs and this created another issue. So Dayton placed his feet on my foot pegs and I rested mine on top of his. The strain of pulling Dayton and his bike up the wash had taken a toll on my engine as it was now serenading us with a loud ticking noise. This also made me nervous, but I couldn’t think of that now as we rode through the darkness.
There was no moon and the Baja darkness was ominous. The narrow paved road did not have any stripes on it and road signs were few and far between. We made pretty good time as we headed south toward our unknown destination. Soon we learned something else for which we were not very well prepared. Cold, downright cold! Neither one of us imagined the desert in Baja would get that cold. We must have looked very much like the two characters in the movie Dumb & Dumber while riding the mini-bike through the Rocky Mountains except there was no relieving of any bladders while on my bike.
After about an hour of riding Dayton begged me to stop so he could warm up. I gladly agreed because I was shivering as well and pulled over to the edge of the pavement. The ticking noise emitting from my engine was downright scary and for fear of not getting it restarted we did not turn it off. I was also beginning to wonder where we were going to find gas.
While I thought of the worst that could happen I did my best to act like everything was in control and would be alright. I knew freaking out would solve nothing and Dayton was clearly concerned about our situation and continuously voiced it. We were just about to remount my bike when a white box van passed us. I waved my hand to see if they would stop so I could ask for some directions. As the van passed I saw the license plate was from California and shortly after the brake lights illuminated. I yelled at Dayton to jump on and slammed my bike into gear as we raced off in pursuit.
About a quarter mile down the road we caught up to the van. I pulled up to the driver side door when a shaggy haired head shot out the window and yelled “Are you guys freaking nuts?!!!” We were extremely relieved to find someone else that was clearly there for the race.
I turned off my engine and we dismounted from my bike as two guys climbed down from the van. Upon introduction, we learned that the driver was none other than legendary factory Honda mechanic Eric Crippa. He and his traveling partner were headed way down south to set up a pit for everyone using the Honda pit support program and the factory Honda race teams. I had seen Eric Crippa’s name in magazine articles but never thought I would meet him, and here I was in the middle of Baja in the dark and he was coming to my aid with a smile on his face!
We quickly explained what was going on and how we came to be in this predicament. Eric and his friend shook their heads in disbelief because they couldn’t believe what we were doing. They asked how they could help so I asked for some gas and a look at his race course map.
After filling my bike with gas and quickly memorizing the pertinent part of the map we prepared to get underway. Eric then offered to let Dayton ride with them and follow me to the turn off the highway.
It took about another hour of riding through the pitch black night to find our turn off. It was marked by a sign for the fishing village Santa Rosaliita. Eric topped off my gas tank once and Dayton jumped on the back again. He was nice and warm from the ride in the truck and in much better spirits than an hour earlier.
We rode west toward the coast for about 10 miles where we encountered the race course. Our original plan was for Glen to come to this point and then make his way backwards up the race course a ways to meet up with us. So I turned north and proceeded to ride about a mile when we encountered a motorcycle coming toward us. I pulled over and stopped as did the other bike. While strange noises were still being emitted from my engine I no longer feared shutting it off so we could talk to the unknown rider.
Normally the factory Honda team used two or three riders in the Baja 1000 per team and usually fielded two teams, A and B. But since the Baja 2000 was a much longer race than normal a decision was made to combine the two teams of riders for the “A” team and bring back a few veteran riders to fill out the “B” team. The B team would consist of former Baja champions. The rider that stopped to talk to us was the legendary Paul Ostbo. He had raced with Kawasaki in their heyday of winning in Baja as well as worked in R&D for Honda. He may have been riding on the “vet” team, but he could still rip across the desert with ease. Paul was scheduled to race this section and he knew it would be dark when he took over the bike so he was out pre-running in the dark.
Just as we started to explain why we were riding double another set of lights came into view and a yellow Ford Ranger pulled up. I immediately realized this was the same Ranger that did not stop for us earlier. I explained our situation and with a bit of an attitude asked the Ranger driver why he didn’t stop for us. My anger quickly subsided when he explained that if he had stopped to check on us he would have gotten stuck and since there were two of us there they figured we would be okay. Dayton then asked them if they had seen a guy in a brown Ford named Glen. Paul looked down at the odometer on his handlebars and informed us that he had spoken to Glen 20 miles up the race course.
Dayton and I were elated. This was the best news we had heard all night. Dayton took one look at me and said “You’ve been driving all night. It’s my turn to be in the front”
With a swift kick of his right leg, Dayton fired my bike up and slammed it into gear. I switched my backpack to my back again and jumped on the back. No sooner was I seated than we were off. The course was fairly smooth with long straight sections that ended in sharp turns. We were headed north right along the Pacific Ocean. We could smell the ocean air and occasionally catch a glimpse of the beach. Dayton was clearly riding much faster than he could see with my headlight. Many times we were sliding sideways through turns. I hung onto him and prayed we didn’t crash. I had never ridden on the back of a motorcycle with a possessed driver like that until this night. Every chance he got Dayton twisted the throttle as hard as he could. If there had been any hope for my engine earlier in the day, there would be none after he was done with it.
We traversed the 20 miles with incredible speed and found Glen and the big brown Ford truck. He had just packed up the grill and the smell of the dinner he cooked still hung in the air. Dayton and I were starving and scarfed down food as Glen loaded my bike into his truck. Between bites of food we explained what happened and all the things we had gone through to get there. I looked down at the odometer on my bike and saw that we had just ridden 140 miles, most of which we rode double. Glen then informed us that the rider I tried to send word with was a Japanese man that did not speak English. Glen flagged him down and attempted to extract some info about our whereabouts to no avail. The man just kept nodding and pointing down the race course.
We climbed into the pickup with Dayton taking the middle position. The last thing I remember was confirming with Glen to stop at KM 93 so we could collect Dayton’s bike. I was out like a light. I leaned up against the door and Dayton leaned up against me and we slept hard.
I woke suddenly with Glen slamming on the brakes and exclaiming that we had just gone by KM 93. I quickly explained that the bike was in the culvert under the highway as Glen pulled off the road to park. Dayton woke groggily and joined me in the trek down to the bike. We both let out a sigh of relief that it was still there. I really didn’t think it would be stolen because who would think to stop in the middle of Baja in the dark and check this particular culvert to see if there was a treasure stashed there. But nonetheless the thought was in the back of my mind the whole time we were gone. The bike fired right up and we jumped on. We rode double one last time up the hill to the pickup. I hoped that was the last time I rode on the back of a dirt bike for a very long time. A few minutes later we were on our way again. We still needed to find Eric and get some sleep.
We rolled into the village of Catavina around 1:30 AM. There is a nice hotel which makes a great stopping point for racers and Baja travelers. I inquired of the night desk clerk if there was anyone there by the name of Eric Brown. He checked the guest book and said “No”. I then asked if there was anywhere else to stay in town, to which he answered negatively. Discouraged I walked outside to discuss what to do next when the night guard posted outside the front door stopped me. With a whisper he told me there was another little hole-in-the-wall hotel up the street. He suggested we check there.
During races in Baja it is customary for all bikes and vehicles associated with a race vehicle to place the corresponding race number on their chase and pre-run vehicles. This makes you more visible to other teams and helps your own team when looking for you. Our number for this race was 4X which Dayton and I both had on our motorcycles and it was prominently displayed on the windshield and back window of Glen’s truck as well.
As Glen turned his truck into the courtyard of the primitive hotel the headlights shone on a large “4X” written crudely in electrical tape on the door of a room. We knew immediately we had found Eric and a place to crash for the rest of the night. I jumped out of the truck and started pounding on the door. After several minutes a sleepy Eric hesitantly cracked the door open with a blanket wrapped around his 6’5″ frame. When he realized who it was he welcomed us into the small room. The sparse accommodations included one double bed and one single bed and a tiny bathroom with no hot water. Glen and Dayton took the double bed and since Eric had already claimed the single I crashed on the cold concrete floor. I wrapped up in a blanket I found on a shelf and used my back pack for a pillow. I didn’t even bother taking my riding gear or boots off. Even though it was far from comfortable I was asleep in a few minutes. I think the stress of the evening finally being completely resolved allowed me to sleep hard even in the less than desirable conditions.