2001 Baja 500
I woke early stiff and cramped in a full size bed shared with another grown man. I slept terrible because who really wants to be the guy that wakes up snuggling your best friend? So the fear of that kept me on the edge of the bed all night with little sleep.
We all had a full day of pre-running to get after, so both rooms were busy as last minute plans were made. Who was going to drop off who and who was going to pick up who was being arranged. David and Todd had their wives along to chase them around. Dayton, Eric and I all rode together and I was the official chase truck driver. However, I was planning on pre-running also.
Our race plan was for Dayton to ride the start again since the first 60 miles of the course was very similar to the Baja 2000 the November before. David would take the next leg of the race, riding from mile 64 to approximately mile 145 at Valle de la Trinidad, also known to us as “Valley T”. Todd would then take over riding up into the tallest mountains in Baja making a loop through Mike’s Sky Ranch and back to Valley T around race mile 278. Eric would then take over and ride west to the Pacific coast and north to race mile 380 where Dayton would remount the bike take it to the finish line at mile 477. The last 50 miles of the race was the reverse of the first 50.
I decided to pre-run with Dayton and at the end of his first section we would ride our dirt bikes back into town on the highway. Eric, hitched a ride with David out to where his section started and would do the same as Dayton and I and meet us at the beach house later.
Dayton and I donned our riding gear and fired up our bikes. Dayton was riding a Honda XR 650 just like the race bike. Al Baker’s XRs only began sponsoring him that year and was providing him with some bikes to race. I was on my recently acquired Yamaha YZ 400 motocross bike that I had modified for longer distance off road riding. I installed a larger gas tank and taller gearing to increase the top speed. I sold my XR 600 after returning from my last Baja trip, but not before repairing the engine which Dayton helped me destroy, but that is a completely different story.
The race course started very close to the hotel and entered a large drainage wash about 2 blocks away. Dirt bikes without license plates are not an issue in much of Mexico, especially in Baja where racers are welcomed with open arms by most, including the police. They do frown upon crazy shenanigans like riding wheelies, but I have been known to do this right past a police station and didn’t even get attention for it.
We turned down into the wash and headed out on the race course. A few miles later the course joined the city streets for a dozen or so blocks before exiting the city on a fast smooth gravel road. The finish line would be set up right where this road started.
The race course quickly climbed into the steep coastal mountains before a short descent back to a paved highway section. Twelve miles of pavement ended in the Guadalupe valley where many vineyards produce some of the best wine in the world, in my opinion. From here we climbed back into the mountains headed south. The narrow two track dirt road zig zagged back and forth, climbing and descending through narrow rocky canyons.
I was really enjoying my new motorcycle and blasted through the desert. The sound of the exhaust echoed off the canyon walls as I twisted the throttle. This was the fastest accelerating dirt bike I had ever owned and it was a blast to ride. I use to dread twisty rocky roads with my heavy Honda, but this light motocross bike was a dream to ride. The biggest down fall was that when on a highway section the seat was not as wide or comfortable. Another issue with my new bike was that it did not have any lights. We had no intention of being out that late so it was not much of a concern.
After a couple hours of riding we dropped down into the valley of Ojos Negros. The course skirted the town between farm fields. Ninety degree corners made the smooth road dangerous because the dust would make it difficult to see the approaching turn. A mistake here would put a rider into a barbed wire fence which would most likely result in a race ending injury. At race mile 64 we reached the pavement of highway 3 between Ensenada and San Felipe. Dayton would hand the bike to David here on race day. I would be there waiting as well so we picked the exact spot for the exchange to happen so there wouldn’t be any confusion or time lost.
After a brief rest we turned right and rode the highway back into Ensenada. It was early afternoon when we arrived in town after a very short and smooth day of pre-running. We decided to load up and head south out of town to our rented beach house. Neither one of us knew the city well and we’re having difficulty navigating. So I pulled into a parking lot to ask directions when David and Lori happened to see us as they were returning from pre-running.
Lori, always being a prepared person, had a map, so after a quick study we realized the correct route and headed south. It was about a 30 minute drive to the house.
It was dark by the time we all regrouped at the beach house. Everyone had a good pre-run it seemed except Todd. He had somehow managed to get turned around in the mountains near Mike’s Sky Ranch and was a little lost for a while. He also ran out of gas and had to bum some from some other racers. The next several hours were spent discussing the race course and what we should expect for race day.
We all crashed pretty early because the next day would be another full day of pre-running.
Everyone woke pretty early for our second day. David and Todd headed out to their sections off of highway 3 and Eric headed south on highway 1 to ride his favorite section along the coast.
Dayton and I also headed south riding our bikes down the highway to the village of Uruapan. There was going to be a Honda pit there at the end of a pavement section. Eric would give the bike to Dayton and he would ride to the finish line. Most of this section of the course was the same as the Baja 2000 that Dayton rode but in the opposite direction.
We blasted through the village on our loud bikes, the exhaust noise reverberating off the adobe buildings. Kids ran out to wave and give us “5”. We were treated like celebrities everywhere we went. Very quickly we left a few farm fields behind and entered the hills headed east into the morning sun.
I let Dayton take the lead and set the pace, but I had no issue keeping up. I didn’t want to eat his dust so I stayed just far enough back to have clean air. The narrow dirt road that served as the race course wound through hills and valleys. It twisted this way and that. Mesquite trees, cacti, and creosote lined the road in many places. Occasionally we spotted cows or donkeys grazing on any patch of grass they could find.
We rode through a few gates that were all open. These gates were what I call “fence gates”, made from barbed wire and fence posts. About half way to Ojos we found a closed gate at the entrance to Tres Hermanos ranch. We followed the “golden rule” and closed the gate behind us. Tres Hermanos has seen more off-road races go through it that I can even begin to count. There is a “crossroads” of sort in the small valley that is used in almost every race. We turned left, to the north, toward Ojos. There were no signs, but the course markers pointed the correct way.
Thirty minutes or so later we emerged from the hills into the fertile valley of Ojos. The road improved greatly and zigzagged between a few fields. A few miles later we arrived at the pavement of highway 3. We crossed the road and followed the course through the town and out to the north. We had to stop our pre-run where the “outbound” course and the “inbound” course intersected. From here, there was about 50 miles to the finish line but it was the same course that would be used for the start. It would be extremely dangerous to pre-run in the direction we were going because the chances of a head on collision with other pre-runners was high.
So we turned right and rode the “outbound” course through the farm fields until it intersected again with highway 3. Essentially, our pre-run was over so we made our way back into Ensenada on highway 3 for some lunch.
It was around 3 pm when we arrived at the beach house. We relaxed and stared at the ocean while waiting for the others to return from their pre-runs around dark. Everyone returned to the house injury free and ready for the race.
We all decided to make the drive into town to have dinner and enjoy the night life that Ensenada has to offer.