I was pretty pleased with the results from my previous race. I continued my training and riding throughout the month of November as much as I could. However, I encountered a few changes in life that month. My grandmother passed away in Texas. My parents flew to the States from their home in Bolivia South America and arrived shortly before she passed. There wasn’t a funeral as my mom was pretty much the only family she had. My parents then came to Phoenix for a visit. I also quit my job at the machine shop and began working full time for Terry Glass at his aviation parts company called G&H Aerospace. I had been working for Terry off and on since the beginning of the summer, but due to a clash of personalities I parted ways with my other job. Terry really didn’t have a need for me at first, but after about a week we found things I could do to keep busy and benefit the company. I had been working with my roommate and after I quit working at the machine shop it quickly became apparent that I needed to move as well. So my brother met me over at the house where I rented a room and in about an hour’s time we had my meager belongings loaded in our pickups headed to his house.
Due to all these crazy changes I had not prepped my bike for the upcoming race. My sponsors hooked me up with tires again, but there were several other tasks I needed to tackle. With my new living arrangement I didn’t have a place to keep my motorcycle so Terry offered to let me keep it at his house. This was convenient for riding in the desert, but it was a 30 minute drive from my house. After work two days before I was to leave for the race I finally began prepping my bike. As I was changing my oil filter the threads for one of the bolts stripped out. I moved onto other items on my list and purchased a thread repair kit the next day. I stayed at Terry’s house until 11 pm the next night tying up the loose ends on my prep work.
My good friend Eric Brown entered in the race as well in the Open Pro class. He had raced it several times and won it at least once. We skipped work that Friday and headed down to Sonoita Mexico early that morning in Eric’s little Nissan pickup. The same pickup we had driven a year earlier to Cabo San Lucas and back. Our plan was to ride the 110 mile course the day before the race. I borrowed Terry’s Kawasaki KLR 365 so I wouldn’t put miles on my race bike. Eric was riding his Honda XR 650. We arrived at the start of the race course about 9:30 in the morning and set out. Our pre-run of the race course wasn’t exactly within the bounds of the organization’s rule book so we kept it on the down low as much as possible.
Shortly after we completed our pre-run Terry picked up Eric and I with the toy hauler at the finish line and we made our way back to the start line. Many of our friends were all camped out and we enjoyed hanging out telling racing stories and catching up. For many of us the only time we saw each other was at the races.
We woke Saturday morning to a cool clear sky. This race was about 110 miles long. The start was just south of the border town of Sonoita and the finish was on the edge of Puerto Peñasco (Rocky Point) on the Sea of Cortez. There were probably around 100 motorcycles and quads in the race. They started us off 4 bikes at a time every 30 seconds and I was starting in the second row in my class.
I hammered the throttle hard when the green flag dropped. A drag race was on between the four of us. Our highly tuned race machines roaring through the early morning desert. I got the jump on two of the bikes, but one a Yamaha like mine was hanging with me. I knew I needed to get in front of him to get dust free air so I pushed as hard as I could. We were side by side trading the lead by a few feet. A couple of miles in I had the opportunity to push him a little wide in a left hand corner and he let off the throttle for a split second. I cut through the sharp corner with precision and grabbed the biggest handful of throttle I could. The rocks and dirt were flying and my competition decided he didn’t like the face full of rocks and was not able to keep up any longer.
I continued to push hard to build a gap between myself and those behind me. About 10 miles into the race I started to catch up to the bikes that started on the row ahead of me. I didn’t technically have to finish ahead of any of these bikes as long as I finished within 30 seconds of the leader. However, I couldn’t let the leader out of my sight. I made quick work of the 4th place rider. I caught the 3rd place rider right as we entered some trees. The race course had a couple of quick turns and I found myself right behind him. I revved my engine in a corner, as was customary, to let him know I was there and planning to pass. As I did, he stalled his engine allowing me to pass without putting up a fight. The course opened back up and I was on the gas hard again. About a mile later I caught up to the 2nd place rider on a high speed stretch. I had my Yamaha’s throttle wide open, and with the way it was set up I was tearing across the desert in excess of 90 mph. I blew by the 2nd place rider so fast he didn’t even hear me coming.
At this point I knew I could back down my speed. There was a long way to go and I didn’t want to risk crashing so early in a race. To my surprise, I caught the leader within a couple of miles. I settled in behind him for a bit riding his pace. The course consisted of fairly loose pea gravel and sand. It zigzagged back and forth with very flowing turns. It was not an easy place to pass and the rider ahead was using all the course. There was also no room for error either. Both sides of the course were lined with a combination of Joshua Trees, mesquite, and arguably a dirt bike rider’s biggest fear…. Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus.
For fear of getting caught by the riders behind me I decided I needed to make a pass and get out in front. This was more and more painful as I closed the gap to the leader. His back tire was throwing the pea gravel all over me. I ducked my head as I entered a right had turn to protect my face from the flying rocks when my right hand guard came in contact with a Joshua Tree branch that protruded onto the edge of the course. The tree branch was more like a stump and did not move when I hit it. This caused my handle bars to jerk violently to the right. I jerked them back to the left, but in doing so I went straight off the left side of the race course into a 6 foot cholla cactus!
It was as if someone had hit the “slow motion” button. My front tire hit the base of the cholla with perfect accuracy. My front fender contacted it a little higher up and broke upon impact. The cacti bent over away from me and broke off, but as it was doing so a “whiplash” effect showered me with chunks of cacti!
I had chunks of cacti on the back of my hands, up both arms, across my chest, in my neck, and even a piece in my back! I dropped my motorcycle on top of what was left of the cacti. Now the problem with Teddy Bear Cholla is that there is not one millimeter of it that does not have a slim piercing thorn growing out of it. And the thorns resemble needles, which will pierce your skin more than an inch deep! With no regard for my hand I grabbed the chunk in my neck and pulled it off. Now it was stuck in my right hand.
I always carried a few tools in a fanny pack designed for racing. So I unlatched it with my left hand and pinned the strap to the ground with my knee while I struggled to unzip it with one hand. Unfortunately I did not possess the most effective tool for cholla cactus removal…a fine tooth comb! Every movement hurt unbelievably bad. To make matters worse, the bikes I had fought so hard to get ahead of were now riding by. They would see me and slow down to see if I was okay. Upon seeing me they would utter an expletive or two that I won’t repeat. I knew there was little they could do so I waved them all on.
Finally I was able to retrieve my pliers from my tool bag and started removing the chunks of cacti. One by one the other riders filed by, each one with some sort of an exclamation as to my condition. I removed my helmet and goggles so I could better see what I was doing. Another problem with Teddy Bear Cholla is that upon removal about half of the needles remain in the victim! Since I was wearing gloves, a long sleeve riding jersey, and a chest protector the remaining needles were hidden from view.
I finally rid myself of the unwanted cacti and packed up my tool bag. I put my helmet and goggles back on and retrieved my motorcycle from where it lay, leaking gas out of the carburetor the whole time. As I picked it up I surveyed the damage; a broken fender and a broken front brake lever was all I could see.
My bike fired right up after a few swift kicks of the kick starter. Unlike some of my friend’s bikes mine was always easy to start. I reentered the race course dead last. Every slower class of motorcycles had passed me and all the quads as well.
About a mile or two down the course I saw the race course mile marker that read “20”. My first pit stop was going to be at race mile 25. My bike would go about 70 miles on a tank of gas, but because the way the course was routed I would get gas at mile 25 and about mile 75. As I picked up my speed again I realized the need for a front brake was paramount. So I was forced to cruise into my pit stop. Every branch that I encountered on the way hurt badly as they pounded the cactus needles farther into my arms and shoulders.
My sponsors Terry Glass and Cuffy Crabbe and my good friend Brian VanAllen were waiting rather impatiently for me at the pits. I rolled in right on the heels of the next to last rider on the race course. I quickly explained what happened, and Terry asked if I wanted to continue. Of course I wanted to continue so Brian fueled my bike for me while I attached a small pair of vise grip pliers from my tool bag to the stub of what was my front brake lever. It still made pulling the lever awkward but it was better than not having a front brake at all. I don’t think any of them realized the reality of what was going on under my riding jersey or even believed how bad my injuries were. But I wasn’t worried about that at the time. As soon as I was satisfied with the condition of the bike I cranked it back up and sped off into the desert.
I was on a mission! I rode that Yamaha YZ400F as fast as it would go. Shortly after the pit stop the course straightened out for about 5 miles. I tucked my head down behind the handlebars like a schoolboy riding a classic banana seat Schwinn bicycle down a hill and held it wide open. I quickly began to catch up to the slower class riders and the quads. The motorcycles were not an issue, but the quads took up much more of the race course and their four wider tires kicked up a considerable amount more dust. Nevertheless, I was on fire! I blazed across the desert past the half way point of the race where the organizers had a pit stop set up at a goat ranch. They would carry gas cans out there in a pickup and riders would gas themselves there. Since I had already fueled I blazed by taking advantage of the stopped riders not making any dust for me to fight through.
Shortly after the goat ranch the race course dropped into a dry wash that split two small mountains. At times the course would exit the wash to cut off a corner or a rock pile. Usually these areas were littered with bumps and rocks as well. Where the course re-entered the wash deep “breaking bumps” would form. Breaking bumps are formed from skidding tires that begin to hop during hard breaking. The bumps become deeper and deeper with every race vehicle.
I came out of the wash at one of these places hard on the throttle. As I hit the brakes to slow I hit the breaking bumps at a slight angle. My back tire bucked violently from side to side and I was thrown from the bike. I landed flat on my back knocking the air from my lungs. I bounced a few more times and with each bounce the cactus thorns were pushed farther into my skin. Finally I came to a stop and attempted to regain my breath. After about a minute I stood to find my dirt bike nearby. Surprisingly no one else had caught up to me while I was on the ground. I picked my bike up in disgust. I couldn’t believe I had crashed a second time. I looked back at the course and really didn’t see why I crashed. After a few kicks of my starter, I was on my way again.
The course emerged from the hills and opened up shortly after. I picked my speed up once again as I made my way down to the next difficult section of race course. I followed the course markers and turned right onto what was known as “Whoopty Do Highway” For as far as I could see the course consisted of deep sand bumps also known as “whoops” These were not consistently spaced and there was no way to get a rhythm going. I pounded through the whoops standing on my foot pegs with my legs bent for what seemed like an eternity. My quads, calves, legs, and arms were screaming for relief when a rock quarry located at the end of the road came into sight.
As soon as the course smoothed out I sat down in relief. But my race was not over and I opened the throttle up down the smooth quarry road.
I rolled into my second pit where my friend Harry Nevel was waiting to gas me. I was his last “customer” of the day as all the other guys he was helping were ahead of me. After a very quick fuel stop I was on my way again. I was full of adrenaline and taking full advantage of it.
The race course was solid sand the rest of the way. Creosote bushes lined the sides. I dreaded every contact with the branches because they would send a searing pain shooting up through my arms and shoulders.
Finally I crossed the finish line doing what most would have given up on. Terry, Cuffy, and Brian beat me to the finish line. As was customary at a race like this we all stood around for a minute trading race stories. Everyone that saw my front brake lever commented on how genius my “fix” was. After a little bit we headed to the toy hauler. Brian pushed my motorcycle for me where I changed out of my riding gear.
As I removed my jersey the damage caused by the cacti was seen. I don’t really think any of them realized how bad it was, which was evidenced by the exclamations and a few expletives. I sat on the couch as Brian and Terry, with his reading glasses perched on his nose, went after the needles still stuck in me with needle nose pliers. Many of the needles had impaled my arms by more than an inch. After more than half an hour of plucking the spines, Terry and Brian were satisfied with their work and I was left to relax for a bit while the pain subsided.
Brian and Terry had both gone off to see other people leaving me alone. I became bored so I wondered back to the finish line where the results from the race results had just been posted. To my surprise, I had managed to charge all the way back up to tenth place in my class. I didn’t count how many riders I had to pass from other classes, but I managed beat 6 riders from my class. At the end of the day, with all that had happened and had been overcome I was happy with the result. More importantly, my sponsors were happy with my determination and pain tolerance.
We headed home the next day having concluded the 2001 racing season. Terry and I began to make plans for the next season. He enjoyed helping me and I greatly appreciated his help.