A quick recap; Char and I were headed down from the States into Mexico and stopped for a couple of days at the small town of San Felipe, on the Baja Peninsular. Guide books paint a grim picture to prospective tourists, and bluntly advise travellers to give this one a miss and crack on South deeper into Baja.
We stayed two months.
Soon after arriving, Char and I met a couple that live in San Felipe for a good portion of the year. Kay and Marsha have found a little chink of paradise in the form of a superb home right on the beach. They invited us into their world. Kay's world is influenced heavily by motorcycles, and an unfulfilled passion to race in the desert.
The day I met Kay, he asked me if I'd be the other half of his team for the 'San Felipe Baja 250', which really got me thinking. It didn't take long to figure out I was all over the idea.
First priority for me was to ride in the desert and see if I was anywhere close to good enough to race, and a day's riding with Kay out on the trails made me feel more confident about the undertaking.
Although I've done quite a bit of off road riding, we don't have all that many deserty sand dunes in the UK, and this was a first for me. But I loved it, and got on a bit better than I'd expected.
At this point we had almost a month until race day, and spent time practising and pre-running the course. "Whoops" were the big thing. Entirely new to me, miles of huge sandy speed bumps, many feet tall, and relentless. Stretching off into the distance in perfectly straight stretches of the track.
First we tried hitting them with everything we had, which was devastating. After a few miles we were forced to stop, ruined with exhaustion and pouring with sweat. It took days of this punishment to find that the key was taking it easier, starting with a really slow pace. This not only made them possible to ride, but also actually increased our average speed (still under 30MPH!).
Char and I went off on a holiday. Char needed a break from this life-consuming race routine, and the race was such a deviation from our Mexico plan that it was important Char also got what she needed from this chapter of the trip.
We finally met up with a fellow Brit overlander Andy, with whom we had been in contact for months but never coordinated a meet up. Andy's been on the road for two years, and it was interesting to compare notes. Andy's blog here.
Andy somehow managed to get involved with the Desert Assasins race team, and through this connection, somehow managed to hook me up with some borrowed race gear. Kind folks are motorcyclists. Big thanks to everyone that helped me out with this race, there's no way I could have done it alone.
Race weekend came around all too fast, and Friday was all about contingency and tech inspection. I still don't really know what contingency is/was, but there were vendors selling stuff and some people gave me stickers. Joe, the MD of 'Slime' kindly helped out with some puncture/tyre inflation stuff.
The town had exploded into life. I think usually this activity precedes the race by a week or two, but this year, with the global situation, it happened just before the big day. The streets were humming with obscenely powerful engines, thousands of spectators, bikes everywhere.
Many of the vehicles that were flying about were actually not directly involved in the race. The oddity was that they were all decked out with shiny high-tech gadgets and upgrades. Our bike, that was actually taking part in the event, was one of the few without a steering damper and upgraded suspension and competition exhaust.
Racing on a budget.
Amateurish is the best way to describe our attempt. Not only because of the connotations of inexperience, but also because of the academic meaning of the word. It actually refers to a person that still enjoys the activity that they take part in, as apposed to the professional that does it for reasons beyond pure pleasure.
The race numbers we bought in town didn't stick, and we secured them to the bike with scotch tape. This is our team all over: budget and making do with what we've got.
Another big supporter of team 259x, was British motorcycle luggage firm 'KRIEGA'. I got talking to Scott Conley of 'Matrix Motorsports', the US importer of Kriega gear. He was also supporting team Kreiga in this race (205x, who came 2nd in their class!), and extended his generosity to our Baja effort with some top notch hydration and luggage items. A huge thanks to Scott and Kriega, it really is as good as bike luggage gets.
Photo above left is Kay, Charlotte and I with team Kreiga (Colin, Henrik and Todd).
As the big moment approached, I actually started to feel more and more calm. It was strange being on this side of the activity. I've been to many large events like this, but never on the participation side. This time we weren't here to watch, I had a wristband that divided me from the crowd, I'm racing.
Saturday was race day, and we all needed to be up soon after 4am. Still dark as Pete's Camp comes to life around us. Kay headed to the start line alone.
Our team couldn't have been more beginner. We essentially had one pit stop that spanned two points on the course. One chase truck; Kay's beat up old Nissan, 259x scrawled into the dirt on the back window.
We both carried extra fuel; Coke bottles carried in our backpacks. We needed this to carry us the long distance between stops.
Racing with a two person team and no real support is a difficult task. Assuming you're going to have more than one changeover, the first rider effectively has to overtake the second to meet back up for the second pit stop. We managed this by choosing race-mile 100 and 205, as they are so close together, and split the 248 miles well between the two riders. As well as working within the 100 ish mile tank range of the bike. See a map of the course at the bottom of this page, link here.
Char and I leave plenty of time to drive the long dirt track from Pete's camp to our pit stop at race-mile 100. Stopping at Zoo Road we catch the first pro riders hammering along the first stretch of the course. They lead the race and are astonishingly quick. More impressive than the outright speed, is the endurance to keep up this pace for so many miles.
Happily settled into our pit stop camp, we again see the Pro riders storm past. The importance of pre-running is clear, as every pro rider takes a shortcut behind us to ride flat out across smooth clear terrain. Everyone else battles with deeper sand and whoops that sap both speed and vital energy.
Next the fastest quads appear, followed by a varied mix of different classes of bike. I gear up and we anxiously await Kay's arrival. Willing him to be OK, to make it here in one piece.
This is the first time I've worn this racing gear, and the first time I've ridden in Baja without my heavy all weather textile outfit.
Time slows as you wait for a racer to come to pit, but eventually Kay shows up on the fantastic Honda. We've said time and time again that we're not racing, we're just taking part and trying to get to the finish line in on piece. But something takes over and everything changes, I'm fizzing with adrenalin, running about at double speed, fuel bike up to the brim, helmet on, gloves, kick Honda into life and gun the throttle.
All the time Char and I had been waiting, I had been repeating our established team mantras;
"Slow is fast" "Ride to arrive" "Ride your own race, don't get sucked into bike battles with others" "To finish is to win" "Steady and smooth"
But it all goes to shit once you're on the bike.
The minute I was there, alone in my helmet, track to myself... Something takes over, and I rode harder than I ever had in pre-running. I didn't stop once during the 105 miles I was racing, this did not reflect the plan at all.
Seeing dust up ahead I close in on the first overtake. Exhausted quad rider tries to stay ahead for a while before giving up the line and I gun it past him. Second quad, even more tired and I shoot past, heart racing with the moment.
I'd expected to be battling with other racers for dust free air, moving over for trucks and motorcyclists that were way quicker than me, but I guess most of that happens in the first 100 miles. I pretty much have the course to myself for the whole of my leg.
Only two minor get-offs. First in the deep sand of Matomi Wash, then taking a sandy corner too fast at a busy spectator spot. I'd expected some kind of spectator interaction, but not the reception that I got.
Cameras out and snapping shots of the fallen racer. Girls come up and drape themselves over me and the bike, as friends get the whole thing caught on cameras. Odd, but part of the experience.
Guys offer to help start the bike, excitedly offering advice about de-compressor technique and urging support and enthusiasm.
Both Kay and I somehow manage to get lost, putting precious minutes onto our race time and using vital energy just getting back to the course. GPS leads us off-piste across ranch land and through cactus fields to the official route.
With the benefit of GPS I can keep the bike at a steady 60 on the short stretch of highway included on the course. We all carry a tracking device to allow 'Score' to check for illegal short-cuts, and for speeding on the highway.
Mile 150 to 165 are the worst of the course in my opinion, and I have just enough energy in reserve, to get me though without stopping. Almost there now.
By this time the fastest of the trophy trucks must be close on my tail. Of all the race dangers, this is the one that is feared most. The trophy truck is something that needs to be experienced up close to be understood. 800 brake horse power of solid hurting machine, a million dollars worth of vehicle designed to defy the relationship between terrain and speed. These things do 150+ on the straights, and slow for nothing. Constantly glancing over my shoulder I keep as much pace as I can muster.
Finally at race-mile 205 I summit a hill to see Char in her red dress, and I'm done. What a phenomenal experience, I am pumped. Bike up to pit and leap off with the dregs of my energy.
All over to you now buddy, 42 miles to the finish. Trophy trucks are on your ass dude, keep an eye out eh!
Char and I stay for a while to calm down a bit. 15 minutes or so after I come in, the first trophy trucks and class 1 buggies come roaring through. They really are something else.
On the way back along Morelia/Zoo road we are given the rare chance to help someone else out. On this trip we've been shown such incredible kindness and generosity, that it's a great opportinuty to be able to help someone else.
We first come across a middle aged Mexican couple on the side of the road, with not one, but two punctured tyres (tires). The gentleman had a heart condition, and they were clearly in a bit of a pickle.
But Joe, of 'Slime' puncture prevention company, had given us a load of products for just this scenario. We popped a bottle of green gloop into the least damaged tyre, and after some jiggery-pokery with compressors and jumping up and down, we're good to go. We send the couple on their way with a couple of cold cervezas and follow behind in case of further dramas.
We then come across a 2wd VW Beetle that was presumably pulling out of the race. It had become stuck in the deep sand, and twice we hitched up and towed them out of trouble.
What a day, and not over yet!
Well I guess that's about it. Results came in a few days after the race, and I was shocked firstly at how well we did (for a first race) and secondly at how few of the entries managed to finish.
Kay's more up for it than ever, there's talk of entering the Baja 500 and then the world famous 1000. He's even got this crazy Dakar idea into his head, but who knows. Anything can happen, and if I'm invited.... well, we'll see.
We ended up coming in 61st overall, out of 275 entries. This includes the trophy trucks and buggies. We came 6th in our class of 14. I am entirely happy with this, and think we did well.
There were people who swore
blind we'd never make it to the finish line, and we suceeded.
It wouldn't have been the same at all, if everyone had said it was a breeze. If no one questioned whether we could make it, it wouldn't have been half the adventure. Thank you non-believers.