Monday, January 13, 2014

The Other Side of the Peninsula, Baja Blog 5

After getting off the bike for the last time and handing it to Kelly, I noticed it was burning more and more oil.  I was concerned about the oil consumption and wanted to make sure that the other riders were checking it at every stop.  Kelly, now on his second leg, inherited a bike that was not only using lots of oil, but had a broken light bar! After fifty miles of highway with one hand on the throttle and one hand on the light bar, he finally came across a pit stop and was able to employ some Baja engineering to keep the light bar in place--lots and lots of zip ties. 

Back on the trail he was soon met by rain, vehicles going the wrong way on one-way roads, rock-throwing locals and multiple booby traps.  Unfortunately, booby traps are made by the locals so that they can create their own excitement by watching riders fail. 


Kelly eventually passed the bike to the Desert Yoda who rode like the seasoned veteran he is. Through rain and silt, he saw the first trophy trucks coming up behind him.  The trophy truck is an obstacle in itself because most of the time it is going faster than you on the bike and it wouldn’t feel very good if an 800 horsepower monster ran you over. 


Next up on the bike was Matt, who was our only rider that had not been able to pre-run his section.  For never seeing the course, he did a great job racing with trophy trucks all night, avoiding booby traps, and clearing some cactus plants along the way with his arm.  Matt completed his exhausting section and then quickly passed out on the tailgate of the chase truck. Next up was Dave; an experienced rider with multiple Baja’s under his belt.


 On the other side of the peninsula, Clint (my brother), our chase crew, and I waited around mile 800 throughout the night.  We were expecting Dave to arrive early that morning and to pass the bike to Clint for the last leg of the rest.  As dawn drew close, Clint began the process of gearing up for his ride, and since both of our tracking systems were now working only sporadically, if at all, we did not have an exact location of Dave or a good estimation of his ETA. 


Hours began to slip by with no sign of Dave and the bike.  By 8:30am a sense of dread began to set in.  We had been scanning the horizon for more than two hours. Something had had to go wrong.  At 9:15am that morning a voice came over the radio and our fears were confirmed.  


Bike 337X was out of the race. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Batteries and San Felipe, Baja Blog 4

As we headed to the next rider swap in the middle of night, the battery on the Tahoe, our chase truck, was getting weaker and weaker. I knew the alternator had to be changed but there were no towns around and we didn't have time to stop. We had to be there for Kelly when he came off the summit on his first leg.

As the lights on the Tahoe got dimmer and dimmer, we pulled up the rider change area--we had made it. Now we needed to figure out how to make it to the next rider change. I would be getting back on the bike when it got there, leaving the problem for the chase crew, Clint and Kelly.

While we waited for Kelly, first thing we did was take the battery off, grab some jumper cables and find another vehicle to start charging the battery. There were a lot of teams stationed there, but as the riders would come in they would leave. Clint spent the night and the early morning swapping our battery to different vehicles. That's one of the cool things about racing Baja--most everyone has been your shoes and is willing to help.

From where we were, it wasn't a very long drive to San Felipe, one of the only larger towns on the peninsula. If there was an alternator to be found, it was probably there. I got back on the bike and left the guys to find one. “Hope to see y’all at the next rider change.”

I was doing the San Felipe section. I had pre-run it a few days before and it had just about wiped me out. It was all about whoops--Miles and miles of whoops. It's starts of with soft sand whoops, dotted with rocks and as you go it gets harder and harder. You are riding with mountains on one side and the water on the other, and whoops in the middle. These things are not all the same; I couldn't get a rhythm going.  Some you can gas through and some I had to take slow. Maybe a way to describe them would be like semi-solid waves in the earth, unforgiving and unending.

Our Baja veteran on the team, Scott, whom we had nicknamed "The desert Yoda," told me "those whoops get progressively harder as you go, just stay steady and hope for the end.” He was correct as always.  By the time I got to the last 10 miles, the whoops were made up of just rocks, and a few nice rocky hill climbs thrown in for good measure.

I tried not to think about the guys not making it to the swap because of the alternator problems. I would be worn out but would need to keep going if they didn't make it there before I did.

As I crested that last awful hill, I saw the crew.  They had made it and I was done!!! I helped service the bike and Kelly hopped back on. I just laid down on the ground for a while.

I listened to how they had made it to San Felipe, and bought an alternator and an extra battery. Not wanting to be late for me, Clint rigged the jumper cables out of the hood of the Tahoe into the cab, and to the backup battery between the driver’s legs. They had driven to where I would come out of the whoops, and changed the alternator there. You can't make this up-- those guys are awesome!!!

With Kelly back on the bike, it was time to head to the other side of the peninsula. We loaded up and headed north were we would intercept our riders around mile 800.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Flag Drop, Baja Blog 3


As the flag dropped and I took the first sharp left, I looked down and noticed I had forgotten to turn the lights on. Not only that, but I had also forgotten to start my GPS watch so I could track my miles. Not off to a great start, but here we go.

The nights in Baja had been beautiful all week during our pre-running. Moonlit, dry and not too cold. Of course, it was not to be tonight. Pretty thick fog had rolled in with the darkness, as the moisture hung in the air.

I made my way down a few streets and dropped down into what was known as “the wash.” The wash, of course, lived up to its name and had some water in it. When I had pre-run earlier in the day I had gone around these water holes, but there was no time now, so I cracked the throttle. Following motorcycle lines, I hoped bikes that just left before me would have scouted out any booby traps locals might have set in the dark. Traps are always in your mind as you come up on larger crowds of people. Sometimes they are looking for a show and if the course is not giving it to them, they make their own.
 

Getting out of town was a nerve-wrecking experience; the first thing that comes to my mind is some kind of "spirit world" scene. Fog, darkness, dust, dogs and the campfires from locals lining the course, all combine to give you a type of sensory overload. I had to slow down, calm down, and get through without wrenching the bike.

I had a lot of light on the bike. I had so much light that when I had the high beam on and it hit the dust and fog it looked like a white curtain. I decided to keep the big light off and work my way through the darkness.

After falling on a nice little hill climb, I was starting to get in a small rhythm and repeating to my self,"Just get the bike to Kelly."

I was clear of Ensenada.

We had planned for the chase team to be at the first highway crossing to check on me as I came through. But I never saw them and they never saw me. Thankfully, the spot tracker was working at that time so they moved to the next designated rider swap spot.

The section to the rider swap was about 40 miles from the highway and I had a pit stop to breathe for a few seconds. The terrain was so much softer than when I had pre-run it earlier in the week. The big trucks and buggies had been through on their pre-runs, so I had try to go fast enough to be able to steer and stay on the top, but slow enough to not get my self in trouble. "Just get the bike to Kelly."

I made it to the rider swap and I was glad to see the chase team. Kelly Huffman was pumped and ready to go, he was going over the summit, a large task.  I killed the bike and checked the oil. Crap!! It was a little low…NOT GOOD!! I had only gone 80 miles. I added oil and told Kelly to check it again as he ripped off into the darkness.

Tim and Rafa, our northeast chase crew, and the two riders, my brother Clint and I, loaded up in the Tahoe to meet Kelly where I was going to get back on the bike.

A few miles down the road Tim looked down at the dash, the Tahoe was not charging!!! We have miles to go before the next rider swap, it's the middle of the night, and we are on a dangerous winding road. Without a properly working alternator, we will drain the battery, lose lights and eventually lose power to keep the truck running. I told him don't use the high beam, and drive faster. Tim said a prayer and we all said, “Amen!!”

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Starting Line, Baja Blog 2


I knew I was going to be by myself at the starting line. It was going to be cutting it close for the guys to get to the first rider change and also be able to stay and watch me take off, so we didn't want to take that chance. After Kelly and I went to the mandatory riders meeting; the chase crew, Clint, and Kelly made their way out of town. The other guys on our team had left hours before to start heading down south.

I got dressed in all the layers of protective gear and preceded to get the bike to the line. I got to the line and found the spot assigned for 337x. As soon as I took my helmet off, a gentlemen walk up to me out of the blue and congratulated me on my weight loss. I was kinda taken a back. I said thank you and asked him how he knew. He had read an article in some online San Diego adventure magazine. His wife took a few pictures of us and I got to tell some more of my story.... pretty cool.
That chat helped calm my nerves a bit.

Back home, a few months ago a friend hooked me up with one of his friends named Aaron from Georgia who had done the Baja a few times before. He had given me some great advice and it was just good to talk to someone who had been here and done this race. Aaron was an Ironman; he was going to do this race by himself!!!!

Holy crap, I couldn't even fathom what it would taketo even attempt that. We had never met face to face and as I stood there by my bike; he walked up and introduced himself. The only other guy I knew doing this race and he was in his spot…lined up right behind me. We talked as some of the first bikes left the line.
That also helped calm my nerves a bit.

A few minutes later a couple of friends of some of my teammates showed up and asked how I was doing and if I needed anything. I looked down and noticed I had forgotten to bring a small towel to wipe my goggles off. They jumped in and helped by going and buying small kids t-shirt for me. I jammed the pink tee in my jacket pocket.
That helped calm my nerves a bit.
 
Now I was up on the podium, the bike underneath me and a microphone jammed in my helmet. All those things I had planned on saying at that moment left me, as I stumbled over my words forgetting to mention some of my teammates, sponsors and causes. All I remember saying is "this is a dream come true." I rolled down the podium to the start line..."One minute," the official told me. 
That did not help calm my nerves one bit. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pre-Running, Baja Blog 1



Bro Clint helping keep my neck safe
When you race the Baja you get to check out the course. You can study the terrain, pick out direction markers, and try to make mental notes as hazards fly by. There is really no way to memorize your section in a few days, but the pre-run was a big help. The guys that are really good at this sometimes have been down here for months.







I didn't really know what to expect. We all loaded up on Sunday morning from the campsite in Ensenada and began our first pre-run about 20 miles outside of town off Hwy 3. We pulled the bike out of the trailer and got her going. The bike I was using we had nicknamed "The Blob" because of the large fuel tank we would need to get the miles in without pit service.

I headed down this fast dirt road for 5 or 6 miles and felt pretty good, thinking "this ain't so bad" and then…it got bad. The road ended and dropped into some pretty narrow soft sand with not much room for making a mistake. Rocks kept popping up here and there; I tried to stay calm and just stay steady. The people that are good at this are probably going twice as fast as me, but haven't seen anyone behind me yet. About that time and trail opens back up and I get to go a little faster. Not a lot of elevation change, but some. Mainly soft sand, some whoops, but this stuff is tough. I make it back to the highway where Scott, our Baja veteran who was nicknamed "Desert Yoda", is waiting for me. My time sucks but I made it through my first section.


Made it through my pre-run
Scott and I load the bike up and head down the highway to where my brother Clint is going to come out when he is done with his section. As we wait for a while, a local guy from a pit company is there with a trashed out VW bug begins to talk our ears off. As we waited for Clint that little dude talked and talked.  Our only reprieve was when another racers would come by and he would stop to talk to them.

Clint finally showed up and I decided to ride the next part of his section with him. Felt a bit like mine but more hill climbing. It's a tough section and he will probably be doing it at night. It was good to ride with him, always good to pre-run with another person.

We came across a guy in a bronco who has hit a huge rock that looks like a seal sticking up out of the sand. The dude in the bronco probably never saw it coming. We pop back out to the highway. Clint found the guy’s Chase crew and let them know where their buddy was.

I headed down and did my first section again. Thinking I could knock some time off since I had done it already. But, I was slower the second time...Maybe because I was getting a little tired.

We packed up and headed towards San Felipe where we would start pre-running again the next day. When we got there, the guys had already set up camp. New charge of this campground was the side of the highway, and right next to the racecourse. Clint cooked up some killer soup and I was out as soon as my head at the pillow.

Resting
The next morning I would be the only one pre-running and I would be doing the San Felipe “whoops.” Whoops look like waves in the ground; some small and some very large. Most are littered with rocks, and some are made of just rocks. It never failed that whomever I'd talk to back in Texas about Baja that they’d always refer to this section as brutal---Miles and miles and miles of whoops. With numb hands and worn out legs I made it to the end.

My last day of pre-running was actually the morning of the race. They opened up the first 30 miles so we could see how to get out and back into Ensenada. I did it with Clint. One of the cool things about that morning was seeing all the kids lined up on the streets out there cheering us on, getting us ready for the race.