by Bob Waitz
We join the story as Bob and Marty wait for co-rider Dick.
We had a message from him at 1:30 that he was having trouble restarting the bike but hadn’t heard from him since. Ed and Randy watched the start to make sure Dick got going and then drove down to meet us. They arrived around 3 and gave us the details of the delayed start.
Since all we had to do was wait and most of the Honda bikes had come through the pit, we chatted with the crew and people waiting for other riders or drivers to come by. Patty Moore, who we’d seen in Ensenada at the Honda camp was waiting for her boyfriend Chris on the 5X. We later found he had equipment trouble. He broke a footpeg which allowed the kickstarter to over-rotate and break a spring. He was out. We also met Brad Little, one of the pit crew and it turned out we grew up only a couple of miles apart in South Jersey. Maybe I knew his brother Joe who was there watching. Knew him? I wrestled against him twice in 8th grade when we both weighed 88 pounds! (He kicked my ass both times). And another pit crew member had married Mary Townsend, the girl who sat in front of me in Geometry class. What a small world. So we had plenty to talk about while we waited, and waited and waited.
Now it was getting dark and there was still no word from Dick.
Finally, at 10PM (4-6 hours after Dick was due in), we decided to give it up. We drove back 10 miles to the Yokahama pit where I borrowed a radio to communicate with “The Weatherman.” This is a guy who flies around in a plane and because he is up so high, he can communicate with all the checkpoints. By now it was almost 11:00 PM.
Me: Weatherman, this is 271 x-ray chase do you copy?
Weatherman: 271 x-ray chase, go ahead.
Me: Do you have any information on 271 x-ray’s whereabouts?
Weatherman: 271 x-ray chase, stand by
Weatherman: 271 x-ray passed checkpoint 5 at 5:27PM
Me: 271 x-ray chase here. Thanks for the info.
Checkpoint 5 was the closest one to our location so we were pretty worried since he hadn’t been heard from in about 6 hours… We started trying out excuses like, “Dick? What do you mean he never came back?” or “Dick never went to Mexico with us! I don’t know what you’re talking about!” So as we’re standing around wondering what to do, he comes chugging up the path! I’m not sure who was happier, Dick or us. He had had quite a rough time, including riding the last 100 miles on a flat front tire with a bent rim, but was completely unharmed aside from having a sore butt that lasted a week.
We looked the bike over. The front tire was flat and had 8 spokes pulled out. The pits were closing in front of us, which was why Dick hadn’t been able to get a new wheel. Ed and Randy drove back to the Honda pit to see if anyone was still there but they were gone. The pit we were at would close in a couple of hours when the last two trucks on the course came through. Well, we didn’t come 3000 miles to quit this early so we yanked the front wheel off, found the 8 missing nipples mingled in the shredded Moose insert, screwed and trued the wheel up in about 30 minutes then put a new tube and tire on. While we were working on the front wheel, Bruce Meyers wandered by. THE Bruce Meyers who invented the dune buggy! I told him that to psych myself up for the race I watched a video of him &endash; the 1968 Baja Desert Classic. “You mean the one I almost died in?” (Bruce crashed his dune buggy broke both his legs) “Yeah….but when they showed you lying under the towel I fast-forwarded the tape so my wife wouldn’t get upset.” I finished getting on the riding gear and we were back in business and I hopped on and headed down the trail to choruses of, “NO! THAT WAY!”
Everything ahead of me was closed so I bummed gas wherever I could and rode as fast as I dared. Since we were pretty far behind at that point, most of the pits with people left in them were more than happy to help. I fell off a lot. I’m not good at sand so it really was a learn-as-you-go ride for me. It was dark but there was a nearly full moon. Sometimes I could see a lot, other times I could only see what was directly in front of me. I think I was only able to do what I did because I couldn’t see what was going on. There were a lot of curving mountain roads with 300 foot drop offs. I could have never gone fast up and down that stuff if I could see the danger. Everywhere there was evidence of the race. I passed lots of parts you’d think a car just couldn’t run without — like 3-foot long shock absorbers just lying there next to the road. I passed cars on their sides. I passed a buggy with its wheel ripped off. I saw race trucks deep in ravines. I never saw any snakes other animals outside of the occasional wandering cow. And as I climbed up into the mountains I began to get very cold.
I passed lots of little camps where people were watching the race from. I passed several pits, mainly non-Honda and finally stopped in a really big one that was supporting Trucks. It was closed for the night but some of the guys were still moving around. They were from a dirt-riding club based in California &endash; but I lost their info so I can’t thank them properly. They stoked up the fire, pour some coffee in me, and gave me a piece of cardboard to put under my chest protector to ward off the cold. I rode on, and on, up and down and up and down and finally it started to get a little lighter out. When that sun came up and I could see the gulf, I want to tell you it was a gift from God. The going was still rough but there was a light at the end of the tunnel. At a remote Honda pit that still had someone hanging around I showed them the front wheel and they declared it a fine job of wheel building Thanks, Randy!
I wasn’t falling down as often but there were still good ones. I got taken right off the bike by a cactus arm when I went a little wide on a turn. I picked more spines and needles out me than I care to think about. The ruts in the sandy road were also treacherous. Just when I’d think to myself, “Wait’ll I tell Dan at work about THIS” the ruts would cross me up and I’d auger in.
The plan was for us all to meet in San Ignacio where Marty would take over. About 7:30 AM the real trouble started for us. Ed and Randy’s minivan , left the road just outside of San Ignacio. Luckily neither one of them was hurt but the van was a total loss. Randy refers to it as, “the day my father tried to kill me.”
That is why you buy special auto insurance when you go to Mexico.
About 8:30, just 10 miles from the end of my leg and only 3 miles from a road access point I went down on a trail made up of rocks from the size of your fist to the size of soccer balls. Squared-off soccer balls. I broke my helmet and my back protector and took a nasty hammer-like blow in the ribs below my right shoulder blade. I wasn’t strong enough to restart the bike so I called in to see where everyone was and see if I could get a little help. They were in the process of righting the minivan and transferring all of Ed and Randy’s gear to the trailer. We decided to give it up at that point but it really wasn’t any issue any more since the checkpoints were closing ahead of us. In other circumstances we could have probably gotten me out of the desert in an hour or two and continued on.
As it was in the desert for about 4 hours. A trophy truck came up behind me and the co-driver helped me move the bike off the course. There was nowhere for me to ride with them so they went on ahead and reported my whereabouts. I decided to try to walk in but after about 3 really tough miles I still couldn’t see where the course exited the desert so I sat down to wait. The only scary part was while sitting there I started to hear this buzzing. I thought it was a dune buggy coming through so I jumped up. It was, in fact, a swarm of bees. And I want to tell you, it was JUST like in the cartoons: a black, undulating mass of dots and the buzzing was REALLY loud. They passed within about 50 feet of me. Thousands of them. There was no place to run or hide. I’m glad they missed me.
Finally a couple of trucks and a bike came by. Tony Zavalla , Pete Hardy, John Kaisersatt, and John’s dad came down from the Santa Barbara and his friends who had come down to ride parts of the course ahead of the race. After the race passed by they were out running the course again when they came across my bike then me. They drove me out to the place where I met up with Marty, Dick, Ed, Randy, and Gary. A fellow down from Pennsylvania who heard from the truck I saw rode the bike out of the desert for us.
It took a lot of repacking (Dick is the master) to get the bike on and all of us in the truck and I don’t remember much of it because I had been awake for 36 hours at this point. I nodded off and the next thing I know, Ed, Randy, and Gary are getting out and unloading their stuff. They would stop in a motel near San Ignacio and take a bus back to California the next day. We continued north and spent the night near where we had waited for Dick before returning to California and eventually Minnesota. During the 3 days it took to drive home we talked about the mistakes we had made and what we would change next time:
We didn’t gain intimate knowledge of the bike: Heck, due to our short timeframe we could hardly start the damn thing until the day before the race. You need to be able to start your bike first or second kick under every possible condition. Our larger fuel tank made the bike more prone to flooding which made restarting very difficult for us &endash; we never did get the exact drill down. In addition to having both the warm and cold starting drill down pat, you should be able to restart your bike after it has gotten warmed up then shut off and lain on its side for 2 minutes with a full tank and the fuel taps on. It is critical that you be able to restart the bike in these circumstances. And I understand practicing helps. I don’t have any direct experience in this matter as I’ve never practiced, but they say it’s a good thing.
Poor sleep time management: By staying the night in Ensenada, Marty and I lost a lot of sleep. Instead of getting up at 3:00 AM and driving 200 miles to the rendezvous point, we should have driven down the night before and gotten a room near there. Since we didn’t expect Dick before 4 PM, we could have slept until noon. This cost us nine hours of sleep that we really needed later. Ed and Randy fared even worse, waiting with Dick for the start of the race then hot-footing it down to where we were. Ultimately our poor logistics in this area was to lead to the van accident that sent Ed and Randy home in a bus (and keep in mind that was a bus in Mexico).
Asking too much of the first rider: Dick had to ride the first 337 miles without a break. This was just too much. Unless you are a pro rider with a factory ride, 200 miles should be the most you ride in one stretch. San Filipe, while attractive, probably isn’t the place. The problem is that to get to La Paz from San Filipe requires driving back to Ensenada on surface roads. The course changes every year. There are other road access points to the course, the trick will be to find one that gets you back to highway 1.
The winning teams use three riders. Unless you are good enough to ride for Team Honda, use 4 or 5. And per item 2, send them down a day ahead.
Generally we were happy with the changes we made to the bike. The wider footpegs worked great and were very strong. The steering damper was essential. There’s always rocks trying the wrest the bars from your hands. The large fuel tank worked great and the big lights lit up the night. Nearly everyone ran aluminum bash plates and if you look at ours you’ll see the abuse it took. The one exception was team Honda! Their bikes used the stock plastic item and even they guys in the pits couldn’t decide which was better.
Now, several months later, the aches have faded but the excitement is still there. We’re planning to try again in 2004. The race, while challenging, is doable. We all had a really great time and hope that our experiences will inspire other riders from Minnesota to head down there. In fact, if a couple of teams cooperated with rider changes and chase vehicles, they could probably do pretty well. One other thing, we are going back in 2004 what are you doing?
Thanks again to: Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, the members of PromiseBreakers and Team Strange who were far too generous; Mark Foster and the guys at Moon; www.WillOutlaw.com, Dan Cunningham; Bruce Ogilvie and Johnny Campbell; Tony Zavalla and the guys who extracted me from the desert; Ed, Randy, and Gary; and our wives who let us go.