The El Rosario Bridge, where I last saw my van, was at mile 250. I was almost 1/3 done! On the course, there are markers every 5 miles telling you the mileage. You bet I’d be doing some math in my helmet. What percentage done I was, what percentage until I saw my van again.
I pulled up on a motorcycle that had just crashed in front of me – 211x. He was standing on one leg next to his bike holding it up. “Are you ok?” I asked. He just pointed down to his knee. He couldn’t put weight on it. “Are you ok?” I yelled over my engine again. We both had mirrored goggles on and couldn’t see each other’s eyes. He just pointed down. He didn’t speak English. There were riders from 18 countries. I saw his shifter was bent and pointing straight out from his bike. There was nothing I could do. I told him I’d report it at the next pit where they had radios to get the word out to his crew.
Ahead, Tanner was battling through his own race. He battled the dust, the terrain, other riders, and pain – especially in his hands. He went off course a bit, and it almost ended his race in disaster. He was approaching a drop in elevation, and skidded to a stop to find it was eight feet straight down. It was the wall of a wash, or dried riverbed. I saw this on the helmet camera footage later. He stopped 12” from the edge. In pre-running, I dropped off a five-foot cliff and saved a crash, but an eight-foot drop when you are slowing down would likely have you landing on your head and the bike right behind to pile drive you into the hot sand.
My leg was another short one – 42 miles. The intervals to see your crew during the race are determined by where the course crosses or touches a paved road. There are only a few paved roads in Baja – one on the Pacific side (Route 1), one on the Sea of Cortez side (Route 5), and one across the middle connecting them (Route 3). If you got to see your crew, you take the opportunity.
There was a part of the course called the “bow tie.” The course came into a point and turned 90 degrees right. It made a big 100 mile long loop and came back into the same point, as if the course would cross itself, but instead turned right without crossing. It made the shape of a bowtie, or like the waist of an hourglass. I got to the bowtie where the Baja pit was. The next 6 miles were fun, easy sweeping roads. I’d love to make miles that don’t beat me up. It was a relief from some of the silt and terrain that was behind me. Unfortunately, I was beginning to realize I had a problem. My neck was not just sore. It was… I tried to ignore it.
I pulled out near the road at mile 292, happy again to see my crew so soon. They massaged my neck, shoulders and arms. It felt great. I knew this was making a big difference. When you stay in the same position with strenuous limited range of motion, eventually you lock up in pain. These massages were helping a lot.
The next leg would be the hardest for me. 125 miles of mostly rocks. It would get dark. It would take five hours or more. Javier and Brian mounted the dual LED headlights on the bike and battery back-up lights on my helmet. Wires came off my helmet to the battery packs in my backpack. I put flashlights in my pack and layered up for the colder temperatures that come as soon as the sun goes down. I had to eat, and I choked down more than I really wanted, because I knew I’d need the calories.
A helicopter approached. Bop bop bop bop. The crew next to us had the Trophy Truck radio communication blasting through speakers. When the truck navigator talked, you could hear the roar of the truck engine. The dragons were coming now. The race was about to change again.
A Trophy Truck roared out of the desert right past us, filling the air with violence and dust. Another followed a minute later. These were the overall race leaders, and helicopters covering the action chased their dust trails through the desert to follow it. By the time I got going again, two more trucks came by, with all the mayhem they produce. “That’s four trucks you won’t have to worry about,” Ralph said. He was right. Only 130 left to pass me. Gulp.
I thanked my crew, and remounted. I knew this leg would bring “the wall.”