Less than an hour after I rolled in to mile 480, I rolled out at 11:35 pm. I put cold weather riding gloves on. I wish I had put them on 100 miles ago. They were insulated, but were harder to operate the levers with. Now I had to face…
“Life is easy when you live it the hard way. And hard when you live it the easy way.” Being the end of a 100 mile stretch of wilderness, every chase team was here at mile 480 to meet their race vehicle. We called the place “Pit City”. It…
“You can waste your life drawing lines, or you can live your life crossing them.” – Shonda Rimes Your mind changes your body, and your body changes your mind. During the past year when I was sick or injured or sleep deprived, I had trouble believing I could finish this…
“A fall from the third floor hurts as much as a fall from the 100th. If I have to fall, may it be from a high place.” – Paulo Coelho It was silt. Deep and wide. It wasn’t there when we pre-ran – not here. When I came through the…
I pulled out of the pit from Gonzaga Bay headed to my next goal – 389 before dark. The course snaked down from Ensenada along the east coast, and now it would begin to cross over to the west coast and back up the Pacific Ocean side to make a…
Before the deed comes the thought. Before the achievement comes the dream. Every mountain we climb, we first climb in our mind. – Royal Robbins The Mexican Federal Police put a sportsman team together for the race. I sponsored all three teams Chris Haines had in the race –…
From mile 280 I headed south to get to my next goal. Make mile 380 by dark. Better yet, if I could get to 415 by then I could get past some bad silt and a gnarly rocky hill climb by then. Hopefully, I could stay ahead of the race trucks coming through…
“When you start relaxing your grip on your permanent identity and see you can be anyone, who you want to be will become more important than who you are. That will be a big moment in your life.” – Steve Chandler Two years earlier I had hurt my neck badly…
“When you are inspired, dormant faculties and talents come alive” – Wayne Dyer I pulled up to the chase team at mile 135 and called an audible. Yes, I changed the plan on the fly. It had only been 30 minutes since I saw them last, and I was…
I had a plan. I was starting last in my class today. I’d stay close behind the rider in front of me and wait for a mistake and make my move. Well, that plan was out the window one minute into the race. It was so foggy you couldn’t see…
Chapter Fifteen – Fight for it
Less than an hour after I rolled in to mile 480, I rolled out at 11:35 pm. I put cold weather riding gloves on. I wish I had put them on 100 miles ago. They were insulated, but were harder to operate the levers with.
Now I had to face the next section. It was 58 miles, and I knew there was silt in it. Again it was not there when we pre-ran, but I could see lots of areas where it would be. I could recognize silt in it’s baked form. After a racing season of pulverizing silt into flour, at some point in the year the rains would come and saturate it. Then it would dry into a hard crust. I pre-run three weeks before the race and it’s mostly hard still. Everyone else pre-runs it after me and come race time again, it was back to flour. Every race truck or buggy that goes past me makes it even worse by the time I get there.
I had no idea it would take me three hours and forty-five minutes to go 58 miles. It was unexpected hell. I am glad I didn’t know how bad it would be. If I had, I’d have had a hard time not worrying about it. Ignorance is bliss.
I came around a turn and saw lights ahead. There were three race buggies stuck in the silt in a row. Even they could not turn out of the deep ruts to avoid it. The navigators were out and jacking the back of the two wheel drive buggies up and putting boards they carried under the tires. But they’d go three feet and get stuck again. After a race the locals would walk sections of the track to look for things left behind. They’d find dozens of these special made boards in the silt.
I managed to get off the course and go around the stuck buggies. Jose Carrasco was not as lucky. He was a Baja racing champion and won in the Ironman class one year. He had a brand new bike this year, but it got stuck in the silt. Jose is a local guy who rides and races there all the time. His dot wasn’t moving on the tracking map so they sent a medic in on another motorcycle to see if he was ok. Jose had a choice – ride out with the medic or sleep in the desert. He left his bike stuck there and it took them hours to ride out.
Kevin Daniels is a great rider. He has done well in the Baja 500 and San Felipe 250. But he is 0 for 3 in the Baja 1000. Would I be 0 for 3 too? Sections like this would determine if that was my fate.
Boe Huckins won the Baja 1000 Ironman a few years ago. He also did not finish another year. He wouldn’t finish this year either. No matter how fast or skilled you are, Baja is an equal opportunity punisher.
This hell had beat me the last two years.
I was still fighting.
“Life is easy when you live it the hard way. And hard when you live it the easy way.”
Being the end of a 100 mile stretch of wilderness, every chase team was here at mile 480 to meet their race vehicle. We called the place “Pit City”. It looked completely different at night. I spied the Baja Pit and pulled in to fuel up. Javier and Victor appeared from the dark and told me what direction the chase trucks were. I rolled in and they took the bike from me. I was frozen.
All the teams had fires going. Oscar told me before the race that if I wanted to finish, I should take a rest here. It was my plan to take 45 minutes here. Victor had the van heat on high. I must have been 85 degrees in there. Kevin had emptied the back of the van and slung a hammock in the back. I had never seen such a thing. He had a pillow and a blanket.
My hands weren’t working. They took my boots off, which was unexpected but welcomed. I climbed into the hammock and Kevin put the blanket on me. I was shaking with cold. The heat felt good. I told them to wake me up in 30 minutes. No more.
For 30 minutes I shook. I was far colder than I knew. If I had gone on I would have been in serious trouble. Finally I stopped shaking as the cold left my body. They opened the door. No sleep. But it was ok. The value in a few minutes sleep is not the sleep itself, but letting your body just relax and reset. Everything that was in spasm or cramp mode can release a bit.
I felt better being warm and slid to the edge of the van where I put my boots back on with some assistance from Bobby and Kevin. I walked over to their fire and we shared what I remember as a cherished few minutes. I ate something they had for me – I can’t remember what it was but it was so good at that moment. There was a cactus burning in the fire. I wished I could hang out there for a while, but that was not going to happen.
The was the Baja 1000 Ironman. I was 19 hours in. It was up to me.
Chapter Fourteen – No pressure, no diamond
“You can waste your life drawing lines, or you can live your life crossing them.” – Shonda Rimes
Your mind changes your body, and your body changes your mind. During the past year when I was sick or injured or sleep deprived, I had trouble believing I could finish this race. But when I felt good, I thought I could do it easily. That was my body telling my mind what was possible. Now my mind was telling my body what was possible, and trying to override it’s protests – successfully for now.
I was at mile 401, 15 hours into the race. The silt patches were deep. I tried to go around where I could, but so did everyone else. The problem is you couldn’t get off the course to go around in most places because of dense fields of cactus, thorny plants, boulders and topography.
The course improved some and I was going along at about 25 miles per hour now– an improvement. Race trucks came through every few minutes to refill the air with bits of earth. I heard there was bad silt at mile 403 – two miles ahead. They didn’t say anything about the hell I had been through already. I started to think that maybe they were off on what mile the crap was; that I had been through the “bad silt” already and a few miles ahead I would not find any more deep stuff.
False. 403 was another horror show. I had to lift my legs up, wearing riding boots mind you, so my feet didn’t drag in the silt. In places the ground level on the side of me was up above the seat from years of racing this route and the ruts that developed. Those ruts had more than a foot of silt in the bottom of them. It was a slot a motorcycle could not get out of by turning. The only way out was straight through.
Joe Desena, the founder of Spartan Race talks about “obstacle immunity”. You push through obstacles that would have stopped you before without much mental anguish. You see an obstacle, you tackle it with whatever action is required, and you move on. This is good training for life. When you have big goals you get big challenges. Little goals – little challenges. No goals, no challenges. So to make any noteworthy progress, obstacle immunity is a valuable attitude to develop.
I see strange lights on the landscape in front of me. I wonder what is happening. They come and go. They get more pronounced and brighter. Of course, it’s a race truck approaching from behind me. I have time to find a spot to get off the course between a cactus and other obstacles, jumping a rocky berm to accomplish it. The truck goes by. I can’t see. I wait. I can’t see. I wait more. I try to go forward at walking speed with my feet out to feel the ground under me as I can only see five feet with my headlights illuminating the dust. I stop and wait more.
Visibility is so slow to improve. I have to get out of here. I try to go forward, duck paddling some more, perhaps breaking my own rule of not riding where I can’t see – but I am going two miles an hour – a crash at this speed can’t be very catastrophic. The course rises uphill, and just like that, I can see again. In the low areas, there is more silt and no wind. In the higher areas there are more rocks, less dust and just a hint of a breeze.
My progress is so slow. There is nothing I can do. It’s not a question of courage or physical output. It’s a lack of visual information to my brain. All I can do is do the best I can in this moment. Excellence is the next two minutes – it’s the next 100 yards. It’s doing my best now, whatever the conditions, that makes the section after that possible.
It’s cold. I can only see in black and white, and only what is in front of me. The terrain to the sides does not reveal itself to me – a mystery. My choices for when to get off the course and go around silt are a crap shoot.
415 is coming. A big steep hill climb with loose rocks and boulders. The ground will fall very steep down to the left, and nearly vertical to the right. It’s really “off camber”. This means it slopes side to side under my wheels and with wheel spin, your rear end will slide downhill.
In the dark, without warning, all of a sudden I’m going sharply up. This is it. Call on the Honda horsepower – twist the throttle and don’t stop. Bounces off rocks change my trajectory but I keep it pointed uphill. You could easily bounce right off the cliff here.
I get to the top. Whoops, that’s not the top, there’s more. Finally. That hill climb was a landmark obstacle. It’s past me now. Mile 405 in an 806 mile race. I’m over halfway home.
From my recollection and notes from pre-running I know the course is rocky for another five miles and then improves considerably and turns into a fast sweeping sand road. But that was before hundreds, maybe thousands of passes from pre-running race vehicles. Now the easy part I was hoping for was only there in remnants.
At higher elevation, it was notably colder. Combine that with my faster speed and the 40-degree atmosphere was penetrating me now. Exposed and open to the wind on a dirt bike, cold can end your race and leave you on the side of the course shaking, unable to function.
My fingers were going numb. Twenty-five more miles and the worst part of the course would be over. Wouldn’t it? This 100 miles in the dust and cold night was the longest stretch of the course without seeing my team. I could not feel my fingers now. Every bump caused pain in my hands.
I am very worried about my hands. It was bad enough that a few minutes trying to warm them wasn’t going to do the trick.
Lights ahead. Mercy.
Chapter Thirteen – Hounds
“A fall from the third floor hurts as much as a fall from the 100th. If I have to fall, may it be from a high place.” – Paulo Coelho
It was silt. Deep and wide. It wasn’t there when we pre-ran – not here. When I came through the fence and saw it I was shocked. It looked like a minefield; like a scene from a long war. Race vehicles had tried to avoid it during pre-running so they went to the left or right until those lines were destroyed. They went wider and wider until it became an ocean of silt.
Picture baby powder a 16” deep. Under that baby powder are ruts in the harder substrate you can’t see. Now ride a motorcycle in it. Your eyes see one surface, but the bottom of your tires see a completely different one.
My mind and body were counting on going strait, but the bike followed a rut to the right. Down I went in the silt. One good thing is landing in it is mostly a soft landing unless you get tangled up with the hard parts of your bike. You look like a powdered donut getting up. Hopefully your bike didn’t inhale so much silt and clog your air filter and stall out.
Two locals ran out to help me. There were big crowds watching this silt field because it was right alongside the road where everyone was pitting and there was good access. They told me to go left. I did because staying on course was not an option. The alternate route was horribly chewed up also. I picked through bushes and silty mounds and rocks. Without me noticing the change, it got dark suddenly and my headlights were cutting through pitch black night. I knew I had 13 hours of darkness to deal with starting now.
I was picking through wondering “if this is what the route around the silt looks like, I can’t imagine how bad the course line was”. I was going maybe ten miles an hour. I had to get out of this. I wondered how far to the right the course was. I looked at my GPS and whenever I saw an opening between the brush and rocks that went right, I took it. Eventually I figured I’d find the course again.
Suddenly a hear a roar to my right. It was 900 horsepower bombing through the silt and making it ever deeper. I guess the trucks were not 89 miles behind me after all. Here they were. I knew what this meant. That truck was the leader in a parade of them. In my experience, in general the first 30 to pass me would be very aggressive. Then they’d keep coming in a steady stream of violent dusty interruptions to my race plan.
I popped out of the wild onto the course. It was silty ruts – a bikers least favorite terrain. It’s not so much you couldn’t twist the throttle and make it through – it was keeping your balance while you were in it that was the problem. I couldn’t see well. The dust hanging in the still air illuminated by my headlights was a problem. And I knew it would be all night. I prayed for wind, but the wind never came.
I had three headlight switches. One high beam quad LED cluster which I shut off. One low beam cluster with a yellow lens – this was the best for the dust. Finally there was one small LED strip to fill in close.
The silt yielded to a bit easier going. Oh wait, no…it’s back. Damn. I see headlights coming up behind me. I try to find a spot to pull over, but I’m in a deep rut and there are berms on both sides. I scurry ahead looking for a place to get out of the way. As he passes I’m blinded by dust. Once the wind of his machine is gone, it just floats there in front of me – designed to frustrate. I wait. I proceed very slowly, but prematurely. I stop and wait another 30 seconds. I try again. This would go on most of the night.
When you can’t see, it’s not a matter of “toughing it out” or “digging deep”. You can’t see! I had made up my mind not to ride where I cold not see. I was experienced in this way. But you can’t finish a race when you are not moving. I knew that this was the worst race conditions I would see. To survive “the parade” (of trucks coming through) was the price I must pay for clear air later. I knew it was coming but did it have to begin just as night did?
It was a path I had chosen, and I could not complain.
“Action illuminates the next step”
Chapter Twelve – Down
I pulled out of the pit from Gonzaga Bay headed to my next goal – 389 before dark. The course snaked down from Ensenada along the east coast, and now it would begin to cross over to the west coast and back up the Pacific Ocean side to make a big snaky oblong loop back to the starting line, which would now be the finish line. I only hoped I could see it.
The desert landscape is a wonder to behold. There is no greater way to see more of it than this. At unpredictable intervals the sand would change, the rocks would change, the vegetation would change. And so would the course.
You’d be dodging coconut size rocks scattered in deep sand for a few minutes, and then be on a wash-boarded hard dirt road. Then you’d be in sweeping rutted turns for a few minutes and then hit a patch of silt – like riding through flour of various depths. There were a few stretches of dry lake beds – smooth as a tabletop. I’d twist the throttle open but not quite all the way lest I take a chance of blowing up the engine. Then the course would likely punish you with technical whoops where 20 mph would take great effort and skill. Such is the way of Baja.
The sun was getting very low and I needed to make it to mile 389 by the time it disappeared. I rode through a mining area with giant earth moving equipment strewn about. The course was such a pleasure here when I pre-ran it. No more. Now the dirt was pulverized off the course by high speed tire traffic, leaving the convex tops of all the rocks to produce chop and vibration though my handlebars. Preserving my hands was always a priority. I loosened my fingers around my foam handgrips.
I rolled in through a physical checkpoint where you come to a complete stop. They write your race number down and give you the green flag. I came out to the pavement, took a left and looked for a big yellow sign saying 714x among the hundreds of chase teams meeting their race vehicle here. They had to rendezvous here – the racers had to endure the next section of 100 miles of crap and hell before they could see their chase truck again.
I had not seen any race trucks yet, but I knew they should be getting closer. They released them onto the course five hours after the motorcycles. Truck chase teams had eighteen wheeler support vehicles and sometimes 80 men on their teams. This was serious business.
I saw my sign and they directed me to the truck just past where the course turned back into the desert. It was a happy time for me. I made my goal of 389 before dark. To be honest, I made a miscalculation and thought dark was at 6:00 pm. Well, it got dark at five. A happy mistake – I was one hour ahead of my plan.
There was a lot to do. Get me ready for dark and cold, and check the bike over. We put a new tire on the rear. The team was encouraged to see me and I was encouraged to see them. They said that they were all expecting me to break down and be half dead at some point. But I’d come into the pit with energy and in good spirits, and this was such good news to them. Thirteen hours into the race now, they fed off my good condition and I was bolstered by them.
They told me there was an accident on the starting line and they had to hold up the start of the race trucks. Apparently, a Monster Energy girl – a model hired for the fanfare of the start, got tangled up in the 40″ wheel of a race truck. She was in critical condition. I only found this out later.
Each year they make more and more rules to make the race safer. I am sure they will have this one covered next year.
My team told me the lead truck was 89 miles behind me. I thought I’d have a chance to get through a bunch of silt and to the hill climb at 415 before I had to deal with pulling over for them and waiting for their dust to clear. This was very good news for me.
It was “hurry up offense”. I drank Chia and crammed down some food. I knew this next section would be my test – a long test. My team filled me with encouragement. I remounted and rolled back out to the course. I accelerated strong through the gap in the fence and onto the course.
I couldn’t believe what I saw. In 30 seconds I was down.
“Whatever you do, do not doubt my presence.”
Before the deed comes the thought. Before the achievement comes the dream. Every mountain we climb, we first climb in our mind. – Royal Robbins
The Mexican Federal Police put a sportsman team together for the race. I sponsored all three teams Chris Haines had in the race – 1x, 714x, and 286x. They finished second last year and were trying to win. Roy, the head of the police for all of Baja we very appreciative. He told me his commanding officer in Mexico City thanks me, and gave me a special keychain with a badge on it. I guess if I ever get in trouble in Mexico for transgressions real or imagined, I can call Roy.
Does it matter who you know? Uhhh – yea! Will I ever need to call Roy? I hope not. But that’s how you network with others. You give first – hopefully with no other motive. Create value for others by giving them information, assistance, introductions, or resources. If and when you need something, you’ll have many people to go to for help.
The police had a big cookout for all three Contractor Nation teams a few days before the race in the parking lot across from the San Nicolas Hotel where we set up camp before the race. We all had something in common here and were all pulling for each other.
The Baja 1000, like any great endeavor, was pulling people together.
Chapter Eleven – In Pursuit
From mile 280 I headed south to get to my next goal. Make mile 380 by dark. Better yet, if I could get to 415 by then I could get past some bad silt and a gnarly rocky hill climb by then. Hopefully, I could stay ahead of the race trucks coming through until mile 415.
Highway 5 ran down the eastern coast of the Baja peninsula along the Sea of Cortez. In our 2015 race I had this section of pavement in the race. The highway was brand new. I mean the asphalt was black as black gets and the guardrails and striping were brand new. Now just three years later, disaster had struck here.
A monster storm came across the peninsula dropping a lot of rain. When it got to the Sea of Cortez, it came back and sat here a while. The flooding made lakes alongside the elevated highway in a dozen places. The water eventually broke through the highway which was acting as a dam.
One section of highway was completely missing for miles. Then I got back up on the pavement and you’d be going along at 60 mph and see just three rubber cones across the road in front of you. Just beyond that it dropped 40 feet straight down. The highway was missing for 100 feet. They made dirt ramps down into the desert and back up the other side where race vehicles and civilian traffic mixed. Brand new bridges were collapsed. This scene repeated itself a dozen times.
It was erie devastation. I was sad for Mexico and what they had to deal with here. There were only two paved roads down the peninsula, and this was the only one on the east side. Of course, the engineering was lacking. I had come to appreciate American engineering and highway builders there.
The scenery was fantastic. To the left was the calm Sea of Cortez – the body of water between the Baja Peninsula and the Mexican mainland. The baked brown hills rolled up to mountains out of the salt water, and the race course rolled with it. I was headed to my next pit – Gonzaga Bay. There was one store, a few small structures and a flat spot along the road where an occasional small plane landed. My team would have a warm burrito there for me.
At most stops there were locals watching my team and waiting for me to come in. They’d be excited to see a real racer in the Baja 1000 up close. If I took all my gear off and put jeans and a T-shirt on they wouldn’t be so impressed. But this was the Baja 1000 and it was going down right now. I always tried to acknowledge them. A fist pump or even fist bump, a thumbs up, or my team giving them stickers made for a memorable moment for both them and me. Shared experiences….
Arturo told me again, as wise reverent man encouraging his friend – “No mistakes. Smooth. Smooth is fast.“ They whole team would always cheer me on loudly as I took off out of the pit down the course. My soul heard them.
I was twelve hours in now and the sun was getting low. I had prepared well. I was ok.
714x was still in the race; in pursuit of something important.
“When you start relaxing your grip on your permanent identity and see you can be anyone, who you want to be will become more important than who you are. That will be a big moment in your life.” – Steve Chandler
Two years earlier I had hurt my neck badly in this race. Whiplash. It took a year to get better. For the last year my neck was ok, with a few bouts a chiropractor could fix. I was getting on a plane in three days for my third Ironman attempt and all of a sudden my neck was killing me. I needed an adjustment but my chiropractor had just gone on vacation. I knew I would be severely handicapped trying to race like this with a helmet on my head and 30 hours of vibration and up and down.
I called my back-up chiropractor. He tried, but the next day it still wasn’t good. I had to get on the plane. We landed in San Diego on a Sunday. I was really worried about my neck. It was killing me. I used Google and found chiropractors open on Sunday! I took a taxi over there and told my team to pick me up there. They didn’t care that I was not a previous patient or that I was paying cash. I couldn’t believe it. This is how it should be – and it was only $29! Problem solved. I dodged another bullet in this crazy quest.
There are times when I am not feeling good and I think I can’t do it. I don’t mean to be negative, but I’d be asking myself, “How the heck am I going to do this?” When you are hurt, or sick, or sore, or emotionally wounded – your ambition and optimism hits the deck.
But emotion is created by motion. Get started. When you are doing it, you’ll feel like doing it.
Sometimes you have to solve a problem to get going. Solve it, and get to it. Bust through the resistance, and take charge.
Chapter TEN – Breaking it down
“When you are inspired, dormant faculties and talents come alive” – Wayne Dyer
I pulled up to the chase team at mile 135 and called an audible. Yes, I changed the plan on the fly. It had only been 30 minutes since I saw them last, and I was feeling great. It was too cold to take my race jacket off yet, so I told them to meet me at the end of the San Matias wash.
They could see me from the road that snaked above the wash nearly the whole way. This was the wash that claimed Tanner in a pre-run crash last year. By coincidence, Jesse got it on camera from the drone. The San Matias wash is famous for having big rocks embedded in the sand that are the same color as the sand. You have to have the eye of an eagle to pick them out or you’re going over the bars like Tanner did.
I emerged unscathed and stopped at the waiting truck. I undressed for the cold, and prepared for the heat. In ten miles I’d start 55 solid miles of sand whoops. My plan leveraged what I had learned from pre-running the course into three main goals.
The next thing I had to do was head 35 miles down the Puertocitos Highway at the 60 mph speed limit for paved roads. The problem is, the highway was missing.
Chapter NINE – Dust, Fog, Blindness
I had a plan. I was starting last in my class today. I’d stay close behind the rider in front of me and wait for a mistake and make my move. Well, that plan was out the window one minute into the race. It was so foggy you couldn’t see 100 feet. The mist covered my goggles, which I had to wipe every 15 seconds in places. In some spots I couldn’t see 40 feet! It was the worst fog I’d ever seen down there.
To make matters worse, the dust that would normally blow around you now stuck to me and my goggles. It made mud on the lenses and when I wiped it, it scratched my lenses. I had a washcloth on a wire tie hanging from my pack strap to wipe my goggles. If you recall I had learned – DO NOT RIDE WHERE YOU CAN’T SEE. I needed to finish.
The fog was so bad that at one point I had to take my goggles off. Other riders had done the same. It was better because you could just blink your eyes to clear your vision. But a few minutes later when the dust clogged my eyes, I had to put the goggles back on. But now they were wet and filthy on the outside and inside. I could not see through them at all. I had to stop. I wiped them of bulk water with the now wet rag, but they were still foggy. I held them in front of my exhaust which dries them really fast. I repeated this process of taking the goggles off, drying them in and out in front of the exhaust, and putting them back on once more.
I finished the Tijuana Challenge and despite my difficulties, took satisfaction in that I was now in second place in the season championship points standings. Three races complete out of four. I was one of only two Ironmen to finish all three races so far.
It felt good. I was getting used to expecting to see the finish line. We need to expect to succeed in life. If we don’t expect to, we won’t.
There was one race left. THE RACE. The Baja 1000. I believed I could do it, and I had a deep desire to finish it. Those are the two ingredients that make things possible. Without them, it’s not possible. But I had both now – belief and desire.
All improvement in your life begins with improved mental pictures about yourself and what you can and will do. Perhaps we are limited by our imaginations. But imagining ourselves accomplishing something is easy, we just need to dare to do it.
This is the beginning. Reality is not fixed.
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