Cholla (pronounced “cho-ya”): anyone who’s had personal experience with this demon of a cactus just cringed at the reading of its name. For those unfamiliar, it is a cactus that can grow to around handlebar height and is made up of conveniently detachable little golf ball-sized pieces just loaded with barbed needles. Once a Cholla ball hits your skin, its fish-hook-like barbs sink in and the only way to get them out is with a tool of some sort, be it a pair of pliers, a fine comb, or the caveman method of using two rocks, as using your hand only causes more needles to stick to your palm; and, oh yes, the experience is quite painful. Most racers coming to this event expand their list of goals, adding to the top of the pile: do not come into contact with a Cholla cactus at all cost; but as the desert surrounding Laughlin, NV is covered in these little demon plants, that goal is often the most difficult to achieve.
This year’s event had a good pro class entry as the Beta team of Nick Burson and Justin Morrow would be first off the line, followed thirty seconds later by Jason Parsons and Tallon Taylor. The second Beta of T.J. Hannafin and Shawn Strong would be third off the line, then David Pearson and myself, and finally, our teammates, Ty Renshaw and Ricky Brabec. The race would consist of three total laps, the lap consisting of two loops, and each team would split their sections the same, dividing the two loops between the riders and making an even share of the course mileage.
The sun was up, warming the Cholla for each racer’s arrival and as David took off from the line he looked really good; I had a feeling he would have a great ride. After about forty minutes the first bike came into view down pit row; it was Nick, who had a fantastic ride, but just thirty seconds later David came into view. David had already put us into second physically on the course and, as he had made up about a minute on Nick, given me the bike in the lead on adjusted time. After a quick pit I set out onto my loop and my first thought was about how sweet the conditions were as some mid-week rain had made for perfect dirt and minimal dust. The single wet tire mark ahead of me belonged to Justin, who had taken over for Nick, and from noticing his lines and how he was attacking the course, I felt confident I was gaining ground. I was having a blast on the course as the route traversed the surrounding hills, would shoot down into a canyon, fly across some low-ground desert and then climb back up over more rolling terrain. I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face as I raced, but as the miles clicked off, I began to realize the downside of not having dust to follow as I hadn’t seen any sign of Morrow and we were starting to get pretty close to the pits. Finally, with just a few miles left before I’d hand the bike back to David, I caught my first sight of the Beta just up the trail and felt a rush of adrenaline; I wanted to pass him before we pitted. I pushed and caught right up to his rear wheel, but by the time I did, we had arrived at the pit and I had to funnel in behind him. Justin pulled into the Beta pit just ahead of me, but our pit crew had a flyer and as David hopped on the bike, he took off in first place with a few seconds to spare as Nick set out after him.
Once again we played the waiting game in the pit, getting scattered radio reports that it was a close race out front, and as the bikes came into view, it was Nick leading with David mere seconds behind. Nick had definitely taken full advantage of the conditions, as with no dust he was able to key off of David’s lines and just before the pit, was able to make the pass when David blew a corner. I jumped on the bike with Justin literally seconds ahead of me and had it set in my mind that I would have to pass him and then ride a little above myself to get a gap so he wouldn’t be able to key off of my lines and keep the race close. I was able to close the few seconds down and found myself pacing just feet behind him, but with the course being quite narrow, I was left hoping for a mistake to make my way by at this point and I continued to apply the pressure. I few miles into the loop the course would make an off-cambered right hand turn up a hill and as we entered the corner, I could see the Justin was pushing a bit wide. I jumped at the opportunity to square up the corner and we were side by side for a moment, both wide open as we accelerated for the top of the following hill. Fortunately for me, I had the momentum from my line through the corner and was able to complete the pass as I reached the top just ahead of Justin and roosted down the downside with the trail all to myself. I was extremely focused for the following miles, riding a little on the edge in an effort to open up a gap as I envisioned Justin behind me, watching my lines and matching my pace. It was six or seven miles before I finally took a second to look back and I was happy to find myself completely alone, no sign of Justin behind. From there I kept my pace high, but brought it under a bit more control and I came into the pit having pulled about two and a half minutes of a lead. The Beta came in and had to change a rear tire as they later said their mousse had gone very dead, which gave us about a three minute lead as Dave set off on his final lap.
Dave brought the bike in without incident and I took off for my final loop free of pressure, as we had a comfortable lead, and I was able to really enjoy the course, the conditions and, most importantly, focus on completing my third lap without coming into contact with any dreaded Cholla. I had a lot of fun making my way through some of the ironmen and sportsman team riders, noticing how many Cholla cacti had been exploded on the trail and I finally came into the finish, crossing the checkers and taking the win for myself and David.
As if I haven’t mentioned it enough, I had such a great time at this race. Casey and the Best In The Desert crew marked out a heck of a course, we were fortunate enough to get the rain and the conditions couldn’t have been better. I want to thank my teammate, David Pearson, for once again having a great performance; I love teaming together and we definitely have some momentum heading into San Felipe. Thanks to the team: THR Motorsports, Monster Energy, Precision Concepts Kawasaki for putting together an incredible effort and having the fastest pits in the race. Thanks to Ty and Phil for throwing this bike together in all of their “spare time” as we prepare for Baja and Dallas, Dallin and the whole Pearson gang for helping in the pits. Thanks to my personal sponsors: Fox, Alamo Alarm, THR, USWE, Northland Motorsports, Ryan Abbatoye Designs, HookIt.com and my newest supporter, PODmx knee braces; the braces are extremely comfortable, easy to get use to and very confidence inspiring. I was so toked to come away without a trace of Cholla in my skin as after this race I headed straight to Competitive Edge MX Park for the Mammoth MX qualifier on Sunday as there’s no sense in racing just once per weekend!