As I said, we got off to a slow start the first day. Once I corrected the odometer calibration, things were much better. But I soon started us up the wrong sand wash. It was just 50 feet shy of the correct wash, but due to the curve of the road we could not see it. We lost quite a bit of time there. Once on the wrong track, it can be very difficult to get back on pace. It took a good half hour to sort that out. Lessons learned and all for good training.
For the longer afternoon loop we topped off with gas and water and started behind the RMS guys once again. First up were the big dunes. I am not really a dune rider so my timing and approach was poor for some of the bigger ones. At one point the tracks of Scott and Ian ventured left of the compass heading into even bigger dunes. I judged we could go right into smaller dunes and split the difference on the heading.
After the dunes we crossed some open desert and made a turn on a small two track road. Starting down the road we quickly realized there was a problem. There was only one tire track in the deep sand, not two as should be the case. We stopped and looked back toward the dunes. At well over a mile away, Brad spotted a bike moving. By the time I looked, the bike had stopped and I could not even recognize it. But Brad was sure he had seen it moving.
We decided to turn back and have a look. We came upon Ian stopped and working on the bike. With an apparent electrical problem, his bike had melted the battery into a black mass and was dead in the water. It looked as if Ian would be done for the day, plus he was stuck on the far side of the dunes, away from road access.
There was a 5th rider in our group, Phil, who was chasing for Ian and Scott. We knew he would be along shortly. But as I soon guessed, he chose the lower line we had taken and would not come anywhere near our current position. Shortly we could hear him, so Brad set out in pursuit. Once they were back and Ian had phone contact with the support van, Brad and I headed back on our way.
The rest of the day was long and grueling. It was around 105 degrees out in the desert. It was not too bad due to the low humidity, as long as we were moving well. My Klim Induction jacket is amazingly good for riding in hot conditions. It was a great day for training, but also long and exhausting. By 5pm we would cover 230 miles for the day.
With Ian behind us, we spent much of the day following the track laid down by Scott. It is amazing how much you can learn from just looking at a tire track on the ground. In some places his 450RR rally bike worked great, but at times it could be a handful too. We saw a few swaps he had in the rough cross grain of the desert. Recent rains had caused many small washes and each had a nice square edge lip to hit.
But what was most obvious was just how good Scott’s navigation was. His line was always very direct. He had confidence in where he was going and there was little hesitation in making a line choice. I would often stop to adjust my mileage or give the road book a second look before making an obscure turn. But he seemed to just keep moving at a good pace all the time. I would have been no match for him on that route for speed.
He did make a few small errors and I used that as an opportunity to attempt to find the true line. Even if it took more time, just to see if I could do it. A few times I was able to sort it out, but his track would always find its was back to the correct line. There was one big dune area that we all struggled in. I could see that his track was wrong, but I could not sort out a better one either. He had made one attempt at a big dune and failed to make the top. So there was no way I was going to try it. We simply bailed out to the bottom and worked around to pick up the route on the other side.
It was an intense day of riding and navigating. I was getting a bit fatigued at the end. Again, it was good practice for race conditions. After a fill up of fuel and cold drinks at Razor road, I felt a bit revived and happy to keep sorting out the puzzle that is the road book.
Ian made it back to base camp with his wounded bike after a few hours. He was able to hop on the back up bike and finish the day on his own.
I was feeling it a little bit to start the second day. I guess I cannot remember the last time I did 230 miles of really solid riding in one day. We were at it early again to avoid as much of the heat of the day as possible. The second day’s route would send us through some spectacular terrain, many places I had never seen before.
The real challenge was to get my mind and body warmed up as quick as possible. It is one thing to take a few miles to work the kinks out of the body. But in rally there is no time to do that mentally.You have to be lucid from the first minute. Overall I was feeling much better about things. Reading the road book was becoming second nature for me. I didn’t have to think about the meanings of all the symbols, I know them now. That is a huge help. I remember in the Baja Rally last year, I kept thinking “I bet this would make a lot more sense if I knew what all those things mean”.
But I confess it took me a little bit to get it all rolling along smooth. I made a couple of small errors, only to look at the road book and see that the instructions were perfectly clear, I just didn’t mentally process it all correctly. That would be a common theme for the day.
At times it can be difficult to look at a little squiggly line with and arrow and equate that to the terrain you see ahead of you. Again, it was all good for training and I learn more with every mile. There is an constant need for focus. It makes me realize how much of the other part, the riding, I can do without paying much attention. I know there have been many brutal days on a bike when I have simply gone into survival mode to finish a race, turning off the conscious part of my brain to ignore the pain to keep going. But in Rally, the demands of the road book will not allow that. I guess in a way the two ideas do come together in the sense that you need to do both at once. Never giving so much time to one as to neglect the other.
This day’s ride was much more diverse and scenic. That was an added bonus to the fun factor. Brad and I were doing a little better at keeping pace with Scott and Ian also. Often we could see their dust across the valley. Not that anyone was really riding fast, but we were moving along well.
With just a “short” 150 miles for the day, we were finished relatively early. Scott and Ian chose to do one more loop, but it was all terrain that we had covered the previous day. I figured with that many tire tracks on the route, it would not provide much of a navigation challenge, it was just about riding more miles.
With the bikes loaded up and us pointed homeward, I reflected on what a positive test it had been. The bike set up was very good, not the fastest bike, but super easy to ride and feel comfortable on. It handles great too. There were no problems with any of the rally navigation equipment either. These will all be factors that I consider imperative for the Baja Rally.
Last year, even with my 3rd place finish, I lost well over a half an hour on navigation mistakes in two days. These were all simple things that could have been avoided. My goal this year will be to avoid all of those that I can and not have any bike issues. For me, there is more to be gained from riding well, mistake free, than there is in riding faster. That will be the key to a good finish.
I don’t expect that I will ever learn all there is to know about rally racing. But that is just part of the appeal, there is always more to experience and know.