The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
So it is time for me to jot down my journal of the 2014 Baja Rally. If nothing else this will be a colorful story. I find myself with a bit of a moral challenge too. Typically I am fortunate as I get to relate many feel good and tongue-in-cheek stories here. But some days it just comes out different. In saying this story is “colorful”, I am saying this is a story that has plenty of good, but also a fair share of bad parts. In telling the story as it unfolded, I have to write some things that will shed a harsh light on parts of the event and people involved.
I am a writer, I have to write. I have to take the story out of my head and put it to rest on paper. I am narcissistic enough to believe that I primarily write for myself. If anyone else gets benefit from it, great. If not, it doesn’t really matter, the story still has to come out, so I try to make it as honest as possible.
As a racer, you always want things to fall your way. Foremost, the race should be decided on the course, by the riding. When something otherwise happens, a racer needs to know that any resolution will be fair and attempt to reflect the true nature of the events. When writing about a race not going the way I personally want, I know I run the risk of the sour grapes effect. Some will naturally view it that way. I accept that, yet the story must go on.
Day 1 – Off to a good start
All of my race plans and prep came together very well. There were no last minute glitches. I arrived in Ensenada, unloaded my bike and was ready to race. I lined up for the start of the Baja Rally with a very positive feeling about things.
We started with a 70k liaison back north on the highway towards Rosarito. We were almost to Tijuana when we pulled to the dirt for the first special stage. The stage would take us to Valley of Guadalupe. The route wove through the more remote foothills of the area. This is all land that would normally be closed to riding, plenty of locked gates. This was a virgin route new to everyone.
I was 10th off the line. Starting in two minute intervals, I was quick to catch up to traffic. It was dusty and took me some time to get to clean air. But I made a few passes and started to get my rhythm. The track was fairly tight with just some basic navigation, nothing too difficult. The rocky roads were a good warm up and work out. The bike felt great, all my set up decisions looked to be spot on.
My confidence was high and I was feeling good. Then I made my first real mistake and it would be a costly one too. In my training, I had failed to consider a way to properly note a speed zone. We hit the first little village and I was coming in too fast. I slowed as quickly as I could, but I knew I was already in the zone.
The rest of the special went by fast. When riding good, it is always that way. There were supposed to be two specials with a start control in Guadalupe. In the riders meeting it was explained that this would now just be one long special and riders should proceed straight into the next special.
When I hit what the road book called the end of the first special, we were on a large dirt road, crossing a sand wash. What the road book failed to indicate was to turn left into the wash. From studying the book the night before, I knew that we had to cross under the highway in just a short distance. From that I deduced we should proceed in the wash towards the highway. But many riders had problems here. My local knowledge helped me.
Even so, there was a locked gate in the wash and I had to back track to double check my idea on how to go. Finally I just decided to find a way around the fence and proceed. The fence ended just 100’ to my left and I went on. I soon found Andy Grider’s track in the sand and could see he had done the same. Once we made a few more turns I could see where we were headed, the old cross over race course to Ojos Negros. I was pretty fast in this section, having a general idea of the route. I had passed quite a few riders and was getting towards the front of the pack.
I had one small glitch. I hit a closed gate at a road fork. The natural inclination would be to take the open fork. But I could see the road book said different. I think Andy had opened the gate ahead of me and some locals on the course closed it again just for kicks. Mike Johnson was coming back from the wrong route as I got the gate open. We both raced on to the finish from there. I was second to arrive behind Grider. So it was a good day of racing and I was a bit surprised at my speed.
Later I would find out that I was hit with a 30 minute penalty for speeding. It was my fault, but a stiff penalty considering I only did so for a short distance. Andy was also penalized 15 minutes. I would have won the stage over Steve Hengeveld were it not for that. I would start day two 29 minutes behind the leader.
The end of the day was a liaison back to Horsepower Ranch. We all spent a very pleasant evening there. It is a great facility for an event such as this. Everyone lounged around in the bar and pool area having a great day in Baja.
Day 2 – Lots of fast riding
We started day 2 with a liaison back to Ojos Negros to start the first of two specials for the day. It was going to be hot out and we were headed for the low desert of San Felipe. Each day I wore my Klim Induction jacket with just a t-shirt and chest protector underneath. The jacket has full armor, but is still light and cool enough to be comfortable. I was very happy with it. Fortunately I never had to test the armor.
The first special took us for a loop around the north side of Ojos Negros and then south and east to the Laguna Hansen road for a number of miles. We then turned towards El Coyote, past Gongora Ranch and east clear to Sta Catarina and Jamu. It was a fast special. I was not particularly enthusiastic about racing up the Laguna Hansen road. That is fast and well traveled, there was always a concern for oncoming traffic.
We had one speed zone through Sta Catarina. But this time I was very careful, having added extra marks to the book to make sure I was not speeding. After that we were in the area of traditional race course, it was a bit tricky to follow the correct line. The rains had changed much of the dirt, there were wet spots and always the concern of something slick or too soft.
With my previous day penalty, I had started in 9th for the day. By the end of the test I was in 4th I think. So I had another good run. At the finish we were on the pavement to start a very long liaison. We rode nearly 300km of highway from Jamu to Gonzaga Bay. The temperatures in the low desert were near 100 degrees. Our finish for the day would be at Coco’s Corner. But to get there we took the highway past some very good riding opportunities too. Andy Grider, Nino Rojas and Brian Pierce would all have bike problems on the long highway. Fortunately my very tall 15/48 gearing let me cruise along at a very comfortable rpm.
The second special started at Gonzaga Bay and would end at Coco’s. The first section was to be on old roads that lead to an established trail. The problem was that the recent rains had obliterated the trail. To follow the stage correctly, the riders had to make a big leap of faith to continue riding off track cross country when the book said they should be on a visible track. There were only a few cap headings to take direction from. Then a right turn had to be made on a road that would lead back to the main road as the stage continued south.
I struggled a bit with this. I lost the leaders track in the sand and just made my way as best I could. Ultimately I did get to the main road and reached a very clear instruction in the book, a note of heavy equipment on the roadway. That was a spot for me to get my mileage adjusted on track and know I was in the correct location. Again, a spot where studying and remembering the road book was crucial.
We proceeded down the main road 10km to make a very faint left turn. This put us on a tiny sand road that snaked around the foothills near Coco’s. There was moisture in the sand making the riding an absolute blast. This was perhaps the coolest single section of the rally, slow second and third gear riding between large boulders and through little washes of perfectly smooth sand. It had just enough navigation to keep the rider thinking too.
I would arrive at the finish line third behind Hengeveld and Scott Bright. Many riders would struggle in this section and with reason. The road book was lacking. Like me, most riders wandered around some, so it was critical to get the mileage adjusted correctly when back on the right track. Many riders missed the subsequent left turn due to this. The organizers choose to let the stage stand. The first three of us got through cleanly, but there was still a plausible argument for throwing the stage out. (insert ominous background music here, harbinger of things come)
I thought all was good. But at 10pm that night I found that I was one of a number of riders who had received stiff time penalties for speeding in Sta Catarina. This time I knew I was in the right. When looking at the GPS track on the computer I could see the problem. The track showed the end of speed zone as 200m beyond the reference in the road book, a nice dog leg turn in the road. Many of us had accelerated at the exact same spot. Ultimately the organizers would remove the penalty, but it was another night of going to bed with a penalty looming. I guess that is just part of rally racing.
Next up: Day 3 – Good ride, bad decisions