Tuesday, November 06, 2007
THE WILD & UNLIMITED world of prerunning in Baja Mexico for the 2007 Baja 1000.
Stories about traps set up for the racers always pop-up prior to a peninsula long race. You usually only hear about the course during those Baja 1000 loop races at Ensenada, Baja Norte. Those are not booby traps for the racers. It is where the Mexican Government destroys airstrips that were used by drug runners. We went through that area a couple of weeks ago. Note the nice clean X's, it's the international sign to not land here.
"Traps have been found between RM 200-300. Ramps set across the course, we cut out a ball of bailing wire from honda brians bike, both must of been set that morning by military guys. 2 checkpoints, 1rst group nice, next were ducks with an I removed a balled up box spring about 5 miles south of santa rita, and a ball of barbed wire about 2 miles after that. Many markers are missing, signs changed coming out of santa rita, (do not go right towards beach)lots of fun, with no flats, though we got stuck in a couple of deep drop off holes, that are now kinda filled in." Gadfly Tom Bird claims the Mexican army has set up some of the 'other' traps.
"We just cameback from a whole peninsula run, and this is the roughest section, very rocky and up and down narrow roads, very
slow, kind of Simpson's and Mike sky's ranch combined, but it goes on for many more miles. We believe that this is the part were most people are going to brake, or are going to be stuck, the difference on the 2 is the amount of miles being rough, while on the Mike's ranch it's only about 5 to 10 miles,this section goes on and on and on. Took us almost 7 hours to go 120 miles!"
"In my opinion on a scale 1 to 10 (10 being the hardest), Mike's. simpson: 4. RM 200 to 320 : 9. RM 205-305 insane, inaccessable to chase vehicles and a 4-5 hour ride in. Serious fuel issues from El Rosario to just above G. Negro. Gas in carts at Catavina and NO DIESEL. Most everyone won't see Catavina, it'll be at night for the Trophy Trucks. Then an hour on the pavement past Catavina and an hour on the pavement before San Ignacio. Sucks. Maybe we'll switch drivers during the highway sections.
Silt for fun at 55, 230, 990, 1125 and 1175. RM 645 after the midway point, past San Ignacio its go time. Look out for El Datil, the tidal flats, lots of mud and depending on the tides, mucha agua, lotsa water. Look out for the gotcha turn near Scorpion Bay, after all the high-speed stuff, wham. The Trophy Trucks will hit daylight around Loreto, RM 915-920. The Travis Pastrana BBQ Ditch is at RM 525, San Fransquito has gas.
RM 1043 a historic stopper section, 12 foot wide, with big baja cactus, no place to turn-off. RM 1170, the El Tomate turnoff to La Paz. The last 75 miles have gotchas at steel cattle guards, you never see those in the north, and cows! At sand wash 1296, the last half mile is some deep sand, just keep your speed up."
The Baja 1000 once attracted only thrill-seeking hobbyists. And while there's still plenty of those among the record 432 entrants, pros from other motor sports disciplines like drag racing (J.R. Todd and Morgan Lucas), open-wheel (Danny Sullivan) and NASCAR Gordon and Gaughan are scheduled to make the trek down the Baja Peninsula when the race gets underway, Tuesday.
"Most of these guys don't do a very good job until they get a few races under their belts," says Bishop, who owns a motorcycle shop in Escondido, Calif. The newcomers will be confronted with some harsh terrain, although it's softened some since the race's debut in 1967. It still is the Wild West! The original organizers, NORRA, "There were few paved roads. Nobody knew where they were going. Everything was so primitive. It was so desolate that it was like going into space and landing on another planet".
The Baja Peninsula has since grown up around the race, which changes slightly each event. This year's course — which begins in Ensenada and ends in Cabo San Lucas — is 1,296 miles long. What hasn't changed a whole lot are the mischievous natives. "About 20 years ago, I flew over a sand dune and landed in a box spring that had a fish net on top of it," says Rod Hall, 69. says. "It stopped the truck in all of about 6 feet. We couldn't move. Some of the locals cheered. They got a big thrill out of that."
Ever since, Hall says when he sees a crowd, he slows down and "tries to figure out what they're trying to do to you." "I don't think they do it to hurt us. They just want to have a little more excitement at the spot they're at."
Always remember your pit rules, 'GOAT', Gas, Oil, Air filter and Tires, in that order! And the old addage from the vintage Baja racers, "Gas gives you distance and Water gives you time".
Pre-run and pre-fish.
"There’s a sheet-metal figure of the grim reaper that stands on a highway in the mountains just south of Mulegé, about halfway down the Baja Peninsula’s eastern coastline. It’s an eerie-looking thing, a shrine to a dead traveler, with a scythe in one hand and an owl perched on the other. The owl’s eyes are holes punched out of the rusting iron. You can look through them and see dorado breaking bait on the surface of the Sea of Cortez, 1,000 feet below.
I saw the reaper this prerun for the Baja 1000 when I passed it with some friends on the eighth day of a nine-day hammer slam prerunning adventure spent fishing Baja California, Mexico, by motorcycle. We’d been on the road that day for 10 straight hours and had at least four more to go before we could stop for the night. Our backs were aching; our heads hurt. Chances were good we’d get a shrine of our own if we pushed ourselves much harder.
This trip had been a stretch from the start. A few months earlier I’d convinced myself, my boss, and three of my friends that we could prerun & fish our way from San Diego to Cabo and back in just nine days. Four down, three to catch marlin and roosterfish on Baja’s Cabo Safari Ranch, then a speed run back north, 1,100 miles up Mexico’s infamous Highway 1 in time to catch a flight back to L.A. Just to make things interesting, I was doing this without having ridden a motorcycle in my life. I’d crossed the border into Mexico using a learner’s permit.
The Motorized Mule. A Baja Mule, an off-road burro. There were two reasons I wanted to visit Baja. First, I have always wanted to prerun the Baja 1000, all the way to the tip. Like the Baja Safari Team does it, "Rip To The Tip"! Second, Baja has one of the most fertile fisheries left in the world. The Gulf of California, a.k.a. the Sea of Cortez, boils with marlin, wahoo, dorado, and yellowfin tuna. And then there are the roosters, vicious inshore predators that grow to 100 pounds and chase prey right into the surf. They look cool in pictures, and you can catch them from the beach.
Third, Baja is a practical place to have an uncanned adventure. Tickets to San Diego are cheap; the border is only 20 minutes from the airport. If you don’t mind eating beans three times a day and sleeping on the beach, you can fish your brains out for weeks without burning up your bank account.
I wanted to fish Baja by motorcycle because (1) the right bike can get to places on the peninsula most cars can’t reach; (2) the riding down there is the stuff of legend; and (3) I figured I’d get a richer sense of the place if I toured it with my head in the open air. My partners on this trip were my best friend, Mark Wilson, adventure photographer Walker Smith, and RaceStar, Road Magazine owner Butch Evers. Mark and I were riding Kawasaki KLR650 dual-sport motorcycles, rigged with aluminum panniers to carry our gear and aftermarket exoskeletons to protect the engines if we dumped in nasty terrain Baja Safari chased us with the camera crew and a crewmembers black Chevy Suburban, which was set up for offroad touring. They call it Pepe, the little mule. Its huge.
The KLR has a nickname that I like; in adventure cycling circles it’s known as “The Mule.” I thought this was appropriate, since just 30 years before our trip, the only way to access most of the places we were going was by riding a real one. The Trout Oasis was our first Baja Safari destination. One of these places was Mike’s Sky Ranch, which we made a side trip to visit on our first day. Located deep in the north-central highlands, the San Pedro Mártir Mountains, it caters mostly to Baja’s offroad riding community, but it also has a year-round waterway running through its front yard. These are the headwaters of the Arroyo San Rafael, and they spring from high enough up in the mountains to support a rare strain of desert rainbow trout.
You can fish Mike’s only if you’re skilled (or stubborn) enough to navigate the road to his place. It’s about 30 miles long, a rutted-up track through sand and rock that’s part of the course of the Baja 500 international offroad race. This is not fun terrain for a novice, especially at the end of a long day on a motorcycle. I crashed once on the way in when my front tire washed out in deep sand, and arrived at the ranch as strung out as I’ve ever been from traveling.
Fortunately, the place has a well-stocked bar, and the bartender turned out to know a great deal about trout fishing. After we bought a few beers he gave us some tips. Get up early because the heat will drive fish under cover quickly. Walk upstream a few miles to find the best water. The fish would be small. The largest he’d taken in 30 years was just 10 inches long.
In the morning we woke before the sun. I felt like roadkill looks, but I rigged a 2-weight fly rod and grabbed a box of attractors, and we headed up a trail that followed the arroyo. We started fishing where the stream entered a low canyon. Its walls shaded the water, which was cold and woke me up when I knelt in it to thread a cast through the brush. Three drifts later a 5-inch shadow darted from some rushes to swipe my fly. I brought it to hand, admiring the colors. It was a jewel of a trout, more songbird than fish, with white tips to its fins, bold parr marks, and a red lateral line that ran through its eye.
We fished for two more hours, working our way up the river, which was wide enough in places to jump across. I wanted to stay longer but we had a long way to go on the bikes that day; as the sun scared the last of the shadows from the canyon floor, we packed up our rods, hiked out, and hit the road again.
One thousand miles later, we pulled into a the epic Cabo Safari Resort on Baja’s East Cape, about 60 miles northeast of Cabo San Lucas. That we’d survived the trip was something of a miracle. But, once down south into the resort, onto the ranch on the deep trails offroading, cruising the ranch roads of southern Baja we were at home. Friendly ranchers, tons of off road racing fans and mostly reasonable prices. Fuel prices were on the rise in Mexico too. But, we did notice diesel prices were lower than in the states. The Baja Safari Mexico Club not only helped out with logistics, but, also hooked us up with satellite tracking and phone services. Thanks! at 619-251-6005.
In between these killer food and cold beers. More adventure, the checkpoints. Bored teenagers carrying AK-47s manned the military checkpoints, which we hit at most major intersections (there aren’t many of these in Baja), and in places where terrain funneled travelers through bottlenecks. At one of them the station’s commandant emerged from his gatehouse to check out our bikes and took a liking to my fly rod. He offered to buy it and tried to leverage his bargaining position by flicking off the safety on his rifle. I think I escaped by pleading bad Spanish.
The police might have been worse, but we were fortunate enough to avoid them. Nick said they stop gringos just to take bribes, and he’d brought along a plastic bag full of racing stickers as mordida, which translates literally as “the bite.” Apparently Baja cops love the things. In case the stickers failed, we never carried all our cash in one place, instead hiding rolls of pesos in our shoes, in side pockets in our bags, and even in rod tubes.
Another hazard was the distance between gas stations. There aren’t many towns in Baja, and not all of them sell fuel. Our map marked the ones that did, and we were careful to fill up whenever we saw a pump. But there was one stretch where we had to ride into a nasty headwind, and the extra resistance hurt our mileage so much that by the time we reached the next village we were deep into our reserve tanks. I wasn’t that worried until we pulled up to the Pemex station and the pumps were all taped shut. We were saved by an old cowboy selling gas from the back of a cart a bit farther up the road. For a steep fee he siphoned us some juice from one of his oil drums.
Watch out for the livestock on the trail. the animals. Cows sleep on the road in Baja after dark, liking the warm pavement. Wild donkeys live in the desert and take on its colors, which makes them nearly invisible. I almost decapitated one when it jumped in front of my bike near San Ignacio. Bugs were an issue when we’d ride through watered areas. Once I had a giant flying beetle smack me in the face when I was cruising along an arroyo at 80 mph. It left a mark on my cheek the size of my palm. Another time a bee flew down my shirt and stung me three times. I almost wrecked trying to clear it from my clothing. One night of driving, I stopped off the highway to take a leek and found a mexican brown flat-nosed bat holding onto my jacket, just below my armpit.
On top of these dangers I worried that we weren’t finding enough time to fish. We’d planned our route to follow dirt roads along the peninsula’s eastern coastline, adding hundreds of miles to the trip so we could sleep on the beach and fish for a few hours each morning and evening in the Sea of Cortez. But the distances we had to cover, especially on the dirt, took far longer than expected, and each time we got to a campsite the sun was already down. We had barely the time or, frankly, the energy to find a scorpion-free stretch of sand on which to throw our sleeping bags.
At last we had three bike-free days, and I meant to do some serious fishing. We were staying at a place called Cabo Safari Ranch a sportsmen’s resort perched on a bluff of palms overlooking a reef that drops to 1,000 feet just 500 yards from the beach. With a good pair of binoculars you could sit by the pool in front of its bar and glass boats pulling in marlin all day long.
On the first day we hired one of the Ranch's 28-foot cruisers, the Coastal Pirate. We bought live mullet from a bait boat waiting near the dock, then motored out to set our lines. The target was striped marlin, and the rods were thick, like small saplings. They had pulleys in place of guides. We used five rods: two on the outriggers that swung out from the sides of the cabin, one on each corner of the transom, and one in the center of the bridge.
To find marlin you scanned the water, looking for bills and fins breaking the surface, for the splash of a feeding fish, or for one breaching—when the fish would leap 10 feet out of the water, turn in the air, and land with a smack against the surface. Alejandro, a guide at the resort, told me later that day (Capt. Bernardo didn’t speak English) that they do this to knock off the lice and remoras that attach to their sides.
A sighting meant pandemonium. “Marleeen! Marleeeen!” Our captain would shout. Jabbing his finger toward the spot where he’d seen it, he’d gun the engine to get our lures ahead of the fish. At times we saw marlin jumping in all directions from the boat. We’d each point at a different fish, screaming “Alla! Alla! Alla!” (“There! There! There!”), which gave the captain whiplash. All of us hooked up at least once. We all landed 140-pounders; I broke off another after a 30-minute battle.
In the afternoons, we fished with fly rods for roosterfish from the beach. On the East Cape, beaches consist of parrotfish dung. Parrotfish eat coral, then excrete bits of limestone. Around midday this coral sand gets hot enough to burn your feet. To catch a rooster from shore you have to spot it, then cast to it, without its seeing you first. This means you walk far back from the waterline, to where the sand is broiling hot, ducking low and looking for shadows in the surf. Every few minutes I had to stop, sit on my butt, and hold my feet in the air to let my soles cool off.
All of this was fun, but my heart was most set on catching a big roosterfish like the 50-pounders mounted on the walls of Ranch's bar. We weren’t having any luck doing this from the beach, so we called up the Jefe again and had Alejandro take us near Los Frailes, a point of rocks close to the tiny town of La Ribera, 25 miles southeast along the coast. The scuttlebutt was that monster roosters were busting sardines here 100 yards offshore.
You can catch a roosterfish from a boat in two ways. The first is by chumming live sardines. This was simple: The mate, Rigo, would grab handfuls from the live well, thump them against the transom to scramble their brains, then toss them into our wake. The idea is to tease the roosters into a feeding frenzy and then cast a sardine with a hook in its head into the carnage. The less exciting method is to just troll off the back of the boat, one sardine to a rod, one rod per angler. We held the rods in our hands so that we could react quickly to strikes. At Los Frailes it didn’t take us long to realize we were in the right spot. Roosterfish have a unique dorsal fin called a comb, seven long spines that they erect when they get in a killing mood. Every 15 minutes we’d see new combs break the green surface, cutting white wakes as their owners dashed about and chopped sardines to pieces. These were big roosterfish, working in pairs, and they were smart. We spent all day chasing them around and sticking sardines in their faces without so much as a take.
Toward the end of the day the captain pulled out his secret weapon. On the way down we had purchased our sardines and some odd-looking mullet from two local fishermen selling bait from a small rowboat. The mullet looked odd, I realized, because they were not mullet, but bonefish. I hadn’t gotten a good look until we grabbed one out of the live well, stuck a hook through its nose, and handed me the rod. Using these for bait is relatively normal, and not frowned upon in Baja. The area is full of bonefish but you can’t really fish for them because there aren’t any flats. Instead the locals catch them in nets and eat them, or use them for bait. They’re also a favorite food for roosterfish.
But the celebration at the bar that night was muted, because the next morning we had to get on our motorcycles and ride back to San Diego in just two days, half the time it had taken to arrive. Pushing so hard was a foolish idea. We were already tired from three long days spent battling fish in the sun, and before that the grueling ride down. There would be no breaks, unless we wanted to ride into the night, a very bad idea with those black cows on the asphalt highway.
Mex 1 is dangerous. It has two lanes and no shoulder, just a bank of sand and gravel steep enough to pull a car off the road. There are few guardrails, even where the road winds through the mountains. Topes (speed bumps) and vados (sharp dips) are often unmarked, and we saw washouts on the way down large enough to swallow a Volkswagen. Some actually had; we saw corpses of the cars rusting at the bases of cliffs. But I had set the trip up in part as a test. Too many hours in an office cubicle had me questioning myself. Could I still handle the hard stuff? Or was I just another desk jockey dreaming behind a computer screen? If I could bike the Baja like this and live, I thought, I could handle damn near anything. So as the sun came up we rolled back onto the highway, pointed north.
We should have failed, or died. You get careless when you go such long distances without resting. At times I rode almost sidesaddle, hanging my butt off the seat to give it a rest. My relief position was different; I'd put my feet on the passenger pegs and lean forward until his chest was flat against the tank bag. We pushed the loaded bikes as fast as they could move (my top speed on flat pavement was 97 mph) and still got caught in the dark at the end of the first day, pulling in to the Oasis Motel in San Ignacio at 10 in the evening. When I closed my eyes for the night I could still see the road moving in front of my handlebars.
In the morning we hit the Pacific. The ocean currents along Baja’s western coastline flow south from Alaska, bringing cool water to the sunburned land. This made the air very cold. I wore all my layers and still rode shivering, pressing my legs against the bike to absorb the heat of the engine. A fog lay across the desert, and we traveled north through a forest of shrouded cacti. But the ride back wasn’t all pain, terror, and tedium. On one long stretch of highway just south of El Rosario I realized how much better I’d gotten at handling a motorcycle. It was the afternoon of our last day, and the road was as winding as any I’d seen so far, switchback after switchback, with guardless corners that crumbled into canyons. We banked through miles of the turns, swooping through the mountains and whooping with joy. At the end of the section Kurt pulled into a rare turnout and took off his helmet. His face was glowing. “This,” he said, “is where all good bikers go when they die.” Love the Baja 1000 pre-run and pre-fish!
G & R almost totals a $200,000 prerunner and their media guy trumpets the team not wearing helmets and the racing community responds.
""Had a great day pre-running, Geiser pre-runners worked great! Had a little leak issue with the brake power assist, but a little JB weld from Steve Scaroni and we were on our way. Thanks Steve! Just after Coco's Corner, Ron took a corner wide and slid into a boojum tree. Damaged door and busted window... They only injury was a minor head wound sustaned by Mad Media's own Mike Flores. Got to suffer for your art! Baja is a dangerious place, especially if you have a camera in your hand! Brushed the glass off and wiped the blood away and kept going.Little did we know their would be more drama. Just outside Bay of LA, Garron Cadiente went through a corner, hooked an edge, and did a pirouette... the truck finally came to rest on it's side. Garron, Todd Leduc, and Chaz Dana spent the next several hours trying right the truck by stacking rocks and tires. By the time we got chase trucks to them they had already got the truck back on all fours and moving. The brand new Geiser pre-runner is no virgin anymore!Day 1 of pre-running was a 19 hour day. If you don't earn it, it doesn't taste good!Ok, so what's the plan now Garron? "We are going to kick out the window and keep going. I am here to pre-run." stated the unfazed Cadiente.""
""Come on guys (not GnR). The team that I know that use Geiser pre-runners do use open face pre run helmets.We use helmets in our pre-runners as well. I did not read into the whole post as far in depth as the rest. I was making light of a situation based on the PHOTOS. I think the guys in the pre runners will hear enough from their wives and mothers at home, let alone all the ones they have on here.""
""Ok, I'm going to be on everyone's side when I say "You always need to wear your helmets". But the reality is, how many of us have been just as guilty during preruns, by not wearing race helmets? As of course it is a prerun, not a race. I know that safety is always on everyones minds (except when drinking ) and I am sure that Garron wasn't being stupid. I'm sure that they were wearing 5 point harnesses, they had a bitchen prerunner with a full cage.Sometimes **** happens. If they were being stupid, they would have been in way worse shape than they were in. Broken glass and a little blood for a piroette, is nothing compared to how bad it would have been if they were being stupid and completely disregarding safety. Again though, I am not saying you don't have to wear race hemlets when pre-running, I'm just backing up Garron in the fact that you need to look at the whole situation. There were many ways he was being safe, there was only one way he was not being safe.""
The last few miles
"The last few miles from El Conejo to the finish line at Cabo San Lucas are the best off road miles in Baja. A variety of terrains and very few teams prerunning the bottom section. Obviously race markers are missing, a sign the locals aren't happy they have to travel to see the race from La Paz.
Once you pass the historic turn at El Tomate, its virgin SCORE course. They've never come this way and only once in 2000 from Todos Santos south to the finish at Cabo. So funny hearing the reports form the few teams that make it here to prerun, so many cows! Funny! They've never seen real ranch life in Mexico. In Baja Sur, they have operating ranches. Not just land holdings.
Real people, real animals and mucho history. They get real rain in Baja Sur, that initiates crops, grasses and livestock. People really make a living ranching in southern Baja. Not like Baja Norte, where Baja Urbanos rule. South of Los Inocentes, is the Baja Mexico of Olde."
SEE THE CABO SAFARI RANCH for all your off road adventures in Baja Mexico. http://www.cabosafari.com/
Baja Racing News.com