July 20th, 2008, 18:47
I recently penned a story from last year's Baja 1000, and thought I'd post it here for review. Keep in mind that it's just a rough draft, and please read it when you've got a few minutes (it's a bit lengthy). Let me know what you think, and if anyone on here could pass it on to those characters mentioned in the story, I'd really appreciate it. Enjoy!
I'm not sure that this is the best place to post this, but I've been thinking of penning this story in some form or another for a while now, and I thought I'd share it here in the hopes of getting some feedback from anyone out there who might read this. It's a story that seems to stick very vividly in my mind, and I hope you like it.
The story is of a monumental night out in the wilderness of the Baja peninsula. I've heard many people in off-road racing share stories of their "first time" experiences of this race, and although I'd been to the race several times, this is what I consider my first experience chasing a peninsula run of the Baja 1000.
The race was the 2007 Baja 1000, and in honor of the 40th anniversary of this great race, the course covered a total of 1296 miles, beginning in Ensenada and finishing at the tip of Baja in Cabo San Lucas. I was part of the pit crew for Reinertson Johnson Racing, who fielded the Trophy Truck of Rick D. Johnson and Steve Barlow, and the Protruck of Rob Reinertson, Rick Taylor, and Jeff Dickerson. Of the 40-or-so team members, eight of us were assigned to pit for only the last 400-or-so miles of the course, from Loreto to Cabo San Lucas. We caravanned down to Loreto the day before the race began, and on the following morning, as the race got underway some 900 miles of race course away, we went about half an hour north of Loreto to scout out a location for the first of two scheduled stops our group of four was responsible for (our group of eight was split into two groups of four that would leapfrog one another to set up designated pits). All eight of us went out in the middle of the day, as the other four would stay at the first pit we set up and wait for the Protruck to get there, while my four guys would go on ahead, chasing the faster Trophy Truck to our second and final stop, where we were to service both vehicles.
Anyway, we got our pit spot all staked out and headed back to Loreto where we went to a small car wash and got the chase trucks all cleaned up. We then went back to the hotel and lounged in the lobby with members of several other teams, all of whom were crowded around the only wireless internet access to watch the online tracking of our respective race vehicles. I remember thinking how odd it was sitting right adjacent to beautiful beach in a practically tropical paradise, awaiting a furious flurry of racers that were scheduled to get to us around 3 am (9:30 pm for the first bikes). As we sat watching, our group discussed how we had all always chased four-wheel vehicles, and not the bikes or quads that start some 4 hours ahead of the trucks and buggies, and that we had never seen the first bikes come through out on course before. We decided that we'd go out to our pit early, watch the first bikes, and then sleep in the cab of the truck and await the fire-breathing Trophy Trucks and Class 1s.
So around 8:30 pm, we rolled into our pit area, mile 887 on the race course, and to our surprise, only one other team had set up near us. A joint effort saw crew members set up a dual pit for the 3 Trophy Truck of Mark Post and Rob MacCachren, as well as the two vehicles from the Terrible Herbst team (the 19 Trophy Truck of Ed and Tim Herbst and the 100 Class 1 "truggy" of Troy Herbst and Larry Roeseler). These guys set up about 100 yards up the course from us, and after we'd all set up our equipment, both of our groups turned off our generators and pit lights, and settled in to enjoy an unforgettable Baja night.
As we sat waiting for the first bike, we all bundled up to keep out the surprisingly cold night air. We sat in a long valley, with a substantial span of small mountains to the west and a smaller, but equally lengthy span of low hills to the east which separated us fromthe considerably nearby coastline of the Sea of Cortez. We all milled around, not really knowing how we should pass the time, and so I decided, suddenly thinking of Bear Grylls from the tv show "Man vs. Wild," that I'd emmulate his rugged, seemingly absurd ways, and make my own sand bed. I began scraping into a small patch of sandy soil with my shoes, shaping it into a rough approximation of the shape of my backside, until there was a hump to match the small of my back, as well as a depression for, well, you can probably figure that out. I even put in separate troughs for each of my legs, with small, raised parts that filled in behind my knees. I layed down for only a few moments, only to here an arroussing of activity- the first bike was coming.
I hurried to the edge of the course, and tried to figure how I could use the inadequate, built-in flash on my camera to catch a good shot of the first bike. I called on all my knowledge of photographic principles, remembering that if I made the depth-of-field small enough, I might be able to gain enough shutter speed that the imagine might come out somewhat clear. Up ahead, I could see a flickering on the horizon- the headlights of the bike! There was little time left, and as brushed off warnings from my teammates that I might be standing a little too close to the course, I set my Nikon N6006, equipped with Fuji 1600 speed film, to f 3.5 and a shutter speed of 1/125. I tried to focus manually on a pre-determined focal point, knowing that the auto-focus would be too slow to keep up with the speeding bike in these dim conditions. Now the bike was here, and I steadied myself, aimed and... click... click... clickclickclick... nothing. The 1X bike of Steve Hengeveld, Johnny Campbell, Mikey Childress and Kendall Norman was gone, and I'd forgotten to turn the camera on. What a crushing blow, especially considering that the next bike didn't show up for some 47 minutes. Still, I'll never forgotten how amazing that bike sounded- whoever was onboard had the hammer down, and no other bike that came by sounded anywhere near as powerful, fast, committed, or capable of winning as the team that ended up taking the overall victory.
The 1X bike came by around 10:30 pm, about an hour behind our predicted schedule, and after trading time between snapping some pictures of a few other bikes and sitting around a little makeshift fire the guys had gotten going, I decided to return to my sand bed. I remember Bear Grylls' warning that scorpions and other biting bugs can be drawn to a person's body heat in situations like mine, so I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up tight around my face, tucked the cuffs of my pants inside my socks, and settled in to watch what is undoubtedly the most beautiful display of stars I've ever seen. Even living here in the relative wilds of Julian has never afforded me the true darkness I experienced that night, and without the inhibiting qualities of city lights and the moon, I saw more stars than I ever thought existed. Lying there, looking up at this panorama of infinity, I finally realized the feeling of insignificance that so many people have felt when looking into the night sky, and it was so peaceful that I could hardly hope for anything more.
I awoke several times, as little inklings and movements had me fearing that some nasty bug was making a home in my clothes. However, other than once being bothered by my teammates' taking pictures of me in a place they couldn't figure out why I'd ever enjoy, the only thing that ever got to me was the cold. The biting air came off the sea and settled into our little valley, and forced me over by the fire where I dozed on and off for several hours.
Finally, one sound brought me wide awake- it was the unmistakable sound of a beautifully tuned V8 engine- the first Trophy Truck was on its way! Within moments both pit crews- ours and the one up the course from us- had our generators going and our lights on. Everyone sprang into action, as none of us had been able to raise our respective racers on the radio, and although our team knew that our Trophy Truck (Rick D. Johnson's 41 Ford) had dealt with about an hour of down time, we'd heard that some eight hours earlier, and the motor we heard could be anyone. I strained my ears, trying to discern who might be coming. The whine and pitch of those eight cylinders reverberated off the walls lining our long valley, and a chill of excitement ran through my whole body. I'd heard my dad describe his first experiences in the first Baja 1000 of his youth, as he watched the bouncing, flickering headlights as the glimmered some 10 miles away. He and those around them would murmur- "Is it Parnelli (Jones)?" "What about (Bobby) Ferro?" "Could it be Drino (Miller)?" Only when the streaking lights flashed by and revealed the gold and white paint scheme of the legendary "Big Oly" Bronco did everyones' suspense get put to rest- Parnelli Jones was out in front. Now I was in the same position myself, and the suspense was killing me. The higher pitch of motor would've ordinarily made me think Robby Gordon, but I'd heard he had a lot of early down time and might even be out of the race. The motor sounded familiar, but I readied my camera once again, I couldn't figure it out. As the unfamiliar paint job streaked by, I missed the shot (I forgot to take off the lens cap), and I only saw two distinguishing mark- the word "ROCKSTAR," and what I thought was the word "CALIENTE."I knew the logo- that of Rockstar Energy Drinks, but knew of noone with that sponsorship. I asked if anyone had caught the number, and Larry, my boss, said he thought he saw a two-digit number starting with "3." I thought for a moment and then realized- CALIENTE was actually CADIENTE, the last name of Garron Cadiente, driver of the 38 Ford Trophy Truck, whose 1-race partner for this race was Rockstar-sponsored driver Todd LeDuc. I liked Cadiente, and as I listened to what I thought was the crispest, cleanest-sounding engine in the history of off-road rip back into the darkness, I hoped in my mind that 38 would have a clean run into Cabo to pick up the win. Larry and I had touted many other drivers to win, but as time passed (LeDuc, then driving for Cadiente, came by at 3:29 am, and the next vehicle, Rob MacCachren, driving for Mark Post, came in at 3:59, a full half-hour behind), the driver who started first on the road and who Larry and I felt could never win the 1000, looked like he had the race all sewed up. As it turned out, LeDuc lost two successive third members, spent several hours stopped on course, and would up somewhere around tenth in class. Still, I'll never forget that sound- the blaring, bursting pitch echoing out into that otherwise empty Baja night, is a sound that screams, in one undeniable roar, the true adventurous nature of the Baja 1000.
I did manage to get shots of the next two trucks to come by, both of whom ended up passing Cadiente/LeDuc and ultimately taking first and second overall in the four-wheel vehicle category. Pictured here is Gustavo Vildosola Jr., in the 4 Vildosola Racing Ford, who came by just three minutes behind MacCachren and nearly became the first Mexican national to win the 1000 overall, missing out to Post/MacCachren by about 10 minutes after a gruelling 1296-mile battle.
By 5:30, the sun was lurking over the horizon , and by 6:15, Rick came roaring into our pit. After struggling with a malfunctioning fueling system, we sent him on his way with four fresh tires and some 65 gallons of fuel. We made our final stop, on the beach at Punta Conejo (race mile 1156), where we waited until around 7:00 pm for our Protruck to come through, then staggered down Highway 1, through La Paz, past the final checkpoint and visual pit at Todos Santos, and through to the finish line in Cabo San Lucas, where our Trophy Truck and Protruck had taken 6th and 5th in their respective classes, the latter taking the checkers around midnight, some 42 hours after the first motorcycle had taken the green flag at the start line in Ensenada. All in all, we were up for some 43 hours, finally hitting the hay around 3:00 am.
Despite all the subsequent difficulty, frustration, and pure exhaustion of our adventure, that night outside Loreto was truly a night I'll never forget. I hope to someday share this story with the past, present, and future generations of Baja adventurers, and to see and hear their stories of their first encounters with these beasts that go bump, jump, scrape, rip, and roar in the night.
Last edited by pedal2metal; July 20th, 2008 at 19:06.
Reason: I had posted pictures, but the links failed.
Whether it's in behind the wheel, in the saddle, or in everyday life, never forget that every second counts.
July 20th, 2008 18:47
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