Well, I’ve been back for a few days and still trying to reconcile it all in my head. What a trip! I have to thank Cameron Steele (PAB) & Jeff Laubsher (Lobster)and the rest of the Desert Assassin’s crew for selecting and allowing an unknown out of Mesa, AZ to be a part of such an epic ride. I am proud to say I’ve ripped with some amazing riders and people over the 5 days I was in Baja. For those scared or unwilling to go to Mexico, I believe they are really missing out on such a beautiful place. Not at any point in time did I feel sketched out or worried about my safety. The DA logs tens of thousands of miles a year adventuring the peninsula and I had complete faith that they would lead me to safety at any situation. The captains, chase crew, equipment and the logistics behind such a trip are second to none. Safety is #1 and that is kept in the back of everyone’s mind.
Ken Neal owner of Bulletproof Diesel here in Mesa, AZ is a integral part of the #16 DA trophy truck pit crew and it worked out that I would ride with him down through the border to meet up with the rest of the riders since he signed on this adventure as part of the chase crew. We loaded up Tuesday night at his shop and hit the road 5 am Wednesday morning and headed for breakfast before the border. After breakfast we headed across the border into Mexicali and headed straight to Borrego to start the first day of the Hell Ride. Being a complete fresh fish I was a bit nervous to meet everyone and to see if my riding was solid enough to adventure the 5 days through Baja. Everyone geared up, had a short riders meeting to go over detail, said a prayer and hit the dirt.
First section was probably the gnarliest, Mini-Summit. This is about a 1 mile descent down nasty bowling ball to ford fiesta sized boulders and drop offs. There were 25 of us strategically navigating down the summit and I was bringing up the rear so that I wouldn’t get in anyone’s way. Here’s a shot of me starting down:
Well about a quarter through I felt really good and thought, “This isn’t so bad”. As soon as I think that I hear a huge pop and coolant starts flying out the left side of my bike coating the rock below like the cap of a Makers Mark bottle. “F” is what I instantly thought. My coolant overflow tank decided to burst and now I was losing coolant without recovery. We shut her down and Mark Bradford and I proceeded to bypass the tank and just kept an eye on coolant level until we finished the day. Well, the bike kept over heating and blowing steam because of the nature of the terrain we were on, I tried to power my way through the boulders without engine, but that was pretty tough as throttle and clutch are instrumental in powering through off camber shotty terrain. Took a few falls and got pretty gassed out. Jesse Beck “Baja Nomad”, LA City paramedic and overall Baja bad ass started pushing my bike down by foot and we leap frogged down the descent to where I could safely navigate to the bottom and start our journey to San Felipe for lunch. Thanks to Mark and Jesse for helping me get though that situation, wished I could have tackled it on my own, maybe next time, and thanks to everyone else for being patient with the situation. We got to the bottom, I caught my breath and we jammed through a long whoop section that took us right into San Felipe for lunch.
After some great tacos and Cokes we threw our riding jackets on and headed for the coastline that is the Sea of Cortez. Awesome! This was my first experience ripping beach and there is nothing like it! 4th and 5th gear pinned through wet sand and view like none other was epic! We had one quick pit off of the beach for gas and snacks then we hopped right back on the beach and held it pinned until we lost sunlight, we kicked on the Baja Designs HID race light and hit the highway though Puertecitos into Gonzaga Bay where we would post up for the night at Alfonsinas, a nice little spot right on the beach overlooking a beautiful Sea of Cortez and the grounds for some amazing sun rises. I was a little tired and more mentally drained because of the situation on the Mini Summit. It really bummed me out, and as much as you want to kick back and have a few cervesas you really had to be on the ball with your bike maintenance to make sure that you would be ready for the next day so I changed out my air filter, lubed up the chain and gave everything a once over to make sure she would be good to go and proceeded to my room to prepare for the next day. Dinner came quick and we had a buffet of carne, shrimp, fish and the normal sides for our appetites. Cameron jumped up and had a few words to say about day 1 and wanted all of us to do introductions. For people that know me speaking in front of people is not my bag and being rider #24 put me at the rear of the introductions so that gave me chance to hear what some of the riders had to say so I would be prepared in my speech. There were so many great guys on this ride, from pro riders to industry leaders to a little non-profit guy like me. It was great to hear people’s stories on their adventures in Baja and to get to know some guys a little better for a new guy like me was good. I spoke and basically talked about my short experience at the 2009 Baja 1000 and how I saw a post on a forum site that introduced me to the annual trip the DA puts on, “Rip to the Tip”. That post basically led to me contacting Cameron and somehow getting on the list for this ride. We all finished up food and I called it a night.
By the way, I earned a nickname right off of the bat thanks to the one and only Manny O., AKA “Squirrel”. For those who know Manny he sure knows how to brighten everyone’s day to say the least, super bad ass rider and certified trash talker to back it up, one of my favorites for sure. Well this was at the base of the Mini Summit when I pulled up to where they were all waiting and resting up he yells at me and says something about my “bling bling” red anodized wheels and parts and being all show and no go……”yeah, yeah… so you’re that guy, bitch… Bling, Bling!” From there on out it was “bling” this and “bling” that. PAB comes up and says, “You know that’s going to stick, right?” Damn! So from here on out its “Bling Bling”. Actually pretty stoked to have earned a nick name as dumb as it is, so I’ll represent it proudly, ha-ha. Thanks Manny…..
Every day starts out around 5:45am so we would have to time to see the sunrise over the Sea of Cortez. We snapped some group shots and got the gear packed up and over to chase before breakfast. I always made sure to not be the last guy ready to go. Breakfast was always a prepared buffet and it was nice to not have to worry about food. Headed outside to fill up the water bladder and warmed up the old steel horse. We hit the trail by 7:30 and headed towards the desert for a good long day of rocks, rocks and more rocks. 1st Leg was some nice sand washes, some rocks and Fred’s Tractor trail. We took a small break at the base of Fred’s and PAB had a game planned for us. Here is a thumbs up, check out the boojum trees in the background:
Basically the riders were split up into 2 teams, red and blue team and the team that had the fewer amounts of dabs would win the rights to hit some epic single track before the other team gets to. I got picked second to last with good reason. Our team was selected to hit the hill first and I went about 4th in line. The red team was all lined up at the top of the first little climb cheering us on through the entrance to probably the 2nd most gnarliest trail of the trip. I blip it up the first small hill and set my sights on what was ahead. About 50 yards up I decide to look way ahead to see what I was up against and of course I nail a rock and get bucked of the bike where everyone could see me, bouncing off the rev limiter and all. I Pick her up and put my butt back on the bike and truck up another 100 yards where there was a quick drop to a steep uphill that veered to the left. Only made it about 3/4th of the way on that one and dumped her down a few times. It took some steam of me so I took a short rest and finally made it up and through the rest of the trail flailing like a whining 2 year old getting his blankie taken away. Stoked I made it up without injury or damage to the bike, but it definitely kicked my ass. There was only one guy who made the whole hill without dabbing and that was 2009 Class 40 champ, Brian Campbell, mad respect for this guy who ended up taking the coveted “Hell of a Rider” award…..well deserved sir. The rest of the day was filled with some awesome single track by way of Chapala and “22 day” trail. Special thanks to Bill Nichols who created these amazing stretches of trail through the Baja desert, simply stellar. We treaded lightly and took special care to not blow through the tightly carved path that stretches from the Pacific to the Sea of Cortez. Once out of the trail we hit the black doom (tarmac) for the final leg into Bay of LA. This was one of my trip highlights. The view that we had coming over the hill overlooking Bay of LA was beautiful and breath taking, it was my “wow” moment for sure.
We got to our hotel and had some technical difficulties that involved some water and some electricity. Apparently some guys that jumped in for a quick shower were getting shocked by the shower head so I decided to go ahead and take a wet wipe bath that night. Sketchy, but funny to hear that was happening once we knew everyone was ok! Regular bike maintenance was on the agenda then on to an epic dinner that involved lobsters the size of Chihuahuas’ and margaritas. Yum!
Up at 5:45 for breakfast and gearing up for another day of ripping through the desert, this day would take us from Bay of LA back up to Gonzaga Bay taking the famous “Window Rock” trail though El Crucero, Frog Canyon, Snoopy Island and on up to Alfonsinas for lodging. Window rock was a super fun trail and I ended up cruising with a buddy, Frog, who had taken some spills the days before and hurt his shoulder. He was struggling a bit through some sections and I stuck with him though most of the trail until the sweep crew, Jesse and Mark caught up and I proceeded to try and catch up with the rest of the guys. The guys were only about a mile or so up on a hill so I met up and we took a small break because there was some bike issues on a few bikes. At this point my bike was overheating because of the technical trails and “Pup” ended up trading his higher pressure radiator cap with me to help with the point the bike would boil over at. After the swap my bike had zero issues the rest of the trip and I deeply appreciate his generosity! I got called out as one of the slow guys at this point and had to jump ahead with PAB and a few other guys to post up at the window rock. We jammed on some rad single track and I managed to “lineback” a barrel cactus with my right shoulder and arm. Ouch! Had PAB pull out some deep “Baja Heroin” in the muscle and carried on to the window rock where we found out that frog had some radiator damage and they were doing some repairs. Awesome rock and got to see why the trail was named after it, cool landmark.
Hit some two track and a long stretch of whoops to El Crusero for a lunch break. After lunch I got wind that there was going to be some rookie initiation shenanigans up ahead so I was ready for some fun. We headed into frog canyon where there is some small streams running that smell like crap. I saw a short video clip on YouTube from the Rip to the Tip in 2010 and I knew right away what we were in for. We got to the “area” and all of the vets made us stick around for 2 minutes while they go through the fresh fish rookie spot. 2 minutes was up and the Beaman brothers proceeded to lead the pack into a swampy mud pit that was pretty much dried up so we pretty much lucked out for initiation, I decided to go through the deepest section just to say I didn’t wuss out. There was to be another game with some rubber ducky’s, but the water was too low and it never happened, bummer. We hit some sandy washes into some gravel roads on a good pace and PAB stopped because he got word that Frog went down hard. Apparently he blew through a drop off and into a rock at 4th gear and knocked him self out. Everything ended being ok, but he got to ride in the chase truck for the rest of the trip, I was definitely stoked he was alright. After the scare, we jammed on a gravel road for a long stretch into a rocky trail that spit us out at Snoopy’s island for the last stretch of beach to Alfonsinas. We took a small break at Snoopy’s and had Ken Neal, chase crew, gear up for his 2nd time ever on a dirt bike. We were all stoked to see him rip some beach for the first time and he had 5 chances to fall over before he would get roosted by everyone. He made it all the way back to the hotel without taking any diggers! Awesome job Ken! Another day in the books! We had a great dinner and probably one of the more fun nights sitting around the campfire and playing with some camera settings. We used a 15 second exposure to capture the Hell riders individually drawing letters with flashlights and a small torch and we managed after about 6 takes get an awesome picture of us spelling “HELLRIDE” on the beach. Check it out:
I think I am going to get this one in poster size and put it up in the garage. I think Billy Cotton nailed the night by saying “I think this is the most fun I’ve had sober in a long time!” Props to Josh Wellington for nailing the shot.
Another sunrise off Gonzaga Bay, breakfast, loading the gear then we were off to hit some more trails heading north with San Felipe as our day’s destination. Cruised though some trails, blazing some of our own to get closer to the beach and I ended up with a flat tire on the front wheel. The first flat had to be me. We ended up posting up on a nice spot that overlooked the Sea of Cortez and Mark Bradford and John Levy jammed out on my front tire and after some investigation the ultra heavy duty tube I paid to have put in wasn’t so ultra heavy duty. Someone is getting an ass chewing very soon. Not only was it not ultra heavy duty, the extra tube I had in the fender pack had a spot rubbed off from moving around and deemed itself garbage. We cannibalized the tube and wrapped it around a tube that Bruce Hendel or “El Gato” so kindly gave up for me. Thanks Bruce and thanks to Bradford and Levy for the labor!
I want to really emphasize that every person involved with the Hell Ride is top notch. It really is labeled as a brotherhood with good reason. No one complained and if there was hand to be leant it would be instantly without question. I am so proud to be associated with such a brotherhood. With that said we aired up and jammed through some beach, sandy hill climbs and descents heading into Matomi Wash where we would have lunch and rest up for some sandy washes and rocks. We took it really slow and there was a lot of stop and go with good reason. There a lot of lines within the wash that you could get crossed up in and PAB didn’t want anyone to get out of shape on a line that no one else went on. If anything were to happen it would be a nightmare locating everyone so I believe it was the right thing to do. We took a break at a cool spot on the trail where the buggy was posted up so Evan could take some video. I figured out that if there was going to be film there was going to be either some falls or embarrassment and I didn’t fail. We came though a really narrow sandy wash where there were big egg shaped rocks you had to dodge and I managed to hit a few and take some slow speed tumbles. The last lay down was, of course, on film as I managed to get my leg stuck in between the rock and my bike. So I’m sure there is some good video of me trying to pull my leg out of the sandwich and extending my ski poles out through a small rocky climb before our rest stop. The rest of the day is pretty much a blur. I remember some whoop sections and a long stretch of sandy wash into San Felipe where we played in the sand dunes for a little bit. There was a game we played where we had a short start into a steep deep sand hill and the person that made it least furthest on the hill had to go shirtless for dinner that night. Glad to say it wasn’t me! We got in to the Hotel, clean up, did the normally scheduled maintenance and had a great dinner with some award ceremonies and speeches about the overall experience. “Hell of a Show” award went to Jason “Frog” Groves for his epic dismounts; “Hell of a Brother” award went to Mark Bradford for his efforts as sweep and on-trail assistance, well deserved brother! The final award was the “Hell of a Rider” award and it went to Brian Campbell for being an all around amazing rider, no dabs on Fred’s Tractor trail was pretty rad! Had a few drinks and hit the sack preparing for the final day of riding.
Day 5 started early as usual, had breakfast, watched the sunrise and geared up to hit the trail for a long day to the border. We hit the black doom for a few miles then we headed east over to the Diablo dry lake bed and hauled ass for a gas stop in Borrego off Hwy. 3. After we refilled and filled up on electrolytes and a snack we headed over to the Sea of Cortez and rode in a single file line through some loamy wetland type of stuff I can’t really remember what you would call it, but you definitely couldn’t grab 5th gear in it and it was all you could see for miles. Here’s a shot:
Hit some rocky pointed hills that were king of sketchy and met up with the chase guys for more gas. Jesse Beck “Baja Nomad” basically BBQ’d his clutch as this point so we loaded the bike up and hit the tarmac into where we would have lunch off of HWY 5 about 10 miles down the road. At this point we had about 80 miles to the border we all came to the agreement that we were ready to call it trip so we could all get home to our families at a decent hour so we dressed down and loaded up.
All in all a trip of a life time for me. No major equipment hiccups and just some normal brush and cacti damage on the arms. Thanks to the DA for making this a safe and well thought out trip for all of us involved. If you ever have the opportunity to go on trip like this take it and run! I want especially thank my wife, family and friends that supported a mission to make this dream a reality. Your generosity will never be forgotten. Also would like to thank Diego @ Baja Designs, Stich @ Trick Stix and Terry @ TNT Racing for their support on the bike.
Burt Neal, AKA “Bling Bling”