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The story of four greenhorns and their shortcut

Shortcut long: 18 hours in the desert

Pre run for the Baja 1000, autumn 2008. We are on our way in the four-seater: Armin Kremer, our navigators Bryan and Sam, and me. It’s shortly past noon, the sun still burns in November. We are making good progress on the plain south of Mexicali. At somewhere around Race Mile 230 the track makes a wide loop around a perfectly flat dry salt lake. If we should go straight ahead here it would take us much quicker to the next service point and consequently to the hotel and consequently to a cool beer in the hotel …

The eight cylinder sings its 640hp tune, everything’s fine, we discuss via intercom: Should we give it a go? Look, there’s a motorbike track turning off into the plain. And there: the track of an ATV! Unanimous decision: We try it. I’m behind the wheel, turn in, new direction: shortest way to the hotel, wonderful … until the buggy feels like a ship on the sea, begins to float, loses ground! We start to sink, and I keep my foot on the throttle. The engine roars, behind us we shoot the mud up into the blue sky. But we get slower … and slower … and slower … and we stand. Axles on the ground, wheels deep in the sh … , if you know what I mean. Within 65 yards this salty mud brought us from 120 kph to a standstill.

This brings even 640hp to a standstill
This brings even 640hp to a standstill

OK, I switch off the engine. We leave the car. Always a strange moment. It is very quiet. Only the mud sizzles on the exhaust pipes. We sunk our buggy in the mud down to the axles. I call Martin on the satellite telephone. He is only two hours away with the truck.

Hello Martin, we've got a tiny problem here ...
Hello Martin, we've got a tiny problem here ...

What can we do in the meantime? Well, that’s clear: We’ll stuff everything we can find behind the rear wheels and catapult the buggy out of the mud. There’s only one tiny problem: There isn’t much in the desert. And even this is scarce.

There isn't a lot in the desert, and even this is scarce
There isn't a lot in the desert, and even this is scarce

Some dry branches, old planks, tyres. Well, it looks good. So I jump into the cockpit and stroke the throttle pedal as gentle as I can. And the buggy doesn’t move, but pieces of planks, mulch and tyres are evenly distributed behind our buggy over maybe a hundred feet.

No go. The buggy stands like cast in concrete
No go. The buggy stands like cast in concrete
Hey! Finally! There’s Martin in his truck!! There at the horizon! Hey, what’s he doing? He stops almost 400 metres away from us. He approaches us on foot, grins and says: “Well boys, I just didn’t want to sink the truck.” We don’t say anything, just stand before him like total greenhorns. Up to the knees in salty mud. Deep peeling for our calves. Martin says: “I’ll drive back to Mexicali and get some boards. It’s a two hour drive there and two hours back.”
The waiting starts
The waiting starts
Martin leaves, and we greenhorns stay behind. Our shadows get longer. The silence in the desert is big. We joke around, try this and that, wait for Martin. We wait till 22:00 hours. Finally he returns with wooden planks. Again, he stops 400 meters away from us. So we walk, carry the wood to the car. Put it in front of the axles, lift the buggy up with the jack, try to get it on the wood. If it works it brings us forward a few meters.
Nightshift in the salt mud
Nightshift in the salt mud
The wind blows, and in the beginning it carries away a few curses. But then we turn silent, maybe at one thirty in the morning. We just work. It’s a great feeling to get into a rhythm. I mean, honestly: We were becoming really good in laying wooden flooring onto the Mexican desert.
...we are making progress. Soon we'll reach solid ground
...we are making progress. Soon we'll reach solid ground
The sky changes the colour in the east: from pitch black to a glassy dark blue, then gold. It is 07:30 in the morning. We have brought our mud monster back to the track! We load it on the truck, enter the driver cabin. It can be a divine feeling simply to sit and have dry feet!
We made it! Mexicali here we come!
We made it! Mexicali here we come!
The guy at the gas stations has seen buggys like this before. He doesn’t ask embarrassing questions, simply gets out the water hose and turns our rolling termite hill back into a race car. I jump under the shower.
The rolling termite hill turns back into a buggy
The rolling termite hill turns back into a buggy
Martin says: “Guys, at eleven o clock your pre run continues.” I think to myself: “Why didn’t I listen to my mother when she told me to just be a car mechanic?”
But there it stands: Our buggy: clean, ready to go. I jump into the cockpit, and we’re off! In the evening they expect us at the team HQ in Ensenada, there we will have a cool beer. It we don’t find a short cut on the way there.