Money For Nothin’
The Sierra San Pedro Mountains are an amazing backdrop for this photo-op with Tom Watson. Ol’ Tommy always seemed to be right there ready to go when the camera came out of the bag.
I awoke the next morning when someone’s car alarm went off outside my hotel room, waking me from one of the deepest sleeps in recent Hutchison history. I hopped up out of bed, felt the agony of yesterday’s ride in every muscle and joint in my body, let out a moan of pain and flopped back down on the bed in a heap. I decided to go back to sleep rather than deal with the aching. Maybe I’m a pussy, but I swear I have never been that sore in my life.
When I finally did wake up a couple hours later, all I could think was how much of a stud someone like Mouse McCoy or anyone who rides Ironman (solo) at Baja really is. That being said, we all decided as a group to take an extra day to recover, check out San Felipe and make sure our equipment was in order before deciding on our final plan of action.
Our goal going into this race was to have each rider pre-run their section at least one time as well as riding the entire course. We still had two team members coming down to Mexico from the States a few days before the race, so on the recommendation of all the experienced Baja riders we met during our stay at San Felipe, we opted to omit the notorious San Felipe whoop-section from our pre-run fun. Instead we decided to focus on the regions the rest of us would be riding. So, rather than enduring the south loop we cut across the course between RM230 and RM240 on the Zoo Road and began day two at RM370. Our destination: The famous Mike’s Sky Ranch, where we planned to stay the night and soak in some history of Baja at the most popular remote resort destination on the peninsula, accessible only by off-road vehicles.
This is the backside to the San Pedro Mountains as you near Mike’s Sky Ranch. J.C. was having a good time riding Baja. A little bit better than that 9-to-5 construction gig you had to give up on isn’t it Hilde?
From the Zoo Road crossing at RM370 to the region around RM400 the riding was primarily fast, non-technical two-track with a bunch of whoops and cactus thrown in to keep you honest and on course. The sand was pretty deep and the roads were comprised of hard granite that would chew you up pretty bad if you took a tumble. The surrounding Sierra San Pedro Mountains were both majestic and ominous at the same time. The range looked like a scene from Lord of the Rings, a barren wasteland that stood between us and our destination on the other side. Of course there was no Dark Lord or a ring for that matter, just a cold beer waiting for us at Mike’s. It’s interesting that these same types of roads that we were on at the time are actually very similar to what we have to ride on as we travel between the really good riding areas in the woods of Oregon.
We spent a half hour navigating the deep gravel that made up the base of the San Matais Wash before reaching our first pit-stop on Highway 3. The blue-gray decomposed granite and shadows from the surrounding flora concealed the big rocks that were eager to leave a lasting impression on our front wheels. The faster you went the less time you have to avoid them, or in some cases the more momentum you had to help make the save after you hit them. No matter how you look at it though, they are out to get ya.
Apparently Wilky was having too much fun in the washes and whoops when he got taken for a ride on the hidden-rock express. At about 60 mph he drilled a sneaker and went airborne, and when he smashed back to earth he tweaked the bike a bit. Nothing a little elbow grease couldn’t fix, though. However, the poor shrubbery he shaved off will never be the same. He told us about the episode a few times over the course of the next couple days in his animated ‘Wilky’ style. Funny how the bush got bigger and the trajectory increased incrementally with each telling though. Was that 2-3 feet in the air or 5-6? I can’t remember. The point is though, he had a smile on afterwards and he kept on moving on.
The scorched countryside surrounding Mike’s Sky Ranch is a reminder of just how difficult it is to put out a wildfire once it gets rolling.
I was surprised at how fast we made it to the road leading up to Mike’s. It was a lot of fun going full-on rally-racer during that stretch – whoever gets this section was certain to have a blast. It was twisty with lots of elevation changes and amazing desert scenery from the hills overhead to the canyon of Arroyo San Rafael below.
A few creek crossings broke up the ‘monotony’ of the curvy canyon roads and before too long we were actually seeing hand-painted signs directing us to Mike’s Sky Rancho and a few other points of interest hidden deep in the desert of Baja. As we got closer to the ranch we could see that the surrounding terrain was charred and burnt from a huge wildfire. The red-tan decomposed granite road snaked through the blackened remains of shrubs and bushes all the way to the driveway at Mike’s. The remnants of the burn went right up to the buildings so either the hired help did a stellar job of fighting off the flames or these were all new facilities.
Mike’s Ranch was a sight for sore eyes. It was just nice to know the destination had been met and all was well, or so it seemed. After we located the office our team mascot Steve (a.k.a. ‘Wilky’) kicked off his boots and leapt off the diving board into the pool. He made quite the awkward entrance and it was an entertaining start to our wonderful stay at the Sky Ranch.
Diving Defined: The sport of entering the water from a raised position, often while executing tumbles, twists, and other acrobatic maneuvers. In most dives the upper part of the body enters the water first, and the arms are extended straight over the head.
In this case the diver (Wilky) appears to be frozen between the Pike and Tuck manuever before entering the water in what is commonly referred to as the Flying Watusi/Belly Flop. The water was about 33 degrees.
The cantina was both cozy and dim and the shelves were stocked with worthy libations, but the walls were the real point of interest. Plastered from floor to ceiling was an astonishing amount of memorabilia that encompassed the past 40-years of Baja history. Autographed posters from legends like Larry Roseler, Paul Krause, Johnny Campbell and Ivan Stewart, business cards, photos of patrons and friends long gone, stickers, autographed dollar bills, ball caps and t-shirts were all left behind as mementos. Many of the business cards on the walls had been there so long they were turning brown with age and were in stark contrast to the new cards stapled alongside them. We truly were in the heart of Baja history in this place and it was a real honor just to be there so we stuck on our own stickers, signed our own shirt and stapled it to the ceiling so that we too would be immortalized, just like the rest of these crazy people. Thank goodness the fire didn’t take this establishment – that truly would have been a shame.
We bellied up to the bar to celebrate the occasion with a couple cold ones only to get tossed another curve ball when I tried to square up with a credit card. The bartender looked me right in the eye and laughed as he reminded us Mike’s is a cash only establishment! Yikes. At $50 per person a night plus booze I was going to come up about $300 short in the cash department. Thankfully, Jerry was there to save our asses again. He had the cash to cover, and for the second time bailed us out of a fiasco. So we continued along with our plan to tip back a few Pacifico’s before mealtime. Everyone had a turn retelling their favorite episode from the past two days of riding. Some were funny, some were more like rubbing salt in the wound but in the end we all were having a good time and it showed.
Dinner came a long time later but it was a welcome change from our trail diet of granola bars and PB&J. Marinated skirt steak, rice, beans, veggies and tortillas with a chaser of high-quality H-2-Oh really hit the spot. For desert we got a helping of superstar with a side order of Baja-legend.
The bar at Mike’s is all about history. Plastered on these walls is more Baja memorabilia than you can absorb during a single night.
Shortly after filling our bellies with deceased bovine, two members of a high-profile Baja racing team showed up after pre-running the Mike’s Sky Ranch road section during the night. Showing up on a decked-out Suzuki RM-Z450s was Travis Pastrana along with “Dust to Glory” star and multi-time Baja champion Andy Grider. By the time we were through interviewing the two riders it was revealed that Travis had convinced both Rick Johnson and Grider to join him and Pastrana’s friend and film-maker Gregg Godfrey on the Dream Team. Sure, Honda actually has rights to that tag-line with Campbell’s string of eight-consecutive victories about to be extended to nine, but these guys looked fairly formidable, too.
Pastrana explained how Yoshimura, with less than three weeks to build the RM-Z450 motocrosser into a desert weapon, had assembled the race bike in record time and that he couldn’t believe how much effort they all put in to it. Like us, these guys had assembled a team of friends they felt would give them the best chance of finishing, or in their case, winning. Some of the big differences were of course that they had OLN tailing them in a helicopter while we had Jerry & Jean in the pickup – slightly different circumstances. Anyway, could you imagine the shake-up if these guys got their whole program working on race day?
Baja super-hero Andy Grider and Freestyle legend Travis Pastrana strike a pose with Fernando the multi-purpose Concierge/bartender/cook from Mike’s.
When the journalistic duties were wrapped up, we all sat around the campfire and sang ‘Kumbayah’ for a few hours before hitting the sack. We planned an early start for another long day that would be the third and final part of our pre-run group ride. After tomorrow’s ride we would break into groups and tackle our specific sections one more time before the race.
2 – Dinged wheels
Mike’s – Ensenada
La Bufadora or Bust
The third and final day of our group ride would take us through 140-miles of desert followed by an hour-long street ride back to town on Highway 1. It started off with a belly full of machaca and beans before we set out on our 100-mile stretch from Mike’s at RM430 to meet Jerry and the truck at RM530. The tight and twisty roads around Mike’s are spectacular place to ride, criss-crossing up and down the narrow canyon walls on the edge of the rocky road.
Wilky says he backed off at the last moment because he felt guilty about splashing me. I think I just cut him off at the pass. No matter – we both got soaked!
After racking up 20-25 miles during the canyon portion of the ride, the stream crossings were getting increasingly wider and deeper. Somewhere between RM450-RM460 an ambush was set by Wilky at one particularly deep stream. I rounded the corner only to see Wilky in my peripheral vision blasting out of the bushes and heading for the huge water hole up ahead. I knew instantly what he was trying to do so I pinned it, leaned back and hoped to come out of this unjustified assault unscathed. I hit the water just moments before he did but I had a bit more momentum going in. He says later he backed off at the last second but I think I scared him with my hair-ball approach. Long story short – I soaked him. But I was drenched too, so it was all relative in the end.
My feet were now soaking wet and we had quite a bit of riding still to go – by the end of the day my feet were looking like pale prunes and felt even worse. Enough of the whining though. From that point to RM475 the road opened up to relatively smooth and flat switchbacks coming down out of the mountains. We took a break at the paved road crossing and found a big stick stuck in the spokes of the rear wheel on Watson’s bike and emptied the last gas can into mine. We had 60-plus miles to go to reach the truck so I was pretty sure I would need a splash from someone later on. For now, though, we were on our way to the next gnarly section around the technically challenging Simpson’s Ranch in the RM500 region.
You cannot imagine the happiness in my heart after I saw the ‘Gasoline’ sign at Coyote Ranch. Sure, I may look like a jackass here but I was pretty stoked to know everything was going to be alright this time around.
Along the way we came across the Rancho Coyote sign on the side of the course, ‘Gasoline-Food-Cold Beer.’ Like a bug to a porch light I was drawn to the Ranch in search of that splash of fuel that would get me to the truck on time.
While there we met a CRF450X rider who had a flat front. We gave him our 21-inch tube and our tools and he set out to make the swap while we made the walk to the Ranch. After making nice with the owner, we emptied the $5 per gallon worth of fuel out of the bleach jug, geared up and continued on our way. Next up: Simpson’s.
The big obstacle here was a mile-long descent characterized by ruts capable of swallowing a mini-bike whole and an inordinate amount of rocks – oh yeah, and a burned-down Toyota pickup in the middle of the track – on the downside of a hill. Scary stuff if you were to get caught there at speed. Otherwise, this section was a real blast with all the hogged-out berms and turns that gave it character. Shortly thereafter the downhill was upon us.
There was silt out here too – a few miles worth. Plus, the wretched powder covers up nasty tire ruts carved into the ground. The bars struggled to wrestle out of our grips while the silt splashed out like a wake on either side of the front tire. We had to wait behind a couple buggies here that were also slowed by the dust and difficult terrain. So much dust was in the air with the few of us in this group stirring it up that I started to wonder how terrible it might be in the dark on race day. I’d find out soon enough, since this was the heart of my race section.
Once free of the silt, rocks and ruts, the course dumped onto an improved dirt road for the final 20-25-miles to the truck and fuel at RM530. After fueling up and eating yet another PB&J the rider we helped at Coyote came back and paid for the tube we spotted him. That was a cool gesture, for sure. From here the road was silty and rutty again but it led to a sweet power-line road just like the ones back home in Oregon. It was single lane with lots of short, steep hills and sharp corners, lined by creosote bushes and cactus. JC took a tumble in the silt ruts and reported his ankle was tweaked pretty good as a result. It didn’t stop him though.
The flora kept you in line while the trail encouraged you to pin it whenever possible. I had been riding with our photographer Maddox right on my tail for a while, but when I looked back he was gone. A few minutes later I found him with a flat rear tire on the WR. We waited a while for the support truck to show up then spent a good 30-40 minutes changing the tube – twice – before getting back underway. From there to the highway was a flat-trackers paradise, highlighted with loads of sweeping corners and berms dug in from all the pre-runners before us. The next 25-miles were all road and it went by quick. By the time we got to the highway, JC and Wilky were buddied up with buggy racer Larry Ragland who was waiting for his vehicle to show up.
Home sweet home! Our rental house at Punta Banda was so sweet. The only thing it didn’t have was a hot tub and that my friends was a major bummer.
The rest of the trip to our beautiful rental house on the beach at Punta Banda was done in darkness. From there we would split into three groups and tackle our individual sections during the last 3 days before the race.
Melted Right Number Plate
Gas Can – Melted
Saddlebags – Melted
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