Day 4, Loreto to San Jose Del Cabo: Zen and the art of rally navigation.
I woke up very early on day 4 despite the fact I was working on an average of 4 or 5 hours a sleep per night since a couple days before the race started. I packed the bag that was going to go in the van and rode over to the other hotel to drop it off. I didn’t know what room they were in and they were not out by the van yet so I had a few minutes to just zen out and mentally prepare for the day. I was feeling pretty good. The adrenaline was keeping me going and the end of the race was near.
I had thought the start was at 6:00 but turns out it was at 7:00 so I had plenty of time. I hung out with a few of the other guys as they got ready and got psyched up for the day. I knew nothing about the stage other than seeing a rough map of it. I saw that the route took us back across Baja over to the Pacific side again then down toward Cabo. The day before the crossing of the mountains was some of the roughest and slowest going I had ever seen so I expected today to be the same.
We had a 17 mile transit out of La Paz to the start with several gas stations along the road. I had not planned on topping off the tank since I should have had plenty to make it to the Mag 7 pits at Todos Santos, but when I saw the Pemex gas station that the roadbook listed as the last fuel before the start of the special stage I figured since I had plenty of time I would get it topped off. This was a very wise move.
You will recall that on day 2 my GPS got left in Antonio’s truck. I had hopped to see them again in La Paz but since they no longer had either bike in the race I suspect they decided to start heading north, certainly understandable. The day before the lack of a GPS wasn’t much of an issue. While the terrain was by far the most remote I had ever seen, there was only one road so really no chance of getting lost.
One of my goals for this race was to get some practice at navigating by the roadbook only. In the Dakar there is no GPS, just a roadbook so this is a necessary skill I need to learn. This day I would get a serious crash course in it. By far this was my favorite day of the race. The roads were fast and smooth, lots of slippery loose conditions but very consistent and not much for rocks. By this point the bike was starting to feel like it was getting shaken apart and I just wanted it to finish the race. Once I realized how much fun these roads were I opened it up and had a blast.
I actually caught the guy who started a minute in front of me however I think that was mostly due to him being concerned about navigation and not really a speed issue. He followed for a while but eventually I no longer saw his headlight in my mirror, so perhaps I was a bit faster. This was a more populated area with a lot of little farms and a lot more roads. There were lots of opportunities to get it wrong and I had to navigate it with nothing more than the roadbook and odometer. Even with my extreme lack of sleep I was in a zen state and focused on the task at hand. I was riding fast (well, fast for me at least) and while I did blow past a few corners early on I quickly realized it and would brake slide the bike to turn it and be heading in the right direction. I was at one with the bike.
The route later came up on a small town, the roadbook gave a note “slow through village” then a mile or so past there was a “left turn at checkpoint”. The problem was there was no landmark given and while they did specify a few of the checkpoints to try to ensure nobody cut the course short there usually was nobody at them. There were several left turns here and I wasn’t sure which one it was. I wandered around the little town for a bit asking some of locals if they had seen some motorcycles come through and if so which way, but I wasn’t able to find anybody who spoke english and they all just looked at me confused. I assumed their confusion meant I was off the course. I was having fears that I had made a wrong turn much earlier and wasn’t even in the right town, it had been some time since I had seen any other bikes. After a little backtracking I saw a couple other riders, one fixing a flat, at the correct turn and I was back on course.
The road surface switched from sandy gravel to a soft brown dirt. Still very smooth and predictable but not a lot of traction. I came up over a rise a little too fast and saw the road dropped away into an off camber right turn. I thought I could get it slowed down and into control but the rear slid out from under me and I was down. The rear tire had around 1000 miles of hard riding on it by this point and had much less that its original level of traction. I immediatly though of my spare rear with a fresh tire that was in the trailer.
The low side crash didn’t do any damage to the bike other than a bit of a scrape. Similar damage to me, a bit of a scrape on the inside of my leg, a bit painful but no real injury. I picked up the bike, hit the starter and of course nothing happened. You may recall my intermittent starter issue I had been having throughout the rally. Luckily there was enough of a hill to get some momentum to push start the bike again.
The wide and fast roads were starting to get narrower and more twisty as we climbed into the mountains. I could tell that this road got more traffic than the mountain road we had ridden the day before so I was especially careful around any blind corners. They don’t close the roads for these races and while they do inform the people that live there that a race will be going on if a farmer needs to go someplace he is going to go there. The way I see it this is their home and it is up to us to watch out for them, not the other way around.
The road stayed clear for my passing through the mountains. I saw no traffic but did have a few locals spectating along the side of the road rooting me on. Throughout the race, even in some really remote areas we would see locals waiting for the racers to come through and route them on. Each time I saw this it would brighten my spirits and keep me going. Many of the roads that the Mexican 1000 raced on are ones that they don’t use for the Baja 1000 due to the much higher speeds and more competitive nature of that race, it simply wouldn’t be safe. It looked like the people in these areas were happy to have a race come through their home area.
I managed to get through the narrowest bit of the mountain roads before catching a glimpse of headlights in my mirror. Gordon’s Dakar Hummer was catching me quickly so I just pulled over to the side and waved them by so they knew I was ready for them (not that they likely would have waited either way!). This was around mile 95, they must have had one hell of a lead because the next car to catch me was the “Terrible Herbst” trophy truck around mile 115.
This was when I realized that I really should have seen the Mag 7 pit by now. I knew I was going to be a little tight on fuel and would have appreciated a quick splash. Their pit support isn’t free and you have to pay for your fuel before the race. It turns out they screwed up and put their pit in a location that wasn’t even on the race course so NOBODY got fuel from them on Day 4.
Getting closer to the end we went through the softest sand yet of the race. Deep soft sand really causes the bike to suck a lot of fuel and not make a lot of forward progress. I was very concerned when the bike died because I thought it was already on reserve. I had an extra 1L bottle of fuel strapped to the luggage rack which I dumped in, then I realized I wasn’t on reserve yet so I switched the valve over. I wasn’t far from the finish by this point so this should be enough. The only concern was my intermittent electric starter. With this soft sand I couldn’t even move the bike let alone push start it.
It was an immense sense of relieve when the bike turned over when I hit the button. It still took a bit of fiddling to get the bike running as just like on day 1 when I hit reserve, vapor lock prevented fuel from flowing into the carb but I got it going again.
I had already lost a good bit of time earlier in the day due to my navigation mistake of missing the turn at the checkpoint. There were several other small mistakes, each probably costing me a minute or less. Then, coming into town I made one simple mistake that cost me big on time. The course came out of the sandy area onto the highway where a policeman was flagging traffic. Right then I should have just slowed down and ridden to the finish slowly but I was still in “race mode”. At the time I didn’t understand why suddenly the roadbook directions made no sense but after the race I re-read it and saw my mistake. I was suppose to turn left where the police were flagging traffic, but instead I turned right. I am sure the police wondered what the hell the crazy gringo was doing going the wrong way. The really odd thing is the next instruction in the book was to turn right at the “Y” by the Pemex station and the mileage just happened to line up nearly perfectly with a Pemex station at a “Y” in the road. It was just the wrong Pemex and the wrong “Y” but it made me think I was still on course. I did find it a little odd that there were no more police flagging traffic at the intersections.
I don’t know how long I wandered around town but I finally realized I was lost and started puling over and asking “Cabo Azul Hotel?” which was where the finish was. I managed to find the finish but surprised the workers by coming from the opposite direction down the street but no matter. They quickly realized I was trying to finish the race and grabbed the checkered flag for a quick wave and recorded my time.
The race was done.