Equinox : 0 vs. Baja Xplore : 2
Donde esta la vereda de las vacas
Punta Banda, Baja California, MX: September 18, 2005
. The visiting team of Equinox from San Diego, was defeated for the second year in a row by the strong Baja Xplore 24 team from Tijuana. However, Equinox vow to be back and win in 2006. The Equinox Team of Steve as Navigator, Barrie as Strategist and Maricruz the Bike Specialist (and local contact from Tijuana) were confident they would beat Baja X, but the X team had too many tricks up their sleeve.
With fireworks at 5:30 AM waking the camp, teams for the contest, the officials, spectators and everyone else was ready for the 7:00 AM kickoff. In the first section Baja X chose aquaterra as the discipline. Equinox were up to the task and ran in wetsuits about 800 meters over a hill, through knee high scrub and cactus to enter the clear cold Pacific water. Most teams swam, but some teams ran trails along the cliffs. Equinox did well at the task of swimming about 1.5 Km to the first flag where they punched their control card ahead of 4 or 5 other teams.
Exiting the water, Equinox took off their fins and ran about 1 Km to the second punch. As this second point was a manned control it was considered CP1. Baja X had tucked CP1 inside a cove which required dirt track running, single track among the cactus, all above some steep coastal cliffs, and rock scrambling to reach. From this control Baja X required teams to inflate boats and paddle for about 5 Km.
Equinox had not practiced the inflatable boat rowing technique and quickly learned carrying extra paddles would have helped steering and forward propulsion. But Equinox enjoyed the scenic trip along the coast having to go into a cove for punch 3 and then having to stay between the coast and some small islands to get to punch 4. From the last water control to TA1 Equinox rotated paddlers and tried one person kicking off the back of the boat to keep with two other teams at the back of the pack.
At TA1 Baja X changed the discipline to trekking. This section had two CPs to locate which broke it into a 9 Km road section (marked on the map) a 5.5 Km bushwhack and cow trail section (with just a point on the map to find) then a 5 Km last leg to TA2 (along cow trails and then mostly down creek beds – the creeks were on the map the cow trails were not). Baja X played a very tough game in this section. Equinox and all other teams had no problem with the initial 9 Km. But then there were only 2 clues for what was designated as CP3.
Clue 1: Assuming you plotted correctly, CP3 was on a comparatively flat section of a main ridge. There were ridges and gullies every 400 meters, and the ridges were all steep (100 to 400 meters – that’s 300-1200 ft of ascent each time, if you went over any ridges).
Clue 2: Baja X had marked an area on the map as being full of Poison Oak, and teams were told this was the faster route to CP3. An alternate route had a trailhead at CP2. No trails appeared on the map (which was 1:50,000 scale - which made map-reading more difficult).
Having done the 2004 Baja Xtreme 24 race, the Equinox Team had one additional clue and that was knowledge of a cow trail along the top of the main ridge, which lead to CP3. The Equinox plan was to find the shortest way to that cow trail, east and south through the Poison Oak, then turn east to the CP. Having a navigator and a strategist on the Equinox team helped them, and they were in harmony for this section of the race, moving up from 13 th to 6 th place on the leg from CP2 to CP3.
The Equinox team used the cow trails they found along the Poison Oak creeks to get between two steep ridges very apparent on the map. Then, using the compass and counting cross streams they worked their way toward the main ridge which was to the south. CP3 was at about a SE bearing when between the two ridges, but the better route appeared to be to head SW (away from the CP) to gain altitude, then turn toward the CP. Equinox turned south a little sooner than they could have, but it was a planned move knowing they would come out on top of a hill which led directly to the ridge with the cow trail. It took a few slips and slides and crawling on all fours through Poison Oak, Manzanita, and other hillside scrub to crest the hill and confidently walked to CP4. They were taking the game to Baja X.
From CP3 to TA2 was uneventful, other than the Equinox team (1) ran out of water and (2) had a close encounter with a rattle snake. Nothing any AR team would worry about.
At TA2 the Baja X team changed the discipline to Mountain Biking for the last section. Again there were only two CPs. But they were positioned to break the “ride” into a 7 Km gravel road, 8 Km dirt trail, HUGE
5 Km hike-a-bike, 9 Km dirt trail along the coast, tough 5 Km ride up a 700 meter hill and 14 Km downhill to the finish.
After a quick (for them) transition, Equinox rode steadily to CP4 which they reached just before sundown. They then elected to take a shortcut toward the beach and the start of the hike-a-bike. The hike-a-bike section was originally unmarked on the maps, but before the race Baja X posted a master map with the trail drawn in. Despite that clue and some others which hindsight revealed, Equinox elected to hike up a ridge east of where they should have been. Asked afterwards why they went on the ridge they did, Barrie pointed to the canyon to the east of the ridge and said “I considered that was the huge canyon on the map, so we simply wanted the very next ridge”. He later commented that taking the shortcut but not counting canyons had contributed to their error.
Equinox hiked up the ridge for more than an hour and a half before they began noticing other racers lights on another ridge. A consultation with the map, a couple of triangulations and they were happy they were in the right place and the other team was on the wrong ridge. Another hour passed, the moon had come up and they noticed more teams were on the other ridge. Another review of the map, more triangulations and they were still happy with where they were. Except, the other ridge was not exactly on the map. Steve double checked his triangulations, he considered “what if we are too far east” and they were confused but confident (perhaps overly so) because one of the triangulation points was a known location, the headlights of the car at CP4. CP4 was always positioned correctly on their triangulation readings. They even took out the declination factor, as maybe the map compensated for it, and still CP4 was east of their N-S line, so they could not be too far east. The team continued uphill.
Steve was heard to say “I don’t like that there is a range to the west, and we cannot find it on the map”. So they dropped the bikes and scouted on foot. While the fog rolled in and after they had been walking uphill another half hour or so they came to the top of their ridge. There was a steep drop off to the west, a hugely acute drop off to the east and now no more ridge to the north. They had reached the peak of a mountain !
It took a 5 minute review of the map, more triangulation on other peaks and Equinox had located their position. They were way-way-way too far east. East of CP4 which they were using for the earlier triangulations, and which they could not see because of the fog (which they had gone above).
Dejected, they were forced to retrace their steps down the mountain, still not knowing why the earlier triangulation had not caught their error. Also, they were out of water for the second time in the race. After an hour of descent the fog cleared enough for them to signal CP4 (their intent was to return to CP4 for water and to consider their options).
A crew met them at the bottom of the ridge after they had been on it for 6 hours. Baja X gave Equinox water, showed them the trail for the hike-a-bike and encouraged them to continue with words of encouragement like “It’s only 1½ hours to hike to CP5, go for it”. But to the Equinox team 1½ hours was more like 4½ as they walked for 2 minutes with bikes on their shoulders or above heads to avoid the cactus, then they had to rest 5 minutes. Demoralized, not knowing how they had made their mistake and not wanting to make it again while carrying bikes they conceded to Baja Xplore 24. Equinox decided to accept the Adventure and leave the Race to another day.
While not happy with their decision they were very happy with the support the Baja X team gave them.
The Baja spectators all around the course cheered them along as if they were the champions. Maricruz was so helpful to the team in asking questions, struggling in the surf (it was only the second time she had ever been in the ocean, and they dumped in the surf), lugging her bike up a dead-end ridge and never complaining once.
The team will remember the 3 dolphin which watched them tumble from the boat on a 2 meter wave. They will remember the cheers from all the workers at each PC. They will remember the creeks and ridges they were able to master on the trek, and the one they should not have on the hike-a-bike. They will remember the bushwhacking, canyons, and sunset, and be happy that they took the Adventure from the Race. As always, Equinox, cannot say enough about the entire Baja X staff. The hospitality began upon arrival at the start line. Everyone warmly greeted the team, cheered them along the way, provided a tent for them when they stopped the race, made breakfast in the morning and were so sorry when explaining that the lights considered to be CP4 was not CP4, but a vehicle which had to move east to a high point for radio communication (
lesson learned is to not trust triangulations on movable objects).
Results as we know them placed Buff Mexico (from Guadalajara) in first place, Ecamp Brazil in second and DART (from Seattle) in third. Eight or nine of the fourteen teams finished. Most DNFs were on the trekking section. It was lots of fun, very tough, but highly recommended.
Mucho Gracias Baja Xplore. Viva Mexico (it was Independence Day Friday September 16). Me gusta la Baja.