Baja Xtreme 8 hours - MX - Nov 2005
Laguna Hanson in Baja Mexico, is at some 5000 feet and last year the Baja Xtreme race was held in 45 degree weather. This year the weather did a flip-flop and was more like 70 degrees during the day, but dropping to 40 at night. The course was touted as simple with 70 percent being marked for novices.
With a leisurely 10 AM start, a vote by racers had teams start at 1 minute intervals so that there would be no long wait at the rappel which was about the half way point in the race. The course was bike to CP1, CP2 and the TA. Trek to the rappel then get to CP3, trek to CP4 as you went back to the bike (TA) and bike to CP5 and CP6 before the finish line. I do not have my map to tell you exact distances but the entire route was about 40 K (25 miles).
With 33 teams in the race I put my bike on the starting line before the race meeting as the first section looked like single track and I really did not want to be in the middle of a big pack. After the vote to start at different times I got to be first away. Yahoo, I was leading the race. But the pressure was so great that I fell 4 times in the first mile, and the single track had been used by motorcycles and quad runners so it was very sandy and tough to ride.
There were options to get to CP1; follow the route marked on the map or go backwards from the start and hope to find a shortcut. If it was a mass start I would have tried to sneak the shortcut, but wanting to give nothing away I followed the signs to CP1 just as the second team caught me. The mixed team of Lowrance took the lead to CP2 and never relinquished it the entire race, finishing an hour plus ahead of second place.
From CP1 to CP2 was more of this single track, but now more narrow, less sandy, but lots of up and down and some lung searing breathing. At altitude in the middle of the Baja it is VERY dry, if I breathed too hard it caused a dry cough which most racers had. But in the beautiful pines and rocky peaks we knew we were alive and enjoying the scenery. But enough of that we are in a race !
However, after CP2 I must have been thinking of the beauty and day-dreaming because in a short 15 minutes I was back to the lake. Whoa ! What is the lake doing on my left? I am meant to go around it. Darn, I missed the turn about 3 Km back.
A small bit of local knowledge from last year and I knew I could continue another kilometer, take a sharp turn on a road which crosses the lake (its kind of dry after the summer so this road allows you to cross the middle of the lake), another kilometer and I was back on course only really adding about 1½ KM to my route. But now I had slipped 6-8 places and had teams not just ahead of me but 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes etc.. ahead, due to the staggered start. Oh well, there went my hopes of finishing on the podium. May as well enjoy the rest of the race.
At the bike transition I noticed teams taking their time, so a quick change of shoes, check I had still enough water and I was out of there in 30 seconds gaining a couple of places. There were three (count them folks – 3) marked routes at the TA. Heading west for about 100 meters then turning SW was the route to the rappel, heading SW maybe more accurately SSW was the trail back from CP4 and heading S was the bike trail we should follow after the trek section.
The race was won and lost in a 5-15 second period of time to take a compass bearing and follow the correct set of ribbons. I’m guessing about 3 teams took that compass bearing. I took off along with the Nortrem team and we raced down a wash to the SW. They were running, I was sucking air trying to keep up. But I kept with them for more than 2 KM as my slower pace allowed me to find the ribbons. At a fence there was a flag which I assumed was telling us this was the place to cross, but NO! it was CP4. I had taken the wrong trail from the TA. Darn again !!
The choices were numerous; back to the TA (too far), cross the ridge here as it was possible (too far, and what if when getting to the “correct” trial I overshot it). Cross the ridge down further where it was obvious (still too chancy to miss the correct trail) or Continue to CP3, not check in but go to the rappel, and then come back the same way. Seemed like a plan to me and after yelling at Nortrem they were content to do the same. However, as we neared the rappel area Nortrem asked about taking a shortcut to the rappel and I agreed as a small creek was on the map and we could see it a 100 meters ahead. When we got to it we were very lucky as we could see a worker showing racers the rock scramble up to the rappel. And rock scramble does not describe the climb very well. It was tough !
Then the top of the peak! WOW !!! What a view. The weather was cloudless, the atmosphere dry and you could see a hundred plus kilometers all that way to the Sea of Cortez. I would have stayed longer and taken more in, but remember – this is a race. And the workers yelled congratulations I was the first solo to get to the rappel. Noooo, your joking right? Nope, Lowrance was long gone, Nortrem was second on the ropes and I was third, not another racer in sight. How did that happen? Who cares dude, go, go, go.
The rappel was about 30 meters (100 feet). Straight down, nothing fancy (except that great view). They had a safety belay as well as a brake person on the rappel line. It was fun and fast. Now the adrenaline was pumping – the rappel always does that to me, plus the fact I had somehow gone off course for the second time and lucked into first place solo. But when checking in at CP3 I had somehow lost my passport. They wrote my time on my map and were going to decide what to do later.
The route back to CP4 was fast as I had been there before. It was also fun to come across three other teams who made the same mistake and I was happy to tell them it would still work out OK for them. Back at the transition the race director jokingly asked what he should do about my lost passport (but this is a fun race so no problem). But stupid me had to open my mouth and suggest a 30 minute penalty which he promptly imposed. Hey, I was joking. Seems Antonio wasn’t. I had to sit for 30 minutes.
I always tell people “The trail is your friend – follow the trail”. My new mantra of the moment became “The penalty is your friend – eat, drink, rest and plan”. I was tired, even though we had only been racing 4½ hours. And I was not eating enough so this was a good break. I also had time to think about letting air out of the tires to ride the sand better. I had time to review the map and decided to backtrack out of the TA on roads I knew rather then continue on roads which may have been bumpy, more sandy, and I never knew. It would add 1, maybe 2 KM to my race, but as a couple of teams passed me while I was sitting I decided to take the chance.
When the penalty was up I took of refreshed for 500 meters, then the rush to get ahead and the pumping of the legs on the bike brought me right back into the race, huffing and puffing down the road. But the lower tire pressure was great and the 5 KM on the sand road rushed by. I got back to the lake, and went around it to where the “correct” trail met the road I had chosen. I had made up the ground on the two teams who passed me while I “rested”. We all came together and rode about 1 KM to a turnoff to get to CP5. This section was a test of faith for a while, as there was a sign to leave the main road but no markers as you rode over a meadow to a cow trail (a specialty of the Baja Xtreme races) and continued for another few KM to the CP. There were sections where they had stretched caution tape to block our way on off-trails, so myself and one other rider kept going. He got to the CP ahead of me but had to wait for his teammates so I rode down a really rough cow track toward CP6 alone.
While it was downhill I had to walk on a number of occasions as the trail was in trees and bush with rocks and roots, so if the wheels found the trail the trees tried to hit you in the head, or if it was clear at head-height the roots and rocks were a maze to navigate. After a fall where I was appreciative of bike helmets I slowed down till the main road, then jammed to CP6 before a short 1 KM sprint to the finish line.
Second to cross the line, line-honors in solo. Now I just had to wait the next 30 minutes to see who else crossed for the adjusted time due to the staggered start. I was tired but elated and the race was a blast which I think is more important. The course was very tough despite being “marked”. It took me 5 hours 20 minutes start to finish. Take out the 30 minute penalty and I was sub 5 hours.
The two teams who passed me at the TA finished soon after (but they had run the no-rappel course and were not in the solo division). It was not till about 40 minutes after that my friends Carlos and Victor finished together, but they were running solo so on corrected time Victor took second place, Carlos third and I had held on to win the solo category.
Congratulations to everyone who enjoyed the race, and there were plenty of smiles at the finish to know all had a great time. Even those who from the TA took the south route all the way to the lake before realizing they were not just of-course but WAY-off course. I was lucky in this race as while I made mistakes many of the other racers made bigger mistakes.
A huge thank you to the entire staff, crew and organization of the Baja Xtreme. For those of you who live and race in Southern California, I think this is a must-do race series for you. It is tough (even when advertised as easy), but the races are very doable. They are true adventure with next to non-existent cow trails and 50K:1 maps as opposed to the fire roads and 24K:1 US maps. If you really want a true fun Adventure Race, this is the place to race.
Muchas gracias familia Rosquillas. I cannot wait till the series next year. Good luck with Baja Travesia, I am sorry I will miss it, but I will be wandering tracks on the other side of the world.