Coming off the beach inspired, we were on the move and feeling free. The wind and sun filled the cabin and we were moving fast. This section of the course was living up to everything we’d been told about it. But, not all the stories we’d heard about this section were good.
The locals have 300 words for sand but only one word for trouble… “Silt”. When the earth was still young, barren and lifeless, Satan shook his crusty dreadlocks until a super fine brown mange fell to earth, filling the cracks of Baja several feet deep. These are the famous Baja silt beds that strike fear in the hearts and minds of the 1000 racers. Google Baja 1000 silt beds and watch the videos that come up (go ahead, I’ll wait… ) and you will see dust flying everywhere until the sun is eclipsed by the cloud that forms as stuck 400 hp trophy trucks spin their wheel digging a hole straight down to hell.
The route up ahead had a ginger tint to it that caught my eye… and I don’t mean it in a good way. Pulling over (ok just stopping in the middle of the trail) I walked ahead to scout the route. 30 yards and my boots started to kick up soft billowy clouds of dust with each step. Another 30 yards and my boots were disappearing into the baby shit brown talcum powder that was everywhere. This was clearly one of the silt fields I’d read about on the racing forums: “…my vote for worst Baja silt is down by Constitution and Santa Rita, seems you always hit it at night in the fog. Tres Hermanos and San Felipe are childs play…” That comment from the forum rang in my head.
You could swim in the sweat that covered my palms, stomach acids were gnawing their way toward my spleen and my heart was playing the drum solo from In A Gadda Da Vida, there was no going around this, it was time figure out what to do. We had a couple thing going for us. The racers are typically two wheel drive. We were going to engage all four. We were also going to let air out of the tires, a lot of air, to hopefully float higher. With the transfer case in four low to drive as much power to the wheels as possible and tires at 7 PSI, the rest was going to be skinny peddle driving to keep a steady forward momentum.
We don’t have pictures. They probably wouldn’t have shown anything but streaks of sunlight and clouds of dust. We white knuckled our way for what seemed like hours but more likely only five minutes, keeping the RPMs up and our momentum as straight as possible. You really can leave impressions in your steering wheel if you hold on tight enough, but we made it. The air filter did not. I swear Baja is Spanish for “dirt gets everywhere.” Once stopped, we popped the hood to see how much air clogging dust had been caught by the filter… it started out blue. Now it was brown through and through. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Beau Jaramillo for sending us off with extra Amsoil fluids and air filters) Swapping out a new filter and airing the tires back up, we had a sense of invincibility as we continued to head down the trail.
The town signs are in spanish. But when they are faded by the sun and hidden from view it really doesn’t matter what language their written in. We were busy taking pictures of the church, the little bodega and town square. We should have been watching the hand held GPS. After driving back and forth several times, turning around in and out of town, we spotted the race markers. Sure the GPS said we were a little off course but the race markers said we were dead on. There were even bright orange cards stapled to cactus that read “Score 1000 Race” with an arrow pointed forward. I don’t know if it was the rush of testosterone from the silt fields still coursing through our veins or the easy soft sand trail ahead or maybe our new devil may care attitude about sweating the small stuff but for whatever reason, we put the GPS down and followed what was clearly the marked race course route.
The 40th anniversary Baja 1000 race, the route we down loaded, finished in San José del Cabo. Most years the race runs from Ensenada De Todos Santos to La Paz on the Sea of Cortez. About an hour in, we are still seeing lots of race markers, but we’re aimed more east than south. The bet wasn’t if we were off our route, just how much off course we were. We popped out onto the highway right where Brad thought we would, about 10 miles from La Paz.
We drove into La Paz victorious! We had followed most of the Baja 1000 race course and driven terrain that we could not have imagined possible a week earlier. Each day had felt like jumping into the deep end and learning how to swim all over again. But this was La Paz, so we fueled up and headed back west on Mexico 19. We were going to finish this our way, in Cabo, even if we had to drive all night.
Since we only aired up partially after the silt beds our tires were a bit squish and highway cornering was anything but road hugging. The low tire pressure also meant our head lights were pointed a bit high. The portion of Mexico highway 19 between La Paz and Cabo runs in the hills along the Pacific coast and is heavily traveled. EVERY vehicle coming the other way was convinced we forgot to turn down our brights and retaliated by flashing theirs back at us. I know it is not smart and could have gotten us killed but a few times I politely let the drivers who maintained their brights on us know what bright lights really were, by flashing the HIDs…. for just a second. I know it was dumb but it felt so good at the time.
Since it was dark, we were spared the sight of missing guardrails and non-existent or cobbled shoulder that gave way to steep drop offs on the passenger’s side. We did however catch a glimpse of several cows and the occasional donkey grazing next to the road out of the corner of our eye as we passed by.
If you’re ever driving up a twisty Mexican highway in the dark and come around a corner to find a semi-truck stopped, facing you, in your lane with its lights on… you wont be the first. Behind him, were two more semis facing up hill, parked in our lane. (I’m not making this up… We could have hurt ourselves, for your entertainment.) I’ll grant you, that there are no shoulders to pull off too, but they were dead stopped blocking our entire lane.
Unsure if this was normal, a stalled truck, a blockade or what and seeing no lights peeking around the corner ahead… With a little fear and a lot of caution we proceeded into the on coming traffic’s lane. Luckily the car coming down the highway at us, saw our headlights shining and slowed until we could pull back into our lane past the three parked semi-trucks.
Driving victoriously into Cabo , 11:00 at night, is like entering New Orleans at Mardi Gras. Bright lights and streets filled with people, carts, dogs, taxi cabs and trucks all moving in parade like fashion toward a single point. We had no reservation or any idea of where to stay in Cabo. We did however have cell phone coverage and used our life line to my sister-in-law. She had been in Cabo a few weeks earlier and had scouted the beaches and bars for us. She of course had chosen the easy route and flew down, cabbing it between hotel bars.
As Brad talked to her, I could hear the laughter and surprise in her voice as she reconciled the truth that we were alive and in Cabo. I also heard several derogatory comments that I can only assume were aimed at me. After all I am her favorite brother-in-law. I don’t recall a lot of what Brad was saying to her, except that when he asked her for recommendations I distinctly heard… “I don’t care what it costs, I want a luxury resort, with room service, where I can rest on a soft bed, take a long hot shower without keeping my mouth shut and send out my laundry.”
Tonight we enjoyed a fine cigar and our evening’s bourbon in style, on our spacious private balcony overlooking the moon lit beach of a five star resort.