We got invited to head down to Ensenada, Mexico for the week surrounding the Baja 1000 with a huge crew headed by motocross legend Gregg Godfrey. Freiburger and Finnegan have enough of their own possibly fatal activities going, so your humble author, Povi Pullinen went in their stead. With trailers loaded up with Polaris RZRs the plan was to prerun the race course, and cause a bit of mischief along the way. The Baja 1000 is one of the most grueling off-road races in the world, starting in Ensenada and running about 1,000 miles through the desert of Baja California. Hot, dusty and rough as all hell, it’s been sorting out the pros from the rookies for nearly 50 years. Gregg Godfrey is a pro. The rest of us? Definitely rookies. With a vague plan and limited experience, we rolled the dice and hoped that the sands of Mexico would be kind to us. Here’s how that turned out.
“Someone took my other ramp, but this works just as good” said Gregg with a shrug, as he laid a thin plank of wood against his trailer. A few of us were skeptical – given its width and the general laws of weight and gravity – but this was Gregg Godfrey, founder of Nitro Circus, World Record holder for jumping a semi-truck 166 feet and one of the only human beings to ever finish the Baja 1000 solo on a motorbike. He said the plank would work fine and it did.
Our trailered Polaris RZR buggies precariously hit terra firma, joining three more RZRs already getting loaded up with tools, spares, snacks and grown-up refreshments. Our crew, a motley mix of Black Rhino Tools guys, friends of the Godfrey Clan, and those brave enough to bring camera gear started walking through the arsenal of Weapons of Mass Fun and picking our seats. We’d only pulled into Ensenada, Mexico late the night before after meeting in San Diego and crossing the border, but we were full of coffee and ready for anything.
“You’re in Skittles!” I was told. Skittles was the bright-orange two-seater with the creepy-as-all-hell clown face clamped to the grille. It had a turbocharged 925cc two-cylinder engine punching out around 144hp. That was good. It had been upgraded with a Pro Armor roll cage and roof. That was also good. Gregg had crashed spectacularly and rolled Skittles about 1000 times only a few weeks ago. That, maybe not so good.
Before I had enough time to log all the dents and gouges adorning the buggy from the aforementioned crash, we were off and rolling through Ensenada. Gregg led the way on his motorbike, joined by Godfrey Clan rider Colton and unofficial crew mechanic Brandon.
Hitting the dirt was a relief after 20-something miles of high speed wind and the whine of mud tires on tarmac. This was where the RZRs really came into their own. We had a vague idea of where we were going, and the quiet trails unfolded before us. Dust clouds and the dulcet tones of lightweight four-stroke engines filled the air as we understeered and oversteered our way across the countryside, disrupting the tranquil setting. Sorry, peaceful, tranquil types.
The first drive was a day of breaking in our bodies and buggies for the rigors that lay ahead. The next day we’d be taking on a grueling section of the 2016 Baja 1000 course, which is open to entrants and fun-seekers to pre-run for a few weeks before the official race. Prerunning is a great way for racers to figure out the finer details of the thousand-mile assault, and for fools like us to appreciate exactly what specific of crazy those off-road racers are.
While the pace may have been slower out on the rural trails, there was nothing easy about it. The rough roads moved bones against joint, eating dust was our only option for lunch. Skittles, with tufts of orange hair flowing in the breeze, had not yet flipped over, a reassuring result for myself and co-driver Tyler Seamons, the head honcho behind Black Rhino Tools.
We were amped. A day of crash-free driving and amazing landscapes had us pining for some golden cold ones, some street tacos, and an early night to take on the Baja course mañana.
So we hit the blacktop again, deciding to head over to La Bufadora for a quick tourist trap stop before retiring to our casa.
Always a spot for mischief and tacky gifts, the blowhole at the end of the Ensenada point is a great pit stop to fulfill your desire for bootleg handbags, football team-adorned serape blankets, and the shellfish the locals call Mexican Viagra.
Despite really wanting to buy something from the guy shouting “Hey cabron! Come buy something you don’t need!” we kept our pesos for gas and beer money. We may be dumbasses, but we have some self-control.
Up again early, we mapped out our route and prepped to hit the road with full tanks, full bellies and full ignorance as to what we were heading towards. Gregg had told us, “just remember that 5 mph is better than 0 mph out there.”
About 150 miles of Baja 1000 course was just enough to survive on one refuel stop while pressing hard as a crew of rookies – if nothing bad happened. Extra clothes, supplies and prayers were packed, with the cry “I’ll bring a case. And I’ll bring it just in case!” coming from resident life-of-the-party, Wade.
Gregg, as usual, corralled the troops and popped massive wheelies in rush hour traffic as he led the way.
But first, we taco. The poor chef at our roadside lunch stop nearly fainted when we put in the order for 45 of her finest, though we had no problems waiting and chin wagging while rocking out to Mexican dance favorites blasting from the loudest outdoor jukebox I’ve ever experienced.
And of course, no pit stop is complete without taking some local kids for a joyride.
The Baja courses normally run around the 1,000 mile mark, though it ranges year to year. This year was approximately 854mi, and Gregg had mentioned when he Ironmanned it (solo rider start to finish, rather than a team) it was pushing 1,200 miles. While a lot of the course is on dirt tracks snaking all around Baja California, parts of it require road sections where racers are limited to legal speed limits and road laws. This means your 800hp Trophy Truck could be stuck doing 30mph behind a farmer and his jalopy full of chickens, and you can’t really do anything about it.
Back on the course, it’s a whole other story where pedal-to-the-metal is a very real thing as dirt roads snake out before you. Keeping your eyes peeled for fluro-orange course markers is the best way to not get lost, or to get advance warnin that you should hit the brakes to take that barely-wide-enough goat track down between the trees.
Luckily for us, the first part of our route was quite open. We warmed up nicely and with limber steering hands and braking toes we trekked further and further into the barren deserts of Baja,
which is never ending set of technical ruts, rolling jumps and loamy sand around every corner. Before long you’re lost in your race brain, grinning from ear to ear and chewing on dust. You almost forget you’re at least 100 miles away from any help, should you fail to keep the buggy shiny-side up.
You will quickly remember that you’re 100 miles away from help when something does go wrong, and you’re stuck in hot wind and dead silence out in who-knows-where, swatting away flies. Thankfully for us, it was a drive belt – the weakest link in the buggy engine. With only two gears, the high-rpm spinning and constant rev changing of off-roading wears heavily on the rubber belts and they can fail, leaving you powerless. Every buggy was equipped with spare belts and for experienced racer Wade, it was a breeze to swap it. In, out, replaced in 20 minutes. Perhaps the trick is to carry your help with you?
Back on the road we hit it hard knowing there was a finite amount of daylight and after the searing sun began to dip, the temperature would soon follow.
We raced through some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet, soaking it in in between bracing for impact. You wouldn’t think there was so much to hit in the middle of the desert, but there’s roadside boulders and the upside of lateral ruts – endearingly called ‘whoops’ by racers due to their ability to buck you off your bike or bounce your brain out of your head after which you crash. Whoops.
We wound our way around mountains, up ridgelines, through dried-up riverbeds and in between farmer’s barns. Some of us may or may not have gotten lost.
As the colors in the sky intensified, a tactical vantage point and Instagram-worthy spot above the valley was chosen to sit, wait, and regather the crew that had slowly become separated as the dust clouds billowed and trail junctions increased. But not because anyone was lost. Much.
RZRs slowly rolled in with bobble-headed passengers all stupid grins and sore bodies. Once we had four out of five buggies and all three motorbikes, a hawk-eyed watch was cast out over the valley to spot the final set of headlights bumping through the dusk.
“Well, looks like someone’s camping out tonight.” With tough guys, it’s hard to tell when someone’s worried, if they are just being fake nonchalant. Still, the decision was made to head back to the house. The four-seat RZR4 carrying Godfrey Clan pals Ted and Willy, and photog Alex was nowhere to be found. No sight of them from our lookout, no cell reception to make a call, nada…
Will they find their missing buggy? Stay tuned for Part Two, coming soon!