By Eric Mckenna
Story Provided Courtesy of MX43.com
This month marked the two year anniversary of a crash at the 2013 Baja 1000 that severely injured my left hand. I have worked hard during those two years on getting the use and grip of my hand back to the point I could compete if I chose to. Finally, I made the decision to return to the scene of the crime even if it was with a bit or trepidation. I figured I couldn’t go through life being afraid of anything on a motorcycle, because that is what I do and who I am.
The pre-run days leading up to the race and the trip itself proved to be entertaining and most enjoyable. It was the first time I had someone other than my wife, Cheryl, go with me. It was a new experience for my new “wingman” since he had never been to ride in Mexico. The new wingman was my longtime buddy Don, also known as “Recon Don” or just Recon in the motorcycle circle.
Recon showed up at my house and we did a couple of shakedown desert rides to make sure we were both ready to go. Then we loaded up and headed for San Felipe to begin pre running the very section I crashed in two years prior. With a few extra lights on the bikes and helmets because I was scheduled to ride the race at night! We arrived and established our home base at Charlie’s place in Pete’s Camp outside San Felipe. Charlie is another buddy that allows me to use his place when I go down for any races, Thanks Charlie!
Cheryl and I took Recon down to the Malecon, with its beach front shops, restaurants and taco stands for a bit of familiarization and relaxation. Boy did he relax! He said he wasn’t hungry but ordered a meal and a margarita to start off with. Then he polished off what was left on my plate. The boy can get his grub on!
The next day we started our pre running and I immediately remembered why I did not like this section. The first 20 miles or so is nothing but boulders and rocks. Then it turns to more normal desert with whoops, sand and some rocks. I was a bit unsure and rode at a very reasonable trail riding pace to ease into it. We did this over the next few days never really pushing the pace and logging about 90 miles a day. I was not yet in any hurry to go fast, knowing that as the speed increases the potential for disaster goes way up. Remember I am speaking from experience.
We spent our days looking over the rocky sections thoroughly and the evenings looking for someplace to satisfy Recon’s appetite. Sadly one of the local eating places had closed but a few new ones presented themselves which meant Recon had several places to choose from. We stopped by a place called Sand Rail Pizza and thought we would simply eat and go. Boy were we wrong, this place was a gold mine, with dinner and a show! It seems the local American geezers have made this a regular hangout for eating, drinking and dancing! The only thing missing was Karaoke, but maybe we were just there on the wrong night. It was a lot like a High School dance 60 years too late. We saw the corporate golf types, the jock types, the look at me types, the social butterfly types and even the long hair tie-dye hippie type all out on the dance floor getting their groove on. It was great!
We also found an Ice Cream place that would make a chocolate shake correctly according to Recon. I am just finding out that he is a chocolate shake snob!
The next few days of pre running took its toll on the Honda CRF-X 450 I had bought for this adventure. The intake valves started to tighten up to the point it would not electric start. Then it wouldn’t kick start and eventually for our last day of riding Recon had to push start me using his bike. We then rode the next section after mine to familiarize just in case something went wrong during the race and I would have had to stay on the bike unexpectedly. That section was really a lot more fun and we both enjoyed it. We passed by the Kurt Caselli memorial on the course and I was glad I was able to see it. I took a picture and said a quick prayer for Kurt, remembering Kurt lost his life the same day I was injured in the event. It made my injury look like a speed bump in life. Perspective ...
There was a town along the way and we stopped, why else, but for Recon to eat lunch! We also saw an interesting sight at this little restaurant, a small extra cab truck with two bikes and a boatload of gear stuffed into the back. It was all painted with “el Gringo Loco” down the side. One of the bikes was a KX 500 and had the Gringo Loco on the front plate. Recon was ignoring it and looking the other way but I couldn’t stand it and had to find out the story behind it. So I asked who was this Gringo Loco and the guy proceeded to tell us his story. I think I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Recon’s head drop into his hands at the table. Then el Gringo Loco started to tell us his story. He was Gary Wells a motorcycle daredevil/jumper. He had been doing this for most of his life and was living in Mexico. He was in his early 60’s and came to hang out for the Baja 1000. He has a website and we discovered he had tried, unsuccessfully, to jump Caesars’ Palace fountain many years ago. After Evil Knievel failed I don’t think he got much publicity for following up with another failed attempt.
The next stage of our adventure was to get to Ensenada for tech inspection and sign up. I was dreading it and Recon was looking forward to it. We got there and discovered hoards of people, limited parking and about an hour wait in line for a rider to check in. I told Recon he may as well go look around and buy his gift souvenir t-shirts while I had to wait in line. I saw the hesitation in his face and he told me there were so many people, literally thousands, in the streets he was concerned he could get lost and not find his way back.
He went out on his own and meandered around before coming back impressed with the technology of the trophy trucks especially their GPS systems. I think if he could find a co-driver position he would pay to race in one. I finally finished my check in and was more than happy to get out of there and head back across the peninsula to San Felipe.
The next afternoon is when we had to head south for the start of my section around Puertocitos. Calculations had the bike getting to me at about 8pm from our 6:20 am start time. The bike did not arrive until right about 9pm due to a light issue. With the hi-output lights it is always necessary to run a rewound hi-output stator that puts out enough wattage to run the lights. The bad news was that we burned up a regulator, the good news was that there was a back up! It seems our team coordinator/logistics guy Doug Smith along with the Precision Concepts crew had planned for this very possibility. Some sharp guys here with lots of experience, because they had mounted and prepped a second regulator that could replace the bad one if necessary. So instead of ending our night riding it was a matter of inconvenience for one of our riders, Bob Johnson, to get into the wiring harness and substitute the back up to get himself lights when he lost them. So we lost some time but still remained in the lead of our class 50 effort. We had such a great line up of riders, Steve Williams, Kris Goolsby, Mike Johnson, Bob Johnson and Doug Smith and each man had done his best and we were an hour or more ahead of our completion when the lights failed that all I had to do was get through my section without messing up. Then we continued to build a lead throughout the night to the 4am finish.
Luck was on our side and everyone rode fantastic. The bike was prepped by Bob and Phil at Precision Concepts and when I rode it I thought, ‘this must be what it is like to ride a factory works bike’. It was THAT GOOD!
So my personal demons with the Baja 1000 got a whoopin’ and I felt satisfied to have that as my first race back in two years. I guess it is time to get back on the moto track, as long as I don’t get too big for my britches!
“Turn a setback into a comeback”
Read More of Eric Mekenna's stories at #33 Blog over at MX43.com.