Woody Navigates the Baja Rally: Part 2

By Brian Pierce.

By Brian Pierce.

Now that I am back in the States, reflecting on my recent experiences at the Baja Rally is an overwhelming effort. The 4-day event, open to a limited number of expert and pro-motorcyclists, is a test of navigation, endurance, and riding skill as the participants traverse varied landscapes of the Baja CA peninsula, sometimes covering as much as 250 miles in a day. It was the most adventurous, exhilarating, and exhausting event I have ever experienced! The memories will last a lifetime.

Start of the 2014 Baja Rally in the City of Ensenada

Day one of the rally started off in the streets of Ensenada. For Stage One we headed north on Highway One where we discovered a fun and flowing route that incorporated roads, two tracks, lots of rocks and varying elevation. It was a great start to this exciting event. My rally training in July with Dave Peckham and the Rally Management Services crew came back quickly and I felt very comfortable navigating.  I made a few small navigation errors, as well as one major error, but I managed to finish out Stage One of my first rally. It was great to arrive at the acclaimed Horsepower Ranch and start the bench racing! We all enjoyed some awesome food and a dip in the pool and then I had no trouble falling asleep in the comfort of "The Outlaw," my dad's new RV.

Thanks to Iain Glynn lending me an extra GPS, day two started out better than I had hoped. We had an epic 125km in Stage Two that took us through this legendary piney woods section that has been used in multiple SCORE events. There are very few times in my life that I can say that the bike I was on was 100% tapped out. The liaison to Stage Three has us traveling east to San Felipe, then south down Highway 5 to Gonzaga Bay; We averaged 100-110 KPH. Apparently the bike overheated. I had been running a little behind, so I went straight into the stage, probably not having given the bike a chance to cool down from the long, hot highway abuse. Unfortunately, 6.3km into Stage Three my KTM 450EXC seized, leaving me stranded in the sun surrounded by lots of sand and the dust of the other riders as they flew past me. Eventually the organizers rescued me and we headed down the road to Coco’s Corner.

Coco’s Corner is basically a dive bar in the middle of nowhere which has the feeling of a gypsy camp. Anyone who travels that far south down the road is either lost or heading directly to Coco’s for a cold-ish beer. Coco has lost both his legs, below the knee, to diabetes. He travels around his property on a four wheeler, directing everyone with the authority of a Comanchero. The Baja Rally crew gave Coco some new tires for his quad and even installed them on the spot. This was great to see and showcases the appreciation they have for the Baja area and its people.

Missing day three of the rally was tough, especially because it seemed like my adventure was already over. A few guys we saying I should ride my dad's 1987 Suzuki SP 200 that was in the back of the RV. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It wasn’t until dad and I were traveling to El Rosario that we discussed me attempting day four on the Suzuki.  My dad said, "If you finish day four on it, it’ll be a hell of a story!"  We immediately got to work on prepping the antique-plated Suzuki for whatever adventures awaited me during the 300+ miles of day four.

The strip down and build up of the 1987 Suzuki SO 200 Rally Machine.

Of course, the prep work ended up being much more detailed than expected and we worked well into the night. Alex Martens, of Konflict Motorsports and Suspension, came over to lend a hand, knowing he wanted to see this happen as much as we did. Switching over the roadbook and navigation equipment sounded easier than it actually was. The battery on the Suzuki was not to be trusted, so dad rigged up a way for us to use the batteries from his DJI Phantom to power the roadbook and ICO’s. While removing the air filter to give it a good cleaning, it fell apart in my hands, so I took the dirty one from the KTM, cleaned it up and modified it for the Suzuki.  We changed the oil, adjusted the valves, added 16psi to the tires and strapped on our Giant Loop bags so they would hold as much extra gas as possible. The bike was the best looking it has been in years and I was excited for the next day's adventure!

Day four started with a 84km stage right out of El Rosario. Lots of people were cheering and snapping pictures as the vintage machine and I came rolling off the line. I’m sure there were a few side bets as to how far the bike and I would make it! This first stage was extremely fun and the Suzuki treated me like an old friend. Arriving back at Mama Espinosa’s to more cheers and a few shocked faces, Baja Pits gassed us up, I changed out my roadbook for the next stage and we motored down the liaison to the penultimate stage of the Baja Rally.

Stage Six was another long route, just over 120km, and one that I will never forget. We went no less than 8km and we were riding in the sand dunes on the west coast of the Baja peninsula. The riding was epic and nothing I ever thought I would attempt to conquer on a vintage motorcycle with only 200cc of air cooled power! With little suspension and even less power, riding the sand whoops and dunes offered a real learning curve. I had to manual the whoops to keep the rear wheel tracking the ground so I wouldn’t lose momentum. Riding the dunes was basically a dog paddling fest, where I was ringing out second gear while attempting my best Flintstones impression of foot powered vehicles! This continued for some time until we finally headed back toward the mainland. The second time we made it to the beach, rocks became a part of the equation. There were stretches of rock roads which had me doing some of the sketchiest riding I have ever done. Staying in the tire grooves created by years of vehicles traveling the beach worked great, but tagging a rock on the side of the groove resulted in pinballing all over the place. The few inches of travel the Suzuki had were well used and much appreciated. Stage Six ended at the beginning of Stage Seven and once again we were greeted by the smiling faces of Baja Pits. I made my last roadbook change and was off to the final stage of the event.

Stage Seven had a lot of tricky navigation; there was just enough information in the roadbook to keep you on course, demanding you stay focused and alert. A few times a cap heading was all you had to go by, which is where a mounted GPS unit on your handlebars comes in extremely handy. Being on the Suzuki, I didn’t have a GPS mount for the Touratech Garmin I was using. I had to pull the GPS out of my jacket pocket, hold it in my left hand and attempt to keep myself pointed in the correct direction. Once back on a track, I would then place the GPS back in the pocket of my FLY Patrol jacket until the next heading. By this time in the day every part of my body was hurting and I was feeling extremely tired. My knees hurt from the lack of suspension and my lower back burned from the ultralow seated position of the Suzuki. After a few navigation errors due to lack of focus, I slowed down and tried hard to concentrate enough so I would not make any more mistakes. It was certainly a challenge for me, but I crossed the final finish line right behind Tumu Rock, so we high-fived and were handed Tecates to celebrate our success.

How else should you celebrate this accomplishment?

The liaison leaving the finish of the final stage was a long one back to Ensenada. Upon arrival at the San Nicolas hotel, Mark Thayer and myself were escorted into a service entrance to join the post-race pool party. After crossing the checkered flag, I went straight for the wet wood around the hot tub. I then proceeded to do a burnout on the SP 200 for the length of the hot tubs; it was glorious! High fives, hugs, camera flashes and drinks were enjoyed by all. The 2014 Baja Rally had come to a close and everyone proceeded to bench race in their own fashion, some with a bit more stagger than others.

Dad and I awoke the next morning to well-earned pains and body aches. With the RV loaded, we said our last goodbyes to all our new/old friends and hit the road back to the States. We were pleasantly surprised that the border crossing was uneventful, considering the interesting methods used when we entered Mexico. I was dropped off at the San Diego airport so I could get back to my family and work in Dallas; the last I heard my dad was slowly heading east back to Texas.

Simply put, this past week was an amazing life experience! It gave my dad and I a lot of quality time together to enjoy the sport that we’ve both come to love. We also met so many great people on our journey that we know will be riding buddies for life. I now understand why so many people make a trek to Baja on a regular basis; it is a magical adventure on a dirt bike.

As long as life doesn’t throw too many curve balls, we plan to be back for Baja Rally 3.0. I’d love to get another chance to finish out the week on the bike I started on!

Huge thanks to the promoters, the racers and all the sponsors that supported us along the way. Special thanks to my dad, Stephen Pierce; he has been a dedicated friend and mentor before, during, and after this amazing experience and deserves more credit than I know how to express with words.

They let us in, off to Ensenada! See Ya at the bar!!! #OffTheCouch #BajaRally #PurveyorOfAwesome #PintFullOfAwesome

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[Even though this post was from 2014, Woody has been riding and racing as much as possible. You can follow along with his adventures on the Seat Time YouTube channel, the Podcast feed or on Instagram. Remember, always enjoy a #PintFullOfAwesome.]