By Jerry Bernardo
There will be times in the world of dirt bikes when things will go horribly wrong. Combine those possible mishaps with the chance of third-gear wheelies out of loamy corners in perfect traction and it’s a dice-roll we all want a piece of.
There are, of course, the basic unwritten rules of the trail. Divert from them and all bets are off. Mistakes are where scars are born. The following are the rules of the trail. These are merely suggestions to the punters of the world, including myself and random scattered brethren of hostile throttle junkies.
1. Dress for the crash, not for the ride.
2. Never leave the ride without telling anyone.
3. Know where you are or ride with someone who does.
4. Prep your bike and always take tools on the ride.
5. Never, ever pass the leader.
Rule #5 is where we will focus this tale of great riding sprinkled with the ill fate of “Mr. Big Pants.” The guy we are talking about is a very successful builder and has a fair bit of cash to his name. He’s also a good rider and has been around the block a few times. This wasn’t his first foray into the world of trail riding in Mexico.
Seven-time Baja 1000 champion [11 Baja 1000 wins] Steve Hengeveld is one of my best mates. We have ridden for years all around Southern California and down into Mexico, living the dream. Ride all day and eat well at night, telling stories with your mates around a fire. It doesn’t get much better than that.
“'What a douchebag!' I thought to myself as he dusted me out and disappeared down the two-track trail showing off only to himself."
On his annual ride we do once a year down in Mexico about twelve of us were looking at three awesome [but dusty] days of riding on the Baja peninsula and everyone was pretty excited. (Remember Rule 5.) Steve, aka “Henge,” was the leader of the ride. His knowledge of the trail systems and roads in Baja is second to none having ridden and raced down there for years. He knows all the fun trails and how to get from point A to point B. The first day of the ride we headed out of Tecate where we parked the trucks and were riding through towards Valle de Trinidad where we would eat lunch and head out to the beautiful El Coyote Rancho about 30 kilometers behind the famed Mike’s Sky Ranch, a favorite stop for racers and locals.
You know that trail tip where when the leader takes a turn you stop and wait on the corner so the next guy knows where to go? As the pace picked up in the front of the pack, about six of us were really hauling ass behind our fearless leader Henge.
I had stopped on a left hand turn to let the next rider know which way we were headed. Well, here come “Mr. Big Pants” himself, all whiskey throttled up, thinking he is in a frigging special test and blows into the turn like he’s racing the devil. (Moments later he was.) He goes right by me forgetting that he is supposed to stop and release me from the turn. “What a douchebag!” I thought to myself as he dusted me out and disappeared down the two-track trail showing off only to himself.
About four miles up the trail after that I come upon Henge and a downed Mr. Big Pants who has, somehow, in the middle of nowhere, crashed into a wild horse and got slapped into the dirt fifth gear, flat out. Henge saw the horse and checked his brakes yelling “horse!” out loud. Rule #5 did not go into effect as Mr. Big Pants blazed past Henge like he actually is so fast he caught the Baja champ and passed him during a race. The horse got spooked and popped out just in time to have a screaming CRF450-X bounce off its hind quarter at speed.
So now Mr. Big Pants is in the dirt wheezing like a hot air balloon that got poked by a random pungee stick. The group gathers around to help and we quickly realize it’s pretty bad. When someone [not in a horror movie] coughs and fresh blood comes out of their mouths—it’s not a good sign.
Luckily, we were prepared. (See Rules #3 and 4) With us on the ride were a paramedic and two emergency room nurses that we know. They went into work mode, addressing the situation as us normal blue collar guys all stood around worried. (I stood there wishing Mr. Big Pants hadn’t crashed and we were eating tacos by now) It was soon decided that he needed a rescue helicopter. The satellite phone and the GPS’s came out of the backpacks and the call was made to a facility in San Diego, California, just north of Baja to get down here and save this guy’s ass.
First they have to get a doctor’s okay to send the chopper. Then they have to get a $100,000US bond to cover the costs (helicopter rides are pretty expensive; that’s why I mentioned you-know-who had some money) The chopper has to stop at the border and explain why they are crossing international airspace. (had I mentioned I was hungry when he crashed?) Mr. Big Pants kept moaning, “You gotta get me out of here!” We all knew that and were doing what we could with what we had—it could have been any one of us.
Think about this: If there were no medical personnel or a satellite phone and GPS on the trip, MBP would have been screwed.
Sad to say, it took five hours to get him finally loaded into the chopper. Henge and his long-time sidekick “Gomie” had ridden his bike 10-kilometers away to store so we could collect it later. (See Rule #3.)
We plopped his dumb, broken ass into the helicopter and headed off to meet the rest of the group whom we had sent ahead to Valle de Trinidad. Everyone was starving by now and we had two hours left of light but three hours of riding before we hit our destination: El Coyote Ranch.
On the way to “Valley T,” I was following Henge down the paved road at about 80-k when a goat ran across the road in front of him. All I saw was his rear tire lock up for a second, smoking it, then he hit the gas and wheelied into the poor goat, spinning it off into the side of the road. It was so close I nearly shit myself just watching. Split-second talent comes in handy in Mexico. (all good things come in three parts; wait for it)
We met up with the rest of the group, slammed some tacos and hauled off into the now setting sun to make the ride out to El Coyote before the sun went down. Not 15-kilometers out of town on a fast cart road lined with head high tall grass the trifecta of doom kicked in:
Henge, who was leading the charge, got on the gas at one point and we all did the same to stay close so the blinding dust wouldn’t reach the level of our helmets. Out of the corner of my eye on the right I saw two big horns of a steer moving though the grass. I got on the brakes straight away when the huge animal bolts out onto the road right in front of Henge [who was in fifth gear] wide open. He slapped the brakes and flipped his bike to the right, followed by the same madness to the left. It was if he decided to show us his side number plates at speed. (“Hey, like my new graphics?”) The steer drifted by Henge a mere meter away; he could have reached out and touched it! He stopped by the road immediately after that and I pulled up to him and asked, “Do you need some toilet paper?” It wasn’t even funny knowing that if he hit the steer at 100-kilometers we would have had to call the chopper back for another pickup—either that or a hearse.
Well, the sun would set anyway as we got into the Simpson Trail, a very rocky, beat-to-death, up-and-down-the-mountain trail that has been part of Baja race courses for years. When I say it’s beat, it’s been abused like a stepchild over the years. It is a really technical piece of trail at times. Riding side by side as only half of us had lights on our bikes, we limped into El Coyote 13 hours after departing and way off schedule. It turned out that some people were missing so Henge and Garret, the paramedic, went back out to find them (see Rule #2). It seems they had taken the wrong turn at a fork, realized it and met up with the rescue party after turning around.
Mentally weeded, we managed to pull it together and get in a delicious feed by the patient El Coyote kitchen staff that had waited about four hours to cook for us. A few beers made it down some dusty throats and it was soon bedtime for the participants of the ill fated Henge Ride.
"On that sunny day on the Baja peninsula four of the five rules were in full effect. If you want to head out onto the trail, have a backup plan."
While riding home on the third day we were eating tacos in Valley T again and one of the boys finally got some mobile reception. He said, “Hey, check out the hospital report on you-know-who.” He read off the text and we could not believe it: Twelve broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a separated shoulder and a broken collarbone. It’s no wonder he was wheezing and spitting up blood. Getting mouse-trapped into the dirt at 52 yrs. old is a bad day in the playground. He was lucky to be alive. If we had not prepped for the ride (Rule #4), there would have been a bunch of cell phones with no service. The satellite phone and the GPS saved the day for a now safe and sound Mr. Big Pants.
On that sunny day on the Baja peninsula four of the five rules were in full effect. If you want to head out onto the trail, have a backup plan. Dirt bike riding is one of the most enjoyable things in the world, but the fun can go horribly wrong in an instant. It is not a race; it is a trail ride. After that stack Mr. Big Pants had to throw away his crappy Troy Lee helmet because it was so mangled. I’ll bet he was glad he had it on.
“What happened to the horse?” everyone would ask me. I guess he just ran off into the sunset and probably had an Acerbis hand guard tattoo on his ass.
For riding info on the Baja peninsula, check out www.bajabound.com and ask for Tim Morton.