It’s finally here! The first official day of the Baja XL…a day we thought might not happen with us a part of it after the series of events leading up to this moment. The organizers’ original plan for the Day One start was a sort of crazy launch with people in costumes and lots of revelry. The previous night, the local authorities came to the hotel and asked us not to hold any group events. This put the kibosh on the Day One start revelry but costumes still optional. We kind of decided to forgo them, packed up our stuff and went to the hotel next door to get ready for takeoff.
We got there in time for the morning CB briefing, during which we heard the start was delayed by 15 minutes. Turns out 15 minutes is just about the exact amount of time it takes to put on a housedress, fake preggo belly, smeared pink lipstick, blue eyeshadow, and curlers (me), and a redneck tank top, mullet wig, and SUPER cool shades (Jon). Hello, Lowlife Nomads! In case there is any question, yes, this attire lasted the entire day, through all the things that were to come on that very long day…
Mapping software fired up, engine running like the ole trusty horse it is, coffee in hand, we cross the official start line and we’re off! The first couple hours consisted of a long caravan of off-road vehicles leaving Tecate and motoring down the one open highway heading east toward Mexicali. There’s a free highway and a toll highway, the latter being closed due to snow. In Mexico. Yup. It wasn’t really that bad, especially compared to what we’d gone through the previous few days in California. The highway jeg was capped by a twisty road up and down through La Rumorosa, an otherworldly zone of giant boulders and sweeping views.
Once we got through that, we came to a right turn that took us off pavement and essentially onto the Baja 1000 track. Whoops. That doesn’t mean we made a mistake, not that kind of whoops. Whoops are overgrown speed bumps of many different sizes created by off-road racing vehicles in the desert. And the bane of all slower off-roaders’ existence. We’d experienced whoops in the U.S. primarily in sanctioned OHV areas, but this was a whole new whoopsey rodeo. It. Did. Not. End. Miles (actually kilometers because Mexico don’t do no stinkin’ imperial measurement – kinda like most countries in the entire world) and miles and miles of them. Really wishing we’d focused less on transmission and more on suspension right about now.
The very first checkpoint was a GPS location where the task was to take a team selfie with the vehicle. It was a little bit off the road and as we got closer it was pretty clear that it was somewhere on this little sandy hill just to the right of the dirt track. We see a few vehicles take the obvious trail up to the top. So, we gotta be different. We decide to sneak up the steeper climb from the side and promptly get ourselves stuck in the sand. First checkpoint. Sigh. We got out pretty easily and with our tail firmly positioned between our legs went up the “common” way and got our white trash selfie.
The day flew by. We went checkpoint to checkpoint, having a great time looking for all the challenges and running into other competitors pretty often. The checkpoint guide told us we had an 8-hour time limit to get the points and while the sun was still shining, we didn’t think much about that. We assumed that it was actually possible to get all the checkpoints inside that window. Silly us! Granted, our vehicle fell in the category of Not The Fastest Truck In The Group, but as happy hour drew closer we started to realize that we, um, had a whole lot of checkpoints left.
But we’re not quitters! No way! Surely they didn’t realize how impossible that task was and would grant us some timing clemency, right? We carried on. Collecting checkpoints, as the sun sunk below the horizon and we started testing the off-road lights. Because you know what’s really, really dark? The Mexican desert at night.
By now the whoops have graduated to whoops mixed with big rocks. We are moving forward, we think, but our speed is less than optimal for arriving anywhere before March. We feel pretty alone out there, but we got the CB running and every once in a while, we hear people talking that are definitely part of our group, so we know we’re good. Monty is feeling a little rattly, but still plowing ahead.
But then things change a bit. Jon is starting to feel some oddness when he hits the brakes. Pretty quickly he realizes that braking is causing the front axle to shudder on the passenger side, which isn’t a thing you want to have happening in the desert at night. Or anytime, really. We pull off the road and execute a fancy turnaround so we can work on the front passenger wheel and have the truck blocking the ferocious wind that has kicked up outside.
This is right about the point where a person could decide to feel a wee bit of panic. I debated doing that but reminded myself that people travel the back roads of Baja all the time and we have rally buddies all around us. I jumped out of the truck and dug into our fancy new storage unit to get the jack. Ran around to the tire and threw myself, housedress and curlers included, down in the dirt and started jacking up the Monty. As I did so, the problem was obvious…the upper control arm was flopping around like a dying fish. Thank you for properly torquing all the bolts when you did the alignment, Les Schwab! Ugh. We pulled off the tire, tightened everything up, and put everything back together. The simplicity of the repair gave us renewed enthusiasm, and as we packed up the tools, we happened to catch a stunning moonrise over the desert. We felt so glad we were here!
We kept going through the whoops and the rocks and the seemingly unclimbable hills, thinking we were FOR SURE the last ones out there. The last bit of the route put us back on pavement for a minute (never been so glad to see asphalt) and then a left turn toward a “dry” lakebed.
We had already heard this spot was deceptively evil and were planning to take the road that went around it. Camp was just on the other side and we were excited to try out the new tent. Do you believe that story? No? Ok, ok, the truth is that we were hankering for that beer in the fridge….
We passed by a few other ralliers who had just dug themselves out of the muddy lake. It looked like a row of truck-shaped frosted cakes. We happily skirted the lake and found our way to camp where to our surprise we were far from the last poor suckers to arrive. We checked in, cracked open the Modelos, uploaded our daily checkpoint info, made some food, and happily fell into the cozy new tent. It was a fantastic day.