Another post in a series of the experiences from Baja written by John Thawley. Read about some of John’s exploits on Dean’s Garage. John died on July 14, 2009. Published by permission from John Thawley, Jr.
Make no mistake, bikers set the pace for running in Baja. For the most part, they were a confident, lonely lot. They mostly ran in pairs with no other vehicular support. Spare inner tubes, patches, chains, bits, pieces and some hand tools were on scooters designed and built by engineers and technicians who had never heard of the Mojave Desert, or Baja, much less been there.
I asked Dave Ekins whatever became of his record setting Honda. He indicated the frame broke, and after that, the breakage became serious. Desert bikers of that era were impressive but not much for being impressed.
Once I was deep in the Baja Peninsula on a pre-run. Several of us were setting up a small camp for the evening. A lone biker came into the camp. Nice, soft spoken. He thanked us for the beer we offered. We asked how he was fixed for gas. He opined he would appreciate being topped off, if we could spare a little. He took on about a quart. More thanks. After he’d fired up, we wished him well. He blipped the throttle and said he’d do just fine—that he was “cheating” on gas—that he had two full canteens of gas; but no water. True grit.
Baja is basically rock. It is stoic and unrelenting—in the natural order of time. Baja is not aggressive. I does not often foment volcanos or earthquakes. Heavy rainstorms are infrequent and hurricanes are rare. No,basically Baja is rock, and sand and some fauna as sharp as an old woman’s tongue. If you need to get from place to another and have an idea of running, you might consider walking and getting there sooner. This craggy bent finger of a peninsula does not suffer a fool easily.
The first time I drove—not raced—to La Paz, I smugly told my Jeep-mate, I had seen about the same thing in my home state of Texas. Said thinking came within five miles of being in the “rough stuff.” Eight hundred miles later included a clogged fuel filter, broken battery case, and a destroyed front axle (yes, the driving kind). I was a humble, respectful disciple of the terrain around me and had developed a profound respect for ground clearance.
Summer daytime temperatures of 110 degrees F are not uncommon and with a low of 70 degrees F at one in the morning, you now you are freezing to death because of the 40 degree differential. The Sea of Cortez side is mountainous due in part to the San Andreas fault which extends into the Sea. On the west side those mountains taper toward the Pacific. On these sandy plains from mid-peninsula to the ocean “the race” was run.
Rally or Race?
The difference between the words “rally” and “race” is the difference between the event promoter and the community public relations community. Ed Pearlman told me that when he first visited with the various levels of the Mexican government, in Los Angeles and then in Ensenada, they immediately recoiled at the mention of the word “race.” They had their reasons. In 1950, the Mexican government promoted a 2,000 mile road race on the mainland to promote the opening of the Panamerican Highway. The event was brutally tough. There were no rules, little in the way of support, and a very poor Mexican government to do anything about anything. At least four drivers and dozens of citizens were killed before the event ended in 1954. So when Ed was making his pitch for an event running the length of the Baja Peninsula, the Mexicans envisioned a re-creation of the previous mainland massacre. Ed went on to tell me that when he saw that reaction, he began changing his tune and started using the word “rally” instead of “race”. As the frowns began to disappear, his plan began expand to the “many checkpoints.”
When smiles began to appear, so did Ed’s description— “by having checkpoints along the way, contestants and the spectators will have time to enjoy the natural beauty of your land, and even do some shopping.” To his credit, Mr. Pearlman was really go at selling that sizzle. In reality there was only one time-controlled leg of the trip—Tijuana to Ensenada on the toll road (and yes, we did pay the tolls). There were checkpoints between Ensenada and La Paz, but there was no time control and very little shopping unless you were shopping for something to plug the hole in a radiator.
So, in regards to the Inaugural 1967 Mexican 1000, the words “rally” and “race” mean the same event—just a way to sell sizzle without needing steak sauce.
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