Wednesday, July 16, 2014
NORRA Mexican 1000--Part 2(d)
The view out over the ocean is beautiful, the hotel is top notch and there is the distinct impression that you are in a very westernized, near first world location. We have scarfed down our food, watched Bruce Meyers (inventor of the Meyers Manx Baja Bug) be interviewed by Marty Fiolka at the table next to us and made our plans for the day.
The replacement of the serpentine belt the previous evening was a simple fix and with zero other issues we are hopeful for a successful conclusion. Elliott and Tim get the nod to drive again as their prior day was cut short and hopefully Paul and I will jump in the truck later in the day and bring her across the finish line in Cabo. Being a "short" day of only 124 miles, I, for one, am already thinking of finally making the end of day party for once.
Tim and Elliott start out transiting down a dry, garbage filled wash on their way out of town heading South while Paul and I circle around the course to the East. Oh, yeah...one item I neglected to mention earlier. The previous night our brakes on the van had begun to grind...REALLY grind...Even with the truck off the trailer it doesn't inspire confidence on the large up and downhill sections to feel the pedal shimmy and listen to the metal on metal sounds of brakes going bad fast. There's no way we're making it back to the border on these brakes, let alone back across the US...so put it on the list of things to do once the race is over.
We reach the end of the first stage and as usual, wait. We begin counting the cars coming through...1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6....and so on...up to somewhere around 60 or so when we begin inquiring with the NORRA representatives in the area as to whether they have heard news, good or bad of our boys. Chances are if something has happened to them and it had been noticed, it had been relayed to NORRA operations at some point...
Oh, yeah...we have info on that Nissan...they were noted as having broken down only a few miles into the stage a few hours ago.............
A sinking "here we go again" feeling settles in as we jump back in the van and off we go, not knowing where to. With only a gas station road map in hand and complete ignorance as to where the stage actually started--a general some score odd square mile area, no idea how far they really got, no idea if they have moved to some other location, no idea how to even start finding an access road to the general area they might be, we are groping in the dark--fortunately breaking down early in the day this time leaves us some daylight to work with.
We begin by retracing our route to the nearest town on a major road to where we think the beginning of the stage is and making an inquiry in a random chotchkies store (lots of bongs, pipes, knives, dead animals, rocks, etc.) with the probably high as a kite "employees" as to how best to get to a village that is shown down a tiny road on the map that we think might be a good start. We're told to head up the road and pass through an unmarked cattle guard onto a dirt road leading inland and about 10 miles in will be our village. Taking the van and trailer is a brutal process for this. The entire vehicle seems like it will shake itself to pieces or deafen me completely before we get to the village and we actually never make it...by van. We wisely stop some 1/2 mile outside the village as the road goes from hardpack to fairly deep sand and we are scared that our van will become stuck, leaving us in true trouble.
Running low on water in 95 degree heat we begin making the trek into the village where we find a handful of people (none very friendly or English speaking), a lot of livestock, numerous third world huts and shacks and some tracks in the sand from the race cars having passed through a while earlier. Had they made it this far? Did they take this left? Have we backtracked far enough? All unknown. We return to the van where Paul ventures out on his own down a side trail where the tire tracks go in hopes of running across something to give us a clue. I give him an hour to walk and return and I'm left alone in the silent desert with a breaking down van, a few ounces of water and no clue. After a few minutes of sitting alone in the shade, I am joined by a wonderful dog belonging to the house behind the abandoned roadside bar surrounded by rusting barbed wire I now sit in front of. This is how news stories of dead American tourists start isn't it??
Close to an hour later I hear a vehicle approaching from the direction Paul had wandered in. Paul has been picked up by a few locals who had been observing/assisting with the race and had knowledge of our guys. They had broken down somewhere along the road Paul had been walking and they believed our guys had been pulled out somehow at the other end, though they did not know exactly where that road came out at or where our guys currently were....just a general idea of what happened and the direction they were headed. Happy to have Paul (or any friendly, English speaking company) back with me and with HOPE that we might be headed in the right direction, we head out, back down the village access road, shaking our brains silly again.
We route South, again, and then turn Northeast in hopes of finding where the stage route came out...we find little with the road becoming more and more empty and in places in indescribably bad condition. With our trailer tires all pretty much shot at this point (oh, did I mention the horribly bad wear the tires were experiencing? The brand new trailer tires that had begun the trip were now almost down to the cords in places due to massively uneven wear from what we think are bent axle shafts/housings) every pothole makes me wince, waiting for the inevitable blowout. It never comes (this day) and we run into another team making their recovery. Once again we have run into someone with another part of the puzzle. They believe our guys may be up the road a few miles having been pulled out by some locals and now not moving.
Back in the van we are nearly flying up the road in hopes of getting to the end of our current eight hour ordeal. Coming to the top of a crest we see the truck parked only a few yards up a side access road (much like the night before!) and with it is Tim! We pull in and get the scoop.
Very early on in the stage with Tim as driver the truck had dropped its front right hand side down into a rut that was running along the road and suffered the same fate at it had with myself at the wheel on day one of the event--a tie rod separating at the ball and socket connection to the steering rack. They knew immediately what had happened and now without any spares and a long way from help they were resigned to a long day in the desert. Popping the tie-rod back together as we had done on Day 1 did not work this time leaving Tim and Elliott with a very crippled vehicle a long way from anywhere.
As happened numerous times throughout the event it was the locals to the rescue. Operating a 30 year old Bronco II with 300,000+ miles on the odometer a local family was able to flat tow the race vehicle to where it now stood with the tire ratchet strapped kinda "straight"...This kind family also provided much needed snacks and water to our racers--things that were much appreciated given the amount of time in the desert they were due to spend waiting. So here was Tim...Where was Elliott??
Come to find out, Elliott had been "picked up" by some local girls--ages unknown but of dubious legality on the Northern side of the border--who had been passing by the stranded truck and decided to stop. Through broken Spanish they offered to drive Elliott to their home where it was hoped he could get cell reception and communicate with SOMEONE who could then tell myself and Paul where the broken truck was now located. Using Google Translate as an assistant the first words these two girls try and communicate to Elliott as they drive off away from Tim are "shootings" and "robberies"...Come to find out, the region in which the truck was now stranded with Tim minding the store solo is considered quite dangerous and well known for its criminal element.
Soon after Paul and I arrive on the scene, Elliott and the girls return (Elliott assures us no shenanigans took place with said lovely locals) and we work to get the broken truck on the trailer once again. Night time has fallen, our race is over, we look at our watches knowing we have hours to drive before we arrive at our hotel in Cabo and know that we won't be making the closing ceremony, fireworks, free booze and impressive spread laid out for the other racers who have made it to the end. Might as well be consistent I suppose...
We arrive at our hotel in the early morning again, all but two racers who are drunkenly doing flips into the pool at 2AM are nowhere to be found. We crash into yet another hotel room with Elliott and Paul needing to leave early the next day to make their flights home. Their trip is over. Tim and I however, have many thousands of miles yet to go and some very sick vehicles to try and nurse...