I just completed Sole's 2008 Baja Travesia as a proud member of Team YogaSlackers. The gorgeous, technical course took teams over 350 kilometers of desert wasteland, mountains, canyons, and ranches. Adventure Racing is strange because you don't ever remember the whole event, and it takes a long time to absorb everything that happened.
To get started, I picked up Lina Augaitis from LAX on my way home. Traffic and extenuating circumstances made me later, but I hope she has forgiven me. Once in San Diego, we packed, bought the remaining bits of mandatory gear, and waited for Randy Dunn and Jason Magness to arrive, so that we could pack into the race vehicle and depart.
We packed up the car (it was quite full) and rolled out around 10AM on Saturday. We made it successfully to San Felipe, the race start and check in. We checked in, tested out the paddleboards, and camped in the desert, away from the noise and commotion. The next morning we finished up the pre-race logistics and lined up at the start. The first leg was a relay paddleboard leg, and right from the beginning, I was ahead. I ran to the boards, picked them up, and was off. Before I knew it I was 40 meters ahead of the next person (Jen, from Dart/NUUN, I believe), and it felt great. What a way to set tone of a race! It was very difficult to make out the actual checkpoint on the coast, so I had to go guess a bit. Once in, Lina took the board, and maintained our significant lead, as did Jason in the last leg.
We made a hasty transition to running and booked it out of the town. Just outside of town, we were passed by team Dart/NUUN NW Kayaks, and continued on our way through the desert floor. We made it through the next few checkpoints without much of a problem. On the final road to the transition, we ran out of water and had a hard time pushing the final few kilmeters to the rally cars. Right before the transition, we noticed another team approaching us from behind. Renewed, and trying to stay in 2nd place, we pushed ahead, through the pain and heat to the transition. Once there, we realized that the team behind us was Dart/NUUN NW Kayaks! We were still in first, and feeling great. We raced in Warren's Barney (a kind of Baja car), and had a grand old time. Somewhere we hit a bump pretty hard, and the next time he shifted, the gear wouldn't take. We lost about 8 minutes waiting for the next team behind us, and got a ride to the transition to the canyoneering leg. We refreshed our feet, and got ready with our canyon gear, and rolled out of the TA just as our 1 hour wait time finished. We were just behind DART/Nuun NW Kayaks, but we didn't see them in the canyon for a while. As we hiked up the canyon we were going at a pretty slow pace, until we were overtaken by an absolute mad train, led by Dart/NUUN and ExtremeSports.dk. We latched onto the back, and rode and took turns leading up through most of the canyon. Near the top of the canyon, we got separated, and we took a wrong turn. After a few minutes, we noticed it, and corrected by going up and over the ridge to the north. We climbed up for a few minutes, descended again, and were cliffed out. We used our 6 mil-30 meter rope to descend the last portion (thank goodness we had the rope!) using a munter hitch. Jason descended first, and I talked Lina through the nerve-rattling part of trusting a rope not much wider than a shoestring, wrapped around a tree on the side of some godforsaken canyon. Then I descended, pulled the rope, and we quickly finished the canyon. Once at the top, we were presented with some gorgeous vistas, frozen ponds, and a renewed spirit. We continued on up the rest of the long trek to the "Top of the World" checkpoint and descended down to the TA.
We transitioned to bikes, and headed out. After some uneventful navigating to the next checkpoint, we continue down the hill. We encounter both Dart/NUUN teams coming back, coming towards us. This meant we were back in the running for first. We consulted our maps, and decided to try a risky maneuver, following Dart/NUUN backwards to a different pass. We followed this through, until we realized it was a terrible move, guided by the thought that we might be in 1st again. We headed back, found the proper route (that Dart/NUUN NW Kayaks had followed), and camped for an hour or so to regain our warmth and energy. It gave us neither, but we were found by a race official on a motorbike, who told us it was not far to the next checkpoint. We descended, and as we did, we discovered that Lina's front brake was on the way out. I cruised the downhill section, waiting every few minutes for Jason and Lina to catch back up to me. It was a blast, and we continued on to the next T.A, through many fields and the dark, cold, night.
Back on foot, we roll through the next checkpoint with not too much fuss. Getting here was a beautiful trek over the tops of some wonderful hills. After this, we pick up the pace, and I am beginning to feel pretty drained and sick. Nevertheless, my teammates force me through the last part of this leg, pushing me to run even though I am feeling terrible and have barely any water. We run out of water completely when we reach the next checkpoint, still an hour or two from the next checkpoint. We are out of spirits and not doing so hot. I can feel the starting stages of heat exhaustion begin to set in: dry mouth, loss of direction, a bit of hallucination. Things are not doing so well. My teammates run ahead to keep the pace, and I try hard to stay with them. A quarter of an hour after I took my last measly sip of water, I spot something out of the corner of my eye, a bottle of water under a bush. We're in the middle of the desert, and I stare at it, expecting it to waver or disappear, as so many things that I've seen have. I had seen many things I knew weren't real up to this point, cabbages in the road (rocks), houses in the woods (trees & rocks)… and I was convinced for a while that there was no possibility that this was true. I stared the bottle down, wondering who would win… What the hell, I'll check it out. I jumped the fence and nabbed the bottle. There was about a liter and a half of clear, glorious water sitting in the bottom of the bottle. I nabbed it, and sprinted after my teammates. "Look what I found!" I yelled at them, and they looked at me with curiosity. We treated the water with iodine, waited 15 minutes, and divvied it up. We complete the leg, which is much longer than it seems, kicking cacti the whole way, and thanking luck, or whatever, that I had found this water.
We transitioned slowly this time, making sure I ate and drank enough to get me out of the doldrums. We get on the bikes and make our way to the observatory. We navigate carefully, making sure not to set down any false paths. We climb to the top, and the entire time I am fully convinced that I have seen all of this before. I cannot shake the feeling that I have biked this all before, exactly, with my team, last year. We navigate through some cool downhill segments, but our bikes keep getting stuck in sand, and we have to walk them out. Finally at the valley floor, we turn right where the next checkpoint should be. We look around, and we cannot find it. We hit the SPOT device, indicating to the race directors that we have found the checkpoint. We look around some more, and take a nap. After that, we continue on to the TA, but halfway there, it becomes light, and we decide to check back for the checkpoint. We get there, find the checkpoint hidden in some brush. Obviously, someone or something had broken it off of where it had been hanging. We SPOT again, take some photos, and continue to the checkpoint, having lost probably 3 or 4 hours to this search.
We set in on the last trekking leg with a vengeance, we feel great, the pace is strong, and the scenery is gorgeous. We cruise the first of two canyons without much event. The second one turns much hairier, and we slow down. Lina's hurting pretty bad but she pushes hard and we make it to the last waypoint. We are stopped by a local landowner who tells us that we're on private property, and that if we aren't careful, we'll be picked up by the Federales, who are doing a marijuana crackdown at the moment… We tell him there's a race going through, and we'll have to tell the race directors. He lets us go through and we sprint to the final T.A., where we let them all know what happened, and rush onto our bikes. We're pretty sure that ExtremeSports.dk is pretty close behind us, so we don't sit around picking our noses. We get the new directions to the kayak portion, and get out and go. After the 9 or so water crossings, we make it to a main road. Once on it, we are passed by ExtremeSports.dk, and the race is on. We lose about 4 minutes to them, until we make it all back at a left hand turn. We are together again, and at the beach, we start the 5k to the paddling leg. They pull away from us initially, but we catch them in the end. We all end up in the kayaks, making a surf entry. As soon as they're in the water, the two swedish teammembers of ExtremeSports.dk, in a double kayak. pull away from Rick, who is in a single. Jason and Lina wait for me, and tow me to the finish. We finish right after Michael and Helena who collapse at the finish line, but ahead of Rick, who came in about a minute later. We finished as a team, ahead of them and we are in high spirits, in third, having made it solely due to good teamwork. What a race! What a finish! What a team!
Thanks guys: Lina, Jason, you guys were great.