So back to the time when the dirt bike riding revolution came and two stroke revolution took off. To me it started when Ake Jonson, Torsten Hallman and several of the top European riders from that era came over to promote motocross.
I was at Ascot park in Gardena, CA to visit some of my old racing buddies. Every Friday night they had a half mile race there. What I do remember is that during halftime they had set up a mini motocross course, something you could lay out from the goal line to the uprights on a football field and it was smooth. They had a little gentleman's race on that course and the Americans won. I think Eddie Mulder was first or maybe it was Van Leeuwen. Being a loyal American and seeing the Americans put it to the Europeans on this flat, smooth course, I was sure we were going to dust them.
On the next day there was a real motocross race at Corrigan Ville ranch, which later became Hopetown. It was a long, European-style race course with a deep waterhole and everything nasty. This waterhole was between two banks and about three feet high, and the Europeans banked off the vertical walls for about twenty yards to stay out of the deep water, while the Americans plowed through it. The Europeans on their CZ's, huskies and Maicos annihilated us and it was not for quite a few years that we began to catch up, but motocross was on its way.
We flew down to a new fly-in resort called Serenidad in Mulege, in about sixty-five, with my wife, my buddy Wes and his girlfriend Linda. There was no road at that time, so like L.A. Bay you either flew in or came by boat. Mulege had the territorial prison and since there was no way out, they let the convicts out to work during the day. Serenidad was built quite luxuriously, but the walls and the fences down there were made of sticks so you could see between the cracks.
At the bar you made your own drinks and wrote the tab on a clipboard hanging on the wall. A bunch of teenage kids, who were the winners from the "Orange County register" subscription drive were flown down there along with their subscription manager, as a reward. It was evening and the kids were in their big, circular room with the lights on. Their chaperone, with whom we had been drinking, came back to the bar and said " c'mon you have to hear this ", so we snuck up to the outside and listened and peeked inside, watching these fifteen and sixteen year olds discussing the only subject of interest at that age.
Now Linda, a tall, statuesque, blonde swede is the most spectacular girl I have ever known and as we were watching, the subject turned to her and one kid said: "boy, I would like to get hold of that big, blonde lady ". It took off from there and we could not get out fast enough with our ears burning. I never asked Linda how it made her feel, but I suspect she was used to it.
I had flown back from South America in my Cessna 182 and I had a bunch of five gallon, red, jeep gas cans in the back. This was in '75 or '76 and back then they didn't look at you very friendly when you check in at the airport with a bunch of long range capability, so I decided to land at Mike's (notice how that word always seems to keep popping up) and get rid of those gas cans.
At that time, the airstrip was up over the mountain to the south and you would fly over Mike's, rock your wings, and he would come and get you in his 4x4 in about half an hour. This is where my dirt bike riding came in. The clouds were right down on the mountains, but there was a hole right over the motel, big enough for me to spiral down through. I was able to fly the trail just like on a bike right up the stream to the t-shape, turn right and follow the trail all the way to the dirt strip, and I was never more than twenty or thirty feet above the ground.
Mike Senior, still owes me for those gas cans. Unfortunately, he was killed before I ever saw him again. Besides I could care less about those gas cans, I certainly didn't want to have them with me at customs.
This whole thing is just a stream of consciousness since Sven, who has "California Motorsport Adventours", wanted to know if I had any Baja memories. I couldn't think of one and then I woke and thought of one this morning, which led to another and another...
Speaking of routes, I love the old logging trail up to the observatory, because I kind of think of it like it is ours.
Me and my old buddy Wes Ronning, a united pilot, heard about it and Mike Senior told us that it had been abandoned back in the thirties and no one had been up there since then. Wes and I decided to blaze a trail. In the next year, maybe 1968, we took our two strokes up the trail into the pine forest, which was about three thousand at Mike's up to ten thousand at the observatory. Each time we tried, we reached some dead end canyons and run low on gas and had to head back.
There are a couple of stretches before you get up into the pine forest that are so full of nasty rocks that it was a real challenge for me and I am glad that I came out on the observatory road and back to Mike's the easy way. Back then we would have to go back the nasty way and try another day. I think it was our fourth attempt when we finally made it, having eliminated one dead end canyon after another. And now there is a trail that you can follow all the way. Although it is a bit faint at times, it is the same trail we cut about forty years ago, so I'm kind of proud of that.
I took some crazy Mexican friends up there on quads and three wheelers about fifteen years ago. Dan Garcia, one of my best buddies, was the ring leader. He had heard about it and talked up this Thanksgiving ride. I was the only one on a bike and I knew it was impossible to go up there on a three wheeler, but they insisted. I figured they would soon be ready to turn back, but you might think a german is stubborn, you might think an Irishman is stubborn, then try a stubborn Mexican or worse - a bunch of them. So we left Mike's early in the morning.
Bear in mind a good bike rider can probably make it up to where the logging road joins the observatory road in maybe an hour and a half, or two hours at most. The trail was so nasty and washed out that there were impassable places, but only these Mexicans didn't know that, so we continued.
At one place a huge boulder blocked the entire two-track and it was too high to lift the quads over and there was a sheer drop-off on one side and sheer cliff on the other. Like Moses and the Red Sea they began pounding on this huge boulder with another that they could lift. After a long time that big boulder split like an eggshell broken in half in a "V".
There were about seven of us and we passed each bike through, one at a time. Now that is stubborn. We did not make it to the observatory road before dark, so we camped for the night. Three wheelers and quads carried all kinds of neat things like sleeping bags, tequila and snacks, and tents, so we were happy and we had a party.
About eleven at night the roof fell in, literally. It had started to snow and with about four inches of snow my tent collapsed. I was the only one who knew the route and I did not know where we were or how far from the road, so I woke everybody in a panic: "hey, we have to get out of here before any signs of this almost invisible trail in the daylight are gone. They may not find us until Spring". Nobody was willing to leave their snug sleeping bag and the tequila released them from tension that I felt. So I said I was going alone, which finally got my loyal buddy Dan out of his bag. I want to add that he did it unwillingly because he has always felt it is his ordained mission in life to see that I survive another day.
It turned out that we were only a mile or two from the graded observatory road and we were able to follow our tracks back to the camp. Still we couldn't get anybody to worry about manana and whether we could even ride our bikes if the snow got any deeper, so I went back to bed too. Fortunately, when we woke in the morning we realized the snow had stopped shortly thereafter.
So many memories seem to revolve around Mike's.
When Tim Morton wanted to propose to Jennifer, he decided to do it at Mike's. He wanted to combine it with a bike ride for all his friends. Most of them knew Baja well, so he wanted to lay out a route that combined all kinds of routes that nobody used. That happened in December or January and it was getting dark early. We were tying ribbons everywhere on these remote routes and the dark would catch us, so we realized we would have to shorten the route. We did this for three weekends and each time we had to throw out neat, hidden sections.
Ultimately, we ended up using mostly the routes everybody knew. But it was still a great success, the dining room at Mike's was full of Tim's friends and when he got up on the table and proposed to Jennifer, it was a complete surprise for everyone including Jennifer. She must have liked the idea, because in the following June we did it all over again and they were married there at Mike's with a couple hundred onlookers.
Those old and abandoned buildings across the stream from Mike's were built new in the seventies. They were nice stables and restrooms, but they got flooded. The river was at least 100 yards wide and impassable, so deep that it wiped out the stables and 80% of the old oak trees were down in the meadow, which used to be all grass and where we often camped and had champagne breakfasts, after tequila dinners. Someone would pop the cork and we would have plastic glasses to try to catch the cork, each locating where we anticipated the cork to come down. It got pretty competitive.
There were a couple years back in the seventies when some humungous typhoons came through Baja and changed the terrain so it was unrecognizable and frequently impassable.
Such a route was the one that runs from the power station in Valle de la Trinidad out to the west coast that score uses now. In the years after the typhoons, some friends and I spent a day riding trying to find the old route from each end unsuccessfully. It was not until they put back the power lines through that route and I couldn't recognize any of it as part of the old route except going through the vineyards at the western end.
A good friend of mine and my sponsor in my early racing years, Joe Disimone, and some other old friends, used to come out from Pennsylvania every year or two for a multi-day Baja tour.
One year they brought this guy that we called "Humphrey Pennyworth" after a comic strip that had this big tub of lard ride around with an outhouse on the back of his bicycle, a big, fat guy who lived in the outhouse.
Humphrey weighed at least 350 pounds and for six days he never got his butt off the seat, no matter how big the rut or the rock was. The seat just kind of disappeared into that massive blob when he hit a bump. But he was always right there, we seldom had to wait long for him.
What impressed me most was the bike he was riding. I was racing motocross at that time and had started a dirt bike tour business in Baja called "cycle tracks Baja". I was using Huskies and Maicos with undependable success. At that time Humphrey had a four stroke Honda 250XL keeping up with nary a problem. This was the first year for it, maybe 1969.
Next year they came out with the 350XL and I got one. It was perfect for the tour business, totally reliable.
I liked it so well that I got Bill Bell, who worked for long beach Honda and built some of the Baja thousand winning bikes, including that year's winning bike, to build me one. I wanted to try it for motocross. My theory was that it could hook up quicker on the hard packed tracks out here in California.
I had to buy a new 350XL just to get the engine, so Bill could hop it up for me and put it in a C and J frame, which is what the thousand bikes were using. It worked pretty well, but lost to the two strokes coming out of turns unless it was really smooth and hard packed and quite too heavy for the gnarly courses.I was only about thirty-five years - too early for my theory.
Once, Joe Disimone, me, and some of the other friends from back east got to Mike's to find the dining room packed with people like some kind of a convention. And the MC recognized Joe and said "hi, Joe, what are you doing here?" it seems that everybody knew Joe. The MC was Joe Parkhurst, editor and publisher of "Cycle World". I think they were all people from the motorcycle industry.
Somebody said, "Joe, (Parkhurst) why don't you make introductions all the way around, but also give a thumbnail of what each guy does and his connection to the industry". He did exactly that and there were perhaps forty of us in the room. I'm trying to remember names and bike tours and I hate Joe Parkhurst. Maybe I'm just jealous, because he sold his magazine to CBS? For millions.
Somehow, we found ourselves at the top of this pass, looking down towards the way through the desert.
We did not know it at the time, but it was the summit above Laguna Salada. Not everybody had caught up, but though we did not recognize where we were, we figured this was the way to Mike's.
So we took off down the summit, still in separate groups, but trying to keep the guys in the front in sight 'cause we were all lost. As I now remember, we turned right at the bottom of the summit, not straight to the long sand wash. Sundown found us low on gas, lost, with no gear or food, or water and feeling very lonesome. There was one group of three or four ahead of us, including Jim Hunter and Danny Macias, but we stopped when it was too dark, expecting a long night on the cold, hard ground.
Pretty soon another small group showed up, and then another one over the next half an hour, until the whole group was together, except the guys who were in front and the backup truck which was carrying all of our food and sleeping bags. We were always carrying sleeping bags back then.
There was a spot coming down the summit that had struck us all, it was too narrow and there was no way for a pickup truck to get past there. It registered on each of us when passing. At about 11pm we saw an occasional light flickering in the distance against a mountain, then it disappeared for a while. Nobody was sleeping. Eventually, the pickup came with all our goodies. Nobody knows how he got by that spot (I have forgotten his name, but he went on to win a number of races in the large truck classes). It is amazing that everybody got lost in the same places, but we all ended up together. In the morning, we had breakfast including champagne. Once the sun was out we heard a single bike coming from the south. We had more champagne and waited for the rider to show up.
It was Jim Hunter. He looked at us in our comfort and said: "aw f**k". His group had spent the night only about a mile ahead of us. It was cold, the ground was hard and they had spent the night in accommodations somewhat less than the four seasons. They had consolidated their gas into one bike and sent Jim back to look for help. We eventually found a way that came out to the Ensenada/San Felipe highway just below the San Matias pass. I have looked for that route unsuccessfully over the years and only a couple of years ago did I talk my buddies into looking for it with me with the help of a GPS and some contour maps, and we found it, at least part of the way. But that trip ended as ignominiously as the first one.
We got as far as what I always think of as "the old roman road", cobblestones laid around the base of a hill that made you wonder who the hell ever came way out here in the middle of nowhere and built a piece of a road. I learned later it was built by the U.S. Army during WW2 when we were afraid that Japan might invade the U.S.
Anyways, this bike tour was a disaster too. We were low on gas, out of water, which made food seem unimportant, and we spent the night on the ground. But I learned from Jim Hunter, who had learned from Danny Macias thirty-some years earlier, how to suck the water from a barrel cactus, so we survived. Two of the guys spent two days and two nights out there with no food or water, but that is another story.
That old route is no longer passable. There is a narrow canyon, where we were forced to turn back, that the floods back in the seventies made impossible to pass.
I remember that ride well. I was with a bunch of racing people on a riding tour starting in Rancho Las Juntas or "el condor", and going to Bahia de Los Angeles. There were car guys and bike guys. We were about twenty, including some well-known names of the time like Jim Hunter, Danny Macias, and Bill Bell (Mike Bell's dad). Gerry Grant, who was second at Indy, Dan Gurney and A. K. Miller from the car world were also with us.
A.K. was from an earlier era and had raced the pan-American road race series. This race in the early fifties covered Mexico from south to north, starting at Tapachula on the Guatemalan border and running in segments over several days to the finish in Juarez.
It was a big race in the old days, but it only lasted three or four years, because so many were killed, both spectators and racers, and the government canceled it. Imagine the Mexican government, especially back then, worrying about a little roadkill on the highways. There were all classes in the race - from home built cars to the factory racing Mercedes 300sl open top (the one from the famous picture of the condor hitting the windshield of the Mercedes seriously, injuring the co-pilot) and the factory Lincolns, which dominated the factory sedan class.
A.K. tells the story of racing through the southern mountains on the first day with the sheer drop-offs in their open special and being passed by a Mexican team at a switchback going much too fast and watching them go off the cliff hearing them yell "ki yi yi ole", all the way down.
A.K. was quite the raconteur. On that same trip, we were at Mike's sky ranch and A.K. was rooming with Dan Gurney. There was a really cute gal at Mike's hundred mile an hour bar, which was packed and Dan was really working on her.
Those of us at the tables were watching this interplay and envying Dan, wondering if he was going to score. When the lights out warning was given we all expected to see Dan leave with the cute chick, but at that point some guy walked up to her and said "c'mon honey, it's time to go to bed". Dan ended up spending the night with A.K. Miller, a poor second best. Shortly after the lights out warning, there came the most mournful howl from one of the rooms. In the morning, at breakfast, A.K. asked if we heard that howl last night, which we all had.
He said that was gurney, it was the cry of the horny, gurney bird.
In those days, we would take multi-day riding trips, because of flats, fouled plugs, broken bikes, gas problems, etc. You always told your wife or girlfriend that you weren't sure what day you would be back, but it was never as soon as you expected.
On the first day of this ride I've been talking about, everybody had their race face on and we were all flying separated in clumps of four or five, depending on the speed and the degree of macho at the moment, but not paying attention to where we were going. Everyone was just following the bike in front, then stop at some branch and wait to consolidate again, maybe.
Of the group that started out, only about twenty actually showed up in San Felipe and I was one of them, but I was not riding.
My bike had seized and I did the last forty or so miles in the back of a truck with wooden stake sides. And of those twenty people, only three or four actually tried to ride back to Ensenada. I never heard of them again, so they either made it or they didn't.
My first two memories of San Felipe are completely different. On my first flight to Baja, I flew over it and thought: "Why would anybody want to go to that sunbaked, two block square piece of nothing?". My second encounter was when we arrived on this bike trip and it looked like paradise to me.
There were no maps of Baja that we knew of back then, except the AAA map, and it caused us more problems than helped us.
The village of sawmill (aceradero) near Laguna Hanson was still turning out lumber back then and I remember it as probably the most picturesque place I have ever seen. Nearly all of it is gone now, but then it was a place where you might be able to get gas, so we would try to find it.
The only problem was that the AAA map had it located about thirty miles from where it really was. Making it hard to find the sawmill was only part of the problem, because it put everything else in the wrong place at least in our minds.
Navigation in Baja was always a problem and the AAA did nothing to help us.
Remembering those days brings up the trails. They were always gnarly, washed out and too narrow, so if a pickup or some ranch truck had gone over that trail it tended to round off the nastiest parts a little. And the suspensions back then were four or five inches. No wonder that I am two inches shorter than I used to be.
The old Puertecitos road from San Felipe to Puertecitos, about forty miles long, was continuous whoops and rocks, but it was straight so we would fly. My friends and I are lazy, so for years now we have used the paved road, which parallels the old road mostly one to five miles apart. But we decided to use the old road and since they had never used it, didn't know what they were getting into.
We had gone about three-quarters of the way and somebody started complaining, so I turned left and picked up the paved road, which was really close at that point.
Then they were complaining because we had been riding over that nasty old road when the good road was nearby.
It was a good reminder to me, though, of how well youth could offset the lack of inches of suspension. I don't remember that road being anything but fun and challenging, and on this modern day ride we were all glad to get off of it.
One of my first trips was from Ensenada to San Felipe. At that time, the paved road to “Ojos Negros” ended at what we called the “Pepsi stand”, which is about ten miles east of Ensenada, and then became two tracks. Score uses it for some races now, but at that time it headed to the north side of the highway at the “Pepsi stand”, and then came to the top of the mountain overlooking Ojos well to the south of the highway, so it did not go through the ranches that it does with score now and was a much longer route.
When we got to the overlook of Ojos we felt like, “Hallelujah! Civilization!”
Little did we know how much more was in store. We ended up breaking into little groups for survival, hoping somebody knew the way and hoping somebody would stop if you fouled a plug or had another problem, which you always did.
Back then the lower shed at Mike’s was full of cycle parts, which good Samaritans or guys who had already paid for not having parts had had to come back on four wheels to retrieve their bike. They usually left some spare parts. The collection was great and always tapped.
Having selected a couple guys who looked like they had some compassion and might not leave me (that's how I met Rich Rowell, who became a longtime friend) we found ourselves alone.
The group was now scattered all over Baja and if there was actually somebody who knew the way, he was long gone. We were trying to find our way to independencia, full name: "Los ninos heroes de la independencia", where you could get some gas.
We were somewhere west of there, lost and way past reserve turn on when we came to a small, dry lake, perhaps a mile in diameter with a ranch building in the middle.
Desperate for gas we rode up and hailed them, but nobody was there. Fortunately we found a fifty-five gallon drum with gas in it. So we siphoned some, sweating the whole time that the owners would show up with a gun seeing us stealing their gas.
I dumped some oil in the gas tank, left five dollars under a rock on the drum, shook my bike a few times to mix the oil and gas, and took off in panic. Then got about 400 yards and glug! That is when I learned if you are going to add your oil right to your gas tank you better remember to turn off the gas tap first.
So we sat in the middle of this dry lake in the blazing sun for about an hour while I stripped the carburetor on my husky that I had just bought from Malcolm before "on any Sunday" by a few years and he was just as friendly and modest then, as now.
Baja in the mid sixties saw only occasional dirt bikes, but by the late sixties the off road revolution had started and they were proliferating everywhere on both sides of the border riding in any yard, any park or hillside, legal or illegal, any road, anyplace there was dirt and they were almost all two strokes totally the result of a bunch of foreigners who came over to ascot park one time.
I'll tell you about that in a minute. By this time they had got the two strokes so they could start sometimes and you could actually go to a race and make the starting line.
Technology has improved so much that now if you want a bike that won't start you have to get a 4-stroke.
Anyway, Baja was really mysterious to us then. There were trails everywhere, many more than now due to so many trails being cut off as ranches are built and other use restricted and no signs of any kind nor many ranches to beg gas from or ask directions and we weren't smart enough to know the difference between a cow trail and a single track so there was always a lot of backtracking and gas problems.
These problems came in two flavors. One was because there was no more. The other was because there was too much and it was always on the spark plug of the two strokes meaning we carried lots and lots of spare plugs and had much experience kicking, sort of like the 4-stroke riders today.