San Felipe, Baja, Mexico
A Hill

Once a desert race is started and the riders have become more or less aligned along a single trail the contest is mainly the man and his machine against the terrain. The desert race is not a spectator sport. Side by side racing is not an option, as the trail will not accommodate two motorcycles traveling abreast for any significant distance. The dust will force a separation between motorcycles on the same trail the wind velocity and direction will determine the length of the separation. It is highly unusual for a competitor to experience this but you can spend 10 miles behind the same rider. A more likely scenario is a change of terrain will give one rider the advantage, and adios. You can easily go 10 miles and not see another rider. The point to all of this being the terrain is your biggest competitor. The more types of terrain that you can traverse quickly the better overall racer you have become.

Bikes at the start.The sponsoring club can route the race through difficult terrain or not so difficult terrain. It stands to reason that the older clubs have a better collective knowledge of the millions of acres that make up the Mojave Desert. Thus the older clubs tend to use difficult terrain. Up hills, down hills, narrow canyons, and a 10-inch wide hog back with a two hundred-foot drop on either side are only a few examples. Almost always when you are racing across that 10” hog back there is a 40 MPH cross wind. Nobody paved this piece of terrain so it will have humps and bumps that bring your front wheel off the ground. That amount of wind will move your front end about 8 inches which means if you guessed wrong about where the trail went over this crest you are taking a quick trip to the bottom. And to think NASCAR worries about aero-push. The worst is a smooth lava flow at about a 45 degrees slope in the rain. This hill is in Red Rock Canyon; I can take you there. One fellow that I know managed to start this decent in the rain with his motorcycle out of gear. His highly excited comment "by the time I was half way down if I could have gotten the gearbox into 4th (the fastest forward gear) the rod and piston would have been ejected from the engine at a speed above escape velocity thus entering an orbit around earth. Only a person who works for JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratories) would describe it that way. I would simply say the engine would be exceeding the rev limit. Yes, I left out several of his 4, 5, and even 6 letter words. A club named SoCal had a private downhill. A view from the top can be seen on a Rams MC web page on the Internet. They claim a 3,000-foot drop and the angle is near 60 degrees with 90 degrees being straight down. The entire second loop of a Hare and Hound Race was spent in topping a 6,000-foot mountain then working your way out to a bald sandy face. There was always a check at the bottom which became visible, as tiny little people from where you were. I broke the cuboid bone in my left foot on this hill; I was going too slow. I might devote a couple of paragraphs to that incident some time later in an episode on broken bones. As an expert 50 MPH is about as slow as I can manage going down this hill. That is with the back wheel locked up most of the time. Don't touch that front brake. A racing area outside of California City has very sharp small hills with peaks so sharp they are impossible to ride as a hogback. The Bultaco is a good desert bike that is made in Spain with the gas tank and fenders being made from fiberglass. In a Cal. City race I saw a Bultaco impaled on a Joshua tree about 10’ off the ground just over the crest of one of these pointy hills. The rider wasn’t there. Later in a post race bull session someone was positive the spines of the Joshau tree had penetrated the gas tank.

When looking at a new downhill it helps if you visualize it as "flat ground at an angle". What route would you choose if this were flat, once you have decided on a route and your mind is satisfied with the flatness, it's easy. However, it is especially difficult to convince yourself of the flatness when the angle gets steeper near the bottom. In that case you will not even be able to see the bottom until you get past the knee. I’m sorry that shit ain’t flat. Sand dunes can pile up extremely steep but they amount to nothing. The steep side is always the lee side. This tends to be the finest texture and you sink into it. The angle is beyond 60 degrees and you still need a lot of power to keep from sinking in and stopping.

During the last several years of my racing career the Check Chase to Parker, Arizona was the premier racing event. I liked it much better than the famous Barstow to Vegas race I rode and finished this race twice before joining the Checkers. I had received a verbal invitation to join the Checkers in late summer, my reply was yes but I want to ride the Check Chase before changing clubs. They were happy with that because when I change clubs all of the points that I have accumulated for the year come with me. This race was always longer and tougher than Barstow to Vegas. It was a minimum of two hundred miles and had three different starting places in California always ending at Parker Arizona near Foxy's.

By the time a rider gets into Arizona he has completed 85% of the mileage, is dog tired, and has a 1/4-inch of mud on his lips. Incidentally, where we enter Arizona there is not a 4 color welcome sign advising please buckle up, our speed limit is 70 MPH with no tolerance. But we have one last Checker surprise before you get to that cold drink of water from a hot woman. A sand down hill in that 60-70 degree range with a real zinger a six foot vertical rock ledge at the top. At the jump off point there is always a pair of Checkers that will get your speed down to twenty or less then indicate to bring it over right between the two of them. It is a real mess and a big mistake trying to go off that with no speed.

The first year that we used that downhill in the race the Checker's in attendance recounted a condition that worsened as the race went on. The novices would seize up at the edge. At first they were given two choices; jump or go over there with that group and cry. As the riders stacked up waiting for their turn, you would simply be amazed at how polite they became, please you can go ahead of me. This is completely out of character for a desert racer. Anyway as the line lengthened and that other group was busy making a very large mud puddle with their tears the choice was taken away. The Checkers simply assisted each rider in getting over the edge. As soon as the last one over could get his body and bike out of the drop zone over goes the next one. The Checkers manning this check reported "that was physically tiring, as some of those novices really objected to going off this precipice" but all objections were in vain as very soon they were flying through the air with greatest of ease while screaming very loudly.

We were going to use the same down hill next year and in the next club meeting there was a discussion on how to make this go more smoothly. The two guys that manned the hill that year wanted nothing to do with it next year. Someone came up with the idea to use a cattle prod; it was not me as I have no experience with the device. Quickly the logistics were worked out for support, recharging, and a back up unit etc. The Checkers are a small tight knit group and keeping this a secret for a year was not a problem.

The next year went much better. You should see those novices accelerated when that cattle prod hits their sweaty ass. Only about every other one needed this electrical incentive, I suspect that the odor of burning leather and ozone caused a reaction in the right wrist. The report came back that most of those receiving the electrical assist completed the jump and the downhill successfully. I look at this as simply a vehicle for the Checkers to share their vast riding knowledge and expertise with many of the less experienced riders.

I have never raced over this hill; I have gone down it just for fun.

Ray Alexander
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