Bike-urious does the Baja 1000 – Part 5

In Travel by Abhi1 Comment

Well, we’ve had our bikes for a couple of months…so it’s time to start racing.

I had to head back to the east coast for a month but Nathan took the opportunity to keep chugging along. One day he texted me that he was going to ‘check out’ a National Hare and Hound event.

The madness of Hare and Hound, courtesy of

I assumed he was planning on going as a spectator to see how it worked. “Cool,” I thought. We’ll get some idea of how it works for when we enter our first race. It wasn’t until he was driving home from the event that I found out he had actually raced it! I was envious and proud of him at the same time.

Ever use to watch Scrubs? Remember how every once in a while, they’d switch out narrators so you could get a taste of things from a different perspective? Well, today’s is Nathan’s tale. In his words:

“This is a story of me being a fucking moron.

I suppose we should start at the beginning. In this crazy idea, there’s a fundamental idea of challenging the unknown and pushing yourself. In 2 months, I’ll be 40. I don’t want to make this about a midlife crisis, but…it’s kind of a midlife crisis.

Bike-urious Does Baja - Part 1 - Drunken Discussion

When this idea came up, I had no frame of reference – I’ve never ridden a bike on dirt (well, except a mountain bike). This journey is all about learning curves, and every curve is really steep! The consequence of misjudging something is pretty severe, which has made it such a revelation. As a street rider, you’re always worried about being planted and having traction, and it all means nothing when you’re on the dirt.

Nathan Crash

So, we get these bikes, we go out and ride, we experience it. And I have to give a shout out to Dennis at Beach Moto – I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I was now if the first time I rode a dirt bike wasn’t with him. We’ve been riding for a few months and have plenty of street experience, but we’re aiming for one of the gnarliest races out there! To get a taste of what that would be like, I started looking at what the world of competition looks like.

If you’re not pushing the envelope, I don’t know what life is. It comes from Caselli – he once said “you should do one thing every day that scares you”, and I get that. That quote is in this excellent video:

I always liked the phrase from The Matrix, “a splinter in your mind,” where you obsess over something and can’t get over it. In this case, it’s about finding what the limit really is. Until this point, we’ve been doing a lot of talking. And you watch videos and all that stuff, but it isn’t until you stand on the line and watch 300 guys start at the line and rip off at speeds you can’t imagine and then you can’t even see because of the dust. It’s that experience that you can’t replicate, you can’t train for it, you just have to do it.

It’s that splinter that made me think, ‘you have to find that out what it is.’ We had hit this plateau of just riding around by ourselves in the deserts of SoCal. Now we have to ride against other people who know what they’re doing, and guess what? They really fucking know what they’re doing! So at some point, the rubber hits the road. Or in this case, the dirt.

Nathan jumping at SoCal Supermoto

I started to check out the District 37 schedules, but it was all gibberish. We don’t know anything – what a hare and hound is, what a scramble is, what a Grand Prix is, what a…”insert any noun” is. You’re constantly learning, and it all sounds cool. So you talk to 3Bros, and they say which events are cool. I ask about the last Hare and Hound of the season, which is conveniently that weekend, and Kelly Barbosa says it’s her favorite event (ignore that her wall is covered in trophies so she’s clearly an amazing rider).

Then there’s another problem. It feels like all these guys that have been riding since they were kids. The only way to catch up is to push it as hard as possible – how do you overcome that disadvantage, how do you learn at such an exponential rate…how do you tap into the Matrix? So, I push.

Nathan setting up at Gorman

Race Day:
The event was on Sunday, and I decided to participate rather than just watch on Friday night. So, do I go out there on Saturday and get a hotel, or just charge it on Sunday? Meanwhile, I’m trying to decide if I prep the bike or not, texting Abhi while he’s stuck in Boston and figuring out if I should go to the race or not.

Most of the race was a blur. I showed up in the morning, and there were signs for the 100s MC, the club that put on the event. I’ve seen photos of what to expect in terms of all the RVs and trucks in pit row, but it was something else in person. Kelly Barbosa’s advice was to find a few clubs and talk to them. All I knew was that I had to check in at some point and race at a certain time. But by the time I got my gear on, the bike off the truck, and everything else set up, there were 15 minutes to the rider’s meeting. You’re riding through camp going “where the hell do I go?”, asking people who are all very helpful. I figured the rider’s meeting would be a tent or structure with a map on the wall, that kind of thing. Nope – you’re supposed to ride to the start. And that’s it – you’re on the grid. They do a rider’s meeting for each start…I didn’t even attend my own rider’s meeting because I was three rows back from the pros and I had already heard the rider’s meeting twice.

They have something called a bomb start. It’s a super wide wall of people, maybe 200-300, that are all heading towards a smoke bomb which is the first timing point and the choke point. It’s banzai insanity! You can’t see shit. If you’re in first place, you’re good, but you gotta be first cause everyone else is eating dust. I’ve seen a video or two of that but experience that was a whole different thing.

Here’s a couple of examples of a Hare and Hound start:
First Person View:

Third Person View:

You watch the rows in front of you start, and this nervous energy builds…and then it’s finally your turn. I killed the bike. Well, I didn’t kill it, I just fucked up the enduro kit. You have to be off for the start, and my mistake was shutting the bike off earlier by turning off the enduro kit versus just hitting the kill switch. So I’m at the start line and I’m all keyed up to rip across the desert – I push the starter button and…nothing. Everyone else was 15 seconds ahead of me before I realized my mistake, so it was time to fucking hammer it.
Nathan Whoops

From that point on, everything you think you know goes out the fucking window. The pace is on a different scale, the technical ability is on a different scale. At the first checkpoint I was doing OK – I had even caught up to a lot of people in the open desert. But after that it got technical, and that’s when I started wrecking, doing damage to the bike and myself. That’s what changes your paradigm, especially as 20 people blow by you when you’re trying to pick up your bike. So you find a reasonable pace, but then you’re not catching up. Straight balls won’t do it – you need the skill to back it up.

Nathan Gorman Prospectors GP Jump - Featured

photo from of Nathan during the race.

There was a tactical mistake cause I was on my own. The first sequence went by so fast that I wasn’t worried about fuel for the second lap thanks to the big tank on my KTM 525MXC (3.1 gallons). I thought I could make it through the second leg because it was shorter, so instead of refueling and pitting, I decided to press through to help catch up on time. All 3 sections were less than 80 miles, and my bike has more range than that. But the bike drinks fuel a bit faster when you’re racing, and that was about to become a problem.

I hit the first checkpoint of the second loop and found out from the crew that the first place finisher had just crossed the finished line…and I’m not even half way done with the day. But there’s no turning back at this point, there’s no option to bail out and head home. So I continue on for mile after mile after mile of single track shale, sand washes, dynamite blasted peaks, it just kept going. I wasn’t worried until I hit reserve on the fuel tank. Luckily, the rescue team came up behind me – one of the volunteers was with the Four Aces Motorcycle Club and he was just kind of chilling with me. He was nice but the crews didn’t really know where they were either. They’d keep saying ‘next hill, you’ll be OK’, but you’d go over the hill and it’d be a huge expanse of desert.

Weirdly, I got better at riding then because I had to be smooth to conserve gas. You couldn’t waste gas getting stuck and powering out. Eventually I just didn’t have the gas to get up a hill climb. I shook the tank around but I couldn’t really hear anything. Luckily, there are sweep crews behind you but I hadn’t seen them for a while, so I assumed they had taken someone else off. This meant I could be alone for who knows how long, and was probably the last person on the course.

Well, the Four Aces guy goes ahead and comes back with a Gatorade bottle of gas. That was enough for us to bail out and connect with the main route. At that point I needed to not inconvenience any more people, so I took the safe route back – except we were lost so we ended up off the race track and in open desert in the middle of the Mojave, including a run through Soggy Dry Lake. I had been lost throughout this whole event, but all of a sudden I was back on familiar ground – it’s the same place we took the Scouts and I got to rip across the desert again, but with a different bike.

Though Nathan did not finish that first race, he also did not come in last!
Nathan's Results

Next up…our first race together! Hint: it does not go well.