SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - SEPTEMBER 2017

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Mission of Adventure The 2017 The Monster Energy Trail of Missions presented by BFGoodrich By Cameron Steele Photos by: FOX Bryon Harrold and Bink Designs Brian Binkert For those that get out to live the adventure of life, there is no more magical a location than the Baja Peninsula.  People often associate Baja with popular tourist cities like Ensenada, Rosarito, and Cabo San Lucas, but half, or more, of Baja, is without cities, towns or pueblos. Cell service exists in areas where there is moderate urban sprawl but so much of the adventure is the “unplugged” version of what the places, the vistas and the people of Baja offer. Baja History And Topography The peninsula is made up of two Mexico States, Baja, and Baja Sur. At one point Baja was a part of California, and Mexico controlled all of this land until 1848. When the Mexican American war was settled, California was split into California and Baja California. Baja translated means “lower”.  When Mexico split Baja into two states they became Baja California and Baja Sur, which effectively means lower south. The direct line from the U.S./Mexico border to “Lands’ End” in Cabo is about 775 miles and the Transpeninsular Hwy, aka Hwy 1. It is about 1000 miles long if you drive it to Cabo. On the west coast is the Pacific Ocean and on the east is the Sea of Cortez also known as the Gulf of California. This is where the Colorado River terminates into the Sea. A large part of northern Baja is the Valle de Los Cirios and the surrounding deserts, mountains, washes, and beaches…..this is what I call the “Never Never.” For my race team and friends, known as The Desert Assassins it’s the point where you dip south of El Rosario on the Pacific or Gonzaga Bay on the Sea of Cortez. It’s here where the adventure known as Baja begins. Desert Assassins And The Trail Of Missions We have spent decades racing and visiting Baja. As a small boy, I remember the early 70’s traveling to this unique and different land. As a teenager, I became a racer of Baja and in 1982 I navigated my first race in Mexico. By the mid-’80’s I was driving races in Baja as well as making surf trips south of the border. My first Cabo surf trip happened in 1986 and from there I have never really stopped going. My love for Baja and the people just continues to grow. My wife Heidi is also a long time Baja adventurer, which started with her family in the mid 70’s.  Today she and our daughter are thick as thieves with me on the Baja adventuring and more specifically our truck trips like the Trail of Missions. The Desert Assassins host a small amount of truck and bike trips to Baja each year. 3 bike trips, Hell Ride that is a difficult single track ride based in northern Baja. Our Cabo trip is now 12 years along and is known as “Rip to Cabo”, also not an easy version of a peninsula ride. We also host the Baja Beach Bash (BBB) with Johnny Campbell and Bullet Proof Diesel brothers, Ken and Gene Neal. The BBB trip is a fund raising ride and in 2017 we were able to gather over $120,000.00 in pledges to support the kids of Rancho Santa Marta School and Orphanage in San Vicente Many of those pledges are from fellow racers and the off-road community, which is a very generous group of amigos. For the trucks, we host Truckin’ Good Times and Trail of Missions (this trip) along with one other known as Surf and Turf which is a moto and truck trip. The families are in trucks and the guys on motos. Along the way, there are some epic single track and great routes all along the Pacific coast. The 2017 Monster Energy Trail of Missions presented by BFGoodrich had a plan to loosely follow sections of the “El Camino Real” or “Royal Road” which is the route used by missionaries from Spain to colonize and build missions along California. The Desert Assassins plan the trips to see many different types of locations. Missions are a big part of the plan and the history wrapped around them, but the trip is much more than a drive down the Baja to see the missions. We travel family style, in which we work together as one to share the magic and the stoke.   We also have certain protocol and that includes paramedics integrated with the group and letters of acknowledgment from both states in Baja that are issued to and acknowledged by federal and local police as well as the Navy and all aspects of the military. There is never a sure thing in Baja but we try to plan as best we can. Sadly, nothing is infallible and in 2011 we experienced the greatest tragedy when Jeff “OX” Kargola crashed and subsequently passed on our moto trip. There is no perfect plan and I have always lived by the credo “If it seems like a bad idea, it probably is” and tell everyone that joins an adventure with us this very same thing. Not a day goes by that we aren’t thinking of Jeff and we “Live Like OX” in his memory. The Desolation Of Baja Baja is remote. Knowing that no one is coming to help immediately is also another thing everyone needs to understand. They may be coming eventually but this is not the U.S. and although it makes it slightly more of a risk, it’s also part of why we come to Baja. The vast remoteness coupled with the people, the places and leaving the concrete jungle on the north side of the border is always a good plan if you want to get out and see the beauty of the World. We move our crossing locations around but for this The Trail Of Missions run, we crossed at Tecate and headed directly into the Pine Forest and Laguna Hanson. Many people don’t know this but the “Parque National” that Laguna Hanson is in is one of only four parks officially on the peninsula. Although it feels remote the routes in the Pine Forest are frequently used and as I always say, “the locals don’t build roads to nowhere” so always expect oncoming traffic. This goes for anywhere in Baja and anywhere in the world you travel. Newbies And Experts In The Mix Tacos and some traditional routes lead us to our first “surprise” location. For 2017 we would host some “fresh fish” like the Deegan’s. Brian is a 16-time X-Games medalist and multi time Lucas Oil Off Road series champion. His daughter Halie (15) also came along. The Olliges were also green to our Trail Of Missions trip. Steve Olliges is the boss at the largest Raptor Dealer in the World, Team Ford in Las Vegas. This also happens to be where we buy all our trucks. Steve is one of the really good guys in off-road and it’s a real honor to host he and his wife Kari and kids, on our little nine-day jaunt. Experienced Baja legends like Rob MacCachren, who has won the last three Baja 1000’s, Frank Deangelo who has been laying out the Baja race courses for SCORE for decades, and Ryan Thomas, were our Baja ringers for the trip. The goal for me personally, was to surprise everyone on some locations, but if the Desert Assassins could pull out some bangers that these amigos had never seen, it would be spectacular. Curt LeDuc returned for his third Trail Of Missions run which added extra pressure, and we had some work to do to surprise these experts. Steele’s Favorite Places Truly one of my favorite places in Baja, top five for sure if not better, is the bluffs outside an area we call “Clam Corner.” These bluffs allow for vehicles to park on top. There’s erosion under them that can’t be seen from that position, and for some, it was a good thing! We place all the trucks and do some helicopter work for our TV crew. Worth noting, Clam Corner is a name we made up and is a designation for a place very few people know by this name. This being said, trying to find Clam Corner on any map or GPS would be a futile expenditure of time. Our goal is to visit missions along the way, which is a bulk of our ABC World of X Games TV show, and to stop at a couple more on the way back north. The first Spanish mission location was established in 1697 in Loreto and this is our most southern destination for 2017. It’s right in the middle of the small port town of Loreto that is a medium sized city with an international airport. This is where our TV show will finish but we will see many different looks to the mission trail along our way to Loreto. Our first mission stop is at a seldom-visited site known as San Fernando, which was established in 1769 and is just about 3 miles off Hwy 1 at the northern end of the Never Never. The ruins are not much more than a couple of clumps of adobe brick, as only a couple partial walls still remain. Although not a “banger” location I like sharing the run down or nearly extinct mission sites for both historical value as well as the adventure but also for comparison so when our friends see a beautiful maintained or restored mission they are able to see how each endures time. This mission’s historical significance is also that it is the only Franciscan mission site in Baja and that Junipero Serra founded this location. As we move south we share a location there is never enough time to hang out in when at the races, La Gringa on the north end of Bahia de Los Angeles. This is gravel like spit that is connected to a small landmass at the end of the bay. Our group took to the 80’ish degree Sea of Cortez and had a great afternoon swimming and laughing and most of us were able to see whale sharks swimming along the beach and some of the Trail of Mission peeps were able to swim along with them. Although in web videos you can see people touching the whale sharks and actually holding them for a ride that is a frowned upon practice, do not touch the whale sharks. When we come for the races it’s always time to pre run or get to the next location. Although the flavor of Baja comes through on the rushed pace of the races as well our goal on this trip is to take it all in and enjoy what Baja is all about; we love to share the “stoke.” The 16th mission ever created at San Borja, which is nestled in the mountains west of Bahia de Los Angeles, 22 miles from the highway, regardless of which direction you access it from. This day was super special as we shared San Borja and the gem we call simply “The Secret Beach.” The Secret Beach is one of my all-time favorites in Baja, or anywhere in the world. It’s untouched and never seen by racers, so it’s not on many people’s radar. The two track roads that lead to the “arch” that continues to hide from most Baja lovers are a fun set of intersecting sand. For those not with 4x4 vehicles, it’s probably inaccessible….at least that’s the story we are telling, and we’re sticking to it. The joy of Scorpion Bays laid back atmosphere is a stopover point for the Trail Of Mission’s crew and we take full advantage of two nights here. With great local knowledge from our brother Cory Fowler and a great friendship with Mike and Chollie at Cowabunga Bar and Grill, we have a layover that dreams are made of. Staying at the Scorpion Bay Hotel and Cowabunga, along with many other private homes, we arrive at the beach and go surf. Our joy is in the sharing and we were able to not only share the dirt of Baja but the ocean as well. Trying to teach Curt LeDuc to surf will go down as one of my great Baja memories. A legend in the dirt, it was evident Curt doesn’t surf…..and still doesn’t, but we got pretty close! Both of us working on one board must have been a site but Curt went for it and made a gallant effort. The kids frolicked and the parents took turns surfing. Our helicopter pilot we call Heli Jim, took most of the day off and surfed and used the paddle board to catch endless waves. It’s a great feeling to see people that are always on the go kicking back. Rob Mac was great to hang out with and his sing along skills and belly flop ability are nearly on par with his racing skills, no lie. I tried to arrange with the police in San Juanico to arrest Rob if he arrives first in their town during this year’s 1000. Yeah, I’m a funny guy that way. Heading Further South The “banger” missions lay ahead and as we get to the best historical stops of the trip we know our southernmost destination is getting close. Comondu, San Javier, and Loreto would all be easy to spend a full day at but for us, we would take a couple hours at each and usually end up wanting more, especially at San Javier. Comondu is no longer truly and original mission. It is said that the original was blown up for the materials to be used to build a school. Today there is a mission just adjacent to the original location but is a far cry from the original efforts when this site was founded in 1708. The Jewel of the Mission Trail was next on our trip, and it is by far is my favorite; one of my top three locations of any kind in Baja. San Javier was established in 1699 and was active until the early 1800’s. Today it is restored some, but still, has an original look and feel. This location is reportedly the first place in all the Americas where glass pane windows were used for the first time. They came from Spain in the galleons bringing supplies to the “island” of California, as it was thought at one time to be. When you travel the short distance from San Javier to Loreto it’s easy to get your mind wandering as to think how the missionaries and local people would travel through the massive Sierra de la Giganta Mountain range in the 16, 17 and 1800’s. To say it’s rugged and gnarly is an understatement and nowadays it is a paved route, depending on how recent hurricanes feel about that each season. We race this section east to west in the SCORE Baja 1000 and it is certainly okay with me that there is a speed limit on this pavement now. These are some of the most hair-raising hairpin turns in all of Baja, to say the least. Heading Into The Town Of Loreto The El Camino Real eventually brings us to the wash that leads to Loreto and the site of what is considered the first mission site in the California’s. In truth it is the first sustainable site is how I understand it and is considered the birthplace of the mission trail. I dig Loreto, there are great people and places in this town and it has a huge love for off-road racing. Our group makes the turn out of the wash and the last mile of our journey south is through the heart of Loreto. The one-way streets and the limited parking add a weird style of confusion as we have been off the grid on the dirt for days at this point and streetlights and traffic are very foreign feeling. Loreto offers a beautiful view of the Sea of Cortez, and the mission is also a grand attraction. The site was established in 1697 and makes you think of the over three centuries that have passed since its creation, and what has changed in 320 years. Some food for thought for our visitors here is that the United States is only 241 years old and the continent of Antarctica wasn’t discovered by James Cook until 1773.   Mexico is an awesome place and Baja is for sure a gem when it comes to World travel. I have seen some of the World and consider myself at least fairly well traveled. I’ve been to Iceland, Australia, Ireland, Costa Rica, Brazil, Germany, Austria and many other places on this planet and although they are all epic in their own right I stack Baja and its hidden treasures at the top of my list of most amazing places…. especially if you like to off-road and my BFGoodrich tires were made for roosting dirt! Viva Baja The Trail of Missions is created by the Desert Assassins and supported by our family of off-road lovers. To join a DA truck or moto trip send us a message through social media or go to our severely outdated web page to contact us. The Trail of Missions will air on October 8th at 3pm ET and 2pm PT on the ABC network as a part of the World of X Games. Remember when traveling anywhere to respect the local people, their traditions, and customs. It’s not always easy but for sure the effort should always be made. The DA travels with respect to the people, the farms, the livestock and the animals of Baja or anywhere we travel. Each of us should always try and leave a positive impact. We travel in the places and areas the locals do and respect their land like we are the visitors we are. Blessing to all and respect to all that have come before us, thank you to the people of Baja for sharing their magical land! SJ

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