We were barreling down highway 395, a stretch of road I’ve frequented, a gateway from Los Angeles to the high deserts of the Mojave. The van was loaded with my 1996 CR500, tools, and a few basic camping supplies. We had the van humming along at 75mph with a 100 mile race through the desert, outside the town of Ridgecrest, CA as our destination. A stretch of tumbleweeds, rocks and sand that has seen countless races over the past 60+ years. This wasn’t the first race here and there is something special about that. Stories only passed along by the campfire. The racing history runs deep, but also do the tales of the frontier, hidden in the mining shafts and abandoned mining camps littered across the valley.
There is something about the smell of desert air and an unobstructed horizon that just fosters a sense of freedom. Motorcycles, gasoline, and camping only reinforces that buzz. That's what this is all about and the crew over at Biltwell got all that right. This being their first go at putting on a desert race, they invited a few hundred of their closest pals, strung together a 25 mile race loop, and dropped the start banner at 10am-ish.
Before we get to that… We arrived Friday afternoon and dusted the cobwebs off my 1996 CR500, nicknamed the “Kamikaze”. A particularly temperamental beast, born as a 500cc two stroke motocross machine, that I massaged and made into a real desert weapon. Sure, I could have brought out the newer desert race machine, but this is the Biltwell 100 and there were vintage bikes, street bikes, Harley Davidsons, Adventure bikes, a few pull start mini bikes, and an equal amount of characters that owned them. An event that is much more about good times than lap times! After a few hot laps around camp, shaking down the bike and making a few tweaks here and there, “The Kamikaze” was as good as it was going to get and we were ready to stretch the throttle cable in the morning and try to survive the 100 mile event.
When everyone settled in, the campfire lit, the ice chest opened and the ice cold Gilly’s Lager cracked. Everyone's favorite storyteller and photographer, Mr. Mounce Smith busted out some of Baja California’s finest oysters and got too shucking. A little race fuel for the body and some laughs for the soul. New and familiar faces and even a dog or two.
We woke to the sound of machines and even the smell of bacon by the campfire. I laced up my favorite pair of boots and Bell brain bucket and rolled the race bike over to the riders meeting. I have been racing in the desert since I was 11 years old, so this was a familiar sight. 150+ racers huddled around as Mr. Biltwell himself gave the welcoming hellos, dos and dont’s. For nearly half of the racers this was their first time lining up 50 wide on a bomb run, and boy it was about to get dusty…
With the drop of the start band, we took off, I ate the roost of about 10 bikes in front of me as I blindly worked my way through the pack. Hooting and hollering as I passed my buddies and pals, working my way towards the front. Race mile 3, race mile 6, a little back and forth with the number 2 place rider. Race mile 8 went by and I had the leader in my sights, clicked the Kamikaze into high gear and I was right on his tail, when disaster struck… The bike lost power and seized. Boy, what a drag.
I now had a front seat view and watched the entire pack of racers pass me by on the back 40. Was I bummed? Sure! But hell, thats racing! Before long a vintage Husqvarna came along sputtering to a halt in front of me. We both shook our heads, exchanged a few unpleasant words for our underachieving machines and laughed it off. Here we are on this rock floating through space, trying to defy gravity itself on a chunk of metal and rubber across the desert plains. Life aint that bad, and we had cold Gillys Lager at the truck! Now if only we could find the truck….
Till next year!