The Tecate Enduro picked up pretty much where it left off years ago. Back then, it wasn’t just a race. It was an experience that would leave its mark in your memory and on your body forever. Right now, the Los Ancianos club members have just finished the results, and here are some of the new memories that I will add to the Tecate file, which will be in my head forever.
HUSKY GUYS: First off, congratulations to Ty Davis’s clan. Bobby Garrison, Nick Burson, Cory Graffunder and Andy Jefferson have gone through a lot in the last year with the rebirth of Husqvarna. It hasn’t been easy. But Tecate marked a turning point for them. Not only did Bobby win the event, but Cory’s second overall, Ty’s ninth and Nick’s 15th gave them the team championship. Team Green was second, lead by Taylor Robert in third. For full results, go to www.losancianos.com.
THE ROBERT REX BUILD UP: Rex is a close friend and as Advertising Director at Dirt Bike, he’s the main reason the magazine exists. He had been obsessed with Tecate for months. It was a non-stop build-up, with discussions focused on tire selection, the merits of a Rekluse clutch, battery technology and preparation for every conceivable scenario. But he never counted on the inconceivable. Ten miles from the border, Rex got the call. His daughter was going into surgery with appendicitis. He gave the car keys to Tom and Ivan Stoilkovich, his home-town buddies, rented a car, and drove straight to the hospital. They had been on complete Rex support until this moment, content to place their lives in his hands for their first Mexico riding experience. There would be no Tecate for Rex and the ordeal of a lifetime in store for the Stoilkovichs.
DINNER WITH BILL: Bill Berroth is our Los Ancianos connection. His job was to deal with the politics surrounding the event. He can do that: back in the ‘80s he helped put together in the Incas rally in Peru. Next to that, Tecate was child’s play, even in today’s climate. That, of course, has to do with the negative news stories that surrounded Mexico.
“Dealing with the criminal element is easier that dealing with the Mexican government,” said Bill at dinner before the event. “They have simple motivation. They want to do their business. The ranchers know who these guys are and we know the ranchers. We just want these guys to know what‘s going on and to make sue the date isn‘t a problem for them. Then it’s a matter of scouting around the area. They’re easy to spot. When you see a tar-paper shack with a Hummer in front, that’s the guy you want to talk to. You offer him a beer and ask if there’s anything he needs from the states. Usually he needs something from Home Depot. A week later, you bring some plywood and he’s your friend for life.”
ORGANIC TROPHIES: Dinner became a contest to see who had the best Tecate trophies. I won. My shoulder was disfigured at the enduro in about ‘92, but my big toe is the real prize. “It still bleeds occasionally from kicking a rock down here in1998,” I told Bill. “It broke the bone ,which came through the skin and pushed off the toenail. It never really grew back, I just get a crust down there which flakes off and bleeds. What to see?” He declined. That’s how I won.
CHAMPION STATUS: I had an incredible team lined up. It was Tom Webb, Dick Burleson, Jon Eric Burleson and myself, at least on paper. On the start line it was just me. Tom didn’t have his passport, Dick was sick and Jon Eric was in Europe. In Tom’s place was late entry Charles Mullins, the new National Enduro Champion. That was good news, because I had all kinds of questions about the format, which was supposed to be the same as the Nationals. But every time I asked Charlie a question, he would just give me a blank look. I don’t know if it was because the question stumped him or because he couldn’t believe I was that stupid. One interesting moment was when I asked what would happen if you arrived at a check-out early. He said that couldn’t happen, the speed average would be too high for anyone. Two checks later he arrived on his minute, within 27 seconds of being early. I asked if that meant he was 27 seconds away from a perfect score or 3 seconds like the old system. He just blinked “I got nothing,” in morse code.
PERFECT TRAIL: The race itself was beyond perfect. It was dream trail. In the old days, the Los Ancianos were a bunch of mean knuckleheads who wanted to see everyone suffer. Guess what? They got old just like the rest of us. The result was all the good parts of Tecate without any of the suffering. The trail went on and on with perfect rhythm; left, right, up, down. But there were no bottlenecks, no cliffs and nothing that made you cuss the club. It was probably one of the best riding days of my life–with one exception: the passing of Desmond McDonald.
DESMOND MCDONALD: Desmond lost his life at mile four. It had nothing to do with the race, it was simply his time. I didn’t know him, but I‘m sure I would have liked him. He was an adventuresome rider who had ridden all over the world and had a passion for dirt bikes. Desmond was on minute eight, and had a heart attack shortly after the start of the enduro. He died on the scene despite an intense CPR effort on the part of several riders, among them Tommy and Ivan Soilkovich, whose weekend just seemed to get more and more overwhelming. Later, Tommy put his experience in words. Here is his account of the weekend, and the ordeal at mile four:
I’ve told this to a few people and after my last rendition, decided to write everything down. After giving my wife the complete, unedited version – she kept asking me if I was making some of this up . . . the mother of my child! The reality is that unless were there, you wouldn’t have believed it either.
The feeling of racing through those first few miles was pure magic. Robert was right about one thing – I was racing on some of the most unbelievable terrain of my life. The word was that although this was the 50th anniversary of the Tecate Enduro, they hadn’t held one for over 10 years. Apparently cutting through all of the political red tape to get permission to hold the race was almost imposible. From what I’m told – the producers, the Los Ancianos Group, spent four years cutting the 90 miles of single track just for this race. The trail consisted of extremely tight turns all twisting around oak trees, sage and an endless variety of cactus. It was so tight that unless you were able to stay centered on the 12-inch path, you would brush your arms and hands against the prickly cactus. I’m still picking spines out of my knuckles three days later.
Everyone kept telling me that the key to success in a long, technical race is to ride within yourself and don’t over-cook it. Great advice except when you know you have some of the fastest off-road riders in the world coming up behind you.
Somewhere past the three mile mark – maybe four miles from the start, I came around a tight, zero-visibility turn, to find a rider off his bike waiving for me to slow down. Seeing a rider off of his bike like that is never a good thing and I starting preparing myself mentally for what had to be some carnage up ahead. Immediately to my right, there was a rider on his back with two other riders kneeling over him. I rode by slowly (rider courtesy and all) and yelled at them asking, “you guys okay?” One of the guys looked up and yelled, “uh –no!” and I quickly got off of my bike to see if I could assist. No reason to lie here – the first feeling I had as I pulled off was one of total frustration. Four and a half miles in and I was now going to lose valuable time. It took me a moment to wrap my arms around what I was looking at but at first glance it appeared that one of the riders was trying to administer CPR to the rider on the ground. I leaned over, saw that the guy was pretty pale and knew immediately that we needed some help. Riders started to come by slowly as they were being waived down by the one rider on the turn. As riders approached, some would ask if we needed help – some wouldn’t. The ones that slowed down enough to listen were told to find help for us as fast as they could. The others just kept going. I had tried to get reception on my cell but nothing. My brother came up on us and saw the look in my eye and immediately knew something had gone bad. I let him know what was happening as we knelt down to help with the fallen rider. I’m not a doctor but it didn’t take a PHD to know this guy was hurt. The first two riders to stop had apparently found the rider sitting up on his rare, Spanish, Gas-Gas motorcyle with his bike wedged between some trees – unconscious. He was pale and sweaty and although we were all trying to help, no one really knew what we should be doing. The hope was that eventually one of the riders we told to get help would eventually find someone. The thing is that they were all going away from the starting area – as it would have been way too dangerous to ride backwards into oncoming traffic on the blind trail.
As we were all kneeling over the rider, moving things around to make him comfortable, another guy rode up, got off of his bike, and ran over to us shouting that he was a paramedic. “Thank you God!” He began by checking the racer’s pulse and then proceeded to pump slow, timed movements on his chest. He had the look of a professional who had done this many times before and at the time, his biggest concern was that one of the racers would come up on us too fast and slam into us.
While the medic did his thing, I helped to slow everyone down telling anyone that would listen to go get help . . . “now!” My brother Ivan was in the thick of it when the medic shouted, “someone needs to blow air into his lungs!” Without the slightest hesitation to see if someone would do it first, Ivan was ready to give this guy mouth to mouth resuscitation – something I’m pretty sure he had never done in his life. Right before he began, the paramedic told him to, “get some plastic, put a hole in it and place it over his lips!”. Ivan scrambled through his pack, got the baggie he had used for his sandwiches and began to try and resuscitate the rider. As I was watching all of this go down, somewhere in the hills of Tecate Mexico, I was overcome with pride for my little brother. In all my life I’ve yet to meet a more loving and compassionate soul or someone always is of service to others . . . no matter what. The cold truth of that day was that there were 240 riders on the starting line in Tecate. Five of them stopped long enough to offer what they could, but only one out of the 240 really went the distance – you truly are my hero.
The paramedic told Ivan that he could hear air going into the rider’s lungs and that he was doing a great job. A few seconds later the rider spit up his breakfast (all over my brother), which I took as a good sign. As my brother lifted his head to clean himself off, the paramedic placed his head on the riders chest . . . looked at us all . . . and pronounced him dead.
Those first few moments upon hearing those words were beyond surreal. The five of us, pale and shaking – had no idea what to say. A few of the longest minutes of my life ticked by when one of the riders reached out his hand, introduced himself, and thanked us all for trying to help. I didn’t know what to do. The medic thought we should go through his pack for identification which is when we learned the riders name, Desmond McDonald.
I’ve really only seen two other dead bodies in my life; my grandmother and my mom. Looking at Desmond’s body lying in the dirt, was probably a bit more than my simple mind is able to process. It’s now Tuesday – this all happened two days ago – and I am nowhere close to getting that image out of my head. The thing that really shook me, was seeing Desmond’s personal belongings spill out of his pack. He, like the other 239 riders, woke up early that very day, got all of his gear on and showed up at the starting line in hope of having some fun. I didn’t know Mr. McDonald and haven’t the slightest idea about what he was planning on doing that night or where he was thinking about spending the holidays – this year or next. I do know that at a minimum, he was planning on eating lunch as I saw the sandwich he had carefully packed for the ride. Being so close to something like that has made me feel like a complete baffoon for EVER stressing about anything. I mean you never know when your number’s up and in the end, what difference do your plans make anyway?
After some time, one of the officials from the Los Ancianos group rode up and told us help was on the way. He had a walkie-talkie and was guiding a van to a nearby dirt road by the trail. He said authorities would be involved in getting Mr. McDonald home, patted us the back and moved us along. So now what? Ivan wasn’t looking too good – I wasn’t feeling too good, so I suggested we ride to the next check point and ask for directions back to the starting area. Ivan did just that. I on the other hand blew right by the next check-point, maybe I was thinking Ivan was right behind me? It wasn’t until I was maybe 10 miles out in the mountains before I stopped to wait for my bro. I kind of knew in my heart he had already gone back but my hope was that a little quiet time out in the hills, may help put things in better perspective. After 20 minutes or so, I just wanted to find my brother and I rode like a man possessed to the next check which was the 15 mile mark. I told everyone there what had happened and asked if someone could lead me back to the start. The people from the Los Ancianos organization could not have been more sympathetic or helpful. One of the crew got on his bike and had me and another rider who had also called it quits, follow him out.
I’m thinking that maybe we were both in a mild case of shock driving home as I don’t remember much about it. I know we stopped a few times – washed up in a restaurant bathroom and began making calls to our loved ones to let them know we are okay and what had happened. We were both in our own heads for much of the drive. Just as we were about to drop into the 10 freeway and head up the coast, we spotted a maroon Landcruiser pulling a nice bike trailer. As we started to pass the Landcruiser I began scoping the dudes bikes when my heart sank. One driver and two bikes. A KTM and Desmond McDonald’s GAS-GAS.
My thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. McDonald’s family. My secret prayer, although now not a secret – is that when it’s my time to go, I get to go out doing something that I love.