Baja Flow

By Chris Gragtmans | November 10, 2015

My nerves buzz as the dust trails recede into the distance. 

I am the least experienced driver in a group of brightly colored Baja Challenge buggies.  As we idle and wait for our turn to rip, the power of the land overtakes me.  Cactuses, brush, rocks, and mountains extend out in all directions as far as the eye can see, and the road curves up a mountain around exposed corners.  Baja is not familiar with the term “guardrail!”

This is the trip of a lifetime… a 300 mile tour of the remote desert and coast with Wide Open Excursions, consisting of many of the roads from the Baja 1000 and 500.  It’s been a childhood dream to explore tracks like these, and now I am doing it!  We have radio and GPS contact between six buggies, and we’re about to roar into the unknown under bluebird skies.

Before I know it, it’s our turn to go.  My co-driver, Mike, is in the passenger seat for this section, and he watches the GPS and communicates with other cars while my vision rests on the road ahead. 

I drop the clutch in first gear, and the buggy roars to life!  These machines are light and torquey, with a four gear manual transmission and monstrous suspension… about 19 inches front and back.  The gravel clacks below us as I hit 3rd gear, and shifting into 4th I can feel the wind blasting my helmet and faceshield through the open cockpit.  70 miles per hour feels WAY different on gravel than it does on pavement!

As I get into some corners, the nerves and trepidation fade into the past.  I am focused solely on monitoring speed and communicating with Mike on our strategy.

“Right 3 into Left 2.”

“Long sweeping Left 4 into straightaway.”

Before this moment, there were upcoming bills, work projects, and text/email alerts… but what exists now is simply the dirt road in front of me.  Existence has been distilled down to physics, momentum, and machinery.  As each mile clicks away, my brain settles further and further into the zone.  I recede into myself, and actions start happening without effort or consciousness.  The tires break free on a sweeping corner, and I calmly countersteer while keeping steady pressure on the gas. 

I am powersliding at 45 miles per hour!!  I am in a video game.  I am a Duke of Hazzard.  I am the biggest badass in the world!

Mike and I hoot and howl as the tires hook up and I stomp on the gas to hit a big roller and soar into the air!  The buggy lands nose-heavy but easily recovers due to its massive suspension.  

Driving is one of those things that allows us to be kids again… plain and simple.  There’s nothing more youthful than screaming through the desert with the skinny pedal pegged, getting caked in dust, and beating up on toys.  And Baja is the ultimate playground for big kids.  The speed limits end with the pavement, and the beauty of the land reverberates anytime you choose to slow down, loosen your grip on the wheel, and take a look around.  

Get loose!

It’s also cool to reflect on how Baja has shaped the automotive industry.  The purpose of our trip is testing the new BFGoodrich T/A KO2 tire, and this place has played a huge role in BFG’s off road heritage.  This land has been the crucible for the company’s products since the beginning.  Everything about Baja is raw.  It’s tremendously hard on equipment… huge rocks, ruts, silt, washboards, blind corners, cliffs… this land is designed to make equipment fail!

Just another boring field test…

But that is what it’s all about… pushing ourselves and pushing the tires to see what is possible. 

As we coast along the Pacific Ocean next to howling seals and exploding waves to our lunch spot, I can’t help but chuckle at how ridiculously fortunate I am to have this experience.  I have pushed myself beyond what I thought I could do in a car, and I will certainly never look at the tires on my personal vehicle the same way again.

Don’t ever forget to act like a kid once in a while!

Chris Gragtmans