As luck would have it, the same vendor's trailer had all three of the items on our list. "I'll be taking these earplugs, those red gloves, size medium, and one of those catheters, please."
"What size do you need?"
"Aren't all earplugs the same size?
"No, the catheter. What size?"
"You got anything bigger than a large?"
"Nope, all we have left are these mediums."
"Uh, I guess I'll have to make do with one of those."
Page said, "I'll take three, please."
Each race buggy was equipped with a driver-to-co-driver and buggy-to-base radio plus a filtered fresh-air supply pumped into both helmets. Combined with a Lowrance GPS system, these few components proved to be lifesavers--quite literally. Newhardt and I sat five-point-belted into BC7 in front of the Riviera Convention Center. In a lineup according to the event's fastest-to-slowest starting order, Baja Challenge cars staged about midfield. "Newhardt, you got your girdle [kidney belt] on?" "Yeppers." "Helmet skirt, earplugs, and catheter on?" "Check, check, and double check." "GPS on and route book?" "Up and ready." Let's race!
Sooner than I had expected, my bladder sent an unambiguous message: Now or never. With four cars in front of us at 30-second intervals and exiting the vehicle not being an option, I had exactly two minutes to answer the call. The instant I'd committed and was, ahem, midstream in the moment, a man broke away from the crowd. "Hey!" he yelled over the raspy air-cooled motor. "You're leaking fluid!" All I could yell back was, "Yes. Yes, I am."
Click image to enlarge.
After we got a sincere handshake and "Good Luck!" from Sal Fish at the starting line, the timer announced, "Five, four, three, two, one, GO!" BC7 was underway. Plan A was to never lose sight of the car that had left a mere 30 seconds before us. Piloting BC6 was five-time Baja champion Ryan Thomas. If I could just lock onto him and follow his line, I'd keep us in the race and probably learn a few things along the way, right? Wrong. I never saw BC6 again.
Plan B was to rely on our prerunning notes for the first 20 miles of the race, which we had carefully highlighted. We came drifting around a blind left corner (in a beautiful slide, I might add) to find a mass of spectators crowded around a modestly sized water crossing. Hard on the brakes, I managed to scrub off what I thought was enough speed to cross with a minimal splash, yet maintain some forward momentum. When the wave of chocolate-milk-like ooze came bounding through the front of the car (where a windshield would normally reside) and flooded our laps, I knew we were in over two feet of trouble.
Before we'd even reached the distant shore, Newhardt and I were scrambling to unplug our helmets from the radio connectors: the water seeped into the nether regions of the radio and a skull-stinging electronic shriek filled our helmets. We managed to make the crossing and unplug our headphone connectors. Newhardt and I were now deaf as a result of those oh-so-important earplugs buried in our ear canals. With steam rising out of our soaked buggy and driving suits and into our face shields, we struggled to communicate with hand gestures. Dave folded and stowed the drenched and now useless route book.