My Baja Experience: Gina Wilson

It’s hard to know where to start… the last several months all seem like a blur. Time seemed to move fast and slow simultaneously. As hard as we tried to be prepared (and we did a damn good job) for months- every day, evening and dream was filled with Baja. And then one day it was Thursday, time for the boys to go. I was waving goodbye to my husband, the Canyonero and the totally jam packed trailer and suddenly time grinded to a halt.

The time between Thursday and Tuesday was torture, agony, painful, misery, hell. I hated every moment of not being with ‘the boys’. I had spent, most week nights and almost every weekend with these people and suddenly their journey had begun and I had to wait for mine to start. I was very thankful that the guys were awesome at updating me while they were gone. After time had finally had its way with me, Tuesday arrived. Thank God.

I’m trying to remember all the things I felt in the days leading up to departing and I think I always toggled between utter terror of the unknown we were walking into and pure excitement for the journey that lies ahead. But finally, there we were at the airport, all together (me, Ed, Maddie, Ty and Bobby), all on time, all waiting for our flight.

As with anything we’ve done with Baja, there was always something to do. We spent time looking at maps, studying the race book and putting documents together there on the airport floor. We ran into a gentlemen who had bought a Yeti (where Matt Fisher works) and heard about our journey. He was also there with his family to travel to watch the Baja 1000- another addict. Even though our flight was delayed more than an hour, I knew we were almost there. Ready. No turning back now. We arrived and settled in San Diego thanks to some family and had a wonderful hotel on Coronado. In-N-Out was a must for us so we waited until somewhere around midnight for our generous car fetchers (Ty and Justin who had arrived from Rhode Island) to bring it back. It was to be an early morning so we all turned in and tried to hopelessly get some sleep. I’m not much of an early riser but this particular Wednesday morning I had no issues getting right out of bed. The view from our room was spectacular but nothing could satiate me today unless it was being all together there in Ensenada, at Contingency. We were all pumped and you could have cut the anxiousness in the air with a knife. We had some errands to run to retrieve a rental car and satellite phones but before you knew it we were back at the hotel and everyone was ready to load up. We made our way down the 5 toward Tijuana, Justin was driving. We were hungry but no one asked to stop. We just want to get there. Tijuana sure is a site to behold… once we passed through the very crowded border, we were lucky to find our way to Highway 1. You could have the latest and greatest GPS but good luck navigating the streets there. I saw some sights I could do without but we did have fun chuckling at all the crazy things we saw. Driving down Highway 1 was beautiful and I had never seen country side like that before- lots of big Jesus’… Driving on the highway was also a grim preview of what was to come hauling an 18’ trailer on those roads. Yikes. We were lucky to have intermittent text communication with Evan so we knew approximately where they were. Good thing because once we arrived, chaos ensues. Not a bad chaos, the kind of chaos that makes you want to shout at the top of your lungs for no reason. We parked at our hotel which was about a 5 minute walk to Contingency.

I’m not going to say I was sad that we arrived later than we wanted seeing as that the guys had been standing in line since about 7 am and it was about 3 pm now and they still had a ways to go in line. We muscled our way through the crowed, following the line of cars searching for our team. The cars were beautiful, the town was beautiful, the various team gear was fun to look at, there were great merch stands. This is what we had waited for and words can’t describe the feeling in the air. Finally after twisting and turning through the crowds we found our team, mobbed by kids and adults alike wanting stickers and autographs. We got hugs, grabbed a beer and made introductions. This is the first time our entire crew had ever been together and we are quite a diverse crowd ranging in age from 26-66 and everywhere in between. As with any travel in large groups go, you try to execute your plan for the ‘next’ step as seamlessly as you can, usually this changes 6 times before an idea is executed. Turns out the Fire Guys part of the pit crew (Jason, Mark and Paul) had rented a house outside of town and we were all going to meet up there. But we had work do to on the car, a hotel to check into since the rooms weren’t ready earlier, visas to get since we missed the office in Tijuana- oh and did I mention everyone is STARVING? Food was the last thing on my mind. We were all together. All ready for this (well, as ready as we were going to be…). After some errands we made our way through town about dusk out to the Fire Guys house. You may be skeptical when they tell you ‘You’re going to think you made a wrong turn, but you didn’t, keep going’ But it’s true, you just keep going, there’s washed out road and a guy with a ‘magic rope’ gate. Maddie and I located whatever food we could and cooked it up as fast as we could. Don’t want people getting too grouchy…

I guess now is a good time to mention that I really couldn’t care less about racing. Cars. Loud noises. Going fast. Not my thing, actually it all terrifies me. But I love my husband and this was his dream since as far back and I could remember and to be honest, I just fell in love with this team. How could a group of people be so amazing? I still can’t put my finger on it but I knew I wanted to be part of it. So I did the only things I could do, help organize, do some cooking and packing and try to make sure everyone, especially our racers, have what they need. The guys worked on the car while the crew listened intently to Jason who gave us tips and tricks and the lay of the land. We tweaked our plan and knew once we got on the road we’d tweak it some more. We were finally joined by the guys and Josh who had stayed in town for some of the meetings we had to attend and as tired as he was, he (and some of the other guys) were grinning ear to ear from an encounter with Malcom Smith. We passed out team shirts and then it was time to go our separate ways to bed. Time seems to have no meaning in Baja so I don’t know what time we turned in but I was lucky enough to stay with ‘the Matt’s’ who were bringing the car into town the next morning… race day. I had a bunch of fellas fussing over getting me an air mattress and sleeping bag which was delightful, and then it was off to sleep. I didn’t sleep leading up to or during Baja so it was yet again another night of tossing and turning- I wasn’t even driving the stupid car… My bags were at the hotel in town so I had to make do with the random clothes and no make-up and I had to use all of Matt’s man bathroom stuff to take the last decent shower I would have in a few days- part of the adapting thing I suppose. Eating breakfast felt like an eternity- trying to entertain each other with words and stories that seemed meaningless to pass the time. What could we say that would ease the anticipation and anxious feelings? Mark and Jason being the pros at this were still sawing logs while we all packed up and tried to keep busy. Then… it was finally time to leave the house. It was Race. Day. We headed for the gas station, testing out the radio with the Matt’s along the way. I tried to get in any last minute questions that I had and before you knew it, we were all together again. After some quick photos- everyone wearing their team gear proudly, we all had to go our separate ways. Chase 1, the Ford (bad ass) Raptor with Jason, Mark and Paul from Fire Guys and Chase 2, the rental Ford Explorer with Maddie (my sister), Ty (her fiancé) and Bobby were to grab some tacos and head to a place they could watch some of the cars go through, then be ready at Race Mile 77 for a driver change (the team wanted everyone to have a shot at being in the car so they changed early). Chase 3, the “Canyonero” or Ford Excursion and trailer with me, Justin (my brother in law) and Ed (my father in law) was to stay with Matt Wilson (my husband) and Matt Fisher until they left the starting line then go back to the Fire Guys house, get the trailer, gas up and head to BFG 1.

Being at the starting line that day was something I won’t ever forget. Everyone was friendly; wishing each other luck and again the same streets where Contingency took place was shoulder to shoulder with people and you can sense every good and bad emotion in the air. Me, Justin and Ed walked the merch booths, watched the Trophy trucks take off (awesome!) then headed to the guys who were queued up in line. They were pretty far back so we decided to walk over to the wash, which is just fun, to watch more cars take off. After we were bored with that we walked back to the guys who had hardly moved in line. We had lined up about 12:30ish and it was nearing 2 pm now, talk about a long wait… I searched the line for tacos, nothing. Matt was finally able to meet Class 11 driver and pro, Eric Solorzano. I forced him to get out of the car and say hello and take a picture with him- wife duties, you know. Eric was the reason that Matt was here after all… Matt started reading VW magazines before he could even drive and has looked up to Eric ever since. This moment was over 15 years in the making. After that, time moved WAY too fast because before we knew it, we found tacos with hardly enough time to split up me, Justin and Ed to get photos at the starting line where we planned. We agreed to meet back at the corner. The Matt’s got a hug and before I could even wish them luck, they were off the starting line. I ran like a crazy person to try to catch it but to no avail. Holy shit. That’s it. They’re gone. It was a moment that I will cherish and remember for the rest of my life. So is the next one. I started walking back to the corner me, Justin and Ed agreed to meet at, walking slowly to slow my heart rate down and catch my breathe. Partly because I’m out of shape, but mostly because of what just happened. Amazing. Justin was running to the corner so I started running too and we met up just screaming and shouting and jumping, yelling with excitement about what we’d just experienced. Both shaking. I was crying. It was amazing. Amazing. We didn’t stop shaking for a while but it was time to grab the car and begin our journey. We organized the trailer, got a zillion gallons of gas and thankfully ran into a friendly face at the gas station to wish us well and she, unlike me, had captured every moment perfectly off the starting line- whew! Did I mention I didn’t get to eat those damn tacos until we stopped to get gas… a long, long time after I bought them and my stomach was bored with telling me it was hungry so it just stopped? We drove… here is where time really has no meaning. I had no idea how we got where we got or how long it took. I tried, in vain, to sleep. During this time the race car and Chase 1 and 2 were both on the other side of the mountains- did I mention this place has a butt load of mountains? Who knew. So our radio communication was… nothing. Not a peep. It was killing me but the Fire Guys explained it was normal and we just had to trust that they would show up where they were supposed to possibly when they were supposed to. Torture for me. For all of us I’m sure. We knew BFG 1 was supposed to be coming up so we all kept our eyes out…nothing… why weren’t we seeing it? We went through a military check point but could see BFG in the distance, we were frantically waived through but we were driving past it. What? How were we supposed to get in there? We had to cross the race course to get in- could that be right? We swung around that big ass car and trailer in the middle of the highway and muscled our way in there. We park. We waited. Nothing from our team yet. Justin and I decided to check in with the pit. It was well lit, the last time we’d see that. Everyone was very nice and they seemed to have everything there. They hadn’t heard from the team either. We promised to let them know if we heard from them before they did. We waited more. The darkness in the desert is unlike any darkness I’ve experienced before, you’re lucky to see your own had in front of your face and you don’t dare wander off without light. We were lucky to have a lot of visitors, people from MAXTRAX, other Class 11 teams and strangers cheering us on and looking out for us. We heard from the team 3 miles out. That’s all the time we had- AH! BFG fueled them up quickly and then they started driving. What the heck, aren’t they supposed to stop? Where are they going? I thankfully had grabbed a hand radio and heard them ask if there was to be a driver change- ‘No driver change, No drive change’ I shouted. And off they went! We got a call a while later from Chase 1 that they were close and so was Chase 2. We were to wait there for everyone to meet up. Everyone was hungry. Tired of eating snacks. Matt was car sick, crap. We all caught up, peed, got the Matt’s in Chase 3 together so we could actually do a drive change next time and we were on our way again. Chase 1 was staking out a spot they knew the car would come through and then would radio to us so we were prepared to do a pit of our own, drive change and fuel up. This was Justin’s first time driving the trailer (which he did like a champ) and a funny moment we had was, right before we crossed paths with Chase 1, Justin flipped on the wrong set of lights which lit up Chase 3 like daylight and everyone at once (including Justin) just starts screaming until he can flip the lights off. That was funny. We went ahead to a bar which was across from part of the course that goes on the highway then back on to the dirt. We watched several cars miss the unmarked entrance back to the course. Most turned around just down the road but one we saw go by and never come back, whoops! Again, I can’t tell you when we got here or how long it took, what time it was- no idea. All I know is that normally I am not functioning well at whatever time it was then but none of that seemed to matter at all. It was cold, the door opened every 5 seconds and blinded you with light, the radio crackled and you jumped. The karaoke from the bar across the street on the other hand… boy was that a joy. Let’s just say, that guy should keep his day job, whatever it is. We were parked across the street, down the street and the windows were mostly up but those tunes pierced the night like they were on a mission… We got a good laugh though. I headed out to meet everyone at the bar and noticed no one was listening to the radio- what the hell? Are we armatures? Oh wait, yes we are. Radio communication was in some ways better than I expected and in some ways a hell of a lot worse. So frustrating but there is nothing you can do. I called my other sister who was stateside and a HUGE help during this whole thing as our Facebook posting/communication relay lady… sorry it was probably like 3 am your time Crystal… and she confirmed the race car was not moving. It was a long, long night and we did a lot of waiting, sitting around, trying to stay warm, wondering where the 2 little kids at the bar parents are at 2 amish, trying to avoid the crazy drunk people that keep coming back to the bar parking lot to do donuts where we’re sitting. Finally Fire Guys met up with us after not seeing the car and Mark confirmed what I think we all already knew- unless we get the car going soon we’re going to start missing these check points and our gas stops at BFG as well. There is so much to do and remember at any given point in time and each thing hinges on the next. The car finally arrives after getting towed out of tight spots a few times. It’s good to see them. They’re filthy. Evan’s lips are so caked with dust it looks like he went all Goth and is wearing black lip stick. Again, I’m no use with the car but I can make sure we get the guys some food, water and a face wipe… They’re off again and the night continues with intermittent radio, leapfrogging down the coast and a lot of yucky silt. We park Chase 3 outside of a section of the course that goes off the highway and then back out into the dirt again. A big, wide open lot- in the daylight, we find out why there was no one else parked there. At this point I’m not feeling well, I feel like I have a rock in my stomach so I try to sleep, knowing the prospects of a proper bathroom is slim to none. Where’s my sister? Maybe she’ll find one with me. I woke up to a beautiful sunrise. And in the daylight I see why the lot was empty. We’d parked directly in front of a primary school- the perfect age for ‘STEEEKER’ beggars and boy where they out in full force, mobbing Maddie. Every kid that was being dropped off needed one not only for himself but for his ‘brother’. Everyone ate breakfast burritos, the first decent meal we’d had in a long time and we waited again for the race car. Chase 1 had stayed near the car and I got a phone call from my sister who was stateside that race car had lost a wheel and all communication to us was dark, including sat phones. What the heck? We sent Chase 2 out with parts to meet them and again we waited. Finally we got radio communication that the race car was en route to us and was going to make a go at continuing but needed to do a few more repairs. Somewhere between the course of that and a team meeting, the team called the race over. We were too far behind. It was a sad thing to have to do but we had made the best of what we had and that was all we could do.

Evan and Matt Fisher wanted to take one last turn driving the car before we loaded it up and this is where the greatest radio call I heard came in. Apparently, out in the desert, Evan had hit a cactus so the call Fisher made back to us was very matter of face stating that: 1. They’d hit a cactus and 2. Communication would be dark until they were able to pull out all of the spines from all over their bodies. You could tell he was holding back a scream of pain. I started dying laughing only to glance out to Chase 1 where Jason tries to pick up the radio to call back but is laughing too hard. I laugh some more. Once the boys were back, we had one final bitter sweet ending to the race. All the kids from the school had been let out for recess and were at the fence line with the teachers shouting something along the lines of ‘Firmarlo! Firmarlo!’ Shouting so loud you can’t even hear yourself think! I glance at one of the teachers who signals to me ‘autograph’. So the race team went up to the gate and signed all kinds of things- stickers, hero cards, arms, shirts- you name it, they signed it. It was sweet. I cried again.

We packed up the car and shoved everything else we had around it. The goal was to find a hotel on the beach near where we were and Kristen pointed us in the right direction from BFG Relay 14.5. After caravanning through a real super town surrounded by the government farms, we stopped to regroup and heard that a family with a Subaru full of kids had been following us just to ask usfor some stickers. We got back on the right path but again took a wrong turn and ended up at the Hotel Santa Maria, a beautiful and welcome stop. So we just went with it and grabbed rooms. We all changed and met up for tacos in the restaurant. It was quiet there and I liked that. However that night we made it a little loud- we celebrated all that we had accomplished. Tequila was involved. Matt took off to go to sleep at about 2:30 pm and didn’t wake up until the next day and the rest of us like the delirious and liquored up idiots we were went to the beach and wandered around and then went to the bar. We called it a night somewhere around 6 or 7 pm which at the time felt like 2 am. It was good to sleep for a long time, in a proper bed. This was the first restful sleep that I’ve had in weeks and weeks. Everyone was good about getting up at decent hours and we ate breakfast and wandered around the next day. I was sick to my stomach thinking that the race was still going on and still would be- ALL DAY. Insane. Not that we couldn’t have done it but holy cow. We kept tabs on the two Class 11 teams that were still racing and we wished them well from the comfort of the beach. We did fun stuff the rest of the time at the hotel- talked, got tacos, took the car on the beach, had a bon fire, drank more.

I watched my family run like idiots through the dunes doing cartwheels. Wow. It was over. I love being in Mexio though and I found it very comforting to be there. We were very blessed to travel to Cozumel growing up and my Mom actually moved there about 8 years ago so to me it’s a home away from home. The next day we began our trek home. We headed back the way we came and it was lovely to see the sites in the day time. We even hooked up the GPS again so we could see the course route while we went. Sigh. It was over. There were even kids left on the side of the road holding signs for stickers which we indulged. We stopped in Ensenada and got a margarita and I’m not gonna lie… it was small but it was powerful. I was jacked up at 2 pm and I didn’t sober back up until about half way to Tijuana and that was AFTER lunch. Yikes. The drive was long. I expected the border to be crazy but that kind of crazy you just can’t paint a picture of. Actually wait, yes you can- Maddie said it reminded her of zombie movies. That is accurate. We made our way back to the beautiful hotel on Coronado and I realized my day bag I packed was covered in gasoline. Par for the course I suppose… With no time to swim or do anything but think of sleeping, we were out. That is of course until Matt Fisher accidently hit a video of a loud car on Facebook… the light from his phone waived around until he manager to turn it off while explaining to whoever was still awake (no one) that he didn’t mean to do that. I chuckled quietly in my bed for several minutes. (Later when telling this story Evan, who was in the other room, remarked- ‘Oh, I thought that was a dream’…) It was time to being our trip back to Colorado. I wasn’t ready but we had to get moving.

I hugged my family as I had decided to stick with the guys and cancel my flight since it wasn’t supposed to be for another 2 days since we were so far ahead of schedule. Me, Josh and Evan fought some sort of bug the whole way back and the Matt’s drove like champs to get us home. Freezing cold home. It was a long and quiet drive back. All those months… years of preparation… they were over. I knew we were hooked though. We talked about it before the race even started. I felt it creep in my ears, my eyes, my blood leaving Ensenada for the Fire Guys house that first night. What the hell. I swore once and never again… Ha. See, my life is not full of adventures like this regularly and that’s a shame. This consumed my life for the last several months. Now I’m sitting in my house in my sweats, with my dogs, it’s fucking snowing, boxes of Baja stuff on my left and it just kind of… sucks. But I get it, I get why at Josh and Martha’s house warming party, it wasn’t hard to see the fire in Paul’s eyes when we talked about why he wasn’t going to Baja- he swore to find a way to get down there (sorry Cathey ;)) and how it was probably REALLY easy for him to convince Jason who convinced Mark. I get it. To compete in the Baja 1000 is a privilege to me but she is just unbiased, unapologetically unforgiving. Calling you back and then kicking your ass as soon as you arrive. I get it. We were ballsey to say the least to pick this journey. To pick the event, to assemble the team, to buy the car, to spend years working on it, to assemble the crew, the boxes of Baja stuff, the food, the hotels… we were ballsey, WAY in over our heads. But we did it. And to anyone who has never experienced it, we know, you just can’t describe it. You almost hate it when you’re there then can’t wait to do it again. To those that have actually fucking made it all the way across the finish line- wow. My hat is off to you. Especially in a Class 11- 1121, I can only imagine the stories you have to tell. I won’t get sick of ours and I’ve laughed so hard I’ve cried on multiple occasions already. The thing I am most grateful for above all though, aside from our safety, is the sort of people we’ve found along the way on this journey. The racing community is fully of some remarkable people. From everyone just cheering us on to the endless help of Kris and Erin, Roger for giving us a medical clinic, The Kern’s for letting us borrow tools, The Fire Guys for coming with us and there are a million more. And to our families and friends who helped us get there- wow. Also in my opinion, to assemble such an amazing crew of people, I’m still speechless. Everyone played their part and we had zero issues, zero tempers, zero egos, nothing. So to the amazing, amazing team of 4 guys that made this all possible, I want to say thank you for letting me be a part of it. If I had 6 more pages I couldn’t possibly describe why I adore each of you. To my family who came together to support Matt (you too Crystal) and the rest of the team we now call friends- THANK YOU. And to new friends who gave their time to come help a bunch of idiots who thought it was possible to cross the finish line, thank you for everything. I have no doubt that someday we will go again, and WHEN we cross that finish line- it will taste so sweet! Sitting on the couch no longer cuts it for me…

so… what’s next boys?

We couldn’t have done any of this without some great support so thank you to all of the great companies that have helped out Project Baja through the years.

Fox Shox
Rugged Radios
BFG tires
Baja Designs
Rock Barbers
Painters Grinding
Scott at MetalCraft
Gates
MaxTrax
Oakley
MasterCraft
Rusty’s Offroad
23 deluxe
J Paks Adventure bags

1 Comment

  1. cindy or mom says:

    Awesome details of an incredible jouney baja 1000 2014

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