By Willem Avenant | Published on 2020-04-11
What a whirlwind trip this was!!!!!!! I arrived in El Paso on Fri 13 March after 3 flights and 40 hours of travelling. As soon as I arrived it was all systems go, as we had to still finish Mike's bike and pack.
It was a late night and an early start on Saturday morning that saw us crossing the US/Mexico border at Nogales and driving down to Hermosillo. Sunday was registration and technical checks. I handled the registration for Rally Comp, while Mike did the tech checks. Because of COVID-19, we had no official helpers with Rally Comp. (Luckily Kim and Jen saw we were short handed and helped with registration and tech.)
Stage 1 started on Monday morning where I received a crash course from Mike on how to start the Rally Comps and had to jump in the van and high tail it to the finish line where I had to meet all the riders/racers and transmit their results. This was pretty much the order of every day. Start Rally Comps for each stage, get in the van and rush to the finish. I managed to get to the finish before the bikes every day by just a few minutes, except on day 1 when I missed Ricky Brabec by mere minutes. Luckily, the Rally Comps save all the data from the stage, and this data can always be transmitted at a later stage. The food at the Sonora Rally is truly in a class of its own, and like nothing else I have ever experienced on a rally. Thanks to chef Eloy for ensuring that we had great meals every day. The consistency and quality of the food was truly next level, and gives you a taste of the Mexican culture.
Stage 1 ended in the historic town of Banámichi where we set up the bivouac. The town has a newly rebuilt Plaza Hidalgo and the main church Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, which was begun in the 17th century and retains its original structure. The next day for stage 2 we travelled from Banamichi to Caborca where the bivouac was set up next to the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady of Caborca, built during the Franciscan period from 1803 to 1809. From there we travelled to Puerto Penasco by the Sea of Cortez where we had the finish of stage 3 by the beach!!!
Stage 4 saw the start of the dune stages with us setting up the finish line on a date farm, El Sultan, just outside San Luis Rio Colorado. The farmer was super friendly, and I had long conversations with him. Through a translator he told me that his family was the first to start commercial date farming in Mexico! And lastly stage 5 was a loop in the dunes around San Luis Rio Colorado with the finish at the restaurant Rancho Tabachines!!!! Due to COVID-19 and news that the US / Mexico border was closing, most entrants left straight after they finished. We decided to hang tight and enjoy the festivities that the organization had planned, as we needed some "relief" (in the form of beer) after a long, tough, busy and stressful week.
For me, not being out on the course was a first, and although I struggled with some FOMO, especially when I saw the videos at the end of every stage, I thoroughly enjoyed being on the "other" side of a rally for a change. I have always appreciated the role organisers, chefs, volunteers, timing teams, etc... played at a rally, but man, a huge shout out to all of those who helped at Sonora Rally, it was great to be part of such a friendly and effective team, all sharing in the same goal.
The race itself was VERY close between Ricky Brabec (1st) and Skyler Howes (2nd), with 50 seconds between Ricky and Skyler. Third and fourth place was even CLOSER, with a mere 8 seconds separating Bill Conger (3rd) and Wes Van Nieuwenhuise (4th). It's worth noting that Wes was on a Rottweiler KTM 790, an impressive feat given the type of terrain they were racing on. This is why, on a rally, every second counts. Then there was Mike Johnson, US rally legend (and more recently part of Team Races to Places) and Rally Comp mastermind, who managed to pull off an impressive 5th place with a busted shoulder and messed up back, while overseeing things over at the Rally Comp tent. Very impressive!
At the prize giving we were treated to a surprise wedding that Kent Choma had planned, congrats Kent and Jennifer, it was truly a unique wedding!!! Friday night did not come without its challenges, as I stupidly left the keys in the ignition of the van to charge my phone (not being aware that US cars have their lights on automatically when the key is in the ignition). This resulted in a flat battery, which we solved by jumper cables. However, we then discovered the van (Mercedes Sprinter, temperamental at the best of times) wouldn't shift, and could not drive anywhere. After trying myriad things a pencil was jammed into a hole to actuate a switch and we could drive, but, as we discovered after a while, only in first gear. At least we made it to the hotel for the night. The following morning we had a 'farewell' breakfast where we bid farewell to old and to newly made friends, after which we started to try and fix the van, with no luck.
In the end I grabbed a lift with John and Tim to Tucson to try and catch my flight. My ride across the border was in real stow-away style, with me hiding in the back of the van. (Don't worry, my passport was stamped). We arrived in a completely deserted Tucson and an empty airport. My flight was indeed cancelled so I had to get a hotel and wait for flights. John and Tim carried on to Atlanta while I waited for a flight. And Mike, the last word from him was that he was driving his van back to El Paso in first gear ........ Sorry Mike!
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