This is a story about three men and a dog on a 1000-mile, four-day Y.B.D.B. Club trip to Baja California in March 1998. We called it the "Death to Stragglers" (D.T.S.) Baja Run. The three of us wanted to take a trip where we didn't have to wait for anybody to catch up!
The cast of characters included Dave Helland, Peter Smiley (Bruce Meyers' nephew) and his dog "Camper", and me, Bruce Lightner...all members of the Y.B.D.B. Club and the Manx Dune Buggy Club. Peter and Dave both have genuine Meyers Manx dune buggies in excellent condition. Me? I have Old Yell'r, a 30+ year-old Manx copy known for it's ruggedness...but not it's good looks! Peter's buggy is metal-flake gold in color...and everyone knows gold is yellow (close enough for the Y.B.D.B. Club).
Day 1 - San Diego to San Felipe
Three buggies (with three men and a dog) met in Kerney Mesa (San Diego) in the morning, collected our specially-made "event" tee-shirts, and then headed south to Tecate. On the U.S. side of the border we bought Mexican insurance and filled up our tanks and spare gas cans. After crossing into Mexico, we headed east, and then went off-road at La Rumarosa, heading due south. After poking around a bit in the mud and brush, with the help of the GPS we found "The Lake" at Laguna Hansen. We stopped there for a leisurely lunch. We met a couple of bike riders from Orange County there, and shared our beer (and topographical maps).
Then it was time for a "speed-run" south to the pavement at Highway 3 and a search for fuel. After gassing up, we left the pavement at the first opportunity, heading to San Felipe via the Diablo Dry Lake road...the wrong way on the Baja 500 race course...we later discovered. (We met a few race pre-runners head-on...we were doing 50 MPH, they were going a bit faster in the opposite direction!) We made it to Pete's Camp just before the sun went down. However, due to the race and the normal Spring Break crowd, there was no place to camp. So we bummed a spot next door at the El Dorado at under a friend's trailer. We just happened to arrive at dinner time, so we got fed as well. (Thanks Jim Guthrie!)
Day 2 - San Felipe to Bay of L.A.
We got up early and headed to the south end of San Felipe (near the airport) to watch the Baja 500 race for awhile with some Manx Dune Buggy Club members we met who were in San Felipe to watch the race. Before heading south we had to return to town to the auto parts store to get a gasket to fix Dave's leaky exhast. Finally, it was time to head south for the Bay of L.A. We made good time...we had to, given the late start! We stopped for fuel at Gonzoga Bay. Also stopped for a beer (or two) at Coco's Corner. Camper (Pete's dog) met Coco's "El Gato"...but that's another story...that Camper doesn't like to talk about!
After signing the guest-book and saying goodbye to Coco, we headed up Calamajue Canyon. After a quick stop at the mission ruins and another stop for some boojum tree photos, we found the blacktop and sped towards the Bay of L.A. We made it into town just before the sun went down, with no fuel to spare. As it was Dave's birthday, we had to buy him Margaritas at the only bar in town. After more drinks and eventually dinner we set up our tents in the trailer park next door, in the dark, after the generators were turned off, feeling the effects of the Tequila. (Dave and I woke up in the morning camped in the middle of the road!) Dave later told us that the "birthday drinks" Pete and I were buying him were all going into our glasses...when we weren't looking.
Day 3 - Bay of L.A. to San Felipe
After a quick (successful) search for fuel (and beer and ice) in the morning, we headed back north to San Felipe. This time we skipped Calamajue Canyon. Again we stopped at Coco's Corner to visit. This time "El Gato" had all he was going to take of Camper the dog. Camper had to wait outside in the buggy after being chased there by Coco's cat!
We ate lunch a few miles south of Coco's, just past the Mexican Army checkpoint at the abandoned tire repair place. On the way back to San Felipe we stopped at the massive road washout between Purtecitos and Gonzaga Bay for photos. We made it back to San Felipe before dark. We stopped in town for beer and fish tacos on the Malacon. (The last time for us before the "city fathers" tore down all the world-famous waterfront sidewalk fish/shrimp tacos shops!) Afterwards, we headed to Pete's camp for a shower. The racers and students had cleared out, so we practically had the place to ourselves.
Day 4 - San Felipe to San Diego
In the morning we licked our wounds and decided to return home on the pavement. Pete's and my buggy were being held together with rope, hose-clamps, and bailing wire. So after a trip to town to buy fuel, we headed straight north to Mexicali to cross into the U.S. there. After waiting in noon-time traffic and the hot sun for well over an hour, we made it past U.S. Customs, only be snagged by the DEA for a "drug sniff" with about 20 other cars. After we got the "green light" from the DEA's beagle (who insisted upon hopping into my buggy and sniffing my camping gear!), we all headed home. (That's the last time I cross at Mexicali!) Our odometers had an extra 1000 miles on them from the trip. We were tired, but ready to go back and do all over it again...which we did nine months later in November 1998 with the Manx Dunebuggy Club!
Damage to Old Yellr' from Trip
The above photos show the damage to Old Yellr' from our D.T.S. (Death to Stragglers) Baja Run. I broke it good! The biggest problem was the rack being supported by the rear deck of the buggy. The genuine Meyers Manx bodies have a support from the rear shock towers to the rear deck. (Mine now does too!) A dune buggy's rear deck ("back seat") is cantilevered over the transmission and engine. Old Yellr' has two wimpy fiberglass struts trying (unsuccessfully) to carry any and all loads placed on the back deck. With the weight of cargo and the loaded rack, the rear deck began to droop. First the rack began to fail from the flexing. Eventually, the body cracked on the drivers side just behind the seat. I unloaded most of the stuff off the rack after the first day, before the body cracked, but it was not enough. Peter and I also were driving too fast (we can't help ourselves...that's why we go to Baja!), and were constantly bottoming out in the many vados and wash-outs. My engine cage tubing (and skid plate mounts) also failed. Also, my front tires raked off the mounts for both of my front turn signal lights...they're both somewhere on the road between Purtecitos and San Felipe.
I had made a similar trip on many of the same roads a few months before, with no ill effects. However, this time I was running much smaller tires (see last photo above) and was I therefore bottoming out in the low spots in the road. After repairing the body, adding supports from the rear shock towers, mounting the rack on the windshield and roll bar (only), and adding coil-over shocks, we made the same trip in November 1998 with the the same smaller tires. No problems this time, although one of my (new) coil-over shocks failed on the next desert outing after the 1000-mile Baja trip. I'm switching back to bigger tires.
B.D. Lightner (email@example.com), Fri Feb 12 17:48:06 PST 1999