Las Amigas Poker Run

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

This morning (March 1, 2008) the Las Amigas Poker run gathered a few miles west of km166 and between 40-50 entrants clapped numbers to their windscreens, kicked their tires, sipped bottled water and caught up on the latest gossip, supplied by old friends and new acquaintances. The collection of vehicles was as diverse and iconoclastic as the hats worn by their owners.

Ready for the las amigas poker runI was asked to navigate for a buggy that sported a military body but ultimately failed to conceal the 4F rating of its engine.

At flag time, Dean Moore sent us on our way at deliberated intervals. It was a 26 mile course with four checkpoints, each the source of a sealed envelope containing a playing card. Together with an envelope given to each driver at the start, the five envelopes would be opened at the finish and the best poker hand would win.

Before our departure one of the organizers took up a microphone and explained the procedures. He stressed that although it was not a race, proper etiquette allows one to pull to the side and let faster (re: impatient) cars pass.

Once we were underway it became apparent there would be several impatient (re: faster) cars, but no where to pull over. A queue of rails, trucks and dune buggies loped over the bouncing terrain, pluming dust and low gear growls, each driver’s eyes darting about, looking for a clearing or road spur where a strong goose step on the accelerator and a fierce down-shift could propel them ahead of the vehicle in front. It was very much like going to work in the morning.

After the first cavernous pothole, I discovered the buggy had a quirk entirely devoted to its passenger seat. The adjustment lever on the side had a shallow relationship with the position lock and knocked free with nearly every bump in the road. The seat fell backward without warning and the sky was suddenly where the road should be. I once had a seat on a train in India that did exactly the same thing. A Cola can solved the buggy problem. I crushed it into a lump and jammed it behind the lever, forcing it to bite deeper into the index slots of the positioner. Too bad that option hadn’t been available in India.

san felipe deseretOur first disaster happened just after the second checkpoint, on the leeward side of one of those rolling Baja 250 moguls. The gas pedal suddenly kissed the floor and stayed there. The engine fell to an idle as the buggy rolled to a Quaalude stop. Our throttle cable had broken.

In Baja a lifeless vehicle with two people leaning against it is a magnet for roadside Samaritans. Within a few minutes a rail pulled up alongside and offered help. A spare throttle cable and a few tools were passed over and after only four manifold burns to my arm and some energetic assistance from another Samaritan, the buggy was bouncing down the course again. Until it hit a prominence that sent it leaping like a toboggan and it fell back to the ground deader than the local real estate market. It couldn’t be made to move under any circumstance.

Again someone stopped and performed a few quick tests. There was no spark to the plugs. One of the group who call themselves The Scorpions arrived and offered a tow to the next checkpoint, where more mechanically inclined patrons could study the problem.

The trouble turned out to be a bad coil. At least that was the consensus. So the kind Scorpion towed us the rest of the way to the finish, sharing our ignoble dead-last stature.

When our envelopes were opened, we had a pair of fives. The winner waved five 8's in the air. A miracle, I thought, as improbable as Bush’s 2004 win in Florida. But there you have it.

Someone, having heard the buggy was flat-lined with a bad coil, produced his own spare coil and swapped them out. But the car still wouldn’t start. So he borrowed a multimeter and took reading from several wires. “There’s no power getting to anything back here,” he announced.

This was our cue to beg a tow strap from someone and tether my Suzuki Samurai (parked in the lot near the food tents) to the buggy for a leisurely pull to a mechanic’s shop in El Dorado. And there it sits with a pair of fives in the glove box and dead synapses fondling the distributor and coil.

I hope he sees the wisdom of leaving the Cola can under the seat lever.

las amigas poker run gallery