The Biltwell 100, A New Story

Standing five feet and almost one inch tall alongside her trusty steed with a 37-inch seat height, REVER Support Specialist Maja Blackwood takes on the Biltwell 100... again!

Me and my Dr. Z at the 2024 Biltwell 100. Photo by @edsubias.

If you read last year’s post, Racing the Biltwell 100 on a Sportbike, then you know what a challenge that was. Fortunately, for the 2024 Biltwell 100 I welcomed into my garage a more off-road capable friend than my G310R: Dr. Zaius (Dr. Z for short), a 2003 Suzuki DRZ400S. The bike wasn’t the only new thing at my pit area though. My good friend, Dani, came along too, and not just to support me, she came to race me on her very own DRZ! Despite the windy night, we got to hang out, enjoy the free beer and eat some delicious shrimp tacos our friend Chris made for us inside his trailer. Come to prove that the Biltwell really is about “good times, not lap times”, though I was set on improving my almost four-hour lap time from last year (yes, that was only one lap).

Early morning of April 6th, I got up, stretched my full body and had a bagel with cream cheese and bacon and some chocolate milk, “the breakfast of a champion”, I thought. We attended the riders meeting. Dani was excited and already wearing full gear. This was going to be her very first race ever.

Dani and me at the line, ready to race. Photo by Dani Segre.

After the meeting was over, I went to the stage to say hi to Otto from Biltwell. We met last year at the Revzilla Get On! ADV Fest in Mojave and he had seen me race the 2023 Biltwell on my BMW. He said, “when I saw that bike at the riders meeting [last year], I thought ‘they’re really gonna have to earn it.’” That made me really enthusiastic about the possibilities this year with a better machine. My class, Lite ADV Women’s, had more racers than last year and I was really looking forward to a more competitive race. Back to my pits, my friend Dani was throwing up her breakfast. She was a bit nervous, but I had confidence in her. We rode together and lined up at the start. Our pit crew: our friend Chris, my husband Andrew, and my dog were on the sidelines cheering for us. Right before taking off, our friends Christina and Timmy showed up with this awesome sign to cheer us on.

The sign Christina and Tim made for us. Photo by Dani Segre.

Just as I did last year, once the ribbon went down, I stayed behind the pack and took it easy until the dust settled. Not daring Dani, though. She was right in the middle of that mosh pit! After the first tunnel I started passing tons of people, something I just never got to do even a single time last year (even the misfit class was passing me, I’m sure). Along the way I saw Dani, entirely focused and riding her own ride. I stayed behind her for a couple minutes to get some footage of her, then left her behind and wished her the best of luck. Just two weeks before the race she’d had a bad fall on a hill climb and had strained her shoulder.

Dani, #57, on her DRZ400S. Photo by @cameron.allsop.

Many sections of the course were the same as last year, including that deep sand that almost left me with a concussion. I got through it just fine though. Some of the challenging hillclimbs that I’d failed time and time again on the BMW were now a breeze on the DRZ. I felt really good and was actually having fun. This was such a different experience from last year.

Somewhere along the most whooped section of the course, between mile markers 18 and 20, I realized my GoPro had fallen off my handlebars. For a second I thought to go back and look for it, but then I realized, “if I’m doing as well as I think, I can’t go back and hurt my lap time.” I kept going hoping to find it on my second lap. The last section of the course was easy, fast and very fun. Once I had my eye on the pits far in the distance laughed aloud inside my helmet. This was already a different story, a much less physically painful one, at least up until this point.

Leaving riders in the dust. Photo by @greggboydston.

When I showed up at the pits after just 1 hour, my husband couldn’t believe it! Last year he spent hours by himself wondering where I was and if I was ok after hearing I’d hit my head and was likely going to quit the race. When I got off my bike I found my tail bag with my toolkit, phone mount and precious knife was gone. Another thing to look for on the course, but it also meant that if I broke down, I couldn’t fix anything myself and if I got lost, I couldn’t mount my phone on my bars.

Quick stop at the pits. No GoPro, no tail bag. Photo by Dani Segre.

After a quick refuel I remembered to start tracking my ride on REVER. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten to track my first and likely best lap! I jumped on my bike again and this time we had LiveRIDE, a REVER Pro feature that allows my safety contacts, in this case my husband, to keep tabs on my location when I’m out tracking a ride with the app (learn more about our LiveRIDE feature here).

The second lap was waiting for me with a treat, or two. After doing well on my first lap I gained confidence. I executed the first third of the course really well. I was ripping and got a little too brash. When the deep sand wash that got me last year came into view I said out loud, “I’m gonna show you”. Instead, my front end dug in and the sand showed me. I was ok, but the bike landed at a weird angle, so I waved a racer behind me to help me pick it up. He did and then left. I jumped on my bike, started it, and could not, for the life of me, get any traction. The sand wash and mother nature were really teaching me a lesson for challenging her. I waved to a different racer for help, this time another gal, Emily. Only her and I know how hard we tried to get my bike moving, but it’s like the sand just wanted to swallow my bike.

Never challenge Mother Nature. Photo by Maja Blackwood.

Emily had all sorts of tricks up her sleeve. None worked. I realized I needed more than a short person (me) trying to ride the bike and another (Emily) giving it her best to lift that rear end. I thanked her and asked her to continue her race. She was reluctant to leave but there was nothing more to try. I called the event emergency number, but there was no way to tell how long they’d take to show up and dig us out.

I dragged my bike a few inches at a time, while hoping other racers wouldn’t run over Dr. Z and me. After a few tries, I got my bike off to the side on slightly firmer sand. I noticed my front brake lever was full of sand, locking the wheel. I cleaned them, then moved on to the rotors and calipers, spitting some of my water on them and rotating the wheels a few times until the sand was out. They were still squeaky but at least moving more easily. Just as I got the bike up, a random rider showed up and asked if I needed help. He wasn’t even racing, he just came to enjoy the course and help racers in trouble along the way. Lucky for me he was pretty tall and got the bike out in an instant, that is, after I’d already dragged it to firmer ground and cleaned the brakes.

We rode together for a little bit, and then he fell behind helping someone else. And just like that he was gone. My brakes were squeaking for the next 3-5 miles until I tipped over. Then, the bike wouldn’t start again.

Racing through the California desert. Photo by @edsubias.

It was my mistake, I should have bought a new battery before the race, as the current one is pretty old and had already failed me once before. Feeling sad, I awaited the next rider to give my Stuck Stub to. Instead, a kick-ass looking ‘80s RAM Ramcharger showed up with another racer sitting in the back. Already towing another motorcycle, they couldn’t tow mine, but one of the guys could tell I was pretty disappointed that I couldn’t continue to race. They chatted a bit, got their tools out, and asked me where my battery was. We charged it and got it to start, then put it back together without letting it shut off. One of them, a sweet old man, looked me in the eye as he handed me control of the throttle and said, “once you take off, you cannot let it turn off”, and in my mind that was a promise.

The Biltwell Rescue Team and their awesome RAM charging up Dr. Z’s battery. Photo by Maja Blackwood.

The whoops section was starting to get uncomfortable, and I was getting tired after all that bike dragging, but I kept pushing through. Somewhere before mile marker 20, racer #162 was leaned against a legendary, custom dual-shock Bultaco. I slowed down but I couldn’t get off the bike and risk it shutting off on me. I checked on him and he said he’d crashed. He seemed to be in a lot of pain and thought he might’ve broken some ribs. I memorized his number and told him I’d let the next checkpoint know where he was and to come get him right away. I continued on and 5 miles later, I had finally made it back to the pits. I rushed to let the emergency team know exactly where he was. My pit crew and Dani were really happy to – finally – see me and were wondering what the heck took me so long.

I got off my bike thinking I was done with the race and sat down to eat lunch while my battery charged. Dani and Andrew were keeping a close eye on the MotoTally results. She was done with the race after one lap, but I was really proud of her for getting through it without hurting herself. Her lap time was actually pretty great, coming in 2nd on that first lap. If she’d kept going she would have stayed in the top 3, no doubt about it. My first lap had put me in 1st place, but my second threw me down to 3rd. With the possibility of the other contenders not completing a third lap, I wasn’t going to let 1st place go without a battle. With me and Dr. Z charged and refueled, we started our third lap looking for gold.

Leaving the pits, ready to take on another lap. Photo by @jonathancwardphoto.

Overall, it was a great lap, but I was feeling exhausted. At the risk of making mistakes, I could only push it as fast as my reflexes allowed. Overly cautious, I avoided the sand wash and rode the rocky path to the side of it instead. I have to admit I ran over quite a few bushes and took the branches with me. Along the way I scanned for my lost items but didn’t have any luck. Further down, to my surprise, #162 was still there! I was pretty upset to see him still waiting. Confident in my now charged battery, I parked my bike and went to check on him. He’d run out of water and was sitting in the sun, still in pain. I lent him my cap, gave him some snacks, sunscreen and lip balm to make sure he was ok while they came for him. I also gave him the rest of my water, I only had 6 more miles to go anyway.

Nearing the end of the course I could feel my knee joints getting fatigued, my abs reaching their limit and my quads on fire, but the adrenaline rush I got from seeing the pits in the distance got me through it. The joy of getting to the pits and seeing my lovely team welcome me back, calling me #1, was priceless.

Celebrating like a champ. Photo by @jonathancwardphoto

If there’s one thing I love about this event, racing in the desert is not it. I can do that year-round. The community is truly what makes the Biltwell 100 annual race so exceptional. Over 4 years since the first Biltwell 100, its attendance has more than tripled, with close to 400 registered racers this year, of which 347 were scored. I have been fortunate to meet some badass riders and wonderful people at this event, many whom I continue to keep in touch with. I look forward to meeting many more, like Emily, and Steve (racer #162) who actually pushed through the pain and rode the rest of the course. Community is a huge part of motorcycling, no matter the segment, and I am lucky to be a part of this one. Needless to say, I couldn’t have made it without the support of my husband and friends who traveled far to show up.

"You don't stop riding when you get old, you get old when you stop riding."
― Anonymous

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