MINNESOTA — Nick Butze spent years snowmobile racing throughout the midwest. A little more than a year ago, he got an itch for off-roading. Not too long after, his sights were set on Baja California, Mexico.
"Kind of heard about it through the internet," Butze recalled.
He and his wife Lesley, of Detroit Lakes, heard about the Baja XL Rally, a grueling event that happens once every two years. It takes brave drivers from the top of the peninsula, down to Cabo, and back up the other side.
It takes 10 days, stretches about 3,000 miles, and takes place on off-road and off the map. You find your own way to each stage, make your own repairs and eat your own food.
"They call it the most difficult race in Baja," Butze said.
He said he and his wife were so excited about this adventure, they left town a day early. Several dozen competitors from across the world will be taking part.
"There will be quite a few European drivers and teams that have either bought the vehicles in North America, or had them shipped them over so that's kind of cool," Butze described.
The race usually starts and ends in Los Angeles, with border crossings in the route. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the route will instead be held within the confines of Mexico, starting in Tecate and ending in Tijuana.
This is not your average midwestern road trip, so it calls for not your average midwestern vehicle.
Butze traveled to Slovakia to buy a Mercedes-Benz army truck. He spent much of his 2020 customizing it.
"(There's a) new suspension under it with big racing shocks and some tuning there," Butze explained. "Then the engine was completely gone through. We replaced basically all of the injector parts."
Butze said their mechanic Matt Krause, pulled through working late nights for the previous two weeks, getting the truck ready for this trip.
Its roof can turn into a tent, fitting a queen-size mattress. Butze said this will make it much easier to find a spot to camp for the night. The spare tire in the back also houses a grill and spare diesel. Traction boards are strapped to the roof in case they get stuck in the mud.
The hills of greater Baja are more tough on the vehicle than the trails of greater Minnesota. They made sure to be extra prepared to make vehicle repairs, on top of all the camping gear.
"Full size tires with run flats inside of that spare tire, and also having tire repair," Butze said.
Instead of a timed race, drivers get more points when they take on more difficult terrain. Points are added up at the end. If someone stops to help someone having a medical emergency, Butze said that person gets the maximum point amount for the day. Even though it is a low assistance rally, each vehicle will be GPS monitored.
While this is somewhat competitive, Butze said there is more comradely surrounding the journey itself, and he is excited to soak in the sights.
"Going along the coast is really going to be neat during a mostly off-road," Butze said. "There's not a lot of that seclusion left in North America."
In a few days, will be on the coast, ready to join the many other brave souls taking on Baja's toughest challenge.
The ten-day rally starts on Jan. 29, ending on Feb. 7. Butze said they will get a one-day break in Cabo, located at the tip of the Baja California Peninsula.