Nick and Lesley Butze's customized Mercedes Benz G280 CDI is not your typical grocery getter. The couple imported their German army truck, and spent the better part of 2020 getting it ready for a less than typical road trip.
"The snorkel . . . How much bush it's gone through," Nick said with a laugh while pointing out dozens of deep scratches.
The 10-day 3,000 mile off-road Baja XL Rally, stretching across Mexico's Baja California Peninsula and back up is considered the most difficult off-road race in Baja. The race started Jan. 29.
"So you don't get a route," Butze explained. "There is no designated racing route. It is your opportunity and your job to coordinate the fastest, most direct and simple route that you can get through to get to all of these different GPS points."
The Detroit Lakes couple pulled into their hotel In Tecate, Mexico, parked by a variety of other off-road vehicles from around the world. Despite the distance from home, they did not escape local connections.
"Pretty wild. We rolled in, we parked, and the guy saw our North Dakota license plate, and the guy we parked next to graduated from Fargo North High School in 1975," Butze said.
They, along with several other teams, set off for some of the harshest terrain in North America. Living out of their vehicle with food, camping and repair supplies packed — the Butzes had to find their way to a series of landmarks. The task is not as easy as punching an address into Google Maps. These are mostly uncharted trails.
"You must find them and follow them along the trail, and make this route, really off of the satellite imagery," Butze described. "We were having flashbacks to an escape room. It was a lot like an escape room across all of the Baja peninsula."
A few days into the rally, they ran into an unexpected obstacle. It stopped nearly all the racers right in their tracks. Butze got a phone call from his mom, telling them Southern Baja raised its COVID-19 risk level, and is trying to stop the race. He got this heads up just before he and Lesley crossed state lines between northern Baja California and Baja California Sur, or south.
"We peeled our racing stickers off, our race numbers and everything. Kind of put all our racing stuff under the jackets and things," Butze said. "We rolled into the checkpoint and there were a few cars already there. We respectfully denied being a part of the race, and we identified as tourists. They detained us for about three hours. Guys with machine guns and smoking cigarettes. It was really funny. But they were nice. I think we joked that if we would have stuck around a little bit longer, I think we could have shot the guns and shot some cans in the back, but we weren't going to take our chances of hanging out."
While most of the other racers and organizers were being escorted back to northern Baja, the Butzes were among the few teams to press on, citing the first rule of the rally.
"The race goes on, no matter what happens, it goes on," he said.
Butze said this was technically not a criminal act.
"Although at the time, the joke was now we're in an illegal street race in Mexico," he added.
"We made it all the way through to the bottom and officially, they had to stop the race," Butze said. "We continued on and we did finish the course. It was a wonderful experience and the trails are amazing."
Only about five teams actually finished the race, including Nick and Lesley Butze.
He admits, their last half of the race was more casual, allowing them to explore unpopulated coastlines and enjoy the sights. Fortunately, they did not run out of spare tires.
Butze said they are already signed up for the 2023 Baja XL Rally. The competition happens once every two years.