John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

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January 3, 2010
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K-os in the desert

PARACHUTE, Colorado - Howie Orona's four wheel quadracer limped into the pit stop at mile marker 205. He'd just finished the first leg of the 42nd Annual Tecate Score Baja 1000, an off-road desert endurance race on Mexico's Baja California Peninsula.

He damaged his four wheeler and injured one of his knees after running into a patch of silt along the course, throwing him from the machine.

Orona said that some spectators with a first-aid kit had bandaged his leg and encouraged him to return to the last pit stop. But Orona got back on the bike and headed on.

"I've got to get to the next pit," he said. "I was more worried about getting the riders the bike," so his team, K-os quads, could finish the grueling 673-mile endurance race.

The accident happened more than 40 miles earlier, out in the middle of the desert.

"They got that all tore apart and fixed up, and then my sister had to run me to the hospital," Orona said.

After the repairs were complete and the bike was ready to go, Orona's teammate and friend, Chris Dunn from Silt, hopped in the saddle and raced the next 143 miles during the dead of night. Orona went to the nearest hospital, more than an hour away.

"It was crazy, but that was it for me," Orona said.

At least he'd completed what he'd set out to - give his team a good start. He did his part.

And after four hours of getting stitched up, he returned to the course and met Dunn at the next rider change.

The four man team each covered a section of the race course. Between rider changes each had to make pit stops to fill up the quad with fuel about every 60 miles, according to Orona.

The Team: Orona, of Parachute, 45, and Dunn, 50, along with two other friends Vinnie Tomasulo, 44, of Albuquerque, NM, and Trevor Rock, 35, of Morgan Hills, CA, made up the team of K-os quads.

"That's our name because we are kind of chaotic," said Orona.

The four have kicked around the idea of running this historic desert race for a few years now, according to Orona. And finally, in the summer of 2009, he decided that this was the year they were going to do it.

"Everyone wants to do this race, you know? Anyone who does desert racing," Orona said.

He and his friends joked about running this race in the past. Some of them have even done some endurance races before. But nothing this extreme.

"We just had a really good time," Dunn said. "Out of this world. We do all the races in America and everyone was telling us that the Baja [1000] was nothing like these races. And they were right."

But the preparation proved to be an endurance race all its own, and realizing all the work that goes into a race of that nature, Orona began to doubt the trip.

"I wasn't sure if it was going to happen or not," he said.

The team spent six month preparing for the race. The biggest obstacle was getting everything in order just to get to the site of the race. Never mind the 673 miles they had to ride within the 31-hour time limit.

Orona had to get two quads ready to transport across the border. One quad for pre-running the course and one to run the actual race. He also had to get the four riders and a two-member pit crew with gear and enough supplies for two weeks into the desert. He had to arrange transportation to Mexico, sign up for hazard insurance in case anything went wrong on the course and a rider needed rescue service, auto insurance coverage for the vehicles in Mexico, and needed to hire a pit company who would fill the vehicle with gas every 60 miles or so and maintain the vehicle as needed. A lot goes into it, he said.

"It's hard to go 673 miles without any problems," he said. "You have injuries and you have blown engines."

While Orona suffered an injury, the bike didn't have many problems. But, according to Orona, being prepared is even more important than being a great rider.

"About half of the people didn't finish the race just because they weren't prepared," he said.

K-os quads held onto the first place spot for about 200 miles, Orona said. But, they ended the race in sixth place, out of 12 teams, and were the last team to finish in the official 31 hour time limit by just 45 minutes. Orona still gets excited when he talks about the finish line.

"I told them guys, if we get across the finish line, that is a victory for us," he said.

For Dunn, it was the experience of a lifetime.

"Well, to be honest with you, it's probably the best experience I've ever done," said Dunn.

At 1:45 p.m. on Nov. 21, Rock crossed the finish line. The same line where only 30 hours, 15 minutes, and 673 miles earlier, Orona had began the race.

Orona was on hand with a bottle of champagne to celebrate the finish with his teammates.

"It felt like first place to us," Orona said. "We may not have gotten a big trophy or anything, but to us that was an accomplishment."

jgardner@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Jan 4, 2010 05:48PM Published Jan 3, 2010 12:38AM Copyright 2010 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.