WIDE OPEN ADVENTURES
Todd Clement had a dream when he founded Wide Open Baja in 1997 – that anyone should be able to experience the thrill of driving a good off-road buggy and see the beautiful, unspoiled, and largely uninhabited areas of Mexico's Baja Peninsula.
Since then more than 14,000 customers have driven and ridden in the specially designed and built Wide Open buggies. In all, they have traversed more than 4.5 million miles on the tracks and open deserts of Baja.
Each buggy seats two people, and the experience is not bone-jarring, thanks to tremendous suspension travel, large tires, and suspended race seats. Yes, customers get dirty, and they are covered in dust. But at the end of a long day of driving, they enjoy good local food, good company, and a beer or two.
Two different four-day tours are available. The northern one originates from and returns to Wide Open's Horsepower Ranch outside Ensenada. It is the more authentic excursion. The southern one runs to or from Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the peninsular to Mulegé on the Sea of Cortez side. The scenery in the south is quite different from the north, and, because there are more hotels from which to choose, each night's accommodations is more luxurious than those available for participants on the northern tour.
Several seven-day excursions are organized during the year in which participants drive all the way down the peninsula from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas, following much of the Baja 1000 race course.
Prices for excursions start at $1,695, and all-inclusive tours run about $1,000 per day per person. Every participant is expected to share driving and co-driving with a partner. Co-driving can be just as much fun, because there is plenty to do, such as tracking the GPS and manning the radio to stay in contact with other participants. Each excursion is led by an experienced off-road race driver, and a support crew follows to take care of punctures and untoward mishaps.
Participants are expected to pay for any damage caused by accidents. Insurance is offered for $300, with a $3,000 deductible.
Driving one of these cars is not for the timid, but it seems that those who do participate come away enthralled with the experience. For that reason, many companies, including a couple of car manufacturers, have sent teams of employees on excursions as a way to build team spirit.
The cars are also safe, and there have only been a few minor injuries over the years. "The most serious injuries are some serious damage done to egos," said Jim Hancock, a consultant marketing guru for Wide Open. "And, women often do better than men, as they have more patience."
Naturally, renting a buggy to compete in the Baja Challenge class in the Baja 1000 race costs more than the regular excursions. On the other hand, many of the teams end up with four or even five drives, so the cost can be split.
For 2010, there are plans to expand the Wide Open experience with a new center for excursions in the Nevada desert. As in Baja, these cars will be available for individuals and groups but will not be used for races.