Keith Cayton has competed in motorcycle races for decades and is still riding strong at the age of 56. But he admits that his decision to participate in his next race is “kind of a strange story.”
“I’m a painter, so I’m on ladders all the time,” he said. “I developed vertigo, and I was just lying in bed feeling miserable for myself, and I just had this epiphany that I had to do something that was difficult. I guess you could call it a midlife crisis.”
Cayton, a Washougal resident, determined that as a motorcycle racer, the toughest thing he could possibly do is compete in the 2022 Baja 1000 off-road motorsport race, to be held from Nov. 15-20, on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.
“As we all age, we want to do things and beat younger people. I think everybody’s probably like that,” he said. “You want to make yourself believe that age is not catching you, (although obviously) it is. And I also knew that this would be a closing window of opportunity, because I am 56 years old, so at some point I’m not going to be able to do this. (I will not be able to) give it the effort that I am giving it (now), and I would never get the results that I’m expecting to get down there, either.
“I had a lot of people tell me, ‘You are one crazy old bastard,'” he continued. “But I never really did (have many doubts that I could do this). I don’t know. It’s just my mentality. Once I decide on something like that, I can really fully commit to it and stay motivated.”
Cayton purchased a new bike — a Kawasaki 450 KX — and hired a “nationally known trainer” to help establish the dietary and exercise routines he would need to prepare for the race.
“I’m definitely in better shape than I was a year ago, cardio-vascularly and strength-wise,” he said. “I really haven’t ridden as much as I should have, but I feel good when I’m on the bike. Being down there is a little different because the speeds are higher, but I will pre-run the whole course, so I figured that I’ll get all the practice that I need at that point in time.”
The Baja 1000 is considered one of the most prestigious off-road races in the world and has attracted competitors from six continents since its inception in 1967. It allows various types of vehicles, including dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles, side-by-sides, buggies and truggies, to compete on the same course, usually in a point-to-point race from Ensenada to La Paz (about 900 miles) or in loop races starting and finishing in Ensenada (600 to 850 miles).
Cayton said he hopes to complete his 800-mile race in 25 to 30 hours.
“I hired a fuel service that will fuel my bike every 55 miles, so I’ll see it about every two hours,” he said. “At that point, they’ll gas me up, change an air filter, or a tire if I need it. I will sit down and have something to eat and obviously more to drink, too. I’m running a three-liter Camelbak that will have water and nutrition, too.”
“Obviously, there’s the physical (part of it is challenging),” he continued. “It truly is one of the most physically demanding things that you could do. It’s rumored to be an extremely rough, difficult course this year. But the biggest challenge — the thing that I’m probably strong in — is the ability to keep going, to keep pushing on, when you’ve been doing it for 15 hours and you’re super tired and your mind is scrambled. At the end of the race, I think the hardest part is the mental thing.”
He is setting high goals for himself despite the challenges.
“I’ll be really disappointed in myself if I’m not on the podium,” he said. “And I really think that I have a real shot to win it.”
Cayton has received an abundance of encouragement and financial support from his friends, family members and fellow motorcycle riders. Motoco, a Washougal-based motorcycle repair shop, held a fundraiser for Cayton on Saturday, Oct. 8, an event that drew “a great turnout and raised a big pile of cash to go towards his sizable expenses to make this dream a reality,” according to Motoco’s Facebook page.
“The motorcycle community is a pretty close one, especially off-road,” said Cayton, the co-owner of High Desert Adventures, an off-road motorcycle adventure company based in Prineville, Oregon. “I have been truly overwhelmed by the amount of support and the encouragement that I’ve got from people. A lot of people believe that I can go do this, and it’s been really humbling to me. The people that I’ve met (are the best thing about riding). I mean, I love to ride a dirt bike. I feel one with it. But the people are my best friends. They’re my family, my extended family.”
Cayton participated in the Baja 1000 for the first time when he was 22 years old, finishing second in the 250 professional class (tandem). He’s competed in “hundreds” of races since then, mostly up and down the West Coast.
“My first my first Baja trip for sure is a highlight,” he said. “(Our finish was) completely unexpected because I was really a rookie. It was a very successful race for me. I won the (Oregon Motorcycle Racing Association) Ironman racing series — two six-hour races, a 12-hour and 24-hour — in 2011. That for sure was a highlight. And I’ve also raced a 24-hour race that’s held up in Goldendale and won (that one).”
Cayton attributed the origin of his lifelong motorcycle passion to Robert “Evil” Knievel, a well-known stunt performer and entertainer who attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps in the 1960s and ’70s.
“I had the (Evil Knievel) toys when I was a little kid, 4 and 5 years old. I had the posters on my wall. I think that was really the start of my love of motorcycles,” he said. “For my 11th birthday, my dad got me a used dirt bike, and that was it. My dad and I rode together, and it just was a total family thing for us. I feel really, really lucky that I discovered my passion early in my life.”