13 JANUARY 2005 – LOST IN LATERITE
Bamako – Kayes (668 kms)
Liaison 205 kms
Special 370 kms
Liaison 93 kms
Note – Click here for the CMG Dakar Glossary (just in case you don’t understand some of the terminology used).
I had to get up at 4:30 am to make my start time for the 205 km liaison. I was actually starting to get used to waking up at these crazy hours. It was probably better that we started at that hour since we had to ride through the heart of the city Bamako.
Getting through the city in early morning was smooth sailing, it was afterwards that the trouble started.
The pavement ended outside the city limits and the road turned to Laterite. Due to my poor time on the last stage, there were about 90 bikes ahead of me, and by the time I got on the road, the dust was as think as fog – so much for my clean air filter. By the time I reached the start of the Special I was red from head to toe, I can’t imagine what my lungs looked like. No matter where you are or what you’re riding, the Dakar always seems to add some element to make the experience miserable.
I was looking forward to this Special though, it was fast Laterite with sections of fast pavement mixed in for good measure – the key word being “fast”. Since I was an ex-roadracer this was more my style than the sand and rock of the past week. My goal was to not drop the bike all day; if I achieved this, and was easy on the motor, I’d get to Kayes in good shape.
MIXING IT WITH THE METAL
|Photo: Maindru Photo|
The Special started out relatively quick, but with huge potholes and ruts, and even though these were marked out on the road book, it made for a busy ride watching the trail ahead and matching mileage with the road book. All the while trying to pass other riders in the dust clouds behind them, with drastically decreased visibility.
As Murray Walker says, ”Catching them is one thing, passing them is very much another.”
Eventually the course became paved and passing was possible. The pavement was still very bumpy and the bike jumped and bucked around as I tried to stay under my self-imposed 120 kph speed limit, all the while feeling a little like Joey Dunlop at the Isle of Man.
In the clear air I was starting to enjoy the riding, but I kept telling myself to remember my goal of looking after the bike and to take it easy and not do anything stupid. Of course, that’s when the pavement ended.
We crossed a huge hydroelectric dam in the village of Manantali, 152 kms from the start, and from there we turned off into Laterite piste and back into the dust. I remembered seeing these trails on the TV coverage of past Dakars, and now here I was! All I needed was to hear the voice of Toby Moody narrating. But of course, there was little time for nostalgia, as the trail quickly became rutted and rocky and I could no longer keep up my “Hairy Flatters” pace.
This riding was similar to home and so I was more used to it and I caught and passed a few riders. Things were going according to plan; I was staying out of trouble and I hadn’t dropped the bike.
|Laterite riding.Photo: Maindru Photo|
And then disaster struck.
The first car passed by me completely unannounced, and the dust blinded me. I might as well have ridden along with my eyes closed; I couldn’t see two feet in front of me or tell what was up or what was down. Sure enough I hit something immediately.
I tried to save it, but that was kind of hard when I didn’t know where I was or where I was going.
I lay on what I figured must be the ground, and took stock of my faculties. I had taken a good hit but otherwise I was fine, which was more than I could say for the bike. The fairing was all busted up and I had bent the entire road book assembly, the hand guard was completely ripped off and the clutch lever was busted. Thankfully, the clutch lever was the type with a notch in it, so it could still be used even though it had busted off.
It seems that I had gone off the road and hit a stump. I was pissed off! I was riding along, minding my own business, and the next thing I knew my bike was all smashed up, through no fault of my own. I would now have to stay up tonight just to fix it, and that wasn’t in the plan!
I picked up the bike and it started immediately.
UPPING THE PACE
|Speeding up. Photo: Maindru Photo|
This was to be just the beginning of the problem with the cars and the dust. When I arrived at CP2, the refuelling point, everyone was so covered in dust that I could barely make out who was who, and they were all recounting stories similar to mine. Kellon Walsh came in shortly after me, (he had to start near the back after a mechanical problem in the previous stage), and after running near the front for the whole rally, was not enjoying his time back there in the dust with us privateers.
The last 120 kms was on a freshly graded gravel road and I cruised along at 120 kph. It wasn’t long before Kellon came up beside me and we rode along together for a while. Although I picked up the pace a little to stay with him, but he would still edge away. He would then slow a little to let me catch up but it was obvious he could go much faster and I was holding him up. I waved him on and he took off, it was better that we both go our own pace.
There were a lot of sections that were completely flat and straight, sometimes for kilometres on end. I later asked the U.S. KTM guys how fast they were going on these sections. “I hit 186 before the rev limiter kicked in” was Chris Blais’ answer. And I thought 120 kph was fast.
The 93 km liaison started in the gold mining town of Sadiola and was the same dusty Laterite we had been on for most of the day. The only difference was that about every kilometre or so there was a big concrete ditch running across the road to help prevent the road from being washed away in the rainy season. This was a real test of patience since each ditch required you to slow to first or second gear to get over. Then you would accelerate up through the gears again, only to slow back down for the next one.
|Bob’s moto-box – his suitcase for the entire Dakar.Photo: Bob Bergman|
It was about 4:00 pm when I finally got to Kayes – early by Dakar standards. I refuelled and washed the bike before heading out to the bivouac at the airport. I had been living out of the back of an airplane for the last two weeks.
All the moto boxes were stacked just outside of the loading ramp of the plane and the spare wheels were on racks inside. I would walk through the stacks of boxes looking for my number, then simply pull out the box and camp right there. It didn’t matter that there might be a better campsite even ten feet away, or that it was right beside the generator, I simply didn’t have the energy to move it somewhere else.
Elf Oil Company kindly supplied fluids and a workspace to all the unsupported privateers and this was also located beside the bike boxes. During the first few days of the rally this area was a beehive of activity, and it was difficult to even get close to the lights. But with only three days left to the end of the rally, it was now a ghost town, as almost all of the unsupported riders were out. The few of us who remained were on a first name basis with the Elf guys and most of the bike boxes sat untouched, like some kind of a memorial to the riders that were gone.
Next day …
Dakar related Links:
Official Dakar website – Daily updates of the 2006 Rally.
Maindru Photo (who graciously supplied us with pictures) – Check out their daily update of pics from the 2006 Dakar.
Eurosport – Dakar 2006 coverage.
Total Motorsport – Latest news from a Dakar sponsor.
Adventure Rider website forum on racing – Lots of Dakar threads going on.
ODSC website – Read all about how Bob prepped his KTM 660.
Bob would like to thank the following people for helping make his Dakar adventure possible:
Jim, Colin, Richard and the crew at Cycle Improvements.
Michel, Paul and Jocelyn at Kimpex.
Guy, Patrick, Bill and Mario from KTM Canada.
Digby and the ODSC posse.
The Harden off-road crew.
Everyone on the U.S. Red Bull KTM team.
And of course Sharon McCrindle.