14 JANUARY 2005 – WATER CROSSINGS!
Kayes – Tambacounda (630 kms)
Liaison 93 kms
Special 529 kms
Liaison 8 kms
Note – Click here for the CMG Dakar Glossary (just in case you don’t understand some of the terminology used).
There were two more days to go and I just wanted it over. I was like an automaton: there was no happy, there was no sad. I was too tired for emotions anymore. All I thought about was dinner, my start time, when my wheels would be done, and the road book changes. I was on autopilot and it seemed as though I had been doing this for months. It was hard to believe that I had been at home for Christmas just over three weeks ago; it now seemed like a distant lifetime ago.
|Thatched huts break the familiarity.Photo: Maindru Photo|
The alarm went off at 4:30 am. I knew the drill now – I could lie there for a few minutes, then put my riding gear straight on, stuff my sleeping bag in its sack and roll up my Thermarest. This would go in the box. Then I’d pull out the two tent poles and stuff the tent right into the box without rolling it up or anything. I would lock the box and leave it where it sat.
Maximum efficiency – it would all take less than 15 minutes.
As usual it was pitch black when we set out on the liaison. I had hooked up with Gary and we rode back out the same 93 kms that we had come in on yesterday. As a matter of fact the first 120 kms of the Special was the same fast gravel road that was the finish of yesterday’s stage, just run in reverse.
Like the day before, dust was a problem but I quickly got past a few riders and into clear air. I wanted to make up as much time as possible this morning so I would be far down the track before the cars caught us.
The fast piste took us to the town of Kenieba and the whole town was out to welcome us, waving and singing as we went by. From there we left the fast track and took a tiny trail through the bush toward the river crossing at the Senegalese border. It was very narrow and rutted, reminding me of the road allowances I rode back home, the familiarity broken by the villages of thatched roof huts that emerged from time to time.
SWIMMING TO SENEGAL
|Some got off to walk it through …Photo: Maindru Photo|
They had warned us of the dangers of the river crossing at the meeting the evening before, telling the bikers to get off and walk our bikes through, as it was very deep with a rough bottom. I was also surprised how wide it was but it didn’t look very deep.
I was used to river crossings and knew a few tricks, including stopping to watch the bike ahead of me cross, to get an idea of where and (more importantly) where not to go.
About half way across and off to one side, I could see some plants sticking out and there were photographers standing there up to their knees. I made a beeline over to this little submerged island and stopped to scout the rest of the crossing. I was used to spectators pointing out good lines but today everyone just stood there waiting for someone to go for a swim. I could read where it was shallow from the ripples in the water and set out across the last half of the river using my own judgment.
As I neared the far shore a guy in an official Dakar shirt began waving, indicating that I was far off course. I took a sharp right as indicated and the water instantly got deeper. I was now committed and the water just got deeper. This wouldn’t have been any problem on a light-weight Enduro bike but the huge skidpan and tanks of the Rallye displaced so much water that the bike began to feel like it was floating.
|… some didn’t.Photo: Maindru Photo|
I managed to keep it upright and moving though, and popped onto the far shore and accelerated up the steep bank – past the official who had been pointing the lines. As I passed him, I realized it was in fact Patrick Zaniroli, the head of the Dakar organization and the same fellow that lays out the entire route year after year. No wonder his lines are bad, this is the same guy who thought putting us through the endless camel grass day after day was a good idea!
From the water crossing to CP2 (at the 258 km mark), the riding was my favourite of the whole rally; it was a very hard and very smooth 2-track that wound its way through the bush on long sweeping turns. The slightest application of throttle would spin up the rear tire resulting in long lazy dirt track style drifts. For once I was really enjoying being on the bike, instead of watching the odometer waiting for the end.
After a while the bottoms of my feet began to irritate me but I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. It was like athletes foot – times 10! No matter what I did it wouldn’t go away and the discomfort was growing unbearable. Then it dawned on me – my feet were being boiled alive in my own boots. They had filled with water during the river crossing, and the water was now transferring the heat from the exhaust pipes, which were located under the foot pegs, directly to the bottoms of my feet. There was nothing I could do but grin and bear it, hoping the water was close to being completely evaporated.
THE RETURN OF THE CARS !
|And then the cars came.Photo: Maindru Photo|
When I stopped at CP2 to refuel and have something to eat, the first car blew past. This wasn’t a good sign, we still had another 250 kms to go to the finish and as per usual Dakar protocol, the trail immediately became dusty.
This was a dangerous situation and I knew it. I had so many hard days behind me and I was so close to the finish of this thing that the pressure was almost unbearable again. I just didn’t want to throw it all away so close to the end, especially through no fault of my own. I decided it was time to slow down and ride like a tourist, only another 250 kms today and then 220 kms more tomorrow, nothing by Dakar standards, but suddenly it felt like a very long haul.
Right on cue another car went by, I hit something and went down. I tumbled through the fog before abruptly coming to rest against something solid, my right hand and my back screaming in pain. I lay there as the dust cleared, evaluating the condition of my body.
I was wrapped around a tree off to one side of the track, the bike laying on the other. My hand was in bad shape – I had been having problems with it already; my middle and index fingers had developed tendonitis and would stiffen up and lose feeling after an hour riding. Now the other two fingers were swelling up after I had inadvertently punched a tree as I flew through the dust.
|The riding was good – until a car passed.Photo: Maindru Photo|
At least the bike got off easy this time and was completely unscathed. I realized that this rally was going to be a living hell right up to last few metres and even though I was close to the end, there would still be some kind of hardship in store to put me through. I was back to counting down the kilometres, praying nothing more would happen. The cars continued to blast by but now I knew to come to a complete stop and wait for the dust to clear.
At one point there was a group riders stopped on the side of the route and I gave the usual thumbs-up sign as I passed by to see if things were alright. They had an emergency blanket out which was odd but it looked like they gave me the thumbs-up in return. I had a feeling that something was wrong and kept looking over my shoulder but no one waved me back.
I continued on, through some very difficult and dangerous riding in deep dust-filled ruts, but from time to time I would think of the situation I had passed and tears would well up again. I was so close to the end that it was teasing me, but the dangers loomed so large that I knew I could be out at any second. I was an emotional, physical, and mental wreck.
I managed to arrive in Tamba roughly nine hours after setting out from Kayes. It took forever to get my gear off as I could barely walk from the blisters on my feet. I sat there exhausted, when one of the Elf guys handed me a cold Coke – it never tasted so good.
|Always happy to get through a stage – although the news at the end may not be what you want to hear.Photo: Sharon McCrindle|
Eventually I summoned the energy to get changed and I hobbled over to the medical tent to have someone look at my feet. As I neared the door I ran into Simon on his way out, who asked if I’d seen Gary. I answered that I hadn’t. “He crashed in the dust and broke his leg!” he replied. I was devastated, I always thought that Simon, Gary and me would make to the end, it just seemed to be in the cards.
My feet now forgotten, I walked over to the back of the tent to find Gary on a gurney, surrounded by his mechanics. I was speechless; there was nothing I could say that would be able to console him. What is there to say, ”Well you almost made it, ” or “it wasn’t you fault.”
He was in good spirits when I found him, joking as he always did. “You bastard, ” he said, “you rode right by me, I saw ya!” Then it hit me, the accident I had seen on the side of the trail had been him, and I had no idea. We had helped each other day in and day out to get this far, and when he really needed me, I just rode past.
Again my eyes began to well up, and I tried to make some kind of joke about it. We milled around for a few minutes, trying to put on brave faces, before the doctors kicked us out to prepare him for a flight to Paris. We said our goodbyes and I walked back to my tent, tears once again streaming down my face.
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.