Welcome to the second and final part of our accounts of the recent Paris-Dacre (Ontario) Rally. If you missed part 1, you can click here to read it, otherwise read on and have a laugh at Team CMG's expense. We did.
PART 2 – ENDURING THE TRAIL TO DACRE
Bang on 3:38 am, the phone rang and I was reluctantly pulled out of my blissful slumber and into the realization that I had once again gotten myself involved in something that :-
A) I knew precious little about.
B) Would likely experience a whole world of pain in the process and …
C) May have to accept the reality that I just can't finish it … much to the disappointment, err, no, scratch that: ridicule of my peers.
But enough about my love life, today I had a rally to run and if I couldn't get out of bed now, how could I possibly hope to finish a 700 km/16 hour rally?
After a sly five-minute snooze, Mr. Seck ordered me out of bed so I stumbled into the shower and started to prepare myself mentally for the task that lay ahead.
A quick half shower and no shave later, and I was ready to go. Well, I was as ready as I ever would be, which is what I settle for these days.
FIVE MINUTE STARTS
We arrive at the base camp in complete darkness at 4:30 am with a good forty-five minutes before our allotted start time. I don't think I've ever experienced 45 minutes go so quickly – allowing just enough time to load the GPS, stuff a banana and some black coffee down my throat before the first team was called and panic took over.
Okay, I've got the GPS, my helmet and gloves and … where are my keys?
"Team 2 to the starting grid", bellowed a voice behind me.
Oh feck. Keys, keys, where are my keys? Oh, in my pocket – the brain just doesn't seem to be fully functional on three hours and thirty-eight minutes of sleep.
The KTM fired up obediently and I joined the rest of Team CMG at the start with Bob Bergman waiting there, stop-watch in hand. At this point time slowed right down as Bob looked between his watch, the gathered crowd and ... something on my KTM's front wheel.
"What, is there something wrong?"
Bob wasn't listening as he took another look at his watch, raised his hand and started counting. Five, four, three, two … no time to think about possible wheel problems … one. Bob dropped his arm and off Team CMG went into the darkness.
PERPLEXED IN PARIS
It's only at these times that you realize that things may be wrong. For starters, my visor immediately fogged up, then I realized that my super-comfy padded cushion was sliding off the seat and then – to my horror – I realized just how cold it can be at 5:30 in the morning.
The previous few days had been absolutely scorching, and I figured that my Joe Rocket jacket over a CMG T-shirt would be fine. It wasn't, and within 15 minutes of departure I was desperately pulling the front of said jacket off my chest and trying to contort behind the KTM's meager fairing. I also wasn't about to stop the rest of the crew because this idiot forgot to dress properly.
And so we meandered through the side roads and occasional gravel trail, heading north through Paris, around Cambridge and towards our first official stop in the town of Orillia, … bloody freezing! Even the first rays of the dawning sun seemed to offer no relief and it wasn't until we pulled up for our first gas stop at 6:00 am that I had a chance to address the situation.
I also had the chance to set the stage for the day as I managed to get my right foot caught on my rear pack while trying to dismount the gargantuan KTM 640 Adventure at the pumps. Trying to hold a bike from falling – with one foot hoisted up like a ballerina – is not an easy task, hindered even more by a relatively brain-dead rider.
There was nothing for it except to let it fall in as controlled a manner as possible. Bryan was next to me, and looked up long enough to do a Simpson's "hah, hah" and then proceed with filling his 950.
Ignoring Bob Bergman's advice from the night before ("if you drop your bike, don't panic, address the situation, get in the right position and slowly right it") I immediately bent over and hoisted it upright. My back twinged in protest and I realized that I wouldn't last more than five minutes on the real Dakar.
HACKING IT IN THE HALTON HILLS
Now I've always had a bit of a downer on south-western Ontario. I mean, it's flat and the roads are straight – what's to like? However, when you explore this area by side and gravel road, it's … well, quite beautiful. After a couple of hours on the road (and some warmer clothing) I'd finally settled into the ride, and the serenity of the south-east was about to give way to the rolling hills of Halton.
Any motorcyclist in the GTA will probably be very familiar with the Forks of the Credit and the Hockley Valley. And why not? Both have lovely curvaceous roads. The trouble is, the bends last for 10 minutes and then that's it. Turn around and go back? Maybe, but it's all a bit sad really.
However, hit the same set of hills on gravel roads and gnarly trails and it's a wonderland of a much greater magnitude. We were introduced to this area with some marvelous winding gravel roads, which quickly gave way to a narrow trail and a steep, rocky, sandy hill climb. I think this was the first time I stood up (save to flex my buttocks once every while) and as the KTM hopped and bounced its way with ease over the first real test, my air changed from one of trepidation to wonder. Yeah baby, come to papa.
And to papa, baby did come, with a section of sandy whoops (a succession of small pronounced bumps and dips) that tested rider finesse with throttle control, correct speed and the ability to bend your legs just as the bike compressed into a dip, then push up, blip the throttle and repeat.
Of course, you can also just get it wrong and end up with a bike that ploughs up the bump and then nose dives into the soft sandy dip following. Which I did on occasion – just to prove that I wasn't the genius that I was starting to believe I was.
Things were starting to go swimmingly as we zeroed in on Orillia … and then Bryan's rear started to wiggle. No, not the famous Flannigan dance of love, but the dreaded KTM 950 rear flat.
Apparently getting flat tires on these kind of things is quite common. It's highly recommended that you carry an emergency repair kit and a spare pair of tubes, which (oddly for me) I had.
Where I would be making a scene like a schoolgirl who had lost her puppy, Bryan calmly dismounted and got to work removing the tire. I was quite pleased that not only was I in the company of an expert, but that I also had a good excuse for a much needed break and piss.
Half an hour later (and a few manly jokes about Bryan's pumping action whilst inflating the tire) we were back on the trail and before long arrived at the check point of Orillia.
OVERDUE AT ORILLIA
It's amazing how quickly a feeling of pride and achievement can be dashed. As we pulled into the Orillia gas stop, the Rally officials present informed us that we were running late and had better make it a quick stop and get a move on! A check of the time showed 12:30 pm – seven and a quarter hours since we'd left Harley. A check of the route card indicated that we should have only taken six hours. Oh dear.
From here we did what any self-respecting rallyist would do – we wicked it up and bypassed all the hard shit. And our plan was working well until we hit that nasty "puddle" that saw me get a drenching in part 1.
Thankfully, we were only 20 or so kms from the lunch stop at Kinmount and the dire sensation of feet swimming in boots full of swamp water was only helped by the fact that we found ourselves passing and being passed by several other teams. I'm not sure why the human condition finds solace in the fact that there are others in the same predicament but it does, so I took whatever I could right then.
Kinmount came at 2:37 pm and I was pleased to see a parking lot full of rallyists (an empty lot would have meant that most everyone else had been and gone and at least an hour ahead, as that was the required minimum stopping time for rest).
Alas, time did that fast-forward thing again, and it was not long before Bryan rounded up the troops and pushed us back out into the wilderness. Bastard.
By now I was coming the end of my second wind (initiated by my refreshing dip earlier) and started to feel real fatigue setting in. For some, the next section was to be the highlight of the rally, as we were now entering the remoteness of the Kawartha Highlands.
The rally info card describes the post lunch phase with the words "and now it gets a little tougher". As if mockingly, two lines above it, it reads "if you are dropping out hand in your riders card!!!!!"
Where's that damn card when you need it …?
And tougher it gets. Within 10 minutes of leaving Kinmount the trail gets submerged, the dry exit point hidden around a corner ahead. At least I hoped so. Some riders ahead of us turn around and opt to bypass. Bryan pauses and then launches forth.
I think I joined the wrong team.
I'm always a bit fearful of water crossings. No, I'm fearful, but excited of water crossings. I think a chunk of that trepidation comes from the sinking of the R1200GS long-termer last year – as in if it goes wrong, it can REALLY go wrong. But in reality, the biggest fear is not knowing what lies beneath that layer of murky liquid.
Since most water crossings are just flooded trails, the surface lurking below the poo-brown is generally flat, smooth and not too deep. In that case it's just a matter of working out roughly where that trail goes (look ahead at the exit point and take a straight line between the two – if you can see it) and deciding whether it's best to take the left or the right track.
Of course, the safest way is to allow your riding buddies to go first. If they choose the right track and get through, then right it is. If they disappear half way through or just get stuck in an unexpected hole, go left young man and hope for the best.
It also helps to have a real dirt-oriented bike. In the past, for some reason I've taken it upon myself to push the least such oriented bikes through the worst stuff (with somewhat predictable results), but today I find myself on the KTM 640 Adventure – a bike that is actually meant to do exactly this.
And what a relief that is, as I follow Bryan and Jim into the unknown.
For sure, it's not the easiest of crossings, as there are some small logs, rocks and unexpected dips under there, but the KTM feels planted and predictable and ploughed through regardless.
Huh, that wasn't so hard.
From here the trail twists and turns, drops and climbs through some truly amazing Canadiana. Before long we're climbing up a succession of exposed Canadian Shield rock slabs. It's the pavement of the wild and in my state of sheer exhaustion I find myself focusing purely on the task ahead. Peripheral vision is shut down as I briefly analyze each and every rock, rut, branch, attack it and approach the next obstacle with the same resolve.
But Bryan's already told me that it just gets progressively tougher and I cannot retain my usual blissfully ignorant state. My left hand is starting to give out and I resort to clutchless gear changes, as I am no longer able to pull the clutch lever in. Thankfully, the KTM's box is super smooth and it plays along with its weary rider.
Next to go are my legs. The road is rutted and rough and demands that the rider stand up to help absorb the shock of the irregularities. I'm not able to do this anymore, save for bigger bumps that throw my rag-doll body into the air, allowing me to land back down on straightened legs, until all too quickly I flump back on my arse.
It's the point in any endurance event where you have to dig deep, tap into previously undiscovered reserves and soldier on. It's the point that separates the men from the boys and the wheat from the chaff. It's also the point that Jim messes up a climb up some shield steps, dumps his KLR hard on its side and cracks his radiator open.
Oh … I mean, "Damn Jim, that looks serious. I'm not sure you'll be able to carry on. Maybe we'll have to dropout and short cut it on the paved, smooth, easy and gentle road to Dacre. Don't feel bad mate, it could have happened to anyone".
But Bryan's really not getting it and just when I thought I'd snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, his Tardis-like jacket is open, revealing an array of useful tools. Twenty minutes later the rad is off and the crack is being sealed with some silver coloured putty shit.
At this point I'm starting to accept my fate. So what if the last team passed us 15 minutes ago? So what if this fix is going to take a good hour to complete? So what if it's getting dark and we've still got 120 kms of even gnarlier shit ahead of us?
So fecking what?
Forty minutes later and the rad is back on and being filled with the last of my valuable drinking water. It's looking good (or bad, depending on your point of view) as Jim fires her up and the fix-it job holds tight.
We remount and prepare to venture forth, when …
… it starts to spew out pale coolant.
The bodge failed as soon as the engine had warmed up and started to pressurize the cooling system. I feigned disappointment and we decided that the only option was to turn around, retrace the last 6 kms and baby the bike back on that paved, smooth, easy and gentle road to Dacre. Damn.
DISEMBARK AT DACRE
At 9:30pm – in darkness – we finally rolled into Dacre. Stiff, exhausted but elated to have completed the task of the day – albeit sans the rough last 120 kms. We'd left just before sun-up and arrived just after sundown.
The parking lot of the Lumberman's Tavern was buzzing with happy but sagging rallyists as we made our way indoors for a well-deserved meal and beer or three. Although the rally organizers were stressing over the missing last couple of teams, everyone was accounted for by the time we staggered out and headed for our much-fantasized beds at the Jocko's Beach Resort in the nearby town of Calabogie.
For Team CMG, our wheels had turned through 684 challenging kms in sixteen and a quarter hours. The first annual (we hope) Paris-Dacre (Ontario) Rally was a screaming success, with most everyone pledging to come back if the organizers could find the time and energy to do it again.
As for me, I'll be there for sure. How else will I be able to separate the man from the boy or the wheat from the chaff?
Just give me another KTM and the same teammates.
To the Comfort Inn Brantford for allowing Team CMG to have the luxury of comfortable beds, prior to the rally.
58 King George Rd.
Thanks also to the fine folks at Jocko's Beach Resort who provided an excellent place to recover after the rally.
5253 Calabogie Road
And finally to the guys at the ODSC (specifically John Baxter, Brian Helliwell, Ken Gardner, Bruce Nobel, the Tekvest bunch and all the other volunteers) for putting on such a stellar event and helping Team CMG get involved. Everything was well planned and came off without a hitch.