The sun was only just rising as I set out on the liaison to begin the stage. Today’s Special was originally going to be 656 kms but after the fiasco of a few days ago they decided to shorten it to 400 kms, followed by a 340 km road section to the bivouac in Kiffa.
There were only six days to go, but I knew that the next three were going to be tough – if I could make it through them, I’d make it to Dakar. The final three days were in the Sahal and run on hard packed Laterite (a very dry, red clay-like surface that’s quite smooth but very dusty), which suited my riding style better. The Dakar had to be mentally broken down into smaller chucks, as together it was too overwhelming to comprehend.
We were up by 9:00 am and took our time at breakfast, but the pressure was soon back on as I had a promise to fulfill with the bike. It had been thoroughly neglected over the last few days and today was my only chance to catch up.
I was in a bad way, I was completely exhausted and it was all I could do to eat and put up my tent the evening before. I didn’t do any bike maintenance at all, other than buy a new air filter off the KTM truck to stick in my pocket.
I only slept for an hour or so before I woke up shivering. My emergency blanket had been ripped to shreds by a sandstorm. I looked around and saw everyone comfortably tucked up under what were obviously far superior quality emergency blankets. Canadian Tire would be getting a letter when I got home!
From the moment I saw the route when it was first published in November, I knew this was going to be the day. Traditionally the organizers plan a few very difficult days, just before the rest day, to separate the men from the boys. By tonight, I would know whether I was a man or a boy!
It was pitch dark when I left Smara, and started a liaison that would take us through Morocco to the Mauritanian border, where the day’s special would begin.
Although I had four hours to sleep I only managed to sleep for two – I just couldn’t relax. I was too wound up about all the little details I needed to take care of. I staggered through breakfast like a zombie, and wondered what I had gotten myself into. We hadn’t even arrived in Africa yet and I felt like I was already starting to fall apart …
There was no special today, just a very long ride on the highway. In preparation, I had a set of road tires mounted on the bike just for today.
Today’s events started with a riders’ meeting, which was a who’s who of rallying, with Alfie Cox, Fabrizio Meoni, Shlesser and of course, me. I meet the Rauseo boys (Charlie and Dave) – two American brothers who were also attempting the Rally on bikes that they had rented through Rallye-Raid UK.