2005 Paris-Dacre Rally – Part 1

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Words: Rob Harris   Photos: Richard Seck

2005 PARIS-DACRE RALLY – PART 1

Mr. Flannigan was the Team CMG guide and ‘motivator’ for the Rally.

With the heat of the midday sun beating down directly over us, and 7 hours of riding under our belts already, we pause to take stock of the seemingly innocuous puddle in front of us. A group of riders on the other side waved at us to stop just before we crossed it and are now chatting to Team CMG ride leader Bryan Flannigan a few yards ahead of us.

The rest of Team CMG – consisting of Jim Vernon on his 20 year old KLR 600 and myself on a loaner KTM 640 Adventure – hang back and chat about the fact that we’re not even half way through the inaugural Paris-Dacre (Ontario) Rally and we’re already well on our way to complete and utter exhaustion.

Bryan thanks the team ahead and spins his huge KTM 950 Adventure around to come back and fill us in as to the reason for such a delay.

“It’s deep,” he says matter of factly, “about 2 to 3 feet.”

Huh?

It isn’t your run-of-the-mill type of puddle … Ernie Taylor finds out the hard way.Photo: Brian Helliwell

What looked like a mere puddle about 2 feet wide stretching across the trail, was actually a potential disaster, able to swallow a whole front wheel and catapult an unsuspecting rider head first unceremoniously onto the dusty trail ahead.

Nasty.

There was no way around it either. The trail was surrounded by brush and swamp with viscous mud butted up against either side, giving way to poo-brown water and entangling brush.

The only option was to leap over it.

Oh dear.

I have to admit, I’m not good at these things. The trail fore and aft of this ditch was flat and so provided no natural ramp to get the bike up and over. The only way was to get up just enough speed, pop on the power just before it, and loft the front wheel up and over and hope to god that the back follows through.

The KTM 640 Adventure was the best bike for the job. The rider on the other hand …

Well, at least I wasn’t alone, and had the added luxury of watching my two team-mates tackle this first. Bryan – a skilled and seasoned dual-sport rider – went first and hopped over it like a pedestrian skipping over a water-filled gutter. Jim went next and cleared it, save for the back wheel that just clipped the far edge, causing him to bounce the KLR to a wobbly stop on the other side.

Now it was up to me to keep the smooth engine of Team CMG running towards Dacre. Okay ‘arris, you’ve got the best bike for this job, just stay calm and everything will be fine.

A quick approach sees the speed build up nicely and the revs climb to an ideal point in the power band. Then, just before the drop-off, I snap open the throttle, feel the front rise slightly and the bike leap forward.

For a moment I’m flying and all is well. Then the back tire hits the far edge hard and before I know it I’m floating above the bike, desperately trying to keep it all orange-shaped by holding onto the bars with all my worth.

Thump! I come back into the saddle and flop around uncontrollably, all the while trying to take stock of what options are left open to me. Ahead, Bryan and Jim are sitting on their bikes watching the spectacle unfold. They’re also close enough that if I opened the throttle and tried to power out of this, it could all end in a serious pile-up. Very CMG, but not something I wanted to be responsible for.

But it’s all becoming a bit academic, as by now the bike is taking a decidedly unpleasant direction off to the right, and my path ahead offers only deep mud, swamp water and brush. No two ways about it – I’m going in.

And then it went horribly CMG …

The only choice I had left was to ride in with the bike, or to let it go and hope that it didn’t follow me. I let go, and as the bike flung onto its side, I was thrown clear, head-first and straight towards a patch of open water.

Sploosh! A wave of different sensations floods my brain – cool water, a soft bottom (thankfully) and my helmet filling up with muddy brown liquid. I find myself on all fours, fully submerged and instinctively push up with my arms and sit back on my legs.

There’s a moment of silence, save for the sounds of waves breaking against brush. I feel no pain, and look around to see the bike laying on its side to my left – still on the trail, save for bars and seat dipping into the swamp around me.

Well, that didn’t quite go to plan.

Jim offers a “helping hand” to Mr. Swampy.

And then I started to laugh.

Jim and Bryan run over, fearing the worst, only to find a madman, seemingly waist deep and covered in swamp-weed, laughing hysterically. Oh dear … but at least I was fully awake again.

After several documentation pictures, Jim hauls me out of my watery embarrassment and Bryan helps me to right the KTM. Swamp life is extricated from my now not-so-pristine Joe Rocket riding gear, a dry T-shirt found, and with a brief press of the starter button (yes, the KTM started that easily) we were back on the trail to Dacre.

Only nine more hours to go …

IN HOMAGE OF BOBBY BERGMAN

The first (annual?) Paris to Dacre dual-sport rally was held last weekend and organized by the ever-resourceful Ontario Dual Sport Club. It’s a homage to one of their members – Bobby Bergman – who actually rode and completed this year’s grueling Dakar (Africa) ride.

The event takes place over two weeks and covers 9,000 kms of third world roads and sandy desert. It used to start in Paris (France) and end in Dakar (Senegal), but now starts in Barcelona (Spain), taking place over the first two weeks of January.

Although the Rally is open to trucks, cars ATVs and motorcycles, it’s the two wheelers that have the toughest ride, and it’s not uncommon for the occasional rider to die under the extreme conditions. In fact, at this year’s rally one of the Rally’s best known competitors, and two-times winner, Fabrizio Meoni, was killed when he crashed out on the 11th stage. To date 11 riders have been killed in the Rally’s history.

Bob in action.Photo: Someone who rides with Bob

This year’s winner, Cyril Despres was one of 224 motorcycles to start the rally (only 104 would finish) and completed it in 47 hours, 27 minutes and 31 seconds on board a KTM

No two ways about it, just getting there is an accomplishment – making it to the finish line is a massive achievement. My hat’s off to you Mr. Bergman!

PARIS, ONTARIO

The Paris to Dacre version would be a mere sampler of what the Dakar Rally must be like, limited to just one day and a mere 700 or so Kms. The ride started just south of Paris in the small town of Harley (where our host and fellow ODSC member Bruce Noble resided) and came complete with tech inspection, barbeque and (in original Dakar Rally style) a large bivouac tent for people to sleep under before the rally.

“How come my pants keep falling down?” Editor ‘arris realizes that he’s an out-of-shape fat bastard.

Of course, to the out-of-shape and lightly-skilled such as myself, the thought of 16 hours of back roads, and damn-rough forest trails was still really-fecking daunting, never mind kicking it all off with a night in a sleeping bag, surrounded by mosquitoes and fellow snoring rallyers. So, in CMG style, we’d negotiated ourselves a night of luxury at a local Comfort Inn in nearby Brantford.

PRE-RALLY CHAOS

CMG-style abounded, with typical pre-big-event chaos. The week’s main article needed to be edited, laid out, and posted before we could high tail it out of Toronto for a tediously slow journey on the 401 to Waterloo (where the KTM 640 Adventure awaited pick up). Then it was a quick sprint south to the hotel to pick up fellow team member Jim, and then onto the rally headquarters in time for tech inspection, registration, GPS route-loading and a rider’s meeting at 8 pm.

Damn, I’m exhausted just writing about it.

Rally organizer, John Baxter, shows Team CMG’s Bryan Flannigan his favourite spanking position.

Here we met up with the third and final Team CMG member, Bryan Flannigan. Bryan is an experienced off-road rider and now makes his living running Moto Rally Canada, a company that offers one and two-day dual-sport rides and some more involved rides in Central and North America.

Coming down from his home near Ottawa, he also rode backwards along the Paris-Dacre route … err, as in doing the route in reverse, not riding backwards on his bike, although that wouldn’t really surprise me either. This did give me some solace knowing that he might be worn out the following day and so there was some hope that Jim and myself might just be able to keep up. It also meant that he was a gold mine of information as to what lay ahead … although I was soon to find out that sometimes ignorance is bliss.

All went roughly to plan (except for me forgetting the GPS units back at the hotel) – the bikes passed tech and a noise-level check (the ODSC guys are really very good at making sure that they are as considerate as possible to all other trail users and locals). After this we had just enough time to meet and greet, and stuff some food down our throats before the rider’s meeting.

“Ninety-five decibels.” Editor ‘arris gets himself and the KTM through the noise level check.

Rally organizer and fellow Brit, John Baxter, went through all the things along the route that could ruin a perfectly good rally (lots of water crossings and which sections are not recommended for the bigger, less maneuverable bikes) as well as how to gain extra bonus points – yes, it wasn’t just a matter of completing the thing, there was to be an overall winner too.

Of course, this all goes in one ear and out the other with me, but I was pleased to notice that the Team CMG ride leader (Mr. Flannigan) was paying full attention and so decided to focus my meager attention on my beer and cigarettes and just hope for the best. (No change there then).

John wrapped up his bit of the rider’s meeting and then it was over to the guest of honour, Bobby Bergman, who assured us that an event like this is just a matter of keeping calm, preserving energy and realizing that yes, eventually you will get to the end. The pain will go away after a few days and you’ll have done something that not only will have allowed you to explore your inner self-limitations, but will be a conversation piece for years to come.

John goes over the route details. Team CMG (right rear) are not on the same page (in more ways than one).

Yeah, this is a good idea, isn’t it?

And with that it was now 10 pm and we had to get to our hotel, sort out exactly what gear to pack and be back at Rally HQ by 4:15 am. Feck.

Back at the hotel I eventually climbed into bed at midnight and began the ritual of haggling with Mr. Seck about exactly what time we had to get the wake-up call. Exactly how much time is needed in order to get to Rally HQ, load the GPS and be ready to go anytime after 5 am? (The teams set off every five minutes in order of team number, Team CMG being number 2!).

“3:45” I started the bidding, knowing all too well that that would give precious little time for a shower and final check of gear.

“3:30” he retorted.

Although I didn’t have much sleepy-time, I did have this really weird dream …

“3:40”.

“3:38” was his final offer.

“Okay, done”.

And so it was that we settled for three hours and thirty-eight minutes of sweet, luscious sleep before embarking on a sixteen hour endurance ride over rough terrain on a bike that to date I had ridden for a mere forty-eight minutes.

Piece of cake.

Feck.

Read part 2 here.

THANK YOUS

To the Comfort Inn Brantford for allowing Team CMG to have the luxury of comfortable beds, prior to the rally.

58 King George Rd.
Brantford, Ontario
N3R 5K4
(519) 753-3100
www.choicehotels.ca

Thanks also to the fine folks at Jocko’s Beach Resort who provided an excellent place to recover after the rally.

5253 Calabogie Road
Calabogie, Ontario
K0J 1H0
(613)752-2107
www.jockosbeach.com

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.

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