Sand dunes and missing friends

Smara to Zouerat (622 kms)

Liaison 124 kms
Special 492 kms
Liaison 6 kms

Note – Click here for the CMG Dakar Glossary (just in case you don’t understand some of the terminology used).

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.

The guy taking a leak is Jose Manuel Perez – one of two riders that were killed during the rally.Photo: Bob Bergman

The road section turned out to be a seldom-used dirt piste, and despite having been marked out with little torches by the military, I still managed to get lost for a while. Fortunately I regained the main track before reaching the border area; as the frontier had been heavily land mined during the Polisario disputes and was no place for some impromptu off-roading.

The organizers had set up a refuelling point just before the start of the special so we could top up our tanks, and they had hired a few locals as gas jockeys. I had been wearing wind pants and ski gloves to keep warm on the transfer sections, but since I wouldn’t need them again, I handed them off to my attendant. His face lit up like a Christmas tree! It was like I had given him a new car.

Somehow it didn’t seem right to be whizzing past these people on priceless racing equipment, when a simple pair of gloves meant the world to them.

The special started out on a tight rocky piste that was tough going on full tanks of gas, but once again it soon opened out onto the dry lakebeds and became extremely fast. However, it seemed that whenever the riding would become enjoyable there was always some element that would make it miserable and right on cue a sandstorm started to blow up.

“Welcome to the desert”.Photo: Maindru Photo

We were now blasting along at 120 kph in almost zero visibility, the bike keeled over road-race style to brace against the crosswinds. This went on for hours and my neck was soon screaming in pain trying to keep my head upright in the maelstrom.

The chotts finally gave way to a sandy rolling plain but the wind was so strong that the tracks from riders only minutes ahead had completely disappeared. Fortunately I was within 30 kms of the first CP and navigated using the GPS. As I rolled across the plain following the little GPS arrow, I turned around to see a train of bikes behind me!

I don’t why they were following me, I was completely lost.

After refuelling we set off for the first of what would be many dune crossings in the rally. I think everyone must feel some trepidation about the sand dunes as this is the most daunting and spectacular feature of the Dakar, and it was certainly no different for me.

At first the sand was fairly firm and smooth and was proving to be a relief from the constant pounding of the past few days. But, like clockwork, as soon as I started to enjoy it, the Dakar ended it, with monster dunes filling the horizon ahead.

Dunes are like snow drifts. Oddly, Bob knows how to ride snow drifts.Photo: Maindru Photo

I was able to follow the tracks left by the other riders and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Being a frost bitten Canadian actually proved to be an advantage, as sand dunes tend to form much like snow-drifts, meaning that I had some idea of where the hard and soft parts might be.

The secret was to carry enough momentum to reach the top of the dune, but to go slowly enough to be able to stop at the crest and survey the path down the other side. Not carrying enough speed and coming up even a foot or two short of the top would mean turning the bike around and doing it all again. Going too quickly meant you had to grab some brake at the top, sending you over the bars.

Both of these lessons were to be learned the hard way.

The final dune crossing was just before CP3 at km 421, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that I had made an error at the refuelling by not completely refilling the tank. Although I had been getting great mileage to date, in the power-sucking sand I was using more fuel than I had calculated for.

I’d also made the mistake of taking the easy route by following another rider, but as we closed in on the CP I realized he had no idea where he was. Now, neither did I. I knew that if I followed the GPS straight through those power-sucking dunes to the CP I might not have the fuel to make it. So I decided to ignore the GPS and try and skirt around the dunes in an attempt to find an easier way to the CP, as going straight would be suicidal.

10 hours and 622 kms later – welcome to the airport.Photo: Bob Bergman

This turned out to be the right decision, and a very stressful hour later I rolled to the finish of the stage with the bike running on fumes.

It was still light out when I parked the bike at the Airplane boxes, but it had taken me about 10 hours to cover the 622 kms. I looked around for Kevin but didn’t find him, which was odd because he had been riding a little quicker and had been getting in before me. I didn’t usually see him on the piste but we’d hang out at the Bivouac together and work on the bikes.

I figured he must have gone through the dunes at the end and was going to take some time to get in; I was smart to go around!

Still wondering what had happened to Kevin, I took my wheels over to the Euromaster truck to have new tires fitted. Tomorrow was to be the first Marathon stage, and this meant there would be no assistance vehicles in the Bivouac tomorrow night. Of course, this didn’t make much difference to me since I had no assistance anyway, but it did mean I was going to have to prepare the bike for a two-day push.

Tire HQ. Photo: Bob Bergman

After dropping the wheels off with the bike, I headed to the catering tent for a snack, then went back to the tent and called Sharon on the Satellite phone. It was amazing how much it lifted my spirits to hear her voice; she had been following along on the Internet almost hourly and knew more about what was going on than I did.

It was dark by the time I got off the phone, so I headed back to the food tent for dinner. The Bivouac was always chaotic and somehow I got lost and couldn’t find it. I swore this was where it was an hour ago, but it was definitely not here now. I retraced my steps and returned to the same place, still no tent.

Apparently, in the 20 minutes that I was on the phone, something had gone array and it had completely burned to the ground! This was not a good omen, as tomorrow’s stage was going to be very hard, designed that way to thin out the field. It was the day I feared the most.

As for Kevin, whatever held him up must have been something catastrophic, as I never saw or heard from him again.

Next day

Back to main diary index

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.
Lawrence Hacking.
The Harden off-road crew.
Everyone on the U.S. Red Bull KTM team.
And of course Sharon McCrindle.

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