10 JANUARY 2005 – FINDING STRIDE
Atar – Atar (499 kms)
Liaison 8 kms
Special 483 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 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.
|Dunes, dunes and dunes.Photo: Maindru Photo|
Still, I wasn’t looking forward to today as the route description indicated two different dune crossings of 40 kms each, as well as a difficult pass to negotiate. The saving grace was that the last 200 kms was supposed to be smooth and fast. Again, I mentally broke it down into chucks, knowing that once I got out of the deep sand and into CP2 at kilometre 293, it would be smooth sailing home.
My start time was at 8:30 am and Sharon’s plane left at 1:00 in the afternoon. This only left us with enough time to have breakfast together, and we did our best to hold back the tears as she saw me off.
The stage started out on some fast piste, but as usual we found ourselves in a sand storm and visibility was bad. Due to my poor finish in the previous stage, I started towards the back of the field but quickly began to pass other riders. I actually felt pretty good – even with the dramas of yesterday – so I must have recovered somewhat.
It didn’t take long before we entered the first of the dune crossings, which I managed to get through without any major dilemmas. I was starting to build confidence the more days I got behind me. I was now closer to the end than I was to the start and my fears that I wouldn’t be physically and mentally up for the task had begun to subside. I knew that it was still going to be very difficult, but I’d already gone through some tough times and survived. Now I knew that I could do it again if I had to.
|Tiring.Photo: Maindru Photo|
After another 90 kms of really fast piste I arrived at CP1 and the start of the real test for the day. First we had to climb a pass of soft sand and rocks (my favourite!), followed by 60 kms of camel grass, which was then followed by 30 kms of what some described as the biggest, softest dunes in Dakar history.
I climbed the pass (tipping over only once at the very top) and set off into the sea of grass tufts. I was getting a lot better at the camel grass, the trick being looking very far ahead to find the smoothest lines. It also required patience, there was no way to go fast, so there was no sense even trying. I just followed the GPS compass, made sure I saw some other tracks from time to time and counted down the kilometres.
At the 250 km mark I came across a French rider on another 660 who had completely run out of gas. I couldn’t believe it, they had told us fuel consumption would be a problem today and he had run out at 250 kms! I felt like leaving him there because he had been so stupid to not gauge his fuel consumption. But then I had only about 50 kms left before the next refuelling point and my bike was still half full, and in reality, I didn’t need to haul all that weight through the upcoming dunes either.
We removed one of my rear tanks and poured it into his, and I said, “Remember my number, 151, if you see me down the road and I need help, you must stop”. It doesn’t hurt to make sure that someone owes you a favour in the Dakar.
|Like the Grinch returning to Whoville.Photo: Maindru Photo|
Just before the waypoint that designated the start of the huge Erg crossing, I ran into my old Irish buddy, Gary Ennis. He was glad to see me as, for some reason, he always thought I was good in the dunes and liked to follow me. I wasn’t sure why this was, as I didn’t think I was particularly good in the sand … maybe it was so he could see where not to go!
It was 30 kms to get to CP2, where we could stop for 15 minutes to refuel and have something to eat, and then a fast easy ride back to Atar – with only one more dune crossing to go.
What a crossing! The dunes grew and grew to the point that they were literally over a hundred feet tall. We kept calm though, and were patient and methodical – reading the sand and the tracks of the other riders as we worked our way through the sand. Then suddenly, we were on the top of an enormous dune looking down at the CP far below. We rode down the huge slope like the Grinch returning to Whoville, sliding to a stop to give back our time cards.
We gassed up and ate, when I heard the thumping of a helicopter in the distance, I tapped Gary on the shoulder and pointed. Hanging below it on a long tether was a motorcycle, like it had just been plucked from the sea. “You don’t see that everyday,” I said. It hovered not far from the CP, setting the bike on the ground and dropping the tether, before setting off back to the dunes for its next load.
|The Dakar is a whole lot more fun if you don’t do this … often anyway.Photo: Maindru Photo|
The remaining 200 kms was fast and smooth, as promised, but punctuated by tiny Oued beds now and then, just to keep it interesting. We burned through the kilometres with ease as we rode side by side on the 2-track to avoid each other’s dust.
Occasionally we would ride off to the side to find smoother lines, although I quickly learned the dangers of this when I clipped a small step at about 80 kph, sending the bike’s rear wheel skyward. I instinctively grabbed the seat between my feet to prevent being thrown over the bars and pinned the throttle to try and use the centrifugal force of the motor & rear wheel to stop the bike from tumbling forward.
It worked, and the rear-end came slamming back to earth and I landed back in the seat with a thump. I had just been micrometers from an enormous accident that could have seen the end of the race for me. As I rode along in disbelief, I realized that I had just seen god.
The rest of stage was thankfully drama-free.
I finished 58th on what was supposed to be a really tough stage. It was probably the earliest I had ever gotten in and since there was very little work to do on the bike, I decided it was time for celebration – I treated myself to what would be my only shave of the rally.
Clean and refreshed I wandered over to the catering tent. But in typical Dakar style, when things seem to be going all right for once, the rug gets pulled out from under you. There was sad news – Spanish rider, Jose Manual Perez, who had suffered a huge crash two days prior, had died this afternoon.
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.