11 JANUARY 2005 – A TOUGH DAY FOR ALL
Atar – Kiffa (774 kms)
Liaison 34 kms
Special 400 kms
Liaison 340 kms
Note – Click here for the CMG Dakar Glossary (just in case you don’t understand some of the terminology used).
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.
I was feeling confident after yesterday’s performance and today’s stage was about 100 kms shorter. I thought I’d be able to get through today fairly quickly … I was wrong!
The Special started out in a wide Oued bed on soft sand, and finding a fast line was pretty much impossible. It wasn’t long before I came across Kellon Walsh on one of the Red Bull U.S.A bikes, stopped on the side of the piste. I turned back to see if I could help but he said he figured it was some kind of electrical problem and he was just going to wait for the race truck to come along.
I set off again and was soon caught by Gary who had started a few places behind me. Naturally we rode together and helped each other navigate the maze of rocks, sand, and trees. The terrain was like nothing we had encountered before, and it was by far the least enjoyable riding to date. In and out of the Oued bed, either soft sand or rocks, I could never gain any speed.
Then came the fech-fech – sand as fine as flour, but didn’t look any different than the rest of the sand. Hitting a patch of fech-fech would immediately bring the bike to a grinding halt and sink it up to the axles. It just became the luck of the draw whether you would hit it or not.
My luck had obviously run out and as I accelerated to climb a little step and went to pull on the handlebars to raise the front wheel, the bike stopped dead in its tracks, slamming my chest into the road book. I found myself lying on the ground seeing stars – once again – and unable to breath. The impact was so severe that my entire neck was screaming in pain as my head was wretched from my body.
Fortunately I was wearing my Sinisalo body armour and it helped to dissipate the impact, but I’ve still never felt pain like that before. It was to be months before I was able to cough or sneeze without buckling in pain.
|Photo: Maindru Photo|
The Oued soon ended as the course turned into camel grass. This time the tufts were small and very closely spaced, with no way of weaving between them. This terrain was beating the daylights out of me! In the Oued, I prayed for anything but the Oued; in the camel grass I prayed for anything but camel grass.
From time to time we would come across a tiny chott, a few hundred metres across. This was a chance to sit down for maybe 30 seconds, just enough to taunt us before we stood up on the pegs again and headed back into the hateful camel grass.
The camel grass eventfully ended as we approached the first CP, but as usual it was hidden behind a huge Erg crossing. This trick was getting old and I convinced Gary to trust me and not to follow the tracks into the dunes. As before, I made a sharp 90-degree turn and rode along the face of the first dunes. It wasn’t long before I found the tracks of local vehicles, and we followed them as they weaved between little dunes on a firm base. Minutes later we were on the far side and into the CP, while the others floundered around in the soft sand behind us.
It had taken us four hours to cover just the first 175 kms of the stage and we getting worried that we wouldn’t make it out before dark, as we still had 340 kms of pavement to ride after the Special.
GOING SOLO AGAIN
We stopped long enough to refuel and stuff a few Powerbars down our throats, but our worst fears were soon realized when the trail quickly returned to my beloved camel grass. This time it was interspersed with some dune crossings and these dunes were interspersed with fech-fech. There was nothing on this day that made riding enjoyable, and by now I never wanted to see a motorcycle again.
|Getting buried in soft sand.Photo: Maindru Photo|
The fech- fech was horrible; the same high lines on firm ground that had gotten you through all the other dunes were suddenly no longer reliable as the front wheel buried itself up to the fender in the disguised sand trap. It would take a lot of time, patience and energy to extricate the bike from this quicksand – never knowing whether you would be doing it all again in a few kilometres, or a few feet.
I had become separated from Gary in one of these Erg crossings, thinking I was smart to take a different line than the other bikes had. It ended up taking me over half an hour to cover a few hundred metres. When I regained the track I didn’t know if he was ahead or behind me so I stopped to wait. After about 10 minutes there was still no Gary, so I figured he had continued on and I set out on my own.
After hours of riding, the sand and camel grass eventually began to give way to rocky piste. I couldn’t have been happier to see it and as the sun was lowering in the sky I was able to cover ground a little quicker.
Then, just when I thought I had the day in the bag, the bike suddenly stopped running, and I coasted to the side of the piste to examine the problem.
I had run out of gas.
|After sand and camel grass, you can open it up a bit.Photo: Maindru Photo|
The bike was bone dry and I still had over 40 kms to cover. I had burned more fuel in the extra soft sand than I had thought. So close but yet so far! If this was the way the Dakar was going to end for me, it was no-one’s fault but my own.
I flagged down the first bikes that came along and asked them for gas in French but they couldn’t understand me. Then I said in English ”don’t you speak French?” and they replied back (in English) ”Of course we do”. So I asked them for gas in English and they still didn’t understand. It seemed that they understood everything I said (no matter what language I spoke), except for anything to do with giving me some of their fuel.
Goddamn French. It’s all “let’s work together” when they need something, but if you need their help, they forget how to speak French.
Lucky for me though Charlie Rauseo was next to roll up and (being an American) was able to understand my plea for help. He didn’t have much fuel left, but kindly gave me half of what he had; he even refused offers of letting me help remove his fuel tank. With Charlie’s help I was able to soldier on through the remaining track, although my stress levels were now going off the scale. Short shifting and lugging the motor to save gas, I prayed the bike would make it to the end.
The final CP eventually came into view and I breathed a sigh of relief – I figured I could push the thing from here if I had to!
THE DEATH OF MEONI
It was now dark and I had just ridden 10 hours and 15 minutes of some of the worst trail of my life. I pushed my bike up to the fuel drums to get gas for the road section. As the pumpist filled the tanks I turned to another rider in line to share the pain of what had just passed. He then told me that Fabrizio Meoni (a Dakar legend) was dead.
|Meoni was the second (and last) motorcyclist to succumb to the 05 Dakar.Photo: Maindru Photo|
I couldn’t believe my ears. I was in shock. I left my bike where it was and walked a few steps into the desert and started to cry. This was getting out of control, it wasn’t worth it anymore, we were going through hell and people were dying. And for what? To prove that we were tough? This was pointless!
I stood there for a few minutes and thought about his family and what they would have to go through, and I thought about mine. I was in the middle of nowhere and there was nothing else to do but get on the bike and ride it, I still had a very long way to go.
There are no streetlights in Africa, there aren’t even lines painted on the road. It’s not like driving at home in the dark; it’s a challenge just to stay on the road here. It was hard to go even 80 kph, and at that rate I would be riding all night. Finally, one of the cars caught and passed me, they had very powerful lights and lit up the road like it was daytime. I tucked in behind and followed in their draft, increasing my speed to over 100 kph.
The Dakar had certainly taught me patience and even though this liaison was going to take over four hours, I knew I would make it there eventually, all I had to do was concentrate.
I finally reached the bivouac at Kiffa around 11:00 pm and rode up to the final checkpoint, came to a stop, and promptly fell over. I had just ridden 774kms in 15 hours. As the checkpoint workers helped pick up the bike they told me there would be no stage tomorrow, to honour Fabrizio, and that we would fly by airplane to Bamako.
|The frivolity at the start seemed like a long time ago.Photo: Maindru Photo|
The rest would be a relief, but I was deeply saddened by the loss of this Dakar legend, who I had personally followed for so many years.
I didn’t even look at the bike after I parked at the airplane boxes. I walked over to the catering tent to get some food, still in my riding gear. Gary and Simon were there; Gary had waited for me for a while after we were separated but it sounded like while I was waiting for him, he was up the trail waiting for me.
I was beat, I put up my tent and crawled in, glad I didn’t have to ride tomorrow. It was like this rallye was playing with me. It would push me to the point of breaking and just before I snapped it would let off just enough for me to catch my breath, then it would reapply the pressure again. I felt like a mouse that had been captured by a cat and it was toying with me before it would finally put me out of my misery.
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.