To date Team CMG has been at all of the Paris 2 Dacre rallies but have yet to actually finish. With ‘Arris and Vernon dropping out would this year be the year that it’s finally completed?
Despite needing my teammates’ help desperately, I was relieved they were not immediately behind me when I fell over. Stephanie Chagnon was trailing Jean Pascal Schroeder, who was maybe 50 metres behind me.
Thankfully they were far enough so as not to hear me scream like a schoolgirl as I toppled off my machine and fell neck-deep into the water.
I didn’t scream for fear of drowning; I let out a Homer Simpson-like shriek because I feared for my bike. I lay there, my body submerged, my right hand in a death-grip with the handlebar of my KTM, trying desperately to keep the machine from falling completely over into two feet of water.
Failure to do so risked drowning out the engine, possibly damaging it, but worse yet, would force me to push the bike another 500 metres out of the flooded marsh in which we found ourselves.
Waterlogged, I managed to somehow hold the bike out of the water, climb back aboard, fire it up (it fell over far enough to trigger the EFI’s tip-over switch – a very handy feature) and continue along the flooded trail.
My fear of drowning the bike was well founded, for as we reached the end of the water crossing we passed a less fortunate rider pushing his bike, he too having keeled over into the water.
Claiming that the 2010 edition of the Paris to Dacre rally (P2D) was extremely difficult is an understatement. Never mind the 4 a.m. departure, an almost 500-km run of Ontario’s secondary highways, and paved and gravel back roads — and that’s before lunch!
After the 30-minute mandated food stop there’s a 300-km trek through some of the province’s most breathtaking and challenging trails, and all to be completed within 17 hours or so.
That’s tough enough in itself, but this year we had two days of rain preceding the event, meaning that we also had to deal with water-saturated, slick-as-ice terrain.
TEAM CMG 2010
This year, Team CMG’s official entry was missing two key players, two gentlemen who’ve attempted three times to finish the rally without success, and who were ready to give it another go.
Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances forced Jim Vernon and Editor ’Arris to forfeit this year’s event, leaving the task to Stephanie Chagnon (new to Team CMG), JP Schroeder (part of the 2008 attempt) and me.
Stephanie, a former helicopter pilot and mechanic, came into the team with plenty of off-road experience including having participated in three GS Challenges, a Pine Barrens 500 rally, and along with Chantal Cournoyer, was one of only two motorcycle riding teams to have finished the Trophée Roses des Sables women’s rally in Morocco in its nine-year existence.
Stephanie would be riding the same BMW Motorrad Canada G450X that she used in the Trophée. In true CMG fashion she was also still nursing a foot she broke badly last season while riding in Arizona.
JP is our perennial back-up rider and filled in at the last minute when ’Arris withdrew. He would be riding an XR650L test bike kindly provided by Honda Canada – which in keeping with the CMG unpreparedness was a bike he’d never ridden before.
This would be my second P2D attempt, having pulled out early in the last one for fear of damaging the BMW F650GS twin I was riding, over terrain that proved too rough for the machine. This year I wouldn’t be making the same mistake and opted to avoid the CMG curse by riding my 2008 KTM 690 Enduro.
Unfortunately, the CMG curse cannot be so easily fooled, and a lack of sleep the night before the rally triggered a migraine, which caused me to pop Advil gel caps like they were jellybeans throughout the day.
These suppressed the headache just enough for me to continue riding, but thankfully also suppressed all other pain and astonishingly my butt wasn’t sacrificed by the KTM’s stock seat.
THE RAINMAN COMETH
Our goal this year, as always, was to finish, but failing that to at
least make the third and final bail, aptly renamed “Team CMG Bail” by
rally organizer Rally-Connex, due to it being the farthest we’d ever
gotten during the P2D.
Rally Connex’s Kevin Burnett gave his vote of confidence to Team CMG by clipping a Spot satellite GPS messenger to my hydration backpack just before the start to keep track of us throughout the rally.
It would, after all, help the helicopter rescue crew locate us quickly, if needed.
Our strategy was simple: keep a steady pace, keep stops short and to a minimum, and try not to break equipment … or riders.
We departed in the 26th position (at 26 minutes past 4 a.m.) from the Burford Fairgrounds and astonishingly (and most welcome), there was no fog this year.
We kept our speeds at about 80-90 km/h, or just about the speed limits in the early stages of the rally for a few reasons: it was safe, the chance of getting pulled over was reduced, and Stephanie’s bike had stock gearing, meaning it topped out at about 110 km/h.
The vibration running flat out would have beaten her up, and the bike’s range would have been severely reduced, despite the additional range provided by her hand-fabricated auxiliary fuel tank.
We soon realized that our pace was not fast enough to stay on schedule, arriving at the mandatory 10-minute pit stop at Mission Cycle in Angus at 9:09 a.m. – 251 km and 4h 43min after leaving the Burford Fairgrounds.
Despite averaging 53 km/h (which included two gas stops) we were told that we were still about two and a half hours behind the first team to arrive — how they managed this is beyond me.
If we were going to have the faintest hope of finishing the P2D we’d have to pick up the pace. Then it started to rain – hard and steady.
To add insult to injury the temperature dropped as well, forcing a damp chill through everyone and slowing us down further as we hit a series of trails and unmaintained back roads that were muddy, often flooded and slicker than a used-car salesman.
Somewhere between the Angus stop and lunch at Kinmount we hit two very long water crossings — well, they weren’t water crossings, but rather submerged trails that stretched farther than the eye could see. It was during the second, deeper crossing that I took my refreshing mid-ride dip.
The rain kept its deluge going until just before the lunch break at
Tekrider in Kinmount where we took the opportunity to change into dry
clothing, supplied by our much-appreciated support team, Roxanne Gallery
and Richard Brown (someone had to drive the cars back up to Dacre!).
GOING INTO OVERTIME
Unfortunately, despite the rain’s stopping, the afternoon trails were now totally saturated and slippery (riding over raw squid would have probably provided more grip) and progress was slower still.
Both Stephanie and JP had no trouble keeping up, and I think I may have held them up through several muddy sections, as my bike and I disagreed as to which rut we wanted the front wheel to take. To prevent rock damage I was running 21 psi in the front Pirelli MT21, which may have been a little hard for the conditions.
When we finally reached Bail 2 at Coe Hill it was about 7 p.m., well beyond the 4 p.m. cut-off time and late enough that even the check-point crew had packed up and gone to Dacre.
If not for the urge to at least do as well as the last attempt, we would have called it quits and taken the bail route to Dacre. However, Chief Captain Costa decided that we should continue riding the trails; they were, after all, now somewhat fun and the weather had finally cleared.
What Chief Captain Costa didn’t know was that we’d soon hit a hydro line trail, and once engaged, would be committed to it without exit for an excruciatingly slow 67 kilometres.
We trudged along the winding, rocky and wet trail, and as the sun began to set, I started to worry. We hadn’t seen even a smidgen of civilization for about an hour and a half, and I didn’t want to lead Team CMG, now haggard after 16 hours in the saddle, through these trails under the cover of darkness.
I was aware that if I didn’t pass out from exhaustion and Advil intoxication, my teammates would likely take me out for having dragged them into this predicament – there were plenty of ditches in which to dump my body after all. At least the Spot locator would help them find my body.
Adding to the tension and general CMGness of the whole charade, JP had taken a minor fall crossing a washed-out section of the trail and injured his clutch hand, making any shifts a very painful exercise.
Fortunately we didn’t need to wait for the rescue crews, as we finally found our salvation in the form of Highway 41. It was now 9 p.m., we’d been riding for 16 ½ hours and were a mere 70 km south of Dacre. We turned left onto the silky smooth Highway 41.
We rode valiantly into the Dacre Community Centre, the official arrival point of the P2D, at about 10:20 p.m. and in CMG style, were the last team to arrive.
Despite this year’s difficult conditions the P2D, as it has in the past, was a great success. It is a well-organized gathering meant to test rider skill and endurance, and in retrospect, I guess a high average speed.
Of the 31 teams that entered the rally, only seven finished within the allotted time (riders must reach “Team CMG Bail” before 7:30 p.m., plus their starting minutes).
It looks like Team CMG will have to give it another go in two years, but with the experience gained through four attempts, and more luck than anyone has a right to, we just might make it.
HONDA XR650L – JP Schroeder
“Uh… Mmm… Well… Let me call my girlfriend and call you back!”
That was my reaction when Editor ‘Arris gave me a call a week prior to the Paris to Dacre inquiring if, by any chance, I would consider joining Team CMG, riding the Honda XR650L.
But on the XR650L? I mean, it’s an old-school, air-cooled bike and the P2D is one tough rally. That’s not cool!
Regardless, after getting permission from my other half to cut into our planned vacation time to go play in the woods, I jumped at the opportunity.
My fears were unfounded and the XR turned out to be like an old friend. One you haven’t seen in years that now has a receding hairline and a heavier midsection. But still the same good friend as ever!
First, compared to Stephanie’s BMW 450 and Costa’s KTM 690, I had the most comfortable seat, the plushest suspension and the least amount of vibration – no small potatoes for such a long ride.
Second, oh what a motor! What a delight! Oozing useable torque that gives you traction you can dial to the sweet spot, the thing just won’t die, getting you through that mud hole, that water crossing or up that nasty-wet, near-vertical trail with the least amount of drama.
Until, of course, like me at five-foot-five (1.68 m), you lose confidence and balance and proceed to fall off that very high, comfy seat!
After riding it for 18 hours, I realized how competent an adventure-riding bike this really is. Despite its seemingly low specs, a few modifications (different handlebar, larger gas tank) and this bike can make you very happy.
Riding through mud, holes and up steep climbs on the XR650L? Any time!
TEAM VIEW – Stephanie Chagnon
Entering an endurance event as a single rider is hard work – entering as a team is insane. You are at the mercy of your fellow teammates’ organizational skills and their own ideas of bike preparation.
At 04:00 when you are on the starting line everything is rosy, and confidence and friendship are at their highest. As the mud on the wheels gets thicker, muscles get tired, friendships are strengthened or lost.
These endurance events are supposed to help you discover who you are and what you are made of, to push yourself past your limits and (mostly) have a good time.
I am really proud to have found all of this in our last-minute, reorganized team. We stuck together, pushed and pulled each other at different times.
We battled it to the end and made it through 720 km of the 800 km, with a total of 18 hours on our bikes and still managed to keep it together as a team.
In short I had a blast – thanks to my great teammates.
For the final stats of how the teams/manufacturers did, click here.