A longtime friend of Canada Moto Guide, Lawrence Hacking is an accomplished racer. He’s the first Canadian to ever successfully complete the Dakar Rally, a feat he accomplished in 2001. He’s agreed to pen a monthly Opinion column for us on various aspects of the motorcycle world from the perspective of a seasoned Canadian rider. – Ed.
One of the greatest motorsports competitions in the world is the granddaddy of all desert races – the Baja 1000. Since 1967, some 10 years before the first Paris Dakar Rally, courageous drivers and riders have taken on the unbelievably harsh terrain of the Baja Peninsula in this annual event. It is the longest non-stop, point-to-point desert race in the world. While the ambitious goal is to successfully cross the finish line, many crash or succumb to mechanical failure from the unbelievably punishing conditions.
Baja, Mexico is a formidable piece of landscape that is covered in a layer of sharp, jagged rocks all the way from the U.S. border to the southern tip at Cabo San Lucas. Not much more than cacti grow on the parched desert floor. A single road connects the north to the south, and it isn’t until fairly recently that the road became paved at least in the southern section of the peninsula. Other than a smattering of homestead style ranchos and small towns or villages the locals call home, Baja is remote and sparsely populated.
Every November adventure seekers from all over the globe try and conquer the Baja course. This year a few Canadian teams doubled down, but one Canuck in particular went all in. Darrin Rideout is a construction supervisor with Enbridge Gas from Ottawa, Ontario. He’s had some past experience riding in Baja but had never entered the actual race before. Not only did he roll up to the start line on a borrowed Husqvarna FE 501, but he entered the Iron Man class, meaning he intended on completing the entire race solo. It’s challenging enough to compete as a team, but riding the entire 1,000+ mile route alone? That’s a whole other level.
Attempting the 1000 solo race when most teams employ three or four riders or drivers is a seriously questionable decision by most accounts. Each year the course changes and this year was a biggie. The race started a few hours south of San Diego in Ensenada and finished 1,227 miles away in La Paz. Yes, you read that correctly. That’s 1,975 kilometres for us Canadians. Oh, one more little thing – there’s a time limit. Competitors have 50 hours to complete the course before being excluded.
In order to separate the cars from the motorcycles, the bikes leave the start line class-by-class every minute, eight hours before the four-wheeled vehicles take off. Rideout pulled away from the starting line under the cover of darkness at 2:00 am.
“Because the pack was travelling so close together, it was very dusty for most of the first day,” recalls Rideout, “We were choking, riding through clouds of dust.” This lead to a fall at the 110-mile mark that nearly took him out of the running.
Injuring his wrist to the point he thought it may be broken, his face made a hard enough impact on the ground that he split his lip wide open. The volume of blood made for a pretty dramatic experience. Messaging ahead to his crew, he met up with them 50 miles ahead to get patched up. They taped up his wrist and sent him on his way.
14 riders entered the Ironman class this year and only six finished. Darrin Rideout was that 6th place finisher, crossing the line in 46 hours. His accomplishment will go down as one of the truly heroic efforts in endurance sports, but he didn’t accomplish it entirely on his own.
He is quick to acknowledge the latitude his family allowed him to devote the time needed to realize his lifelong dream, particularly his wife Kim. Rideout also attributes his successful finish to the support of his crew. His lifelong friend Kevin Dewan was by his side whenever possible, and his riding buddy Tim Lett took care of logistics and communication to the outside world during the race. His personal trainer Steve McGill worked with Rideout for a year leading up to the race and followed his progress via the internet from Ottawa.
“Every time I saw the guys during the race my spirits were uplifted,” says Rideout, “They were so positive and gave me a big morale boost going into the next section.” His longest stretch without coming into contact with his support crew was between six to eight hours. Thanks to sleep deprivation, his memory is a little vague.
Strategy plays a huge role in a successful finish. “I knew I had to average 25 miles per hour for the entire distance,” explains Rideout. “Once the fast trucks started passing me during the second night, my average speed started dropping. I had an average speed indicator on my GPS, so I started to get a bit worried because I wasn’t keeping pace for a finish.”
Slowed down considerably by the dust caused by other bikes and trophy trucks, Rideout’s biggest challenge was to go so long without sleep. “At around 30 hours in I started to see things that weren’t real, my mind played tricks on me,” he explains, “The desert flora became animals, I kept hearing trophy trucks coming up behind me that weren’t there.”
Riding for days over tough, uneven terrain, the experience was a physical and emotional rollercoaster. Rideout says that the last 200 miles were the most difficult. “The physical and mental fatigue was at its peak and the actual terrain we rode going into La Paz was brutal.”
One month after the completion of the race, Rideout still has tingling in his hands. His wrists still hurt and four of his fingernails are hanging on precariously. His feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment have also remained. He took on the mighty Baja 1000 and succeeded. Eager to know whether he plans on competing again, I may wait a little while before I asked him that question.