Most of the bike footage came from my bike!
One year ago today I was traveling alone making my way to South America to participate in the Dakar. At the time I had mixed emotions of excitement of what was to come, questioning preparedness, nervousness to the unknown and a little sadness as I was embarking on this great adventure alone. Though the outcome was not what I had expected and during the moments of defeat I often questioned why, I look back at what a great experience it was. I made new friends, had tons of support from people I knew and even more from folks I hadn’t met. Thank you to all who made this possible.
There is something indescribable about the call to do something as challenging as the Dakar and the desire to succeed at it. As those who followed last years events know I did not make the finish line. Now over the course of the past year reflecting and pondering the “what if’s” I hear the saying of “if at first you don’t succeed try, try again” over and over again.
The last year has been extremely busy, always on the go for work, a race or a little personal adventure. I did not keep up with the blog but will soon post a cliff notes version of the past years adventures and mishaps as well as news of things to come for 2013.
Thank you again to everyone who made last year’s go at the Dakar possible, from sponsors, individual contributors and those wishing encouragement, I greatly appreciate it.
For those going to the Dakar this year, good luck and enjoy the moment!
I’ve always had a curiosity to the origins of sayings, unique words and the such so I looked up the phrase “try,try again”. As always I find there is more to it, an entire poem;
Try Try Again
by T. H. Palmer
‘Tis a lesson you should heed,
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try again;
Then your courage should appear,
For if you will persevere,
You will conquer, never fear
Try, try again;
Once or twice, though you should fail,
If you would at last prevail,
Try, try again;
If we strive, ’tis no disgrace
Though we do not win the race;
What should you do in the case?
Try, try again
If you find your task is hard,
Time will bring you your reward,
Try, try again
All that other folks can do,
Why, with patience, should not you?
Only keep this rule in view:
Try, try again.
Heads up! If you are interested in an XL tshirt or any of our new workshirts please get your order in by Tuesday, January 24th. We will then get the shirts made and shipped out! Thanks again for the support!
Day 2 part 3
The bike pushed safely out of the way I take off my gear, catch my breath and realize how hot it is and no it´s not a dry heat. The sun is high overhead with nothing but prickly sage brush type plants around, shade is minimal. I take off my gear; try to get the bike to turn over, still nothing. Realizing I could be here a while I decide to create some shade for myself. The sun is coming from the left side of the road and there is about a two foot shelf down to the road surface. I clear some old limbs away and dig a hole in the embankment under a live bush. No real leaves or anything but the maze of twigs offer some cover. The plan is now to wait it out, hope the bike cools down, someone comes along with some oil and maybe I can get it going again.
An hour goes by and only two bikes roll by. I decide to give the bike a try. It actually cranks over now but won´t start. I crawl back in my hole and try to take a nap, conserving as much energy as possible. While laying there the thought of my rally ending here really starts to sink in. I begin to think how foolish I was thinking I could put together a rally bike and compete with all the teams who have big budgets with fully R&D´ed bikes. But I also remembered passing a number of bikes including factory KTM 450 Rally Replica´s with mechanical issues on the first day and even earlier today. I still had plenty of time to ponder the amount of money I have spent chasing different forms of racing over the years. I was beginning to believe it´s time to give this all up. I was also bothered by the horrible failure of a part I designed but settled for an adaptation of the mounting points. No one’s fault but my own.
It´s now has been two hours with a few more bikes and an occasional quad. I stop all the quads asking if they have oil, no luck. I remembered the course split four kilometres back and there were groups of spectators there, I thought someone had to have some oil. I start walking back and after about a k and a half another quad rolls up, he has a quart of oil and is willing to part with it. I ask him for a ride back to my bike. He was a little reluctant at first as he said he had over heating issues but finally obliged. Back at the bike with no funnel, I lay the bike on its side on the ground to pour the oil in. Most of the oil makes it in but now gas is pouring out the rear tank. The pin hole leak had vibrated to a full on crack. Bike now has oil but still won’t start. I crawl back into my shade hole.
Partialy asleep I hear this loud noise coming my way and isn´t a quad or a bike, by the time I get up I see a Kamaz truck barrelling straight on by only a few feet away. I thought the cars and trucks where taking the alternate route 4k back. Guess not. The dust storm these trucks produce is ridiculous. I needed to find a new shade spot much further off the roadside. Tried starting the bike again, still nothing, then dug another hole about twenty yards off the road. I could see my bike but no one was going to see me if they rode by. I didn’t’ want someone stopping unnecessarily but I wasn´t going through another dusting like that again. A few more trucks blew by. I decided to give the bike another go. The starter cranked and cranked and there was actually a pop or two. It´s actually igniting now, I´m thinking this thing may fire. I try again and bike cranks over coming to life. I quickly put my gear on hop on the bike and away I go. It’s been about three hours at this stop, sometime close to 5:45.
I´m rolling again, feeling good though awfully thirsty. I still have energy water mix in the hydration pack but plain cold water would be great right about now. I´m making my way slowly and more trucks are coming by. I need to practically come to a stop the dust is so bad. I come down a hill to make a turn in a river bed. There are hundreds of spectators. I pull over asking for oil. No one understood me but I guess I´m good a charades. A few people come running with jugs of oil and many offering water. Unfortunately all I see are used soda bottles filled with water, I´m not that desperate yet. Leaving the bike running I top the bike off with oil and get underway again. Running down this wide river wash I looking over my shoulder the whole time as more big trucks were coming. The wash narrowed up and there started to be small streams and puddles. I was happy to hit every puddle and stream I could as the cooling effect was good for me and the bike. I spot a vehicle with Dakar numbers on it so I stop and ask if they have water and oil. They give me two bottles of water; I drink one and stuff the other in my pack. Hot water does not quench thirst. The guy didn´t have any motor oil but offered a quart of tranny oil. By now any thick liquid would work. I stuff it in the pack and continue on. Exiting the wash I make my way up an extremely deep loose sand road with crazy ruts to find a car stuck in the trail. I have to jump out of the rut into the deep loose stuff and the motor bogs down dying again. I´ve now made it 234 k´s. A local helps me push the bike out of the way and again I look for shade. I asked the stuck car crew if they had any oil, they did not but offered some water. By now I wasn’t passing up any bottled water. I topped the engine off with some tranny fluid. It took probably forty five minutes before the engine fired again but when it did I quickly hit the road again.
The road was dug deep into the ground with a steep shoulder ranging two to four feet above the road. The track continues to get worse as it was deep sand chewed up by the big trucks. I made it probably another 15 k before coming across an organization vehicle. I stopped asked for water and oil. They asked why I wouldn´t turn the bike off I explained and showed the repair site. They asked if I was done. I said not till the motor give up. They gave me a bottle of water and I was gone again. The road continued on in the same fashion but now with lots of ups and downs. This would have been great to ride had I had a good bike to ride and it had been five hours earlier. I slowly made my way trying to stay out of the big trucks way. Not easy since the road had such a large shelf to climb each time a truck came by. I definitely didn´t not want to stall it climbing out of the road bed. I run parallel to the road for a few k´s as the trucks kept coming. I made it to a crazy whooped out section. The surface was more hard packed but big woops. All the trucks that passed me were now crawling through this and I slowly made my way past most of them.
I came to another security vehicle around 260k. By now I was physically beat and getting a little dehydrated. I had been drinking water like crazy but it wasn´t doing much. They crew gave me water, this time I took the time to put some nuuns in it and let them dissolve before drinking. I laid down in the shade of their truck trying to keep the dust of the trucks roaring by out of my eyes drinking water. One of the crew offered me a granola bar, I tried eating it but it turned to a saw dust paste in my mouth all the while my bike idling in the background. About ten minutes later I dumped the rest of the tranny fluid and was back on the bike under way. It was about three k to the dunes of deep sand ruts.
I approached the first small dune and there where cars and trucks strewn all over. I made my way up only to have to change direction near the top to avoid dropping into a deep bowl with even more vehicles stuck. As I neared the top once again the bike died. Locals helped push the bike a little further up and out of the way. A security crew asked if I was ok and if I could continue. I said I wasn´t sure but I wasn´t done trying yet. Another rescue crew came to me asking for gas for another rider stuck in the dunes. I said sorry I only had enough to make it myself plus there were plenty of locals around, somebody had to have gas. About a half hour later the bike fired again. I switched to clear goggles as the sun was setting.
I made it this far, now at 263 k, I had to try. I knew 6k of dunes was going to be tough but I was going for it. I headed past the large bowl where all the trucks and cars where having issues crested a large dune, hit the first of many waypoint and headed toward the next. I hit that marker and looked at the direction the gps was pointing. I noticed the safety vehicle that had asked for gas up ahead. I knew they knew where they were going. I followed in their direction, once again avoiding a group of stuck trucks. This lead to a short but steep climb, turns out it was too much for the motor to take. It bogged again and just wouldn´t re fire. I made it about 1.5 k´s into the dunes. I was willing to let it cool again and give it another go. Darkness was coming though. I set off the sentinel which sends a loud audible signal to any vehicle within 500 meters. I climbed about ten yards to the top of the dune. I could see cars and trucks all over the place making their way through the dunes.
I watched and helped direct trucks through the section I was at until one truck coming from the other direction ignored me waving them off nearly running me over crashing over the top of the dune headed straight for my bike. They stopped and barely made it past my bike. As it was now getting dark I pulled out my strobe light and put it at the top of the dune directly above where I was hoping it would let trucks know someone was stuck there. Bike still wouldn´t start and the traffic died down so I decided to rest a little bit before attempting again. I dug a comfortable hole in the sand a few feet to the side of my bike, put some ear plugs in as the sentinel beeping was crazy loud and laid down for a nap. I woke to a loud roar of a truck plowing only a few feet from my bike straight for the strobe beacon I set up. Had I been on the other side of the bike I would have been run over. I guess that strobe worked more like a light attracting bugs than a warning beacon because every vehicle after that headed straight for it. I wanted to move my bike but it just wasn´t budging in the deep sand. Several more trucks tried the same lane, one having to back down several times. The second attempt they backed down over the front tire of my bike. As they got closer I tried to get them to help push the bike back out of the way. They had no interest in helping. Finally the truck slid further back with the front wheel rolling on top of the wheel of my bike. The truck door was up against my bike and one of them getting out wasn’t going to happen unless it was the driver. I was now pissed; I started beating on the side of their truck yelling at them. They may not have understood English but they knew the situation. I was able to dig the front tire out and drag the bike back enough for them to back up. The passenger gestured for me to chill a offered me some water. I took their water but he knew what they did wasn´t cool.
Again I tried starting the bike, no luck it was now 9:30 pm. I decided to push the green button and let the ASO know what was up. They called back, I informed them it didn´t look good but I was trying. They said whatever I do don´t leave the bike, they would call back shortly to see if I made progress. I played with the bike some more, still no luck. I was able to drag the bike a little further down the dune out of the lane the trucks where creating. I moved my strobe to the bike itself, dug another wedge in the sand. This time I used my head lamp on strobe so I would also be seen in case the reflective striping on my riding gear didn´t show up. I laid down again trying to get some rest. More trucks were coming and going. Around 10:30 the ASO called back, the bike still wouldn´t start. I knew even if I got it started I probably would have to deal with this again before getting out of the dunes. Knowing there was at least 1.5 hour liaison after the dunes, getting back to the bivouac in time for an engine swap was highly unlikely. I didn´t want to drag the team down. It was time.
The ASO said they didn´t know when but someone would be there, hopefully before dawn. I laid back down disappointed it was over but felt I gave it an honest try. I made it 264.5 k, almost 100k with no water and leaking oil, only 30 from the finish of the special. I slept some and watched the lights of trucks and buggies make their way through the dunes. Finally the night became still and I slept a little till the truck showed up at about 1:45. It was the same crew That tried to bum some gas from me. I told them I had to try. They said they were impressed I got this far in the dunes. They figured I bee with in a 100 meters of where they last saw me.
It took about two hours to get from to the bivouac. The dropped me off at the food tent. I ate a little and went looking for our camp. I found the camp looked for a tent but they were all taken. Ned woke up and said he was worried. I told him I was having such a good time today and I was sorry for being a downer the night before then briefly what happened to the bike and let him go back to bed. I looked around again in the tents, there were all occupied. The ground looked good, so I curled up and crashed.
Day 2 part 2
I pull up to CP1, hand the official my time card expecting to have it stamped with a time so I know my exit time. He just took it and waved me on. I tried to communicate with him, wondering how would I know my exit time. If he understood me he wasn´t letting on and just rattled something in French. I knew it was a fifteen minute neutralization so I immediately took a look at my watch noting the time then pushed my bike up in the gas line.
Getting off the bike I noticed my right ankle and boot covered in oil, concerned I looked the bike over. I could tell it was coming from the airbox. I checked the oil level and it was right where it should be. If the oil is over filled and the bike is run hard for a long period it will spit it out into the airbox. This explains the loosing of rpm and clearing up earlier. I remember hearing the bike start twice during the night and didn´t think it ran long enough to get a proper read on oil level. I can´t fault anyone though as it is not an easy system to check the first time. It found the level it needed and was running clean again.
With the bike in line I grabbed a few waters trying to make the most of the time. Bike was now getting fuel and there still didn´t seem to be anyone letting us know when it was time to go. With the bike done and out of the way I sat in the shade for a moment drinking a bottle of water and noticed guys I passed are now lining up to go. It hadn’t even been ten minutes yet. But I didn´t want to get stuck in the same peoples dust and if they were letting them go I should try too. Geared up and moving forward a piece of barbed wire I didn´t see gets tangled up in my front wheel. I jump off the bike quickly and with the help of an official I get it untangled. As I´m getting back on my bike I notice gas is leaking. I check the center cap as it is lower than the other tanks and will leak with full tanks if not tight. No leak there. Looking closer I notice the rear tank is leaking at a corner seam in a bend. Not good but not terrible at the moment as long as the bike doesn´t flame up. Even if I lose the entire gallon above the crack I still have enough to get to the finish.
I roll up to the starter and he gives me the nod, off I go. It still had not been fifteen minutes since pulling into the CP. Time for another note to self: gas and go as quickly as possible at future CP´s. If it is an opportunity to make up or loose time I didn´t want it to work against me. I´m now assuming they must just add fifteen minutes to everyone’s times. I guess at the front they must hold the riders for fifteen minutes but where I was there was no rhyme or reason as to how and when we were released. I wanted this clarified. If there was a true fifteen minute break I wanted it to personally refuel with water and a snack.
I´m rolling again and it´s more of the same for another 15 kilometers, fast with some winding sections and a few sharp turns. I am quickly catching riders again and making my way cleanly buy this time fighting significantly less dust. Still sticking to my game plan, I´m riding at a pace I am comfortable with and can sustain all day.
I climb a gentle rise with good speed and begin to slow down as the terrain gets rockier and there appears to be a bend in the road ahead. Plenty of locals around cheering and waving to slow down, I double check the road book, see nothing noteworthy but decide to heed there warning anyway. Good thing, around the bend was a serious drop off. Really surprised there wasn´t a noted caution considering how fast the approach speed was and the terrain just dropped off. There were no visual clues, to the left there was a small mound and to the right is was level with the road. I adjusted my speed made the turn and reminded myself not to take chances, ride the terrain and enjoy the ride.
This road descended from here and was considerably rockier, though nothing tricky. The road made its way along the back side of the mound mentioned earlier. I was making my way through a right hand turn, nothing to sharp or fast, bike leaning in with me standing over it. Three quarters of the way through the turn as I´m picking up the throttle the front tire glances off a small rock. With the bike leaned the forks really didn´t compress and absorb the jounce but instead deflected the front to the left making the bike want to lean over even more to the right. Instinct to pick up the throttle a little more to stand up the bike kicked in. It wouldn´t take much and I´m pretty good with throttle control but unfortunately the rocky surface didn´t provide any grip, the rear slid and the bike low sided perpendicular to the trail. Not the clean ride I wanted but not a big deal as this was at a relatively slow speed. Pick the bike up and off I go. So I thought…
I picked the bike up and the skid plate is lying on the ground underneath it. Didn´t think much of it till I looked closer and noticed the top of the tank where the mounts where welded was ripped open. The welds were intacted but the top plate was ripped open like a beer can and was covered with water and oil. I´m now wondering why oil¿ A quick glance at the engine revealed a shattered water pump and a hole in the side cover the size of a quarter. I´m thinking I´m done. A few riders pass by, I wave them to continue on. James Embro comes by shortly, he stops, I ask him to pass on a message when he gets to the bivouac that I have a hole in the case, no water pump but I´m going to try to make it in. He continues on. Knowing I´ll be here a while I push the green button on the Irritrac signalling a mechanical problem. While I´m working on it someone from the organization calls to check on the problem, says ok and reminds me to push the green button when I´m moving again.
A quick note about the Irritrac system and the buttons. This is a GPS based tracking system with a sat phone built in. There is a green, red and blue button, each has a purpose and generates a different response from the ASO. The blue button is just a general phone line, push it and they will call you back, no priority. Green button signals a mechanical. We were told to push it if we knew we would be stopped for any period of time and told to push it again once we were moving again. I was surprised when someone called back after I pushed the green button. The red is for medical assistance for you or another rider. This will get an immediate response. We were told repeatedly in the system class at no time will pushing any button on the system put you out of the race.
I´m evaluating the situation and deciding what my options are. A smashed water pump housing with no way to plug it up so getting water in the system was out of the question. Not looking very optimistic. The case has a gaping hole. How am I going to cover that up and seal it¿ Again things not looking to good. Most of the oil is still in the engine so I decide if I can plug the hole, keep the oil in it and baby the engine maybe I can make it to the end. I have a nice size oil cooler on it so maybe this will work. Knowing I have a serious dune section to cross I kind of know this is a long shot but I have to go for it or I´m done here. Keep in mind I had a good pace going earlier and if I could get through the dunes I expected I could still get in before dark, plenty of time for an engine swap.
The repair consisted of a using an epoxy compound I had around the edges. Then using the foil lid and the mixing cup the epoxy came in to plug the hole with a rock jammed in the back side to keep everything in place. I used duck taped stretched over the rock from the clutch line to the frame in a few different directions then placed a small piece of cardboard over the rock and then created a web of zip ties to snug everything up. This might not plug the hole but it sure was going to slow the leak.
While working on the bike I heard something that sounded different than a bike rounding the bend. Here comes the first of the cars, a Mini, a small truck and then Robby Gordon. After about thirty minute repairing the bike I was on my way again. This took place at kilometer 174 of the special.
I made my way easily along the trail, passing cheering people encouraging me to go, go, go. I felt like a schlep just putzing along and hoped they notice the spider web of zip ties and the smashed water pump legitimizing my slow pace. The track ran us into a wash that would have been fun to rip through but I kept the pace and rpms down. I didn´t want to put any unnecessary heat in the engine. Making my way out of the river wash at marker 2oo k the route seperates here from the cars and bikes, we go straight and the go left. A little relieved I don´t have to keep an eye over my shoulder for cars flying by I keep moving on. I round a bend go down a dip and the motor starts dragging heavily bringing the bike do a halt. It won´t turn over, nothing, I´m done, motor seized. At least I tried I thought. I was in a bad spot on the outside of the exit of a turn in a dip so I pushed the bike about fifty yards up the road high enough it would be seen from approaching side of the blind dip. It´s now after two o´clock and getting in before dark let alone getting in at all isn´t looking so good.
Sleeping the first night started off pretty good as I had ear plugs in and took half a Flexoril, a mild muscle relaxer. Was woken by the sound of my engine starting at 1:52 am, yes I looked at my watch. It ran briefly, shut off, started again ran for another 30 seconds or so before turning off. Guessed Tim was doing the oil change and rolled over back to sleep. Later in the evening I rolled over again bending my legs and was woken by my left hamstring trying to cramp up. Crazy pain but I kept it straight and stretched so it never really got to ball up. This was really strange as I have only ever experienced a muscle cramp one other time. After a few minutes of stretching and realizing it was not going to cramp again I pulled out my electro stimulization massager, hooked the electrodes up, set it for the strongest setting I could take and proceeded to fall asleep. A great recovery aid, I knew it would come in handy but didn´t expect to need it like this.
Was woken up by Robb at 5:00am, guessed I was sleeping pretty well by now as the two alarm clocks set for 4:45 and 4:50 never fazed me. I had organized all my gear the night before so it would be quick and easy to break my portion of camp. Really all I had to do was deflate the air mattress, stuff the sleeping bag, put on riding gear and zip up my large duffel bag. I was ready to go. Made my way to the truck and Tim looked like he did when I went to sleep. Obviously he was up all night, Niles too. There was a list of things to do to the bike Tim and I discussed even prioritizing them, from fuel routing, fork adjustment, roadbook switch fix to the general maintenance of air filter and oil. My main concern was fuel and lowering the forks to add a little stability. Tim greets me with a smile and says it´s ready to go. Everything was complete. Jumped on the bike and headed to the food tent. Ate as much as I could knowing it would be a long time before another solid meal.
My start time came up and off I went, thankfully the decision to fuel up the night before paid off as the rally station was packed. I rode right on by. Same story as the night before with the crowds, people everywhere. Now the streets were barricaded so getting mobbed was happening less. I noticed a ton of large touring motorcycles packed with gear; I guess we were starting to see the folks who had intended to follow the rally. I kept an eye out for ADV stickers and foreign plates.
The liaison I think was close to 350k don´t really remember but it was uneventful. One gas stop along the way and the crowds everywhere. I could have easily made it the entire liaison without looking at the road book, just needed to follow the lined street. Every intersection had people gathered. Even the most remote stretches had a few people hanging out waiting for us to go by.
Around 300k the pavement stopped and the remainder of the liaison was dirt roads varying from hard pack to some pretty rutted out soft stuff. I was thankful for this as it was a little warm up prior to the special. Even though there was a speed limit of 120k I could get a feel how the bike was going to handle with the changes we made. When I was running through the loose stuff dealing with a twitchy bike I now had a better understanding of why so many teams raked the bikes out and stretched the swingarms. I was used to a twitchy bike at speed but the extra fuel load up high added another dimension and a not so easy feeling. After a bout 10k of the loose stuff I was comfortable and not concerned anymore.
At the end of the liaison there was a fuelling and water station. While waiting in the long line for fuel I caught up with James Embro. We chatted about today’s stage and how to make it to the end of the rally. I loaded up on water, had a protein meal replacement shake and took a wiz. I was ready to go. Around the fuelling area there were two helicopters off to the side, people and bikes everywhere. Only ground cover was small sage brush type plants. With no privacy near there were guys copping a squat in the fields unloading pre-race jitters. I wondered if those images are ever captured for the highlights reel.
My start time was near so time to make my way forward to the start area. The organization at this point has been pretty spot on, workers everywhere pointing out who was next and where we needed to be. Watching the previous starts I could see the ground surface was very rocky and crazy dusty. My game plan was to go on a fun trail ride, don´t get caught up racing anyone, just ride the trail but again I didn´t want to be pelted by the guy next to me and get caught in his dust so I was thinking hole shot then settle into my ride. To my surprise when it was my time they had no one lined up next to me so off I went straight into my game plan. Within seconds of leaving the bike was wide open tapped out, I love this kind of stuff. It didn´t take long before I caught up to the first few riders. The dust was bad but the road was wide at this point and it made for fairly safe and easy passing.
I continued to run the bike hard but I was comfortable and not taking any risks. The road narrowed, dust got worse and I kept coming upon more and more riders. I knew I could not settle in and ride their pace. I´d be trapped in the dust and it would make for a long day. I used every trick and reference I could to make my way safely through the dust and down the trail. I carefully monitored the road book for dangers so there wouldn´t be any surprises. I moved all about the road left and right any time it seemed the dust eased up I went there to get a better glimpse of what was ahead. I used the high stepped road edges without getting to close in case there was something there. I watched the heads of the riders I was approaching to see if there was any unexpected bumps in the road. Any visual clue I could think of to help navigate safely through the dust I used. I have no idea how many people I passed at this point but they just seemed to keep coming. This probably went on for about 30k.
I kept on rolling and was having a blast. I was thinking to myself this is what I came to ride, not the liaisons. I was now happy again and looking forward to the rest of the rally. I made a mental note to apologize to Ned for being a downer the night before.
The trail continued to be fast with a mix of winding sections and a few pace changes cutting back and forth across and through a few river washes. It got a little tricky in that the roadbook will mark a danger for a river wash, dip, bump, ditch etc. but not the 2nd gear 120 degree left hander at the end of a flat out straight. The terrain started to climb and I could see dust trails way off in the distance. This helped with getting the general idea of where the course was headed and aided in predicting the surprise tight turns after all the high speed flowing stuff.
I continued on my way and was enjoying every minute of it. My pace was comfortable and flat out when appropriate without taking any risks. I was doing what I had set out to do, have a fun safe enjoyable ride. Again I was having a blast and really looking forward to what the rest of the rally had to offer.
My comfortable pace seemed a little faster than others in front as I continued to pass one or two people every kilometer. I came upon a rider with considerable closing speed as we approached a double caution crossing a short wash. I passed cleanly under braking well before the wash and the next thing I see the guy is trying to show me a wheel. I couldn´t believe now he wants to race and fight me for position. I told myself I wasn´t going to get caught up racing anyone, just do my thing. On exit of the wash I picked up the gas quickly and was gone. I still was surprised after being run down someone would put up a fight.
On one stretch of road I come over a gentle rise and about half a mile in front of me I see a black blob in the right side of the road. As I get closer I can see the helicopter sitting in the field, I start to slow down. There is a cow laying on its side, legs straight out, a rider five feet past the cow and a charred bike still smouldering away just ten feet past him. The helicopter crew were attending and I kept on going. I thought that had to be a big hit, with everything laid out only few yards apart there wasn´t much dissipation of energy before the sudden stop.
There were many long flat out stretches, the kind that make you feel no amount of horse power is enough, you always want more. The bike was running strong pulling in the mid to high 130´s, not bad for a bone stock motor on an overweight bike. But I wanted more. After a while the bike started to feel flat, it no longer wanted to pull 6th gear and worked better in 5th hovering around the 125-130k/h range. Time for the mind games, do I hear something funny, is the motor tightening up, did I gear it to aggressively, maybe it´s just the road surface.
After about another 15k the bike seemed to pull strong again. Motor sounded better and it now liked top gear again. Maybe it was the road surface. Passed a few more riders and before I knew it I approaching CP1. My thoughts were; this is going well, I´m having a blast, thank Tim for the fuel routing fix, it was working great, ride smart and I´ll get in early leaving plenty of time to catch up on sleep.
The Race – Day 1
Early start to day one, we wake at approximately 4:30 am, there are still New Year´s Eve revellers lighting off fireworks and going crazy in the streets. Chris Vestal gives me, Ned and Jonah a ride to parc ferme´. Our official wrist bands get us down the closed roads and right to the gate. It was logistically best for the team for us all to arrive together but that meant a wait for Ned and even longer wait for myself before we could get to our bikes. I managed to get into parc ferme´ a little earlier than the 30 minute window allotted. The extra time was handy as I needed to make adjustments to the ICO, load the road book and just get settled.
Time to go. Leaving parc ferme´ I´m given my time card and take note how much time I have to make the 145 kilometer liaison. Riding down the road leaving town it was impressive how many people came out to watch the show leave town. The roads were packed even when we were in the middle of nowhere people were camped out under the lone shade tree excited to see us ride by. They waved, cheered and snapped pictures like crazy. Any time we came to a stop people would come running up to get a photo. The excitement and enthusiasm of the locals was incredible, and I really didn´t feel I deserved it. They made the effort for us and I felt compelled to wave and acknowledge them back.
Made it to the start of the special, bikes were lined up and the front runners were long gone. Only about a fifteen minute wait and it was my time. I could see the first kilometer of the route from the dust trail wind along the coastal shore line. From the dust being kicked up from the previous riders I knew I did not want to get caught in the trail of the rider starting next to me, the hole shot was important. I planned to get safely through the first stage, not get caught up ´´racing´´ anyone, but getting stuck in some ones dust sucks. I could tell the moment we left the line the rider next to me had no intentions of racing. Easy enough, it was time to enjoy the ride, get through safely with giving up as little time as possible. Things started well as the trail was a rough hard pack mix of sand and stone with a few danger sections to watch out for. This turned into a sand trail that was very soft and wooped out from the previous 180 riders. Not very fun as the bike just did not want to go straight and I didn´t feel comfortable attacking the woops with speed yet. The full tanks made the bike feel like the front wanted to fold in the bottom of each, not comforting and it was giving me arm pump in my throttle arm. This rarely happens and if it does I can usually shake it off fairly quickly. Unfortunately with the deep soft sand woops I couldn’t really get the hand off the bar. This went on for probably ten plus kilomteres, not fun. Eventually we made our way onto the beach where I could find somewhat hard packed surface that wasn´t too rutted. Leaving the beach brought us to a dune section that was very narrow in where we had to navigate. With so many riders before me the route was easy to follow but the sand was now extremely chewed up and loose. The first few climbs went well. Then I approached the first of what would be the two largest dunes of the day, not very big but again chewed up and loose. I began to come across more riders as they struggled in the sand. I made it up no problem but I could tell the motor was working hard. Eventually I approached what was the largest dune climb of the day, there was a considerable drop approaching it but a steep transition climbing so caring big speed approaching really wasn´t possible. I noticed some harder packed sand to the right and a few tire trails that went that direction and then traversed diagonally back to the left and over. Looked good to me until I was already committed, the face of the dune was much steeper than it appeared from the distance, a quick reminder of depth perception can be tricky in the dunes. As I made way diagonally across and up with good momentum the front just started to slide more and more eventually pointing down the face. It was time to ride down the dune, across the bowl and go up from the other side. Should have been easy enough but the more the front turned down the more it dug in to eventually burying itself quickly before I could shift my weight and the bike fell to the downhill side. Not the clean start I wanted and a quick mental note not to go for creative lines in the dunes. Embarrassed there was a huge crowd watching but thankful as many came rushing and had the bike lifted before I could give any kind of direction. The front was still buried deep, it took some time to get it moving again. I made my way down the face of the dune up the steep drop leading to the dune and kind of made my way around to the back side of the dune but needed to make my way back to the top for the way point. This little mishap probably cost me five minutes. Time wasn’t too much of a concern for me on this stage but I wanted to ride clean. The back side of the dune led us to hard pack rocky roads, time to open the Husky up. The road felt like running down corduroy with the bike weaving nonstop, something I was used too and comfortable with which allowed me to gain ground on many competitors. These roads ran for probably 8k and finished the stage. Road past a crowd of people and a stopped bike up right on its kickstand. I learned that evening a French rider died there.
Once the stage was over it there where tons of riders stopped and chatting but I knew it was time to keep moving as we had another 600k´s to the bivouac.
Once again there were people along the route, even in the remotest of areas. They waved and cheered like we were rock stars. The appreciation they showed when waved back too was moving. I saw many of riders ride on by but when someone acknowledged them they went nuts. They made an effort for us I needed to do the same. This started to take a toll and conserving energy way key, even on the liaisons. I kept waving but it some became a modified forearm resting on the bar hand in the air kind of wave. This went on for hundreds of kilometres.
I was approaching Bahia Blanca and the bike started missing. Looked at the middle tank and could see it was running low. This shouldn´t be the case as I knew I another hundred kilometres plus of fuel left. I stopped a local on a dirt bike and he directed me toward a gas station, fortunately it was on the main route. Not an official gas stop I stopped any way as I need to fill the other tanks and see what was wrong. I got mobbed at the gas station people came from everywhere, snapping pictures, asking questions I couldn´t understand and wanting to touch me. The culture is different here for sure. They are very touchy feely and want to be close or hanging on to you. Many pictures where taken as I filled up and then it was time to leave.
Going into Bahia Blanca the roads were close down for the Dakar machinery parade, wasn´t expecting this. In the middle of town there was a check point and a water/food stop. Perfect timing, I was hot, hungry, thirsty and needed to get off the bike without getting mobbed. Made a quick stop then off again. Leaving the center of town the crowds were even bigger. People would run into the street as riders slowed hoping we would stop for pictures and autographs. Extremely friendly but now starting to get more aggressive as we would stop at traffic lights, running up and grabbing or throwing an arm around me as someone took our picture. A few times I felt like I was going to be pulled over. A strategy of slowing before the lights and hopefully never having to full stop usually kept the crowds opening up a lane as I made my way forward. It kind of looked like what you see in the Tour de France.
Continuing on with the liaison I still had several hundred kilometres to go. Only 100k from the last gas stop the bike is running low again. I pull over to check what´s up. Now the neither the front nor rear tanks are flowing to the middle tank with the fuel pump. A simple temporary fix of opening the gas tanks released the vacuum and fuel began to flow again. Not sure if the front tank would be a problem again I stopped short of the official gas stop to top off. This proved later to be a good call. I continued on but played with the gas caps as I was riding down the road trying to release any vacuum build up so the fuel would flow properly. When I made it to the rally station it was packed with competitors and support vehicles. It would probably take 45 minutes to get fuelled there. I knew I had enough gas to make the last 75k and even if it did not syphon properly to the middle tank I could remove the front tank and dump it into the rear tank quicker than dealing with the crowd at the gas station. I continued on only to start sputtering about fifteen k later. No big deal, I pulled over and began removing the front tank. Many locals as well as other support vehicles stopped to offer assistance. I let them know I was ok and resumed moving forward shortly.
Up until this point I was impressed that the liaison, though long it really wasn´t that bad. That quickly turned. For the last hour I was ready to get off the bike. Riding down the road I was working out in my head the possible causes of the fueling problems and various solutions. The heat was getting worse and 450 miles on dirt bike droning down the highway isn´t the most exciting riding one can do. As I approached Santa Rosa, bivouac location for the night, I started to wonder the proper procedure for fuel for the next day. Do I need to come in full or is there a gas stop first thing in the road book. Not sure I decide to stop at the official rally gas station at the beginning of town. Not many competitors there but security was lax compared to the other official stations and was quickly swarmed by people pulling and tugging before I even came to a stop. Everyone from little kids to grandparents wanted photos, autographs and hugs. Women and girls were grabbing my head kissing my helmet. It took much longer than expected to get out of there with the large crowd and I was ready to get off the bike. Made my way through Santa Rosa, huge crowds same as everywhere before. I was hot, hungry tired and honestly kind of over the crowds by now as I ready to get off the bike but I still felt like I needed to show the respect they gave us so the forearm resting on the handle bar salute continued for several miles.
Finally arriving at the bivouac I was ready to be done. It took a few minutes to locate the crew and I was spent. The commute that started easy got old toward the end. I rolled in at 7pm. Jonah and Ned, arriving considerably earlier than me due our start times, looked relaxed and fresh by now. Ned with his big grin asked me how cool was it to be racing in the Dakar and wasn´t this fun. I told him fun left about an hour and a half ago.
Tim was busy working on Ned´s bike and I did not want to interrupt him so after cooling off a bit I gathered my stuff, hit the shower grabbed some dinner. After eating I headed back to our camp and began working on my road book. Finished with the road book I was ready for bed but Tim was wrapping up Ned´s bike and I did not want to interrupt. I knew I need to explain to Tim how the fuel system worked, what was going wrong. Tim needed to take the front tank off to look at the system routing for us to sort out possible solutions. It was 11:30 before I made it to bed.
Bikes lined up at the special.
…for EVERYONE that helped over these past few months. Without you Bill wouldn’t have made it to the start line! Hopefully everyone is ready for BC2DAKAR 2013😉
(In alphabetical Order)
|Aaron Stevenson (Cornerspeed/Cornerspin)|
|BMW Motorcycle Rider Training|
|BMW Performance Driving School|
|Bob Munnich (Larkins on the River)|
|Cathy Conger and Family|
|Charlotte Motor Speedway|
|Courtyard Marriott Downtown Greenville|
|Craig Conger and Family|
|Derek Columbus and Family|
|Donna Blumer and Family|
|Highway Dirt Bikes|
|Jason Callaway (High Cotton)|
|John and Nancy Howard|
|Mary Jo Watson|
|Max BMW Motorcycles|
|Mike and Marci Greci (Plaid Pelican)|
|Molly and Paul Fettig|
|Paul Columbus and Family|
|Richard Peck (Table 301)|
|The Reserve at Lake Keowee|
|Vanessa Gorr (REI)|
|W Shane Poole|
|Woody’s Wheel Works|