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.