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.