January 5th, 2012: Dakar Stage 5
Today was a reasonably early start but nothing crazy early. We had a bit of a tighter time allotment to get across the liaison section to the start of the timed special section. The way it works is you’re given a start time to leave the bivouac or pits where you slept. When you leave, they give you a set amount of time to get from the pits to the start of the special stage.
If there is a gas station or merchant in the area, you’re typically buying gas on the liaison section. If there is no gas available in the area, the race organizers will be there giving you some (that you pay for). Basically today there was a gas station on the liaison that we had to stop at and it was crazy busy and there was only one pump. It started to turn into a bit of a panic as we all realized that most of us wouldn’t make our start time to the special test at the pace of the gas pump program.,br /.
Very quickly people formed alliances to get the process rolling. The gas attendant wouldn’t let you move until you paid and it was a big mess. So we gathered up a big pile of money, agreed on what everyone would get for gas and gave the money to the last guy so he could pay for it. We had to essentially force them to not stop the pump for every bike and to not keep us from leaving the pump. It was a pain but it worked out.
After the gas fiasco we burned towards the end of the liaison. The problem is there is a 120km speed limit on transfer sections so every single one of us that left the gas stop went 119km to the start of the special. We zoomed in, ready to race for time, on time, and they say, “Don’t worry, we’ve delayed the start of the special test for a half hour. And we’re going to end the stage at Checkpoint 2 instead of the ultimate finish as well.”
The reason why that happened is still a mystery but the consensus/gossip/assumptions are that there are an exorbitant amount of participants dropping out of the race and the organizers are trying to ease up the stage a little bit to ensure more people will continue on. This is in no way a fact or even a very well-reported rumor but that is what I heard in the pits.
So we took off on the special section and I started relatively alone since I’ve moved up far enough to benefit from the starting schedule. The top ten riders start every two minutes alone. The next 20 start every minute alone. The next 20 start every 30 seconds alone and then everyone after that starts two-at-a-time every 30 seconds. Since I’m the top 50 I get to start alone which is awesome because I don’t have to do a drag race for dust-free riding.
It’s a relief to feel that you can just ride your ride and not worry about catching someone or being caught by someone immediately. It can happen but it’s down the road a while. Really, the guys that are faster than you are already starting ahead of you. Likewise, the riders that have been going slower than you are behind you so the start system makes a lot of sense that way. There are plenty of variables to throw this out of whack (terrain or areas people are much faster/slower in, etc.), but in general, it’s good and you can ride, more-or-less, on your own.
We had a good section of road and then got into some smaller grass-covered rolling dunes. I found immediately that if I rode off to the side of the worn-in track the terrain was firmer. It was rougher, but firmer so I made my own way most of the ride. It wasn’t fast but I could stay in much better control and keep the bike calmer.
We eventually dropped into a riverbed and went up into a tight canyon wash that was super soft. I was riding in second gear wide open and it was so soft and deep that the bike wouldn’t accelerate to the rev limiter. It was under such a load that it just stayed in 2nd gear without gaining momentum or rpm. It was bad. The best way to ride up this wash was to wall-ride where it was more firm. And I have to thank my buddy Tim Hillsamer for play riding up the wash walls whenever we go riding.
So I go start going up the walls, essentially having fun while trying to stay out of the ultra-soft middle of the canyon and I get to the end where there’s this pretty steep little climb out. It just so happened that I was up high on the opposite side of the climb looking at a few guys stuck. Since I was up high I simply shot across the wash one more time and rode out of the wash. I wouldn’t have been up on the wall if I wasn’t sort of messing around!
After the wash I went through a bunch more riverbed and fesh-fesh then ended up a very old railroad bed that wound up the mountains. It was such a cool place to be and bucket-list worthy ride despite being in a race. I really started to have a great time. I mean, coming in I thought the riding was going to suck and I thought this would only be a suffer fest where you suffer, sleep, suffer, sleep some more and suffer and suffer some more. But so far, and I think this may change in Chile, but in Argentina the riding has been incredible. I would choose to come here with a dirt bike and go riding and play.
We came of that little road and that was the end of the special. A funny note about the special test: I can’t believe how fast the top two guys are going. There’s literally a trench from the start to the end and the level of commitment they’re giving on these sections is insane.
After tomorrow we’ll be halfway and that will be a very interesting stage to see how things go. I feel like if tomorrow goes well than I’ll feel a little more optimistic that I can finish this thing for sure. If tomorrow is a whole new game then we’ll deal with it as it comes.
January 6th, 2012: Dakar Stage 6
We’re in Copiapo’ Chile and I should be here for three nights as tomorrow we do a loop stage and come back here for another night. After that there is a rest day for the rally and we stay here again. It’s pretty weird planning on sleeping in the same spot for more than a few hours.
The race organizers canceled the special test section of the stage so we had a long liaison ride today with no timed sections. There was a big storm in Fiambala’ last night and since we had a 4 a.m. start time and we were going over the pass, the thought in canceling the stage was that there would be too much snow to get across safely in a race environment. After riding over the high elevations today I can see that as a reality since we ran through some areas where there was plenty of snow on the side of the roads.
I went to bed last night thinking I had a 4 am wake-up, but thankfully Ted (part of the Rally PanAm pit crew), who has just been an awesome guy to have in the pits, reached into my tent , gave me a shake and told me that the day was canceled and I could sleep in a bit.
Speaking of high elevations, we ran as high as 16,000-feet today and I’m happy to report that I didn’t suffer any adverse effects due to elevation. Granted, we weren’t pushing it our exerting physically very much today.
There was a ton of dirt today for a liaison section so you couldn’t just zone out and ignore the riding. I had to stay on my toes and pay attention. There was some unbelievable scenery on top of that to keep it an upbeat day. I’m talking about top-ten bucket list sort of scenery for long-distance dual sport and even just street motorcycle touring fans.
Today was a really, really long day in the saddle that is really a day off. A couple weeks ago if someone said, “Today you’re going to ride your 450 enduro bike 450 miles and go over a 16,000-foot pass.” I would have thought that sounded like sheer torture! But in the spirit of Dakar it’s more like, “Sweet! A Day off!” Today is pretty funny that way. It’s all relative.
Everything is going smooth; the bike is running great I haven’t had a single issue so the race is going perfect that way. I even got to ride a bunch with Cyril Despres and other top riders as we shared the road over the pass today. That was pretty cool. Speaking of cool, the temperature swing we’re experiencing is drastic for sure. I wore an entire setup of KLIM snowmobile bibs under my Rally Jacket over the pass today which kept me perfectly dressed. I don’t think there are a lot of people that can say that today judging by the faces and teeth-chattering I saw at the customs stop coming into Chile.
There aren’t a lot of stories from the day riding but I did get to have lunch with Nasser Al Attiya today (defending Car champ and driver for American Robby Gordon’s Speed Hummer team) which was pretty cool.
January 7th, 2012: Dakar Stage 7
Ned had quite the eventful day today—probably his most eventful of the event. While he didn’t have time to give us the details he did call into Rally RAIDio and drop some good tidbits on his drama-filled day. In a nutshell the lone American motorcycle competitor left in the event went off slowly due to some serious dust hanging in the air, had a roadbook failure and was blind on navigation for a while, discovered a missing countershaft sprocket bolt and a resulting oil leak, borrowed a bolt from a guy named Javier in the desert on an old KTM, stopped for some oil and had his bike overheat a lot as the going was slow and hot. Thank goodness the 8th is a rest day! Read on to hear more about Ned as the updates roll in.