January 8th, 2012: Rest Day
While I'm certainly glad I got a lot of rest and had a day off it is definitely strange to have a day in the middle of this event where I don't ride my bike. I am in such a schedule of eating, dressing, riding, eating, sleeping, etc. that having a day where I just throw out the biggest activity of my day and replace it with "resting" threw me a little.
The biggest thing that affects me, I think, is that when I'm riding, I'm perfectly fine-I know that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm having fun. But when I'm not riding, I'm sort of dreading getting back on the bike. It's definitely threw me out of my rhythm.
The bike got a new motor, suspension and other odds and ends today just because we have them. This work is all proactive at this time as we've had zero issues with the bike. However, the bike has been ridden hard and the motor especially has been quite abused so swapping it is really a no-brainer.
It is pretty tricky when you're not working under pressure and have more time to get stuff done in a sense. I can probably swap a motor out in a couple hours. But here we're taking way more time and being very careful so we don't mess something up that can take us out of the race.
The other thing we did was try to solve a fuel vapor locking issue. We rerouted all the fuel lines and did a hardcore job of insulating the fuel lines. (Ned reported on the next day that he didn't have the conditions to truly test his fix).
It's still amazing to me that this is a completely stock machine-street legal from the dealer (Ned is riding a KTM 450 EXC). Anyone can go and buy this motorcycle as-is. It has stock suspension valving, a stock motor and it will do this thing that I'm doing and I think that is awesome. Even the fairing and other cool rally bike gizmos on board are bolt-on things that any human can put on in a few hours. It's no $10,000 kit that takes a genius to install. Anyone can do it and have a rally worthy bike.
January 9th, 2012: Dakar Stage 8
Update: Ned is the only American left in the Dakar Rally on a motorcycle. After James Embro got knocked out (literally) of the race during a flying rock incident courtesy of a passing race truck. As Ned says, he's the first place and last place American in the Rally. We asked him if he was getting a lot of attention in the pits as the last American standing.
You know, the pit crew and I have a really nice vibe, it's pretty funny. Ted is great fun, Robb is a lot of fun and so is Tim. Ted has done everything he can do to try to help me out. Even though he's not required to or anything he always gets up with me in the morning, he cleans the bike before Tim works on it sometimes and he eats with me, etc. Those things are not only helpful but they reinforce the fact that he's pulling for me however he can and that's awesome. Tim (Tim Morton from Baja Bound Adventures) is a great mechanic and I don't have to second guess anything which is nice. Robb (Robb McElroy from Rally Pan Am) keeps the wheels on the wagon, quite literally. He's the guy that's driving the schedule and make sure people are where they need to be when they need to be. He's been through this a lot and has the experience.
It's a nice vibe and I truly wish Jonah Street and Bill Conger were still here, obviously, but I am getting a lot of attention.
I think today was my least favorite day of the Dakar Rally by far. It was really, really fast with a lot of silty fesh-fesh with tons of embedded rocks. The whole day I was clipping along doing whatever I could to keep a decent pace and essentially holding on and hoping everything goes my way. To be honest, that's not my favorite kind of riding. It was unpredictable at best.
Early on in the day I tried to get by a few Quads that were starting in front of me because they create so much dust. I got around a few of them and came up to one that was stuck in the mud. I think this might have been where Cyril Depres (Factory KTM) was stuck but I'm not quite sure. I thought I spotted the hot line through the mud and ended up pulling a Cyril and I went right over the bars and into the mud. That was definitely a fail. All the progress I made getting by those guys went backwards immediately. It's all good, really. I wasn't hurt, the bike wasn't hurt so I got out of there in pretty good shape, considering.
There were also some crazy moonscape areas early on today that were kind of neat. But the day was almost 500 km and probably at least the last 300 km consisted of these 30 km straights with tons of embedded rocks littered across the track in a cloud of dust. You just have to ride with your eyeballs popping out of your head trying to spot the rock that has your name on it. That got old well before the end of the stage. This was definitely one of the least pleasurable days in the rally so far.
I was pretty careful and consider myself luck to get through it unscathed even though I know the guys at the front are just pinning it through these sections and I'm simply not. I really just try to ride my sight line but in the dust it's frustrating because you're brake checking in a straightaway even though you're 99% sure you can just go through. I don't take that risk because the thousandth time I do it will be a dinger and take me out.
Tomorrow looks like it will be more interesting so cheers to that. I'm in Antofagasta and I'm looking at the ocean right now. The weather is pleasant out here, around 75 with some low cloud cover but during the day today there were still some pretty hot stretches but by and large it was pretty decent for riding. Towards the end of the day it was incredibly windy.. The terrain was all fesh-fesh (silty soil) and the wind was ripping across it parallel and I was going maybe 10 mph and couldn't see anything. In fact, I almost rolled into a spectator car! I was rolling along in literally first gear squinting to see something and all of a sudden there was a Toyota Forerunner. You couldn't see anything even though I was completely alone and the only thing creating the dust was the wind. This, luckily was the last little bit of the day. Again, an unpredictable, soft, rock-or-other-obstacle hiding day. I said that it was almost like praying more than it was like riding because all day I just hoped something wouldn't take me down other than just enjoying the bike and the ride/race.
I think in general I probably made up a little time/positions today just based on how many people I passed versus how many passed me. Which is nice. But I did watch another competitor being loaded into a helicopter which gave me another ever-present reminder as to what the risks of this game are.
Tomorrow should be better. I think we have more sand and not a lot of rocks and it promises to be a more interesting day of riding as we go up the coast. Like I said earlier, I'm fine when I'm actually riding. The only thing that is starting to wear on me noticeably is my wrist. It's never good but I won't let it stop me. Today was really bad for it with the square edges and impacts. That makes it hard for me to close my hand all the way or grip, even. I guess I'm lucky I had to clutch about twice total today.
More from up the coast of Chile tomorrow!