Ned Suesse Dakar Rally Update #10

_Got an update from Ned finally! _

He called in on Saturday with about three days' worth of updates. Here you go!

We finally caught up with Ned in the pits just before the last day of the rally on Saturday, January 14th. Ned had finished the day and was obviously optimistic about his chances of accomplishing his goal of seeing the checkered flag in Lima, Peru. After hours and hours on the bike, the friendly Coloradan gave us a few days' worth of recap for your reading pleasure. Enjoy the latest from Neduro!

Tomorrow is the last stage of the rally with only 29 km of special (250 km more of liaison) and I think I'm actually going to pull this off. This is really small potatoes compared to what we've been doing. I'm honestly kind of numb right now and reluctant to accepting that I've finished the rally the day before the finish of the rally. I don't want to go there until the fat lady has actually sung. It's overwhelming as well so I'm almost in a cloud of numbness about this whole thing about being over.

The previous stages have been pretty intense. There were two special sections split with a neutralization or liaison section in the middle on the day. The first half was super, super fun. There was one point in the road book that had us following this road that switch-backed up and over a hill but everyone sort of cut up the hill across the switchbacks. I did that not realizing I was going to go all the way bottom of the hill like that and it was absolutely crazy steep. The line was silt that was definitely gas tank deep and maybe handlebar deep. It was absolutely nuts. I got through that, luckily, and the first half of the day was really clean. There were two good river crossings that went smooth and I had a good morning.

The second half was a bit different. A little way in there was a quadruple caution note on the road book and it was a downhill that, by no means, would I ever choose to ride down. It's not something I would park on top of and say, "Oh, let me just ride down this." It was probably 600-800 vertical feet down with big ledges in it. And it was steep. I started down going as slow as I could and on one ledge my front wheel just tucked in and stopped. I did a huge slow-motion cartwheel with the bike. Luckily the bike stopped after one tumble and so did I. I picked the bike up and there was absolutely no damage.

At the bottom of that there was a huge canyon that I would have loved to ride aggressively except for this strong tailwind that came up. The wind speed was about the same speed that you'd ride aggressively. The end result was my bike working hard in dead air with zero wind moving across the radiators. So, I had to go pretty slow. Well, I didn't have to go really slow but I went slowly enough to where I thought I could keep the motor cool. There was a really neat climb out of there where I past some guys that was actually pretty gnarly. But, it worked out for me.

I made it to the end of the marathon stage and the factory teams were doing full services on the bikes. Oil changes, filter changes, wheel swaps, everything. I was a little disappointed because I thought this was a marathon stage and that's not really doing a marathon, but whatever. My team wasn't there doing service because it's supposed to be a non-service night, really.

When we got into the pits it was pretty cool just being around the riders without the teams and all that. But, it turned out to be pretty gross. We were camped in a soccer field and the buildings around there had all the water turned off so people couldn't take showers or something. That also meant that the toilets didn't flush. You can imagine what 120 guys in a field with no working toilets was like. It was terrible.

I did not get a lot of sleep that night. They gave us basically an airplane blanket, a poncho and a pair of socks. It wasn't super comfy to sleep in but we made it work.

The day after the marathon was another tough day. There was a bunch of tough sections but they culminated in a set of dunes that were very broken. They weren't continuous of flowing so it was very difficult to get any momentum or flow going. I had to stop a bunch of times to let the bike cool down. For me, stopping is easy. I'm not really racing. And it's really important to me to have the bike finish-more important than setting a good time. I can't imagine what the fast guys are doing in these types of sections. The factor KTMs have a huge single radiator that covers the entire front of the bike so they have plenty of cooling capacity but even so, it's got to be a challenge to them and their completion trying to decide when to push and when to ensure that the bike will be OK at the finish.

I haven't had too many stuck moments. I've had to do a few pivot turns when I realized I wasn't in a good line and needed to turn out of it before it got worse. I've almost always been able to make it to a high point and scout. There were a lot of riders stuck which meant there were always a fair amount of people going through the dunes around me. When I'd get to a bad spot I'd stop on the top of a dune and face the bike in the wind to cool the radiators. Then I'd watch and wait to see how other people's lines were working out. When I felt like the bike was cool enough I'd simply follow along and hope it worked out. It was methodical and slow but it worked great for me and my goals.

I want to finish, I want to stay upright and I want to keep the bike together. Even riding like this just to finish and be safe was incredibly tough.

January 14th, Dakar Stage 13

Today had a lot of gorgeous riding. There were giant dunes along each side and as you cruise through the valley you kind of ask yourself, "How'd I get here?" We went along the ocean and we had to climb the coastal dunes which is a lot of 4th gear pinned and dropping back down to 3rd gear sort of stuff. Which is pretty fast and a ton of fun.

We probably had more dunes today than we had any other day. We had a lot of dune mileage in it. There were a couple of short sections that had some nicely flowing dunes where you could really be cooking along and just ride them without worrying about riding through them technically. They were a lot of fun and it was nice riding.

There were some straight fesh-fesh sections as well. The road book is really, really good 99% of the time. I mean, its spot on a lot of the time. Even so there are areas you get into that are five to six km wide and you don't really know where, exactly, you need to be to hit a checkpoint. In general, I like to ride in eyesight of the main, burned in line but not on top of it. The reason being that the main line is obviously where a lot of riders ahead of me are going and they haven't passed me going the other direction so it's still the right direction. The other reason is that the terrain is usually more firm out of the beaten line. I could be slower out of it, but I feel safer.

At one point today we were apparently on the wrong side of a valley that the road book led us into. I don't think anyone was wrong on their navigation or anything; it was just one of those zones. Well, unfortunately there was a big ledge that took a bunch of people down that wasn't noted on the road book. A guy from Denmark that we had breakfast with broke his back and is out of the race (his injury isn't life-threatening serious or likely to cause paralysis). Chris Birch wadded it in there in third or fourth gear and broke his ankle. He finished the day and is going to finish the rally but it was a big, big crash for him.

That's the rally, really. In the beginning, the stages were tighter it seems and we could ride an enduro pace and a relatively higher effort. We had a lot more technical riding where we were riding sight-line-style and such. Later in the rally we've had all these places where you could go really, really fast but you have to trust the road book to tell you what's coming. I've been trying hard not to play that game even though that's how rally racing is done. The incident with the ledge made me feel terrible for the guys that are racing it the way they're supposed to and they just got blindsided.

Chris Birch said, "Well, that's the game we're playing, isn't it?" Yeah, it is.

There is a zero percent chance that I'll ever ride at that pace. Do the things like Jonah Street does or that the front runners in the rally do? Nope. I had a pretty good idea that I was nowhere near race pace when I came into this event but you can't really understand the difference between them and mortals until you see the terrain and conditions they're riding through and try to go through it yourself. It's crazy.

My whole body is sore, obviously, at this point but my wrist is the worst part of that. Every bump I hit at this stage feels like someone is hitting it with a hammer. Mentally I feel numb and it hasn't sunk in yet where I am but I expect crossing the podium tomorrow is going to feel pretty awesome. I'll probably cry again (Ned started crying the other day on his bike).

At this point in the conversation Ned hung up and called back after speaking to Johnny Campbell.

I had to go ask Johnny Campbell about a scene I saw on the course the other day where there were Hummer-sized tracks going off a cliff. I had to hear what it was like in the car to go off of this huge drop, keep going and eventually end up back on the course. He said, "Yeah, we made it! It was terrifying and I thought we were done for but we landed and it worked out. After that we were trading paint with Peterhansel on the road and right after that was when we hit the massive rock and damaged the right side of the car."

This pit, essentially the last pit of the race, has the crappiest conditions. It's getting better as it's cooling down but for a while it was brutally hot and generally crappy.

Tobias Younger is someone that deserves some mention and showcases a lot of spirit here since I'm looking at him right now in the pits. He's really inspiring because he just refuses to quit out here. I mean, he's gone through a set of hand guards every day from get-offs and the whole time he's just being completely awesome. For me, I'm trying very hard to becoming a snowball. I don't want to have bike issues, lose sleep, crash, have more bike issues, lose more sleep, and just have the snowball build and build. Tobias has been fully in the snowball every single minute and hasn't let it bring him down at all. This started before the race as him and most of the British or UK rally contingent were robbed of a lot or all of their riding gear/cameras and other valuables the day before the start.

He's taking it in stride and I'm impressed by not only his attitude but also his performance. I've been trying to always stay focused on the things about this race that are positive or are things that I've enjoyed. But the fact is there is a lot of this race that is really sh$%*y. Like, bad riding you would never do by choice. There are crazy amounts of mileage and crazy amounts of speed that are endless. He's doing all that and when you hear stories from me about this hill or that dune or whatever-that was like five minutes out of a 10 or 12 hour day in the saddle. To do this race you have to be focused and push through that crap nonstop every day and he's doing that and I'm doing that but I think the road's been way easier on me this time.

Here's some more perspective that readers might find useful or entertaining to ponder. We start before 6 a.m. often, which means you're up at 5 or so and you go eat a terrible breakfast. You get on your bike and ride 100 miles of pavement. There aren't a lot of people that ride their 450s 100-miles on the road, ever, or at all in a day. Then you stop 100-miles down the road and sit in the sun waiting for your start time for a half-hour or forty minutes getting the hell baked out of you. Then you start your special stage and most of those have these nothing-but-straight sections full of silt and rock and nonsense that beats the crap out of you and you have to just sit there and take it for hours. And then there are these windows of cool stuff that are the coolest things you've ever done. After you check out of the special section there are a lot of days you have 200 km of liaison back to the camp. To recap: it goes 100-miles of pavement, a couple hundred miles of dirt and then another 160 miles of pavement or dirt roads or whatever leads you into camp that night. That happens a lot of the days.

The bike started with 14 hours on it and it has about 112 on it as it sits now. So, I've ridden that bike 100 hours over the last two weeks (compare that with how many hours you put on your personal bike!). Since Jonah was out I stole a couple of his tires and mousses so I think I've done nine sets of those total for the race. I've only crashed twice: once in a stream crossing in the mud and once down the silt hill. Tim (Tim Morton from Baja Bound Adventures, Ned's mechanic) has been doing basically routine maintenance stuff like changing oil and other consumables. (Tim speaks up in the background, "I've been doing a whole lot of nothing! Just sleeping, mostly").

I've got some time in Lima after the end of the rally so I hope to get some more thoughts together before I leave South America.

Thanks for reading!