So, what happened?

We leave around midday on the 26th in the Limo from ENF. We are four. Frans and Vivian from ENF, Marcel the Dakar nut, that has been helping me a lot over the last few months, and of course, your’s truly. The bike and gear are in the trailer behind us.
We go through Paris, and for me that was the real start of the Dakar as I had gone there in 2001 to watch the start of the race near the Eiffel Tower, and I could see the tower as we went past. I start to get excited. Things go smoothly until we run out of fuel. It is cold waiting for the French breakdown service, but still gives a feeling of adventure. We stay in Tours that night.
Hinot.jpg Next day a smooth run until it begins to snow in Spain. We decide to push on past our original stopping point in case we get caught in it overnight. When it clears we stop in a small town. Tyret.jpgAs Frans is parking the car, a tyre gets caught on a piece of steel and rips a hole in it.
Damn. Change that and then go to bed.
Next day and on to Lisbon. We arrive around midday and go to the unloading area. packing2t.jpgI pick up my trunk from the organisers and try to make everything fit in it. After working out what I can leave behind, I take the trunk and my two spare wheels to the organisers and hand them over to be transported to Portimao. My scrutineering time is 19:00, but by 17:00 I’m like a cat on hot coals, so figure I might as well ride over there and wait. I see the organisers and let them know I am early. No problem I was told, go straight in. As I walk over to my bike, the V-Rod sidecar turns up. I’d been talking to these guys on the internet for months, so go up and say hello. It’s fun when you meet other crazies…. and the sidecar is a weapon. First part of scrutineering is the administration side. Imagine you’re at a bike exposition. Heaps of stalls with people showing their things for sale. Admin is a bit like that, except you have to see them all. First stop, an imprint of my credit card for the GPS/Iritrack/Sentinel/Emergency-beacon deposit.
Then my registration papers for the bike.
Then my licence, FIM Super Licence, permission from the Dutch motor sports governing body to race etc.
Then the GPS stand.
Then the…..
Then the….
You get the idea. GPS etct.jpgThat takes a few hours and when I came out I am too late for the technical scrutineering, so am given a time of 7:30 the next day. I tell the lady at the start of technical I am at 7:30. She said make it around 9:00 as they weren’t coming in that early….
Marcel and I go to a pizza place for dinner, then to the hotel for a last beer before bed.
We are back at 7:30 to be sure, but the lady was right. Nobody really surfaces for at least another hour, so I end up being the first vehicle in. That was nice as everyone is fresh, friendly and enthusiastic, so scrutineering for me is a piece of cake. Scrutineeringt.jpgThe only sticky point is when they can’t find the key to open the office for about half an hour where the race numbers are put on the clothing. I practice my French. They practice their English. They win easily.
Eventually scrutineering is done and I ride the bike outside to the Parc Ferme.
serious officialst.jpgDamn. It seems I’ve become a celebrity! People taking pictures, wanting to stand next to me and/or the bike for photos, autographs etc. Actually kinda cool for just a yobbo on a bike….
I park the bike and head out to find a cab back to the hotel.
The rest of the day is spent cruising around the place, popping in and out of scrutineering, and just being one of the thousands and thousands of people there. It really is a huge event.
That evening the four of us go to a Portuguese restaurant and enjoy a nice dinner. Next day is my last day as a tourist, but my nerves are starting to work. I’ve had to use the bathroom more times than I remember being normal…. so it goes in a bit of a blur. I get all my stuff ready and then go to sleep much later than I’d planned. I don’t sleep too well.
Early awake and down to the Parc Ferme. They tell me that bananas have lots of Vitamin 174560-254716-thumbnail.jpgB in them, which is good for stress.
I eat five bananas for breakfast.
Each competitor is allowed in to their bike half an hour before their start time. Fit the GPS, put in the roadbook for the day and settle the nerves. I ride around to wait to be called up on the start podium. Shortly it’s my turn and I ride up with another bloke, determined not to do anything silly like fall off. Somebody says something I don’t understand to me, and puts a microphone in my face. I tell him I can only speak English. He gives me a sad smile and goes to the other competitor. Marcel tells me later that he said “How’s it going, mate?”
The bananas are struggling.
We are waved off and ride out to the street, being cheered like celebrities. I’m glad to be finally in my own space and start to look at the roadbook.
GPS toilett.jpgAbout here I should make a little confession. I’ve never used a roadbook before. Or a GPS. Yesterday I took a battery pack, and the GPS, into the bathroom, and started a steep learning curve on it’s workings while I sorted out my nerves, but the rest I’ll need to learn on the fly.
It’ll be ok….
The guy I’m riding with goes through an orange light and I stop for the red. People are pointing to the up ramp for the highway, so I head up there. After a few minutes of looking at the roadbook and looking at the street signs, I realise I’ve been had. They’ve sent me in the wrong direction. All my nerves etc reach boiling point and I go utterly ballistic in my helmet at myself for not paying attention. It’s a good lesson and a safe one. 15 extra kms sees me back on track and determined not to follow anyone else’s directions again.
Cruising down the highway with lots of other bikes and the sun comes up.
Life is good again. I’m a Dakar competitor.
Then I smell hot oil. Looking down around the forks, I see everything covered in the stuff, so I pull over to check. Fairing off, wipe it clean and run the bike. No leaks that I can see. I realise when I changed the oil before I left home, I’ve put a bit too much in and it’s puked out the breather. They are known for that.
I wish I’d brought more bananas.
Ride for a while then stop for a coffee. That helps a lot as I’m a European coffee addict. I ride on to the start of the special, unsure of what happens next. When I arrive, a bloke sees my number and sends me straight down to the start line. The extra time I spent being lost, oil problem and the coffee, means I start two minutes after I get there. Another important lesson. Don’t mess around on the transport sections.
It’s my turn and I’m paired up with the bloke from the podium again. We are waived off and finally for me, we are on dirt and being competitive. I settle in to a rhythm and everything is going well. Soon I catch Peter Stijkel, another Dutch competitor who has tried the Dakar a couple of times already, so I decide to settle in behind him and learn. He has a comfortable pace for me to ride at. Not slow, but not fast enough to be out of control. About 70%.
We eventually catch bike #116 who’s riding a fraction slower, but stay with her for a while.
Her?
Patricia Watson-Miller is doing her 5th Dakar. Eventually she and Peter get caught up in a corner and I decide to pass them off the track and wind up the pace a bit.
Things are going well for a while and I forget the advice that so many people have given me. If it’s going well, and you are comfortable with your riding, then BACK OFF NOW!
I don’t and crash in some mud with heaps of locals to witness it. My pride is injured and I see Patricia and Peter closing in again as I pick up the bike. I stay in front of them but slow down and arrive at the checkpoint in front by a minute or so.
From there it’s a highway transport down to Portimao. Frans catches me in the Limo as they have been watching part of the special on the way, and we arrive together at the bivouac. I find my trunk, do some adjustments on the bike while Frans and Vivian go to find the hotel, then take the bike around to the Parc Ferme. 174560-254725-thumbnail.jpg
On the way out I speak to a couple of blokes from RTL7 about the De Rooy and Bekx teams not getting their DAFs past scrutineering. There’s a lot of theories kicking about, but it’s still a shame that they had problems. The names ‘Paris-Dakar’ and ‘Jan de Rooy’ are almost one and the same. I still remember an interview with Jackie Ickx when he was driving a Porsche. He turned to his co-driver while they were blasting through the desert and said that they must have a problem with the car as he could hear a strange noise and feel a new vibration in it. A few moments later Jan de Rooy passed them in his truck…. He’s one of the legends.
flamest.jpgFrans and Vivian come back and we have a nice meal in a restaurant served by a Dutch bloke. Those Dutch are everywhere.
On to the hotel. I said hotel? I walk into the room. There’s a bedroom with a bathroom off it. Then a hallway. Another bigger bedroom with another bigger bathroom. Around that corner and there’s a living room with sofa. Around another corner and we find a kitchen. It cost less than the box we had in Lisbon, so I’m well impressed. A nice sleep, but next morning it’s an early rise again as we have to get back into Portimao for the start.
The start and transit are pretty uneventful until I realise that I have passed the last fuel station in my roadbook without filling up. I get the feeling that I’m going to make every stupid mistake possible on this attempt. I turn off at a small town and check my tanks. I’m pretty sure I still have enough in there so continue on to the special.
Waiting in line, I see Patricia and we check our start times. We have the same, so are paired up. I ask her if I can follow her and learn, but she says she gets a bit nervous with someone always behind her, so I head into the corner first. I think I’m riding at a sensible pace, but after a few kms turn to check if she is still there. She’s not, and I hope she’s ok. I continue at this pace, enjoying life. The track is similar to what I used to ride in the mountains around home in Australia and the only thing missing is the surprise kangaroo, which I don’t really miss at all. portugalt.jpgAfter a while I realise I’m getting faster and still in control, so I back off. Then a Dutch competitor passes me. I bump it up again to stay with him, but he’s riding above my safe level. I back off again.
A while later I come up behind Jaap van de Kooy. He’s another Dutch competitor and is on his 13th Dakar. I blast past and give a wave. Two corners later I come in way too fast and have to lie the bike down. Jaap passes laughing. I feel stupid , but lucky. When I pick the bike up I see two other bikes over the ravine with their riders taking the broken parts off, so it could have been worse.
I back right off and ride like an old woman.
Some time later, Patricia passes me again. I’m slowly learning and pick up the pace to match her, but stay back far enough that she doesn’t get bugged. A few kms before the end we go into a long muddy section, and my bike dies from a lack of fuel. I’ve been riding on the rear tanks only and swear and curse as I switch to the front tanks. It had been on my mind for the last twenty minutes, but I had ignored it. Stupid. I wick it up and try to catch Patricia again. I’m really pushing it now and come over a hill to find a LOT of spectators. I realise that this is a very bad place to crash, but think that catching Patricia and being able to ride with her at the start of Africa is too much of an advantage to pass up, so I keep it pegged. I have luck on my side now and don’t crash, finishing only 100m or so behind her. She turns and looks in surprise and says she thought I was way in front. I reply sheepishly that I had crashed again and she had passed without realising. I ask her to hit me over the head the next time my testosterone level gets out of control. We laugh and life is pretty good. The two specials in Europe under my belt and everything still intact. I’m happy.
I ride out and look for Frans. This is the one piece where we are allowed to transport the bikes through Spain to the port in Malaga. I don’t see them, and the phone system is busy so I look for food. There’s an animal on a spit being carved and I settle for that. The others arrive and also dig in. It’s been a good day.
We head for Malaga.
I don’t remember much of the trip as I fell asleep, but Malaga itself is a hive of activity. People everywhere to watch the Dakar caravan arrive. We get into the Port and unload the bike. I sort out the last of my gear into two piles. One going with me and the other going home. I try to make the going home pile bigger.
I say my goodbyes to Marcel, Frans and Vivian as from here on in, I’m on my own. They wave goodbye and I ride to the checkpoint and hand in my time card. I’m given the first route sheet for Africa and ride through the crowd about a km to the ferry. That’s an adventure on it’s own. Children have their hands out for a “high-five” and some are pretty enthusiastic. I wonder if I’ll arrive at the boat with a broken wrist, but am high on the atmosphere.
Into the boat, tie the bike down go upstairs. I do my passport control and find my room. They have put me in with two of the Dutch competitors and I hope they don’t mind snoring. Drop my gear and go back upstairs to the lounge area to get a drink and get my road book ready for the next day.
I end up sitting at a table next to the KTM Red Bull guys, so I sneak a peek or three at their road books to see what they are highlighting. I’m not sure who I’m watching, but he’s got marks all over the place. I go back to making mine as simple as possible, but vow to make a route sheet holder like Andy Caldecott’s. It looks like a small version of the thing town criers used to announce the news each day. Trick.
Dinner is announced and I end up at a table listening to Alfie Cox talking about the difference this year driving a car instead of his KTM. He makes the comment that the car is easier. Maybe he’s just being nice to us, but I choose to believe him anyway.
Bedtime.
I wake up at 3:00 as the boat is due to dock at 4:00. My room-mates sleep on like babies. They’ve done this before. Breakfast consists of croissants and coffee, and I’m glad I took some extra fruit last night from dinner. The boat docks and the professionals wander down for breakfast. I wonder what I’ve missed. Normally everyone is in a rush to get off a ferry. Not this morning. Everyone is more concerned with getting as much sleep as possible as we don’t start riding until 6:00. I learn the hard way.
Outside we group up and wait for our number to be called. I see Patricia and park nearby. She asks if I’m ready for the real riding to start. I smile and say sure, but I have no idea if I’m ready or not.
We go the start and head off. We have a 237km liaison we have to ride to get to the start of the special. It’s cold. I’m glad I had some brains and packed winter gloves, a face mask and an inner liner from my street jacket. These fit in my camelback-pack. Others haven’t and I see some blue faces under their helmets. Guess I’m not the only one learning.
We ride close to the start and find a fuel stop to fill up together. Patricia pays. I’ll get the next one, and we ride up to the start of the special.
The ground is small loose rocks, dry and fast. This time I let Patricia start first and I watch my navigation against hers. There’s a few times where she goes a different way to where I would have, and I realize it’s harder than it looks. I thank whoever is watching over me for pairing us up. Eventually we end up riding with two other Dutchies. Mirium Pol and Dirk jan Franken. Dirk starts to pass us, when Patricia makes a surprise left turn. I’d missed it in my road book and I think he had too. He settles in behind us.
Things are running well. We are passing a few people and getting passed by others. I’m happy though as Patricia is a whole lot smarter rider than I am in this race. 5th time vs. 1st time is a wealth of difference in experience.
Suddenly there is a howl and the first Mitsubishi flies past about 50m to our right.
Damn. I thought we were going pretty fast, but he makes us look silly. The dust storm behind him makes us slow right down until it clears. I start to understand the warnings I’ve been given about the cars….
A bit further on my Sentinel system screams loudly it’s urgent;
Beep, Beep, Beeeeeeep!
Beep, Beep, Beeeeeeep!
Beep, Beep, Beeeeeeep!
I learn quickly to respect that noise with all my attention. That means a car/truck is behind me and to get out of the way now!
The professional drivers are good. If they can, they will get off the track to pass. If not they will give time and room to the bikers. Some of the drivers further back are not so thoughtful. Some forget they have a Sentinel system. I wish I had time to read their numbers because I’d go hunting for them in the bivouac.
I move over and another car goes past. The dust is getting thicker so I move off the track and ride in the clear. The only problem is the roadbook warnings apply to the track, but being able to see clearly is better than the roadbook.
We continue for some time like this. Riding through the dust, passing people and getting passed.
Somewhere around the 180km mark we are in dust again. I’m riding beside Patricia to stay out of her dust when I see her suddenly slow down out of the corner of my eye, I turn to see if she has noticed a change of direction, then spot the washed out track in front of her.
DAMN!
I turn and see it in front of me. There is no bump in front of it to try and jump, so I gas it to lift the front wheel and cross my fingers. The rear wheel hits the ledge and I start flying. Thankfully the bike lands on its side without tumbling and spares my navigation equipment. I get up and find I still work. So does the bike. The others are looking amazed that we are ok. So am I.
Tze Ouedt.jpgLater I find that fellow Aussie, Christophe (205) hit the same washout. He wiped out his nav gear, broke three ribs, popped his shoulder and was pissing blood. He continued for the rest of the day, but the doctors sent him home after that.
I was lucky.
We continue riding. Over the next kms I take stock of the bike. My GPS has stopped working, but I notice the power cable has come out. The bars/forks are twisted and my route sheet control doesn’t work anymore, so I pull over out of the dust to see what I can do. In the dust the others haven’t noticed and continue on.
desertt.jpgI plug the GPS back in and reset my waypoint counter. I have opted for the ODO option in the GPS and adjust it to match the ICO. Normally I do it the other way around for accuracy, but it should be close enough. From there to the refuelling checkpoint I wind the route sheet on by hand. When I pull in Patricia has just had her 15min break and is ready to ride off. She is nice and asks if I’d like her to wait until I’m ready to go, but I don’t want her losing time when I feel ok, so she heads off.
I have a huge amount of respect for this lady.
I find that my route sheet holder works in reverse after moving the switch around. I have another switch spare so try it. It works both ways so I replace it.
Apart from the slightly twisted forks and bruised bodywork, the bike is fine.
I notice a twinge of pain in my back, so take longer than my 15mins for a rest, and eat some lunch before heading out again.
On the road I’m getting passed by lots of cars. The track becomes narrower and I respect the Sentinel with all my heart.
Suddenly a 4wd passes me literally by inches without warning. I’m doing about 80km/h in semi-control and nearly **** myself. It’s not the closeness of the car that’s scary, it’s my total blindness from the dust when he passes. For those that ski and have experienced a whiteout, or driven in really dense fog, imagine doing 80km/h on a bucking motorcycle, on a dirt track littered with rocks, potholes and washaways, and suddenly having no idea what’s in front of you.
It sucks. It is seriously scary and seriously dangerous. I abuse that 4wd with everything I have and wish I’d been able to see who they are.
I continue riding. The Sentinel keeps beeping and I keep stopping. It slows me down but is better than going down.
Another 4wd passes without his Sentinel on. I see a sponsors name in big letters on the back and remember it for later. Some kms further on I see he’s missed a turn and ploughed into an embankment. I laugh and scream at him to use his Sentinel as I pass, figuring justice has been served.
The rest of the ride passes like that and I finish the special intact.
On the liaison I go through a town that has a pressure wash, so give the bike a clean before I start work on it that evening. While I wait in line, the 4wd pulls up so I walk over to have a shot at him. I ask if he has a problem with his Sentinel. He says yes. It’s not working and they will get the Sentinel people to fix it when they get back to the bivouac. He explains that he has been using his horn whenever he comes up behind a bike, but we can’t hear him. Somewhat mollified I understand his situation. He also understands mine. We part on good terms. I ride into the bivouac and look for the ELF plane to work on my bike.
The pain in my back is getting worse. I ignore it.
The ELF area is full of people working on their bikes, so I find a spot to do an oil change. One thing that’s not so easy on a KTM Rallye is an oil change. 3 oil filters. 5 drain plugs. 2 places to put oil in…… but a small price to pay.
After knocking the oil drain pan with my foot and spilling oil everywhere, I replace the air filter, adjust the chain and give the bike a once over. It’s already getting late and I haven’t eaten or found out which truck has my tent in it, so I leave the twisted forks for tomorrow. They’re not that bad.
While I’m packing up an Aussie bloke comes over for a chat. He’s rented a 125 and is following the Dakar for a couple of days. He is very enthusiastic, but I am feeling knackered. The pain in my back is getting bad and I just want to eat and lie down.
Mate, if you read this, I’ve forgotten your name, but thank you very much for helping me to bring my gear down to the truck, and I apologise for my lack of enthusiasm when I met you. I was pretty knackered.
If we meet again, the beer is on me.
I find my tent and put my bedroll and sleeping bag inside, then ride up to the food tents. There’s not much left as I’m pretty late to eat and vow next time to look after me before I look after the bike.
I eat and go to bed, the first day in Africa completed.
If my back is still sore in the morning, I’ll go and see the medics.
I awake after 4-1/2 hrs of restless sleep. I had forgotten to take the earplugs off the bike and the noise in the bivouac has made sleeping difficult. It was cold last night and the bike is covered in frost.
This is the first time I’ve slept in the tent so I’m slow to pack it up with the gear. The other guys are up, packed and finishing breakfast before I get mine stowed away. I still have to do my roadbook as I was too tired last night. By the time that’s done I have to go to the start line. I haven’t eaten anything, and I didn’t pick up a lunch pack, but I’ve still got the main part of one stashed in my back pack from the boat trip.
I’ll be ok….
It’s a short liaison today, only 56km so we don’t get too cold. I get called up for the start and head off. At first it’s good. The breeze is coming across us and taking the dust away, making passing easy and I am able to make up a few places. Eventually though we have to turn into the wind and riding gets a whole lot more difficult.
Ahead are three quads riding in a line a few hundred metres apart. I sigh and try to work out how it’s going to be possible to get past them and decide to hang back out of their dust and wait until we change direction. I get passed by a bike, so have to drop back further. Then another, and another.
I realise that waiting isn’t going to work. I need to get around these guys or I’m going to get stuck, so I wait until the dust is minimal and bite the bullet. Powering on I need to ride blind for a few seconds. Somewhere in the dust is a rock about the size of a football. It’s got my number and attacks my front wheel. We go down again pretty hard.
The KTM is a tank and takes the fall with no more than a few bruises. I, however, now have a sore left hand where the bars smacked into that soft bit between finger and thumb. I get back on and curse the dust. A couple of kms further we change direction and passing the quads becomes easy. I’m still learning the hard way.
Things are ok for a while until I start to smell hot oil. I look down and see it pretty much where it was on the first day, and figure I’ve put too much in again, so I don’t worry about it. There’s enough dust in the air to soak up any excess on the bike and I keep riding.
I’m starting to really watch my navigation now as I have the room and time to do so. It’s interesting and not as difficult as I’d thought, although the track is pretty clear from the bikes that have already gone past. I wonder what it’s like to do in the dunes.
I arrive at the refuelling checkpoint and eat my lunch remains. It’s not very good, but now it tastes great. 15mins break and I’m on the way again, loaded with fuel. I’m sure I don’t need it all, but I’m playing safe and fill everything in case I get lost somewhere.
Soon it becomes sandy and loose. It’s fun to ride in and I pass some guys that are struggling. So far it’s no problem. I’m just following tracks now and see it split. There are people pointing to one so I head up there. There are photographers in this bit, so I start to wonder if they’ve sent me another way to get ‘better’ pictures. I look at my roadbook. They have, so I head in a direction that will cross where I should have been. I hope that I eventually learn.
The sand is getting deeper and harder to ride in and soon becomes lots of tracks. I stop to try and work out where I should be going. There are lots of spectators and four point out different routes to follow. I work out the one I want and head that way.
It’s wrong.
I come back and try another one that turns out ok. My navigation obviously still sucks. I’ll have to work on it when I get out of the sand. The sand is getting deeper and I start to ride the ridges. It’s fun, but at some point I need to go through one. I fall when the front digs in and stops. Nothing serious but the bum bag I’ve got wrapped around the front of the seat breaks it’s strap. I hold it between my knees. A few falls later I realise the bag is getting caught between the forks and tank whenever I try to turn right. Some tourists come and help me pick up the bike and I’m sweating badly. After strapping the bag back on, the bike works again and I continue into some bigger dunes. There are spectators everywhere and my bike is heavy from the fuel. I go down. It’s at a funny angle and I can’t pick the bike up on my own. Spectators run over and help.
I get going again and fall again. More help. Repeat and repeat again.
I stop and turn the bike off amongst all these people panting like a dog that’s been running all day. I drink and wonder what it’s going to be like in the really big ones. I think I should have ‘Total Amateur’ written on my helmet. Or tattooed on my forehead…. And I feel sorry for the guys that were struggling earlier.
One of the organisers comes over on a quad. Follow me, he says. I do and he shows me how to ride around the edges of the dunes like a surfer.
It’s easy and I feel like a twit for trying to just ride through them. I understand now why some people love riding in them, and some people hate it. It’s all about technique. I’m glad I stopped and ended up with the free lesson.
Out of the sand and into the open stuff. I stop near a small village for a rest as my back is getting really sore from fighting with the bike in the sand. A Moroccan teenager comes over very curious about the bike. He only speaks French. I only speak English. Sign language suffices. More come over and I get itchy to move, so put my gear on and ride away. No idea what was wrong, but I’ve learnt to listen to that feeling over the years.
There is lots of space now and I am able to practice my navigation. I also notice that my clutch is getting jerky when I let it out and wonder why. I ride on and come across one of the competitors from Senegal. He’s not sure which track to take and I guess he has been just following the tracks. I show him where we are in the roadbook and we start riding. He goes on ahead when I notice that my GPS has activated for a hidden way point, but it’s in the opposite direction. I turn around and go back, avoiding a 4wd that was behind me. I notice other vehicles all heading towards that point from different directions and wonder how many variations of the roadbook we’ve been able to make. As each GPS picks up the WPM, the vehicles spin around and head back up the track. It’s funny to see.
After a while my oil light starts to come on at low revs. I wonder if the oil is actually a leak somewhere and not just an over fill, and keep an eye on it. Over the next 20kms it gets worse and I’m wondering what to do. The light is coming on more often now as I keep the revs higher to keep oil pressure up, then I see some 4wd tourists watching the race. They are from Spain and more than happy to give me some oil, as long as I wait a bit for their photos to be taken with the bike. I don’t mind one little bit.
The rest of the day passes without incident, except for the pain in my back getting worse. I spend most of it sitting down as it’s worse when I stand, and it’s easier to control the bike with my left hand resting over the bars like that. The hand is getting pretty sore when I hold the bars normally, but if I leave my thumb over the clutch master cylinder, it’s not too bad. It’s slowing me down though and I get passed by a lot of vehicles.
I arrive at the checkpoint and do the liaison to the bivouac.
On the way I stop at a town to wash the oil off the bike. The fill plug in the frame is leaking, even though it is tight. I tighten it even more and hope I’ve fixed the problem.
It starts to get dark. I’m glad I have replaced one of the headlights with a xenon lamp and wired it into the high beam circuit, but if I did it again, I’d replace both. The single lamp on low beam is useless.
Partway back the oil light starts to flicker again. Damn. I should have squeezed a bit more in at that town as I’ve still got about 100km to go. It begins to stay on 70km later, so I pull over and shut the bike down, and try to flag down a car. A Dakar enthusiast stops, but he only has special diesel oil that can’t be mixed with anything else. We try to stop more cars. Eventually he decides to drive the 30kms, buy some more oil and bring it back to me. I try to talk him out of it because I figure someone will stop soon. He wants to help and goes on. A bit later a car competitor stops. They have oil so I fill up and ride off. I look for the bloke that’s helping me and think I see him returning. Flashing my lights, then my brake lights as he passes, but he continues on. I thank him in my helmet and hope he understands.
Hand the time sheet in at the bivouac and get clapped by the organisers. This is something I’m not sure people are aware of. Every time I get into a final CP, they clap and shake my hand. It really makes a huge difference to my psyche, feeling that people appreciate the effort I’ve gone through to get there. Probably they are told to, but it feels really good none the less, and it works.
This time I park the bike near the truck where my tent is, and hear that Maurice Selling has gone out with a broken collar bone. He has a bike shop near where I used to live, so I’ve seen him quite a few times before. I feel sad that he’s had to stop.
My back is really getting on my nerves so I go to the food tent to eat and rest it by the fire. I’m feeling like I’ve done 15 rounds with Tyson and a bit depressed with how my back is going. I ring my wife to let her know. After eating I go back to my bike. Joris, the mechanic from Maurice, offers to help me with the maintenance of my bike now that Maurice is out. The effect that has on me is huge. From feeling down and discouraged, I feel like it’s doable again. I start to work on the bike when he says I shouldn’t make to much noise. I ask why. He looks surprised and says that the other competitors are already asleep in the tents beside me. I understand now why I am the only idiot from Holland trying to do it by myself….. Next time I’ll have a mechanic.
I hunt down the oil leak and find that the oil cooler drain plug is loose. I’m sure I tightened it yesterday, but it’s showing me I’m wrong. I can’t find any more loose things, so replace the air filter and adjust the chain. It’s 1:00 and I need to be up again at 4:00 to start at 5:00. This time I want some breakfast.
My back is the worst it’s been, so I promise myself I’ll get to the medics in the morning if it’s no better, and go to sleep. This time I take my earplugs .
I wake at 4:00 to another cold morning with more frost on the bike. I remind myself to buy a cover for it next time I come. Cold wet seats suck. I pack up the tent.
My back feels good again. Just needed a rest I guess. Today is going to be long. 817km in total, including a liaison of 187km to the start line. Most of that will be in the dark and cold, so I head over to the food tent for breakfast. Warm eggs hit the spot, along with the mandatory croissants and coffee, and I pick up another lunch bag.
A lunch bag consists of a fruit juice drink, a bag of peanuts, a container of rice/beans mix, another container with some sort of pate, a nougat bar, a rice crisp bar and a bag of chips. If there’s more, I don’t remember what it was. All the packs are small. I load them into my backpack, finish eating, and head down to the start to wait for my beginning.
It’s cold and I try to keep it out of my back. Next time I’m going to put a zipper between my pants and jacket like they do on road gear, to keep the cold out. The rest of me feels fine, but it’s freezing just there.
Halfway or so to the start of the special and I’m struggling to stay awake. We are in mountains with switchback type corners and this isn’t the place to doze, but it’s a struggle. Further on we come across about twenty bikes stopped. It looks like a couple of riders are down and out, but there are plenty there to help and we ride on. Soon the sun comes up. This is always my favourite part of the day. A beautiful sunrise and some warmth. Life is good.
I arrive about ½ hr before my start time and wander around warming up. My back is a bit sore already but I put it down to the cold. I’ve also got 5kg of water in my two camelbacks, along with all the extras I’ve squeezed into my jacket pockets, so that probably isn’t helping.
Carlos Sainz arrives in his VW and walks over. He is apologising to us for starting so close and comments that he can only imagine what it is like for us in the dust when they go past. We remind him with a smile to always use his Sentinel, but he’s not one of the drivers we need to worry about. The professionals are fine, it’s the blokes further back that cause the problems.
Finally I get my call to the line and head off with another bike.
I’ve made a vow today not to fall off, so I let him go ahead and take it easy. This special is 350km long and my back is already iffy, so I’m going to try and approach it more like a long trail ride today, instead of a race.
It’s quite rocky and after a while it gets bad. The track turns into total rocks and nothing else. The only way to ride it is to keep up some speed and let the gyroscopic effect from the wheels stop the bike from falling over. Lose that and it’s almost uncontrollable. I come up behind a French rider who is struggling and manage to pass him, although I have to slow right down to do it. Just a bit further there is a 90deg bend in the track. I’ve already lost too much speed passing him and I go down. He stops and helps me up and then continues. He falls further up the hill. I ride up and help him. We continue doing this until we are at the top. My back is hurting again.
Over the hill it is more of the same, but downhill is much easier. Gravity helps keep the speed up and we reach the bottom without any more falls. He is taking it even slower than I want to, so I head off. The pain is pretty bad and I wonder how in the world I’m going to get through today.
Cars start to pass but I haven’t heard the Sentinel at all. I curse them.
The GPS has developed a new trick of switching off when it gets bumpy. I have to stop to switch it back on and reset the waypoint counter each time. It’s annoying and really slowing me down.
I smell hot oil again.
I realize I’m no longer riding standing up at all, but am actually slumped over the bars trying to take the weight off my back. That’s not a good sign.
I stop to check the oil, but can’t find anything obvious. Maybe it is some excess from yesterday finding it’s way down onto the exhaust. I check the Sentinel. It’s off, and won’t switch back on. I trace it to a kink in the power wire, so strip at back and twist the ends together, covering it with a bit of tape. I apologise to the cars drivers that I cursed. Next time I’ll throw some connectors in with my spares. I put the fairing back on and ride a few more kms. The GPS has gone off again, so I decide to look for a problem in the wiring to it. wiring probt.jpg
I stop and my back feels like it’s on fire.
I can’t find anything obvious with the GPS wiring, but notice that my Sentinel fix has vibrated apart. I smell more hot oil.
The backpack comes off and I lie down to ease the pain.
It’s then that the reality of my situation starts to sink in. I’m riding over the handlebars slowly because of the pain. I can’t grip the bars properly because of my hand. My Sentinel doesn’t work and my GPS has a mind of it’s own. And yeah, there’s that hot oil smell too….
I’m only 60km into the 350km special. Then there’s a 282 liaison when I finish it. A bit of calculating gets me into the bivouac tonight around 21:00 if I can continue at a normal pace for the rest of the day. Work on the bike and eat should have me finished around 00:30 and the bikes are starting at 1:30 tomorrow for a really tough day.
I just sit for a while, numb, realizing that it’s just not going to happen.
I think through my options.
I can’t come up with a scenario where I’m not either timed out, or damaged from my back.
I sit for a half hour thinking, trying to accept that this is as far as I got. It hurts as much as my back and I feel as low now as I ever have in my life.
I get up figuring it’s time to see if the Iritrack works, and push that little blue button.
I hear a phone ringing, and my bike speaks to me in French. Although I’m feeling really down, I smile at the weirdness of me talking to my bike, in the middle of nothing, in Morocco…. and it’s talking back.
I’m asked if I need medical help and tell the lady that I can still ride but slowly. She suggests I continue to CP1 and wait for the sweep truck to get me and my talking bike. It’s only 40km but it’s slow until the last 5km or so. The ground becomes smooth and fast with those little ridges you see when the bikes get airborne at high speed. I lean over the bars, wick it up, and enjoy my last ride in the Dakar, hanging my left hand down beside the bike. Wish there was a media chopper around now.
CP1t.jpgI pull in to CP1 and explain my situation. They give me another lunch pack and tell me to go over to the medic chopper and get checked. The medic gives me two brown pills and a bigger white one. I don’t know what they are, but I lie down next to the 4wd of the officials with my head against a wheel and go to sleep. outpostt.jpg
I wake up later to the two officials laughing. I guess I was snoring pretty loudly.
Soon three 4wds turn up. They are from Switzerland and have been driving for hours to see the Dakar go past. They are too late. There’s only a 4wd that’s broken something and is on his way by highway back to the bivouac, and me. We talk and I explain to them the workings of the navigation gear on the bike. In return they set up a table and chairs, and bring out the beer, wine and Swiss cheese telling me to join them. beert.jpg
I’m sitting enjoying their hospitality, and inside wondering at the absurdity of my situation. Eventually I let it go and just accept it. The pills are working and the pain in my back is receding. Life could be a lot worse.
174560-254252-thumbnail.jpgTime passes and the sweep truck arrives. I’ve heard horror stories about this thing and wonder what’s next. They load my bike up with the other five they picked up today. The medic on the truck asks what’s wrong and what I’ve taken for it. I tell him and he asks how my back feels now. I say it’s not too bad. He says to hop up in the passenger part of the truck. It’s a box behind the cab with some basic seats. Inside is Claudio from Italy. His Suzuki’s engine has died. I ask him how long he’s been in the truck and he tells me about 1-1/2 hrs. They’ve travelled about 30km. My heart sinks when they tell me they still have another five bikes to pick up and 350km to go before we reach the bivouac. It should take about 15hrs, they say. I put the GPS/Iritrack, emergency beacon and the Sentinel, inside with me. They have to be given back so I don’t lose my deposit.
Within 1/2hr my back is getting sore from the pounding and I’m ready to throw up. I’ve never travelled well as a passenger. I open the side door and get ready to lose the beer and wine. A few moments later the truck stops. They have seen the open door and come to tell me it cannot be opened. I explain why it is, devoid of colour in my face. They hand me a big plastic bag and say to change seats to the one over the axle. The box rocks less there I hear. We continue. A few minutes later they stop again and come back. There’s been a change of plan. As the truck is nearly full, they are going into a town nearby to unload the bikes into a lockup, then continue on to pick up the others. We have a choice. We can stay in the truck for another 15hrs. We can catch a cab 300km to Ouarzazate where there is an international airport to fly home, or catch a cab 400km to the bivouac at Tan Tan where our trunks are, with a change of clothes, as we were still in our riding gear. We opt for Tan Tan.
The local police are there and make sure our taxi driver is legit, and that the bikes are safe. We do a deal with the garage owner to change Euros into Dirham. We change 100 euros for 1000 dirham and are told the taxi ride will be less than that.
50 euros each for 400kms? I can’t get a lap of Amsterdam for 50 euros.
We give our GPS/Iritrack, beacon and Sentinels to the medic. He makes a note on a form and says he will make sure that they are returned.
The Taxi is a very old, very rattly Merc. The driver speaks no English, and we speak no French. Opening the door from the inside is an arm out the window job. It makes strange noises and has carpet on the dashboard. I sit in the front seat and realise that it won’t go back any further. My knees are squashed up against the dash. It’s going to be a long trip. I doze. Somewhere through the night we are stopped at a police roadblock. Later we see that they are very common. The taxi driver is very polite to them and I realise that the police here wield some power. It makes me feel safer about the bike. The police take our names and race numbers and start phoning people. Eventually they decide we are not a threat to their country and are allowed to continue. This happens a few more times through the trip.
Around 100km before Tan Tan, the little rattly noise from the back of the car starts to get louder. By 50km the driver is nervous and stops to check his wheels. I know what it is, but don’t want to show him as I’m afraid he will stop and not take us any further when he knows. The rear universal joint in his tail shaft is dying. I pray that he will drive smoothly. Every now and then he backs off and the nails the throttle to try and make it go away. I cringe and ask him in English not to do that again. He smiles, nods his head, and does it again. The last 20km are driven very slowly.
We arrive and the slower cars are heading off. It’s around 4:00 in the morning. The bikes are long gone. I give the driver the full 1000 dirham. I see in his eyes that he is extremely grateful, and wish I had more dirham for him. He still has to get back home.
I go to the Elf plane and look for my trunk. It’s not in the piles. I get a coffee and keep looking. Someone comes up and sees my number on the jacket. Your trunk is over there by the truck he says. I am already in the DNF zone. I feel sad, and go over to sort my gear out. The last sidecar is there with a broken frame, and so is Charley Boorman’s bike. I wonder what happened to him and realise that even the best dressed amateurs can still fail. Bummer.
It feels great to get out of my riding boots and into some jeans. I only have my dirty riding jacket to keep warm, so I keep that and my helmet with me. I’m not sure when I’ll see the rest again, so I take my tools out as well. I’ll need them at home.
I have no idea what to do now or who to see. Normally there are people with red jackets on, from the competitors department, wandering around, but now I don’t see any. Tan Tant.jpgI get some breakfast and start asking. Someone tells me to go to the race HQ plane so I do. It’s warming up it’s engines to leave. The pilot tells me to wait as his passengers will be there soon.
They arrive and tell me there will be a bus coming at 8:30 to take us all to Agadir, about 3-1/2hrs away where we can get a flight out to Casablanca. A lady asks where my GPS etc are now. I tell her that the medic has them on the truck. She asks which truck it is and we work out it’s number. She notes something on her form as well.
At 8:30 we are all on the bus. An official comes on and says that there are more blokes in the sweep truck and they should arrive in three hours. We are going to wait for them.
I go back inside the terminal and plug the cell phone charger into the wall. The sweep truck arrives and some riders get out, still in their riding gear. They will fly home to their own countries like that as the ELF plane is long gone. I sit opposite an English bloke, Colin. He has been in the truck for 12hrs. I ask him what it was like? Hell, he says. I am cruel and tell him about our taxi. I think I’ve made an enemy. We talk. He’s a good bloke with the same ideals as me.
We get to the airport and organise our tickets. There are no more flights out today, so they organise a hotel for us. The cab fare to go 5kms is 22 euros. We know we’ve been had, but tell the taxi driver to be there at 3:45 the next morning because Rene and I have an early flight out to Amsterdam. We’re sure he will be there though, to shaft us again.
The hotel costs 15 euros. We have a dinner with soup and drinks for 6 euros each. I’d guarantee in blood that the taxi driver will be there in the morning.
Sitting eating dinner is nice. We are eight, from seven different nationalities. The only two the same are the Swiss sidecar blokes. One was riding a quad, and the rest of us were on bikes. It is quite therapeutic to talk as we are in the same boat, and it is a nice evening.
Eventually we call it a night and head off to sleep.
In the morning we go outside. The taxi driver has spent the night out the front of the hotel, asleep in his cab.
At the airport I am discussing the flight tickets with Rene. He phoned Holland and got his office to organise his. I bought mine the day before at the airport. He got executive class for less than my economy ticket. I’m pissed and go in to see them. They explain that the plane is fully booked and there were no seats left at the cheaper rate, so I had to pay the most expensive rate. I’m not happy, but accept it for now. I’ll write them a letter later.
At Casablanca the plane is delayed for an hour. We are given a breakfast voucher. One coffee and one croissant. I try for two, but must buy the second. Fair enough. In the waiting area my name is called. I go over and my ticket is changed for an executive seat. I’d prefer the money, but accept their gesture of good faith and drop the idea of the letter. Apart from the better food, the seat is wasted as I sleep most of the way there.
We arrive in Amsterdam and I pick up my tools.
Outside my children run up to me and jump into my arms.
I don’t feel like a failure anymore.
I’m home.
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Would I do it again?
That night I tried to watch the TV coverage, but could only see half of it before I felt too miserable at having to stop. I was content with the knowledge that I’d tried. I’d competed. That was enough.
Yesterday I decided to try again next year. andyt.jpg
174560-1738623-thumbnail.jpgA few hours later I got an sms saying Andy Caldecott had died.
I sat at the computer and cried to myself for about an hour and wondered why on earth I want to do it. Last night I had bad dreams about being lost and stuck alone in the desert.
Today I really want to go and try again. If I can organise the funds, I’ll be there next year.
The Dakar is my mountain, and I still need to climb it.
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Update.
The oil smell was just another small leak on a fitting. The bike is fine. The pain in the back was a slipped disc, and the pain in my hand was a chipped bone near the first joint.
All fixable for the next one, if I can ever find a way to raise the money again…

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