Taste of Dakar
I love motorcycles…the engines… The feel of the handlebars in my grip, ALL of the gear…"the farkles"...the lifestyle. I can ride to Starbucks and get thrown under the bus by real ADV riders for being a poser, or meet up with friends and go for a month long international adventure. WTF?! My morning coffee urges are clashing with my motorcycle fantasies. I need more. For me, most of the time, the ordinary is not enough. Am I attempting to serve some midlife crisis? Totally! But why did I wait this long!?
On their deathbed nobody said "I wish I spent more time at work." Whenever possible, we should follow our dreams and aspirations.
Oh crap!!! Am I too old for the NASA astronaut program? I can head over to REI right now and buy gear for an Everest expedition… What the hell, I’m on my bike, I have the perfect idea! This is it!!! I am going to race in the Dakar!!
Check, check...Brad, are you in there? This is your brain. Put down the triple espresso latte. Pick up your phone and call your friend, Jeremy LeBreton.
He might have your solution. Maybe, you just need a TASTE of DAKAR!
While the blood in my caffeine system finds some type of homeostasis, let’s explore the real challenges of the actual Dakar race.
The Dakar Rally (or simply known as "The Dakar"; formerly known as the "Paris–Dakar Rally") is an annual rally organized by the Amaury Sport Organization. Most events since the inception in 1978 were from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal, but due to security threats in Mauritania, from Al Qaeda, which led to the cancellation of the 2008 rally, races since 2009 have been held in South America. The race is open to amateur and professional entries. Amateurs typically make up about eighty percent of the participants.
The race is an off-road endurance event. The terrain that the competitors traverse is much tougher than that used in conventional rallying, and the vehicles used are true off-road vehicles rather than modified on-road vehicles. Most of the competitive special sections are off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks, and erg among others. The distances of each leg of a 13 stage rally covered vary from short distances up to 800–900 kilometers (500–560 mi) per day.
Here is a list of Dakar Rally fatal accidents involving both competitors and non-competitors who have died during a Dakar Rally event:
Since 1979, 70 people are known to have died as a result of the Dakar rally. Among the 28 competitor fatalities, 19 were motorcycle related, 6 car related, 1 truck related, and 2 competitors died as a result of local rebel conflict. Up to 1992, collision was the most common cause of death among competitors. Among the 42 non-competitor fatalities are those of the race's founder Thierry Sabine, 14 news journalists and support crew, 23 spectators, and 4 children.
The Dakar Rally has received criticism because of its high mortality rates, with the Vatican Paper describing the event as "the bloody race of irresponsibility".
A warning from the Pope is pretty serious. While I am not a religious guy, there are no atheists in foxholes…and most likely none in the Dakar either.
Okay, Jeremy, show me what you got. I knew he had something up his sleeve. He is known for being a bad ass with a little bravado and the riding chops to back it up. He is the founder of AltRider, a Seattle-based company manufacturing 100% American-made accessories and gear for adventure touring motorcycles.
"Hey guys, come out to Pahrump, Nevada. I’ll show you a good time.”
What did he mean? Pahrump, a desolate town two hours from Las Vegas is famous for two things: The Chicken Ranch, a legal and licensed brothel and the home of Art Bell, an American broadcaster and author known as one of the founders and the original host of the paranormal-themed radio program Coast to Coast AM. This could get weird. But what the hell? This is adventure!!
After making some calls to some riding buddies and a little research, I discovered that this looked legit. Death Valley, high desert mountainous single track, dry river beds, fire roads and ancient dried up lake offered enough challenges for me to get a taste.
As the caffeine dissipated, I weighed my options. Tens of thousands of dollars, a year of preparation, supplying my own medic and mechanic or a few hundred dollars that would include food, a comfortable stay at the Wine Ridge RV Resort that accommodate tents, motorcycles, trucks with campers, RVs and toy haulers; for an extra fee, cottages are available for rent. Laundry, clean showers, hot tub and bathrooms, a coin-operated pressure washer and a large clubhouse and fine dining made Wine Ridge the easier choice.
My decision was made so I called the crew, “Pack it up, we are going to Nevada”
“No, we are not going to see Cirque Du Soleil. No, I have not mastered the winning black jack system…yet. Yes, we can stop at Alien Jerky on the way”. My crew is a little demanding, but they are always up for an adventure.
Long road trips always give me time to think. This rally sounded cool, but what makes it like Dakar???? The terrain is challenging, but riding motorcycles in the desert was nothing new to me. Jeremy had created the weekend to give the closest experience by teaming up with those that have been there.
Jimmy Lewis and Chris Blais, the only two American motorcycle racers to achieve podium finishes in the Dakar Rally. In addition to his success in the Dakar, Jimmy Lewis is a four-time International Six Day Enduro gold medalist, overall winner of the Baja 1000 and overall winner of Dubai Rally. His ‘Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School’ is based in Pahrump, and in addition to creating Saturday’s ride routes he offered up some pre-rally training.
Now Jimmy may have the medals, but he can thank his lovely wife, Heather, an extremely talented trainer and rider, for maintaining a world class off road school that specifically designed for the terrain. Jimmy spent the morning having us practice with our engines off, getting on the pegs and balancing and making adjustments to our body that seemed to defy logic. I felt like the Karate Kid.
“Wax on, Wax off”
However, just like the movie, when we finally fired up the bikes and moved into the changing environment, the new movements gave us better control over the bikes.
“Ok, Jimmy. Can we hit the trails now?”
He had a better idea. He took us to a rock quarry with loose gravel to better practice our balance. Afterwards, he moved us to a flat dry lakebed that stretched for miles to practice braking and what felt like synchronized motorcycle ballet for hours. As if on queue, a storm moved in and dropped rain on us turning the top dust into mud and clay. The wheels, brakes and gears were so caked with mud that all we had for control was our balance training from the morning. To this day, I ask myself "how did Jimmy make it rain?"
The evening back at the resort was spent creating camaraderie with fellow adventurers, discussing logistics and setting GPS coordinates for the novice, experienced and expert riders. Sleep came easy that night after an exhaustive day with Jimmy and the medicinal properties of beer and whiskey. The morning came quickly and abruptly with sweet sound of spring --- motorcycles starting up.
After the challenges from yesterday’s training, I was pondering which course that best suited me. Hmmm, the postcard trip to Pioneer Saloon sounds amazing. A famous old western bar, way out in the desert, in a town called Goodsprings, that was once a watering hole to the likes of Clark Gable and John Wayne and a set for movies. Now, it is a saloon for bikers, showgirls and hipsters, alike, complete with bullet holes, the pot bellied stove and the paper clippings which are just a few of the things that will keep you immersed in the exciting era of the old Wild West. I could see myself eating sizzling hot burgers and drinking cold beer from a glass cowboy boot. I veered to join that crowd when Jeremy rolled next to me and said two words that I will add to my future warning list, “Follow me”. Something inside alarmed me that those words ranked with previous two word warnings that I had to learn the hard way, like Road Ends and Electric Fence.
Everyone got off to a good start. I imagine that is the standard at most rallies, even the Dakar. Each start begins with a full tank, crowds cheering and the confidence that you will respectfully finish the race.
And then as the old western adage goes, ‘the wheels came off the wagon’
My expert group was an hour into foothills when my good friend, Fonzi, a photographer for several motorcycle magazines, got his front tire in the fluffy sand between the trails of a two track, veered off course and slammed in to the only Boulder I had seen that morning. He flew over the handle bars. It was a beautiful dismount, a full flip in a pike position, major air – Fonzi was going for the gold medal – and then smacks a rock like a discarded rag doll. Meanwhile, 90 minutes away, my film crew rolls up on a fully engulfed burning vehicle. They hop out to look for survivors just in time for the ammunition in the vehicle to explode. Radio reports are coming in from all over the rally that carnage is occurring elsewhere.
I think it is important to point out that this is no fool’s run. Some of the best bikers, with the best gear and bikes, trained specifically for this terrain and guided by the best leaders are subject to danger.
As most of riders return to resort, while a few go to the hospital, we are treated to a keynote speech by Chris Blais, a real life Dakar finisher. He offers a memorial for Kurt Caselli, who was once an up and coming motorcross star. Caselli crashed the year before while competing in the Baja 1000, a race in Baja California, Mexico, after colliding with a large animal at high speed. Early reports indicated that he hit a man-made booby trap, but that ultimately proved to be incorrect information. Caselli did not receive immediate medical attention, and he died at the site of his accident from internal injuries. He was 30 years old. It is important to note that Chris is sharing this story from a wheel chair because he is paralyzed due to a motorcycle accident. You would think this was a somber warning about not riding, Quite the opposite, this was one adventurer honoring another for pursuing their dreams and pushing the limits. The crowd toasts the fallen ones and ponders the reality of the Dakar and being given just a taste. Each participant makes it back to their campsite, both humbled and satisfied with their own survival.
As I start to drift off for the night, I realize.
Adventure is not just going to the edge…but making it back.
To watch "Taste of Dakar", click here.