Dakar Review II

Took me a while to get to the second review I know.So for those of you thinking of doing the Dakar, also be aware of the post Dakar issue. Difficult to be back at work and not 100% focussed on a race. Too tired still to do anything but bored with not doing stuff. Still, I have a Duathlon to look forward to at the end of the month.So, final list of stories – less dramatic than the last lot The Rest Day The rest day started slightly oddly. The stage before the rest day was a long 600k stage. Racing against the sunset the last 40k or so were in pretty dunes with cacti looking like people as the light gave out. Finally finished and got to the bivouac. Such an amazing feeling to have made the rest day which was my target for the whole effort and which I really didn’t think I’d make. Rode up to the Team Desert Rose awning to find a note on the white board “Well done – we’re all in a hotel – see you tomorrow.” To be fair the mechanics really needed a good night’s rest and properly deserved a clean bed in Antofagasta but still it was a little bit of an anticlimax. Craig Bounds was already in and asleep and Tamsin had yet to finish (she finished at about 2 am) so a good feeling but no-one to share it with. On the rest day itself Craig told me not to laze about all day but to keep a bit of physical activity going. I went for a walk along the beach which was ideal. All of a sudden the project changed – I needed to find a new plan to get further into the race….No idea when I wrote this – it’s clearly been sitting in the draft section for months. Anyway I decided to publish.It’s now October and the Dakar fever is kicking off again. All the people I know on faceskive are prepping for Argentina in January again…. but I’m not.It’s hard to find the impetus to keep prepping but a new plan is starting to evolve as the year wears on and the finances recover and the boredom sets in. I’ll never be a top Dakar racer but I know folk who can be. I’ve done the apprenticeship and I know how to get there. Maybe I can marry my knowledge and more importantly my contacts with the guys I know and create a Scottish desert racing legacy.We need support to do this – and cash. I have a feeling it can be done.Starting point is getting my good friend Mike Robertson through the Tuareg Rallye in March 2011. More posts to follow on that adventure for anyone who’s interested.

Dakar Review I

Man it’s cold in Scotland! Glad to be home and caught up on some sleep.

I thought I’d try to post a few of the random stories I remember from my Dakar now that I have time to do so. Some silly stories, some tough points in the race and maybe some thoughts for anyone else daft enough to consider the Dakar – or any other desert race. It all seems to be a long way away now so these will be in no particular order – and probably spread over more than one post.

THE BIG CRASH. Those who followed twitter will have seen my low point posts at the end of Day 11 after my one big off of the race. Patsy had warned me the night before that it was too easy to start thinking about making up some places at this point in the Rally rather than continuing to ride carefully. She was right. About 100k in to the the stage the piste opened up to a wide flowing track in a canyon. Very pretty and very easy to ride fast with berms on either side you could slide into and launch off. I passed Tamsin and Phil then came across a train of riders and started picking them off one by one. Dust was the only issue but with the bikes I could move around across the wide piste and pick a way through where I could sort of see through the dust. Then I came up behind a quad. Quads make a lot more dust and this guy was really hard to see past. In the dust I didn’t see a 50cm wall of rocks built across the piste with arrow signs directing you around a washed out bit of piste – at least not until I was 1 meter from it at about 80kph. I tried to jump it but clattered one of the big arrow signs (now an ex-sign) and bike and I went somersaulting away. I reckon I was out for a minute or two but the bike was largely ok and I was able to get back on and ride to the end of the day. Very annoyed with myself for getting carried away and not playing safe. Total damage assessment was a couple of cracked ribs, a very stiff neck and a chipped elbow. Sore but nothing to stop me riding. A really stupid one but all in all I got away with it.

THE BLOWN ENGINE. On the evening of Day 12 I arrived in the bivouac to find Tony waiting for me with my spare engine out of it’s box. Apparently he had been worried about the inlet valves on my engine wearing badly and had chosen not to tell me in case I worried about it. He checked and the inlet valves had run out of adjustment completely so he recommended we change the engine and I agreed. Day 13 was the last hard day in the sand and within 5k my clutch was squealing. I nursed it to the end of the stage but was getting more and more worried about the new engine sounding rough – it also seemed to be running hot but it was a very hot day anyway. Trying to tell myself it just sounded different I took a break at the end of stage refuel then discovered the first 140k of liaison was on soft sand piste with lots of fesh fesh. The engine took me nicely through that and out onto the road section of 150k where we could get some speed up and get some air through the radiators (and cool the rider a bit). Happily grunting along at 105kph about 30k from the end the engine burnt the last of its oil and munched itself into bits. After a bit of waiting Argentinian Quad rider Santiago Hansen came to my rescue and agreed to tow me in to the bivouac. That went very well apart from 2k of soft rutted sand which even his Polaris struggled with. Imagine me hanging on for grim death behind. Nevertheless we made it in and Patsy and Tony did another engine change before the final day. There’s no doubt that Santiago saved my Dakar that day. How lucky I was that the engine didn’t go while I was still in the stage or in the soft sand liaison – that would have been me.

CRAIG BOUNDS. The top UK rider in the race by far went out in spectacular style on Day 13 – the second last day. It’s a story worth telling as it tells you a lot about Craig and the type of guy you have to be to be a top Rally rider. In the first set of dunes Craig 690 KTM developed both a clutch problem and a starter problem. The 690 has no kick start and because the problem was in the starter arrangement it couldn’t be jump started. For nearly 10 hours Craig tried to find ways of bump starting it but in the soft sand the rear wheel just dragged and wouldn’t turn the engine. He had two horses strapped to the bike pulling it along. Then he tried a 4×4 but no luck. When the sweeper truck got him he was physically lifting the bike up the dune hoping to run it down the other side. Craig then refused to go with the sweeper truck and give up. They thought he was suffering in the 40 degree heat and called a medical helicopter for him. He had to be wrestled into the helicopter by two or three Argentine army blokes. That is the sort of “never say die” commitment the top guys have – I can but dream. I’m gutted for Craig – he’s an amazing rider and could run with the top riders given the chance.

Craig Bounds


Day 15 – Podium – Buenos Aires

And so tis done. Today I rode up onto the podium at La Rural, BA, the whole team joined me, Patsy, Tony, Zippy et al. I hadn’t expected them and nearly burst into tears. The last day or so has been alternately emotional and flat – weird. When I get back I’ll blog on all the different days as far as I can remember.

In the meantime, a huge thanks to Tony for keeping the bike running sweet despite my hamfisted riding, to Patsy, Zippy and Clive for help and advice not just during the race but over the two or three years prior to the start; to the Mikes – Shepherd and Robertson – for being the supportive rocks they are; to all the people who have supported and sent messages on the web-site and otherwise; to Charlie for being “the webmeister”; to Mario and family for helping me on Day 3 when I was low on everything – see guestbook – and for taking the time to find out about me and follow the race (I’ll email once I have access to a computer again); to Wendy for PR activity; to Santiago for towing me home on Day 13; and finally to my AJ for forcing me to get fit over the last 6 months, and just for being there.

Day 10 – Santiago

Sadly not actually in Santiago, but the bivouac is in a dusty field north of the city. I suspect our route tomorrow takes us directly east so we’ll not get to see Santiago. I’ll need to come back. Although I thought I was up to 79th last night, by this morning the final results had me back to 86th. So the initial result from today’s stage (76th) I’ll take with a pinch of salt. The stage today was really fast and I should have done better. Unfortunately the liasion of 111k was on a tight time so by the time I had refuelled I had to go straight to start the stage. I was wearing a windproof shirt thing under my jacket but over my armour in order to keep warm on the liaison – I didn’t have time to take it off and open the vents in my jacket. 50k into the special I was cooking so I had to stop and sort that out. I let about 6 bikes by in the time it took me – I got them all back but for Tamsin who was clearly on one today. The last 5k of the stage was lined with shouting and cheering crowds which was amazing if slightly distracting. I’m getting properly tired now. I need to keep being aware of my falling concentration levels. Nevertheless, still in. Tony the wonderspanner keeps the bike in top shape. I think he’s now as tired as I am. Tomorrow is a long liasion stage back into Argentina then a shortish stage over rocks and lots of rocky dry riverbeds. 4 days left. Have Fun PC

Rest Day – Antofagasta

This was the target and I’m delighted to have made it this far. The bike hasn’t missed a beat due to the efforts of Tony Woodham. Tony has the worst of it as he struggles to sleep in the day as the team travel, then has to work on my bike and Phil Noone’s bike all night. Day 7 was really long and tiring with lots of rocks and fesh fesh. For those of you not desert riders, fesh fesh is like talcum powder and it sits in hard clay ruts. You get no drive in it and if your wheel touches the hard rut then 50% of the time you’re over the bars. The trucks in particular dig deep ruts. So far I’m ok but my hands and wrists are sore. My back gets tired on the piste with 3 litres of water and a belt pack. Being passed by the cards and trucks is ok and I’ve only had a couple of near misses. The sentinel system seems to work ok. Today I’ll be a bit lazy but try to get organised for the next few days. Still a long way to go.

Bivouac Day 2 – Cordoba

Not properly Day 2 as Day one was only a liaison stage. On Tarmac at that. Nevertheless yesterday was still an amazing day with huge crowds lining the route. The podium in Buenos Aires was a mad experience and one I’ll never get to repeat. All along the 317k route were families having barbeques and cheering us on. Carlyle autographs now exist, albeit rare. Mad! But fun! Today was my first proper Dakar stage. 650k with a 220k special stage. Very early start and I was suffering from my first attempt to sleep (unsuccessful) in a noisy bivouac tent (the mechanics work all night). I loved the stage though. It was shortened to 150k for some reason so was pretty easy. Nevertheless I took it very gently and survived intact – if almost last. The day ends on a sad note as it appears one of the Rally cars slid off the piste and into some spectators with the result that one of the spectators died. I guess with so many enthusiastic spectators it is kind of inevitable but very sad nevertheless. Another full tough day ahead so must remedy the sleep deficit. Have Fun. PC

D-day minus one

This might be the last blog for a while. Race starts tomorrow. We have a compulsory briefing at 0930 then I think we sit around and read the roadbook till 1430 when the first bike starts. I’ll need to remember to take tape and a marker pen. I’m currently sitting with the team before our final meeting at 10. Not much left to do today hopefully. One of the Canadian riders is hosting a bit of a party tonight so may go along for a bit. I’m surprised I’m not more nervous at this point but maybe it will come. I’m just very keen to get started now. Yesterday was a bit manic with all the attention you get as a rider. I suspect the real proof will come out on the piste and in the dunes. Have fun. PC

No More excuses!

Well that’s it. Scrutineering was very intense and exhausting but a couple of hours ago after an unexpected interview on a podium I put the bike into Parc Ferme. We’re done. Nothing more I can do. Just got final preps before Friday. Tony’s done a great job on the bike and she sailed through the technical checks. Have Fun. PC.

Waiting, waiting

Been in Buenos Aires for 24 hours now. Nice to chill out but keen to get on and make progress. Think it could be a long day of preparation. Hopefully all will come together quickly. Have Fun. Paul.

Is this a Dakar I see before me…?

Thanks Allan for the headline.I’m now sitting on a flight to Argentina. Duncan and I have already met a group running a truck and the assistance driver for David Fretigne.It begins…

Have Fun Paul

(seem to have format problems again – probably because doing this on my iPhone – I’ll see if I can get someone back at base to tidy these up).