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Old 04-08-2009, 06:46 PM   #46
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Can't wait to see the dunes.
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Old 04-09-2009, 04:31 PM   #47
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Day 3 - Merzouga

The rally has now settled into the village of Merzouga, which will be our base for the next three days. We are staying in the Hotel Tuareg, even have a "penthouse" apartment!

I'm wide awake lying in bed at 5:30am. Might as well get up and do some work on the bike. I didn't have time to steal Dan's Watchdog computer last night, so now is as good a time as any.

Working with my little LED flashlight strapped to my head...great inventions...I disconnect the wiring and undo the mounting bolts for the display. I suppose I could unbolt mine, but I decide to just zip tie this one right on top of mine, with a little bit of self adhesive foam tape in between them. It works like a charm and saves me some time. The wiring from his thumb switch to the computer is not long enough to mount on my bars so I end up drilling a couple of holes in my roadbook plexiglass and mounting it up there. Looks goofy, but it's better than using the stock ODO.

Around 7am while I'm loading my roadbook for the day, Dan comes down to the bikes. He's already dressed in all his riding gear but looks a mess. Holding his arms out and shrugging his shoulders he simply says "I'm fucked." He didn't sleep well again last night and tells me he's considering taking the day off and going back to bed. He starts to get his bike ready, but really, he's in no shape to ride today. We've started this adventure together and said we'll stick together to help one another through it, I know he feels obligated to ride today but right now the best thing I can do to help him is let him get some sleep. I'm worried that if we get out in the dunes it will be very hard to stick together and without a clear mind it's probably dangerous for him to venture out there and risk getting lost or hurt. Reluctantly he heads back to the room, but really it is the only sensible thing to do.

With Dan out today my mind suddenly kicks into overdrive. Certainly my performance in the dunes so far has been less than stellar...well...truthfully it's been pitiful really. I've got enough confidence in my navigation skills to go it alone but I have to admit that when I get my gear on and head out of the hotel court yard towards the start line my adrenaline is pumping.

Today's stage will take us through three different ergs. A small set to start with, then (according to Rainer) a difficult navigational stage, followed by a set of very soft dunes and then back into the Erg Chebbi to CP4. The Moto Profi class will then do an additional 40km of tall dunes to finish the day off.

It's about a 14km ride from the hotel to the start line. You have to show up about 45 minutes before your start time (which is posted late each night and based on your previous day's finish time) to pick up your time card. There are four riders per minute and 15 minutes before your start time they call your number and get you lined up. I'm apprehensive and excited all at the same time. We're on the edge of the dunes here and I think "this is it."

I have a slight panic when I realize my GPS is pointing it's way back to the hotel instead of out into the dunes. One of the guys I've met who is also using an old GPS-V model comes to the rescue and shows me how to get it set to the first waypoint. My problem was that I didn't turn the thing on until the start line instead of at the hotel.

One of the British riders stops by to say hi and gives me a tip. The first waypoint is less than 500m away from the start, he points..."just over that first dune." It's a secret (SCP) check point...don't miss it.

(Sorry for the lack of pictures from today's ride...I was focused on survival at the time. I'll throw in some pictures of the pits among my ramblings here.)

My number is called and I slip into the line up with a rider from Japan and another from Italy. Neither speaks English, but we give each other the thumbs up at the start and wait for the ORGA guy to give us the 5 second countdown...then I dump the clutch and we're off.

We crest the first dune and sure enough, there is the SCP flag right in front of least I think it's fairly obvious, the Japanese guy rips off to my left and is gone, I guess he missed it.

I've turned my steering damper setting up for today and it seems to help. I've also dropped my rear tire pressure to 7lb, but with this heavy sidewalled Dunlop I could probably run it flat and not notice any difference. The dunes are fairly firm here and I get off to a relatively good start. You quickly learn to stay out of other people's tracks as much as possible because the sand is softer where it has been disturbed.

Keeping an occasional eye on the GPS arrow and riding the crests of the dunes I at least seem to be holding my own with the other riders today. These aren't high dunes and standing up you can pretty much judge how steep the downhill side is. I make pretty good time without any's a good confidence boost for me. Towards the end of this set I hook up with three Dutch riders who are riding together, led by the guy I nick-name the "Crazy Dutchman." I many guys ride a Yamaha with bright pink graphics and outfit? But he seems to know what he's doing and I'm keen to tag along if I can through the difficult navigation part of the stage.

One of the Dutch trio is KTM mounted and struggling a bit in the dunes, at least as much as I have been.

We exit this set of dunes and start riding down a very dusty, rocky piste. I'm trying to keep track of my milage and roadbook settings in case I get separated, but it sure is a lot easier with someone leading.

The "Crazy Dutchman" starts to crank it up on the piste and I have to make the decision to take some risks riding at speed in the dust as I bring up the rear, or let this group go and navigate solo. I decide to try and keep up with them and we ride into the next CP as a group. We're making good time too, almost 1-1/2 hours ahead of our cut off time for the CP. While I'm fiddling with my GPS and roadbook one of the trio introduces himself to me as "Champ" a former boxer. He confirms that I'm at the same spot in the roadbook that he is and we check that we're both heading for the same waypoint...we are.

After we get our time cards marked and down some water the Crazy Dutchmen mounts up, looks at me and says "you ready?" I feel officially accepted into the exclusive little club and nod my head for him to lead on.

"Champs" Yamaha:

It's a fairly long, rocky and dusty ride to the next dune set. The four of us stick together and stop once in a while to compare notes and confirm our heading, but for the most part we're following the pink Yamaha.

The second dune set is soft, really soft in parts. Generally I'm finding that sand with little ripples in you find underwater near the shoreline on a more firm and easier to ride. When you see "creamy" looking smooth sand...beware. Sometimes you're front wheel will simply drop into it as if you just ran into a deep pothole filled with water.

I've been warned about another desert phenomenon by Roland, but experiencing it is really something else. It must be because of the angle of the sun on the horizon, or the angle you are heading into the sun at times which causes a sort of blindness. Not that you can't see, but your depth perception is destroyed and everything suddenly looks like one big cinnamon coloured landscape. It's difficult to see elevation changes, let alone the conditions of the sand.

It is at this time that crest a tall pointed dune and go sailing blindly off the top of it. I can't see the slope on the other side, but I sure know when I come down and hit it. In my best crash of the rally I am launched over the bars and down the steep slope. In the process my leg, or foot catches on the RAM mount for my SPOT tracker and cleans it off the handlebars. All I can do is roll with it as I hit the soft sand. I end up about 20' downhill of where my bike stops, thankfully it hasn't followed and landed on top of me. I take a few moments to see if any pain is kicking isn't. Slog back up the dune and drag the bike back upright from it's almost upside-down position in the sand.

I'm exhausted and the Dutchmen have long since vanished over the horizon.

I get my shit together and head out again, my little GPS seems to be mocking me as it keeps pointing towards the next waypoint. Not long after my crash I make another mistake...several in fact at the same time which lead to another pretty good get off. I'm skirting the side of a dune, on the soft side, following in someone else's track. Without warning the front wheel drops up to the axle into the sand. I'm in 3rd gear at the time and the resulting endo is epic. When I pick myself up I discover I've wiped out in a small "bowl." between four intersecting dunes.

When you're stuck in a "bowl" you do what I've been told is the "toilet bowl" maneuver...riding in ever increasing circles up the side of the bowl until you can exit out the top. Unfortunately, this bowl is pretty small and doesn't allow me space to get started up the side.

I end up stuck in this spot for over 1/2 hour, pushing, falling, lifting, falling and still, I'm stuck. The frustrating part is that the bowl isn't that deep, maybe 6 or 8 feet, but I can't get any momentum up to escape it. Finally I lay the bike on it's side and alternatively tug the front, then rear wheel up the side of the bowl. I feel like I'm about to have a coronary or heat stroke in the process.

Stuck in the bowl:

When things are going right in the dunes it is magical. You fly more than ride, you surf the wave and glide across sand in graceful smooth arcs. When things go wrong, they go wrong fast and leave you struggling in deep soft sand that doesn't want you to escape. I'm in dire need of the magical stuff right now.

In an attempt to conserve energy and avoid crashing I stick to the valleys, taking the long route but it works for me and I exit this dune set avoiding any more problems.

My GPS is pointing away from the dunes towards the piste. I'll be glad to reach the next waypoint, an SCP I reckon, with some other humans and water and the ability to take a little break. No such luck as my GPS counts down the meters and I reach a waypoint that might as well be on the dark side of the moon. No indication of life, let alone other riders, not even dust on the horizon. I check my roadbook and find it only works in reverse, having been either damaged or jammed with sand from my previous circus tricks. I disengage the drives and roll it forward by hand to correspond with this waypoint, then check the arrow and start down the dusty piste. It's not like I've got a lot of choice.

When you're riding alone, even when you think you know what you're doing navigating the situation plays with your mind. You haven't seen anyone else for a few km's and can't help wondering "am I still going the right way?" I've learned from racing Enduros to not second guess yourself and ride your own race. You've got to have some confidence in yourself because you might not have much else at the time. At this point I'm just following my GPS arrow, if there is a SCP somewhere that you can only find by the roadbook, I'm going to miss it. After several km like this I can spot dust in the distance and it's in the direction I'm heading. Soon after I come up on three riders, including Robbert. The good news is his Gas Gas is not cutting out anymore, the bad is...when it stops he has a hell of a time getting it started again.

We have one last dune set to cross to reach CP4. I'm dead tired but at least I'm still heading in the right direction and the company bouys my spirits.

These dunes are a bit firmer and I finally seem to find my rythum in them. It's a few short km to the CP and I arrive without dumping it...actually it was kind of fun for once. Once I get my time card filled in the adrenalin rush from riding wears off. I'm really tired and there is still a 40km Moto Profi special test to run. Time to take a bit of a break, cool down, get a good long drink of water and assess the situation. While I'm doing that Roland's buddy Dirk comes into the CP and we chat. I guess he can tell from the looks of me that I'm knackered and I tell him that I'm not looking forward to the special test.

Dirk tells me this dune set will be the longest and tallest of the day. His advice to me..."if you are not 100% sure you can finish it, do not go into the dunes alone." He leaves it at that and I'm left sitting in the sand to contemplate my next move.

I came to ride the Tuareg for several reasons and I had a few goals I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to ride the event and not quit. If I didn't finish because I got busted up or the bike broke down, so be it, but I didn't want to quit. I wanted to hit every checkpoint in the rally. I wanted to make it to the top of the highest dune which is the last check on day 5. If I don't go back into the dunes I'll miss several key CP's and at least one of my goals will be dashed.

Any event like this has an element of risk, maybe a high element of risk. But I guess you assess that risk and try your best to deal with it and minimize it. In the end, risk is one thing, but stupidity is another. I have to face the fact that entering this last dune set alone and in my condition will not just be risky, but stupid on my part. I simply don't have the energy left if I run into trouble...and you can get in a lot of trouble out here real fast.

I put my sweaty helmet on and ride back to the hotel feeling like somebody just ran over my puppy with a Mack truck.

'10 Gas Gas EC300
'08 Husaberg FE550
'09 Husqvarna TXC250
'84 Honda VT500FT Ascot
Tuareg Rally 2009

canadaler screwed with this post 03-09-2010 at 07:30 AM
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Old 04-09-2009, 07:20 PM   #48
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Fantastic report . I can't believe you took the time to take photo's out there in the stages just for us! Maybe I'll do the same in August during the Australasian Safari. Inspirational! Keep up the good work. I'm looking forward to the next installments. Congratulations on your finish.
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Old 04-10-2009, 05:26 AM   #49
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Originally Posted by canadaler
Any event like this has an element of risk, maybe a high element of risk. But I guess you assess that risk and try your best to deal with it and minimize it. In the end, risk is one thing, but stupidity is another. I have to face the fact that entering this last dune set alone and in my condition will not just be risky, but stupid on my part. I simply don't have the energy left if I run into trouble...and you can get in a lot of trouble out here real fast.

I put my sweaty helmet on and ride back to the hotel feeling like somebody just ran over my puppy with a Mack truck.
i made a similar decision a few years ago, not on a rally and not in the desert, but on a solo ride in the Indian Himalayas during the winter (Dec'05). I was riding a 180cc Indian made bike with regular road tyres and the mountain passes had all frozen solid. I got to the top of one pass (14,000feet high) and i had to decide whether i would carry on or turn back. I had already fallen quite a few times trying to stay upright, while on the way up to the passes and it was late noon by then. Getting down needed another half day and i knew that if i get stuck some where or crashed badly, it would mean suicide.

i turned back with tear in my eyes that day.

its an awssome adventure you did. pls keep the pics coming.
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Old 04-10-2009, 07:10 AM   #50
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Keep it comin, i am out injured and this is as good as racing!!

Well done on the ride, you guys really are getting the most from your rally. Thats what its all about.
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Old 04-11-2009, 02:03 AM   #51
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Just superb, what a thread, well done, what effort, inspiring,
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Old 04-11-2009, 07:19 AM   #52
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Back at the hotel, I'm dejected after bailing on the final Profi stage of the day.

Dan is up and feeling better after finally getting some sleep. The only benefit to my early exit in the stage is that it's only about 4pm which will give me some time to recuperate and go over the bike. I take off my gear and lay on the bed, before I know it I'm asleep.

I'm in the dunes and this time they're huge. Riding fast I'm heading up a steep slope and when I reach the top I don't even let off. The Berg and I launch into space and after reaching the zenith of our trajectory begin our slow motion fall back towards earth. Falling, falling... separated from the bike now, arms flailing...anticipating the impact...I wake up with a start.

Dan is down in the courtyard working on my bike. Going over it to check for damage and when I get down there he's got my roadbook apart trying to figure out why it won't run forward anymore. It turns out to be a problem not with the roadbook itself, but sand in the toggle switch mounted to the handlebar. I disassemble it and fix the problem then we blow the sand out of the roadbook as best we can.

We have plenty of time to talk about the day and I do my best to fill Dan in on the lessons I've learned in the dunes. It helps me to go over them again and drill into my head the do's and do-not's of riding them.

Tonight I swap out my rear wheel with the spare I've brought and...I hope...some advantage in the sand. I've brought a 19" wheel with a Pirelli sand tire mounted. The knobs on it form a paddle arrangement. I'm a little concerned that the tire isn't a very wide profile...but decide to give it a try since the next two days will be strictly in the dunes.

Dan and I discuss strategy for tomorrow. He's been studying up on his ZUMO today and feels more confident in using it, but is still terrified of getting lost out in the desert. I can't blame him. It's going to be very difficult to stick together tomorrow but we'll try to do it. Whomever is up front is going to have to keep checking behind them for the other guy and we won't leave each either behind.

Day 4 - The King Stage

Today is where the rallye is won or lost...that is if you're one of the people really in contention for the win. The stage consists of 4 loops in the Erg Chebbi, each approximately 60km long. There is a time limit to reach each CP, if you're late your day is done. Out of about 200 entrants only a handful will be able to complete the entire 4 loops.

You can tell it's going to be hot today and we decide to unzip the jacket sleeves and vent panels in the pants of our "Hell N Back" gear. With these jackets there is a mesh under the sleeves which retains the elbow pads, so we don't lose our protection, but can ride cooler, it works fantastic. About this time Volker shows up to wish us well and give us some final tips. He offers to take our sleeves and panels with him back to the hotel. It's little things like that which are such a help to us and reinforce what great people we're meeting in the rallye.

The start today is a "Le Mans" style. The bikes are all lined up and we walk 50' or so back behind them. When the start command is given you run the the bike, start it and head off into the dunes. Navigation today is almost 100% via the GPS waypoints.

Dan and I walk to the bikes, we're going to use our heads today and not get caught up in the race itself. Really there is no reasonable chance we'll ever do the full four laps, so our focus is on learning, staying out of trouble and having a good ride. We treat it as a trail ride through the desert.

We're not far into the dunes when I discover that my sand tire is awesome. It hooks up nicely and the big 550 Husaberg has more than enough power to pull me up the dune faces. I feel rejuvenated and start to pick up my speed...this is great! Oops...where's Dan?

There are few places one can stop when in the dunes and have a reasonable prospect of getting moving again. Ideally, you have to be pointed downhill somewhere since your rear wheel buries itself as soon as you let out the clutch. I get to the top of the next dune and stop, then look back for Dan. He's a couple of dunes back and I wait for him, when he pulls up, he's baffed. Today will be his trial by fire in the sand, I hope he has a better time of it than I did yesterday.

We go along like this for the first hour or so, with me leading and periodically stopping to wait for Dan. When we're together I point out the general path we're heading on, trying to ride the crests of dunes and not get separated.

The GPS arrow is pointing right towards a huge dune, we can see several people stuck and struggling to make it to the top, but don't see any SCP up there, so we decide to simply route around it. Turns out to be a great strategy, in another 10 minutes we are around the other side and most of the people we saw stranded are still up there. Conserving energy...that's the ticket for us today.

At this point Dan has pretty much given up on the ZUMO. He sometimes wonders where the heck I'm going since his arrow is pointing 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

At one point in our ride I stop at the crest of a dune and look back for Dan. He's nowhere to be seen, but after about 30 seconds or so I see his helmet appear two dunes back, accompanied by a pair of arms waving frantically towards me. I make a large, slow wave back and he disappears below the dune crest again, he'll have to go back down and make a second run at it while I relax and wait for him.

This is one of the trickiest parts of dune riding I found. When cresting one you don't want to go flying off it because the results can be catastrophic. On the other hand...if you stop with your front wheel even a few inches short of the crest, your sunk...literally. The bike digs into the sand and you can push all you want, but you ain't gonna make it over the top when both wheels are sunk up the axles and the bike is bottomed out in the sand on your skid plate. If the bike is buried like this you have to lay it on its side, then the other to let sand fill in under your tires and lift the bike up. Then you have to drag the front of the bike to point it down hill before picking it up, firing it up and going back down for a second try. It's exhausting. I'm finding it very hard to judge when to cut the throttle to stop with your skid plate precisely at the crest. Some of the better riders will not slow down, but turn at the crest and make an "Z", riding along the crest while they look down hill to assess it and "dive" down into it, accelerating as they go. It's a bit difficult to learn because if your front wheel goes over the far side of the crest too early it almost always digs in and causes you to dump it. Ask me how I know...

The route takes us in and out of some of the larger dunes today. In the "flats" we come across (I guess) an oasis with a large lake. Very strange to see.

I'm enjoying today. I've somehow found that "magic" and the experience is like no other on two wheels. A lot of it has to do with confidence and experience I guess. I have a few stupid low speed falls today, but overall I avoid getting stuck or crashing.

We're scaling a fairly tall dune and I can see a stranded rider at the top. It's the "Crazy Dutchman." His Yamaha is perched on the peak and he's sitting in the sand accompanied by two local Berbers.

"No gears!" he yells when I ask him if he's OK. He figures he's blown his transmission out and is waiting for the sweep truck to come and get him at the end of the day. He laughs and says "I was here for only 1/2 hour and out of nowhere these guys come to sell stuff to me." It is rather comical and somewhat amazing that out in the middle of nothing but sand and the occasional camel grass, people live here. Seeing that he's OK, we head out again.

Not long after that encounter we come across another Dutch rider stopped at the top of a dune. With no cell service out here he's trying to get a message to ORGA that he's here.

He waves us down and asks if we can relay his number and GPS position to the next CP. He thinks he's blown his engine, it's smoking like crazy and he can't see any oil in the sight glass. (We find out a couple of days later that his engine was fine, the oil just leaked from his vent tube into the airbox after a fall, causing all the smoke.)

Dan searches through his back pack and finds a pen, the stranded rider has a bit of cardboard and he writes his info on it. I use my SPOT tracker to send a "HELP" message to the ORGA just for back up. We check that he's got enough water with him and wish him all the best as we head toward the next CP to pass on the information.

At one point during the day we get a bit turned around trying to avoid one of the steeper dunes. In a large valley we come across a Berber encampment. Here, miles and miles away from nothing...this family is living. I can't seem to get my head around that. They have a couple of camels and goats, but that's it. They wave to us as we intrude on their home and scale the next dune on our way past. I suppose they can't quite get their head around us either.

Our "trail ride" philosophy for the day is paying off. We're not pressing ourselves to try and make the next CPs as quick as we can, but are actually having an enjoyable ride and fully experiencing the dunes. We stop once in a while to take photos, pick lines and marvel at the landscape. There is a brutal beauty to the desert.

We finally reach the end of Lap 1. The 60km ("as the crow flies") loop has, according to our odometers, taken us about 77km to complete. We've missed our cut off time by a few minutes and aren't allowed to continue on. I suppose we could fill out the form and get time back for stopping to assist riders, but we've had a good day and are content with finishing up here. No pressure to compete today, we've learned a lot more about dune riding, stayed safe and seen some fantastic sights.

At the CP there are kids selling trinkets and polished fossils. The area is rife with them and the locals collect and polish them up to sell to rich foreigners like ourselves. Both Dan and I do some impromptu bargaining and shopping. The kids are neither pushy nor aggressive in their pan handling and it pays off as several people are buying from them.

Another relatively short day for us. We finish early in the afternoon and head back to the Hotel Tuareg for some R&R. I feel like we've finally discovered the Sahara...and a bit more about
'10 Gas Gas EC300
'08 Husaberg FE550
'09 Husqvarna TXC250
'84 Honda VT500FT Ascot
Tuareg Rally 2009

canadaler screwed with this post 04-11-2009 at 05:50 PM
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Old 04-13-2009, 12:48 PM   #53
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Day 5 - The Dune Race

Yesterday was a big boost for our confidence in the dunes. was an absolute hoot I really didn't care how I finished, just had a great time and finally found myself "at harmony" with the sand.

Today the emphasis is less on navigation as there is a pre-determined course through the desert which you have 4 laps to complete. The grand finale is a ride up the highest dune of the Erg Chebbi where the day's final CP is. If you don't make it up the dune on your bike, you have to walk (or more likely crawl) the rest of the way to get your time card checked and handed in.

Dan and I are starting one minute apart, with me going off first. We discuss strategy for the day and decide that I'll wait for him at CP1 for a couple of minutes. Theoretically he should be about 1 minute behind me, then we'll try to ride together again. We agree that if he doesn't show up within a couple of minutes it's "every man for himself."

It's very windy today and the fine cinnamon brown sand is blowing across the landscape. When stopped you don't want to be taking your goggles off. Interestingly enough, there isn't any dust blowing around, I suppose that all the finer dust got blown out of the area a few millennium ago.

We arrive at the start area and get lined up in our respective rows. We're at the edge of the dunes and will ride the smaller dunes as we make our way towards the big ones which we'll have to scale today. I don't remember who I was matched up with that day, but the four of us all take off upon the starter's signal and head in the direction of our GPS arrows, weaving graceful arcs across the crests of the lower dunes.

I'm feeling good today, relaxed and confident. My Pirelli rear tire is awesome...did I mention that already?...well really it was. I make it to CP1 fairly quickly, get my time card marked then look back to scan the horizon for Dan. One minute passes, then two...still no Dan. I wait a little longer then decide to head out and have some fun. (At the end of the day I find out Dan missed CP1 altogether because of a navigation error. Unfortunately that meant that the rest of his ride was for naught...since all subsequent CP's didn't count for him. Still, he had lots of fun riding today. Rallye tip for anyone not buy a ZUMO!)

Leaving CP1 I head towards the inner part of the desert and some of the huge dunes Dan and I had been routing around yesterday. Today there will be no dodging them because the CP's are placed at the tops of these huge dunes. I have a hard time imagining making it up some of these massive piles of sand, but when I approach the first one I accellerate up into 4th, lean back and let the Husaberg torque do the rest. It works, although I'm actually a little bit surprised that I've actually made it.

Card checked....I'm off again, down the huge dune, following my little GPS arrow. I turn it up a few notches and am least in my mind...through dunes which were causing me so much grief a couple of days ago. The sensation of speed through the sand is exhilarating...but then I notice a downed rider a couple of hundred feet to my right. He's about 20' ahead of where his bike came to rest and he's laying crouched in a fetal position in the dry sand. Another couple of riders have stopped to assist. The guy looks like he's in a world of hurt. I come back down to earth and slow down a little lest I join him.

I'm having a grand old time today and complete my first lap fairly quickly. There is a section of the course which is a wide sandy river bed. Even with the steering damper turned up your bike wobbles and weaves and shivers underneath you as you blast down it. I take it easy doing about 80-90kph, leaving some riders blowing by like I'm standing still.

The height of the dunes today is just incredible. When you reach the top the view is astounding and I almost get vertigo when riding along some of the crests.

The CP workers often appear as small black dots at the top of these tall dunes. One of those dunes is at the end of a valley. The sand on its soft face has been chewed up by the many bikes that have preceded me and I know I'm going to have to really carry some speed up it to make it to the top. I'm concentrated on the hill itself, totally oblivious to the fact that there is a small dune not far from the base of it, perhaps 6' high. It's too late when I finally notice it and this little dune (which sometimes can be the most deadly) drops off almost vertical on the far side. I go cranking off of it pretty much wide open in 3rd gear, it's too late to do anything else. Sailing off the crest I land in the "flats" and everything bottoms out, forks, shock, my legs...and probably part of my spinal column!...but the bike stays upright, rebounds and heads up the dune to reach the CP. That's it I luck has finally changed for the better.

I took these photos at one of the windy CP's atop the dunes...I'll let them speak for themselves...

While I'm stopped taking photos one of the ORGA guys says..."this is a should get going!" I tell him that I would rather have these photos of the experience than the largest trophy the Tuareg has to offer.

My second lap seems to fly by, really I'm already on my third lap before I realize it from the markings on my time card.

On the third lap I'm just getting ready to leave the CP when Tina Meier rides in, lapping me no doubt. She's got her time card taped to her helmet and minimizes her time at each CP by simply riding up and tilting her head towards the person who is recording the times. I decide to try and stick with her and leave the CP right behind her. I figure it's a good opportunity to learn from someone much more experienced in the desert than me.

Tina is following just where her GPS arrow is pointing. No "dilly-dallying" around and skirting the more difficult dune edges and soft sand, just minimizing the distance from point A to B. I ride about 20' off to her right and slightly behind. It's way, way easier to follow someone in the dunes since you can judge the far side of the dune by watching them. It just so happens that in this section we are going up the soft (and steep) side of a bunch of parallel dunes. I actually have to slow down a few times to avoid passing her...and having to take the lead.

We ride together like this for 4.7km until we reach the next CP where Tina once again gets her helmet mounted card marked quickly and is gone. I'm left dismounting, taking off my glove, getting my folded card out of my jacket pocket, walking over to get it checked, then back to my bike. The difference between our methods has to represent a lot of minutes by the end of the day. Still, having stuck with her in the dunes for the last few km's has been a real confidence boost for me. I foolishly tell Dan that night..."we could be contenders!" He rather quickly brings this 50-something rider back to earth.

As I ride my fourth lap I seem to have gotten my new dune cresting technique down pretty good. I've learned to charge up the face then just before reaching the top I fan the clutch, dropping speed to time my momentary pause at the top. I find gliding up the last little bit avoids digging into the sand, but plenty of power is still available if need be by working the clutch if you come up a little short.

Before I start my final lap I'm riding faster and smoother than I have to date in the dunes. When I crest one of the larger, softer dunes to reach a CP I say to myself "I fear no dune!" Cocky perhaps...but I felt like I was on a roll.

With my fourth lap complete all that is left to do was scale the highest dune in this part of the Sahara to reach CPF. The second-to-last check is at the bottom of the soft side of the big dune. Looking up it must be at least 700 or 800 meters away to far up it is in elevation...I'm not really sure. There are a few stranded bikes and riders on the face of it and I take the time to watch 3 riders unsuccessfully try to make it to the top. I decide to stay as far as I can to the left of the face, trying to get "clean" undisturbed...and I hope firmer...sand.

It's stupid, I know...but sometimes I talk to my bikes. At the base of the valley leading to the top of this dune I look down, pat the tank and say "I'm sorry for how I beat you up the last couple of days, but I haven't quit on you and don't you quit on me. Let's do this."

I'm in 5th gear flat out when I reach the base of the big dune. The climb is not so much steep as it is relentless. The soft sand sucks the power from your bike and must put an incredible strain on your engine and drive train. The engine lugs, but never falters, still in 5th and climbing, climbing...crouched on the pegs with my weight as far back as I can get it.

I actually have to let off the throttle as we approach the top, otherwise I'd have jumped off it. I made it!

The little white dot just right of center in this photo is the truck parked at the previous CP.

Some others haven't been so lucky and it's a long, long and exhausting slog to the top:

The view was surreal. I guess it must have been the equivalent of being on the roof of a 40 or 50 story building:

A lady from ORGA uses my camera to take my picture...I feel like I'm on top of the world.

I move my bike from the crest of the dune, away from other riders attempting the climb. I take off my boot which I only just now realize is packed with sand, dump it out and then sit there on the "in the moment" I guess.

I can hardly believe that I'm currently sitting here on top of the highest dune of the Erg Chebbi in North Africa, half way around the world from home. It is an astounding experience for me.

Even more astounding as I sit there in the starts to rain.
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canadaler screwed with this post 04-13-2009 at 02:28 PM
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Old 04-13-2009, 01:27 PM   #54
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Amazing report! Sure makes me want to try one of those rallyes one day!

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Old 04-13-2009, 02:33 PM   #55
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This is really great stuff. I'm really inspired by your honest way of explaining what you realistically can handle and what would get in the way of having a great time. You are surrounded by great people and that's what counts. Please keep it coming. my hats of to you....
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Old 04-14-2009, 02:22 AM   #56
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Awesome report, sounds like a great rally.

Hope there is more to come.
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Old 04-14-2009, 07:18 AM   #57
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What started in the dunes as a light rain turned to a steady flow and then broke into full-fledged thunder storm by the time I made it back to camp. What had earlier today been bone dry, cracked land became what looked like an endless rice paddy outside our window.

Hassan, who works at the hotel (as opposed to the Hassan who sold me fossils, or the Hassan who runs the camel tours...) tells me that they have not had rain like this in Merzouga for 20 years. "Water is life" he says. But I'm thinking it's going to be deadly for us tomorrow if it keeps raining.

Dan and I move our bikes under a lean-to garage at the back of the courtyard so we have some cover to do our daily maintenance in the rain. Dan had some trouble starting his bike today and needs to check and adjust his intake valve clearances. Not exactly the ideal spot to be doing it, but we don't have much choice.

Next to us in the "garage" we meet a guy from Germany, Alex. He's riding his X-Challenge 650 in the Amateur class. Alex is primarily a touring rider and has come to the Tuareg for some off-road experience and adventure. He and Dan get to talking and Alex says he's going to skip the off-road route tomorrow and just take the roads to Missour.

The flat garage roof over our heads is constructed from a patchwork of sticks covered with what looks to be a carpet topped with mud. As the water collects it becomes severely bowed. I'm reminded of the 3-Stooges bit where they're dancing at a party with a pie stuck to the ceiling over their heads, poised to come crashing down on someone. We move the bikes as close as we can to the nearest column and hope for the best as we head off to dinner and bed.

Day 6 Merzouga - Missour (Part 1: Take me to the river...)

We're awake as the sun begins to rise. It's been raining on and off all night but I don't hear anything but wind outside our window right's rain falling. Within minutes it begins to pour, harder than yesterday. A quick look at the horizon tells you that it is going to be one of those all day affairs.

At breakfast Dan has decided to join up with Alex and take the roads to Missour. The desert will be one big sloppy mess today and he's not keen on riding it. He and Alex have decided to take their time and see some sights on the road to Missour. I agree to join them.

We get suited up, of course who would be stupid enough to bring rain gear to the Sahara...not me! We're all in the same boat though and the three of us are soaked to the bone by the time we make the short ride to the start line.

I go up to the truck where they're handing out the time cards and give them our numbers. "We're taking the roads today" I say and the lady takes each card, draws a horizontal line through it and makes a note on the master sheet that we won't be on the course today. I walk back to where Dan and Alex are waiting, but it just doesn't feel right. The early numbers are about to start, it's pouring rain and everyone is soaked.

As I watch the first few riders leave I feel sort of sick to my stomach, not about the course but that I've bailed on the route today. It will be a crappy ride through muck and water today, but I know how to ride that way better than I do the dunes. I make my way back into line and tell the card lady "I've changed my mind...number 33, I want to ride today." She goes back through the pile of cards, tears up the one she put the slash through and writes me another, handing it to me with a smile.

I go back to Dan and Alex. "I've got to go." I tell Dan..."You stick with Alex today." I know it sounds condesending, but I don't want to give him time to change his mind on my account. I turn and quickly head for my bike and the starting line.

The wet sand of the dunes is now hard packed and seems more like a rolling highway than off road. We cross the first set of small dunes then head out into the flats which is another story altogether. It is muck, rocks and standing water, slippery as all hell to ride on. I think something must be wrong with my clutch, but it's just the rear wheel alternatively slipping and grabbing in the deep slop.

About 10km or so into the route I catch up to a familiar site, it's the Crazy Dutchman and his two companions. Funny how you end up meeting the same people over and over again in the middle of nowhere I think.

Riding a fast section of drenched piste I'm behind Champ and we're riding along in probably 4th gear. I watch him do a slow motion slide to the right, then to the left, then back to the right again, his rear wheel spraying muck and water into the air as he loses control. Ultimately he is sliding sideways and is still stradling the bike when the foot peg digs into the ground. It reminds me of an airplane skipping on the tarmac as it comes in for a landing...and the Champ is down. I stop, he gives me the thumbs up and is soon underway again, although our little group starts to get spread out and separated in the wide open plain.

About 20 km into the day I come to what should be a wadi, or dry river bed, it's anything but today. I've heard about flash floods in the desert, now I'm seeing one. The crossing is several hundred feet wide and is a raging torrent. No way I'm venturing into that.

Some riders have headed upstream to look for a place to cross, I take a look downstream and see a half-dozen riders stopped a few hundred feet away. Another 300' or so down from them is what appears to be a blue rally kitted Yamaha stuck in the current...I figure trying to push back to shore. I can't understand why nobody sees or is helping the poor guy. I head towards the group and discover there is somebody on the ground, riders are going through their packs to dig out their foil survival blankets and cover him. Tina has got her helmet off and is sitting beside him. Looking downstream to the "Yamaha" I now realize that it's not a bike, but the blue rear fender of a Desert Warrior rally car. It's upside down in the river.

The first thing that flashes through my mind with only one guy on the ground is that the second occupant may still be in the car, or washed away's a horrifying thought. Thankfully the navigator, Yvon is safe on shore, wet, shaking cold, but safe. The car turns out to be one of the Canadian/Rally UK team and Bobby, the driver is the guy who's down on the river bank.

I must have arrived 10 minutes or so after the accident, so this account of it is pieced together from what Tina, Bobby, Yvon and others told me. The car ventured into the river and they quickly realized they could not make it across. While they were trying to turn around and head back to shore the current took the car and it started floating downstream. (From the point they entered the river until the car came to a stop was at least 700 feet!)

With the car drowned and out of control in the river, Bobby decides to get out. He opens his door on the downstream side and climbs out through the roll cage. Just when he's out of the car the current catches the car and rolls it...over on top of him, pinning him to the rocky bed. Yvon is still strapped into his seat as the car rolls a second time, again crushing Bobby underneath it and trapping him underwater.

Some riders on shore watch the whole thing. As the car rolls again Bobby pops free and they rush to haul him out of the water and onto the shore line. He's temporarily blinded and the current is so strong it has ripped his pants off while he's in the water. He's obviously taken a beating from the car, rocky river bed and water.Thankfully his sight returns after a few minutes on shore.

Bobby's helmet:

A few hundred feet away from the river is a small dwelling, someone says they speak French. Yvon runs over and they are gracious enough to loan him some dry blankets for the injured driver. Bobby is wet, cold, injured and shivering violently, like someone is running a jack-hammer against his back. It has to hurt like hell to be shivering like that while you're busted up.

More riders have stopped and several of us take off our jackets to help cover him and warm him up, but without some source of heat I'm afraid he might be getting hypothermia. Combined with shock that can be a bad situation. We re-arrange some of the coats and blankets and I lay down and slip in behind Bobby on the ground, trying to use my body heat to warm him. I'm afraid that I'm going to cause him more pain if I press too much against his injuries, but Bobby is alert and tells me being cold is the worst part right now and he "appreciates the warmth." After 15 or 20 minutes like this he stops his shivering but the shock is wearing off and now his pain is kicking in.

It's been raining on and off as this drama unfolds. With Tina sitting beside Bobby to console him and me warming him up it starts to pour again...just buckets of rain. More riders take off their jackets to cover us all while they stand exposed to the cold rain. Someone has a small green plastic tarp which four guys spread out over top of us to form a little tent in the storm. It seems to me to be an exercise in altruistic human behaviour as so many people are contributing to help a someone who (for the most part) is a complete stranger.

Bernd from Germany has got cell phone service and shortly after the accident he got through to the emergency number. The vehicle takes almost 2 hours to reach us, but we're told that will still be faster than ordering a helicopter.

Once they arrive the medics take over and prep Bobby for transport.

After he's drugged up, bundled up and loaded up into the truck they come on the loudspeaker to announce that this stage is cancelled and we are to follow the ambulance to CP1. From there we will be directed to Missour via the road.

The whole experience is very sobering, not just for me but several riders there. We came for adventure, fun and competition, not to die. Bobby came very close to that, I suppose it was just the "luck of the draw" that the car rolled again and he came free before drowning. The irony of possibly drowning in the desert doesn't escape me.

According to Bobby "your life really does flash before your eyes."

Later that night we learn that Bobby has been flown out to Madrid. He has broken ribs, internal injuries to his lungs, head injuries, a separated shoulder, broken shoulder blade and he's broken his back. He could always move his legs and feet after the accident and I certainly hope he has a full and rapid recovery.

Ambulance in the foreground, drowned rally car in the background and an angry sky sweeps by overhead.

All that's left to do now is wait for the water level to subside enough to retrieve the stranded riders off "Gilligan's Island"...Oh...I haven't even mentioned that part yet have I?
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Tuareg Rally 2009

canadaler screwed with this post 04-14-2009 at 07:33 AM
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Old 04-14-2009, 08:04 AM   #58
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What an experience!

Man!! What an experience!! Great story that I'm lapping up but it's got me on the edge of my seat. A dose of reality sure gets you thinking but the "highs" must offset the "lows" otherwise people wouldn't do this stuff! Just makes you think about how great the "highs" are.
Keep it coming.
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Old 04-14-2009, 09:08 AM   #59
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This race story is getting epic, do you know if Bobby is okay now? Have you kept in touch? Damn I'm checking this thread every half hour for updates
We spend our lives chipping away at our ignorance :wisdom by Dakez

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can feel the true warmth.: wisdom by ??

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Old 04-14-2009, 09:16 AM   #60
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Originally Posted by Ruffus
This race story is getting epic, do you know if Bobby is okay now? Have you kept in touch? Damn I'm checking this thread every half hour for updates
The last I heard of him was when we were back in the Port of Almeria. Danny, another Canadian navigator told me that Bobby was still in the hospital. They were concerned about damage to one of his lungs and were keeping him there until that improved.

I imagine he must have been released and sent home shortly after that...but no I never really met him before the accident and haven't heard anything about him since I got home.
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