Wrapping up the trip

 

It’s only been two days since I got off my trusty BMW1200
GSA and I’m missing the wind in my face, the freedom of the road
and the edge of adventure like a homesick child. New York seems
such a safe and cocooned world compared, which I guess seems a mad
thought for a city built on adrenaline. The thought of being stuck
indoors sounds so stifling and wing clipped, but I know I’m diving
back into a sea of complexity and immediate needs which will
reabsorb my life. In aid of easing our departure, Buenos Aires is
in the throws of a horrific storm and I’m curled up in a corner at
the Ultra Hotel, a quiet boutique hotel in the fashionable suburb
of Palermo Viejo. An hour ago I had a fabulous conversation with
one of the Dutch truck pilots (aka drivers) who shared his amazing
life experiences over the last few weeks. His boundless energy and
passion was truly infectious and by the end of it I’d mentally
signed up to attempt the 2012 race. A rally car driver in Holland,
he’d signed up to ride his first Dakar this year and come in 20th.
He talked of his 12 hour race days, the spectator that had been
killed getting too near the action, how he’d descended the 3,000
sand face of Iquique without touching his breaks for fear of
forward rolling the ten ton truck, his life in the camp and his
future plans – I was mesmerized! He’d emerged like us from the
traditional late nights of BA, yet he wasn’t skipping a beat, high
on life and on his was to the Dakar awards podium, which I presume
now stands a foot under water. Last night for Michael, Fewelly and
I was a fabulous dinner of Argentinian steak and a solid Molbec -
delicious – how great food tastes after your taste buds have been
revitalized with life. Talking of which, half way through dinner,
friends Michael and Betsy had introduced us to at the Faena Hotel
at the start of the trip spotted us and joined us for drinks.
They’d both left there lives as leaders in the fashion world for
the road and we’re topping their soles back up with yoga, tango and
adventure. Love it! And working back to the later part of the day,
we’d been treated to an amazing 16hours in beautiful Cordoba to
wrap up the trip. A stunning Yorkshire like countryside that
brought great friends Al and Wendy to mind. There we watched a
local Argentinian Rodeo over great wines and meats, laughing at the
guts these riders had to straddle some of the maddest horses on the
planet. For some reason our last few weeks trip came to mind!
Talking of which, we had a few hours to kill before we left for BA
from Cordoba and not one to sit still, I took a ride on one of the
estates polo horse. I should have caught on when the reaction of
perplexity from jockey Manuel reflected off his face when I suggest
we cantor. I have never ridden a race horse before and probably
will never again, but this thing lowered it’s neck inches off the
ground and sped down our trail as if on fire. I thought my arse
hurt after twelve days and over 7,000k of motorcycling – this thing
punished me for even thinking I could control it and left me
walking like a caned school boy! That’s it for now – I’m going to
transition into a new blog for my return to NY and back fill this
one as we edit our amazing video footage and add depth to stories I
couldn’t muster energy for during the trip. It’s been fun capturing
the last few weeks on only an iPhone that thanks to rocks, now has
a fractured screen. Thank you all for your fabulously supportive
comments. They carried me through some of the toughest days of my
life. Love and light to you all. Will x

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Day 12 – Did It!!!

The night was a tough one, with a hurricane esq storm
ripping through our base and keeping many of us partially sleeping
for the seven hours of down time. When we then got to breakfast to
discover there was none, the final day strains started to surface
from the team and tempers flared. We jumped on the bikes early and
by eight, the last 350 miles of our trip were under way. Leaving X
the roads were once again people lined, waving relentlessly at
every car, bike and truck that resembled a Dakar race vehicle. It
really struck me then the power of the human smile and how,
regardless of how rich or poor, the uplifting power of happiness
propels all of us forward with so much energy. These Argentinians
and Chileans had made it their absolute objective to welcome us all
with as much passion as they could muster over these two weeks and
many of them, I am sure, couldn’t have even afforded a tv to really
understand and or even follow this race. All they knew was that
thousands had descended into their countries, bringing a huge
flurry of excitement and activity to these otherwise sleepy towns
and villages. Fewelly was traveling in the truck again today after
his bike break down and shoulder issues from the crash. I felt real
guilt enticing him to join me in this trip and now he was being
thrown around a gyrating truck with the other none riders for a
twelve hour drive. Michael and I rode again apart from the pack and
made fabulous time at 95mph down amazing roads, dust swelled by the
trucks as they either sped of limped towards the final leg of their
journey. Lunch was a dodgy ham and cheese role from a gas station,
where I gave my hat to a sweet little boy who marched up to shake
my hand. I’ve had the privilege of these 7,000 plus miles to think
a great deal about life, time many of us never give ourselves the
opportunity to spend thinking. Travel and when I say travel, I mean
adventure is so critical for us all to really understand life. I’ve
been blown away by these two countries, the land and the amazing
people that live here. I’ve been pushed to the edge of my ability
and have regained the respect of what we really can achieve and how
you must always believe in yourself. Push away negative types -
they are the rot that holds optimism, opportunity and growth back.
We all die for sure, but only some of us really live! What an
amazing day and amazing trip, the last few hours were meandering
heaven after what seemed like several visits to hell. I sit
knackered but full of happiness, that I have completed the route of
the worlds hardest land race – the Dakar Rally. This good gin and
tonic tastes fabulous!!

 

 

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Day 11 – breaking from the pack

The house through the night was deathly silent, as the team
had collapsed exhausted from the crazed twenty hour day. Once
people started to stir the sprint for the one bathroom commenced,
but in such a cool, slightly run down Italianesq home that none of
us really cared. It always amazes me how far peoples personalities
swing during time of complete exhaustion, to total preparation to
embark on a day of ordeals again. Talking of bringing out ones true
personality! Breakfast at eight was a simple affair of breads, ham
and cheese and rich dark coffee and the pace seemed worryingly
slow. We’d missed 200km of riding the day before (that is in the
right direction!) and we knew we had to make it up, and we’d just
heard the organizers had planned a lunch break that realistically
we had no time for. The first 200km of the 750km day ahead involved
some sand and off-road and now the pack had divided as many of the
team had lost inner faith to ride it. So we split and a team of
five of us set off to face the raw elements and the others took a
longer but safer route. Their choice was a good one, for within
300yds of the start of the dirt we hit four sand pits four feet
deep and a hundred yards long. Again gunning the bike and
dismissing all logic was the only way to cross these patches and I
launched my 1200 GSA headlong into the obstacle with unaware of
boulders or trenches. The bike thrashed side to side like writhing
snake and my training of loosening my grip, leaning back and just
riding quickly to skim the surface proved critical and I appeared
safe at the far end. Others weren’t as fortunate. Three casualties
and one performance by Rafael, that would have gained him a seat on
rodeo bull rider hall of fame ensued. I’ve never seen a bike shoot
180degrees time after time so quickly and then rocket out of the
sand into the bushes. To be honest it would have made for a superb
piece of video footage and we all roared with laughter, amazement
and cheers as he appeared safe, covered head to foot in sand from
the bushes! Once resettled, rode on swiftly, reaching our lunch
destination to discover, as suspected we were an hour ahead of the
others and our grilling meat was awaiting an infestation of flies
if didn’t eat soon – which to our dismay we didn’t. That’s when
reality hit home and Michael and I looked at each other, grabbed
mounds of bread and declared our departure to our next place of
rest, San Juan. How the hell the organizers planned to get such an
exhausted team out, on the road and safe, totally bemused us – the
writing was so on the wall. The six hour ride ahead was amazing!
Twisting roads, easy to navigate packed dirt and more screaming
locals accompanied the full ride, landing us safe at our target
spot just pre dusk. As suspected the rest of the team rode in
exhausted at 11.30pm – pissed and bewildered on why the start of
the day had been planned so poorly. Hmmm, I won’t go
there.

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Day 10 – San Francisco Passage

The morning started bright and breezy at 4.15am, when one
of our fellow riders battered down our door to check we were up. A
cafe con leche and a cheese and ham sandwich later, the bikes were
on the road at 5am, growling through the sleeping streets of Xxx,
even the wild dog packs didn’t muster. We rode out of the town
centre into the Andes in company of all racers aiming to traverse
the pass as early as possible and the fact that the sun hadn’t come
up yet in no way dampened their competitive spirit to get their
fast. Compared to the trip into Chile, the passing back into
Argentina was a breeze and the worry that this day was going to be
a monstrous 13 hours of riding drifted away, it looked like it was
going to be a breeze after all. That thought was short lived. The
dust from the trucks, the three feet deep sand trenches that panned
the roads and the 16,000 foot altitude at -4C were all waiting for
us and the accidents started to happen. When these trucks and vans
plough through the dirt, the dust clouds completely smother you.
The dust gets into your helmet, your mouth and your eyes at once
and then steering your bike at forty plus mph knowing you may hit a
rock, vehicle or person at any moment ignites every nerve and sinew
as you navigate, in my case, a 600lb motorbike, absolutely not
designed for these conditions. This risk was slammed home as I
entered my hundredth cloud of dust to suddenly see the two guys who
were just ahead of me, Diego and Michael, running towards me arms
waving franticly above their heads. There is only one thing to do
in these situations and it goes totally against instinct, and thats
to gun your bike forward in a new direction. The guys were running
forwards from their two huge bikes that were strewn across the deep
deep sand of the road after Diego had lost control and Michael had
plowed into him, being propelled over the handle bars, hitting the
windshield with his unprotected thighs as he went. He knew I was
close on his tail, so adrenalin had taken over and his arm waving
diversion triggered me to instinctively swerve up the bank and out
of additional harms way. I missed them and managed to stay upright,
and thank god, the ten ton truck that then entered the sand behind
me swerved after me, avoiding a complete wreckage. That sand trap
took ten of our thirteen still riding team and was the first of
many many many issues that day. Three of the team collapsed from
lack of oxygen at the extreme altitude we were riding and three
more bikes collapsed under mechanical issues. This was really
testing both our spirit and the team. After the boarder the team
was split in three. One group that now had to abandon their bikes
and climb into one of the trucks, a slow paced suffering group and
then a pack of five of us that had dug deeper than ever to get
through this and down to the valley below. Which was another
organizational disaster. When we reached the town below, we knew we
had another 200km to go to the next town, and thats when the news
that the rescued team in the support truck had hit a real issue.
The back of our truck had collapsed after the brutal trail had
smashed the truck into a bank and the rear bolt system had sheared,
driving the full weight of the truck onto is back wheels, with
150km to go at a maximum speed of 5mph. Not only that, the support
/ gas truck had sped ahead of the pack, had left three of the
remaining bikes without fuel. Fewelly had also hit a sand bank at
speed and had smashed his bike and left shoulder and the news
coming down the mountain was that he was now out of the action. Our
third of the team collective made some headway towards Chilecto
when our next blow struck. Several trucks ahead had crashed
blocking the road and fourteen hours of riding along, this news hit
us between the eyes. We couldn’t go forward and we had no food or
lodgings. After two hours we connected with the team to be told the
slow group were waiting with a camp site at the ready and food. We
jumped back in the saddle and an hour later we rejoined the group
to discover that was a miscommunication and they were in fact
planning on sleeping on the gravel car park of the gas station – we
were furious. Silent anger waited to explode as we discovered our
team organizers had spent more time trying to fix the damn support
truck than find a place for us to sleep and eat, now at 11pm after
the 5am start. I tell you – I was not happy and I had to walk from
the scene to breath. An hour later we had a solution and Jim Hyde
found us food and rented two homes for us to rest. The family had
taken the overnight bounty of housing twenty knackered riders by
moving to friends and we had shelter at last! Michael, Fewelly and
I collapsed like men in a firing range and the day from hell ended.

 

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Day 9 plus

I am so exhausted I can’t fill u in on the madness of these
last few days. Its 12.07am and I’m crashing for the night. Put it
this way – three medical issues and the team down to half. Will
write it all after 700km tomorrow. W

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Day 8 – into the heart of the beast

The day started early as usual and by 7am we already has a
few k’s under our wheels, as we meandered out of Iquique, heading
to Copiapo to spend some time with the full race teams, mechanics
and press. The ride was well rewarded early on when we visited the
South American icon for the Dakar, The Hand of Atacama, a thirty
foot stone carving emerging out of the desert floor. Sadly, as with
all amazing tourist sites, wrestling for a quick pose opp took a
spot of time and I gained top beer points by removing the loo paper
from the foot of the hand – nice! A cool character arrived while we
were setting the team up for the photo opp. Riding straight into
the middle of our shoot, a Dutch traveller, Thorarse Furtherider
(as I named him) pulled his bike and trailer straight under the
hand. A Harley rider with a thirty year old bike that had more than 500,000
miles including 7 Dakars on his bike. Later we heard the gent was a
real Dakar icon who we saw mobbed in town after town down the road.
After an hour of pics, we jumped back into the saddle and 550km’s
of sand, wind, curves and more sand than anywhere else I have ever
seen. And did I mention the wind?! Why Chile isn’t the wind farm
capital of the world amazes us all – there’s been a constant 50mph
gail blowing the whole part of this trip, sand blasting our faces
and bikes constantly. We reached the “bivawack” HQ ten hours later,
knackered but totally charged to spend time with the vehicles that
we’d watched power through feet of sand this last week. Vehicles
were being water blasted to shake off the dirt, mechanics worked
like ants fixing the days issues and others slept like dead men
after working through the night and morning shift. I chatted with
one great racer I’d wanted to connect with, Simon Pavey, a Brit who
trained and stared in The Long Way Down and Long Way Round with
Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman. Simon was not only racing his
seventh Dakar, but amazingly racing the 9,000km of The Dakar whilst
being the sole mechanic on his bike! When we were chatting, he was
replacing part of his sub frame that had snapped mid dune. Nuts! We
spent a while nattering early evening with the Paris based media
teams in the camp (120 in all) and wrapped up the day at the rider
briefing in French then English for the next day – fascinating! The
day wrapped in a local restaurant where we ate more meet than a
starved tyrannosaurus and crashed asleep in the traditional way of
this trip, within seconds.

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Day 7 – sand gallore!!!

Just landed into Antofagasta after another twelve hour day
– and what a day it was! We left Iquique in the early hours and
managed to get ahead of the racers up on the sand flats before they
crossed. There was probably forty people in total and it was one of
the most spectacular days of sand riding I’ve ever done. Pure
powder that could only be ridden at speed meant I was clocking
speeds of up to 110kph across massive sand flats, drifting to turn
as a skier would on a hill – just mind blowing!! The trucks were
lashing it, some loosing control of their direction at times and
one plowed through a small crowd of fans gathered on a hill top,
amazingly with no casualties! Bikes and cars alike struggled with
the three feet of powder after all the race traffic and at one
point a helicopter misjudged how near we were on a ridge – just
take a look at how close my iPhone caught the image! I had a superb
day, felt like a million dollars and wrapped up the race portion
with a 100 mph three hour sprint to the hotel to jump in a cold
shower. I must say I never thought I’d be handling this pace with
the front of the pack. Today was exhausting and with two bikes
taken out of action and three running out of fuel mid desert, I
seem to have run another day issue free (touch wood!). Chile, on a
side note has more sand than any country I have ever experienced.
The near thousand k’s of coast I’ve ridden haven’t given break to
one field or one flower bed – nuts! Ok – knackered – here’s a few
pics I caught on my iPhone today…

Posted in The Ride | 10 Comments