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Dakar –> Dakar
I hardly slept all night. I tossed and turned and stared at the ceiling while the minutes ticked away into hours. I don’t know why I even tried. I was so excited about getting to the hotel and the end and seeing Spice that I forgot to slow down for a minute to enjoy it. I was really looking forward to getting out and to the start of the Special. The morning was damp and cool when we got out and everything covered in dew. There was a roadbook to put in for the Special but honestly we just had to follow the sand. I can’t describe the time at he hotel. Spice walked me out and we got the bike warmed up and ready just like I had done the past two weeks but today was different, it was the last day of the Dakar. Tomorrow the bikes would be loaded up on a boat and shipped to France.
The bike as predicted had broken the last bit of metal on the subframe. The only thing left that Gary and Jim hadn’t had to fix yet was the headlight brackets and when they went south there was nothing we could do. I thought I would just take it easy and get it to the end.
We had already ridden 8615km in the last 15 days and had another 93 to go, 36km for the morning liaison, 16km for the Special and 41km back to the hotel. From the Meridien to the beach was 36km of all the same traffic nightmares we rode through the previous stage. We fell in with a few other bikes and leisurely made our way through the city trying to avoid getting run over by the taxis, busses maniacal drivers. My subframe was shaking like crazy like it was about to completely fall off, literally. I was fully prepared to break out the clippers and cut the entire thing off, instruments and all. I really had no need for everything at that point so if all hell broke loose I could still make it to the end. I made the mistake of thinking maybe they’d throw us a bone with the route for the 16th and final day but instead we turn off the highway into some deep, wet sand dunes or dunettes as they call them in the roadbook. There were Press cars getting stuck everywhere, locals on dirtbikes ripping all around, helicopters flying everywhere and general madness for about 5km. Finally, we emerged from the deep stuff and saw the ocean again where the start was.
They promised us a big breakfast on the beach prior to the start but it really was just a big stack of croissants and some yogurt. Luckily for me they also included a couple massive containers of black coffee which I took full advantage of. We arrived around 8am but the first wave wasn’t scheduled to race off until 10am. Everyone was in an incredible mood. Lots of laughing and shaking hands, everyone was passing out hugs and congratulations on a job well done. There were a lot of riders limping and the majority of the bikes looked well worn and tired. Some had saved all the new gear for this moment and showed up at the final stage looking fresh as a new day.
There was no using a kickstand on the beach so a few heavy seconds on the throttle sitting still and the bikes weren’t going anywhere. That famous picture you see when all the competitors are lined up on the beach was first. That wasn’t a big deal but when I looked around and saw all these amazing riders that have done something I have been admiring for years it struck as the neatest thing in the world. I didn’t know what to think or feel but it felt incredible.
They lined us up in groups of 20 starting with a reverse order. Steve and I were in the third group. Even before we left there were guys falling over in the sand and others getting stuck axle deep in the beach. I doubt anyone was bummed about either. When the first group left there were 6 helicopters following. The starter lit a flare and it was a 5km drag race down the beach. It reminded me of my first harescramble when I watched an entire row of bikes leave in a split second under a cloud of sand and smoke. The choppers all left in sync riding along with the bikes only 50 feet off the ground. The moment was just electric. I sat on the line and talked with a Czech rider that was reaching the finish for the first time. He had tried three times before and gone out each time for various reasons. He filled me in on his race and told me about day 5 when he was almost knocked out by a sideswapping car. He got hit by an over zealous driver and thrown onto the dunes. The bike didn’t fair so well but he fortunately was able to limp it back to the bivouac. Everyone had a story. Each bandage and strip of duct tape was a potential race-ending event. It is a minor miracle that anyone makes it at all.
So Steve and I made a plan to head to the surf as soon as the flare lit. Line three was off at 1020 and I got the jump. Steve immediately veered right away from the surf and he started hauling ass on the fresh dry sand. After a marginal start he made up some time on the inside and stuffed a few guys in the first turn. I played it safe and watched as the subframe shook itself to pieces. I quietly talked to it and politely asked it to just stay together, please. Approaching the first couple turns inland we are met with the same dunes we rode in on only now they were lined with thousands of fans. I took the outside line and squared off the turn and just barely saw Steve put a foot down for the next left. With his full tanks the 525 was a handful. I saw a hole on the inside of turn two and grabbed the lead from Steve in our own little race. For the first time since Lisbon I saw Steve put on his race face and let a rip. It didn’t take long for him to pass me back and in a few short moments he was gone toward the finish. The deep sand eventually gave way to really fast fun gravel road for the last 5km. That was seriously the greatest part of the entire race. The screaming people and the first glimpse of the Lac Rose is a memory I will never forget. I slid and drifted to the finish not far behind Steve and when we brought it to a stop we both just shook hands and smiled. It was done. I was completely in my own world.
They brought us up on the podium one at a time to receive our finishers medal and took a photo. They basically herd us through like cattle but for that one brief moment up on the top of the podium I felt like king of the world. I just stopped and stared out there looking for Spice but she was nowhere to be found. I wanted to share it with her so bad but she was on her own little adventure trying to get into the compound. I received the medal and held up my hands in victory as if I had just won but they quickly wisked me away for the next one. No matter, I had done it.
We waited and waited for our families so we could take some final photos. Once they were in we snapped away for probably 15 minutes with our whole group and made our way to lunch. I thought a toast was in order so we took full advantage of the free champagne handed out by the ASO. For once, we had a drink on them and they finally threw us a bone.
The party had to end at some point so we packed up and rolled out back on the road of death. Back at the Meridian we sorted out all the spares, airplane boxes extra clothes, camping gear and wheels. It all had to go somewhere.
My bike lasted to the bitter end, barely. Steve’s bike, while still running like a top, had actually broken half a link in his chain and was about to lose it entirely. If it would have flown off during the beach stage his race would take a serious turn for the worse. I bet he didn’t have one more mile left in that thing before we pulled in to the hotel. He counted his lucky stars that day and fixed it that night.
When we all got slowed down enough to relax the feeling of relief was overwhelming. My head was still reeling at the thought of finishing but it would be days and days before I could truly relax and get some rest. For the next 36 hours we were there I felt sore and restless and couldn’t quite slip back into reality.
That night we dined on huge plates of food and talked about the race and believe it or not made plans for future races. I promised I’d never be back to the Dakar.
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