Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dakar 2009 - First Hand Experience

The Dakar rally has been in full swing since January 3rd, and after security threats in Mauritania cancelled last year's event at the last moment, organizers moved the location to Argentina and Chile to mark the 30th anniversary --

Sunday, Jan 4th - we rode up over the stunning Pehuencha pass. Near the top of the pass we passed the Laguna del Maule, a colorful and vibrant site nesstled in the western slope of the Andes.

About 2 hours before San Rafael, we came across the Dakar organizers as they were scouting the route for a final check. It was very cool to see, and a great mini apetizer for things to come.

We arrived back at John & Annette's finca where we would hang out for a few days and wait for the Dakar and other travelers to come to town. One night, in the rain on the way back to the finca I ran into another traveller - I asked if he was going to J & A's finca and he said yes, but wasn't sure he knew the way. He said his name was Ricardo from Ecuador, and soon we hugged forceably - Ricardo is a tall and very emotional man. As happens so much - We have many mutual friends, have emailed each other for years and even spoken on the phone, but had never met until now. Same is true for a few others that showed up: Aussie couple Ken & Carol, Javier from Dakar Motos, and even John & Annette who we only finally met a couple of months ago!

Weds, Jan 7th: We were at Check Point 2 and the Bivouac for the Dakar in San Rafael, Argentina. Many locals rode in the night before to camp out at the location. But we 11 of us opted to stay on the farm, sample local wines, eat a huge asado, got to bed late (early morning) and departed for the site at 11am. The police had the roads blocked, so we drove across farms and dry river beds to get around them. In the end, we got caught and simply BSd our way in.

Our small group arrived at the check point after the second bike arrived (missed Marc Coma by a minute), and spent hours watching the various bikes, cars, trucks, and helicopters come through the check point. As we were on bikes, we were treated as though we had something to do with the rally, and were overloaded with wine, beer, cider, soda, and of course, asado! What an amazing experience it has been so far. The energy in Argentina is unbelievable!

The Dakar frenzy is truly unbelievable! People are lining the streets, cheering on the participants, and we’re getting thrown in the mix. Everyone is taking our photo and “hi-5 ing” us as we pass through towns. They line the streets with chairs and coolers, people of all ages, waving flags, banners, t-shirts, etc. On the roads, trucks and busses pull into the shoulder to let us pass and cops wave us through any traffic. Oh, and speed limits do not apply to us. NICE!!!!

One of the Belgian X3s caught fire about 7km from the checkpoint and the navigator was brought back to our area. After a couple of hours, the driver hadn’t arrived and as the car burned up, there was no communication. The navigator asked me to go check on him, and I was allowed onto the course to go look for him. Once on the route, with touring rear tire and panniers, the excitement toned down and I realized where I was and felt a little overwhelmed.

Deep gravel in a dry river bed, and I was the only one without a beacon when the cars/trucks were approaching. With one eye glued to the track and one to the rear mirror, I rode about 4km and got passed by several cars, trucks, and bikes (pulling out of the track was a challenge). I ran across another local on a 250 dirt bike who said the helicopter had picked up the pilot. I turned around and headed back up the track, against traffic. Fun and scary all at once!

With so many photos, we put them into a separate photo album from San Rafael

Next we went to Valparaiso, Chile and stayed at a guesthouse only 8 blocks from the bivouac where the racers spent 2 nights including a rest day. We managed to get “back-stage” passes into the bivouac where we hung with a few riders, including Simon Pavey (lonely BMW Rider amongst hordes of KTMs) - here are some photos from the bivouac in Valparaiso

It’s time to figure out what we’re going to do about storing the bike, so we’re heading east towards Buenos Aires and probably Montevideo in Uruguay. We plan to be back in Buenos Aires for the Dakar finish, on Jan 18th. Back in Colorado on the 22nd.

In the meantime, check out the new marketing campaign....