To skip the preamble/saga, scroll down to "DAY1 RALLY!"
It started on the patio as a conversation over morning coffee about the stress I was under at work and the options I had to overcome the constant challenges facing a small software company failing to get out of a close to two year RnD cycle and get the bloody product out the door.
The conversation wound down as my blood pressure raised to "Buford T Justice" levels and I turned to facebook for some moto relief...or at least some animal fails videos...and there it was, my salvation; Jimmy Lewis upcoming "Pahrump to Dakar" event April 7-9th. http://jimmylewisoffroad.com/pahrump-to-dakar-rally-experience-april-789-2017/
I looked over the top of the laptop at wifey and proceeded to click the link for feasibility details: less than the price of a mortgage payment? (check), Rally newb-freindly? (check), Promise to come-away and be Dakar ready (in spirit: check).
It was fate. I needed time away from the rigors and this little gem shows-up. After a quick should I shouldn't I with wifey, she was happy to give me a hall-pass to go knowing it would help me unwind so 1 paypal transaction later, I was signed-up.
Quick note about this pilot, I'm rubbish. I don't claim otherwise. Started riding 10 years ago when we emigrated to Phoenix from Montreal and bought a Daytona 675 SE. Lovely bike. Hated it after I stupidly signed-up for an Ironbutt Saddlesore 1000. Gained notoriety in my circles for that one but left me hating the crotch-rocket posturing and started looking at what was next. LWD/LWR later, bought a used 1150 GS with ADV tank. Loved it. Rode it to Florida and back and wasn't a bit sore. Triumph then teased an upcoming ADV bike and I watched/waited eagerly being a Brit, I yearned for another Trumpet. Bought a jet black Triumph Scrambler while I waited and that's when I let go of the 675. Pfft, three bikes how could anyone need three bikes I thought to myself. Scrammy was awesome and did another Saddlesore 1000 and really enjoyed not being bent-over like a pretzel compared to my 675 experience. Then came the long-awaited Tiger 800XC. Loaded-up the configurator and laid out the money. Took that bad-boy to Prudhoe Bay and back when I turned 40. Best trip ever to date. Let go of the 1150GS and then got into dirt, serious dirt.
Bought a gaggle of KTM's off the local Craigslist and kitted-out the entire family with 125's and 250 smokers. Kids were at that age where they seem like lodgers vs. family as they were in to eat and shower and gone again. The KTM's were a means to bond at the week-ends and it worked...temporarily. Week-end dirt camping trips dwindled after the first several and the lodgers returned. Wifey and I really loved it and traded-in/up for new. She on a lowered CRF 230F and I on a 250XCW. We've had many a memorable week-end since 3 years ago taking ourselves out to MOAB and locally here in Satan's Bottom (Phoenix).
This is where my Triumph riding crowd (AZDirtyACes) also got into KTM's and a few splashed-out on dirt weapons. After many a fun trail ride, we got into amateur Enduro Racing with a local AMRA racing league and things got real! I traded my scrambler for a 500EXE after relentlessly watching Adam Reimann trek his through his Motonomad I-II adventures and ideas of doing the same. I also found a Unicorn last year up in Flagstaff and purchased a 950SE...just because it's a 950SE!!!...nuff said.
I'm still rubbish, but that's how I got here
So back to MARCH T-2W
I now needed Rally equipment and pinged Brian on facebook/xladv knowing he'd run the Baja last year on his 950SE and wanted to gain his insights to equipment that'd work. Dave at Rally Management Services was great to deal with. Quick basket load-up on their website and chat with him confirmed my kit would work for both the 500EXE and the 950SE. Then I procrastinated... Work was arduous. Week-ends spent binge-watching movies and no riding or bike prep for weeks.
Finally after a long several weeks and 2 weeks before the actual Jimmy Lewis event, I unsheathed my credit card and "invested" in the RMS kit. It was at this time I kicked into gear and jumped onto the 500 for a quick blat around the block to start bike prep. I'd no intention of bringing the 950 to the event so I could fight the roadbook vs. fighting the bike, but then disaster struck. The 500 died. It coughed, sputtered and died. It wouldn't turn over, it wouldn't kick so I walked it home.
Back in the garage I looked over everything I knew how to but to no avail.
During this time my 18 yo son Liam wrecked his RC390. He was lucky and is fine now I should add. Gear saved all the bits it should and the rest was manageable with an over-nighter at the most expensive bed you'll ever pay for. He's home now and back training Muai Thai so all's well on that front.
Sufficed to say I had the RC390 needing insurance adjuster/shop review and now the gimpped 500 so off so I packed up the truck with the sadest load-up you'll ever see and tracked off to the shop.
Dave had been off with the RMS crew at the Sonora Rally and my kit still hadn't arrived so I pinged him. https://www.rallymanagementservices.com/ . Turns-out it was lucky I did as the RallyMAXG antenna cable from the kit was on B/O and he'd assumed I wanted to wait until it was ready before shipping the roadbook/mount and the non GPS RallyMAX ICO unit. Sorted that out pronto as I had a little over a week left to get setup.
Shop called. I remember it well. It was a Wednesday, clear skies with a slight breeze from the NE. As luck would have it wifey was sitting on the patio with me as I hurriedly opened the laptop to take notes of the details.
New Turboshaft - 9 million EURO
Bent Fluxcapacitor - 2 Trillion EURO
Well. 500 was out of this event, 950 it is then! (Insert wifey not happy here on MANY levels)
Still not decided on what to do with the 500 and it's sat pending my decision as I type this at the shop. Turns-out my motocross crash in Sept had likely caused oil pump issues and the engine had lube issues and close to seized. Bits of alum and bronze in the oil filter casket meant this wasn't going to be cheap.
RMS kit shows-up and I've got eh 950 stripped of her tank ready for mounting and wiring. Tuesday night.
Spent the evening on Wednesday assembling and cursing and all was looking good for a Friday departure..except the wiring. Ran to the shop for a fresh rear tire and oil change too.
Thursday evening realized I had a flat on the front so changed it with new HD tube and still hadn't figured out how the PO had the wiring to find an easy access switched power line...if you see the 950 up close with the Baja front lamp and the keyed ignition removed this comment will make sense.
It's now late Thursday. Tires good. Oil good. Rally NAV setup mounted good. Power to the Rally Roadbook and ICO not sorted. I figured worst case I'd simply remove the seat and undo the leads to the battery...worst case, but this BS thinking was plaguing me.
D-DAY FRIDAY APRIL 7TH
Wifey had a conference and luckily needed to be up at the crack of ass so I was back in the garage packing camping gear before 6AM. By 8AM I was all but ready to go which was on point with my planning. I decided to go treat myself to McDonalds breakfast because I was officially on a 4-day holiday and it felt right. I couldn't let go of what other options I had for the wiring and called the shop in a Hail Mary attempt to get it sorted before I left. No-dice from the shop but was given another smaller shop's name to check with. Enter Kyle from 2 Guys Garage (insert angelic "ahhhh" here). Quick chat on the phone with Kyle and I was off to get sorted.
Kyle's the kind of guy you instantly like as a rider. He was super happy to see me, ogled at the 950 on the trailor and shared his moto background and beleifs regarding shop care and client treatment. Made me an instant believer and easily a return customer. 15 minutes later he'd performed a slick soldering job on the wire needed for the switched power I wanted and the beast was alive! He was happy to show/share his work also which I loved. Couldn't say enough kinds words about this experience...look him up if ever you're in need in the Phoenix area!
It's now 10:30 and I've a shit-eating grin on my face as I'd pulled it off last minute...again.
Pearl Jam blasting and the windows down with a sexy looking girl in the rear view mirror I was on the road for the 6 hour trek to Pahrump NV.
30 minutes later I received a call and I was hesitant to answer as A)I was driving B)It wasn't wifey or the fridge magnets calling C) Could only be work or a client. I sheepishly answer "Hallo, this is Peter". What greeted me was Lori from the Jimmy Lewis event checking-in that I was en-route and what size Roadbook I'd need. She's a real gem and I shared the weeks shenanigans with her and she'd a similar story, and, was a 990 rider but was acting as admin for this event. Hanging-up feeling assured I was in good hands I settled into a McCafe haze with the truck steering wheel bungied headed Westwards and the Cruise set to 75 and the miles drifted-by.
Rolling-up to Jimmy's Kellog Rd abode it was a typical sight having been here before a couple years earlier for ADV bike training. Bikes everywhere, MX-clad people milling about and with a nod and a wink I pulled-in, unloaded the 950 and was nervously chatting with others doing the same.
I'll note here that with ZERO Rally experience, this whole arriving scene was intimidating as there were riders and bikes loaded with NAV gear everywhere and none appeared brand new like my setup. Saw Danny Laportes Husky 701 with full carbon rally tower and fender kit and created a wet spot on my trousers. Jimmy sidled over to make sure where I'd parked and unloaded would work out. After a brief check-in I took off for a motel for the evening.
DAY 1 RALLY!
Day 1 was a mixture of 3 day event attendees (Friday was a training class that i skipped having already attended one) and 2 day event'ers. 3 Day'ers were off with their roadbooks to perform arts and crafts while us 2 day'ers were treated to Jimmy's theory training.
Jimmy introduced several Dakar podium racers including Danny Laporte and Chris Blais and walked-us through the basics of a roadbook and navigation techniques. He handed out a step-rally sheet and explained the theory behind walking/navigating it and we were off like lost sheep strolling his campus looking mildly confused why others were ahead or behind and facing different directions. Needless to day this breif exercise cemented the theory of the "Notes" details on the step-rally sheet.
We were handed our roadbooks which summounted to and AM and PM set of sections and then were handed tape, scissors and highlighters to put then all together. Jimmy also shared previous roadbooks from Dakar/Baja etc that were spent by way of example of the marking-up we'd want to use for ourselves.
Jimmy spent a decent amount of time explaining the "mind of the artist" when it comes to roadbooks and this was incredible detail. Some would split several KM's worth of sections across many notes, others would combine this detail into a single note and what the differences were...very insightful stuff.
Later as we were coloring-away with roadbooks of our own and assembling, a brief tap on my shoulder pulled me out of my OMG LOOK AT ME CREATING MY ROADBOOK dreamstate to be asked if the 950 was mine and if it was my front tire was flat. Panic set-in briefly but Lori's husband and a gaggle of helpful staff told me to sit and absorb the training theory while they swapped out what could only have been a rushed to mount-up pinch flat from my last minute scurrying. I was eternally grateful to have been well sorted as I'll admit, nerves were increasing as the theory wound-down.
More issues! Wheel sensor wasn't registering the magnet passing-by AT ALL! It was confounding as mechanically all appeared ok. Quick swap-out of the ICO remote wiring left the RallyMAX (non GPS) disabled and swapped over the RallyMAXG remote and decided I wasn't racing, so switching between CAP heading and distance would get me through this with a single unit...deep cleansing breathing was had at this point as we were about to embark.
Even more issues!! I'd mounted the RallyMaxG antenna to the front fender and at a standstill but with a waggle of the bars, the CAP heading readout appeared to work nicely. As did the distance when rolling around the carpark. When setting off and above 20 or so MPH's, the readout blinked and remained on it's last readout of CAP or Distance and didn't change at all. FML could this be more stressful?
Navigating line of sight to the previous rider I made my way to the beginning of the roadbook offroad section to the dry lake bed and explained the issues to JL. With little time to spare (shoulda had your shit working son) he instructed me to follow the support vehicles to the dry lake bed. So, tail tucked firmly between my legs I blasted off the dirt running alongside the support vehicle convoy and we wound our way to the first meet spot.
Upon arrival the medics riders tried to help with the issues I had but to little avail. Turns out anything above 15 PMH would cause the issues of the ICO blinking so I figured I would lollygag, get a reading, then blat and slow when I felt I needed a fresh read at slow speed.
JL illustrated how awesome he is by explaining the need to try and learn distance travelled by "feel"..real Jedi stuff but I can understand the value when actually racing a Rally to prevent constant RB checking. He stole Danny Laportes Husky 701 and proceed to perform several 90 deg. turns, each approx .5 KM's apart to see if he could end up where he started from using "the force" alone and no instrumentation...bastard was pretty spot-on it was impressive.
After a brief chat about what laid ahead it was time to get going and shit got real! I decided to ask a couple of others if we I could tag along as my nerves and equipment issues had me thinking I was going to be THAT GUY everyone was talking about and still looking for come sunset at the bivouac. These two had HAM radios piped-into their helmet and could chat and seemed good with me helping/riding along.
After no more than 5 minutes you would come across others gathered at a decision point between RB notes to determine the next direction or if they'd gone to far, not far enough as not everything was an easy trail "T" section decision. We blatted-by confident were we on piste. Inevitably, several notes into this thing we all stopped and tried to make head nor tail of where to go next. Bumping into a Suzuki Samarai and it's pilot/co-pilot several times. We all struggled with one section and couldn't for the life of us find a cattle grate marked as an identifier on a specific note. Round and round we went before we decide to back track as JL had explained to do to a last known good note and start over. We crossed paths with others headed to the same fate and saw others up on hills it was a gong show!
Soon we stumbled across JL and Danny Laporte and had learned that the roadbook had errors somehow and no-one was able to find the cattlegaurd. Once corrected we were off again.
This is where I felt I needed to embark alone so while the riders were all scattering to collect everyone to point them at this cattle guard, I buggered off forwards with my gimped setup.
This, was very unnerving. I had tools, water, cell phone with no service and no idea where I was going other than the RB and ICO. Good times ahead and completely mad at the same time. I saw dust off in the distance several times and was encouraged that the last "turn to CAP XXX" note decision I'd made had kept me on course. Then came a 2.x KM section that read off to the side "Carefull, twisty" as it's danger notation. The 950 was purring in this section as it was less sandy and more hardpack single track with water washoutouts every now and then just to keep you on your toes. 2. something clicks later there were no twists to be had...I slowed, let the ICO catch it's breath to get a reading again and I was on the right CAP and was well under the distance to the next note BUT, your brain lets doubt creep-in. I hadn't seen any twists and I was 2/3d's then 3/4 of the total distance. I stopped, looked at the trail hard like a magical trail from a prevous rider would jump-put and show me I was on track. Even turned off the 950 to listen for a minute for others. Nothing. &%$#@!-it kicked-in and I kept going. I was 9/10th's of the total notes distance and WOOHOO twists appeared. Left bank, right bank, ripping and roosting the 950 as I went loving that I hadn't wussed-out and turned around earlier and I came across 2 other riders hidden around a bend taking a breather. It wasn't long before JL and Danny arrived, JL still on Danny's 701!
We chatted about the last several sections and they too had the a similar experience. I felt great and off we set again. The 6f+ goon on a KX200 left me in the dirt in no time and I was eating dust for the next several notes. We eventually made out way and popped out on a graded road where we all stopped and regrouped.
It was mid/late afternoon at this time and the next section promised less challenging notes as some from the AM were stacked tight with tenths of KM's between them. Riding now I had some confidence built-up that I could do this without wanting to throw-up from nerves and I set off at MACH1 on the graded road knowing I had 1km to go before the next note turn-off. Leaving the group behind once more it wasn't long before the earlier rider cam into sight, lost at the note to turn as no clear path to turn on was to be had. Circling a few times I caught sight of wher to go and headed off. The two guys with HAM radios caught me and we wound our way through brush and single tack without too much drama.
The bivouac site, a small brewery called "Death Valley Brewing Company" came into sight as Tecopah started to materialize on the horizon. the last several notes were up and down and a fairly speedy wash section to then join the road and roll up to the brewery.
PHEW! Made it. All kinds of relief. Tired and in need to shed my knee braces I hopped-off and milled around with others from the 3day group who had been here a while already as they'd started the day earlier than us 2 day'ers.
I should point out here that while I wasn't THAT GUY, there was a THAT GUY. He was commanding an 800GS and had toppled off a ledge down a gully that was by all accounts not life threatening, but alone out in the desert trying to muster all skills to get out of the gully had him beat. Search party of JL went out and the smartest thing that rider did was to leave his helmet and bag on the trail as this is where JL found it and stopped to see the rider and bike still struggling hours later to get out. All's well that ends well and with JL to help, they returned well into the dusk/dark and the rider was all grins.
Support trucks with your fuel and airplane box size bags were unloaded and I set about setting up the tent, changing into non-ride gear and what can only be described as the best pint I'd had in ages. I made sure to track down Lori and grab DAY2 roadbook details so I could have that all compiled and marked-up ready for the AM...wise decision in hindsight as the morning was groggy.
Everyone's stories of the day were epic and relatable. This is the 2nd best part of riding for me and likely you reading this too. Nothing beats accomplishment and shared tire-kicking camaraderie stories!
It got dark and we were several beers in with food in our bellies. I didn't last long and was crawling into my tent by 9...this is when the potato cannon was unleashed right outside my tent:
Thunk, ohhh ahhh did you see that sucker go LOL LOL LOL, Thunk, ohh ahhh holy crap that's insane LOL LOL LOL, Thunk ohh ahh ah shiiiiit lookout everyone: splat! This hilarity went on for while and I dozed off into slumber. *NOTE: ear plugs aren't just for riding
DAY 2 RALLY!
Feeling rejuvenated after some sleep (love tent camping), we ate and then had a give-away. The prizes were not to turn your nose-up at either...not only had a small swag-bag been handed out on DAY1 with Klim Hats, T-Shirt and odds and sods, but this DAY2 raffle giveaway had some TITS swag: Konflict MS, Klim, FMF, DryBags really good stuff. I snagged 50% off my next FMF pipe WOOT!
The days roadbooks got progressively harder AM 2 Stages PM 2 Stages. I was "advised" that this day would be tough on the 950 due to deep sand and the dunes navigation. It felt like a brush off but later heard the same warnings being issued to the small bikes.
I took the RB's for AM only as PM was Sand and Dunes levels 6 and 8 on the &%$#@!thisnoise scale and figured I'd make a determination when I saw what this looked like.
We were given the starting waypoint to set off from after loading up tents and gear bags and topping-off our tanks, off we went.
Nothing made sense and it was as if I'd learned nothing on Day1. I was lost after the first 3 notes and found myself backtracking with others to get my bearings. After about 45 to an hour we'd found the right route and started to gain some speed...this was my un-doing: Sand.
Drop, curse lift, reset, Drop, curse, lift reset...this went on for several KM's before I trapped my leg on a drop and stopped, sweaty, breathing heavily wondering WTH I was doing. I made an exec decision to keep going but it wasn't long before my last drop/tumble had me beat. I was 7-10KM's away from the Brewery starting point and decided to 180 and ask the sweep/medic crew if there was a way to skip this sand section and rejoin the route further on. After struggling to back navigate to the brewery there was only a truck and JL and Danny left in the carpark. JL instructed my to follow the truck to the next waypoint so I did just that enjoying some hardpack and road to what turned out to be the sand dunes.
Upon arrival, feeling like a tool, I chatted with the other riders showing up and it got worse in a wash so I felt I'd made the right decision for me at least in stopping.
We ate a boxed lunch and hearing the next section(s) were all Dunes navigation I coupled with a rider headed back and we beat feet back through the roads and off across the dry lake bed, stopping at a bluff overlook for Eric to show me the vista that was around us in Nevada...truly breathtaking and I was glad he'd stopped to show me having ridden that section before.
We played around on the lake bed following very large birds taking off the lake-bed from the oncoming blat noises as they took to the air. We regrouped at JL's abode and awaited the support trucks with our fuel and gear bags.
I said my goodbyes, swapping contact details and loaded up the 950 and gear and headed off.
Here are some of my final thoughts:
Test all gear beforehand
When in doubt, bring that tool
Don't stress & trust yourself
Learn distance by feel
Would I do it again? Hell yes! Would I recommend it? Hell yes! Would a smaller bike have helped? Yes for the tougher terrain depending on your skill level.
I now need to fix-up the failing equipment and start planning further roadbooks to practice, practice, practice.
Many of us dream of Dakar, Baja but likely much smaller local events. This was me wetting my big toe and despite all the setbacks, it's only given me an appetite for more.