Week 39 - Chasing the Dakar!
We left Pedro Ruiz and set off Southwards towards Cajamarca with Michnus, Elsebie, Liwia and Sebastian. The road was immense...not in size but in stunning views. It was tarmac but very beautiful, with very narrow sections in places, tonnes of switchbacks and the weather was lovely.
Sadly, we didn't have all day to stop and take photos however we did stop for a good few as it was just breathtaking. We saw some other riders on route on big KTM's and BMW's. At one point Kelvin had to put his bike in a ditch to avoid an oncoming lorry that didn't want to stop for him. It was either the ditch or the cliff edge so I think he chose wisely.
By 5pm we got to a town called Celendin. We could see that the weather ahead looked bad and we didn't know what lay ahead in terms of accommodation, so despite not having reached our target mileage for the day we made a unanimous decision to stop. I'm very glad we did as it bucketed it down! Good choice.
We continued South, however Liwia and Sebastian decided to go slower to enjoy the roads a bit more, which was a good idea as we were not able to stop that much in our quest to get to the Dakar. We said goodbye and set off nice and early. Again, the views were amazing and a mix of both tarmac and a bit of off-road at times.
This time we stopped in Huamachuco, which was just as well because we discovered the following day that there would have been nowhere else to stop that had accommodation, plus it got very cold. Another good decision made. On entering Huamachuco it looked a shit-hole, with all the buildings covered in a thin layer of brown mud. Everything was brown. However, the centre of the town was actually lovely with a big plaza and loads of sculptured bushes and the weather was beautiful. Sadly our half-cooked chicken dinner was a bit of a disappointment but you win some you lose some.
The following day we headed in the direction of the coast. We made the decision to cut through to the coast because if we continued through the mountains we would struggle to get to Lima on time. Sadly, things weren't going in our favour and after a quick breakfast stop, I got a rear puncture. Not happy. We met some very friendly truck drivers though who wanted photos with us and the chap at the truck stop gave us cheese sandwiches and water, which was super nice. It took about an hour to do the tyre, and we also discovered our new inner tubes were too small. Bollocks!
From Huamachuco, we increased in altitude and it got very cold. We reached over 4000m but there was not a lot of shelter in places and no sun shining through, so it was bitter. We rode along the tarmac and then off-road for quite a while, although Michnus noticed that within only about 50km we were due to drop about 3000m in altitude. Hmmmm? So we continued and then found out how we would drop this amount of altitude so quickly....it was the biggest mountain pass I had ever seen with steep drop-off's, sand, gravel and no tarmac anywhere to be found.
So people, when you choose the 'paved roads only' option on your GPS, it may lie to you!!!
It was the most challenging off-road pass I have ever done. During the descent I fell off twice in rubble and stones, mainly because I was sticking to the mountain side of the narrow, one lane track and not the cliff side. Despite knowing that the cliff side of the road would be easier in some places I didn't want to risk falling off the edge if I messed up, so I took the falling off as a good substitute. It was about 3000m from top to bottom and half way down I had to pause to reset my brain and cool down. The bike was fully loaded, the sun had now come out and was beating down on us, plus we were losing altitude fast so it was hotting up. After a bit of a breather, some water and some positive self-talk, I got back on the bike and chipped away at the obstacles ahead. I didn't like the fact that many of the corners had lots of sand on them. Sand or thick mud is not my idea of fun, or at least not on a fully loaded DR650!
Finally we got to the bottom. I was so relieved. Kelvin loved it and said it was amazing, and although I was very chuffed with my accomplishment, I didn't quite share his enthusiasm. Once we reached the infamous PanAm highway, we pulled over and stopped for a well deserved beer with Coca Cola near Chimbote. Gosh I needed that.
We tried to stay in a place on iOverlander but it was full, however over the road we found another place complete with secure parking so we stopped there, then due to the lack of places to eat we headed to the nearest petrol station for some drinks and snacks, and a laugh about the day we had had. I was completely shattered so bed was calling!
The next day was the last leg to Lima and we got going really early, and it was all PanAm. The majority of the route was quite boring but with some amazing sand dunes in places. We would normally stay well away from the major routes, but we had the Dakar rally in our sights. We stopped for some food (pollo a la braza....mmmmmmm) about 32km outside of Lima, and the traffic seriously started about 30km outside of Lima. It was nuts. It took a few minutes to take in the madness and then it was time to get filtering or else the bikes would overheat and the clutches struggle to function. It was quite hard to keep all four of us together but we didn't do a bad job.
Finally, quite a long time later we reached our hotel and the guys supporting Patrico Cabrera (no 36) from Chile there in an overland van out the front of the hotel, so we said hello. We parked, showered and got straight in a taxi to the Dakar Village where all of the vehicles were in Parc ferme (or Parque cerrado). We were very fortunate that we got to meet Lyndon Poskitt, the British Malle Moto rider. He had been ill and still sounded like he had a very sore throat but he was on the mend with 4 days of antibiotics left to take. He was prepping the bike and he put a 'condom' over his race dash.
We succumbed to the Dakar madness and purchased a buff and lanyard each, but they were actually very cheap. We wondered around and looked at all of the bikes, trucks, cars and quads. They were all amazing machines, especially the cars and trucks. Michnus got given a temporary Motul tattoo and Kelvin enjoyed the brief company of two of the Honda girls who were dressed in black lycra. Why not?
Dakar Day 1 - we avoided the Lima start. Instead we got up 5.15am and headed to Pisco for the start of the 1st special stage. Along the route we were caught up by Sata and Mateo from Quito in Ecuador. We met Sata when we went to Moto Hell in Quito with our bikes and it was great to see him again. We all stopped at a roadside cafe, and there we also met some guys from South Africa called Roy, Craig and Brandon. It was really great, everyone was in the Dakar spirit, people were waving at all of us bikers and everyone was generally really happy.
After that we headed to the Bivouac where the special stage would be starting. This was my first time riding on proper sand. Not hard, compact stuff, but deepish sand. I did bury it in once, however with a bit of help I got it out and to my surprise I managed ok. Once we got onto the more compact part, we came across all of the police, who were also in good spirits and were quite happy to have a photo with us.
As we had a bit of time until the start, we all put up our tarps, so that we had some shade, and Sata put up his tent. We got changed into some lighter clothing, but long sleeved nevertheless as the sun was beating down relentlessly. Some time later, we saw the quads start to line up and that was it, the proper start of the 2018 Dakar rally. It was awesome. The quads were cool, and it was great to watch the bikes, some of which took off over the top of the first sand dune.
We got to see Lyndon at the start and wished him luck, but didn't bother him too much as he seemed to be concentrating on the task ahead, and we managed to get to the first dune before he set off.
The trucks were the most amazing, just power machines and they just bulldozed their way through the top of the dune. Their engines were roaring and it was spectacular to watch them. I'd never seen anything like it. Only one failed to get over the first dune. At that time we were stood on the other side of the dune and we heard the crowd hold their breath, saw the lights of the front of the truck, then saw them disappear again as the crowd all exhaled. Poor people, it was the first dune of the first stage and they were already struggling. Another truck had mechanical issues and got stuck in the middle of the large dunes, which was a bit dangerous as you couldn't see them, although one of them got out and stood on top of the truck to warn other drivers. It was a truly awesome day, and if we only saw this, it would have all been worth the effort.
It was quite crazy despite us being spectators, a lot of the Peruvian people came up to us and wanted a photo.
We met up with the South Africans again, and later on in the day as the sun was going down 2 Aussie's John and Nick pulled up and asked if they could camp with us. Of course we said the more the merrier and they joined us. John was actually meant to be racing a quad in the Dakar, however a serious leg injury a few months before had put paid to that so he postponed to 2019, and this was more of a scouting expedition.
We all sat around and had a laugh, later on joined temporarily by Diana Granobles from Colombia, her boyfriend and friend, so we had a whole load of people. Roy and the other two disappeared before sunset as the lucky sod's had a hotel booked. I could have done with a shower, but camping was actually good fun meeting lots of new people. Later, we put the tents up and attempted to sleep, however the Peruvian's had other ideas. The party went on all night. I don't think Kelvin and I even got 30 minutes sleep so we were beyond shattered. Also, a guy came to talk to me about moving the tent at 4.30am! He didn't even need it moved until later on so why bother me at 4.30?
Dakar Day 2 - Originally we had planned to find the spectator point so we set off with Sata and Mateo. Sadly we discovered that to get to the spectator point we would need to walk and leave the bikes by the side of the PanAm, which we were not prepared to do as our lives are on the bikes. We were told by the police that there was another point about 40 minutes south however we later discovered that this was not the case, and we missed all of the racing that day.
We then headed to Nasca and found a place to stay...with a shower! Woohoo! We tried one place but they wanted 200sol per room per night! Wow, very expensive. The place we found was 45sol and was perfectly good and huge parking. We were very glad of the shower and some sleep as it was much needed. Saw a little of Nasca lines on route from the roadside viewing towers we did get to see something that day.
Dakar Day 3 - So today we planned to watch the liaison stage only although the timings were somewhat out as I think the bikes started later than we were told on the Dakar app. First, we left the hotel and stopped in a roadside cafe for some breakfast. Elsebie and I also created a makeshift British flag out of some paper we found, so I was very happy. After some food and drinks we waited for a LONG time for any sign of Dakar riders, but nothing, nada.
We were just about to leave a couple of hours later when Toby Price came past. At last! We watched a few of the bikers go by and the famous purple Dakar van (just some people that follow the Dakar every year), and then we decided to head closer to Marcona to get a better spot for photos.
We waited roadside and waved to a whole host of different people from locals, spectators, support trucks and competitors...it was awesome. Again everyone was in the Dakar spirit. We saw the bikers start to come past more and more, and I was waiting to see Lyndon and wave my British flag. Unfortunately I was left feeling really gutted as when Lyndon passed a local wanted a photograph of me and obscured my bike along with the flag, so the next thing I knew he'd flown by and I barely got even a wave in. I didn't think he would have stopped or anything however I wanted to show our support. After almost a whole day of waiting in the sun, the opportunity was missed. Not a happy bunny!
A little while later, a quad rider zoomed up next to us and asked Michnus to find his phone to take a picture. After a search through his numerous back pockets on his jacket he found it and took a picture. We discovered he was from a land-locked country and the view from where we were standing was awesome, with the Ocean clearly visible in the background. Seeing the Ocean was quite a rare opportunity for this guy. Next up, the Aussie's drove past and a couple of minutes later they'd turned around and joined us. We stayed a short while watching some of the quads and cars come by and then we headed into San Juan de Marcona for some food. We left the Aussie's behind as the queue of traffic was quite big and we had the ability to filter, but they found us at a local 'pollo' restaurant a little while later and we all ordered some food, which John Kindly got for us all. A local TV crew even interviewed us; however I don't think it will get past the first cut as they tried to get three different nationalities to say something in spanish without much luck!
Then we went in search of a camp spot and found the beach. What a great place to camp. The sea was flat, the sand was quite compact and not as crazy as the last desert camping, plus the view was amazing. There was also seating areas and some short trees that were perfect for hiding behind in the absence of toilet facilities. The South Africans joined us later which was good, so all in all it was a great end to the day.
Dakar Day 4 - Today was our final day of the Dakar and we watched special stage in the desert, which was more than I expected to be able to do. This day certainly tested my sand skills. I did have my feet down, but I plodded along and kept the throttle on all the time. I managed to make it where some of the other spectators on KTMs and BMWs failed, and all three of the other bikes not in our group buried in and got stuck. It was about 400m of sand and I made it. I couldn't believe I made it but I did and it was SO worth it. It was awesome viewing. We got there before any of the vehicles had come passed. It was the day they were due to start head to head on the beach, 15 bikes abreast. We didn't see that bit but were a good few Km further up. The first bikes flew by, and Sam Sunderland was still in at this point. A bit later on, Lyndon came by and then the quads, cars and later the trucks.
Throughout the day we moved to a few different spots to vary the viewing a bit, and I just can't describe how great it was. The cars and trucks were by far the best to spectate. It was immense, they went so fast and just flew through the course.
One truck, the Russian Kamaz Red Bull truck, even decided that the 'track' everyone else had taken wasn't fast enough and plowed a new line directly between the two main groups of spectators, close to where I was standing (before I legged it out the way) and cut off a whole corner. Quite sensible really.
What a hot, awesome day. The Aussie's had come with us and the South Africans had headed to the beach to watch that section, but we all met up on the beach again later and camped there again. It was another lovely evening, the only issue being the idiots in cars blaring music until 3am, so sleep was minimal. The Dakar chase was now over for us and we got ready in slow time and said goodbye to the Aussie's and the South Africans, who it had been a pleasure to meet and spend our Dakar time with.