I was off and racing finally! My goal was to keep a decent pace but take no chances, 500+ miles of racing through the desert can take a lot out of you and I knew I would need some energy left at the end. The race started out on a nice easy gravel road when I could really get on the throttle and get up to speed. About 1/2 mile later it veered off to a more loose and sandy road but nothing too bad. I was surprised to catch up with the guy who started 30 seconds in front of me fairly quickly. It looked like he was being very timid in the loose sand. I beeped my horn to try to give him a heads up that I was coming up on him but either he didn’t hear it (likely) or just wasn’t planning on pulling over to let me through.
One thing I need to work on is passing other riders. With most of the racing I do there is very little passing. The RallyMoto races start with a full minute between riders and the stages are short enough that it is rare that you will make up a minute on the guy in front of you. So I was too timid and was looking for a good way to get past and followed him for way too long. Before I knew it the guy who started 30 seconds behind me flew by the two of us. This kicked up a bit more dust so I backed off for a bit to let the air clear. Then the guy who started 1 minute behind me flew by. I believe this made me the last bike on the course at this point.
By this point we were off the loose sandy road and onto a road that was decent surface but had a lot of dust. The guy I had caught up with had picked up his pace at this point. The air was dead calm so the dust just hung in the air. I would follow as close as I felt I could still have enough visibility to be safe. I was shocked that the quads were starting to catch and pass me. If I couldn’t see how could they? I suppose guys who race in these conditions more often get used to it. Considering the occasional big rock I would see in the road I didn’t feel safe riding blind. It was a long race and it would suck to hit one of this and end it 5 miles in.
Over the first 30 miles to pit 1 there were a lot of long sections where I didn’t feel I could see. Then I would occasionally get some clear air and pick up the pace for a while. The plan was to skip pit #1 and Dad would meet me at pit #2 which was 60 miles in, well within my fuel window. I noticed 1 bike getting fuel at pit 1 so I was happy to no longer be the last bike on the road. Just past then I caught and passed the slower rider I had been behind before so I was feeling a little better.
At mile 44 I noticed a bike lying it its side just to the side of the road. Then I noticed the rider of the bike sitting on a rock. I yelled over “are you OK?” and he just looked back at me blankly holding his shoulder. Crap, he didn’t look OK. I stopped and talked to him, he suspected he had broken his shoulder but otherwise was OK. He asked for me to get to the next pit and send someone to get him. I asked if he needed anything since it would probably be quite some time before someone was able to pick him up but he said he would be OK. He was in a safe location, well off to the side of the road so I wished him well and continued my race.
I had heard stories of the nasty silt beds in Nevada but I had no idea. Imagine riding through talcum powder a foot deep. Riding through this is a bit challenging but not too bad. The real issue is dust that hangs in the air like you cannot imagine. I came up on a section of the trail where I nearly got stuck and then couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead of me. As I was getting stuck I was kicking up even more dust so I knew nobody behind me would be able to see. By this point the UTVs (the bigger side-by-side quads) had started to catch me. I didn’t like the idea of hiding in a blind cloud of dust with those things coming at me. I quickly turned the bike to the right and got off the road. I was able to make slow but steady progress by riding 20 to 30 feet off to the side of the road, a few tracks showed me that I wasn’t the only one with this idea.
I had not gone far off to the side of the road before seeing something that confirmed my decision to get off the trail. Through the thick dust I could just barely see that a UTV had evidently had a collision with a stuck quad. As they were sorting things out another UTV came into the dust cloud and hit the parked quad (luckily the rider was not on it at this point). As they hit it they evidently did not feel the impact because the driver stood on the gas trying to keep some momentum and not get stuck, running over the quad. Soon there was so much dust I could no longer see and I certainly didn’t want to get engulfed in the growing dust cloud. With the 4 UTV guys (these carry 2 people, a driver and co-driver just like the cars do) and the quad rider I figured they had enough people to deal with whatever issues and I just got myself out of there. I certainly hope everyone was OK.
The silty trail lasted for another mile or two but most of it wasn’t nearly this bad so I was able to get back on the trail for most of it. When it would get really deep I would go back to riding along side the trail. Slow but it didn’t take as much of my energy and was much safer.
I was relieved to reach the end of this and get back on what resembled a reasonable road again. The sun was coming up a bit more by this point and there was a little breeze which helped clear the air a bit.
I rolled into pit 2 and was happy to get a few minutes break. Dad gassed up the bike and I grabbed a cold gatorade out of the cooler and ate a few bites of a cliff bar.
The next section went much more smoothly. Decent but rocky roads but most importantly I didn’t get caught by anybody and I didn’t catch up to anybody, I was able to ride my own pace and not be engulfed in dust. As I pulled out of the pit there had been a couple of UTVs not far behind me but on these roads with good visibility I was able to increase my gap on them.
By pit 3, about 100 miles into the race, I was in much better spirits and felt like I was settling into my race pace. The bike had been running great so Dad just topped it off with gas and once again I tried to eat a bit and drink something cool. I did get caught by a faster UTV not long after leaving this pit but the dust cleared quickly so I didn’t loose a lot of time.
I had my GPS on the bike but wasn’t really using it for navigation. Everyone had told me the course is well marked and you are better off just looking for the course markers rather than trying to read the tiny GPS screen. I did however have it set to show me my average speed which I was using to judge how I was doing. At my first stop at pitt #2 the average speed was just under 30MPH which was not fast enough to be able to finish in a reasonable time. At pit 3 that average was up to 32MPH. Somewhere around mile 130 I was up to 34MPH average. Still around 16 hour pace which isn’t great and would mean a lot of miles ridden in the dark at the end, but at least it was increasing.
I was on a good fast road for a while so the only thing in my mind was to try to make some good time while the road was good. That is when I realized I had not seen any course markers in quite some time.
… to be continued …