From where I was I could see the pit that I had just left across some open desert. Just as I got back on the bike I heard the first trophy truck pull into the pit. I knew they would have a quick pit stop and catch me very soon so I kept looking over my shoulder. Sure enough it was only a couple minutes later when they were coming up behind me so I got well out of the way. Being only mile 150 or so this was still early in the race for them so the trucks and buggies were not separated by a lot of time. Each time as one would catch me the dust had barely settled before another would be right there. I was spending more time pulling over to let them through than making actual progress. In order to keep moving forward I would often go back to the strategy I had done in the silt early on and ride 20 or 30 feet off to the side of the trail. Slow progress but it was still progress.
During the rider’s and driver’s meeting the night before Casey (the main organizer) had mentioned that he had talked with the TV helicopter pilots and asked them to look for riders being caught by the trucks. They would then get ahead of the bike as a warning that there was someone faster coming through. This worked great! Several times I had no idea I was getting caught and seeing the helicopter gave me plenty of time to find a good spot to pull over.
Even when there wasn’t a helicopter most of the trucks have police style sirens they use when catching someone slow which gives you plenty of warning.
But occasionally…. very little warning, no place to pull over, and I would get passed with little room to spare. Kind of scary.
By the time I reached pit 5 at mile 192 my average speed was suffering but I was still feeling OK. My beer can gas cap had stayed on but this did slow down the pit stop. As we were putting the beer can back on some guys who were pitted next to us noticed it and found a better solution, they had a plastic cap from a spray can which turned out to be a good fit. We stuck it on and held it in place with some duct tape and I was off again.
I was still getting caught by a lot of trucks but the spacing was a little better now. The really fast guys were past me. The trail however was starting to get chewed up from all the traffic. It wasn’t bad to ride in as long as you stayed in one of the ruts but there would be large soft sandy berms on each side. The problem was when I needed to get out of the way of faster traffic this was sometimes difficult to get out of. Several times I dumped the bike in the process of getting off the road, always out of the way of traffic so no danger of getting run over but picking the bike up out of the sand and silt took even more of my energy. In a lot of areas the sides of the road was littered with bowling ball and larger sized rocks which made getting off the road even more hazardous.
At pit 6, 220 miles in I recall mentioning to Dad how hard that section had been and if there was a lot more of that I didn’t think I would be able to finish. This pit was a little slow again since we had to pull the duct tape to get the cap off and re-tape it but I welcomed the break and had something cold to drink from the cooler.
Leaving the pit I was on a really good fast road which was a welcome break. I was able to once again open it up and cover some distance. Of course this didn’t last. A few miles later it turned back into the rough, chewed up, rocky desert.
I believe it was around mile 240 when I made the decision to give up. My head had started to ache over the last few miles and I was in a narrow canyon, wide enough that there was plenty of room for me to get out of the way but the sound of the high reving unlimited buggies flying past echoed off the walls and made my head fell like it was going to explode. I had had enough and at this point my only goal was to get out of the desert.
This was the lowest I had ever felt when riding a motorcycle. The worst thought was that if I can’t finish this one-day race how would I ever survive the 2 grueling weeks of the Dakar? I felt like an idiot to think that I could ever do this. I had given it a shot and I had failed. I was already making plans to sell the bike and give it all up when I got home.
The next 20 miles took an eternity. I had no desire to push myself to ride fast but I wanted out of this damn desert. It felt like hours later when I reached pit 7 at mile 262. I just shut the bike off and said to Dad “don’t put any fuel in, I am done”. He could tell by the tone of my voice that it was over. I pulled off some of my gear and he handed me a cold bottle of water and I just sulked for quite some time.
Looking back I am glad I made the attempt, but it was brutal.