Now the dust has settled I’d like to take the time to say thank you, all the followers, readers and especially Michael Guy for MCN support and good wishes during and after the Dakar Rally. Your coverage of this amazing, (some might say) mad event has been excellent and I’m sure I’m joined by all the other GB riders and their families who took part in thanking you too.
“I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime through my 1st Dakar experience and especially in that hour I was stuck in the dunes with a dislocated shoulder, I now know it could have been a lot worse!” You need a lot of luck to complete the Dakar Rally! Every ride has a tail to tell of crashes, near misses, loosing concentration and anyone of them could have taken them out of the rally.
What do I remember the most from my 1st Dakar experience? Defiantly making it through all the 43 inspections without a single problem, we’d made a good bike and I was very proud of what we’d achieved. Straight after final inspection you had to ride up the ramp and be interviewed in front of a large crowd, it was amazing experience and I just about held back my tears. I’d made it to the start of the Dakar! 25 years of dreaming, 2 solid years of training and a mad last few months where it was touch and go weather I’d make it to the start.
As I rolled the bike of the start ramp to park it up on the start line in number order I had a massive lump in my throat to say the least! The next day we had just under a 10km ride along the sea front to the official start ramp in the centre of Lima, walked to my bike where I’d left it a couple of day’s previously after inspection, nervously loaded my road book for the day, now to check if the bike started, it turned over and cranked into life almost instantly, so proud and relived all in one emotion!
I set off at my allocated time, very nervous but excited, finally we’re getting on with the riding, let the fun times begin! As I turned onto the coast road towards the start podium the road was up to 10 deep with people screaming and waving. I was punching the air as if I’d finished the Dakar, this is wear I couldn’t hold the tears back, I must have cried vertically the whole way to the start podium, I was totally overwhelmed with emotion, I really had made it to the start of the Dakar and I was letting it all go, that memory and feeling will stay with me for life, unbelievable!! I don’t think I stopped punching the air with my left fist for the next 100km, the crowds were just amazing, enthusiasm that I’d next experienced before.
Day 1 went to plan, mostly a liaison day, taking it easy and familiarizing myself with all the navigation, constantly trimming my trip meter to get the Km exactly right. At the end of a 250km warm up liaison we arrived at the Pisco Bivi, home for the next two nights.
I was directed through the bivi to the start line of what turned out to be a technical 13km special stage, I was early and had to wait in the boiling sun for about half an hour. Had a good chat with Tim about navigation and he showed me a few tricks with the GPS which he had picked up from the Morocco Rally, nice one, thank you. The start of the stage set off straight up a large dune face, something the quads had trouble getting going off of. I didn’t relies how big the dune was until I came down the other side, a good 100 foot 45 deg descent in deep loose sand, pinned it down the face as I was picking up direction change to the right on the way down. Decided to leave the pace on till the bottom and wall of death it right off the other face of the dune at the bottom. It continued like this for most of the stage with some very fast stretches along the top of the dunes. I should say that this stage that this was the very first time I had ridden the bike off road! We hadn’t had the time as we only completed the bike build the night before it had to be shipped to Le Havre.
Riding at a comfortable pace while learning the navigation I was taking note of how the bike was handerling. It was weaving all over the place and felt very stiff on the back. I had filled right up with fuel at the last fuel station not really knowing when fuel was available the next day; I later found out that everyone else was running pretty empty, whether they new there was fuel available first thing the next day or they hadn’t thought of it I don’t know. Either way I could afford to soften the rear suspension and I also realised that I hadn’t wound the steering damper up, something else to remember for tomorrow.
The final result of Day 1, I had moved up from my start position of 176th to 122nd, it’ll do, was hoping to get up into the top 100th early to give me a better chance in the dust of other riders which must be due soon. At the end of the stage they check you GPS, they pressed a few buttons and up popped all the check points for the day, nice one, I’d got them all I didn’t know where some of them were. No penalties for the day and then they take your time card and give you a new road map for the next day.
Now to find my support team, it’s a big place the bivi, lucky enough it was only about 2pm in the afternoon and found them quite easily. We had pre arranged to stick with the Race to Recovery Team as they were quite a big set up with trucks and flags. It was one of my fears that what could happen if I’d come in late, in the dark, exhausted and you can’t find your support crew in this 10 hector bivi of madness! Found Mike already set up, gazebo, bike stand, spare wheels, tools and table, all we were missing was the kitchen sink. Had a quick chat about what adjustments I wanted to make to the bike but we had plenty of time so we decided to go and find the food tent and get some much needed food.
The facilities are amassing seeing we’re in the middle of the desert and there are approximately 4,000 to feed vertically 24hrs a day. There’s also a medical centre, information centre, competitors center, port-loo area and shower area, it’s a logistical marvel how they make it all happen! After food it was back to our little bivi set up for me to prepare my road book for the next day and for Mike to work on the bike. Even though the bike hadn’t done much work I asked for now oil and filter as it’s still a new engine and it had been sitting inside a shipping container for the last month. Tyres were still good so we left them as I was on a new set every other day plan and we increased the sag from 100mm to 110mm to make her ride a little bit more chopper like and a bit softer.
The road book was a bit complicated with lot’s of alteration to cut in and some quite a lot of information I didn’t understand or hadn’t seen before. I decided to take my road book to the evening meal at 7pm and onto the rider briefing which was at 8.30pm to ask a few people if I was interpreting it correctly. This was where I found out that not a lot of people know exactly what to do with all this information, lots of different ideas which I took onboard but still not 100% sure if anyone was right, we soon see tomorrow! Loaded my road book up under the light of my head torch and said good night to the bike. That night I should have gone to bed early but I was buzzing, still couldn’t fully take it in that I’m on the Dakar, I’m really hear and it’s all happening. Had to go for a walk around the bivi and take all the madness in that was going on, something I did every night, it’s something you could never put into words; you just had to be there!
Day 2 started at around 4.30 am for me, up and straight for breakfast where I found the food bivi as busy as I left it last night. This time round they severing roles, cheese, ham, yogurt, serials, fruit and the compulsory by now pastor to maintain the carb’s. I made a few extra ham and cheese roles to take with me and also picked my pack lunch up that all competitors and support crew are entitled to as part of their entry fee. Consisted of dry fruit, breakfast bars, drink and a tin of what I can only explain as a complete meal in a tin, weird but edible! Back to my tent to get dressed and prepare for a proper Dakar day, first rider was away at 5.30am and I started 122nd about 6.30am. All loaded up for the day, pack lunch and all alone with some energy bars I made the way to the start line, bike started first touch of the button, good girl! We’re given a new time card for the day at the start and they check that your safety equipment is all working, Iritak and GPS.
We set off on a 85km liaison stage before we were due to start the 242km special stage. I used the liaison to fine tune the trip meter, it seemed spot now. Just before the special stage I found a fuel station, I decided to take on fuel hear even though I could see there was fuel at the beginning of the stage, so did a load of other riders. A little bit further on down a track there was the start of the special, I was early again and had to wait for about another half an hour, I chose to lay beside my bike in the little shade I could find. The stage started off quite flat, hard packed and dusty. I could help myself, I said I’d take it easy but a race is a race, lets get it on and ride at the pace I’m used to. I soon was pulling in riders, waiting for the dust to settle then slowly pulling in one bike at a time.
Navigation was going well and I was confidant to lead. At the first time check I had pulled up from my start position of 122nd to 98th and I was well inside my comfort zone. The terrain then started to get a lot sandier, loose and the dunes started to get bigger. The bike was handerling a loads better, still shaking when flat-out in the rut’s but wasn’t trying and could relax off on the grip on the bar’s and let it do it’s thing. I was now really pulling other riders in as they were starting to struggle in the deep sand; i had climbed up from 98th position to 76th position by the second time check.
I was about an hour into this day’s special and I have climbed 46 places and we came into a stage of big sweeping horizonless dunes, had been in top gear and dropping to 4th gear occasionally for about the last hour. I was loving it, riding well inside myself and about 80% off my max effort. Navigation was all coming together well and had slowed down as I was aware I was coming up to an extreme warning that I had highlighted on my road book as a triple “!!!”. I came across a sharp dip about where the warning was “was that it?!” “that wasn’t that bad” then another horizonless dunes in front of me, still very aware that might not have been the extreme warning I went up this dune in about third, just enough to maintain momentum up the face of the dune to come across, what I can only explain as a 80 foot wave of sand that was just starting to break at the top with around a 60 deg face down the other side!
I scrubbed as much speed as I could but I was committed to going off the top. On the way down, in the air at the time, I looked down my line of direction to see what I can only explain as carnage at the bottom, bikes and bodies everywhere. Intuitively I had started to try and change direction by committing to turning right by slightly leaning to the right and had started turning the handlebars to the right. I landed about 40 foot down the face reasonably flat ready to give it a big handful of throttle, something you’d get away with on any other surface but this was like sinking sand! The bike just dug in and threw me hard down on my right hand side about another 20 foot further down the dune. Dazed and adrenalin pumping I started to try and climb back up to my bike to find I just collapsed on my face, strange, my right arm not working properly?! I could move it at the elbow up and down and rotate my hand ok, just couldn’t lift my arm up from the shoulder.
At this stage it felt like someone had given me a really good dead arm, something like you’d give your mates at school. I continued climbing up the face of the dune to my bike, one armed, thinking that my right arm will come back to life in a minute. Wasn’t making much progress, just kept sinking into the sand but I’d noticed the bike, nose down on it’s right hand side was starting to slide down towards me as quickly as I was trying to get up to it. When we finally met I tried dragging the front wheel of the bike round with my left arm to get the bike horizontal to the face of the dune, it wasn’t working. Decided to climb above the bike and push it down to a horizontal position where I could get back on it. When I eventually got above the bike I pushed it with my boots from the back mudguard and back of the seat, shuffling down on my bum with every push to gain more leverage whilst holding my right arm with my left close to my body .
Finally got the bike to a horizontal position but about half the right hand side of the bike was berried in the sand. I then tried to release my right arm in the aim of pushing my hand into the sand to try and find the right hand grip to pries the bike out of the sand, but it just flopped there! I put my left hand under my right arm to help lift it up and see if I could get it moving, the realization set in, this wasn’t just a dead arm! I sat back down on my butt continuing to try and move my right arm with my left, instinctively trying to pull it straight and then upwards, got it up to about 45 deg’s but it wasn’t working, the adrenalin was now starting to wear off, it was now really starting to hurt! I flumped back into the sand, laying against the face of the dune looking up into the sky as the realization set in, this isn’t good, what can I do now, how can I get out of here and ride off with one arm?
Time to take stock of my situation, I sat up and started to take in my surrounding, who was about, what was going on below me and all whilst feeling my right shoulder for anything out of the ordinary. It was then I noticed there was only one rider lying on the floor below me, one bent bike and all the others where standing around him helping out. Shit! It’s my good mate Kevin Muggleton, an ex pat living in California now, we’re the same age, living the same childhood dream, riding the same bike and had been in contact loads sharing how we were going on with our Dakar bike builds.
He was obviously in a lot of pain and indicating it was his back. I looked up, there was now many people about, directing the other riders over to the right, about 20 foot away from our carnage where there was no drop off and only about a 45 deg face to ride down, if only, crossed my mind!? As I was looking up a helicopter came into land to the left of Kevin, as the doctor was running over to him, he looked up asking if I was ok? I put my left hand up with thumbs up indicating that I was ok, he continued running towards Kevin.
I watch for a while as the doctors went to work on Kevin, he was having a drip put in and loaded onto a stretcher. My thoughts were now to get out of here, come on shoulder start working! Continue to lift my right arm with my left hoping it’ll come back to life, by now the pain was getting worse; whatever I was doing wasn’t making it any better. When I looked up the doctor was on his way up the dune towards me, he went straight to my right shoulder from under my riding jacket “your shoulders out” he said, “you’re out the event!” My heart sank; he went straight for my emergency beacon whilst saying “we’ll need to cut your clothing off!” “No, its ok, I’ll get it off” thinking I’ve just bought all this gear, no way are they cutting it all up! He stopped trying to find my beacon and assisted me in removing all my gear. Once my shoulder was exposed he put his left hand on top of my shoulder and his right hand under my armpit, my shoulder joint was up under my armpit, as he touched it the pain was excruciating, I said to him “I’m going to pass out” and I did! I was woken by him wiggerling my leg and speaking to me, “you ok, I’ve put your shoulder back in” not sure how long I was out but I glad I was.
He promptly started removing my GPS, Iritrack and Emergency Beacon, that’s it, I’m officially out of the Dakar. We were all loaded into the helicopter, pilling everything on top of Kevin in his stretcher so we could all get in in one journey. This was my first helicopter journey, they took it gently and I got to see the rally going on beneath us, it seems so easy and flat from up hear, the helicopter pilots life must be good fun I thought in the Dakar?! From landing at the bivi helicopter port, myself and Kevin where loaded up in an ambulance for the very short journey to the on site medical centre for x-rays etc. Kevin was in a lot of pain and he took priority, I sat there in my cubical hearing Kevin in pain and its then I realised how lucky I was, bar a painful shoulder I was in good health. X-rays confirmed I hadn’t broken anything and was given the option, to be flown out back home? I asked “is it ok if I stay on with my support crew and continue to follow the race to the end?” “Yes, that’s ok, but come and see us everyday to check you’re ok!”
I started the lonely walk back to my support crew, still worrying about Kev, head hung low to find it all set up ready for me to come in for service, new wheels and tyres ready to fit. I don’t know who was more gutted them or me, I felt so sorry for them and all the supporters, followers and sponsors back home. It wasn’t till a few days later when jammed in the back of my support jeep, whilst passing through a town I managed to get a 3G signal; I linked into face book to find so many messages of “gutted for you”, “feel for you” that I realised how many people where actually following my progress and my childhood dream of completing the Dakar rally, I quietly broke down whilst reading them all and I still fill up when I read them today. I will reply to each and every one of you individually, those words mean so much to me and I’m totally blown away!!
So now my Dakar experience has taken another direction, I’ve become part of the support crew as now my support crew could turn our attentions to the other GB riders and help wherever we can. Kevin has now been flown back to Lima where they were to fit a back brace to him so he could be transported back home for an operation on his broken back. I’ve since found out he’s had the operation and is walking again, he even wants to discuss Dakar 2014, so that’s a positive sign.
Our attentions firstly turned to Craig Bounds, as he was sort of my team mate but pulled out of the support option in favor for Malle Moto with no support at the last minute. Craig and I had been training together all year and I’d convinced him he needs to do the Dakar again to get it out of his system. On Day 5 Craig had a coming together with a quad (as did quite a few other riders during the event, something that needs looking into I feel) We met him at the end of the stage looking a bit battered, I forced some food in him and asked him to take some nurofen, something he refused as he doesn’t take things like that he said.
Later when we met at the bivi that night it was apparent he was in a lot of pain and he visited the medical centre. He came back with some painkillers and was complaining of back pains. I rubbed some ibuprofen painkiller gel into his back but looking at his cracked helmet and the damage marks on his neck brace, I told Mike my mechanic that he was lucky he didn’t break his neck. Mike did what he could and was allowed to do to his bike in the Malle Moto class rules and I went through the road book for the next day with Craig. Best thing to do now was for him to get to sleep and see how you are in the morning. Morning came, he was still in pain but willing to carry on and see what happened.
Loaded him up with energy bars, protein bars, pain killers, borrowed new helmet and the money he needed for fuel that day, we set him off, this was 4.30 in the morning. He wasn’t really there, you could tell from the look in his eyes and was now riding in survival mode, something you develop through years of Enduro riding and the accidents that come along with it. It’s crazy, I know, but I understand this mode, must finish whatever, once the adrenalin kicks in you’re surprised what you can do when in this situation.
We’ll follow him closely best we can, that’s all we can do, and it’s his decision at the end of the day. This carried on, in this type of daily routine up to the rest day (another 3 days) where it had been prearranged for Craig girlfriend Tasmin to come out. A night in a hotel and Craig appeared looking better, refreshed and happy to continue to give it go till the end. Mike and me were also spending as much time with the race recovery team, helping them out where we could with all their set backs, as well as checking, where we could, helping out with Front Row GB (Stan, Tim and Lyndon), Simon Pavie and James West, we were flat out!
There’s one story of what’s happening on a daily basis with the competitors but I can share with you that there’s even more drama’s going on behind the scenes, its madness! I’d gone for three days without time for a shower, had on average no more than 4 hrs interrupted sleep per night and spent a minimum of 8 hrs a day in sweltering heat, cooped up in the back of the jeep traveling to the next bivi, to then arrive, run around like a mad man helping out wherever we could, mainly in moral and motivation front from me being in a sling. Rest day came, much to everyone’s relief, time to chill for the day and for me to calmly go round all the teams, having a chat and learning as much as I could about bike preparation, support set up, road book highlighting (everyone does it differently) and personal preparation.
The next 7 days took the same sort of routine but more alone the lines of self preservation for all and getting everyone to the finish. Unfortunately James West had a big crash on day 10 which took his bike out of action; he was alright but understandably disappointed. Craig continued riding in pain but now Tam’s was with him he seemed happier to keep going. Stan had suffered a shoulder injury and seemed to be suffering with the same restriction of movement as me, so suspect he dislocated his shoulder too but went straight back in as he’s done it many times before. Tim had had many crashes but seem to have got away with it with no real apparent personal injuries.
Lyndon had suffered a few off’s, one that bent the bars and the support team had a long night rebuilding his bike ready for the next day. He’s suffered a knock to his previously injured foot and was hobbling around a bit. Simon was having what seemed to be a trouble free ride, bit fast for his liking but I believe the first Dakar he’s had with no problems, I’d put that down to experience even though he didn’t seem that satisfied with his ride this year.
Back home now and I’ve seen the consultant about my shoulder. The consultant said that I have some tears but no major damage which is in need of an operation. Good job it had been put back in there and then in the dunes otherwise it might have been another story. There is a 20% chance that it could come out again and if it did I’d need an operation. I translated that into an 80% chance that it won’t come out again, good odd’s I feel! The thrust is there is a very good chance i could end up with limited movement, very long time for recovery and theres a strong possibility i might not be able to ride again. No option, i’ve got unfinished business! I’ll be starting phiso very soon and should be riding again by April all being good.
So will I be having another go at the Dakar? You bet you life I will! I have unfinished business and I’m now more determined than ever! Armed with loads more knowledge from personal preparation, bike preparation and what’s needed to what makes a good support crew. I now have a much better understanding of what’s needed, to make it to the end of the Dakar Rally (Race!) and I’m very capable of achieving a top 50 finish. All i’ve got to do is find another £50k..!! Thanks again for all your support and I’ll see you in the Dakar 2014, and I hope you’ll follow my progress….All the best for now PJx