Canadian Motorcycle Rider

Your Canadian source for all things motorcycle!

Featured Articles - CMR_Articles_Feed
Stories about motorcycles with a Canadian perspective

Chasing Rally Dreams - Part II

Words by: Mike Buehler
Photo's by: Mike Buehler

So now my bike was on Trevor’s truck and I’d yet to see it actually running, we figured the fuel pump was acting up from sitting for two years: I had confidence. Trevor was going ship it to a shop in San Marcos, California where Don Retundo would pick it up  to take to Nevada. I was flying down to Las Vegas on April 13th to meet it for Rally School starting the next day in the desert. But first I had to go back to work for a few weeks. From there I was chatting with Ronnie Lindley of Power Performance Perfection in San Marcos to see how his once over of my bike was going? Turns out it was a gummed up carburetor that was the culprit so Ronnie took it out and cleaned it up as well as doing an oil change. He was nice enough to fire it up over the phone so I could hear it. Music to my ears! My only downside on that hitch was that the phone system wouldn’t let me connect to Klim headquarters, I’d been talking to them about getting a new Adventure suit for the training and for more adventures to come, but by the time Nate did get back to my emails they were all gone to dealers and the next production run isn’t scheduled until December. Damn! I’m hoping he’s working on an alternative for me, otherwise I’m going to need to rethink new riding duds.

Work was really nice and booked me home after two and a half weeks so I had a 3 day buffer for weather to make my flight; there are plenty of foggy days offshore that prevent the helicopters from flying. My flight was booked and my boss JB DelRizzo was joining me on this training course too so I really didn’t want to get stuck out in the middle of the North Atlantic. Lucky for me I got in on time and spent a whole three days at home before we flew to Vegas. Time enough to fit in one little training ride to get a feel for my new Leatt brace. In my little tipovers in the snow and bog I didn’t even notice it, but it does take getting used to riding on the street and doing shoulder checks.

Three days goes by very quickly when you’ve been away for a couple of weeks and you have a million things to do before you leave. I was charging batteries for my GPS and camera as well as trying to remember all of the other odds and ends I was going to need. Spare gloves? Check. Helmet? Check. Jacket? Check. Riding socks? Check. And on it went, good thing I’d had the presence of mind to write down what I’d sent ahead in the box so I didn’t double up or forget something else. Turns out I forgot my second set of batteries for the GPS and the charger anyway, oh well.

JB and I met at the airport and suddenly we were off; excitement and trepidation in equal measures. Yup, I was going rally riding on my own rally bike, equals excitement. But we were meeting a bunch of unknowns who probably ride a whole lot better than us not to mention Jonah Street was going to be there; he did finish 7th overall in the Dakar this year after all. We were scared of terrain unlike anything we’d ever ridden and of holding everyone else up, equals trepidation. We still traipsed along through the airports, helmets in hand as carryon.

Las Vegas, blight upon the wallets of millions and sucking out the water from lands many miles away. It can be a bit overwhelming and it’s scary to think what the long term consequences of their water debt are going to be. My third time there and I’ve yet to gamble as much as a dime, despite there being slot machines in every place to step into.

We grabbed our rental car and went to find our hotel, then we took the shuttle to the strip to find some food and a beer.

We arrived a day early and had plenty of time to do a little shopping. JB wanted some new gear and I wanted new goggles, we were both under orders to buy something nice for our girls too. In the morning our first stop was at the RAT office there to say hi. Now that it's been sold the new logo is in effect.

On our way across town to the KTM shop JB spotted a sign advertising Ducati, Triumph and Aprillia. I pulled a U-turn to see if they had any GoPro Hero HD cameras. When we went in were we in luck for cameras but they also had some serious machinery to look at. I’ve never seen a Bimota in person and they had 2! These bikes are ultra bling handmade machines.

Gus took us for a tour around the shop and out back where we saw some more fun stuff and met “Irish Mike” the hotshot mechanic who works on most of the real exotics, like this Tesi 2D.

Other rare and wonderful stuff like this little Vertemati, and the Desmosedici RR that he started up for us. That owner was in for about $50K worth of new bodywork from a tipover! But it really needs to be heard to be believed and to appreciate what a real GP bike is made of.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, JB had his Leatt brace and I had my goggles and video camera, it was time to commit some time to the girls in our lives. Not really knowing our way around and not really knowing what we were looking for we went for the one stop shopping at the Outlet Mall where we were mostly successful in our respective quests.

Finally it was time to head west to catch up with Don at the bivouac, but enroute he called to say he was running late. No problem, we’d just go past it to Pahrump for a beer to kill some time.

It didn’t look like much of anything as far as towns are concerned but we managed to find this little gem: welcome to the Silver Saloon. The beer was cold and it was happy hour which provided local draft pints for a dollar, yes I did say ONE dollar for a full pint! It’s been a long time since I’ve had a beer that cheap. Neither of us were tempted by the lottery machines set in the bar either. I didn’t ask the barmaid, who was originally from British Columbia, to see the photo album of vintage pics but I should have, it looked like it might have been interesting.

When we stepped out the sun was starting to set so we booked it back to find Cathedral Canyon Road to the bivouac, I only missed it once due to misread directions from my navigator. The odd looking rock in the directions was easy to spot.

When we rolled up Don was already pretty much set up and our bikes were sitting out in the twilight, mine started right up so I went for a little spin close by. First impressions were really good and the ergonomics felt just fine as far as fit went too. Not hard to see why it’s called “SuperPlushSuspension” either. Of course as soon as JB hopped on for a spin it stalled and we couldn’t start it, hmmmm. Maybe no fuel? I added some gas and we put it on the charger before heading out for another little toodle around.

When the sun went down I had a look at my HID and then it was time to park the bikes and get to know Don a little better over a few beers. If you’re a fan of Obama’s and aren’t ready for a long debate don’t mention politics around Don; I started the ball rolling then bailed out to leave JB to fend for himself, like any friend would.

We headed off to bed at a reasonable hour and barely woke to hear two different vans roll in sometime in the wee hours. When we awoke, Charlie, Phil and Robb had joined the bivouac. Don was getting breakfast starting with coffee for the gang. Charlie runs the show and Robb and Phil were going to fill the roll of instructor for the weekend.

Charlie was running with 4 bikes: his old XR650 that Marcus John from Singapore was going to use, Phil’s 450, Jonah’s 690 from this year’s Dakar and a sweet new WR 450 that was just built for Neil, the South African who was flying in from Lima. Takes all kinds.

Robb had his 450 with him, and it too looked like a stellar build for this countryside

We spent most of the morning unloading bikes, setting up camp, and tinkering. I got my GPS mounted and set to show heading. I’d brought a few decals to personalize it a bit while I think about my own paint scheme and to add to the ridetherock and advrider annals. Charlie was showing off the stylie billet masts he’s got for sale for roadbook mounting to your bars too.

Did I mention that Neil’s new bike looks pretty trick? Here it is all shiny and new before he was there to start beating it up. Renazco gets good business from Charlie and was well represented. I’m now the proud owner of 2 bikes with  the Renazco treatment and I can attest to the comfort and quality.

Well it was getting past time to get out for a ride wasn’t it? We started out into the badlands where JB and I were a little out of our depth in the soft soil and JB’s bike stalled and wouldn’t restart, time to header back to camp for a few quick adjustments including raising my shifter lever so I could get my toe under it. I also gave my helmet mounted camera its first tryout.

Once we were rolling again we pointed towards some easier terrain that was flatter and only occasionally crossed with washes. Phil tipped me off to get good at lofting/unweighting the front wheel to clear washes at speed. I was pretty close to making it over a steep sided one that popped up out of nowhere when I was doing 40 or 50 km/h, the front wheel cleared and then I think I was bucked by the back wheel as the front wheel simultaneously dug into a compression. The result was the first batch of paint missing from the right side of the fairing, the first dent in the Leo Vince pipe and when I got back on to follow the crowd I realized I’d tweaked the steering pretty far to the right. I was moving along hoping they’d stop again before long so I could get them bars back on the straight and narrow. It was a bit of a bummer to put it down that early into the weekend but it also meant that the first one was out of the way too. We kept riding and I tried to practice glancing at my ICO, heading and roadbook while riding.

There had been rain the week before and as a result I’d see patches of colour from time to time. During our stops I looked around to see what I could see, there were some pretty little flowers to add to my collection of flower pics. And the inevitable sharp, pointy cacti waiting to poke holes in you if you weren’t careful; not hard to see why the instructors recommended to always wear a jacket and not just jerseys. Plenty of stuff I had no idea about.

Looking out over the landscape could fool you into believing that the land is flat–it’s definitely not. There are plenty of hidden gems scattered throughout such as washes, holes, sand, and badlands               

By the time we got back to camp there were more people around including a couple of families of Eastern Europeans who drove their RV’s down from Chicago. This crowd has apparently been coming down to train and ride with these guys twice a year for the last 3 years and it shows when they’re out on the trail. Nice bunch of guys who are planning to enter the Dakar for 2011 if I heard correctly. They were riding a couple of factory bikes that they picked up somewhere, and one of them rides a quad and could be seen roaming around with his wee children on board.

I wandered around to see what else was in camp, Dirk Kessler was the Canadian living in San Francisco who entered the Dakar in 2010 and was part of the 50% that didn’t make it through stage 3, and the brutal soft sand filled river bed; Dirk had a serious knee injury to boot. This was the bike he was riding.

Neil took his new bike out for a little spin and you could see the grin on his face right through his helmet.

Then we ate some supper prepared by Don and started to get to know each other, here are Robb, Phil and Dave. Neil, Phil, Dave and Seth are planning to ride the Dos Sertoes Rally in Brazil this August. It’s the second largest motorsports rally in size after the Dakar. I’m sporting one of their t-shirts that finally showed up. Good luck guys! JB took a shot at getting a cactus needle out of his hand, no luck this time but it came out by itself in two parts separately 3 days later, yummy.

After dark Neil was poking around with his bike with Scott and Darren looking on while Marcus and Dirk worked on the XR. Plenty of tale swapping around the fire over a couple of beers too. Don’s trailer is a sweet rig and where he used to work for them it’s totally outfitted with Snap On tools, nice! Scott Whitney was the guy who wrote all of the roadbooks. He’s done a fabulous job of putting good routes together to maximize the training value. These are high quality roadbooks with all the traits of a Dakar roadbook to aid in people learning the French directions. “TDSRP-tout droit sur route principale” for example.

Jonah Street and Mike Shirley had rolled in during the night as well as Seth which pretty much completed the contingent for this year’s session, give Jonah a call if you  need any concrete work done in Washington.

The morning brought the real start of rally school with a lesson in roadbook reading and preparation given, by Charlie. We had pre event studying to do so we were expected to know most of the symbols and the French translations for the letter codes. He explained where the numbers and symbols were on the roadbook and how you put them all together to figure out where you were and where you were going; these training ones even had map coordinates for your GPS as a cheater for when you really needed some help to figure out where the hell you went wrong.  The basics go like this: in the left column is the running mileage tracked by means of your ICO, the big numbers are running total and the little number underneath is the mileage between tulips. The center column is the tulip or symbol of what you’re looking for. It could be the track with a turn or a landmark like a building and there might be extra info like the lines of a wash or a patch of vegetation. The last column has the CAP heading or bearing in digital for direction and there may be more information in a letter code. In French G would be gauche meaning left, TDSPP would be tout droit sur piste principale, straight on main route, and a + or – before a V would be plus ou moin visible, meaning more visible or less visible. There’s a whole long lexicon of them to learn and some of them are really important to know so you don’t ride into something that could kill you at speed.

Don wasn’t impressed with the use of his RV as a white board. We all glued the sheets together to make the roll and did our own marking based on whatever we thought would work best for ourselves, there’s Mike Shirley showing his personal marking style.

Once those details were done, we’d marked our roadbooks and everyone had loaded them, all the bikes were lined up for a photo op. I think JB took the best photo of them all but here’s what I got.

Did you catch the sidecar rig? That’s Scott’s “HogWild Racing” machine, a Vrod powered offroad sidecar racing machine. He is a bit of a rocket scientist and it shows both here and on his roadbooks. I hear riding “monkey” is pretty wild and I wanted to give it a shot but I was slow in getting to the new bivouac at Dumont Dunes and missed out. Pretty crazy machinery that’s been to the Dakar to boot.

Well now it was time to get finish getting dressed and move out on our first route of training, I was paired up with Seth and Phil I think, and we went off to start route 1 of 6. I was slow off the start for sure trying to figure out the details, but Phil did a great job of adding tips along the way; then it was just Phil and me as Seth took off on his merry way. As it went Phil had a pretty large getoff and bent the crap out of his nav gear and mount so he sent me on my way where I soon caught JB who was also having trouble with his roadbook; we tagged along together to finish back at camp. Neither JB nor I were worried about time so we took a break to get some paper out of his jammed roadbook then took off to give route 2 a go. To tell how slow we were there were guys finishing route 3 already, but in our defense I think they’d ridden them before.

We didn’t have much to report from route 1 besides some slightly missed turns that only really matter if you’re trying to be efficient and not miss time. We stopped somewhere along the way and I looked at the ground to see 100’s of these bugs running around, they were about an inch long but I have no idea what they were, and I never saw any more of them.

If I’d remembered the camera that rode in my pocket more I would have taken more photo’s. As it was I was trying to shoot video from my new helmet can and had varying degrees of success with that. Besides, when we stopped it was rarely for longer than what it took to reset ICO’s and for JB to hand crank his roadbook along. We were doing just fine on route 2 too before we got a little mixed up by the directions given in the roadbook being thrown off by how many times it said to go uphill and downhill on the PP or “piste principale” and we ended up going back to the top of the ridge we’d just come over then wandered around a bit looking for the wash we were being told to go down on a bearing headed back towards camp. We saw other tracks probably from folks doing the same and bee lined it until we finally emptied out on a main track just like the roadbook said we would. I don’t know if Scott planned it that way when he wrote it but for learning it worked really well because seemingly you could always get back onto a known entity and get home. We laughed a little when we saw Robb wandering in search of us and/or the track we were on; it got funnier a little later when we went through a bit of a badlands kind of section and he went bushwacking down into a deep wash while we looked for a more sensible route down and out with mixed results.

We saw tracks below us and a reasonable slope down to them so I led off and got into the wash headed towards a bank about 2 feet high that I figured I could get up. This worked out fine but what I didn’t know was that 3 feet past it hidden by shrubbery was another 3 foot deep wash with vertical sides, at least I didn’t know until I plowed into it and went over the bars to see my bike still upright front wheel planted in the bank and missing more paint. Good thing fiberglass is flexible.  Did I mention yet how much I like this bike? It’s got to be 100 lbs lighter than my 640 and it really shows in times like this when you’re trying to wrestle it out of somewhere stupid. We were out and headed back to camp with no sign of Robb, he came rolling in sometime after we’d already cracked a beer, I guess that’s why he’s the instructor? And so we ended our first day of rally school with only 2 routes under our belts but we were satisfied with our progress on the learning curve. Tomorrow promised route 3 which was touted as being the nicest ride of the 6 loops. A little prep work, food and a couple of beers and we were headed for bed.

We started out day two riding route 3 with Jonah following behind but it also made for more self consciousness for us. The route ran from camp towards the mountains to the north and once we were above town the landscape started to get interesting.

There were two sections that I really enjoyed: the first was a long wash of deep pea gravel that we followed through a narrow rock chasm that was only big enough to get the bikes through and it was at least 20 feet deep. I totally forgot both of my cameras but I’m pretty sure JB caught it on video. Just as well mine was off as I had a little tipover just heading into it, one of many over the weekend. Once we left the wash the track led up into the mountains in a series on turns. I think I had the best groove I’ve ever had on that section getting over the front wheel with weight on the inside peg and gassing the rear end around the turns, I felt that mental “click” as I figured out another riding trick for awhile. I can’t take all the credit though, the bike is really well set up and seems to be dialed in just right for me too. We kept going up into the hills along ridgelines bordered by big cactus and on into the trees, as in real forest. In front of us at high elevation the was still snow on the ground which seemed pretty amazing considering it was over 80ºF in the lowlands.

After a couple of missed turns and failed first attempt of a steep loose climb we opted to stop and chill out for a little while in the shade and get some food and water into us to combat the 30 mile tipover trend that was evolving for both of us. I’ve been training for awhile and am in decent shape, as well as eating pretty well and drinking as much water as possible so my belief is that we were suffering fatigue from lack of saddle time this year: one hour long offroad ride for me and less for JB. I know from mountain biking how much energy the mental focus and concentration takes to ride long hours offroad. No problem, it helps for planning a training regimen for the next adventure, that’s if work allows the time.

Back on track we left Robb and Jonah sitting under a tree bonding while we headed off to finish the loop. Everything was going great and we both survived a nasty downhill chicane that seemed to sneak up on us as the mileage was a ways off on the roadbook. Down into the foothills all was peachy as we came into the fence indicated and made the left turn along it up to another left. We were looking for another left that just wasn’t appearing at the right ICO reading but other tracks kind of close were showing up, the CAP heading was off but we weren’t seeing anything else. Back to the fence and on down the road until I saw that we were definitely wrong where we turned around to try it again, most indicators seemed to read right so we went around again and tried for a second time going a little farther afield, no luck. Finally we tried for a third and last time to the same conclusion and decided to call it and head towards town then back towards camp. All I got out of that exercise was a picture of another flower.

While putting down the road we were on my rear tanks ran out of fuel so I stopped to switch to the front and of course I didn’t spend enough time kicking fuel through before running the battery down. Thanks JB for the final push that succeeded in the bump start, with both of us sweating profusely and roasted from failed efforts. We spent a bunch of miles just buzzing down the side of the highway droning back to the bivouac and at the turnoff there was a guy with a stand selling cold drinks and all kinds of jerky. Beef, Elk, Bison in all kinds of flavours. We stopped to get some drinks as we were both out of water and ate all the samples he gave us. When we were done socializing we left with packages of jerky in our packs to take home for later.

We finally came to mile 0 and there were Charlie and Jonah hanging out in the shade of his van. Robb was halfway back up route three looking for us to no avail. It got funnier as Jonah was asking JB where the hell we’d gone? “we were only 5 minutes behind you and you disappeared? We spent an hour looking for you?” Well, we were going around in circles trying to find a left turn? Upon looking back at the route Charlie was able to determine the turn we’d missed: a crucial left after the nasty chicane that would have sent us heading towards home and to the same fence but much further along. We should have backtracked further in the roadbook to find it, but our biggest mistake was thinking we were at the right section of fence; getting lost is part of how you learn to navigate.

Back at camp we regrouped, watched the boys drive around with the baby on the ATV and I was feeling a little grumpy, Neil picked up on it and asked what was wrong? I’d really wanted to do at least one more route, we’d only done 3 out of 6 in two days while pretty much everyone else had managed all six. Thanks Neil for encouraging me to go for it and Robb kindly offered to make sure there were steaks kept aside for when we got back.

JB offered to join me and we decided to go for routes 4 and 5 as pretty easy ones rather than #6 which would have meant reloading JB’s roadbook and he was a bit worried about fatigue levels, made sense to me. Marcus was also headed back out and both of the boys were suffering from pretty substantial blisters across their palms from holding the bars hour after hour; they took a stab at taping their hands for the upcoming ride.

Fine by me and we took off. Route 4 was really interesting as it took us to Cathedral Canyon, crossed the first real sand dune we’d seen yet and it made use of a massive grid of ¼ mile squares that had been laid out for a failed housing boom sometime in the past; it failed due to a lack of local water–go figure. The sand was a little anticlimactic even though JB fell over and the grid was deceptively challenging. It consisted of being on the gas then slowing for the 90º turn and going, and turning at seemingly random distances right up until we came to a paved road that certainly was not where we were supposed to be. Due to time constraints we skipped going back to find where we’d screwed up and made it back to camp for the start of route 5.

The start backtracked to camp from mile 0 and we saw Neil jump onto the track ahead of us and disappear in a cloud of dust. We saw him for a short time but then lost him. We were short finding an off piste turn and got turned around a little before picking up the power line to put us back on track and gassed it through some fast sections. When we hit the pavement the first intersection put the chicken Ranch on our left.

In some counties of Nevada , prostitution is legal, this is one of those counties and the Chicken Ranch is one of the brothels. We opted not to stop at the Leghorn bar for a beer. Sure I was curious, who wouldn’t be, but we could see the sun didn’t have long before our tinted lenses were going to be a real handicap. We left the sightseeing and booked it to the gas station shown on the route where we were surprised to see Neil at the pumps.  We figure we’d throw some fuel in for the last day to relieve Don as our fueler and got to it. The whole prepay thing at the pumps in the US can be a pain in the ass, as it asks for your zip code, no they don’t recognize Canadian postal codes. All I wanted was a bit of gas but the girl didn’t speak liters and you have to specify an amount. But how much gas does my bike hold? No idea in gallons and only a vague guess in liters right now. I gave her some cash and filled up more tanks than I needed to before we all took off in the direction of burnt meat and beer. Dusk was setting in fast so we got on the gas pretty hard once we were back on dirt. I was leading, followed by JB, then Neil cruising at about 50 mph, this was prudent to me with slightly reduced visibility and it made the difference when I hit a large wash successfully. I turned on my HID light which worked great to get back to camp, not much longer and we would have been in the total darkness. The best part of that run was the look on JB’s face when Neil showed him the video he shot handheld while right behind him offroad at speed, I’m sure he’ll post it on his "n00b goes rallying" thread on Good on ya!

We actually got back to the bivouac in time for supper which was nice-steak and salad and a few other fixings were a great way to finish the day. My cranky mood was gone and I was happy to have finished 5 out of the 6 loops up on offer. There was a 250 mile loop that a couple of the more experienced guys did on the same day too; for now I’ll just daydream a little about riding long days like that. Our third day of riding came to a close with a feeling of accomplishment at reaching another small skill level. I finished it off with a chat on the phone and a sunset shot of another little flower. It was all coming a little bit easier. Tomorrow was a new day and would mark the end of the school.

Morning came early and started with some more teaching about dune riding and navigation in the dunes. This is mostly done by cap heading alone and visually noting landmarks to be able to stay on the same heading as you pick your route through varied terrain. Everyone was interested in this, especially the folks who’d never been in sand or dunes. The other part of the morning info session included some notes and details about the 70 mile route we would be taking to the new camp setup at Dumont Dunes where we would get into the sand for the rest of the day.

The humour started early as Scott’s dog decided to lift a leg on someone’s wayward helmet left lying on the ground. He said it was only a little on the visor, but he might have been lying? Just goes to show that keeping track of your gear is very important, especially in mixed company. Harharhar.

For the first time JB and I were the first to dressed and on the road out of camp, we both wanted to get as far as we could before the faster guys caught us. Everything was going pretty well off the front with the only stop being JB’s roadbook pulling apart; using gluestick to glue the sheets it’s very important to press hard and ensure a good bond. As short as this stop was it still costs time in the overall, for errors that really have no need of happening. We overshot a turn a little very near the same stop so again lost time for no good reason.

The next section was pretty uneventful and led into the hills. The roadbook indicated downhill, EMP. short for empierre which means rocky or stony. It was fairly obvious when we got on top of it and stopped to scope it out. That’s when we heard the first bike catching up with us and sure enough there was Neil: being all gung ho for Dos Sertoes he jumped right in with us still stopped there observing. About halfway down he was down and right behind us Seth and Dirk rolled up. We all watched Neil wrestling his machine upright and JB took a little walk to find an easier line. Seth wimped out and decided to roll down left of the gully with his engine off and Dirk opted for JB’s line on the right from about a quarter the way down. After getting off to take a few more pictures of some flowers I spotted I headed right from the top and saw Dirk fall over below me that inattention immediately contributed to me rolling on top of a cactus and getting stuck. I too fell over trying to escape the little bugger. When I finally did get free it was clear sailing for the rest of the way down and we were back on track again.

From here we entered a small wash that emptied us onto a well maintained dirt road that started with a short detour to a U-turn and then clear sailing. We were cruising at over 60 mph for a good while towards the hills. I totally missed a crucial turn by failing to watch my ICO for about ¼ km and there again was lost time. Backtrack to the turn and a wee stop to reset nav gear and do a little battery fix on JB's GPS, then Marcus and Phil caught up with us. Now we were there with the final riders. I spotted a cool looking cactus and went to take a picture and I’m glad I did as I also saw a beautiful little cactus in bloom too. Who knew I’d see so many flowers in the desert? I’m counting myself lucky we got there shortly after one of their rare rainfalls.

Marcus also did the GPS taped battery trick Jonah showed me after we’d done JB’s and he hit the gas; roosting the rest of us with gravel. Phil gave us the nudge, time to get a move on.  Now we were last and headed up into the hills again and we watched the scenery unfold below us as we climbed. Just after we rounded a corner I got offline into the rocks again and had another tipover. JB commented about the 30 mile stupids so I took a minute to get a quick bite of food into me. Just around the corner we stopped at an abandoned talc mine where JB realized he had trouble shifting because of a loose shifter. It was all stop while we dug out the tools to do the fix. Nice to have a rally box to keep the basic tool kit in. I saw some more flowers and ate some more before we were getting moving again. Good thing as the white tailing piles were reflecting some serious heat at us.

We were trying to stay on the gas and keep a reasonable pace but we seemed to be a little plagued with stops. At one of the next intersections Seth was waiting for us, I really don’t know why, as our navigating was mostly fine and Phil was pulling sweep behind/with us. We jammed along behind Seth through some ups and downs and I had the pleasure of blowing by him up a loose wash, it made me feel good being faster than at least one person for at least a few minutes. Didn’t last long, he left us behind when one of us stopped for something. Another navigational error due to a little bit of confusion with the roadbook cost us some more time yet again where we went through a narrow pass but that’s how you learn yet again. Another change of terrain and we entered a long sandy roadway only to have to stop to fix the shifter a second time. Now everyone was anxious to turn it up another notch and JB led out at a good rate of speed. This was almost the last video I shot as well having forgotten to charge my camera the night before, I did remember the more important GPS batteries though. 

Back into the mountains awhile later we got onto a neat section of trail that was straight up one side and straight down the other side; attention was very important to avoid a long fall to the valley bottom below. Phil asked JB if he’d seen Dumont dunes off in the distance to which JB said he had eyes only for staying on the road, sensible, I didn’t see them either. When this emptied us out it was into a long section that had been serious mining country at one time as we were riding on old broken pavement interspersed with washouts and potholes. Weird remnants of civilization in the dry and desolate middle of nowhere. This led us into a deep pea gravel wash through a small valley that was pretty cool being hemmed in by steep rock walls that you were trying not to run into. After one particularly sketchy corner I stopped to have a look back and saw JB standing beside his bike and poking at something around the engine, Phil stopped with him and I could see that they were both fine. In my own self interest I decided to keep going and get out of the pressure cooker. I was on my own and having fun in the wash until I got caught in a moment of target fixation that had my eyes glued to a large rock coming at me; I tried to pull my eyes away with no luck and plowed right into it. Down I went for my second crash of the weekend and I distinctly remember looking at my hand and cursing as I saw the fairly large avulsion in the meat of my palm. Dammit! I picked the bike up and dug my first aid kit out of my bag all the while thinking I’d be hearing the boys come along any second. I cleaned out the dirt, did a little patchwork and packed it all away before turning my attention to getting to camp. No sign of the guys either.

I skipped a detour up the valley side that was only going to offer a slight change of scenery and kept going to the next turn up over some sand hills and saw the dunes on my left, but it was not our rendezvous. I was close and gave it the gas as soon as I was on the main road right up until I could see our fleet of vehicles parked in the lot. Yay! I’d made it through the 70 mile route in mostly one piece and quite a bit later than everyone else except our missing boys. I caught up with Charlie first and he immediately told me that Jonah and everyone else had just left for Dune School and I should go find them. Alright, off I went, alone into the sand. It wasn’t bad really, I had one close call dropping into a hole made by the wind but on these little ones it was easy to get a feel for them and the oblique approaches that let you see over them before committing to the other side. I went around the whole area twice before I caught up with them, just in time to hear one of Jonah’s last lessons. Phil came buzzing up to ask Jonah if they could use his truck to drive 8 miles back up the wash to get JB and his bike? Turns out what I had thought was shifter trouble was him punching a hole in one of the engine cases. Jonah replied that his truck wasn’t up to the task and Phil rode away. We kept going trying to follow the last navigation trick that Jonah was telling us. At our next little stop Seth and I both decided to head back when they were going over to the big dunes as we’d both run out of water and I hadn’t had a breather from the day's route yet either.

After taking a bit of break and a beer Charlie suggested I go try out the big dunes, reminding me that it was one of the key things I wanted to learn a bit about. I took the roundabout route as instructed to stay away from the crowds and permits. One place I stopped to have a gander I looked on the ground beside me and low and behold it was a field of flowers. I sized up the biggest dunes from a distance and made my way towards them. In hindsight maybe I should have paid a little more heed to my failure to negotiate the first apex? I fell over  but kept trying to get a run up the dune, after a few attempts I still had only really gotten halfway and had almost eaten it going over a steep lip that I couldn’t see in the flat light until I was already on it.

When my battery started getting weak from blowing sand out of the pipe every time I dropped it I knew it was time to head back. I pointed my bike back the way I’d come and set out for the trucks. I saw a small saddle between bigger dunes pointing the way I’d come and turned off towards it. When I crested the dune I didn’t get on the gas early enough and fell over yet again; only this time I was out of juice. Uh oh. I tried to tickle it to life without luck then tried getting rolling to bump start. This didn’t work either and it put me near the bottom and in a depression. After what was already a pretty long day I was dead tired. On this level in sand I couldn’t get in a position to effectively try kicking the bike over either. I came really close to firing it one last time too. Dammit! Again I tried pushing to get out of the depression and down the last pitch to where the track led out but I was out of gas myself. After what had been almost an hour of failure I finally gave in and phoned Charlie. No answer. I tried Scott’s number too. No answer. I waited a bit before trying Charlie again and he asked what was up? I told him and he asked if I’d tried all my options before saying he’d come get me going. While I waited in the only shade around that I created with my jacket I drank the last of my water and gave my girl a call. She was unsympathetic; her response was that it was what I signed up for. Gee thanks. I stood on top of the rise and when Charlie came around the bend it didn’t take long for him to spot me and gassed it in my direction. I felt marginally better when I watched him take awhile to get it running; he has the advantage of having legs a foot longer than mine which helps. 

It was a quick run back to see that most of the troops had pulled out to head home their separate ways. Now it was just Don packing up and waiting to load my bike, Charlie loading bikes in his rig and Neil, Seth, JB and me riding in our rental to the first bivouac to their cars. It wasn’t long before this that JB realized he’d left his camera and phone in Robb’s van. When Jonah declined his truck they drove Robb’s 4x4 van all the way up the wash to where JB had been snoozing in the shade under a rock while he waited. At least I wasn’t the only one who had to be rescued, and I was pretty close to not having to be rescued. On reflection there are things I’d do differently in the same situation, the first being to turn the bike into the hill so I could stand on the high side to kick the low side; I’m sure if I’d done that I would have been able to get back all on my own. Oh well now I know.

JB had missed the dune session so he took the 690 Jonah rode to a 7th place finish in the 2010 Dakar and went for a scoot in the small dunes. The smile on his face was unmistakable when he got back to finish stuffing the car with all of our gear. He was loving it and I was jealous; no time for me, Don was waiting for me to get the rest of my sh@t out of the trailer and finish packing the box to send with the bike. That all done we hit the road for Baker, California to pick up JB’s stuff at a restaurant where Robb had left it. Only a 50 mile detour to the Mad Greek. While we waited I looked around a little and decided pretty quickly that Baker is nowhere I’d want to live. This sign I spotted might offer hope to those living in the trailer park behind it, but I doubt it. We got gas at the General Store across the road before we turned around to get to the cars. The small dunes we were in looked absolutely miniscule as we drove by.

The cars were still there, and being stopped already and unpacking our car we decided to repack all of our gear to fly right there in the dust. It would make life easier at the hotel when we got back to Vegas. A short time later we were bound for Las Vegas where all of us were flying out from the next day. Neil to Lima, Peru, Seth to Vermont and us to Newfoundland. 

Back into the city of never ending light and excess there’s always something to look at; like this dude we saw on his trike, waiting for a miracle maybe? Neil offered to add us to the room he thought he had reserved at the Palazzo which sounded fine to us. After a long drive down the strip with all kinds of people lining the rails along the road like you were the entertainment we got to the hotel and the three of us ended up in a suite with Seth taking the pullout. The girl at the desk informed us that it was the biggest hotel in the world with 7000 rooms! This is only one hotel of many, makes no wonder there’s no water anywhere, Vegas has taken all the water from who knows how many miles away? I wonder when it’s going to run out and what’s going to happen then? My guess is that the consequences will be further reaching than anyone’s guess.

We showered then headed downstairs to the casino to find some food and ended up in Dos Caminos eating steak and drinking a few beers. We were all beat from a long day and were done and headed to bed before we fell asleep at the table.

JB and I had the earliest flight out and were checking in our rental car by 9am. Touring the duty free pretty much brought us to the end of the trip. All in all I think the Rally School was worth the money and worth the effort to get there. I know for us we learned a ton, not only about how rallies work and navigating, but also a ton in terms of riding skills. I was lucky enough to have been able to show up and ride an almost new bike that I now own and get to know that machine a whole lot better too.

And so ends my story to date, my rally dreams finally having some substance. Right then it was a bit hard to see it as I was only home for a few days before getting back on a plane and flying to Alaska to work for a month; doesn’t mean I didn't have more dreams though. What’s next? Well, I’m still on track for the Rally Mongolia like my last story said, and now that I've been out in the desert and experienced a little bit if what it's like I think I'm ready to make another dream come true; but that's another story.

And the start of that story is rapidly aproaching, it's late July now and I get on a plane on August 4th to head to my first ever International offroad Rally. We'll see how it unfolds.

Additional links of interest:

- To follow Mike's adventures in Mongolia you can keep an eye on his SPOT tracker HERE.  He wasn't sure they'd be allowed to use it but hopefully!

- SSER Org website.  Direct link to the 2010 Mongolia race section

Chasing Rally Dreams - Part 1

Words by: Mike Buehler
Photo's by: Mike Buehler

Where does it all begin? Where do our dreams start? I’m not sure about mine, maybe it was when I bought my new bike, June 2006? It was the first bike I’d had since 1998 and the first offroad bike I’d ever owned.

Off road roaming adventures were calling out to me; my best buddy’s influence talking from as early as ’97 when he bought his BMW F650 and talk of the Trans Labrador Highway? The single episode of Long Way Round I happened across on TV in ’05?

Almost 6 months after I bought my 640 Adventure I joined where I met some interesting folks and went for my first real off road ride to Shoal Bay, this one was an eye opener for sure, and I almost made it up without a tipover from kicking myself into neutral on a tricky section, but that’s what it’s all about.

I soon found myself on the forum all the time chatting about this and that and I distinctly remember Geoff commenting that I could be the first Newfoundlander to enter the Dakar. No way says I, I don’t have those kinds of skills. But memories of seeing rallies on TV as a kid, wide eyed asking my dad what it was, all came back to me; I didn’t know what I was seeing at that young age but it made sense now.

Then came Adventure Rider and a whole new world of like minded lunatics with stories upon stories of riding in exotic places and of course the bloody Dakar always looming there in the background. But we all need distractions and daydreams to occupy our minds from time to time don’t we? Along with the asylum, a guy I knew many years ago in Jasper found me and invited me to check out an Adrider dualsport rally in Maine, the Trans Labrador Highway trip I was supposed to go on with Chief got waylaid the year before by work so I figured this was the perfect opportunity to check that out on my “rally” bike.

Labrador was fun, I barely took any photos ‘cause I was having a hoot jamming down the road as fast as was comfortable watching the trail of dust spin off behind me, feeling like I was in my own personal rally through the middle of nowhere. I was having the time of my life right up until I got a ticket for 41 km/h over the speed limit, good for 4 demerit points on my license and probably a hike on my insurance and then I was pretty bummed for awhile. Then there was the rally, it too was fun and I spent plenty of time jawing with folks who’ve done big adventures I can still only imagine. That trip included a day riding a track in Quebec on a 640E with super moto wheels and a turn on a friend’s Ducati. Well and truly hooked on two wheels now. Hmmm…

Pretty soon I found myself checking out old Dakar pics and stories which led to me finding out that only 5 Canadians had ever finished the ultimate offroad event since 1979. So I started looking for Canadians planning to race the 2008 edition, the search led me to Tod Davidson and his TD2Dakar efforts. A toodle through his blog convinced me to get in touch and offer him a little bit of cash I had sitting in a box. We had fun chatting about his bike that was being built for him and all of the other million details he was working on to get there.

I was living vicariously through his planning and preparation and was watching everything I could find. Just a couple of weeks before the start I heard Tod had crashed and had to withdraw from the rally due to a punctured lung, only to be hit a second time by the cancellation of the 2008 Dakar on New Year’s Eve - the day before the start. I can only imagine what a blow that was to everyone that had made the herculean effort to get there.

Time marched on as it always does and I was still riding when I could between my work away and hanging out with my girlfriend. I think it was about a year later that Tod replied to one of the sporadic messages I sent him on and he told me about what he went through after the crash that prevented him from flying to Lisbon to the Dakar startline. It was a heartrending story that included over a year of preparation and six digits of financial commitment that ended with a simple crash in the desert and another year of heartache. Then Dakar ’09 started and I was watching the highlights every night after work 300km’s offshore of Newfoundland on an oilrig, I was livid when I missed a couple of stages due to the radio operator putting on hockey instead on the available channel, they even had the same game on 2 channels! But by then I was addicted wasn’t I?

In my wanderings on I stumbled on a thread where Bob Bergman’s story was posted; this was his account of riding the Dakar in ’05 where he became the 5th Canadian to finish the grueling event. That story really struck me and Bob’s narrative seemed to sink into me; as he recounted every stage my imagination had me right there in the desert too. Half of it scared the crap out of me, half of it made me want to be there. Some time later while writing an article for Dan and he told me about his conversations with Lawrence Hacking, who happens to be the first Canadian to ever finish the Dakar in 2001, and his review of Lawrence's new book about it called “To Dakar and Back”. It had just released so I ran to grab a copy at my local bookseller. Now I’d immersed myself in two detailed Dakar accounts and looked at other rally ride reports and little ideas started tapping their way into my consciousness.

Now what? It didn’t take long for me to get Lawrence’s email address from Dan, and for me to ask Lawrence one simple question: “do you have any suggestions for a starting point for someone contemplating the Dakar in a 3 to 5 year plan?” I was amazed at how quickly he got back to me with a definitive answer; “enter a rally, try the Mongolia Rally, it’s the cheapest and easiest of the big rallies.” As our conversation continued Lawrence was very generous with his time and knowledge including the address for Teru Sugawara and his rally support services. If you’ve read my last CanadianMotorcycleRider story you’ll know that I had no idea of the Sugawara family Dakar legacy at the time. I was putting in all of the legwork to get there for the 2009 edition until a few months out when my better half reminded me of house renovations and a small dualsport rally I was hosting at my house for the first time that summer too. So I canceled my plans and went with my girl Sue for a week long tour on the bike to see AC/DC in Moncton, New Brunswick and camp by the beach on Prince Edward Island, so at least I got to get out for a decent ride.

My rally exposure took another turn in October when I wound up in Tokyo for a couple of weeks working for Cirque du Soleil. I emailed Teru to see if he wanted to meet; Mongolia was still in my sights. Here I was a total neophyte with absolutely no idea that he and his dad were the HINO rally truck factory team. Yoshi has the world record for the most Dakar’s entered at 27 and the most consecutive finishes at 20. For me that day  was almost as awe inspiring as being on the start line!

The day I spent with them led me to write another article for Dan about my experience and to go on a new hunt for Canadians planning to run the 2010 edition. By December I was offshore working again and following a few threads on advrider where I got onto Patrick Trahan’s thread and saw his post pretty much begging for enough donations to get him over one of his last hurdles: buying his plane ticket. He put up his phone number so I gave him a call and told him I could drum up a little cash if he thought it would be any help? I also posted the details on to encourage more of our members to help out; I know all of the Honda Powerhouse dealers on the island got on board too. I got Susan to mail him a couple of stickers of my logo in hopes he’d put them on his bike, not that I felt my contribution was worth that kind of space but you don’t know until you try? Then there was the Riff Raff: Rally PanAm’s informal band of fans who buy into their Dakar bids supporting privateer Jonah Street; I had already talked to Charlie Rauseo a few times about a “tourist” seat in one of their trucks to get a front row seat of the circus. This year I stepped up to help Jonah out and bought in at the Riff Raff Extreme level and have the stylish Klim jacket to prove it not to mention my name on the arse end of Jonah’s bike. Then Patrick sent me pictures of his bike and my logo was there too! I bought a t-shirt from Rick Hatswell too, he was headed down with Don Hatton from BC. Now I had a little ownership with 3 entries, ooooh fun.

The fun really began with the runup to the start of the 2010 race. I joined in the antics of the discussion thread on advrider and remained glued to my computer everyday for the next 2 weeks flipping between the thread where people from all over the world were giving up to the minute details about the riders we were following, including 7 Canadians, the Dakar site with it’s tracking features, among others like for interviews with riders. When the stages finished, the highlights were quickly available for download too. I didn’t miss much in that 2 weeks except the full day I spent flying out on vacation but it was easy to catch up as I was waking up at 5am anyway which gave me a few hours before my girlfriend dragged her jetlagged butt out of bed. In two weeks that thread generated over 7,000 posts which really was a fun ride from start to finish, especially the days over a few pints in my favourite pub.

Let me backtrack a little to before the start of El Dakaro 2010, even though Mongolia is supposed to be comparatively easy, I knew I needed to go the next step: start getting in shape, start riding more, and learning more. I’d been through the Rally Management Services website any number of times starting with Tod’s bike build and had my eye on their rally school and I got in touch with Charlie again to get dates for the next one. I know, Patrick said not to waste my money on such things but it sounded like a good option to me. As for getting in shape I started to focus on gym time when I was offshore, not a huge gym but it served the purpose and beat hanging out in my cubicle of a room

Back on the beach, as it’s referred to when you go home from the rigs, I went to a local gym that a friend of mine is part owner of and got them to draw up a workout program for me in hopes of fitness helping to make up for my lack of desert and sand riding skills. I was in for training 7 days a week alternating with gym and either exercise bikes offshore or my road bike on my girl's old windtrainer at home. My program had 4 onshore days and 4 offshore days to keep me busy.

What was missing? A bike? One of those little ideas came creeping to the front and in January I sent a message to Tod to see if he still had his 525 sitting in his basement? Was he interested in selling it? It took a little while for him to get back to me and I tried to wait patiently for an answer. I also met with my banker and finance guy multiple times getting some dosh lined up for house renovations. When he did finally answer my PM he gave me a yes, not only for the bike but also all of his spare tires, mousse’s, original plastics and anything else still tucked away in boxes. Well now my brain was on overdrive as I tried to imagine what I’d be able to drum up to pay for it. Sigh. All of this preparation brought us up to our vacation where my girlfriend used a conference as an excuse to check out Maui. We were disappointed with the hospitality and looking forward to getting home by the end but it also brought an opportunity for me to stop in Toronto for a couple of nights to check out the bike with my own two eyes. Tod being the really nice guy he is invited me to stay the night and with a flight change my girl had a 5 hour layover there too. We both went up to his house and over a few beers we went to the basement for a look see and I liked what I saw, as I knew I would.

Basically it’s a brand new KTM 525Rally built for the 2008 Dakar and only ever ridden for 3 days! It had gone to Lisbon for the start and sat lonely with no rider until it came home, it was still sitting lonely and unridden in his basement collecting dust. Maybe it was time for Tod to close the door on that episode of his life? Back upstairs Tod named a price that I could hardly believe, wow. I guess it was partially his way of saying thanks to me for my little contribution to his rally dreams, and to see the bike being ridden the way it was designed to? He told me I was one of only 2 people who contacted him to offer a donation, sad that the Dakar is almost unknown in North America despite being the largest motorsports event in the world thus making it damned near impossible to find sponsorship money. Anyway, Sue looked at me and knew I was going to go for it, there was no way I could pass it up. So I drove her back to the airport for her flight before spending the rest of the night drinking beer and swapping stories while inside I was hopping like a jumping bean. One more night in Toronto for a meeting with a group of individuals planning a little project before I too flew home.

I flew back to Newfoundland with 2.5 hours at home before I was back at the heliport flying offshore again for 3 weeks. Work a 12 hour shift then in the gym every day right after supper, seven days a week.

I was still pestering Charlie by email for dates for the school, late March or early April was still all the response I was getting. Not to worry, there were plenty of other details to work on: Mongolia in August for one, the Skibum Soiree on Labour Day weekend for two. You remember, the eight day rally that sent me down this road in the first place? Lawrence’s connections got me in touch with Byambaa Gantulga, the owner of KTM Tours Mongolia to see about support and rental bikes so I was talking to both of them and then Mike Shirley joined as well. He owns a gym in Reno and had been the title sponsor for Rally PanAm 2010, he’s also driven one of their trucks for them for the last 2 Dakars. Yeah, tell me he doesn’t have any fun? All the logistics of shipping bikes versus rentals plus the myriad of other little details I was trying to find and figure out. And so on, and so on, and so on.

Finally home again and first up was a trip to the bank to get a bank draft, then it was out to see Keith Windsor at the Toy Box to make sure my Leatt neck brace and new Arai moto helmet were ordered. I told my banker I was putting the renovations on hold–indefinitely.

Now I was truly committed, I fired the draft into the mail and waited impatiently for Tod to mail the ownership and bill of sale to me. He sent the tracking number so I could see when it arrived, this got really funny one night when we had some friends over and were drinking a fair bit. For some odd reason I got on the computer to look and see where it was; the way I was reading the screen I thought Tod had mailed it back to himself, oh sh#t. Now my well lubricated paranoia jumped in and I gave him a call. He sounded a little confused so we both looked at our computers to compare. Well, I’m the idiot in this story and he proved it by showing me that it was still in transit and I was reading the whole tracking thing backwards. Whew! A bit of a reminder of things not to do while drinking. It did finally arrive and I rushed off to DMV to register the bike to me. Yay

All right, now we’re cooking with gas. Just days before work was sending me away again I flew back up to Toronto to help him pack up the bike and the other odds and sods.

I got in early and figured I had some time to do a little running around the city before going up to Tod’s in the afternoon. I gave a friend on my flight a ride downtown then kept going east to visit my sister at work; boy was she surprised to see me walk in. Then I meandered back over to Mississauga to stop in at the shop where my 640 came from and where the 525 came from, Dave Grummet at Parker Bros Powersports is a very knowledgeable and helpful guy to know and he answered a few more of my questions. From there I went to find a liquor store and a bite of lunch. I stopped at a strip mall across from Sherway Gardens where I saw an Italian Restaurant right next to the liquor store. Perfect. After picking up some beer and a bottle of yummy Bison Grass infused Polish Vodka I wandered in for a bite of lunch. The wall of Scotch was immediately noticeable, holy sh@t! The bartender informed me that they boast the largest Scotch collection in the world and their wine selection boasts the Wine Spectator “Grand” rating which is top shelf too. at something like 5,000 choices.

Reading the menu I found the “Italian Stallion”, equine tenderloin carpaccio. I don’t think I’ve ever seen horse on a menu anywhere I’ve eaten so I ordered it, just because. Not bad, definitely a more gamey flavour than beef, but tasty with the oh so stinky Tete de Moine cheese as garnish. Worth trying if you ever run across it. This was my day and dammit I was going to enjoy it!

With my detours behind me I headed on up the road to Tod’s enjoying the bright, warm sunny day. Trevor Wideman from Kurtz trucking was going to do an awesome favour and drive to Tod’s to pick up the bike, turns out it was going to be that evening instead of the next morning as we had originally planned. When I got to Tod’s we jumped right in to opening a cold beer and getting all the bits ready to go. All we had to do was separate the stuff that was going in a box with the bike including the body armour, clothes and MX boots I’d brought with me, and a spare set of Michelin Desert with mousses’ shod wheels. That done we gave the two stacks of spare Deserts and 3rd rear wheel the plastic wrap treatment for flying home with me. The rest of the spare plastics fit in my big suitcase and I wrapped up the spare chain, petcock, and shock spring  to take as a second carry-on.

When Becky got home we amused ourselves with more stories, more beer, and email; then I took them out to dinner at the nearby chop house. The steak was good eating too!

I flew back home again the next morning to get ready for another hitch of work. It was good to hang out with Tod some more, and I have to say my thanks again for giving me a leg up and helping me chase these rally dreams.

Stay tuned - Coming soon! Chasing Rally Dreams - Part II