Thursday 16 April 2015

Tuareg Rallye 2015: Race Day 7 - Zagora to Ouarzazate

Yes, woken up by those annoying German buggers yet again!

A relatively easy day, or so we are promised but still a healthy distance as even by road Ouarzazate is 150km away. The day started with a 57km road ride to reach the start CP, very boring and in the early morning quite chilly. Again I held off leaving the hotel until quite late to avoid having to sit around for an hour before my start. As a result I was last bike on the road and it was starting to feel a bit lonely out there! It was getting to the stage where I was starting to wonder if I was on the correct road, when I eventually passed another rider at the side of a road, he was fine having only stopped for a pee! I then passed a few of the Car amateur competitors who started about twenty minutes after us each day so I definitely knew I was heading the right way. I still got to the start with half an hour to spare and was relieved to find a large rock to park the bike against. After a brief wait I was waved forward a bit earlier than I was expecting and was soon underway.

This stage was not timed being strictly liaison but we started as usual in groups of four at minute intervals, as we would on a special test. The first section was on a rocky piste that caused considerable dust, so despite my promise to myself to keep it steady, I wound it on a bit to get out in front of my group and get some clear air.

This was OK until heading into some low hills the road book holder started flopping around. It appeared the zip tie holding it in place had given up the ghost again! I stopped where I could prop the bike against a rock wall and discovered one of the mounting bolts was loose too. So a quick tighten and a new zip tie and I was on my way. However I was now last bike on the road as everyone had passed me.

As I pulled away I heard a strange siren like noise ahead, it turned out it was a siren when an ambulance appeared coming the other way on the narrow track! I had just about enough room to squeeze past. It would appear that our narrow little “off road” track was in fact a fairly major route leading to a number of villages. They must have had fun trying to pass the thirty or so riders in front of me!

The fact we were on a fairly major route was confirmed shortly afterwards as I scrolled the road book on to find repeated speed limits and notes of prominent buildings. Sure enough I soon passed a clinic, a mosque, a school and what appeared to be one long strung out or possibly several adjoining villages. I passed another rider, who gave me the universal thumbs up “I’m OK signal” and I carried on out into wide open country, climbing higher into the hills, the track was very twisty with a few sharp bends that had the ability to catch you out. It followed a wide valley and eventually headed over a col that I remembered from day one. On the other side there was a section of tarmac about 400m long before returning to stony piste, why they chose to come all the way out there into the hills to lay that one section miles from anywhere, I have no idea?

On the other side I started to catch up with several riders and we then turned hard right to head into another village, the road book said to turn left and enter a oued (river bed) but I couldn’t see the turning. The other riders carried on up the piste as it climbed out of the village but I wasn’t convinced and the trip meter was definitely past where I should have turned. So I stopped part way up the hill and looking back into the village, immediately saw one of the organiser’s trucks sitting in the dry river bed, it had been hidden behind a large earth mound. I turned round and made my way down, using the truck to park against.

This was the stone filled oued I remembered struggling along on day one but this time only the Pro classes had to ride in it, we got to follow a smoother piste that ran alongside, constanly crossing and recrossing the oued. At one crossing I saw the flag of a Secret Check Point but as I stopped to turn, another British rider running back from the SCP shouted to carry on as it was only for the pro classes.

We eventually turned to ride along the oued but the gravel was less deep here with patches of standing water, so quite familiar terrain really (just the 30 degree heat that wasn’t)!

A long winding piste led to another village then to a new straight road with piles of stone blocking the access, so you had to follow the old road that wound along, constantly crossing and re-crossing the new one. Except the two riders in front of me decided to ride over the stones and use the new road, so I followed suit, as did a few more riders behind me. This was easy going with just the two piles of stones to ride over each time the old road crossed, no handicap after the terrain we had been over in the last week. The road book must have been written with the new road in mind as the trip meter was spot on when we eventually reached the turn off to a visible CP off to our right.

This was the start of the first special stage. After a short break, I got my time card signed and got on my way. This was a relatively short stage of about 35km so unlike most specials where I just rode at a steady pace, this one I rode more like a UK rally and upped the pace, I know this broke my "keep it steady rule" for the last day but I wasn't pushing hard, just enjoying the ride. The stage was all on stony trails that weaved across low hills and through valleys, great riding!

At one point the road book instructed us to turn left off a main piste and then follow a smaller parallel track. However at this point another rider came flying past staying on the main track. The road book then took us back across the main track, looped us round and re-joined it further along. The other rider had just stayed on the track and ridden straight through. At first I thought he must have interpreted the road book and realised this was just a (slightly unnecessary) detour.

Then as we climbed on the main track again, the other rider slowed right down and kept glancing to our left. Then it dawned on me what he was doing, glancing at the GPS I noted that we were a fair way to the right of the route (because it just draws straight lines between waypoints). The other rider had blasted straight through and was now getting confused because he wasn't following the road book at all but blindly following the GPS track! I would have thought after a week of racing he'd have worked it out by now. I just overtook him again and continued up the track, confident I was on the right route as we had a CAP heading that I was spot on and the description said something like "follow power line" sure enough there was a line of poles running right beside the track.

Before the rally I was told that just by navigating well on the road book I could get a top ten finish as so many people just followed the GPS track and as a result missed Secret Check Points and incurred big time penalties. I hadn't believed this entirely but after that incident I was convinced. After all this was supposed to be a "navigation rally".

It didn't seem long before I rolled into the CP to end the stage. There followed a short road ride into Agdz, the scene of our fuel stop on day one. The petrol stations were full of bikes but I decided I didn't need to refuel.
Several Italians left one station as I approached and I tucked in behind them as we climbed into the Draa valley and over a spectacular pass, with stunning scenery. After several kilometres of fantastic bends, we pulled off the tarmac to a CP. Here the pro classes started a second special stage but us in the amateur classes returned to the road. I was feeling a bit cheated as I was more than happy to do a bit more racing.


A straightforward road ride took us to another CP just off the tarmac, this was the end of the special stage. As I listened to some of the Moto Pros described the horribly rocky track they had just raced over and how hard it had been I no longer felt cheated.
From here it was a short distance on the road to a restaurant where we were all to re-group, competitors and service teams and were all treated to lunch by the organisers. Approaching the entrance that was manned by several Gendarmes, I swung smoothly onto the gravel driveway and the rear wheel just carried on round, unceremoniously dumping me on the gravel! The Gendarmes all ran over but we're not sure whether to be concerned or to laugh at my antics, however when they saw me laughing at my own stupidity, they all readily joined in.

After picking the bike up, I rode up to the gate, checked in, met up with John, Radu, Elvis, Anny and Sophia, parked up the bike and sat down for lunch in a Bedouin style tent inside the restaurant's walled compound.

We then had a long wait until all competitors were in and John decided to drive straight back to Ouarzazate to reclaim my two crates of gear from the Hertz office before the shut. The rest of us were eventually formed up into one huge convoy and rode together back to the hotel in Ouarzazate, a pretty impressive sight! on arrival, I just parked the bike up against the wall of the hotel, next to the main entrance....

After this much beer was dispensed and a podium ceremony was held for the winners in each class, with garlands presented, much champagne sprayed and all to a background of.... yes you've guessed it, our old friends Rammstein!!!

Yes we rode through Hell to get a can of Hell!

Afterwards Radu's car and my bike were loaded onto the trailer, then I retreated back to the hotel room for a much needed shower and we got ready for the official awards ceremony.

Here I was pleasantly surprised that not only had I held onto third place in the Moto Amateur over 50s but I was called up on stage and awarded with a trophy. Not bad considering my only ambition was to finish!

Radu and Elvis had held on to second place in Car Open Series, so a great result all round for Team RCBS Rally Raid / Nomad Racing!

After dinner and a couple of beers at the end of race party in the bar, I headed off to bed for a good sleep and for the first time in a week, a decent lie in.

Monday 13 April 2015

Tuareg Rallye 2015: Race Day 6 - Zagora – Erg Cheggaga - Zagora

Race Day Six: Zagora – Erg Cheggaga - Zagora

So we went to bed thinking that at least we wouldn’t have the wake up call in the morning from Rammstein, as unlike Merzouga where the hotel was some distance away from any other buildings, The Hotel Reda in Zagora was in a built up area so we guessed they wouldn’t dare wake up half the town at was after all 05.00 Moroccan time….

Wrong! Noisy fookin’ Germans before dawn again!!!

Today's stage was a loop out and back with some more dunes on the way. For the pro’s this was a long extended loop through the dunes of the Erg Cheggaga. For those of us in Amateurs we were luckily to just have to ride the dunes across the “neck” of the long loop, although in the event it wasn’t exactly easy.

Due to the out and back nature of the course, John wasn’t required to go out with fuel as we passed a petrol station at Tagounite twice on the route. However I again filled up the bike to be on the safe side before leaving.

I decided that without a stand I didn’t to get to the start too early but in the event things did get a bit rushed! A moderate ride out of town on sandy tracks got me to a flat open plain; here my first dilemma was how to park the bike with no stand whilst I got my timecard. I solved this by pulling up next to one of the other British riders and asked him to hold my bike. I then returned and sat on the bike until my start.

We soon found ourselves on a wide open , flat and stony plain with the road book instruction “follow GPS” for 17km, it turned into a flat out blast until we past a water tower after which we followed more tracks around some agricultural plots in the shadow of a range of hills before arriving at CP1, here there was a handy thorn tree, so I parked the bike against it, or to be more accurate… in it! Those thorns are sharp!

Following on from here was an on road liaison section, this led us over a pass through the hills we had been shadowing, where the road was in the process of being repaired, so much so that we might as well still off road! The twisty bends were fun though!

Then followed a long straight road to Tagounite. This was odd as it had a single lane width of tarmac with an equal width of gravel on the left and a narrower strip of gravel on the right. I soon discovered the technique here was that everyone used the tarmac strip to travel in both directions but when you met traffic coming the other way a game of chicken ensued, with right of way seemingly being determined by the size of the vehicle, the largest wins! As a result I was forced to make several trips onto the gravel to avoid oncoming traffic.

Arriving in Tagounite was a little odd, usually you detected the proximity of towns by the increasing litter levels and the towns themselves have a rather run-down appearance but here we were suddenly onto to wide smooth roads running between very new looking smart buildings, in particular a large Army barracks and a high school both in large walled compounds. Just beyond these after a new roundabout was the fuel station, again looking newly built and then a wide boulevard with some very impressive looking street lamps along it, led off towards the town proper.

Stopping for fuel, I then decided on a lunch stop using a handy wall to lean the bike against. Donna and Colin from Torque were set up on the forecourt so I had a natter to them whilst I got some food and water down my neck.

Suitably refreshed, I set off again only to go the wrong way! I automatically turned out of the petrol station onto the wide boulevard into town, when the road book told me to turn back on myself and turn off the road at the roundabout. I executed a quick U-Turn, rode back past the petrol station and turned left at the roundabout onto a rocky piste past the high school and towards CP2, the start of the next special stage that was only a few hundred metres away. Again I found a handy tree and parked the bike.

Started off the route took us along a fast, straight but very rocky track. This was not great news given my right hand fork seal was still leaking and the ride was very harsh. Then I glanced down to see that my GPS had turned itself off, no attempt on my part could get it to restart. So I was forced to pull over (at a convenient thorn tree) and check the power supply. All was fine, the connections and fuses were all OK so I could only assume the heat had got to it again, as that day was blisteringly hot. I decided I would just have to rely on the road book, trip meter and compass (CAP) headings.

The road book was also giving me grief as the switch had failed to run the book forward the previous day (although still worked in reverse) however after loosening off some of the cable ties and fiddling with the wires, it had started working again. However it now decided to fail again and no amount of fiddling with the wires would get it to work, so I had to scroll it forward by hand using the knob on the side of the road book holder. Not easy trying to ride one handed at 80-90kph on a rough rocky track!

The track ran alongside a low range of hills on my left, then after a sharp turn I crossed this through a gap to emerge into a wide open plain, with sand dunes up ahead stretching to the horizon. This was the Erg Cheggaga and into which the pro classes had headed. We on the other hand turned sharp left and headed to towards the dunes to run down the opposite site of the range of hills.

It was at this point I scrolled the road book forward to discover the directions through these dunes consisted of riding from one GPS waypoint to another, not a lot of help without a working GPS! I had expected there to be CAP headings to follow as a safety back up but these were absent.

Knowing from studying the map I had to run approximately south, I followed a rough heading of 180o and headed into the dunes, there were a few other bikes and cars around so I could break my own rule and follow others but this of course presumed they knew where they were going. I noticed a Suburu in the car category heading back towards me? So I stopped on a high dune to see what they were up to. From my vantage point I could see there were many stony valleys between the relatively low dunes and they were looping back round to obviously make use of these. I decided to do likewise and managed to get a long way into this first dune set without having to ride on sand at all. When I eventually got back onto the dunes themselves, I found them to be horribly soft, whereas in previous days it was easy to stop on top of dunes to scout the way ahead, here you just sunk into the sand.

At least the battery was fully charged and this time when I bogged down or on a few occasions when I lost the front wheel and took a tumble, I would whip the clutch in quickly, hit the starter and then click the bike into neutral (it goes in easy when its running) so I could extricate the bike or pick it up (or both) with the engine running and get moving quickly, which was making progress a lot easier.

I pulled up at one point next to a German rider and fellow Brit, Kurt Burroughs and explained my problem with the GPS. Kurt was having his own issues and was concerned that his GPS was telling him to turn right and head west. The German rider didn’t seem to have a clue and admitted he was just following other people’s tracks! I realised what Kurt’s problem was and explained he must have selected the track for the Pro classes not the amateur! After changing it the three of us headed off together. The dunes consisted of several distinct sets, with flat stony ground between them, in the second set I parted company with the others and carried on following my southerly bearing. After quite a while, during which I had passed several of the car competitors, all with spades out, digging their way out of the soft sand, I spotted the tell-tale flag of a secret check point on the horizon, so all I had to do was head that way.

Another stony area followed and another, larger dune set before I reached the SCP, here parking the bike was no problem, stop, apply a handful of throttle and the back wheel sunk into the sand to hold the bike upright!

Upon hearing of my GPS problem, the crew assured me that the track was easy from here. I headed off through the dunes as the gradually got lower and eventually led me out onto a huge, flat, dry lake bed. I headed straight ahead and soon started to catch another rider both of us still heading south. Suddenly the rider who had been several hundred metres off to my right, disappeared! Slightly confused I stopped and looked around, he had stopped, turned sharp left and had ridden across behind me, without me realising. One disadvantage of using a neck brace, is that you can’t turn your head too far, so your ability to look behind you is compromised.

Looking in the direction he was heading I could see more tell-tale dust trails so headed that way too and in about ten minutes arrived at CP3, the end of the special stage. I took advantage of this to get a good drink and eat some more food. This was also CP6 for the pros where they joined our route again at the end of their long dog leg into the dunes but despite having started almost two hours before me, none of them had arrived yet. It looked like they were in for a long day!

After a while I got on my way again on the liaison back towards Tagounite, at first a decent piste led back through the range of hills and then became a tarmac road as I descended towards the plain. In front of me was a brand new, straight tarmac road with the old (unsurfaced) piste winding along beside it. The road signs said to use the old road but all other traffic was using the new one, so I rode through the line of rocks that it seems serve as traffic cones in Morocco and headed off towards town. Entering Tagounite from this direction was like any other town, in fact this end seemed even more ramshackle and run down than most. I soon passed the petrol station but had no need to stop, then joined the “chicken road” for 15km, crossed the pass again and dropped down through the road works to CP4 (that had been CP1 this morning), I parked against the same tree and had a drink before starting again.

This special was just a repeat of the first one this morning and when I got to the section where the road book instructed “follow the GPS” I was luckily following a Swiss rider who was riding at my pace, so we just stuck together over the featureless plain until we rolled into the final CP. Here there was nothing to park against so I just lowered the bike onto its side and handed in my time card. That got a laugh from the CP crew!

A short ride back to Zagora for what had turned out to be a fairly good day for me and a reasonably early finish too. Radu's trailer made a handy "stand" whilst I did some maintenance...

I also found I didn't have to worry getting the remains of the snapped side stand bolt out of the thread, it had vibrated its own way out...


Radu and Elvis eventually got back having had a terrible day with lots of digging. After arriving Radu just collapsed beside the car and promptly went to sleep! It turned out that he and Elvis had not been able to complete the stage, they had been required to do an extra loop through the area of dunes I had ridden but they had timed out.


In fact it turned out to be a great day, achieving joint fourth place on the stage in the combined moto amateurs, it seems my times on the fast and open first and final specials being the major factor. Those fast fire roads on UK rallies seemingly putting me in good stead for that type of terrain! This also ensured my third place overall in Moto amateur over 50 was looking very secure, although I could of course lose it if I had a major crash or breakdown, so smooth and steady was going to be the order of the day for tomorrow. I had little chance of improving my position as I was 17 hours behind the first and second placed riders. They were the only two in our class to manage to complete both the King’s Stage and the Dune Race, so respect was due!

Radu and Elvis, despite their less than perfect day had still achieved 6th place in "Car Pro" and were now sitting in Second place overall in the "Car Pro Series" class. Series is essentially the "Production" class as opposed to "Car Pro Open" where anything goes e.g. space frame replicas etc, so a great result despite the trying conditions.

By way of explanation, these are the categories in the Tuareg:

SINGLE CATEGORIES (for overall results)

  • Car Pro Open
  • Car Pro Series
  • Car Amateur
  • Car Amateur Suzuki
  • Truck
  • Quad
  • Buggy
  • Side by Side
  • Motorcycles Pro
  • Motorcycles Pro – driver >50 years
  • Motorcycles Amateur
  • Motorcycles Amateur – driver > 50 years
  • Motorcycles Amateur – 2 cylinder
– Women in each main category

MAIN CATEGORIES (by which the stage results are shown)
  • Car Pro
  • Car Amateur
  • Truck
  • Quad
  • Buggy
  • Side By Side
  • Motorcycles Pro
  • Motorcycles Amateur

Tuareg Rallye 2015: Race Day 5 - Merzouga to Zagora

Woken up by those bloody noisy Germans again!

Fairly relaxed start after yesterday even though the start was about 17km out of town, however the bike decided to put a stop to that and didn’t want to kick start this morning (remember it still had a flat battery from yesterday) but eventually we persuaded it into life.

Having brimmed both fuel tanks, a full 18 litres at the fuel station last night, I was taking no chances of reaching CP1 and my Jerry can today. Especially as I had run out on the almost identical stage (but in reverse) on Monday. I had no dramas finding the start as I had ridden past the spot yesterday morning when charging up the battery, although I did miss the dirt track leading a few hundred metres to the start it'self. No problem as I just turned right at a convenient spot and rode "cross country" to the start line!

I had arrived with plenty of time, so had a natter to a few other competitors, including the Coles, who were going great guns in their £800 Suzuki Jimny!

Off the start (after kick starting the bike of course) and we were back on stony tracks, which did have the downside of plenty of dust, then into the “narrow valley” which was too narrow for the trucks. Not so much a valley as a narrow sandy track winding between stony, banks. In fact I discovered that in places, riding up over the banks was easier! This area was also well populated with photographers so I guessed they were expecting a bit of carnage!

At the end of this section, the road book was a bit confusing and I suspected I should have turned left at a junction when I had actually gone straight on but soon realised I could just loop round the small hill to my left and re-join the route which was across a wide open area with plenty of choice. There were plenty of other riders going all over the place so I guess I wasn’t the only one.

After this we were into wide open sandy and stony plains, so flat out was the order of the day, my trip meter was a bit out after my detour but thankfully we soon passed a turn by a fence (unusual that was clearly marked on the road book, so I was able to reset it to match the instructions. This continued for a long time and got a bit repetitive and almost lead to another navigation error, the instructions were “many pistes same direction” (well it actually said "manny pist" but that was one of the easier translation gaffes) across a huge dry lake bed for something like 15km.

I was happily making progress now, pretty much alone except for the dust trail from another rider about a kilometre or so ahead of me. I glanced down at the GPS and noted that I was off to the left of the track, although I was on a clear piste with plenty of bike tyre tracks, there was a large isolated hill ahead and to my right. I guessed that the track should be going to the right of it, so angled off to the right and soon picked up another piste heading the way I wanted and I was soon back on the line of the GPS track. The rider ahead of me was still heading off to the left of the hill but I guessed we might meet up again around the other side. When I cleared the hill I glanced across and instead of seeing the other track coming back to join mine, I could see the other rider’s dust trail, now about 4 or 5 km away and heading well off track. I felt a bit sorry for him but that’s racing!

I had been told that accurate navigation would always pay off and I was seeing that for myself. In fact my navigation throughout the rally was pretty spot on apart from a couple of minor errors when I missed turnings but knew almost immediately and back tracked to find them. One advantage of all this flat out running was I now had a fully charged battery, so no longer any starting issues!

After a while we started to pass a series of isolated hotels (kasbahs) that were familiar from day two, when we had passed them in the opposite direction including one that was marked as "fuel available". It was the usual mud and straw construction of an outer wall around a courtyard favoured by most of the kasbahs (looking rather like a  small fort) It was in a very remote spot with nothing even resembling a fuel pump, so I guessed it would be the petrol from a plastic bottle style of operation again, I didn't need fuel so carried on.

I eventually reached an area of sandy hummocks, not really big enough to be called dunes with a multitude of tracks. This led to a slightly tricky drop off into a dry river bed, the road book being quite specific that you had to find the correct GPS point to avoid danger. I obviously did as I rode down a sandy slope into the river that cut through a bank about 2 metres high, that wouldn't be fun if you rode off it in the wrong place.

We turned left into the river bed which was wide and very sandy making for quite hard riding for several hundred metres before turning right to exit.The exit was mush easier as there was no real bank on this side.

The road book always referred to these dry river beds as Queds (pronounced "Kwed") which was another translation gaffe. It should be spelt Oued which in Moroccan (or more correctly Maghrebi) Arabic is pronounced "Wad" And is the origin of the term "Waddi" the term usually used for a dry desert river bed in English, although in fact Wad or Oued refers to any river valley dry or not. It's not easy being a Geographer in these circumstances! However as the organisers used the term "Qued" we, the competitors adopted it too!

Another quirk of translation was in the vouchers we got for dinner, that were referred to as "bons". One evening, Rainer the organiser asked me if this was correct, or was "coupon" the better English term? He seemed quite upset when I when I explained it should be coupon or voucher as "bon" isn't an English term at all! Radu and Anny found this quite amusing as apparently "bon" is the correct word in Romanian!

After leaving the Qued/Oued/Waddi we reached a Secret Check Point then entered an area of deep, soft, sandy tracks through an area of small dunes and camel grass that led towards the Qued Remlia, the scene of my little excursion into the mud on Monday. This time I passed one of the organisation’s huge MAN 8 wheel drive trucks stuck up to its axles only a few hundred metres from where I had got stuck, glad to see I wasn’t the only one!

After crossing this Oued and the sharp turn where I had gone off course on Monday we entered a series of even more twisty, very soft sandy tracks. Here the technique was definitely to keep the speed up otherwise steering was near impossible. I found that getting into the wheel tracks of a car was also an advantage as your front wheel just follows it and they are reasonably straight. However the tracks left by bikes are formed by the back wheel that is fishtailing from side to side so are anything but straight! I was going well until the front wheel tucked under and I was over the bars…. This felt serious as I landed heavily on my side, knocking the wind out of me and causing such a sharp pain in my side I was convinced I had broken a rib or two. After getting myself back together (and clearing the sand out of everywhere), checking the bike, that was fine I was able to continue, despite being in some discomfort.

More open piste soon followed and eventually I reached a point where the pro’s route headed off to the left, to climb “impressing sanded hills” as the road book put it and this had been highlighted at last night’s briefing. I missed the actual turning at a remote kasbah but no problem as I had to ride straight on anyway to climb over a low col. I did note I was now off the GPS route but as there was only one GPS track that day for all competitors, I assumed this was correct. And sure enough to my left was an impressive sandy cliff.

As I climbed over the col I spotted the tell-tale flag of a secret check point (SCP) up on top of the cliff. This did put a bit of doubt in my mind but I guessed it was there to ensure the pro’s followed their route rather than the more direct amateur route I was on and which was very clear from my road book. As the track over the col opened up  into a wide flat area, one of the Suzuki Jimnys in the Car Amateurs caught me but soon hard left and looped round to climb up to the top of the cliff. I could only think they too had seen the SCP and thought they had to visit it. I stuck to the road book and headed off across a huge open plain, the enormous wide open spaces were one of the things that really impressed me about Morocco especially compared to Britain’s crowded little islands.

The wide open plain went on for some considerable time and I was maintaining a steady 110kph and as I approached the same band of trees where I had stopped on Monday to tighten my gear lever, I ran onto reserve. This was no problem as I had the rear tank still full and my Jerry can was at CP1 just over 30km away. However to use the auxiliary tank would mean stopping, getting my tools unpacked to find my side cutters, removing the side panel, cutting the cable tie keeping the petrol tap closed, turning it on, using another cable tie to keep the tap open and then putting it all back together again and packing away the tools. However I was really in the groove at this point so didn’t want to stop so carried to see just how far I would get on reserve. Bearing in mind I was riding at nearly my top speed I was very pleased to roll into CP1 without having to stop, 32km on reserve!

I refuelled quickly as this was still included in our time, the first special section ended as we handed our time card over for signing but then the second special stage started! I carried on although  this was the long piste section where we had all the problems on Monday, added to bypass the washed out section of track, we had been warned to keep to a strict 80kph (50mph) on this section with a 4 hour penalty for those ignoring the restriction

Unlike Monday where we had used it in two separate sections, this time we rode the whole way on the piste. As a result a long boring ride ensued at a steady 75/80kph until we reached a SPC where we could re-join the original route, strange that this was still in the timed section, whereas it might have made sense to neutralise it instead, especially as the organisers could use the SCP to restart the timing?

The route from here was over some very rocky tracks and the suspension certainly earned its keep despite the fact that my right hand fork now had very little oil left in it due to the leaking oil seal! At one point the road book suddenly tore, so I stopped to fix it.

Unfortunately I went to put my stand down only to find it was no longer there! The pivot bolt that I had only replaced a week and half previously had snapped! Luckily I found a handy rock to park against and sort out the road book with some duct tape.

The finish of the stage came after not too long but was in the middle of a wide open stony plain with nothing to park against. The checkpoint crew saw my dilemma and one of them ran over and held my bike up whilst I handed in my time card. A short ride back to Zagora to the hotel, where I discovered John had not arrived as he was helping one of the German Service teams fix a puncture. With a strange sense of déjà vu I approached reception but this time they handed the room key over with no problem as they remembered me from Sunday night, we even had the same room! Again I had nothing to change into so did some maintenance on the bike until John arrived and I was able to have a long hot shower and get changed.

As you can see, I needed that shower!

That night I had more good news, 21st in the combined amateur class on the stage and up to 3rd place overall in the moto amateur over 50s class…. Result!

Friday 10 April 2015

Tuareg Rallye 2015: Race Day 4 - The Dune Race

Wednesday (Race Day 4) – The Dune Race

Woken again in the middle of the night by Rammstein, today we faced more dunes, followed by the mother of all dunes to finish.

Those "hills" in the distance are in fact the sand dunes that we were heading for....

The previous night’s briefing had described it as a “motocross race”, three 20km laps in the dunes of the Erg Chebi for us moto amateurs and five for the Pros, followed by the final special for the bikes only, a blast to the top of a huge dune, riders have to complete it any way possible, so if you don’t manage to ride all the way up it, you dump your bike where it stops and continue on foot… easier said than done!

Not having been able to beg, borrow or steal a battery charger, I was up early and went for a long blast on the road out of town and back again to get some charge in the battery. This was only partially successful but it was just about starting on the button.

John turned up to the start for a few photos but having spent most of the previous day out in the sun with no shelter at CP1 he was now feeling the effects and retreated to bed, where he had to spend most of the day feeling very ill.

At the start we were to leave in groups of four and rode straight into a section of low dunes that were getting increasingly cut up and very difficult to ride. Donna from Torque Racing had spotted an alternative however. To the left was a small “valley” between the dunes with a hard stony surface, by veering left from the start you could use this to bypass the first soft dunes set and get away cleanly. I watched the Torque supported riders in the Pro class riders use it to great advantage, so when it came to my turn, I lined up on the left but was slightly concerned to see that a number of spectators were creeping into this area but luckily in the wave before mine, a rider took this route and they all jumped back rapidly! This gave me a clear run and I too had an excellent start.

This time we were soon into large dunes and I took great comfort that sticking to my own game plan and seeking out virgin sand, largely by surfing round the shoulders of dunes rather than straight over the crests, I was making smooth and steady progress, passing several fallen and bogged down bikes as I went. The first secret CP was on top of a big dune, which looked a struggle to get up as the multiple tracks up its face made the going very soft and steering was clearly difficult. I decided to loop round the right and see if I could approach from the other side. This was going well until I spotted some tracks going up the right hand face of the dune under which I was traversing and thought “well they look like they made it”, so I turned and fired up the side. Unfortunately I failed to get enough speed up and stopped with the back wheel buried about 20 metres below the top. I decided discretion was the better part of valour and walked the rest of the way up, which was not easy!

Returning to the bike I could feel my back getting wet, so pulled off my rucksack to check my camelback only to discover it hadn’t sealed properly and I had lost almost all the water. Balancing precariously on the side of the dune, I refilled it using my 2 litres of emergency water only to promptly drop the camelback and spill every drop. I considered climbing back up to the CP but it was operated by two guys on bikes, so they were unlikely to have been able to carry much water with them. I looked at the roadbook and the next “official” CP was not too far away and there was a “fast sandy piste” leading to it, so I guessed (correctly it turned out) I would not be in the dunes for long, I decided that would be a better bet as being out of the dunes, was more likely to have a car or a truck there with plentiful water supplies. I turned the bike round, headed down the slope and sure enough the battery was dead again! I kick started it and checked the road book, the route onward left the CP on the opposite side of the dune, so it looked like I had to get over it anyway. I rode up to the shoulder behind the dune that I had originally planned to use, a very easy climb and then turned left to follow a gentle, firm slope to the top, I should have stuck to my original plan!!!

Passing the CP I could see the sandy piste running from right to left in the middle distance, most riders had just headed straight for it over a long series of dunes before turning left onto it. But I could see that there was a series of stony dune valleys heading off to the right that eventually connected to the piste, so I followed these for some really easy riding and picked up the piste about 500m further to the right. A quick reset of the trip meter as I passed where most other riders had entered and I was back on track…. Racing with your brain certainly pays dividends.

Luckily I soon came to another secret CP, this time they had a 4x4 and plenty of water in the back, I took the opportunity to fill both my 2 litre camelback (and seal it properly) and 2 litre emergency water bottle and get another 1.5 litre bottle down my neck!

As I got going again on the sandy piste, I thought I was doing well, keeping the speed up to make the riding easier, until that is the leading moto pros started to pass me on their second lap, those guys were travelling at twice my speed!!!

Another CP and we turned back into the dunes, this was going well, I was getting the technique nailed although still had the occasional stall or buried the back wheel and the waits for the bike to cool so I could get it into neutral and kick start it were getting longer.

At one point I had stopped on a high point to scout out the route ahead, when I heard the unmistakable sound of a truck approaching. Looming straight towards me was the truck going at full chat! The crew gave me a thumbs up and the navigator indicated I should stay where I was (I had no intention of moving anyway) and they powered over the dune about 2 metres away from me, scary stuff but exhilarating at the same time.

Getting moving again I then made the classic mistake, it was approaching noon, a handicap of being in moto amateur as we were starting almost two hours after the first competitors (Car Pro) each day and an hour after the Moto Pros and the lack of shadows meant it was again very hard to judge the terrain. I crested a large dune at speed and what appeared to be a large flat top, wasn’t and I launched off the top and cartwheeled down the slope.

I was luckily thrown clear of the bike but my relief didn’t last long as I then face planted in the sand! I had the wind knocked out of me and sand everywhere, up my nose, in my mouth… not nice. A cursory check of the bike and it seemed OK, the road book was flopping about as the adjustment bolt that had been holding it in position had stripped on day one and I had replaced it with a zip tie; this had snapped. The back end of the bike looked a bit battered too although I didn’t realise quite how much at the time.

I knew I was in a dangerous position being out of sight below the crest of the dune with a lot of traffic coming through, a fellow rider narrowly missed me coming over the top and shouted at me to get out as quickly as possible. I still had sand everywhere and the bike to get started, so decided to put the agreed warning sign up, which was to place my crash helmet on the dune above me… but I just couldn’t climb up the slope! Every step I took I just slid backwards, so instead I got the bike into neutral as quickly as I could; kick started it and just ran it out of the danger zone to a safe spot on high ground. Then I went and collected up all my kit and attempted to get rid of the sand before replacing the broken zip tie on the road book and eventually getting underway.

I was struggling now as I hadn’t realised just how much the crash had taken out of me but plugged on as the route crossed dune crest after dune crest before eventually looping to the right and allowing me to follow a long dune ridge by staying up on the top. The route headed across the flank of a huge dune with a CP up on a saddle on the side. The route to it looked fairly fearsome, a very steep slope across a concave bowl that had formed below the saddle and by now cut to pieces by the previous traffic. Instead of following the herd, I turned across the track and powered up the far right hand side of the bowl staying on virgin sand and climbing almost to the height of the saddle before looping across to the CP… simple!

At the CP I bumped into Gary Pitchford who seemed to have arrived without his bike! It seemed he had just left it in sand some distance before and walked in.

He was on his second lap and was suffering as a result. He too had taken a tumble off a dune but unlike me he had been captured by one of the photographers...

I checked in and grabbed a drink and got on my way, more dunes, fall, stalls and increasingly long periods of trying to get the bike into neutral followed.

Heading towards the next CP I fell off on some very soft sand on top of a dune and ended up under the bike, with it upside down on the slope of the dune! Luckily another rider came to my aid and lifted the bike off me and helped me to pick it up. Gary also turned up and we rode up to the CP together, I left before him but he passed me soon afterwards.

After the CP, the dunes started to empty out and I spent long periods on my own just picking my way through the dunes. The bike was getting more and more uncooperative and on one occasion when I bogged down in soft sand, it took twenty minutes before I could get it into neutral and restart it. The dunes started to get lower with more stone filled valleys between them so I used these where possible to aid my progress although this did result in a rather meandering route.

However one of these depressions was almost my downfall, at times it was almost impossible to steer in the soft sand that had a consistency like talcum powder! I rode down into one dip between dunes to find it was not a hard stony surface but a bowl of soft sand. In the centre was a large clump of camel grass but try as I might I couldn't steer round it. Thinking "oh I'll just ride over it" like I had over numerous others, I just kept the throttle open and stopped dead as I hit it! I went over and desperately tried to get the clutch in but failed and the engine died, cue another 20 minutes of trying to get the gearbox into neutral!

Luckily considering my very meandering route my GPS was working fine today, so it was an easy matter to keep an eye on the track and ensure I was heading in the right direction. Then the dunes started to get bigger as we took a definite turn to the left and headed towards the “Big Dune”, I could already see riders on the top, yet I had another two laps to complete before I headed up there. However it was looking increasingly likely I would run out of time to complete them as today’s stage had a cut off time of 13:00 and that was fast approaching. I got to the point where only two large dune “walls” stood between me and the last CP on the lap and both proved to be difficult, stalling on the soft sand at the top of both, again with long struggles to get the bike into neutral.

I eventually rolled into the checkpoint to be informed I was three minutes out of time!

Again I thanked them profusely that I didn’t have to go round again. I spent some time drinking a bottle of water and watching the riders who had made the cut off attempt to climb the big dune, which by now was getting very cut up and soft. Sure enough very few were now making it to the top.

I also took a look at the bike and found I had done rather more damage to the back than I realised. I had lost half the number plate, snapped the rear light mount and the rear mudguard had obviously been bent in half by the back wheel and ripped its mountings. A few zip ties were used to hold it all together.

Gary rolled up and we had a chat and a photo opportunity, Gary the cheeky sod asking a young girl to "take a picture of me and my Dad!"


I headed back down to the start of the lap and then the short distance down the road to the hotel where I went straight in for a shower…. Cold again! John was sound asleep when I got back to the room having had a fairly miserable day but by that time was starting to feel a bit better.

Having the early cut off did mean a restful afternoon and getting some maintenance done on the bike, ready for the next day when we were to return to Zagora. We had a problem however as the stage was an approximate reversal of day two and the fuel point at CP1 was 180km into the stage. We headed almost straight towards it but the service route looped away to the north to stay on the tarmac and it was doubtful that John would make it there in time in the car unless he left before dawn. Still not 100% he was not keen but then discovered from Donna that the organisers would take a fuel can to CP1 if we labelled it with my name and race number, so John promptly did and took my 20 litre Jerry can  that he had refilled that day straight to them… problem solved.

Most evenings we had a regular pattern: go to the briefing, go to dinner, mark up the road book and make any amendments that had been advised at the briefing, then bed. However I had taken advantage of the early finish and stuck together my road books for the next three days and marked them all up that afternoon. As my fuel can was now on the organisers trailer ready to go to CP1 tomorrow, I decided to go and fill the bike up rather than do it in the morning. The fuel station was 7km out of town and I managed to upset an awful lot of Moroccan drivers on the way there and back with my ultra bright LED headlight... whoops!

That duty finished, I dumped my gear and headed back down for the briefing, followed by dinner and then an early night!

Tuareg Rallye 2015: Race Day 3 - The King's Stage

Tuesday (Race Day 3) – The King’s Stage

First off we got introduced to a “quaint” Tuareg Rallye custom…

being woken at 06.00 to the sound of "Sonne" by German heavy rockers, Rammstein blasting out across the hotel.

Only of course it wasn’t 06.00 as remember we were on “Rally Time” or to put it another way “the German organisers are too lazy to change their watches time”. For those of us still operating on Greenwich Mean Time (including the rest of Morocco) it was of course still only 05.00!!!
And no, I don't have a clue what the video is all about!

Today was to be my first taste of proper dunes! In the Moto amateurs we had to do one large lap that turned out to be about 70km and then a shorter lap of around 30km. When we got fuel last night I had filled the 5 litre rear tank and this morning put about 8 litres in the main tank, to give me a “normal” fuel load but with a rearward weight bias.
The bike was running well except for the leaking fork seal! I had enquired if Torque Racing could replace it but they only had one set of seals and obviously wanted to keep them in case one of their clients needed them. Donna suggested making a cleaning tool out of a plastic bottle as it might just be grit in the seal. We had done this and it seemed to improve things, well the oil didn't seem to be leaking out so fast, so an improvement I guess!

I set off and was soon struggling, although I knew the theory for riding dunes, putting it into practice was a bit more difficult. It didn’t help that these were relatively small dunes which everyone says are hardest to ride and I wasn’t going to disagree with them! The sand was also very soft. It was also extremely hot and I was starting to regret my decision to wear a jacket.

A lot of competitors were only wearing motocross shirts on the rally but I chose to wear a rally jacket. The theory behind my decision is that a shirt appears cooler especially at slow speed but as you go faster the wind strips away the moisture that you are sweating, so you are constantly loosing fluids that you must replace. A jacket on the other hand keeps the breeze away from your skin and allows the sweat to condense inside the jacket, so you are losing less fluid and ultimately you stay cooler. Well as you might guess it does make for a rather sweaty, stinky environment but I guess you'd be just as sweaty in a shirt and overall I have to say, the theory seemed to work. After only short bursts of higher speed I definitely felt more comfortable as my temperature seemed to be fairly well regulated. The discomfort when stationary or moving slowly (or picking the bike up... again)! seemed a small price to pay.

The other advantages of course are that you have pockets in a jacket for carrying all manner of bits and pieces, phone, money, first aid kit, food for the day and it all remains easily accessible. And of course there is the obvious benefit of added protection if it does all go wrong.

Meanwhile out in the dunes, a couple of secret checkpoints were easy to spot and I started to make progress, eventually leaving the dunes into a more stony area. At this point the lead cars in the Car Amateurs, started to catch us and three passed me. Just after a British registered Bowler Tomcat came past, their only spare wheel came bouncing out the back. They were obviously unaware so I remembered the distance it had happened and I set off in pursuit, riding through their dust was not a lot of fun but I eventually drew alongside and flagged them down, although we had travelled another 8 km by then. I was able to tell them about the wheel and the fact that their high lift jack was also about to part company with the car. They thanked me and headed back to try and find it.

Some fast, stony pistes followed, then skirting round a small village we headed into the dunes proper, these were huge! I soon got into the swing of things, realising that riding on virgin sand, rather than in the wheel tracks of others was so much easier and taking regular stops on top of dunes to scout the way ahead seemed to pay off. Of course this was also interspersed with (very) regular stops when the front wheel washed out in soft stand, the back wheel decided to bury itself, I stalled in soft stand or when trying to climb steep dunes or I just fell off!

A consequence of this was that the bike was getting very hot and the fan was running constantly and of course every time the engine was off, it was drawing from the battery and this combined with frequent restarts meant it was soon flat. This meant resorting to the kickstart, which in itself is not an issue as it often started first kick but I was not always in a good place to kick the bike over, on steep slopes for instance and to kick start it, the bike has to be in neutral which as it got hotter became more and more elusive!

This was very frustrating but I soon developed a technique of stopping and picking the bike up (when required, which was often), taking off gloves, helmet and goggles, having a drink and letting the bike cool down (and sometimes taking a few photos). Once the bike was cooler, I’d select neutral, start the bike and get my gear back on before starting again. This of course was eating heavily into my time but seemed the only logical way forward. To be honest if my technique was better, I wouldn’t have had to stop so much and the battery would have been preserved. Also because I was travelling at relatively slow speeds and stopping a lot, the battery never got a chance to recharge.

At one point I found the Bowler crew taking a breather, so stopped to chat. They never did find their spare wheel and hadn’t heard me tell them about their high lift jack, so they ended up losing that too! Mind you they still seemed to be in good spirits!

Soon after I was riding in a remote area of dunes when I just stopped dead! I narrowly managed not to go straight over the bars as the front wheel had just sunk to the front axle. I took the opportunity to have a breather and take a few photos. The scenery was truly stunning, with dunes stretching off in all directions and it felt really remote. I could only see one other competitor and he soon disappeared over the horizon.


A bit further on and the GPS track took me around the shoulder of a huge dune with a small Berber encampment at the base. Trying to climb the slope, I didn’t manage enough speed and stalled near the top, after burying the back wheel. The technique in these situations is to lay the bike on it’s side, drag the back wheel sideways out of the the hole you have just made and then pick it up again and pull away on the clear sand it is now sitting on. In this case it also meant manhandling the bike through 180 deg. so I could head down the slope and have another go.

Whilst this was going on, two young lads appeared from the encampment and offered various “suggestions” in French! The bike was almost impossible to kick over on the steep slope, so I got them to stand each side and hold the bike upright whilst I stood on the footpegs and got a decent swing on the kickstarter. The bike started easily and I let out the clutch and shot off down the slope with a shouted “merci bien” to the lads. Whilst doing this I had spotted an easier route around the dune so headed off that way. This lead me into a flatter area, with a wide sandy piste, still tricky to ride but easy compared to the dunes. This led me straight to a checkpoint, where I was able to stock up on water as I had drained my camelback and was already using my 2 litre emergency reserve. The temperatures were well into the thirties by now which made it very hard going.

Suitably replenished, I headed off back into the dunes, starting small again but getting progressively larger as we were actually on a figure of eight loop rather than a circular lap. Most of the road book instructions were just “follow the GPS” so I was a bit concerned when the GPS started playing up and the touch screen wouldn’t respond and I was forced to turn it off and on to “reboot” it. I was fairly convinced it was the heat that was doing it, so there was little I could do. The route was however fairly obvious, especially as some of the pro competitors were now on their third lap and were passing me, so it was quite busy.

Dropping into a large bowl between dunes, I again failed to get up the slope, bogging down just a metre or so before the top. The technique is to use speed to climb the slope but rolling off the throttle as you get to the top, so you almost come to a halt with your front wheel just off the edge. The dunes form in wave shapes, so you get a convex back slope but the other side starts vertical. So if you carry too much speed, you’ll just launch off the top, often with disastrous consequences. Instead you drop off slowly and give a burst of throttle in second gear as you power down the slope. Well that’s the theory but it’s very difficult in practice to judge it right and by now, just after noon, the sun was vertical in the sky and the complete absence of shadows makes it very difficult to judge where the edge is. Also as the day wears on, any overnight moisture in the sand is gone and it just gets progressively softer. The back slope beyond this dune was particularly high and completely vertical for a couple of metres at the top, so a fairly scary prospect.

I dug the wheel out, turned the bike round and coasted down to a firm section at the bottom of the bowl. Although I was able to get the bike into neutral, I just wouldn’t start. It was starting to feel quite lonely as I had no vision out of the bowl, although I could still hear engines around me. It was at this point my saviour appeared, in the shape of Italian photographer Giorgio! He came striding over the dunes, barefoot and carrying just a small rucsac, his trainers and a camera and gigantic lens! It turned out that he and another photographer had driven into the dunes in their 4x4 to catch some of the action. He had seen me disappear into the bowl but not reappear so came to investigate.

We tried kick starting the bike with him holding it up but it just didn’t want to start. Giorgio held his hand over the exhaust exit and pronounced “no fuel”. At this time I was running on the rear tank, so we pulled the side panel off, to find the fuel tap had moved just enough to block the flow. A cable tie soon secured it in the fully open position and the bike started after a few kicks. I looped round the bowl and fired it up the slope again only to repeat my previous failure, this time Giorgio helped me to turn the bike round. On my third attempt I used more gas, held off slowing until the last second and gave the bike a handful of gas as I plummeted off the edge…. textbook technique!

What followed was a seemingly endless series of dunes, as we crossed over our previous track, although I only new this from the GPS display of my route so far. I was repeatedly bogging down either the front or back wheel, losing the front end in the soft sand or stalling. This of course was followed by increasing long periods of getting the bike started again and I was getting seriously fatigued and needing lots of water. I once again emptied my camelback so stopped and refilled it using my 2 litres of “emergency” water, guessing this would be enough to get to the next checkpoint which was only 5 km away where I could top up my supplies.

This was going fairly well and despite my fatigue, when riding I was getting the technique right and stopping less, although I did still have the occasional stops and subsequent battles to find neutral! The roadbook had the instruction “head towards Kasbah (hotel) on horizon” I eventually spotted it in the distance and knew this is where the next checkpoint was and that I was now less than 3km away. However shortly afterwards I bogged down on top of a dune and as hard as I tried I just didn’t have the strength to drag the bike out. I decided to have a decent rest before trying again, so stripped off my helmet, rucsac, jacket and body armour and had a good long drink. I realised I needed to pee, which I took as a good sign that I was keeping adequately hydrated but when I took another drink, I discovered all my water had gone. I had drunk 4 litres since the last checkpoint and two of those in only 2km! I was also getting low on fuel and although I knew John was waiting with fuel at the start of the (shorter) second lap, I still had to get there.

This was starting to get a bit worrying, as there was no sign of any other competitors  and although there was a Berber tent off in the distance, it appeared deserted and it was a very long walk there and back even if I could find some help.

So I started to think I might have to wait to be rescued by the organisers. There was no phone signal so I couldn’t phone in either. It was at this point I told myself to stop having defeatist thoughts and sort myself out, when at the same time I heard a bike approaching. It turned out to be fellow Brit Hugh McKay, who quickly helped me extricate my bike and get it started before heading on his way. I gratefully got kitted up again and set a GPS track directly for the checkpoint and headed off, I only stopped a couple of times after that but those 3km seemed to last an eternity.

Arriving at the checkpoint on the edge of the dunes, I was informed that I was out of time, so couldn’t continue, I think they were rather surprised when I thanked them! The format of the Tuareg meant that I could start the next day but would have to take the time of the last rider to complete the stage plus a penalty. Another British rider Lawrence Barber was at the checkpoint and he too was pulling out for the day having injured his ankle. One of the organisation doctors, got us both in the shade of her car, made us drink lots of water, apple juice and a sachet of magnesium salts, which certainly made me feel better. After a rest we headed off back to Merzouga, with Lawrence agreeing to ride with me in case I ran out of fuel. In the event I had plenty and we rolled into the final check to hand in our timecards before riding the short distance to the hotel.

I headed straight up to the room and had another cold shower (not through choice, the solar powered hot water system was sadly lacking)! and took the opportunity to wash a load of kit in the shower, making use of the sun soaked roof to get everything dry.


A long hard day but I wasn’t disappointed in having it cut short as my ambition all along was to just finish the week and I was still on track for that.

More amazing was the fact that my stage result that day in the combined amateurs was only one place lower than the previous day at 30th. I was also still 4th overall in the over 50s category, so not too bad at all!

Tuareg Rallye 2015: Race Day 2 - Zagora to Merzouga

Monday (Race Day 2):

A good start as I discovered I had finished 17th on the first stage in the combined Moto amateurs (all ages) and 4th in the over 50s category.
After a short ride out of town we started on sandy, dusty tracks which were tricky to ride, especially as I have very little experience on sand but soon settled into the technique, weight back and give it gas!

More fast flowing and stony tracks followed, at times becoming very rocky until we were stopped by the organisation and redirected onto a stony piste for 14km to bypass a section of track that had been washed away. This was a fairly main road and had a lot of traffic. The dust, especially behind some of the big service trucks who were also using the road was horrendous with visibility down to two or three metres at times.

There was some controversy here with some of the competitors driving far too fast on what was a main public road, as the result of one of the trucks overtaking Donna and Colin from Torque Racing in the van at high speed, a rock took out one of their side windows!

For myself it was not a pleasant experience, the road was being used by a lot of the service trucks heading for CP1 and the dust being kicked up even at legal speeds was horrendous, driving into the dust, visibility was cut to about 5 metres... scary stuff!

At one point I was hit hard in the goggles by a stone, luckily it took the impact without any worries but when I got to CP1, I discovered it had come along for the ride, wedged into the side of my goggles.

After 14km we switched back to the road book and turned off the piste to shortly arrive at a five way junction. After a bit of riding round in circles as I had approached it from the "wrong" direction (I wasn't the only one) I worked out which of the five tracks to take and more fast flowing tracks followed before we went back onto the same main piste that led us into Checkpoint 1 where I was expecting to meet John and re-fuel. Only John hadn’t made it!

Luckily Donna gave me 5 litres to top up my tank and I also discovered that both my clutch and brake levers were loose as the bolts had vibrated out on the stony tracks. Luckily I hadn’t lost the bolts completely and Colin tightened them up for me. This was despite almost every bolt on the bike (including these ones) having thread lock applied before the rally. This part was a real test of the bike but despite these minor issues was running well.
Just as we were finishing John rolled up, the stony road having taken him much longer than anticipated, a fact of life in Morocco we were discovering!

Some more fast tracks followed then wide open stony plains where wide full open was the order of the day. However slowing to ride through a belt of trees, I went to change down a gear only to find no gear lever! It too had vibrated loose and again I was lucky that the bolt hadn’t yet fallen out. A quick stop to tighten it up and I was away again.


Long open and sandy sections, a small section of dunes and some very soft sandy tracks continued before we came to a sharp right turn to cross the Qued Ramilla. I turned where my trip meter indicated and there were various tracks on the ground but noted that others were carrying on a bit further before turning. I dropped into a small river bed and realised straight away that I had turned a bit too early, so attempted to ride along the side of the small stream back to the correct route….

At which point the bike sunk to its axles in what appeared to be mud!

It was in fact quicksand! Now don't think of the stuff of cartoons and movies where people sink into quick sand, never to be seen again. It is simply deep saturated sand that is extremely difficult to extract yourself from.
After some considerable time of trying to extricate both the bike and myself, I resigned myself to having to leave the bike, trek back to the correct route and get someone to notify the organisers so I could get assistance. I realised this would be the end of my day and although I would be able to start again the next day, I would receive a whole heap of time penalties.

Leaving the river bed, I discovered I was at least 500m off the track but whilst walking towards the sound of engines in the distance, a local suddenly appeared on his moped. Seeing me caked from head to foot in the sandy “mud” he enquired what had happened, so I took him to see the bike. He had a closer look with me and then ran off back towards his bike.

He reappeared with a huge shovel that he must have had strapped to the bike, proceeded to strip to his shorts and dived on in to attempt to rescue the bike. He introduced himself as Sayeed and showed me how to extract myself from the sand as I frequently became stuck. The technique is to just stand and gradually wiggle your feet from side to side until the suction suddenly breaks and you can haul your feet out. We used a similar technique and lots of digging to get the bike on its side, spun it round and managed to get it back to the bank by following the relatively solid route I had originally ridden along. Sayeed then started the bike, and shot off for a ride! I think he was having great fun compared to his little Mobylette but did return. The rescue cost me 200 Dirhams, nothing to me (about £13) but I later learnt would most probably be a Month’s wages to Sayeed. I didn’t care as I would have paid anything to get out of there.

The Qued Ramilla turned out to be several kilometres wide and then led into sandy tracks and small dunes that were hard work. After reaching a secret checkpoint, I discovered I was still well within time and continued as the trails got rocky again before making it to the final checkpoint of the special. Soon after this I could smell burning oil so fearful that my engine was leaking again, I pulled up to find the right hand fork seal had blown. Nothing I could do but carry on so I did, but soon after I ran onto reserve.


I had decided that I didn’t need the 5 litre rear tank that day and the 13 litre front tank should have been plenty but I had lost a lot of fuel when the bike was on its side in the river bed and this was the result. I soon got onto tarmac and it was a straight run to the fuel station in Zagora. Unfortunately I didn’t make it and ran out with 15km to go.

Luckily Michael, another British rider was the next to come past and we managed to transfer some fuel using a plastic sandwich bag!!! It wasn’t much but got to the fuel station about 7km outside Merzouga….

I bumped into my friend Gary who like me was running on fumes only to discover they had run out of petrol!

Again a local came to our aid and led us on his moped to a local village about 2km where the shop had petrol. I managed to get to within 100m of the store before running out and having to push in. We bought our fuel, dispensed in a 5 litre plastic bottle that once contained olive oil and were able to return to Merzouga and the finish.

I then rode to the Touareg Kasbah, our hotel for the next three nights and a much needed shower, which turned out to be cold but by then I didn’t really care!

Our room was fairly weird being in a turret on the roof of the hotel! Nice spot though, overlooking the pool where the nightly briefings were held....
At that night's briefing, the subject of speeding on the diversion route was much discussed, especially Donna's broken window. Several competitors were made to hand in their GPSs so their speed on that section could be checked.
The fact that the fuel station had run out of petrol was much discussed and it was clear that many teams were in a predicament despite assurances that they would receive a new supply tomorrow morning. As I hadn't used my 20 litres that day, we were able to "pay back" Donna and Colin who were one of those teams low on fuel and gave them 10 litres for the 5 I had used, always good to be in credit for potential assistance!
After this we decided that we couldn't chance the fuel station not getting supplies in time the next day, as Radu's Mitsubishi has a 3 litre V6 petrol engine! So after draining the rest of my can into the bike, John set off 40km to the next town with four 20 litre Jerry cans in the boot of the Dacia. He returned later with a full 80 litres on board... mission accomplished!
Mind you the Dacia stank of petrol as a result!