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How to prepare for the unknow?

Posted by on 12/12/2012

After dreaming of riding The Dakar Rally for longer than I can remember and seriously aiming to enter and training accordingly for it for the last 10 years, I’ve made it to the pre inspection in Le Havre and the bike and my support jeeps on it’s way to Lima-Peru. # 176

Up date to Le Havre:

The first challenge of The Dakar is to make the commitment to enter, commit to spend at least £50k, commit to getting fit and hopefully keep injury free, and finally, to commit to trying to work the French out and be ready to negotiate yourself over all the hurdles and rules loop holes to get you to the finish.

I committed to ride in the next Dakar back in 15th May 2012 when the entries opened on line, send the ASO 6,000 Euros along with a presentation justifying why you think you deserve a ride, and then you wait, and wait and wait. No confirmation is sent that they have your money, or they are considering you for a ride, you just have to wait.

About 6 weeks later (end of June) it was announced on the web site that over 440 entry’s had been received for only 200 bike places available and that all entries are now closed.

The jury are out considering who will ride out of the 440 hopefuls.

You wait again, not knowing if you should let anyone know, start trying to build a bike, start arranging a support crew, start trying to find some sponsors and build a web site etc….

Another 6 weeks later (20th July) I received the letter from ASO, (3 months later after I’d entered on line and parted with 6,000 Euros) I look at it, scared to open it, final I open it (attached) I’M IN!!

First reaction, me and Clare were jumping around the room, shouting I’m in, I’m in… then the realisation set in, I sat down…..shit!……I’m going to be riding in The Dakar in under 6 months and I don’t have a bike, any support, haven’t got a clue what I need or know the regulations…!!

Also in the letter it explained that your bike, support, spares and anything you need for The Dakar needs to be on the ship in Le Havre on the 22nd November…. 4 months, best get going then!

First thing I did was jump on a plan and flew out to meet a satellite Honda Europe Rally Team to check their Rally bikes out. I came away with the opportunity to ride in their team, bike supplied with support, seemed to be the sensible option, least hassle, proven bike and best team out there for me, just need to iron the price out. 10 weeks of emails later, back and forth with the team and talking with sponsors trying to put the deal together we came to a price and package which included a rented bike on the start line. When you add to this the two months off work, entry fee, all the riding gear, personal sundries etc, I estimated it’ll come in around the at 80,000 Euros. This was a no go for me, mainly as I didn’t have that sort of money kicking around and I wanted to keep the bike. We couldn’t seem to be able to agree on a lesser package so I had to let them know that I’m out, much to mine and their disappointment.

So, I now back to the beginning, no bike and no support with only 6 weeks to go till Le Havre.

The cheapest way to ride The Dakar is Malle Moto (on your own, out of the box with no support) but I’ll still need a bike. I contacted ASO and they confirmed there was a place available in the Malle Moto (only 20 places allowed) but would recommend I don’t go this route for my first attempt. I couldn’t stop myself thinking, was it not meant to be, should I just pull out and loose my deposit as I’d missed the deadline to with draw my entry and try again next year? I should also mention that at the same sort of time this was going on Uncle Alec (Uncle Bud) suddenly died, he had a massive influence with my love of bikes and a mentored me through many life situations with his wise words. This was a real low point, a quite week of contemplation, lots of questions and reflecting. I came to the conclusion, I’m not getting any younger, I’m very lucky to have been given a ride and if I’m to learn anything from Uncle Bud’s death/life, is that it’s over before you know it and you only get one shot at it. Live life with No Regrets! I paid the remaining money to ASO (8,400 Euros) to get myself and a bike entered, I’ll work the rest out as we go along.

I now have only 5 weeks to build a Dakar bike and get it to Le Havre….!!!

Best get a bike first then! My 2006 model wouldn’t be up to the job I believed. Rang Tippetts Honda up, they had one left, done the deal and got it on interest free credit, walked away with a new Honda CRF 450X for £600 deposit, nice one; I’ll work out how I can pay it off later when I’m back! I sourced the tanks, exhaust and sump guard/water tank from Australia, the larger alternator to run all the additional electrics, chain running gear from the USA, the rest of the electrics, brackets and fairing will be coming from France and the UK. Now all I have to do is wait again and see if it all turns up on time, see if it all fit’s together as this will be a bit of a Dakar Home Made Special!

In the mean time I’d been training with Craig Bounds (a welsh rider of 3 x Dakar attempts, 1 of which was successful) and discussed about teaming up and sharing support costs. He final decided he’d be riding Malle Moto and that his sponsors/driver and jeep are available and he wanted to go out to the Dakar. All I’d need now is a mechanic and I’d have my own dedicated support team. Immediately got in touch with Craig’s sponsor and we met up in Wales to discuss the detail. The deal was that’ll he’ll pay his own entry fee for the experience and supply the jeep (an ex Desert Rose Dakar Support Nissan Patrol) and I’ll have to pay the team entry fee plus find a Co-Pilot/Mechanic. Ok, I’m up for that! Got in touch with the ASO to find out if I can enter a support team as the entries have been closed? Some how I managed to blag my way through and they allowed me to enter a support team on the condition that the jeep would have to be less than 2m high as that’s all the space left on the ship. With a bit of modding of the roof rack and letting the tyres down, we can do that, no problem!

Now, where to find a mechanic who’s willing to give up all of January and could help where every else is needed and be very resourceful? I’d met a Welsh guy in Cambodia (as you do) when heat training out there with Global Enduro called Mike, he helped his mate Zeman run the tours out there. Over a few beers when on two tours in Cambodia I’ve done we’d talked loads about the Dakar and he said he’s always wanted to go to The Dakar and follow it. Now your chance Mike! Got hold of him via Facebook and two weeks later he’s staying at mine helping me build the bike, familiarising him self with Honda CRF 450’s as well as the jeep, which was now is in my back garden.

Two weeks to go to Le Havre! boxes of bit’s turning up every day by the truck load, we cracked on and started the Dakar bike build. Still holding down a full time job I’d come home going via the gym, quick cup of tea and out to the work shop to help Mike with the build. Mike would crash out about 10pm as he was frozen after 12 hours in the shed and I’d carry on to the early hours of the morning. I was back up at 7am for work again and leaving notes for Mike on what I’d done, what needed doing or what I’d broken! Most the bit’s I’d ordered fitted but a few needed altering, re-welding or starting again with something else or a re-think. I’d arranged for a Desert Rose Team Dakar mechanic, Martin, trading as “Torque Racing” to complete all the wiring for the Iritak, GPS, Sentinel, ICO trips and lighting as Mike and me didn’t have a clue about these bit’s, or the regulations come to that! Martin had the bike over the weekend of this two week window. It ended up him needing 4 day’s to complete his bits as had to wait for some parts to arrive. So we used this time to crack on and check the jeep over, servicing it and to alerter the height as well as adding all the bit’s needed to comply with Dakar regulations. Mike also stripped my 2006 CRF 450X bike down as this would be my spares back up plan, boxed it all up and loaded it into the jeep along with everything thing else we could think off.

We got the bike back late Thursday night (4 x days till Le Havre!) and all we had enough energy for that night was to give it a coat of looking at once back in the workshop and discuss what needed doing tomorrow so I could test it over the weekend. I still needed to run it in fully as it was running rough as, popping and banging and didn’t want to start easily. It could only be jetting as I’ve had this before with my other bike, just turned out to be the pilot jet. It wasn’t worth addressing these issues till I had all the set up right, exhaust, rally air filters, and controls to my liking. Lucky enough I’d been testing different bar’s, suspension, tanks and seats out on the old bike and it was just a case of transferring them over onto the new one. Mike hit the sack at about 12 midnight but I couldn’t stop myself giving the bike another two hours of looking at and tinkering, I was wired and I had a clear idea what was needed for Mike to complete on Friday. So, as usual, I’d set off to work at 7am on Friday leaving a whole list of what’s needed doing and asked Mike to raise the pilot jet by 5 and main jet by 20 before he put all the tanks on, felt this would get us a bit nearer to sorting the bad running out.

Got home as usual via a visit to the gym on Friday to find Mike with a big smile on his face looking at what looked like a completed bike. He’d had a few issues with the purpose made water tank/sump guard hitting the exhaust as they had sent the wrong one, 2L capacity rather than the 3L regulation one. To late now and we decided that if questioned we’ll ditch the headed tank and use the 1L capacity of that to make up the difference. The jetting alterations had made a big difference, started easily but still popped and banged a bit on the over run in the shed. Decided it was time to celebrate with Fish and chip’s straight out of the paper, can of John Smiths while sitting on tool boxes in the cold shed. We merrily munched away with big smiles on our faces, think we’ve crack it Mike, bikes looking awesome! While finishing our beers off we continued tinkering on the bike, this went on into the early hours for me as usual. Last job of the night for me was to fit another new chain (another spare) so I could pre-stretch it tomorrow when road testing the bike, she’s ready!

Saturday started a bit wet, but no choice, it’s going to get mucky, donned my road riding gear and set of to Keith Thorpe to pick up a few more jets that I was missing from the range. Bike was running fine, very little signs of popping and banging on the road and gave it a good thrash home again to check the plug to see how she’s burning. The good thing about our bike build, it’s simple, 5 bolts and the seat and tanks are off in a couple of minutes, and even better I’ve made some tool’s so you just loosen the carb while all the tanks are in place, twist it round to clear the carb drain plug and you can get to both jets through it. She’s still running a bit lean, quick chat to my mate Manny about four stroke carburetion and decided to go up a further 10 on the main. Threw it all back together, quick cup of tea and a sandwich and off to Tippetts Honda to pick up the last of the genuine spare parts. I decided it now or never, I’ll give it flat out down the M3, M25, A3 and home again to see what she handled like with full tanks and then a final check of the plug. She’s still a bit lean but running fine, close enough, as we’ll have to jet it again in Lima for the heat and the altitude where it will run richer.

Sunday was quite leisurely, fitting new tyres and moose’s to the rally wheels and my spare set of original Honda Wheels, chain, sprockets and disks all round and slipping the rally wheels in. Final tinkering and adjustments but I felt like we were under control and that we’d made it! Mike finished lock wiring up the bike once I was happy everything over the next couple of day’s and started loading the jeep with everything we could think of. I in the mean time, had to start preparing all the paper work, custom documentation and packing up all my personal belongings to go on the jeep, riding gear, tent, sleeping bag, first aid stuff and every kind of nutrition type energy bars I though I might need. My new boots, helmet and rally riding gear hadn’t turned up in time, so I packed all my old riding gear as spares into the jeep and will have to take the new gear out on the flight out on 29th December.

Wednesday arrived, we’re booked on the over night from Portsmouth to Caen (Le Havre ferry out for maintenance) to arrive at 6.45 on Thursday morning. My Pre-inspection time was for 16.30 on Thursday in Le Havre, plenty of time. I had to go into work on the Wednesday morning for an emergency but I was cool, no worries, we’re in good shape and just waiting for Craig Bounds to turn up to pick my bike up, sort out the remaining tyres and moose’s and we’ll be off.

Craig and Tam’s turned up in plenty of time after trying to wind me up on route, pretending he’d broken down and not sure if he’s going to make it, now on a back of a transporter and on route again, wined up merchant! Craig delivered the bad news, the moose’s haven’t all turned up; just enough for two sets each. The good news is we’ve got time for what has become our way of celebrating, fish and chips and John Smiths! Once we have polished the fish and chips and beer off, chewed the fat a bit on the game plan we loaded my bike into Craig van and set off to Portsmouth at around 9pm. I only live about 1 hour away from Portsmouth and made it in plenty of time for the 11pm crossing. The Front Row British Lad’s Team were also queuing up for the same ferry; this is going to get messy tonight! All off us on board, straight to the bar and as expected, few to many John Smiths later we crashed out in cabins in the early hours of the morning. We all got woken a few hour later with some kind of harp music which gets progressively louder from the speaker in the cabin’s. Quick breakfast in the restaurant and the racing starts, who can get to Le Havre first? Some how both Craig and myself hadn’t received final instructions on where the location was of Pre-inspection. Spotted some fellow Dakar competitors who turned out to be from Germany and they kindly give us a spare set of instructions on how to find the port, the Germany hay!

Once we found the Port and Dakar Pre-Inspection hangers we were directed to our relevant locations where we made our way to the signing on tent. You were previously sent a unique letter of registration via email and this had you allocated time, they didn’t seem to worry about the time, just wanted to see the letter, one for each vehicle. We were then issued with an A5 booklet, individual ones for each of the bikes and one for the support jeep. When I open my bike booklet I counted a mixture of 43 different administrative and technical scruteneering boxes to be stamped before the start on the 5th January. 12 of these were to be completed in Le Havre to get the bike on the boat to Lima, so on my workings that still leaves 31 to be completed before I even get to the start line! It was all laid out very logically and one administration check, one cabin led to another and then onto the hanger for technical inspection. Like sheet we all lined up and shuffled alone until it was our turn, I’d acquired a whole load of paper work over the last few months plus I’d printed all the last minute emails off about the changes to my entry and team, good job to!

The 2nd cabin we went to was admin and the money; they said I can’t go through as I still owed 9,400 Euro’s! Out came the 31 emails that have gone back and fourth plus the confirmation of transfer of funds to the ASO bank account, a lot of chatting and gesturing amongst themselves and they finally stamped my bike and the jeep books. Craig had already gone ahead on as he only had this bike to get through and Mike and I had to get my bike through and the support Jeep. The 3rd cabin was vehicle registration and customs documentation, copies and electronic scans of the V5 where taken of both my bike and the jeep, stamp in the book then onto customs documentation checks in the same cabin. You had to have documented a packing list for each vehicle plus have a back up on a USB stick, the bike was simple, Bike, make, model, reg and frame number plus value. The jeep, that was a different matter, first lines same as the bike layout and detail, but then you had to document everything that was inside, in detail, plus values! This came to two full A4 pages, no problems though, I’d completed them both correctly and both books stamps, all ok. At this stage I suggest Mike and me split and he concentrated on getting the jeep through and I’ll push on and get the bike through.

The 4th Cabin was for GPS-Sentinel (combined unit, GPS with built in vehicle to vehicle overtaking communication, Sentinel) they presented me with my GPS-Sentinel bolted on top of the Iritrack unit. (Satellite tracking device and communication unit back to Paris central control) I’d opted for this set up as my narrow navigation tower and fairing didn’t allow room for it to be located any where else, makes it all a bit taller in the middle of my bars, but I had no choice. Majority of people opt for the separately mounted option, this is why you’ll see majority of bikes are a lot wider frontend and fairing. Another stamp in the book and I’m off to fit the combined GPR-Sentinel-Iritrack (GSI) unit to the bike. This where we see if Martin (Torque Racing) had allowed enough length on all the cables, the correct terminals have been fitted and we’ve fitted the correct mounted bracket? At this stage I should mention I didn’t bother going to the 5th Cabin for Iritrack as I thought I’d covered that, this was the only mistake I made all day and I’ll tell you later about that.

Now that’s all the admin done, onto Technical Scrutineering (well that’s what I thought) cracked on with fitting my combined handle bar unit, GSI. It clipped straight into the 6 point tourertec bracket, one down, now to work out where the 4 x different Aerials/GPS receivers, two power supplies and Cap repeater go and where they all plug in. All labelled up very neatly, connected up within 10 minutes with only one tight cable to redress, good job Martin, thank you. All lights came on, GPS screen came alive, Iritrack flashing yellow LED’s pertinent red’s and greens LED’s, looks ok to me, but hay, what do I know!

I pushed my bike up towards the hanger where there was loads of bikes all lined up with loads of official crawling all over them, I was told to hang on there till it’s I was called. Left the bike and decided to wonder in and see what they were checking and generally being nosey. This is where I found Craig and Mike working on a half dismantled bike with official all over it looking at his navigation tower. It turns out the Iritrack unit wouldn’t fit on the bracket that comes standard fitting on the propose built rally KTM bike, strange? Didn’t get involved as there were enough chiefs already offering advice but Mike was in his element, had all the tools out of the jeep and was right in there. Tam’s had found where the food and coffee was so I mealy munched away and shod back and took it all in, what stages where next and what was involved in each stage. Once I had finished grazing I got my bike and in good trials queuing styli I cheekily nudged my way through the mayhem to the first official I could find. In my best French I welcomed him, bonjour, just missed of the Rodney this time as I doughty he’d understood my humour. He generally looked over the bike, “good bike” he said “can you take the fairing off” armed with my 6mm Allen key T bar with a 8mm socket and 10mm socket on two of the ends and a leather man I can pretty well take the whole bike apart. Fairing off in under 1 minute he checks all the routing of the aerials and general cabling, “good job” he said “that’s got going anywhere” , well chuffed! He then proceeded to disconnects all my Iritrack cabling which I’d just dressed all neatly, but he did apologise as he connected up to his own unit. He explained that now sending signals to Paris, testing the aerial, the GPS sensor and the three buttons: Call, Receive and Emergency Communication, which some else can press if they find me crashed my brains out. “All good” he said, “just go over to the receiver area once your put everything back together to sign off that they have received all the signals back from Paris”. Bike back together in a few minutes and then the GPS-Sentinel official walked over, “bonjour” I said, getting good at this I thought. He checked the bike over “good bike” he said, I like this, they seem to be impressed we our simple bike build. He promptly disconnected all the GPS cables and connected his unit in, apologising for undoing all my handy work (good job I’ve got a load of cable ties in my rucksack). He fround, “it’s not working”, quick double check of all the aerials and he’d mixed up the aerial with the GPS plugs, he smirked, swapped them round and job’s a goodan. I double checked this time that was all the cable testing out the way and finally tided all the looms out and push to the next queue.

This next queue was for numbers and sponsors stickers to be put on, so while the guy in front of me was having his done I wondered over to the signal receiver tent to see what was needed. Gave them my book, check it all against all the ticks next to my rider number on his sheet, he’d received all the signals back and stamped my GPS-Sentinel & Iritrack boxes in my book, nice one, two more boxes completed. By the time I got back to my bike there were number sticker people all over it, “where’s your sticker” they asked? “I don’t know, thought you had them?”  “Non”, “you need to get them from over the other side of the hanger and they stamp you book”, he didn’t actually say that, he just pointed and gestured but I worked out what he meant. Off I trundled, give the sticker man my book, he checks it and walks off with it into his office. Few minutes later he’s back with a whole pile of stickers and stamps my book. Back I trundle to the sticker stickeronmen and pass him my pile of stickers. These stickers consisted of numbers for both sides and front plus a load of compulsory advertising/sponsor stickers. They wanted to discus where every sticker went, “I don’t care” I said “put them where you like”. I’d presented them with a totally plan white tanked bike and they where confused. “I have no sponsors” I said, they had to bring an interpreter over (boss man I think) “bonjour” I said, seems to work, they smile and we have a good chat. He understood and explained to his team to put them where very you like, this really confused them as they had to think for themselves, major debates about where and what angle. I took the opportunity to nick a few more French stick roles and some more coffee and came back to be entertained by the sticker sticker-on-men. The final sticker they were trying to put on was this bright pink one. This gained my interest as they were trying to find a flat surface on my fairing for it, but as I had such a narrow fairing, it was only just big enough for the rider number. Many a debate was had over this one, I had a close look at it and it was a looped wire sensor emitter, similar to what’s in the back of the new passports, ar, now I know why they wanted it as flat as possible. We must get swiped as we go through checks I thought. All stickered up, my little bike was starting to feel like he was a proper racer now with the big boy’s, he was looking very proud of him self!

Next queue was five deep and I’d caught up with the Simon Pavey and some of the Front Row boy’s who set off hours before me. And in my bestist trialy styli in nudged my little bike between all the KTMs almost unnoticed. There’s only so far you can go and came against a wall of KTM’s, all in the same team and got some looks, as well, doing well to get this far. Looked back across the hanger to see that Craig’s bike was back together so I used this opportunity to go and catch up with him and left my bike to fend for himself with all the big bully KTM. They final found a very exact location for the Iritrack assisted by a Dutch mechanic who said ”ar, done many of these, pick that bolt up and that bolt, drill another there and it goes straight on”. Just a bit of rewiring to sort it all out which can wait till Lima and job’s a goodan, Craig’s now steaming through all the other checks.

I took this time to actually look up across the massive hanger, try and take in all what’s going on, been so involved getting the bike through I was missing the Dakar experience with all the other wonderful machinery, massive truck, awesome sounding car’s and lot’s of very tried looking people, still in overalls, grease under the nails. So I wasn’t the only one working on their machinery right up to the deadline! Bumped into Mike, how’s it going, jeep ok? Yes, only just going through now, been working with Craig till only a few minutes ago. They liked all the little touches Mike had done to the jeep to comply with the regulations and it was going through no problems. Even the support vehicles have to comply with tight safety regulations and have their own GPS tracker unit which I had to purchase and Mike fitted. We both had big smiles on our faces, even threw black ringed eyes and to be honest, probably still a bit drunk.

MCN then grabbed me for a Q&A interview with Michael Guy, photographs with the bike by the official MCN photographer. The photographer came over to me looking at the photo’s he’d just taken and said “your going to have a good time aren’t you” I smiled even bigger smile “yes, that’s the aim” and gave him one of my best cheeky grins. With that, he switched his camera to video and asked my to talk to the camera, I just rattled off how I got hear, what it meant to me and that I’m so lucky to be hear. He stopped filming, gave me a big cheeky grin back, there was no more need for words, we understood each other.

I’d lost my place in the final queue in the hanger when I pulled the bike out of the pictures, we’ll I thought it was the final stage. Remember that 5th Cabin I said I’d come back to, Iritrack! On all the bikes there was a bright yellow arrow pointing to something behind the fairing, had a closer look at the other bikes and there’s a yellow Velcro package the size of a mobile phone. Looked at my bike, there was a bright yellow arrow pointing to a little tray we’d allowed for the emergency beacon. Ar, that’s what I’m missing, when I placed my order for the Iritrack system I’d also ordered the emergency beacon, strobe light, torch, compass, night flares, day flares and emergency aluminium blank, all compulsory and have to be carried on the bike at all times. Off I trundled out the hanger back to the 5th Cabin, handed my booklet over and they came back with a bag of goodies. Oh, loads of stuff, signed that I’d received it all and they stamped my book and of I trundled back to my bike. Quick removal of the fairing, back into the rucksack for some more cable ties, loop them through the pree drilled cable tie holes, fit’s a treat. The tray was the corner of a bedding plant tray in a previous life, it lives again and it’s off on an adventure.

Just as I’d put the bike back together I was called up to an official looking technical inspection guy, he turn out to be the director of technical and he insisted on seeing every bike, that’s why the queue was so long! I’d entered Marathon class which in simple terms means it’s a standard production bike (I now know!). He points to the hub’s of my Talon rally wheels, “those standard hub’s” he asked, “course not” I replied, he asked again, ar, I’ve got it “yes” I replied, “just sprayed them black” I said. He walks round to the exhaust “is that a standard exhaust” he asked, “course not, how can you run a standard exhaust with those bad boy fuel tanks” I replied. He frounds and get’s his rule book out, which was in Spanish and starts to translate the rules of Marathon class, standard bike as produced, not allowed to change the engine, I stopped him there as I understood now why he was asking all these questions. “Look, I don’t really care what class I’m in, I hear to finish not win the event” I said. He smiled, put the rule book down and shook my hand, “I want to you finish as well, look, if you change anything, just come and see me and tell me what you’ve done” re replied. “No problem” I replied and gave him one of my cheeky grins. The result is I’ve now been put in the Super Production class up against the top boy’s with their full works bikes. He put a special sticker over the join from barrel to crack cases (hmmm..that means I can change the head, nice) and one sticker on the frame. That’s it, technical inspection passed and another stamp in the book.

I thought that was it, I started pushing my bike out the hanger and I could feel myself welling up, it was like a sudden release, all those hours in the freezing shed, all the hours on the internet finding bit’s from all over the worlds, all those sleepless nights, all that money spent, all the logistic nightmares sorted and all those emails. It had only taken a few weeks to all come to together but I’d felt like I’d already done the Dakar. There was one more tent at the end of the car park outside the hanger, I pushed the bike up not knowing what to expect, “bonjour” I said, got a smile and he scanned my pink sticker, “number 176, that’s correct” he said, “that’s a good bike” he said, I grind, “yes, it’s a very good bike” I replied proudly. Those bully KTM where all lined up in front of me, so I push my little Honda round them and parked it across the front of them, as I looked at my bike, it looked at it so proudly and I could hear him saying to the KTM’s, ”remember me, I’m hear to cause some mischief”  I took a picture, it felt like the picture I took of my son in his first school uniform as he set off for his first day a school, so proud, so many emotions, the start of a major adventure and a new chapter in his life. I couldn’t stop myself, out slid a few tears, don’t really know why, just a release I think and the realisation that I’m going to ride in the Dakar. Wow!!

Right, pull yourself together, still one more problem to sort out. We’ve still got to get the bikes down to the ship yard for loading and some how get all those tyre in the jeep and measured in so it comes under 2m high and 5M long otherwise it’s not allowed on. Rode the bike round to Craig van, no Craig or Mike, Tam’s reading a book in the front and tells me he’s still going through inspection. I walked back into the hanger to find Craig’s through ok, just being interviewed by MCN and pictures being taken sitting on his box he’s got to live out of for two weeks. Found Mike as asked him “is the jeep through ok?” “Yep, no problems” he replied. “We’d best get it round to the van and start loading up to get it all down to the shipping point” I suggested. So we all met back at the van for the finally checks of Craig’s box, jamming everything we could get in there and then handing it over to the officials. We then turned our attentions to the jeep, forcing as much inside it as possible just leaving enough room for Mike to drive it down to the port. We still had six tired left over and put them back into the van to see what we could sort out down the port. We’re ready to go, bikes all stamped up, jeep loaded to the gill’s, there’s just one thing to do as I’d had another suddenly realisation, I need a poo! Where’s those porta loos?

Craig and I donned our helmets and fired the bikes up, we only had about a litre of fuel in them both, just enough to get them down to the port in Le Havre and out the other side in Lima, we hoped. Mike’s in the jeep, Tam’s in the van and we set off following the signs to the shipping port. It’s starting to get dark now, it’s cold and we’ve virtually been on the go for 36 hours now but I still couldn’t stop my self, pulling wheels and stoppies, I was still buzzing! We got stopped at two different places entering into the port and had to show our booklets again, they checked we had all the relevant stamps in them before they’d let us proceed. Craig and I had to go to a different part of the port to load the bikes but we passed through where all the trucks and jeeps where, what a sight, row on row of racing trucks, jeeps, racing car’s and 4 x 4 logistic support jeeps. The bikes were loaded into purposely built crates that take two bikes at a time, strapped down via the handlebars and from the footrest, covered in buddle rap shaped to the bikes unique shape and then totally rapped in what I’d call black industrial Clingfilm, time for another quick picture and to say good bye to my brave little Honda. We walked round the corner to find Mike with a smile on his face, he’d negotiated another 400mm on the length of the jeep, and we’d reckoned we could get the entire remaining 6 x tyre strapped on the back. We set too it, holding all the tyres up in place while we found places to run straps through them all and pulled them tight to the back of the truck; all done!

One problem left, Mike and I didn’t have any transportation and we’re stuck in Le Havre. I hadn’t really given it any thought, and to be quite honest, I didn’t care. I was hear to get a job done, didn’t know how long it was going to take and decided we’ll work it out once we’d finished, Mike was up for that approach, so one more adventure to go. Looking at the time, about 7pm, I knew there was a boat going back tonight at 10.45 from Caen to Portsmouth as we’d picked a timetable up as we left the boat this morning. It took one and a half hours to drive there, but it was well out the way for Tams and Craig as there was setting of to Paris to pick up some bikes. Tams, can you drop us off at the main train stations and we’ll see what we can do from there. Straight to the ticket desk, “bonjour” I said, got a smile from the lady, with the help of a translator we worked what tickets we needed, she looked flustered. I understood that we had about 2 minutes to get to platform 1 was the train was about to leave! We set off in a bit of a sprint and just made it as the doors closed, now just to get to the port from the other end. About two hours later, one change of trains we’d arrived at the closes station to the Caen Port, Mike said I was snoring like a water buffalo sitting bolt up right, I’d hit my wall, felt like we’d made it. Just gone 9pm, had to be at the port no later than 10.30 to catch the last ship of the night. Asked a taxi outside the station how long it takes to get to the port, “30 to 45 minutes” he replied, I think. Time for something to eat and drink then, found café still open, nice spaghetti bolognaise and a bottle of coke as I felt I needed some carbs and some sugar, nice, hit the spot, this is the life! Simple taxi drive to the Caen port, 15 minutes to spare. The port ticket desk said there was on cabins available but if you ask when on the boat, there might be some spare. Straight on the ship and to information, yes they had one left over, I’ll have it! Time for a couple of John Smiths at the bar to wide down and reflect on the last few week’s, we’d made it! Just a train journey from Portsmouth to home in the morning and we should be back before lunch, what a mad 48 hrs to say the least!

So now, it’s the final bit’s and pieces, licences, sort my riding gear out, recharge, recover from the last 4 weeks of madness, down the gym and mountain biking, whether permitting. The aim now is to get strong as possible ready for the other 31 Administrative and Technical Scrutineering checks and then bring the fun on; start of the Dakar on 5th January through to 20th January 2013 and the finish, wish me luck and follow me live on # 176, thank you. PJx

The rest will be down to the lap of the God’s and a load of luck!

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