2020 DAKAR RALLY – CRAIG KEYWORTH #114
JAN 14, 2020
STAGE 9: Wadi Al Dawasir – Haradh
Liaison 476km, Special 410km
Position: 83rd o/a, 81st stage
Today started out mega technical. Like a Welsh trail ride, but with heavier, looser and angrier rocks. It was about 50km of twisting 4×4 track with tight switchbacks and washed out gullies keen to snatch a wheel. Ideal on a rally bike full of fuel. The day started technical and got ‘softer’ as we progressed.
Actually the day started for me between 01.00 and 03.00 as the truck techs raced and ragged the trucks around the bivouac again. None of this is an exaggeration by the way, theses guys are full-on joy riding around the bivouac in the early hours, and their favourite seems to be testing launch control. If we believe in karma, they’ll come back as quad riders. That’ll teach them. In the interest of only saying nice things about fellow competitors’ choices, quads are great for kids and for feeding livestock/carrying deadstock. Here ends the nice things to say.
If you’ve not guessed I need a bit more sleep and I’ve had a day of getting angry with quads that were either holding me up, or shot blasting me, or both. We had a 370km liaison, a 420km stage and a 90km liaison back to the bivouac today, and I did this on three hours sleep according to my watch. Ideal.
After our rocky start, the trail opened up and the scenery started, or at least I could look about a bit more rather than pinning my eyes on the trail. The next section was full on flat top cowboy mountains and a sort of more Spanish dusty feel to it, and then into the Wadi’s (river beds) which had a dried out Ardeche (France) kind of vibe. I took some scalps in here. The rocks here were like an over deep pebble driveway. Maybe 50mm average size. They were awful, until you went brave and just lit the thing up, at which point you were just like on water, floating over nearly everything, with just the odd big rock disturbing the calm.
For the most part I’ve found that the FR450 will generally get you out of trouble if you’re going faster. This unfortunately is what gets you INTO the trouble though, so we’re in a constant state of readiness for urgency or emergency. I’m doing my best to temper my enthusiasm. It’s a strange scenario and the closer I get to the finish line, the more wary I am of taking risks, but too slow and things just don’t work.
Tomorrow is the first half of our marathon stage. We’ll stay out in the desert, won’t have any opportunity for support and have to keep the same tyres for two days. To ensure this, they’re marked and tagged. It’s a big day (aren’t they all?). We’re out into the empty quarter – and there’s a ‘closed door’, whereby if you don’t get past the checkpoint in time, you’re out. There’s a lot of talk and the top boys have been given a LOT of time to complete it. It’s pretty much all dunes, off piste and soft. Most of us have it pegged as a tough day. Me, I’m sure it won’t be easy, but who else do you know that’s ridden a rally bike into Saudi’s most baron landscape? Exactly. It’s going to be awesome.