832 km overall and 581 km selective. 2 days. 67 starters and 55 finishers. and more red dust than i thought i would ever see let alone inhale.
i’ve always enjoyed rally racing, i like the additional challenge of navigation. luckily i never sold my old gear and with a little effort the old imo and the md looked good to go. add a new nav tower to mount it all up in a more comfortable position and a smaller rear sprocket so the 350 would not have to scream it’s little head off.
the biggest problem was finding a service crew. i did not know anyone who was going and was not sure how this might pan out with different skill levels and speeds. so i tried my best to sell condobolin to the girls as a great destination for a long weekend … and completely failed. even the condo web site is fairly brief when it comes to sights, not much help there. in the end a lot of pleading and some grovelling did the trick but i suspect compensation will be required at some stage.
condobolin is about 460 km away and 200 km west of orange but it does feel much further. we did not really hurry too much either and it was pretty much dark by the time we got there.
scrutineering, some fixing, getting the paperwork sorted, then a little run out of town (in the dark) to calibrate the imo. the new lights were very good though, and i got the odo to be pretty spot on.
and then the roadbook needed marking up of course. good thing i had help. green for straight, blue for turns, red for cautions. yellow especially for service crews.
once natalie had set me on the right path she sorted out mum’s service crew roadbook so they could find the refuelling areas next day. i may not be the fastest guy but one thing is certain: i had the cutest service crew of the entire field.
the roadbook consisted of 2 scrolls and it took me until midnight to mark everything up. the alarm was set to 0500 the next morning.
66 bikes ready to roll. and the only thing that’s certain is that this will be two very long & dusty days.
concentration right before the start. imo at 0, roadbook scrolled to the first tulip … the first stage was only a short 6km prologue; the purpose was really to determine the right starting order for the first proper stage. i did not do very well: the bike felt really unbalanced and i stopped to see if the wheels were coming off (i really did). they were not so that next logical explanation was that the rider needed more training – and more speed.
it was not a bad thing i started from the rear on the following 115 km selective. i ran into other people pretty quickly and that gave me a good confidence boost. i was more than happy about the mousse though, it saved me a few times when i hit something nasty hidden under the dust at speed; tubes would not have survived.
i knew the 350 can run quite a long time on the standard tank, but i was getting a bit nervous at the end of the stage. no issues, though, obviously 115 km at my speed is not a problem. the next stage was ‘only’ 63 km long but i ran into trouble right at the start. the roadbook was so thick the md could not scroll it any further and i could not even advance it manually. i had to stop a few meters into the stage and cut the previous sections out – good thing i brought scissors and sticky tape. three guys passed me while i was standing by the side of the road and showered me with dust for which i was very grateful.
i caught them again (and returned the favour) but of course my time was now way off. one of the riders was on a quad, too, and they are a real pain to pass. they stir up so much dust it gets very difficult to close in on them. i tried to be very careful and backed off when i could not see but i know a few other guys came to grief in the dust.
the ‘lunch break’ was just enough to fill the bike up again, oil the chain & get back out. another 63 km, then a little scare: the girls had misread the service instructions and had moved on (like many other crews) – fortunately i found a compassionate competitor who gave me a few liters to make it though the following 20 km road section and the 64 km stage.
then a ‘short’ 46 km on the black top back to the start of the last stage. that is 46 km at highway speeds to make sure i got to the last stage in time. crazy. the last part was 18 km at sunset through what i can best describe as driving through dense fog; the wind had died down and the dust just hung between the trees.
back at the bivouac there was bike maintenance to be done: oil change, air filter change, oil the chain, general check, fill up the tank, pick up the next day’s roadbook. i forgot one thing though …
the next morning i got a little panic attack when i looked my rear tyre. the mousse had definitely gotten a bit ‘soft’. i tried getting the tyre off to replace the mousse with a tube but since it would not budge i concluded there was still enough life in it. so another 43 km on tarmac, then a 45 km selective. i was worried about the bull dust everyone had been talking about and the first few hundred meters were indeed a bit rough. but it turned out that the (lack of) weight of the 350 combined with a solid amount of throttle was a good recipe.
the first selective set the tone for the entire day: very fast … fence lines and what would pass as 4 lane highways were they not in the middle of nowhere with not a patch of asphalt in sight. just my kind of fun!
then the longest selective of them all: 130 km. i felt great, had a good run, and i was even a bit surprised i could keep my focus for such a long time. in the middle of the stage i caught a few guys who seemed lost. one look at the imo and continued on at full tilt – a few more kilometers to go until the next turn.
unfortunately a little further on i found out why: the nut holding the imo sensor had come off and the odo had stopped counting. i was flying blind, not good. luckily i had some sticky tape in the camelbak and after a little roadside fixing i was in the race again but lost about 10 min. then i ended up in the dust of a quad again … and after that the md decided it had had enough and for the rest of the day i had to advance my roadbook by hand. so to save time & effort i started skipping the sections that did not include turns.
that turned out not to be such a good idea and at the end of the stage i was rudely reminded why it pays to keep the eyes on the ball (the roadbook, especially the red sections) and not the competition. riding hard to catch the guys in front of me (and skipping some cautions) i almost missed a triple caution: in this case a ‘v’ shaped creek bed, 3 meters deep and about the same width right in the middle of a high speed section. a fraction of a second later and i would have scored a ride in the helicopter.
another 63 km and another 60 something … all really really fast, flat out through the bush, most of the time alone. the last stage was a little frustrating. i ran into three guys but every time i got close i had to back off to avoid running into something. by the time i caught the one showering me with dust all the time (a nice guy on a beemer, he had a piece of barbed wire in his back wheel) the others were gone.
on the plus side the mousse did hold up. better than my bum which had gone a little soft too. ktm makes brilliant bikes but i’d like to have a word with the guy who designs the seats.
another 47 km back on the tarmac and i was more than just a little glad i could park the bike. that little 350 is quite a capable rally weapon!
now that is a happy condo face. most of it washes off. not the grin.
i was even happier when i found out that i ended up in 29th place out of 67 starters and 55 finishers. not bad; i expected to be much further back on my first rally in 15 something years.
and my service crew had a good time too. at least when mummy allowed her to ride the bull. or when the helicopter landed. or when she was playing with the other kids (she made a lot of new friends again). basically all the time.
and i’d love to be back next year.
if all goes to plan the next stopafter that is the safari, after all i’ve proven i’m not terribly slow.
ps: thanks to donat from okphoto for most of the pictures.