“A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.” This is the motto attributed to Paris-Dakar founder Thierry Sabine. Whether referred to as the Paris-Dakar, Paris-Dakar Race, Paris Dakar Rally, or Dakar as in 2016, the event was originated by Sabine in a spirit of adventure after he got lost in a desert in Libya during a motorcycle rally in 1977.
Starting on January 2, the 2016 Dakar adventure enjoyed the flavor of South America, beginning in Buenos Aires, Argentina and winding through Bolivia before returning to Argentina. While some would call it the world’s most extreme motorcycling adventure racing or rally madness, few motorcyclists can afford the time or money, generate enough sponsor support, or possess the skills and endurance to go, opting to, as Sabine noted, “dream” and “stay behind.”
Because we will be unsupported by chase vehicles carrying spare parts and mechanics, we must carry everything we believe we will need for 10 – 12,000 miles through countries that never imported the GL650.
My motorcycle riding pal and anointed Globe Rider (Motorista Global in Spanish), Richard Livermore and I conjured a South American motorcycle adventure that incorporated some of the elements of the Dakar, while also accommodating our limitations by folding a South American leg into The Great Around The World Motorcycle Adventure Rally. The mad design would let us taste South America, push our personal envelopes and not stay behind to be motorcycle adventure dreamers. It would also allow a bit of Sabine-like madness into our motorcycling lives.
A major part of our motorcycle adventure was planning. While the projected time for the South American stage of the global rally was targeted for two months, the time needed to plan eventually equaled 18 months.
In that time we had to prepare a budget and then find ways to meet the budgetary goals, which included the costs of the motorcycles, transporting them to our starting point in South America and then the hard costs of daily travel over roads, paved and unpaved, from start to finish.
Some of these were estimates based on relatively easy numbers like new tires and batteries, license plate registrations, and accessories we wanted on the motorcycles. Other costs were far more slippery, like how much it would cost to drive or transport the motorcycles to our start point in South America from where they were, whether we purchased new motorcycles in our respective home states or near shipping points. The biggest question was what motorcycle to use; whether to purchase new ones and outfit them, use motorcycles that we had in our respective personal fleets or buy used ones.
My 1983 Honda GL650, number nine, ready for the South American stage of the Rally with new tires, battery and imagined pre-race thirst for the pursuit of adventure.
After looking at the prices of a wide range of adventure marketed motorcycles, costing from $6500 to $25,000 along with what it would cost to outfit them, we made the decision to use the motorcycles we had used on our North American stage, ones that were paid for and did everything we felt was needed, two 1983 Honda GL650s.
When we announced that our South American adventure motorcycles would be 33 year-old Hondas, and not off-road or enduro models, many adventure riding enthusiasts wanted to know, “Why not real adventure motorcycles like a BMW GS, Yamaha Tenere or KTM Adventure?” While the answers varied from explaining our frugal economics to a Zen-like response of, “It’s the adventure, not the motorcycle,” the joking answer I most often used was, “The answer is the same as why a dog can lick its nether parts…because it can.”
Another more personal element of our planning was finding the way to take time away from friends, family, business and routine responsibilities like home maintenance and monthly financial demands. Two months outside the United States is not the same as a two or three week vacation on a motorcycle tour, and took a serious amount of pre-payment, promises and possibly a bit of outright lying.
Preparing ourselves physically was another part of our planning. Sitting six to eight hours a day and managing our professional lives was physically far different from driving a 600 pound motorcycle over a wide variety of road surfaces for 10 to 12,000 miles through varied weather conditions. While not viewing ourselves as old, we both knew from looking at 70 years of age not far on the horizon that our nights of swilling until closing at discos, honky-tonks and juke joints was in the dark and distant past.
Livermore added long daily walks to his previously established physical training and managed diet. I chose to spend more time and miles driving motorcycles, both on and off-pavement.
A month before I quit my daily business and motorcycle driving routines I purchased a complete physical health check-up to see if my internals were working properly. I had noticed over the prior year or two more and louder aches and pains, as well as some foot soreness from a wide variety of shoes and boots.
At the start of the South American stage in Bogota, Colombia, the odometer shows the 33 year-old motorcycle has only 38,817 miles on it, which some Honda GL650 aficionados say is “just broken in.”
The visit to a doctor resulted in some ups and downs. On one up side, all my tests came back within acceptable ranges, except for weight. The doctor pointed at my height versus weight numbers on a chart and said she would like to see me back within the proper range, 20 pounds lighter.
My response was, “Goodbye hamburgers, french fries, pizza, cola and beer. Hello salads and water.”
She smiled and said, “Good boy.”
After her smiled response our conversation moved from what had been my dread to an entertaining few closing minutes.
The doctor wanted to know why I was subjecting myself to the full range of tests. I told her I was soon to leave for two months of motorcycling adventure on the continent of South America, starting in Colombia and ending in Argentina. She expressed her admiration for my wanting to travel under what she assumed would be extreme conditions, and then asked if I would like a supply of pain pills for my long list of infirmities. I told her I expected to be 20 pounds lighter when I started and would use beer to deal with evening pain, and then aspirin in the morning after to soften the start of each day.
She laughed, and then asked me, “Would you like some performance enhancing drug to take for where you are traveling?”
My thoughts went to what I might find useful as had bicyclist Lance Armstrong, baseball player Barry Bonds or other professional athletes, and asked, “What do you recommend I might need as an adventure seeking motorcyclist?”
The doctor smiled again, and said, “Viagra.”
Shocked at first, I then adjusted to her sense of humor and quipped, “No need, everything from my libido to motorcycle adventurer manly end is functioning well within acceptable range.”
Like the entrants in the Dakar, Livermore and I managed our planning well enough to organize the financial resources, time and support to find ourselves in South America by January 2. Instead of dealing with the mayhem of the Dakar in Buenos Aires, our official Start was to be from Bogota, Colombia, a city we expected to be much quieter after the New Year’s celebrations.
However, as the Dakar entrants were flagged off for their first stage, Livermore and I sat looking at the deserted Customs offices in Bogota, Colombia, our motorcycles not expected to arrive until late that afternoon.
The cost of the air freight is determined by a formula that measures the weight and the outside dimensions of the crate and charging for which is the greater, so we made the motorcycles small by removing the windscreens and pulling the handlebars downward. Removing the wheels could have made the crates smaller, but then the weight factor would have been used to determine the cost, being more than the dimension cost.
After all of our planning, budgeting, training and travel we had, within what we thought to be acceptable ranges, gotten ourselves and the two motorcycles to Miami for flights to Bogota. We had arrived in Florida on December 15, with what we thought was the time needed to prep and fly the motorcycles to Bogota. At the first step of our shipping procedure the motorcycles were drained of fuel, batteries disconnected, and then crated and handed over to professional shipping handlers and authorities days later.
Within the same time period copies of our passports, motorcycle titles, and driving licenses were transmitted along with notarized Powers of Attorney. Next was a deposit of the needed funds for preparing a Dangerous Goods form for each motorcycle, UN Fees, Customs Validation, AES filing and handling fees, and included the cost of building the enclosed crates for the motorcycles and physical delivery to the air cargo shipper’s office. Payments also accounted for weight and dimension measurements for computing the air cargo fee and one other physical truck delivery to the US Customs warehouse and then back to the air cargo airlines.
At the US Customs location the boxed motorcycles were required to remain embargoed for three days while US Customs officials made sure Livermore and I were the true owners of the vehicles by checking Vehicle Identification Numbers and Title Numbers. A final transport was needed from the US Customs location back to the air cargo terminal where an Air Waybill was filled out by the handler, shipping fees paid, original titles transferred to accompany the crated motorcycles and it was then all handed over to the air cargo officials.
And then Saint Nichols scheduled an appearance and our motorcycle paperwork adventure in what I called the Adventure Quiet Zone began. Not unreasonably, no government officials or business employees wanted to miss Christmas Day, nor possibly going home a bit early on Christmas Eve. And then there was December 26, Saturday, the day after Christmas, another non-work day, as was December 27, Sunday.
Prior to crating for air cargo shipping the gas tanks had to be drained and the batteries disconnected. Here Livermore is shown siphoning out the last drops of gasoline out of his GL650.
During the Adventure Quiet Days another rule popped up on our schedule, a technical one. Like Day 1 of the Dakar, a technical riding day for the entrants, we too had a test, that being to meet a government or cargo requirement in Bogota that Livermore and I physically arrive and be stamped “in” to Colombia before the crated motorcycles arrived.
Santa Claus had left Miami and the holiday workers returned to their offices December 28, but thousands of air travelers were still filling seats on airlines out of Miami, limiting the number going to Bogota. To add some more risk and stress to Livermore and my adventure management ranges was New Year’s Day, January 1, and a few more million travelers and workers welcoming in 2016 New Year’s Eve on December 31, but our 18 months of planning and some technical schmoozing had taken this test into consideration.
Livermore looked at me on December 31 and said, “We’re OK, we have seats for an 8:00 AM flight on January 1. The crated motorcycles are not scheduled to depart Miami until later that day. We will arrive before them.”
“Happy New Year,” I said to Livermore as we arrived at the Miami airport to check-in at 6:00 AM. The Happy went to “**** happens,” after a yellow light flashed on the electronic departure screen saying our flight was delayed until 5:00 PM.
I wanted to throw my motorcycle helmet at the departure screen, or one of my boots. Livermore’s stress meter had not yet reached his red zone, and he read me an e-mail he had received from Bogota saying that due to a possible paperwork glitch in Miami, our crated motorcycles might not leave Miami until much later, maybe days later, so our arrival in Bogota before the boxes might not be a rule problem. This was good and bad, or maybe both.
As I watched the Start of the Dakar on a TV screen in Bogota on January 2, my motorcycle riding gear still packed in my luggage, I decided that I could be stuck, without my motorcycle, in far worse places on the planet. Dwelling on that possibility, I reflected to the many times I had been stuck in worse places due to paperwork, government bureaucracy, poor timing, inclement weather, mechanical breakdowns, or just bad joss. Bogota, Colombia was good. The bad was we world start our rally a bit later than planned.
Livermore was in a celebratory New Year’s mood, so I joined him, perking myself up by knowing I was in my rally mode and off my diet. “Richard, while we’re adventure riding but technically stilled, we’re not going to stay behind and dream, this is merely a challenge for us to go in the spirit of Thierry Sabine’s designed madness. In the meantime, let’s consider this a rally pit stop, some time to chill and swill.”
- My preference for riding gear included a Gortex pair of pants, well-zippered, making quick and easy on/off while providing good wind and water protection as well as padding at the knees and hips, this being a pair of Darien pants.
- I have learned not to start a long trip with new boots, so these were broken in over 2000 miles of on and off-pavement driving before I would began wearing them daily for the South American months.
- A Nolan modular helmet was my choice, but broken in for several months before starting. I did not want to wear a new helmet fresh out of the box to try to break it in and find it did not fit and function well for my needs.
- For wind and water protection, as well as upper body protection, I chose a screaming “Hi-Viz” Darien Jacket.