The most well-known Rally Raid in the world is the
Dakar Rally, currently a three-week journey through South
America put on by the same organization that puts on the
famous Tour de France bicycle race. Since its inception in
1978, it has been known as the ultimate adventure race,
and it is considered the pinnacle in the world of rally racing. It’s a dream of many dirt riders to take on Dakar; however, the cost is daunting. Many say if you want to race
Dakar, you’d better have $100,000 in the bank. The cost
of such a challenge is only feasible for the best and most
well-funded. It’s out of reach for most privateers.
But now, racers in North America can take on the challenge of Dakar-style rally racing at a fraction of the cost in
Mexico. With proper logistical support, you could compete
for under $3,000. In comparison to Dakar, it’s a bargain
for entry into the sport. You can make it all happen on a
Sunday-to-Sunday adventure. This race is truly one of the
gems south of the border for adventure racing.
STARTING AT THE GULF OF MEXICO
The 2014 Coast to Coast began under stormy skies in the
port city of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. After miles of
wave dodging and river crossings, Stage 1 landed in a labyrinth of dunes for the first of the week’s tests of navigational
skill. All racers had to go on were waypoints and compass
headings, with red flags to serve as course markings. Rally
Raid pilots are given a bearing and a distance. The clock
starts, and the challenge to reach the first waypoint begins.
There are no GPS tracks, maps or turn markers to follow,
only a compass heading and an odometer reading. Once on
course, pilots proceed to a number of other waypoints for up
to 300 miles before the end of each day.
In sand dunes, a straight heading is a difficult thing to
maintain, as dunes as tall as four-story buildings obscure
your objective. Pilots are always changing direction to avoid
technical challenges in and around the dunes. If a pilot
misses a waypoint, he receives a time penalty on the stage.
This can easily knock him out of the top 10, leaving him to
fight for clean air and the front of the pack another day.
From the test in the dunes, racers transferred to the
Rio Pescado River for overnight camping. The river crossings were handled by loading bikes on small fishing boats.
Following the first stage, Texan Mike Johnson was in front
over Mexico’s Patrick Goeters by 10 minutes. Day one was
a formidable test for all.
On Stage 2, pilots woke to the dampness in the forest
from the previous day’s rain and began the day climbing
out and away from the coast and into the desert. A series
of slippery, wet, country double tracks led to the desert
plateau. There was not much change in the leader board as
the racers arrived at a historic mission for a bivouac at the
Hacienda Santiago Texmelucan. Johnson had increased his
lead slightly, and by the time the sun dropped that night, he
had 15 minutes on Goeters and 30 on Santana.
To put time in perspective on such a long challenge,
outside of the overall time accumulated during a Rally
Raid, mechanicals in the field, time penalties for speeding in controlled areas of dense population and missing
waypoints are the main killers of overall victory bids. At the
Coast to Coast, speeding or missing a waypoint will cost
a pilot 15 minutes for each infraction. There are dozens of
these zones and waypoints throughout the competition day.
Daydream for a few minutes and your race could be over.
Enforcement is all done by GPS tracking that is download-ed at the end of the day.
Stage 3 started with pilots heading into a cold, thick fog
with minimal visibility. One pilot described the cold as “in
your bones.” The riders were in the upper plateaus, beginning what would be the longest day in the saddle: 450
kilometers to the city of Oaxaca. By midday, the clouds had
dispersed and the sun bore down as a complex series of
back roads led racers through the agricultural lands of one
Texan Mike Johnson was here to test
out his new rally navigation system, designed to make it easier for novices to
enter the sport and organizers to tally
timing quickly after stages. Still in beta,
he was happy with the test in the field.
Enduro rider Mauricio Santana had cut his teeth at the Baja Rally two months prior.
His efforts there were duly noted at the end of the race in Rally 1 in Puerto Escondido.
Dune navigation can be rewarding, but it can also end your
race if you’re not careful to respect Mother Nature’s work. Pilots contemplate how to handle the wall ahead of them.