So here I am, once again, back in Thessaloniki - it’s been a month since I was here last and a lot has happened since.
Firstly, the official reason for returning back to Blighty was my sister’s wedding on the first weekend in October. The happy couple was incredibly fortunate to be blessed with the good omen of perfect weather - blue cloudless skies and a bright sun, what joy. The whole day was a massive success, not least on a personal level in that I managed a new PB on the skill factor scores by not tripping over my floor length bridesmaids dress while literally throwing myself into the side-achingly hilarious fun of ceilidh dancing. Top quality times!
After that weekend of fun and celebration it was time to get some work done - dancing shoes off, telephone voice on! My boyfriend Paul has been accepted to ride the Dakar rally this year as one of 7 British riders out of 200 globally. It’s incredibly tough just to get an entry, let alone do the thing. If you don’t know it, it’s what used to be known as the Paris-Dakar except now it starts in Lima, trails through Chile and ends in Argentina. 6000 miles of extremely challenging off-road terrain is covered in 16 days, ranging from the altitude of the Andes mountains to the sand dunes of the Atacama desert. Organised by the same outfit who run the Tour de France, it’s known as the toughest race in the world, a real feat of physical fitness, endurance and mental strength as riders tough it out over the same course as cars, trucks and quads. I’d always thought that the hardest bit of the Dakar was the riding/generally staying alive/not getting squashed by a truck part, but I’ve since come to realise that this is the relatively easy bit.
Paul was issued with a 104 page handbook of rules and regulations of the event a few weeks ago, covering everything from the strange hieroglyphics of the roadmap orientation system, speeding fines, documentation and essential equipment on the bike. It’s an intense and overwhelming document to say the list! While Paul was busy sourcing all kinds of specialist rally faring, tanks etc for his bike, I was tasked with trying to work out what kit needs to be on the bike to pass scrutineering (including a variety of strobes, glow sticks and survival flares!), as well as finding the smallest, lightest camping equipment possible for each night in the bivouac. All this kit has to fit into a riders trunk measuring 77cm x 48 x 30 together with all spares parts, clothes and nutritional supplements, so the space issue is hugely important! How any amateur rider can co-ordinate everything within 6 weeks and hold down a demanding full time job too is a boggling thought.
The budget for an event like this is also a scary prospect, averaging at least £40k all in per rider (including entry fees, the bike, fuel etc). In previous years gaining sponsorship for an event of this scale was relatively easy (outside of our island of GB, the Dakar is one of the most heavily televised events in the world), but with the economy as it is, its tough to get the financial backing. Paul has found that its been most successful to offer logo space on his race clothing/bike for sticker sizes starting at £500 rather than pitching for one big sponsor, but there’s still a lot of work to do on that front before the race starts in early Jan. Should anyone out there wish to lend him their support, you can either get in touch with me or check out his website at www.pauljaydakar.com. All support is hugely gratefully received!!
Paul’s birthday also fell while I was in the UK, co-including with the British Enduro Championships at Eelmoor. Paul used the weekend as a good opportunity to test out his bike with the Dakar 25litre fuel tank on the front. Much as he attracted many a witty comment from his fellow competitors on their typical light, nimble and highly honed steeds, it was a great opportunity to test out how the bike handled in the tricky terrain and he even managed a couple of jumps up over muddy river banks on it - not bad!!
In addition to all the other Dakar preparation, one of the things that we both decided we need for our various adventures are proper moulded ear plugs. My helmet is fairly noisy and I already feel as though my hearing isn’t quite what it used to be (pardon? Sorry….) while the Dakar bivouac is well known for its hellish night-time noise levels from generators and revving engines, so Paul and I decided to keep the romance alive by visiting Ultimate Ear and getting proper ear moulds taken. The process is a little odd - firstly small foam ear plugs with strings on are pushed into the ear canal so far that I started to worry it might pop out the other side (all perfectly safe i’m told). Next the ear is filled with a special kind of rather chilly polyfilla that takes 5 minutes to harden off, by the end of which you really can’t hear anything. A few days later, my new ear plugs (standard set as well as a pair that plug into my iPod) arrived in the post - thanks Ultimate Ear!
And so after these last few busy weeks with time whizzing by far faster than I’d really like, it was suddenly time this morning to get on the plane back to Greece. I had always known that it would be hard to leave and say my goodbyes for a second time, especially given this time, I don’t know when I’ll be back. I have to admit that I did have a bit of a moment this morning when it was time to say goodbye, and suddenly I felt even sadder than when my little cat Midge was run over. I’m not sure quite what hit me (in her case it was a 4x4 unfortunately), I think it was jointly the sadness of leaving behind all the people I love and knowing that it’s just me (and donkey) on our own again from now on, but also a bit of fear as to what comes next, in particular Egypt. Fortunately as soon as I set eyes on Suzi again this afternoon at Terzi Brothers, it was like being reunited with a dear old friend and all those feelings of the excitement and the privilege of adventuring came rushing back again. She has been given an extremely good service by the team at Terzi and her carb is now leak free - fantastic! She needs to be in top health - together we’ve got some serious miles to cover and a lot of people to meet along our way.
And so tomorrow, the adventures start all over again. I wonder what’s in store for us this time? I can’t wait.