Why? That’s the old question asked of mountain climbers by risk averse earth bound mortals who can’t fathom why anyone would risk life and limb to climb a mountain. The well known and sometimes quoted response… “Because it’s there!” attributed to British mountain climber George Herbert Leigh Mallory seems to be a somewhat enigmatic response. Was he really saying that the only reason that he attempted to climb Everest was because it was in front of him? Hmmm…..
One of my acquaintances recently asked a similar question having seen parts of the Dakar Rally, arguably one of the most challenging, exhausting and perhaps most dangerous sanctioned racing competitions on the planet, especially on a motorcycle. Why would someone, particularly a privateer with no corporate sponsorship and no real financial motivation, enter such a competition?
A clearly dangerous activity, racing the Dakar on a motorcycle is one hugely intrepid undertaking. Towering mountains, vast deserts, blistering heat, high speeds on rough terrain and long days in the saddle are merely part of the challenge that is Dakar. Numerous competitors have lost their lives over the years and not just from solo falls, but from collisions with other competitors, getting lost, days long sand storms, dehydration, and some would even say, sheer exhaustion. Some days you ride over one hundred miles just to get to the start of the day’s race. Stages (timed sections of the race) can be so long that by the time many competitors make it to the bivouac at the end of the day, they barely have enough time to eat some food, service the bike and take care of bodily functions before the start of the next day’s stage. Sleep is a commodity that is often in very short supply making this grueling, physical two week feat all the more difficult.
So once again, people may ask, why do they do it?
I’ve never been a Dakar competitor so I can’t say with any degree of certainty why the men and women who take on this challenge and pay huge sums of money to do so, risk it all for a competition that many people don’t even know exist. I know that I’ll never ride the Dakar and probably will never have half the skill necessary to undertake such a racing adventure, but being a so-so rider always trying to improve, I think I may have an inkling of what drives a privateer to enter the Dakar.
The Dakar is a gigantic ever changing and shifting monster. High as the mountains, covered in deep sand and jagged rock, it breathes its hot windy breath like fire onto all who would try to take it on. Its call is a mesmerizing one for those who hear it, at first a chant, but increasingly becoming more of a taunt. “You can’t beat me and you know it. You can’t beat me and you know it. You can’t beat me and you know it.”
To those who hear the chant and taunt, the Dakar is an affront to their abilities. Some people come equipped with an excess of drive; drive to excel, succeed, and overcome challenges that many others might find overwhelming. To them, the Dakar monster represents an irrepressible challenge, the triple dog dare of dares. It’s one they just can’t turn away from. The Dakar confronts them and thus the monster must be slayed.
Thus they risk financial hardship and potentially financial ruin, trying to prepare a Dakar ready and worthy effort. Then there’s the physical training necessary to undertake to ensure the requisite fitness to endure such a travail and maximum opportunity to reach the monster. Finally, there’s the task of slaying the monster. If you are able to financially and physically make it to the Dakar, you have reached a major milestone, but you just begun your journey. The monster awaits.
Over two weeks, you will engage and fight the monster. Some days you may feel like you are winning, but most you will feel battered and lucky to be alive. The monster is that tough. It will fight you long and hard, with all of its elemental power raining down on you trying to force you to fail or quit. If you are lucky, you will do battle for the full two weeks with this unrelenting force of nature few can overcome. But, if you have worked hard enough, if you have trained hard enough, if you have tried hard enough and lastly if you are brave enough, the monster can be tamed, temporarily at least.
Your reward will be your own knowledge that you, using your own skills, strength, stamina and bravery have beaten an “unbeatable” beast. The ultimate recognition that using your own abilities and wits, you overcame and conquered an insurmountable challenge. This time. And for those who have heard the chanting and taunting of the beast and emerged victorious, the question will be, “Was one victory enough?” For this beast never truly dies, it just goes back to where it came from and waits for you or others to try to beat it again. For those who failed, the chant and taunt becomes louder and fiercer. Only the truly daunting will attempt another attack on the beast.
So why would anyone with a sense of riding and racing adventure risk it all to ride the Dakar? The answer is simple, “Because it’s there!”