Race day began early with our 5:30am arrival in the Lisbon start area.
Parc Ferme
Dakar 2006 Motos
Geared up and psyched up, we waited outside the parc ferme area where the bikes are held beside the start podium. We were not allowed into the area until our start time approached. They assured us we would have plenty of time once we were let in to get everything ready for the race. The quads were first to start Dakar, followed by the sidecars, solo bikes, then cars and trucks. There were 10 quads starting ahead of us, then the two other sidecars behind us.

Once we entered parc ferme, we quickly began installing the roadbook sheet (roll) into the roadbook. That can be quite a task, given the roadbook sheet is so long it barely fits in the motorized machine.
Dakar Roadbook, ICO, GPS, Sentinel, Iritrack
You have to tape the end to the roller bar, and roll the super long paper all the way in. Just as I got started with that task, it began to rain. If the paper gets wet, it weakens and might rip once we start the race and start turning the roll. So I sped up my task, feeling a bit more urgency. We were already nervous from the grandness of this huge event, and the rain just made it worse. As I抦 rolling the paper in, I realize my goggles are laying out collecting rain on the inside. Damn, I don抰 need that. Eventually I get the roadbook rolled in, and the clear plastic cover attached.

Now it抯 time to install the GPS and Iritrack. They are bolted together into a brick sized cube, with a bunch of electrical connectors along one side. The whole thing slips into a bracket assembly that抯 mounted in the center of the handlebars. It takes a bit of finesse and force to get the thing in. As we struggle with that, an official steps up and says it抯 time for us to ride up to the podium for our start. Damn, we抮e not ready yet. It抯 raining, the connectors to the navigation instruments are not connected, my goggles are off, my gloves are off, and it抯 time to start the biggest race of our lives!

Duane and the official fight with the electrical connectors as I put my goggles on and try to slip the gloves onto wet hands. It抯 too late, the gloves will have to go on later. We motor up the podium, and stop for the cameras, officials, and crowd. The announcer walks up and asks a question and shoves the microphone up to me. As I struggled to get my gloves on, I responded with some stupid comment I can抰 remember. What a nightmare, I抦 thinking!

Dakar 2006 Start Podium - Lisbon
This was supposed to be one of the memories of a lifetime. We REALLY are doing the Dakar! But I抦 stressing like never before, and missed the joy of the moment. The announcer steps back, the start official gives us the 321匞O, and we抮e off. Down the podium, past the crowd, around a right turn, and onto the streets of Lisbon.

It抯 dark, rainy, and immediately my goggles start fogging up from all the rain left inside. Just 1km from the start there抯 a gas station, and half of the quads that started ahead of us were in there gassing up. That抯 strange, didn抰 they fill up before the start of the race? I guess it doesn抰 matter. This is just the liaison, and time doesn抰 matter as long as you get to the start of the special by your start time. We continue on, mixing with cars in normal city traffic.

Course Route
Following the instructions in the roadbook, we soon are on the 揻reeway, then heading out of Lisbon on our way South. We have 186km (115 miles) of liaison before we see dirt and real racing. The rain comes and goes as we travel down the freeway. We抮e going the speed limit of 120kph (75mph), passing some cars, and being passed by others. At every overpass there are crowds of people waving and cheering us on. We also see cars and people stopping all along the roadside doing the same.
Dakar 2006 Liaison
Soon after leaving the Lisbon area, my wife Adriana and friend Jack pull up beside us in their rental car. We had arranged that they would follow us through the liaison in case something unexpected happened. They had skipped the start, and waited along the freeway for us to come by. That was a good feeling having them following.

After a gas stop and several toll booths, we are routed off the freeway and onto a narrow rolling country road. The farmers and other locals don抰 seem to be in much of a hurry, so we start passing them every chance we get. At this point it抯 starting to feel a bit like a race, as we take a few risks passing in some questionable spots. Adriana is driving right behind, and I抦 amazed she is staying right on our tail. She抯 not the 搑acing type, and I抳e never seen her drive like that!

End of Liaison
Eventually we arrive at the end of the Liaison, and the start of the Special. We figure at the pace we held, we should have a half hour or hour to wait for our start time. Just 5 minutes after getting off the bike, the race official came up and direct us to go to the start line, a few hundred meters up the dirt road. Wow, we thought the Liaison was supposed to be easy going, but now we抳e just learned one of our first Dakar lessons; don抰 waste any time on the Liaison. On the next Liaison, the posted speed limit will be ignored!

The start line sits on the top of a hill, with the road dropping immediately into a muddy rutted mess below.
Course Terrain
Crowds of people are gathered all around. We pull up behind a couple of quads, and I concentrated on resetting our ICOs (odometers), and rolled the roadbook to the correct position for the start. The quads go off a minute apart, and I have just enough time to watch two of them go down the road before it抯 our turn.

Finally, we are actually going to 搑ace! My nerves are doing much better than back at the podium in Lisbon. Duane is his usual calm self. I thank him for joining me in this grand adventure, we shake hands, and 321 we抮e off!

Oh what a good feeling that was, hitting the throttle, shooting a bit of a roost, and looking forward to thousands of kilometers of fun.
Dakar in Portugal
Down the road, through some rain puddles, and into a bit of mud. Woooooo, ruts, mud, slippery, front wheel in one groove, rear wheel in another, we抮e in trouble!!! The next thing I know we are completely sideways sliding down the road, out of control, on the edge of a big crash. More throttle, and we skip out of the ruts, and we抮e back in control. Whooow, that was close! I could just see the reports, 揌arley Sidecar Crashes Out of Dakar in First Kilometer. Ok, settle down, I tell myself. We have to ride smart, and stay out of trouble.

The road continues over green grassy rolling hills, through small forested areas, and along farm lands. Direction changes are numerous. There are crisscrossing dirt roads all over this area. The mud at the start was actually the worst thing we saw the whole day. There were constant water puddles, but nothing that caused any problems. Along the way we would be zipping along with no people at all, then suddenly around a corner there would be a thousand people spread out watching and cheering.
Other places it seemed like the locals walked across their farm lands and hung out in small groups beside the dirt road.

We were having fun slipping and sliding around the corners, holding a fast but safe pace. Eventually we caught a quad and went on past. Over time the solos (bikes) started passing us. It wasn抰 exciting like side-by-side racing is. It was more of a deep warm feeling that we were in the first stages of a big adventure, and all was going well.

The crowd takes cover from the roost
We threw a little extra fun in when we came to a few right turns with crowds gathered close around the outside. This was a perfect opportunity to introduce them to a little Harley-Davidson V-Rod horsepower! I would dive in a little extra hard and wide, apex the turn, and hit the throttle hard. I think Duane knew what was going on and he gave a good hard lean to help. The result was a nice muddy roost shooting into the crowds of people. I don抰 think they expected that from a sidecar, and looking back we could see them diving for cover. As our friend and fellow Dakar racer Charlie Rauseo would say . . . Fun Fun!

Harley Dakar Sidecar
Just after one of those 揻un fun right turns, another good friend Kevin Heath passed us on his KTM 660. He waved vigorously, and started to pull away. Just as Duane and I figured out who it was and told each other so, he came up on a left turn, laid it down, and slid into a ditch. He must have gotten over excited seeing us, and lost his concentration. As we passed him back, he was already getting up and was obviously ok. A moment later he came blasting by again, with another friendly wave. And again, there was a hard left turn, which he over-shot, almost flying off the road. We cut in tight and passed him on the inside, in the spirit of racing you know!

It wasn抰 long before we were at the finish of the Special. Bikes were lined up to have their timecard stamped, as proof we each had reached this important point. We took our place in line as the race officials picked up the time cards one at a time, and stamped them. When we reached the front of the line, the next official walked right past us, going to the next bike behind us. I thought, what抯 that about? He did it a couple more times, ignoring us completely, and going to the bikes behind us. So we forced our timecard on him. I don抰 know if it was our American flags, or what, but it was very clear this guy was not our friend.

On the Liaison headed for Portimao, the end of the stage, we passed a carwash where several bikes were lined up washing all the mud off. That seemed like a good thing for us to do. That way the bike would be clean when we worked on it at the end of the stage. There was no close deadline for arrival at the bivouac at Portimao, so we had time. Kevin Heath was there, and we had some good laughs about his off-track excursions back in the Special.

Along this liaison, Charley Boorman (star of 揕ong Way Round, the great adventure TV series) and his fellow BMW teammates slowly passed by on the freeway. They had a crew car following with cameras rolling. The crew car took an interest in us and fell back for some camera time on us. We later saw them stopped on the side of the freeway. Charley had run out of gas. I抦 sure we抣l see that little embarrassing moment on TV sometime in the future.

Once we arrived in Portimao, and found our support crew,
Our Harley Sidecar in Parc Ferme
we quickly went over the bike looking for any problems. We only had about 30 minutes before we had to have it placed into parc ferme (locked up) for the night. We adjusted the chain tension, and took it directly to parc ferme. We had to park it there for the night, and were not allowed to work on it or reenter until race time the next morning. Clearly not many had stopped at the car wash for a cleanup. It was good to see that Sandy and Ruedi, the Swiss team on the Aprilia sidecar had made it through the day too.

Swiss team - Aprilia sidecar
Parc Ferme in Portimao

A later check of the times showed us as the quickest sidecar, 6-1/2 minutes ahead of the Swiss sidecar, 30 minutes ahead of the French sidecar, and ahead of 36 other bikes. That was nice, but the only thing that really mattered was that we were still in the race.


More of the story:
> Dakar Rally Stage 2 - photos only, story coming soon
> Problems Stage 3 - the full report, with photos
> Christmas in Lisbon
> Dakar Prep in Lisbon - photos only


Thanks to members of the Nomads' Trail Moto Club of Portugal, Jo鉶 Pulqu閞io, and others for many of these excellent photos.