The team ploughed on through the night, and even saw the dawn come up, before reaching the bivouac just as the first competitors set-off for the sixth stage. For the CCM teammates there was just enough time to refuel, grab a snack to eat and line-up to start the next stage.
‘We stayed together after that. It wasn’t easy and again we hit trouble with night riding. At one point Vinny Fitsimmon’s lights went on the blink. We were each on our own sand dune at the time. I stopped, went over to him to help, when I got back to my bike I sat down and immediately fell asleep. I only awoke when Vinny came over and kicked me, his lights now fixed. “If you sleep now you’ll never wake up,” he said.
‘That stage we finished at 4 or 5am’, says Craigie. ‘Then it was, within an hour or two, time to be starting on into the next stage.
‘We got two precious hours sleep that time, but it was essentially 72 hours riding non-stop - we just had to get to the rest day.
‘So many things would happen, were always happening. On that last stage before the rest day we found Si Pavey [also on a CCM], he’d had a horrendous crash and was just gaga with concussion. We stuck with him and got him un-gaga enough to ride his bent bike between me and Vinny. We got him to a checkpoint and told him to stay there until the morning; with the next day being a rest day he could ride-in in the morning and still be in the rally. That was day nine with 11 still to go!
‘Of course the rest day was anything but, we spent the day changing the engine in my bike, although when we got the motor home and checked it was fine, it would have done the whole rally.’
Fear and Loathing
The dangers in rallying come from all directions. One particularly nasty danger is that of the car racers. As each day the bikes lead off it happens that the faster cars that follow will overcome a fair proportion of the bike entry somewhere on the course. Getting passed by a car on the road is no big deal but in a desert rally it’s an altogether uglier experience…
‘If there’s one safety regulation that I’ve wholly welcomed in the rally it’s been the Sentinel system for warning bikes of an overtaking car. When cars overtake it’s the most dangerous moment in the rally. They kick up so much dust that for a long while you’ll be riding blind and in that time you could hit a rock, drop into a hole - essentially have a big crash. You might then slow down but that only increases the danger as the next car will be rushing up on you and you’ll be a very slow moving target. Mentally the stress of knowing they were coming, waiting for the sudden explosion of noise and blinding dust, it was extreme, very very scary, and a fear we would face every day. The only answer was to ride off the piste, literally a good half-kilometre off the track, until they’d gone through. Of course, that slows you down massively. On-track you could be doing 100km/h, off-track you’d be doing 20km/h!
‘It eventually happened that I got run over, too! We were in a dune section and there you’ll zig-zag your way through. I saw this Schlesser Buggy coming, he saw me too, but as I went over a dune, he just drove straight on over the top of me. Me and the bike were completely underneath him, I was looking up at his car’s sump. Obviously I wasn’t very happy, but he just backed off and drove away, leaving me and the bike laying there. I found him at the bivouac that night and told him my feelings on the matter!’