Dakar: Face to Face, day 15

Face to face January 14, 2006 bike: Even beyond himself Henno Van Begeik Henno Van Begeik is a fighter, hard core, and solid, one of those who tan their leather under the sun of four horizons. He has voyaged from Amsterdam to Niger and...

Face to face
January 14, 2006

bike: Even beyond himself
Henno Van Begeik

Henno Van Begeik is a fighter, hard core, and solid, one of those who tan their leather under the sun of four horizons. He has voyaged from Amsterdam to Niger and Mongolia as well, alone behind the wheel of an old 505, only to see if the world is vast enough for him. But here it's too much...or nearly so.

Bamako. 1h10. Henno enters the bivouac. He'll get some sleep before taking to the liaison. "I can no longer stand up; it would be stupid for me to set off for 450 kilometres without getting some rest." Henno has rejoined the ranks of the "bike trunk" community, which welcomes him as he approaches. He is done, he's had it and he can't go on. Ever since Nouakchott, he's slept just two-hours in the bivouac and now that he's made it he just wants to get some sleep and rest his weary bones, take a shower to forget his fatigue and drink a bit of goats milk to replenish himself before setting off again. "Since the rest day it has been infernal. I thought I had done the hardest part when I made it Nouakchott without too much trouble, but I couldn't have imagined what was ahead of me. I took me 24-hours to make it from Nouakchott to Kiffa. I arrived one hour before the start of the stage to Kayes and I just kept going." Kilometers of sand under the stifling heat of southern Mauritania, tormenting tracks lined with trees and stumps crossing through Mali. And problems with is bike that accumulate and torment just a little bit more his old 500 XT with each passing day. "For me this bike is a legend. In 1979 Cyril Neveu won the first Dakar with this machine. Thus, I wanted see if it could take me all the way to Lake Rose as well." But the old machine is having a hard time. "Each day I stop along the side of the stage to verify the oil level, check the carburetor and change the air filter. I also try to get at least a few minutes sleep. But before I shut my eyes I make sure I park the bike in the direction of the stage. I am so tired that I am on auto pilot and I'm quite capable to take off in the wrong direction, without even knowing it."

For the past three days Henno has been on the verge of calling it a day. The broom truck has been his companion. "I have already refused to get on board three times. I refuse to quit and not stick with it just until the end. It is more than a simple question of pride. Just until today, I have always gone all the way in whatever challenge I've set for myself." And the Dakar is definitely one.

bike: Not the same adventure at 40
Patricia Watson Miller

What's worse, Patricia is still smiling. She is even laughing. In spite of the fatigue, the crashes and the kilometres that day after day take their toll on her body. Because she laughs, happy every second on her voyage that is taking her from Lisbon to Dakar.

Yet, all is not easy. A first rough week on the vicious rocks along the Moroccan tracks that pounded the bike or became hidden under the wheels. She falls, often and heavily. But she gets back up with more determination each time. More aware then when she took the start alongside her father, Herbert Scheck on the first of her five Dakars. "At the age of 22, I was a hot head. I had ridden motorbikes since I was eight years old. I rode as hard as I could, thinking that nothing could stop me. I thought of just one thing: to be in Dakar, no matter the cost, and if possible on the top step of the podium." The result: she retired but she did make it to Dakar the three following years, before stopping for nearly 15 years. She got married, had children and went to work.

Today, Patricia is a manager in a large London based business bank. Her children have grown. And these last few years she has gotten back on her bike. "I wanted to race in enduro and rallying but not to rekindle those sensations from another time. Today, I ride calmly. Thus my Dakar this year isn't like any of the previous. And in fact, I think I am having a better time. I am calmer even when disaster strikes." Like on the Kiffa stage. "At the start everything went just fine. I had no particular problems in the dunes. It was in fact a very nice stage," But after 550 kilometres, night fell. And when she went to turn on the lights, everything stopped working.

Patricia found herself alone. "When night falls in the dunes without headlights, you're lost. I tried in vain to stop cars and other riders. I then remembered some advice my father gave me when we rode together on my first rallies: 'if you have a problem, take off your helmet, like this so they can see you are a woman...' I took my helmet off and the first car that came stopped. He accompanied me for 100 metres before leaving. Fortunately, I met Laurent Maurice. He completed the stage with me. I fell all the time. Each time, he lifted my bike up. Each time he told me to hang on. I wanted to sleep in the dunes and go on to the finish once the sun rose. He pushed me to go on all the way to the end." Together, they arrived at 5h00 in the morning. Barely the time to sleep for two-hours before rejoining the route to Kayes.

But since then everything has gone fine. Patricia has found her rhythm and her balance on this rally that has changed a lot. Or perhaps it is she who has evolved. "This is the first time that I've had this much fun on a rally. I am approaching it differently. My goal is not to simply make it to Dakar but more importantly to enjoy every instant, because at 40, one doesn't see the world in the same way even though I still look for the same thing. Further my limits. And at my age, they are not the same at 40.


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Series Dakar