Today’s course started with a nice warm-up loop to the east of the bivvy on flat, traditional yet demanding open desert terrain of twisty, trails and even a few rocks. Next up were straight, fast grid roads to the west that transitioned into the dunes, dunes that for the motorcycle course, were even bigger than yesterday. There was some disbelief on the part of the riders as they started the day that it was possible, but all was verified as they crossed the finish with big eyes and big stories.
Riders were sent into the, “Mt. Everests of dunes,” according to Scott Whitney, Sonora Rally co-founder, “It was a huge duning day for them. They only got a hint of it yesterday as they unknowingly skirted what was to come today.”
The goal was to go deep into the dunes to give a feeling of remoteness, that “I’m the only f*cking human to ever have been here,” only to find a cross and BBQ at the top of a dune, placed there long ago by adventurous locals. Another creative waypoint is an airplane wing protruding from the dunes from a forgotten crash.”
Drivers and riders can’t help but comment on the dunes. Darren Skilton, co-founder of the Sonora Rally explains, “The dunes of San Luis Colorado are truly unique, as they are a part of a desert erg. An erg is a sea of dunes, and they only exist in only 5 places in the world: North Africa, Australia, Arabia, Mexico, and China. Their ever-changing nature and fine grain have created a variety of textures – hard pack, slippery peaks, and more, that keeps the competitors on alert at all times. That’s the beauty of bringing a Rally Raid to the Sonora Desert.”
The first four finishers in Day Two provided some excitement as they all checked in within seconds of each other: Mark Samuels, Quinn Cody, Ivan Ramirez, and Steve Hengeveld. They came with more stories of navigation challenges and dune fun about the day’s course as well as the back and forth racing deep in the dunes that took place despite having started minutes apart. Three of the four are entered in the Dakar Challenge.
Most of the four-wheel competitors found their rhythm in day two, settling in and making their way through the desert, at times on differing routes than the motorcycles. They represent a wide variety of options and performance for tackling the desert with four wheels. Entries include: older trophy trucks, modified pick-up trucks, JeepSpeed, UTVs, a dune buggy and last but not least, an almost stock 2005 Subaru Outback in the Safari Class. Don’t laugh, a Subaru Outback won the four-wheel class in 2016. It remains to be seen who’s brought the right equipment to take the top step in the Sonora Rally.
Despite all the beauty and fun, the Sonora Desert is still to be respected. Two motorcyclists and two, four-wheel competitors retired due to mechanical issues and one motorcyclist didn’t finish within the time limit. One dune in particular, took the best of the best a few tries to make the climb – if they didn’t opt-out of missing the waypoint altogether. And no one was heard saying, “That was easy.”
Steve Hengeveld, No. 3, Arizona, USA: “We [Samuels, Ramirez, and Cody] did a gas stop together, then going through the bushes, man, I did a big ole flying W, however fast we were going, I don’t know. I had to pick it back up and catch back up to the group. Lucky I came out of that with just a big charley horse. So I’m happy, it could have been worse. Sounds like everyone here had at least one little thing that got ‘em behind the group. Then we were all like, back and forth, back and forth.”
Phil Bowman, No. 10, California, USA: “Every single person I talk to [at the current South America Dakar Rally], I encourage them to realize that the Sonora Rally has terrain that is as close to North Africa as I can possibly imagine. There’s nothing that touches it. …. It’s just like those images we have from the 80’s ‘The Wide World of Sports’ Dakar Rally.”
Photos Credit: John Rettie, Boyd Jaynes, Melissa Eickhoff, Jason Adams
Aerial DP: Jimmy Lee Cook