The wind picked up speed, sending coarse sand hissing past my face. It churned over the desert landscape, twisting and swirling as it sought the direction it wished to take. Then, as quickly as it appeared, it was gone and all was calm and the world was on mute.
I squinted my eyes against the silence. Directly overhead, that spherical heat source—the one that seems so much bigger and hotter in Africa—hung unwaveringly, defeating our shadows. Ignoring the sun's fatiguing glare, I focused on the dunes and waited for the moment I knew was coming.
It started with a soft hum in the distance, not unlike the muffled buzz of an insect flying closer and closer. It crescendoed, gaining intensity, until the buzz became a high-pitched growl. And then, the source of its sound, the first rider, could be seen coming over the dunes. In his helmet, the cry of cheering fans dissipated into the surrounding walls of sand as he focused only on what lay ahead—it was only himself and the finish line in that untamed wilderness.
Airborne, he overtook the last dune and sped towards his mark...
That was the blog I wanted to write. The blog featuring our exciting trip to the legendary Lac Rose, where we would watch the finale of the Africa Eco Rally—a race that started weeks earlier in Monaco.
But because we live in a wildly unpredictable and untamed African reality, where plans rarely make it to fruition, things looked a little different (although no less exciting).
The day's adventure rolled in with the tide—quite actually, since the final leg of the rally featured a 22 kilometer stretch of beach and the riders could not start the morning's race until the tide was just right. Our departure from Dakar, which was dependent on when the race started, became a little chaotic when the tides shifted and the race suddenly kicked off an hour and 15 minutes earlier than anticipated.
Throwing our picnic lunch, camera gear, scarf and long sleeve shirts (for sun protection) in bags, we made a list of what we were missing:
- Gas for motorcycles
- Meet friends at departure point by 8:45 am
We couldn't find sunscreen at any of the neighborhood markets, so we skipped down the list to gas. By the time both of our tanks were full, we realized our convoy of friends (a group of nearly 100 from our school and community) had already left the departure point. Hoping to catch them along the auto route, we skipped the rest of the items on our list and headed away from Dakar.
"Gabe, here's a thought... water probably should have been the #1 item on our list, since it is the most essential to survival."
"Well, we watered the bikes instead, which was also essential."
"Good point. Surely we can buy some H2O once we arrive at Lac Rose."
Lac Rose, or "Pink Lake", became legendary as the finish point for the Paris-Dakar Rally. Classified as a rally raid event, the race started in 1979 as a long-distance, endurance event that took place over harsh, uninhabitable terrains across multiple countries. In 2008, after a series of terrorist threats, the rally moved to South America where its rugged tradition continues. But there were some riders who were not so eager to give up the challenging West African course. The Eco Rally was born and grew into its own.
Another Fun Fact
Lac Rose received its name because the lake turns a bright pink at different times of the year, due to a particular algae. Just like the Dead Sea, you can float in its highly concentrated salty waters with little effort. Over Thanksgiving break, we visited the lake for the first time. While it wasn't pink in November, it was a memorable trip and has become one of our favorite day-getaways.
We had just passed through the second toll on the auto route when I saw the njeg ndiaye. There’s standard Africa crazy on the roads, then there’s njeg ndiaye crazy. I like to say the white buses are reckless, not wreck-less. And I call them the Rulers of the Road because they stop for no one–it’s best if you just yield to them. And after one kissed my motorcycle with its bumper one day in a round point, I make extra effort to avoid them.
Gabriel saw the njeg ndiaye as well and shifted to its left in an effort to clear it. That’s when a couple of choice words came through the speaker on my Bluetooth headset.
“What is it?”
“I can’t shift. Something’s happened to my clutch.”
A knot of anxiety suddenly lodged itself in my throat as I watched his motorcycle lose momentum, only feet from the white bus. Thankfully, the njeg ndiaye quickly moved past and he was able to navigate to the far right lane.
“It’s the clutch cable. It’s snapped.”
I followed closely behind Gabriel’s KLR as he coasted off the next exit, into a gas station, and killed the engine. He looked over the clutch and confirmed that the cable snapped.
And then we spent the next unmeasured amount of time arguing with each other about what to do next. Why? Because missionaries and international workers who serve missionaries are also human and argue too. And at that moment, stress had loaded both of our firing arsenals.
Eventually, we put aside the guns and agreed that the next logical course of action would be to buy phone credit, since we had no way to communicate with anyone. That is a process within its self, since loading credit on your phone requires using French commands with seemingly 50+ options of what you want to use the credit for.
Some time later, credit loaded, we called our friends to let them know we would not be joining them at the rally. Then we confirmed with another mechanic friend that it was possible to pop the clutch and get the motorcycle back to Dakar without the cable. All it required was for Gabriel to push the 400 pound bike at a run, jump on it, start the engine in neutral with the bike still in motion, then try not to stop the entire 32 kilometer ride back home.
Never mind that the motorcycle's seat comes inches above his waistline and is awkward to get on when it is standing still. Or that he would be jumping on it with the extra weight of all our camera gear strapped to his back. Or that we live in a city of 2.5 million people with kamikaze pedestrians, unpredictable horse carts, reckless car rapides, puttering scooters, random herds of sheep and impatient Land Rover drivers crowding the roads.
We sat on the dirty curb of the gas station for a moment before carrying on. Gabriel worried if he would be able to start the motorcycle. I worried that, if he did start it, that it wouldn’t be safe for him to ride the 32 kilometers back to Dakar.
But as we sat there thinking through the task ahead, I couldn’t help but thank God for the day. Yes, Gabriel’s bike was broken and was going to be a pain in the rear (and a little unsafe) to drive back. Yes, we were going to miss the rally that we were so looking forward to seeing. But there were also these truths:
- There just happened to be a gas station immediately after the point where the cable broke where we could safely stop.
- We were out of phone credit but there just happened to be a vendor at the gas station who helped us reload our phone.
- The exit we took just happened to run straight back into Dakar. We only had to make two turns to get back to our apartment.
- We just happened to be on two motorcycles, making it possible for Gabriel to even attempt to pop the clutch. It would have been impossible if we were riding together on his motorcycle.
Every time we ride our motorcycles, we pray for God to keep us safe. That might seem overzealous to some, but if you’ve ever experienced Dakar traffic, you understand. I don’t think any of those things “just happened” to be—it was God keeping us safe on our ride.
During the 32 kilometer trip home, we only had to stop once (a miracle in itself). Afterwards, Gabriel was able to run and jump on the bike and get it started once more. And an hour after leaving the gas station, we were pulling into our compound.
Gabriel’s motorcycle will be out of commission until we get a new clutch cable shipped from the States. But Kuromushi is still chirping, so the adventure isn’t over yet…