One year ago today, I was shitting bricks.
A small part of the bivouac at the start...
In Dakar time, I'm a few days early since scrutineering hasn't started yet for this year's race, but perhaps we'll stay ahead to give a sense of anticipation for what's coming.
The scale of the race is hard to explain to those who haven't seen it, especially in America. Picture the pits at an AMA National roadrace or MX or SX... that's a tiny fraction of what's at the Dakar. The race vehicles at any of these events measure up, but the support behind them in Dakar is off the charts of any event I've seen here.
As a racer, my first interaction with the scale of it all left me feeling completely out of my league. The people are friendly, the actual steps to accomplish are within reach one by one, but walking for 10 minutes in a straight line thru an unending display of male-awesome-tech-fast-ness (I'm inventing a word from the primary components) leaves you feeling awestruck... and wanting more.
Scrutineering is very systematic. You're given a card with a lot of empty boxes, your job is to walk around and get a stamp in each one. No one is allowed in, so it's a great chance to meet and chat with the other racers.
Each of those stamps indicates a function completed- from payment for the race, to medical insurance and what information they are allowed to release to the press, to a class on the GPS and sensitive cultural areas in Peru. The staff are nothing short of incredible- fluent in at least 3 languages (French, Spanish, English, and usually German, Portuguese, and others as well), efficient, and helpful.
Once you are scrutinized, it's time for your bike. Our heroes this year- Lyndon #168 and Kevin #186 already did this in Le Havre, but I had not. Here I am going thru with Quinn Cody.
The process is simple- they go thru the rulebook and check off that each requirement is there. The sense I had was they were trying to help me thru, not find fault. You also sign up for Elf Lubricants if you are so inclined, get numbers installed on your jacket if you, like me, didn't have something pre-printed (I wore an off-the-shelf Klim jacket), get the various required stickers (for ASO sponsors), and eventually, park your bike in Parc Ferme, where you cannot touch it until the race begins.
Beyond the obvious, the function of all of this is to draw you in under the bubble of the race. You are awestruck by the size and budget and organization of the teams, and of the ASO itself, and suddenly, you aren't some oddball, you are surrounded by your own. Everyone here has spent their entire year getting ready for this, knows the long nights and and empty checking accounts that you are so familiar with. Everyone here gets the dream, no having to explain it 28 times in a row at a dinner party. For me, the effect was that I wanted to belong in this crowd, and I wanted to still be under the bubble two weeks from now.
And I wasn't sure if I belonged there. So now we're full circle, to where this started... nervous anticipation.