Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: To Dakar and Back...

I was introduced to this book by one of my codrivers for the upcoming NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally, Paul Hartl who has both done the Baja 1000 in a Class 11 VW bug and is friends/acquaintances with the author o
f this book, Lawrence Hacking.

Mr. Hacking became the very first Canadian to complete the Dakar in 2001 on a Honda 650R as a privateer.  He recaps his efforts in that rally in this book and it is a great primer for anyone looking to enter a long rally or rally-raid event.  Not that it contains info on how to prepare your vehicle or give you recommended checklists for you to go through before leaving.  Hacking I believe is too smart for that...he knows the way rallies and rally-raids can pack everything you can ever think of and yet end up needing the single item you know you left sitting in your garage ignored in your preparations.

Instead Hacking provides enough insight and descriptions of his race in 2001 to let you know that it is perhaps your mindset, resourcefulness and ability to roll with the punches that will get you through.  You can't plan away bad things from happening, instead you have to be mentally strong enough to deal with the disasters that are sure to befall you in the course of an event like these.  Not that you should be haphazard or neglectful in your preparations--far from it.  But you need to be wise enough to know that you don't know what you don't can only be mentally prepared to deal with whatever happens.  If that means you need to deal with the end of your race then that's what it means.  If you need to run five miles through the desert to get a tool from a local goat herder, then you have to be ready to do so.

The book itself can sometimes run into a bit of repetition as the events Hacking describes can bear a similarity to one another from stage to stage but there is plenty of historical information regarding the Dakar, its history and its participants to keep a reader and a fan of the sport interested.

Items like the fact that 2001 winner Jutta Kleinschmidt and runner up Jean-Louis Schlesser were a romantic item before an acrimonious split that left them vicious competitors both on and off the stage, American rider Jimmie Lewis's grand effort on board a big BMW--breaking a number of bones in a crash only 200 yards from the finish in Dakar as he attempted to to win the final stage on behalf of his overmatched sponsor, and P.G. Lundmark's incredible privateer effort as well as many more anecdotes and stories are included here.

The tone of the work is straightforward and direct.  There is no flowery descriptions of the action, just a matter-of-fact recounting of events.  The work has made me realize the great similarities between rally-raid/rally events and another sport I love, mountaineering.  Hacking often recounts the individuals he has come to know that have passed in one way or another over the years, much like the mountaineering works I have covered recount the deaths of climbers in the mountains of the world.  The mental and physical strains put on the participants is strikingly familiar between the sports as is the selfish nature of each requiring vast amounts of time away from families in order to reach for some personal goal valued by a very few.  Whatever the disease is that infects those who "play" at these sports, Hacking has it and describes his involvement in what is the rally-raid world's equivalent of climbing Everest or K2 with skill and candor (often covering the hypocrisy and divergence between himself and his fellow competitors and the poor of the geographies he covers).  Not necessarily a book for everyone, but definitely a book for everyone involved in these sports/events.

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